Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Dateline, about 2 weeks ago. The subject of the email was: “I.Am.Over.This.Thing.And.I.Want.My.Life.Back.How.About.You?” It came from a temple advertising itself as, “An emerging community for the Jew-ishly curious in Venice, CA.”
I know, I know, but they have as much right to express their feelings as anyone else. Remember, this was before the protests, before George Floyd was murdered, even before Ahmaud Arbery was ambushed and killed for jogging while black. So she’s talking about the pandemic and lockdown, nothing else. But we’ll be looking at it with perfect hindsight. The body of the message expounded,
This is a care email. To state it plainly: I reserve the right to say “I am not OK.” And I’m not. This has been going on too long, the loss is more than my small heart can bare [sic], and with no end in sight. I hold space for all of my flaws, uglies and rough edges to say, “I hate this.”
It feels good to let it all out. It feels good to admit that my life isn’t “Awesome.” It feels great to acknowledge just how great this isn’t. That’s about all that’s great.
And you? Let's hear it! This Friday night (TOMORROW!). [The] Temple creates a forum to SHARE OUR TRUTHS. I personally invite you into our [Zoom Sanctuary] during our Creative and Musically Driven Shabbat Take Me Higher Services. Throughout the service, one at a time, we will be invited to share a public check in. I want to hear, in real time, how you are doing. And I will ask you to do this in front of a personally chosen background image that expresses creatively how you are doing. The photo above is a double rainbow on the first day of Quarantine (with my sleeping daughter; the Gold(a) at the end of the rainbow [I did not make that up. – jd]. Our minute or two together will give you the chance to express yourself, let us know why you chose that image and really just say HOW YOU ARE doing.
Quarantine Shabbat: such-and-such date and time, streaming on such-and- suchtemple.org/live and Facebook Live ...
...Wishing you Health, Sending you Care, and Holding Space for the Grief, Pain, Loss and Sorrow.
[The] Rabbi [on whom, allegedly, the recurring female rabbi character played by Kathryn Hahn on Transparent was based]
I had a visceral, if not vicious, reaction to this extremely vulnerable, heartfelt email. I would like to explain why. And my apologies, in advance. I’m just sharing what I’m not okay about. I could have shared it with the congregation, but I would have easily exceeded the time limit. I understand, the Rabbi is just offering her congregation of Jew-curious oceansiders a forum to vent their sorrows without fearing judgment or being saddled with guilt. Well, that’s an attempt that seems to me to require thwarting from the perpetually perverse.
Rabbi, Jews, folk-singer congregants, Jew-curious, and allied gawkers: I don’t want my life back. If I’d had a good life going into this shitshow, I might. But I didn’t. To be quite honest, Rabbi Ersatz Kathryn Hahn, my life hasn’t changed that much. What this quarantine has provided, for the first time in my life, are conditions in which most of the people in the world are forced to do exactly what I always do: confront my stupid self, be bored yet fearful of the future, struggle to make myself and my living space presentable to an outside world that for the most part couldn’t care less, suffer mortal anxiety when leaving the house, agonize every day over the unnecessary suffering and deaths of others caused by the callous disregard of their leaders and the über-wealthy, and entertain myself in hopes of staving off an emotional plummet into the existential abyss.
For once I feel validated! In synch with the general mass of humanity. Can’t you just leave well enough alone?
You have one job now: to stay out of other people’s way and not make them sick. See, that’s always been my job! Now you sad sacks longing for the return of your wonderful lives know how it feels to recognize that the best thing you can do for the world is to de-emphasize your existence. Tamp yourselves down a little bit. Relinquish the spotlight. Curb your goddam enthusiasm. Sit on the sidelines and let the actually essential people do what needs to be done to keep the superfluous population comfortable and alive, if either are at all possible.
You should be grateful to have such a clearly delineated list of duties laid out for you. But no, you want more.
I will confess that a small part of my very unfair reaction has to do with the self-centeredness of the characters in Transparent, especially in the latter part of Season Two and on through, I’m assuming, the rest of the series. They were like the Seinfeld characters minus the humanity. I’ve recently been told the closing of the final season was very good, so perhaps I’ll skip to that if I ever decide to return to the scene of the aesthetic crimes. I’m sure the show’s mission wasn’t to make upper-middleclass queer Jews hate themselves, or make other people hate them, so there must have been something very sophisticated going on there. Much too sophisticated for a simple kid like me from the hetero-normative town of Mayberry to figure out.
Of course, Rabbi, that’s not your fault. All of us of a certain generation from the theater scene in Chicago know who’s to blame, but we also must give her credit for some excellent writing and directing, and for including that scene of Amy Landecker leaning on her kitchen counter naked. That woman takes care of herself!
Rabbi, you say in your e-missive that you want people to provide their own zoom backgrounds to express how they are. I don’t know what you’re expecting, but I hope that at least one person puts up the image of a guinea pig happily munching lettuce in a pleasant terrarium. And you allot your congregants only “a minute or two?” I hope you’re prepared to sense the unexpressed frustration that’s bound to have built up like a straining-to-be-held-in spastic-colon fart on the other side of your screen. Unless people really aren’t particularly not-okay. Maybe their unhappiness is something they can live with a lot more easily than even they are willing to admit.
It’s not all rosy for me, either, y’know. I miss people with disposable incomes taking me out to dinner once in a while, but I’m never that thrilled with restaurant ambience. I prefer to cook for myself, and group joviality rarely fails to irritate me. I miss seeing movies in theaters, but I couldn’t afford to do it often anyway before, so I’m fine. I know you don’t want to hear this, Rabbi, as it’s not at all the purpose or the spirit of your communiqué, but “count your blessings.”
We’ve got global and national fascism currently vying to imprint the soles of their army surplus boots on our faces. But the world’s been wrong for a long time. The disparities in wealth and power have increased, but they’ve always been there, and always distorted systems of justice; the violent racism, sexism, gender-normative hate-judging, age-ism, and classism in this nation have never abated, they’ve only mutated to accommodate changes in superficial conceits in the zeitgeist. There’s nothing to go back to except the absence of a need, too often unmet, for gloves, masks, distance, sensible workplace protocols to protect essential workers, which should never have been absent in any case, and extra-germ-conscious caution.
I’m not looking forward to a return to the status quo, and I’m not alone. Maybe I should gather a congregation of the doom-curious and send out a newsletter: “Tell me what about your old life you dread returning to. It could be your job, or your family, it could be the business-as-usual public lack of concern for the needless suffering of others, it could be the mockery by the über- fattened leeches on society, and their less-affluent masochistic allies, of the perpetually precarious and the already crushed and defeated. Be sure to give your one-to-thirty-minute frothy polemic in front of your choice of virtual background that depicts the target of your hatred suffering bloody or fiery annihilation.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!