Saturday, January 24, 2009

are you still my friend?

so. january, huh? is it pathetic that the last time i wrote anything of substance we all thought hillary would be president? i'd say i haven't had time, but that's not strictly true. i feel pinched: there's so much i would like to write about, and if i ever wrote any of it, i'd have to develop an alias for real life. curse you, google! 

these past few months have spun me around a few times, but for the first time in a long time, i feel like i have a direction. that this is partially due to a teen novel sensation is a little embarrassing, but hey. you take your knocks. 

my ambivalence about the future has been starting to peek through the cracks in my life. through sheer providence, i started an internship at a major publishing company last week*. i've done the revolving-door-boy thing. i organized the clothes in my dresser by function. (do you ever feel like that? everything you can't control is incomprehensible, but at least your socks should know who's boss?)  

nevertheless, i'm beginning to see the trajectory more clearly. post-college is not the vast blank i thought it would be. you move in steps, seeing only exactly what's in front of you: you can get an apartment in these three places, you can apply for a job here, here and here, these people you like will be living this far away, you need to make x amount of's funny how things fill themselves in at the last minute. i'm a student, we're trained to study, but i think you really can't study for life. things either happen or they don't, and no amount of prep-work can ensure either outcome. 

this sort of disappoints me, because i can prep like the dickens, so by the old point-system, i could've been home free. but two millenia of philosophers plus my mother can't be wrong. 

and i think i'm finally okay with that. i have never been the queen of spontaneity, but taking things as they come has its appeal. a year ago i would never have expected to be where i am now. and while i love stern, love my friends, love what a home this place has - despite all my freshman qualms - come to be to me, i also acknowledge that some of the dreams i had before i came here have gotten buried beneath it. 

forgive me, people, but you knew this was coming. let's talk twilight. 

so i think my excuse for reading those books is almost respectable. i got stuck in an airport (flight delayed three hours) and knew from experience that david baliducci did nothing for me. some of my friends (you know who you are) had also gone to see the movie recently. 'hmm,' i thought. 'that's a hefty-looking tome there in hudson news. i have three hours to kill. it can't be worse than the one about the mona lisa cult.' 

150 pages later i had drawn two conclusions: 

1. everyone i know is a better writer than this woman 
   a. this woman is writing about vampiric high school crushes 
   b. the plot is a thinly-disguised device to stretch the book out and, in the sequels, resembles z-grade horror movies 
2. this woman is a world-famous successful author 

then, sitting there in the airport, staring at the long gray stretch of concrete where my plane should have been for a good four hours, i reached another conclusion: 

3. if i really, really wanted to, and if i worked hard, i could write something better. so why haven't i?

it's all i ever really wanted to do. that's what it says in my middle-school yearbook. right next to my name. sandwiched in between "i want to be a mommy" and "i want to be a rebbetzin" there was my 20-year-projective: "i want to be an author." 

i was one of those kids who was never good at anything. think back to your kindergarten years. fairly early on, you get the breakdown: there's the "artists", the kids who can color neatly inside the lines and whose flowers always look like flowers; there's the fast runners, the kids who are good at two-square and dodgeball and machanayim; there's the kids who are bossy and good at organizing the other kids; there's the kids who win the middos contests. i was none of those. i almost got held back for handwriting. i couldn't cut in a straight line and always put on too much glue. my flowers looked like monkeys and every project i made came out the same unappetizing brownish-black color, because i always tried to marker things over. i was an instant out in machanayim and talked too much for anyone to want to sit next to me. by second grade, i was thoroughly convinced that i would never find my calling. 

in third grade, we had to publish our own books. 

i still remember the first things i wrote. they weren't as out there as the pt's; nothing special. a girl getting hurt on the slide and having to go to the hospital, where her other friends helicoptered in to visit her (hmm. on second thought...). i wrote a whole series about a teddybear named 'honest' on the run from the toy factory along with his sidekick, who was some kind of penguin or pig, and which got needlessly violent at some point. 

but what i remember most is the awe i felt, sitting down in front of a blank page or screen and knowing i could make anything i wanted happen on it. i didn't have to be good at machanayim in real life. i could write about someone who was. i didn't have to stay in milwaukee in real life. i didn't have to be seven. i didn't have to be jewish. i didn't have to be anything. i could disappear into a million protagonists in a million alien worlds and live lives entirely separate from my own. it was like reading but better - because i got to decide the ending. 

i kept them from people unless they were for school. i couldn't imagine why anyone would share things like that. every adventure i wrote was a fantasy, someplace or someone else i wished i could be, and i was a little ashamed of it. nobody else in my class ever seemed to want to be anyone but themselves. they found 'what ifs' a little pointless. what if you were a prisoner during the french revolution? what if you were on atlantis? what if you were an actress? but you aren't. so...what does it matter? 

for awhile that question stumped me. 

i still get it from time to time, in different forms. why do you waste so much time writing made-up things? isn't writing stories kind of like being a professional liar? it makes sense to ask, i think. why do people give hours of their lives to somebody else's make-believe, anyway? we all do it at some point. people sit and watch television for hours. they pay twelve dollars to go to a movie about someone whose biography bears no resemblance to their own. what do we get out of that? 

everyone answers that a little differently. i'm curious to know what you think. i was in middle-school, which i think is when you read the books that will be your favorites for the rest of your life, when i started solidifying my answer. 

from books, from music, and from any kind of story, i gained two kinds of knowledge. 

i'll call the first trivial. facts. you know what i mean. i learned where countries were located, how feudalism developed, what scotland yard was (hat tip, ms. marple). i learned words which were too big for me and which i mispronounced because i only encountered them in writing. i went around calling zimbabwe 'rhodesia' like an idiot because i hadn't gotten up to the twentieth century yet. 

but i also learned experiential things. i learned about people. 

i think everyone has moments like this, when you're reading a paragraph and suddenly the author has expressed precisely and clearly a feeling you've never been able to understand or define, and suddenly it makes sense. authors have a phenomenal power to explain the experience of being human. in life, you don't get the narrator telling you out of the corner of their mouth why your friend isn't happy that you did well on the test or why your mother seems preoccupied today. but stories peel back the layers. they let you see dimensions of people you'd never have access to otherwise. they point out the significance in details. suddenly you notice what a person's kitchen says about them, you scrutinize the way they wear their backpack, how they stand on the subway. everything becomes educational. everything becomes interesting. 

when you're looking at the world with that lens, it's almost impossible to be bored and hard to be lonely. you learn to see people's vulnerabilities and strengths. i guess on the one hand it removes you a little bit: you become more of a watcher than a doer, more of an observer than a participant in the world around you. maybe that's the price you pay. but i don't think anyone can escape involvement in their own lives entirely anyway, do you?

regardless, that's what i think books are capable of. and that's why i think good books, good stories are essential. they have the ability to mean so many things. they can be friends, understanding things about you that you don't understand yourself; they can be mentors, imparting insights into the way people think and respond; they can be tour guides, leading you through exotic locales and times. good books change the people who read them. 

that's what i've always wanted to create. a story with that kind of power, characters with that kind of complexity. people who feel real, that you can love, that you want to spend time with, that you can learn from. that's what i want to be when i grow up. if i can create something that will mean the world to even one person, it's enough. i can work a day job forever if i know that somewhere, someone is reading a story that i wrote, living in it, and happy because of it. 

it might take five years, it might take ten. but i will do it someday. i think it's worth doing. 

and that's why i'm done apologizing to boys for being me. yes, i watch movies. yes, i listen to secular music. i love secular music. i love secular books. i love everything. i think everything is interesting, and i plan to learn more about whatever i can. i am tired of trying to find unconditional corruption and vice in every facet of culture. not every book is a good book, not every song is a good song, but i refuse to write off entire genres of knowledge because of that. one day i will find a guy who understands this; until then, i've got a tall order to fill, and all the time in the world to figure out how.   

so that's where i'm holding. will it make all the work, all the waiting, and all the knocks i'm about to get at this out-of-my-league internship worth it? 

it's time to find out.

*more about this as soon as i figure out how to write about it covertly 


Blogger Erachet said...

Are you me?

Fudge, I love your attitude. I'll have a better comment when I can think of one that says something more than just, "you took the words right out of my mouth."

8:54 PM  
Blogger SJ said...


(Do you think maybe this is why we're friends? Because the three of us were triplets separated at birth? Or maybe all wannabe writers just wannabe for the exact same reasons and we're not unique at all--it's just a matter of who's taken the time to express these feelings and to express them well--in this case, namely Fudge. This was an excellent, excellent post. Parenthetically, why is this entire comment a parenthetical? Beats me.)

7:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Everyone has meshugas. When you find someone whose meshugas you can live with, that's who you should marry."
Until then, don't worry about guys.
By the way, your mom said that, just over 20 years ago.

12:31 PM  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I've known people who spent the better part of their working years trying to figure out what they wanted to do when they grew up, and others who realized, after years in one career, that they really would be happier in another. Consider yourself fortunate that you've known what you wanted to do since childhood.

I'm looking forward to reading your first book.

6:24 PM  
Blogger katrina said...

Great post, Fudge! I love, love, love books, too, and my mom and a few teachers long ago says I should write a novel. I don't want to--I am trying to become an academic and write non-fiction instead--but I think it's great that you know you want to and will follow your dreams. Good luck!

8:08 PM  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

"By the way, your mom said that, just over 20 years ago."

Does that mean she admitted to being able to live with my meshugas?

Because that would be, like, crucial information for me.

10:23 AM  
Blogger RaggedyMom said...

My word verification here is 'flealo' so let me say that I will personally flealo anyone who is a major drag on your life.

Although you may be getting flak and people may be contrary, you are right in so many ways, and as a kid who grew up in the library, I really get where you're coming from.

And there are other people out there who view the world as fascinating too, not something to fear or even a necessary evil, or your interest in it as merely 'tolerable'. It's worth holding out for. Sometimes those people are Russian, and they are very, very sure that the title of an ABBA song is "Dancing Tree" but I digress.

And Anonymous, I think that sounds exactly right.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Malka said...

Kol HaKavod.

6:01 PM  
Anonymous jackie said...

Yay Fudge! Whatever you write, I will read! This post was waay too long coming.

6:49 PM  
Blogger Kovi said...

As I recall Fudge, you DID already write a book that was better than that. It was called The Trains are So Loud. I really liked it. Can you email it to me? I haven't read it in about two years I don't think.

and about all the other stuff: right on. frankly, if a guy can pass you up, he's too stupid to be of much use anyway.

1:12 PM  

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