Year to Date 2013

And the latest in the ongoing saga of my writing life…

2013 Stats:
Stories Circulating: 10
Rejections: 42
Sales: 1

Nano 1: Within These Walls – First draft complete

Nano 2: Cuckoo – First draft complete


I was really lucky to have several months off to write and I think I used them well. I finished the Nanowrimo novel I had started last November and wrote a whole other one, and I’ve been playing around with ideas for a third novel that hasn’t come together yet while I work on editing the first two and getting friends to critique them. The process has been wonderful: a lot of problems I’ve been wrestling with in my writing for years have turned out to be issues of working in the wrong format: once I gave myself enough space to develop ideas properly, my writing stopped feeling so rushed and began to deepen.

My short stories, on the other hand, have been frustrating me. As predicted, my submission/rejection rate has tapered off, in large part because there are very few markets I haven’t already sent these stories to and those markets are the slowest to respond. I made one amazing sale to Prairie Schooner, but I’m getting to the point where I need to retire several stories to my desk drawer because there is just nowhere else to send them. And some of those stories are very close to my heart, ones that I thought were written well and that I really wanted to see out in the world. That’s painful.

On the bright side, along with the wonderful output I’ve had this year, I’ve also been reading a lot more. Dismayed by how little I read while working for Oxford as compared to when I was in my MFA program, I challenged myself to read 52 books in 2013–one per week. In part because I had some extra time on my hands, I absolutely destroyed that goal with a final count of 127 books! They were a mixture of poetry, fiction, history, and graphic novels, some old favorites and some new discoveries. Why am I mentioning it here? Because part of what fuels my writing is having an active life of the mind. The more I read, the more possibilities I can see for my own fiction.

In the coming year, I know I’m going to write less because I’m working full time, but I really want to finish revising Within These Walls and Cuckoo and put them up on the internet, and I want to write a first draft of a new novel. If I can write one or two rough drafts and polish one or two final drafts every year, then whether or not these early efforts are successful, I know I will eventually get where I’m going.

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Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Gah, my last entry here was really October? October? Okay, clearly I’ve got some catching up to do.

In November, my job search finally ended with a couple of great offers and my choice to go work as web content editor for the Jewish Women’s Archive in Boston. (Which was especially nice because my first day of work was three days before my 35th birthday, which meant I spent my birthday living my life rather than wondering where my life is going.) The people are really lovely, and the work is what I had hoped for: I’m doing a lot of different types of writing and editing, everything from blogs to grants, trying to write compellingly for very different audiences.

The job has meant moving to Boston and learning a new city. My apartment is beautiful: an old house cut up into apartments, which means old hardwood floors, two fireplaces, and windows all around. While I do wish I had moved in a season with more warmth and light to encourage more exploration, I’m still getting out to discover all the treats of Coolidge Corner and Harvard Square. Funniest moment was when a new friend introduced me to the Harvard Coop, which I had assumed was a food co-op. Instead, I open the doors and blurt out, “No one told me there werebooks in here!” It’s one of the most beautiful and well-stocked bookstores I’ve ever been in, and I think it is very quickly going to become a favorite mecca.

And, of course, living in Boston has other advantages: my mom and brother work here, and I’m close to my aunt, uncle, and ten of my cousins, including mabfan, gnomi, and their children.

With everything going on, I haven’t had much time or inclination to write, but as I settle in, I’m hoping that will change. I think this is going to be a really wonderful chapter in my life.

Where She’s Coming From

(This article originally appeared at jwa.org.)

Earlier this week, Neshama Carlebach made waves when she announced at the URJ Biennial Conference in San Diego that she was leaving the Orthodox Judaism of her childhood for the more welcoming Reform Movement. Describing herself as “a refugee from Orthodoxy for the past couple of decades,” Carlebach spoke honestly about the love for religion her father, Shlomo Carlebach, instilled in her and the pain she had felt when members of the Orthodox community lashed out against her attempts to share her talents with them through prayer and song. By joining the Reform Movement, Carlebach felt she was coming home to a place where people shared her exuberant love of Judaism and welcomed her voice.

I’m bracing myself for the inevitable storm of essays about Neshama Carlebach’s choice and what it says about Orthodoxy. It’s easy to read her decision to “make aliyah” to Reform Judaism as a triumph of the liberal values and inclusivity of the Reform Movement over the ingrained sexism of Orthodoxy. But the truth is that both movements are struggling with how to include women and a wider range of voices.

Just as the URJ Conference where Carlebach made her announcement was drawing to a close, the AJS Conference, attended by close to 1,000 Jewish studies scholars from around the world, was beginning. One surprising and welcome event at the conference was a beautiful tribute to Debbie Friedman and her profound impact on the world of Jewish music. David Ellenson, outgoing president of HUC-JIR, praised the ways in which Friedman’s music had enriched Jewish liturgy and synagogue worship, but he also noted the strong opposition of many cantors to the renaming of the cantorial school after Debbie Friedman. Other panelists amplified on the ways in which, for most of her career, Friedman was ignored and marginalized by the establishment, even within the Reform Movement, despite the powerful impact she had on those sitting in the pews.

By contrast, at the JOFA Conference earlier this month, Orthodox feminists from all over the movement met members of a Hasidic women’s rock band, listened to advocates from Women of the Wall, and attended panels with names like “Here, Queer, and Machmir: Orthodox Life in the LGBT Community.” While there are certainly tensions in the Orthodox community between those who are growing more liberal and inclusive and those who are becoming stricter in their practice and outlook, there is also recognition that the community needs to find ways to welcome women’s energy and women’s contributions or risk losing more bright, passionate members like Neshama Carlebach who feel there isn’t a place for them in Orthodoxy.

It’s dangerous to make Orthodoxy a whipping boy for sexism in the Jewish community. It ignores Orthodox efforts to include women as members and leaders within the constraints of their interpretation of halakhah. And it encourages those of us in other movements to become complacent—if they’re sexist and we’re progressive, we don’t have to look at how few women hold leadership positions in our movements or how, when money is tight, women rabbis are less likely to find and keep jobs than their male colleagues. I’m glad Neshama Carlebach has found a spiritual home where she feels welcome. But I hope the takeaway for us is that each of the movements needs to continue their work to include and honor the contributions of women, of gays, of intermarrieds, because we will surely be impoverished by the loss of their talents and their passion.