Making a plan for 5775

Since, in last week’s post, I identified five areas in which I can improve my writing career in the next year, I thought I should also consider the steps to take in order to accomplish those goals.

1) Stop wasting time.

I really do need to stay connected on social media for professional reasons: for networking, to publicize my work when it goes live, and so on. However, I don’t need to check it periodically all day long, and then stare fascinated at the screen when I should be writing.

Two steps I’m going to take: allow myself one half-hour of Twitter and FB at noon, and one half-hour after the kids go to bed. The only exception is on those days I actually expect to have a story published online and know I’ll need to publicize it.

Additionally, Continue reading

Two places to find me in time for Tu B’Shevat!

Hey, everyone.

wild apple photo from wikipedia

Don’t forget to eat fruits from trees on Wednesday night/Thursday in honor of Tu B’Shevat!

It’s my not-so-little secret that I’m kinda obsessed with Tu B’Shevat, the minor Jewish holiday known as the “Rosh Hashana of the trees” in the Talmud and colloquially as “The Birthday of the Trees.” With that in mind, it should come as no surprise you can find me in print twice the week of this holiday.

Where to find me this week:

The first place you can find something written by yours truly is in Binah Magazine. You’ll find my personal essay near the back, where I’ll contemplate the philosophic implications of gardening.

The second place you’ll find me is in Hamodia‘s Binyan Youth Magazine. One of the stories I’ve written that I’ve received the most positive feedback was one written nearly a year ago (just a week or so before Purim 5773) about a boy with Asperger’s mainstreamed in a “typical” yeshiva high school. I’ve brought the back the character a few times and you’ll meet him up again in this week’s story. I took the theme of trees and fruit in a more metaphorical sense here.

What does the theme “Fruit of the Tree” bring to your mind? Songs, books, poems, experiences? Please share below!

Considering my last year of literary pursuit

Since there are just two weeks left of the Jewish year of 5773, I’ve been looking back at the last year and evaluating my life on every level: spiritual, physical, and even professional. And one goal still stands out at unfulfilled:

I STILL HAVEN’T PUBLISHED BOOK #2.

This issue depressed me a couple weeks ago, as I sat in front of my journal on Rosh Chodesh Elul (exactly one month before Rosh Hashanah), scribbling about the past year. I’d submitted a few picture books and two novels to multiple publishers and had zilch to show for it.

But then I counted how many times I appeared in print in the last year for pay: over two dozen times (bli ayin hara).

And then, I counted how many words I’d written. Essentially, it was the length of a novel. Wow.

I realized at that point how many more readers — potentially thousands more people — read my work in magazines this year than in my entire previous professional life.

That’s when I felt blessed.

Okay, I still have a major unfulfilled goal. It will be top of my professional goals again for this 5774. But if success is measured in progress, I made a lot of progress last year. And I could only do it with G-d’s help, which makes the year feel very sweet indeed.

How are you feeling about your last year, professionally? What is your top goal for 5774?

How to Do Teshuva: Giving up and Layne Staley

I think my husband thinks I’ve lost my mind. This Orthodox Jewish housewife (okay, writer…but only extremely part-time writer) has lately been listening to–of all things–huge quantities of Alice in Chains. To those who don’t know what I’m talking about, Alice in Chains is a band the originated in the ’90s as part of the grunge movement that came out of Seattle. Think heavy metal with superior harmonized vocals and thought-provoking, spiritual lyrics that only rarely involve profanity.

Here’s an example of a slower song (I promise, no bad words) with relatively tame video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8hT3oDDf6c

Jerry Cantrell and Layne Staley were the heart of the band at its inception. Staley’s lyrics largely reflect his regret that he largely wasted his life on drug addiction. At the end of his 34 years on this earth, he admitted in interviews that he didn’t get any pleasure from doing drugs. First he did drugs to escape reality, then he did them to avoid withdrawl. He pretty much died of every horrible complication you can have of drug addiction possible. Then his corpse sat in his apartment undiscovered for two weeks. (Talk about a cautionary tale.) Layne Staley’s ninth “yahrzeit” so to speak, will be in a few days.
So why am I listening to so much Alice in Chains?
Our Sages teach that one of the ways the yetzer hara (inclination to do evil) speaks to us is through telling us it’s too late…we’re too lowly to do teshuva (the process of regret, confession, then a return to correct behavior), too steeped in sin. It tries to convince us we’ve got no hope at digging ourselves out, that our true identity is our yetzer hara, instead of our soul. This is exactly the fear conveyed by many of Alice in Chains’ poetic songs.
Down in a hole
feeling so small
down in a hole
losing my soul
I’d like to fly
But my wings are bent
so can I?
The songs written by Layne Staley are a modern-day (l’havdil) selichos.
The tragedy of Layne Staley isn’t simply that he did drugs. It’s that he never seized the opportunity to do teshuva in time. As much as he was a victim of drug abuse, he was a victim of his own yetzer hara. This is a stark reminder that the yetzer hara is considered identical to the Angel of Death.
At this time of year, with Passover approaching, we can recall that the Jewish people were at a deep level of impurity during the period of their slavery. Finally, the children of Israel cried out to HaShem (G-d) and He brought us out of bondage. There are numerous accounts in the Tanakh (Jewish Bible) and Jewish history of those who turned away from lives steeped in sin, including Rachav (left behind life in a brothel to rescue Jews and marry a prophet) and Shimon ben Lakish (aka Reish Lakish – left behind life as a bandit and gladiator to study and teach Torah). Let their stories remind us that it is never too late to get back on the correct path.

We are told by in Mishlei (the Book of Proverbs), “...sheva yipol tzaddik v’kam.” (“Seven times shall
the righteous fall and then rise.”) The difference between those of us who are righteous and those of us who aren’t isn’t whether we’ve sinned or not, but whether we’ve picked up ourselves to try better next time.

I wish Layne Staley had picked himself up and flown.