Thursday, November 25, 2010

Shakespeare, the Torah & Therapeutic Avatars

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Even I Don't Know Where This is Going

I just know that beginning last Saturday, I thought of the first two, established powerhouses, and two days ago, "The Science Times" reminded me of the potentially therapeutic power of virtual-world-based avatars. Maybe I'll make a connection among the three before this blog-entry is done. Suddenly, I have an image of the avatar versions of Shakespeare, Juliet and Joseph & his dreamcoat....

Last Saturday night, Dr. Eleanor Ehrenkranz got me thinking about shared themes in the Torah and Shakespeare's plays. Dr. Ehrenkranz was a featured teacher at a lecture series, which my mom invited my sisters and our families to attend with her on her birthday. The series had many lecture-topics to choose from, including, "E.T. Torah: What Does Judaism Say about Life on Other Planets? Do We Care?" but we could participate only in two of them, since they were concurrent, so we went to the ones my mom attended, namely the one on Shakespeare and a second one, "500 Years of Hiding: The Lives of the Secret Jews" by Dr. Andrée Aelion Brooks.

During Dr. Ehrenkranz's interactive lecture, if I remember correctly, she spoke of envy/jealousy as the world's most destructive emotion. Earlier in my M.A. pursuit, I blogged about envy, essentially agreeing with Dr. Ehrenkranz, especially in the written-comments-exchange I had with my classmate Zdravko, the object of my envy, following the blog-entry.

The morning after the lecture -- I got home after midnight -- I heard from my partner Pat, who had to miss the whole day, since she lay in bed with a crippling cold; she said, "Envy might be the most destructive outward emotion, but shame is the most destructive inward one." In other words, envy is the most destructive, and shame, the most self-destructive.

Here's where therapeutic avatars might come in:

If, for example, I could go through 3D simulations, where I could experience vivid envy or shame in the safety of a therapist's office while interacting with some 3D automated character, maybe I could experience less of both emotions in the real-world, or be better equipped to handle those emotions.

Here's another possibility that seems more remote at this stage, but I'm prompted to explore it due to a hallway conversation I had with one of the people I met at the lecture series: trying out being an adoptive parent by caring for an adopted baby automated character. Talking with Pat at breakfast this morning in Green Bay, where we have visited her family every Thanksgiving for the past 19 years, I mentioned the idea of a parenting simulation, saying, "If people got to try it out ahead of time, nobody would have children."

"I think some people would like it; some people really want to have babies, whether adopted or organically," Pat answered.

Just when I am feeling some peace around our having chosen not to adopt, since I was unable to conceive by natural means after 18 months of trying, and since Pat, being 15 years older than I was too old to conceive a child by the time we agreed to try to have children, I have the following exchange and get a bit stirred up again:

I'm talking to a new acquaintance about how our 17-year-old nephew enjoyed the lecture on Shakespeare and the Torah and about how one of our 12-year-old nephews enjoyed learning to bake challah in one of the sessions.

"What about your family?" she asks.

"Oh, I don't have any children. My partner is female and I tried for awhile [via anonymous donor], but it didn't work and we didn't want to adopt. I wanted a 'little me.'"

"[Can't recall precisely what she said to encourage me to re-consider adopting, but then simply,] You're a beautiful woman," she said as she turned and walked away and I touched her shoulder gratefully as she departed.

Here's where Shakespeare and shame and envy and the Torah come back in:

I'm left, standing there, feeling positively recognized among this huge sample of humanity -- the whole parking lot was packed for this event -- while also wondering later, the usual chip on my shoulder returning, Did she mean, "You're a beautiful woman; it's a shame you are a lesbian and didn't have children?" or am I projecting? And I'm also standing there, feeling envious of my mother and of her, for having daughters to kvell over while I simply have nephews and a niece for whom I can take nearly zero credit.

Oh, well, it's time for the dessert reception, following the lectures. I enter the busy room and see one of our 12-year-old nephews, Sam, sitting at the "Young Jewish Professionals" table with his plate piled high with cheesecake and cookies. He is a skateboarder and drummer, and likely will burn off the calories of this plateful soon enough -- not that that's on his mind as a 12-year-old boy.

"Are you a young, Jewish professional?" I ask, crouching by his chair, not wanting to take another seat from the earnest, mostly appealing people seated across from us.

"I did a rap at my concert," he answers.

"Oh, great. I thought you were just playing the drums. Take me over to a corner of this room and do it for me."

Sam gets up instantly, abandoning the heaping plateful, and leads me to the quietest pocket of the room he can find. He begins. It's an onslaught of crazy-rhyming and I'm impressed at his memory-retention.

Kids used to memorize Shakespeare and recite patches of his plays; in fact, my mom's dad, who did not get to go to school beyond the 6th grade (a year behind the grade Sam and his twin-brother Max are in now) had sent my mom and her sister to Shakespeare lessons when they were girls.

Who knows? Maybe I'll be like Sarah in the Torah and have a child years from now. I wonder what kids will be reciting by then.

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