life

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

5 Things Mad Men Taught Me About Style

dondraperinstylgramIn many ways in life, I was a late bloomer.

I didn’t feel at ease, socially, until well into college. I started dating in my 20s. And I started watching Mad Men when the rest of the world was on season four.

At that time, I had no place in my life for a TV series, but other things in my life were in already flux. I was in a new relationship. I was approaching the end of my 30s. I was beginning to reinvent my own personal style. And that was the bait and switch.

I was told that the show featured great style, and I was hungry for that, curious what I would get out of it. I had no idea, seven seasons later, how much I would give to it. And I’m not just talking about how much I would invest in the characters, or how many meals would be spent teasing apart the show’s subplots and themes. I’m talking about how I would see and understand my own growth, and the development of my own, personal style, in a kind of partnership with the show.


Took a while to get to this look. Think I'll keep it for a while.

Took a while to get to this look. Think I’ll keep it for a while.

doncasual1. Excellence in style is not about what you wear, it’s about how you wear it.

Naturally, this list must begin with Don, and the most notable thing about what Don wears is how little there is to say about it.

We’re struck by the stack of clean, pressed shirts in his desk drawer. We’re enamoured with the grey suit, the striped tie, the plaid short-sleeve shirts, but in all, what he wears is noteworthy because of the understated nonchalance in a world where the norm for style has become increasingly grabby, self-conscious, ostentatious.

Style, in that sense, is about being at home in space and place. Myself, I lived in 7 cities before the age of 40; I meandered not only geographically, but also academically, religiously, in complex life decisions and in style. All the while, however, I have tried to live with my actions and my identity in alignment – in flux as they may have been. Only now, however, has my sartorial style “become at home.” And while learning to understand Don is learning to understand how lost he is, it’s also to appreciate the journey to be “at home,” where outfit and outlook are in alignment.

That person, no matter what he wears, is in style.

2. Fit is a thousand times more important than fashion

ted60s

60s. Got it.

ted70s

70s. Don’t got it.

As the style of the mid 60s passes and the 70s approach, a strange sacrifice takes place: along with the rise of radical individuality, the invention of global pop-culture and the celebration of personal expression comes the introduction of a generation-long trend in style. As the show closes, proportion and propriety go out the window as fashion conventions (not to mention patterns, colors, and fabrics) give way to the free-for-all of 70s fashion.


60s.

The 60s in their glory, outfits are on-point, and Ginzberg is kooky.

The 60s wane, sleeves get baggy and Ginzberg goes insane.

The 60s wane, sleeves get baggy and Ginzberg goes insane.

On the one hand, I’ve never been one to denigrate the freedom of expression – and more importantly, there was a lot, a lot about 50s and 60s American life that needed to be shed to pave the way for progress. Societal expectations, rigid class, race and gender expectations soften, and the promise of freedom is in the air. On the other hand, and speaking plainly, much of the next phase of style is about statement rather than aesthetic, and the price to pay is that everyone looks plain awful.

In my own exploration of style, I have often found that minimal, understated, and well-tailored rarely goes wrong. And conversely, yearbooks and wedding albums from the 70s and on are full of fashion experiments that might have looked good on a catalog or runway, and bad on everyone else.

And rarely is the issue about pattern or color – as these things fall in and out of favor. But rather, it’s about whether the clothes fit the wearer, or does the wearer wear fit the clothes? Tailored was out. Mass produced was in. Clothes got cheaper, closet sizes expanded, and from a style-perspective, everyone paid the price.

In my own life, as I began to explore the world of style, I bought (and donated) a lot of clothes that made a variety of statements. It took a while to discover what Mad Men’s early seasons knew, and which won every budding sartorialist’s heart: a great fitting suit, a properly tailored shirt, a slender tie, and a clean haircut looks great on any man.

3. There’s a difference between keeping up with the times and having no core-principles

Look at Harry, for example.

Prompting the next question, which Harry?

Every season, he sheds his previous attire and becomes the poster-man-child of the new look. That said, his character is in stark contrast with Stan.


Stan, too, transforms, from on-point, polo-with-blazer, womanizing yuppie of the early seasons to the scruffy, bearded post-hippie who wins Peggy’s heart.

But whereas Stan evolves as a character, being one of few characters to reflect on who he used to be, and who he is now, Harry devolves. He is on-point as he jumps about the TV bandwagon, as he sidles up to the power of computers in the workplace, but he has no honor, no loyalty, culminating in his cringeworthy amorous advances on Joan in season seven.


yuck

Evolution is beautiful.

Evolution is beautiful.

Stan becomes only more trustworthy, more loyal, more sensitive and more honest. His style is a reflection of who he is. As homage to his character, his outfits somehow work, and he is somewhat immune to some of absurdity of the era’s style.

Harry is last shown in a coat we have seen in a hundred thrift-shops, whining about his lunch plans, shoving a cookie in his mouth. Hardly a memorable exit. Stan exits, embraced, loving and in love.

In that sense each shows the light and dark side of style. It can be fickle, a costume, a mask, a way to express power or amass social credit. Or it can be a sincere representation of where someone is, and even an aspiration of where they hope to go.

I hope, dearly, that I am more like Stan.

4. When life takes out an eye, slip on a patch and soldier on

Life kicking Kenny's ass.

Life kicking Kenny’s ass.

Kenny kicks back.

Kenny kicks back.

Kenny could be a tragic character because we know he wants to be a writer and we believe he could do it. However, he is caught up in the corporate world and not only is it consuming him, it takes his eye; he loses it in an account-courting hunting excursion. After losing his job, however, he takes an entirely different path, however, and never looks back. So to speak.

He goes from tragic character to master of his own fate, no longer playing hands but dealing them to others.

We have all picked up our scars in life. Some are visible, many are not. And I am deeply sympathetic to the ways that life can drag people down.

That said, there is something inspiring about Kenny who continues forward, in essence embodying Churchill’s line: success consists of going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.

By all means, after loss, we should take time to grieve and mend. And then we should kick ass.

donshortsleeveschilling5. Style is in the office, on vacation, mowing the lawn, at a new-age retreat center, and when alone, drunk in a motel.

I don’t recommend getting drunk, alone in a motel. I don’t recommend making any of the deplorable choices Don makes. One does not have to act like Don, however, to learn from him.

Don teaches us that all things must be done with dignity, and dignity is very closely related to style.

mesuitIn that sense, there is the dignity of a fresh, white shirt after a rough night (whether that rough night involves shady hotel-room or a baby that won’t go back to sleep). There is the dignity of a fresh, well fitting polo shirt while on vacation (whether that vacation involves running away from your crumbling inner world or a weekend in Santa Barbara with your girlfriend). There is the dignity of a short sleeve, button-up shirt when you’re relaxing at home (whether you’re in the garage, opening a can of beer with a metal “churchkey,” or sipping kombucha while trying to figure out what’s wrong with your wifi router).

Even in my worst hours, I don’t want to act like Don, but perhaps I’ve learned something from him about how to hold up my head; perhaps I’ve found some value in his proclamation: sometimes, all I need is “a shower and a shave.”