Style imitates life imitates style

Putting my toys/ties away

Yesterday, I bundled up 200 ties, some freshly pressed with the drycleaning tag still on, and put them way in the back of the storage closet: behind the still-boxed baby-swing, behind the retired stereo equipment, even behind the Talmud set I haven’t looked at in fifteen years. I’m on family leave from work until August, and with a baby on the way (and with no rational justification to have 200 ties occupying valuable shelf real-estate) it became clear that the ties had to say goodbye.

Doing this felt at once uncanny and yet resonant, the way something feels when you’ve done it before — but rarely. It didn’t take long to place it: I was feeling the bittersweet resolution that always comes with putting away old toys.

fortress

No one needs a two foot tall, hundred dollar transforming robot. Unless it can cook good omelettes.

By “old toys,” I mean both actual and figurative. As a kid, I collected things: Pac-Man paraphernalia, video games, even something called Mad Balls. Don’t ask about that one. The magnum-opus of all my collections was my Transformers armada. My Grandpa bought me my first Transformer, in 1984. Five years later, I was still collecting them. The last Transformer I purchased was the largest and most expensive;  $100 of my bar-mitzvah money bagged me Fortress Maximus, two feet tall.  It was almost as if the absurdity of this purchase collided with the reality of my being, now, a high-school student. None of it computed, so, a few months after I bought the biggest and best Transformer of all time, my entire 200+ piece collection went to live in a the crawlspace of a walk-in closet, never again to emerge, except for a few moments of detached nostalgia when Gabi and I visit my parents in Milwaukee.

 

madballs

Maybe not the best use of my allowance.

The banishment of the Transformers from my room was different from other collections relegated to shoe-boxes and shoved into the basement. Old, obsolete video games gave way to newer, better video games with no tears shed: the cartridges had no intrinsic value. And as cool as Madballs were (not very), I simply grew bored of them. I was happy not to have to look at them any longer.

 

turtle

Transformers helped me through my green period.

Transformers were different: they’d been a constant presence throughout my childhood. In fourth grade, they were common gifts at birthday parties. In fifth grade, my best friend Joe and I ignited a new phase of our friendship coinciding with his acquisition of an evil dump-truck Constructicon. In sixth and seventh grades, I was more secretive about my collection, but they distracted me through an extraordinarily challenging two year period. As an eighth-grader, putting Optimus Prime in a box meant becoming something new, and no longer being what I had been, forever: a little kid.

 

toys

I never outgrew my interest in toys.

Thirty years later, I remain remarkably consistent in my approach to collecting things. I’ve collected Thom Browne/Black Fleece shirts and ties for about as many years as I once collected Transformers. I still tend to fixate and “nerd-out” on whatever I collect: here’s a piece I wrote exploring Thom Browne, Pee-Wee Herman and a kids’ show comedian from the 40’s named Pinky Lee. My ties were carefully arranged in my closet, in a way any collector would find familiar. I have my favorites, those which get a lot of use, and others so favorite I use them sparingly lest some horrible tragedy befall them. I also have a few that I’m not crazy about, but I project some sort of pathos onto them, and I use them periodically so they won’t feel neglected. I was the exact same way with my Transformers. And now, they all live in the back of the storage-closet, behind the Baby Swing box.

 

It’s not exactly the same situation: my toys went away forever. My ties are going away only temporarily; my sartorial inclinations be relevant to my life, once again, come August and the new school year. By then, however, Gabi and I will have gone through  transformations of our own: from expecting parents to bona fide beginners to bumbling novices. In that sense, there is no real return to the collections we once knew and loved. The ties will come out of deep-freeze, and they will be the same, but I will be transformed, in ways both apparent to all, and I’m certain,  more than meet the eye.

 

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A Letter to My Daughter (On the Occasion of Almost Being Born)

Dear Daughter,

little seater

This is the first letter I have ever written to you. This may also be the first letter you have ever received. One day, you will read this and it will seem weird to both of us that you are only about twenty feet away from me right now, as I sit here in my blue chair, and yet, you exist in a plane of existence I cannot comprehend, closer to the stars than to this living room. By the time you read this, you, too, will no longer understand who or what you once were, now, in this particular moment. You and I will have a lot more in common on that day than we do on this day.

Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It’s beautiful and so are you
Dear Prudence won’t you come out to play

People keep asking me: are you ready?

I am prepared, but I can’t be ready. Looking back, much of my life seems to have been set in place to prepare me for you, but ultimately, in this moment, I can no more  relate to being your father than you will one day relate to once being an unborn. It seems impossible, on the other side of some shimmering veil, and yet, so very clearly true. For the most important things in our lives, we can prepare — but we should not expect to be ready.

grandma made thi

Your grandmother made this for me when I was tiny. I spent many sunny mornings pondering its mysteries.

Though we are as different as two humans can be, we have some things in common. We’ve both been eating your mother’s excellent cooking: you, for your entire, gossamer life. Me, for my last (and best) 6 years. It is Passover, so I hope you enjoyed the matzo-ball soup last night. I ate it too, and yeah, it was really, really good. I choose to express my pleasure verbally, and you do it by kicking your mother in the bladder, but, same idea. (BTW, tonight, we’re having Shabbat brisket.)

Also, we have both been listening to the Beatles. I’m not sure what Dear Prudence sounds like when it’s piped into your glorious sensory deprivation chamber, but hopefully, George’s cool guitar part and Paul’s bass line came through to you, even if the words may have been garbled in transmission:

Dear Prudence open up your eyes
Dear Prudence see the sunny skies
The wind is low the birds will sing
That you are part of everything
Dear Prudence won’t you open up your eyes?

I’ve been told that the relationship between a father and a daughter is a unique and magical one. I’m excited to explore this, but I’m nervous, too. I’ve never been a girl, myself. And as a boy, most of my friends, (and your uncle, too) were boys. I was surrounded by boys  well into my teenage years. I wonder: will I be able to translate your young experiences into my own boy-memories? Will I be able to offer you wisdom and guidance, relevant and helpful for you, from my limited male perspective? Will you sometimes think I am the biggest idiot on the planet?

I suppose the answer to all these questions is: yes.

femaleThis is a noteworthy time to be born a girl in America. Lots of us are angry about the messages that our leaders and our media send out about what a woman is and what a woman isn’t. The reality is that, in the company of other strong women, and in solidarity with men who want the world to be a better place, you will raise your own fist/sign/flag against the system that probably will still be suggesting that you’re the other-gender. You won’t do this alone. At some point, not long from now, your mother will take a picture of you at a march or a protest. You’ll be surrounded by countless others, fighting for the same change. You’ll be sitting on my shoulders.
Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It’s beautiful and so are you
Dear Prudence won’t you come out to play

As you grow up, you may discover that you like Kung-Fu or foraging for mushrooms or power-tools or electric guitar. You might decide to study organic chemistry or Czech female film producers of the early 20th century. You might become a Rabbi or a priestess or an agnostic who deep down knows that the Goddess loves her. You might decide that you want to marry a man who reminds you a little of your father, or than you want to marry a woman who is nothing like your father.

No matter what happens, who you become, and who you are, I will make it abundantly clear that one thing you can know for sure: your father loves you.

See you in a few days.

Love,

Dad

Vulnerable Enough to Care

Once we read this morning’s news about the mass shooting in Las Vegas, we all had a choice to make:

sukkah.pngGo out into the world.  Or go back to bed.

On the one hand, we would have been more than justified in going back to bed, pulling the blankets over our heads, and saying: “This world is just too much for me.”

But we have people who depend on us. Families. Students. Colleagues. Friends.

And so we put down our iPhones, closed our laptops, and headed out into the world. But there was still another less-obvious choice we had to make. To care or not to care.

Obviously, we care. Obviously, we care that today was the worst mass shooting in modern US history. Obviously, this means something to us.

But do we feel it? Do we care it in the way we would care it if we’d never heard of a mass shooting? If we weren’t exposed to a mass shooting nearly every day of the year? Not to mention terrorism.  Not to mention devastating hurricanes. Not to mention catastrophic earthquakes. 

Do we care about each one? Can we? Can we really feel the loss and the devastation? And if we do, how can we live? How can we enjoy anything when there’s suffering like this in the world?

Today, I found myself between the Scylla of “how can I afford to open my heart to this suffering” …and the Charybdis of  “how can I enjoy anything, ever again?” During lunch, I flipped through the news and read an update about the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Burma. It made me deeply sad, and I sat there for a while, spoon paused between bowl and lips, and wondered: is there is ever an acceptable time, amongst all this suffering, to eat a bowl of soup?

We are two days away from the Jewish holiday, Sukkot. It falls mere days after the austere Yom Kippur, and is referred to as zman simchateinu — the time of our joy. How can we be joyful when, as Yom Kippur reminds us, there is but a thin line between life and death? How can we be joyful when the world is so full of suffering?

One central element of sukkot is the sukkah, the hut which Jews traditionally build for sukkot. Its roof must be made of thatched plants – thick enough to provide shade, but sparse enough to let in the starlight and the rain. It is a symbol, he said, of our precarious posture in this world, in which we must maintain a sense of safety and security on the one hand – so necessary to carry on, to find any meaning in life, to venture out of bed each day — and yet, we must experience the reality of the vulnerability of our human existence, never taking it for granted. Indeed, all of life is a sukkah – sturdy and yet precarious. The sun will rise tomorrow, and yet, tomorrow is truly unknown.

So too, the sukkah reminds us that we need to take shelter from the hard realities of the world. We need to protect ourselves from spiraling into the Scylla of paralyzing heartbreak. And yet, we must also guard ourselves against the Charybdis of shutting out the world. For just as the roof of the succah must be open to the elements, a succah is required to have a door. And so we do we. The door to our hearts cannot close.

We must feel. We must give. We must act. We must love.

And we cannot shut down, give up, or close off: from each other. From the world.

 

Three things I learned on my wedding day.

tisch.png

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”

yum

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.

giphy

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.

bigwheel

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

chairs

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

happy.png

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.”

ketubahsmudge.JPG

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.

climbing v2

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

contact.gif


And yet.

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

mom and dad and the bridge

1965

img_4405

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.”

smoke

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.

oldnewme

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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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

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

 

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.


 

 

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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.

 

 

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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.