Sunday, May 7, 2017

Book Review: My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

What price will you pay to be true to yourself? What price will you pay to let your child be who he/she is? Where should our loyalties lie first? Loyalty to faith vs. loyalty to family vs. loyalty to self. These are all themes explored in Chaim Potok's My Name is Asher Lev. I first read this book almost a year ago. I felt emotionally wrung out by the end of it (in the best way), and didn't have the power to review it. Even now, I know I'm going to struggle to find the right way to talk about it. This post is going to go through many iterations before it finally makes it to print. There's so much I could say, but this is one book I don't want to spoil by saying too much.

I came into this book completely blind: I had no idea what it was about. I wanted to read something by Chaim Potok, and fortunately chose this as my first foray into his books.

My Name is Asher Lev is the coming of age story of a young Ladover Hasiddic Jewish boy, Asher Lev, who is driven by his need to make art. He needs it like he needs air to breathe. He feels about art the way his father feels about his faith. When he is young, this isn't a problem, since the young are allowed to be foolish. But as he grows and the passion grows with him, it becomes a problem with his parents and with his community, who say that a Hassidic Jewish boy should be pouring all his passion into studying Torah. To his father and the Hassidic community, art has no value. At its heart, this is the story of a boy who's passion/vocation for art run counter to his religion's dictums and mores, and the impossibilities of bridging that gap. But it is also the story of a family and the relationship between parental expectation and a child's need to live their own life, on their own terms.

Asher is an art prodigy, and as such is a slave to his art. That's something average Jills like me can't fully understand. But I feel fortunate that I got to live it vicariously through Asher. For a brief while, I got to be inside the mind of a genius. It was exhilarating, and depressing. I love how Potok was able to show the price of genius that those who have it agree to pay, not because they want to, but because they have to; they have no choice, else they die inside. It really captured what I think must be the euphoria and despair that live in symbiosis inside the artist.

Chaim Potok's writing in My Name Is Asher Lev is quietly breathtaking. It's subtle and complex, with a deftness to his turn of phrase that is magical: simple, powerful writing.  I feel like it is his literary masterpiece. I have not read another of his books, so far, that I like nearly as well. (Sadly, even this book's sequel, The Gift of Asher Lev, didn't have the deftness, caliber, or emotional impact of this book. I decided to next tackle The Chosen, because it's probably Potok's most famous, and widely read book, but I was disappointed in it.)

I'm wondering - and this is pure speculation on my part- if Potok felt dissatisfied on some level with his first book, The Chosen, which has very similar themes and situations, and he felt the need to revisit the same themes from Danny's perspective. But since Potok himself was also a painter, and knew the world of art, he decided to make the story about an art prodigy instead of an intellectual prodigy like Danny was.  My Name is Asher Lev was the kind of book I'd hoped The Chosen would be and wasn't. It has a depth of thematic exploration and nuance that never gets fully explored in The Chosen.

(My 13 year old came upon me sobbing -and I am not given to sobbing, as a general rule- during a particular, emotional scene in the middle part of the book, and wondered if she might read it. I am strangely reluctant for her to read it, not because of anything I object to in the book, but because I think this is the kind of book that's "wasted" on the young. She doesn't have enough life experience to grasp the depth of the themes, and I want her to read it for the first time when she's ready for it. But of course, ultimately that is not my decision.)

There are so, so many themes to explore in depth, but I won't, here. Go read the book.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Getting Rid of Lice The Non-Chemical Way

I know first-hand the shuddering feeling of ickiness when you discover that your child has lice.  
Lice are a pain in the never-mind-where, but there's no need to resort to dangerous chemicals. The method I'm teaching here catches the adults and nymphs and prevents them from laying more eggs. 
So take a deep breath, and know that you've got this. You are going to need:
  • Lice combs with metal teeth are best. Make sure you have the set that contains two sizes, like this one for example.
  • De-tangling spray, Suave or Johnson & Johnson
  • A black garbage bag. Yes, black. You'll see why later.
  • A roll of toilet paper.
  • A comfortable place to sit, but not in your living room, with it's cushioned couches. A stool, a kitchen chair, or an exercise ball is preferable, where you can put the first four things within easy reach.
  • Either a book or electronic device that the child can read/do while this all takes place. It'll take twenty minutes to a half-hour for long hair. Much shorter for short hair.
First things first: Get your de-lousing station set up, with the black garbage bag spread open near right by where your feet will be when you sit down. Don't sit yet. 

Next, you need to douse your child's head under the shower sprayer, or running tub water...whatever will get your child's head thoroughly wet. (Water temporarily immobilizes lice.) While your child's head is hanging dripping over the tub, loosely wrap a towel, turban style, around their head, to keep the water from drenching them when they stand upright.

Next, move to your de-lousing station. Make sure the child is sitting at your feet in a way that allows you complete access to all their hair. Lower the towel to drape around your child's shoulders while you spritz their hair thoroughly with the de-tangling spray. This accomplishes a couple of things: it makes combing through the hair a non-painful event and it keeps the lice wet and immobilized.

When you have thoroughly sprayed with de-tangler, pick up your roll of toilet paper and tear off a long strip and drap it over your non-dominant leg. This is going to be your comb wiping medium. Next, pick up your largest lice comb, and systematically comb through the hair. Every time you make one pass with the comb, firmly sandwich the comb with end squares of toilet paper, and firmly wipe down the tines. You can open your hand and check for lice in the square of TP you just used to wipe. (Don't worry; they're still dazed by the wet. The white of the paper makes it easy to see the adults and nymphs.) Fold over used square of toilet paper in a way that traps the lice, tear it off your long strip and put it in your garbage bag. Comb through another section. Try to think of your child's head as zones, so that you thoroughly comb through each part of their hair, wiping on a new stretch of toilet paper with each pass. Also remember to keep spritzing with the de-tangler to keep the hair wet and the lice immobile. When you get to the end of the length of toilet paper, pause and get yourself a new long length to drape over your leg.

When you have made a thorough pass with the large comb, which combs out any tangles less painfully and also grabs most adult lice that are currently alive, switch to the smaller lice comb and do the exact same thing as before. (The smaller comb catches the nymphs better.) Don't worry about getting the eggs out. It's impossible (despite what you may have heard), since they are glued on the hair. Using this process, you are waiting for the eggs to hatch to nymphs and combing the nymphs out before they can become breeding adults. So basically every time you do a comb-out, you are capturing all the new nymphs that have grown to the size that can be captured by the teeth of the smallest lice comb.

When you have thoroughly combed through your child's hair using both combs, gather and tightly cinch up your garbage bag and take it outside to sit in the sun. The black of the bag gathers the sun's heat and bakes the lice. But leave it outside all day. And then throw it in an outside garbage can.

Next gather your lice combs and put them in a bowl over which you pour boiling water and let them sit for 10 minutes.

Now you must deal with bedding. During all these days of your child's lice-infestation, wash their bedding (all of it) every day. It's not necessary to use the hot water wash, as long as you use the dryer to dry all the bedding. If you have duvets or things that can't be washed, gather them into a black garbage bag and let them sit for 40 days (tightly bagged) in the garage, to be sure that you are killing all the lice over their hatching and life cycle.

Some people say you only need to do the combing once a day. Me, I'm taking no chances. Do it morning and night and you'll be sure to catch those hatching nymphs before they can mature, breed and make more eggs.  

Continue the comb-out and bed linens washing routine until you have gone a few days without seeing any more nymphs during the comb-out, and you don't see anymore eggs. As long as there are eggs, you must keep up the routine.

Any questions?