taylweaver: (Default)
It's been a while since I've posted about my writing.

Lately, I've been getting back into the habit of trying to spend an hour a day on my writing. Right now, that means revision. While my Nanowrimo novel from 2008 sits on the back burner for a bit (it needed some feedback, and I couldn't stand to look at it anymore), I am working on the second draft of my Nanowrimo novel from 2009.

I realized tonight that, depending upon how you measure, I'm 2/3 of the way through it. Since I'm basing that on what page I'm up to relative to the last page, I'm probably further than that, since I deleted a bunch of scenes and pages along the way. The end is in sight, and this makes me excited.

I don't know why, but I actually enjoy chopping out parts of my story. One less paragraph or page or scene to spend time reworking/rewriting/tweaking, I guess.

But sometimes, I worry I've chopped too much. That scene that seems to add nothing, what if it tells us something about the character? What if it helps with the pacing? What if I've taken out all of the quirky parts just because I don't think they drive the plot forward? What if I've somehow sanitized it, made it more generic?

These are the thoughts that sometimes go through my head, the worry that, in revising a scene, I will somehow make it worse instead of better.

But most of the time, I just enjoy the process. This time around, I made some massive structural changes from Draft 1 to Draft 2, and I've also been enjoying how the novel keeps getting shorter, because I know my original word count was too high, and the new one will be significantly lower. And there's something satisfying about making it all work. 

And there's also something satisfying, in general, about just getting back to my writing. Over the winter, I moved away from it for a bit. I forgot how good it feels. I keep wanting to stay up later to work on my story. It's a good feeling.
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So it's Tisha B'av again. That day when we all communally mourn by getting collectively dehydrated.

And, in general, I have trouble getting into the mood, even with the fasting. Sure, I go through the motions. I listen to Eicha while sitting on the floor. I deprive myself of food and water. I try not to do anything fun - at least until the afternoon. (Netflix. Tomorrow afternoon will be all about the Netflix.) But I don't get into the mood. I feel a bit weak and icky, but not sad. 

Even this evening, as I followed along during Eicha, word for word, my mind wandered, and I didn't really process what I was listening to. I was thinking about my upcoming move (on Wednesday) and how exciting it is, and all the stuff I need to get done before then. Not in a stressful way, just in a bored one.

But I also got to thinking about when Tisha B'av *was* meaningful, and what made it feel that way.

Up until the age of 10, Tisha B'av was a day to wear jellies (remember those? I think that was what they were called, anyway. Those slipper-like sheos made of plastic.) and be aware that my parents were fasting. That was it. 

But then, when I was 10, I spent my first summer at Camp Ramah in the Poconos, where Tisha B'av was the only Jewish holiday that fell during the summer. (Unless you count Rosh Chodesh - which isn't really a holiday, or sometimes the 17th of Tammuz, which we ignored completely.) Tisha B'av at camp was a Very Big Deal. They really worked hard to set the mood.

On the evening of Tisha B'av, each edah (age group) would meet individually to say - not sing or chant, just *say* without any tune at all - the beginning of Ma'ariv. Then, when we reached the point where it was time to read Eicha, the edot would head, one by one (I think they coordinated with phones or walkie talkies, or maybe they just had a schedule), to the Beit Am, the room that was big enough to hold the whole camp on its cement floor. 

They turned out all of the lights in camp, and one of the oldest edot set out paper bags filled with sand that each held a single candle. These candles lit the path that each edah followed to the Beit Am. 

They made us walk in silence, and sit down in silence, and wait in silence until every edah had arrived. Sure, there was some whispering, but it was, overall, pretty quiet. We sat, as I said, on the floor, and all of the lights - except for the emergency lights - were off. A choir made up of staff members stood on some risers at the front of the room, and sang sad songs a capella. (Stuff like Al Neharot Bavel, opening lines of Eili Tzion, Eili Eili, Mima'amakim, etc.) At the front of the room sat a long line of campers, all ages, each of whom had learned a few p'sukim of Eicha.

They handed out Eicha booklets with Hebrew and English, and we all turned on our flashlights to follow along. The singing stopped, and a microphone was passed down the line of Eicha readers from one end to the other until the entire thing had been read. More than once, I wanted to record the sound of three hundred pages turning in unison each time we reached the end of a page. I don't know why, but even that was powerful in an oddly understated way. When we were done with Eicha, we all stood together to sing Eili Tzion, and say (but not sing) the end of ma'ariv, reading Aleinu aloud without any tune at all. Then there was more singing from the choir as the campers filed out, again, in silence. By then, the candles were out, and we had to use our flashlights to find our way back to our bunks in the dark. 

The next day, we slept in because much of the camp was fasting. After tefillot - and a second reading of Eicha, we had special activities - classes or arts and crafts, whatever they were - that related to the topics of the day like the destruction of Jerusalem, bad events, or just plain Jerusalem for the younger kids. At some point, the younger kids who weren't fasting (I think) returned to the Beit Am to set up benches. Midday, the entire camp met there for Mincha, and we got to sing this time, and they would explain how the day gets more hopeful in the afternoon. Then, lunch for those not fasting, a nap for those who were. In the afternoon, we watched serious movies like Exodus, The Wave, maybe Schindler's List. The younger kids once watched Harriet the Spy to talk about Lashon Harah. This let us keep the mood of the day while also letting those who were fasting stay in one place and not move very much - whether staff or campers. 

But what sticks in my mind the most is Tisha B'av night. 

The mood was appropriate. It was quiet and somber. It was a Big Deal. 

It was also beautiful.

As a camper, I'd sit there, transfixed, as I listened to the a capella singing. I wanted so badly to be a part of that choir. 

For six years, I spent Tisha B'av this way, and every year, I felt the seriousness of the evening. Then, I went on USY on Wheels. I don't really remember what we did. I think we read Eicha outside in a parking lot, and not really the whole thing, and some of it in English. The next day, we took a bus tour of Yellowstone, and the only thing that made it feel like Tisha B'av was that we were surrounded by dead trees, just by coincidence, due to a recent forest fire, and that we stopped, midday, to daven mincha in a clearing. Two people had to hold our (fake) Torah open in midair (It wasn't respectful to carry a real one with us as we traveled, so we used something that looked like a Torah but was actually a copy) and I read two of the aliyot. A staff member faked the third one. Then, many of us drank water, because it was hot enough out (and a high enough altitude - somehow, this mattered) that we needed to.

The year after that was my summer in Israel. Tisha B'av should be meaningful in Israel, right? But Tisha B'av was really late that year, and we returned to the US before it happened. Since my mother was on staff at camp, I went for Shabbat once I was back. Tisha B'av was Saturday night, I guess, because I was still there. I was glad to be back at camp for it, and to have the experience I had missed the previous summer. What had been meaningful at age 10 was still meaningful at age 17. That's how well camp did it.

After that, I spent five and a half summers on staff, which meant five or six more years of Camp Ramah's Tisha B'av experience. (I am pretty sure I was there for it that last summer, but I might not have been.) As a staff member, I finally got to do what I'd always wanted to do as a camper. I got to be in the choir. 

We called ourselves Makheilat Misery (Makheila is choir in Hebrew, or so I am told), or the Gloom and Doom choir. We had a ton of fun at rehearsals. There were inside jokes galore. There were no auditions. Any staff member could take part. And somehow, we sounded good anyway (at least to my ear). 

And we got to stand there on the risers, in our white tops and black bottoms, and set the mood for the campers as they entered the Beit Am. And even though I always ended the evening on a high (hooray! I sang! I performed!), somehow, it was still serious and sad.

It was also still beautiful. 

Sometimes, sad is ugly. It's sobbing and snot and feeling sick to your stomach, and you don't know when you'll ever feel happy again. That's the sort of sadness the Jews of Jerusalem probably felt when their city was under siege and under attack. But other times, sadness is gentle, and calm, dignified, and even beautiful.

That's how it was for 13 summers at camp. That's what I think back to every Tisha B'av now, when I don't have that same atmosphere to help me get into the mood. I think about how Ramah really knew how to set the mood, with proper lighting and sound, with certain kinds of behavior. And I think about that dignified, communal, beautiful sadness, and how it has always stuck with me.

I have yet to recapture that feeling outside of camp, but I hold onto the memory of it instead. So my wish for all of you who are fasting (like me) is that you have a meaningful fast, and all those who are observing in other ways have an equally meaningful day. Whether you are fasting or not, may you have the kind where you are sad not in a messy, miserable way, but in a way that is gentle and calm, and maybe even beautiful.
taylweaver: (Default)
I'm posting this now, as I watch the final set of this year's Chanukah candles burn - at a reasonable pace this time, in the disposable chanukiah, so that my shamash holder doesn't catch fire.

I didn't bother with the oil tonight because it is late, and I didn't want to a) take all the time to set it up and b) wait an hour or more for it to burn out. (I am not experienced enough to put in just the right amount of oil for half an hour of burn time.)

The reason it is so late is because I got back from a wedding around midnight. Mazel tov to D and J.

Before the wedding, I went to a funeral.

It was a weird day.

My great uncle Henry (or Uncle Henny, as we used to call him), passed away after a few weeks in the hospital on Thursday. The funeral was this afternoon, and it seemed like the entire extended family was able to attend. There were so many stories and memories shared. He lived a full, long life, with a wife who loved him and two kids and five grandkids. All of them were able to attend, which is impressive since a few of the grandkids had been in places as far away as Africa and Prague only weeks ago. Memories were shared about how he was such a giving person, and such a content person. All he needed to make him happy was a piece of cake and a cup of coffee. And he was the one who painted and wallpapered our house, and who taught my mother how to do the wallpaper herself too. He was the uncle with the suspenders, the big, hard belly, and the bad teeth. When he was younger, he was the most handsome of his siblings.

Anyway, it was a beautiful funeral, and I was glad that I was able to be there.

Then, my sister drove me from the cemetery to my apartment, where I spent about 10 minutes changing my sweater and my shoes, touching up my hair, and dumping my bags from the weekend - I had gone to the funeral nearly ready for the wedding - and I was out the door and headed to the subway.

We left the funeral around 3. By 4:30, I was at a wedding.

It was more of a shift than I expected.

It didn't help that going to the funeral made me feel older. Of my grandfather and his five siblings, only one is alive now, and she is in a home, suffering from demetia. Otherwise, there is only my great uncle's wife, whom we hardly see because it is difficult for her to travel. Chances are, at this year's Passover sedder, my parents will be a part of the oldest generation there. So that felt weird, to be so aware of that transition. To think that there are only two left of my grandfather's generation, and then it is my parents' generation that becomes the oldest. It's scary to lose that layer of insulation.

And then, of course, I went to a wedding. So that made me feel single. Feeling the two back-to-back was not the juxtaposition I neeed at the moment...

That having been said, it was a beautiful wedding. There was real klezmer music, and at the end, the musicians played in the center of the circle, like something out of a painting.

And now my candles are burning low, and once they go out, I can go get ready for bed. Oh, and they look pretty too. :)
taylweaver: (Default)
So Nanowrimo is over. And I finished the novel in November for once - just barely - as noted in my previous post.

And now it is going to sit in a metaphorical drawer (which is to say, unopened on my computer and on my flash drive) until at least January.

In the meantime, I need to move my brain to something else, so I picked up last year's Nano novel, because I was in the middle of working on editing it when November started, so it seemed like a good idea to go back to it.

On the plus side, Alexis's voice (last year's) is different from Ben's (this year's), which is a good thing. I hear her differently in my head, and I wrote her differently.

On the minus side, I am having such a tough time focusing back in on the other novel now. I am still so rooted in this year's that it is hard to go back to a different project.

I've never done this before, moved from one project to another in such a short timespan. And I had no issues moving in the opposite direction - when November began and I put down last year's to start this year's.

Anyway, it's interesting, and I felt like sharing - so I did.
taylweaver: (Default)
There is still, as always, something special about stepping inside that voting machine and throwing the huge lever across to sink in your vote. There is something even more special about casting a vote in what will be, either way, a historic Election Day. Everywhere I go, I hear stories about people who woke up when the polls opened, who waited an hour in lines that stretched around the block, or snaked back and forth until they were four layers deep. I arrived at my polling place at 4:30 pm, and it was set up as it always is. My district (all of once city block) still votes in the same place in the same room. There were six or seven people ahead of me - a pretty short line - though it still took about 15 minutes to get up to me. But since my district is all of one city block, it should be no surprise that the person ahead of me in line lives in my building, so we stood there chatting.

The poll worker told me that in all the years she has been doing this, it has never been so busy. That just made it feel even more special. To be able to vote in an election like this one.

I do hope it turns out the way I want it to. Ideally by tomorrow morning and not a month from now. (Yeah, I got to vote in *that* election too. Eight years ago today was the first time I ever voted.)

I cast my vote around sunset, even though it was not yet five pm. Apparently, election day now also means fall and winter to me. The weather was mild, but there were leaves on the ground, I noticed for the first time this season. It made me a bit contemplative, to emerge at 4:50 from the school where I vote and note how it was already getting dark.

Then, I came home and wrote 2,000 words of novel. Despite the 2,000 I had to un-write last night to fix a plot problem (had to backtrack), I am already past the 10,000 word mark. A fifth of the way there, and enjoying it immensely.
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And thou shalt attend the sedder to which your family has obligated you to attend. Should your family place no such obligation upon you, or should they place upon you two or more conflicting obligations such that the only option is to ignore both or all of them, or should you have the gall to back out of such obligations as are placed upon you by your family, thou shalt attend a sedder of your choosing. And, upon completion of two such seddarim, or one, should you happen to be in Israel, and after darkness has fallen upon the conclusion of the first day or days of the holiday, thou shalt post such thoughts as shall occur to you in regard to this sedder which you have attended, and thus share these thoughts with your friends during the intermediate days of the holiday, that all of your friends may know whether your sedder was fun or stressful, and how much you love or cannot stand to spend holidays with your family.

And so, in fulfillment of the above obligation...

Seddarim were nice. I had the pleasure, once again, of hosting [livejournal.com profile] mbarr for the seddarim, and got to see various members of the immediate and extended family, as well as some family friends.

Going into this year, I felt like it was a year of transition in various ways. Mostly, this is because there is only one relative left in my grandfather's generation who is well enough to make the trip up from South Jersey. Many of you may recall that my grandfather passed away at the end of Pesach three years ago (check out my posts from the end of April/beginning of May three years ago for more info if you haven't heard the story). For two years after that, his surviving brother, sister, and sister-in-law made the trip up. This year, only his brother was able to travel. We weren't sure until erev Pesach whether or not even he would be able to make the trip.

In addition to that, this is my parents' first sedder as grandparents, and my nephew was with our side of the family this year for the sedder. He is almost a year old, adorable, and gets upset when someone tries to break his (egg) matzoh for him. After all, what is the fun of eating matzoh if you can't also play with it?

We also had a toddler at the sedder, along with her father, who is my second cousin.

Of course, my little cousins who live up the block are that generation also, and the oldest of them is nearly ten, so this is not an entirely new phenomenon, though they were at the other side of their family this year, so not at our sedder.

The more interesting change, though, was that my father finally replaced the old haggadot we had been using for so many years, for as long as I can remember, really. Probably longer. We began with over 30 copies of them, I think, and by last year we were down to maybe 20. Up until a few years ago, it was a gradual attrition, but by last year, haggadah after haggadah began to fall apart. Bindings split and pages were falling out all over the place. Of the 20 haggadot that were left, maybe 10 would have survived in one piece past this year. Plus, my father didn't much like them anyway.

So he finally bought new ones. He had his eye on the haggadah by Noam Tzion (or however that is spelled) but it was too big and too expensive to buy 30 of. This year, however, there was an abridged version (which is to say, full text with abridged commentary) that was much more cost-effective. So we had a new haggaddah for the first time in my life.

The Hebrew was the same, but the English was different. There are some English readings we have done every year, to the point where some of us have parts of them memorized. So it was a new experience to miss those familiar (if archaic) turns of phrase.

My father also cut down on the amount of inserts we did - i.e. special readings and songs that I get to fold and stick in to every haggaddah. We did two each night, rather than the three or four of years past. And we had to ask my father specifically to include, as is traditional, the Ballad of the Four Sons on the second night, which is the first "fun" insert we ever had - predating all of those internet parody songs that now get forwarded. So old that half of the copies we have are photocopies of a version that was typed on a typewriter!

Of course, the sedder was probably more the same than different. On the first night, we hit close to maximum capacity with 30 guests or so, and on the second night we had a more intimate sedder with about 20. As usual, the South Jersey contingent headed out early on the second night so that they could get back home, and so we were down to 10 of us, which is always refreshing, since it is 10 of us who know the songs and can read the Hebrew.

My parents were exhausted, as were many of the rest of us, and it was fun to watch them get a bit punchy by Hallel, when they began clapping along with the songs. I laughed so hard, I was crying.

Because my nephew was present, and because we sing an African American Spiritual (let my people go/go down moses) at our sedder - good thing it is also in the new haggadah - I got to thinking about what my nephew's future connection to the sedder will be. He is part African American (he is adopted, for those who are wondering how this makes sense) - as in, some of his ancestors were almost certainly slaves here in America, not too many generations ago. So slavery is in his much more immediate past, not a story from long ago. I wonder how this will affect his connection to seddarim in the future, and how he will feel, as he gets older, when he joins us in singing that song.
taylweaver: (Default)
So a few friends and I were going to go shopping for bridesmaid dresses for [livejournal.com profile] mysticengineer's wedding. [livejournal.com profile] mysticengineer suggested that Sunday the 23rd, the Sunday after Purim (Jewish holiday coming up this Friday, for those who do not know) would be a good day for her. The rest of us agreed that it would be a good day.

Then, on Friday, as I was walking from one school to another, I noticed a grocery store sign that said it would be closed on Sunday the 23rd so that its employees can celebrate Easter. Later, I saw an ad for the Macy's flower show, and it, too, will be closed on Easter Sunday.

Right. Easter. Stores close.

Maybe we can't go to the bridal store after all. Oops.

Anyway, it was a weird realization, because I am not used to noticing that things close on Easter. For that matter, I forgot that Easter was even coming up. Oddly, I was incredibly aware of Good Friday, but totally forgot that Good Friday on the 21st meant Easter on the 23rd. Of course, why am I aware of Good Friday? Because it is a weekday and my schools are closed for it. Oh, and it also has the good fortune of being the same day as Purim, such that I don't have to take a day for Purim, since it happens to be a day off anyway.

I guess the thing is that, in the vast majority of years, Easter Sunday falls in the middle of Passover. So either we are too busy celebrating our own holiday to notice what the majority of the US is celebrating, or it is the middle of the holiday and I am home with my family, which lives in a county where the stores are still closed *every* Sunday, so Easter doesn't feel any different.

(by way of explanation to those who don't know: Passover is 8 days long and the first two days and the last two days are "holidays" in the full sense of the word - observed in pretty much the same fashion as the Jewish Sabbath - no doing "work", including e-mail, driving a car, shopping, etc. The days in the middle are only half-holidays, in a sense. There is still celebration going on, but most of that "work" is allowed - which makes it a wonderful time to go shopping at the mall, or go see the circus, or whatever.)

Anyway, this is the first year in a long time where Easter has fallen on a "normal" Sunday for me, in a sense. And it's weird.
taylweaver: (Default)
Here is why fire drills are like the SAT's:

For all the worth that people attach to them, SAT's primarily test one thing: how well a person can take the SAT's.

Today, I learned that fire drills also primarily test one thing: How quickly and efficiently a school can be evacuated in case of a fire drill.

Fire drills do very little to prepare the students for evacuation in case of an actual fire or emergency. And why is that, you ask? Am I saying that schools should not have fire drills, you ask? Well, preferably not during my lunch break, but I digress. Fire drills could and should prepare students to evacuate the building in a smooth and efficient way should there happen to be an actual emergency - but that doesn't quite work when the unexpected sounding of the fire alarm leads the school administration to conclude that this is not a scheduled fire drill, so therefore students should stay in their classrooms.

Excuse me?

Does this mean students can only evacuate the school in cases of planned emergencies?

Can you tell that there was a bit of confusion today in one of the schools where I work?

Basically, the alarm went off. Students started to evacuate. Then, maybe there was an announcement or maybe there wasn't, but teachers were told to return students to their classrooms - because this was not a fire drill. It took at least another few minutes for someone to get on the PA system and announce that this should be treated "like a fire drill."

We then stood outside for 20 minutes while the fire trucks came, the fire fighters looked around and confirmed that there was, indeed, no fire, and climbed back into their trucks and headed out.

Now doesn't that just inspire confidence in the ability of the school administration to handle emergency situations? "Oops, we didn't plan this. So it must be a false alarm."

In other words, I had an interesting lunch break.

Oh, and on the way home, I stopped at a school book sale. Hooray for $1 books. Yes, I came home with another bagful of children's literature. It just isn't safe to put me in a room with $1 children's books... my friends will have to be extra vigilant this Sunday (when there will be not one, but two book sales in my neighborhood!)
taylweaver: (Default)
It seems to me that there are a variety of ways to atone for sins. A very Jewish way to do that is repentance: you acknowledge your sin, you try to fix it (I think), you apologize, and you try very hard not to do it again.

A less Jewish way to atone for sins is what I think would be called penance - maybe I am using the wrong word, but this would be the idea of giving yourself some sort of consequences/punishment for the sin you did. (Along with the acknowleding the sin part, of course).

Well, what I did yesterday was a bit more like the latter. In my apartment, I am not so good about keeping my stuff out of the public spaces. I am not so good about doing my weekly cleaning job. People pick up the slack for me often.

I should try to work on that (repentance) - but it is hard! I do work on it... really... but not with much success.

So, instead, I cleaned the fridge. It took an hour and a half. And was desperately needed. And we were going to split it up among all of us, but really, there was no way to take out the bottom shelf without getting the top ones out of the way. So I did all of it. Took an hour and a half. But it needed it, my apartment mates deserved it, and I felt good when it was done.

Now, I just need to work on the actual problem: my own mess...

In other news, I saw an entire flock of Monarch butterflies yesterday. Twice. Something I have never seen before in my life. And here I am, in the middle of a major city...

I eat lunch in a community garden near one of my schools. They were all over this flower bush with purple flowers. Every time the wind stirred the bush, they'd all fly up and change places.

And then I got to see them again at the end of the day. That school has the class where I work with two students. The class has been doing a unit on moths and butterflies, because they caught a moth in the classroom. Well, the assistant teacher saw the butterflies on her own lunch break, and caught one. At the end of the day, the students let it go. And saw all the other butterflies. Very cool.


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