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Lightning strikes every time she moves

Can't sleep.
Can't write.
Can't think.
Can't breathe.

Or it's more like I can breathe but I'd rather not. This air is forced on me by lungs too stupid to stop expanding. Heart pounding out its dull rhythm like the dumbfounded machine it is. There is nothing left to do but receive each day as it comes, let it roll over me as I hide under blankets, held hostage by the blood coursing ignorantly through my veins. Warm quivering flesh in a puddle on the sheets. I pour myself onto the floor, half expecting the carpet pile to absorb me. Nope, somehow I manage to stand--but gravity is relentless, every cell in my body weighs a pound, every movement takes infinite amounts of energy. I am exhausted. I am nothing. I am tired of feeling this way. I am tired of feeling. Of worrying if quivering flesh is all I'll ever be. Half this lifetime has gone away. Half this lifetime spent on surviving nightmares and pulling the rug out from under myself over and over again. Go back to school but barely graduate. Leave college with professors proclaiming they'll be proud to teach the books I write, but I've barely scratched pen to paper in over 12 years. Land awesome internships and jobs but fail to show up for them. Give birth to beautiful children with absolutely no ability to give them what they need. Marry a man and slowly poison his love for me, make him so desperate to be rid of me that he's willing to send me off with a few thousand dollars and a wave, because it's the amicable thing to do. Because I do nothing but drag him down. Drag the kids down. Drag me down--it's the one thing I'm good at: ruining things.

I have so many memoirs inside of me

I wish I knew how to get them out...

I guess the secret is to just write and not give a fuck what it sounds like, not every word is going to be pretty or brilliant or full of anything but desperation. I don't know how to write for the sake of writing. I only know how to write to keep from dying. I cannot work at it. Cannot revise. Cannot place a single deliberate letter--how it comes out is how it stays. But I have so many stories to tell. I've survived so much. I remember when I read Bastard Out of Carolina and it was this revelation--I can take this pain and make it into something more--if I could only figure out how to spell it out. But here I am nearly 2 decades later and no closer to it. I want the world to know how extraordinary it is that I'm still breathing--not because I want any kind of glory, but because I know from experience that literature like I want to write can save lives--it can take hold of a sad sorry broken little girl and prove to her there is life beyond her pain.

It's not like my story is not interesting--I think I'd have to tell it from a place of hope--maybe frame it with my conversion to Judaism--this act of defiance, to snatch what I can from the wreckage of my past and make it mine, excavating the very source of my pain--like the universe is saying to me "this is how you make peace with what was done to you" because I can't disconnect it--I know what shoved me through the doors of a synagogue was finding Jewish names in my lineage. And while I'm standing on the bimah, my arms cradling Torah scrolls, reciting the V'ahavta while my rabbi affirms my place in the tribe, my father is online praying for the destruction of the very people I'm coming back home to. Because he hates his mother, so of course he hates what she comes from. While I'm reclaiming what I believe should have always been mine, my father seethes with holocaust denial & theories that paint Israel as a terrorist state bent on world domination. He fantasizes about my demise without even realizing it. Not that he wasn't always hellbent on my demise, but this is certainly a way to hurt me that not even he could have imagined.

So where do I start? Which piece of insanity do I address first?

it's the picture

of me in the red dress, puffy sleeves, and in between
a shy smile. I remember
the red shoes that went clickity clack like grown up shoes
I remember
the tights with the tiny hearts on them
the tights that covered bruises
the legs that ached.
Because before the photographer posed me,
he pushed me apart
and ripped his way in, as I curl around the pain
biting into the pillow
with milk teeth, until one of them
dislodged and blood soaked
into the sheets in 2 places
that night.
My mother squealed to see the gap the next day.
She put the tooth in her velvet-lined jewelry box and gave me a quarter,
didn't even bother with the toothfairy story,
no make believe except her pretending
the tooth was the only thing I lost that night.
I put away the pills and did my homework. This is the tightrope I walk.


i go from counting pills to checking add/drop deadlines
from assessing a blade's sharpness to making reading lists
from planning parties to contemplating my funeral
i remember when we studied Plath in my American Women Poets class and the prof claimed she didn't think Sylvia meant to kill herself because her planner was so full and she had so many projects underway
for me, there is no surer indication of suicide...

because you agonize over living before you make the decision to die
because you don't really want to die but it's either death or pain
inescapable invisible incomprehensible intolerable indefatigable mental anguish
i've been doing this for 35 years
i'm tired of psyching myself up
maybe tomorrow will be better
but the better never comes
and i'm a zombie dragging from one day to the next
all i can do is curl up in bed with my eyes closed and despise the dark inside my lids
i will never write the way i should
i will never love the way i should
i will never work the way i should
i will never sing the way i should
i will never mother the way i should
i will never be the way i should
because so much of me is consumed by THIS

and it's true: the only reason I'm alive right now is because I'm too much of a coward to try again. it's not because of my kids or my husband or my ambitions or my anything. i'm afraid of trying and failing again. because life doesn't give up easy. the body is sturdier than you think. if i could will my heart to stop, i would. if i could put a bullet in my brain i would. if i had access to some no fail method to take myself out, i'd do it. it took fistfuls of pills to knock me out nearly 12 years ago and even that wasn't fast enough, they still snatched me back. so here i am still plagued--only with 3 more lives suffering because i can't get my shit straight. no doubt they will miss me. no doubt my death will leave holes in their hearts but would those holes be bigger than the ones left if i stay alive and continue to fail them? i'm not there for them either way...

so do i swallow all the pills i have dumped out on the counter? every time i get my prescription filled i think--is this enough? should i hoard pills and wait like i did in 2004? but i don't have access to the amounts of drugs i had then because then i stole all my mother's left over medication--every pill they tried her on to treat her depression and deemed ineffective--every last one went into my little box. i took them out of their bottles so i would forget what they were--so they were nothing but yellow and green and peach and white circles and ovals--candy colored and harmless-looking. right now all i have are the drugs i get prescribed and the doc is smart enough to prescribe just enough to get me to my next appointment. i don't have opportunity to amass because if i don't take the pills i'm prescribed, i go through withdrawal. so all i have is the hope that the freshly filled prescriptions will be enough.

i have 2 full bottles at my disposal right now.

Apr. 12th, 2016

I haven't written anything extracurricular in so long. Words feel stiff as my knuckles. Maybe it's best to just let the thoughts fossilize...I have so much that's gone undocumented--new jobs, new breakdowns, roles played (who ELSE should play Queen Vashti than the woman who named her bird after the character), and most recently, chanted verses. It's about the only good thing that's come out of the past few months, with yad chain rattling, I sang my way through verses 51-54 of Tazria and nobody believed it was my first time in front of an open Torah scroll. Didn't stumble, didn't lose my place, stayed perfectly on key, didn't mispronounce a single word. The woman standing next to me as I read said she was amazed at how clear and strong my voice was because she could see how badly I was shaking. I admit, this does not mean I understand anything more about trope. I just listened to a recording until each syllable was burned into my brain & tracked the words with Scroll Scraper. One day I'll truly learn how to read trope. It's required of me, after all, as a student pursuing cantorial soloist certification. I admit I like the title--I like the credential, because it's not enough for me to just do this, I want a piece of paper with my name on it that says I know what I'm doing--that I've worked and studied and gotten as close to cantorial ordination as the rules will allow. And oh how I hope those rules will change while I'm still young enough to take advantage of it.

the trope of the returning Jew

This is springing directly out of a comment I left on the entry before the music one...

I bet you anything there's no scholarship on this subject: the psychological machinations of those of lost Jewish descent who discover that descent and decide to convert. I've talked to enough "Who knew? Jews" (that's what I call us) to know my own fanciful descriptions of my journey are not unique:

We all say we always "felt" Jewish.
We all talk about being inexplicably drawn to all things Jewish even at a young age.
We all had a tendency, even before we knew who we were related to, to prefer and keep the company of Jews.
We all describe a lightbulb going on once we uncover our Jewish genealogical connection.
...and then we go searching for a rabbi and talk about things like reclamation and returning and being in possession of a Jewish soul that desperately wants to go back to where it belongs.

Julius Lester is probably the most well-known example of the "converting to return Jew." His was one of the very first books I read when I started my conversion process. Little did I know that my comments on Tablet and Kveller and Jewish Daily Forward and pretty much any Jewish media outlet that publishes any article about conversion would lead to me finding so many more people just like me--enough to prove that I'm not alone and certainly not unique.

And now, of course, I'm obsessed with writing about the pattern--and that's going to take a lot of digging for more stories & interviews--lots of primary research. I know I've yet to see any piece of scholarly writing devoted to this particular subject--and we're worth studying! We're a fascinating bunch...belief in blood memory is alive and well with us. I credit it for my ability to absorb both prayer and Hebrew so quickly even while fully admitting how absurd such a notion is--it's just another way I try to legitimize my "recovered" Jewishness. We're preoccupied with legitimacy, us returners, even more so than other converts...because when you're trying to "get back what you lost," the last thing you want to hear is it was never yours to begin with.

Can I get a Do-Over?

....a life do-over, where I listen to my music teacher, pick up an instrument, join the chorus, seriously study theory, actually make this artform mine, instead of letting my shyness win. Instead of knowing I could sing but being terrified to do solos in front of people until I reached my 30s...

I'd give anything to go back. Because there is no doubt in my mind that music is my calling, but for the first few decades of my life, I was too timid to answer it. I have no hope of doing it professionally now, and that breaks my heart. Really, I'd love to teach it, but you can't teach what you don't truly know...and all I know is music does for my spirit what nothing else has ever been able to do. It heals me in ways nothing else can. Nothing else can reach deeper or lift me higher. It's what connects me to God and, when I'm at my worst, it's what makes me want to live. It bridges gaps, says what words never could, it brings in the tides and hangs the stars in the skies as far as I am concerned.

I went to my son's winter concert a few weeks ago & I cried through it. I'm so proud of him, so thrilled to see him taking off--he has such a love for his clarinet. Practicing is the only homework I don't have to crack the whip on him to do...and his teacher tells me he's astounded by my son's progress. And I am too, because all the learning disabilities we were always told he has don't hold him back one bit when it comes to studying music--for him, it's the one thing he can do without struggling and lagging behind his peers. Playing is giving him the gift of expression and confidence, and it's teaching me, too, because I sit down and read his theory book with him & tell him how he's doing something I wish I would have been smart enough to do at his age. My teacher recognized a gift in me and I was stupid enough to ignore him...and it is the biggest regret of my life. My son inherited the same gift and the same shyness and I'm so thrilled he's doing what I wouldn't & I'm overjoyed to see it's given him a voice he otherwise would have never discovered.

Another story to add to my collection

A story of Patrilinial Jewish reclamation that is worlds healthier & much more powerful than mine:


And it makes me wonder, if I ever wrote it out, how would I frame my story in a way that is both true to my motives yet not poisonous to the identity I'm cultivating? Because without the mysterious Jewish relatives hidden in the branches of my family tree, I never would have felt compelled to convert & that's something with which I will never be at peace. It almost makes me feel less genuine in my motives, less courageous...I hate that, for all the years I was enamored of all things Jewish, I never even considered converting until I realized my greatgrandmother's last name wasn't Italian. I always told myself "this doesn't belong to you"...and then I realized that maybe it should have. Maybe the attraction was something calling me home. The immediacy with which I decided to convert--no one even realizes because I told everyone at first I was meeting with a rabbi because I was simply curious. Yet the first words out of my mouth when I saw her was "I want to convert." Never from day 1 was there any doubt in my mind it's what I should do. For me, the wrestling comes from wishing I could have come to it years ago, without being pushed through the door on some mission of reclamation. The idea of conversion was something I treated like a joke for years. And I hate that. I hate how absurd I thought it was--why did I have that mental block for so long and why did it turn to dust the minute I saw my ancestors' names on Jewish genealogy websites? What made me think I wasn't allowed to ask to belong until then? And why did it have to be an act of defiance? Something born of frustration over everything that says paternal Jewish heritage doesn't count. Why do I have to be in a state of angry disenfranchisement before I feel compelled to act? How peaceful would it have been for me to just leave his half of my history a complete and total question mark (that's not to say it isn't still a question mark--there are hints but that's all they'll ever be) and just start searching for my own sake--searching without it being a crusade...

I'm in the bizarre position of not being able to relate to either other converts or born Jews...the ones who have no Jewish roots to speak of and the ones who were born unremoved from those roots. I've written about it on here a million times before--I just wish I could do something to the part of my brain that incessantly wonders who my ancestors were, where they came from, and why didn't they stay Jewish--assuming they didn't...because if the latest bit of lore proves to be true, my grandmother is buried in some Jewish cemetery out in CA, supposedly laid to rest by an aunt I've never met who actually lives as a Jew--but this is the story of a mad man out in CA who prays daily for the destruction of Israel--a man who says his kike mother is burning in hell and his sister will soon join her, a man who seems to be taking all the hatred of his Jewish mother out on the Jewish people as whole. I know it's never worthwhile to ponder what ifs...but it's hard not to wonder--if she never had her nervous breakdown, if she hadn't left home before my father was even old enough to remember her...if I only could have known her, maybe I wouldn't have so many questions.

I never knew either of my grandmothers. But at least on my mother's side, the stories kept her alive even though she was dead 10 years by the time I was born. I know where she came from. My aunt has all the immigration papers, all the old pictures from both back in Italy and from their earliest years in America. I've never even seen a picture of my father's mother before. And really, no matter what the context, it hurts to have half of your own history missing. It's ironic in a way. Even though I had the horrific misfortune of living with my father for the first 18 years of my life, I relate to the kids who never met their dads--because I have no idea who that man was (and never had any contact with his side of the family)...all I ever did was wish he wasn't there.

once again

I don't watch much TV at all these days, but the few shows I choose to view seem to eerily mirror my life, especially in the context of all things Jewish. Both Downton Abbey and Orange is the New Black featured inferfaith and conversion plotlines in 2015, and just as I'm embarking on a final paper meant to question how Jewishness is determined, The Man in the High Castle features a character who, like me, has 1 Jewish grandparent. Of course, in a world where the nazis are victorious, one has good reason to pray that a single Jewish grandparent has no impact on the grandchild's status, but that heritage is enough to threaten this man's life and excuse enough to round up his sister and her children and exterminate them. It's kind of twisted when you think about it: you're not Jewish enough to be recognized by other Jews, but you're Jewish enough to be killed by our enemies. Initially, our character in question insists he's not Jewish but, in the end, he tells the officer who tormented him and killed his sister and her children "if you're looking for another Jew to kill, you know where to find me." So, in the end, the identity is claimed as an act of defiance.

I don't know how true the show's action is to how the Nazis actually operated. According to what I've read, being a mischling didn't always spell doom if you knew the right people (but isn't that always the case no matter what the threat is?). However, it's worth noting that the Nuremberg laws are actually the basis for Israel's revised Law of Return, and the logic seems to be "if the Nazis would have killed you, we'll give you citizenship" (I won't even get into the logistics of attempting to prove Jewish descent--which can be challenging no matter how many Jewish relatives you have) which, of course, is why you have the dilemma of non-Halachic Jews in Israel who can't get married or be buried or name a baby--because the government says you're Jewish enough to get in but the Rabbinate who controls all of those other things still wants an irrefutably Jewish mother or an approved conversion before they'll recognize you.

At any rate, the show still raises the important point of why and how and by whom Jewish status is determined and how simultaneously malleable and inescapable it can be. And it also brings to mind something Gloria Steinem (who is a patrilineal Jew) once wrote "Wherever there is antisemitism, I identify as a Jew."