SM’s Helpful, Non-Comprehensive Passover Primer

It is that time of year again, folks! By which I mean: Passover. Heretofore referred to by the Hebrew name of Pesach, because that’s how it is in my head. (Note: all of the following refers to Ashkenazic practices of Pesach. Sephardic practices are very different, but I am not familiar enough with them to write a compare/contrast piece.)

 

 

For those of you who don’t know, Pesach is, to borrow a friend’s favorite suffix, crazypants.

This friend also laments the fact that when you see Jewish characters in fiction, the only holiday they usually talk about is Hanukkah, as if that is the big poobah of the Jewish calendar. To that we say, HA. Hanukkah is one of the least important Jewish holidays from a religious standpoint, since it was instituted purely by the rabbis and not by the Torah itself, and also requires relatively little action, both during the holiday and in preparation for it. Basically, you gotta buy candles or oil and dust off your menorah (which you probably got for your bar or bat mitzvah, or else you can get a cheap one from the internet or your local bodega or whatever) and be home around sundown to light it. And if you get home later than sundown, okay, you light it then. Different customs may require that you don’t do anything more strenuous than reading a book for about 30 minutes after lighting the candles. Very intense.

Pesach…whooooo boy. Where do I even start.

Well, there’s the fact that if you live in America, the first two days and the last two days of Pesach’s eight days are, unlike any days of Hanukkah, capital-H Holiday days, which I’m using here to mean that they are basically two-day Sabbaths in the middle of the week. No electricity, no driving, no public transportation, no writing with pen/pencil and paper, no igniting fires (alas), no sewing, no talking on the phone, no texting, no internet. (Fun fact: Josh Malina, the actor, once tweeted, “Good Shabbos!” and when asked what that meant, he explained, “It’s Hebrew for ‘I don’t have access to google.’ ” High fives, Josh.)

Capital-H Holidays are different from the actual Sabbath in a couple of ways, the major one being that you are technically allowed to cook on Holidays for what is immediately needed. Although since you are still not allowed to ignite a fire, there are obviously limits on what kind of cooking you can do, and therefore most people who are planning to be at home and eating all their own food for Holiday meals have to do a metric boatload of cooking and baking beforehand. You do not want to know how many quiches and kugels and casseroles and lasagnas we (read: mostly my mom) have made in the past few weeks. And that’s not counting the desserts —brownies and blondies and cookies galore.

And THAT’S not counting the fact that Pesach has its own dietary requirements. As in, you’re not allowed to eat almost anything you normally eat. Or anything that was in close contact with anything you normally eat. The technical prohibition is against chametz, i.e. leavened food, but for practical purposes (since what is leavened food anyway) chametz includes everything EXCEPT water, raw fruits, vegetables, and items that have been officially certified on their packaging as Kosher for Passover, or kasher l’pesach.  You basically need to completely restock your fridge and pantry for this holiday and cook everything with flour substitutes such as matza meal and potato starch. Also, you have to boil, cover, or temporarily replace all your dishes, pots, pans, silverware, countertops, table tops, and anything else that may have been used for chametz. Plus you must clean every nook and cranny of your house to find any other possible chametz that might be there. Lurking. Waiting to pounce.

I like to think of it as the ultimate holiday for OCD, sanctioned and encouraged by Jewish law. On the eve of the Holiday, you even get to burn the chametz that you didn’t manage to get rid of. Partay!

 

 

Lots of people avoid all this by going away for Pesach. They go to visit family who have turned their houses upside down, thereby sparing themselves the necessity of doing it to their own homes. Or they go to a hotel, which is sparkling clean already and serves them their Kosher for Passover food.

My family has never gone away for Pesach. This is probably due to a) more family in one house for 8 days? No thank you, b) a family of nine in a hotel for 8 days? Pfft, ain’t nobody got money for dat, and, probably most importantly, c) my dad is the rabbi of a local congregation and the rabbi MUST be available on Pesach to answer questions regarding Jewish law on a holiday that is this completely neurotic and overwrought, and as I said before, for at least 4 of 8 days, phone calls and internet are not allowed, so he must be available for face-to-face consultation. Also to give sermons, which he is very good at since naturally he takes after me.

Additionally, the congregational rabbi must be around very close to the beginning of the holiday for another reason — he is the congregants’ representative to sell all the chametz that was not able to be cleaned/eaten/burned/flushed down the toilet/fed to pets/hidden in gifts given to “friends”/etc. This means that in the week or so leading up to Pesach (and, let’s be real, at midnight on the last possible day), people come to our house, meet with my dad, fill out a form delineating the value and location of said chametz, exchange an object of a certain minimum value (e.g. they hand a pen back and forth), and thus my father is authorized, as is traditional, to go to a gathering in Riverdale with the rest of the New York rabbis who hold all the forms from all their congregants and sell their chametz to a non-Jew for the duration of Pesach. (There are of course stricter opinions that say this is not allowed, but we will ignore those for the time being.)

I have to admit that I find the whole selling-chametz-to-a-non-Jew to be, well…kind of hilarious, to be honest. The basic way it’s done is that the non-Jew (who is a lovely Christian gentleman who used to live locally and now comes in every year specially for the sale, which is incredibly sweet in itself) pays about a penny or two upfront, with the agreement that he will pay the rest of the untold millions of dollars the day after Pesach, or the sale will be voided. And even though this is clearly a charade and everyone involved knows it, there are apparently six different ways that the rabbis ensure that the sale is solid and legally binding, even though it will be voided in a week. And when I was there with my dad one year, in the room with like 50 rabbis, the meeting kicked off with a check on the exact value of gold or silver or something on the stock market or whatever that morning, to make sure that the pennies being paid upfront are of enough value to bind the sale. The whole affair is compulsively neurotic in that adorably Jewish way.

Lastly, of course, is the tradition that most people have heard of if they’ve heard anything about Pesach: the seder, or sedarim in plural, since in America, we have two of them, on the first two Holiday nights. You can probably Wikipedia it and get more information about the technicalities of seder procedure than I can possibly give you (four cups of wine, dipping of parsley into saltwater, recitation of the Haggadah, festive meal, singing of incredibly repetitive Hebrew and Aramaic songs, et al), but what it probably won’t tell you is that since a seder is a family or communal get-together, no two sedarim are alike, just like no two Thanksgiving dinners are alike, even though most of us Orthodox Jew types are reading the story of the Exodus from the same Haggadah.

A seder can be huge (we host our synagogue’s seder every year on the first night and this one had close to 50 people in attendance) or not terribly large (a friend of my was bemoaning the fact that his sedarim were going to have only his parents, brother, and grandmother, so he’d have to be very present and talkative and unable to slink off unnoticed). Our home seder often serves as a mini communal seder, topping out at 16 to 18 people, who can range from “fun guests you enjoy having” to “that guy with terrible hygiene who mutters incoherently to himself half the time and spends the rest interrupting people’s conversations to complain that his sister refuses to host him anymore and he can’t understand why.” Win some, lose some. In ancient times, it was typical to invite as many people as possible to your seder because the korban pesach, i.e. the Passover Sacrifice, i.e. an entire roast lamb, was required to be eaten before the dawn of the next morning; leftovers had to be burned. And while the base text that we read from the Haggadah is fairly standardized, people are free to, nay, encouraged to expound and elaborate and offer up additional thoughts, possible lessons learned, and questions about the story and the rituals of the seder. A common answer given for “Why do we do X Random Seder Ritual?” is “So that the children will ask.” It is a holiday of questions, although the answers may range from the satisfying to the creative to the ridiculous.

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Independently of one another, my 13-year-old little sister and my 21-year-old little brother have already said to me this holiday, “You know, I really don’t like Pesach,” as if this is a surprising revelation. It’s really not. I obviously find many aspects of it amusing, but I can’t necessarily claim to like it. I’m sure there are people in the universe who like stressful cooking and compulsive cleaning and having strangely unbalanced guests at their table and having to read huge chunks of Hebrew text before getting to the actual meal and having to eat obscene amounts of charred-cardboard-tasting matza and not being able to eat normal food and stammering through neverending songs in foreign languages, but I don’t think it’s all that scandalous or presumptuous to say that most of us, y’know, don’t.

This holiday is nuts. It’s over-the-top and designed to drive anyone bonkers.

It is also clearly designed, in the way that it has evolved over the centuries, to force members of families and communities to interact with each other, forging and reinforcing connections between them. The preparation for Pesach is a massive undertaking, and would not get done in my house if everyone didn’t pitch in, at least a little bit. We band together against our common enemy: Pesach. And even if you don’t have a huge family, turning everything over from chametz-tik to kosher for Pesach isn’t always something you can do alone; this year I was hired by a family friend to help her lug boxes down from her attic and restock the kitchen. It forces people to ask for help that they might not otherwise ask for, and for people to provide that help because we get it, we understand that we are all at the mercy of this nutty holiday and can’t in good conscience make it even harder for someone else.

And the evolution of the system of selling chametz, in addition to creating a situation where rabbis of various communities have a forum in which they are able to get together once a year (no other holiday has such a thing built into it), also forces people to have face-time with their community rabbi. Depending on your rabbi and your comfort level, this can be a fate worse than death or it can be kind of nice. The old joke is “What’s the difference between a rabbi and a therapist? Therapist costs money.” And many a chametz-selling meeting has taken a turn for the therapeutic, I can tell you that. I found out this year that you can sell your chametz online, and I can’t help feeling like that kind of misses the whole point.

Pesach is supposed to be a time where we celebrate our freedom, how we were Exodused from Egypt. But I see Pesach as having more in common with the slavery we were freed from than the freedom we’re supposedly celebrating. It’s kind of a holiday of endurance, not celebration. In essence, in its present incarnation, I see Pesach as a trial by fire that we have to go through every year with our families and our communities, and hopefully come out stronger on the other side, and THAT’S when the enjoyment of our freedom can kick in. We are reenacting the Exodus, people! Freedom awaits at the end; you just have to survive long enough!

Although, of course, there is also the fact that absolutely nothing in American law prohibits any of this crazypants holiday. We can be as weird and bizarre as we want and our government does not care one whit. That is freedom, folks. Freedom to be complete whackjobs and fruitcakes and never having to fear for one minute that anyone will stop you. Enjoy that. Savor it.

Chag Sameach, everyone.

 

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This post was originally published in slightly altered form as a Facebook Note on April 17, 2014. There were, sadly, no gifs in the original.

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Like this post? I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you (yes, you, you wonderful and very attractive reader) that my GoFundMe campaign is still open — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive. The proceeds no longer go toward automotive school tuition, because I have paid off my loan in full, but you can still commission me to write anything you want. Like, you can force me to watch ANYTHING and review it for you. Anything. Real-Housewives-of-Atlanta-kind-of-anything. Hit me with your best shot.

Datin’ Without Hatin’ — Return of SM’s Dating Advice Column! Inspired by the Godawful Relationship Writing on “The Flash”!

Well, hi there! I know, it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, let alone this column. But I am not gone! I am still here!

 

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And I’m still capable of advising you on how best to live your life, because I’m definitely not an internet hermit to whom it makes no difference that I’m snowed in on a Sunday because it wasn’t like I was planning to go outside anyway. Nope, that’s definitely not me right now.

Anyhow, I was inspired to write a post lambasting some of the horrendous relationship choices made by the writers on The Flash this season, specifically one particular section of dialogue from the most recent episode.

If you’ve never seen The Flash, don’t worry, I shall explain:

Barry Allen is the Flash. He can run super duper fast. He thus became a superhero and fights all sorts of supernatural threats that regular cops can’t deal with.

This season, he met a lady cop named Patty. Patty is awesome and they start dating, but Barry never tells her anything whatsoever about being the Flash or about the supernatural threats that are endangering her, even though Patty is on the special police task force specifically established to deal with supernatural threats. 

He constantly flakes on her, backs out of plans without explanation, lies to her about everything from his whereabouts to his emotional needs, etc, all because he refuses to tell her anything she needs to know, even though this is constantly putting her in danger because she lacks the critical information necessary to protect herself.

Girls, boys, and others — this is SUPER unhealthy. But my even bigger issue came this past episode, when Patty finally confronts him about his behavior. How does she do it?

“Look, I have been a really cool girlfriend, okay? Most girls wouldn’t have the self-esteem to deal with [begins to list numerous ways in which Barry is a lousy boyfriend].”

This line…this line…I don’t even have the words to explain how much I despise this line.

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You want to know why many girls put up with lousy boyfriends? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not because of self-esteem.

Usually, it is literally the opposite.

We put up with lousy partners, negligent partners, abusive partners — and why? Because we don’t think we deserve better. We think that our emotional needs aren’t worthy of attention. Because we think that making our needs and desires known will make us “uncool” or “clingy” or “demanding” or “shrewish” or, god forbid, “nagging.” This goes for all genders, fyi, but I do think that there are extra complications for women because there is SO MUCH societal pressure on women and girls to be nice and polite and sweet and accommodating and “cool” in a low maintenance way.

Note that “shrewish” and “nag” are used almost exclusively to describe undesirable behavior in women. Note that Patty equated her silence with being “a cool girlfriend.” Note that on other occasions, she prefaces perfectly reasonable requests with, “You know I don’t want to nag, that’s not who I am.” The fear of being considered a nag can be so intense that we frequently shut up about what we want or need in an effort to just be “cool.”

I speak from experience, as someone who dated a lousy boyfriend, years ago, and put up with all the flakiness, the cancelled plans, the broken promises, the constant “compromises” that weren’t compromises because they just amounted to me giving in to what he wanted.

I thought those things made me a good girlfriend. I thought that I was being nice, that I was being strong and not giving in to insecurity, that I was being generous and understanding. Because I did understand that, say, he was tired and didn’t want to hang out, or that he canceled on my birthday because he was feeling really anxious about a lot of things so we skyped instead, or that it made more sense for me to travel an hour and a half to see him on certain days because he had class until noon and if he had to travel to me after class ended, we’d have less time to hang out.

All of these things individually were understandable, but they piled up, skewing the reciprocity, so that I was giving, giving, giving, and he was taking, taking, taking. And when I did try to say that it felt unfair or that I needed something from him in return, he would call me “clingy” or “demanding,” and I would be appalled at myself and shut down my needs, and concentrate on just giving more and being better.

It was not because of self-esteem.

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I haven’t forgotten that this is a dating advice column. So here’s my advice:

To girls, because we’re socialized to be pushovers (but this can of course be applicable to other genders as well): Speak up about what you need. Don’t be ashamed of it, don’t repress it, don’t be afraid that it makes you naggy and clingy and undesirable. If it’s something that you honestly think you would willingly do for your partner, it’s not too much to ask. And if your partner is repeatedly unwilling or unable to meet or respect your needs, walk away. You will be better off.

To boys, because it’s not your fault but you’re probably not aware of just how much girls are socialized to accommodate others: If you feel like you screwed up, but the girl says, “it’s okay” or “don’t worry about it” — don’t always take it at face value. Sometimes it is okay, for sure, don’t get me wrong. Like when I walk into a guy’s place and he’s all, “sorry about the mess” and I’m all, “pffft, whatever, don’t worry about it,” I genuinely mean that, because messes genuinely do not bother me. And if it’s a once-in-a-blue-moon canceled plan. But if it’s a fairly big no-no, like canceling on her birthday, or if it’s a pattern, be mindful of that. There is so much pressure on us girls to just be okay with everything that sometimes we stay silent when we should speak up. So just in case, try to make it up to her sometimes. Nothing flashy, just “I know you said x was okay, but I felt weird about it, so I did y, or I got you z, or I made q plans” — just something.

And please, for the love of god, do not call her “clingy” or “naggy” or “demanding” or any of that stuff. They are all ways of saying, “your needs are not important,” and if she believes you, and starts believing that, the psychological damage is enormous. Believe me.

If her needs or desires genuinely do overwhelm you and you can’t meet them, either because what she wants is truly outlandish or because you personally are not equipped to handle it, that relationship is probably not the best fit for either of you, and you should probably end it.

 

I know all of this is general and oversimplified and each individual relationship comes with its own calculations, but overall, I think these are important to keep in mind, along with the most vital piece of advice I can give you: Don’t listen to the Flash writers about dating. Just don’t.

 

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Like this post? I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you, wonderful reader, that my GoFundMe campaign is still open —http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive. The proceeds no longer go toward automotive school tuition, because I have paid off my loan in full, but you can still commission me to write anything you want. You can force me to watch ANYTHING and review it for you. Anything. Real-Housewives-of-Atlanta-kind-of-anything. Hit me with your best shot.

SPOILER FREE REVIEW — Supergirl Pilot

(100th post!!! Ahhhh!!!)

Before I watch this episode that the world-renowned Anonymous Donor has commissioned me to review, I just want to say that I have no idea what I think about this show. I have not watched any trailers, leaked footage, nada. I made a choice some time ago to see the show only in its intended episodic form, not truncated or packaged promotionally.

And the reviews I’ve seen (headlines are unavoidable on Facebook) appear to be polarizing. I know that when the trailer came out, lots of people mocked it for being exactly like the SNL Black Widow movie trailer except without the irony, while others were adamant that that is the whole POINT of Supergirl, that she is “just a regular girl” with mundane girl concerns and mundane girl interests, who just happens to have superpowers. And that the show is trying to make a point that being a girly girl or being feminine is not a weakness; you can be a girl’s girl AND a superhero! Of course, my concern with that is that in their efforts to make Supergirl an Everygirl, the showrunners may forget to give her a unique personality and have her be more of a cipher than a character.

I’m also not sure what to expect of Melissa Benoist, whose character on Glee was pretty much the dictionary definition of “bland.” That may not have been her fault (the character was definitely weakly written) but put it this way: when Grant Gustin was cast as the Flash, I was thrilled because he was FABULOUS on Glee and I was excited to see what he’d do. Melissa Benoist, not particularly. I did like her in Whiplash, though, and her role in that movie was to represent ordinariness and normalcy in contrast to Miles Teller’s character’s obsessive pursuit of extraordinariness and greatness, so if that will be her job on Supergirl, to be normal and ordinary, she’ll probably pull it off just fine. I just hope it won’t be boring.

Basically, I’m not sure what to expect, what point the show is going to try to make or whether it will be any good at making it. I’m not prepared. Well, I’m prepared to be conflicted. That’s about it.

 

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WELL. I guess it turns out that I did have expectations, because this was wayyyyyy better than I thought it was going to be.

First off, Melissa Benoist is perfect here as Kara, aka Supergirl. She has more life and verve in this role than she ever had a chance to showcase on Glee. Yes, the show does do the typical thing of making her kinda clumsy and awkward, but — take note, Aaron Sorkin and Newsroom staff — never incompetent. She has more passion and enthusiasm than I was expecting from an Everygirl character, which give her excellent screen presence. She is not boring. She cares deeply about things, from her job dissatisfaction to her newfound crush to her reverence for Superman to her relationship with her sister to her own heroics to her confusion over her place in the world. Yes, many of these things are mundane Everygirl concerns, but rather than turning her into a cipher or a Mary Sue, the effect is not that I project myself onto her, but rather that she feels like her own entity, definitely a full person, but one that I’d like to be friends with because we have some things in common. That scene on the couch with her squeeing over seeing her heroics covered on TV for the first time — total bff material.

I also love that they didn’t just make the protagonist female only to surround her with a mostly male ensemble, as is far too common. There seem to be two main ladies aside from Kara — a fantastic Calista Flockhart as Kara’s boss, and Chyler Leigh (Lexie from Grey’s Anatomy! With short hair!) as Kara’s sister — and don’t look now but the main villain appears to be female as well. There are also a number of background/one-line characters who could easily have been male but aren’t. The episode probably passes the infamous Bechdel test half a dozen times, easily. And even the clichéd “freaking out over what to wear on a date” scene isn’t really about the date or the dude; it’s about the supportive and reciprocal relationship Kara has with her sister. There are a couple of male regulars too, but they seem to be ancillary and side-kicky in relation to the women, who are the real driving forces of the show. It’s a flipped gender dynamic that is all too rare and therefore very refreshing. To me, at least.

I don’t want to get spoilery, so I’m not going to go into detail about the plot. Suffice it to say, baddies show up and comic-booky fighting ensues at some point, growing more and more prominent as the episode goes on. In my opinion, that’s the weakest thing about this pilot; I would have preferred to see more of Kara in her real life and her relationships with the other characters, because those were interesting and nuanced, whereas right now, these villains seem to just be flat and capital-E Evil because . . . they’re evil? EEEEEEVIIIIILLLLLL. *maniacal cackle*

 

for teh evulz

 

Also, I gotta say, Kara’s coworker who keeps trying to hit on her is kind of a jerk. Not a fan of him. I mean, at one point he mistakenly thinks she’s about to tell him she’s a lesbian and is like “so THAT’S why you were never into me!” Dude, no. The default setting on girls is not “into you unless lesbian.” Sorry not sorry to burst your bubble. Just no.

And the special effects are hokey. Probably the worst of the Arrow-Flash-Supergirl triumvirate. Wonder why that is. Different budgets? Different production companies? More challenging scenarios? Who knows.

So — the million dollar question — is the show empowering? Or *gasp* feminist? 

Well, purely by virtue of it being populated by multiple female characters who consistently interact with each other in meaningful ways, unrelated to the male characters, it is as feminist and empowering as almost any shows I’ve seen this side of a Shonda Rimes production. There are definitely some moments that ring false, like when a character heavy-handedly says, “A female hero! Someone my daughter can look up to,” but overall, it’s a solid start. And if the showrunners catch onto the fact that allowing multiple women to take center stage and go about their business is being feminist, and that waving your arms all, “HEY LOOK AT US BEING ALL FEMINIST OVER HERE!!!1!!” is not so much, there’s hope for it to get even better in that department.

Have you seen the Supergirl pilot? What did you think? Feel free to disagree with me in the comments🙂

 

 

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Like this post? I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you, wonderful reader, that my GoFundMe campaign is still open — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive. The proceeds no longer go toward automotive school tuition, because I have paid off my loan in full, but you can still commission me to write anything you want. You can force me to watch ANYTHING and review it for you. Anything. Real-Housewives-of-Atlanta-kind-of-anything. Hit me with your best shot.

 

#ThrowbackThursday — “Tish’a b’Av Thoughts 2013”

It comes around every year, so I’ll probably repost this every year.

Original post was a Facebook Note from July 16th, 2013.

 

Tish’a b’Av Thoughts 2013

Tish’a b’Av is not a day of action. There are no extensive Judaic rituals like a seder to conduct or a bundle of plants to wave around or a rickety booth to construct in your backyard.

It’s not a day of prayer, either. There are a few specific prayers, the kinot, that are particular to Tish’a b’Av, but there are nowhere near as many things to say as there are on Yom Kippur, and no one is expected to spend the entire day in the synagogue with a prayerbook.

It’s not a day of atonement. We’re not asking for forgiveness and absolution and a fresh start.

The only way I can think to sum up this day is that it’s a day of, “Just be wrong. Just stand there in your wrongness and be wrong and get used to it.”*

It’s a day of wallowing. You’re ideally not supposed to do anything that will distract you from that, at least for the first half of the day. You’re not supposed to eat, you’re not supposed to watch TV, you’re not supposed to read, I’m not supposed to be writing this. You’re not even supposed to study Torah until after chatzot (midday).

It’s a day of mourning, and a day of regret, and a day of guilt. Very Jewish.

I have never been any good at feeling the things I am supposed to feel. I’m pretty good at doing the things I’m supposed to do, because I can usually come up with my own reasons to do them. But I’m bad at believing what I’m supposed to believe, and feeling what I’m supposed to feel.

Supposedly, God does not command your feelings. I remember in school when we got up to the “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God” verse in the shema, and the teacher raised the question, “How can God command anyone to love him?”

I don’t remember what answer she gave, which means that I must have found it completely unsatisfying, because I remember satisfying answers while unsatisfying ones evaporate from my memory, leaving the questions stronger than ever. (She probably said something like, “Doing all the commandments will lead to love of God, so it’s not a separate commandment, just a natural result” and no, that is not how it works.)

But the fact that this is a question means there’s the idea that God doesn’t command our feelings, only our actions.

But aside from what God technically commands, it’s undeniable that the Jewish calendar has demands on your feelings. Be happy on these days! Be sad on these days! Be introspective! Be celebratory! Be depressed! Be grateful! We have holidays for all of them, sometimes well spread out, sometimes smushed together like a bad mood swing.

Some people have the mental discipline to direct their thoughts and feelings toward all of these at the right times of year, and are able to take advantage of this varied spectrum of emotional experience. Me? Nope. I tend to get bitter and cynical when faced with “BE HAPPY NOW” and feel upbeat when everyone around me starts doing the sad thing.

I’m an emotional contrarian. I’m bad at feelings.

And I’m especially bad at guilt.

Because the fact is that I am a bad Jew, a Jew who doesn’t believe properly, who doesn’t care enough about Jewish things, doesn’t have enough tolerance for people who don’t think like me, and if there is a Messiah, I may very well be one of those people who is preventing him from coming, because I am just not good enough for that, and am bringing the rest of you down with me and my unworthiness. Because we Jews are all a team, and my failure somehow radiates out to impact all of us.

And I could feel guilty about that. I could let it own me, let it crush me, let it weigh on me every minute of every day.

It used to. It used to be this constant horrible presence in my life, berating me, hammering me, until I reached a point where I realized, “Yo, guilt! It’s either you, or me.” And I chose me, and over time, I uprooted and cast out every last shred of guilt I could find.

Guilt is not something I have been able to find a balance for. In order to function, I need it gone. Completely. I understand that guilt in moderation is a healthy thing, ensures that you’re not a sociopath, but I can’t handle it, so I’ve walled it out. I can recognize my mistakes, I can think to myself, “I shouldn’t have done that,” or, “That was wrong,” and I usually do my best to apologize and make it up to the person I’ve wronged, but I can’t feel bad about it anymore, not for more than a second or two, with very rare exceptions. I don’t have any real, sincere regrets. About anything.

I have tremendous respect for people who have a capacity for guilt. I respect people who can feel their mistakes, people who have deep regrets, and live with them every day without letting them take over. Guilt destroys me, and I am frankly too afraid to let any of it back in, because I know what it does to me.

So even on this day of guilt, for better or worse, I sit behind my walls and refuse to feel my wrongness.

 

 

*President Josiah Bartlet, The West Wing

 

 

 

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Like this post? I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you, wonderful reader, that my GoFundMe campaign is still open — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive. The proceeds no longer go toward automotive school tuition, because I have paid off my loan in full, but you can still commission me to write anything you want. You can force me to watch ANYTHING and review it for you. Anything. Real-Housewives-of-Atlanta-kind-of-anything. Hit me with your best shot.

Career Talk — Part 2: Most Frustrating Job Experiences

Background/Intro (skip to the next bold header if you read this last time)

I posted a call for submissions on a couple of platforms, and  I am still accepting submissions, as this will be an ongoing multi-post series. Because, in the words of Amy Adams’ character from Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day: “The crisis is ongoing!”

Also, many of the submissions were very detailed and I want to keep these posts to a reasonable length, so each post will be dedicated to a different question on the list below, and when I’m done with that, I’ll hopefully start again from question #1 with new submissions.
The original call/prompt was as follows:

I’m currently at a crossroads in my career, and I’m hoping to write a blog post next week to help get my brain thinking about various different options. I would love to hear from people in any and all professions. If you’re interested, let me know in your comment or via email or message: a) what your job is, b) whether you’d like to remain anonymous, and c) an answer to one or more of the following questions:

1) What’s the most rewarding experience you’ve had at your current job?

2) What’s the most frustrating experience you’ve had at your current job?

3) What’s the most helpful or supportive thing a coworker has ever done for you?

4) What’s the worst thing a coworker has ever done to you?

5) What’s the funniest story you have from your current job?

I just came up with these questions so they’re not comprehensive – if there’s a particular work experience or story you’d like to share that doesn’t fit any of them, feel free to share it anyway! This is just an exercise to help me get the gears turning in my brain as I figure out what to do next with my life🙂

So I’m not expecting this to solve my career stalemate, but at least it will hopefully provide some forward movement in my thoughts on the topic, because the thing about putting things in writing is, you have to move forward with them. You can’t just write the same sentence over and over again. (I mean, you can, and someone probably has, and they probably called it “art” — but let’s be honest, that is crap.)

(NOTE: Some names may have been changed to preserve anonymity, allowing me to exercise my brilliant pseudonym-making skillz.)

2) What’s the most frustrating experience you’ve had at your current job?

Answer #1: When some, very few, students are not interested in learning anything new, but want to merely copy some method they have learned, even when they are clearly frustrated by it, and would most likely gain understanding by stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.

Also, when my supervisor retired, the new one (apparently not as knowledgeable as the older one) at first constantly criticized various things I did as being incorrect until I provided sources to back up my work. It added a level of frustration that was completely unnecessary.

~Submitted by Roonil Wazlib, tutor

Oh, yes, I’ve been told I’m doing things wrong and had to prove myself right, or let someone else take over so that they could see for themselves why the conventional method or tool was not appropriate in that particular instance. It’s especially aggravating when you’re new at your job and don’t have the experience to know if anything you’re doing is actually right, and then you have to deal with everyone else second-guessing you on top of you second-guessing yourself. Even when you turn out to be right, it’s more draining than satisfying.

Answer #2: Most frustrating is my lack of career advancement at this particular company. A lot of that has to do with circumstances beyond my control, which I always have trouble with, being a complete control freak, as well as certain personality traits in my direct manager. He always sugar coats things b/c he doesn’t like to upset anyone and tends to beat around the bush and never tells you like it is. I’m the complete opposite and tend to expect/need others to do the same. It took me seriously overstepping my bounds and pissing him off royally to finally get a straight answer from him regarding my performance a couple of years ago. I’m hitting walls again and have not advanced as I’d like to and I’m not interested in pissing him off again. I don’t think it would end well if I did.

~ Submitted by Lorelai Gilmore, marketing

Being a constant newbie at this whole career thing, I haven’t really had a chance to worry about things like advancement and promotion. Hopefully one day I will experience these wonderful frustrations, but for now, it’s like people ask me, “You applied to X? Is there opportunity for advancement?” and I’m like, “I dunno, at this point I’m honestly just trying to find something that I can do day in and day out that doesn’t make me want to kill myself or others.” High standards, yo.

Answer #3: I had an team member who was a terrible employee. She rarely showed up on time, she never accomplished anything unless it was spelled out step by step what needed to be done. Our office is very self-driven. Team members are encouraged to seek out projects they find interesting. Rarely will there be a normal Supervisor [who] tells employee[s] what to do. Rather, we all gather together, mention interesting things we’ve heard of and someone says I want to do this!

Telling a team member what to do step by step is counterproductive to the way our office works. Often, our dynamic work environment takes a bit of time to get used to. We hire a few PT college students to work at our office and having them adjust to the not being told what to do mentality can be jarring. Usually they are excited by the chance to use their skills and experiences to make something of their own, and adjust quickly.

I don’t know why, but I suspect it’s because this team member just didn’t find the work interesting. She would constantly come up with reasons that her bad behavior was due to an external cause that was over, only for another issue to rise up. The excuses were never ending, and it was the most frustrating experience I’ve had with a coworker.

Everyone in our office is pretty passionate about what we do. To have this team member disrespect our work by very blatantly not caring was a difficult experience for me. I realized two things about management and people at this point:

  1. You can’t force people to care. If it isn’t something they find marginally interesting (or isn’t at all related to what they’ve done previously) even the most collaborative dynamic office will be a challenge. Now, things are related in ways you might not expect. For example, my major focused heavily on things like learning and cognitive processes. Understanding how people think and learn are very related to working on projects dedicated to learning. You, SM, went  from Creative Writing to Mechanic, a fairly dichotomous pair. However, they have a lot of similarities in skills required. Both require an understanding of progress and effect. How something that happens in one area can impact every other aspect of the car/story.
  2. How people interact with each other and thrive in environments is extremely important to their workplace happiness. This team member had worked in various different fields before, and I looked over her resume to see where I went wrong. I realized, while several of her previous positions involved a self-driven attitude, they also all involved interacting with lots of people. In our office, we frequently brainstorm different ideas, research on our computers for a few hours and meet back. To have to do work that involved long periods of time without interacting with people drained this team member.

~Submitted by Ms. Watson, a programmer

A lot of what you wrote, Ms. Watson, reminded me of why I don’t want to write for a living or be a journalist or something like that, despite people constantly thinking I’d be great at it just because I can string two sentences together.

As a freelance writer, you have to be very self-driven, as you describe your office as being. I’m certainly self-driven in some ways, but not in the “constantly coming up with new ideas” kind of way. For instance, as a fiction writer, I’m primarily a novelist, not a short story writer. I don’t come up with idea after idea after idea — I occasionally stumble onto one thing that speaks to me, and I develop it. My posts on this blog and on my Facebook Notes work in much the same way — once in a while something strikes me, and I ruminate on it and explore it from multiple angles. I don’t sit around trying to come up with new ideas, and I’ve always hated the idea of the pressure to constantly come up with and churn out new content, just for the sheer volume of it, because that’s how you pay the bills. Some people have wonderfully creative minds and are naturally always inventing new stories, ideas, patterns, songs, and so on — but I’m not. And I would absolutely hate to have to be.

Then there’s the flip-side, where you write for something that assigns everything so you’re always writing their ideas and not your own, and then you have to force yourself to care about whatever assignment you’re given, in order to write it. And as you said, that’s impossible. I’ve done copywriting like that in the past, and it felt like I was destroying my soul. I’m not being melodramatic here; that is literally what it felt like. It was bad. And the thought of doing that to myself on a regular basis? Just kill me now.

This is why I prefer copyediting. Other people come up with the ideas, and you don’t have to write them. Best of both worlds. You just fix and polish and perfect. But you’re absolutely necessary; the finished product is clearly and measurably better because of you.

And YES, environment and coworkers are unbelievably important for my job satisfaction. I do not function well without allies. I survive, but I’m almost always miserable in those situations.

Answer #4: The WORST part about my job was the schooling for it. It was literally hell. It was the worst years of my life, and I did not have a typical “college” experience. Even the fact knowing that I need to take the boards again when i am 30, and every 10 years after that, gives me the occasional nightmare.

Day to day the job is stressful when there are a ton of patients and I need to move quickly and patients complain they were waiting for a long time, and I get upset that it’s not my fault, because you can’t rush an exam and they need to schedule people better. Or I get frustrated when I tell a patient they need to come in for a biopsy because they might have cancer, and they just never come back, and then I am responsible legally to call them and send a certified letter or else they can sue me when they have cancer and I’ll be blamed even though they are a grown adult and I TOLD them to come back and warned them.

~Submitted by Elisheva, physician assistant

Thanks for the heads-up about the schooling. Definitely good to know. I’m not sure when I’ll have the stomach for a hellish school experience, but it’s definitely not right now.

And yeah, people who don’t listen are the worst. My doctors would probably say that makes me the worst. Sigh. I’m the worst. I’m working on taking better care of myself, though, I swear!

Answer #5: When I got what I considered my first real job as an editor, it was at a women’s magazine. Early in the game, in an attempt to be responsible, I gave my boss of list of all the days off I’d be taking that year. I was entitled to X number of days, and I itemized all X of them. Several were Jewish holidays. She looked at the list and said to me, “This is fine, but at some point in your career, you’re going to have to decide which is more important to you, your career or your religion.” I was pretty shocked by the remark and decided then and there that nobody was ever pulling that kind of anti-Semitic crap on me again and that for the rest of my working life I was going to take off all Jewish holidays Orthodox Jews took, regardless of how I spent them.

~Submitted by Judy Jewett, editor

I have luckily never had to deal with that kind of crap. All the schools I’ve ever gone to and all the jobs I’ve ever had have all been extremely mindful of my religious requirements. Fingers crossed that any future employers will be just as understanding.

MY ANSWER: Oh gosh, where do I even start.

Well, like I said up there, there were those times when I was told I was doing something wrong and turned out to be doing it right. Like when I was looking everywhere for the breaker bar and socket, and was told, “no, take this wrench,” and I’d say, “no, I don’t have the leverage to use that,” and they’d say, “of course you do,” and then I’d spend five minutes trying to loosen the bolt with that wrench, before tossing it aside and demanding the breaker bar, and breaking the bolt loose in two seconds with it.

There were times when I was given a tool and told to do a job and I tried approximately a hundred times, and in between tries, I insisted that this tool was not well suited for this job at this angle; something else was needed. And I was told to just keep trying, which I did until I was thoroughly fed up and basically begged for help. At which point the mechanic who had assigned me the job would go over to his tool box, take out a different tool or an add-on to the original tool, which I of course had not known existed but had been asking for since the beginning, and he’d complete the job with that.

And there were times when I was given a job to do on my own that was not physically possible for one person to accomplish. That happens a lot with cars, btw — I’ve seen 4 grown male mechanics struggle to work together to remove a single bolt. That’s just how these things are designed sometimes. But I’m inexperienced, and I don’t know enough to always tell the difference between when something is “impossible” or when it’s just “really hard.” Because sometimes it is just really hard and you need to suck it up and do it. And if I’m told to do something on my own, I tend to assume it’s not impossible, because what kind of sadist assigns impossible jobs to the newbie, so I would push myself to the very limits of my strength, and then push some more, because maybe I just thought I’d reached my limit but really I just needed that little…bit…more… I was constantly afraid of hurting myself, of pulling something, of throwing out my back from pushing too hard because I just didn’t have the experience to know when I should stop.

Oh, and often the other mechanics would just be standing around watching me struggle. How’s that for work environment.

Up next: Most Supportive Coworker Experiences! Stay tuned, and submit if you’ve got a good one!

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Like this post? I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you, wonderful reader, that my GoFundMe campaign is still open — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive. The proceeds no longer go toward automotive school tuition, because I have paid off my loan in full, but you can still commission me to write anything you want. You can force me to watch ANYTHING and review it for you. Anything. Real-Housewives-of-Atlanta-kind-of-anything. Hit me with your best shot.

Career Talk — Part 1: Most Rewarding Job Experiences

Last week, I posted a call for submissions on a couple of platforms, although notably not on here. Which may have been a silly oversight, so I want to clarify that I am still accepting submissions, as this will be an ongoing multi-post series. Because, in the words of Amy Adams’ character from Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day: “The crisis is ongoing!”

Also, many of the submissions were very detailed and I want to keep these posts to a reasonable length, so each post will be dedicated to a different question on the list below, and when I’m done with that, I’ll hopefully start again from question #1 with new submissions.

The original call/prompt was as follows:

I’m currently at a crossroads in my career, and I’m hoping to write a blog post next week to help get my brain thinking about various different options. I would love to hear from people in any and all professions. If you’re interested, let me know in your comment or via email or message: a) what your job is, b) whether you’d like to remain anonymous, and c) an answer to one or more of the following questions:

1) What’s the most rewarding experience you’ve had at your current job?

2) What’s the most frustrating experience you’ve had at your current job?

3) What’s the most helpful or supportive thing a coworker has ever done for you?

4) What’s the worst thing a coworker has ever done to you?

5) What’s the funniest story you have from your current job?

I just came up with these questions so they’re not comprehensive – if there’s a particular work experience or story you’d like to share that doesn’t fit any of them, feel free to share it anyway! This is just an exercise to help me get the gears turning in my brain as I figure out what to do next with my life🙂

So I’m not expecting this to solve my career stalemate, but at least it will hopefully provide some forward movement in my thoughts on the topic, because the thing about putting things in writing is, you have to move forward with them. You can’t just write the same sentence over and over again. (I mean, you can, and someone probably has, and they probably called it “art” — but let’s be honest, that is crap.)

Let’s get started with the answers, shall we?

(NOTE: Some names may have been changed to preserve anonymity, allowing me to exercise my brilliant pseudonym-making skillz.)

1) What’s the most rewarding experience you’ve had at your current job?

Answer #1: Probably developing an app for a department at the school where I work.

You see, the original system they used declared bankruptcy and left them in the lurch as they were applying for accreditation in a few months.

They came to me (who administered the previous system for them) and asked what they could do. As this was in the the middle of the year, requisitioning tens of thousands of dollars was a challenge at best. Also, no system was really available that met their needs- It would be settling and not fine tuned to the needs of the program.

So I asked exactly what they wanted in an assessment system and researched ways we could do it for free (or, very little money). Using some recently learned programming, I wrote an app that filled the parameters of their requests exactly. Excited by the progress, we hired a new PT computer science student to flesh out the app further. Together with this student (who is brilliant, amazing, and dedicated) we worked tirelessly to develop this assessment app, working with occasionally vague direction and goals.

In the end, we met the deadline, the program secured accreditation (yay!), and use of this system has saved the college over $60,000 a year. This is my most fulfilling experience in my work because by collaborating and thinking outside of the box, we accomplished something amazing. We built something from the ground up, without direction. We were essentially told- we need this, can you help us?

~ Submitted by Comm Puter, Instructional Technologist

Wowza, that sounds awesome. I hope they paid you well for that! I don’t anticipate doing something like that in my career, but I did recently get myself invited to Dash, which claims it will teach me the basics of coding, so that’s something.

Answer #2: When students experience that joy that comes from learning something they did not previously understand. Many students who were worried about failing come back and compliment me on helping them to pass their classes.

~ Submitted by R., a professional tutor

Yeah, I’ve never wanted to be a teacher (both my parents are teachers and if hearing about the realities of that profession from the time you were born until the present day doesn’t make you never want to be a teacher, well, then you just haven’t been listening) but I’ve never been against the idea of one-on-one tutoring. The problem has generally been that whenever I’ve looked into trying to do it through any kind of organization, they want to know what my qualifications are and that I’ve done it before and how much and what subjects, and I haven’t done any of that in any formal or documented way. Apparently saying “I AM BRILLIANT AND REALLY GOOD AT EXPLAINING STUFFS HIRE ME PLZ” is not enough. I know that the best way to get started would be to tutor kids of people I know who already trust me, buuuuuuut…I don’t really like a lot of those kids? So I don’t want to do that to myself? I know, I can be more selective if I become more established, but the beginning would probably be a long hard slog.

Answer #3: I absolutely love my job. There is always a juicy story or something interesting that comes in the door. There are happy and sad stories. I’ve told a patient that she is finally pregnant after she was having fertility issues for 3 years. I’ve told a patient she has endometrial cancer and had her cry at my desk. I’ve even told a 43 year old that SURPRISE she is pregnant, and she tells me her daughter is 20 and she was in shock. I’ve had Muslim patients come with their husbands and have to ask permission from them to get procedures done with the male doctor. I’ve told people they have STDs and they cry because they think their spouse is cheating on them. And yes even when someone comes for a routine pap or yeast infection, I can provide that relief. I like talking to all types of women and having a small glimpse of the most intimate part of their lives.

I also like working in gynecology because it’s easy for me. Its a limited field of medicine (unlike internal medicine or primary care) so its easy to become an expert in it pretty quickly. Being a physician assistant in general is great because if I ever get super bored of doing my 140th pap smear that week, and get sick of gynecology I know that I have options to switch jobs to another field of medicine like dermatology, orthopedics, or surgery etc. so i don’t feel locked in for life.

~ Submitted by Elisheva N., physician assistant in a private gynecology practice

I definitely love collecting stories and learning about people, and being in a position to build them up when they’re hurt or vulnerable. In fact, that’s the main reason I was instantly compelled by the mission of a certain non-profit organization that I came across this week, RevealNYC — it’s an organization dedicated to providing support, fashion, and cosmetics to women who have been victims of domestic violence, to rebuild their confidence, give them practical life skills, and help them feel beautiful again. I intend to get in touch with the organization and see if there’s anything I can offer. Though it is a volunteer-run non-profit and would not solve the career or money dilemma.

Becoming a PA would require me to go back to school, which I’m not interested in doing at this point, but theoretically might be later, so it’s nice to know that it’s versatile if I should decide to put myself through that.

Answer #4: What’s so rewarding about what I do is the client interaction and hearing how happy my clients are when I do my job and make their programs successful and profitable and help them reach their goals. I’ve also set out to make an impact at my company in terms of training and best practices and my boss has entrusted me with creating an entire company-wide training manual all by my lonesome. I took that as a huge compliment to my ability to not only do my job to the best of my ability, but be able to set the standard company-wide for how it should be done.

~ Submitted by Boss Lady, marketing

Positive reinforcement is definitely important for me, too. It’s not quite on the level of Rachel Berry: “I am Tinker Bell! I need applause to live!” — but it’s extremely helpful. As is feeling like I bring something of my own to the table that no one else is already providing.

MY ANSWER: At my recent auto mechanic job, I didn’t feel like I was much of a contributor. Yeah, I did a lot of things, but they often felt like things that anyone else there could do, and do faster (the other mechanics often told me so, maybe sometimes as misguided attempts at motivation, maybe sometimes as a macho thing, whatever) so I often felt redundant at best and like gunk in the machine at worst. Sometimes customers would give me tip money after I’d worked on their cars, but generally I felt like those were Changing A Tire While Female tips, not tips that I’d actually earned.

However, there was one tip that I did feel like I earned. It happened when this lady walked into the shop and after looking around apprehensively, she quietly asked how much an inspection would cost.

“Thirty-seven dollars,” I said, because I’m a decent human who gives straightforward answers to nervous customers.

“Two hundred dollars,” said the mechanic next to me, because he’d evidently decided to be a buttface.

The woman looked from him to me and back, clearly confused. “How much?”

“Two hundred dollars,” said the other mechanic, because nothing makes a bad joke funnier than repeating it.

“It’s thirty-seven dollars, “ I repeated firmly, looking the woman in the eye. “Don’t listen to him; he’s lying.”

She thanked me and went out, brought the car in with some dude who could have been her husband or brother or boyfriend or friend, and the obnoxious mechanic ran the inspection. The car failed the inspection after we hooked up its computer to ours and ran the program.

Obnoxious Mechanic broke the news to her and her companion, and he then incoherently began explaining to them why it had happened, and why they needed to drive the car around some more and come back later.

I could see that he was only confusing them more, so I butted in and broke it down into more user friendly terms, because this was one area that I actually could explain pretty well: the car’s computer runs self-diagnostic tests on itself while you drive, and we get that information from the computer when we hook it up for the inspection. Sometimes the car hasn’t been driven enough or under the right conditions for all the self-tests to run, and that causes the inspection failure. But driving the car for an hour, making sure to include highway driving, should be enough to get all the tests to run.

They paid him for running the inspection, and then the lady came up to me specifically and gave me a dollar tip.

It’s hanging from the ceiling in my room, my one memento on display from this job.

dollar pic

Up next: Most Frustrating Job Experiences! Stay tuned!

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Like this post? I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you, wonderful reader, that my GoFundMe campaign is still open — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive. The proceeds no longer go toward automotive school tuition, because I have paid off my loan in full, but you can still commission me to write anything you want. You can force me to watch ANYTHING and review it for you. Anything. Real-Housewives-of-Atlanta-kind-of-anything. Hit me with your best shot.

#ThrowbackThursday — My College Application Essays (and Reflections on Outgrowing Yourself)

My mother’s gmail account was giving her trouble yesterday, telling her she’s reached her storage quota (which is absurd, because we both have 15 GB of storage and I apparently have 500,000 emails and she has about 25,000, and yet I’ve only used up 50% of my storage quota, but whatever, GOOGLE *shakes fist*) so we went back to her oldest emails and set about the Massive Deletion of 2015 (soon to be a major motion picture), and stumbled across my college application essays from 2008, which I had her forward to me before she deleted them.

I’d been in Israel for the year at the time, so I was sending drafts of the essays across the world to my parents for approval, and for desperate advice on what to cut, because for one of them, I’d written an 800-word colossus for a 500-word max. I never did get it down to 500 words, but fortunately the text box on the application site measured in characters, not words, and I slaughtered those characters like I was George R. R. Martin and got it under the limit. Phew.

I don’t have that character-limited final draft; it wasn’t in the emails we found, and my AOL account from those days has long since sealed me out. But what you have here is the original first draft in all its 800-word glory, with a couple of content revisions borrowed from a second draft. I don’t remember what the topic was, but think generic “what struggles have you overcome and what heartwarming lessons have you learned etc.”

* * *

There’s a lot to write about writing. Most of it’s already been written; in fact, there’s a whole bookshelf full of books about writing books in the Barnes & Noble store ten minutes from my house [Edit from the future: that store no longer exists😦 ]. Characters, literary theory, viewpoint, plot, setting, novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, read-aloud, Braille — you name it, they’ve got a book on how to do it. Probably more than one. I like to sit in the aisle facing that bookcase when I’m writing, but I’ve never taken a book off the shelf. Why?

Writing is personal. At its best, it is an extension of self; at its most penetrating, it is life experience, given a manifest, accessible form. That can be taught far more effectively through the writing process itself than from a book, no matter how well written or instructive. Writing is personal, and it’s the best teacher I’ve ever had.

Lesson #1: “Nothing good comes easy.” Sure, you might catch a few breaks along the way; nobody said it was impossible. Your brother may come home with a flyer from school that advertises a Young Adult Writers Colony for the summer of 2005, guaranteeing publication of any novel completed during the group-centered eight-week program. You may frantically rewrite the first fifteen pages of the novel you started in fifth grade, and then luck out when the program’s organizers like what they see. You may even receive a dizzying stroke of good fortune when illness nearly disqualifies you from the Colony and instead of being sent away, you are set up to work one-on-one with a terrifically insightful volunteer editor, who guides you all the way to the finish. All you have to do then is wait, and the novel is eventually published in an anthology in 2007. Sounds like a piece of cake, no? A published novelist at age seventeen? Where’s the difficulty in that?

Ah, but there’s that other lesson, the one best phrased by the playwright Lillian Hellman: “Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hoped.” All through the years that I was writing in elementary school, all the feedback I got came from my best friends who read as I wrote and always loved every bit of it. My own personal crew of yes-men. Encouraging, yes. Helpful? Not so much. But help came with the program. “I’m thinking ‘plausibility’ here,” my editor, Chris, would often gently say when I proposed an outlandish explanation my friends would have lapped up. He taught me to troubleshoot the issues with the manuscript stemming from a fifth grader’s mindset, and together we ironed out the kinks until the published version could legitimately be called “moderately implausible” instead of “implausibly implausible.”

But that was only the beginning.

Last lesson learned, and learned the hard way: “Life’s not fair.” Neither is publishing. Being published doesn’t mean you’ll be read. Being finished does not mean you’re done. Having “nothing wrong” with a novel is not good enough. It’s just not. After seeing how hard it was to persuade people other than my closest friends to buy an entire anthology just to read my book, I set about trying to land a literary agent who would market my novel individually. I sent query letters to various agents and awaited their replies. This process is inherently unfair: a query letter is essentially your whole novel condensed into one paragraph, and yet that one paragraph should still somehow be indicative of your writing style. If you want to catch an agent’s eye, a completely different skill set from novel-writing is needed, in addition to a lot of luck. Rejections came pouring in — my total may presently be as high as fifty — but a handful of agents were intrigued. This sparked the most intense stage of revision I have yet encountered: six months of scrapping entire sections and rewriting them from scratch, prioritizing, sacrificing, and compromising. There’s a lot of a neat stuff in that old draft, and at least two really good jokes that I know I’ll never get back, but the narrative itself was strengthened and the characters enhanced. However, in the end, the agent whose detailed suggestions had prompted this major overhaul apologetically passed on the project. That hurt. So I suspended agent-hunting for a couple of months, then started anew. Signs from the latest interested agent are good, but there are no guarantees.

My writing has taught me that life should be labeled: “WARNING! Frustration and failure come standard.” I know I have a good book; a professional agent spent six months of her time and free editorial advice on it. The finished product simply wasn’t right for her contacts in the industry at the time. That’s the way it goes. The publishing world contains only a miniscule sample of the outside forces steering the tide in the real world, so I know I’m in for many more disappointments as I grow up. But as long as I stay flexible and don’t expect everything to always be fair and easy, I have the confidence to handle any challenge that comes my way. Bring it on.

* * *

This second essay is a hilarious load of garbage, and I’m not just saying that in hindsight — I knew it was garbage at the time that I wrote it. But it wasn’t entirely my fault, because the topic was garbage: “Imagine yourself graduating from our program, four years from now. How have you grown, what have you gained, etc.”

When I was venting to a friend that I honestly have no idea where I’ll be in 4 years so how could I possibly write this stupid essay, she replied, “I don’t know how to say this, but — don’t be afraid to lie?” Hence the beautiful bs you are about to read.
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To paraphrase Douglas Adams: The world is a mind-bogglingly huge place. It is big and chaotic and, worst of all, there is so much in it. So much to experience, so much to learn, so much culture to absorb, news to track, people to meet, plays to see, books to read, books to write…I remember how I couldn’t wait to get in the thick of it. Fresh from my year in Israel, my identity solidifying by the day, I arrived at Macaulay Honors College ready for anything, and I was not disappointed.

I’ve always known that the best, most insightful writers draw on experience, not simply imagination or cold knowledge. The latter two help, but the deeper the well of experience, the greater and more nuanced the writing becomes. No matter how imaginative or well-read I was as an 18-year-old, there is only so much experience a Queens-dwelling, yeshiva-attending, orthodox rabbi’s daughter can have, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing–not all experiences are good ones–but it is limiting.

After four years in a program that exposes me to numerous cultural elements and a widely varied student body, I have been able to broaden my scope, re-awaken forgotten interests, and most vitally, grasp new aspects of topics ranging from theater to archaeology to civil rights. Every piece contributes to my understanding of the world and my strength as a writer, not to mention my growth as a human being.

All I knew for certain upon my arrival was that I wanted to major in Creative Writing. What I would do with it, whether it could be a viable career–I had hopes, but much remained to be seen. Now, four years later, I have complete confidence that I can do whatever I want with my writing, thanks largely to the mind-boggling hugeness of the world, or more specifically, of New York City and the unparalleled access granted to me by the Honors program.

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LOL at that conclusion. Talk about telling colleges what they want to hear regardless of actual factual facts.

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Looking back, I know I represented myself as someone who wanted to write for a living, because that sounds good, it sounds focused. It sounds much better than, “eh, who the hell knows.”

I don’t remember if at the time I was still genuinely interested in making a career out of writing, or if I just wanted to get this one novel republished and see what happened. I know I was still writing the sequels at the time and had hopes of finishing the series. But I also knew that a lot of what I’d written was awful and would need to be completely overhauled, and I didn’t really want to do that. I didn’t really care THAT much. But I couldn’t actually say that to anyone, because that’s shocking and scandalous makes you sound like a lazy bum who can’t finish what she starts.

People seem to have a tough time understanding why you would do so much of something and then decide you don’t want to do it anymore. But this has now happened to me enough times for me to know that no, doing something a lot is EXACTLY what you need in order to evaluate whether you want to keep doing it. To be able to say, “I know exactly what this entails, and I can do it, but I don’t like it enough, I don’t want it enough, and I don’t believe in it enough to keep subjecting myself to that.”

It’s true of friendships, of careers, of relationships, of hobbies. You aren’t bound forever by what you once wanted. You’re allowed to outgrow it. You’re allowed to let go.

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I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you, wonderful reader, that my GoFundMe campaign is still open — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive. The proceeds no longer go toward automotive school tuition, because I have paid off my loan in full, but you can still commission me to write anything you want. You can force me to watch ANYTHING and review it for you. Anything. Real-Housewives-of-Atlanta-kind-of-anything. Hit me with your best shot.