To Blog Or Not To Blog?

I feel like I should admit from the outset that I am conflicted about the notion of blogging. Back when blogs were a new phenomenon, I gazed gleefully down my nose at people who published their every thought on the internets. “How important do these people think they are?” I wondered, thrilled at my own humility. “Don’t they know that no one cares what they think?”

But then Twitter happened, so we’ve crossed that bridge and there’s no going back. It’s now socially acceptable to make a public announcement that you have switched shampoos. But this is a tired subject – many have lamented the lack of boundaries in our digital life. My concerns about blogging are of a different nature these days.

First, I worry that blogging cheapens the art of writing. I know how elitist and silly that sounds – it’s like saying that the advent of disposable cameras cheapens the art of photography. But increasingly, people seem to feel that the only purpose of language is to get your point across. As long as you know what I mean in the end, what’s the point of grammar? What’s the point of eloquence? Before blogging, the writing that made it into the public sphere had to be of a certain quality because it had to get past editors and publishers. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in ornaments of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). Beautiful language has intrinsic value. Let’s not forget about that.

My other concern is about the spiritual well-being of bloggers and tweeters and constant-Facebook-updaters themselves. Social media encourages my generation to express aloud our every thought to an audience of thousands, and we’ve gotten used to the immediate gratification that comes with having one’s opinions heard by so many people. What happens when we become dependent on the feeling of validation we get from all our friends hitting the “Like” button?

Some people will tell you that children need to learn to “self-soothe” so they can fall asleep. I think my generation needs to learn intellectual self-soothing. I worry that we have no inner life, no ability to validate our own thoughts and feelings, because we are so used to turning over our ideas, our daily schedules, our commentary on the day’s events to all our acquaintances for their approval.

I don’t know if there’s a solution to any of this, but I do know that as I make my first foray into self-publishing, I want to make an effort to do two things: first, I’ll try to edit myself well, to write posts that are worthwhile for my friends and family to read, posts that aren’t too self-indulgent. Second, I’ll work on putting into practice what Mesilas Yesharim calls hisbodedus – sitting quietly with Hashem and making an accounting of the day’s events, my failures and my accomplishments, my thoughts and feelings and concerns. If I have a rich inner dialogue with Hashem, perhaps I can avoid the emptiness of needing constant validation from others.

LM

All words in italics can be found in the Glossary. 

Wait, what time is it?

Closing my laptop tonight, I realized I had spent the majority of the day on the computer. I started to sigh at myself, a slow breath of guilt for the wasted time, but realized I actually. . . I felt fulfilled.

This never happens to me.

In fact, my thesis work revolved around a notion of technology as divider rather than connector.

I’ve written pages and pages about the barren psychological landscape created by substituting screens for faces and allowing the keyboard to communicate instead of the wondrously subtle emotional expressions conveyed by facial muscles, body posture, physical presence.

I was shocked to find that when I reflected on my day, it was with a sense of satisfaction. It started with tea and email.

Return to the Knotted Cord

As a (very) recent college grad with, shall we say, flexible plans for the upcoming months before I leave for Israel, I rather wonder what to do with myself. Of course, there are the usual grand notions of waking up at 6:30 am to walk six miles through the park after davening all of Shacharis beautifully, then eating a healthful breakfast and breezing through a day of productivity and summery bliss… But I fancy myself a pragmatist, and not a dreamer, so I shall temper my delusions (“Once it’s June I just know I’ll be a morning person!”) with some goal-setting.

Simplicity is on my mind these days. I am hyper-aware of the absurd luxury in which I’ve lived as a college student: I’ve had few responsibilities and bushels of free time to fill with all kinds of nonsense. And it’s not just the excess of this lifestyle that irks me. I’ve grown and refined myself in many positive ways throughout my collegiate career, but much to my dismay I have also allowed myself to be sucked into the self-important egoism of academia. Higher education has many things to recommend it, but, as David Orr points out in this fantastic article, “…education is no guarantee of decency, prudence, or wisdom.” Intellectualism is a huge part of my identity, but I know that unless it’s tempered with humility and conscience, it becomes an exercise in arrogance, or worse.

“Let the people go back to tying knots to keep records,” the Dao De Jing suggests. “Let their food be savory, their clothes beautiful, their customs pleasurable, their dwellings secure.” Sounds good to me, except that the Dao De Jing also expounds on the evils of education and intellectualism. I’d like to think we can have it both ways – we can be philosophers without losing touch with reality, if only we remember this wisdom, from Proverbs (15:17):

טוב ארחת ירק ואהבה–שם משור אבוס ושנאה–בו

Better is a meal of greens, where love is, than a plump ox and hatred with it.

In other words, intellectualism for its own sake is pretty worthless. It’s worthless unless it comes in the service of love, for even simplicity with love is superior to extravagance without.

What’s that you say? I was supposed to be setting a pragmatic goal for the summer? Here it is: live simply. Enjoy my friends, eat fruit, take walks, do free things in the park, make things with my hands. Somehow I feel that through picking my own peaches, my eyes will be opened to the bounty of goodness with which God has blessed me, and I will simply know what to say in thanks.

LM

All words in italics can be found in the Glossary. 

Recipe: Shortbread Cookies

Shortbread Cookies
adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

Total Time: 1 hr 10 min
Prep 15 min
Inactive 30 min
Cook 25 min
Yield: 24 hearts

Ingredients
3/4 lb unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar, plus a little for sprinkling
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and 1 cup of sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt; then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and roll shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut with a desired cookie cutters. (I did small and large, both came out nicely.) Place the cookies on an ungreased sheet pan and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature. Or, eat them hot like I did.

Note: The edges of the shortbread are ever so slightly sharper if you chill the cookies before baking them.
You can cut out the cookies days ahead and bake them the day you serve them. (Fancy, huh?)

Silver

Graduation!

So, we just graduated. And it’s like, “What now?” “Where did our community go?” “How will we stay in touch?” “What does the future hold?”

All those terrible life-searching questions.
But, in my mind, a more important question might be: How did those shortbread cookies you made yesterday turn out?

Quite well, thank you. Would you like to see?

My Shortbread Cookies