A Bridge of Hope and Spit

“I like to be in the dark sometimes.”

“Me too.”

We lay together, side by side, barely touching. Or is it lie? Do we lie together? Which is the correct conjugation of the verb? We care about language, this is a crucial issue. If we lie together, does the insinuation extend beyond the simple act of bodies naked limbs stretched side by side on a too narrow bed minds on different planes of consciousness which we have already agreed are impossible to bring together in any substantial way? If we lie together are we lying to ourselves and each to the other as well? There’s no need to raise this question aloud, of course, it will only spoil the thoughts racing in our minds which may be exactly the same and may on the other hand be entirely different, but are equally valid. The gap is unbridgeable or is it that the bridge is ungappable? We can’t remember, that conversation was too many pleasures ago.

“Is this okay?”

“Yes. Is this okay?”

“Yes.”

We talk about books and music and likes and dislikes and our heads are filled with mush and gray matter and our lips move around words which mean things or don’t and the hour grows later and light grows brighter and the birds chirp and our voices grow softer. Soft like what, is this important? Are they soft to the touch like a piece of felt that is smooth when you run your fingers along it both ways, or soft like velvet which is so smooth it may induce tears when touched one way and suddenly course and upsetting when touched against the grain, like a cat being pet to make its fur stand up? And on the subject of furs are the tree version used for Christmas celebrations absent from both our locales as they seem to be at first glance or is Christmas celebrated in a half of this darkness that is still unexplored?

“Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

Some Instincts

Shivering through space, Daley tiptoed across the library in her overcoat, gloves and woolen hat. Every cough ripped through her throat like ice chips going up rather than down, the reverse of her favorite summertime treat, crunching posicles in the yard before they melted.
Her body was a nesting place for germs and it made her uncomfortable to be around people who could catch her diseases but she had no choice. The world hadn’t stopped when her fever had risen to 102. The shelf she was searching for was being elusive, skipping around the library and purposefully evading her.
Terry’s blue and black coat flashed in her peripheral vision and warring instincts kicked in. She didn’t want him to see her like this but she wanted him to see her, to remember she existed outside the universe of beer pong and lax boys sucking on helium balloons for a laugh. Terry wasn’t above that sort of thing – Daley liked to think she was – but he had something to him that was more than that as well.
She couldn’t decide what to do quickly enough, and so he was gone, slamming out of the library like everyone seemed to do, as loudly and disruptively as possible. The sound reverberated in her head and she still couldn’t find the shelf mark she was looking for. She wished she could ask for help but her voice was reduced to a crow’s scratchy caw and whispering hurt even worse.
It was time to give up, she realized, surprised that her body had already figured this out and that she was falling to the floor, knees buckling, hands pulling some books off the shelf with her just to make sure that someone would hear and come running.
At least, she thought before everything went black, some instincts are still working.

On Being Freshly Pressed

I started writing when I was fifteen. Oh, I don’t mean that I learned to write then. I learned to read and write at a pretty typical age. But an important part of the process for me has to do with the fact that I am bilingual. Although I was born in Los Angeles and my parents had no idea, at the time, that we’d end up moving to Israel, my father wanted his children to grow up speaking Hebrew and so from the time that my brother and I were born, he spoke Hebrew – and only Hebrew – to us, while my mother spoke English – and only English – to us. This doesn’t always work, apparently. It very nearly didn’t, with me. I understood my father, but until I was three years old, I would answer him in English, even though he spoke to me in Hebrew.

We moved to Israel when I was three, and I began to be immersed in the Hebrew language. I had to speak it, whether I wanted to or not, because I wouldn’t be understood otherwise. So I did. I first learned to read and write in Hebrew, although my parents both read me stories constantly, every night, in either Hebrew or English, depending on which parent was doing the reading.

My mother had to teach me how to read and write in English, on her own, with the help of little brown books with stick figures in them. I hated the lessons, for some obscure reason. I hated learning to read and write in Hebrew at school, as well. Curious, really, as I loved books and stories. I went to bed every night listening to audiobooks, and I loved being read to.

I did learn to read. And to write. First in Hebrew. Then in English. The reason this is important, is that I think that this order is connected to the fact that I also started writing creatively in Hebrew first. I wrote poems, as many an angsty teenager has. I wrote poems about burgeoning lust, love, trials and tribulations, about friendships and desires and disappointments, about my low self esteem and the way I felt I didn’t have a voice.

When my father died, when I was sixteen, I shifted over to English. Though I had become a voracious reader at the age of nine, with the discovery of the Harry Potter books, I began to read far more than ever before – my need for solitude and escape made me turn towards the imaginary worlds inside books. I began, tentatively, to write bits of things. Poems. Stories. Bits of characters. Nothing particularly coherent, though.

There was a self-discovery to this. When I was eighteen, I started this blog. This very blog, the same one that I have now, four years later. I had written in many diary-like blogs before. I had written and abandoned too many paper-based diaries as well. But this blog, I decided to use strictly in order to practice my writing. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. I didn’t know what kind of writing I was going to stick to, if any, though for some reason I thought at first that I was going to try to be funny and witty. I thought I was going to try to comment on my life and write anecdotes about it. I have, and I still do, at times.

But that is not what this blog, or my writing, is really about. Of course, I cannot claim my writing is about any one particular thing, because it’s not. I am young, ridiculously so, and though I am continuing on my path to become a working writer, I also know that there is no single definition to that term.

What I do know, however, is that I cherish stories. Stories, to my mind, are where people can find empathy and relate to others. Stories are the way we communicate with one another on a daily basis, they’re the way we pass things along from one generation to another, and they’re the way we define ourselves. Stories are my lifeblood, they are the way mind works, and they are the reason I love language and words and books so fiercely.

Being chosen to be featured on WordPress’s “Freshly Pressed” page is an honor that I can’t really understand or contain, especially as the story chosen was one that – when I wrote it – I didn’t think was particularly good. It was okay, but it wasn’t one that I was (or am) very proud of. But a writer doesn’t get to choose what others see in her work. Part of what publishing my stories online is about is allowing them to be seen for what they are and to stand alone.

I want to welcome all the new followers I’ve garnered and to thank you for deciding to accompany me on my continuing quest to practice writing. What you’ll find here, most of the time, will be short stories or flash fiction. I will also occasionally write posts about my life, or things I see, although oftentimes I choose to explore those things in story-form as well.

You are not so good

You begin to realize you’re not as good a person as you wish were. You’re not sure whether this is because of who you are, who you’re comparing yourself to on a daily basis, who you’re aspiring to be, or what you’re keeping in your belly and is emerging, in fits and bursts, and shocking people. You think it’s the last of these. Because, after all, if you would raise things that worried you at the right time, they wouldn’t bubble up like boiling water. As it is, you end up burning people, and they resent you for it. They begin to think you’re not as good a person as they thought you were before. They think you are hiding malice in your throat and in your lungs.
You wonder if they’re right. Everyone hides evil inside them, but there is evil and there is malice and there is innocent selfishness. You know your evil, your malice, is not original. You know that it is a product of your fear and your embarrassment. But you know that others don’t know this. It bothers you that the innocent selfish are seen as better people, because they, after all, are innocent. Selfish, yes, but innocent. Selfishness is being appreciated in your current surroundings, more and more so. You don’t understand this. It puzzles you. You’ve never experienced people who admire it so much. It makes you wonder, and it is one of the poisons leaking into your veins.
Your skin is peppered with invisible needles, the syringes of these poisons, most of which are connected to your own head. Others, just a few, come from other people. But really, even they, are probably linked to your own head in a way you don’t quite understand. You wish you could get it. You wish you understood better how to pluck these needles out, simply cut them out of your flesh.

You sit and listen to people talk everywhere and you wonder what happens in their heads. You love listening to them so much. They distract you from everything else you should be doing. Their heads – you know – must be just as loud as yours, but you wonder how different or similar they are. You know that each of you, each and every one, must be wrapped up to some extent or other in their own private world, and that is fascinating. You want their stories. You want to know their stories.

Thoughts on Closure

I am contemplating closing down this blog. I love it, and it will always be the place where I gathered my courage for the years to come and whatever they might bring, but the truth is – well, there are several truths. First, I don’t have the readership that I used to have, because many of the bloggers I used to be in contact with here have abandoned their blogs months or years ago. Second, I don’t actually get very much feedback on what I write anymore, and stats don’t give me any idea on the quality of what I’m posting. Third, I feel a pull towards working on things that I feel are too long to put here.

Fourth, and perhaps this is really the most pressing concern, I’m going to begin sending out some of my work to both print and online magazines and try to get it published. I’m trying to edit my stories and get them ready for this move and work on more stories that could be publishable.

Then again, it’s always nice to have a place to continue practicing in, which is always what I’ve used this blog for, so maybe I should keep it. Or I could just make it private. I’m not sure. Just wanted to let my few regulars – for whom I am eternally grateful and with whom I’d love to stay in touch – know that I’m thinking these things.

Five Reasons I Love “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

Before I start, I want to give a SPOILER ALERT. If you haven’t yet read the book, then a) you should, and b) you shouldn’t read this post (yet) because it contains many details that are vital to the plot. Read the book, I urge you, and come back!

Okay, here we go, the five reasons why my love for Little Women endures, everlasting:

1. The complexity of the characters. Little Women is often assumed to be a simple book for little girls, a book you should read in middle school and then put aside with the other chapter books. It is so much more than that. I reread it once a year, and every year I discover more facets of and motives for the characters . Let’s take Jo March as a case study. Jo is a tomboy when she is young – not because she shuns her contemporaries’ femininity on the whole, but because she recognizes that men have freedom where women don’t, and it is that freedom that she yearns for. She escapes by reading, writing and playacting, finding in these activities the adventures and capacity for expression she needs. But when her favorite sister, Beth, becomes deathly ill, Jo begins to change, to mature. Though the reader rarely witnesses Jo struggling verbally with her emotions, her actions speak far louder than any words she could utter; Jo nurses Beth with obsessive dedication, but fails to bring her back to health. Some time after Beth’s death, Jo realizes that she cannot reconcile herself to fulfilling her dream of becoming a writer. She can’t make her castle in the air a reality with the guilt of Beth’s passing still weighing on her. Instead, Jo ends up devoting her life to the care of others, opening a school for boys that takes in poor and disadvantaged students as well as wealthy ones. Jo’s progression from teenager to woman is complex, and Louisa May Alcott brilliantly shows – rather than tells – Jo’s struggles.

2. The faith. Though a staunch atheist myself, the brand of religion that Alcott portrays in Little Women has always seemed particularly beautiful to me. The particular Christianity practiced by the March family is welcoming and socially-conscious, more about the doing of good deeds than the preaching of good news. There is a wonderful section in which Amy discusses her desire to have a chapel to pray in, similar to the one Esther, a Catholic servant, has. Mrs. March, though uncomfortable with the idea of a Catholic chapel in her home, is amenable to having her daughter set up a little room in which to pray, meditate and think. When religion is spoken of blatantly, it is to comfort and console one another. I’ve always been envious of the March family’s calm, matter-of-fact, approach to faith; as a reader, it is appealing, comforting, and never discomforting.

3. The realistic portrayal of marriage. Unlike many 19th-century novels Little Women doesn’t end with a marriage. Instead, the second part of the book deals with the sisters’ adult life, including the first years of a new marriage. Meg and John marry after a three-year long engagement. Even though John has spent that time earning money and Meg has tried saving the little wages she made as well, they run into financial difficulties quite soon after they marry – a reality of life that is familiar today as well. Meg and John learn to fight through and for their relationship, how to have disagreements, to argue and make up – they struggle with their pride, youth and different expectations from one another. They discover that maintaining a healthy relationship takes work.

4. The reality of parenting. Alcott  takes the reader into Meg and John’s life as new parents. Mrs. March has been, previously, a beautiful example of a loving and beloved mother, and Mr. March, though absent for the first third of the novel, is only so because he is working as a war chaplain and is clearly much loved by his family as well. However, once Meg and John grow distant from one another because of Meg’s devotion to her children, the reader gets to hear a little about the March’s difficult early years as well, a fact that humanizes their saintly dispositions. Meg and John struggle to make parenting a shared venture, and Meg, especially, learns to overcome certain instincts that are unhealthy, she realizes, for both her and her children. Once again, Alcott doesn’t pretend that parenting is an easy task, but handles the difficulties with empathy and humor simultaneously.

5. The sheer beauty of the writing. The style is simple throughout, but there is not a page that doesn’t give me that warm and comforting feeling of a truly human book. The way the characters talk to one another is always lively and lifelike – Jo and Laurie meeting behind the curtain at the party, Amy solemnly explaining why she wrote a will, Meg and John so awkwardly settling upon their engagement, and on and on and on; there are a thousand examples I’d like to give, but I fear I’d end up simply writing a synopsis of the entire story if I started.

So let me recommend again that if you haven’t read it, do so – and if you have read it, reread it. You might be surprised by what you’ll find in it now that you’ve graduated middle school.

Do You, Like, Like ‘Liking’?

Or do you, like, like like ‘liking’?

If you’re of my generation or younger, one generation above mine, have kids of either of those generations, or have ever turned on your television, you probably understand both the title and the subtitle below it – I hope the commas and quotations helped to convey the intonation and meaning of both questions.

I think that there are few English speakers of my generation who don’t use the word “like” too often. It is our verbal tick, probably more used than “um”s or “ah”s, sprinkled among our other words as liberally as seeds on Pepperidge Farm’s 15 Grain Bread. But, like this bread, which actually looks on the inside almost exactly like the company’s Whole Grain or Whole Wheat lines (the only difference being the crust, the outside), our use of the word “like” is only as annoying as we make it out to be and probably not worse than how other generations talk, on the whole.

What really bothers me is the way the word has trickled down into social media. I rather enjoy using it on Facebook – ‘liking’ someone’s status or comment means approving of it. I get to join in the communal laughter at my friends’ witty remarks or pump a virtual fist in the air at their political remarks. It gives me a case of the warm fuzzies to see that people have liked my own rarely updated statuses. So I like Facebook likes okay.

But the ‘like’ button has now become a staple of sorts, and it is maddening. People can like my comments on every website I post on, they can like my reading choices, and, worst of all, they can like my posts right here, on WordPress. Why do I dislike this so much? Because, more often than not, on blogging websites, ‘liking’ is a strategy. And that infuriates me.

I came to WordPress almost four years ago because I’d heard it was a “serious” blogging website. Less TeenOpenDiary and Xanga, less LiveJournal, but a bit more customizable than the then still dull-looking Blogspot. On the whole, I wasn’t and haven’t been let down. I haven’t achieved fame, fortune or book contracts through this blog, but that wasn’t what I was setting out to do as an eighteen year old who’d just barely realized that if she wanted to be a writer she’d better start to actually practice her writing and get over her stage fright and let people read some of her mistakes along the way.

I’ve been happy here, and incredibly lucky – I have found real friends and people who believe in me and my writing. I have found amazing writers whose work I have faith in.
But since that bedamned ‘like’ button was added to WordPress, I’ve felt that this place has turned into some stats factory. Every post I write gets ‘like’d within seconds, too short a time usually for the person to have actually read the thing – the only reason they’re clicking that button is because my post has appeared in the newly published section, where someone, this ‘like’r, is clicking on new posts and liking them, one after another, in the hopes of having on of those people come and visit their blog and read their post.

Isn’t part of the point of blogging the mutual experience? The actual, genuine, process learning to like someone else’s writing style and subjects and, being able to discard that person without them even knowing it if you don’t like what they write, by just leaving their page? This way, liking people just in order to draw some random audience to your own website, seems so… competitive. As if it’s a game that people are trying to get ahead in.

Now, I make no false claims – I check my site stats just like everybody else and get very excited and happy when my readership goes up, and when I don’t post and don’t read my friends’ blogs, I’m well aware that it will go down. But I also don’t randomly travel around WordPress simply clicking the ‘like’ button just to make people come see my own site. If I use the button now, it is only on blogs where I’ve left enough comments that make it clear that I am a regular reader – and then I usually leave a comment as well.

I don’t like liking when I don’t actually know if I like something or not.

What are your (like) thoughts?

My First Second

   I typed these words: “…vivid enough to be sure of.” I stared at my computer screen. The undersized keyboard on my too-small laptop sat beneath my fingers, silent. People tell me that I type extremely loudly, banging each key violently, even when I’m perfectly calm. I’ve tried blaming my computer – but then they hand over their own laptops or keyboards and I try typing and the banging sound resumes. Clearly, it’s me. I hammer out words with a fervor that doesn’t often suit my mood and that isn’t healthy for the machines I use or for my wallet. A wallet which, if I continue to pursue the path of my chosen profession, will probably not fatten with big bills or numerous credit cards. I should really give my poor keyboards a break.
   I digress. Those words, that are vivid enough in my mind to be quite certain of now, were the final words of the last sentence of Chapter Fifty. I didn’t plan it that way, but I ended on a nice, round number like that. Fifty. It’s satisfying, that number. It feels very complete.
   **
   I wrote the first draft starting at the end of January, 2011, and finished it almost exactly a year ago, at the end of August, 2011. I tried reading it about a week after I had written the last page, unsatisfied and knowing that there was so much more that needed to be changed, inserted, taken out and neatened. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t read it. It reeked of my own foul stench, as if I’d secreted my body odor into it.
   Worse than that, though – it was boring. I tried reading that draft more than once during the months that followed. Every time I picked the thing up, I was astonished at how basely dull it was. There was no there there. There was no essence, no feeling, no emotion – it was a string of words with periods and commas more or less where they should be, dashes and semicolons peppered in for variety. Sure, the sentences were well formed enough. They were understandable. No one would be confused as to the meaning of “Amanda felt” so and so or of “Dan said” thus to some other person.
   But beneath the disgust, beneath the boredom, there was a gut feeling that told me that I would be back. There was a knowledge that these characters and their story were too important to me, as small as their lives are, because ultimately I believe in the importance of small lives. I cannot contain the vastness of humanity – I often talk with disdain about how “all politicians” are like this, or how “people are so stupid” sometimes. But I know that these words are ways for me to deal with the everyday – ways for me to be able to live and breathe and put one foot in front of the other. Because if I gave in to one of my biggest wishes – to try and empathize with everybody, all the time – I would lose myself and I would go mad. Nobody can contain so much of the world. As George Eliot wisely wrote in Middlemarch:

If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.

**
   I was right. At the end of the best school year I have ever had, having finished my sophomore year and said goodbye to my friends at my college in the US in preparation for spending the year abroad at Oxford University in England, I was finally ready. I read the first draft of the nameless novel, one of the four I have written, and dedicated my summer to writing my first second draft.
   And now, after two months and nine days, I have finished. I’ve eliminated a lot of expository information that I needed by a potential reader wouldn’t. I’ve gotten rid of my bad habit of overusing adverbs – although I also don’t believe that they’re anathema and allow them to remain here and there, when they’re useful and don’t sound glaringly obnoxious. I’ve changed the race of one character and the sexual orientation of another because they both told me to. I’ve changed the names of minor characters because there were too many similar names with the letter “M” in them.
   It may take another few months before I’m able to read the second draft. But meanwhile, hopefully, some of my friends and loved ones will be willing to read this draft – which is, I am positive, superior by far to the first – and will be able to give me some notes to guide me in my next draft.
   And meanwhile I will also be able to hang around this place again, sweep out the dust and cobwebs, and hopefully get some good, fun, flash fiction and experimental practice writing going.

In A Perfect World

In a perfect world, she thought, she would be sitting in the passenger seat of her favorite car, with the top down. There would be loud music coming out of the sound system, and she would singing at the top of her lungs, one hand dangling over the door with a cigarette between her fingers. The person driving the car would be her long-term boyfriend of five years, although perhaps it would be her red-head girlfriend of six months; she couldn’t decide which it would be or which one was the correct choice for the perfect world that was being built in her mind’s eye.

There would, of course, be a destination for this car ride. It would probably be a sweet log cabin with electricity and wi-fi and reading lamps but also be near enough to a lake and a decently mysterious forest, just in case she felt particularly nature-loving. There would be a hammock outside, and a cat flicking its tail stretched out on the porch, meowing in welcome. Maybe, if things could be really crazy in this perfect world, the cat would be a tiger or a jaguar, something large and languorous that would make her feel exotic and dangerous.

In the perfect world, she would also be escaping something, because – she was aware of this, even in her bubble-bath dream – anything worth running to is only as good as it is better than the thing it is replacing. In this world, she thought, maybe she’d be escaping the paparazzi who wanted to interview her about her latest best-seller or her most recent and notorious Broadway performance. Very possibly both.

In the perfect world, her voice was perfect, and thought tears rolled down her face, the wind whipped them away as she sang and smoked simultaneously. Things could be beautiful and challenging in her perfect world, satisfying and ever-changing, shifting and interesting and – most of all – regretless.

In her bubble bath, smoothing one hand over her belly, she wished she could at least get the wind to blow away the tears. But the fan was broken, she couldn’t afford her air conditioning unit, and the heat was oppressive, even in the icy bath water. She cried and waited for the contractions to stop, wishing them away in her perfect world.

Can and Cannot

“I can’t.”
“But why? This doesn’t make any sense!”
“I guess not. But I just can’t do this anymore. That sounds so fluffy and cliche and… well, not me. I know. But it’s also true.”
“But what’s changed?”
“Nothing. With me, anyway, nothing has changed. That’s the whole point. With you, though? I don’t know. It seems like nothing, at times. But at others… everything’s changed.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“I know. I guess I’m sentimental. I also just obsess about things, so I assume everyone else does too.”
“I really don’t know what else I’m supposed to say.”
“Me neither.”
“So what now?
“I guess we don’t see each other for a few years. Or ever. You know. Whichever happens to happen.”
“…”
“So you’re not going to say anything? You’re not even going to make me feel like this is hard for you?”
“It IS hard for me.”
“Right.”
“It is! If you don’t want to believe me-”
“No, fine, I do, I do believe you. I just think you’ve never really appreciated how hard it is for me.”
“I do-”
“No, no, you don’t. Because you’ve forced me to make this step myself. True, in a way it’s been me hurting myself through you but you know how hard it is for me to stop hurting myself and if you really cared in any way close to what you claim, you would have made this step before me. But you didn’t. And now I have to. And you’ll hate me.”
“But I still don’t get it. I thought everything was fine.”
“It’s not.”
“You can’t?”
“You can?”
“Yes.”
“Well, I can’t.”