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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.

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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.

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“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.”

Ellie’s Surprise Birthday

 

This past Thursday we got a call from our groomer (the goddess who mediated Ellie’s adoption) wishing Ellie a Happy Birthday. Wait, what? It turns out that Ellie just turned five years old this week, and we now know her exact birthday, so of course celebration ensued (I still plan to celebrate her Gotcha Day in July, but two birthday parties won’t hurt anyone).

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“A birthday party means food, right Mommy?”

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“Where’s my party?”

 

We were already in celebration mode, what with my own birthday, and Thanksgiving, and Chanukah coming up, and, oh yeah, the publication of my novel Yeshiva Girl (!!!!!!!!!!).

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My first thought for the celebration was cookie decorating, given the season. I found a Chanukah House kit at our local drug store (yes, there are quite a few Jews in my neighborhood), right next to the Gingerbread house kits. My cookie decorating skills lack a certain precision, so, a lot of the house making materials ended up on the floor, where the dogs enjoyed them thoroughly. It turns out you need a lot of royal icing to hold a house made of sugar cookies in place, and then you need to cover the whole thing with much more sugar than you could ever have imagined. Mom had a steadier hand with the roof tiles, but I just played for hours, tossing sprinkles and candy every which way.

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It turned out that that was not enough cookie decorating for us (um, me). So I made a batch of sugar cookie dough and used every cookie cutter I own, from tiny leaves, to giant Butterflies, with teddy bears and hearts and giraffes in between. I colored way outside the lines (as always, I actually failed coloring in kindergarten), and made sure to let the dogs share in the joy whenever possible. And then, to balance out their diet, I used our new treat launcher to spray chicken-flavored treats around the room and set the girls off on a scavenger hunt to make sure not one bite was lost.

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iced cookies

Celebration accomplished!

I’ve been overwhelmed this week with the support for my novel and I want to thank everyone who ordered a copy of Yeshiva Girl from Amazon, and everyone who offered encouragement on the blog as well. I can’t wait to hear what you think of the book!

If you haven’t seen it yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if anyone feels called to write a review of the book on Amazon, I’d be honored.

yeshiva girl with dogs

The girls are trying to read the book too, in their own way.

 

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.

 

The Book is Ready

 

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I’ve spent many years trying to publish my first novel, Yeshiva Girl, through the traditional publishing route: sending it out to agents, and then watching as my agent collected rejections for me, and then sent it out again, and again. I had hoped that the #MeToo movement would be a sign that the world was ready for Izzy, but the rejections kept rolling in. Izzy has a story to tell that I think a lot of people can relate to, in one way or another. And, fundamentally, I didn’t want her to be alone on a shelf anymore, I want her to be out in the world, so I decided to self-publish on Amazon.

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.

I want to thank my brilliant and talented Mom, Naomi Mankowitz, for the beautiful cover design and page layout for the book, and for every day of love and support throughout my life. And, of course, I need to thank every dog who has passed through my life and taught me about unconditional love and healing. And thank you to all of you, for your support and encouragement for me through the blog, and for inspiring me to take the leap into self-publishing!

me and the girls

We’re sort of ready for the leap.

 

Please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl And if anyone feels called to write a review of the book on Amazon, I’d be honored.

 

 

 

 

 

How do I teach myself to ask for what I want?

 

This issue has been coming up a lot lately, as I work towards self-publishing my first novel, and looking for actual jobs. One of my deepest, and most consuming, lifelong beliefs has been that someone else has to tell me that I deserve to be published, preferably someone with their name on book jackets around the world. And someone important has to tell me that I deserve a good job. I don’t believe that I’m supposed to ask for what I want; it has to be offered to me, or else I have no idea if I have a right to it.

This puts some serious limitations on my life, as you can imagine. It takes an enormous amount of work, and days, weeks, and months of self-loathing, to push myself to ask for things despite my underlying concerns. Rejection generally feels like a confirmation of what I already think about myself: that I, fundamentally, don’t deserve to get what I want.

In one of my social work textbooks, it said that, according to research, it takes four positive comments for your brain to process what you’ve heard, compared to a single negative comment. And I grew up with a ratio of closer to one positive comment to ten thousand negative comments, so my self-image makes sense, scientifically. And when I look at the piles of rejections, from agents and publishers and magazines and schools, I can’t escape the belief that all of those negative comments were true.

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“Just listen to me, Mommy.”

I want to feel like it’s okay to self-publish my novel, and to ask people to buy it, even without the middle man of a publisher telling them that I’m worth it. And I want to feel confident applying for jobs, or asking for help from friends, or coworkers, or teachers. I want to feel like I can ask for attention from people when I want it, and not always believe that someone else deserves it more than I do. But I don’t know how to get there. I had hoped that three and half years of school, and internships, and facing one fear after another, would change this. But I am still me.

There are people who are kind, compassionate, and generous who are also ambitious and willing to ask for what they want. They are confident enough in their self-worth that, whether they succeed or fail, they continue to believe in themselves and persist. That doesn’t describe me. My inner monologue rips me to pieces as soon as I send out a query letter, or fill in an application, or even look at a listing for a job opportunity.

Part of the problem is that I can only remember the times when what I wanted was ignored or deemed impossible. I can’t remember the successes, even though I’m sure there were many. I can’t remember being offered things that I wanted, even though I’m sure that’s happened too. My brain is pre-programmed with these glitches and I don’t know how to change that.

Asking for attention is scary, because I never know what kind of attention I’ll get in response. I’m not someone who prefers negative attention to no attention. If anything, my default choice is invisibility. I don’t even need an invisibility cloak, I just stop making eye contact. If I can’t see you, you can’t see me. Right?

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An invisibility hat?

But I want more attention. I have things I want to say, that I think other people might want or need to hear. But more than that, I’m tired of being invisible. The transition to being more visible has been slow, and painful, but it still seems to be something I want. Especially as a writer.  I want to believe that I deserve to be published, not simply because everyone should have the right to be heard, but, competitively, I want to believe that my voice has value to other people and is worth hearing. But that’s so hard to sit with, for me. Its feels like arrogance, and I automatically cover my face with my hands in anticipation of slings and arrows coming my way.

I still don’t have a thick enough skin to protect me from criticisms and rejections, because I always think I should take them in and take them to heart. I don’t quite know when I’m allowed to ignore the negativity.

Miss Cricket always seemed to be able to ask for what she wanted, until Ellie arrived. Then, suddenly, Cricket was more demure, waiting behind Ellie, not sure if she should come forward and ask for her share of the treats. I’ve had to make a point of creating a space for Cricket, so that she knows that she deserves what she wants. It’s not Ellie’s fault, though. She’s willing to share, but something in Cricket shrinks back. Ellie is a superstar at asking for what she wants, but she’s also able to adapt to a No without losing her spirit. Somehow, I will have to teach Cricket, and myself, how to follow Ellie’s lead.

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“Try using puppy dog eyes, they always work for me.”

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“Like this?”

This might take a while.