Sunday, April 28, 2019

Shopping, Something I No Longer Do for Fun

Shopping is typically an excursion enjoyed by most around the world. It’s a time to get out of the house; breathe the air, and search for deals. Even grocery shopping was exciting and full of possibilities… then I moved to Israel.
I’m sure you have heard some of what I’m about to say before, but it bears repeating. Most Israelis are lovely, kind, generous and intelligent people. My gripe isn’t with them! I find the culture, to put it tactfully, fascinating. When you enter most stores in America, they offer some standard level of customer service; sometimes to an aggressive degree. Here in Israel however they leave you alone, literally. I’ve walked into stores to find no staff members around; even the cash register is unmanned.
This was not the case with my last shopping experience. The grocery store was so crowded I didn’t think I would make it out. Which brings me to my four rules for safe grocery shopping in Israel (besides for ordering online). 1. Always go before ten in the morning. 2. Never go three days or less before a holiday. 3. Check to make sure the cart works before pushing it inside. 4. Take another person with you if you must break any of the above rules. Well, I went shopping at ten thirty, three and a half days before Pesach (Passover) with a cart that had seen better years. The only rule I kept was the fourth. I took my husband Michael with me. Together we squeezed through packed aisles picking up all we needed for the upcoming holiday. We grabbed seven packets of chicken, ten cartons of eggs, four ketchup bottles and two tons of oil, it is Pesach after all. Then a woman asked me to help her find an ingredient she was having trouble recognizing in Hebrew. I proudly translated the word for her and led her to the aisle it was on. I don’t normally get a chance to show off my Hebrew knowledge (which is limited), so I kind of strut when I do.
We stood in line for twenty minutes, relatively short considering I’ve waited an hour the time I shopped a day before Rosh Hashana. When our turn came Michael packed the groceries while I unloaded the cart. In Israel, there are generally no baggers, so you either pack the groceries yourself or bring a friend. Michael happens to be a master packer and not before too long our cart was ready for home. We thought the hard part was over, but as we should have known by now surprises always await the shopper who breaks the rules. We waited in line for the elevator because we were parked two parking lots over from the grocery store. As we got into the elevator which held only one grocery cart at a time the back of our cart fell right off. Half our groceries’ fell onto the floor in a devastating crash. We scrambled around for lettuce, wine bottles and cans of olives. Luckily nothing broke during the fall and some miracle saved the eggs. We shoved whatever didn’t fit into our hands with our feet back into the elevator and headed down to the level of our car.
When we exited, the cart broke again. Learning as we went, Michael now held the back of the cart with his knee so nothing could escape a third time. We tugged the cart over to the car like circus clowns and acrobatically unloaded the groceries. When we were finished, we gave each other a high five for surviving another holiday shop. Then Michael shoved the cart off the hill behind Shilat to “Azazel” (a scapegoat bearing the sins of the Jews during Yom Kippur) where it could rest in eternal peace and bring no more grief to fellow humans. It had a good life, we were sure.
We arrived home to discover about five items we had forgotten at the store. Oh well, we can live without soap, milk, and toilet paper, can’t we? We will have to, as I am not going back to the store, any store, until after Pesach. So now you see why I stay out of stores as much as possible. My wallet is very grateful. Now Pesach is over and all the food that we bought for the holiday has been eaten. Which means one thing… I have will to go shopping.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

When Things Crash

Thursday night, my husband and I watched the landing of the Beresheet spacecraft. We looked on as the Prime Minister and his wife joined the heads of the mission in the control room. Crowds had gathered to watch live via satellite, thousands of people around the world waiting to see the Beresheet spacecraft land. Instead, engines failed, and the spacecraft crashed onto the surface of the moon.
There was no crying or finger pointing; instead, the Prime Minister congratulated everyone on their efforts. An award was even given for the picture shot while successfully orbiting the moon. This is the secret of failure; it leaves behind lessons. Lessons that can only be learned from failing.
Yes, I fear failure. This fear has kept me from doing a great many things. But that is because I am simply looking at the end instead of the journey. Many things do not have favorable outcomes, but they have wonderful journeys.
I will never forget one of my biggest failures. I ran a four-hundred-meter sprint when I was fourteen years old. The gun went off, six of us ran, five of the runners finished before I was halfway around the track. I heard a voice from the stand shouting enthusiastically “keep going!” I ran as fast as I could off that track. My father was waiting for me at the finish line beaming. I asked him how he could smile when I came in dead last. He held up his wristwatch, “look at your time, it’s a personal best.” And it was, by almost a half-minute.
Who are we competing against if not ourselves? It’s when we stack ourselves against others that we feel like failures sometimes. We forget about our personal strides and accomplishments. Worst still, we forget about the lessons from the journey.
Yes, Israel may not have succeeded in landing on the moon this time, but they most certainly didn’t fail. And just because the outcome isn’t a success, it doesn’t mean the journey is a waste. Thank you Beresheet for teaching us all to shift our perception of success. One day Israel will have a successful moon landing. There is talk of starting a second mission. Failure is just a step in the journey of success.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Oh, the things I will find

As I begin to clean for Pesach (Passover) I’m coming across some very strange things. Old lunch boxes with rotting bread, a photo from my wedding album that the kids swore they never removed, and the shopping list that I wrote for Rosh Hashanah tucked safely in the drawer I never go into. These are just a few of the things I have uncovered on the search for Chametz (leavened bread and associated crumbs). And there is more, so much more….
When Purim ends, we all have approximately four weeks (now two) until Pesach arrives. In those four weeks we must search every drawer and corner from crumbs. We sweep, dust, scrub, wash until we are relatively sure none of the forbidden food (chametz) is left in our house, car, yard, or on any property we may own.
When searching for chametz, I come across much more than crumbs. I come across things I didn’t know I owned, or more honestly, had forgotten I still owned. I come across skirts and shirts I thought were lost, CDs and DVD’s I may have repurchased. Does anyone want a copy of “Phantom of the Opera,” or Sesame Street’s Numbers Jungle, that I believe came out in 2009?” Then I enter the girl’s bedrooms….
Since this isn’t my first time cleaning their rooms for Pesach, I come prepared. I bring with trash bags, gloves, bleach, goggles, paper towels, face mask, and a special waste bin for dredged material. Wish me luck, I’m going in! I start by pulling back the bed. What do I find? Candy wrappers, a half-eaten banana, stuff animals covered in slime, an opened water bottle that has soaked a few stained Pajama shirts, a school book covered in slime, soaked pictures from my family albums, a few spoons, scissors, crayons, my husband’s work headphones and a bottle of glue to make more of, you guessed it… SLIME!
For the record, I have a ’no-eating’ policy in the room. I also have a no-slime policy in the house. We also have a no-touch policy when it comes to my husband’s work desk and our photo albums. As you can see, our children make it a policy to ignore our policies. Am I the only one who’s kids ignore the house rules? Please say no. I’m alright if you lie.
The first thing I do after I discover our possessions behind the beds is to call my husband. I need a witness to attest to the mess I’m about to clean up as well as someone to scrape the pudding off the wall. We scrub, wash and scrape, then push the bed back against the wall. One side down. I think this calls for a celebration. I take a nap.
When the kids get home from school, I sit them down in a line on the floor of their bedroom. I hold up the slime-covered teddy bear and bag of candy wrappers. Fingers are pointed, the cat is blamed, the ‘slime’, they claim, is in fact dried icing from my birthday cake they helped their Daddy make last June. I hold up my hands and give them each a magic erase sponge to wash their fingerprints and ‘I never draw on the wall’ creations off the wall and point to a trash bag. I tell them I won’t ask questions if the trash bag is full when I return.
I leave the room and go work on some draft edits. I hear bangs, shouts, a crash, more shouts, another bang, some crying, then the door opens… “Mommy, we’re done.” I inspect the room. Besides the broken picture frame and a laundry basket filled with (what I suspect is clean) clothing, everything appears in order. I check their drawers, closets and toy bins; all clean albeit slightly wet from the sponge. My girls have made me proud and have earned the right to continue living in the house.
That night we go over the rules. No food in the rooms, no slime anywhere in the house. My girls nod and agree. The next morning, I dump out the laundry basket of (mostly clean) clothing and find my favorite scarf at the bottom. At least it isn’t food, we are making progress. Then I gather the strength to do the living room. I find Monopoly pieces behind the couch along with a years’ worth of hair ties. I find the twenty shekels note I left for myself last year when I cleaned for Pesach; not really. The only gift I find is an old pudding cup. But I should leave a twenty shekels note! Imagine the joy I would have next year when I found it?!

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Panic, Panic, Panic

Have you ever heard of the phrase, "when in doubt, panic?"  An awful piece of advice that I am ashamed to say I seem to live by. When my kids get up late for school, I panic. When my meat sauce starts to burn, I panic. When I send a question to my publisher and don't get a swift reply, I panic. When I'm forced to speak in Hebrew, I double panic.

I remember the first time I panicked. It was third grade and I had forgotten to have my parents sign a homework slip. The punishment was a visit to the principal's office. I remember how my hands grew sweaty and my back stiffened waiting for the teacher to discover my 'crime'. Luckily for me, there was a fire drill at that exact moment and I got away with turning in the slip the next day.

I used to think panic was an important survival instinct; a signal that danger was looming nearby when really all I was feeling was anxiety, plain and simple. I've discovered that anxiety is fear dressed up as logic in my mind. It tells me I'm being, safe, responsible, and cautious by panicking. The problem is, I'm not using logic, but fear to make some of my decisions.

Let's take fire for example. We were all taught as children to never play with fire. The dangers of fire are real and extremely harmful.  Logic tells us to stay away from extreme heat and gases. As a mother, I tell my girls to be careful with matches and the stove. However, anxiety takes that and runs with it, telling me to stay away from anything that could cause a fire, like cooking, lighting the grill, using the drier, plugging in wires, lighting candles, and curious children who are drawn to the dangerous side of life. Anxiety says if we want to be safe, we need to get rid of or stop using these things. I will start with my children; just kidding, don't panic. I overcome the anxiety and will manage to keep my kids, along with the oven, drier, computer, etc.

This past week, however, my panic was in overdrive. There was unrest in Israel, the country I live in, as rockets were fired into the central and southern region. Sirens were going off, and bomb shelters were opened in various cities. My anxiety warned me to stay inside, forget about the shopping and taking the kids to their after-school activities. A siren could go off, and then what would I do?  I knew what I would do, I would panic. Not a very useful reaction to have in such a moment.

Safety is important and negligence can cause serious harm. But panic is not a guide for living through difficult moments. It doesn't have my best interests at heart. Panic doesn't make any situation better, in fact, it pretty much makes everything worse.  So here's to letting go of panic, or more realistically, hoping it lets go of me.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

What Do Birds Have To Do With Bees?

I came across an article recently that discourages talking about sexuality with children and teens, especially girls. It claimed it was “immodest” and “inappropriate.” As a social worker and mother to three daughters, I must take a stand.  I understand the topic of sexuality makes people a little squeamish. So, if this is a topic that makes you uncomfortable, you might want to stop reading. Still with me? Let's press on.

What do birds have to do with bees? Just some of the questions I often wondered but never felt comfortable asking growing up. Conversations about sexuality were discouraged or even punishable offenses in my youth. In sixth grade, my school brought in a woman to speak with us about puberty. The woman spoke about life changes, sanitary napkins and the importance of wearing deodorant. We all were squirming in our seats, wishing for the speech to end, but it only got worse. "Girls," she said, "I'm sure you have sleepovers where you talk about boys. This is dangerous. If you speak about boys, it’s not okay, it can lead you to do inappropriate things with them. For the sake of your future, forget boys exist.” I heard one message that day, sexuality is shameful.

This is not what we should be teaching our girls or boys. Instead, a different message should be given -sexuality is normal, healthy, even beautiful, just don't act on it... yet.
I can already hear the gasps. We can't teach our children that. Surely you don't mean what you're saying. Oh, but I do! Delayed gratification is a wonderful concept we teach our children all the time. My favorite example of this is baking a cake. Let's say I've just put a cake in the oven and my daughter walks into the room. She sniffs the air and says aloud, "yummy, I want cake." I respond, "cake, who told you about cake? You can't have cake, you're not ready for cake!  Don't ask again until you’re eighteen. Then we can talk about you eating cake."

Now let's try this exchange instead.

My daughter walks into the room and she sniffs the air saying "yummy, I want cake." And I say.  “Sit down, and we will talk about cake." We sit down at the table and I ask my daughter, "tell me why you want cake?" My daughter says, "because I'm hungry, and it smells good."

"You’re right, it will be good, but the cake isn’t ready for eating yet. Let’s think of things we can do in the meantime while we wait for the cake to finish baking and cool off, so it does not burn us.”

Positive discussions about sexuality will help our children know there is something worth waiting for. Refusing to bring up the topic based on concerns of modesty leads to fear of the subject. People often confuse the concept of modesty and decency. What's the difference? Modesty refers to what should be kept hidden or refrained from. Decency is what is proper. For instance, one wears clothing in public to be both modest and decent. But while it might be immodest to go without clothing in the shower it is most certainly decent. Discussions of sexuality is not a modesty issue.  Modesty is wonderful and it has an important place in our lives, but the connotation of modesty is to cover, hide and refrain from. Framing the reason for delaying sexuality as a modesty issue will stay with our children well into marriage. Do we really want our children to feel ashamed, uncomfortable, or immodest for sharing and revealing themselves to their spouse when there it is a perfectly decent setting to do so? The distinction is important.

Sadly, I’ve read many books on the topic of marriage that don't even cover intimacy. Worse still, I’ve attended a class that was supposed to cover the topic of intimacy, but the speaker began by saying, "I won't be going into any inappropriate material due to the sensitivity of the audience."  I learned one thing from her class; that sexuality is immodest, but I already knew that since sixth grade.

Children can tell the difference between a park and a cemetery, even though both have green grass. Children know that they are supposed to wear a bathing suit at a pool even though they go without clothing in the bathtub. And they can also learn that what is decent between spouses might not be decent between sixteen-year-olds.

We should work to reframe the discussion with our youth around sexuality. We can and should stop the cycle of shame and ignorance. Too many dysfunctional marriages are the result of this approach. I'm starting with my girls. I hope you will join me.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Are You My Character?

Many people have asked me how I form the characters in my books. The answer is somewhat simple, everyday life is my inspiration. I pull from my family, friends, neighbors, teachers, store clerks, flight attendants, telemarketers, waiters,  movie stars, fictional characters, pets; essentially everyone I've ever encountered.

When characters pop into my mind they start out as someone I know, but they quickly morph into their own being. For example, the character may have the same hair color as my friend, my cousin's accent, the flight attendant's smile, and the telemarketer's tenacity. I never let my characters mimic too much of just one person. They usually are a glorious hodgepodge, shoved into a personality blender to create a unique person that only exists in fiction.

I also draw from experiences and memorable situations. If my character receives bad news, I think of a time when my heart was broken. When my character is embarrassed, I think of the occasions where my cheeks reddened.  I recall the time I first held my daughter when I think of love. I envision Thanksgiving dinner when I think of food. Every memory becomes material for a scene.
Something I have learned about my characters through real-life interactions is that people just don't fit 'the molds' we often have in mind. Men can be sensitive and woman can be strong. This isn't simply about breaking stereotypes, it's about being human. Humans have many emotions and reactions. A person may laugh at a funeral or cry at a football game. Both are possible. Someone might receive bad news during the game, causing tears. Someone may make a joke during a eulogy that can bring about laughter. Having characters react in surprising ways is part of the fun in writing and reading.

So are you a character in my story? Most certainly! Or at least part of you is. Here's looking at you, store clerk, calling me an idiot for writing down my new phone number incorrectly.  And the person who told me I look better pregnant. To the girl who surprised me on my sixteenth birthday with balloons when I thought everyone had forgotten. And the man who called two synagogues to locate me and return my purse. You are all in my stories in some form or another.

The good, the bad and the funny, that is what books are made of. If you match one of my characters, remember it's probably a coincidence, as they are usually three or more people combined. You are an inspiration though, each and every one of you; an inspiration that I draw on every time my fingers touch the keys.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Candy Crush

Purim is my favorite holiday. Who doesn't love the costumes, festive meal and all the candy? Bring on the joy and....the calories. I have celebrated Purim in many different ways: Eat every treat presented, eat none of the treats presented, eat a few treats, refrain for a while and proceed to eat a few more because who really can stop at just one yummy treat? Not me. 

I'm sure you have heard the old saying it's not what you eat, but how much. Having a square of chocolate is fine. Having a dozen squares of chocolate is not so fine. Why oh why can't we stop at one square of chocolate? The answer is...dopamine. The pleasure neurotransmitter.

Dopamine is released into our body whenever we engage in a pleasurable activity (ie., eating treats.) What is worse, high levels of sugar in the bloodstream can lead your body to crave more sweets and sugar. So the cycle continues; crave sweets, eat sweets, crave more, etc.

How do we exit the sugar wheel? Purchase a one-way ticket. I take one Purim treat for eating, then place the rest of the candy on a hard to reach shelf.  I can't have three candy bars if I can't reach them. (A perk of being short.)

The second trick is to fill a plate up with treats. That's right, fill 'er up. There is a catch, you knew it was coming, the treats have to be different types. Make one section chocolate, the other fresh fruit, the third popcorn, and the fourth veggies and dip. Yes, veggies can be a treat, especially dipped in yummy hummus or ranch dressing.

There is one last option, it's the best... and worst. Don't get on the sugar wheel to begin with. Your body will thank you, your willpower will increase, and while everyone is complaining of the Purim sugar overhang, you will be blissfully maintaining that healthy stride.

Some  healthy treats include:
  • Nuts:  Almonds, cashews, walnuts, unsalted peanuts, and pistachios.
  • Fruit: Strawberries, apples, oranges, kiwi, persimmon.
  • Popcorn
  • Cut veggies with dip: tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, pepper and baby corn. (Buy the dip, no need to go crazy)
  • Yogurt with muesli, (oats, two tablespoons of raisins, cinnamon) 

These are the ways I found to stay healthy on Purim. One piece of cake, one hamantaschen, have some veggies, eat some fruit. Binge on joy, get high on laughter. Hide the candy from the children (and myself). Start thinking about Pesach. Freak out. Shove some popcorn into my mouth, take a deep breath. Isn't Purim wonderful?

Sunday, March 3, 2019

When Trash Becomes Treasure

Don't throw out your trash! Your word trash, that is. So often as writers, we write whole paragraphs, even pages, and simply discard them because we think nothing good will come out of the draft we have written. We delete it an turn it into rubble. But we're wrong to do this. There is plenty of good waiting to come forth from trashed drafts. Save the rubble in what I call the "rubble writing file." A file I often pull from when writing gets tough.

I began making a rubble file because I became sick of rewriting deleted scenes that I found useful later on in a book. I have rewritten deleted scenes so many times that my wrists hurt. Finally, I got smart and started saving the discarded ideas. Those ideas have become my treasures.

Unlike bagged lettuce and grudges, old stories and scenes can and do get better with time. I've been asked by fellow writers what to do with work that feels like typed dribble. I say; press save! I know your work might read poorly, too many cliches and adverbs might be taking over the page.  Press save and step away. Work on something else.  Make dinner, watch a show, help the kids with their homework. Come back, and take another look at your work. Often, the scene that wasn't gelling, comes together in a carpool run. When your eyes are rested, I think you'll find the work is far from trash.  Maybe the work won't be right for your story or that particular scene.  Place it in the rubble file. You never know when it will be needed.

Writing is exercise.  All exercise is good for the body and all writing is good for a writer. Somedays you will feel like your characters are running away and taking the plot with them. What your characters are doing is writing a story you haven't conceived of yet. Save the work, it might be the beginning of your next book.

Never, I repeat, never, is writing ever trash. If nothing else it is a journey we have to take with our characters; a journey our story had to travel to know the path needed to bend another way. I no longer look at drafts as dribble but as clay to be prodded and sculpted and moved to the desired location. My advice, save your writing "trash." It just might become your treasure.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Crunching Time

The silence shattering sound of the beeping alarm awakens me to a new day. I put my feet on the cold tile floor and head to the kitchen. I have an hour to get three kids to school. Sounds easy enough, right? I tell myself the same thing every morning until one kid forgets to do their math homework and another kid doesn't like the lunch I've made and the third kid wants me to read them every Pinkalicious book ever written while she eats breakfast at a painfully slow pace.

When the kids are finally dropped off at school, I can begin the job of tidying and editing my drafts. Let me start by saying that I have two full-time jobs; I'm a mother and a writer. I'm paid for neither. In fact, both jobs are quite expensive to maintain. But I love them and find ways to afford them and have no plans on giving either of them up, yet. (husband cringes here)

My morning is spent alternating between these two careers, depending on what is more pressing at the time. Then when my kids come home I become a fulltime mother, and when my kids go to bed I become a writer. I switch back and forth, sometimes by the hour.

I have days where my drafts are delayed because a child is at home feeling sick. There are times when edits must be made and the children are told to play quietly by themselves. Parents feel free to laugh here, you know why.

There are twenty-four hours in a day. That should be plenty of time to get everything done, right? Let's break it down and see:

  • Seven of those hours are spent sleeping, hopefully.
  • Ten of those hours are spent working, also hopefully.
  • Two hours are spent commuting to work or taxiing your children to activities, no hope here. 
  • Two hours cleaning and cooking, unfortunately.
  • One to three hours for homework, if we are lucky, lately not so.
  • An hour and a half for exercise (I'm including, changing and showering in that time period)
  • One hour dealing with fights and tantrums (add more if your child is below the age of five or over five)
  • Fifty minutes of petting a needy cat, letting him in and out of the house and other pet-related activities.

Here is a pie chart to illustrate.
As I see it, I'm slightly over the allotted time a day gives me, and that's when things go according to plan. I haven't even included Facebook or binge-watching Netflix or grocery shopping, which can take a full day in Israel. The time crunch is real. Let's look at some ways to double up.

Mornings: Tell children to fight or have a tantrum while on the way to school. They mostly forget about the issues by the time you pick them up. Binge watch while commuting if you go by train. Comment on Facebook while you wait in line at the grocery store. Clean while cooking, but not in a counterproductive way. Set a timer and go tackle cleaning a bedroom while those dishes are simmering, but don't let them burn. Can't help you with exercise. I've tried to crunch the time as much as possible. But unless you take out changing or showering, it's going to more or less always be the same. Pets, you have to walk the dog and the cat has to be petted; no time-saving ideas there. Work is a great time for sleeping (depending on the job); approach with caution. And sleep. Well, if you're anything like me the ability to keep calm and have patience is in direct correlation to how much sleep I get. The less sleep, the more yelling. Deep breathing helps too, which is why exercise shouldn't escape your list, although it is usually the first to go in the time crunch.

These are the ways I manage my time. But nobody is perfect. Some things don't get done and that's okay, my family really doesn't need a new fancy meal every day of the week. Yay for leftovers!  I'd love to hear about how you manage your time. Feel free to comment below.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Good News on a Bad Day

Good news is always good unless it's a bad day, in which case it becomes great news. Some of the worst days I've ever had ended with good news. On the day that I failed a major math test, one which had studied hours for, I found out I was accepted to my first choice university. On the worst date of my life, so bad that I swore off dating- my (now) husband called to ask me out.  And on the day when I felt like giving up on writing, I won a flash fiction writing contest.

Earlier that same week I had received a bad review of my completed manuscript from a beta reader. She called my writing "unpolished" and "dull." I was ready to throw the entire book in the garbage. The two years I'd spent writing, what I thought was my best work, appeared to not even achieve adequate results. I figured I may as well stop while I'm behind. Then I saw a post for a flash fiction writing contest on a Facebook group I belong to, The Fabulists, run by Julie Gray. My mind screamed at me that I can't write and I should just move on. I entered anyway figuring I have nothing more to lose. And then, I won.

That's not the only time good news had found me on a bad day. I received not one, but three rejection letters for my manuscript on the same day that I also received a notification that a short story I wrote was going to be published in an international Jewish Magazine. The story that I had written was on a day where I felt like I was the worst mother in the world because of a fight I had with my daughter. I told myself,  the only good to come out of the fight with my daughter is the lesson I learned. So I put the story in writing to share the experience of that day with others. It turned out the editors of the magazine I submitted it to thought it was a story worth sharing too.

Bad days happen to everyone, no one can escape hard times. I still have days where I feel like there is a wall between me and the publishing world. Sometimes my prose doesn't flow and adverbs populate the pages instead. Sometimes my kids think they live in a barn, and no amount of cleaning can turn their sties into habitable rooms. Sometimes my learning disability gets the best of me. Sometimes I watch YouTube videos by authors who tell me I'm doing it all wrong. And then I receive a notification that my Blog reached over one hundred views and that my story is being reprinted in another magazine. Then I wonder what I was so worried about in the first place.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Are you a Writer?

Many people often ask me, how do I know I'm a writer? The answer is simple. You write.  Wait, you say, many people write and they are not writers. Actually, they are. What they are not, is published.

This is a topic I have grappled with since I wrote my first manuscript. What makes me a writer? Or more importantly, what makes me worth reading? I went looking for answers on the internet. I found ways to structure my novel and how to make my dialogue snap. I found articles advising me to switch my adverbs promptly to verbs and to leave cliches on the shelf; to vary my sentence structure and leave out generic phrases such as could, maybe, and whatever. My writing contained all these infractions and more. So I began to ask myself, am I a real writer?
As they say, when you go looking for trouble, you'll find it. I found many websites written by accomplished authors on what exactly makes a writer good at their craft. One had me take a quiz. If I scored less then twenty percent, that meant that I wasn't a real writer.  I scored in the tenth percentile. Then another website was an angry rant from an author who no longer wanted to see "dribble" from want-to-be writers on his shelves. He had a list of twelve descriptions that make a manuscript not worth reading... or writing.  As you can guess, I was his top choice of authors whose work he would send straight to the trash.

I was devastated.  I love writing, it gives me purpose, fulfillment and more joy than any past time I could replace it with. But who was I kidding? The great sages of the internet had spoken. I was not qualified to be a writer. Old doubts of stupidity and worthlessness awoke in my mind and I gave into them. I placed my laptop in a corner and focused on any task that could keep me away from writing.  But stories and ideas kept swirling and forming in my head.  Finally, I couldn't fight the urge to write any longer.  I pulled down my laptop and began to write again. I knew that some might consider my work "dribble." I knew that my words didn't flow like cream from a carton.  Yet, I found I had to share my words with a page, even if I'm the only one who reads them.

That's when I discovered that I am a writer.  A person who can't keep their words inside. One day my words may be bound together in a book and I hope others will get to read what I have written.  Until then, I won't go looking for validation. I'm a writer simply because that is what I do. I write.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Cat That Came to Dinner

Sometimes you choose your pets and sometimes they choose you. Rosmand chose us. We were eating Friday night dinner when an orange cat scratched at our door. We ignored him and kept eating. He came again the next Friday night and the Friday after that.

A few weeks later my youngest daughter held a tea party on our back porch. The guest list included her dolls, stuffed animals and the orange cat. He sat right on the stool next to her, purring and sniffing the "tea" she would hold up to his mouth.

At the time my daughter didn't say much. She had a language delay caused by hearing loss. My husband and I engaged her in as much conversation as possible, but she would resist. Most of our conversations were one-sided, we spoke, she listened and then ran away.  Yet at this tea party, she was full of things to say. "Kitty... tea? Kitty... nice? Kitty...stay."

Rosmand has been a mixed blessing. He is cute, orange, furry, not always cuddly, and sometimes bites.  But he does attend tea parties, dinners and other occasions where food is served. He joins me for writing sessions and walks with my family on the way to synagogue on Saturday.  My daughter still has lots to say to him and he purs and listens.

Pets become family. Rosmand has become a full-fledged member of ours. He teaches kindness and responsibility. The children fill his water bowl and leave him their leftover chicken scraps. In the winter, I find him tucked into my eldest daughters bed with blankets. The girls have learned to respect his boundaries and heed his signals to stop petting him when he asks.  I never asked for Rosmand, but I'm sure glad he came and scratched at our door.

*I'd love to hear your pet stories. Feel free to comment and add pictures of your favorite furry friends.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Persistence is Spelled Permeance

No this is not a metaphor,  although I'm sure we can come up with something about permeating barriers. This is a normal dyslexic mistake I often make when perusing the spell check choices. I remember how to spell part of the word, and if it looks similar to the word offered, I pick it. Often this leads to hilarious results.

My first great spell check exchange was when I was thirteen and had written a story about a student having to say goodbye to his teacher before being deported. There was nothing funny about this goodbye scene, or at least nothing funny that I had intended. So you can imagine my surprise when my teacher burst out laughing.  She laughed for a good whole minute before being able to tell me what she was laughing at. She read out loud a line from my paper: "I didn't know people could cry tires." You all know what I meant, but when I saw 'tires' it processed as 'tears' in my brain.

Another mistake I made happens to be on the cruder side, but is too funny not to share. I was writing my first draft for an article in my high school newspaper. I was comparing teaching styles of two English teachers whom I had great respect for. I submitted my first draft to the editor who couldn't control her laughter. The students crowded around her wondering what was so hilarious. She had trouble catching her breath before reading out the words, "he likes to get down to perverted arguments on a regular basis in the classroom".  I meant to say 'persuasive', but we all had a good laugh.

Since I have trouble constructing and deconstructing phoneme ( like Pat vs. Pad) it makes spelling almost impossible for me to master. Throw in silent letters, and difficulty in memorizing sequences and I'm sunk. Spell check is a dyslexic's best friend and has been mine for many years. But like most friends, we have our quarrels. As my English teacher used to love to say, "spelling a word correctly is simply the beginning, the word must be spelled correctly and have a proper place in the sentence."

Take this sentence for example. "There are tows in the closet," said Eva. Can you guess what I was trying to write?  Hint-they are big and fluffy and you can't take a shower without one. Yes, it's towels. Grammer check didn't even catch that one. What did?  My second favorite writing tool. Microsoft Word has a feature where the text can be read back to you aloud. I can't tell you how many mistakes I catch when I hear what I've actually written. Once I finish writing a page or chapter I have Word read it back to me. You can choose the speed and voice. Sometimes I have an American male narrator, or sometimes I go for a female from Britain. Both voices reveal my errors without the least bit of judgment. 

I want to make people laugh with me, not at me, but I've come to the conclusion that humor is humor.  Mistakes happen, I can cry about the fact that I make so many or laugh along with the people who catch them.  Learning to laugh at yourself is important. Luckily, I get the chance to do it often. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Don’t Say That!

To offend or not to offend, that is the question. I have spent my whole life trying to avoid upsetting people, my inclination is to shy away from controversy. However, as a writer, I feel it is part of my job to delve into what makes people feel uncomfortable, to provocate and challenge the norm. If I really wanted to be sure I never ever offended anyone, I would stick to writing about rocks and daisies. Fear of offending has blocked more of my writing than illness and fear of rejection combined. I can get over illness, I can recover from rejection, but the idea that I may have caused another being pain is shattering.

Some examples of questions I struggle with daily include:

  • Should a character swear when the scene calls for it? And believe me, there are plenty of scenes which call for swearing.
  • What about including a romantic scene and how far should I take it?
  • How do I add diverse characters in a way that is respectful of their culture without veering into stereotypes?
I once had a beta reader give feedback that my joke about communism was offensive to socialists. I told her that the joke was a reference to the former USSR and had nothing to do with socialism.  No good, she still thought I should remove it.

Then there was the scene where my main character’s love interest teaches her about gun safety. He also opens up to her about his experience in the military. There is no politics spoken, no sides are taken, no one was hurt, everything was legal. Yet I was told this scene is offensive because guns are offensive.

I haven’t even come to the stories which include people of faith.  No one wants to see their laws and customs broken. I can scream at the top of my lungs- characters misbehave! It’s how the story grows and evolves. I’m not targeting religion, I’m simply writing about characters that happen to be religious and human. No matter, it rubs some people the wrong way and so it must go.

All these scenes and more have kept me up at night and away from my computer for days; wondering if I should change them or not.  I have done research on this topic and it seems I have three options when dealing with someone who may be offended by my writing; concede, ignore or fight.

I personally would not want my shelves filled with books echoing all the same messages. I read to understand other’s perspectives, even if it differs from my own. What happened to the art of civil debate? Can we ever discuss ideas without descending into a mudslinging, head bashing brawl?  I’ve encountered many scrapes along the road to the middle ground, but I’m determined to get there. I must let fear go. Not because I wish to offend others, but because you can’t learn from characters that are perfect, not to mention how boring the story would be. I will continue to listen to others in the effort to gain a perspective beyond myself.  I believe we must show each other grace, kindness, and respect, even when our opinions differ.  And when we don’t’ see eye to eye, I hope we can put down our pitchforks and pick up generosity and agree to disagree. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

I Have a Secret

I have a secret.  I am a writer.  I know that doesn’t sound like much of a secret, lots of people write. But writing is a conversation. I am asking readers to listen, which means I think I must have something worthy to say.

I began writing when I was eight years old. Plots and characters would appear in my mind during chores and my free time. But when I put pen to paper, I struggled. My dyslexia always getting in the way.  I had my first success when I was thirteen, winning a national writing contest. I won honorable mention the year later in the same competition.  My second achievement was an article I wrote for the school newspaper which was reprinted in two local newspapers, one in Georgia and the other in Charleston SC. 

Then I had my first major failure in college when I took the writing placement exams. The exam’s main purpose was to evaluate if a student could read and write English on a basic level. I failed the writing exam, twice. I found out later it was due to my spelling and grammar errors. The failure knocked any hope I had of being a career writer out of my mind. I thought writers don’t fail elementary placement exams, ever.

So, I shelved my dreams, instead choosing to go for something for practical; social work. I forgot all about writing until about five years ago when it saved my life. I had just moved to Israel and was struggling.  I was told to just learn Hebrew, and all would be well. I went to Ulpan for three years; a course for new immigrants to study the language. I also tried Rosetta Stone, tutors and Duolingo. My Hebrew level stayed the same, basic. I felt confused and stupid every single day.  I thought about returning to America, but my family was so happy here. I’d be selfish to make them go back.  Life became lifeless. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipper came around and I didn’t ask for good health or long life, in fact, I didn’t ask for life at all. I began saying goodbye. That’s when a small voice whispered, “write.”

I hushed it at first, telling it that I’m dyslexic and can’t even pass a straightforward writing exam. I was afraid of people’s judgment, reproval, and rejection.  The voice made me a deal, however. Write for a year, just one year and see what happens. So, I sat down to my computer and I wrote. Words became pages and soon pages became chapters and then chapters became books.
Now that you know my secret, I hope you will share my journey as my first manuscript makes its way into the world.


In my next post, I will explore censorship and overcoming my need for approval.