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Bird Blogger

 

I spend a good portion of time each week exploring blog posts on WordPress. I start by going through the sites I follow on my Reader, and then, if I have time, I check in with the posts in different categories, like dogs, birds, memoir, knitting, recipes, etc. Part of it is just simple outreach, looking for other bloggers who might be interested in what I’m writing too, but a lot of it is an endless curiosity about other people.

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“What about us?”

So when I came across a blog post that promised pictures of crafty handmade birds for the next thirty days, I decided to keep an eye on it. The blogger was sewing these elaborate stuffed birds, each with their own colorful personality, and I was charmed. After a while, out of the blue, I heard from the blogger herself, thanking me for my support and offering to make a bird just for me.

I was shocked! All I’d done was press like a few times, but her email reminded me that the small acts we do each day can have much bigger meaning in the world than we realize. I know that I have been impacted in big and small ways by the things other people have done, like smiling at me in the supermarket, or commenting on one of my blog posts, or posting a picture that breaks my heart or makes me laugh or just reminds me that I am not alone. We do these things every day, thinking we are such small actors in the world and it’s only meaningful to us, but I’m starting to realize that I can’t know what my impact on other people might be. And impacting even one person, even in a small way, feels wonderful!

My beautiful bird arrived last week and she has been acclimating to her new environment, and new housemates. Cricket and Ellie were fascinated by the look and smell (and taste) of her, so she flew back into her box for a little while until they calmed down. My bird’s creator is Susan Fae Haglund, by the way, and she’s on Instagram and WordPress and Etsy too, so please look out for her work.

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“Hello everybody!”

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Ellie is trying to say hello.

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Cricket really likes the new bird in the house.

When I first started this blog I thought it was something I was supposed to do, to build my “platform” as a writer, but it has become something I need to do for myself, to feel connected to people who matter to me. The majority of the book sales for Yeshiva Girl have come through the blog and I feel endlessly grateful for that. I want all of you to know that every blog I follow has made an impact on me, and made my world bigger and brighter than I could have hoped.

Thank you!

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The new bird is fitting in with the older guys.

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Even Lambie’s on board!

 

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?

 

 

Empathy

Cricket is not an empathy expert. She tends to see the world through a fog of her own needs, interpreting others’ characters by how quickly and thoroughly they respond to her demands. I kept trying to help her learn to see the rest of us more clearly. When she bit me with her sharp puppy teeth I would yell “ouch!” like the teacher told us to do, but Cricket would go on biting me. When I was upset, Cricket would hop right over to me, not to offer comfort, but to steal my tear-and-snot-filled tissues.

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“You don’t need this, right?”

It wasn’t until we adopted Butterfly, an eight-year-old puppy-mill-mama from the shelter, that Cricket started to get an inkling of what empathy might be. Butterfly was about Cricket’s size, and her species, and she peed outside (eventually) and barked, and ate kibble and chicken treats, but at first, Cricket saw all of these behaviors as a usurping of her role as “Only Dog” and resented her new sister. Butterfly persisted, though, offering up her butt for sniffing, listening to Cricket’s rants with wide-eyed wonder, peeing only where Cricket peed, deferring to her sister on every big and small issue of dogdom, until, eventually, Cricket had to admit that there was something to this sisterhood business. Because Butterfly is all empathy. She listens to Cricket’s complaints and either offers comfort, or takes up the barking along with her. When Cricket seems grumpy or sad, Butterfly sits nearby to offer solidarity and a fluffy butt to lean on.

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Butterfly’s butt seems to be very comforting.

I’m not saying that four years with Butterfly have made Cricket into the queen of empathy, in fact, she still has very little interest in what other people, or dogs, feel or think, especially if it’s different from her own view of things. But she has come to respect the power of empathy when it is directed at her. She accepts her sister’s solidarity and comfort, and will even allow a small rebuke of her own behavior, as long as it’s cushioned with endless adoration.

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Only Butterfly could get away with telling Cricket to tone down the barking.

Butterfly sends warmth my way too, and notices when I am struggling, especially physically, but whereas she can clearly relate to Cricket’s issues, as a fellow dog, she sees my problems as too human, and therefore hard to understand. I feel that way too, a lot of the time. I don’t know how to have empathy for myself. I tend to judge whether I deserve empathy based on whether I’ve received empathy from other people. So if I happen to be surrounded by people who can’t relate to me, or can’t see things from my perspective, or if everyone who cares about me is busy, or in a bad mood, I’m sunk.

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“I love you, Mommy, but I don’t understand.”

My real world has been short on empathy lately, but as a result, I’ve been taking more and more comfort in the virtual empathy of my fellow bloggers. Even when I feel overwhelmed with school work, or the horrible, horrible news, I make time to write an essay for the blog, just because, selfishly, I want to feel the warmth and kindness that radiates from all of you in return.

Cricket is very lucky to have a Butterfly at her side, always ready to offer sweetness and comfort, and I think everyone deserves to have a Butterfly of their own, to keep them company through the rough spots. You, dear readers, are my Butterfly.

Thank you.

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MSW

For the past few years, I’ve been taking psychology courses, to see if I liked them, and to work towards applying to a PhD or PsyD program in psychology. My therapist, an MSW, has spent a lot of her career being bossed around by people who had nothing like her level of experience and expertise, simply because they had doctorates, and she wanted better for me.

Sometime in the fall of 2014, though, it became clear to me that a doctoral program, of any kind, would not be possible right now. I would have to commit to full time coursework, plus field work, and my body just can’t take it, and neither can my mind. So then the question was, do I continue to float, taking more undergraduate psychology classes at the community college, or do I accept my current circumstances and apply to a social work program, most of which can be done part time, and after which I would be able to work in that field. (A Masters in psychology, at least in New York, wouldn’t qualify me for a job. This is a “social work state.”)

Cricket would prefer that I work towards a degree in Cricket Care. We could do three hours a day of training exercises, massage and physical therapy, plus an hour long walk at the beach. She’d be willing to give me a degree for that, or at least a certificate. I think Butterfly would rather we fostered dogs from the animal shelter, or set up a doggy hospital in the apartment, so that she could help nurse them back to health. The idea that I’ve chosen a course of study that doesn’t involve her, or make use of her talents, feels very selfish.

Cricket's exercise plan.

Cricket’s exercise plan.

Cricket’s walking plan.

Starting in December, after my last undergraduate psychology class ended, I put all of my energy into my application for graduate school in social work, including: writing my essay, asking for recommendations, and requesting transcripts from the different schools I’ve attended over the years. I kind of hoped I’d be rejected, though, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. The whole idea of preparing for any career that isn’t writing really bothers me. I know it’s the most practical option – since years of hard work have not yet led to becoming a published author, and because I have a deep interest in psychology and social issues. But, down to my core, I’m a writer. I’m a novelist and a memoirist. I write because I have to, and because I love it, and because it’s the most necessary thing in my life, next to breathing. Sometimes before breathing.

Butterfly understands. Sometimes ducky gets in the way of breathing too.

Butterfly understands. Sometimes ducky gets in the way of breathing too.

The program I chose accepted me for fall 2015, and it will take me four years to finish, instead of two, and the course work will be online, to leave me energy to do the field work in person. But I’m worried that the coursework will be boring, or even antagonizing, and bring on despair about the state of the world that even the puppies won’t be able to joy me out of. I’ve already started reading one of the textbooks and it is full of gobbeldy gook. Anything you could say in five words must be stretched out and twisted into fifty pages of verbiage. It’s a rule.

Maybe I should give my textbooks to Butterfly.

Maybe I should give my textbooks to Butterfly.

The girls are not readers, it’s just not their thing, and they see no value in collecting degrees, but they would love to spend more time each day learning and doing things. We have a new community garden at our co-op and four of the five plots haven’t been claimed yet. Cricket would love to have a plot of her own to work in. She’d probably end up planting chicken treats and chewy bones in her plot, but still, the digging would be very satisfying.

The social worker idea has grown on me over time, especially during the past three years at my synagogue, where, to a certain extent, social work is their religion, but I think both dogs have helped lead me here, too. Nine years of working with Cricket’s psychological issues has taught me tolerance and patience. She has taught me that even if someone will never be fully healed, you still do your best to help them live their best life. I would have wanted perfection for her, and Cricket has taught me that there is no such thing, or if there is, it’s really boring.

“Hi Mommy!”

But, but, but…I still don’t want to go. I want to write this blog, and walk my dogs, and revise my novels over and over again (okay, maybe not that last one). I want the life I promised myself, the life I recognize myself in. I’m afraid I will have to be a completely different person to succeed as a social worker, and I don’t want to be a completely different person. I kind of like who I am.

“We love you just the way you are, Mommy. Where are the treats?”