There’s More to Be Said: Happy Blog Anniversary

As of today: Happy six years of reading this blog! For my new readers – I’m looking at you Filipino bots – happy one year anniversary! In honor of the occasion, here’s a conversation – or unsolicited advice – I’d gladly have with each of you:

Perel, discussing a colleague who uniformly flatters: He definitely does that to everyone.

Me: Treat him like the really nice guy he probably is –

Perel: You think so?!

Me: Yes. That way if he’s plotting you’ll have lulled him into a false sense of complacency.



Novel Approach to Getting What You Want

Like most Russian women she is full of practical relationship advice that only works if you are dealing with another Russian: “Of course, when I want something, like new refrigerator, I tell my husband, ‘I think your idea is good and we should get new refrigerator,’ and he say ‘Eh?’ and I say, ‘Yes, yes, at first I think you were wrong and we not need this thing, but now I see you were right and so maybe yes,’ and even though he never say these things about refrigerator now he say, ‘I told you this and was right thing,’ and ‘You should listen to me, Iri,’ and I say, ‘Yes, yes, you were right,’ and he go to store and bring me refrigerator next day.”

 from The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey

Membership is More Than Money

If at first you don’t succeed, try, and try, again!

My first attempt to convince a shul that membership dues are a thing of the past failed. I thought my letter to leadership was comprehensive and persuasive. I was wrong on at least one count: they were not persuaded.


Fearless Leaders,

As you gear up for the membership drive, please consider the shul’s long-time failure to gain or retain members. A prime reason is membership costs. The currentlsystem  disincentivizes becoming a member for those who are struggling financially. Rather than allow people to pay what they wish, you demand that they demean themselves by telling the shul office that they are too poor to pay full price. Effectively, you’re saying that they can join us, but since they’re poor they can’t be counted as regular members of the community.

New graduates, the majority of the annual communal influx, are unlikely to spend an amount totaling their first paycheck on shul membership. Because you miss that initial window when someone first moves in, they adjust to not being a shul member. By making the membership price out of their reach, we all lose out. But a member isn’t just a person who pays a subscription fee; it’s someone engaged in the community. In many ways, the failure to bring in members has weakened the volunteer basis on which shuls operate. Volunteering in shul activities strengthens peoples’ bond to the shul, making them more active members of the community. So make volunteering part of membership. Allow people to pledge their time, and make that the standard for their membership fee. Let those who wish to do so pay off their membership in hours rather than dollars.
Those who currently volunteer for the shul are the selfsame people who already give back more than they receive; and that’s the same thing we want from all members – to invest themselves in the shul’s future. By enabling people to be members by giving their time, they’ll see how much further their money can go. And when they have the means, they’ll bring that too.
The ideas above are part of a larger conversation. Meanwhile, I beg that you change one thing immediately – don’t force people to contact the office to say that they don’t have the money to be a full-fledged member of the community. Allow them the option to sign up online as a member, in good standing, at whatever amount they can afford.
Thank you.
As you can imagine, the powers that be didn’t bite. But I’m not giving up yet. I think maybe they just couldn’t visualize what such a membership sign-up would look like. So, I’ve written it for them:
Hello! I’m delighted to become the newest shul member and pillar upon which the community rests. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I’m up to the challenge. Here’s what I’ll be doing to keep the community running:
Hero Membership
I ain’t got much to  give, but what I got, I’ll give to you. 18 hours of my priceless time, plus $18 so you can get yourself something nice – like salt for those winter sidewalks.
Welcome Membership
It takes money to keep the shul open for each of us. But what kind of shul would it be if we didn’t always have room for one more? At $2,000, welcome in the stranger on me!
Utility Membership
It takes $1,000 per person to keep the shul open. Keep the doors unlocked and the ac pumping and you have yourself a deal.
Choose Your Own Adventure Membership
I’m happy to pay the most affordable shul membership fee of $[my choice] I’ll ever be asked to pay!
Because, at the end of the day, if you want to be a member – you should be a member. If you don’t want to be a member, don’t be a member. Either way, you’re always welcome here.

Arbitrary Arbitrators

My dad told me I’d enjoy college; that one day there I’d look around and realize that I – by far – was not the smartest person in the room. He was right; I enjoyed that as an undergraduate, and learned so much from learning with people far brighter than I am. But as a graduate student it’s been much harder to enjoy the sense the I lag far behind my classmates.

In graduate school I’ve had teachers suggest I consider leaving my academic program; reflecting doubts I’ve had. Professors have told me I wasn’t suited to the work; I don’t fit the mold. I’ve failed so many exams that you’d think I did it for fun. It’s hard not to take the comments and poor grades personally, since I’m the one earning them with my performance. But the truth is that while my professors’ statements hurt, their grading should not. Every single professor – so far – has awarded me a passing grade. Sometimes it’s the lowest possible passing grade, but that doesn’t hold me back. As they say, actions speak louder than words. Even though the words sting.



Message that greeted me outside school. Perhaps they shouldn’t give the students chalk during finals week.

Words, on the other hand, also show that how grades are earned can vary on the day. One of my professors assigned each of us to a group of five, and then had those groups both write a paper together and present it as a team. Since it was a group presentation, all of the comments were supposed to address the full group. However, the professor made an exception for me, writing; “Hannah’s presentation was very powerful. She came across as very well prepared and confident. Really grabbed our attention. Very convincing.” This is the same teacher who felt that our paper – heavily edited by yours truly – was “very lively, but at times it seemed a bit overly expressive given the subject matter of the paper.” Same verve, different grade.

So, maybe I can’t win. But I can accept my grades with good grace. While a bad grade may make me feel stupid, it does not mean that I am; it just means that I’m surrounded by people who know more than me.

Novel Approach to Getting on TV

“Don’t get me started.” She took a long slug of champagne and handed it off to me. “I wanted to be an actress; that was my biggest mistake. But who knows, maybe there’s still hope for my starring role in Busted: A True Crime Story of Not Getting Away with It.”

My stomach churned, not from the Thai food mixed with my second burger of the day, mixed with champagne, but from the realization that we were in fact an Oxygen network original series waiting to happen.

from The Assistants by Camille Perri

Dance of the Cactus

“It’s a cactus ballet,” I explained, when questioned about my evening plans to take in what New York has to offer. Apparently, it wasn’t a good enough answer. So, I tried again.

“It’s titled Opus Cactus. So it probably has a cactus, or cacti. And it’s definitely a ballet. The New York Times said so.”

My questioner mulled it over, and tried to clarify; “So it’s people dressed as cacti?”

“Maybe?” I offered.

“So, it’s people dressed as cacti just sitting with the sun on them?” was the prompt follow up.

“Entirely possible,” I confirmed.

“I’m afraid you might be disappointed,” they offered, gently.

“That’s why I only paid enough to get the cheap seats,” I agreed.

In the end, it didn’t matter what I paid – I didn’t see anything from my cheap seats. When the usher checked my ticket, he told me to find an empty seat and enjoy the show from there. And so I did.

Momix’s Opus Cactus starts off as tumbleweed enactment, or so I assume given the glowing green balls that tumble across the otherwise dark stage. Presumably, the tumbleweeds’ perfect tumbles, spins, and bounces are being performed by the ballerinas and ballerinos whose work is seen through the rest of the evening’s performances. But that opacity – the questions of what and who is on the stage – is repeated throughout the night. The dancers portray gila monsters, an ostrich, and snakes. The impersonations are uncanny, but even if they weren’t, those are the names of individual pieces. Despite some more ambiguous names, I believe I also saw birds fly, the sun and moon, and a cactus bloom. Throughout it all, the dancers were powerful in their grace. The thrumming music would fit a nature documentary. Dances are modern, a mix of traditional ballet movement and gravity-defying gymnastics. It’s weird and magnetic, not unlike the desert.