Spirit and Hawaiian Sky

I went jogging this morning, around the pool in the complex where we are staying, then up the street to the community center and back. Maybe one and a half miles round trip. Long grassy lawns stretched up to healthy-looking trees that touched the stormy skies. Somewhere, I am sure, a rainbow arched, though I did not see it from where I ran. The sun shone through gray-black clouds, making dew drops sparkle all over the grass.

No doubt about it, the view here makes the soul expand.

Yesterday, I jogged down to the ocean. Chickens crossed my path, clucking. I ran down the hill slowly, careful not to slip on the half-rotting leaves covering the muddy trail. Below, the trees nearly covered all view of the ocean, making me bend to see the blue meeting blue of the horizon. I felt shy but went swimming in the ocean in my underwear and sports bra.

The rain started almost immediately, small drops at first, then big fat ones. My clothes, which I had left safely where the soft waves could not reach them on the shore, were soaked, as were my shoes and socks. I put all on and ran up the steep hill slowly. The chickens were nowhere in view.

I felt exhilarated. The rain washed over me warm and effortless, making me feel as though I could run forever. This is not a feeling I normally get when I run. Usually my legs weigh me down, my tight achilles tendons scream with unhappiness and dislike, but worst of all my thoughts harass me, telling me, “you can’t do this, you’re too tired, running is not for you, you can’t run that much more.”

Somehow, each time I visit the Hawaiian islands, I feel my better self. Happiness overflows me. I am energetic, sunny, adventurous, willing to try new things. Each time I try to take this wondrous me home. Perhaps, each time, I succeed a little more. I’d like to think so, at least. Of course, I know it is easier to be my better self on vacation than it is at home with bills, chores, puppies, and kids. Here, after all, no one expects me to do otherwise than have fun. But I’d like to take with me this feeling of happiness, of taking care of myself, working out, eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh fish just out of the ocean, and drinking water that came down at least one waterfall on its way to the faucet.

And I want to remember the expansive sky, the ocean on all four sides, the feeling that I may perhaps be limited by land, but all around the world is open for me to fly as far and wide as I can.

And I can.

Mother Power

The last few days I’ve been reflecting on my role in my family. Sometimes I feel like I am the engine which sparks most of what we do, pushing the kids along with me. Being sick allowed me to watch the kids and see the difference in how they function when I am less able to keep our usual schedule and activities.

I think partly the children feel overwhelmed and unhappy when I am sick. I suppose that could be a reason for the low rate of homework preparation and music practice and the high rate of junk food consumption that has been going on. But what if my high energy is indeed the driving force behind a lot of what they do, and because I’m so pushy, they never learn to find that motivation within themselves?

My mother always tells me that the love, effort and thought I put into raising the kids will bear fruit many times over. When I told her about my fears, she seemed to think that the high energy I invest in the children will in time bring about the result that I am hoping for — that they will learn to practice and do homework by themselves, growing on the path to methodical, conscientious and responsible adulthood.

Her faith in my way turns my question back onto myself. What if my fears that the children run on my “Mother Power” originate not in fears for them but in fears for me, that they will deplete my energy? Is “Mother Power” a renewable energy source?

The answer that immediately comes to my mind is that of course, yes, “Mother Power” is renewable, though perhaps it needs to be manually renewed and is easier renewed before it is depleted. I have many activities during the day which have the potential to fill me with the love, faith, enthusiasm and patience that I need in order to raise the children. I go to exercise classes and on hikes in nature. My writing is certainly a source of satisfaction and pleasure. The support of my parents and my friends. Eating well and healthy and sleeping enough are a big part of my “Mother Power.”

Sometimes, however, it seems not enough. Sometimes I wish I had an external power outlet, that I could plug into and which would fill me up with energy and love. I haven’t found an outlet like that which could give 100% refilling. Instead, I think renewing the “Mother Power” comes in small increments which need to be noticed to be used: a surprise hug from my daughter, my son’s way of leaning on me and putting his head on my shoulder, my boyfriend thinking about me in many wonderful ways, mother’s day gifts which the kids bring from school, the kids sharing a story. All of these are sources for renewing that important energy so I can give it back again.

Was it Einstein who said that energy is inexhaustible, simply converted from one form to another? In parenting I think it is true. There is an abundance of love shared between us, and all I need to do to become replete is to tap in.

Making an Uneasy Peace with Dystopia

I am not a fan of dystopian novels. This February, at the Golden Gate SCBWI conference, everybody was talking about The Hunger Games. As a curious human being, I rushed to buy the first book in the trilogy and read it. It took me two weeks to be able to sleep without nightmares.

It seems like every other novel recommended to me lately is a dystopia. On my list right now, I just finished reading Divergent by Veronica Roth and am starting Obsession by Elana Johnson. Divergent is the story of a girl living in a society where people are categorized into distinct character traits. Yet she is divergent, able to fit in more than one category, which makes her resistant to mind control and thus dangerous.

I could identify with some of the concepts raised in the novel. I like the idea that classifying us misses some important aspect of who we are. I love how we are all made up of different facets, of good and bad, of kindness, bravery, inquisitiveness, love. But I still find it difficult to wrap my mind around why people would want to read about horrible, terrible, awful, violent stuff….

Dystopia is defined in the online dictionary as “a society characterized by human misery.” Wikipedia has an entry for dystopia, explaining that it is a “utopia with at least one fatal flaw.” Apparently, we humans have been interested in dystopia for over 150 years. There are dystopian novels and movies, comics and even computer games.

If a Dystopia is the opposite of Utopia, then our imperfect world surely is one as well. But what about the world of my novel, where every being is grouped as either good or evil, and where distinct rules exist as to a person’s level of importance? That sounds pretty dystopian to me…. Of course, considering my distaste for anything violent, those rules also make sure everyone stays safe even in the midst of a fiery dragon battle. Cooking anyone in boiling water is strictly not allowed!

So, a dystopian fairy tale? Ha! I’m unlikely to present Anna Mara as such in my next query letter. However, perhaps because a grain of dystopianism is in all of us, I can come to an uneasy peace with it. But I still think I’d be dead body number one if I ever had to participate in the hunger games.

Shabbat

When I was a little girl, every Friday night my family would drive to Tel Aviv for Shabbat dinner at my grandmother’s tiny apartment. My parents, who absolutely loved working in the garden, came home early on Fridays, and would be immersed in their work outside till the very last moment. Then, the rush to the showers began.

I remember one Friday when my mother jumped in fully clothed in her attempt to beat my father to the shower first.

Once we were all clean and dressed in our Shabbat clothes, we would get in the car and drive to Safta’s house. The streets in Israel smell differently on Friday night, of chicken soup, meat stew, potatoes baking, carrots in honey. Chocolate babkas and challas waft their fabulous scent everywhere.The streets are quiet, the darkness of the skies strikingly contrasted by the light shining out windows in holiday joy.

Now I’m a mother myself. I live far away from my grandmother, but luckily close to my parents. I don’t work in the garden as much as my parents still do, and I am not as diligent as my parents were about all of us showering and dressing nicely in honor of Shabbat. But every Friday my mother, my sister and I cook delicious meals, and our three families, eleven people at least, share Shabbat dinner together at my mother’s house.

Yet in my memory, perhaps the way memories always are, there is something extra-special in those Shabbat dinners we had at my grandmother’s house. A particular taste, a unique smell, perhaps a whiff of the moth balls which my Safta used to put in her clothes and which hang about even under the smell of egg salad and stew.

I remember one evening like that at my Safta’s tiny apartment in Tel Aviv. The voices of the adults filtered through the wall into my grandmother’s bedroom where I lay on the bed, half on, half off, my legs dangling to the floor. My heart beat peacefully. I felt full and happy, wonderfully relaxed and completely loved. Sleep stole over me as though an angel weaved a somnolent web all around. Later, on the way home, I watched through sleepy eyes the hazy glow of traffic and street lights approaching, then disappearing behind.

Tonight I will have the children shower and dress up before we go. I love knowing that I am creating memories for them, and I know they will always remember these evenings at my mother’s house. Different, perhaps, than mine, but still wonderful memories, of family gathering, good food, and a lot of love.

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.

Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109