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Those Pesky Expectations

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

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

ellie relaxed

Yes, Ellie, just like this.

 

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

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

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

019

“It’s hard work, Mommy.”

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

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

YG with Cricket

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