Posts Tagged ‘dishes’

We all have good behaviors that we try to model. Politeness, respect, kindness, those sorts of blanket ideas about being decent people. Beyond that, though, we have specific good deeds which we are individually tasked with. True mitzvehs in the Yiddish sense of “good deeds” rather than mitzvahs, the commandments from the Torah.

It’s not clear to me how we take on these tasks. Do we choose them based on our personalities? Do the fates (or G*d, if you prefer) confer on us those good deeds we are best able to perform? Or are we given the good deeds that require the most effort from us? A mix of both?

For example, one of my mitzvehs is reuniting dish sets at the Salvation Army. I love china and spent many years in Florida buying and reselling china. I no longer do that, but when I go into the Salvation Army on one of my regular searches for treasure, I often spend an hour in the dish aisles. Not shopping for anything, but finding the sets of dishes that have been separated on accident, either in the donation or the pricing process. The sad fact is that many sets of nice china get separated and lose both their value and their purpose. By bringing the soup bowls and dinner plates and tea cups and saucers back together on the shelves, I’m helping those dishes go to a new home. I’m helping people buy matched sets on which to enjoy their nourishment. It’s a small deed to be sure, but it feels like something I’m meant for. It gives me pleasure and it’s useful.

Two of my other mitzvehs are not well-suited to my personality, and yet they are my good deeds to perform.

I am an introvert. A text book sort of introvert. I will go to great lengths to avoid interacting with people and, although I’m able to do so for short periods of time, I find it exhausting. Meeting new people is a kind of agony for me, which requires significant girding of my loins.

That said, as I walk across campus during the summer months, it’s not unusual for me to see students and their families posing in front of various landmarks for pictures. Of course, it always means one member of the family is left out of the picture. Despite my discomfort, my mitzveh requires me to approach and say, “Would you like your picture taken together?” To date, no one has ever turned the offer down, which is how I know it’s a good deed and not an intrusion.

Friends don't let friends pitch with their zippers down.

Friends don’t let friends pitch with their zippers down.

This business of approaching strangers is not at all suited to my personality, but it does not compare to the final mitzveh that I’ll mention here. XYZ. I am the person who tells you when you forgot to zip your pants. Or your slip is showing. Or your sanitary napkin has leaked through on your khaki pants. If you’ve ever been in an elevator on your way to an important presentation and some stranger said, “Um, your fly is down,” that was me, or one of my people. I once crossed behind a line of presenters on a stage to whisper into the ear of the guy who was about to stand up and speak in front of a thousand people: “When you stand up, turn back toward me like you have something to tell me. Then zip your pants.”

He did it, in a convulsive gesture of horror, and I could feel the members of the audience who had already noticed it exhale in relief. That is the mystery to me about this particular mitzveh. As uncomfortable as it makes me, I cannot imagine how uneasy I would be to let someone walk around in that state without telling them. Yet I know people who won’t point these things out, because it embarrasses them. As though I’m not embarrassed to say, “Oh, hey, you have a big booger in your mustache.”

I think that’s the nature of these tiny good deeds, though. They find us, or we find them, based on our view of the world. I spend a lot of time not looking people in the eye, so I suppose it’s natural that I should be the one who notices the gaping fly and flash of underwear.

What about you? What are your tiny good deeds? Why is it your mitzveh?

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I’m in the midst of selling my house and searching for a different home, so I’m having the requisite existential crisis over what I own.  A lot of dishes and a lot of books.  The dishes are an inherited problem.  Not that I got my obsession with dishes through some quirk of genetics, but that as people in my family have died, I’ve inherited more dishes.  It sometimes feels as though I’m amassing what will eventually become the Stoops-Greenwood-Hanner History of American Tableware Museum.

Add to that my little problem with books.  I can’t blame anyone for that.  I was raised to use the library, and I do, but I also have a bit of a jones for buying books.  As I pack up my belongings to prepare for the move, I’m trying to pare down the sheer volume, but I don’t know that I’m gaining much ground.

Maybe Tom Bendtsen could build my next house out of books

Maybe Tom Bendtsen could build my next house out of books

This would all be a pleasant little philosophical consideration, if I knew where I were going.  I don’t.  The house is sold, but I haven’t yet found the next house.  I thought I had, but it didn’t work out.  End result: all of my belongings go into storage while I continue my search for a home.  Strange but true, buying and selling a house resembles the writing process a great deal.

Sometimes you just know it’s the right house.  You fall in love immediately and nobody can dissuade you from committing to it.  Perhaps you pay too much in your zeal.  Both in money and time.  The same is true of a story.  Even knowing it’s “not commercial,” you develope a desperate infatuation with it.  You cancel social plans and hunker down in your writing corner, oblivious to the pleas of family and friends.

After the house is bought, even if you fell in love with it, there’s work to do.  Sure, it’s your dream home, but every room in the house needs to be painted.  Maybe the floors need to be refinished. Once you’ve done that, it becomes obvious that you need to replace the ceiling fans–those unsightly monsters from the 80s, all rattle-trap faux-antiqued brass with oak laminate blades.  And the bathroom tile isn’t quite right.  And the kitchen needs new countertops.  What about some landscaping?

There you are with the first draft of your book, feeling the same things.  Yes, you still love the characters.  You still love the plot, but there are these scenes that need to be tweaked.  Updated.  Add more conflict.  Clarify motivation.  After that’s done, it becomes obvious you’ll need to rewrite the first two chapters.  Or delete them altogether and start the story sooner.  And the climax?  It definitely needs reworking.

Unless you plan to polish the book for your own pleasure and store it in a box forever, you then contemplate the next scary step: selling it.  That’s like selling a house, too.  Right down to the terminology.  If you’re like me and believe in professionals, you’ll get a real estate agent to sell your house and a literary agent to sell your book. Having recently hired both, let me just tell you, finding a real estate agent was LOT EASIER than finding a literary agent.  Sure, a literary agent technically works for you, but they tend to be very choosy about their clients.  Real estate agents, not so much.

Once you’ve found someone you can trust, you start the hard work of getting your house/book ready for the whole world, and strangers at that, to look at it.  You don’t want to strip it of personality, but you find yourself trying to make it more palatable to more people.  Should that wall be beige?  Is that quirky, ironic picture of praying Jesus going to offend people?  What if they don’t get that it’s ironic?  Does it matter?  Will everyone who reads your sex scenes assume those are your sexual proclivities?  Is it okay to reveal your own ignorant Okie-ness through your character’s ignorant Okie-ness?

And then what?  What about after you sell your house/book?  Oh, right.  The next one.  The next project.  The next story.  The next bathroom renovation.

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