I think about it sometimes
when I am driving.

I think about crashing
in reverse.      The sound of metal
against a concrete wall
in a basement parking lot.

I think about the lie I told my parents:
“The trunk just won’t open.”
And the other lie I never told them.

I think about truth
when I am driving       and what
might have happened to the secret
had I kept it.

Announcing a new column on District Lit

I’m giddy with excitement to let you know my first feature column went up on District Lit yesterday. “My Time, Your Place” is an ongoing exploration of the boundaries between reality and dream, time and timelessness, place and wandering. (The title is borrowed in part from the Yehuda Amichai poem, “In My Time, In Your Place.”)

I hope you check it out from time to time, and share with your friends if the writing moves you to do so.

As a tribute to Amichai, whose poetry inspires me in so many ways, here is the poem the title references.

In my time in your place

Wishful thinking

There are limits to my memory.

The limits, when I close my eyes, look like the depths of the well beyond where the rope may reach. I know there’s a bottom to that well. Or, I almost know, in the same way I almost know there is a darkness inaccessible to me called outer space.

Even though I can’t situate them on a timeline, these are details I know:

I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond after I read the Meg mystery books, but before The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Before any book, my parents rented for me Escape from Witch Mountain on betamax from the video rental store on Haddonfield-Berlin road.

I tried to check out a book once on witchcraft from the Camden County library, but there were none to borrow. No how-to, no expose, no empty slot on the shelf, no card inside a drawer marked Wa – Wi.

Once, I was a witch for Halloween. It was the year my parents threw me a Halloween party. This year may have been 1980. It was a popular year for the witch because Maddie Schwartz arrived wearing the same molded mask and plastic yellow trash-bag apron tied around her neck. For the record, when I picture the witch’s face mask, warts and all, it looks less like a woman and more like a man. This is, at least partly, due to a photograph of my father wearing my witch’s mask, and the girls at the party laughing.

In the same living room in which my mother set up a folding table to hold the cheese curls and the candy corn, there was a love seat behind which I hid every year during the holiday broadcast of The Wizard of Oz. I crouched down behind the love seat as the Wicked Witch of the West screamed at me from atop an abandoned cabin in a forest.

I wanted, when I was a girl, to meet a real witch, but a nice one. Not so nice like Glenda, more like Samantha, nice, but naughty.

Once, I sat in the attic bedroom of my camp friend Hope and, for the first time, met another girl who also secretly wanted to be a witch, or more specifically, wanted to practice witchcraft.

The Craft came out a few years too late, but I still watched it.  A few years too late, Willow and Tara made implied love during the Buffy musical, but I still watched that, too.

When I still lived in New Jersey, I interviewed a witch for a local newspaper called She called herself a Wiccan and though I may have even asked her at the time, “Why Wiccan and not witch?” I could not explain to you now the difference. I met her at the store she owned in Montclair called Mystic Spirit. At the end of the interview, asthmatic from the incense, I left both longing to be and thankful I was not a Wiccan.

There is not one how-to book of spells in my collection, even though once I bought a how-to book of spells from Urban Outfitters and gave it to my friend Susan for her birthday. It might have been Karin I gave the book to. It was someone, a woman who was my friend when I lived in New York, a woman who was my friend with a birthday in June.

Is it witchcraft when you a fold a piece of paper, and then fold it again, and then write numbers on the folds and wishes beneath them?

Is it witchcraft when you settle in at night and chant for health and wealth and love and ease?

Is it witchcraft when you listen to prayers sung in harmony in the hopes you will be transported out and above your self so you may have a better view of your life? A better understanding of what it is to be you?

I watch a clip on YouTube. Tia is still beautiful and Tony is still creepy, and I still, in a way, want to be a witch. And I still in a way, am frightened by the possibility I already am one.

“Come to think of it,” says Tony to his sister Tia before he begins to play the harmonica that will make the marionettes dance. “You can do a lot of things I can’t. Like working locks, and the way you can talk to me without moving your mouth.

Maybe it’s because you’re a girl.”


Make It Easy on Yourself

My husband: “Seriously, Jen. This Facebook post about your thesis defense must be your most popular post ever. People keep liking it.”

Me: “It makes up for the nine birthday wishes I got this year.”

My husband: “No, really. I think it’s because of what you wrote about me.”

Me: “What? Because I was publicly nice to you? That thing about love and support?”

My husband: “Yes. That. Exactly.”

Me: “I don’t think so. People just like milestones. And baby pictures. And cats.”

*   *   *

I love Facebook birthdays. Seriously, the last eight birthdays since I joined Facebook have made up for the 30+ birthdays prior.

My birthday is in August. Worse: the end of August. No one remembers your birthday when they are boogey boarding and eating funnel cake by the Jersey shore.

This year, as most years, I pretended to not be excited about my upcoming Facebook birthday. I also pretended to not be upset at 12 noon on August 19 when I had only received birthday greetings on my wall from my mother and my old friend, Sondra, with whom I share a private birthday challenge. (For decades now, we’ve competed to be the first to wish each other a happy birthday.)

Checking my watch as we set out for our family vacation to the Israeli desert, I silently pacified my ego by blaming the time difference between Israel and the U.S. However, later that evening, only a handful of greetings on “the wall,” I realized the annual sea of flattery and acknowledgment was not coming.

I would, I guess, need to feel satisfied by the real-time, in-person love of the people in my company: my husband, my three kids, and friends we were travelling with. That was new.

susan d note fb

*   *   *

When I turned 18, the week before we all left for college, my girlfriends bought me a book about sex and a package of Today sponges as a birthday present. A how-to guide with illustrated positions, that book might have been the most thoughtful birthday present I ever got from friends. I saved it for many years. It was lost somewhere between Elizabeth, NJ and the port of Haifa.

I wonder if writing today about this memory of the birthday sex book  is why I dreamed last night about a college boyfriend I haven’t seen in decades, and why I remembered this morning he said to me once, “Enough with the hand job. I can do that myself.”

*   *   *

The good thing about your Facebook friends forgetting your birthday is the idea that once something is on the internet, it might have a chance at one day being forgotten. That we don’t have to worry so much about naked photos of our children on instagram or that time we wrote a blog post about the color and consistency of our poop.

*   *   *

There’s a line in my thesis I love. In fact, it might be one of the most important statements in my entire thesis (a lyric essay memoir).

Despite my fears of saying what I really think, I am almost certain the people who have loved me over the years of my life love me because of the words I’ve spoken out loud, not because of the words I’ve kept to myself. 

This almost-belief is what allows me to sleep the nights I’m worried about the words I’ve written: on the blog, in old letters on frayed pages of spiral-bound notebook paper, or in emails during the late nineties. It makes me think I will one day be forgiven by anyone I’ve ever hurt. It gives me the confidence to continue sharing my internal truths, even when I’m so frightened by the consequences of admitting to them.

*   *   *

Truth: I suffered the absence of my Facebook birthday this year. I really did. And I will likely suffer next year, so DON’T FORGET!

I don’t like that about myself. I don’t like how much I want your attention, how much I want you to remember me…and fondly. I don’t like that I still struggle with loving myself enough so that I don’t need to be loved by you.

But I’m getting there.

Maybe this is why so many people liked my “thesis defense post.” They subconsciously know I’m getting there.

 I’m getting there.

Book Review: The Ambassador

For all my love of time travel and exploration of whether or not we could or should alter the past, I’m surprised I don’t read more fiction in the category of alternative history. Perhaps I will now, after reading The Ambassador (The Toby Press), a novel by the late Ambassador Yehuda Avner and award-winning novelist Matt Rees.

Set mostly in the late 1930s with World War II as its backdrop, The Ambassador imagines the impacts on Europe’s Jews had Israel been established in 1937, as opposed to 1948, when the Peel Commission recommended to the British cabinet to establish a Jewish state. The novel’s main character is Dan Lavi, a young diplomat sent by Ben Gurion to Germany to serve as the fledgling nation’s first ambassador to Berlin. Dan’s there with his wife Anna (an American) and Shmulik, who masquerades as part of the diplomatic team, but is really in Berlin on behalf of the Mossad.

The characters, their dialogue, and even the actions they take that veer from historical events come off realistic and plausible. I was caught up in Dan’s conflict once in Berlin as he struggles between proper diplomacy and his clear distaste for Nazi politics.

“The words of the Old Man, Ben-Gurion’s nasal Polish accent echoed in Dan’s mind, the order delivered in between reports from Shmulik on the first maneuvers of the War of Independence.

You will sup with the Devil, Dan. You will do everything the Devil requires. Whatever it takes, you will maintain the transfer of Jews from Germany to Israel.'”

The transfer of Jews from Germany is, in fact, Dan’s primary goal in Berlin. He is there, as he argues repeatedly, to “secure as many Jewish lives as we can.” He does so by working with and catering to the ego of Sturmbannfuhrer Adolph Eichmann, who serves (in this alternative reality) as head of the “Central Office for Jewish Emigration” offering Israeli visas to Europe’s Jews under the controversial “Transfer Agreement.” In this 1938 Berlin, Jews are permitted to leave the country, hundreds per day, for Israel. The Israeli Embassy’s main purpose is administrative, filling out and processing applications of families requesting exit. On the side, however, Shmulik and his Mossad team are investigating rumors of a “final solution” for the Jews, and recommending plans of action to Ben Gurion.

Most interesting to me — especially as a fan of time travel — was watching the story unfold and witnessing how some decisions in this alternative reality led the Jews to the exact same fate they met in our current reality, and how other actions managed to transform a people’s destiny. Less interesting to me were a few brief distracting side stories (based on some historical truth) of lost love and family secrets; though not distracting enough to take away from the main plot.

Any fiction pertaining to the Holocaust is potentially contentious. Still today, there are debates about who, if anyone, has the right to construct fictional tales set in or during the Holocaust. In the preface to The Ambassador, Avner writes “I fought in the war that established Israel. I worked decades in the highest circles of the Israeli government with every Prime Minister up to Rabin’s second term and as Ambassador to Britain and Australia.” One wonders if Avner is not attempting to stave off those critics of Holocaust fiction with this list of credentials. Whether or not he was, it certainly lends credibility to the story and his right to tell it.

“I sat among the crowd commemorating Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day, as then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres addressed us. More precisely, he apologized to them. The ones taken by Hitler. ‘We were 10 years too late,’ he said.

And I thought, ‘What if we hadn’t been.'”

The Ambassador will be available in bookstores September 1, 2015.


This review was made possible by The Toby Press with an Advanced Reader’s Copy.




The Speed of Summer

This has been the summer of slow: of washing the morning’s dishes; scraping and sweeping up Cocoa Pebbles off the ceramic kitchen tiles; straightening the throw pillows on the couch again; hanging pool towels on the line. There have been days when I wanted to scream, when I wished for salvation in the form of a plane ticket to Philadelphia paid for by my mother. There have been days I’ve feebly attempted to convince my 12 year old to wake up before 11 so we can spend a morning off the kibbutz doing “something,” but he’s never acquiesced and I’ve never pushed it.

It is August now, and we’ve done nothing, he and I. It is August, and we’re closer now to the end of the summer than the beginning.

Read more of this post at The Times of Israel.

What of the mountains?

I don’t know if I said it because of the dream or if I dreamt it because I was bound to say it later, but I said it and only after did I realize that it didn’t matter if the dream preceded the belief or the belief the dream.

*  *  *

What matters more than the man in the dream — a composite of men I have loved — is the woman who jumped so high as to be seen from the carved out window of the plane I was flying in.

She is not me. She was too tall to be me. And yet her hair …

What am I supposed to glean from her loose and long dirty blond hair, from the bohemian dress that floated up above her knees like a parachute each time she leapt from the valley as if the earth below was her trampoline? And what about the mountains, which were not the mountains of Denver, Colorado or the Golan Heights, mountains I have seen directly, both from above and below, but were, I am certain, the mountains of a European country, Spain or Portugal, a country in which there are less Jews than in the countries I am familiar with, countries I might even dare to call my homes?

What matters more than the man in the dream — who brought me to near tears with his collection of short stories recognizable as anecdotes from his childhood — is the woman who was sitting in the row ahead of me on the plane. She, too, saw the leaper, but she was not fazed. “I’ve seen her before,” the woman ahead of me noted. “We’re friends.”

She is not me, either. She was not Jewish enough. And she was also tall, even when seated.

Perhaps, what matters more is the man in the dream — perhaps, he is me.

*  *  *

Perhaps, I believed it and dreamed it both. Neither one before the other. Neither one bound to be first.

Afternoon Moon

Do you remember the first time you saw the moon during the day? I don’t, but every time I notice it hovering half or full in a blue sky, I am startled in the same way I must have been then.

What are you doing there? I want to say to the afternoon moon. It’s not your time yet.

Look! I’ll shout instead if I am with my children, and point up and over to where a partial moon may have been mistaken for a cloud.

How? the youngest one will reply. How can that be?

I don’t know, I tell her. And this is enough.

I am surprised that it is enough.

True Story

I asked you your name


because I knew the only way to repay you
would be to write you a poem —

that there would be no handing over of cash,
no exchange of phone numbers for future use.
I knew I could never collapse in your arms there
and weep as I might have had we been alone
or had you been an inch taller or wider.

Could not even touch your shoulder tenderly
to let you know that I know
that you


are the human in humanity.

Your black knitted cap, a tad too wide for your delicate skull
may be what stopped you from continuing along the dirt road
when you saw me waving my arms from the highway above.

Your black knitted cap was certainly what stopped me
from wrapping my arms around your 54 kilos when you finally
succeeded in screwing on the spare.

I asked you your name before we parted


because I knew then what I know now
which is that all there was between us is all
there ever will be, that once you changed
my tire and afterwards I asked you your name.

Fantasy Seder

One day I will choose to remember the first Seder after my parents separated. My mother remembers it as the one in which Ben Saved Passover, but I don’t remember it all. Not the gefilte fish, nor the charoset which at the time surely contained chopped walnuts. Vaguely, I recall an empowered, hip hop rendition of Who Knows One, but I can’t picture the dining room without my father at the head of the table so I am not exactly sure this Seder ever really happened.

= = =

The Seder on Garwood Drive is a red blend. I admit this, which is more than I can say for you. My memory can’t be trusted to discern between a Rosh Hashana in 1986 during which Bubbi (my mother’s mother) and Big Daddy (my father’s father) got into a political debate about Gorbachev, and a Passover in 1985 during which my brother Jason was young enough still to be the dog under the table. The only family holiday dinner I know for certain was not Seder was the Thanksgiving in which Richard ate too much pumpkin pie and there was a mess in the downstairs bathroom afterwards. This has become legend and legends are what remains even after divorce divides.

= = =

In the haggadahs I asked my mother to bring from America to Israel for our Seder tomorrow night there is a note on the inside cover.

I love Marc.


I almost wrote that I don’t remember loving Marc so much I needed to write his name in my Goldberg Passover Haggadah, but then I remembered I did love Marc so much in the obsessive way that compels us to doodle, I just don’t remember being so bold as to write his name out as opposed to his initials — ML — to make his name a mark on the Seder, on future Seders, to turn it into a memory that is retained because it appears year after year, there just before chanting “kadesh, urchatz…

Marc never did love me back, but “I love Marc” just goes to show that the stories we tell ourselves — whether they be universal or personal — transform from year to year: from bitter to poignant, from painful to pleasant.

The Seder, surely, is a reminder that time passes, but in reliably passing mends the frayed edges between years.

= = =

Shira and I were talking about joy and the Seder because someone asked her to write a blog post about it. I told her that a joyful Seder for me, if I were able to bottle it and spray it all over myself and my family, would be one in which I got to sing all the songs in the tunes I learned in Hebrew school, but I didn’t have to sing alone. It would be one in which my dad made both Bubbi and Big Daddy laugh at the same time with a pun he found inside a commentary from one of the Rabbis. And, you know, they’re both dead, my grandparents, so I don’t mean it literally. It would be a Seder before Nini got sick and before Big Daddy lost his ability to eat kugel without tremors, because those memories get in the way of joy a bit. I prefer the years before cancer and Parkinson’s (and sorry, before Evelyn, my grandfather’s second wife) when Big Daddy and I used to argue about which tune to use for Chad Gadya. These days, imagining my grandfather’s old school, spit-filled Ashkenazi pronunciations of what one little goat can do puts a gentle smile on my face.

A joyful Seder would certainly involve brisket, but more important it would be minus the food allergies, minus worry at all. It’s selfish, I know, to wish for a Seder in which I don’t have to worry — not about the food, nor the order, nor the harmony between my children. But if I am being honest, a joyful Seder would be one in which the only thing required of me is to look fancier than normal and to lead the family in song. If I could bottle it and spray it, this would be my joyful, midlife Seder. One so joyful, this time around, I promise to wash the dishes.

If you see me in the mirror, tell me I say Hi

In my house, the lighting is bad except for when it is good which is typically in the morning and I have drawn open the curtains which are in truth metal slats that rise up and down when I tug on a length of canvas. All the fixtures in this house, in the kitchen and bathrooms especially, must have been chosen in sorrow for the light they emit is the shade one wants to sit under when one is temporarily broken by life or haunted by regret.

When I found out this house was built by a couple in love, but finished only by one of them after they decided it wasn’t working out, I suddenly understood why I couldn’t see myself in the mirror no matter how sunny the day; why the tiles in the guest bathroom look filthy no matter how much time I spend on my knees with the Israeli brand of Brillo trying to scrub them clean. I understood why the side yard was decorated with pottery shards instead of ornamental pebbles and why the foundation of the second side porch was still exposed, its rusty innards testament to what might have been, but would never be …complete.

We rent this house, we rent this house, we rent this house, I chant, every time I pluck my eyebrows in front of a hand mirror next to the open window. I chant it when I wipe down fingerprints from the walls and when I jam my own finger in between the warped window screen and the pain. I mean pane.

As if being transitory is a salve, as if a makeshift home is not a real home and therefore, who I am in it, not a real me.

They said this outfit was 3D

I had the dream again last night in which it’s you and me and him and her at a dinner party and the lighting is for grownups, but for some reason there are children in the room. I made meringues for the children for dessert. They came out fluffy and perfect and I wanted them to stay that way – the meringues – except, inevitably they deflated. “No matter,” my husband said in the dream. “They’re still sweet.”

The dinner party is awkward even though the lighting is good. Like the last time I dreamed us at an awkward dinner party, the lighting is mostly by candle with a touch of track over a brick mantle and the scene is set for adults, which is to say there are things nearby that may be broken.

She is in black as she always is. As for me, I picked out something new to wear just before arriving. I tried it on for my husband in the store, invited him into the dressing room. “The tag said the outfit was 3D,” I told him, but only when I take my glasses off am I able to see the shapes moving in the mirror.

The call for submissions to end all submission

I am a sucker for signs. I see evidence for action in unusual places: on the bumper sticker that says “I miss you!,” on the tractor trailer in front of me on the highway, or in that dream in which cats have snuck into my hotel room and eaten up all the free pastries left on a tray by the door, or when Nina Simone sings “For Myself” at the same time an article on the Self written by Maria Popova pops up in my feed.

This week, old houses keep popping up, too — mine and others’. In poems I haven’t written yet, but also in my waking life.

* * *

Clue #1: After my middle son finished Key to the Treasure the other day, I was certain he was going to choose Clues in the Woods because choosing Haunted House would be very unlike him — he, like I am, is scared to be scared, especially before bed.

But he chose Haunted House, and after checking in with him to make sure this was the one he wanted to read next, we began.

Clue #2: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: “Leonard had grown up in an Arts & Crafts house whose previous owner had been murdered in the front hall. The grisly history of 133 Linden Street had kept the house on the market for years.”

Clue #3: This article from December about memory and mentally mapping our homes — it showed up at the top of my Twitter feed today. More than the study results, I was struck by the dollhouse image used to illustrate the story.  Dollhouses have a way of being so inviting and so terrifying at the same time. Like old hotels. Like Stephen King. I felt this way before I read The Dollhouse Murders and long before I saw The Shining.

Clue #4 is a secret. I won’t tell it, but no matter.

* * *

I am going to enter the contest to win a bed and breakfast in Maine.

I haven’t figured out yet how to explain to Janice in 200 words why it feels as though I am already the winner.

This makes me sound like a narcissist and I want to sound like a dreamer. Or at least like someone who lives her life one foot atop one pole and one foot atop the other.

I want to explain to Janice that the word Maine is blue and that I love that northern state because I spent four summers at overnight camp there, three of which I spent in love and that this is a good thing, not a thing that makes me crazy, but makes me the type of person who other people — guests — will be happy to see in the morning. And anyway, my husband will be the one cooking breakfast and serving pancakes in the shapes of native birds. Once he served our dinner guests sweet potato pancakes with a dollop of wasabi sour cream that was as delicate as a meringue. I will be the one who organizes the books in the library each night. (There will be vintage National Geographic magazines and perhaps a set of Encyclopedia Brittannica, too.) I will be the one who changes the sheets. I will keep the ghosts appeased. I will invite them to have tea in the garden so they don’t frighten the guests.

* * *

I had a dollhouse once. It was this one. Not this exact one, but its doppelganger.

(photo credit:

* * *

I still love miniatures.

I love it that my husband sneaks into the bathroom before bed to set up clever scenes with the Playmobil my daughter left behind after her bath, with the purpose of surprising me when I happen upon them before brushing my teeth.

I especially love the miniature toilet and the European style hand shower: Bathroom appliances were never furnished with the dollhouses I played with as a child.

Which brings me back to the dream of the cats eating pastries in my hotel room.

I had been in the bathroom when they snuck in. They took advantage of my uniquely human need to relieve myself in privacy.

I was angry at first, but I couldn’t blame them. After all, I had left the front door open.

A short reflection on showering

keep telling myself to take a shower. “In 20 minutes, take a shower.” 20 minutes pass and I do not take a shower I do this thing where I look up people I admire on Twitter and see who they admire and then follow them  — half because I want to learn from them and half because I want them to pay attention to me. Not showering yet is evidence that the half that wants them to pay attention to me is diminishing because not taking a shower shows I want education more than I want to be pretty or smell good and so these days not showering is a good sign that the ego (or is it the superego) is deflating.


or the fact that my long hair no longer looks better after I shower so why bother. My hair which used to be the best of me after my breasts but now lies as flat as they do, shower or no shower, is no longer a win-win is betraying me is possibly falling out no not now but possibly soon. I think of my Nini that time I walked in on her adjusting her wig in the mirror at the dresser in her bedroom. This was before the cancer and I confirm it with my father who says “her forties, I guess.”

So I better