Sunday, September 19, 2010

"The Great American Novel"

Today in the Chicago Tribune, Mary Schmich writes this about Jonathan Franzen's new book, Freedom:
"We live now in an age of thrillers, romances, and sci-fi. A novel that comes without a murder, a mystery, a vampire or sexy romance is likely to take the shortcut to the remainder table. As a result, few writers attempt the Great American Novel. The prospect that one might finally have arrived, to reflect back to us the details and deep truths about the moment we live in, is exciting."

I have no delusions that I will ever write the Great American Novel. I leave that up to the Jonathan Franzens of the world. But I do write realistic fiction for tweens. Coming-of-age stories. Books that mine the extraordinary in the ordinary. And lately I've wondered if that is enough. It's harder than ever for a novel to break out unless it's a fantasy or a dystopian or a very high concept.

But of course, everything runs in cycles. Could Freedom be the book that helps turn the tide back to realistic fiction? Aren't kids today just as eager to find themselves in a book as I was when I was growing up? Yes, there's a place for wizards and zombies and even vampires, but I don't think we'll ever stop needing real situations and real characters who make us laugh and cry and see the world and ourselves in a new light.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What Does Forgiveness Look Like?

Sometimes forgiveness is easy. You say, "I'm sorry." You kiss and make up. Or maybe you just hug.

But sometimes it's more complicated. Sometimes you realize a relationship will never be mended. You're hurt and angry, and you simply move on. There's no closure. There's no kissing and making up. There's only an echo of hard feelings and the fear that you will run into the offender(s) someday and won't know what to do. Should you say hello? Should you pretend not to notice them? Should you give them a piece of your mind and maybe a slap across the face? Or should you go overboard showing them how much better off you are now?

Of course none of those choices are good because they all give too much weight to the relationship that is supposed to be over. If you can't forgive, you will always have to fear those awkward occasions, and you will always carry that weight. But what if forgiveness looks different? What if it's not about sorry and making up? What if it looks like this:

The realization that the past has made you who you are today.
The belief that you like the person you've become.
The recognition that the person or people who hurt you did the best they could at that time in their lives.

I've struggled to forgive some people in my community. But I was picturing the easy kind of kiss-and-make-up forgiveness. I imagined calling them or bumping into them in the grocery store and saying, "Hey, I forgive you. Everything is great now. It all worked out for the best." I never did that because honestly, I never wanted to kiss and make up, and also they've never asked for my forgiveness. I really am better off without these particular people in my life. Yet the awkwardness and the weight of the past has persisted.

I realize now that forgiveness isn't about making up. I don't need to say anything at all. But I do forgive them. Just knowing this makes me feel lighter already.

Friday, September 10, 2010

When Pilates and Judaism Come Together

Happy New Year everyone! I have to say, one of the best things about being Jewish (besides the brisket) is that we celebrate our New Year in September, which for me has always seemed more appropriate than in January. You start school; you start a new year. It's simple.

This Rosh Hashanah was really new for me because I switched synagogues. My entire life, I've gone to Conservative synagogues, but this year I joined a Reform temple. There are lots of differences between Conservative and Reform services, and I wasn't sure I would like them all. I was afraid there wouldn't be enough Hebrew and that I would miss my favorite traditional tunes. Plus I felt sad leaving the many wonderful people I knew from my synagogue. It had been a comfortable place. I knew exactly what to expect there. But lately, it felt as if I were going through the motions, not feeling inspired or uplifted. I knew it was time to try something new.

My new temple is led by Rabbi Karyn Kedar. And clearly, if I was looking for inspiration, I've come to the right place. Rabbi Kedar writes books, she blogs, and she speaks in a powerful yet humble way. I know I will learn so much from her. The first blog entry I read from her was about her practice of thinking of a word prior to the start of the New Year, and dedicated herself to the full understanding of that word. Her word this year is humility. I loved this idea, and I spent several days thinking about what word I would want to bring so powerfully into my life.

Patience. Creativity. Humility. Excellence. Love. These words danced in my brain, all of them holding some kind of draw but none of them feeling exactly right. Then I went to my weekly Pilates class, taught by my beautiful and talented friend, Julie Cheifetz. As always, Julie reminded us that Pilates is not about the movement but rather about the stabilization of your core when the movement happens. And that's when I realized I'd found the perfect word: Stability.

Although I am not an extremely moody person or really that unstable in general, I hate when I let external factors impact the person I ideally want to be. So this year, I will focus on stability in every circumstance.

I got some practice this week when taking my daughter, Faith, to school in Connecticut. I am severely directionally-challenged, and even with a GPS device in my rented car, I was still feeling that tense anxiety of driving on unfamiliar roads. Then there was the added stressor of construction traffic making me late for the birthday dinner I was hosting for my daughter and her friends. I felt my body and mind begin to stress, so I reminded myself to stabilize my core. I actually tightened my stomach muscles, breathed deeply, and instantly felt better able to handle wrong turns, traffic, and the idea that I would most definitely be late. At a red light, I texted Faith to let her know the situation. She texted back, "ok." It wasn't a big deal after all.

I intend to fully explore the idea of stability this year. If this practice sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to think about a word to focus on, too. Leave your word in the comments. You don't need to be Jewish to play along!