Livejournal: Workshop My Writing

Originally published on my long-defunct Livejournal.

I’m participating in a Jewish Young Adults’ Writers Workshop. This month, our assignment was to write a two-page scene “in which two people who are fated to become involved meet for the first time.”

I’ve been fooling around with doing a gay take on the Biblical story of Jacob for a while now, so I thought I’d use this opportunity to rethink Genesis 28. After all, that’s Jacob’s first meeting with God, and I think it’s fair to say the two are fated to become involved.  To refresh your memory, this happens when Jacob has left his parents’ house en route to his uncle’s home, where he’s been sent by his father so he can find a wife from within his clan.

I just finished my first draft. It’s very drafty. I’m going to rewrite it tomorrow before I show it to anyone in the workshop. But since I have neither the self-confidence to do this on my own nor the shame to be embarrassed by the considerable shortcomings of this draft, I’m posting it here for feedback first.

A couple of caveats: I’ve been debating whether this should be set in modern times vs. ancient times, and in America vs the original places. In this draft, it’s modern America. That is almost definitely the wrong answer. I think tomorrow I will attempt modern-but-original-places. I may end up just going for overall anachronistic. It worked for Joseph Heller’s retelling of the David story.

Also, I’m not sure what to do about the sex. I’m not sure my answer below works – what do you think? I don’t want it to get pornographic, and I think there’s good reason to leave it ambiguous as to what exactly happens, but… well, tell me what you think.

Okay, enough with the caveats. Here goes:  Continue reading

Livejournal: Telling Old Stories Anew

Originally published on my long-defunct Livejournal.

One of the most formative influences on my Jewish identity is, for good and for ill, the years I spent (and continue to spend) involved with USY. In the New England Region, we have a tradition that whenever the region spends Shabbat together, the regional president tells a Jewish story before mincha. Through my years as a USYer, I heard dozens of Jewish folktales. (I have since learned that some of these stories even have authors, and original versions! But at the time, I never connected their tellings and retellings to Peretz and Singer and the rest. Thank goodness for graduate school. But I digress.) As regional president, it fell to me to tell the stories, so I devoured collections of Yiddish tales and Chasidic tales and listened carefully when rabbis and friends told stories that I might adapt. In the years since, there have been many opportunities for me to hear successive generations of USY presidents tell stories, and on more than one occasion the current president has asked me to tell him or her a story in case I might have one that’s usable.

One story that seemed to continually resurface in USY went something like this:

There was a town that had a group of holy men, and every year they would go out to the secret, appointed place with their secret, special implements to perform their secret, specific ceremony involving the secret, precise way to light a fire and the changing of a secret and beautiful prayer, and God was happy. As generations passed, the group of holy men dwindled until there was only one holy man left who knew the location of the secret place, the way to make the secret implements, the order of the secret ceremony, the procedure for lighting the secret fire, and the words to the secret prayer. But he faithfully enacted the ceremony every year and God was happy. When he passed away it fell to his son, who could not find the secret place, so he took the implements to a new place where performed the secret ceremony, lit the secret fire and chanted the secret poem. And God was happy. When he passed away, his son no longer knew how to make the implements, so… you get the idea. Until we come to today, where there’s no one left who even knows whether God is happy or not.

The story is a very effective precautionary tale against assimilation, reinforcing the importance of teaching our traditions to successive generations. But today, the story seems all wrong to me. There’s a piece missing. If a generation has lost their way to a holy place, perhaps the holiness of that place did not resonate with them. But instead telling the story that they compromised by doing their ceremony any place, shouldn’t we celebrate their ingenuity at finding a new place that holds meaning for them? And instead of despairing that a later generation forgot the poem or the melody or the fire, why not celebrate that generation’s yearning to approach God with their own words, with new music, with a different, personal ritual?

In my story, that’s exactly what happens. And next time I have the opportunity to share a Jewish story, I know exactly what story I’m going to tell.

Livejournal: Musical Theater Drinking Games

Originally published on my long-defunct Livejournal.

Watch the film version of South Pacific and take a drink every time the world changes color.

Listen to the cast album of Evil Dead the Musical and take a drink every time there’s a line that doesn’t even come close to rhyming.

Bring out the karaoke and take a drink every time someone forgets a lyric; alternatively, take a drink every time one of the queens shrieks “I was going to do that song!” when someone else gets up to sing.

Read selections from a novelization of a musical (my suggestion: the novel of Grease, by Ron DeChrisophero) and take a drink every time a song is awkwardly conveyed in prose.

Livejournal: My Life Story

Originally published on my long-defunct Livejournal. A friend had put out a call on her blog for others to share their life stories. Here’s my response.

My great-grandparents on all four sides, none of whom I’ve ever met, all came from the same area of the world that at times has been Poland, Latvia, or Lithuania. That may not be right, I’m not really sure where Latvia is. Also, my maternal grandfather (who liked to be called Papa Harold, so I will never likely call him that again) occasionally claimed that his ancestry was from Chelm, but I could never tell if he was serious. (In terms of derogatory jokes, Chelm:Poland::Poland:America; that is, Polish people tell jokes about how stupid the folks in Chelm are.) At any rate, I come from hearty Eastern European Jewish stock.

At least two sets of my great-grandparents divorced and remarried, which is interesting not only because it provided my Grandma Ida with a good supply of stories about her gambler father and no-good step-father, but also because growing up, my own nuclear family was one of the only families I knew with both parents still married to their original spouse.  Continue reading