Sunday, September 30, 2012


Last week saw the observance of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  The ten day period commencing on Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur, is a time for making amends and seeking forgiveness for sins committed over the past year; for reconciliation with those you have wronged.  It is a time to look inward, acknowledge flaws and shortcomings and apologize for mistakes. 

In case you are wondering, I am not Jewish.  (Though there is the mysterious Preble family relative of unknown origins.  My great-grandmother on my father's side was raised in an orphanage.  She walked out at the age of 18 and eventually married a Preble, but had no knowledge of her parents or ancestry.  Granny (my dad's name for her) had dark hair and, so I'm told, a vaguely eastern-European look about her.  This has fostered some speculation that she may have been Jewish.)  I don't identify with any particular religion, or even with religion. But I readily acknowledge that there are many religious traditions, customs, and practices that are insightful means to personal growth.  Contemplating one's failures and shortcomings, for example, is likely to be worthwhile whether or not you believe it is necessary to clear your name in God's book.

Given that I am on a first-name basis with most of the seven deadly sins, and I can think of at least two or three things I've done wrong over the past year, it seemed a little atonement couldn't hurt.  So this year, I'm invoking Granny's heritage and trying on a little Yom Kippur for size. 


I swear at you.  Sometimes.  By you, I mean the general population, which is bound to include plenty of people that I know and to whom I would otherwise make great effort to be cordial, and maybe even downright polite and friendly.  But if you are on the highway in front of me driving at an insufficient rate of speed (meaning a rate of speed that does not comport with the rate of speed I am going or would like to go), I am likely to mutter and curse and swear in your direction.  I will not gesture with my fingers or give you the stink eye or seek to drive my car into the backseat of yours, but I will swear and mutter, mutter and swear (let's just call it swuttering) until my efforts at circumventing your infernal indifference to my plight are complete.  I'm not proud.  I can admit that this is not admirable behavior.  That is why I am here in the confessional, after all.  But really, it would help me a great deal if you could just step it up a bit.

My daughters like to point out that the people I am swuttering at can't hear me.  I like to point out that it is not important that they hear me, but rather that I have an outlet for my frustration that does not run afoul of the law.  They like to point out that my behavior is stupid.  I like to point out that I am in charge here, and that someday when they are driving their own car that they paid for with their own money  they can choose not to swutter at their fellow citizens all they want.

Sloth:  To be totally honest, I have a hard time feeling bad about this one.  I mean, who really ever wants to get out of bed in the morning anyway?  Is that a natural thing for people -- a desire to remove yourself from a comfortable prone position and then further remove extremely comfortable pajamas in exchange for less comfortable attire and a rigid desk and chair?  I think not.  The natural state clearly points towards lingering and lounging and lollygagging and lots of other lovely "l" words (such as luxuriating or lazing-around-until-you-feel-like-getting-up) that allow for a kinder, gentler, slower approach to the day.  I have always maintained that the formal work day really shouldn't start before noon.  That would allow for some flopping around in bed until the force beckoned you upright, followed by some leisurely coffee drinking and paper-based news consumption about just how your fellow inhabitants of Earth managed to further screw things up while you were sleeping, followed by perhaps a nice jog or stroll around a lake during warmer daylight hours, followed by a shower, followed by settling in for some diligent scanning of the internets.  Only then, if you felt so compelled, might you transfer yourself to a large structure of concrete and steel for some quality time with Microsoft Word and PowerPoint and the relentless tide of email.  I realize I am out of step with the overwhelming force of what we call civilization.  So I hereby beg your forgiveness for my instantly detectable lack of enthusiasm for your 7:30 a.m. meetings.

I post political squibs on Facebook. Um, I am so busted on this one.  I admit that I enjoy a good debate, especially one about the big issues of our times.  I find a well reasoned argument a thing of beauty.  I like the marshalling of evidence, the recitation of fact and scientific study, the inference of the future curve of a graph based on the trajectory of the past.  What's more, I want to flush out and understand the foundations and logic of the arguments on the other side.  On more than one occasion I have encountered an articulation of position or an unknown scrap of data that has caused me to pause and reflect on my own point of view.  Of course, Facebook is often a poor forum for these discussions.  It lends itself to shrill discourse and hit-and-run name calling.  Yet I am not convinced that less dialogue is the right response.  Avoidance of politics and religion in the name of politeness seems to me to be passive support for the status quo for fear of being uncomfortable.  We need to surface more logic, more facts, more reasoning, not less.  We need to get better at talking with each other about the biggest issues of our generation, not avoid them.  So, in this instance I am pledging not to cease my offensive behavior, but to endeavor to reform it, and to seek your prospective forgiveness for what is yet to come that will inevitably piss somebody off. 

Vanity: O.k.  Here's a big one.  It's not so much that I've done something as that I have harbored impure thoughts.  The thoughts go something like this:  how bad would it be if I got an eye lift?  For what I hope are obvious reasons, I am intellectually opposed to elective plastic surgery.  Our society is way out of whack when it comes to standards of beauty and expectations of female appearance.  Barbie is all kinds of wrong.  I just don't trust anyone who doesn't have a single wrinkle or gray hair after 53 years.  And yet, I've noticed lately that my eyebrows are migrating steadily downward and seem determined to come to rest directly on my eyelids.  The sag and droop are real and alarming.  While I have already admitted to being lazy and enjoying lounging around in my pajamas, I don't actually want to appear sleepy and disinterested when I am not.  And then there's the countervailing set of facts that betray my intellectual opposition to engineered appearance: my hair color is periodically "enhanced" with "highlights" and my toenails certainly don't paint themselves (more on that below).  My legs and underarms are free of hair, and while I don't like or use a lot of makeup, I own it and apply it sparingly on a regular basis.  So it seems there is a line out there somewhere that demarcates the border between what I am, and what I am not, willing to do to augment my appearance.  I'm afraid that I will be tempted to keep sliding it outward, which is what brings me here.  I like my eyelids and I would hate to give them up.  Then again, a scalpel seems a long way from the beauty aisle at Target.  The good news here, I think, is that even if my intellectual opposition waivers, the practicalities of figuring out how one goes about even accomplishing an eye lift are likely to trip me up for at least another decade.

Bad Toenails:  As alluded to above, my toenails indeed do not paint themselves.  Which is what caused me to have a four week skid at work this summer during which my toenails -- in all of their unvarnished, unclipped, naturally yellow splendor -- displayed themselves for all to see.  Because, as we've established in a previous blog post, I have a favorite pair of shoes that I wear almost non-stop in the summer.  These sandals expose the entirety of the distal phalanges on my lower extremities (i.e., all of my toes).  This was very unfortunate for all of us.  Because I am lacking whatever skills are involved with ensuring that the nail polish applied to a toenail stays only on the toenail and does not stray onto the surrounding tissue (note: this skill is mostly likely known as "patience"), I have resorted to the complete outsourcing of toenail maintenance.  During the month of August I was certain that the very next day would be the day that I would find time for a pedicure.  Alas, it just didn't happen.  There is really nothing left to say at this point except, I'm truly and deeply sorry.  I will do my very best to ensure that it never happens again.

I don't love chocolate.  This one may be less of an outright sin than a grounds for being kicked out of the women's club.  It's almost like admitting that you don't care who is in the oval office.  It doesn't violate any statute or religious creed, but it is alarmingly irresponsible and borderline anarchistic nonetheless.  You start out nonchalantly not caring much about chocolate and the next thing you know the Communists are surrounding the Godiva factory and declaring it under state control.  But, the fact is that chocolate just doesn't turn my crank all that much.  Do I like it?  Sure.  I've had it plenty of times and it is perfectly fine.  Enjoyable even.  But I hear no Siren call nor do I find myself crashing upon its rocky shores unable to free myself from its spell.  When I am out at a nice restaurant and the time comes for ordering desert, for example, I almost always go for a fruit tart or something with warm apples and cinnamon and vanilla ice cream all drenched in made-from-scratch caramel sauce.  Get between me and a piece of strawberry-rhubarb pie in the summer and it will be you who is apologizing and atoning right quick.  But chocolate? Meh.  So what I'm asking for here is not so much forgiveness as acceptance and the withholding of judgment when you notice that I am eating the pie directly out of the pie pan with my fork.   

Gluttony:   There is a restaurant in Minneapolis called, appropriately enough, Hell's Kitchen.  Without any irony whatsoever I can tell you that this is one of my favorite places for lunch.  I can further tell you that every time I go there -- EVERY TIME -- I order the Walleye BLT with sweet potato fries.  And I eat it.  It is ridiculously satisfying.  First, it has bacon.  Second, it has bacon.  Third, the badness of the bacon is canceled out by the goodness of the fish.  (I told myself this once and I believed it.)  Fourth, it is on sourdough bread.  Fifth, you can get it with sweet potato fries.  I'm sorry to expose you to all of these sordid details, but they say admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery.  Well, I don't have any problem at all, actually.  So long as I can keep eating this sandwich and then apologizing for it later, things will work out just fine.


That's seven and it seems like a pretty good start.  It turns out it wasn't even that hard.  Maybe the theory on Granny is correct.  I mean, that was really pretty easy.  I think I'm just naturally good at critical self-analysis and admitting that there are a few little areas in which I could improve a bit.

You don't suppose that it's meant to go deeper than that, do you?  Huh . . .

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