Monday, July 9, 2012
I'm staring at the coffin, plain, wood, filled, when she walks into the sanctuary. I can feel her as her heels pad softly against the flat brown carpet. The weight of the air shifts. Particles gather around me, closing my throat. All I can smell is my wife on her clothes. It's as if their pheromones mixed together just to taunt me. My body heaves forward. I try in vain to blow out stale fearful air, but her presence suffocates me. The word lover whispers in my ear from some unknown voice as I tightly close my eyes. I'm sure the congregation thinks I'm holding back tears for her. I am. I'm not. I don't know. I've never felt jealous in my whole life. I've never understood the nights my wife would cry in our bed or on the floor because she felt I was keeping some dark secret. For her, jealousy lived just under the surface, a constant threat to our marriage. Her crying pissed me off so much; I fantasized about hitting her, just to shut her up. Every time I thought we we're okay, she'd start to question me. We were trapped in a constant cycle.
Yet somehow, we had an open marriage. Well, open for her. Women came and went from her life. I had one rule: she had to tell me. Sometimes, we'd be driving in the car or sitting in bed, and she'd ask, "Don't you worry?"
"These women? Don't you worry I'll fall in love?"
"Fall in love?" I found this question laughable. "I'm confident in us. You won't fall in love." I never believed for one minute that she'd fall in love with these women. Why would she? Women were her friends. She could easily fuck them and keep that friendship. It never crossed my mind she'd fall in love.
I open my eyes and tilt my head back to look over my shoulder. She's taking a seat in the pew a few rows back. I see a tear running down her cheek. "Why are you crying?" I want to scream. "You can't cry. She's my wife. My wife! This is my grief. Why are you here?"
My heart beats faster and faster. I know why she's here. I know that it's her grief too, and I hate it. I hate that I let this happen. I hate that I have to share. I hate that I can't fucking breath. I hate that she had to die for me to feel this.
I look at the coffin. I look back at her. She cocks her head to the side and gives me a sad smile. My heart speeds up more. I blow out air. I stand up.
Everything goes black.
Monday, June 25, 2012
This story was part of a writing challenge proposed by my American Jewish Lit professor in grad school. After reading Bernard Malamud's short story from 1955, "The Angel Levine," about a Jewish black angel who saves an old Jewish tailor in order to get his wings. The story looks deeply at Jewish identity, posing the question: what makes a Jew?
In turn, my professor asked, "where did this angel come from? What was his life when he was alive? Was he born Jewish?"
I grew up during the Harlem Renaissance, the son of an entrepreneur who made his money opening speakeasies in Jungle alley. Jazz musicians, homosexuals, bohemians, and upper class whites flocked to his establishments. In 1926, when I was four-years-old, we moved to a Hamilton Heights brownstone. At the time (although much has changed) Hamilton heights was a desirable neighborhood for affluent whites, and my father’s success with his speakeasies sprinkled throughout Harlem allowed us to live among whites. I remember the whiteness of my neighbor’s skin was odd to me. It’s not that I’d never seen white folks; I just always assumed they were curious creatures with stringy hair and colorless faces. Our first week in our house, I watched the boy next door kick his pale legs against the steps. I’d never seen a white boy with shorts on before.
“Mama! Mama!” I screamed out into our shiny new kitchen.
She came running into the living room. “What Levi?”
Monday, June 11, 2012
For years, I taught Elie Wiesel's Holocaust memoir, Night, in my community college classroom. Night is the story of Elie and his father's life inside the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps during the Holocaust. It is spare, heart-wrenching, and honest. He tells the tale of a people moved from humanity to degradation and the unraveling of relationships caused by such inhumanity. Many times, broken relationships were that of fathers and sons, but they were also broken relationships with G-d. Elie struggles to hold onto his relationship with his own father while, at the same time, despairs over the violent breakdown of his relationship with G-d.
While teaching, my students and I found ourselves stopping at the same passage:
A young boy is arrested and hanged by the Nazis for not giving up his superior who was planning a revolt. The entire camp stood helplessly by as they watched this young boy die slowly. While death surrounds them everyday, the boy's death beats them down. His hanging even shakes the guards.
Beyond my classroom, this passage propelled me into my graduate research. However, the one piece missing from the conversation was the perspective of this Jewish boy slowly dying as his Jewish community powerlessly watches.
So, I wrote what I imagined his was thinking:
Swinging from nowhere
“Where is God?”
Friday, May 25, 2012
Friday, January 14, 2011
Since Gwyneth Paltrow and her oh-so-successful friends offered such lovely insights into their hardworking days on Gwyneth's website GOOP: insights filled with weekly blowouts, personal trainers, nannies, and organic food.
I really make a point of sitting down with my children—even if it's for 15 minutes. A great time saver is to make steel cut oatmeal, put it in a ceramic bread loaf pan and slice it each morning, add a drizzle of maple syrup, milk and 45 seconds in the microwave—healthy breakfast in seconds and I can make it last over 3 - 4 days! In the summer, I start the day with a protein smoothie, which can be made in minutes (a handful of organic berries, a large scoop of Greek yogurt, a squirt of flaxseed oil, 2 scoops of protein powder, organic pomegranate or cranberry juice and blend)."
I have the benefit of an amazing assistant, without whom I could not make it happen (Thank you, thank you, Diane). My day is packed back-to-back from the moment that I arrive until the moment that I leave. When I'm driving to a meeting, I bring a call list with me so that I can quickly return calls. On a Friday afternoon, I'm given the list of outstanding calls/topics/decisions that I need to make over the weekend.
Find a great salon that understands time pressure and can accommodate your schedule. I have a great salon near me that I can go to at the end of the day to have a facial, manicure and pedicure at the same time. I'm in and out in 70 minutes. Not relaxing but efficient. Same for other appointments. I have acupuncture at 9.30pm at night. It's a wonderful end of the day.
We sit on the bed and read, and I demand my usual cuddles. Jen leaves at 6:30, so I try my best to juggle the three monkeys and keep them all in one piece till bed time
Jen is the NANNY.
I thought I'd share A Day in the Life of a Part-time College Instructor/Part-time Graduate Student/Full-time Big Mean Mama.
While, in my dream world, I'd sleep until 10 without guilt or lately, my day begins at 5 am with the ear piercing alarm, meant for my husband. Of course, due to his insistence on early rising, he is already up; ready to face the world, so I am forced to hit the alarm. For years, he had an alarm that never went off, or if it chose to go off, it filled the air with soothing sounds of birds and ocean waves. He found it lacking. I found it perfect. Just as I think I might go back to sleep, sounds of angry killer bees swarming through the house fill my oh-so-tired ears. I'm sure, at some point, I was able to ignore my husband cycling on his trainer in the dining room, but now, I just long for the warmth of spring and outdoor biking activities. (Love you Giant Gentile, you sure look cute on that trainer! Keep up the good work)
I finally get up around 6:20, to go downstairs to pack The Boy his healthy, kosher, dairy, peanut-free, lunch, and two snacks. We keep getting notes telling us to pack more food. My child is not going to up to Everest; I don't know why he needs so much food--especially, because they put his uneaten food in his lunchbox at the end of the day. Gross. (This is why we are on lunchbox number two.). Then I run upstairs to get The Boy up for school. "Is it Saturday?" He always asks. "No, it's not Saturday." If it was Saturday, I wouldn't be trying to get you up at 6:30 in the morning. Instead, you'd be up on your own at 5:30 tormenting your Dad with Cartoons and the constant, "Daddy? Daddy? Daddy?" The only time he's up on his own on the weekdays, is when he's had an accident, and he's trying to hide it by changing his pjs. " I didn't have an accident. I just wanted to wear these jammies and put the sheets in the hallway." Unlike, Gwyneth's child Moses who jumps lovingly into her arms upon waking, my child hides like a teenager under the covers. "The light! It's burning my eyes. Turn it off Mama. Turn it off." I am completely incapable of handling this situation with grace and ease. Instead, my voice gets high and shrieky. I simply cannot help myself. (He often returns the favor at 8am on Saturdays by jumping on my back and begging me to get up and buy him Dunkin Donuts. Shhh, don't tell the organic flax seed oil police)
We are often late getting out the door. Although I like to blame my tortoise-like movements of my child, I am also the cause of this lateness. I don't organize myself the night before. I don't make lists. I don't put notes in pretty folders. I don't put my laptop in my bag or my keys in the right spot. I run around after I am supposed to already be picking up for carpool. Thank G-d, for Tuesdays and Thursdays, when The Boy gets picked up. The carpool used to be rather hellish, but that situation has been rectified. (okay, so we kinda got kicked out part of carpool, because I can't always get along with other people's children). The children stay silent as long as I promise to keep NPR in the front seat.
Lately, I've been dropping off at school, parking in the parking lot, and going to the Gym. Another joy of living in the American Shtetl: one stop-shopping. Except on the days I teach, there is no real excuse for me to not to go to the gym. It's in the same building as his school! So, now I go. However, it's a huge time-suck. Between my big mouth, my refusal to go in the stretching room in the presence of any meathead law school students, and my desire to blow-dry my hair (myself! Okay fine, so I paid a little money and got a straightening treatment, but I don't do it every week. In fact, when I got my hair straightened and highlighted, it had been 8 months since I'd done anything. ANYTHING. I certainly don't have a massage/pedicure/manicure/facial in the same 90 minutes. Who are these people? I digress). So, yes, I usually get there at 8, and I'm not out until 10. I could be cleaning the living room!
Once, I finally get out of the gym, I go to my office/local coffeeshop where I know all the regulars and the details of the barista's dating lives. I drink far too much English Breakfast tea, and two days ago my mouth turned numb from the sunflower petals in my tea. Who knew? I could probably write an entire blog about the goings-on at the coffee shop. From the creepy retired men that troll the young baristas to the priest that silently sits behind me as I write about Jesus. I'm waiting for him to talk to me, but he never has. I Facebook, and worry too much as I write. I grade papers, do research, and type too many long quotes. The Shtetl follows me there: moms from the JCC, Rabbis, and congregants. It's distracting, but not as distracting as the silence of my house or the call of my tv.
When I'm not writing in the coffee shop, I'm teaching. I don't have my own office. I don't have normal hours. Some semesters, I teach one class, while others I teach four. Red and I eat lunch together hiding in the adjunct mailroom. We giggle like teenage girls. I give ignorant dating advice (I've been with the Giant Gentile since I was 19. I know nothing about dating), she reminds me not to eat all the good parts out of my salad. We are on the outskirts and we like it. My teaching varies. Sometimes my students amaze me and sometimes I spend half the time sighing with frustration. I already caught a student texting today while I was lecturing about not texting. I finally did the math and including summers, I've taught here 20 semesters!
I've been trying harder to go home for a few hours in the afternoon to straighten the house. I lack a maid and a nanny and all those special goodies of the privileged. I also lack the domestic skills of a Type A personality and the sense of obligation of a Stay-at-home Mom. I wish I had both. Everyone wishes I had both.
I pick up The Boy later than I should. My dinners are usually uncreative. I've generally forgotten to run an important errand, so I find myself rushing into the darkness while my little family watches TV (big bad tv). GG puts The Boy to bed. He usually falls asleep on the floor while he reads to him. Some nights, I run off to board meetings, girl's nights, or rehearsals.
I have no time saving tips. I'm behind on my writing. I think about food too much. I spend too much time on Facebook. I can't stop checking every news app on my IPhone. I do have one Fashion Tip that helps me every day of my life: cleavage hides everything.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
NPR has a short story contest called Three Minute Fiction. I always forget to enter or I miss the deadline. Yesterday, I looked over the contest to see what I needed to write: a short-story in 600 words where at least one character tells a joke and another character cries. Before I started to write, I thought I'd try to find what I've already written. I usually write on my graduate school laptop, so most of my files are research files or papers I've written. Why would I have a story with my graduate papers? One of my favorite professors, who teaches Jewish Thought, loves to make his grad students write stories instead of papers (awesome for a girl who thought about getting an MFA in creative writing before turning her attention to Jewish Literature).
Anyway, because of my worship of wordiness, I can't find one story less than 1,000 words. I guess, I'll have to start from scratch. However, I did find a goodie from my course on Job. If you aren't familiar with Job or you've forgotten the details, I suggest you take a peek at the real story---CliffsNotes® , (yep, there are CliffsNotes® for the Bible!) wikipedia, the actual Torah (or Chabad's version. For all their social shortcomings, I'm a big fan of Chabad's online Torah) or the King James Version.
The most important concept to remember for my purposes is that in the story of Job, his wife has no name and has only one line (and now, I'm quoting from my Jewish Publication Society Tanakh app on my IPhone): "Dost thou still hold fast thine integrity? Blaspheme God, and die." When most people quote the line, they say, "Curse God, and die" Multiple interpretations exist out there that explain what she meant by the line. It is her only line. Job retorts, "Thou speakest as one of the impious women speaketh. What shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" After that, she is never mentioned again. Thus, my professor asked us to write a story answering the question: What's up with Job's wife? The story below is my answer:
Love Letters to a Nameless Wife
I never intended to stray, but Job left me for hours, then days, then weeks to oversee the grounds, the flocks, the sheep. And there I was, left with ten children. Do you know what it's like to be in charge of ten children? Job and his holiness-- He just doesn't want to be in the house. He wants to look good for all the neighbors. He's all about image really. He looks good for the servants, for the flock, he even tends kindly to the wild beasts. You should see him, going on about the greatness of wild goats, and lions. Levithans even. Have you ever met anyone who's actually come across a leviathan? Hogwash, I say: just a big story to keep the people down here fearful.
All I was to him was a baby maker. I bore him child after child. When those children started grow instead of paying more attention to me, he went off to their feasts: more opulence, more reasons for him to brag about his great piety. "Oh, look at me. Job. The great one. Look at all my children. Look at how they exalt the Lord." Exalt the Lord, my ass. They exalt their father's money. Job sees none of this, of course. He doesn't see his thieving children, or his lazy servants, or those animals he insists on feeding leaving their mess and their newborn babies all over my yard. More than anything, he doesn't see me. I'm not sure if he ever saw me. We had one of those typically arranged marriages. He came from money. I came from money. I had a nice dowry and an even nicer face. Now that I look back on it, I don't remember ever really loving him or even lusting after him. He was always so pious, and yet, so selfish.
My thick black curls, olive skin, and big…eyes, did attract attention. It always attracted attention. When I was young, my father came to me over and over with marriage proposals. However, none of them were good enough. My father wanted more for me. He wanted riches for me, and he also wanted piety. (Heaven knows why, I can't remember him ever acting piously) But that Job of Uz, he was a prize. It wasn't even worth putting up a fight.
With all my servants, I was a lady of leisure. I really had nothing to do but make babies. When I wasn't making babies (who by the way, I just gave up to the nursemaid), I was, bored. So boring this life was.
While Job and my children ignored me, Job's friends, did not--especially Eliphaz, Bilad, Zophar, and the young one Elihu. (he was a catch; he may be young, but I still had my beauty.) When Job was off in the fields, or helping the poor, or visiting our children, his friends were visiting me. They never came all at once. However, each of them found excuses to visit. Eliphaz, an older gentleman would visit to make sure I was safe. He said he worried about me alone in the house. He'd say to me:
"In thoughts from the visions of the night, When deep sleep falleth on men, fear came upon me, and trembling, and all my bones were made to shake. A form before my eyes told me I must see you. I must make sure you are protected from forces outside your door. They say your children are far from safety, but I do think, my dear, that you are the one far from safety. Alone in this big house. Alone in the wilderness. Affliction may not cometh not forth from the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground. Evil forces surround the world, and you are left unprotected. Let me protect you."
So, I let him protect me. Job never worried about my safety. He never worried about my loneliness. All he worried about was his precious God. Eliphaz, worried. And eventually in the darkest of nights he'd whisper, "Neither shalt thou be afraid of destruction...Neither shalt thou be afraid of the beasts of the earth. For thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field; And the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee. I will seek unto you and unto you I will commit my cause."
Who can resist such words? With Eliphaz, I felt protected in a way I've never been protected in my life. He brought light to the darkness of my night. He redeemed me from the famine of loneliness.
But then, Eliphaz was seized with guilt and slowly he visited me less and less. It didn't take long for Bildad to come to my house. With Job gone more and more, I was left to deal with a small legal matter. Job's father left the son of his servant to us and the servant did not want to serve. I could do nothing. It was the law, but Job, in his infinite kindness, did not want to force the servant, so he left, went to the house of our third youngest son. He would pray at the altar of God, and God would decide. Of course, the servant wasn't waiting for God and I certainly wasn't waiting for Job. I called Bildad. "You dear, would never pervert justice." He assured me. "You are pure and upright and the law is on your side. Tell this servant, apply thyself to that which their fathers have searched out. For we are but yesterday, and now nothing. Job's father gave him the servant's son, so he must serve you. The father's will it. The matter is done. Let's concentrate on better things. This man of yours has found himself on a path where he forgets you. You should be the joy of his way and out of the earth his love should spring."
Then, he looked deeply into my eyes and whispered, "Let me fill your mouth with laughter and thy lips with shouting." And I let him.
While Bildad was wise of heart and mighty in strength, he too was seized with guilt. Many a season passed and my life was filled with children, servants, and Job's piety. A third time Job left me, our eldest son wife's had given birth to a boy. I begged to go, but Job felt it was best that he visit alone. He didn't want our daughter-in-law to feel uncomfortable. Angered by Job's decision to leave me at home, Zophar came to check on me. "He has mocked you, and he should be ashamed. Does he ever try to find the deep things about you? The measure of your worth is longer than the earth and broader than the sea. Maybe if he didn't pass you by and he shut up for a moment he would not be such an empty man. He is a wild ass and you are steadfast and you shall not fear. Forget your misery. In your darkness, let me show you morning. I can make you secure. I can give you hope. Thou you shall lie down and none shall make you afraid." And so I did.
My three valiant men, more worthy of affection than my pious absent husband, gave me much joy in my loneliness. They filled my days with words and my nights with wonder. For husbands should know, it is their faults when wives do fall. And fall I did. I fell and fell again.
Though, let me tell you truthfully, none of these men made me fall the way young Elihu made me fall. He must have watched these men visit my house. For in a time of quiet, he'd sneak in my kitchen, sit at the table and tell me, "Hear my words. These men may seem older and wiser than me. However, if they looked upon the heavens, and beheld the sky, they would see what is higher than them. Who is a better teacher than love? Do these men really enjoy it the right way? I hear your voice. I listen attentively to the noise of your voice, and the sound that goeth from your mouth. Your flesh is tenderer than a child's. You bring me back to my life. Your presence redeems my soul. I look at you and behold the light. You've brought my soul back from the pit."
I would go to bed at night, and he would come to me in my dreams.
But, alas, those dreams soon became nightmares. Instead of sweet nothings, my sweet Elihu came to speak curses in my dreams. He haunted me with pain. I'd wake up chilled and stiff and frightened. Visions of flesh dripping off bodies, and haggard hungry men filled my vision: whirlwinds of death and destruction consumed my night. The man I loved stood laughing over the pits of hell as I fell deeper and deeper in darkness. I'd wake up drenched in fear and sweat.
And so, I ended it with Elihu. The dreams were too much: the guilt too overwhelming. When Job came home from our sons, I threw my arms around him, thankful for his piety; grateful for his presence. But then, just when I thought I could give up my own passions, the messenger came from my eldest son's house, and all was lost…
Friday, January 7, 2011
When I first started teaching writing, my friend, The Stable Goddess, gave me her syllabus. I loved how candidly it was written. Over the years, I've changed little bits and pieces. I always add important statements to my "welcome" lecture, but I've never written these statements down. Quite frankly, they've always struck me as too mean to put on paper. However, despite my constant lecturing, no one ever listens to the added details. Thus, the big bad monster finally wrote it down:
Much of this class works like a writing workshop, you are here to write even when I am not lecturing.
Pressing matters should be e-mailed to me. If you miss class, you may e-mail me your assignment. However, I will grade only hard copies of your work.
Your attendance is graded. According to the college's official policy, if you miss 5 classes before the withdrawal period, I have the right to recommend you drop the class. More importantly, at the end of the semester, if you've missed 8 classes or more, I have the right to fail you.
If you know you are missing class, tell me. You don't need to tell me why: missing class is missing class.
[sidenote: I didn't have the nerve to write this, but I always say: "You can't BS a BSer. Don't waste your time making up a story. I know you are lying. It is a mistreatment of my time and a waste of your time. When I was in college, I wanted to go on Spring Break with the Giant Gentile, but his spring break was different than mine. We went to Florida. However, I told my professors that I was going to Amsterdam. My King Author in Literature prof (who also taught Beat Literature) gave me a list of great places to buy pot brownies. (I don't tell my students that) My Women and Religion prof told me to write a paper on my religious experiences in Amsterdam. I spent a day of my vacation researching Amsterdam. I wrote a great paper. I got an A (actually a 93 because I failed to mention God in my religion paper). They didn't know I made it up, but I'll know you're making it up. You can only attend so many funerals…]
If you find yourself missing class for extended periods of time, no matter what the reason, come speak to me--not showing up for weeks or months and then randomly wandering into class is not acceptable. Doing all the work but never coming to class is also not acceptable.
You are responsible for what transpires in class whether you are present or not. Utilize Blackboard, this Syllabus, the School Syllabus, and a good study buddy to get caught up. I reserve the right not to repeat entire lectures to absentees. If you are absent the day a paper is due, you are still responsible for getting the paper to me on time. Never show up after an absence and ask me, "What did I miss?"(this is an exact quote from either the Stable Goddess or my adorable boss). A calendar is provided under Course Information to allow you to view the assignments.
In this class, EVERY DETAIL COUNTS. Your little mistakes reflect poorly on the content of your work. Pay attention to your work.
Always proof your work before handing it in. Get someone else to read your work. Visit the Writing Center. Red and Slick Willy will be happy to help you. Remember, they are not a proof-reading service. They are there to help you get your ideas straight and make sure your writing flows. Make an appointment before the assignment is due. They will not read over your assignment on the day it is due.
Most of all: do your own work. Do not pay someone to do your work. Do not ask your best friend, girlfriend, father of your child, tutor, the dude who sits next to you, or your mother to write your papers for you. Plagiarism and academic dishonesty are taken very seriously. Do not copy other people's work without citing. Do not make up information. If you are citing a study, a statistic, or quoting a person, it must be real. You cannot write a paper based on false information. It takes more work to cheat than it takes to do the work. It takes me less than thirty seconds to figure out you are plagiarizing. It takes only a few phone calls to figure out you are making studies up or getting other people to write your papers.
FINALLY- We are in a computer classroom. Be responsible. I can hear you clicking away while I'm talking. I can hear you laughing when I'm not being funny. I know you are on Facebook. I know you are tweeting about how bored you are. I see you checking your e-mail. Most of all, I can see you texting. I can see your Bluetooth and your mouth moving. If they really care about you, they know you are in class. If it is a true emergency, they can always call the English Department. Someone will come find you.
Then it goes on to the assignments. Am I too mean?