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Monthly Archives: November 2018

How do I teach myself to ask for what I want?

 

This issue has been coming up a lot lately, as I work towards self-publishing my first novel, and looking for actual jobs. One of my deepest, and most consuming, lifelong beliefs has been that someone else has to tell me that I deserve to be published, preferably someone with their name on book jackets around the world. And someone important has to tell me that I deserve a good job. I don’t believe that I’m supposed to ask for what I want; it has to be offered to me, or else I have no idea if I have a right to it.

This puts some serious limitations on my life, as you can imagine. It takes an enormous amount of work, and days, weeks, and months of self-loathing, to push myself to ask for things despite my underlying concerns. Rejection generally feels like a confirmation of what I already think about myself: that I, fundamentally, don’t deserve to get what I want.

In one of my social work textbooks, it said that, according to research, it takes four positive comments for your brain to process what you’ve heard, compared to a single negative comment. And I grew up with a ratio of closer to one positive comment to ten thousand negative comments, so my self-image makes sense, scientifically. And when I look at the piles of rejections, from agents and publishers and magazines and schools, I can’t escape the belief that all of those negative comments were true.

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“Just listen to me, Mommy.”

I want to feel like it’s okay to self-publish my novel, and to ask people to buy it, even without the middle man of a publisher telling them that I’m worth it. And I want to feel confident applying for jobs, or asking for help from friends, or coworkers, or teachers. I want to feel like I can ask for attention from people when I want it, and not always believe that someone else deserves it more than I do. But I don’t know how to get there. I had hoped that three and half years of school, and internships, and facing one fear after another, would change this. But I am still me.

There are people who are kind, compassionate, and generous who are also ambitious and willing to ask for what they want. They are confident enough in their self-worth that, whether they succeed or fail, they continue to believe in themselves and persist. That doesn’t describe me. My inner monologue rips me to pieces as soon as I send out a query letter, or fill in an application, or even look at a listing for a job opportunity.

Part of the problem is that I can only remember the times when what I wanted was ignored or deemed impossible. I can’t remember the successes, even though I’m sure there were many. I can’t remember being offered things that I wanted, even though I’m sure that’s happened too. My brain is pre-programmed with these glitches and I don’t know how to change that.

Asking for attention is scary, because I never know what kind of attention I’ll get in response. I’m not someone who prefers negative attention to no attention. If anything, my default choice is invisibility. I don’t even need an invisibility cloak, I just stop making eye contact. If I can’t see you, you can’t see me. Right?

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An invisibility hat?

But I want more attention. I have things I want to say, that I think other people might want or need to hear. But more than that, I’m tired of being invisible. The transition to being more visible has been slow, and painful, but it still seems to be something I want. Especially as a writer.  I want to believe that I deserve to be published, not simply because everyone should have the right to be heard, but, competitively, I want to believe that my voice has value to other people and is worth hearing. But that’s so hard to sit with, for me. Its feels like arrogance, and I automatically cover my face with my hands in anticipation of slings and arrows coming my way.

I still don’t have a thick enough skin to protect me from criticisms and rejections, because I always think I should take them in and take them to heart. I don’t quite know when I’m allowed to ignore the negativity.

Miss Cricket always seemed to be able to ask for what she wanted, until Ellie arrived. Then, suddenly, Cricket was more demure, waiting behind Ellie, not sure if she should come forward and ask for her share of the treats. I’ve had to make a point of creating a space for Cricket, so that she knows that she deserves what she wants. It’s not Ellie’s fault, though. She’s willing to share, but something in Cricket shrinks back. Ellie is a superstar at asking for what she wants, but she’s also able to adapt to a No without losing her spirit. Somehow, I will have to teach Cricket, and myself, how to follow Ellie’s lead.

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“Try using puppy dog eyes, they always work for me.”

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“Like this?”

This might take a while.

Healer of the Broken Hearted

 

We had a solidarity service at my synagogue last Sunday, in the aftermath of the shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Four synagogues came together in one building, and by the time Mom and I arrived, twenty minutes before the service started, there was no parking left. People had to stand along the sides of the sanctuary after all of the seats had been filled. The clergy of all four synagogues led the service, with readings by the rabbis and songs by the cantors. There was an enormous amount of crying, but I couldn’t cry. The music was beautiful. The presence of clergy from all of the local Christian denominations was meaningful (the local mosque was planning another service for the following day). But the words didn’t reach me. I just wanted to find comfort, and to feel something, but I couldn’t feel anything.

Maybe if I could have brought Cricket and Ellie with me, things would have been different; maybe if we didn’t have to feel such a sense of relief at seeing the police officers lined up in front of the synagogue to protect us; maybe if it were just small service, with my fellow congregants, on a Friday night. I don’t know. Maybe if there hadn’t been so much violence leading up to the shootings, with two black shoppers targeted in a supermarket, and pipe bombs in the mail, and church shootings, and terrorist attacks in other countries and in our own. We can barely breathe between horrific events, let alone mourn.

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We’re all exhausted.

I keep swinging between anger, disbelief, fear, and confusion. At the solidarity service at my synagogue, the focus was on taking action against guns, which of course I agree with, but I can’t see that going anywhere now, any more than it has every single time this issue has come up after mass shootings in the past few years. More than a few years now. We can vote, certainly. We can stand in solidarity with the other victims of mass shootings, and against racist and anti-Semitic violence. But then what?

It turns out that one of the three congregations housed in the Tree of Life synagogue was also a Reconstructionist group, and they had celebrated Refugee Shabbat, as we did in my own synagogue, a few weeks ago. The shooter had found a list of the synagogues that participated in Refugee Shabbat, including my own, and that’s where he got the address for the Tree of Life synagogue, and that was the final straw in deciding which Jews to kill.

The subject of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, has come up a number of times lately at my synagogue. There was actually an educational seminar about HIAS planned for Sunday. And then Saturday came, and a man decided to kill Jews at prayer, supposedly because Jews, through HIAS, are to blame for inviting refugees to “invade” our country. To be clear, HIAS does not choose who comes into the country, it works with the state department, along with many other organizations, to help new immigrants integrate into their new communities. If I had to leave my own country and seek safety elsewhere, I would like to believe that there would be an organization like HIAS there, to help me settle in and feel welcome.

One of the songs from the Solidarity Service on Sunday at my synagogue was “Healer of the Broken Hearted,” or in Hebrew, Harofei lishvurei lev. According to my rabbi, the image of a doctor in the Hebrew Bible always refers to God, mostly because every heroic role in the Hebrew Bible belongs to God, the ultimate multiple personality. But this is the image of God that I like best: the comforter, the healer, the one who sees that we are suffering and takes our pain seriously.

Healer of the broken hearted

            Binder of our wounds

            Counter of uncountable stars

            You know who we are

            Hallelujah.”

 

This week has felt strange: fragmented and confusing. I wanted to be at Synagogue, and I wanted to hide away at home. I needed to watch the news, and I hated to watch the news. And then there was a hashtag encouraging everyone, Jews and non-Jews, to come to Shabbat services. This week’s Friday night service at my synagogue was going to be a Family Service (kid-friendly, loud, and short), but I decided to go anyway. The sanctuary was packed again, and the music was great again, and the neighboring churches sent their clergy to add their words of support again, but it was more than that.

Maybe it was because a few more days had passed since the shootings, or because all of the children in the room changed the atmosphere in the room to something like joy. There was one little girl doing interpretive dance (including cartwheels and high kicks) down the far left aisle, and the five member kids’ choir remembered most of their songs, and the Bat Mitzvah girl ignored the tragedy in the air to celebrate her special day with her family. It didn’t hurt that there was cake after the service, with pink cupcakes and chocolate covered pretzels and an enormous amount of chocolate frosting.

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“Frosting?”

 

But, in the end, it’s always the music. On Friday nights at my synagogue we often exchange one of the traditional prayers (Ahavat Olam) for an alternative version, written by Rami Shapiro:

We are loved by an unending love.
We are embraced by arms that find us
even when we are hidden from ourselves.

We are touched by fingers that soothe us
even when we are too proud for soothing.
We are counseled by voices that guide us
even when we are too embittered to hear.
We are loved by an unending love.

We are supported by hands that uplift us
even in the midst of a fall.
We are urged on by eyes that meet us
even when we are too weak for meeting.
We are loved by an unending love.

Embraced, touched, soothed, and counseled

ours are the arms, the fingers, the voices;
ours are the hands, the eyes, the smiles;
We are loved by an unending love.

Even if we can’t envision God as the healer of our wounds, we have something more

concrete to rely on: community. We have the power to see each other, and heal each other. Among all of the roles we can play in each other’s lives, this is one of my favorites.

Hallelujah.

 

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