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Monthly Archives: June 2019

Going to sleepaway camp

 

Each summer, for five years in a row, starting when I was nine-years-old, I went away to a Jewish sleepaway camp for eight weeks. Me and Mom and my brother spent weeks ahead of time buying everything on the camp list: collapsible drinking cup, soap dish, seven pairs of shorts and shirts and underwear and so on, flashlight, bathing suits, flip flops, beach towel. And a trunk. We only had to buy those once, for the first summer, and then store them in the attic during the school year: a huge treasure chest-like box to fill with all of our stuff. Oh, and labels, everything we owned needed a name tag.

A few days after school ended for the year, in the last week of June, Mom drove me and my brother, and our trunks, to a nearby synagogue to catch the bus to camp. The bus ride itself was an orientation. First there was the sharp pain of watching Mommy stand in the parking lot, waving, as we drove further and further away. Then there were the bus songs – 99 bottles of beer on the wall, If I had a hammer, etc. We had counselors on our bus with us, to keep order and manage any traumas along the way, and I met my first new friend on the bus up to camp. She was blond and pretty and bossy, just like my best friend from home, and she started to talk to me right away and asked me to sit next to her on the bus. My brother proceeded to ignore me, almost entirely, as he would continue to do for the next eight weeks.

When we reached camp, we met up with our own counselors, and walked across campus to our bunks, while the maintenance men loaded our trunks and dropped them off on the porch of each bunk (after unloading each trunk we stowed them under the bunk for the summer). The counselors had to come out and meet each bus, and car, when their campers arrived, so back at the bunk we either had a junior counselor or our peers for company, which was not quite enough. I wasn’t really prepared to be away from my Mom, or to manage so many new relationships at once. The saving grace would be the daily schedule, there was almost always something we were supposed to be doing, just not on day one. We also had no TV and very few books, and this was long before smartphones, so socializing was our entertainment.

The blond girl from the bus turned out to be the most popular girl in our age group, and we were in the same bunk, so I was sort of initiated into the popular group right away. I had no idea what to make of that. They were sort of a girl posse, and one of the other new recruits was a nine-year-old outlaw, planning all kinds of trouble for the posse to get into. I was still me, though, and it became clear that I didn’t quite fit in with my new friends. I didn’t have the right clothes, or the attraction to danger, and I didn’t know how to flirt with boys. At first it was exhilarating to be with them, because finally I wasn’t the outcast, the way I was at school, and I wasn’t picked on (too badly). But then they started expecting me to be mean, to make fun of other girls and not just behind their backs, but to their faces.

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“Harrumph.”

I did it once, without realizing how awful it would feel until I was in it up to my knees. I was a good mimic (I still am, just ask Cricket), and they liked to have me play this and that character, like the male counselor with silly dance moves, or one of the boys who wiped his nose with the hem of his shirt, constantly. I loved the attention! I loved getting the laughs! And then they asked me to do an impression of one of the other girls who was sort of on the outs with the group at that moment. And I did it, because she had such obvious body language and her vocabulary was so specific and I could see the whole performance in my imagination without even trying. I felt like a super star, until I realized that she was suddenly there too, and instead of laughing with me, the other girls were sneering at her and using me as a weapon against her.

I stopped, but it was too late. I tried to apologize, but all that accomplished was getting me kicked out of the cool group; the other girl certainly didn’t forgive me.

I was alone for a few days, but then some new kids came for the second month (in the early years of camp we could choose to come for both months, first month, or second month), and I made some new friends. They were nicer and quieter and preferred playing jacks to getting into trouble. I got a few splinters because the floors of the bunks weren’t perfectly sanded, but there was something reassuring and satisfying about playing jacks. If you played fair and didn’t cheat and didn’t show off just because you were a better player, people stuck around.

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Friendship is a good thing.

I went to camp for four more years, but I was never put in the same bunk with the cool girls again, and they barely even looked at me, except for the blond girl from the bus. Every once in a while she’d look over at me with something like regret, but then she’d look back at her friends and shake it off and go back to her popular life.

And yet, I liked being at camp. I liked my less than popular friends. I liked always having something to do and someone to talk to. And if there was also loneliness and conflict and disappointment, well, I had that at home too, and at least at camp I felt normal. I had the same problems as everyone else: sunburn, sand in my shoes, friendship drama, cardboard pizza, too many chores, and homesickness. I think, if we could have had a bunk dog, and if my Mom could have visited every weekend, I’d have wanted to stay all year long.

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“I could be the camp dog!”

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, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes is true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain 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. The question is, what will Izzy find?

 

 

The Onset of Air Conditioner Season

 

The onset of air conditioner season, and allergy season, seemed to merge this year, at least, here on Long Island. I’m used to sneezing, and having itchy eyes, despite daily allergy medication, and I knew the heat would be a problem for me, because it’s a problem every year, but this year it all added up to more than the sum of its parts, as a kind of conflagration under my skin. The allergies were worse. The heat, even the tiniest bit of it, made it hard for me to breathe. And then there was the pain, in too many places at once. Still in my neck and left shoulder, still in my lower back, right hip, knees and ankles, but also in my right shoulder, right forearm, and breast bone, making it hard to move around much, or breathe deeply, or rest comfortably.

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“Huh, we’re pretty comfortable.”

 

At first I thought it was all caused by depression, that I was having a somatic response to the stress of the job search. There’s always been a disturbing fluidity between my physical and psychological symptoms, making it hard to identify what’s going on, or what kind of treatment might help. But I noticed that I felt significantly better later in the day, as the air cooled and the inflammation receded, somewhat.

The flare, if that’s what it was, lasted about two weeks, and then I woke up one morning and I was able to breathe, and exercise, and even shave my legs! The dogs barely noticed the changes in the weather, or in me, and they seemed to enjoy chasing all of the allergens drifting in the air that were knocking me out like baseballs to the head.

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“Yummy, yummy allergens!”

In the end, I went back to my normal level of disability, and was even able to focus enough to send a long essay to a few literary magazines. In the process of choosing where to send that piece, I looked through my list of submissions over the past few years, including the queries I sent to 78 agents, over a two year period, for a single novel. I didn’t realize how persistent I’d been in trying to get that novel out into the world. I thought I’d given up too easily. I keep thinking I’m giving up too soon, being too meek, and lazy, but it turns out that I haven’t been giving myself enough credit. The novel that was rejected by 78 agents is still sitting in my computer, waiting for the next revision, for which I already have substantial notes. And Yeshiva Girl, which spent a year or two looking for an agent, and then six years looking for a publisher, still found her way out into the world, because I persisted.

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“What, this tasty paper thing?”

 

The pain, fatigue, and depression are bad, sometimes, but they pass, and I manage to push myself back on track, every time. I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve never given up, and there’s no reason to start now, even if, for a little while, the best thing to do is just to rest next to my air conditioner, with some soft pillows, and feel whatever I feel.

The dogs don’t seem to mind the company.

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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, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes is true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain 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. The question is, what will Izzy find?

The Paw Paw Flowers

 

About twelve years ago, I bought a box of paw paws. I had to order them from Ohio, during the fruit’s very short season in September, and commit to eating most of them myself, because they were a bit too funny looking and odd smelling to share (believe me, I tried).

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Paw paws (this is not my picture)

Someone had told me about paw paws, waxed rhapsodic about their sweetness, made endless metaphors out of their shape and elusiveness and the speed with which they turn black and rot. I wanted to like these damned things, but at the same time I was angry at them, for being so much more interesting, to him, than I would ever be.

Of course it’s all about heartbreak. Why else would a fruit that barely has a season capture my imagination so thoroughly that I had to order a whole damned box of them from Ohio?

They arrived, wrapped individually in newspaper, because they are so fragile and easily bruised. Like me? Like him? The metaphor never ends. They are filled with a row of almond shaped seeds that you have to dig out or suck on to get the flesh that clings stubbornly to them. And the fruit has to be eaten with a spoon. You can’t peel it like an orange, or slice it like an apple, or bite straight into it like a strawberry. It’s work. And it’s messy. And it is sweet and custardy and sort of tastes like peaches and bananas and mangoes and vanilla have been tossed together into a blender.

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(Also not my picture)

I saved the seeds in the freezer, like the instructions in the box told me to do (because paw paw growers are by their very nature proselytizers), and then, sometime in late winter, when it wasn’t really warming up yet, I planted the seeds in big pots in the kitchen, and set them by the window sill, and watched. The pots needed protection from the lingering cold, so I wrapped them in scarves. And then, like the Talmudic sages said the angels do for every seed, I stood over the pots and whispered, “Grow, grow.”

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My dancing paw paws!

The seedlings were tall and full of personality and five or six of them even survived long enough to be planted outdoors once the weather was warm enough. We kept them in their pots at first, though, so that they could come back inside if they needed to.

Three, maybe four, survived the first year and grew into little trees. Three trees came with us when we moved here five years later. One suffered a horrible gardening accident, but two lived, and settled into their new surroundings and continued to grow. They got taller and taller, their trunks started to thicken, their leaves extended out like shiny green fans and then paled to yellow in the fall, and disappeared for the winter, and reappeared in the spring. They kept getting taller, and healthier, but there was no fruit yet, not even a flower.

We got impatient and ordered two new baby trees, because a New York State expert in paw paws said we needed to have at least two trees in close proximity in order for fertilization to occur, and the two we had were too far apart.

But the baby trees we bought were crushed in the shipping process and never really recovered, though we watched over them hopefully for a season. And then last summer, after the baby trees had given up completely, my two stalwart twelve year old trees, that have been with me since they were just almond shaped seeds buried in the dirt, flowered.

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The flowers were small, and a deep burgundy brown color. And pretty quickly the flowers dried up and flew away, and the leaves turned yellow again and the trees went to sleep again for another winter.

And this year, the flowers are bigger and brighter, and there are more of them, and they are filled with enough powdery, sticky pollen that we were able to transfer it from the flowers of one tree to the flowers of the other, by Q-tip.

I don’t know what will happen next. The trees aren’t especially muscular, and even if the fruit appears, the branches may not be up to holding the weight of it yet. But maybe soon. Maybe there will be paw paws in my backyard someday soon.

 

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Paw paw standing tall

Twelve years seems too long to wait for a piece of fruit, I know. But maybe the wait is the point. The patience, the slow growth. I mean, the metaphor works. The comparison to me, and turtle-slow growth is obvious. Maybe me and my paw paw trees will find our strength and come to fruition at the same time.

You never know.

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The girls are waiting.

 

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, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes is true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain 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. The question is, what will Izzy find?