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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.

ellie relaxed

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.

019

“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.”

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

81 responses »

  1. I am reading the book and so far I love it! Will do review when I finish it.

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  2. I know what you mean. My Mum was like your Dad, all my brothers were going to be doctors, quite why I never worked out.

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  3. Then there is the horrible burden of the expectations we carry around that come from ourselves. For years every time I got a class report from my college peers, I felt I had failed to live up to my own expectations. Even at 71, I still have to confront longstanding life denying expectations that I have carried for years. I too have found healing through my blog, especially from the thoughtful comments I sometimes receive. I had no expectations when I began my blog, so I am constantly cheered by what it has brought into my life.

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  4. We all want to give up at one point but persistence is strong. keep going.

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  5. In grammar school, my parents were always told that I was not working up to my potential. What was my potential at 9 years old?! It took me a long time (and I still struggle) to figure out 1) I have no idea what their potential is, and 2) I am quite happy with whatever my potential is–whether I have lived up to it or not. It is amazing how people’s perceptions seep in and make us doubt ourselves. I am so happy and excited for you, Rachel! I think Cricket deserves chicken treats…

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  6. The book is getting some really good reviews, I’m so pleased for you. You deserve the success.

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  7. Publishing your book has really boosted your confidence. I’m glad. You deserve it.

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  8. So thrilled for you. The book looks fantastic. Congratulations.

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  9. I’m so glad your book is doing well. I have tweeted about it, and will do it again in a minute. Best of luck!

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  10. I have a drawerful of rejection letters for my poetry and one or two publications. The process is difficult and definitely an assault on the ego. But I have two self-published books of poetry so my thoughts are out there and it’s ok. Good luck with your venture and be assured that you have communicated with others.

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  11. Such a thought-provoking post that resonated with me, thanks for sharing. Expectations can cause a lot of friction between people, and sometimes we just have to accept that people will see what they want to see in us (good and bad) regardless of how we behave or what we achieve.

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  12. I disappointed my parents by not going to university. They could only see academic qualifications as a validation of my intelligence, and I carried that burden until they had both died. I refused to allow myself to believe that, and became content inside my own mind.
    Eventually. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  13. Wonderful post. Glad publishing your book has helped you become more confident in yourself. I love reading your blog. The paragraph about your expectations of Cricket is very insightful. I especially like “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.” This is sound advice we can all use in our everyday lives.

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  14. Cricket is a very good teacher. I’m glad you are in each others’ lives.

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  15. Congratulations! This is so wonderful! I know exactly what you are talking about…I will definitely look into your page! Hope it ships it Israel!

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  16. Our four footed teachers have one advantage over human teachers…they cannot talk, therefore they SHOW us by example, what they need or want us to learn. I know that I learn best by example and the teacher best be patient. Congratulations on your book! 🙂

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  17. Rachel, best wishes and congratulations. It looks like an interesting plot line. Keith

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  18. Wow, good for you!!!! I can’t wait to read it. I am struggling with my novel. I am stuck at 30% because of my self doubts. I am now inspired to push forward!

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  19. Me, a Northerner, had (notice the past tense) a marriage to a Southern man, in which he never told me what he wanted, and worse, would say “That’s fine,” when it was anything but fine to him. I was supposed to “just know,” and even worse, “If you loved me…” So I’ve lived through some of what you have experienced, too.
    Your book is great! Will get a review out on it today. I do hope you keep writing, as you are gifted.

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  20. I am so happy that you self published and can now share your story with everyone! Wishing you phenomenal sales in the coming year. : – )

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  21. Great post Rachel! Whenever I’m feeling self doubts about writing, I always tell myself that publishers, media companies, etc. are all businesses that *need content* to survive…my content! Self publishing is very empowering and you never know where it could take you…look at the success of The Martian.

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  22. Congratulation on taking the leap and in so doing, taking care of yourself!

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  23. Your post speaks to the experiences of a lot of writers. The book world can do one in if you let it. I am very thankful there are venues that allow a way around the gatekeepers.

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  24. Hi Rachel. I’ve just placed my order for your book in physical form and am looking forward to reading it.

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  25. Awesome post! I experienced this in my own life, and now a heart condition and stroke have shown me that realistic expectations are a blessing. I’m, finally, free to be me at almost 67. It’s very healing and brings peace. Give Ellie and Cricket a hug and some chicken treats. God bless you!

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  26. Max has unreasonable expectations in respect to how many treats a small white dog should be given each day.

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  27. I started reading the other night – you’ve shown in this first novel what I’ve always known – DAMN, GIRL, YOU CAN WRITE THE INK RIGHT OFF THE PAGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This book is great! I don’t want it to end, because then what will I do? I am so proud of you!

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  28. Good that you published it. I’ll try to read it. Yes, people, like dogs have limited repertoires. With the dog it’s easy to adjust, because it’s clear to us what a dog wants or is interested in (which, aside from eating and sleeping isn’t too much). People have their wants and agendas, and you are not high priority most the time. Like a dog, most people are thinking about food – or thinking about themselves! So they don’t usually notice you or care anyhow, so you are pretty free to do what you like. You can sit in the sixth row at schul. You can express your views. And continue to write fine blogs and books!

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  29. At some level we ‘know’ that rejection by a traditional publisher is a business decision, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept.

    So glad you took the plunge to self-publish! I haven’t quite finished Yeshiva Girl yet because I multitask (plus read slow to savor) but the writing is wonderful. The narrative voice is effortless and authentic, and such a wealth of brilliant observations on Izzy’s part. Fish in a tank need earplugs to block the noise, David’s skates are “angry” at him – and so many others, page after page. Izzy is a fully-realized character who jumps off the page. Superb writing!

    Here’s hoping your second novel will be available soon.

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  30. Very insightful, you are going to make an amazing therapist…dogs included. I have been trying to think what to write about your book. It isn’t a comfortable read but I think it is important. And I wish teachers and parents would read it and get a deeper understanding of seemingly difficult behavior. I saw maturity as a writer developing as I got deeper into the story and I learned a lot about the orthodox Jewish faith, thank you for writing it.

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  31. Thank you for this post. My wife and I were raised by parents whose expectations showed their lack of understanding. We tried hard not to repeat those mistakes while raising our kids.

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  32. Congratulations! I’m ordering my book today. My dogs have also taught me plenty and I am so grateful. Thank you for all you share.

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  33. I’m a Traditional Healer, Palm Reader, Psychic and Spells Caster. With the help of my ancestry spiritual powers, I cast spells in a unique way to help most individuals with their problems.

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  34. Reading
    your book–very good writing so far!!

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  35. Congratulations on your novel

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  36. I’ve just left my review. I congratulate you on a job well done.

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  37. I love reading your posts Rachel! I think you are a very talented writer. Follow your dreams & don’t get discouraged xx

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  38. Rachel, I just finished reading the Kindle version of Yashiva Girl. You are a wonderful writer. I actually didn’t read the book–I have trouble with reading as a result of chemo and radiation, but I had Alexa read it to me. It took me several evenings, because I listen when I go to bed, but I couldn’t wait to start it each night. I was excited to see what was happening. It was a great, well-written story. I felt like I knew all of the characters–you made them real. My heart was actually racing when Izzy was running away to her grandfather’s house. I just left a review on Amazon for this wonderful book that gave me a glimpse into Jewish culture–something that I have always wanted to learn more about. Thank you for giving me a really good book to read. I hope you will write more!

    Reply

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