Sunday, January 4, 2009

Gift of the Golden Rule

Dear Readers,

For those who have participated in some of the spectacularly positive feedback I've been getting recently: 
Firstly, your encouragement has made me smile and urged me forward on so many self-doubting occasions. I want to extend my most sincere and humble gratitude.
Secondly, fuck you. Not in a meanspirited way or anything, (not in a literal way either...)

When I was pouring my thoughts into the void of cyberspace for nobody to read it was easy to look at a rotting pile of seaweed and decide it was worthy of a photograph and some pontification. (seriously...see first post ever...) But Now that I have actual human beings reading this stuff I feel periodic pangs of legitimacy-lust... that hot pulse that nags "is this really worthwhile enough to expect that a person whom you respect will spend time reading it?"

This process swiftly fell a handfull of possible holiday blog-topics ranging from the fake history of Hannukah to the zesty yumm of Brad Pitt's abs as evidenced by their ability to almost ameliorate 2 hours of the shlockiest jumble of cinematic blah I've seen in years. I wanted to give you guys something great. And as each day passed the imperativeness of a mind-blowing new post mounted. Something for the new year? Something hopeful, poignant, witty? It would be the post to end all posts. And of course with each day it went uncompleted, the Platonic post became grander and grander until finally I realized if I didn't sit down and start writing something I'd never write anything.

I feel that way very often, surprisingly often, in fact the writer in me knows that I feel that way almost as often as I feel like eating cream-filled cookies and watching House MD instead of writing, which is all the freakin' time. And yet the scholar in me is loath to admit that she hasn't learned the lesson yet- just sit down and do it instead of worrying about how you're not doing it and something will come out. Well ya, easy for you to say.

So here in no particular order are some things I've been thinking about while waiting for edits from my editor, which, incidentally, feels a bit like taking a nap under a guillotine.

1. Hannukah. First of all- what a load of crap. Yesyesyes of course spending time with family is wonderful and exchanging presents is dandy and lights are pretty, but I don't think I'll ever outgrow my 5 year old fury at the fact that every other kid in kindergarten got a big sparkly holiday orgasm every December 25th while I was spinning a top  for year-old chocolate coins and opening up 8 days worth of socks. My Dad tried to make Hannukah seem cool- he even wrote a song about a jolly character named Hannukah Harry who rides around in a taxi cab driven by a moose named Morris and delivers dreidels to little kids. And I appreciated that. And I love my family. 

But how do you expect to compete with the 1000-watt pinnacle of the American capitalist tree? With a holiday so decadent that not only does it mark the birth of a man who some people believe is God incarnate, but it also encourages, nay requires you to take all of the goodwill you've saved up all year and spend it on diamonds and Xboxes for your loved ones? Eat ham! Rejoice with family! Get boozed up and sing! Guess what? God's here!!

Sorry Dad, but there's no way "and then the oil lasted a few days longer than they expected it to last" was ever going to top that.

And this year I discovered why. I always knew the American Hannukah holiday was the product of well-meaning American parents attempting to match the holiday-rificness of its proximate Christian cousin, and I appreciated the effort. But what I didn't know was that Hannukah was never about oil, it was about ass-kicking.

When the Maccabees were rebelling against the oppressive Seleucid monarchy in 165 BCE they were held up in caves during the harvest festival Sukkot, and when they finally got out they had a delayed celebration (Sukkot is 8 days long...) in Decemberish. They missed a bunch of holidays in those caves, and Sukkot was an interesting one to choose to do a re-mix of. They could have chosen Passover or Yom Kippur, (slavery day and death day respectively, according to what  5 year old Hannah gleaned,) but they didn't. Sukkot is about joy and thankfulness... because perhaps the Maccabees were trying to have as peaceful an outlook as possible post-ass-kicking. 

But they couldn't go around telling subsequent monarchs that their Decemberish festival was a peaceful outlook on monarch-ass-kicking, so they trumped up some bogus story about extra-strength-miracle-oil. Lights are a great metaphor for all sorts of things of course, for inspiration and hope and for the connectedness of all living things blahblahblah, but it was never the real reason for Hannukah celebrations, and I'm fascinated by how many years it took me to figure this out. 

I always knew it seemed a little lackluster. We only spend one day celebrating that time God not only split the ocean in two, but made it rain frogs, but we spend eight days on some oil? 

I suppose the origin of most holidays isn't as important as what they've evolved to signify though. I mean according to most biblical scholars and scientists Jesus was actually born in June.

But I digress... I was going to say something about the true spirit of the holidays and all the crap but you've heard it all before- love your family, don't be a Scrooge... I always find those messages hard to reconcile with the presents presents presents thing though. Shouldn't we be feeding the poor or something? Did I really need another novelty coffee-table book which will wind up on my bathroom floor? 

Which got me thinking about the website I've been twiddling with for a few weeks. I've discussed this idea with some of you already and I'm excited about it although it's still a little doughy. I want to create a resource for collaborative community outreach. Creative service opportunities, creative projects, a creative/volunteering Craigslist, if you will. I'd like for people to be able to search by location, interest, and time dedication, and be able to find opportunities for them to help others, whether it be bartering skills, volunteering time, writing letters, or painting hippopotami. There are plenty of traditional volunteer-finding services but nothing that's uniquely creative, and I think it would be really cool.

I also think it will be a lot of work, so I'm still turning over logistics in my mind. If you have any ideas regarding this project please do drop me a line at and let me know your thoughts. I'd love to have lots of input (after all that's kind of the philosophy of the site,) and even if your only expertise is in ladybugs, you owe it to every ladybug-loving-layperson to put in your two cents, because if you don't, who else will? 

I don't usually talk about religion here on the blog but that little Hannukah history rant reminded me of a quote I heard kicked around a lot as a kid, something like "if not me, then who? If not now, then when?" It was usually quoted in reference to speaking out against the Holocaust, but was actually coined thousands of years earlier and went like this:

"If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?"

Oh Hillel the Elder you sly fox you. I take it to mean three things: 
1. Be yourself. 
2. Don't just think about yourself jerkface, you're part of something bigger. 
and 3. Go do something. Anything. Seriously. 

There are many interpretations of course as the questions are rhetorical (and if you were that asshole in my junior year lit theory section I'm sure you could wax poetic for six weeks about the symbolic symphonic & syntactic meaning of the word 'if,')  but Hillel had a knack for the pithy so I aimed sharp. 

A guy once challenged Hillel to summarize the entire torah while standing on one foot. He said, basically,  "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary." Golden rule, bing bang boom. 

I like this guy because he cuts right to the chase, through the floods and the frogs, the stories about three wise men and two tablets and burning bushes, the rules about shellfish and virgins and wine, straight to the heart of the matter. 

Unsurprisingly, he isn't the first or the last. Buddha says it, Jesus says it, Muhammed says it, every hippy band worth their weight in ganga said it... I guess this is why I avoid discussing religion in particular, because I always feel compelled to illuminate similarities in general, because maybe when we realize that everyone's invisible man is saying pretty much the same thing, we'll stop blowing eachother to pieces over semantics. Then I have to reel myself back from the brink of an avalanche of "why why why"s when I reflect upon history and conclude that humankind is inherently illogical and that there's nothing to be done, and then, every now and then, I think about Hillel the Elder. 

Because if we can't fix things who can? And if we don't try who will? And if we don't start now then how are we going to explain to our children why their breakfasts consist of radioactive genetically modified anthrax-laced Ritalin-flakes?

SO... where were we? Hmmm. Well all I know is that if you're not being yourself, being audaciously yourself, then there's a huge ingredient missing in the world because nobody else is going to be able to fill your you-shoes. Write what only you can write, create what only you can create, and don't give yourself a hard time if it's not as "prolific" as Beethoven and Einstein. What you make is right because it's yours, and it's something that neither of them, despite their talent, could ever conceive of. And don't give yourself the credit of foresight because it's a joke- you never know how things will turn out tomorrow letalone two thousand years from now. Imagine telling Hillel he's being quoted on a blog. Whaaaaa? 

Most of all, (as inspired by a lovely email I received from a talented writer/temporary security guard,) I'd like to encourage everyone to be good to themselves this year. Be encouraging and patient, because before you can treat others the way you want to be treated, you need to treat yourself with respect and kindness. It's the best way to get shit done folks. And it feels like you're crazy at first, like you should be reminding yourself of shortcomings and obstacles instead of skipping ahead like a sunshiney idiot into uncharted territory without any realistic expectations.... but reality is what you make it. 

So anyways, let me know your thoughts on the site thing, on life in general, etc. Thanks for checking out my fun little youtube songs, ( I'm having a great time experimenting with them and I appreciate your humoring my musical side. (Secretly) I'm a little nervous about performing in public and I've aaaaaalways berated myself ever since I quit piano at age 11 for not being a better musician by now, for not practicing more, but the songs are my small attempt at forging ahead despite the naysaying voices, at giving myself permission to do something I like even if I'm not the best at it, at turning something I want into something I have. 

It's all about the babysteps. 

Much love & light,


  1. Very good blog i got your point and try to do the same!

  2. Despite the pressure of trying to please you've managed something very worthy of our time. Firstly, I'd like to say sorry you have to miss out on Christmas, and all the commercialism filled joy it brings. I don't even consider myself a christian and yet it still manages to slightly diminish my cynicism once a year.

    Second, I think the site is a great idea and will hopefully guilt my lazy ass into actually helping and giving back to the community around me.

    Third, I would like to thank you for my "holy shit!" moment of the night. I read the bit about an email from a writer/security guard and realized "Oh my god! That's me!"

    Lastly, I would like to say that I completely relate to your guilt for neglecting music. I stopped taking guitar lessons three years ago and despite my love for the instrument, I find myself completely slacking and barely playing it at all anymore. It's for this reason I've considered doing the youtube thing myself as a means of motivating me. I found that when I have a venue to play at, I actually practice my songs.

    Keep up the great work.
    Mike R.(I never post on blogs or forums or anything so I didn't know how to work the profile thing, so I just went with anonymous even though I'm not trying to be...yeah...)

  3. would you mind if i put this in my myspace profile
    So anyways, let me know your thoughts on the site thing, on life in general, etc. Thanks for checking out my fun little youtube songs, ( I'm having a great time experimenting with them and I appreciate your humoring my musical side. (Secretly) I'm a little nervous about performing in public and I've aaaaaalways berated myself ever since I quit piano at age 11 for not being a better musician by now, for not practicing more, but the songs are my small attempt at forging ahead despite the naysaying voices, at giving myself permission to do something I like even if I'm not the best at it, at turning something I want into something I have.

    your brilliant i wish you put this in a newspaper or pamflet somewhere people that read this will feel amused and educated i know i was

  4. im so dumb i copied the wrong thing into the comment forgive this is what i wanted to use
    "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?"

  5. Don't doubt or censor yourself. Never write for an audience, write for yourself. You should read my blog on myspace. A comment from you would make my day.

  6. I like you will make it big....great spirit...

  7. Wow. I've seen you on twitter, but I finally actually had some time to come here to read and view your work... and I have to say, I'm an instant fan!

    How do you do that? How do you represent your wonderfully quirky self so unashamedly? You are awesome and a breath of fresh air! I love your videos, by the way.

    Your post reminds me of a quote I love (I don't know who originally said it):

    "You don't have to necessarily be the best at what you do - there's always someone better. Instead, be the only one who does what you do."

    Thanks, Hannah, for being so brave. You inspire me... :-)

  8. When I was a little boy and we went to my grandmother's house on Christmas eve, there was a dreidel that was kept in a shoe box the rest of the year, that I played with. I have no idea where it came from now, or what became of it. Maybe it was an heirloomish thing, perhaps from a Jewish ancestor.

    Anyway, no point to that, but reading this reminded me of that for some reason. You are a very good writer.

    "Spinnin', spinnin', spinnin', spinnin' like a spinnin' top..."


  9. Congrats on amassing some semblance of a readership - an achievement I've yet to lay claim to. Also, congrats on forcing me to occasionally consult a dictionary (though not begrudgingly) as I peruse your blog.

  10. Good Morning Ms. Hannah,

    I experience in you a wordsmith of delightful potency.

    A captivating, guffaw invoking style, perfectly tailored to suit your splendid perceptiveness.

    Scrumptous and tantalizing.

    Thank you for pouring a little out to the rest of us.