Sunday, October 31, 2010

Joel Pollak and Political Signs

Here’s how a politically glazed-over, non-political, tea-party-vulnerable blogger pitches a political candidate

On Wednesday afternoon I get an urgent call at the office from a friend, an invitation to Saturday lunch. Shabbas lunches tend to be festive affairs, meaning we all dress up and the food is great, but I'm routinely declining invitations this year because of availus (rhymes with duh-pay-loose, Hebrish for availut; Hebrish being a cross between Hebrew and Yiddish words.  If you're just be tuning in, try not to worry about it).

Technically, being in availus means mourning the loss of a parent for a full calendar year, avoiding parties and new clothes, good times in general. We don't need to discuss the  emotionality, psychological, financial or anything other than the technicality of availus right now, or if I need therapy for such a condition.

Anyway, I ask my friend if she's having other couples over because technically, according to Jewish law, FD and I could go to this luncheon if we're the only other couple in attendance.

But alas, there are two other couples invited. We know one of these couples well, but the other is new to us, and there's something unique about them.  The he,  Joel Pollak, is running for the United States Congress, and the she, the lovely Julie Pollak, is running, too, in a sense, for they are both out there, in that totally non-socially-phobic, confident, supremely intelligent way that tells us they themselves support their place in the universe, their agenda.  They're on speaking tours, kissing babies, charming all of the 9th District with romantic unaffected South African accents.

I have to ask the Rabbi, I tell my friend. This is the kind of thing that requires a little guidance, going or not going, even if it is an exceptional thing, having lunch with a political candidate and his bride, married only ten months.  You learn these things at lunch, and how he proposed, if you ask.

Because generally I feel very removed from politics (mostly out of sheer laziness, not so much hopelessness), and because eeny meeny, miny, moe is the way a person like me sometimes chooses a candidate in the voting booth, I call the Rabbi right away.  I want to go.  Maybe it is time for better decision-making therapy in the booth, time to become more involved in the cosmos.

The Rabbi is out of town, of course, which could be a good thing, or a bad thing.  But my friend, wants to know by evening if we're coming.  Who could blame her! If we turn her down, surely someone else will take our place.  This, too, is a rule of therapy.  If it isn't you, it will be someone else; might as well be you.*

I tell her, We'll be there.  When I get a call back from our spiritual leader another question will surely come to mind, perhaps something along the lines of a new winter coat.  Having worn out my old one last winter, tore the lining, it is not shayich (rhymes with my-lich, hard ch, meaning: becoming, or appropriate), this coat, for a person that others pay for advice.

I'm a little nervous because I haven't been out socially in quite awhile, and the last time we did go out, supposedly a simple Friday night dinner, others joined unexpectedly.  The hosts couldn't exactly throw them out, and it just felt wrong. When you're used to following rules, breaking them kicks at your cognitive sets, messes with your head, and it's not good.

But maybe it was too early, too soon, that dinner, too soon emotionally in the calendar.  Accepting this time, months later feels weird, too, even under these exciting circumstances, so I warn FD that an emergency escape might be imminent, that someone might suddenly remember leaving something on the stove.  He furrows his brow, tells me unconditionally, in a tone he rarely takes, "You can't do that."

There's a psychological rule that if you dread something, expect that it will be annoying, upsetting, etc.,  it is likely that it won't be nearly as bad as you expect it to be.**  In fact it's best to dread things. Dread away! Better to dread, for the more you dread, the less you'll regret it in the end, not having dreaded a possibly dreadful situation. But if it is fairly well-dreaded, the situation, it is unlikely that it will be dreadful at all.And you will laugh at it if it is, for you have predicted it.

The rule is that if you expect less, you will get more.  It is the Satisfaction Quotient taught to medical students at Loyola University Medical School; the credit goes to Domeena Renshaw, MD (psychiatry).  Divide Achievement (A) by Expectation (E) to get Satisfaction (S).  The theory goes you'll be satisfied with any result over the number 1.0, but less than--you're in therapy.

Take spelling tests.  A person correctly spells (A) five out of ten words.  But he expects (E) to get many more than five, perhaps expects to get a ten.  The quotient, Achievement over Expectation, 5/10, one-half, does not cut it, is not above 1.0.

How could anyone be satisfied with only a half?  And it isn't his fault!  Except that this person's expectations were too high.  Better to keep them low.  Expect to get a two on the spelling test (E = 2); that way anything over a two, say even something lame like a five, is golden.  The quotient, 5/2 or 2.5, is higher than 1.0, the not so loneliest number.

Lunch, of course, was fabulous. My friend is up there with Julia Child, although she complains vociferously, indeed grieves that the pumpkin muffins stick to the muffin paper, and she has forgotten the nutmeg. She serves beautifully, we eat and drink, and you know how it goes, talk of many things, including politics.

Joel Pollack, the candidate, can't help but be political, but he is theoretical and philosophical, too, applies the concept of limits to something we're talking about.  He's very into this concept of limits, something that therapists are forever waxing on and on about. After much deferring in the conversation, I can't help but advise him.
"Joel. Use the word boundaries, not limits. Seriously, everyone loves this word now. I'm sure Oprah has done five hundred shows about boundaries."

He listens! He gets it right away!  You see the light bulb.  He is a natural, and if you read more about this guy, you wish that they, the other politicians, all had his personal attention to scientific detail (I quiz him about recycling, natch), his education (Harvard), his energy, integrity, good sense, interest in others.

So lunch was great, and I learned that I should probably get more involved in these matters, politics, blog less and listen to the candidates more, especially if they are bright and promising like Joel Pollack.  Probably many of them are bright and promising, although it is unlikely many bring a copy of the Constitution with them on the circuit, but they should.  This candidate does.

And for the first time in my life, it is happening, no promises,  I am getting a sign for the front yard supporting a candidate.  It had to happen sometime.


*This is a statement dependent upon context, of course.  If someone is passing you a joint, for example, it might as well not be you.

**Just because a person wants to do something, go somewhere, doesn't mean there won't be a layer of dread.  This is one of the many double binds,  paradoxes of the human condition.


Leora said...

I have heard and read good things about Joel. Best wishes to him! Our country needs him.

Aharon said...

I love the fact that I can email a question to my Rabbi and if its not too intricate will reply sooner rather than later. It does not bug me that he is younger that I am but older than my wife. I've be accused of robbing the cradle but its only a 3 year difference...

Critically Observant Jew said...

Disagree about "blog less" - especially in light of such good post on Joel. My wife has already voted (for him), and I will too, on Tuesday.

Wendy said...

We have a saying where I work (the pentagon) that "If you aren't at the table, you are part of the meal". (Which I sure is a yiddish saying somehow). Which makes us evaluate what meetings we have less exposure, and therefore less to loose than others. In a way similiar to your dreading something. Trying to figure out where you need to be, and someone can cover for you is always difficult. I might try the which meeting do I dread most - and go to that one, I might have more luck!
Sad news, My father passed away yesterday. He was 93, stood up from his nap, had a massive heart attack and dropped dead. My stepmother has been with him for 15 years - is shaking in her shoes because she can feel the weight of the family starting to circle... I believe she has every right to do whatever she wants with everything they owned, she put up with his miserable self - and we didn't feel guilty he was alone. So I'm standing between her and the family - to allow her to do as she wants. I wish our Catholic religion had a availus!! but no, they just want to make sure they get their hands on the stuff they want from the person they abandoned. Is there a Hebrew or Yiddish curse for this situation?
Rest in Peace Daddy

therapydoc said...

Thanks, all.

And so sorry, Wendy! Where there are no (wo)men, be a (wo)man, might be an appropriate expression for the family chaos, and the Yiddish for the feeling, the exasperation might be fardrait, just like it sounds, but the English of that is probably a word I don't like using. So typical with Yiddish, but I could be totally wrong. In my family they didn't translate Yiddish to English because it was their way (the parents) to communicate so we didn't understand what they were saying. Only now, when I'm too old to remember anything, do I get the translations. Thanks, Ma.

Ella said...

Smart and passionate is a good thing, but it is the candidate with the most money who wins. So, blogging about him or putting up a sign is nice, but what he really wants is your contribution. That is what you must do if you want him to win. And don't get too smitten, the candidate will change quite a bit if he's actually elected, the rules are different.

I'm more interested in the fact that you broke your "rule" about availus. Do you think that a year is too long for modern times? Or if it is fewer than 10 other people it is OK? I think I'd like to know what the rabbi says anyway, and is he giving a ruling, or more advising you after he does a status check on how you are doing? Do other people no longer raise their eyebrows when you show up, nor gossip about it later?

In my faith tradition, I'm sure I could say "I'm really not up to an event like this, so soon after my father passed away." But I know that connecting with my dear friends is important, they are here, they will make me smile.
Did you smile at the party?

Bongo said...

Man this is totally off subject but I can't find another place to put this ... Are you watching the new season of IN TREATMENT? Was wondering what your thoughts are about the new season? I apologize for not finding a better place to post this LOL


Famdoc said...

Since we try to be true to our faith, I did retrieve the Rabbi's ruling a day before the lunch. After some thought, he concluded that if political inquiry was a main reason to attend, you could go since (in his words) "politics is a sad subject." He's also younger than I, but often wiser.

And don't forget about the other couple, to whom you introduced the concept everyone needs therapy.

therapydoc said...


I didn't bring up the other couple, the one who asked if I really believed everyone needs therapy on the blog, so I'll tell over that right now.

Our friend, a sage, brilliant, successful physician, ten years older than I, asked me if I truly believe that everyone needs therapy. Patient smile, lots of eye contact, I raise an eyebrow and answer, "Yes, ___, everyone needs therapy, even if it is because of someone else." To take off the edge, "Maybe not so much therapy."

Ella, lots going on there.

1. Political candidates can ask away for money, everyone does.

That said, Joel Pollak brought that up, exactly this, how people think a candidate will change after the election, and washed it away somehow.

But you're right. How can we trust a politician? By the time a person gets to office, it is likely he or she is promised out, is so bought that there's no possible accountability or time, for the people who merely put up signs.

But we are in dangerous times. There is much to worry-- about all kinds of possibly cataclysmic disaster.

My hope is that that the younger politicians get it that they may not have the luxury of worrying about the next election. Our President doesn't seem to worry so much about it. It is one of the things I truly admire about him.

2. Breaking the rule about the year of mourning, wasn't breaking it at all, since at the end of the day the Rabbi said yes, although I didn't neglected to tell you, should have assumed someone would bring it up. I deliberately neglected to tell readers about his decision, didn't post it, because the answer was only an answer for me. It is not an answer for everyone.

The Rabbi's answer presupposed context-- his understanding of my particular situation, me, my life.

A Rabbi very rarely gives a blanket "OK," as in, it is OK for a mourner to go to lunch on Shabat with a political candidate.

So what I'm saying is that no one should take the exception the Rabbi made for me as an exception for themselves or anyone else,. People should ask their local rabbis these questions.

3. The reason I went forward and accepted the invitation even before hearing from him is that for me, there's always a strong element of work in socializing, there are very few social situations in which I can turn off the part of me that is empathic and wondering how things could change, based upon what I see, what I hear. So it's often not "fun."

And in this year, you are right, it is all muted, nothing is fun, truly, but yes, I smiled a lot at lunch, am in a much better place, a place in which the Barry Manilow song, Can't Smile . . . is very much anathema. I am so grateful for time.

4. And finally, if people gossip about what I do, then all I can say is that is not my problem. Those who gossip will gossip no matter, they are always looking for material, and if you look for something to talk about, surely you will find it.

And you are right, connecting with dear friends is most healing. The rabbinic idea about not partying is not the same as not connecting with dear friends. The two can be mutually exclusive.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Ella said...

FD and TD - interesting!
I've noticed that you are observant and traditional in your faith, it's why I asked :-) sorry if "breaking the rule" sounded harsh, it does appear that the "rules" guide you in life, in a good way that I respect. I do like that the rabbi's answer is just for you, just about you and this one invite. For you, I sense it was a pretty big deal to go to this lunch! The rabbi, the priest, the therapist, they all give us permission to say "no" when it is right for us.
yes, everyone DOES need therapy, esp. those of us who worry about what people are saying about us....! A good point about going to an event where your profession does not intrude so much (eek). And it's nice that you did get the invite, even though your friends know you are in the mourning period, they want you to know you will be included if you are ready. Glad you smiled!

I've been inside the Beltway for 20+ years, feel fairly pragmatic about politics and politicians. The government continues to run w/o much regard for who is in office (a good thing). I trust politicians to make good choices for us, and choices that they can live with and still get re-elected.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Did he get elected?

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The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

Sorry he didn't win. This piece about him was interesting.

Tag said...

Shabat Shalom
I have 1 question
why do you write Availus use the hebrew Avelut - mourning

The Yidish turm is so Galus ie Galut culture

Anyway I enjoy your blog

A Gal from Eretz ha Koydesh

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Only five

Better Things-- Seeing Ghosts