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The Other Door

            Since the beginning of the Covid shutdown last March, the clergy at my synagogue have been hosting zooms to discuss both serious and unserious topics, to maintain our social connections from home. Sometimes I can’t make it to a session with the Rabbi or the Cantor, but it’s reassuring to know they’re always there and always coming up with something interesting to talk about. Ellie comes to every zoom, sitting on my lap, while Cricket sleeps in her bed next to me.

The one time Cricket came to Zoom

A few weeks ago, at one of our clergy connections, the Cantor was asking us how our idea of time has changed during the pandemic. He looked into references to time in biblical and Talmudic sources, but to me it seemed obvious, as in so many other areas, that dogs are the secret to mental health in general and to structuring time in particular; having to take the dogs out four times a day – marking breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bedtime – has kept me on a regular schedule all year, despite not always remembering which day it is.

“I’m ready to go again!”

            The dogs even make sure we stay aware of the seasons, because they don’t believe in skipping walks on cold days or rainy days or hot days. In reality, they do have preferences, but until they get to the front door and see and feel the weather for themselves, they are always confident that it’s beautiful outside. Often, when I open the door and the front steps are covered with snow, or rain and wind are aiming themselves straight at us, the dogs look up at me as if I’ve betrayed them, I told the group, and the Cantor said, yes, they want the other door.

What?!

Our cantor is a big fan of science fiction, so he would be the one to see that connection, but it sounded so right.

Is it possible that my dogs actually believe that I am choosing this snowy/rainy/windy world on purpose, just to annoy them? Of course it’s possible! They want the door that opens to the outside world that’s warm and smelly and rich with sounds, none of this weather business, and they are convinced that I could get that for them, if I wanted to. Mean Mommy.

“That’s my line.”

            Of course, this idea sent me cruising down a rabbit hole and I mostly missed the rest of the discussion about the nature of time. I was too preoccupied with the possibility that we could choose a different door and get a different world. If it were possible, would I choose the door to our world, or to somewhere else? I don’t know. There’s something reassuring about not having a choice, and having to make do with what reality brings. I love the Harry Potter books, and the idea of magic wands and magic words, but, too much magic could mean that there would be no rules and no consequences to our actions, or to anyone else’s. How would we learn how to adapt to other people and take responsibility for our behavior, if when one world gets tough we could just choose another door? Would there be infinite other doors? How would we know which one to choose? If we could choose the more pleasant, easy world, would that lead to a happier life?

            It’s a truism that reality is stranger than fiction, and often more frustrating and chaotic, but it can also be more interesting and definitely more varied than what we could imagine for ourselves. The desire for alternative facts, and the belief that all news is fake if it’s not what we want to hear, have become prominent (again) over the past few years. And I understand it. I understand finding reality overwhelming and incomprehensible and wanting it to be something different, something more comfortable and less challenging.

            But isn’t that what fiction is for? We get to read and write stories about what’s behind that other door, as a way to escape reality, but also as a way to reshape how we understand our realities, and find ways to cope with them, and tame their chaos. When we return to the real world from the fictional one we can feel rejuvenated, and use the knowledge and insight we’ve gained from our trip through that other door to make our real lives better.

            This is just a thought experiment, unless you know something about alternate dimensions existing in our world that I am not privy to. But sometimes it helps to think through these impossibilities, like if we’d choose to live forever, or what we’d do if we won the lottery, in order to appreciate the value of the world we actually have.

            Except, does this thought experiment really lead to more contentment with the here and now? I wonder if Cricket and Ellie would find such joy in a breezy spring day, full of smells and sounds to explore, if that’s what they experienced every day. And I think, probably yes.

            But we’ll never know for sure. Right?

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?