Re: the Season of Giving

Gift Giving

My fiance holds the gift I gave him on the eighth night of Chanukah. Dec. 23, 2014.

With the Season of Giving going behind us, it seems fitting to take a moment to say thank you–both to the people who gave me gifts personally, but also to all the people whose generosity helped brighten the lives of others. It’s always seemed fitting to me that the gift-giving holidays are all clustered during winter, when we (in the northern hemisphere) most need the cheerfulness to keep us warm until the spring.

As any gift-giver may know, the easiest gifts to send are those that give themselves–like cash and gift cards. There’s something special about tearing off the wrapping paper and seeing precisely what you want to get, but for as long as I can remember there has been a different kind of excitement when I open a gift card–now I’m holding potential, opportunity, and I get to go on an adventure to decide precisely what I want.

This post is about one such adventure.

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World AIDS Day

December 1 is World AIDS Day. Today I’m commemorating the occasion in a mostly silent, academic way–the personal side of observance, though somewhere, feels absent. I have some poetry I’ve been meaning to share, some poetry I still need to build up some courage to share, but I’ll get there.

So today I’m writing a paper. It’s due in twelve hours and I haven’t even started it.

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Transcending Debt

For the last three year’s it’s been tradition to read a chapter of the Pirkei Avot–the Jewish Ethics of the Fathers–every summer. Except last summer I never finished the third book. And this summer I haven’t touched any of them.

Unfinished business delights no one, and I’m fond of tradition, so with these last four weeks of summer, I’m returning to the Pirkei Avot and bringing it to completion.

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The Fun in Fundraising

Fundraising should be fun. Many people think “fundraising” begins with funds–we need money, we don’t have money, so let’s get someone to give us money. The truth is–and I think I’m realizing this–is that “fundraising” actually begins with fun (and we can ignore that fact that, technically speaking, we can derive an even shorter start to the word, but such obscenities might actually deter the act giving).

So would you care to join me for a spot of fun-raising?

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Opportunities Knocked

It’s been a while since I’ve given good time to writing, but it really is my favorite passion. No matter how many leadership roles I’ve had, no matter how many math classes I’ve taken, no matter how many electives I’ve indulged in–nothing brings me back to myself like writing does. I often compare words to blood, the act of writing itself to bleeding–blood-letting, if you will, that cathartic process of expelling the bad humors while holding onto the good.

This week I’m continuing my series of writing exercises and wrapping up the chapter on what makes a story. The exercise is simple: Look back at opportunities not taken. I guess often we look at the choices we’ve made that lead somewhere, but forget the choices that did the opposite–those choices that led nowhere. In stories, however, it’s those choices that make something happen that we follow to the end. If we can identify those choices that cause the story to stop, we can focus on writing about those choices that take us places.

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Self, Society, Seconds?

1.14     This was another favorite teaching of his:

If I am not for me, who will be?
If I am for myself alone, what am I?
And if not now, when?

This third teaching of Hillel’s is perhaps not only his most famous, but also the most well-known of all the teachings—and I’ve seen it (often without due credit) everywhere from billboards to potato chip commercials. “If not now, when?” Later, obviously, since I’ll talk about each line in turn, as I have with most of the teachings before, and likely will for most teachings hence forth.

The first line here—“If I am not for me, who will be?”—seems as successful a lesson in selfishness as we can muster with such poignant elegance. The Hebrew itself is a hundredfold more stunning, however, in its simplicity and its lyrical quality: “Eem ain ani lee, mi lee?”

But certainly, the same man who taught us to be disciples of Aaron, who said not to seek fame but to study throughout life, could not be telling us to be selfish, could he?

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Things to Stand By

1.6          Joshua ben Perahya and Nittai, of Arbel, received the tradition from them.

Joshua ben Perahyah taught:

Select a master-teacher for yourself;
Acquire a colleague for study;
When you assess people, tip the balance in their favor.

A day late. I’ve been hours late before, and I’m sure I’ll be hours late again, but being a day late upsets me. What’s most upsetting specifically is that, although earlier in the day I had recalled it was a Saturday, by the time the end of the day had arrived, I had forgotten, and only remembered before I had gone to bed. It felt like I had failed myself in some way, but I knew I only had two choices at that point: I could give up entirely, or I could accept that I make mistakes and just try to fix that. So that’s what I did. I gave myself time to sleep and now I’m making up for it.

I think my post on Thursday, about being thankful for my teachers, serves as good a segue into this week’s teaching as any. But then, what defines a master-teacher? And in the realm of colleges where you get what teacher you get and can hardly select them at all, how are you supposed to choose a master-teacher then?

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