And even though it all went wrong I’ll stand before the lord of song With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah
-Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah
I could give you a list of excuses: I work a lot. I just started my own business. I’m a tutor and a freelance writer, and I have a day job. I went to Italy; I went to Vegas; I went to Giants games (and then cried), I spent the weekend at my best friend’s. I have a boyfriend and a family and a life that keeps me really busy.
And all of it is true. I have been too busy to write.
I have also been rejected.
I suppose it’s nothing to be particularly ashamed of: getting rejected by the New York Times. Twice. And losing several writing contests. And being asked for a revision from a fairly prestigious literary magazine before its editors ultimately said, “It didn’t really work for us.” Then being denied by The Rumpus editors. It’s not exactly like I’ve been aiming low. And I get it: being a writer/human means getting rejected sometimes. But it still feels awful.
So I quit.
It wasn’t a conscious decision. I didn’t stomp off to my room after the last rejection and say, “Well that’s it, I’m done. No more writing for me—it’s too hard.” It was more insidious than that: I just no longer seemed to have the time to write. Ever. It was the kind of decision you don’t realize you’ve made until you start to feel the effects of it. And in this case, the effects were subtle (until they weren’t); they were gradual (until they were all at once). I started to feel this low-level, amorphous anxiety that swam underneath everything I did. I felt, in the most general sense, off. And sometimes the nonspecific kind of melancholy is the worst kind—because what can you do about it if you’re not even sure what it is?
But then, slowly, it began to dawn on me: “oh right–y’know that thing that you feel like is kind of your calling in life? You’re not doing it.” So there’s that.Continue reading →
Need need need: it’s a siren that directs my movement, pushing me this way and that, sending me running after horizons and mirages. But it sends me after real things too.
My needs map out my days: I need the fulfillment I get from writing, and so I take workshops and read books about craft and make time to write. I need love and intimacy and longing, so I work (hard) on my relationships. I need a place to live, so I have a job and pay my bills. Need need need.
The problem isn’t about my needs, and it isn’t even always about the places and lengths I’ll go to in order to fill them. Sometimes the problem is just about my expectations of what their fulfillment will mean for me. Continue reading →
Here’s an old post for my new friends. I wrote this in December, when I had only been on social media for a few months. I was overwhelmed and confused and scared for humanity. I’m still all those things, but not quite as much. Progress, right?
So here it is–the list of wisdoms I’ve gleaned from social media:
1. I had no idea how much I missed a couple of people from my past until I re-connected with them.
2. The most delicious of all the features across all platforms: you can be friends with someone without following them. Just because you’re my friend doesn’t mean I want to see or hear a single thing you do or say. Which, let’s face it, would be a pretty cool feature in real life too.
3. Social media messes with the natural evolution that’s supposed to happen in your life. Sometimes people are taken out of your life for a reason–it can be a beautiful gift, but it’s very hard to receive it now. No more survival of the fittest. Now every last slobbering, sweaty, unfit remnant of your entire life survives—and posts pictures of its survival for you to enjoy. Continue reading →
David Bowie’s death a few weeks ago unsettled me—not the death itself, but the phenomenon that followed it. Initially, as my social media feeds filled with pictures and quotes and song links, I was uncomfortable and annoyed. Then I started to feel like a sociopath—the world was letting out this great, collective gasp in mournful unison.
Why wasn’t I?
It’s not like I didn’t try. I put up a few different elegiac Bowie pictures, but took them down soon after. It just felt icky. The fact was, I wasn’t grieving. Sad? Sure. But not grieving. And so it felt like I was trying to co-opt his death and make it mine in a way that it wasn’t. I was using this awful thing (though there are things way more tragic than the death of a 69 year-old man who lived an incredibly full and exciting life) to get…well what was I trying to get? Attention, I guess. Isn’t that always the point of a social media post? Whether it’s for personal or professional reasons, posting something on social media is us waving our arms back and forth, trying to signal to people that we need some attention. Look over here. This is where I am. This is what I’m doing. This is how I’m grieving.Continue reading →
Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch. -James Baldwin
Here’s why I’m a lunatic. Last week I was writing in my journal—wrestling with questions about being present in my life, wondering if blogging was actually making me a worse writer by making me less here. And here’s what was going on in my head:
Actually this might make a good blog post, all about the tension between blogging and my “real” writing—wait, a post like that would never go viral, needs to be something sexier—maybe something political? Hillary’s a hot topic, maybe I should write about her—but am I smart enough to write about politics, informed enough? Maybe another vagina post, vaginas are really hot right now—maybe I’ll go get my vagina steamed and write about that…
When your search history includes “Where can I get my vagina steamed in New Jersey,” it’s time to step away from the computer and do some thinking. Continue reading →
When I was 8, I saw a pair of white gloves in a toy store that sang to my soul. They were long and satin and gorgeous, and I knew immediately that my life would never be complete without them. So when my mother said no and dragged me from the store, my mission was clear: make her life a living hell. I begged and I whined and I sulked, and it soon became clear to my mom that she could either buy me the damn gloves or live the rest of her life being tortured by a freckled pain in her ass. She chose wisely.
Every night I’d put the gloves on very carefully—pulling them slowly up past my elbows—and I’d slip into my black mary janes that made the most satisfying clicking sound on the tiles of my bathroom floor. I’d spend long swaths of time click-clacking around that bathroom with those beautiful satin gloves on, and I felt positively fucking regal. The fact that the bathroom was so small that I could only take a step or two in any direction, and that I was in my pajamas so I looked like I’d just fled the “special” ward of a hospital, stepping back and forth in place and gesturing wildly with my gloved hands—well that never occurred to me. It all just felt so right.
That memory has been hovering over me lately, as I’ve been going through one of those cliched “hard times” over the past few months. It’s made me realize 2 things: 1) My inclination towards madness once I decide I want something is nothing new. And 2) What if I was willing to be a bit more like that little idiot, tapping back and forth in front of a bathroom mirror for no other reason than the fact that it made me happy? Ok the second one isn’t so much a realization as a question, but whatever.
I didn’t want those gloves to impress anyone—shit, I didn’t even care if anyone ever saw me in them. I wanted them because for whatever childish reason, they tapped into some part of me that felt true. I wasn’t looking to post them or like them, I didn’t want to pin or poke or tweet or twat them, nor was I trying to further a career or fill some gaping emotional void. I just wanted them for the sake of having them—to feel the satin over my forearms and touch the sink through the fabric and complement all those fancy sounds that my shoes were making. Whatever that experience amounted to—feeling like a princess, feeling important and sophisticated and charming—it was both a means and an end.
And it makes me sad that I don’t think that way anymore.
As an adult, things are different. I’m tethered to responsibilities that I didn’t have as a kid. Not just physical and financial demands (though those are certainly substantial), but ones of personhood and meaning-making—the questions that no one can answer but me. Am i living the life I want to live? What does that even look like? Am i running out of time? Could I be doing more? What terrifies me and excites me and holds me back and lets me go? Which things do I find beautiful? Terrible? Necessary? Irrelevant?
If youth is about having the space for those questions to marinate unarticulated, growing up is something a lot less passive. It’s an active pursuit, and it takes muscle and persistence and the willingness to reach for answers despite knowing that even if you find them, they’ll only lead to more questions.
The problem is that when I stop reaching for answers—when I become complacent or lazy or paralyzed by fear—that’s when I am the furthest away from that little girl in the bathroom. Because then instead of questions, all I can hear is one resounding, demented answer: RESULTS! Results are what will make meaning for me, and the pursuit of those results will take the place of seeking answers to those important questions.
If I get published, I will feel worthy. If this post reaches X amount of people, then what I’ve written matters. If I have a man who loves me then I’m ok. If I make X amount of money, then I have X amount of value. If I achieve X, then the fear that I am not enough will go away. If I can fix that relationship, then I am lovable. If this person likes me, then I’m obviously the shit.
It’s not always as conscious and idiotic as some of those, but you get the point.
And the point is basically this: once I’ve decided what the results of something should look like before that something has even started, I’m screwed. Because what inevitably happens is that I start clinging to that pre-ordained image of what it will all look like—and I grip that motherfucker until my knuckles are white and my palms ache and I can barely breathe. And then I’ve placed myself in a world consumed with fear and guaranteed to disappoint. Because here’s the truth of it: clinging will always fail me in the end. The tighter I clutch something, the less hold I have on it. That’s the great paradox, right? It’s only when you stop caring about what comes next does what comes next end up being so beautiful.
So I’ve decided that I’m going to try to be more like that little insane-asylum escapee—the girl marching in place to the beat of her own clicking heels as she adjusts the satin gloves that she’s pulled up over her Scooby Doo pajamas.
i’ll be honest–my creative juices weren’t really flowing this week. i started and abandoned several pieces that i thought might make good blog posts. as the week wore on and i was becoming more and more frustrated, i was also being inundated with more and more displays of gratitude on social media. it’s that time of year.
it’s not that i don’t think gratitude is important or that i’m not grateful for a lot of things. i do and i am. i suppose ultimately i think of gratitude the same way i think of humility and coolness—if you’re talking about it, you ain’t got it. look’it me, look’it me! look at how grateful i am? aren’t you grateful you know such a grateful person??Continue reading →
egotist, n. a person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.
–ambrose pierce, the devil’s dictionary
i am both an aspiring memoirist and a very private person. what can I say? the onion that is me has many layers. memoir writing chose me—it’s what makes me feel tethered to something instead of just flung out into the wild by myself. and i’ve been told that in order to get published, i need a “platform” (i assume to have something off of which to jump when the insecurity arising from social media engagement is too much to bear). so to attain that platform, i’ve started a blog; and to build up that blog, i’ve made a deal with the devil: facebook.
so here i am, a few weeks into my social media blitzkrieg: i’m on facebook (go like my blog’s page); i’ve turned myself into a twidiot (go follow me @danifleischer); and i’m hash-tagging my ass off on instagram (go follow me @sum_of_my_pieces). i tend to go balls out once i set my mind to something.
and actually, social media has been really helpful—facebook especially—because now there’s a quantifiable way to know whether or not i should like myself—to know exactly how liked i am, how worthy my words are, and most importantly, how i stack up against my friend from third grade whom i haven’t seen in a quarter of a century. plus, as an added bonus, if you have a fan page, facebook gives you “insights” into its activity: how many people saw each post versus how many engaged—and of those who engaged, how many merely commented and how many liked it. so now the over/under on how long it will take me to jump off that platform is one simple math problem away.
which is all to say: this is why i didn’t have a facebook page until now. let’s set aside for a moment the privacy issue, as well as my belief that there’s a natural selection in life that weeds out people who aren’t supposed to be in your life anymore. and let’s forget about the problem of comparing my insides to others’ outsides. what’s most troubling is that i can’t help but measure my worth by how many likes each post gets. once i put something out there, i’m finding it really goddamn difficult not to care how it’s received.
and this isn’t just about ego, it’s about my writing—my writing—which creates the perfect shit-storm of doubt and insecurity. ‘shit, should i have posted that? did that make me look dumb? why hasn’t X liked it yet—i wonder if he’s mad at me. oh my god, that picture of the thing in the place with the person barely got any likes—see, i knew it! i knew my writing was shit and i’ve been living in a fantasy world to think that i’ll ever get published and—oh my god 6 more people just liked it! yeah i knew it was funny.’
don’t even pretend that you haven’t asked yourself those same questions or felt a similar shame when you post something that you think will kill and instead it dies a slow, painful death. it all feels like i’m standing in front of the class in my underwear. actually, given the personal nature of my writing, i’m standing in front of the school naked on a windy day, watching my underwear get raised up the flag pole as i try to cover up all my shivering bits.
now look—i realize that a lot of people are idiots, and i shouldn’t worry about what they think about me or my writing. all i have to do is look at how many likes someone’s spinach omelette gets, and i realize that maybe mass approval doesn’t say much. (i really don’t get the food pics people. unless you’re a professional chef or that picture can reach through my computer and give me half of that omelette, i really don’t give a shit what you’re having for lunch. but what’s more troubling to me than the actual pictures is how many people like them.)
i also realize that if i want to get published i’d better grow some thicker skin, and that my career does not hang in the balance of how many likes a ralph waldo emerson quote gets. (but sidenote: i put up an emerson quote that’s one of the truest and most eloquent things ever said, and it only got 6 likes?? why am i always so much more right than everyone else?)
yet despite all the things that my better, more confident self knows to be true, my lesser, more fearful self cares about the social media response. and over the last half decade or so i’ve actually done a lot of work to create a better sense of self-worth—work that, i believe, has yielded some positive results. and yet social media has me fixated and almost blinded, trying to make this blog of mine wildly successful in the one month that i’ve been doing it.
what i know i should remember—what’s difficult to call up when i need it to resonate the most—is the pride i should feel at just putting myself out there, results be damned. there was a time not too long ago when the idea of rejection would have kept me quiet and alone, not doing the thing that i love to do.
in an interview in the new york times, marilynne robinson said: “it comes down to fear; the fear of making self-revelation of the seriousness of ‘i sense a sacredness in things.’” i do sense a sacredness in some things, and that admission carries with it a vulnerability that scares the shit out of me. but here i am anyway, because how can it be any other way?
so let’s cut the bullshit: if you’re sitting there with a bemused grin on your face—if you’ve been mildly entertained, or identified in any way with what I’ve said here—if you really do like this blog, then click the link below and like the damn blog. it’s hard to put yourself out here like this and this fledgling writer needs some support.
the other day, my blonde-haired blue-eyed 7 year-old charge looked at me and said, “what do you wanna be when you…” and there he stopped, an impish grin forming across his sun-splashed summer face. he knew i was already a grown-up, but he also understood that being a nanny isn’t a response to the question of what you want to be when you grow up. babysitting is something you do, not something you are. and though he didn’t want to offend me, he did want an answer to his question. he thought about it for a moment and then said, “well, besides this, what do you want to be when you grow up? i wanna be an engineer—so i can make roller coasters.”
my answer is a little more complicated. i’m still not entirely sure.
here are some of the things that i am: 34, a recent college grad, a struggling writer, a nanny. i’m someone whose sister once qualified my introduction by saying: “this is my sister–she’s not married and doesn’t have any kids.” i’m a girlfriend to an older man with three adolescent kids who wouldn’t be too disappointed if i accidentally stumbled in front of a truck, or decided that i did actually want kids of my own and thus had to leave their father, who has explicitly and repeatedly told me from the very start that he is done having kids. i am also a jew while said older man is irish catholic, so my parents are thrilled.
surely not where i thought i’d be almost halfway through my fourth decade.
and when I searched for blogs that spoke to a life like mine, i couldn’t exactly find one. what i found were lots that spoke to my different parts—blogs about women without kids, blogs for stepmothers and blended families (holy shit—am I really basically a stepmother?), blogs about nannies, about educated nannies, those for writers, for Jews, and I’m sure there are those intended as a support group for women in long-term relationships with irish men.
what I haven’t found is something that speaks to more than my pieces. yes, i’m an aunt and a sister and a daughter, trying to figure out how to be good at those things while still taking care of myself. and yes, i’m a woman in the middle of the very complicated relationship between a divorced dad and his kids, wanting so badly for them to like me and trying not to take it personally when, upon noticing my presence, they look at me like i just ruined their christmas. no, i mean literally—when i came to christmas dessert last year, they looked at me as if i’d taken a knife and gutted the bearded fat man himself. who invited the jew to christmas?
but i’m also just another profoundly flawed person, desperately homesick for a sense that i belong—a feeling that i often mistake for a familiar one, one that i used to be filled wi
th and have since lost. for so long i assumed that that sense of not being alone that i craved so desperately was something i had to look back for, instead of forward. but here it is, the piece of information that i had to go through so many false gods to find: it’s not something that’s given, it’s something you have to create. took me a long time to figure that one out and only recently have i begun my creation. so here I am, trying to “find” myself in my 30s when it feels like everyone else did that in their 20s.
so where’s the blog for all that? for someone looking to live an authentic life in a superficial world of selfies and insta-fame? who doesn’t want to conform to what her parents want her life to look like? for someone who makes really bad choices when she’s afraid, but doesn’t always know how to walk through the fear with grace and dignity? for someone who’s still grappling with things that should have been worked out a long time ago? like what kind of person she wants to be, and how she wants to spend her time on this planet.