Listen to your gut feelings

Clara (a.k.a. Mom) was blessed with what I called a built-in b.s. detector for literature, or almost any book, in fact. She had never officially studied literature or literary analysis, but she always read, all the time (as did my dad.) When I was studying English Lit & Linguistics at Tel Aviv University in my early twenties, she studied vicariously: she read all the books on my Required Reading list, though she was already familiar with many and was merely re-reading them (Steinbeck, Twain, etc). She then read my handwritten papers and corrected my English before I typed them up on the huge, clunky Underwood. And she read my exam papers when I came home triumphantly waving my high-marked exams on Henry James, Walt Whitman, Shakespeare etc. But I do not flatter myself that I, or Tel Aviv University, in any way contributed to her inner b.s. detector; it was an innate quality. We – I and TAU – may have just reinforced it.

Clara used to read a story, novel, script or newspaper article and instinctively, unerringly know whether it was good, indifferent, or downright bad. She'd have a hard time explaining in detail, if you asked her. But most times I didn't need to ask. Her brief report and very expressive face gave me all the information I needed.

I didn't quite inherit this trait of Clara's. But I do have something similar, and akin to it, I think. You probably have it, too. It's the gut-feeling that tells you when a certain job is not right for you and you should turn it down: flatly, unequivocally, without hemming and hawing or explaining. Just say No and walk away.

It may be a copywriting or marketing project; it may be a translation or editing job; it may be something else relevant to your field. The phone rings, or an email pops up in your mailbox. The client thinks it's right up your alley; or else he needs it urgently; or no one else wants it; or it's just a seemingly-routine job. You listen, or look at the text or website, and a slight nauseating feeling begins to form in the pit of your stomach; your upper lip twitches in that tiny sneer demonstrated so well by Tim Roth in the TV series Lie to Me. Your inner voice is tugging at you saying "this is trouble; stay away; say no." But for some reason, you switch the warning bells off and take the job. Maybe you didn't have anything else on your desk at that moment and panicked a bit. Maybe the client was very persuasive. Maybe you thought you could fit it into your schedule.  Maybe, maybe, maybe. Whatever the reasons, you live to regret it. The text is horrible / badly written / incomprehensible / boring to tears / infuriating; the pay is lousy; the client a terrible nag or else evasive and unreachable; the thing drags on forever; it gets too complicated, out of hand. Any or all of the above, or plenty of other equally disturbing developments. 

The long and the short of it is: you should have listened to your gut feeling.

You know those Nike ads where you see a person jogging energetically, with the slogan "Just do it"? Sure you do. Well, create a mirror image of it, so that the person is running away from the target..  and change the slogan to read "Just say no". Then hang it somewhere conspicuous and contemplate it once a day.

Things Clara Taught Me

A whole year has passed since my mom, Clara Caren Rimon, died. At the time, I was at a loss for words. I wrote something in this blog – then closed the door and shifted my attention elsewhere, where it was needed.

Now, on her yahrzeit, I pulled out a big basket of photos and a load of video cassettes. The video cassettes are much more fun: I watched Clara singing, dancing and acting. By a quirky coincidence, Israel TV's Channel 2 today aired an old Israeli musical -- Hamesh Hamesh -- in which Clara had a part! She even appears on the movie's poster.

And I got to thinking of all the things – theoretical and practical, emotional and logical – that I learnt and absorbed from her during my life, whether directly and explicitly -- because she told me so -- or implicitly – through her actions, attitude, personal example.

Here's a very random, partial list, of things I learnt:

  • To recite nursery rhymes to my kids ("There was an old lady who lived in a shoe…")
  • To sing lullabies to my kids ("Rock a by baby, in the tree top…")
  •  To read to them at bedtime, and other times, from A.A. Milne, Dr. Seuss, "I Wish that I Had Duck Feet…"
  • Always wear an apron when working in the kitchen
  • When boiling potatoes, add salt if you intend to mash them; don't add salt if you want them whole.
  • When peeling boiled potatoes-in-their-jackets, use a sharp knife and dip it often in ice water.
  • Don't waste food. Use leftovers imaginatively.
  • Invite people over for dinner often. Especially people who have no family in the country.
  •  Keep a shopping list on the fridge door. Add items during the week, as the need arises. Don't let yourself run out of staples. "What?? We're all out of sugar??" – Not in my house!
  • Label things before putting them in the freezer. In fact, label everything.
  •  Remember to take the shopping list with you when you go shopping.
  •  The first-aid items that are the answer to nearly everything: Aspirin; Vaseline; Band-Aids; iodine/Mercurochrome/Gentian Violet; salt water (for gargling); hot water bottle.
  • Touch-typing is an invaluable skill.
  • Save scratch paper – use the reverse side of typed material; re-use envelopes; recycle greeting cards.
  • How to hem a dress or a pair of pants
  • How to knit.
  • Make Purim costumes
  • It's impolite to ask personal questions or make personal comments.
  • Always say Please and Thank you.
  • Danny Kaye
  • Allan Sherman; Tom Lehrer
  • Charlie Chaplin
  • Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Ginger Rogers, Leslie Caron
  • Science Fiction; Isaac Asimov – his fiction and nonfiction
  • Keep pens & pencils everywhere; also elastic bands; scotch tape; scissors; gummed labels.
  • Take an afternoon nap. Do not call people between 2-4 p.m.
  • Never marry a man who drinks [to excess] or gambles
  • Keep track of everyone's birthdays and anniversaries; send cards; if you can't afford to buy them, make your own.
  • Stand up straight. Don't slouch. Shoulders back. Hold your tummy in. Get your hair out of your eyes.
  • Look after your back. Bend from the knees, not from the waist.
  • Dance, dance, dance. Ballet, modern dance, folk dancing.
  • Appreciate classical music.
  • If you have a talent, use it.
  • Don't sit at home and expect the world to come to you. Go out and introduce yourself.
  • Smile.

… and so it goes. I'm sure my kids can add plenty. And by the time I post this, I will have remembered a dozen other things. Isn't that wonderful?