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Author Archives: rachelmankowitz

Johnny Weir and Dancing with the Stars

            I started watching Dancing with the Stars when Cricket was a puppy, as a way to unwind after her training classes every Monday night. Even after we gave up on the classes – Cricket hated being told what to do – we kept on watching the show and practicing our Waltz and Tango together. In our version of Dancing with the Stars, lifts were always allowed. Cricket thought we should allow biting and scratching as well, but even I have limits.

“Help me!!!!!”

            I’ve kept up with the show ever since, even though I’ve been annoyed by the voting for years, with beautiful dancers being voted off early in favor of crowd favorites without much dance ability. Honestly, I should have given up on the show a while back, but I still love the dancing, and I record each episode so I can fast forward through the silliest parts. When the change in hosts was announced over the summer I was ready to give up again, because you need a host with a sense of humor to puncture the pomp and melodrama of the show, and they went in the opposite direction, but after the entertainment-starved Covid summer, and the announcement that Johnny Weir would be on the show this year, I decided to give it another chance.

Johnny Weir (not my picture)

Johnny Weir is a classical balletic-style figure skater, one of the first openly gay figure skaters, after Rudy Galindo opened that door with a bang in his U.S. Nationals win in 1996. Figure skating, maybe because of its reputation as a feminine sport, has spent many years forcing its gay male skaters to stay closeted, but Johnny Weir, who won his first Nationals in 2004, was ready to be himself, no matter what. I was excited to see how he would handle the ballroom styles on Dancing with the Stars, but especially the partner dancing. And he didn’t disappoint. As the season progressed, I was more and more compelled by Johnny and his partner, Britt Stewart, and how they negotiated their male and female roles, using both their costumes and their choreography to push past the expected into something less familiar and more equal. They were often at the top of the leader board, based on the judges’ votes, but the audience votes kept putting them in danger.

            I never thought I would be this compelled by Johnny Weir. He was always a beautiful skater, but as a young man he could be catty and stinging in his comments about other skaters. And when he pushed boundaries on gender norms back then, he did it in a sort of obvious way, like the teenager and young adult he was at the time. I was always impressed with his courage and his talent, but not his maturity. In his interviews on Dancing with the Stars he explained some of the snarkiness as the result of being a young skater who was surrounded by adults critiquing how he expressed his sexuality in his skating, long before he knew that that’s what he was doing.

            He started to grow on me when he and Tara Lipinski began commentating together at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, as the second team on a faraway channel. I didn’t expect to like their commentary at all, honestly. Tara Lipinski had never been one of my favorite skaters (as a Michelle Kwan fan, I am still bitter about the way Tara-the-jumping-bean came in and won so easily). But Tara and Johnny were fun to listen to together. They were playful and honest, and much kinder than I’d expected them to be. Johnny, especially, was funny and insightful and more compassionate and vulnerable each year. Tara was still Tara, but I appreciated her enthusiasm and how well she responded to Johnny’s playfulness. At some point I decided that if Johnny Weir liked her there might be something there worth liking.

SOCHI, RUSSIA – FEBRUARY 14: Figure skating champions Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski comment for NBC the Figure Skating Men’s Free Skating on day seven of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Iceberg Skating Palace (Photo by John Berry/Getty Images)

            With Britt, on Dancing with the Stars, Johnny was exploring another male/female relationship, based on mutual respect and vulnerability, and quietly breaking stereotypes of what male/female relationships have to be in dance. But I guess the rest of the audience didn’t see things the same way. Johnny and Britt’s last performance in the semifinal was a jazz routine that, to me, seemed to be bursting with hope and strength and trust, but they were still voted off.

            I want to give the audience the benefit of the doubt. Maybe other dancers who made it to the finals had more intense fan bases. Or maybe the viewers preferred to watch the journey of someone with no dance experience, rather than someone coming from a similar field, like figure skating. But I’m afraid the reason Johnny Weir didn’t make it to the finals is simple homophobia, or more specifically, fear of the way he was attempting to widen the scope of what it means to be male. I wonder if people would have been more comfortable with him if he were a transgender woman, or if he had refused to identify with either gender. Instead, he was saying that there are more ways to be a man, and that there are more relationships worth exploring in dance than the heteronormative romantic partnership, and I think both of those things scared people. But, for me, there was something fascinating, and challenging, and full of potential in what Johnny and Britt were exploring together, and I wanted to see that continue. At the very least, I wanted to see their freestyle dance in the finals.

            I missed out on the chance to really see him grow as a professional skater, because by the time his generation retired from Olympic skating, the golden age of professional skating on TV was fading, and the shows that were still on TV were overproduced, with the same skaters in each show, doing programs with the same choreography just set to different music. But for years before that, there were shows and competitions for the professional skaters, where they could showcase their growth as performers, beyond the triple and quadruple jumps. I feel very lucky that I got to see skaters like Torvill and Dean, Scott Hamilton, Katya Gordeeva, Paul Wylie, Kurt Browning and so many others as they pushed skating into new directions. I wished for the same with Johnny Weir’s generation of skaters, but if they were building their artistry in their professional careers, it wasn’t being shown on American TV. Dancing with the Stars was a chance to see Johnny Weir perform as an adult, and I loved that his style challenged my idea of what’s possible and what’s beautiful.

I hope that Dancing with the Stars will learn from this season and find a way forward that honors both the hard work of the dancers and the range of emotion that comes up as they learn how to dance. They’ve created a valuable platform for exposing audiences to all kinds of non-traditional dancers of different sizes, ages, abilities and backgrounds. It’s a show that can be silly and over the top one minute and then deeply resonant the next, and it’s worth saving, but it really needs saving. More than that, though, I just want to see more of Johnny Weir’s dancing. Maybe someone will hear me and give him his own show: a series where he can train with different choreographers and build his style as a dancer, or a let’s-put-on-a-show-in-the-barn kind of show, or a return to the more varied and complex skating shows of the (recent) past. That would be a nice way to say good bye to the toxicity of 2020 and move into 2021 with more hope.

I also think there should be a Dancing with the Dogs spin off, but I’m probably the only one. Cricket and Ellie are skeptical.

“Don’t even think about it, Mommy.”

Just in case you didn’t get to see Johnny Weir on Dancing with the Stars: https://youtu.be/jTLtCj-Hcj4

Or during his Olympic eligible skating career: https://youtu.be/5FVrjUIcCuQ

            And, just because, here are some of the great performances from those professional skating shows:

            Torvill and Dean: https://youtu.be/4OWk5a0I1BA

Kurt Browning, Paul Wylie, and Scott Hamilton: https://youtu.be/QCapfwISfAU

Katya Gordeeva: https://youtu.be/QdkFS3R30-8

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

Thanksgiving

            Thanksgiving, my birthday, and Ellie’s birthday, all happen around the same time of year, and I’m not sure I’m ready for any of it. I’m not a huge fan of birthdays, especially my own (I keep getting older, even when I’m absolutely sure I pressed the pause button), but also, Ellie will be seven this year and I think that has to be wrong. I think we should count the age of rescue dogs from the date they were rescued, instead of from their actual birth dates. In that case, Ellie would be about two and a half years old, and that sounds much more accurate to me.

“I’m a puppy!”

            And then there’s Thanksgiving. While the idea of a holiday devoted to giving thanks for our good fortune is lovely, it’s hard to look past the origin of the holiday with the Pilgrims taking advantage of the indigenous population of America. As a kid I just drew hand-shaped turkeys and sat through drama-filled family dinners, blissfully unaware of the back story or even the gratitude theme of the holiday. But I’m not sure what to do with it now that I know more.

It’s hard to focus on gratitude when you are busy feeling guilty and ashamed of what your ancestors did to the ancestors of your friends. I much prefer the Jewish holiday of Passover, where we can focus with righteous indignation on the wrongs done to us instead of the wrongs we’ve done to others. Sometimes I try to separate myself out as a more recent immigrant to America (my ancestors started to arrive around the turn of the twentieth century), so maybe I don’t have to own the guilt of those earlier European immigrants to this land. But then I read something like Deborah Fineblum’s article, The attitude of gratitude: Jewish connections to share at the Thanksgiving table published on Jewishworldnews.org, and I find out that the Pilgrims actually modeled their autumn thanksgiving holiday after the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot, celebrated just a few weeks earlier, and I feel implicated all over again. The fact is, we are all related in one way or another, and we all come from the predators and the victims at some point in our histories.

So the question is, how can we focus on our gratitude for the good things in our lives, without ignoring the things we’ve done wrong, or things that have been done to hurt us? I’ve had to work hard on this one. I was deeply depressed for a large portion of my life, and found it insulting and simplistic when people tried to tell me to focus on my good fortune instead. They seemed to believe that if I could just whitewash my own history and ignore the pain, the way they were doing in their own lives, I would be happy. But it doesn’t work that way. In reality, telling people to smile when they are depressed, or angry, or sad, or frustrated, is DISRESPECTFUL, because you are not offering them kindness, you are bullying them into smiling in order to make you feel better. My smile has to be my choice, my willing gift to you, or else it’s meaningless.

“Harrumph.”

            So, again, given all of the pain of the past, and the pain of this year in particular, with the numbers of Covid deaths rising precipitously in the United States and around the world, is there any healthy way to celebrate Thanksgiving and express gratitude around a table (or a zoom), with our friends and families? Is it healing to talk about gratitude when we’re still hurting so much?

            My answer is: maybe; if we are careful and kind with each other. I wrote about Thank you, but blessings last year, as part of my first blessings writing workshop at my synagogue. The idea is that saying thank you by rote, because it’s what is expected of you, can be not only meaningless but also self-destructive, but if I can acknowledge both my gratitude and my pain, out loud, maybe I can actually feel the gratitude more fully.

            The number one Thank you, but blessing among my students this year was, Thank you God for knowing that I am still a good Jew even thought I eat bacon.

“Bacon!”

            Ellie’s favorite is, Thank you for giving me chicken, but I want more.

“Did you say chicken?”

            And mine: Thank you for my good fortune in having a Mom who loves and believes in me, and a job I love, but I wish I could have more energy, and more focus, so that I could lose weight, and finish two or three novels over winter break.

            I am grateful that Joe Biden won the election, but I wish that half the country didn’t have to feel so left out after each election. I wish we could all find a way to agree on the facts and then listen to each other’s experience of those facts with more compassion.

            I think that these Thank you, but blessings are a way that I can make gratitude possible, and meaningful, for myself. Because if I just said that I am grateful, it would feel hollow and even untrue, but within the context of the all of it, my gratitude is real and I can celebrate it.

            I hope that Thank you, but blessings are helpful to other people, but if nothing else works, I suggest skipping the turkey on Thanksgiving and going straight to the ice cream/chocolate cake/chocolate frosting part of the meal. That’s bound to make things better, at least for a little while.

“We have room for dessert, Mommy. Stretching helps.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

Ellie Goes to the Vet

            We put off Ellie’s yearly check-up with the Vet in July, hoping that the Covid restrictions would end soon enough that we wouldn’t have to drop Ellie off from the car window. But, alas, Covid has remained and we finally gave in and made an appointment with the Vet last month. As expected, I still had to hand my baby off to the Vet Tech through the open door of the car, with Cricket screaming in my ear, warning her sister to run for her life and/or bring back treats. The appointment went quickly, and we paid the bill, and had Ellie safely back in the car, when the Vet came to tell us that, oh by the way, Ellie would need a dental cleaning. She’d had one two years ago, soon after we’d first adopted her, and now, he said, it was time for a re-do.

“Run!”
“Why?”

            I nodded my head, closed the window, and took off my mask, trying not to think about it as Mom drove us home. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’ve heard too many horror stories about dogs dying from anesthesia during regular dental cleanings. But, bad teeth can lead to all kinds of medical issues that I didn’t want Ellie to have to deal with either, and the Vet was insistent that she needed this procedure.

            It took us another few weeks, but we finally made the appointment for Ellie’s dental cleaning and drove back to the Vet’s parking lot. When the Vet Tech came to pick Ellie up from the car, this time without Cricket nearby sending smoke signals, she had me sign a form that said I understood the risks of anesthesia. I had a much harder time letting Ellie go after that.

“Mommy?”

            Mom and I went food shopping right away, just to keep busy, but I still couldn’t block out the endless scenarios filling my brain, including complications from the anesthesia and lost teeth and then progressing to mixed up name tags and accidentally removed limbs. By the time we got home and put away the groceries, I was exhausted, but still too worried to sleep. Eventually, the Vet called to tell us that Ellie was fine, and would be ready for pick up in a few hours, but, by the way, they’d had a hard time getting the tube down her throat, because the scar tissue from her de-barking surgery had grown. It’s possible that Ellie’s attempts to bark along with her sister have been irritating her throat and exacerbating the scar tissue from the surgery done by her breeder long ago (which is unspeakable). That could also explain the proliferation of her snoring habit, which has become operatic of late. The Vet said not to worry about the scar tissue, which of course made me worry about the scar tissue more, but knowing that Ellie had survived this procedure was enough of a relief that I was able to sleep for a while, with only a few nightmares about Ellie losing her voice to an evil wizard.

“Did you say something?”

            We brought Cricket with us to pick up Ellie, because leaving her at home that morning had not gone over well, and as soon as Ellie was brought to the car she was placed on her grandma’s lap, blurry eyed from the drugs. We’d already paid, and the chat with the dental specialist went quickly, and I wanted to race out of there before one of the Vet Techs could decide that Ellie needed to go back inside for some reason, except, Cricket didn’t like the seating arrangements. Cricket believes that Grandma’s lap belongs to her, so she kept trying to push her confused sister off the lap. It took a while to convince Cricket that she could be just as comfortable owning another part of Grandma’s real estate (in this case, behind Grandma’s neck) for the short ride home.

“Stay away from my Grandma!”

            In the meantime, even in her drugged haze and with Cricket’s drama all around her, Ellie managed to find the chicken treats hidden deep in Grandma’s jacket pocket and gobble them down before anyone could stop her. We’d been warned that Ellie’s gut would be a little slow for the next day or so, and that she should eat only half as much as usual, but she clearly didn’t get that message. By the time we got home, Ellie was uninterested in eating her delayed breakfast (either the kibble or the wet stuff), and she was ready for a nap. Cricket generously ate the late breakfast for her, and then took a nap of her own.

Ellie did a lot of heavy raspy breathing for the next day or so, which kept me anxious, but pretty quickly she was back to running around the backyard, visiting with her squirrel friends, eating her meals, and showing off her pearly white teeth.

“Any more treats?”

            I can still feel the worry, though, as if every time she goes to sleep there’s a chance that her scar tissue will expand and start to choke her. It’s probably an unreasonable fear, and I will likely forget how harrowing the whole thing was, until next time.

For now, the next thing on our to-do list is to schedule Cricket’s yearly check-up. I’m not sure how that’s going to work, though. She may have to be sedated BEFORE we get to the Vet’s parking lot, because the prospect of handing Cricket through a car window, to an unsuspecting Vet Tech wearing only a fabric mask and plastic gloves, instead of full armor, does not bode well for any of us. I’m sure Cricket would vote to send Ellie in again in her stead, but the vaccinations and ear cleaning that Cricket needs can’t be done by proxy, and at thirteen and a half she really can’t be skipping her regular checkups, Covid or no Covid. It’s a good thing we have a month or so before she has to go in, though, because we really need to build up our strength for the ordeal.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

Be a Mensch

            This past week in the United States has been stressful, for everyone, and because my synagogue school students are part of that everyone, I wanted to focus on teaching a lesson that would reassure them, somewhat, that there are areas of their lives where they really do have some control. And, because I love teaching Yiddish words, the lesson for this week was: what does it mean to be a mensch?

Mensch is a Yiddish word, from German, meaning “human being,” or a person of integrity and honor. The opposite of a mensch is an unmensch, a person treating others cruelly and without compassion, as opposed to the word ubermensch (Nietzsche alert) which is usually translated as “the superman,” someone who is superior to other humans. The word Mensch has gathered a lot of associations in American culture (bearded, male, Jewish) but it really means a person who is striving to be good every day, and doing what is right, even when it’s hard. We already have Yiddish words for the most righteous among us (a Tzaddik), or the smartest (a Chacham or a Maven) or the most powerful (a Macher). But being a mensch isn’t about being the best or the most, it’s about being human.

“I’ll take Maven and Macher.”

            There’s something wonderful about a compliment that can be given to everyone, instead of just to an elite few. Someone with a physical or intellectual disability has just as good a chance of being a mensch as someone who is born privileged in every way, because it’s not about your talents or your circumstances or your luck, it’s about how you choose to navigate the world you happen to live in. Oh, and mensch is not a gendered word, and it’s not limited to Jewish people, so it really can apply to anyone.

“Can I be a Mensch?

            We are so often looking for ways to be better than others, or to be the best, or to earn our place, and it’s exhausting, but the opportunity to be a mensch is always there, and there’s always something you can do that will fit you and your skills and interests.

            You can still have your foibles and be a mensch. You can fail a test, or lose your job, or struggle with substance abuse, or struggle to finish a Sunday crossword puzzle and still be a mensch. What you can’t do, is intentionally cause harm to other people. You can’t be a liar, or a bully, or be arrogant, or prejudiced and still be a mensch.

“I always tell the truth, whether you like it or not.”

            I’m a big fan of menschlichkeit, or mensch-iness. It’s like a pass fail course, where as long as you do the work, you’re golden. And we need things like that in a world that is so driven by competition and achievement and striving to be in the top one percent of everything.

            Being a mensch is about valuing other human beings for themselves, instead of for what they can do for you. And this, more than anything, is what I want to encourage in my students. Yes, I will be thrilled for them when they learn to write Hebrew words, or lead the prayers at their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. I will cheer them on when they swim or dance or act in a school play, and I will celebrate with them when they get into the college of their dreams, or find a cure for a rare disease, or create calorie-free chocolate frosting that tastes like the real thing (!). But all of that is secondary to how proud I am of them, right now, when they notice that a fellow student is struggling and needs help, or when they realize that they’ve hurt someone’s feelings and they are willing to take the risk of offering an apology that may not be accepted. Each time they re-learn the lesson that it’s more important to be good than to be great, I puff up with happiness, because that’s what’s going to get them through their lives; not being the best at anything, but being a mensch through everything.

            It can be hard, when we are thinking in such enormous terms as national politics and life and death, to remember that our real lives, and our real impact, comes locally – in our towns, communities, schools, and families.

            May we all make it through this election, and the pandemic, with our appreciation for mensch-iness intact.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

Hope For Tomorrow

            The weather is finally getting colder, and despite the rising Covid 19 rates around the United States, things in my little world are inching closer to normal. We’re still living most of our lives masked and/or on Zoom, but we have plenty of toilet paper, and imported television shows from Canada, and the library is open for browsing again.

Except, people are still dying. 230,000 is the current estimate, but it grows every day. We’re so used to Covid that the numbers of dead barely make it into the headlines anymore.

The autumn Hallmark movies have already given way to the Christmas movies, and even though I could have used a few more weeks of fall festivals and leaf peepers and corn mazes, I’m still happy to cozy up with the dogs and watch all of the happy endings unspool. Given the temperature of the world right now, with political debates and health debates and tension and drama from every direction, I find great relief in spending a few hours embraced by a pool of kindness, generosity and love. All I would add is some chocolate fudge ice cream, with whipped cream, and peanut butter sauce, and then it would be perfect.

“Did you say chocolate?”

The schools in my area have been reporting more Covid cases recently, so synagogue school may have to transition from hybrid to fully online any day now, but at least I’ve had almost two months with my students in person, getting to know them and build relationships. The kids are doing their best to squeeze some normalcy out of their current abnormal: planning Halloween costumes, hoarding jelly beans, running and playing and making a lot of noise whenever possible. They make me believe that everything might be okay, someday.

“Did you say Jelly Beans?”

Other than missing the chance to see the kids in person, though, the possibility of renewed restrictions doesn’t really interrupt my life. I’m not a trick or treater (I prefer to choose my own candy, thank you very much), and Thanksgiving isn’t a big deal in my family, and I get at least two months’ worth of Christmas spirit through my TV, so that won’t be any different for me this year either. The fact is, other than the masks and the Zooms, I don’t feel especially inconvenienced by Covid anymore, which, in itself, is horrifying. How did we get used to all of this death so easily? Why is it so easy to adapt to the worst news?

I’ve never gotten used to Donald Trump, though, maybe because he is always creating chaos, uprooting us from our placid acceptance of the current evil to force us to face a new and crazier evil.

I’m ready for the election to be over, and I’d like to believe that Joe Biden will win, but I’m afraid that the damage will linger long after the cause of the damage has left the building.

In the meantime, Cricket has been helping me collect leaves for Mom’s craft projects, nosing her way past the green ones and focusing on the reds, and browns, and yellows, with sharp edges and mysterious wormholes. She likes the leaves that have been sniffed, pawed at, stepped on, and yes, probably peed on too, because those are the ones with the richest stories to tell.

The Leaf Sniffer at work.

Mom is deep into her craft projects, melding her photography and quilting and weaving and painting and eco printing, into all new works of art. And I’m jealous. I haven’t had the patience to make anything lately – no knitting, not much baking or cooking – I haven’t even done much cutting or gluing, since I can’t hang things on the walls of my temporary classroom in the social hall. It takes energy and focus to create new things and lately when I’m not teaching or writing, I’m watching TV or sleeping.

But there’s something about the impermanence of the autumn leaves that makes me want to collect them and make them into something, or just to keep them between the pages of books, or in photos, or in my memory. It’s the same with my students. I keep wanting to freeze certain scenes in my memory, so that I’ll remember how wonderful these moments have been, despite everything else.

“I can fly!”

I would like to say that I am hopeful about the future, and that I can picture a world that is freer from meanness, and full of healing and compassion and the right kind of compromise, where the best of each of us is respected and encouraged to grow. But I’m not quite as optimistic as all that. Instead, I’ve been trying to hold on to the hope that tomorrow, or the next day, or the next, will give me the chance to watch something good on TV, or listen to a podcast that makes me feel better about the world, or watch my students run around in circles and scream and play, whether I see them in person or on Zoom.

Tomorrow has to be better than today, right?

“Are you sure?”
“I don’t think she’s sure.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

Antisemitism

            I don’t want to write about antisemitism. I don’t even want to think about it. I have been lucky to live in the United States, and in New York, and especially on Long Island, because for most of my life anti-Semitism was a vague noise in the background, or a lesson from history, instead of an everyday reality for me. Even in High School, when I knew that my Jewish school was receiving bomb threats, I still didn’t take it in as a real danger. I was comfortable being an American Jew. It seemed normal, just like being a Catholic or a Methodist, or nothing. If anything, I experienced more conflicts within the Jewish community, especially between liberal and Orthodox Jews, than without. I knew I was part of a religious minority, but it didn’t seem to matter. Yet.

“Uh oh. That sounds like foreshadowing.”

            I’d heard about the blood libels in previous centuries, when Jewish people were accused of killing Christian babies in order to use their blood to make matzah. Setting aside the obviously unbelievable claim that Jews were killing babies for ANY reason, it’s important to know why this accusation would actually make religious Jews laugh. Jews who keep kosher salt their meat (this is where the name Kosher Salt comes from) in order to remove as much blood as possible before cooking, because blood isn’t kosher. And matzah, which is eaten at Passover, is made under very strict conditions, using only flour and water, under rigid time limits, so that the idea that anyone would add anything to the matzah, let alone human blood, is unthinkable.

“Matzah is boring.”

            But I remember, after 9/11, when an outspoken minority of people blamed Israel for the attacks on the World Trade Center, either with wild conspiracy theories about Mossad agents disguising themselves as Muslim Terrorists, or arguments saying that if Israel had never existed then terrorists would never have targeted the United States. The rhetoric made me anxious, but I didn’t see many people taking them seriously. And the extreme backlash against anyone who looked like they could be from the Middle East, or who seemed to be practicing Islam, was much more of an issue. It seemed wrong to focus on some anti-Semitic theories, when there was anti-Muslim violence going on all around me.

            Maybe things started to change with the onset of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement, an umbrella movement that included groups that were specifically protesting the presence of Jewish settlers in the occupied territories, and groups that believed Israel had no right to exist, the Holocaust never happened, and Jews should be pushed into the sea. As the BDS movement became more popular on college campuses, I heard more stories about Jewish college kids facing demonstrations against Israel on campus that supposedly focused on anti-Zionism as separate from anti-Semitism. The problem with that argument is that Zionism started as a movement to save Jews from life threatening situations in Europe, especially in Russia, in the 19th century, and grew in intensity after six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, just for being Jews. If the criticism had focused on the policies of the current government of Israel, without bleeding into a criticism of the existence of Israel, I could understand; just like you can be a patriotic American, or a friend of the United States, and disagree with the policies of the Trump administration. But anti-Zionism, if it means antagonism to the existence of the state of Israel, and unwillingness to recognize what led to the creation of the state by the United Nations, IS anti-Semitism.

None of this is to say that the Palestinians have been treated well, by the British, or the Jordanians, or the Egyptians, or the Israeli government; damage has been done and continues to be done. But if activists refuse to look at the causes of the complicated and painful current reality in the Middle East, and instead decide that everything is the fault of the Jews, for being there in the first place, then they are falling into old tropes that lead us all back into the darkness. When voices at the edges started to say, out of anger or ignorance, that the word Zionist was comparable to the word Nazi, they crossed a line that is hard to ignore, or forgive.

“Grr.”

But, even with all of that rhetoric, I still felt safe at home, in America. And then, neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups grew in strength, and terrorist attacks took place in Europe, and then white supremacists carried their tiki torches in Charlottesville, to protest the removal of confederate statues (that shouldn’t have even been there in the first place), and they yelled, “Jews will not replace us.” Wait, what? What do Jews have to do with this?

            And then I started to hear about swastikas on bathroom walls, in Long Island schools, and then synagogues in the United States were attacked. But… so were mosques and churches and schools and movie theaters, and the news people said that it was terrorism in general, not anti-Semitism in particular, no matter what the shooters, or the internet trolls, were saying. I wasn’t sure what to think, or how to feel. I had never directly experienced antisemitism. Microaggressions, sure. Lack of knowledge, or insensitivity about Jewish issues, or lack of historical memory, sure, but nothing like what I’d heard from older Jews, about how it used to be, even in America, when Jews were excluded from professions and schools and towns and clubs just for being Jewish, before and after the Holocaust took six million Jewish lives.

But still, I thought, I’m an American. Three out of four of my grandparents were born in the United States. That should make me safe.

“Safe, American Cricket.”

And then, a few weeks ago, for the first time, someone left anti-Semitic comments on my blog. I couldn’t read those comments from a distance, as if it were news that had nothing to do with me, because it was on MY blog, and it was directed at me. Reading those comments, three by the same author, highlighted for me the fact that I had never been targeted like that before, not on my blog, and not in person, ever. I was always more worried that I would alienate readers by writing about Jewish stuff on my blog because it would be too niche, or boring, than I was worried about facing antisemitism. I was able to remove the comments from my blog easily, and there has been no recurrence, but, I couldn’t forget about them.

            I still feel safe, or as safe as I am capable of feeling. But, anti-Semitism is real to me now in a way it wasn’t before. And the lessons of the Holocaust (be wary of hatred and targeting of people because of their race, religion, sexuality, gender, disabilities, or ethnic group) are more prominent again, for everyone.

It is so easy to blame someone, some group, some minority that you don’t identify with, when things start to fall apart. It’s so easy to project your own self-loathing and guilt and fears onto someone else who is not you, when you feel overwhelmed and hopeless. And it is shockingly easy for a leader in trouble, or seeking more power, to target vulnerable groups and aim societal anger and fear like a firehose in order to gain even more power.

I didn’t realize how easy it was to create baseless hatred, honestly. But now I do. And that really does scare the crap out of me. Because it could all happen again.

“Uh oh.”
“Don’t worry, Mommy. I only hate people who deserve it.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

Hebrew Through Movement

            This year at the synagogue school we are trying out a new way of teaching Hebrew, called Hebrew Through Movement (HTM). The idea behind HTM, and James J. Asher’s Total Physical Response before it, is to try to follow the process by which infants acquire their first language. The examples Asher gives are: parents will say “take the bottle” and then put the bottle in the baby’s hand, or they’ll say “wave bye bye” and then model how to wave a hand. The child then responds physically, rather than verbally, with a long silent period before words are spoken out loud.

I watched a ton of videos on how to teach Hebrew through Movement, and I read the background articles exploring the whys and wherefores, and I studied the official curriculum multiple times to create my lesson plans, but I still wasn’t sure if it would work in real life. I even tried to practice with the dogs ahead of time, but they were not especially enthusiastic. Cricket resented having to follow any command at all, and Ellie was constantly in a distracted (squirrel!) frame of mind, and I was worried that their reactions were a harbinger of things to come.

“Who me?”

            So, I was nervous on the first day of synagogue school, when I would have to try out HTM on actual children. I modeled stand up and sit down, while saying the commands in Hebrew, and then I asked for volunteers to try the actions with me, but no one raised a hand. I took a deep breath and smiled and asked one of my teenage teacher’s aides to do the actions with me instead, so the kids could see someone else following along and not falling on her face. The kids started to follow along, anxiously. Part of the problem was the mask muffling my voice, and part was that we’re in a social hall instead of a classroom this year to allow for social distancing, which also creates an echo, but most of the issue was stage fright with their new teacher. Me.

            One girl in the back of the room told me straight out that she wouldn’t be participating, and I told her that was fine, because I always accept No as an answer. I want synagogue school to be fun, but more importantly, since we don’t have tests or homework or grades, I don’t really have the leverage to convince someone to participate if they don’t want to, and I refuse to yell or shame someone into going along.

            Gradually, I added the commands for walk, and stop, and the kids decided that stop meant stop exactly where you are, even if one foot is up in the air and you are about to fall over. When the giggling started I knew we were onto something. Within a few more minutes everyone was participating, including the girl in the back who definitely didn’t want to participate, and it had become a game, and fun!

            When we went outside for a mask break a while later, we did another session of Hebrew through Movement, adding the commands for run and spin to our repertoire. We added balletic arms to our spins, and funny faces to our walks, and each time I said the Hebrew word for run the kids acted like they’d been shot out of a cannon.

“Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!”

            The only downside was that, with all of the standing and sitting and walking and stopping and running and spinning, my body started to rebel and I got very close to throwing up a few times, despite filling my thermos with gingerale before I left home. When I finally left the building for the day, I felt like I’d been run over by a truck.

            But still, it was so much fun!

            By week three I was getting into trouble for the noise level, because the kids really like to shriek while they are running, and then they fall on the floor and giggle hysterically, but it’s such a joy to see them having fun that I’m reluctant to tell them to keep the noise down.

            When I realized that my remote students were having trouble participating (even for our in-person day we still have some kids who zoom into class), I planned some doll-participation exercises, and suddenly stuffed animals were launching into the air, spinning themselves dizzy. I don’t think the kids even noticed that they were learning Hebrew, because they were so busy putting face masks on their Sloths and Teddy Bears and action figures, and racing around their bedrooms.

“I didn’t do anything.”

            Eventually we’ll move on to more complex sentences, like, walk slowly to the door, or run to the window and touch your head, or point at the Rabbi, laugh, bark, and run away, but for now we’re still on simple commands.

            I would love to invest in cushioned Hazmat suits, with helmets, for the in-person students, or better yet, full bubble wrap for each kid, and sound proofing for the walls so we can make as much noise as we want, but that’s a little bit beyond our budget, and some of the parents might object. Party poopers.

“Harrumph.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

Ushpizin

            I know, it sounds like I just sneezed on you, but Ushpizin is an Aramaic word that means “guests.” It refers to a Jewish custom, during the holiday of Sukkot (which we are in now), where we are supposed to not just build a temporary hut/booth outdoors and invite real guests to eat with us, but also invite our ancestors. I knew about the idea of inviting friends to eat in the sukkah, and about our patriarch Abraham’s penchant for inviting dusty strangers into his tent, but I didn’t know about the Ushpizin ceremony until recently.

“Did you say Pee?”

            According to tradition, each night a different exalted guest enters the sukkah, and each of the ushpizin has a unique lesson to teach us based on the Sefirot. The Sefirot, translated as attributes, emanations, or illuminations of God’s infinite light, are seen as the channels through which the Divine creative life force is revealed to humankind (according to Kabbalah). The traditional Ushpizin are meant to represent the “seven shepherds of Israel”: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. Some streams of Judaism also recognize a set of seven female shepherds of Israel, called Ushpizot (using the Modern Hebrew feminine pluralization), or Ushpizata (in reconstructed Aramaic).

            The custom of Ushpizin was established by the Kabbalists in the sixteenth century, and while there’s something a little bit woo-woo about the inviting-dead-people-to-eat-with-you thing, there’s also something comforting about it. It reminds me of how the past Jedi masters returned to support new Jedis in the Star Wars movies, and how Harry Potter got to see his parents, and Dumbledore, when he really needed their support, even though they were gone.

            Especially now, when we can’t really invite our friends and neighbors to eat with us, there’s something magical about being able to invite our ancestors to sit with us instead. But, of course, I would prefer to come up with my own list of guests, instead of being stuck with the biblical characters each night.

            For Day One the divine characteristic is Chesed, usually translated as loving kindness, but generally meaning generosity, compassion, and maybe something like the unconditional love of grandparents. The examples in the Reconstructionist prayer book are Abraham and Sarah, but I would choose my grandfather, for his humor and his good conversation, and most of all for how clearly he loved us. I’d invite him every night, if he would come.

“Can I come too?”

            For Day two, the quality is Gevurah, meaning strength, discipline, and adherence to the law. The examples given are Isaac and Rebecca for some reason, but I think I’d invite Ruth Bader Ginsburg for day two.

            For day three the divine quality is Tiferet, or beauty, harmony, and the ability to see the whole picture. The examples given are Jacob and Leah, which makes no sense to me. Neither of them was known for their beauty, as far as I remember. And Jacob stole his brother’s birthright, while Leah stole her sister’s husband, so, not especially harmonious either. I’d like to pick an artist for day three, but I don’t know which one to choose.

“Oooh! Pick me! Pick me!”

For day fourthe characteristic isNetzach, meaning patience, endurance, persistence, and the willingness to demand justice, even from God. The examples given are Moses and Chanah, and though we all know about Moses persisting in his fight to convince Pharaoh to free the Israelites from bondage, Chanah, or Hannah, is more obscure. She is one of the many women in the bible who struggles with infertility (which was a serious affliction in a society where women were only seen as valuable if they could provide children), and she prays to God to give her a son, promising to dedicate his life to the service of God. She ends up becoming the mother of the prophet Samuel (in the first book of Samuel), and when she hands him over to the high priest she is rewarded with the ability to give birth to five more children. So both Moses and Chanah are good examples of persistence, and worthy of attention, but really, I’d rather have a second visit with Ruth Bader Ginsburg for Netzach, to give me some insight into what it took to fight for women’s rights to be considered valuable whether they were wives and mothers or not. Really, someday, I’d like to be someone else’s idea of Netzach myself.  

For day five the characteristic to celebrate is Hod, or holiness with humility, someone who is powerful but not always announcing her strength. The examples given are Aaron and Miriam, and I think I would like to spend some time with Miriam, if only to get to know her better. She doesn’t get much air time in the Torah.

For day six the divine quality is Tzedek, meaning righteousness and self-sacrifice, and the examples given are Joseph and Esther, though each of them actually received quite a lot of earthly riches for their sacrifices. An alternative for day six is Yesod, meaning “foundation,” with a focus on investing in the foundations of our world and creating connections between people. And that sounds like a parent to me. Like my Mom.

Cricket’s home base – Grandma’s lap.

For day seven, the final divine characteristic is Malchut: sovereignty, leadership and sensitivity to the needs of others. The examples are David and Rachel, and David actually makes sense for kingship, though his sensitivity to the needs of others is questionable. I’d like to meet a leader, or a president, who could lead with sensitivity and compassion for her people. Someone who could give me hope for the future.

There is a lovely idea in the Talmud that all Jews should sit in one sukkah together, living together under a shelter of peace, even if we live across the world from each other, or have different beliefs and different life circumstances. I’d like to think we can expand this concept to all of humanity; that we should act as if we all live under the same roof, because, really, we do.

            There’s a line in the Ushpizin ceremony in the Reconstructionist prayer book that really works for me: May this sukkah, vulnerable to sun and wind and rain, teach us that real peace comes not from an external structure, but from the strength of the community that gathers within.

            May we all feel that strength, within us and between us, even as we live in our own vulnerable bodies, minds, homes, and countries.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?

Alumni Day

            I graduated with my MFA in fiction thirteen years ago, and I’ve never been to any of the Alumni events held by the school. First of all, it’s too expensive to fly to North Carolina and stay in a hotel and pay tuition. Second, I’ve been busy with other things for the past few years: taking psychology classes, then working on my MSW, and now teaching. But, to be honest, even if I could have made the time, or afforded the trip, I was too scared to go. I didn’t want to face people who had made more of their writing careers, or their teaching careers, or their editing and publishing careers than I had. I can barely keep my ego ticking as it is, and I was afraid that going back into that environment with so little to show for myself might crush me.

“You’re so melodramatic.”

            This year, because of Covid, the alumni programming was planned for Zoom, or something like Zoom. It would just be for one day, and free, and easy to get to, but I was still reluctant to go. I was afraid that I wouldn’t know that many people, and I was afraid that I would see people I did know, and didn’t really want to see again, but most of all, I was afraid that I would fall into a shame spiral, comparing myself to other people and how brave they are, and how persistent they’ve been, and how confident they are about their right to be heard. I was also afraid that the intellectual snobbery thing – we write literary fiction – would leak all over me and make me feel shitty, and my ego strength would return to where it was when I was in that school, and I would fall off an emotional cliff.

Given all of that, it was hard to understand why I was even considering going to this thing. It felt like some perverse way of testing myself, to see if I’ve changed in the past fifteen years. But I also felt guilty for not pushing myself to go to any of the previous years’ events, and missing out on the possibility that someone or something at one of those reunions could have helped me build my writing career. I don’t think I’ve ever really healed from the writing workshops in graduate school: the jealousy, the demeaning quality of the criticism, the conformity of the standards, the daily reality that everything is a competition for scarce resources… That’s why when I run writing workshops now, I try hard to make them therapeutic and welcoming and non-competitive, because my own experiences in writing workshops were so much the opposite.

            But then there was the boy. I think of him as a boy because we were both so immature when we met in graduate school. He’s off on his own track now, married with kids and a good job, and I’m still me. I wanted to see him, but only if he was going to smile at me and be happy to see me; I didn’t want to see him if he was going to pity me, or look down on me. And I didn’t even know if he would be there.

            Maybe most of all, I wanted to see if this one day return to graduate school could help me restart my confidence around trying to get published. I’ve been steely-eyed about making sure I get a blog post written each week, no matter what other responsibilities come up, but I haven’t been as strong-willed in the past few years about working on and sending out my other writing projects.

            It’s just so freaking hard to ignore the rejections.

“I accept you, Mommy!”

            I finally filled out the registration form for the Alumni event, thinking I could still decide not to go at the last minute. I chose a few sessions to go to, and gave myself permission to leave sessions early, or go to more of them, depending on how things went.

            I woke up early on Alumni day, well, earlier than I wanted to, and went to my first event in the living room. The timing of the first session was lucky, because I had my regular phone call with my therapist scheduled for right afterwards. That safety net was reassuring. I flipped through multiple screens looking for faces I might recognize, and then I checked the participants list. I saw a few familiar names from the school Facebook group, but not many from my time in the program, so I took a break for a few minutes, paced the floor, watched some terrible news, and then went back to the computer for a reading by one of the graduates from my time who’d been more successful than me. And I survived. The therapy break right afterwards was a relief, though, and then there was a writing workshop that felt more like a literature class, which is not my thing, and then I slept through a panel I’d wanted to go to, on book promotion, because I was exhausted from all of the zooming by then.

“Can I go back to sleep?”

            To make up for missing the Book Promotion panel, I forced myself to go to the first few minutes of the final event, an Open Mic, despite not having it on my to-do list ahead of time. I actually tried to stay for a while and support my fellow alumni but I couldn’t seem to sit still anymore, and I wanted to start writing this blog post, because I couldn’t really be sure what the day had meant to me until I could look at it in squiggles on the page.

             I was disappointed not to see the boy; maybe he’d gone to one of the sessions I’d skipped, or maybe he was too busy, or maybe he was just as afraid of returning to graduate school as I was, or maybe he was afraid of seeing me. And I was disappointed that I didn’t recognize many of the other alumni on the screen, and that my impulse to send out my work was still in snooze mode. I was disappointed that Alumni day hadn’t turned out to be a great step forward in my life, or a chance to confront deep dark old wounds, or get a great idea for a new book, but, the good news was that I didn’t fall into a shame spiral either. I’d given it a try, and then I’d listened to my discomfort and my own point of view, and I let myself shrug it off. That wouldn’t have been possible fifteen years ago, or ten, or even five. I was able to hear the old thoughts pass through my mind – you’re not trying hard enough to fit in, you’re not the right kind of writer, you don’t deserve success because you don’t know how to give people what they want – and I picked up each old thought like a Daddy Long Legs in the bathtub and I set it aside. And that was it.

            It was an anticlimactic experience, but, in its way, it was a significant step forward for me. I said yes to something that scared me, I gave it a try, and then when it didn’t work out, I was able to just let it go. And then I took the dogs out for a walk, wrote the first draft of this blog post, and watched a Hallmark movie, or two. Not such a bad day after all.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?         

Self-Storage

            I’ve been fascinated by the term “Self-Storage” for a long time. I would see the signs on the side of the highway as we drove to visit my brother’s family, and I’d wonder, why not just call it “storage?” “Self-storage” sounds so ominous, as if you are being asked to store your soul in a box.

“Huh?”

So, of course, I’ve been trying for years to plan out a science fiction story about a society where it’s possible to store your “self,” or parts of yourself, for varying periods of time. Maybe if you wanted to do a task that was disgusting to you, or that seemed immoral, you could store the moral part of yourself temporarily. Or if you were grieving and the pain was preventing you from moving forward with your life, you could store your emotional self for a few years, until you could get your life back on track.

            I picture self-storage as something that would be available mostly to people with money. For a smaller fee, maybe, you could remove single strands of thought, like the strands of memory Dumbledore kept in vials and revisited in his pensieve in the Harry Potter books. But those single thoughts would degrade more quickly and be lost more easily.

            And then there would be the danger of putting too much of yourself in storage at one time, and becoming someone so completely different that you couldn’t figure out how to return to yourself, or wouldn’t want to.

            And what would happen if you couldn’t pay your storage fees? Would your parts be sold to the highest bidder? Or destroyed?

“Don’t try it.”

            I think people might want to use self-storage to get through something grueling, like medical school or a prison term. Or after experiencing a traumatic event, like rape, or a natural disaster, like a flood or a bad presidency.

“Hmm.”

            Some self-storage places might offer therapy for the reintegration process, but of course that would only be affordable for the premium customers, and there would be a range of prices and qualities of storage available, depending on how much money you could spend. Maybe the cheaper places would use less effective drugs for the processes of removal and reinsertion of the self, or harsher chemicals for the storage of the self, which would make the self degrade more quickly. Some places would have expert self-removers who could do it safely and cleanly and without excess pain, and others would just use a rusty nail, or the equivalent, and leave you to manage the pain on your own.

“A rusty nail?!!!”

            The dangers would be many, of course, and you’d have to buy self-removal insurance, in case the technology went wrong or a clerical worker lost your “self” or confused it with someone else’s. There could also be side effects, though I don’t know what they would be.

“That doesn’t sound good.”

            The self-storage story would, of course, be an allegory for the damage we do to our personalities when we try to deny our memories, or our feelings, and do things that we don’t really want to do. Whether we use alcohol or drugs, or dissociation, or workaholism, or denial, or all of these things at once, our often well-meant attempts to separate ourselves from pain have unwanted side effects that can become life altering. But we are still, endlessly, drawn to these behaviors, because without them our pain often makes life unlivable.

            I think of the self-storage idea around the Holocaust, both because of the human experimentation the Nazis did on their victims, and because of the ways regular Germans, and so many others, were able to ignore the horror of the concentration camps, and all of the events that led up to the final solution, because they were told to think of Jews, gay people, Gypsies, and the disabled as not truly human. I also think about how the Holocaust survivors had to make it through life after the camps, forced to compartmentalize in order to function in the “normal” world. So many people had to squash their memories, of the horror, and of their lives before the horror, just to survive.

            I think of Butterfly, my rescue dog who survived eight years as a puppy mill mama and lived with the resulting medical and psychological wounds for her 4 ¾ years with us until she died. She blossomed and found joy and learned how to live as a real dog, but some parts of her were forever in hiding, unable to heal.

My Butterfly

Humans have a hard time accepting the reality of wounds that deep, and are forever looking for ways to remove the memories, and deny the pain, and to pretend life is universally good. But that need for easy answers takes a toll on us, and on society at large. If you put yourself, or your soul, in storage for too long, can you ever get it back?

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. 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 teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy 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?