Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Megilla Project, Eicha - Great Expectations

Rarely do things ever turn out exactly as we expected. Oftentimes we are disappointed. Sometimes, though, we are pleasantly surprised.

When I started Kohelet, I expected to find it cathartic, or comforting, and really it was neither one. It did, however, turn into one of the most intricate and difficult paper cuts I'd ever made.

When I embarked on the second installment of my project, Eicha, I expected at some point to be using it for comfort. And mostly, I expected it to take at least three weeks, if not a month. I set a goal for myself to finish it by Tisha B'Av.

Instead, I finished it this morning, on 17 Tammuz, the first day of the dreaded Three Weeks of mourning, which culminate with Tisha B'Av. The Three Weeks have barely even started, and I've already finished this project.

I could take this as an example of exceeding my own expectations. I could see it as something not turning out to take as long as I feared. I could also look with some dread at the coming weeks as if they were saying, "you thought you had us figured out? We haven't even begun!"

But that prospect seems overly negative and frightening, even for someone who just spent the last two weeks immersed in arguably the most depressing book in Tanach.

So what do I take from this? I guess that sometimes things don't take as long as we think they will. Other times, like with Kohelet, they take much longer, but even those projects are ultimately completed.

And now here come the Three Weeks, and so continues my search for those things that will make up my next year. And on to the framer's.

Total Side Note: In looking for a sturdy case in which to store this piece, I happened across some small prints of some of my older paper cuts. I am hereby selling these prints for five-ten dollars each. Keep in mind, they are unframed, and not professionally printed. They do, however, look pretty darn nice. Sizes range from 10x10 - 11x17. Message me or comment below if interested.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Megilla Project, Eicha - What to Think?

About a week into my Eicha project, and already the process is entirely different from that of Kohelet. Then again, the situation surrounding it is different as well. And new sorts of verses stand out to me.

Today, I finished the paper cut portion of the project, and started the ink-written text. I was feeling frustrated at the moment, and resolved to vent said frustration into the paper.

As during Kohelet, frustration stemmed from disappointment. But whereas Kohelet's was toward what others were doing and saying (or not doing and saying), Eicha's was aimed at myself, and at the impossible questions of the future.

It was aimed at myself because I had made a mistake. Nothing intentional or even hurtful, just inconsiderate in the moment. I was distracted. I wasn't thinking. I was also, admittedly, a little tired and tense. And so I was shocked when my mistake got called out. I hadn't even noticed that I'd done anything wrong. Naturally, I was embarrassed and felt guilty. I added a garbled "sorry," along with assurance that I hadn't meant to do anything wrong, and would make sure not to in the future. The subject was soon changed to something more titillating, like internet cats.

It was aimed at the future because once again, I am finding myself at a crossroads of sorts. I will be moving somewhere new soon, and hopefully, HOPEFULLY starting a new job. I will be meeting new people and going new places. But I have no idea where, and the changes are proving slower than I'd like. My patience and confidence are tested.

And later today, while I was writing Eicha's text, the feeling returned. As I hit the second chapter of Lamentations, I recognized a certain verse from what I had grown up knowing as a Carlebach tune.

"שִׁפְכִי כַמַּיִם לִבֵּךְ, נֹכַח פְּנֵי אֲדֹנָי"

"Pour out your heart like water before the face of G-d." Before now, I hadn't really connected this verse to anything especially tragic. It was just telling me that if something was wrong, I should tell G-d about it. And I started wondering about times when I have poured out my heart like water to my room's ceiling, since when I talk to G-d I instinctively raise my eyes.

I'm a spiritual and religious person. I talk to G-d, usually in English, sometimes in Hebrew, and occasionally even in Hungarian. I'm unsure why I do this in the way I do, since a debate always runs in my mind of whether my asking questions will ever result in answers. At the very least, it must be therapeutic to ask questions even when they're rhetorical. At times, though, I could swear someone is listening and taking some kind of karmic note. All I know is that I pray.

Eicha is Lamentation following ultimate tragedy. Horrific events and an aftermath from hell all reside in its text. Children die of hunger. Young men are slaughtered. The streets run with blood. And yet, as I mentioned before, I find less despair here than in Kohelet, where one man, presumably a rich king, reflects on the pointlessness of existence.

In Eicha, we cry out to G-d and ask why our Temple was destroyed. We ask the Divine to step in and save us. We ask why the Presence has left our side. We did wrong, and we feel terrible. We want the feelings of guilt and sadness to leave. But at least we cry out. At least we ask the questions and don't pretend to know any answers. At least we haven't reached any despairing conclusions.

I've found that this is the silver lining to my self-disappointment. I am still shocked and upset when I or someone close to me does something hurtful. I think it would be a lot worse if I just accepted them as the way things are. I'm disappointed, and so next time, I'll do better. Next time, I'll point it out if others err toward me, and change things so that there will be improvement.

I haven't accepted Kohelet's futility of life. I still believe in success after I've paid my dues. Which is why, behind the smoky text of tragic events on my Megilla, there there will be "Nachamu," comfort, hiding in the negative space.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Back to the Megilla Project

I know, it's been months.

And here I am, returning to a blog that mostly documented a time of extreme confusion and disappointment for me. I suppose my return to it could indicate another such spiral.

Not this time.

Thus the new look, and the new description, and even the subtle change in title from "Arbitrator" to "Arbiter". This may be a return to a blog and an internet domain, but it's definitely not a return in any other way, shape, or form to that part of my life. Things are very different now.

Of course, some things haven't changed. I'm still technically in the same chapter of life, a mid-twenties grad student navigating whatever this time may mean to me. But I'm starting a few new things. A new summer, a new apartment soon, and ultimately a new year. And, perhaps most significantly to those who might be interested, a new Megilla Project.

Last time, I spent almost three months on a careful cut documenting my confusion and disappointment in Megillat Kohelet. Fitting, I suppose. Which is why I assure you that this time, the choice of Megilla has little to no relevance (Bli Ayin Hara and all) to my life right now.

It's Megillat Eicha.

I felt it was time to do another Megilla. I never start a piece (unless it's on commission) unless I'm truly feeling it, feeling like THIS IS IT, time to do THIS project. A few weeks ago, while in Hungary with my family, I felt that feeling. Megilla time. Though honestly I had no idea which one I would pick.

Then why Eicha? Why, you might ask, out of the four remaining books, did I choose the harshest, the most depressing, the most tragic piece right here, right now? Well, for several reasons.

1) Because, as someone very close to me advised, "If you're going to cover all five, eventually you're going to have to do Eicha." It was a quip to me sort of in the vein of that one from The Little Prince: "I must endure one or two caterpillars if I wish to become acquainted with the butterflies." Fine, they have entirely different meanings. But the point is, I've got to plow through the depressing ones if I want to say I did them all. Better get those over with now and have only Excitement (Esther), Love (Shir HaShirim), and Fulfillment (Ruth) ahead. I don't want to go through all my fun favorites and end on a low note.

2) Because it's the beginning of the summer, and Observant Jews know what that means: the three weeks. The saddest part of the Jewish Calendar, culminating in Tisha B'Av, when we actually read Eicha out loud. I figured the timing was appropriate, and my goal is to finish this cut, this Project, by Tisha B'Av.

3) Because to me, it's a psychological step up from Kohelet. A lot of people disagree with me on this. Kohelet, after all, is not entirely negative, while Eicha is mournful throughout. But to me, Kohelet has this terrible ring of loneliness to it, like an air of clinical depression. I was depressed reading Kohelet, and it was during a time when I just couldn't pull myself out of my funk. Things really did seem to me like "vanity of vanities" and that everything was pointless. My sadness led to my decision to study and depict Kohelet, not the other way around.

Eicha, on the other hand, is a joined suffering. It is a tragedy endured as a people. It is a sudden whiplash, a fire, and need to recover, not a slow spiral into darkness. It was composed following the destruction of the First Temple. To me, Eicha is an outcry following a sharp pain. There is recovery. After the darkness, there is hope. The Temple will be rebuilt, with the whole nation pushing together.

Not so with Kohelet, which is a lonely rumination on one person's depression, a funk from which there is no escape and no recovery, at least not in the foreseeable future.

And so last week, I found myself in a confusing and stressful spot again, suddenly needing to find a new job, a new school project, and a new place to live. It was overwhelming, and I was scared. I genuinely feared falling into this dark hole again.

But then something cleared in my head. Something that said simply, Nah, you'll be fine. It'll all work out somehow. You're not going to end up alone, unemployed, and homeless. You've got too much potential for that. No depression spiral this time. You had your cry and your panic attack. Now it's moving forward time.

What do you know? Sometime in the past week, my long dormant self-esteem came out to play. And so I'm tackling Eicha, for the calendar year appropriateness, because I've got to get through it to complete all five, and because I've got to get through Tisha B'Av if I ever want to see Shabbat Nachamu (Sabbath of Comfort).

And so I began, and I've been working a lot faster than I did during Kohelet (which I take as a good sign). Here's what I've got so far:

We've already seen the flames of the Temple. Now it's time to rebuild.