Archive | imagination

The Price of Passion

Uri’s main competition for my love.

Writers often claim that they write because they must. Why else would we write? Riches and fame, after all, are rarely the results. I have struggled with the inexplicable need to write for at least ten years, writing in bursts and sinking into doom and gloom when no writing comes. Having noticed the connection between not writing and my bouts of depression, I’ve made an effort to get some writing time every day. I channel my creativity into the blog when the novel seems too complicated an endeavor, and I’ve come to realize that the feeling I called depression was actually frustration in disguise.

Realizing how important writing is to me was only one tiny step. Ahead loomed a greater obstacle, so great, in fact, that terrified and ashamed, for a long time I preferred not to look it in the face. Even now, it seems to me both a ridiculous and crucial obstacle: my all-important mother-hood. Turns out that after all these years, I still doubt that I can be a mother and a writer at the same time.

My imagination, my creativity press on the dam of fears I’d built, lashing against it, trying to force a way out. When I write, I often don’t hear the children talking to me. I forget to tell them to go to sleep or to make them food. What will happen if I let all the passion of writing out from behind the carefully controlled dam? What if writing and novels and ideas will come rushing out in a great flood, overcoming everything? Will the mother mountain stay intact?

Yesterday my son accused me, “You love your book more than you love me.” I burst out laughing. I spend so much energy on being afraid that the kids will suffer because of my writing, and here he is blaming me for exactly what I fear the most. Except, he wasn’t talking about my novel, the one I am writing. He was talking about the ultra fascinating and unputdownable Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.

Okay, so I admit that yesterday I was reading Bitterblue instead of playing with him lacrosse. And I was reading Bitterblue instead of paying him attention. And I was reading Bitterblue in the doctor’s office while we waited though he had nothing to do. But in one moment, with those funny and yet truthful words, Uri gave me glimpse of perspective about my great parenting-writing fear. Just a glimpse, mind you.

I have a feeling that if I let the dam loose the mother mountain will still stand safe and sure. I have a feeling that if I stop putting on the break with my writing, I will have more energy to spend both on my writing and the kids. And I have a feeling that it’s good for the kids to know that there’s more to their mother than just being a mother. It’s just a feeling. But I think perhaps it’s true.

Do you have a passion in your life, that makes you oblivious to the rest of the world?

A Moment of Remembering

Had there been a clock on the airplane, it would have struck eight at night. We were still sitting at the gate, waiting for the doors to close, the plane to push back, and our vacation to Victoria to begin. Uri sat with Dar in the row ahead of Eden and I. He turned back and asked, “were there any children on those planes?” I did not understand. “Which planes?” I asked him. “The ones who fell in 2001,” he said.

In September 23, 2001, my husband at the time, eleven months old Uri and I packed our belongings and moved to the United States. Israel was then beset by the almost daily terror attacks of the second Intifada, and for a variety of reasons I felt less and less safe. In preparation for the flight I started a series of therapy sessions called EMDR which are supposed to help patients overcome deep-set fears, like the fear of flying. I had panic attacks when flying once or twice before, but now that I was a parent I wanted to feel more responsible and overcome my fear.

On September 11th, the afternoon news was interrupted by an announcement. A plane had crushed into the Twin Towers. Pictures of the tower still standing, a cloud of smoke coming out of its side, dominated the screen. I called my mother in California and found her awake in their home listening to the news. Everyone I know followed the news that day, unable to believe the magnitude of what had happened.

I never went to my last EMDR session. I suppose both the therapist and I knew the uselessness of trying to convince anyone that flying was safe a week days after this tragedy. Instead, I got on an airplane and flew eighteen hours to California. I have no idea how I managed that.

I am no longer afraid of flying, but my son is, and when he asks me a question like, “how many children died on those planes in September 11th?” my heart drops. Eight children between the ages of 2 and 11 died on those planes. I understand his fear, and I wish to make him understand that he is safe, that we are sitting together, that flying is safer than many other things that we do every day, and that it’s better to concentrate on the moment rather than be busy imagining phantom could-happen fears. But I understand him, because I can imagine those eight children’s very real fear.

My imagination can paint horror pictures all too well. That is why I am a writer. I try, however, to employ my imagination in happily ever afters instead. I know bad stuff can happen, but perhaps the point is, a lot can go wrong, and it’s impossible to know quite what that wrong would be. And perhaps, like that favorite saying I love from the Buddha, it is best just to accept that Suffering Is, and that sometimes, in the moment, all is well, and Suffering Isn’t.

The Distiller

The Distiller on a good day

There is a part inside me that sees the world in black and white. She measures my successes in one hundred percent parcels, working day and night to protect me from criticism, judgements and failures. I call her the Distiller, distilling right from wrong, success from failure, black from white. I see her in my mind’s eye. She’s a little girl, six or seven, with braids in her hair and innocent eyes as large as the world. In her stockinged feet and with her little girl’s hands, like a miniature Atlas she helps me hold up my globe of self confidence, self appreciation and self love.

The Distiller believes that criticism will end my writing. She also believes I cannot handle praise. She has records and can prove her point. I’m right, she tells me, her braids swinging. What will happen when someone dislikes your book, as inevitably will happen if you get published? she asks me. You’d better not publish, she advises. But you can write, if you must.

She loves me, the Distiller. I can feel her affection for me, the caring which she puts into weighing every situation, determining if it is something which will break me. She thinks me fragile as a hollow porcelain doll, as though too much content inside will make me break. Tirelessly she beseeches me to do less, work less, write less, take more help. She comforts me whenever I am tired, urging me to rest. You don’t have to write right now, she urges me. You’re tired. You’ll be even more tired after you write. And I listen to her and go rest, even though my Inner Judge huffs and puffs and lets out a string of complaints.

The Distiller hushes him. She’s the intermediary, the gate keeper to his harsh opinions, sometimes soothing them, sometimes letting them through. I know that together with the Judge, the Distiller blocks my ambitions as a writer, and yet I like her. In her way she only wants what’s good for me. She simplifies my world. I think of the Distiller as my doorway, and if I can get her to crack the door open just a little bit more, perhaps there will be space enough for me to spread my wings and fly.

These last few days have been good for my writing, but I can do better than this. Stories bubble within me, eager to come out. My imagination spins tales, and my hands can’t move fast enough to type them out. I want to open up a dialog with the Distiller. I’d like to explain that success and failure are many shades of grey apart, that we together, she and I, can define what success and failure mean, and that even our new definition can be flexible. Let me fly, little Doorkeeper. I promise to behave. I know I can depend on you to support me and to care, but together we can understand: changing our definition of success is the best and most foolproof method to insure that I do not fail.


Writing is like an earthquake, a force of nature to be reckoned with. At least, that is my greatest hope and fear. Once the imagination starts shaking and spouting out words, who knows how many casualties there will be? Mountains climb out of the ocean or are wrinkled into crags. Dinosaurs rise from the dead, pterodactyls soar in the sky. Dust hides the sun. Volcanoes erupt where none existed before. Archipelagos join into continents, and landmass breaks into islands. Writing is creative and dangerous. Life changing, world shaping. Think of Marx, Rousseau, Hitler, the romantic poets, Mary Wollstonecraft, Harriet Beecher Stowe.

One of my friends from middle school is a geologist, and he once said to me: “Sigal, I hope for your sake that you won’t be in California when the Big One strikes.” “Will it be that bad?” I inquired. “Oh yes,” he responded with the avidity of a true scientist. “It’s going to be bad.”

We live in an area that is criss-crossed by so many faults! Looking at a google earth map of the Bay Area boggles my mind. What will really happen when that Big One strikes? And what if California becomes separated from the rest of the U.S., and floats out to sea to join Hawaii? Little earthquakes rumble along our fault lines every day, relieving, possibly, some of the pressure, but according to the USGS website, they are not enough to prevent the Big One from coming. Of course, according to the USGS website, it’s alse fiction that California will one day fall into the ocean.

Like the earth crust, in order to relieve the pressure in my writing fault lines, I write these blogs, little foreshocks to the Big One that is yet to come. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s not enough. The blog teaches me how much I long to interact with my audience, how much I want to be read. It is giving me a creative outlet for my thoughts, feelings, worries. But I want more. The tension in me grows strong. A novel needs to be born out of the lava and the rocks, the heat and the gems, the layers of millions of years of geological activity.

So exciting! Painful, hard, strange. Dangerous, too, of course. Risky. And yet other people do it every day. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that I’m not alone. Just here in the Bay Area are thousands of writers, poets, journalists, columnists, bloggers. Like the fault line spread all over California, so are fault lines and writers found everywhere in the world. I am not alone. The danger not only mine. But the power to shape the world is divided among all of us perhaps unequally, and the responsibility to use it wisely given to each of us on our own.

Yet I feel some relief. Now maybe, I can sit down and write. I won’t cause an earthquake, or turn the world upside down. After all, I’m just writing a fairy tale, a fantasy, for fun.

Extra Gratitude Bonus: Freedom from Regrets

Imagination is a wonderful asset, but at times it can be a burden, especially if it is out of control and predicting disasters. And my imagination is well-exercised in discovering horrors where none exist. This morning, when I heard the airline agent say that there is no more room in the overhead bins, and can passengers please volunteer to check their luggage, I decided, as we say in Hebrew, to heal the bruise before the injury happened, and checked my little sports bag.

Perhaps I should be honest and start a little earlier, with the challah and banana bread I had baked for Dar. I didn’t want them to get squished under all my stuff, so I put them in a plastic bag and carried it — a third carry-on — through security and all the way up to the gate. Being a law-abiding citizen, however, and having an imagination that can’t help but predict catastrophes (and make them seem illogically huge), I stressed about being told that I cannot bring this third plastic bag onto the airplane.

Once those officially-clad gals behind the counter announced the no-room-please-check-your-luggage message over the air, my fears would not let me stay seated, bundled up as I was with three parcels while the rest of the world was forced to carry only one. The agent was quite surprised, to tell the truth. She feebly tried to refuse my little sports bag, but I explained about having my backpack with me, and she gave up, shrugging at the crazy lady who checks in such a small bag when other people attempt to squeeze enormous, industrial-sized suitcases into the narrow bins.

Instantly regrets assailed me. Had I let my fears overcome my common sense by giving up my bag? What if it gets lost?What if there is room in the overhead bins after all? What if we have to wait for a very long time for the bag to come out at the carousel?

I texted the confession of my frailty to Dar, but for some reason he did not get upset. He texted me back that Rochester is a small airport, no problem, and the transfer in Chicago is sure to go well. And suddenly, it dawned on me — here is an opportunity for a moment of gratitude. In the midst of regret, over-imagination, anxiety and perceived disaster, I can be grateful for having one less bag to carry in Chicago while I switch planes!

The sun rose in my internal sky. My heart lightened. I had found a remedy for my regrets! Opening myself up to gratitude shifted my entire mood. Here was a way to turn bad (or at least perceived bad) into good. Next on my list for today, turning straw into gold. And, just to conclude, my bag came out of the carousel first.

On Raising Cows

I love to travel, and today I am sitting no more than two hundred feet from the waters of beautiful Morro Bay. Darkness reigns outside, and the sky is sprinkled with hundreds of blinking stars. Of course I am not sitting out there — it’s too cold for me — but in a comfortable chair in front of the fireplace (which for some reason refuses to turn on). The window shutters are down, but it doesn’t matter. I know the stars and the sea are there.

The landscape around Morro Bay stretches seemingly forever, pastoral farms, hills and sea. I love the space all around me. I love the farms. I love the cows dotting the hillside. I love how, when the shadows of the trees begin to stretch, the cows all follow each other back to the barn, the food, and the milking. I love the lines of planted fields, the color of newly turned soil. And I love how everything here is framed by the ocean.

Having a cow farm had always been a sort of dream of mine. I’d like to have a huge vegetable garden, overflowing with flowery lettuce and broccoli, waves of cucumbers and pumpkin, climbing pea plants, and sunshiny corn. I’d like to have pecan trees like my Uncle Yigal had when I was a kid, rows of them, an elfin forest where the air is cool and musty, and the leaves collect on the ground, hiding the treasured fallen nuts. I’d like to have peach trees and apple trees. And of course, the cows. And maybe a goat or two. Or sheep. An alpaca, perhaps?

Maybe you would ask what is stopping me from having a farm like that. Nothing but my own mind, I think — my fears, my beliefs about my limitations. I could have a farm. But how would I know how to take care of the cows? It seems like so much work! And I don’t like working so very much. And I’d need to be responsible, conscientious about  checking on the vegetables in the garden, picking the fruit when it’s ready, trimming trees and taking care of the animals! Yes, I want to be closer to the land and grow my own food, but… well, can’t I hire someone else to actually milk the cows?

Ah, the hypocrisy of it all! I can dream, but I do it best from behind my computer screen. I am better at writing about my cow farm, at imagining it, than I am at growing even the little bit of herb garden at my home. So maybe I won’t have a cow farm in this life. Maybe chickens and dogs are my limit. Or maybe, as I grow a little more to believe in the special powers guiding my life, I’d find a way to have that farm, milk those cows, and grow all the vegetables I could desire. One day. Perhaps.

Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109