Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I beat the Lizard Brain!

rooster statue
I know such victories are fleeting and the battle must be fought every day, but each time my frontal lobes manage to shut down my amygdala, I feel the need to crow from the rooftops like a rooster.

So, today is Wednesday. As most of you are getting tired of seeing on Facebook and Twitter, I'm doing the Couch to 5K program, and I'm mostly running Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Drop the kids off at camp, change into my outdoor running shoes, pack up my paraphernalia (water bottle, iPod with headphones, hat, oy vey) and head OUT THE DOOR. No compromises. It's just what I do on Wednesday mornings.

This morning the Lizard Brain was in full whiny force. It kept listing all the reasons for me to stay in the gym and do something less strenuous, and I had to keep squelching it like a game of whack-a-mole. The conversation went something like this.

LB: I need new shoes.
Me: True, but these still have a few runs left in them. I'll get new ones before the 5K, I promise.

LB: I hurt my foot on a broken curb yesterday.
Me: True, thank you for nothing City of Winnipeg, but it's not that bad. My running shoes give much better support than sandals and I think it will be OK.

LB (full-bore whine): But I'm TIRED!!!!
Me: Well, um, you know, if YOU would let us get to bed before midnight once in a while instead of staying up doing Facebook and succumbing to carb cravings ... whatever. We're going to do this.

But the final blow to the Lizard Brain, and one that I'm very glad I added to my arsenal, was the following.

I've got nearly $500 worth of people who believe I can do this. I can't believe how much money my rocking group of friends and family have raised in three days. I'm humbled and blessed and everything else. Of course it's a good cause, but there are lots of good causes and lots of ways to contribute to this one, and you chose to support ME.

I went out and did my run, my foot was fine, I feel less tired than before, and I love you all. Thank you for believing in me, and helping me believe in myself.

What has your Lizard Brain been complaining about? Any way you can improve your defence against it, too?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Perils of False Intimacy


He who guards his mouth and his tongue, Guards his soul from troubles. Proverbs 21:23

I should listen to King Solomon, the wisest of men, more often. I inadvertently rubbed salt into a stranger's wounds today.

It's a funny thing about women's locker rooms. I don't know how men's are - I suspect people don't talk to strangers there. But most good gyms try to make the women's changing rooms, at least, homey and cheerful. Soft lighting (except by the mirrors, where the lighting tends to be brutally honest), nondescript carpeting, innocuous music. There we are, in various stages of undress, carrying out all kinds of rituals we normally perform at home in the privacy of our bathrooms. Some of us actually know each other - maybe our kids go to the same school, or we take some exercise classes together. The water aerobics groups are quite notorious for their raucous chatter, both in the locker room and later in the restaurant.

Those of us who don't know each other, have a choice. We can ignore each other, or we can act on the false intimacy of hanging out in the same space in our underwear. If I am in a good mood, I tend to do the latter. It is usually quite harmless. We talk about our children or our health as if we were old friends. If we see each other often enough, sometimes it becomes real. There are some older ladies who keep tabs on me and scold me if I don't come often enough. I've given the odd word of advice to a young mother who can't see beyond the rigours of life with a toddler. It's generally fun.

This morning, I was there with a woman in her late forties whom I had seen a few times before, but I don't know her name and I didn't know anything about her. I had occasion to phone my teenaged son and had a conversation with him that amused me. When I hung up, I chuckled and said to this woman (just because she was there), "Isn't it amazing how funny kids are? It's a good thing, too, or we would probably kill them."

She nodded silently, clearly not amused by my sentiment. Rebuffed, I turned back to my locker. She seemed to be having difficulty getting her things together. As she left, she encountered the locker room attendant, who asked her solicitously how she was. She said, "Every day is a sad day, for now. But I'm getting better."

Once she was gone, I could not resist asking what was wrong with her - she was clearly distraught. The attendant told me that her 25 y/o daughter was killed in a car accident last week.

Oh. My. Effing. G-d.

I couldn't even apologise - she was gone. I hope I get to see her again, although I'm not sure what to say. "Sorry I was an insensitive idiot who had no idea ..."?

Have you ever caused pain by thoughtless, ignorant speech? What, if anything, did you do to make amends?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Running for the Cure

2007 CIBC Run for the Cure

I've been trying to become a runner for quite a few years now - pretty much every summer I pull out my old running books and try to get myself going. I run a couple of times a week for a few weeks and then life interferes and I'm done. Also, I found that I couldn't pace myself properly and ended up either injured or frustrated or both.

This year I've been doing the Couch to 5K program from, using podcasts made by a guy called Robert Ullrey ( My pacing problem is now taken care of by his calm, competent voice. The music is not what I would have chosen but hey, it gets me moving and I'm very grateful to him for making these podcasts. The program starts very gently, with 30 second runs and 90 second walks, taking you to the ability to run for 30 minutes straight (which would be about 5 km) in nine weeks.

I started in May and made it up to week eight (25 minute run!) before taking a vacation hiatus for five weeks. So I have now moved myself back to week five (just finished it this past week) to get back into the swing of things. Since I am currently in the mode of setting myself goals to achieve, I have just signed up for my first 5K run - and for an excellent cause, too!

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure:

All being well, the above link should take you to my Personal Page at the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation's website, where you can donate some money for this cause if you so desire. The run is on October 2nd so I have plenty of time to get myself ready. It's the Fast of Gedaliah - the first weekday after Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year - an excellent time to start a new, healthier lifestyle! Yes, one could have quite the conversation about whether I should be running a race on a minor fast day, but I think I can swing it - it's not a marathon, after all.

I'm going to leave it at that for this blog post, although I definitely have thoughts about the symbolism of the name "Running for the Cure". Stay tuned.

Support me? Thanks!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It's all about Jack

P1090638 Harbord Street Tribute to Jack Layton

This week, Canada has been swept by a wave of grief for the untimely passing of Jack Layton, leader of the federal New Democratic Party and of L'Opposition Loyale de Sa Majesté. He passed away early Monday morning after a courageous fight with cancer, only a few months after leading his social democratic party to an unprecedented 103 seats in Parliament.

Reams have been written in the last two days about his illustrious career, beginning as a Toronto city councillor (sometimes serving as deputy mayor and acting mayor of Canada's largest city) and continuing as the Member of Parliament for Toronto-Danforth and leader of Canada's social democrats, crowned by his amazing near-sweep of Quebec (unfortunately, the Conservatives very nearly swept my own province of Manitoba. Maybe I should move). He was a musician, a gentleman whom his opponents are proud to honour this week, a father and a friend. But that is not why I am writing about him now.

I just want to talk about one paragraph, in one letter, and what it means to me.

Before he passed away, Jack (and I never knew him, but that is whom he has always been, to me and to thirty-three million other Canadians) wrote a letter to his party, his caucus, fellow cancer sufferers, to young Canadians, and to all of us. He concluded with the following paragraph:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

In the last federal election, I voted for the Greens (mostly because I knew and liked their candidate, and had never even met the others - and I knew the Conservative candidate would win anyway, sigh). In the last provincial election, I voted for the NDP because I liked Gary Doer. Not very good reasons for choosing a party, one might say. I am an incorrigible social democrat, a feminist, a believer in the perfectibility of the world. The personal is always very political, to me.

But I do have a reason to be fired up, to want to change the world, to be loving, hopeful and optimistic. I never met Jack Layton, much to my regret. I think he's the best Prime Minister Canada never had, and now never will have. He was cut down with his work unfinished. The Mishna says the following in Pirkei Avot, a blueprint for an ethical life that we study on Shabbat afternoons:

Rabbi Tarfon taught: "It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either" (2:16).

I don't yet know what I can do to make the world a better place, but I do feel that it is incumbent upon me, and upon every person who is grieving Jack Layton's untimely passing, to do whatever we can to increase the light in the world, now that such a bright light has gone out.

How will you help make the world a better place?


Monday, August 22, 2011

Wearing tefillin while female

When I was growing up in Israel, my father went to the local (Orthodox - there was nothing else at the time) synagogue on a regular basis. My mother, sister and I only went on the High Holy Days because we were not welcome at other times - the women's balcony was uncomfortable, the sight lines were terrible and the acoustics were worse. We were certainly not expected to participate in the service in any way. I was allowed into the business part of the synagogue until I turned twelve, and that was that. Not feeling that the synagogue in any way facilitated my relationship with G-d, I drifted away.

Fast forward to Winnipeg, mid-nineties. My husband and I joined a local Conservative synagogue which had recently become egalitarian, after a bitter battle. The new rabbi was a strong believer in women's right to be counted and participate in the service in every way. One of the ways in which he encouraged such participation was by teaching women how to lead services. I was already fluent in Hebrew, so I only needed to learn the tunes, which I quickly mastered. I enjoyed helping with the Shabbat services, and my father, who had abandoned the Orthodox synagogue with much relief once a Reform congregation appeared in his town, bought me a tallit. All was lovely and fulfilling. Feeling connected with G-d through my religious community, I increased my observance and now keep Shabbat, a kosher home, and as many more of the six hundred and thirteen mitzvot as I can.

Then I was asked to help with the daily minyan. Since we had recently begun counting women, suddenly the other half of humanity was available to make up the required ten adults (over the age of Bar or Bat Mitzvah) for a prayer quorum. I began going one morning a week, and noticed that many of the men wore tefillin. So did two women whom I greatly admired. So the rabbi taught me how to lay tefillin, and I have been wearing them for morning prayers ever since.

I have been leading the Sunday morning minyan for quite a few years now, and have worked hard to encourage other members of the congregation to learn how to chant the prayers. Many are very intimidated by the Hebrew words and the tunes, but after they have mastered those, they are even more intimidated by the idea of wearing tefillin. One of my regulars, a woman of great courage, has learned to lead the first part of the prayers, and now she has done me the honour of asking me to help her learn to lay tefillin. So, being the geek that I am, I went to find an instructional video for her to use at her leisure, and found this Wrap Rap.

It's not a very good rap, I know. But it shows the wrapping very clearly (although there is some dispute about the placement of the head boxes), and so I sent it to her. I did not pay much attention to the comments, which contained some of the usual rabid (and badly spelled) response to women taking on religious behaviours that were previously exclusively reserved for men (although there are no valid reasons for the exclusion - Rashi's daughters are said to have laid tefillin). In particular, a reference was made to the superstition that women should not touch the Torah (the boxes contain words of Torah written on the same kind of parchment with the same kind of script) because they may become impure (i.e., they might start menstruating) and supposedly make the Torah impure. My friend was very upset by these suggestions. The Talmud is quite clear on this being complete nonsense:

"'Is not My word like fire? says the Lord' (Jer. 23:29) — Just as fire does not become impure, so too, words of Torah cannot become impure." (Berachot 22a)

Wearing tefillin is a scary act for any Jew who was not brought up in an observant fashion, and wearing tefillin while female is doubly so. I am fortunate to wear mine in an environment where my devotion is not only accepted but encouraged and admired. My hat is off to all the pioneers whose struggle led to my comfort, and to all who dare take this step in their own search to become closer to G-d.

Do you do scary things in your search for meaning? If not, what is holding you back? The Lizard Brain?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fighting the Lizard Brain


One of my favourite Internet people is Seth Godin. I follow his blog faithfully, am a member of his Domino Project and have bought more than one of his books. Without those steady years of brainwashing, I doubt I would ever have started this blog. Phrases like "Don't wait to be picked - do the work" have pushed me out of my passive stance and into doing something - anything - not waiting to be picked. Although, of course, I am waiting to be picked. Waiting to be read, noticed, picked up by somebody who matters more than I do in the Internet world.

One of the concepts that appeals to me in Seth's writing is the Lizard Brain. It's that part of our brain that is the Resistance. that is afraid of change, of doing anything new. It makes us want to sink back into our comfortable rut and read Facebook instead of thinking, writing, doing whatever it is that we think we should be doing to be picked, to stand out, to make art or something else that is worthwhile (although aren't all things that are worthwhile art, in some form or another?).

So here I am, I've written a few blog posts. My dear friends and family who love me and actually care what I have to say have read and a few have even commented. I've put it out there on Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn (with much trepidation!). It's even been picked up by the Manitoba Educators Daily, much to my surprise. I'm going to assume that it is because it is summer and Andy had no real news to put in there. Or is that the Lizard Brain talking?

My first reaction when I saw that my blog had been picked up in this little Twitter newsletter was fear. Oh no, now I'm going to be read and judged by people who aren't my nearest and dearest ... well, I'm going to hope that they are all at the lake anyway. Or do I really hope that?

I have no doubt that my writing will improve with time and practice, and that there is no reason to assume that people outside my inner circle are going to dislike it even before then. But why do I immediately cut myself down? When I read people's summaries on LinkedIn they are all excellent, experienced, they know everything there is to know about this business. Does the Lizard Brain not whisper in their inner ear? Or are they shouting to drown it out?

I know the Lizard Brain talks to you, too. What do you do to make it shut up?

Why A Coat of Many Colours?

I have always loved Carole King, but of course I never understood the lyrics of this song until I actually had some warp and woof in that Tapestry ... and while trying to understand who I am and what I like to do, I found that phrase "a coat of many colours" recurring in my mind. I have always been very envious of people who know what they are passionate about from a young age, take steps to follow that dream and build a career around their strengths. But for me - there are so many things that excite me, so many strands I want to follow. I have lived so many lives already, loved so many people and places, learned so many new things.

I am hopeful that writing is a way I will be able to develop my strengths and finally grow into whom I was meant to be. I hope my coat of many colours does not lead me to be sold into slavery instead!

Do you have a visual metaphor that keeps intruding on your self-description? What is it telling you?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

After Havdalah

Havdalah Candle

I didn't make it into Blogger yesterday - it was a busy day, spent, among other things, holding ten-week-old twins and preparing for Shabbat (fortunately, not at the same time).

Shabbat is a subject I am passionate about. I came to Jewish observance in my early- to mid-thirties, mostly under the influence of our then-rabbi and his wife. They demonstrated to me that it is possible to be modern, egalitarian, ambitious, connected, and also to set one day a week aside with no driving, no writing, no cooking, no phone calls and no Internet. What at first seemed awkward is now a haven, although I will admit that as soon as the Havdalah candle is extinguished and we are separated from the sacred, I run to satisfy two of my addictions - Internet and freshly brewed coffee. In the intervening years since we began to keep Shabbat I have learned to lead services, to spend time studying, and to increase the quality of that strand in my life I call my Jewish neshama, or soul. While we pray every day, in the presence of the Shabbat Queen we have a neshama yeteira, an extra helping of holiness.

My children have grown up with Shabbat observance and have never known us to do otherwise. It has been fascinating to watch as they mature from hating the day-with-no-electronics to appreciation of the time to read, play board games, talk and go to the park. My fifteen-year-old puts away the ubiquitous texting and seems truly relieved to be out of touch for twenty five hours. My twelve-year-old is in transition, and my eight-year-old still completely hates it, although she does enjoy the social aspects of dressing up and going to shul. The availability of adults who would otherwise be staring at a screen is also not to be underestimated.

 Do you set time aside to attend to your soul and your family? If not, why not?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Old friends

old friends

It seems like every blog post that I make leads to the next one to clarify or muse on something that I said. So far I think that's a good thing, at least until I have some kind of conversation going on here, which I hope will eventually happen.

In yesterday's blog I said that I had no friends from kindergarten. I lied, however. Not long after I made this statement, I got tempted into the following Facebook meme:

Of course, as soon as I'd posted this I remembered that Eliyahu (then known as Alan) and I did indeed go to kindergarten together, back in 1966 or so. Our parents were friends then and are friends now. Their connection has kept ours alive when circumstances of life would otherwise have severed it - since we moved away from that place when I was six, I do not even remember the names or faces of anybody else I went to kindergarten with.

We have led very different lives, but we do have in common a constant searching and questioning, leading us to wander through places, religious commitments and friendships, proverbial and literal mountaintops. As we approach the half century mark, still searching and questioning, who knows what we will become when we finally grow up?

I am glad that Facebook has made it easy for us to reconnect. Watching those whom I knew when they and I were younger (not only Eliyahu, but my friends from university in the Netherlands, my beloved March96 family and others) as they grow, mature and become more and more themselves, is a precious gift for which I am very grateful.

What old friends are you grateful for?