Nobody is an artist who does not truly love the medium in which they work. A writer loves the pen in her hand scratching letters onto her legal pad, so she can type up the results–while editing them–onto the computer. Sir Philip Sidney–a writer who I like for his sheer eccentricity–apparently believed that to seek fame and fortune in writing was to debase the craft. He could easily say that: he was from a rich family! Yet all my life I have modelled my work more on the work of Charles Dickens and–maybe–Shalom Aleichem. (I hope to read female Yiddish writers who were parallel to Aleichem and Singer in Found Treasures someday. I also hope that someday I can add to the readership of the best Yiddish writers…) But the point I was leading to is that I have always craved something that Sir Philip Sidney claimed was detrimental to art: fame.
Like Mohammad Ali I long to egoistically cry, “I am the greatest.” You could argue that what he was doing was for all black people, but I believe that it’s machismo was the opposite of the smarmy humility of Dickens’ Uriah Heep in David Copperfield. It was HIM that was great, and not any and every black person. It is that kind of ego that the French either admire or condemn in Napoleon Buonaparte. That is why when I do good deeds (such as they are), I try to make it separate from my written work: some good deeds should be done only for God. Of course, admitting that here probably undoes the work of not reporting them. I know that I will only get so much reward at Judgment Day for my written work. Why? Because I got book sales and public exposure; however much good I do, it is not “free.”
I have always longed for two different immortalities: the immortality of the Soul, and the immortality of History. The immortality of the Soul is when I shall–I hope–rejoin God in Heaven, for what I hope is a good record. The immortality of History is to have written books loved and reread by generations–of Americans, at least. In a way, my “I am the Greatest” is less humble than Mohammad Ali’s, because my published book The Bible According to Eve: Women of the Torah, and its three sequels, are an echo of a central book of the Jewish faith. How much greater a book to write poetry about could a person find than the Hebrew Bible? And for what greater cause than to convince feminists that they can find a place in its pages?
I am sure all of this sounds ironic: to be convinced writing is a calling the way some other woman would be convinced being a gynecologist or a police officer, when it is done primarily in the home, sitting in a chair, writing. Yet authors like John Updike and John Irving are never questioned, “Are you sure what you are doing is work? Are you sure you are being manly even, doing this work within the home?” No, it is never said when a man “works within the home” for money, that there is anything wrong with it. It is only women judged this way. This is not entirely for bad reason: at one time it was the reverse. Women who worked outside of the home were automatically judged. Now, however, it has come full circle so that those of us who choose to express ourselves creatively have to be careful to be judged not “feminist” enough.
With that in mind, I would like to thank Rabbi Pepperstone (my rabbi) for something. Last Saturday he took one of my books about the Bible and read a poem out of it after reading the Torah portion. I was thrilled: at last I had gotten some recognition among my friends and fellow synagogue attendees for my work.