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Dear Humans

Dear Other Humans: On Being Discovered

Dear Other Humans,

Is it time to mine my beliefs for why I continue to yearn to be “discovered?”

What do I think will happen once I am “discovered?” Money? Fame? Recognition? Acknowledgment?

Then what? A legacy left? A statue erected? Textbook curriculums created?

Here is yet another subconscious belief I don’t know how to un-believe: that to be discovered is a necessary, or at least, a desired end.

Yet, it’s not an end.

No one who was ever “discovered” thought, “Ah, I’ve reached the end.”

I know this.

And yet my actions follow the belief, not the knowledge.

Maybe I’m in the liminal space between awareness and change. I’ve experienced many instances when knowing came first, then new belief followed. I just don’t know yet how to make this belief come on this timeline, by which I mean, come faster.

It is possible to discover oneself? Is that the solution? Discover oneself so as to eliminate the need to be discovered?

Like I am learning how to love myself? Something that once seemed impossible?

Is there a way to believe I am already discovered? As I have started to believe I already am loved?

Dear humans, I am sending this message with love across space and time. Hold it gently.

Jen

Writing

Finalist for 2017 Autumn House Press Prize

I’m giddy to let you know that my lyric essay memoir, ‘Til I Am, was chosen as a finalist for the Autumn House Press full-length book prize for the 2nd year in a row. Maybe the second time is the charm? Cross your fingers, cast your spells, say your prayers.

Letting Go, Love, Poetry, Writing

A little award nomination never hurt anyone

These days, I am actively trying to cultivate self-confidence during a stretch of life in which my self-confidence is waning. (From what my 40+ female friends tell me, I’m not alone.) That said, from time to time, the confidence of the Self benefits from the love and appreciation of the outside world.

An unexpected email last night from my editor at District Lit districtlitbotn2016led to a huge boost in productivity and output. I woke up to an urge to clean the fridge, sweep the floors, then work on a essay chapbook I’m hoping to submit next month.

After that, I dug up an old, short flash CNF piece I never quite perfected, edited it and submitted it.

What’s gotten into me? For sure, a healthy dose of acknowledgement, which isn’t so bad, really, as long as it’s not the only drug you’re into.

Head on over to District Lit to see which two pieces were nominated. While you’re there, please check out the work of the other nominees, too, in poetry and fiction.

 

Books, Writing

In interview, author Sarah Einstein offers tips on writing your truth

I recently interviewed Sarah Einstein, author of Mot: A Memoir for Drunken Boat’s blog.

Mot a Memoir

Above and beyond the interesting tidbits about her process writing the book, Sarah provides wisdom for emerging writers on how to navigate the potential strains writing about family or friends can have on relationships:

“Don’t overcome your fear of writing your truth in spite of potential fallout. Keep that fear, because you need it. It will guide you to make better decisions about what you do and don’t want to become public knowledge about your private life and the private lives of those around you.”

Read the full interview.

Books, Writing

Finalists announced for Autumn House Press book contest

The winner will only be announced at the end of the summer, but for now I’m pretty excited to join the high-caliber writers of nonfiction on the list of finalists for the Autumn House Press 2016 full-length book contest.

Cross your fingers…

Books, Philosophy, Spirituality

One thing you can do to feel better when the world seems to be going to shit

In our age of internet memes and sloganed t-shirts, it’s really easy to start throwing around a catchphrase without giving much thought to who coined it, let alone whether or not it’s actually true.

The most clicked-thru post on this blog is one in which I consider the phrase “life begins at 40,” questioning (without answering) whether or not Carl Jung actually said this. If Google searching is any indication, it seems people really want to know the answer: does life really begin at 40?

I don’t have the answer.

But the sentiment was reaffirmed at the Cherry Hill Public Library sale today, where I’ve spent the last two mornings old book diving. There, I found on the “Antiquarian” table this 1932 book by Journalism professor Walter B. Pitkin. I cracked it open in the hopes of getting to the bottom of the phrase. After all, an old book must be a little more reliable than a meme…right?

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Enter a caption

I leafed through the slightly water-stained, hardbound book, and then turned to the introductory chapter.

life at 40 first pageOn a day when my sadness and despair for the fate of humanity has only deepened, in a month during which my confidence in a safe and equitable future for my children has only continued to wane, this book’s opening paragraph had such a positive tone, I couldn’t help but spend the $2 to buy it.

Did you know that at forty “work becomes easy and brief?” “Play grows richer and longer?” and “Leisure lengthens?” This is Pitkin’s claim, at least.

I haven’t read past the first few pages, so I am not sure I’m willing to give credence yet to Pitkin’s claim that life begins at 40. Work for me has not become easy. My play has not yet grown richer and longer. But Pitkin’s basic thesis is that we should be happy we’re not dead. And with this, I agree.

Along with Pitkin’s book, I also bought an Eckhart Tolle, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and three books of poetry. When I walked out the door and looked at my stash this morning, I realized what I had done.

I had “self-helped.”

*  *  *

According to Wikipeda “Life Begins at Forty” was

Written during a time of rapid increase in life expectancy (at the time of its publication American life expectancy at birth was around 60 and climbing fast, from being only at age 40 fifty years before),[1] it was very popular and influential. It was the #1 bestselling non-fiction book in the United States in 1933, and #2 in 1934,[2] according to Publishers Weekly.

Wikipedia concludes by saying that the “general thrust of the book is that given the current conditions of the world, one could look forward to many years of fulfilling and happy existence after age 40, provided that one maintained the proper positive attitude.”

Strange considering when Pitkin wrote his book, the U.S. was facing a devastating economic depression, and countries around the world were immersed in their own domestic upheavals. That a book suggesting to 1932’s struggling, poor 40 year olds that they were “the luckiest generation ever”  wasn’t collectively thrown into the trash can fires in the street, it pretty incredible. And on the contrary, the book was a #1 bestseller!

Given the current conditions of our own world, I am constantly terrified of not being able to look forward to anything let alone a fulfilling, happy existence after 40. But when all else fails…you know what I do? I buy books. Especially ones that may help me feel better, even temporarily. For me, I usually serve myself up a portion of nonfiction positive attitude, law of attraction, pseudo Buddhist philosophy. For you, the salve may be crime fiction or cookbooks. (All available at the Cherry Hill Public Library sale!)

According to an unattributed internet meme, Theodore Roosevelt once said the “more you know about the past the better prepared you are for the future.”  As someone who has spent much money and much time trying to be less “prepared for the future” (aka lose my commitment to the irrational beliefs caused by my lifelong generalized anxiety disorder) I will suggest that the future of our world may look grim, may indeed be grim, but one thing we can and should do is, as Pitkin writes, try not to grow “disconsolate, embittered and hard.”

Even in these very grim times.

Instead, buy books. (And read them.)

 

Books, Family, Parenting, Writing

My interview with Rivka Galchen today in Times of Israel

I so enjoyed Little Labors, the latest book out from award-winning novelist Rivka Galchen. A stunning, intimate, but thoughtful hybrid work, Little Labors is definitely a recommended read for this summer.

Check out my review and interview with Galchen, up on The Times of Israel today.

Dreams, Relationships, Writing

Creative nonfiction up now at District Lit

It’s more than half a year since I started writing the bimonthly creative nonfiction column, “My Time, Your Place” on District Lit.

If you have the chance today, please check out my latest entry “Second-Person Point of View.” (If you were a Choose Your Own Adventure enthusiast, you might especially enjoy it.)

 

Books, Writing

A long weekend filled with books and books-loving friends

It’s one of the best times of year in Israel for those of us in the writing-in-English biz. This week the 5th Jerusalem Writers Festival kicks off with author David Grossman in conversation with author Colum McCann. I’ll be heading down on Thursday to see Amanda Stern host Happy Ending, a NY-based literary series, for the first time in Israel.  I interviewed Amanda for the Times of Israel a few weeks ago and hearing her background and stories made me even more excited to see her in action, along with Anthony Marra (whose book I will finally buy, if it’s on sale, as it’s been recommended to me by a few people who know my book also “features” mixed tapes), Etgar Keret, Colum McCann, and Nell Zink.

Then on Sunday, I’ll get my chance to hear David Grossman as he kicks off the Tenth Memorial International Writing Conference at Bar Ilan University. So much over three days: writing workshops and readings by new authors/ fellow alums Anthony Michael Morena and Joanna Chen. The conference is free and open to the public, so other than skipping work or other duties, there’s no reason not to come.

Hope to see you at one of the events! If not, check out my instagram feed so you can feel like you were really there.

 

Books, Writing

Interview with Curtis Sittenfeld in Times of Israel

Up in The Times of Israel today is an interview I conducted with Curtis Sittenfeld, the New York Times bestselling author of “Prep” and “American Wife.” Sittenfeld has a new book hitting shelves this week: “Eligible,” a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

I’ve been a big fan of Sittenfeld’s since my NJ book club (make that my beloved and sorely missed book club) read “Prep” as our first selection back in 2006. “Eligible” was cleverly entertaining and I definitely recommend it. It was a huge pleasure to speak to Sittenfeld by phone from Israel recently. Check out my article in TOI for more.

Memory, Parenting, Writing

Jet lag ramblings

Last night after I returned home from ten days away, I lay down next to my daughter to chit chat before she fell asleep.

“While you were away, mommy,” she said. “I prayed to God for something I know I’ll never get.”

“What?” I asked her, even though I was pretty sure I knew the answer.

She sighed, “A real baby.”

“You’re right honey,” I replied. “I’m not having any more babies, but maybe God will listen anyway, and hang on to your request ’til you’re a mommy.”

With that, she sighed again, and held Nadav, her American Girl baby-boy doll a little tighter than before.

 

* * *

This morning on Twitter a journalist posted there would be an air raid siren in the southern Israeli towns of Ashkelon and Ashdod.

“This is part of a tsunami drill,” he wrote. “Don’t panic.”

As if the poor people of Ashdod and Ashkelon haven’t been traumatized enough over the last few years of rocket warnings. Shouldn’t they devise a unique alert sound for a tsunami? And, anyway, what are the residents of Ashkelon and Ashdod advised to do in the case of a true tsunami?

Certainly taking cover will not save them from the rushing waters of a churning Mediterranean sea.

 

* * *

I never realized it before, but jet lag is a necessary and appropriate method for transitioning from one culture, one point of view, to another.

 

* * *

If I were to have another baby — which I will not  — I wouldn’t have named it Nadav if it was a boy, or Shaked if it was a girl, even though both are my favorite names for new babies in Israel.

It occurs to me this morning after I read the message about the tsunami drill, however, that tsunami would actually be a lovely name for a girl. The word rolls off the tongue like the wave it describes, but more gently. Like a ripple in time.

Tsu – Nah – Me.  

 

* * *

When I land in New Jersey, I like that I have traveled backwards.

When I land in Israel, I like that I have lost a whole day.

I like to be pummeled by time like that.

I like that I am able to anticipate the absolute engulfment caused by change in time, even if I can’t control it.

 

beach photo 2016
Shavei Tzion, Israel. Photo by Jen Maidenberg

Love, Making Friends, Memory, Mindfulness, Parenting, Relationships

Forever 16

Last night, I had a dream I was at a school dance. Midway through the dream, a slow song came on — a Peabo Bryson / Gloria Estefan number, I’m sure — and the boy for whom I had a painful, obsessive crush all through high school asked me to slow dance. Not only that, but midway through the slow dance, the boy — for he was still a boy in the dream — looked me in the eyes and kissed me on the lips for all to see.

In that moment, I felt as if I had arrived. My entire body seemed to melt with relief.

I’m worthy of attention. I’m deserving of a slow dance. I’m attractive enough for a kiss on the lips from the cutest boy, in front of everyone.

When I awoke, however, the relief fluttered away. At first, I thought the dream was funny. How is it that 20+ years later I am still dreaming of “the cutest boy” and still yearning for his notice?

But then, I took the message a little more seriously. I understood that I am still desperate to be chosen. And this is…a little sad.

Does the need for validation from “the cutest boy in school” ever dissipate? Will there ever be a time I will feel seen for the who I am and the what I create? What will that self-reliant being seen-ness require of me?

Last week, I spent three days chaperoning my 13-year-old’s class trip to Jerusalem. It was a rare opportunity to see him and his classmates in action, outside the classroom, inside the system of coed adolescence. I tried to pinpoint the girl in the group that was once me.

How hard did I work to be seen then? What did I do to show others I was worthy of their attention? When did I scoot back to avoid being noticed? (Did I ever?) What display of myself was I afraid of exposing back then?

I realized that not much has changed. As then, I care less about my looks and my clothes than I do about deep meaningful connections with other human beings who share similar interests and a sense of humor. But that need for connection comes at a price. You cannot connect alone, just because you want to, just because you feel something, just because you think now is the time. Connection requires mutuality, shared admiration or affection. It requires action…choice. And, yet, it also demands a certain letting go of control.

There will always be times when the connection doesn’t happen; if, for instance, the desire for it is one-sided. And, perhaps this is a lesson that one keeps on learning, long after high school, well into life. On and on and on.