Friday, November 21, 2014

Judge Me Not ... well, maybe just a little

"You are a cold, mean, self-centred, unforgiving ..." she stopped to catch her breath. I thought it best to remain silent. "You told me not to hold back," she said.
"Right. Knock yourself out."
"And condescending, even ugly at times," she continued. I could see that she was still winding up.
And this was coming from a friend. It was going to be a long night.

What is this obsession we have with evaluation? It starts at a very young age and never ends.

"I think we should hold David back a year," the kindergarten teacher told my mother.
"Hold him back? In kindergarten?" My mother wasn't quite sure she had heard right.
"Yes, he spends most of the time by himself and doesn't participate much in our little talks."
"And that's a bad thing?"
"Without developing the necessary social skills, well ... he's not going to go very far."
"But ... it's kindergarten."
"Mrs. Lloyd. I can't overestimate the importance of starting out in life on the right foot, no matter  how much time it takes."
I was impervious to all of this at the time. I was simply studying the land in my own time. I had time. I had my whole life still spread out before me.
My mother later met up with another kindergarten mother for coffee.
"How did your daughter do?" my mother asked.
"I'm told that she spends too much time talking with her little friends."
They both sighed. Not easy being parents of children who flunked kindergarten.

I got some of mine back, though, when I became a teacher. Or so I thought. Sitting in the driver's seat at my first teacher/parent meeting, it was now I who could create a stigma that would stay with someone the rest of their life. But I tried to be kind and original in my comments. It went well, at first. The parents felt that I had something to say and were willing to listen. But as the evening wore on, my voice turned into an increasing drone. And worse, I found myself repeating myself. But I knew I had reached rock bottom when I began using the P_Word.

"Your daughter shows potential."
"Your son is not living up to his potential."
"Your daughter has to recognize her potential."

Amazing how many ways the term potential can be used at a teacher's meeting. But the parents weren't fooled. For them, I had turned into another teaching clone. They would discuss me later with others over coffee. But I can say one thing in my defence: I never held a student back.

But if we ever entertained the fantasy that at some time we could eventually escape the need for evaluation, we were gravely mistaken. For it follows us until the end of time.

"You are a good father."
"You are a lousy husband."
"As a lover, you show potential."
"You make a good corpse."

And if you are a man, don't forget the lists. Those ominous lists women make when they gather together for their ritual man-bashing ritual.

"Of all of the men you have dated, who was:
- the best kisser.
- the biggest loser.
- the most clueless in bed.
- the most totally useless in bed and everywhere else.
- the best lover
- the best husband material
- the one who got away.

Of course there is one thing worse than being on one or more of these lists, and that is not being on any list at all. As if you were never really there and they wiped you totally from their consciousness. You might as well be invisible.

And don't get me started on self-evaluation. How many of us are any good at that? We will do anything to avoid coming face to face with our own demons. But denial can only take us so far. It all catches up to us in the end, most often in our dreams.

Had my dream again where I'm making love, and the Olympic judges are watching. I'd nailed the compulsories, so this is it, the finals. I got a 9.8 from the Canadians, a perfect 10 from the Americans, and my mother, disguised as an East German judge, gave me a 5.6. Must have been the dismount.
~ When Harry Met Sally

Sometimes, after a couple of glasses of whiskey, I try to evaluate myself as a husband, lover, father, son, teacher, innovator, scholar, human being ... and at some point my attention wanders ... until I decide it is time to sit down and write another blog.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Wannabe

"So, you want to be a writer?"
"Well, yes."
She marked down wannabe.
 "Actually, I already published a book through eBook Publishers," I assured her.
"eBook Publishers?"
"Yes, they just publish eBooks. But this time I want my new book to be published by a more traditional publisher, both in hardcover and eBook."
"Traditional publisher. You will need a literary agent for that," she said.
"Yes, I know."
She marked down delusional.
"New York, London?"
"What?" I asked.
"Your literary agent. Where you want to get published."
"Actually, I thought I'd start with Toronto."
"Toronto? Isn't the Canadian market quite small?" she asked.
"Yes, but I see it as going back to my roots. Coming home."
Sentimental loser, she wrote.
"And I also write a blog."
She looked up, not too pleased with this news. "I hope you are not putting me in your blog."
"No, of course not," I lied.
Actually, I hadn't planned to until I saw that sentimental loser remark. I have been called many things: cold, unemotional, detached, anti-social ... and oh, yes - loser, but never sentimental. That stung.
"What about friends?" she asked.
"What about them?"
"Are any of them writers?".
"I think so. But most won't admit it."
She nodded in empathy. Friendless, she added.
"Okay, that's good for a start," she said.
"When shall we continue?" I asked.
"I'll call you," she said, with a sweet smile.

A friend of mine, who is brave enough to call himself an aspiring writer, asked me over a pint of Guinness a short while ago. "Why do we do this to ourselves?"
"Do what?"
"Torture ourselves as writers. The process of writing is painful enough, in itself, but why put ourselves also through the pain of seeking someone to publish our writing?"
"I'd put it down to the masochistic creative gene. Why does anyone want to create?" I asked. "Painters, musicians ... is it any easier for them?"
"Some of them do quite well," he said. "Big houses in Beverley Hills."
"Is that what you are in it for? The money?"
"Wouldn't hurt. What are you in it for?" he asked.
"The groupies."

So, I have a new book coming out. Well ... I have a new book. The gods will tell whether it comes out or sinks into an abysmal bog. (I hope I didn't offend anyone with that gods remark. My shrink tells me I should stop doing that.) And talking about shrinks, here is another excerpt from my new book (in addition to my last blog posting). Some people may think the main character resembles me. I actually think that I resemble him. He came first.

“Would you consider yourself suicidal?”
The psychologist studied me from behind her thick framed eyeglasses.
“Suicidal? No,” I replied, shaking my head.
 “You have never had suicidal thoughts?”
“No, not really. Except for wanting to jump off a cliff.”
“What!”
“Jump off a cliff.”
“I heard you. In what way is that not suicidal?”
“I do not want to jump off a cliff,” I said slowly with emphasis. “That is why I am probably still alive. But whenever I approach the edge of a cliff with a sheer drop, I have a powerful urge to jump into the abyss.”
She sat there watching me, as if trying to decipher something in my manner.
“Are you depressed, when this happens?” she asked.
“Depressed about not jumping?”
“You know what I mean.”
“It doesn’t depend on the mood,” I answered. “Or the weather. When I come close to the edge, I want to jump off.”
“What happens then?”
“I move back.”
This was my first visit to the psychologist. Or was she a psychiatrist? I keep getting my terms mixed up. I know, I told you I would never go. So I lied. Or as a psychologist would say: I underestimated my sub-conscious. Actually, it was mostly because of Rachel’s endless nagging. In the end it was easier to go than not.
My psychologist was a woman. I had already viewed life from a male perspective, so I thought it was time to see things from a female point of view.
She was very officious looking, that first meeting. What I suppose you would expect of a psychologist. The room was full of books: books on every side. Somebody once told me that half of the books in a psychologist’s office were just empty boxes made to look like books. I hadn’t given much credit to such reports, although given the first opportunity, I would slip one out and take a good look.
“What do people think about your desire to jump off cliffs?” she asked, catching me drifting.
“Impulse.”
“What?”
“Impulse to jump off cliffs. There is really no desire there.”
“Okay,” she said, writing something in her notepad. “What do people think about your impulse to jump off cliffs?”
“They don’t know about it.”
“They don’t know about it? Not even your family and closest friends? What do they say when you are not willing to stand with them by the edge of the cliff?”
“They think I have a fear of heights.”
“And that is all?”
“That is all.”
“Now I can see why it took you so long to come to a psychologist,” she muttered.
“What?”
“No, scratch that. That was very unprofessional.”



Friday, September 12, 2014

When the wheels begin to grind

These are not words of confession, but rather an explanation. For most of you, this will be a journey into the complete unknown. For others, who have managed to look under the surface, much of this will not be too surprising, although there will still be parts that will have you shaking your heads in wonder.

Most of you know me as a peaceful man. I have never had much to do with weapons of any sort, but I have come to realize over time that in my hands is a smoking gun. My fingerprints are all over it.  And there is nothing I could have done to prevent it, for I was obsessed. One day I sat in front of the computer and stared, stared until there was a crack in the wall.

But let me start at the beginning. At the beginning of this long, murky journey.

They say that it takes about twenty minutes for your brain to register that your stomach is full. By then you may have overeaten, taken in much more than you should have. But how were you to know?  How can you make any proper judgement, if your brain fails you?

I began my foray into the virtual when the Internet was still a wild frontier. Most people were still unaware that it existed, let alone understood its potential. Even those of us who were most involved didn’t quite understand where it might lead, until it was much too late.

I have always believed myself to be a moral person. You may dispute this after you have heard my tale. Perhaps my ability to keep these two worlds separate in my mind for so long was the reason why it took me so long to believe that I was doing anything wrong. Even when the two worlds collided in the end, it still took my brain some time to register.

But initially, the virtual was a godsend for me.

If you met me, you would probably not notice much at first. You might register that I was quieter than most people, averting eye contact after the initial meeting, offering a sentence or two to the conversation, but then closing myself off in some corner, both mentally and physically. You might also notice that the longer I was there, the more uncomfortable I appeared: the conversation working its way around me, but not including me.

Over the years I have tried to understand what is wrong with me. I looked for labels, but they were hard to come by, especially before the age of Google. I made up a special label for myself: emotionally and socially autistic. Many people would just write this off as being an introvert. But they don’t know. They couldn’t look inside and see.

I don’t know if searching for labels has made my situation any easier. The symptoms were always there, whether they had a name or not. OCD was one such label.  It was only much later in life that I realized that this label also applied to me. I did so when it appeared that the symptoms were getting worse. But I am good at hiding things. People around me only saw a part of the symptoms, and as a result, viewed them amusingly as oddly eccentric.

But for me, they have been torture. I cannot leave the house until I have checked things again and again. I cannot finish parking a car until I get out and make sure that I am exactly between the lines. Even after locking the car with the remote, I have to walk around checking that all of the doors are locked, maybe doing this two or three times. When I leave the house I lock the door, pulling on the handle three or four times to make sure it is locked, and then, as I start to walk away, I have to come back again to make sure that it is really locked. Sometimes I can avoid coming back if I make a mental effort to open a door in a part of my mind, enter, and register that I was there. But this requires me to forcefully stop the streams of consciousness for a moment, and that is not an easy thing to do.

Those around me never see the complete ceremony of my OCD. If someone is with me, I may make do with just checking the front and back door on the driver’s side to see if they are locked, or make only one pass around the house to make sure everything is turned off and in place. The abridged form of the ceremony is difficult for me, but it is necessary, to keep people from thinking that I am totally crazy. My own wife often sighs with impatience when I am making one of the abbreviated checks. And I hate being me.

You might ask why I haven’t been officially diagnosed concerning such things. This is because I have never gone to a psychologist or psychiatrist, despite my wife’s prodding. She is probably the closest to understanding the severity of my situation because she has to live with me. And why haven’t I gone? I cannot trust myself in the hands of another.

Lately I saw something on TV that made me wonder if I have Aspergers Syndrome. It is not that I am a hypochondriac of the mentally ill. I am simply trying to cope with who I am, and it isn’t easy.

I suppose I really should go to see a psychologist. But it’s not going to happen any time soon.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
 Who is this speaking? Is this the author, or the writer of the blog? Is this David, or a made up character in a new novel? We must remember that this is fiction. Or is it? How do we separate the two?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

When is a Lloyd, not a Lloyd

I carried the name Lloyd on my long, solitary journey to the Holy Land, so many decades ago, only to discover that I was probably the only Lloyd in the whole State of Israel. Was this a new dynasty I was about to create, or would the Lloyd name peter out here altogether? One can only imagine the weight of the burden upon my shoulders.

"Will David Levid please come to room 9," a voice called out at the neighborhood clinic, as they tried to make sense of my name written in Hebrew (there are no vowels in the Hebrew script, so you see only the consonants and the rest is left to expectation). My last name has also been written in many different ways: Levid, Lavid (before I was asked to pronounce it) and Loid, Loyd (after I pronounced it).

But the writing and pronunciation of the last name Lloyd isn't what this piece is all about. Instead, we are going to delve deep and try discover the real significance of this name.

Our story begins with my daughter. She has to renew her Canadian passport - a feat in itself (see my prior blog entries on the subject) and came to me to get advice on how to do it. I told her that she has to pay by money order and that she should get the money order at the post office the same day, or the day before she submits the application - in case the Canadian dollar rate changes. She said okay, and a few days later (about two weeks before she was planning to submit the application) she phoned me from the post office telling me she was having a problem getting the money order. They didn't understand what she wanted. I wearily tried to understand why she was getting it so early, after we had earlier agreed that she'd wait, and then tried to explain what a money order exactly was, but she basically talked through my explanation:
"I am going to a different post office," she said, "one where they know what they are doing."
At that point I told her that she shouldn't be getting a money order at this time, anyway, and should wait until a closer date. In the meantime we could research the matter. Later I went into the Internet and sent her links to explanations by Israeli Post as to what a money order is and how to obtain it.

This continued to bother me after I switched off the phone. What disturbed me the most, was that after all of the neurotic effort I had put into raising my three children, my daughter wasn't acting like a Lloyd at all, but rather as an Oved. Now, I don't want the Oveds out there (and there are many) to become upset with me over this point. But hey - if I don't stick up for the Lloyd name, who will?

So I wrote a message to our Lloyd family group, which we affectionally call The Levids (you already know why), explaining why I felt that my daughter wasn't acting as a Lloyd, but rather as an Oved:

1) She didn't check to find out what a money order involves beforehand
2) She didn't go to the post office when I told her she should
3) She talked through my explanation.

How more Oved can you get? I told her, and my other children in The Levids group, that if they didn't put in more effort in being a Lloyd, their children would never know math, they would lose important documents and only discover that they were lost much later, they would never check the gas before leaving the house and the house would burn down, and they would never learn from their mistakes, but would simply say Lo Norah (It doesn't matter).

Well, my daughter, her Lloyd side boiling to the top, wasn't going to take this lying down. A message from her soon came through to the family group:

============================
First of all, it is hutzpah to say that it was irresponsible to go to the postal office so early. I was simply following my Lloyd genes in doing something far before it needs to be done. In any other family, I would have gone straight to the embassy and then remembered that I hadn't gotten the money order. And I made R go with me to Raanana to get our pictures taken, as Abba David said that was the only place we should get them.

You wonder where the compulsive obsessive disorder and genes that I have inherited from the Lloyd Family appear in my life? Let me tell you.

1) I turn on 3 alarm clocks so that I will be sure to get up in the morning.
2) I ask R if he has also put on an alarm clock
3) I check to make sure that R turned off the water heater
4) I check to make sure that R locked the door.
5) I check to make sure that R closed all of the doors
6) I check to make sure that R turned off the gas after he cooks
7) I get into bed and then remember that I didn't check to see if the door is locked, the water heater is turned off, and the gas is turned off.
8) I check again to make sure that I turned on an alarm clock
9) I have to be somewhere at 10:00 and get there at 08:00
10) I pressure everyone around me to also be there at 08:00, even though the event begins at 10:00
11) I file every page/receipt/document that falls into my hands
12) I stand on the waiting line at the bank machine and not on the person who is taking out money
13) I arrive to see a movie at the cinema even before the advertisements begin
14) I don't get up to go to the washroom on a flight so as not to disturb the person next to me
15) Every morning I check to see that the keys are in my bag (even though I know they are there)

Should I continue??
==============================

Shot down and outLloyded by my own flesh and blood. Couldn't be more proud.




Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Mystery Behind the Mask

People seem to love to have a reason to wear a costume. A few weeks ago, our High School for Environmental Studies held its annual Purim parade. Students dressed up in costumes and built floats out of recycled material. Thousands of people made it down to this small oasis in the desert to cheer them on. Purim is perhaps one of the most joyous of Jewish holidays, although still keeping to the typical Jewish holiday recipe: "They persecuted us, we beat them, let's eat!"

Some people compare Purim to Halloween, mainly because of the costumes. But while Israeli schools are putting on elaborate parades and acting out the history of the Purim holiday, children on Halloween go from door to door shouting "trick and treat" and filling up on candy. And the adults, in both holidays, get to party, often drinking a little too much, but having the luxury of hiding behind the anonymity of their costume.

Who among us does not wear a mask? Some masks make us faceless in a crowd. Other masks seductively reveal just enough of ourselves to have people asking for more. Would Romeo and Juliet have ever found the courage to meet, had it not been for the mask?

But it is not just at masked parties and events, such as Purim and Halloween that people adorn costumes. People like to dress up every day, from the moment they get up, until they go to bed. Clothes: clothes for the occasion, clothes for the mood; colorful makeup, stylized haircuts, dangling jewellery and hot tattoos.

Much of this is imitation, something that begins already early in our childhood years, where children mimic their parents by putting on their shoes and clothes. Later it often becomes a means of protest, as rebellious teenagers dress in stark contrast to their parents' appearance. And much later, it is a feeble attempt to regain lost youth, in our denial of getting old.

Such are the costumes we wear, and the people we want to be. When was the last time you made that leap of faith? Did you succeed?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The art of not turning 60.

I'm not here to talk about turning 60. I know that many of you expect me to write a blog on this subject, since I came face to face with the BIG 6 0 this month. But no, it is not a matter on which I desire to dwell. "Leave it behind!" I say. I have looked into the eye of my own mortality and it is time to move on.

So there will be no blogs from me about turning sixty. Nothing about the mental anguish, dramatic build up, or trauma in pulling myself out of bed that fatal morning. Nothing about a world which has slowly lost its lustre and colour. I won't even introduce quotes on the subject, such as the one by Albert Einstein:
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."

They say that 60 is the new 40, so I could write about forty instead. Many of you claimed that 40 was the beginning of the best years of your life at the time. How did that work out for you? No, if I were to go back, it would have to be back to the great divide: thirty. 30 was the first real ball breaker. We, the post-war ME generation, grew up believing that anybody over the age of thirty was over the hill. They ceased to be relevant to our own existence. So upon reaching thirty, I experienced a trauma that was totally new to me. I was getting old.

Yes, I know, we would all kill to be 30 again. Even 40 doesn't look that bad once you reach 60.

Not that the feeling of alienation is all that new. For a long time, I appeared to be the youngest in the group - whether it were professional, social, or otherwise. And then at some time in the past, people around me suddenly appeared younger than me. And I imagine that they looked at me as I had once looked at older people at that age. Which couldn't help me but feel... wait for it ... drum roll ... irrelevant.

When Adva and I got married, her relatives - even at the wedding reception - asked about when we planned to have baby. I didn't know that it was a package deal at the time. I mean... I knew that we would have a child at some time, but it still seemed far off.
There were echoes of this when I turned 60.
"Aren't you looking forward to retirement?" they asked.
"Just shoot me," I wanted to answer, but I attempted one of my now infamous strained smiles.
Can't be avoided, I guess.

A good friend of mine decided on a big birthday bash with friends to celebrate her 60th. While drinking a glass of wine with her to quietly celebrate my own passing, I told her:
"I'm not like you. I don't see what there is to celebrate in turning sixty. I just want it to quietly come and go so that I can ignore it as much as possible."
She was strangely quiet when I said this, which I later realized was because she knew what was coming.

My wife and children threw me a surprise birthday party. They invited me for a small party gathering at a Irish pub. When I got there, I received a boisterous welcome from extended family and good friends. Caught me by surprise, as I stood there rooted to the spot, not knowing how to react at being suddenly thrown into the centre of attention. But once it was affirmed that I still had a pulse, it was quite nice. They had come, at least at this time, not to bury me, but to praise me. My daughter Nicole, the mastermind behind such operations, had put together a touching presentation, and now - instead of mourning years that had passed - I could enjoy in their celebration. And suddenly it all seemed that much easier.  Nicole had even included a quote of mine from a previous blog post, at the top of the special menus they had created:
"In many ways my life has turned upside down, but friends and family stay with me, and keep me from fading away."

My grandson, almost eight months old, was there also. Watching him take in everything with glee and great interest allowed me to once again marvel at things forgotten, and I realized that there were still mysteries to be explored. And a short time later my daughter told me that she had become engaged. And although one of my initial reactions was to get out an old  copy of Father of the Bride with Spencer Tracy, mourning the loss of a daughter to a man much younger than myself, all in all I was truly happy for them. Another beginning, which would hopefully lead to big and beautiful things.

And it wasn't so bad then - turning 60. But that isn't what this blog is about.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

When I find myself fading

"When I find myself fading, I close my eyes and realize my friends are my energy." 
~ anonymous

I have many things to complain about, but I also have many more to be thankful for. I have been blessed with true friends. Friends who help carry me forward during the toughest of times, just by knowing that they are there.


It is said that you can count your true friends on one hand. I find this to be true for me. Even in the age of Facebook, where we have friendship lists that often measure in the hundreds, sometimes even in the thousands. And even I have a friendship list of 644. How does this adhere to my concept of friends


I think it was Thomas Moore who once said: "I have many acquaintances, but very few friends." - a distinction which Facebook once completely ignored, serving to belittle relationships rather than mirror reality. Until one day when Facebook decided to make amends, allowing us to differentiate between friends, close friends and acquaintances. And by doing so, our Facebook access to our closer friends increased considerably.


"Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend." 

~ anonymous

What defines a true friend? Is there some secret formula? True friends do not have agendas. If they did, we'd all be in trouble. For a true friend knows many of our darkest secrets. They are our confessor, but do not carry judgement. They could write our explosive biography, but would do so only with our permission, before or after we die. 



“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.” 
~ Richard Bach

I come from a small Canadian family, and try to return each year during the holiday season to visit my mother, sister, and two close friends. These two friends are family also, for although we grew up under different roofs, we also shared each other's homes. And despite the distance and years that passed without seeing each other, each time we meet, we carry on as if no time has passed since we saw each other last. For our respect and joy in each other's lives surpasses all else.


I know that many families become increasingly dysfunctional over time, something that is magnified especially during holiday season. Maybe my family is too small to be dysfunctional, or I am not in Canada enough days of the year, but we seem to get on quite well. Not only that, but each visit is of great importance to all of us.


With family, as with friends, I have been extremely fortunate. And not just with my Canadian family, but with my Israeli family as well. My Israeli family consists of my Israeli born wife and three children (all born in Israel on a kibbutz), and my in-laws. I know that many people (perhaps most), don't get on well with their in-laws. But, despite my coming from a different background, language and culture, I was accepted with open arms by Adva's parents. My test wasn't the baggage that I brought with me, but how I treated their daughter. Which I was made well aware of when my mother-in-law casually informed me that she kept an Uzi sub-machine gun under her bed and knew how to use it (she had been an officer in the Palmach and not someone to mess around with). Fortunately she never found reason to use it, or thought that Adva could do worse. I have always gotten on well with my brother and sisters-in-law also. My brother-in-law hosts family and extended family each major holiday at his house on the kibbutz. Nothing dysfunctional there, either, unless you count my slipping out after the dinner festivities to check my email at my father-in-law's house.


Family and friends cannot really be measured in numbers, defined by blood relations, or categorized by time and place. They are the people who touch our inner core, for whom we would fly across continents, make our way up from the desert by train to Molly Blooms, meet for coffee or wine after a hard day's work, or join in extended noisy family holiday celebrations. In many ways my life has turned upside down, but friends and family stay with me, and keep me from fading away.