Month: June 2019

Peculiar Travel Suggestions

Peculiar Travel Suggestions

Sometimes being an adult can get quite frustrating. Life can lack the adventure and spontaneity that colored our youth. Or at least the amount of unplanned craziness we all expect to have when we’re younger.

Many years ago I was introduced to an author who would later become my favorite: Kurt Vonnegut. I was quickly attracted to his unique and entertaining style of writing. And I found concepts and ideas throughout his books becoming a part of who I was.

The Cursed Kurt Vonnegut

A great example is an idea in the book Hocus Pocus. The character spoke about his reason for never cursing. He believed it weakened the strength of his thoughts and opinions.

Now, I grew up a classic potty-mouthed New Yorker. But I also grew up wanting to make sure any point I make gets across as quickly and effectively as possible. So it was imperative I gave this idea some thought. I considered all the most famous quotes and speeches I had heard. And the people I knew who had the most influence on me and others around me.

And not a curse word to be found.

I took this to heart, stripped my vocabulary of the expletives, and watched as over time the words became somewhat repulsive to me. I also watched as the words became more powerful. Their infrequent use made them more intense when they were actually used.

Peculiar Travel Suggestions

Vonnegut’s influence on me had no bounds. There was one phrase from his incredible novel Cat’s Cradle that has had more impact on me than any other: “Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.”

As you make your way through the twists and turns of life, every once in a while someone will suggest you do something you’ve never done before. You will have an opportunity to wander outside your comfort zone, and see things differently than yesterday.

Those moments aren’t just fun one-time breaks from your normal reality. They are the bread and butter of who you will later become! And so it has been for me, time and again. In my youth I was invited to a youth group meeting. It was something outside my realm. Something that I really did not understand or see the point of. But it was a peculiar travel suggestion, with potential galore for changing my life forever.

And it most certainly did!

That one decision was the starting point for a path I am still trekking down. For sure there have been other peculiar travel suggestions along the way. Many I’ve followed, and many have had their impact. The path hasn’t always been an easy one, but it certainly has always felt like there’s been some type of plan guiding the way.

Dancing Lessons from God

In more recent years I was invited to a friend’s home to hang out and play some games. I didn’t know my host very well, nor did I know any of the other guests. My instincts and inertia could have easily gotten the better of me. After all, it was exceedingly hot outside. I was better off just staying home, reading, and napping.

My host’s peculiar travel suggestion would be a key moment on the path eventually leading to our marriage.

And thus has been the pattern of my existence for as far back as I remember. When my days had too much of a pattern, and I was too rigid and unwilling to follow the ebbs and flow of life, or there were elements holding me back, little noteworthy happened.

And therefore when I told stories about myself, I noticed they were all old. Anything and everything that seemed interesting or noteworthy about me happened a long, long time ago.

In the Comfort Zone

And now here is where I stand. I find comfort in day-to-day routines. I like knowing what my day will look like and what’s coming up in the near future. Any break from my routine, even a small one, upsets my balance. Leaves me somewhat unnerved. That’s why they call it the “comfort zone”…

Yet at the same time there are changes that need to happen. There are improvements to myself as a person I so vehemently wish I could make happen. And if things continue on the same path they’ve been zooming down since I was a teenager, these changes won’t just happen on their own. Change happens when a peculiar travel suggestion enters my world, and I’m brave enough to follow the unknown path.

Shaking Things Up

And it seems this is the only true way meaning occurs in my life. It’s like a snow globe that settles into whatever it is, but the true beauty shines when things are shaken up.

But the shaking can’t happen by force. I can’t just shake my own snow globe or artificially insert my own peculiar travel suggestions. This disingenuous method of finding meaningful change is unlikely to produce any results.

Waiting for Peculiar Travel Suggestions

That’s not to say I have no control, nor that I lack an important role in inevitable and exciting changes that lay ahead. I must lay the foundation, and create the right atmosphere for change to naturally flow from what’s happening in my life.

There is so much I want to happen in the future, so many goals I wish to achieve. I want to see new levels of professional and financial success. I wake up daily yearning to return to levels of religiosity and Zionism I haven’t felt in what seems like ages. And I want joy in my days, the extent of which I could not have imagined.

I’m out there. God, I am wandering through life, each day awaiting Your peculiar travel suggestions. I patiently seek Your dancing lessons.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

***

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, personal story, religion, 0 comments

My 100th Post: Why a Blog in 2019?

Blog

Blog? You write a blog? What year is this!?

This is my 100th blog post (including guest posts). I work on the blog a little bit every day of my life. But… some days I wonder why I bother.

To date, I haven’t earned a penny. In fact, it costs me to maintain the blog.

I’m not famous. It hasn’t put me into the limelight or tossed me in the way of some prestigious writing position.

But I keep at it. Week in and week out, nearly two years now. Consistently publishing at least one post every week.

And here I stand. This is my 100th post. And I have no plans to stop. I love it. It’s really fun for me. And I hope to keep it up for quite a long time to come.

It’s 2019 and I’m still blogging. Here are five reasons why:

1) Writing is a Muscle

The people of the world don’t know how to write anymore. Sadly, those among us who love style and grammar and just common decent awareness of the English language, we can’t shut off. Not for a minute.

Each and every day I’m literally sickened by the lazy writing I see or the blatant and heartbreaking lack of attention to detail.

And I pledge to never be that guy. I want my sentences to flow from one to the other. I don’t want to toss important punctuation and grammar rules into the trash can. I’m perfectly happy being the last American alive who knows how to spell words, and values that correct spelling as well.

But one thing is for sure: Keeping the writing skills alive won’t happen by accident.

I treat writing like a muscle. If left unused long enough, it will atrophy. I want to write every day of my life to prevent this vital muscle from withering away. The muscle needs to constantly be developed and refined, and hopefully through my daily exercise it will grow and sharpen to the height of its potential.

2) Blog as Written Catharsis

As any loyal reader knows, the last 41 years haven’t always been easy. I’ve done a great deal to try and survive the many hardships that have popped up along the way. Writing for me is both a way of processing my thoughts and feelings, as well as an emotional release in and of itself.

For certain, there are many pains that I cannot process through writing. And for sure plenty of pain for which I haven’t even scratched the surface. Nevertheless, pockets of difficulties I’ve had, I have managed to get through just because of this blog.

We all know that feeling of release when a pain slowly but surely dissipates. I’ve had that feeling a few times. Whether it be contemplating the complications of returning to Israel or closure at the end of a decade’s worth of work as a Jewish Educator, this blog has consistently given me great emotional catharsis.

This alone would be reason enough to keep on going.

3) Collecting My Thoughts

I’m not a liberal or a conservative. I have no political affiliation. And I begrudge (almost) no opinion out there. Nevertheless, I’m a thinker and I do have strong opinions.

I am a work in progress, constantly listening to what others have to say and trying to piece the world together. I make mistakes. A whole lot of them.

But the goal is and always will be to understand as much as humanly possible. And the single best way for me to collect my thoughts is by trying to write them down. If I can clearly and concisely get my thoughts into the written word, and I can answer a handful of questions about what I’ve said, competently and confidently, I have successfully added another piece to what I think, feel, and know. My mind is just a little sharper than it was before.

Clarity. I write, and that’s how I achieve clarity.

4) Me, the Minor Celebrity

There’s a cute little psychological effect that comes with sharing so much of yourself in such a public forum. It’s fun when someone quotes you or has a little bit of knowledge of what’s going on in your life or has a deep understanding of your thoughts and opinions.

Obviously I’m more than aware of my relatively minor influence in the vast world out there. No delusions of grandeur over here. Only the pleasure of knowing somebody out there might be listening. Somebody out there might have a care or concern for what I can add to the conversation. It’s enough to keep writing. It feels great.

It’s a funny world. The words “rich and famous” often get lumped together, and whereas I would love to be rich one day, I can certainly live quite happily without fame. I appreciate my privacy. I love it, in fact.

And in my heart I see no contradiction between my adoration of solitude and the joy of having my thoughts out there for the world to read. When I need or want to be private, it’s always there for me. And it’s always great.

5) Keep Hope Alive

Maybe it’s online youthful innocence. Or maybe hope is the greatest motivator the world has ever seen.

But I still keep waiting and watching. I still keep hoping that at some point things will “take off”. And that can mean all sorts of things. My blog could all of a sudden become the cash cow I never imagined. Or my blog could travel far and wide and it or some portion could end up influencing the lives of thousands of people.

All I know is, as long as I keep on plugging, the chance exists of some sort of magic occurring. And those chances end the moment I close my laptop and throw in the towel.

So I keep on writing.

See you in Post #200.

***

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Posted by jaffeworld in opinion, 1 comment

Five Easy Ways to be Healthier… I Just Can’t Manage to Do

healthier

I want to be healthier. I want to wake up everyday refreshed and strong, with a positive feeling when I look into the mirror.

And I do a lot of the things you’re supposed to do to get there. I eat relatively healthy and exercise a whole lot. But I’m never happy with the results, and certainly not happy with a whole slew of my health woes.

No one could ever 100% pinpoint the main reason or reasons they can’t achieve their goals. But sometimes the biggest complications are staring right at me, and no matter what I do, I can’t seem to improve.

What’s worse is these ways to be healthier are objectively easy. And after years of strategizing how to develop better habits, I still fall short. Every single day.

Who knows? Maybe airing my health-related “dirty laundry” will be my motivation to improve.

Any tips world?

1) Stretching is for the Birds

I love to workout. I love getting to the gym and attacking the weights with alacrity. Sometimes I have a problem getting out the front door, or motivating myself to actually get to the gym. But once I’m there, it’s a great workout almost 100% of the time.

I don’t love cardio. But there are a handful of cardio activities I do really enjoy, like hitting the heavy bag. And when I’m into it, I’m into it.

But the evil and daunting stretch? I hate it each and every time, and the thought of stretching bores me, before I ever find myself trying to touch that toe. Sometimes I want to keep working out just to avoid needing to stretch afterwards.

Most of the time I want some excuse to leave early so I don’t have a chance to stretch.

What is the secret to enjoying this miserable necessity?

2) Water, So Mighty, So Dull

There are few topics in the world of health and fitness that don’t inspire controversy. One source says red meat is the God of all healthful items. Another says it is the devil, waiting to destroy anything you’ve ever accomplished.

Whether it’s soy or coconut oil or whole wheat bread, there’s someone out there to sing its praise, and just as many others ready to burn the sucker to a crisp.

And when all the smoke clears, the only two items everyone seems to universally agree are still healthy are vegetables and water.

But how does one learn to enjoy water? It’s so dull. It’s so non-invigorating.

Sure, it’s quite refreshing to down a bunch of ice-cold water on a super hot day. But we all know we never seem to be getting enough. Why? Because we need to be drinking the stuff even when we don’t want to.

What’s the secret to enjoying this banal necessity?

3) The Elusive Sleep

I love sleeping… but I hate going to sleep. First, it’s not and has basically never been easy for me to fall asleep. And mornings are really tough for me. Sleep just seems like that thing I do before I have to deal with waking up.

Furthermore, I like to do a lot with my days. Besides my family and my job, there are a million other things that will easily fill up any given day. And it always feels that if I want to make it all happen, I need to sacrifice something.

And when something has to go, it’s almost always sleep. If I sleep two hours fewer, bam, like magic my day has an additional two hours.

The logic is highly flawed, but never feels flawed at the moment it’s being applied. How do I get the sleep I need in the puny few hours of the average day? How can I have my sleep and eat it too!?

4) Put Down that Damn Food

I’ve got a food problem. I love the damn stuff. And I just can’t get enough.

Literally. I find myself thinking about the next bite while eating the current one. And no matter how how much I eat, I never quite feel full.

It’s a real issue, and a real blemish on my health resume.

Not to mention, it can be embarrassing. And it can get expensive.

I know I have an unhealthy relationship with food. Sometimes I hear about people who get stressed, and they just can’t eat when they feel that way. They hate it… and I feel envious. Pretty much the only thing I can think of when the stress starts pouring on is to start shoveling in the food.

I just ate a beautiful, delicious hamburger. How come I feel like I need another? How come I want the fries too, and the never-ending plate never satiates?

Why can’t I just put the food down and walk away?

5) Just Relax Already!

There are few items in the health world with endless solutions. If one wishes to relax, there are recommendations galore. Everything from certain vitamin complexes to yoga to meditation to power naps.

And yet relaxation just never seems to be a part of my life. I mean, after all, who has time to relax!? Seriously. There are only so many hours in the day. Who has the time to just stop doing and creating in order to sit back and simply enjoy God’s green earth, in peace and harmony.

Fact is, I think I’m genetically predisposed to not relaxing. Or maybe circumstances in my life led me to feeling this way. Or some level of both.

But there’s no denying that I’d rather be writing this here blog than lying down staring at a ceiling, just paying attention to my breathing. What’s the secret for me to just relax already?

***

Healthier around the Corner

And there you have it. I’m well aware that I could inch closer to becoming the pinnacle of health I so desire. All I need to do to be healthier is stretch more, drink more water, sleep a little, stop shoveling in the food, and relax already.

No problem. Healthier is right around the corner…

***

Bonus: Like everyone, I’d probably be healthier if I were to just drop alcohol from the routine… But hey, let’s not get crazy now…

***

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Posted by jaffeworld in Fitness, Health, 1 comment

The Teacher Itch: Five Things I Miss About Being a Teacher

teacher

Am I still a teacher?

It’s been over three years since I left education. It wasn’t even a mildly complicated decision at the time. Almost as if the field itself had chewed me up and spit me out. It was time to go. I was done.

But for my first year after I was done, I still had bits and pieces of teaching opportunities here and there. I was always able to find students who wanted tutoring. I taught a weekly class at my synagogue. And I even had the occasional moment to hone my public speaking skills.

All the Teaching is Gone

And upon moving to Israel, I was basically deprived of any and all opportunity to teach. And every once in a while it hurts, and makes me even a little sad.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t miss being a teacher. I really don’t.

The days are long and the profession follows you home. Expectations are extraordinarily high, with a hardly comparable compensation. And it very well might be the lowest wage job in America that still requires you to wear a tie.

A tie! Every single day.

Nevertheless, there’s something about the role that becomes a part of your soul. And without it, it’s like I have an itch somewhere in the middle of my back. I can grab at it all day long, and I can shimmy myself all over the wall, but the itch never properly gets scratched.

What do I miss about my former profession? Let’s explore five elements of being an educator I would love to have back in my life.

1) When Being a Teacher Actually Works

Every once in a while, there’s a click. A student looks up at you with understanding eyes. Or they master a concept that seemed out of their reach. Or you try something with an individual that you wouldn’t try with the other students, and the success is obvious and immediate.

If these moments happened all the time, you’d be a master teacher. But occasional occurrence is the norm. And when they happen, they are brilliant and, in many ways, life changing.

I miss the glorious moments of when teaching works. I miss seeing sparks of understanding, and knowing that I was a part of the process of getting there.

2) The Ultra-Creative Teacher Spirit

I love my job. But it’s an understatement to say that it affords me few opportunities for creativity.

During my decade as a teacher, I thrived under all circumstances where I was given room to be as creative as I wanted. When that happened I found myself creating Parsha PowerPoints, writing and producing student movies about Tanach, and covering rooms with beautiful and meaningful murals.

For certain there were those along the way who smothered my creativity. But at least I knew I was in an environment where I realized my creativity mattered. Every ounce of creative energy I expended made someone’s day better, and fostered a greater learning experience.

Life without that creative outlet is different. And lacking.

3) Delving into the Unexplored

Teaching for me was a wild adventure of trial and error. In my most glorious moments along the way, error was actually fairly common. But I was among supportive people who made my mistakes feel like they were just part of the natural process.

I had classes along the way that flopped, sometimes dramatically and embarrassingly. And every last one of them was part of the process of getting to a class that would be wildly successful. Perhaps even unforgettable.

And it was all worth it. The exploration was a reward in and of itself. Knowing that with a little work and perseverance, a gem is likely hidden waiting to be found. I miss that beautiful search for the known.

4) The Smiles and the Laughter

I was a bit of a silly teacher. Yes, of course among my goals was always to foster knowledge and skills acquisition. But if the kids weren’t laughing and smiling along the way, then what was the point?

Fact is, being a Jewish studies teacher can be quite thankless. And there can be a lot of forgotten information along the way. But the feelings you help create within your students, be they boredom or bliss, might stay with them for a lifetime. That’s a responsibility I didn’t take lightly.

I loved the smiles.

And I do miss brightening the day of a few good kids.

5) The Forever Teacher

I am proud to say that I have a connection that has stood the test of time with multiple students. I love watching as my students of all sorts have developed into young adults. Former students of mine are married. Many have children. They are professionals, philanthropists, and adventurers.

And I love every minute of it!

One of the best educators I met along the way once told me it takes a full decade before you can appreciate and really feel proud of having been a teacher. Basically, after all the hardships, over ten years later you can finally feel like it was all worth it.

Is it fair to have to wait that long to reap the rewards of all your hard work? Absolutely not. However, when the day comes and you are told by a student that you were their favorite teacher, or she rattles off things you taught her years earlier, you can sigh a breath of relief. It may have been grueling, but it truly was worth it.

I have many strong connections with former students. And I hope those connections stay with me for the rest of my life.

***

No, I don’t want to go back. My days of teaching are behind me forever. I am more than aware of the pain this peculiar profession caused me.

But sometimes I miss it. Sometimes I remember the days I woke up thrilled to go to work.

And sometimes I just need to scratch an itch.

***

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Posted by jaffeworld in education, 0 comments