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Three things I learned on my wedding day.

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Even tiny details: burned in my memory.

People told me: “It’ll go by in a blur. Take time to breathe and enjoy it.”

I received a ton of advice leading up to my wedding day, but this was repeated so often, I began to take it as gospel.

As it turns out, my wedding was not a blur. Rather, it was like a dream – not the fleeting kind, leaving you with an impression of flying or hiding,  but the kind where you are right there, in fourth grade again, and you can smell the chalk boards, you can hear the minute hand, the bell, the teacher shouting final homework instructions, the surge through the door – the scramble to the playground — so many details it seems to take all eight hours of the night.

In the weeks after the wedding, I filled over forty pages of my journal with images, thoughts, and recollections. That’s a lot of pages, a lot of details. More elusive, however, has been the “mileage” of the experience.

Experiences vs. “Mileage”

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Losing myself in a food experience.

As naive college freshmen, my best friend and I used to covet “mileage” – which to us, was some blend of experience and the perspective one earns by having the experience.

Just to clarify, you need not question my inability to enjoy life in the moment. When I’m eating something delicious, conversation ceases as I float away to the Land of Yum.  I experience things deeply and powerfully, and I’m grateful for that. But without mileage, and a little bit of distance, I believe there is no wisdom.

For example, I once had a hilarious experience, laying on the rain-soaked concrete, helping a Dutch guy photograph soccer figurines for an art project).

Berlin

So…this happened.

And I cherish that memory. He was a really cool guy. But more important to my quality of life was the mileage I gained after the experience.

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Said otherwise: “There’s no place like home.”

It occurred to me, once I was back at home, sitting with a friend at a local pizza place, that taking turns spilling your guts about the latest drama in your lives is one of the best things that life has to offer.

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Speaking of Big-Wheels, my brother is on the Big Wheel. I’m on the much cooler Harley. Circa 1977.

My hard-earned mileage has been instrumental in getting my chronic FOMS (Fear Of Missing Something) a bit more under control. While the experience of being crushed by hundreds of people in the alleged “best night-club in Europe” has waned in my memory, the mileage remains forever: nothing is ever as good as the hype. With that in mind,  I won’t get quite as bent out of shape if I miss the much-hyped San Francisco Grown-Up Big Wheel Race.

Why should my own wedding not be a source of mileage? Sure, it blew every experience of my life away: more emotional than

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Berlin’s got nothin’ on THIS dance floor!

the marriage proposal, more grand than my first visit to the Grand Canyon, more psychedelic than any Phish concert, and with permanent, existential implications, unlike any roller-coaster I have ridden. But that doesn’t mean the experience can’t be, shouldn’t be an opportunity for mileage.

One step further, because of the intensity and enormity of the experience, I tend to believe that whatever I learned on that day is compounded in its truth – it is eternal wisdom for my lifetime.

Mile 1: Energy Spent Worrying is Wasted

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Nothing went wrong, and everything went right.

Heading into the wedding, I was warned: you have to expect and accept that something is going to go wrong.

This struck me as sound advice, but it also put lots of crazy-thinking in my head. Late at night, I considered various disastrous scenarios:

  • The Rabbi could be delayed – or his flight could be cancelled.
  • A key friend or family member might be unable to make it due to sudden illness.
  • A wine barrel will certainly explode and cover me in 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Maybe I will forgetting the ketubah (marriage contract) in San Francisco, and not realize it until 10 minutes before the ceremony.
  • The DJ could confused about the first dance, and rather than playing Bobby Darren’s “Beyond the Sea,” he he will play “Never Gonna Give You Up.”

Sometimes it would keep me up, and I would lay on the sofa and plan through how I would handle inadvertently Rick-Rolling my own wedding.

None of these scenarios came to fruition. In fact, there were no major problems. Unfortunately, whatever time and energy I spent worrying about those things won’t get rolled over to the next major event like unused cell-phone minutes. It’s gone.

Mile 2: When things go wrong, it will be up to me to decide how to interpret them.

Okay, so we had a few minor mishaps.

ketuba.GIFMy favorite: as I mentioned earlier, I hand calligraphed (yes, that’s a word) the traditional Hebrew marriage contract. It took about four months. I started over at least ten times, for errors as small as a smudged letter or a dimple in the paper. Towards the ketubah’s completion, a stray greasy onion got stuck on the parchment. An alchemical combination of cornstarch and white ink masked the stain, and from that point on, I treated the contract as if it were a priceless fragment of the Dead-Sea Scrolls. It stayed in a protective sleeve between two pieces of pristine parchment.

Then, at the “tisch” (kind of a pre-ceremony toast-and-singing warm-up), a guest spilled water on the table. Somehow, it soaked up into the ketubah and smudged it. Yes, in the final moment before it was safely sealed into its frame for eternity, it got “damaged.”

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Ring the bells that still can ring / forget your perfect offering / there is a crack in everything / that’s how the light gets in. (Rabbi Leonard Cohen)

“Normal Me” would have disintegrated on the spot. But “Wedding Me” saw things differently. That smudge was made by a guest whom I love, during one of the most profound moments of my life. It’s as if, along with the witnesses’ signatures, Human Existence itself signed the ketubah: “remember this moment.”

In real life, this kind of thing happens all the time.

I can recall, as a 4 year old, playing hide-and-seek with my brother and accidentally knocking over and shattering an antique lamp.

My parents cleaned it up, reminded us to be careful where we play, and that was that. Now, that episode is woven into the edifice of my childhood – a memory whose values transcends the worth of the glass lamp itself.

How many other things, in life, will break and shatter? How many other opportunities will I have to embrace the truth of the moment, shards and all, and value it above the “could-have-been” perfection which would have gone unremembered?

Mile 3: Uncomfortable feelings will go away soon. Sooner than you think.

I can be moody, and I can be set off. I’ve been to rock concerts where I was still grouchy during the encore because somebody inadvertently elbowed me in the ribs during the first song.

Leading up to the wedding, I was worried that perhaps something might “elbow” me, and I’d be standing under the chuppah annoyed that someone had scuffed my shoes while giving me a hug.

Throughout the day, I went from moment to moment – and when a bump occurred, it didn’t “spoil the concert,” so to speak. Perhaps because I was so resonant with the beauteous majesty around me. Or perhaps some new thing always came along to distract me.

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A hieroglyph I drew that night: the first metaphor of our married life.

Until the end of the night. Exhausted, spent, Gabi and I rode a guest-packed shuttle to our wedding-night vacation house. We were the last ones on the bus, miles from the city. The bus stopped in the darkness, and the driver said, “This is it.” But that wasn’t it. The guest house was a quarter-mile up a dark hill. The shuttle driver wouldn’t drive it. Or call for help. Or walk with us. Or stay with us to make sure we made it, dressed in our wedding clothes, carrying bags and a bouquet.

After he drove away, and after Gabi and I groused for a minute, we saw ourselves as if from the outside. We were climbing up a pitch black, sweaty, exhausting metaphor, the first of our married lives.

Life bumps us in the ribs, constantly. But that moment is usually transitory. The feelings move on. The trick, for me, is to trust that it will.

And if I learned that on my wedding day, it’s mileage for life.

 

 

 

 

 

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11 Days Until I Get Married. Holy Shit.

IMG_1454A Chassidic Story.

In a faraway land, a council of Wise People provides their citizens with daily guidance and wisdom. One day, the Wise People get an alarming message. A kind of fungus has grown on some of the rye of the kingdom. Many have inadvertently eaten this grain, and it has changed them. They no longer see the world in the same way they once did. They think differently. They are transformed forever. There is no cure.

The council waits for further news. A report comes: the people who have eaten the rye are now suggesting to others that they, too, partake of the grain. It’s happening. Soon, everyone in the land will have eaten the grain. No one will be their old selves.

The Wise People have a dilemma:  eat the grain, and lose their hold on reality, or refuse the grain, and before long, be rendered obsolete, unable to provide guidance and wisdom to a world transformed?

What do they do?

I’ll tell you later.


Obviously, I’m not the first person to get married. I’m not the first to write about the experience. And there’s tons of support and love from all around.

And before I say anything else, let me register this: I am thrilled beyond thrilled to be getting married to the most amazing person.

But the fact of the matter is, nobody can offer me real-time, “I know what you’re going through” hand-holding. Everybody sees my current state through their own filter – their own projections, their own memories. The result: lots of well-wishers, not a lot of true understanding, and a ton of unrequested advice.

My least favorite: “Just enjoy this special time!”

Yes, I know it’s special. It’s so special that I have almost nothing to compare it to, try as I might. “About to get married” is surreal, beyond comprehension, impossible to understand — for me, and for nearly everyone else. Every day in the U.S., about 6000 people get married. That’s 84,000 people dwelling, as we speak, in the “two week window.” That’s only 0.0056 % of the American population.  Effectively, nobody knows what we “about to be married” folks are experiencing.

What about veterans who’ve been married for 42 years? What about newlyweds? The reality is: both are on the “other side of the veil,” so to speak. You can do your best to remember, but your status has been altered, your mind changed. You will never know the feeling of “never having been married” ever again.

And that’s why: “Enjoy this special time” probably feels like good advice to give.

Unfortunately, “enjoy” doesn’t seem like the right thing to do – any more than Jodie Foster’s Dr. Araway should enjoy the final hours before she embarks on her space voyage in Contact (1997). Does she want to go? Obviously. Is she excited to go? Obviously. But the encounter with infinity is, to borrow from German Theologian Rudolf Otto, one of “daunting awfulness and majesty.” Within this encounter of “mysterium tremendum,” there is the “uncanny…divine wrath…judgment…and the reassuring and heightening experiences of grace and divine love.” In her final days on Earth, it doesn’t seem like enjoyment can possibly be on her mind.

For me, getting married is a numinous voyage into space, never to return. And though Gabi is on this journey as well, only I know my own rocket ship and where it’s been.

Not much room in this tiny rocket ship for “enjoyment.”

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And yet.

This afternoon, Gabi and I sat by a beautiful water fountain and ate bagels.

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2015

This morning, I spoke with my mother and father about bringing to the wedding a photo from their own wedding, 50 years ago, and was filled with existential tingles.

Last night, I laughed hysterically with my future father-in-law, sipping whiskey and watching “Walk Hard.”

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Cigars were involved.

Yesterday, I had a phenomenal conversation with a friend about life and the ways our minds play tricks on us. I walked alongside a creek, watched the birds, and ate some tart wild raspberries.

Last week, my best friend conspired with my cousin and my future brother-in-law to spoil me with an afternoon of beach, bourbon, and buffalo chicken. Cigars may have been involved.

coffeeeeWe returned to my cousin’s house to shower and freshen up for dinner, and standing in the living room in my towel, sipping coffee and watching the afternoon wind whip through the palm trees, I felt like a prince.

I deeply.

Thoroughly.

Completely.

And utterly enjoyed it.


So what did the Wise People do, watching while the world around them progressed into a new state – Wise People, perched between obsolescence and the absolute unknown? Eat the rye? Not eat the rye?

Each made a mark on his or her forehead, to remind them, and to remind each other, that once, they were different. They made a mark, and together, they ate the rye.

This blog post is my mark.

What I’ve Learned From Writing 100 Blog Posts

100.jpgWhat have I accomplished a hundred times?

And by “accomplish,” I mean, “something that takes effort.” Eating pizza doesn’t count. Even eating the whole pizza, which admittedly takes effort, and which I’ve done, doesn’t count. To be honest, I’m hard-pressed to come up with anything beyond the milestone this blog post represents.

Unless something is an explicit necessity for one’s livlihood, or part of the body’s daily needs, it’s a major challenge to accomplish anything 100 times. Nonetheless, StyleForDorks.com has reached the 100-post mark. I’m proud as hell. I couldn’t have done it without my muse, with whom I’ll be “blogging back and forth forever” (an inside joke which I can let you in on).

So, the time is right for a round-up of what I’ve learned from this milestone, which, apparently, I’ve rarely ever crossed before.


  1. Feeling creative is elusive and transitory, like a crush. Being creative is a behavior that must be cultivated. Like love.

My most prolific period as a blogger was when I took on a challenge: 30 blog posts in 30 days. Jet lagged and exhausted at a Philadelphia educator’s conference, I propped my eyes open and banged out a blog post on dapper teachers.  Damn, did I not want to write it, but damn did it feel good to click “Publish” and crash on my hotel bed. And in doing so, I continued to fulfill a committment I’d already made. That’s being creative. That’s love.

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This look has definitely been done before. But not in the way I do it.

2. Yes, other people do what you do. But nobody does it the way you do, or as well as you do.

I’ve been very successful, all my life, in finding the odd niches and filling them. In high-school, I wasn’t a jock or a science-nerd or a theater kid or whatever. Instead, I agglomerated a persona of odds and ends such that I never needed to worry about competition, not because I was the best at what I did, but because I was the only one who did what I did. And I’m proud of this. I was my own finest creation. But also, I never had much chance to test myself.

As an adult, I’ve loosened my grip on needing to be sui generis – one of a kind. Sure, I’m probably one of very few Style-Blogger/High School Jewish Studies educators in the world, so in that sense, there isn’t much competition. But there are so many style blogs out there, and there is so much material to read on education, It’s easy to feel like I’m the newest guest to arrive at a party of 10 thousand people. And all the buffalo tofu bites are gone.

But: I have my own thing to say. And even if others’ share my “thing to say,” no one says it how I say it. In a way, this is part of the human condition. To quote my favorite grump, Ecclesiastes, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” This is true. But at the same time, there is always room, under the sun, for a new way of helping people with old problems.

3. Don’t let your own successes back you in a corner.

Gabi and I just saw Dirty Dancing  live in San Francisco, so being in a corner, or getting out of it, is on my mind. Honestly, though, the one who puts me in a corner the most is me. I have a tendency to think that if I do something and it works, I should keep doing it.

It makes sense, and it’s deadly. Quickly, you can become stale, doing the same thing over and over, just because it worked. Remember those pathetic comic strips in the Sunday Funnies that retooled the same, tired routines? Yeah. I don’t want to be that.

On the other hand, I don’t want to throw away the “maybe” with the bathwater. Maybe I could try a new angle. Maybe I could explore something I’ve never explored before. Maybe I want to create something new.

Try it. Explore it. Create it.

No one puts maybe in a corner.

 

 

 

 

Moods, Microclimates, and Mohair Jackets

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Dressed for a typical rainy/sunny/foggy day in San Francisco. A trench coat can be worn over a blazer, then folded and stashed into a backpack. During the sunny afternoon, sleeves roll up. Until Karl the Fog comes around.

Some people are like sunny San Diego, where it’s 82 degrees and sunny every day, where you can wear shorts and a t-shirt 300 days out of the year. These people are even-keeled. Upbeat. Unshakably positive. Sometimes, annoying.

Some people are dour, cloudy and grey. Like Seattle. Home of the grunge flannel shirt — a garment well suited for Seattle’s average temperature: 51.9 degrees. 

But I’m like San Francisco, the town I call home, where the weather (and one’s outfit) changes nine times a day, where microclimates can create a sartorial conundrum: on an afternoon of cross-town errands, should I bring a light jacket, a sweater tied around my waste? A backpack with a windbreaker? All of the above? Without proper planning, you will shvitz in the sunny Mission, and an hour later, you will shiver once Karl the Fog plows past the Twin Peaks and engulfs the eastern half of the city.

This is where I choose to live. And this matches nicely the sartorial/emotional reality of my own unpredictable moodiness. Certainly, I’ve experienced being “in a funk.” And I’ve known depression in my day. But moodiness is different. Moodiness is going through Tom Waits’ “Emotional Weather Report” all in the span of afternoon:

We are talking about late night and early morning low clouds
With a chance of fog, chance of showers into the afternoon
With variable high cloudiness and gusty winds…
For the areas including the western region of my mental health.

I’m learning when to fight against my moodiness, but more importantly, when to accommodate, when to shield others from it, when to adapt.

For example,  when I go to see live music, I go alone; at the Fillmore Theater, why should I drag friends and loved ones through my emotional microclimates? My impatience with the opening act, my annoyance about the lines for the bar, the restroom, my fixation on my inevitable exhaustion at work, tomorrow. Then, a brief reprieve as the first song of the night begins: sunny bonhomie, and I want to hug every stranger around me. Until some guy bumps me as I sway, eyes closed during my favorite song, when I return to my misanthropy.

Exactly. I call that fun. And I’ll gladly excuse you from dealing with it.


 

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A wool vest gives the denim jacket a bit of insulation for my morning commute, but won’t make me shvitz in my overheated workplace.

Or maybe you relate to this. Maybe, like me, you are moody.

Obviously, everyone experiences emotional weather patterns, but moody people experience them profoundly and frequently, and it’s part of who we are. For that matter, I wouldn’t have it otherwise.

SENSITIVITY

I believe there is a correlation between moodiness and sensitivity, and sensitivity is a requirement for compassion and for deep connection. I once complained about my moodiness to a mentor who knew me very well, and in response, he suggested that our attention falls into two categories: (with that, he raised his hands and wiggled them, palm out) — when we are oriented outwards, paying attention to everything that happens around us (and then he reversed his hands)  and when we are oriented inwards, focusing on what’s happening inside.

He told me that some of my problems come from being just a little too much of both. For moody people, this can make any experience a tumultuous one. A concert is more than a visual/auditory experience, it’s an emotional panoply. It also means that the people in our lives feel seen and heard by us, and they know that when they share themselves with us, we are hearing them. And we are. Loud and freakin’ clear.

I think this is part of what makes me successful as a teacher; I can see and hear the needs of my students, and meanwhile, I have a strong intuition of what to say or do (or what not to say or do). It also means that I experience extreme emotion in response to my successes and failures: when a class goes well, I dance down the hallways afterwards like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. On the other hand, when a class bombs, I need to be scraped off the floor with a giant spatula.

For a moody person, a day of work involves emotional microclimates. It’s part of why I’m so tired at the end of the day. But like the denizens of San Francisco, who have mastered the art of layering their clothing, moody people have skills and strategies to adapt to their ever-changing inner weather patterns.

RESILIENCE

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A suit with a minimalist (and slim fitting) polo will keep you warm until the fog lifts.

Being moody means inevitable feelings of setback and disappointment. There will be fog. Around 4:30pm, the cold, wet damp will descend and you will hardly believe that you sought out the shade just an hour earlier. There is no way around this. However, successful moody people learn resilience – the ability to push through fog and rain, even though there is no sign of improved weather conditions in sight. Says  Eric Greitens, author of Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life, “You cannot bounce back from hardship. You can only move through it.” True also of moods.

San Franciscans throw on a scarf, add a few sweaters, and go out for ice cream. Likewise, learning to push through moods can prepare us to move through real-life difficulties. We can become attuned to how temporal the weather, our moods, and our life conditions are.

ADAPTABILITY

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Heading off to teach a class on a rainy morning. Notice how all that mohair (warm) comes in layers (adaptable). Also, those Redwing boots contrast nicely with the “Oxford Prof” getup. Plus, they keep my feet dry.

I can go from cloud-nine to rain clouds in minutes. When I am disappointed, I am heart broken. But I mend quickly.

Years ago, upon conveying to me a piece of potentially troubling professional news, a colleague told me I was the last person he’d ever want to subject to disappointment and also the first person he’d expect to adapt to it.

Anyone who is both moody and successful has had two challenges in life: dealing with the shit that life deals us, and dealing with the shit that goes on inside of us.  We become, as a result, highly adaptive to challenging circumstances – but boy, will we complain about them.

True. Trust me, I’ll let you know how much I resent that something is forcing me to become a better person.

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Knowing that I am inevitably going to be hot, later in the day, I wear dapper layers under my jacket so as to be able to strip off layers without stripping off style.

That said, adapting is my jam. While the uninitiated tourist will be spooked by morning fog and head out for the day coated in thick wool, we moody San Franciscans know that the sun will come out. Not tomorrow. Probably in about forty-five minutes.

That’s why I love sweater vests. They’re a strategy for adapting to fluctuations in temperature throughout the day.

Besides my wardrobe full of actual sweater vests, I have a wardrobe full of “emotional sweater vests,” strategies for adapting to my rapidly changing moods. I have learned when to ask for space (for 15 minutes, right when I get home from work). I have learned when and how to distract myself (retail therapy: the reason why I have so many sweater vests). How to process via journaling, meditation, therapy. I put on running shoes and I huff up and down San Francisco’s famous hills. To some, they are a nuisance. To me, they are a way of keeping my emotions in check.

But here’s the trick: don’t nag the moody person in your life to bring out the adaptive layers. Rather, invoke them, invite them by complimenting them: “I love how you look in that brown sweater. I love how you sometimes let go of your preference for a table by the window so I won’t sit by the door and freeze my ass off. It’s so sexy when you put things in perspective and let me choose the movie.”

Then, sit back and watch how elegantly we adapt.

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Would You Like to Meet “Linus?”

 

me and linus

Linus. The real Linus.

Before Linus, I’d already met a few of my childhood heroes, face to face.

Dave Brubeck, my favorite pianist, used crackle and pop on my parent’s Hi-Fi, while I sat on the floor building a Capsela robot-tank. Thirty years later, I saw him in concert, and then ran into him, after the show, as he left the men’s room. (I managed to stammer: Hey Dave! Keep swinging!” 

Dorkenheimer.

I also met Gonzo. You know, the hook-nosed purple guy from the Muppets.

In that case, Dave Goelz, the Muppets puppeteer, came to San Francisco to a teacher’s event. I won a raffle, which brought me to the front of the room where Gonzo sat (on Mr. Goeltz’s knee) and I received my gift card from the 3-fingered hand of The Great Gonzo himself.

(Gimme 5!  I said. His reply: How about I give you three? Keep the change.)

So: I’ve met the real Dave Brubeck and the “real” Gonzo, but now,  I was offered a chance to meet the man that a fictional character was based on. That doesn’t happen every day.

Linus Maurer. Cartoonist, illustrator, and friend to Charles Schultz, lived in a nursing home in Sonoma County. My friend Rebecca connected me to Linus’s longtime partner, Mary Jo. “He’s a really friendly guy,” she said, “he loves company and he loves to tell stories.”

Not long after, I opened the screen door of a quaint and quiet ranch house: the nursing home where I would meet the real Linus.

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If you love something, love it without apology.

The “pretend Linus” was my favorite Peanuts character. He could be snippy, sure, but he was generally kind and patient and a bit of an introvert; at once childish (security blanket) and naive (the Great Pumpkin) and precocious (sound theology). He was a bit of a megalomaniac, and yet humble (sort of).  He could impress others as an inventive-badass (blanket-whip) but most inspiring to me, he was Linus, the one and only — and no matter what his critics said about his eccentricities, Linus believes what he believes, and he loves what he loves.

The real Linus bore a key similarity to his pen-and-ink counterpart. He had a blanket. I don’t believe it was a security blanket, per se – just a cozy, gingham blanket, spread across his lap, though it was a warm Sonoma day. We sat and talked, side by side in reclining chairs, and he told me stories. Charles Schultz and he were friends in art school; Schultz had shown Linus a prototype drawing of a new character. Linus approved, and the India-ink neonate was named after him.

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Linus and Linus. Photo from Sonomanews.com

During our time together, Linus told me about landing jets on an aircraft carrier during the war (very difficult, he said, especially with high winds). He told me that he drew comic strips and cartoons for advertisements all his life, and he still drew cartoons, to this day. Then, Linus began to rise to his feet to fetch his sketchbook. He instructed me to steady him by the shoulder, a plan which went kablooey when the nursing home attendant caught our little escapade and scolded us: Linus for standing up, me for allowing him to stand in his frail condition.

Once seated, he showed me his latest scribbles. Then we talked about the Bible. He, like his fictional counterpart, was a lover of scripture, while I teach Biblical literature at a Jewish School. Then, we pontificated about what makes a good cartoon: a perfect blend of art, story, and humor – and despite this complex alchemy, it must be simple.

In this moment, though Linus had swung in and out of lucidity during our time together, his humor and his authority emerged full strength; simplicity isn’t just important, he said, “It’s the most important.”

Eventually, Linus became sleepy and I left him to dose. I departed the nursing home feeling honored and thankful. He’d shared with me the gift of his stories and his humor.

Last week, less than a year later after our visit, Rebecca sent me sad news: Linus had passed away. And though his fictional counterpart always had a special place in my heart, now, the real Linus has a place of his own.

The memory of that afternoon together will live on with me, secure in my grasp. Secure like a blanket.


 

Linus Maurer, 1926-2016.

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The Bubble Conversation: Tell ‘Em Off With No Consequences

snappy

Al Jaffee’s “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions”

A nurse asks an old woman languishing in a waiting room: “Has the doctor seen you yet?”

“I can’t remember,” the woman retorts, “I was only a child when I came in.”

Al Jaffee, brilliant artist and writer for Mad Magazine, used to crack me up with “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.” Blistering humor and absurd drawings aside, the best part was that the snappy answer would drop – BANG! And that was the end. The stupid-question-asker wasn’t allowed to get defensive, rationalize, or retaliate with an even snappier answer of his own.

In real life, this familiar fantasy (the perfect thing to say, the offender frozen and unable to respond) extends far beyond stupid questions, far beyond what you wish you’d said to the dickhead at the pizza place who told you to get the hell out of the way. It’s an expression of the desire to recover power from a position of powerlessness. And many of our most serious experiences of powerlessness occur not during a 10-second interaction in a waiting room, but over the course of a frustrating relationship.

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 11.43.24 AMLet’s image the Snappy Answers scenario, but swap out the nurse. Instead, it’s you and a person you know well. Someone who was once a friend. A family member who’s made you miserable many times. A colleague who has turned work into hell. And let’s say this conversation will have no consequences, no chance of going kablooey. It takes place in a bubble. A Bubble Conversation. Perhaps you’ve fantasized about this: saying the thing you’ve always wanted to say? Force him to confront reality — what you really think of him. Demand her to face your charges — without escape, without the chance to twist it against you.

On the one hand: awesome. So awesome. After years, maybe – years of feeling burned or scorned, insulted to the core, abused, indignant but impotent to do anything about it, wouldn’t a Bubble Conversation would be incredible? To see the look on the person’s face as you deliver your tirade? To say the words you always wish you could have said? Or, if you so desired, you could ask the question that’s always floated in the room, but you weren’t permitted to ask it, and now, you can demand an answer. It’s your Bubble Conversation – you control the remote control. They get 10 seconds to answer and you can hit the MUTE button whenever you wish. Awesome.


 

 

pillow2

Who are you really angry at in your Bubble Conversation? Hint: it’s not the other guy…

On the other hand, is railing against an inanimate fantasy productive? Healthy?  Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

People who use venting techniques like hitting a pillow or shouting are actually rehearsing anger. When someone is angry and vents their anger by hitting a pillow, they are learning a dangerous habit. They are training in aggression. Instead, [the Buddhist approach] is to generate the energy of mindfulness and embrace anger every time it manifests.

Believe me, I’m only going to quote Buddhist self-help writers when the thing they’re warning us not to do is the thing I do all the time. Myself, I love to indulge in Bubble Conversations. And I’ll admit, after doing so, I feel a bit like a tantrummy kid after a pillow punch-fest: exhausted, worked up, hungry for more, and maybe a bit shameful. And not the least bit at peace.

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Transforming anger.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes that our anger cannot be fought, and it should not be indulged, but it can be “embraced” and seen as part of who we are. It can be addressed. Spoken to, compassionately. Transformed.

The characters in the Bubble Conversation – both of them are us. We shout at the Other “How could you?!” but what we really mean is: “Why did I allow you to treat me so?!”

We let people get away with all sorts of shit for good reasons. We’re being civilized, we’re taking the high road, or the risk of confrontation doesn’t seem likely to pay off. But the price we pay is that we harbor resentment towards ourselves. A grouchy, little pug, deep inside, growls and nips at our heels, resentful that it’s been neglected all day. And we bait it with Bubble Conversations.

And so, though we want to shout, we must listen. A good Bubble Conversation isn’t about gloating. It’s about learning.

  • What is the thing I need to recover from that awful situation?
  • How can I ask the people in my life who care about me to help me recover that thing?
  • How can I provide that thing for myself?
  • How can I prevent that situation from happening again?
  • Am I ready to forgive the Other? Or myself?

In that sense, your Bubble Conversation is a bit like a mirror of your insides: you showing yourself what you need.

In my Bubble Conversation, I might scream: why did you make me feel that way?! How could you betray me so egregiously?  

And while it would be lovely to rant and rave and keep the Other on mute, perhaps I can turn on the sound long enough to discover: the part of me that demands reckoning may, in fact, wish this not of some perpetrator long ago and far away, but of me, myself.

 

 

 

 

Keep Your Friends Close…and Your Enemies’ Clothes

I haven’t had anything mean hurled at me in a long, long time.

cecil

7th Grade: Not a great year.

Trust me, I’ve heard plenty of mean things in my life. As an adolescent, I suffered from a facial abnormality which brought me tons of unwanted attention at an age when most boys want only to blend in. I dealt with this in an unusual way: I walked down the school hallways as compressed and invisible as possible, but once I was in a classroom with my homies, I was bigger than life.

My favorite podcast, Roderick on the Line, has this great bit where John Roderick  explains classroom geography; everyone is familiar with the front row (and what kind of kid sits there), and the back row (and what kind of kid sits there), but there is another chair, much more significant than either; the seat from which a kid could see everyone – especially the teacher – and from there, concoct the strategy for the day.

That’s where I sat. I could lay low, if I chose. More often, I would crack up the class with droll commentary. If I chose, I could disappear into my pencil sketches of a 10th level drow-elf sorceresses, concealing my art supplies whenever the teacher stalked past. But more often, I would debate the teacher: obstreperous but articulate. The classroom was mine.

Outside of class, though, I heard lots of names. Lots of mean, mean shit. And I would scamper class to class, a hamster crossing a wide and dangerous room.


me

Last week, I had my debut in the Washington Post. I was so excited to share my ideas about men’s fashion and online dating. It was a thrill to see my words, my pictures, my creation on the screen and know that thousands of people would see it.

And then I read the comments.

WHY. WHY did I read the comments.

I’d been told not to, I knew that real writers NEVER read the comments. It’s a thing, right? “DON’T. READ. THE. COMMENTS.”

But I did, and for the rest of the day, I felt wobbly, like when you first step off one of those moving sidewalks at the airport. It has been years since someone has said something so mean about anything I have created. About me.

Retaliation 1: The List

First, I did what any writer does. I wrote a piece, where trolls, haters, and other a-holes were not welcome to share their nefarious opinions.

Retaliation 2: Positivity

Second, I slurped up the kindness that poured in from family and friends: like a desiccating Bay Area porch-succulent during the first major rains of winter.

Retaliation 3: Turning Everything Upside Down

swerves.pngThat evening, a wise friend asked: is there anything you can learn from this? After refusing to even consider the possibility, I hunkered down and admitted a few things. As the trolls remarked, I do have a big, bushy beard, I do wear huge cuffs on my jeans, I often skip socks, even with a fancy suit. Sometimes, I go “all-out,” wearing ensembles that I wouldn’t advise for anyone who isn’t comfortable with attracting a bit of attention. My look can be… eclectic. I asked myself…do I do it to blend in? So I can escape a day without anyone noticing? To avoid comments and attention?

Hell no. I dress like this because it fucking rules to wear whatever I want. And speaking of rules, I dress like this because I know the rules. Sometimes, I’m bored of the rules and I don’t have to follow them if I don’t want to. I can write my own rules. I reminded myself that most men wouldn’t wear what I wear – not only because it’s not, like, them – (I created this look for me alone), but also because they’d be afraid to. Afraid they’d look silly. Afraid of getting attention. What I wear is a badge of my courage, a fuck-you to the haters.

high school

Not exactly blending in with the crowd.

Back in high-school, I had surgery to correct my face. Afterwards, a lot of changes happened. After living for years in a shell (as far as public appearance goes), I emerged as a crafty oddball. I grew my hair long (way before that was a thing that guys did). I wore dashikis and created performance-art experiences for me and my friends‘ amusement.

 

Did I get comments? Sure. Plenty. Kids who didn’t know me would comment on my hair, my glasses, my clothes. But people who knew me gave me plenty of space to be me.

And I was like: “Haters gonna hate.”

hatersTwenty-whatever years later, it took a trip down memory lane to recall my teenage evolution: from freshman hallway-cringer to senior style-swerver with a “haters gonna hate” swagger. And while my blog isn’t about pushing the sartorial envelope (I mainly write about clean lines and classic designs), I hope to inspire my readers to experiment with something small to help them on their own path to kicking ass, in whatever way is theirs and theirs alone.

So, to the haters and the trolls, the bullies and the a-holes, enjoy lording over your terrain: the comments section. The rest of us are gonna transform, whenever, whyever, however we wish, into whatever we want.

What I Learned From the “Check Your Head” Shirt

 

beastieboyshirt

This damn t-shirt: the end of innocence. Circa 1987.

In 7th grade, fitting in was pretty much the entire game. It was 1987; despite the fact that it was 20 below on the shores of Lake Michigan, everyone dressed like they were about to go surfing. As for me, I wore whatever corduroy slacks my mother dropped on me. Then, one day, every single kid in my grade came to school wearing a t-shirt: an airplane crashing vertically into the ground.

To my eyes, this shirt was ugly (which it is, I guess) and everyone wearing it was an idiot (which they were, given that this was 7th grade). Plus: Licensed to Ill? Bad grammar.

 

zuvaz.jpg

I never fit in which trendy people like these. Perhaps to my credit.

I claimed not to want to fit in, and to some degree, I paid the price: I ate lunch with two other non-cool kids in the library. Instead of jockeying for the best seat in the cafeteria, we talked about the books we would one day write. Instead of talking about “who liked who,” we discussed our favorite sci-fi movies with the librarians (remarkably funky people for Mequon, Wisconsin).

 

We were happy not to fit it. But we weren’t exactly comfortable with who we were, either. Dropping out wasn’t the solution.


 

sheep.jpgAs an adult, I’ve made peace with License to Ill (it’s an AWESOME album), and with trends of all sorts. It helps that, as I went through my twenties and thirties, fitting in via the fad du jour, whatever form it took, became the province of people I don’t have to trouble myself with.

For the rest of us, the important “fitting in” is not about where you are or what you wear or what you listen to, it’s about fitting into your own skin. We admire (and strive to be) confident in who we are. We admire people who are comfortable with themselves, comfortable with their surroundings. And the people we really admire are the ones who make everyone else feel comfortable, as well.

And by the way, if this isn’t the way your world works, consider moving to a new world.


on point.jpgBehind the scenes, fitting in with your world is more than putting on a confident face and striding into a room like you own the place. It’s also about how you present yourself. How you “read.” And if you don’t think that’s true, consider the reoccurring dream where you’re naked in front of an audience. Oh, you know that dream? Exactly: everyone feels, to some degree, unclothed – vulnerable – with our doubts and anxieties. We do our best to dress ourselves, metaphorically, with confidence. And we can wear actual clothes, hopefully with confidence, every day.

When your clothes fit, we call it “on point.” When they fit together, we call it a great “out-fit.” It’s like, literally, you fit to the outside eye. The effect is pleasing and it ascribes characteristics to the wearer: you’re put together You fit.

And then there’s fitting the scenario: the perfect suit to an interview, the perfect blazer for a first date, the perfect outfit to a bar-b-q. You are in harmony with your surroundings.


 

Then, there are the seasons. To some, it’s always khakis and button-shirt season. But seasons give us an opportunity to stand out for fitting in – not with fashion trends, but with the world around us.

Below, I show how dressing to fit in with winter includes colors, materials, and layers.


 

denimandtweed

Outfit One: #Tweed is the Tweet

To begin with, this outfit features a few “all-year” items: Levi’s (more than “all year” – they’re like “every damn day”), Clark’s Original Desert Boots, and a denim jacket.

Then, two “signifiers” indicate: “Yes, I know very well what season it is.”

  1. The tie.
  2. The vest.

Both of them are made of heavy tweed, a heavy material who comes out to play during the cold months. Obviously, the tweed tie isn’t going to keep me warm when San Francisco fog coats the city in grey brrr, but it sends the message: it’s winter, and I’m cool with that.


 Outfit Two: Black Turtle Necks, Beyond Steve Jobssherpherdsuit

Here, Gabi and I are attending a party in some swanky loft. It was a suit-worthy affair – but also, after work during the coldest month of the year. No mere “dapper suit” would flip its finger to the 40-degrees-and-raining-like-hell situation outside.

This suit, to begin with, is made of a thick, shepherds check – in black and white. Paired with a black turtleneck, it’s heavy and stark (like winter) but playful, as well.

Your winter fancy-pants should be flannel, wool, and other heavier weaves. Again, no one will haul you to fashion-jail if you’re wearing khakis, but why not radiate cozy-winteriness?


Outfit 3: Ski-Lodge on the Rangewooltieandsweater

Obviously, when temperatures dip, it’s a good time to bust out the heavy sweaters. But if you wanna get dappered up, and you pair your heavy, snuggly sweater with a bar-mitzvah tie, you’re going to undo the “fitting-in-with-the-seasons” thing you’ve been working so hard on.

Fortunately, there’s knit ties from The Tie Bar.  These things are so affordable, and so beautiful, you’ll do one of those guilty “looking both ways to see if you’re in trouble” things before you whip out your credit card.

When it arrives, pair it with a cozy sweater and a denim shirt. Don’t be surprised if someone asks you to join them on a one-horse-open-sleigh.


 

Outfit 4: Pulling the Wool herringbone.JPG

Our last outfit demonstrates a simple principle: texture+texture=winter.

Warm weather tends to feature bolder, stripier, polka-dottier patterns. Cold weather, on the other hand, is all about texture – meaning, you don’t see it until you look closely.

From afar (like, normal, non-creepy distance), it gives the impression of thickness. And thickness fits in, beautifully, in winter.

Combine a textured tie, jacket, and pants, and you look cozy-warm and on-point.


 

Try some of the tricks above, and experiment with the feeling of fitting-in that comes through embracing the seasons.

 

 

blazersitting

Red Wing Boots: A Dorky Teenage Dilemma Resolved

pScreenshot 2015-12-29 at 3.02.54 PMHere’s an embarrassing story.

When I was in high-school, I fancied myself a bit of a hippie. I had long hair and listened to the Beatles and the Grateful Dead. I was opposed to the Gulf War and I wore paint-splattered Levi’s that had once been my father’s work-pants. I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X  and carried a suitcase with my schoolbooks on which I’d written: “The Mighty Quinn.”

One wet, winter day, hanging out with some fellow hippie neophytes, I posed a dilemma: what was truer to the hippie ideal we strove for? A) A pair of Nike high tops thathad been languishing in my closet since I’d discovered Birkenstocks, or B) a pair of my old man’s Red Wing boots, that were too large by two sizes? The sneakers fit, but the boots were so much cooler.

Striving for some sort of authentic hippie identity in early 90s Mequon, Wisconsin was already absurd. Trying to determine the most appropriate footwear for the costume is cringeworthy. And yet, it’s sort of touching. If you haven’t seen this Buzzfeed about the 10 most embarrassing pages from the 1990 JC Penney catalog, check it out. Stylistically, the early 90s were an extension of the 80s: everything was oversized, understyled. Fanny packs, mullets, slouchy-sweaters with big belts, and Zubaz pants. I like to think that at some level, I knew that the Emperor had no clothes, so to speak. All that shit was ugly, and I wanted nothing to do with it.

Also, by way of contrast: last week, the Beatles’ music was streamed 50 Million times in 48 hours. Conversely, when I was in high school, I was ribbed for listening to the Beatles. When Waldenbooks added a new book to their meager inventory, it was a given that I would buy it. These days, there’s too much to read, let alone to buy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. When current fashion and classic style align, it’s a good thing. That’s a luxury I didn’t experience as a High School Junior.

At some level, in my teenage groping, I was looking for music that meant something, that spoke to me, that would never age or moulder in the way that Top 40 music seemed to. I was looking for something with substance, with style, with soul. So, too, footwear.


 

 

ginghamnboots

Dapper Americana: paired with denim jacket and gingham shirt/tie.

25 years later, in preparation for spending the holidays in Milwaukee, I decided to splurge on a pair of boots that could handle a type of precipitation we don’t have out in California: “Wintery Mix.” This delightful blend of slush, show, sleet and rain penetrates the seams of boots and transforms your feet into numb stumps. My usual desert boots aren’t cut out for this sort of action.

 

 

DomesticDomestic.com, a website that curates American Made goods, offers Red Wings (made in Minnesota) in a spectacular, StyleForDorks-friendly color: Indigo. I bagged a pair and I’ve worn them every day for the past two weeks. My feet stay dry and warm, I’ve gotten a ton of compliments, and here’s what impresses me the most: no matter what I wear them with, they’re perfect. Jeans and a button up. T-shirt. Cardigan and blazer. Knit tie and flower lapel.

 

 

fedoraandredwing

Vintage hat and jacket. Classic everything else.

They go with everything because they’re a classic-original, a style never that never gets old.

 

I started listening to the Beatles when I was 15. I got my first pair of Red Wings when I was 17. I know I’ll be fans of both for a long, long time.

 

fleecevest2

How to (and How Not To) Layer Up: A Polar-tech Polemic.

fleecevest2

Do you want to be this guy? Go right ahead.

I know it’s cold out, so I’m going to be gentle, here. Very gentle, and yet quite firm.

I say, gently-but-firmly: no fleece indoors.

I know, I know. Fleece is a perfectly rational material to wear in the chilly months: it’s cold outside, it’s drafty in the office, and fleece! Fleece is the miracle cloth that keeps hikers and kayakers and volunteers at the State Park visitor’s center warm. It’s light! It’s durable! So… wear it inside!

You can. But you really shouldn’t.

Let me put on my teacher hat and explain why.


Menswear borrows from about 100 years worth of cultural context. Browse the racks in any store, and you will see items nodding towards their roots: classic Americana. Preppie. Glam Rock and Roll. Vintage rock. Outdoorsman. College professor. Worker/trucker. Urban/Streetwear. In every case, the material and the style have a story to tell, and also an aesthetic: the clean simplicity of a white t-shirt and jeans. The trim, jaunty design of a cardigan. The dignified structure of a tweed blazer. The trim sportiness of a well-fitting polo shirt. In every case, there was once a cultural context that gave it rise, but its inherent aesthetic gave it enduring life.

fleecevest

Fleece: performance clothing for hiking. And not for…well, anything else.

Fleece, however, was synthesized as a technical fabric. It doesn’t drape like cotton or wool, and it pills about two days after you buy it. Perhaps as a result (excepting a brief period in the late 90s when companies were hawking it as a “performance” item) it remains, to this day, a technical garment. It’s the uniform of a wooded or rocky trail, but it lacks the aesthetic of a well-made flannel.

If you could ask it: “Hey, fleece, do you WANT to be worn to the office? To a party? To a pub?”

It would say, “No, kind owner. Thank you for asking, but kindly wear me only when you’re hiking and then leave me in the bin along with my buddies, the Vasque boots and the L.L. Bean Trail Pants.” 


If I have any friends left after my anti-fleece polemic,  I’d like to share my tips on layering up for the chilly winter months.

  1. When it’s a bit chilly out, layer on a denim jacket. 

Denim stands up to a cold breeze it but won’t crimp your style, and you can pair it with pretty much anything.

rugbyovertie2. For a smart look, wear a rugby shirt over an Oxford Cloth Button Down

And over that, a tweed or corduroy blazer.

For non-stop compliments, pair the whole thing with a knit tie.

3. Look for a sweater that looks like a jacket. Or a jacket that feels like a sweater. 

sweaterbillWhatever you call it, it looks totally bad-ass. 

4. Try a baseball-jacket. 

But keep it grey, black, or navy.

baseballAnd if you think it looks good with a T-shirt and jeans, try it with an Oxford Cloth Button Down and tweed/knit tie.

5. Find a blazer made of jersey (“sweatshirt”) material.

sweatshirtblazerWear it with anything, and wear it everywhere you’d wear a sweatshirt.


 

Now you have five alternatives to your fuzzy vest. Choose one, and wear it all winter long.

As for your beloved polar-tech gear, by all means. Wear it wherever you want. But be aware: it starts with “No one’s around the office, I’m just gonna slip this on for a few minutes.” Then, it’s a slippery slope down the hiking trail of dorkdom. Next thing you know, you’ll be watching Perfect Strangers reruns while wearing a Spider-man Snuggie.

spiderman

“What!?! It’s warm!”