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Monthly Archives: December 2018

Sing!

I finally decided to go to the every other Tuesday night choir rehearsals at my synagogue. They’ve been calling them Tuneful Tuesdays, as a way of separating them out from the formal summer rehearsals leading up to the high holidays, because they say that the purpose of these alternate Tuesday nights is really just to give people a place to sing together, and maybe to have a spiritual experience, or at least a communal one.

I had been considering going to Tuneful Tuesdays ever since I finished my second internship for social work school, but the clincher came when I went to services one day and the cantor happened to hear me sing and asked me to come for the Tuesday nights. I like praise. I could do with a lot more of that in my life, that’s one of the reasons why I have dogs: they love to show love, and to tell me that I’m special to them. It happens multiple times a day, especially if I leave the apartment for a minute and come back in.

I was hoping that there would be a lot of people at the rehearsals and I could hide in the crowd, but so far there have only been six to eight people on any given night. I was also hoping for low stress singalongs, but instead we’re doing the three and four part harmonies that I dreaded. The discipline of singing my own line, while others sing in opposition, is not fun for me. It’s actually the opposite of what I wanted, because it separates me out, instead of joining me together.

I am one of the only Altos, which means that they are happy to have me and have already decided that I have joined the choir, rather than trying it out, which is what I thought I was doing. I want to sing more, but I am still uneasy performing in front of an audience. I’m much more comfortable singing within the audience, but it’s a limitation that I feel the need to push at. There are so many things I want to do that require being front and center instead of hidden in the back.

The Tuneful Tuesday group is led by the Cantor of our synagogue, and by the band leader, who is now a rabbinical student. They have similar facility and expertise with music, which is intimidating. They can both sit down at the piano and play whatever is in front of them exactly as written, or change keys at a moment’s notice, and they can both sing whichever part of the harmony doesn’t have enough singers. When I listen to them I feel like a dodo for ever thinking I knew anything about music. But then I remember singing for my oldest nephew when he was a baby, and how he would reach out to touch my lips, in awe, to see where the sound was coming from, and then he’d make a big O with his mouth to try to imitate me. He doesn’t remember any of this.

Each Tuneful Tuesday session has been overwhelming, so far: either because a song is in 7/8 time, which seems to mean that the next note comes up much faster than I expect it to; or because a song is so crowded with notes that I can barely breathe until the whole thing is over; or because we only do a couple of sing-throughs before we start adding harmonies, and I can’t keep track of which notes I’m supposed to sing.

I ask for help whenever I’m struggling, which makes me feel like a moron, but the cantor and the rabbinical student are always kind and understanding; they answer my questions and offer explanations when I’m confused. But I wish I could bring Cricket and Ellie with me. They could help me feel less self-conscious, unless Cricket decided to bite someone, which would make me even more self-conscious.

 

grumpy cricket

“I only bite people when they deserve it.”

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Ellie’s hiding, just in case.

My goal was to force myself to go to the Tuneful Tuesday sessions at least four times before deciding whether or not it’s right for me, but on the fourth session I found out that there’s a performance coming up, with only two more rehearsals, and all new songs, and the only other Alto isn’t sure she’ll be there. Maybe it would have been okay if we’d started rehearsing these songs months ago, or if someone had responded to any of my concerns with actual concern instead of a patronizing pat on the head. But what I kept hearing in my head for the whole hour and a half was: you’re a loser; you just don’t have the talent; you don’t try hard enough; you’re letting everyone down; it’s all your fault.

The first two songs were taught without written music, and there’s no recording available, so we can’t practice on our own even if we wanted to. The third piece of music is a complicated four part harmony, so complicated that when I looked down at the page I had no idea what I was looking at and I wasn’t convinced it was actually music.

This was not fun.

I wanted to be excited about singing again. I wanted to warm up my voice and learn some new things. I didn’t want to scare myself to death. But now I’m afraid to let people down, because they’ve developed expectations of me that I didn’t want them to have, and they are going to be disappointed in me and I hate disappointing people.

I haven’t decided what to do about this yet, but I do know that, no matter what happens, I will get to come home to Cricket and Ellie and their kisses and cries that I’ve been gone too long. I really don’t know how anyone gets through the tough days without having a dog (or two) waiting at home.

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“She’ll be here any second.”

I want to thank everyone who wrote a review of Yeshiva Girl on Amazon, or read the book, or thought about reading the book, or told a friend about it, or encouraged me along the way. If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl, and if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, I’d be honored.

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Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.

 

 

 

Those Pesky Expectations

In the process of self-publishing Yeshiva Girl, I realized that all of those rejections from traditional publishers over the years had taught me to reject myself. I persisted, yes, but it felt like climbing a rocky mountain that grew steeper and more unforgiving every day. As a result, I expected self-publishing to make me feel like a failure, because it would validate all of those voices telling me that my writing was too painful to read. But choosing to publish the book anyway, after all of these years, changed something in me.

For years, the only safe place I could create for myself, as a writer, was this blog. I could play here, I could tell stories, I could investigate, and struggle, and push, and prod, and laugh with joy. I don’t understand how the blog magic works, but it works. But publishing Yeshiva Girl and telling people about it is starting to widen that safe space for me. My hope is that this will make it possible for me to continue writing my novels, maybe even a memoir or two, so that all of the images and words and stories that have been swirling around in my head forever can find a place to rest.

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Yes, Ellie, just like this.

 

Giving up on that external validation, that nod from the gatekeepers, has been very hard. From the very beginning, I was sure that I could make everyone proud of me: teachers, therapists, parents, friends, editors, everyone. I assumed that their expectations of me were based on what they saw as my real potential, and that they were invested in helping me to reach those expectations. But I found out that many people had expectations of me that had very little to do with me. They expected me to be able to live up to their unspoken hopes and dreams and needs, and they told me that I was too smart to need help. They also made sure to tell me that everything they wanted from me was clear and obvious, and if I did not understand the rules then there was something deeply wrong with me. Except, teachers often left out important parts of their instructions, assuming that I’d know what to do by osmosis. Agents, editors, parents, boyfriends, all expected me to be able to read their minds, and know what they wanted from me. They had something in mind, that they themselves couldn’t articulate, and they judged me by my ability to live up to those inchoate expectations. People seemed to look at me and see a kaleidoscope that was constantly changing.

I had teachers who expected me to get multiple PhD’s, in whichever subjects, despite my obvious distaste for academic writing. And, of course, I would be a published novelist many times over, and a wonderful mother, and maybe a rabbi, and a singer, and on and on. That’s not even including the people whose expectations were intentionally un-meet-able; people who refused to see me as good enough in any way, because of who I am at my core, or, really, because of who they are. My father was like that.

And then I learned to have just as unreasonable expectations of others as they had of me. Cricket had to work very hard to teach me how to adjust my expectations. She showed me that she could only do what she could do, and my giving her a grumpy face, or, God forbid, yelling at her when she disappointed me, didn’t change what she could and could not do. She taught me that we would both be happier if I could learn to celebrate the things she could do, and to help her reach the goals that she needed my help to reach. If anything, Cricket has shown me that, in certain areas, she is far above any expectations I may have had of her, and if I’d stuck to my own point of view I would have missed her brilliance, and possibly even squashed it, by trying to train it out of her. I’m trying to learn from Cricket, one step at a time, about how to adjust my own expectations of myself, to fit who I really am. She’s trying to be patient.

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“It’s hard work, Mommy.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.

YG with Cricket

“Fine, I’ll read it, but there better be chicken treats involved.”

Ellie’s Surprise Birthday

 

This past Thursday we got a call from our groomer (the goddess who mediated Ellie’s adoption) wishing Ellie a Happy Birthday. Wait, what? It turns out that Ellie just turned five years old this week, and we now know her exact birthday, so of course celebration ensued (I still plan to celebrate her Gotcha Day in July, but two birthday parties won’t hurt anyone).

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“A birthday party means food, right Mommy?”

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“Where’s my party?”

 

We were already in celebration mode, what with my own birthday, and Thanksgiving, and Chanukah coming up, and, oh yeah, the publication of my novel Yeshiva Girl (!!!!!!!!!!).

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My first thought for the celebration was cookie decorating, given the season. I found a Chanukah House kit at our local drug store (yes, there are quite a few Jews in my neighborhood), right next to the Gingerbread house kits. My cookie decorating skills lack a certain precision, so, a lot of the house making materials ended up on the floor, where the dogs enjoyed them thoroughly. It turns out you need a lot of royal icing to hold a house made of sugar cookies in place, and then you need to cover the whole thing with much more sugar than you could ever have imagined. Mom had a steadier hand with the roof tiles, but I just played for hours, tossing sprinkles and candy every which way.

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It turned out that that was not enough cookie decorating for us (um, me). So I made a batch of sugar cookie dough and used every cookie cutter I own, from tiny leaves, to giant Butterflies, with teddy bears and hearts and giraffes in between. I colored way outside the lines (as always, I actually failed coloring in kindergarten), and made sure to let the dogs share in the joy whenever possible. And then, to balance out their diet, I used our new treat launcher to spray chicken-flavored treats around the room and set the girls off on a scavenger hunt to make sure not one bite was lost.

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iced cookies

Celebration accomplished!

I’ve been overwhelmed this week with the support for my novel and I want to thank everyone who ordered a copy of Yeshiva Girl from Amazon, and everyone who offered encouragement on the blog as well. I can’t wait to hear what you think of the book!

If you haven’t seen it yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if anyone feels called to write a review of the book on Amazon, I’d be honored.

yeshiva girl with dogs

The girls are trying to read the book too, in their own way.

 

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy (short for Isabel). Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes that it’s true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to an Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain, smart, funny, and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment.