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How do I grow from here?

            I was growing before. I could feel it. My trunk was growing more stable and my branches were starting to leaf, even to flower. But I hit a wall this year, with the extra weight of Covid, and hybrid teaching, and maybe trying to move forward too quickly.

“I’m a blur!”

            I keep watching Hallmark movies, hoping that the gumption and confidence of the heroines will rub off on me. I want to be the kind of person who sees a problem and relishes the chance to solve it; I want to be the kind of person who can embrace change, and persist despite rejection, and believe in my vision of the future and fight for it; but I’m not.

            It’s been a relief, during Covid, to have an excuse not to move faster towards my goals, because my inner clock runs very slowly compared to the normal world. Covid time is much more my speed.

            I know I need to branch out in new directions, but I don’t feel safe out on those shaky limbs. I’ve struggled to decide which risks to take, because I don’t know ahead of time what I’m ready to handle or what will be too much. I’ve had experience with “too much” in the past and how deep the hopelessness and depression can be when what I thought would be a small leap over a shallow puddle turned out to be a swan dive off a cliff.

            I keep hearing the introjected voices in my head telling me what I should do and who I should be, and lately the shoulds have been taking precedence over what I want, and they’ve prevented me from investing the energy and patience I’d need to succeed at the things I really love. Like writing. I feel like the shoulds are yelling at me and the wants are whispering, and I don’t know who to listen to.

            I’m still writing, but the voices keep telling me that I have no right to think of myself as a writer in the face of all of the rejection, and no right to spend time working through plot lines when I should be doing something worthwhile, like teaching, or social work. And when I sit down to write, the voices get louder and louder. I only feel safe working on short pieces for the blog, because the longer pieces are the ones that have collected all of the rejections. It feels like masochism to keep writing things that no one but an intern at a literary magazine will ever see.

“I like to reject people. Deal with it.”

            Is it okay to continue to write when so much of my work has been deemed unacceptable? Is it selfish? Is it self-destructive?

            I’m angry that the rejections have stopped me from writing more, and I’m angry that I can’t shut off my inner critics and get the work done, and then I’m angry at myself for being such a loser and a moron and an idiot, and on and on. My therapist asked me to write down all of the nasty things I hear in my head when I try to write and I filled six pages without ever feeling like I’d scratched the surface.

“It’s exhausting.”

            But I don’t want to give in to these voices and follow the shoulds instead of doing the things I love. I’m so tired of hearing what’s wrong with me, and what’s not enough, or what’s too much, as if the noise is blaring out of speakers everywhere I go.

            So this year, my resolution is to do the work that matters to me, even when it’s hard, even when I have to fill page after page with nonsense before I can get to one good, heartfelt sentence. I hate that it’s so hard to get to the good stuff, but it is, for me, for now.

            And I have to persist.

“I can teach you how to persist, Mommy. It’s my super power!”

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?

A Pawpaw Forest

 

Earlier this summer I wrote about my excitement when my two twelve-year-old Pawpaw trees flowered and seemed ready to fruit, and then I wrote about my grief when one of the Pawpaw trees was cut down by the co-op’s hired gardeners. Well, recently, when Mom was examining the stump of the dead Pawpaw tree, where she had set up one of her experiments to encourage new growth, she happened to look two feet further along the retaining wall and saw what looked like Pawpaw leaves dangling over the side. She examined them closely, comparing the leaves to the healthy Pawpaw leaves on the surviving tree about fifty feet away, and they looked very much the same. How odd!

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The possible Pawpaw leaves were hanging from two stand-alone stems, half green and half brown, and wobbly from very recent growth. We had not planted new Pawpaw seeds, or even noticed any random Pawpaw trees planting themselves under the mass of other trees and bushes in the retaining wall, but there they were, as tall as the two year old trees that we’d had shipped to us a few years ago (unsuccessfully). But it just seemed so unlikely, to me, that new Pawpaw trees could have planted themselves right there, without any help, and just when we really needed them.

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Mom brought me outside to examine the leaves for myself, and even let me pick one of the leaves to bring over to the big Pawpaw tree to compare. But I still felt skeptical, because that’s my automatic response to most things. It can’t be true, especially if I want it to be true. Mom was, and is always, more trusting. She pointed out the unique quilting design on the leaves, unlike any other leaves nearby, and the shine on the baby leaves, which I’d seen many times myself when our Pawpaws came back to life each spring.

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A few days later, Mom went back to the same spot, to make sure the Pawpaw plants were still there, and not just a mirage made out of grief, and she found another, much smaller, Pawpaw sapling, maybe just a few weeks old. And she kept going back, and searching more carefully, and finding more Pawpaws. I still wasn’t convinced though. It seemed too much like the universe looking out for me.

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It never occurred to me that my trees would try to re-create themselves. I thought, actually, that Mom and I would put in endless years of effort for no real reward, because that’s how my life has always seemed to me. But I think I might be wrong this time. We still have new-growth devices on three branches of the existing Pawpaw tree, and the makeshift device on the Pawpaw stump, and if these previously hidden little trees are real Pawpaws, then we are on our way to having a Pawpaw forest in the yard to replace the one tree that was cut down by the gardeners. And we still have a Pawpaw tree coming next spring, as a peace offering form the gardening company.

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The Papa Pawpaw

We’ll have to replant the saplings in different parts of the yard, where they will each have sunlight and space to spread out, to give them a real chance to survive. But it seems miraculous already, that they even exist. There’s a metaphor in all of this, or too many metaphors to count, but here’s hoping the hidden Pawpaws are a sign of good things to come in the next year.

 

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Ellie’s ready for some gardening!

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Cricket is already digging!

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?

 

 

Cricket’s New Year’s Demands

 

Dear Mommy,

Why is it “beautiful” when birds chirp, but when I bark, you get mad at me? When Butterfly runs, Grandma says she’s full of joy, but when I run, you say I’m dragging you, and Grandma uses those bad words.

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“This way, Mommy!”

Mommy, I think you have it all wrong. I think I should bark more, and have more chicken treats (at least more than Butterfly, because she’s shorter than me and she actually likes kibble). I think I should be allowed to grow my hair until it sweeps the ground, and I should be allowed to keep my eye goop, and be able to cover myself in mud and poop if I want to, and you should never be allowed to put me in the bathtub ever again.

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“Barking is the most wonderful thing in the world!”

I should be able to go out to the backyard and catalog all of the sniffies, even if it takes me all day (squirrels and neighbors and cars and birds are distracting, so it’s not my fault it takes me so long).

I think we should start calling Butterfly “The Cat,” because it would be funny.

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“I’m a cat?”

I think there should be a rule that whenever one of my humans returns from “away,” they have to stand still so I can sniff where they’ve been, and there will be no changing clothes, or going to the computer, until I’m finished with my investigation.

The beach should be closer to my house, so I can smell rotting fish whenever I want.

The library should have a dog section, with aisles and aisles of smell stories, like little humans get to have picture books. What am I? Illiterate?

I think Grandma should have a warm fluffy coat like mine, so that she never complains again that it’s too cold to take me outside.

I think there should be a slide from the living room window to the yard, so I can go pee whenever I want.

I think it should snow more.

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I would like to know why I don’t have my own YouTube channel. I can climb in and out of boxes just as well as any cat!

I think I should never have to beg for people food again. Instead, I should be served my dinner on a plate. But, Butterfly doesn’t mind eating on the floor.

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“Why is it empty?”

I think we should eat more steak. And cookies. And French fries. And chicken skin. Lots and lots of chicken skin. Every night. Forever.

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“Chicken?!!!!!!!”

These are my demands, and Steven Colbert says that anyone who wears a big furry hat is in charge, and I wear a big furry everything, so that means I’m even more in charge than anyone else.

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“I’m in charge.”

 

Sincerely,

Cricket