This blog has moved:

In addition to my current writing, all the old posts are collected on the new page.
(You can use your browser's "find" function to find what you're interested in there.)
Your browser does not support Javascript.
This site requires Javascript.
You can see where this becomes a problem.
Without Javascript,
Many posts will look wrong
Comments are inaccessible
Interactive dialogues won't function
Hidden text will never be revealed
The sidebars will not open

If you choose to continue, be warned
That you are missing crucial elements
Of I Am Not's design.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Matter of Respect

There was a letter for me from the Academy of Music. "For me? Really? What do you mean?" For me, from the Academy. I didn't want to open it. I'd put all those feelings behind me.

I'd stopped worrying about the fact that I'd never earned a Bagrut certificate, that I hadn't completed those studies, that I never fit in there. Why would I want to open that envelope again?

And anyway, it wasn't like before. When I was there, I didn't get involved in the school, didn't listen to anything the school told me, didn't want to be in the school in the first place, but I respected the school immensely. I could walk around the hallways and hear complex music being practiced and see beautiful dances being practiced, all by people (roughly my age) who I had a tremendous amount of respect for. Not people I wanted to be like, or to ever fit in with, but people I respected for their dedication and skill. But now, I couldn't respect the school anymore. I'd just met Eliezer, who mentioned the terrible politics there that I never really thought about back then. And only a few days later I met Chana -my former English teacher- who told me the school wasn't what it used to be, that even when I first came there it had degraded into a pale imitation of what it once was, and now it was even worse. She said a certain person in power has been ruining the school- in fact, the very same thing Eliezer had implied! She said she keeps telling herself she'll leave, but she never does. "Next year never becomes this year?", I suggested. But she said this next year she'd be leaving for real. Well, after hearing a perspective like that from a teacher I respect (though never listened to), why would I want to open the envelope again?

I opened the envelope. Yes, the letter was printed on the Academy stationary, with the Academy's logo on it. That logo gave me chills. I really didn't want to know what the letter said. I read the letter. It was some sort of ceremony. A "Certificate Ceremony" of some sort. Ha, I thought. No need to get scared- this is like when we had ceremonies, and kids who'd left the school already would come as a sign of respect or something. Phew. This isn't for me. Then I noticed a few more details, like the words "Machzor Mem-Dalet". Wait a minute. That was the number of my grade! Oh no. I reread the title. "Bagrut Certificate Ceremony", it said. No, what could this mean? It's been a year and a half! Things like this are supposed to go away if you ignore them for that long! I noticed another detail at the bottom of the page- the signature of my mekhanekh (my main teacher), who I'd always had a lot of respect for and now never wanted to see again. Most of all, I didn't want to see his name on that page, alongside the other mekhanekhet's name and the name of that aforementioned person in power. This letter was for me.

"I don't understand."

It said to contact one of two numbers to confirm that I was coming. It also said attendance was mandatory. "Mandatory?!", I said as I smiled, "It's not like they can tell me what to do anymore.". The smile was not easy to pull off at that moment, and it was not a particularly successful attempt. But they were never able to tell me what to do, anyway. All the respect in the world wouldn't change my nature as an outsider. I said I'd call later, when I felt like it. And I sat down to do something else, though I suddenly had no idea what that something else might be, because I was too preoccupied with the letter. All my classmates would be there. Hadn't I made a conscious decision to not try to be one of them? Some of those I wouldn't mind seeing again too much (with just a little embarrassment sprinkled in for having made much more of a fool of myself than I would now), but others I never had any connection with, and it bothered me then. Why should I open the old wound? Why should I call this person, who I'd never had a chance to prove myself to, who I never really knew in the first place and don't want to know? Maybe if I.. but I didn't! How I wished that letter hadn't come! But it had come, and I... ARGH.

Within thirty seconds of sitting down, I realized I couldn't put off making the call 'til later. I was so obsessively preoccupied with this letter that I couldn't stop thinking about it for an instant. I had to close the floodgates, and right now. I called the girl.

"Hello? This is Mordechai Buckman. Is this.." and I tried to add into my performance the impression of reading the name off a piece of paper (I actually was.), to suggest that I didn't know this name, didn't know that I had ever seen this person in my life. (I actually did remember the name, if you must know.) I think my delivery was pretty good, especially considering the pressure I was under. "I got something in the mail which I don't understand. It's for some sort of ceremony..?" She told me that there'd been some sort of problem with the grading of the English tests, and they only got done now -a year and a half after her grade was supposed to get these certificates! "In any case, it doesn't matter.", I said. "I'm not meant to get a certificate. I never finished History, or Writing." She said I ought to come nonetheless, and she was writing down who came because after the ceremony they'd all be going out to eat at some restaurant somewhere, with the mekhanekhs and all the kids. "So let me get this straight! A year and a half ago I was supposed to not get a Te'udat Bagrut, and you guys are requiring me to come not get a Te'udat Bagrut at some ceremony now?!" She didn't take the hint, and kept asking if I'd be coming, so they'd know whether to get a spot for me at the.. "No. No. No, I'm not coming."

I threw out the letter. I wouldn't know her number again now, if I changed my mind. It was on that piece of paper.

But I didn't want to deal with this.

"What's the deal with Lex Luthor?", Tamir asked me on Shabbat.

"Well, he's a genius, and he's always saying that if Superman weren't around to get in his way, he could turn the world into a utopia. But now there's that weekly comic I told you about before, 52, and it shows what Lex Luthor does with a whole year where Superman isn't there. And he seems to be working on something, giving people superpowers. But then it turns out to all be part of his evil plan, and his goal..."

It was at this point that I started cracking up, and explained that this was so ridiculously silly that I could barely say it.

"..the goal he has, the goal of this big evil plan... is to rename the Earth to 'Planet Lexor'. 'Lexor'! And this is what he does when Superman's gone. So after that, I don't have any respect for the character anymore. The deal with Lex Luthor is, he's really stupid."

Back in the eleventh grade, I came up with a creative idea. The solution I wanted to see, to the problems I didn't. I needed to create a game. That was something no one else there knew anything about, but many of them respected computer games. And even those who didn't- this idea, an idea which I'd pull off all on my own -an artistic masterpiece that would appeal even to the dancers -Through the Wind- this game they'd respect. And I could show even the tiniest bits of it, just enough to see the artistic intent -the rest I'd do the next year- those tiny bits would be enough to gain their respect. I'd be an outsider, but that's not really the same issue at all, is it?

Did I ever tell you the story of my career as a gamist? It ended with a program with a picture of a rotating elephant. That was the peak of my success. And then I stopped. And I'm not even supposed to admit that I shouldn't have stopped, because then I'd be splitting my words from my actions and that can't be respected! But I stopped there! When I aimed my sights lower, I didn't even reach that! I wasn't able to achieve to my satisfaction even the lowest goal I set for myself! And Through the Wind? That was my project for tomorrow, and "tomorrow" kept seeming so much later than it did yesterday! And in the day, what had I accomplished? I'd done nothing worthy of respect! Sure, I'm an outsider! But I'm an outsider who can't be respected! I'm an outsider who doesn't exist for anyone who sees me! I never knew those kids, but me? There was nothing here to know! I never made my game, and every time I saw those faces I was reminded that tomorrow hadn't come!

But that was okay. It was school, getting in the way. I kept trying to find time to work, but the vacations were too short to do anything in. And on schooldays, I was so preoccupied with my misery that I needed to spend the rest of my time reading comics and entertaining myself. Don't you see?, it was school, holding me back. I would have gained their respect, if not for school.

Now it's a year and a half later. I've been free. For a year and a half. And what progress have I made?

If I saw those kids, -no, they're not kids anymore. If I saw those people, I'd see where they've gotten to. Some of them are in the army, I'm sure, or taking more education, or working hard at boring jobs for the money. -none of those options are for me, of course- I'm an outsider, I can't take their paths.

But each of those people.. When people ask them what they're doing with their lives... they've got an answer.

When they're asked where they're going - they have an answer!

When asked for plans- they have an answer!

And when they ask themselves- THEY HAVE AN ANSWER!!

And when they look at where they're standing, they're satisfied, because they've been told that there's value in that place! And they can tell themselves that there's value in that place, because they see how far they've come!

And they can respect themselves for it.



Post a Comment

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Composer

"We start with chaos. Later on we'll work in structures -whatever the heart calls for- but we start with chaos. We don't plan anything- one starts, and the other listens to him and starts. We might be repeating each other. Or, we might be contradicting each other, fighting each other. But then in the end we hug each other."

The phone was for me. I recognized the voice as soon as I heard it, and waited silently for confirmation. Sure enough, it was Eliezer, who I'd not heard from since leaving the Academy. When I left, I asked a girl who improvised with us to please contact me if they started up the improv sessions the next year, so that I might stop by every now and then if I could. I was never contacted. He now asked me if I'd come with him to Tel Aviv to improvise with him. He explained some of the details, and I asked for confirmation that he was talking about going that same day. Yes, he was. I was excited, and I made sure he knew it. On one side of my mind, I knew that jumping on such an unexpected and wacky request was really childish. I ignored that side of my mind. I'd get to improvise a duet again. I'd been waiting almost two years for that. Of course I was excited.

After I reassured him that it wouldn't be a problem with my parents, he told me where I should get together with him and when. He suggested that I write it down, since he remembered my terrible memory. It was a good suggestion, and I followed it. I wasn't familiar with the place, but I could ask the driver to point it out. When I hung up the phone, I was hopping up and down even more than usual. I ran upstairs to explain to my mother. She offered that it sounded like he was looking for work. "I don't care what he's getting out of it.", I responded. I wanted to improvise.

"Once they see what it's like, they'll keep coming back. It's like a narcotic. Mordechai here is addicted to it; that's why he came. It's a drug."

I showed up at the place he'd told me a little before the time he'd told me. He lived near here, apparently. I waited. And waited some more. And waited some more, knowing that eventually he'd show up and somehow the waiting would be over. Eventually I saw a man walking toward me in black clothes and a black hat. I knew who it was, but I waited for him to get closer -for confirmation. (I've learned to err on the side of caution when I might make myself look like an idiot.) His behavior told me that it was him. I didn't actually recognize his face- I remembered the idea of him, not the little details. I followed him to his car.

He quickly looked for an opening to talk about how hard it was to find a place with two good grand pianos. Then he added (and he was particularly fond of this part) that in his school in Russia there were more good pianos than in this entire country. Well, maybe if you took out a few famous concert halls. Whatever- it was still a good line, and he used it again later.

He may have said the same thing later in Russian to that lady at the store, but I wouldn't know. She asked Eliezer (in Russian) if I understood Russian, and he responded that I didn't. She joked that she didn't understand how anyone could live in Israel and not know Russian. Eliezer answered that that was made up for in part by my native language being English. I apologized nonetheless- I should know Russian.

"Come, we'll try it.", Eliezer suggested to the shopkeeper. It was one thing to hear someone else improvise, and another to experience it for oneself. "You don't want to have to endure my playing;", he responded, "You're not a masochist!" Eliezer managed to appeal to his curiosity, though, and reassured him that it didn't take any special knowledge to start. The shopkeeper sat down and was too uncertain to really appreciate it.. yet. But he was enjoying himself, I could tell.

On the drive, Eliezer commented that composing-as-work was a form of hell, even though he enjoyed composing. He explained that it was a terrible burden to have to write out a symphonic piece and make sure the voices never overlapped with each other. He needed to say that it was terrible, and he framed it as a life lesson. "Every type of work is hard.", he explained. "If it's a hell for me to compose, just think..!" We talked during the whole ride, pretty much. He wanted to know what my plans were, what my goals were, what I was doing with my life, when I'd stop leeching off my parents. I answered most of his questions with "I don't know.". When I admitted what I'd like to do is design games, but that I've never designed a game, he criticized me for saying something and not acting on it.

He said that if I didn't have any work or plans, maybe I could be some sort of manager for him? Maybe run a website for him, make contacts for him. It was an odd request, to be sure. I figure he doesn't leave his house much, and doesn't know who to turn to for something like that. He ought to have known that I am not the right person for such a job. He must have really been out of his element when not dealing with music. I found a suitable excuse to get out of the choice- It was odd that he'd consider me a suitable organizer, when I wasn't organized myself! Nonetheless, he kept looking for ways I might help him. Maybe I knew of (and could point him to) any concert halls in Beit Shemesh which have two good grand pianos? Unfortunately, I don't.

I asked him why it was so hard to find two good grand pianos, anyway, and he responded with questions: "Why is anything in the world not the way it should be? Why was school depressing? Why can't people always do what they like to do? It's the same reason." "In other words,", I countered, "you're saying that you don't know." "It's an olam sheker-", he said, "a false world. The way it should be is that each person is required to do what he likes to do."

He told me that the same year I left the academy, he was finally forced out for good by internal politics- more specifically, certain people in power who didn't like him. And now? He wasn't making any money right now, but was always hard at work. He worked all day long, and yet was meeting little success. He had to ask his wife to work more, so that she could support them. His wife sounds very understanding.

"In Russia, there was a time when I started writing pop. There was a time when some of the most popular bands in Russia were playing my music. I was getting offers nonstop from big groups.

"But I found that it corrupted my style. When I tried to go back and write a classical piece, I could not do it. I could not write serious music anymore. So I turned the offers down, and went back to classical. It took a long while, but I recovered."

I asked him if any of his children were interested in music. He said none of them were. He said it very plainly. "That's a shame.", I said. What else could be said? This isn't the world we ought to be living in.

We were headed to a music store- "Olam Hap'santerim" ("Piano World"). The reason being that this was the only place he could find with more than one good grand piano. He was going to pitch his improvised-duets concept to the store's owner, and I was along to help him demonstrate. If this guy went for it, Eliezer could make this a regular thing again. As we were still in the car, Eliezer apologized preemptively to me, should the night not go the way I was expecting. I said that wouldn't bother me, so he would have nothing to apologize for. Over the course of the drive, he apologized many times for various things. He seemed to be afraid he was offending. Or maybe he's just learned that it's best to err on the side of caution when other people are involved.

As we entered Tel Aviv, we noticed how secular it all is. I said I didn't like the place. I don't like how hard it is to find a kosher place to eat in it. Eliezer said he liked Tel Aviv. Why?, I asked. "Because Tel Aviv likes me!", he smiled. A few years earlier, he was a big hit here.

Anyway, we stopped and started walking. There was a parking place closer nearby, but he didn't know exactly where that was. So we parked at the place he did know, and walked. He apologized for the walk. It was an odd walk. The way to the store was almost entirely a straight line, pointed out by two helpful security people who -as Eliezer had rightly guessed- spoke Russian. And yet, at any point there was even the slightest chance of going the wrong way, whenever there was another road which went to the right or left, he'd ask a nearby person for directions, acting like he had no idea where it was. Every time, they said we just needed to keep going straight forward until we got there. But he kept asking more people, up until we reached the store. Well, actually, he kept walking past the store, but I'd noticed the sign so I pointed it out for him.

It was a pretty nice place, with lots of fancy pianos split into two buildings across from each other. Eliezer looked around and quickly picked out the most rare and expensive piano in the place, and instantly decided that that was the one he wanted. It reminded me of myself with that High-Definition TV, only more so. He kept pointing out what a perfectly luxurious sound it made, how "balanced" it was (I have no idea what that means.), how this was what a piano should be like and how expensive it was. Playing that piano was a little piece of heaven for him.

And finally we played. We played a few times (before anyone was listening), just to see if we still got it. We got it. It was great. Then Eliezer said we should really stop, so as to not burn ourselves out. He also advised that I was demanding too much attention, that I wasn't giving enough room for him. I protested that I'd been listening to everything he was doing, and found ways to incorporate those bits into my side and even develop them further! But of course he was right. It was all about me, and improvised duets shouldn't be too fueled by ego. I was reminded of that time we'd actually performed duets, myself with that girl I mentioned earlier, and I completely blew it by calling too much attention to myself, taking advantage too much of the opportunity to make myself look good, to the point where I wasn't giving her any room. I only realized my mistake after that concert. So I accepted the criticism.

Then I waited around, improvising for myself on a slightly lesser piano, which to my ears was perfectly wonderful too. You can come up with a lot of things on good equipment that you'd never come up with on worse. A quality surface demands quality content. And I kept waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

Finally, we improvised for the shopkeeper, who was appropriately impressed. And that got Eliezer and him to talking in a very long conversation. They got along very well. I waited for the two of them to finish up. And waited. And waited. (I would have played FFTA on my Game Boy, but the battery was dying.) I don't like the surface of the Real World very much. But I didn't blame Eliezer- indeed, I wished I could have such meaningful conversations more often. Anyway, the piano guy was thinking about how they could market such a thing, who they could get to come with so many other musical events regularly in Tel Aviv. He was taking it seriously, so Eliezer's attempt was a success.

We drove back, Eliezer apologizing repeatedly for making me wait, and he asked if I'd be willing to come again if he ever needed me. Sure. He gave me something to look forward to each week for two years; I'd be happy to help out whenever. In fact, I look forward to it.



Though Eliezer is reasonably fluent in English, all the quotes here were spoken in Hebrew. When you combine that factor with the limitations of my memory, it's quite possible that I'm wildly misrepresenting what he said. Still, I have done my best to retain the gist of each line.


Post a Comment

Friday, March 09, 2007


If there are two sides, I should find a third.



Post a Comment

ונהפוך הוא

*(The title, a famous phrase from the megillah, is pronounced "V'nahafokh Hu", which roughly means "It was reversed.")


I knew I was ready to go. I'd been practicing very seriously (by my standards, anyway) for the better part of a week. I'd been working on the trup*-------
(the tune of each sentence based on its structure)
and the little musical gimmicks and the voices and there were little problems here and there (such as not knowing how to properly voice Mordokhai) but it would all work out. My work was almost finished, and already I was satisfied. (Maybe the Real World isn't so bad after all!)

But why did there need to be a Shabbat in between now and Purim? As I put it when talking to my mother, there's nothing like a Shabbat for magnifying problems. I was only minimally nervous right now, but if I had to go through a typical Shabbat that feeling could multiply a hundred times. I'd be reduced to a caricature of a nervous wreck.

Never mind that, she said- are you going to wear a costume? I wasn't planning on it, I said. My excuse went thusly: Everyone else would be wearing a costume to show it's "v'nahafokh hu" from the norm. So by not wearing a costume, I was doing the reverse of everyone else, or in other words the "v'nahafokh hu" of the "v'nahafokh hu"! All I wanted was a paper-thin excuse, so I didn't worry too much that the negative of a negative isn't really a negative.

I went back over the megillah, this time reading it from start to finish. There were a few little mistakes, but nothing anyone would ever notice. (Such as frequently mixing up the t'lishah g'dolahs and t'lishah k'tanahs, which was ironic since I'm the only person I know who actually differentiates between the two at all.) I saw it was good, and I was eager for the reading to come.

Then my father wanted to listen to my reading, to make sure there were no mistakes. Fine by me. I said I'd just do the trup, nothing fancy- no voices, none of my added tunes, none of the attention to dynamics and tempo. Just to see if there were mistakes. (The rest I wanted to keep as a surprise.)

And only a few p'sukim in, he was already pointing out a mistake. I was mispronouncing a word -mispronouncing a lot of words, as it would turn out- and I'd been practicing it that way for a week. The numerous mistakes my father pointed out, over the course of the megillah, were mostly mistakes that I never would have noticed on my own, because they didn't prevent me from continuing. Mistakes like mispronunciation, doing one kind of trup which seemed to make perfect sense when it was wrong nonetheless, switching to the alternate Eikhah trup at specific points where there was no reason to, and other things like that that I would never have known by myself.

And immediately all I could see was the obstacles in my way.

How could I unlearn what I'd practiced so much?
How could I pay attention during the reading to the potential mistakes coming up, while also paying attention to the appropriate dramatization?
How could I perfect it in only one day?
Why couldn't my father have told me all this a week earlier, when I had a chance to get it right?
I still wasn't satisfied with the Mordokhai voice, was I?
How could I perfect it all
How could I perfect it in only one day?
I still didn't have those t'lishas straight, did I?
What if I wasn't ready by the start of Purim?
What if I messed up?
What if I was corrected every few lines in shul, like my father was doing at home, and I got too frustrated to continue?
Then wouldn't I have even more mistakes?
And then I'd be so busy trying to deal with those mistakes that I wouldn't be able to think about reading it properly
And it would be a disaster, wouldn't it?

Peace of mind is a fragile thing.

It was for the best. I was taking the work for granted by that point; I'd come to believe that passing the trial was all but guaranteed. There are no guarantees, and a person who thinks there are is bound to fail in the end. So I took it more seriously. I sat down with the book and studied. And this wasn't the almost-fun studying of the past few days, when I knew I was on the right path and that if I just kept walking the way I was walking I'd pass cheerfully through the goal without breaking a sweat. No, this was the miserable kind of studying, where one side of my brain said that it was necessary and the other side said it wasn't a comfortable road to be walking on. The kind where I had to force myself to sit down and get it done. I'm not very familiar with that kind of challenge. It was for the best, I think.

By the end of the night, I was tired. But I read it for my father again, this time paying more attention to the myriad ways I could fail, and this time missing most of them. I wasn't ready. But then, who is? Only people who aren't trying. My feelings about the coming day now more grounded in Reality, I went to sleep.


The day began when I woke up from a dream. A nightmare, really. Usually my dreams are very straightforward, giving me exactly what I need to have- either positive or negative. For instance, a positive dream would almost always revolve around a videogame, while a negative one might (just as an example) revolve around losing something important, like (again, this is just a random example) one of my videogame systems. My dreams tend to be not much more abstract than this blog, and in exactly the same ways. (This is -in truth!- how I think normally.)

Following the style of straightforwardness, Shabbats usually start with title="Day of Wrest">nightmares of losing games, computers, music and other everyday activities. This Shabbat too, as I said, began with a nightmare, but this was right before Purim and the meaning was reversed.

I was back in the old elementary school/hell on earth named Orot. Not that I was back there for good- I was just visiting, reminding myself what my life was like once. The rooms were mostly empty, but there were bullies infesting the halls who were bored and would like nothing more than to beat up someone like me. I ran from them into a classroom with a piano in it, so I could remind myself of some more.

I took a piece of sheet music out, of a complete piece I'd written out back then. Before I could start playing, I noticed that there was someone else in the room, leaving from a class. It was a young girl- a bald girl.
"You must get picked on a lot.", I said. Here was someone going through what I did, once.
"I despise this place, and I always will.", we recited together. And she left the room.

So I got to my playing. It was a good piece, I reminded myself as I started. But the room was empty. This too was familiar.

I left the room, and wandered through the hallways -sneaking past some vicious little kids- lost in my own thoughts. Thoughts like, "This is so perfect for my blog- I just put a post on my blog called "Back in School" which was dealing with this metaphorically, and now I'm back in the school literally! What lovely duality!". I like duality.

And so caught up I was in the wording of the potential post, that I was caught off guard when an old teacher of mine (who was my mekhanekh in sixth grade, if I'm not mistaken) showed up and grabbed the notes. And certain that there was a mistake there, he took out a red pen and starting scribbling over what I'd written. He kept scribbling, writing in different notes in place of the originals, until the original tune couldn't be made out at all. And during the whole thing I tried desperately to protest, but I could not. I remembered that this particular teacher (as I put it back when I was stuck with him for a year) had a switch in his brain between "input" and "output". When he was talking or writing, he couldn't hear or see. When he was listening or looking, he couldn't talk or even think. So it was hopeless to try to reason with him. Instead, I tried to grab it back by force, but I couldn't reach it and he just kept scribbling and scribbling...

And then I woke up. For a few seconds, I was just puzzled that I'd think about such ancient history at all, when it had been out of my mind for years. And after a few details of Reality came back to me*-------
  • I never wrote down any music that far back, and the sheet music I'd been holding and trying to play was the famous Canon in D.
  • I'd never written any blog post at all similar to the one I was thinking of.
  • The girl was not based on anyone specific I'd ever met.
  • There were no pianos in the classrooms, and the layout of the building in the dream was entirely fictional.
, I woke up enough to understand what I was doing.

This dream was exactly what I needed. I'd been looking only at the immediate present. In the back of my mind, I was still framing the event as a question between being happy in the present, or being miserable in the present. I needed to see the long and twisty road that I've passed, to better understand what I was choosing to do: Though I once was a good kid living a miserable life, I could become a miserable adult living a good life. I needed to internalize that everything had been reversed. That the restrictions of the past no longer applied. That the future was wide open, depending only on how I chose to write the piece. It was exactly what I needed, as I chose to move forward, to take one final look back at where this whole portion of my journey began.

I sat in bed letting all this sink in, and wondered whether I should go back to sleep given how early it still was. But I was too excited to go back to sleep. So I got up. And as I washed my hands, I looked at my messy face in the mirror, and said to him with a grin: "This is going to be a good day."

It started (after the obligatory hopping around downstairs waiting) with shul- more specifically, waiting in shul for the Torah reading to come up, because everything before that would be (and was) boring. Waiting seems to be the Real World's most dominant design element, doesn't it? But I did my best to ignore it and keep up my enthusiasm.

Finally, the time came for me to read the Torah. And I did a mighty fine job of it, if I do say so myself. I didn't actually get to finish the job, since Roby wanted to do the last two aliyot and Zachor (the maftir). Such is life, and I wasn't going to complain considering I'd gotten to do the first five. In the end, I actually did get to do Zachor, after the davening for people who'd missed it the first time around. That was nice.

Then we went home, and the countdown began.

Over the course of the day, I went several times to the amphitheater/field so that I'd have a place to practice all the voices without any other people nearby who might hear. (By this point I knew more than enough of the megillah by heart to read lines in character without having a book in front of me.)

I especially focused on the character of Mordokhai, because I didn't have a clear idea in my head of who he was. The Persians around him surely saw him as an outsider, an odd old man who inexplicably sat around by the gates every day and didn't do what was socially expected of him. That he got up to the top by the end was a "v'nahafokh hu" of miraculous proportions, and the congregation/audience I'm reading to should surely get a sense of how much of an outsider he was to begin with for that to pay off properly in the end.

But then, he was a wise man who'd been a very important person back in Jerusalem. He was wise enough to know exactly what to do when the going got tough. And he only started coming to the gates (by a literal reading of the text) when his niece Ester was brought to the palace, showing what a strong loyalty he had to family- a quality anyone could admire. And he must have had complete self-confidence to go against the king's command in public. How could I fit these respectable qualities in with my artistic inclination to make him hard to like?

But then, in the entire megillah he only has a voice in three p'sukim- his introduction and two lines of dialogue. This is a character who is almost never heard. So would anyone even notice what he sounds like? But I couldn't think like that!- Mordokhai is the hero of the story, whether he's heard or not. He needs a suitable voice.

Those three p'sukim were the hardest three p'sukim to decide on. I completely changed the voice I was using no less than four times that day. By the end, I didn't know who Mordokhai was anymore, but I'd come to accept that. All that was really needed was for him to stand out from the other characters. If I got another comment this year, as in years past, that Mordokhai sounded too much like the evil Haman, then there was something seriously wrong with my performance. So I finally managed to produce a voice which sounded different enough from the other characters, though I had no guarantees that I could reproduce said voice, seeing as how it was not a memorable and/or particularly fitting one.

The day was not enjoyable, but it had a purpose- something which I could appreciate as well.

Shabbat ended, which for once didn't seem particularly strange. I quickly got ready to leave, though as my father pointed out: "You know,.. You know, we don't really need to rush to get there. It's not like they'll start without us!" Nonetheless, we left and got there as the people were just starting to show up. It was a lot of people, but I didn't want for it to seem like a lot of people, because certain people who I would have wanted to be there were missing while many others I didn't even recognize were there. (The situation seemed familiar somehow.. Ah yes, the empty room with the concert.)

This reading would be almost entirely within my comfort zone. Using not only voices for characters, but musical changes for different functions in the story; using a subtle reference no one would notice from one part of the story to another; subverting the standard tunes into something more complex they were not meant as;- What does this remind me of? Why, it's just a blog post, in megillah form! Mixed with constant progression, like a piano piece, though with a touch more improvisation than usual -which is fine since I'm comfortable with improvisation.

None of this was going through my head as I stood there. In fact, my thoughts were more along the lines of:


Yeah, I know, not particularly deep. I let it out on ridiculously (and knowingly so) phony shivers as the crowd (I mean- small bunch of people!) continued to pour in. It wasn't the people that scared me, really- I've done concerts before. No, it was how much weight I myself had put onto this event. This wasn't just a megillah reading- it was the megillah reading!

I started with a very shaky voice, practically screaming the words out of fear. At least everyone heard me!

But then I got more comfortable with it, and calmed down. And I just read through it, and had fun with it. And it was fun.

And so it came to be that it was reversed; that I, Mordechai Ariel, with my messy hair and lack of socially ordained costume, stood in the middle of the congregation -in which I am an outsider- for this event. And from having little to no contact with other members of the congregation, I went to actively showing off in my own self-indulgent way and being not only tolerated, but respected for it.

Was it free of mistakes? No. There was one part where my father claimed I'd skipped a word-- after I'd already passed a few lines. So I needed to quickly redo that section, which was awkward. And I completely messed up the brakhah at the end, due to a series of circumstances which I'd also like to blame on my father, out of convenience, though it wasn't really in any way his fault. And then there were assorted mistakes in the trup throughout, which (sadly) I can't think of a way to blame on my father.

But overall, it was a success.

Oh, and Mordokhai? I wasn't really thinking about it too much. I just improvised Mordokhai, with a random assortment of voice ideas I'd tried (and failed) to use while practicing, and it worked. It wasn't exactly a masterpiece of voice acting, and I doubt it made much of an impression, but I got no complaints and/or comments that it sounded like the other voices, and that's worth something. After doing it, I couldn't remember what I'd done exactly, so next year (since I would like to make this an annual project from now on) I'll have to struggle with him again.

Different people said they especially liked different voices, which made me very proud. If everyone had leaned toward one voice, I might have thought the rest were failures, but when each person is most entertained by a different voice, then they must all be successes in their own rights. It made me very proud indeed.


I'd just decided to be an adult of some sort, and already I had to make a compromise. Let it never be said that God lacks a sense of humor, twisted though it may be. It had been brought to my attention shortly after my reading that out of our entire congregation, increasing in size with each year, there were only two people who were willing and able to read the megillah. That was me and Jay. (I wonder what would have happened had this been an "off" year for me. But I suppose it all does fit together.) So either I reread the megillah in the morning, or I'd be forcing Jay to read it three times for the shul, one of them right after another. (We have two readings at night and two in the morning.) I wouldn't do that.

So I agreed to do it again on Sunday morning, provided I wasn't going to be doing voices again. I wasn't going to do the whole performance again that year. Once is light entertainment, twice is a chore to sit through. If someone missed it, they should have to wait 'til next year. Besides, wouldn't everyone prefer in the morning (considering they'd already heard the megillah once) for it to be as quick as possible so as to let them get on with their day? So I was willing to reread, but not happy, because if someone had missed that earlier reading they'd think this was all I was capable of. Anyway, this all meant I had to go to sleep early in order to be wide awake for it.

In the morning, I read through very straightforwardly and (this is crucial) quickly. There was no pressure, no effort, no reward. I got the brakhot right this time, so that's something. But I didn't play any of my little tricks, or voices, or even pay any attention to tempo farther than "Let's get through this as quickly as possible without making the words unclear.". It was barely harder than the Torah reading.

It disheartened me to see that some people who I would have wanted to hear the proper reading were present this morning but not in the night. I needed to explain to them (perhaps a bit strongly) that this was only the barest outline of what I'd done yesterday; that this was just a reading while yesterday was a performance. Hopefully they'll show up next year. The Real World has a lot of waiting.

I spent the next hours upstairs in our house, playing The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess while my parents' friends came to the door with mishlo'akh manot. Not because they had anything good to give, but just because it was part of the day's obligations to give them.

There was one point in the game where I was stuck, where I reached a maze of sorts and it wasn't clear to me where I should go next. But I kept going anyway, and found my way eventually. Because it's a well-designed game. I pressed forward all the way to the very satisfying conclusion of the entire game, and beat it. It was quite rewarding.

Meanwhile, back in the Real World, the reversal reversed and everything was back as it was before. And maybe that's not really a reversal. We went for the Purim meal to see old friends of my parents', where I sat with the adults because I'm technically "old enough to drink". So I sat there, as they traded gossip, and endless anecdotes from their jobs, and comments on politics, and all sorts of other adult topics which couldn't have interested me less. I left early and walked home.

It was later pointed out that I'd missed the lunar eclipse. I normally would have been awake to see it, since my regular day ends at 2:00 AM, but because I was thinking only about practical decisions and not such indulgences, I'd forgotten all about. Even if I had remembered, I couldn't have had it both ways. It's so elegant how it all fits together, isn't it? It was all so clear in retrospect. There was a pretty picture, painted prominently on the sky itself! And because I chose to be an adult, who would not care about such things,.. Because I chose a life of misery over a life of happiness,.. I didn't get to appreciate it. I didn't even get to see it! I didn't even get to acknowledge the existence of a beautiful image, except in a sense of "Look what I lost."! I brought this upon myself. And maybe it's not just a sense of humor God has, so much as a lack of human restraint in giving us what we deserve.

Already by the end of the day, I was feeling the first traces of a profound and overly familiar sadness. Why did the satisfaction of a success fade so quickly? Was this all I'd ever get from the Real World? And should I see the trial as continuing, or did I misunderstand the trial in the first place?! Why is it that at every landmark I make for myself, I am rewarded with confusion?

Here's where I stand. In agreeing to become an adult, I proved myself a traitor to childkind- or maybe just a natural ex-member. On the other hand, it seems that a lack of direction and constant confusion are parts of the package deal that is adulthood. And I refuse to accept a life so poorly designed!

So I guess I'm just Mory, no particular age group, and I'll improvise the rest as I get to it.



Post a Comment