It’s Monday as I write this. (Last Monday, from the perspective of you reading this.)
And I don’t know what I’m going to write today!
Nothing my kids did recently is calling out to be told as a story with a moral.
And usually over the weekend, something has popped into my mind, and I’m thinking about it so that when I get to this keyboard, I have some idea of what I’m writing.
So, I’m just doing this. Typing.
Seeing what comes.
I know that the muses don’t usually show up until I’ve done some drafts. (There are lots of words I’ve typed you aren’t seeing—whole paragraphs about air quality, the love I’ve felt from people checking in on us in Portland, and my soft, comfy, sage-colored, T-shirt-not-sweatshirt-weight hoodie.)
I kinda like this meta-confessional writing style, writing to you about the pressure I feel to produce something good. And good enough.
That’s something to write about.
It’s a very human experience to think we have to be shining and doing good things all the time.
*Needing a therapist*
My second year of rabbinical school. 1994. There’s a note in my school mailbox. “Dean Ploni would like to see you immediately after classes today.”
Up the stairs to the admin wing, not knowing why I’m being summoned. I chat charmingly (flirt?) with Marci, his adorable receptionist—way too old for me—but on whom I nonetheless have a massive crush.
“I guess when you’re summoned, you summon,” I say, my voice Seinfeld-like (with my hair like Kramer’s).
The inner office door opens, “Come in,” the tall, blazered dean says, motioning towards a low chair.
“Thanks for coming.”
“I was summoned.”
He explains that he heard through the grapevine that I had taught that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob probably weren’t grandfather, son, and grandson, but an amalgamation of stories told by different tribes. Just stories. Nothing factual.
“Brian, you have to be careful with whom you share the truth. Sometimes people need stories to believe in.”
I do the math quickly. Someone in the class at the local synagogue complained to their rabbi about what the rabbinical student taught. And that rabbi told the dean, resulting in my being chastised for teaching what the school he was running had taught me.
We chat a little until it’s time for me to leave.
“I thank you for the admonition,” I say, smiling, “summon me anytime.”
“I thank you for taking this in good spirits, Brian. I certainly hoped you would.”
“Hey,” I casually say, “Might you recommend a therapist? I have some things to work out.”
Like how I’m not supposed to teach people what I know to be true.
I am forever grateful to Dr. Victor Morton, the dean’s recommendation, my first therapist.
Without his counsel, I doubt I would have been able to work through the pressure to not date and get engaged to the not-Jewish Jane.
But that’s not going to happen for a year.
This year, a few months into our working together in his Glendon Avenue office, he coached me through graduate school.
“It’s hoop jumping,” he said and continued, “why don’t you try handing in a bad paper?”
A big smile is on his face.
He knows, because we’ve done this before, that I’ll rise to his challenge.
But at this point, I don’t want to.
“Why not? If they don’t like it, they’ll ask you to rewrite it. That’s all.”
“Easy for you to say.”
“It’s your life. Work harder than you have to.”
“OK. I’m in. One bad Bible paper coming up.”
*Of Biblical proportions*
And so I did. For the first time in my academic career, I handed in a paper that wasn’t as good as it could have been.
Handing it in, I felt as though everyone—especially the professor—could tell.
Of course they couldn’t.
And I got good marks on it anyhow.
Which leads us to the moral.
Maybe, just maybe, we are all pushing ourselves a little harder than we have to?
That was the point of setting up this newsletter to be 40/52 weeks a year. So I can take the pressure off of myself some.
That’s the point of a sabbath—a weekend. That we don’t keep pushing ourselves.
That’s the point of meditating, to purposely not do.
Maybe, just maybe, we can all loosen up some?
Maybe we can try to not be perfect.
(And know we are perfect in our imperfections.)
Larry says that good people never think they are doing enough.
Maybe you don’t have to be brilliant today, either.
Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer resides in Portland, Oregon. He is the founder and head of Religion-Outside-The-Box rotb.org, an internet-based, global group of 3.2K+ digital-age seekers. ROTB produces excellent spiritual content.