In Sickness and In Health

I recently bought myself a copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a Penguin edition with a beautifully-designed cover by Ruben Toledo. I read Pride and Prejudice three or four times every year. Like chicken soup, chocolate, my grandmother’s hug, or taking a bath, Jane Austen’s novel is one of my greatest sources of comfort when I’m sick or sad.

Partly the book comforts me because the story stays the same. Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley dance the same intricate game of courtship and love over and over again. But partly, with every reading of the novel, I discover something new: new words, new connections, surprises that I have not noticed before.

I have not read any of the novels continuing the story of Elizabeth and Darcy. I don’t want to know what happened to them after they got married. What I love is the beautiful cotillon they go through as they grow into love.

Elizabeth must accept that she has been too quick to judge. Darcy must learn humility and openness. Bingley has to stand up for himself. Jane, well, Jane is too perfect, and though it must please her to think she can bend all men and women into goodness, she needs to understand that some people make bad choices and no one, not even Jane, can take the consequences of those choices away.

Pride and Prejudice, to me, is a miniature representation of life, the essence of what we have come here, to this world, to do: to grow and to love. That entails accepting not only what is marvelous in the people we love, but sometimes what is ridiculous, difficult, annoying or just plain bad.

Jane Austen pokes loving fun at those characters who live with a veil of prejudice and vanity over their eyes: Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Collins, even Mr. Wickham, the wicked character in the novel. She gently raises those characters who are willing to accept each other as they are, leading them to see their mistakes, and follow the wonderful path that appears to the open heart.

I woke up yesterday with a sore throat, and so I rushed as fast as my sick little legs could carry me to my book cabinet and pulled out this new edition of my favorite book. “It is a truth universally acknowledged,” Jane Austen begins, already poking fun at us, “that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

I already feel better, just reading that.

On Giving Respect and Affection to Those We Love

In last night’s post I wrote about my love to my son, and this morning, at the gym, a friend approached me. “Have you shown the post to your son?” she asked. In fact, I did. I read it to him this morning, after he opened his presents and ate the cheddar cheese bread sticks which I made in honor of his birthday. “People write such amazing things about their kids on Facebook,” my friend said, “and I just want to make sure they tell their kids too.”

I pondered what she said. I wondered: is it easier for me to compliment the important people in my life behind their backs than to their faces? Do I tell my son, my daughter, my boyfriend, and my parents enough how much I love them and why?

During the second month of her Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin concentrated on finding more happiness in her marriage. She writes: “Studies show that married people treat each other with less civility than they show to other people — and I do this with my husband, I know.” As part of the project, Ms. Rubin chose as a resolution to “kiss more, hug more, touch more.” She says the resolution is one of her favorites to keep.

My cousin, Iris Wilnai, has commented on a similar phenomenon. In her blog titled “Smile,” she asks: “why don’t I smile as much for my husband as I do for everyone else?”

I hope I remember this long after this post is buried beneath others. I hope I always remember to give attention, respect and affection to the wonderful people in my life, and to all my family and friends. I hope I remember to smile at them as often as I do at strangers and to kiss more, hug more, and touch more. I hope to tell the important people in my life that I love them every day, twice a day, as often as I like.

And that includes you too, my favorite wonderful Safta Miri, even if you think it’s funny that people say “I love you” all the time. Because, I LOVE YOU!

I hope your day shines today, my friends, my readers. It’s Uri’s birthday. Go do something fun!

Happy Birthday to Uri!

Eleven years ago, at 7:15pm, Israel time, in a blank room in Tel Hashomer Hospital, my son Uri was born. He weighed 2.875 kilograms and had a head circumference of 35 centimeters. I remember that.

I also remember the pouring rain outside, the blocked roads which made my ex-husband and I leave the house early, fearing that we would end up having a baby on the road if we don’t leave as soon as we can.

I remember the way Uri’s body felt on my belly when the nurse placed him there for the first time. I remember the way it felt to nurse him behind the curtain in the nursing rooms at the hospital, where I got called in the middle of the night.

Precious, precious memories. Uri’s little dimpled hands. Uri walking after me in the house, saying, “gnocchi, gnocci,” which was his rather amusing way of saying he wants to nurse (“linok” means to nurse in Hebrew). Uri’s hands and knees working in utter coordination as he crawls. Uri concentrating as he plays with his trains. Uri driving six-months-old Eden around in the black car my mother rescued from a garage sale.

He means the world to me, and he is a world in himself. I feel so lucky to have him in my life, to have the chance to love him and nurture him and help him move forward in the world. He is the treasure of my heart.

Happy birthday Uri! May you enjoy health and happiness in all the years to come. And may you always know that I love you. I enjoy watching you grow, from little seedling to flower, and soon, I hope, into a well-rooted, whole-hearted tree.

Querying as an Exercise in Self Faith

As of today, I have sent out nine queries and received nine rejections. I’m still way ahead of the game, so to speak. Dr. Seuss received some 70 rejections before getting published. Anna Frank’s Diary had apparently been rejected by 16 publishing houses. Even Gone With the Wind did not make it on the first try (38 rejections). One of my favorite writers, William Saroyan, kept 7000 rejection slips. Now there’s an exercise in keeping faith in one’s self and one’s work!

Nevertheless, I feel quite bummed. This last rejection letter doesn’t even have a name attached to it. It makes me wonder, behind the form letter and the agency’s letterhead, did anyone even read the ten pages I’ve attached to my query?

I find a disturbing similarity between querying and the process of trying to meet someone on an internet dating site. How I present myself, the words I choose, are used to decide whether the ME behind them is worthy of meeting. In the case of a query, this ME is my novel, which just so happens is a novel about a princess. A big turn-off, apparently, in today’s vampire, fallen angel and dystopia-infested publishing world.

To end on a high note, my boyfriend Dar and I have recently moved in together. Dar and I met on match.com. In fact, Dar loved the packaging I came with. He wanted to meet the ME behind the photo and the few strangely-chosen words. So I have to believe that somewhere out there is an agent, or a publisher, who would be similarly excited to have a princess book, light and sweet and cheery and heartening. Somewhere. I’m sure.

I found the well-loved authors I mentioned above and others like them on this website:
http://www.onlinecollege.org/2010/05/17/50-iconic-writers-who-were-repeatedly-rejected/

Percy Jackson and the Process of Writing

I finished reading the latest Percy Jackson novel, The Son of Neptune, and enjoyed myself very much. I’ve always loved adventurous and fantastical novels. As a kid I read and reread all the Greek Mythology stories I could find. I loved Demeter’s search for her stolen daughter, Psyche’s flight on the cloud down to Cupid’s palace, her betrayal of Cupid and later quest to find him again, the story of Theseus overcoming the minotaur in the maze, and Hercules and his twelve labors. The stories caught my imagination, and I cried for Icarus when he died, laughed at Midas’ donkey ears, and felt appalled by Hera throwing her son off of Olympus.

Rick Riordan loosely weaves the myths into Percy’s adventures, creating challenges, directing quests and adding little touches of silly humor. Somehow, though I know my mind is being manipulated into following the stories by Riordan’s intricate storytelling skills, still I find myself enthralled by unrolling events. Quite simply, the novels are fun and exciting. I admire Riordan for managing to produce a book complete with action and charm on what appears to be a yearly rate.

The movie image of Percy standing on top of a building, drawing a tsunami of water up from the water tanks to attack his friend-turned-enemy Luke comes to my mind. I wonder, does Riordan draw the novel from his imagination the same way Percy can influence water, knowing ahead of time exactly where he wishes each drop, or word, to fall?

My own process of writing is somewhat more arduous and less fierce: more like moving a teaspoon of water one at a time from one tank to another, dropping some, wiping away others, returning some back. And perhaps because of the way I work, the task of writing the novel is a never-ending one. I can always add a little more, subtract a little more, or keep something for a later novel.

At the end of each Percy Jackson novel, Riordan always leaves something unfinished, yet another prophecy that needs to be fulfilled, the promise of yet another expedition. Like my writing, Percy’s adventures are a never-ending succession of quests: more monsters to fight, giants to vanquish, gods to subdue, friends to support. Black and white, all of it, good and evil. But that, perhaps, is a beginning for another post.

Playing the Violin Vicariously

My son started playing the violin last May. I felt nervous about it. The violin appeared to me a bewildering instrument requiring great hand dexterity and supreme hearing. I couldn’t quite understand why Uri chose it. I wished he’d pick something simpler, better suited for quick rewards and success.

Turns out Uri is very good at playing the violin. He has been progressing steadily, grasping new notes and concepts swiftly, and even better, he enjoys practicing and is conscientious about it.

I enjoy sitting through Uri’s violin lessons and listening to the teacher’s directions, praise and corrections. At home, when Uri practices, I sit at the piano as he stands over my shoulder with his violin poised. I help him make sure he plays the notes accurately. Surprisingly, the source of turning his practice time and the lessons into a mommy-and-me effort came from Amy Chua, the Tiger Mom.

In contrast to Amy Chua’s arduous practices with her daughter, we only play for fifteen minutes at a time at home. We even get up if we want a snack, water, or to go to the bathroom. What I learned from Ms. Chua was having faith in my son and his abilities, and the importance of giving due attention to his projects and providing him with the encouragement necessary for him to succeed. By sitting with him, I let him know that his playing the violin is more important to me than washing dishes, folding laundry, or cooking. I give him support in his efforts to master this complex instrument, and I give him another incentive to practice — after all, how often do we get to spend one-on-one time just the two of us?

As an added bonus, I’m learning a lot vicariously through him. I’m learning to trust Uri that he knows what’s best for him and what he can do, and that the stars are the limit when he wants something and is willing to put in the effort, even if it’s difficult and requires a longer time commitment to do.

And maybe, as a result, I’ll be a bit better myself in the wanting-instant-gratification space. Maybe I’ll learn to invest the time and the effort to gain the rewards I seek. Like in my writing, for example, or this blog, or painting, or singing. After all, the stars are the limit for me too.

Birthday Gifts: Can I Give My Kids the Moon?

I’ve always loved birthdays.  When my brother, sister and I were kids, my mother used to prepare a table near our beds with some candy and a gift or two on our birthday. I loved waking up to this surprise table. I loved the family birthday parties with my grandmother dancing with me, the flower circlet my mother made for my hair, the decorated chair on which I was lifted once more than my age. I loved my mother’s cakes and the little cream cheese sandwiches which she decorated with colorful veggies.

When I became a mother, my love of birthdays changed focus to the kids. After the kids go to sleep the night before their birthdays, I decorate the house with paper chains and birthday signs, bake a cake, wrap gifts, bag candies, and set everything on our kitchen table. I prepare gifts for both kids, even though my son’s birthday is in October and my daughter’s is in May.

I do the same for them on my birthday. As a divorced mother, I made a decision not to expect the kids to buy me gifts or plan a party. The kids were (and still possibly are) too young to do anything except make me a card. I keep those cards in my closet and consider them more precious than any gift could be.

But sometimes I wonder what I’m teaching them by my dramatic and selfless birthday overtures. I know by now they expect this table of goods, but do they appreciate what they get? Do they realize that it takes a special effort to prepare all this for them? Does it teach them to be generous with others, to do something to make another happy, or do they only learn entitlement from it?

Then I ask myself, does it matter what they learn, and, most importantly, am I doing this for them, for what they can learn, or for me?

A Holiday of Freedom

I live in a bubble. I don’t read newspapers or watch the news. I tend to avoid any mention of unpleasantness in the world, even walking away if people start a conversation about world tragedies near me. But though I live in a bubble, somewhere in my consciousness, for the past five-and-a-half years, there was always the knowledge that Gilad Shalit was in the hands of Hamas and not yet returned home.

I found out about the agreement to return Gilad home on facebook. One of my friends wrote, “the holiday has become a Holiday of Freedom.” Another wrote her best wishes to Gilad and his family. Many others wrote about their happiness that a deal has come through.

My curiosity awake, I looked on Ynet to see what was going on. For the first time in a year and a half, I read, Gilad’s family are re-entering their home. For the past year and a half they have been living in a tent outside the government building in Jerusalem, letting the world know they are not giving up until Gilad is home.

And now he’s coming home. Gilad, I wish you health, happiness and hope. I wish you the ability to look forward instead of back. I wish you wings to soar over the publicity and find peace.

And to all of us, have a wonderful, wonderful holiday of Freedom! Hag Herut Sameach!

About My Princess

An agent asked me once how the main character of my book came to be. Princess Anna Mara came to me as I was sitting outside the high school in Ra’anana, Israel, waiting for my friends to come out of class. I wrote to entertain myself while I waited to hear from my parents that we are moving from South Africa, where we’d lived for the past ten months, to the United states. I was in blank space — in between schools, countries, homes — and into that blank space came words.

Anna Mara grew since then. She began as a princess with barely a name, screaming as she was kidnapped in a flying car over New York. Over the years she metamorphosed into a multi-dimensional though papery human being with opinions as to what I should write and how I should write it. Slowly but surely she became a heroine. I can feel her in the world, breathing, growing, getting ready to blaze out on any adventure which might come her way.

Blogging and Frog and Toad

I’ve been wanting to write a blog for a long time, but the idea scared me. I normally don’t see myself as a very consistent person, and the thought of committing to write something on a daily basis seemed pretty much impossible.

In fact, in the grand scheme of things, and out of my great love to Arnold Lobel’s books, I have always considered myself more of a Toad personality than a Frog. Will power has never been one of my strong points (I’ll always prefer to go home and bake a cake), I’m very picky about the size and shape of my buttons, and though I might put a lot of effort into a garden (including singing and talking to the plants), it would be a one-time concerted effort rather than an on-going project for life.

I can see Frog blogging on a daily basis, writing about his philosophical and wise exploration of life. But would Toad have a blog? And what would he blog about? Cake recipes? Disasters with ice cream? Embarrassing encounters of the bathing suit kind?

Well, either way I have taken the plunge. This Toad is going to have a blog, a blog about the books I read and about my writing. I’m still trying to determine whether it’s a good platform to complain about the dogs or the amount of homework I need to do with the kids. And maybe, once in a while, if I bake something exceptionally good, I’ll put the recipe up here for you, or maybe just a photograph. I don’t know.

Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109