Quiet Desperation

“The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.”

I know that a writer is not supposed to open up and gush about their own problems on the Internet–or I imagine they aren’t. I always secretly envied the poise of the British stiff upper lip–but I never had it. My fear tonight is that I will never “make it.” I suppose all writers have this fear, this belief that their public will let them down. It is not for nothing that the Encyclopedia Britannica at one time said that Charles Dickens’ real love was not his wife Catherine Hogarth nor even his mistress Ellen Ternan, but his public itself. That was why, presumably, when he had made his fortune and the books he churned out were no longer as popular as the ones he’d written the past, he kept right on writing. I feel that need, too, and if I have yet to sell the reason I keep write on writing and not finding a nine-to-five job, that is why. Luckily my mother–I live in her house–is a very forgiving person. Plus, I cook well, and that passes for “work.” Tomorrow night we shall have spaghetti.

I know all of my characters intimately, and in a way they are my real friends. Not that I don’t have friends at the places where I’ve volunteered or worked or gone to shul. Just that the world in my imagination is so seductive, that when I have trouble at those places I retreat into my inner world. I think when I was young this was regarded as a sign of ill-health. In a sense it was, because one trait of my depression at thirteen was that I “isolated,” reading Star Trek novels, writing depressed poetry, and drawing cats by myself. My books were always a vital part of me. When I got over being afraid of the world, I did not leave them behind.

In “The Bible According to Eve” I spent a lot of time with the co-wives and concubines of the Patriarchs. Sarah abused her maid Hagar who had produced Abraham’s oldest son Ishmael–only for Ishmael to abuse Isaac, Sarah’s son, and be thrown out of the family. Rebecca was the woman who began as a “promise” and ended as a manipulative mother who wrought unhappiness on her children. I was secretly fond of “Plain Leah,” and imagined that Rachel’s demand for “sons” was a covert expression of lust. Bilhah played the floosy with her master’s son (Reuben) and Zilpah was the lesbian (with her unrequited love of Leah). Of course their were older women–Adah and Zillah, the first women to be married by the same man at the same time… Noah’s wife, unnamed like Lot’s… and of course the real teller of their tales is Eve, a stand in for Hadassah (Me).

As a child I read from two sets of books, the Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High. Though the latter series is for high school students I read it in Middle School. I still like the Babysitter’s Club in one sense: It is one of the better series for adolescent girls. The girls themselves were memorable, and easily identified with by young readers. It is true that it is not a series of books I go back to read anymore, but I have fond memories of Kristy (the tomboy), Mary Anne (the shy one), Claudia (the crazy dresser), Stacy (the diabetic) and Dawn (the vegan). They were each more than these thin descriptions admit. However, I believe that they truly did give good reading to my adolescence.

Sweet Valley High… I still think of it as a superficial series. It comes out of the world of soap operas and romance novels and is all about boys and popularity and sex. It in no way resembled my high school years. Of course, I was not especially popular in high school, but I still thought even those kids who were had school work, sports, and friendships with kids of their own gender. I had one boyfriend in high school, and that was fairly typical. It was not that I or anyone else–not even the girls who got pregnant–had lovers by the dozen in the grand tradition of Hollywood stars. Jessica, for those who have ever read, is the “slut” and Elizabeth the “good” one. This last was a little odd; however benign it was supposed to be, she ran the school gossip column. I believe we had a high school newspaper… maybe we did… certainly no gossip column. Of course, whatever it would have said would have been watched by “responsible adults.”

Where was I? Oh, yes: lives of quiet desperation. I do feel that way as I wait for November to see what my book sales are. I know there are writers like Melville whose greatness is not recognized till after their death. I could not bear to be one.

The Messiah Will Come

I am publishing this poem here because of the thorough apathy I have found it gained with every last publisher I showed it to. Because the publishing world has rejected it and it is short, I will give it to the public, free of charge. It is the Jewish view of when the Mashiach (messiah) will finally come. Everyone will have “gone good” or “gone bad” but not a single one of us will be someplace in between. That is the Jewish idea. Yet nobody knows whether it will be that humankind will have redeemed itself or proven itself totally unworthy except God. So we wait because “though he may tarry, still he will come,” for our redemption’s harbinger of God’s Kingdom in Heaven and on Earth.

Never trust paradox;

it lies like a riddler

and yet one rests on my heart:

they say the messiah comes

either when all Israel is good

or when finally Israel has become

as corrupt as the shallow earth

on which she is expected to grow,

the hard earth with her pebble and brambles

which choke plants growing up

the flower for which the world

of weeds continues to exist, free and wild

like Israel before Saul and David.

The messiah will come—

not when the Jews are pure

when martyrs are lit with fires,

like Rabbi Akiba in his torch,

or when scholars study her treasures

by reason’s and the moon’s light,

or when brilliant heretics fall away

like Spinoza with his ethics

breathing the faith that God and Nature are one.

The messiah will come—

when Jews are finally known

as reprobates worse than gentiles,

when their sins move Abraham to tears

and Isaac to laments

and Jacob to self-immolation—

because their synagogues lie empty

on even Yom Kippur

and their yarmulkes and prayer books

lie abandoned in the shul

far from any practice at home.

Then the messiah will come.

When the messiah comes he will smile,

“Good work.  I am here at last.”

Woman Thy Name is Faithfulness

There are feminists who see the traditions of folklore and religion as being pro-male and intrinsically sexist. I feel like this is misguided. It is true that tradition, by its nature, is sometimes the last bastion of the past. Yet that past should not be totally rejected, or even largely so. I remember a long time ago reading a version of the Korean book, The Faithful Wife. It is a story about how a woman suffers rather than remarry. She is so sure that her husband is not dead that she will not allow herself to be coerced into “unfaithfulness.” Of course, it could be said that this is a virtue that men valued in women. More, it could be said that it existed in part to guarantee an heir for her husband. Yet to say this is to dismiss the real power of the story: it shows a woman of strength and valor, who is more faithful than men are themselves. It is as a Muslim woman said in the Middle East in a book I read, “Sometimes a woman has to be more of a man than a man.” Anyway, I have been reading the Sefer ha-Aggadah. There are parts of the Talmud that are very sexist. (The worst example is Rabbi Eliezer b. Hyrcanus who said, ““Anyone who teaches his daughter Torah teaches her tiflut,” tiflut meaning in this context, “lewdness.” He also said, “A women’s wisdom is her spindle.” Of course, he is only one rabbi; other rabbis are much more positive about women and their need to be educated. The same mishnaic verse includes another opinion, that of Ben Azzai (early second century C.E.): “One must teach his daughter Torah so that if she must drink [the water that tests her fidelity if she is a sotah—a suspected adulteress], she will know that the merit postpones her punishment.” Ben Azzai’s paradigm is that women should understand the commandments and their meanings. )

Yet in its stories it is sometimes very sympathetic to women. I personally reject the notion that Rabbi Akiba’s loyal wife (alternately named Serah or Rachel) is only a sexist trope. I believe her ability to see in her husband his talent when nobody else did–this is more than a woman celebrated for mere beauty or compliance with male wishes. However, I will cite this story another time. I began with the Korean “The Faithful Wife,” and I will post a similar tale from the Sefer ha-Aggadah about woman’s faithfulness in the face of man’s unfaithfulness:

There is the story of a young girl who was walking [one morning] to her father’s home. She was very beautiful, and her beauty was further enhanced by gold and silver ornaments. But she lost her way and wandered into uninhabited places. By midway she grew thirsty, for she had brought no water with her. At the sight of a well with a bucket rope hanging at its side, she took hold of the rope and lowered herself [into the well]. After she drank, she wished to go up but could not; so she wept and shouted for help.

A young man passing by heard her voice and stopped at the well. He looked down at her and asked, “Who are you, human or spirit?” She told him the whole story. The young man: “If I bring you up, will you be my wife?” She replied, “Yes,” and he pulled her up.

He wished to mate with her at once. But she asked him, “From what people do you come?” He replied, “I come from the people of Israel, from such-and-such a place, and I am a priest.” She said to him, “The Holy One chose you, hallowed you out of all Israel, yet now, without ketubah, without marriage rites, you would mate like an animal? Follow me to my father and mother, who are of such-and-such a family, eminent and a noble lineage in Israel, and I shall be betrothed to you.” So they pledged faithfulness to each other. When she asked, “But who will act as a witness?” a weasel happened to be passing by, so she said, “Let this weasel and this well act as our witnesses to our pledge.” Then he went his way and she went his.

Now, the girl remained true to her pledge, and when anyone came to seek her hand in marriage, she would turn him down. But after her family began pressing her [to accept someone], she proceeded to act like an epileptic, ripping up her own garments and the garments of anyone who touched her. Finally, people left her alone.

As for the young man, as soon as he came back to his city, he violated his pledge, wed another woman, and begot two sons. But one fell into a well and died and the other one died after being bit by a weasel. The young man’s wife asked him, “What is the cause of this, that both of our sons died unnatural deaths?” He told her, “Such-and-such a thing happened.” At that she demanded he divorce her, saying, “Go to the portion that the Holy One has given you.”

He went away and, inquiring about the girl in her city, was told, “She is epileptic, and anyone who wishes to wed her is treated in such-and-such a way.” The young man went to her father’s house, told him what happened, and declared, “I am willing to take her with any blemish she may have.” The father called witnesses [to attest the young man’s declaration]. When the young man went to see her, she began to act what had become her customary manner. So he reminded her of the incident with the weasel and the well.

Then she said, “Indeed I have been faithful to my pledge,” and immediately became her normal self. She married him, and the two were blessed with many children and possessions. To her apply the words, “My eyes are on those who are faithful in the Land,” (Psalms 101:6).

Though this may be seen as a model for feminine behavior it is more than that. It suggests the maxim: Women are more faithful than Men. Unlike Solomon’s claim in Ecclesiastes that there is only one good man in a thousand and not a single woman in a similar number, the claim here is that Woman by her chastity and faithfulness proves a better friend to Man than he is to her. Such stories should not be neglected in Judaism. Or by other people, either.

Bluebeard’s Egg

I have just finished reading “Bluebeard’s Egg,” a short story by Margaret Atwood. It is, in fact, one of two stories I finished ending today (the other one I began some time ago), The Testament. I find myself debating whether to begin W. Bruce Cameron’s The Dog Master this weekend or to do the “real work” of reading Jack Zipes’ The Irresistible Fairy Tale. I also have a book down from my shelf–though I am not going to start reading anything soon–The Overstory.

My whole life I have wondered about the meanings in stories…

“In the Beginning God Created…”

“When God Created…”

Not long ago, I read Einstein’s Dreams, about the nature of time. Time is very important in stories, and counting it takes on symbolic meaning. “Forty Nights and Forty Days” symbolizes the flood, the Israelites’ sojourn in the wilderness, and Jesus time in the wilderness before his temptation by Satan.

In The Bible According to Eve: Women of the Torah and its thus three unpublished sequels, I retold the sacred stories Jews share. I tell them from the third person singular (mostly) but from the women’s perspective. This is because to tell a story anew requires a slant. Well, I wanted to draw women into the stories. These days with so many negative critiques of the Bible, I wanted to say the book has positive things to say. I wanted to say that it is relevant today, just as it was “relevant” over three thousand years ago when its earliest stories were first told in Israel. Nonetheless, if I had wanted to write about the scriptures and been a man I could not have written this book–no man has the right to Eve’s or Sarah’s Debra’s or Delilah’s or Bathsheba’s or Ruth’s or Esther’s thoughts. Yet as a woman I could peer into my gender’s head in scripture.

It is ironic I say this last. For all that they haven’t sold, I have written stories from the male perspective. Men like Tolstoy write Anna Karenina and nobody complains. Yet it seems like there is a certain species of “woman’s book” that men can arrive at like tourists but cannot really live in. And perhaps there are “men’s books” the same way.

I suppose that thinking of folklore, time, and women… That is why I wrote this meandering blog. I hope the reader is not disappointed in its lack of direction…

Love to Hear from You

Just saying “Hi” again to the person who runs this site. My favorite two musicals are “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Man of La Mancha.” The first is a big favorite because when I was a kid we had the record in my house and I used to listen to it over and over again. Then I saw the musical with “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” in it, and the love and tragedy of the Jewish people hit me. I have since converted, but this musical was my first connection with the Jewish people outside of the Bible itself.

My second favorite musical is “Man of La Mancha” which I saw for the first time in my teens. I love the figure of Don Quixote, jousting at windmills. I have always believed fiction is the tug-of-war between the world as it is and the world as it ought to be, and “The Impossible Dream” is my song. I am a writer by profession, and I am sure there are people who believe I live in “a world that can’t be” just by insisting that my writing comes first in absolutely every way.

The Storytelling Animal: A Review

Although fascinating at first, this book tries to do too much with too little space (199 pages).  The first part—about children and make-believe—is fascinating.  I would love to look up some of his sources just to discover more about the relationship between childhood and adulthood imagination… and I imagine it would be fun to read or write a book using folklore for children (like Maurice Sendek’s I Saw Esau) and folklore originally told by and to adults (which most people don’t realize is the truth behind the Grimm and other fairy tales) to try to help explain the thrill of a simple story…  I suppose books like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Leon Tolstoy’s War and Peace represent a later development in storytelling, and then later James Joyce’s Ulysses and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Then the book might be good if it shot for something like 500 pages instead of an easily read, easily digestible, but far too shallow discussion of its subject.

            I suppose at the heart of storytelling is the invention of language.  Animals see, feel, perhaps even love.  Yet they don’t record events because they don’t have our intelligence or linguistic abilities.  One example in the book of “story” is equally nonsensical for animal and human: the dream.  Dreams can easily be a seamless chain of events with no structure or meaning.  That is why a dog may wag its tail, dreaming about some happy human or animal friend.  Yet the writer of a book I plan to read, The Dog Master, records a (fictive) story of the bond between humanity and its canine companions.  It makes the imaginative leap that our poor pets are not able to: to invent something which is not real.  This is because the author cannot go in time to find the real man and the real dog who fell in love.  He has to imagine it.  And it is imagination that makes stories special.  Apart, of course, from language. They can create things which are not real using linguistic devices. This is ironic for a book that expresses the reality of animal love and friendship on such a deep level.

            I liked the insight of The Storytelling Animal that “trouble” is what stories are about and not peace.  He insists this is true even in children.  And that is why he should have stuck to “childish things.”  He should have used stories to flesh out his theory rather than dreams or self-deception or memoirs or dungeons-and-dragons games.  Why?  Because they are only arguably stories.  I would maintain that the first two require very little imagination at all. Yet this idea is expressed in the beginning of the book. Not in the iffy section about dreams as stories (need they be?) or how reality TV represents a new form of literature.

I hope this itself is not too cursory a description of the book… Looking over the article it took up too many of my ideas and not enough of The Storytelling Animal‘s. On the other hand, I could not find a binding thesis around which the book is formed… (though I hold that the system of writing where there is a thesis is more useful in the sciences than in literature or the arts But that is another matter.)

The Etrog Fruit’s Importance

For those who do not know, Etrog Fruit are a fruit of symbolic importance used during the Jewish holiday of Sukkoth. They are a yellow citrus fruit, but there isn’t a lot of usable fruit in them. The Sukkoth before this last one (Sukkoth is done and over for the present), I tried to make Etrog Jam. It did not go well. In a few words, I scorched the jelly. It was quite a disappointment. Yet with Lulav branches–palm branches–we use these fruit on Sukkoth. In fact, I have news for Christians: Christ’s Last Supper sounds more like Sukkoth than Passover (Pesach) which involves no palms but a Seder in which Jews used to eat lamb before the Temple was destroyed. However, having told the reader this much (and hopefully not offended them overmuch), I will tell them a folk story that came out of the Sefer ha-Aggadah that involves the sweet smelling Etrog (they do smell nice):

The story is told of a man who practiced charity so ardently that he sold his house and all he had, and spent it on charity. Once on Hashanah Rabbah his wife gave him ten small coins and said, “Here comes the Lord of Charity! Contribute your share to this charity, for we want to buy a wedding dress for a certain orphan girl.” He took the ten coins and gave them to the collectors. Ashamed to go home, he went to the synagogue, where he saw some Etrogim that some children throw about on Hashanah Rabbah. So he took some, filled his sack with them, and set out on a voyage upon the Great [Mediterranean] Sea, until he reached the king’s capital city.

It so happened that when he came there, the king had a pain in his bowels and was told in a dream, “Eat of the Etrogim that the Jews use during their prayers on Hashanah Rabbah, and you will be healed.” So they searched all the ships and all the city, but found none.

Finally, they came upon that man sitting on his sack and asked him, “Have you anything for sale in your sack?” He replied, “I am poor and have nothing to sell.” But they examined his sack and, finding some Etrogim, asked, “Where are these from?” He told them that they were some of those that the Jews use on Hashanah Rabbah. So they picked up the sack and brought it to the king, who ate some of the Etrogim and was healed.

Then they emptied the sack and filled it with denars [coins].

There is much folklore in the Talmud. Really, there are two kinds of material: Halacha and Haggadah. Halacha is legal material and–as my rabbi put it–Haggadah is “everything else.” I would say for myself, however, that “Haggadah” has a heavy emphasis on story-telling.

That leads to one final thought: I finished reading a book: The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. It is an interesting book, but it tries to cover too much scope–from children’s make-believe to dreams to memoirs to fantasy games. I would have preferred a book that focused on that first–children’s make-believe–and then related it, if it’s possible, to folklore… like the kind recorded in Maurice Sendek’s I Saw Esau and the Grimm Fairy Tales. There were a few children among the tellers of the stories the Grimm Brothers collected from friends and acquaintances of the family. Two thirds of these stories were told by women; the others were largely researched in libraries. All of this is despite the fact that the idea that the Grimm brothers scoured the countryside for tales is almost entirely a myth. They already knew the women and girls they interviewed.

Anyway, I like the above story not just for its moral dealing with charity, but for its focus on the sweet-smelling Etrog fruit which someday I hope to make into jelly.

Children Tell the Best Stories

Today I have been plagued by “the lazies,” I have only read ten pages more of the book I am reading than the 100 pages I read yesterday of “The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human.” Nonetheless, there is this one line that resonates in my mind. It is part of a children’s “story” quoted from another source. Of course, when I say “children’s” I mean a child told it, not that it was written for a child. Probably if the child knew the property I was stealing, and understood the import, the poor thing would be devastated. I can only say that I am acknowledging my debt to the unnamed child, and that if I knew her–or him–I would reassure them that as my muse I am recognizing them, and that they may move on to tell other stories, perhaps becoming a Shakespeare or Dickens based on this piece of precocity.

The first line of the child’s story is:
“The monkeys, they went up the sky. They fall down.”

And my version is:
There were a group of spider monkeys who climbed the sky, using the rainbow after a great rain. That rain was like the forty days and forty nights of Noah’s flood, and the rainbow as big and beautiful as any rainbow ever was. They started at the rainbow’s foot–these monkeys were exceedingly lucky that the found it by accident–and though there was no leprechaun or gold there they felt the beauty of walking atop the world was worth it. Yet then it started to rain again because the clouds resented having to share the sky, with somebody other than the bright sun or elegant moon. The clouds were petulant in their tears, like selfish children who would not share a toy. And so the spider monkeys fell to the earth. Yet the monkeys were glad in this: they had scaled the Great Heavens, and shared Father Sky with the clouds and the sun, and wondered if there were any Spirit beyond these things, who formed them for a divine purpose, which transcended their or human understanding. They never regretted climbing the immortal Father Sky, even when they fell to Mother Earth below.

So you see that children are mythmakers, and adults simply follow in the footsteps of little boys and little girls in their ability to play make-believe.

Perhaps this evening I shall type up another story from the Sefer ha-Aggadah.

Spoiler: I Don’t like Maguire’s ‘Wicked’

In recent times, Gregory Maguire has written a mountain of satirical books about Oz. This literary undertaker is somebody I’ve never particularly wanted to see in print. When I first saw the book in bookstores in my teens, I thought it was the only worse book than it would eventually turn out to be: Poor little Elphaba started out all sweetness and light until a cruel society warped her into being the mean, green, child-hating machine she is in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Truthfully, I thought the life of Adolf Hitler proved it: yes, you could be abused and grow up to be an even worse jerk than the man who raised you. No, I don’t feel any need to feel sorry for the person who does. I do not care that deeply where jerks come from. Anyway, the play came and went and I begged my mom and sister NOT to take me, and happily they honored that wish.

Finally, it had to happen: at my synagogue, an acquaintance was even related to the guy who was putting on the play. I agreed to go. I am still mad that I had to pay my own way to see a play I did not like. Anyway, after seeing it, I thought and thought and finally did it: I bought a copy of the movie The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (I already owned a copy of the book). I re-watched the film (I saw it first in grade school). I reread the book version. I read the original Wicked. I decided there was no reason for Wicked to be written: Dorothy was the most feminist heroine of the Victorian era, and I still loved her as much as when I was a kid.

Gregory Maguire’s main premise that 1) the words “good” and “evil” have no meaning; and 2) the destruction he does to the beautiful books and film that children should be allowed to enjoy in peace. These two things are interrelated, but I will focus on the second at least at first. The Oz books are perfectly suited–as are “Cinderella” and Alice in Wonderland, two other books are lampooned–are particularly suited to a child’s imagination.

I remember as a little girl, I had no trouble liking and admiring Dorothy. I even liked that she had brown hair and brown eyes, because instead of being a radiant beauty or a Shirley Temple, she ordinary looking little girl. Her courage, wisdom and kindness were hidden beneath the surface and fleshed out more extensively in the book than the movie. Though I did not see it myself, I like to think L. Frank Baum there has even been an African American version of the play made.

Now, I spoke of Dorothy’s virtues. I like to think her friends–the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion–all had the good traits they esteemed and desired–the Scarecrow already wise; the Tin Woodman already kind; and the Cowardly Lion already brave–and simply needed to prove it to themselves. So it is that though the Wizard in the book tricked them, all was not lost: they found their salvation within. And Dorothy, who wanted to go home already but needed to prove it already. Dorothy, of course, was already “good.” I have read all the Oz books; two biographies; Finding Dorothy; and a few other things, and this interpretation of Oz is what I firmly believe.

The book teaches a child reading it that she has inner strength and character. So does the character. So does the film. It teaches a child reading it that she has inner strength and character. So does the film. It teachers her to overcome evil (the witch) she must be true to herself. After all, to recognize that she loved Aunt Em and Uncle Henry and wanted to go home was to admit she was wrong to leave them. As beautiful as Oz is, the film recognizes that we cannot live there. And though L. Frank Baum was a free thinker who dabbled in theosophy and believed in reincarnation, his book seems to echo the idea that we are all searching for a sacred place of sorts,

The Earth is not my home, I’m only passing through.

I personally believe we are all searching for a final destination outside of this world, which we cannot find in all the things we acquire.

As for good and evil, I think it is a given that no person gets all of what they want, and that the person who seems to have “everything” is often sad, and spoiled and sick. (This is my own diagnosis of Donald Trump. For all I never see myself as very liberal anymore, I don’t like the man.) Sometimes less is more. So it goes without saying that to want to sleep with another man’s wife is sinful, and to actually consummate the idea, evil.

Yet it must be pointed out that in the book “evil” is translated to mean “sexual.” I refuse to believe the worst crimes a person can commit are even sexual in nature. Murder and genocide are more evil than adultery, and need to be condemned forthrightly. So, too, is terrorism, though we are not always as innocent as we assume. And in our personal lives, slander and gossip can place a wedge between us and those we love. Evil is not just a one night stand, though that is bad. It is those deeds which truly hurt ourselves or others.

One last thought. I picked up a children’s book recommended by Gregory Maguire. It was about a squirrel. I could not tell what the appeal of the book was supposed to be. Now, this may not prove much: I don’t “get” Edith Nesbit, either, and many children love her work. However, Maguire may be proving his lack of understanding of children in pillaring a great and loved classic of children’s fiction. However, Maguire is an adult writer writing for adults and I don’t believe he has any special understanding or interest in children at all. That understanding is part of what made L. Frank Baum such a treasure in the first place.

That is why I ask the reader to skip the Wicked series. It harms L. Frank Baum’s memory; it destroys the happy memories of childhood that many have; and it creates a toxic belief that there is no difference between right and wrong and that there is no God in Heaven.

Spinning Tales

Having read (actually reread) considerable chunks of the Sefer ha-Aggadah (I am on page 780 of 816 pages), one line sticks in my head which is not a complete story but only a fragment, “While a woman talks, she spins.” This line reminds me of Rumpelstiltskin. The little man in the story uses his spinning wheel to turn mere straw into gold. A story, it seems, is a tapestry, a comingling of colors which range from the bright to the dull. I remember reading a book in which an Iranian girl wove a rug, but when she realized the colors did not blend well, she cut it all to shreds. Because she did so, the person teaching her to weave angrily through her out on the streets–it took a long time before she won his good graces again. The book is only partially effective in describing the grief at the disappointment in the rug, and the ostracism of the culprit who destroyed it. Yet it seems like there could be a special symbolism. The rug is a tale, but a tale that is superficially put together shames its teller, so that they put it away and never bring it out again.

I love stories and have since before I was five. My Grandma Alderson told me stories from The Gem Fairy Tales, a four-book set. I was mesmerized by those stories, but I longed to make them my own. They were the stories I knew before the Biblical ones. I know that of modern authors, it is C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien who are best known at recreating “Faerie,” the world of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. I have a few books waiting on my shelves, The Last Unicorn and Thomas the Rhymer, which could be termed “fantasy classics”–but I don’t know, because shamefully I have not read them yet. But of course, everyone has read The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings; and The Chronicles of Narnia. I love Sir Walter Scott’s poem, “The Road to Faerie”:

“O see ye not yon narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho after it but few enquires.

“And see ye not that braid braid road,
That lies across that lily leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Tho some call it the road to heaven.

“And see not ye that bonny road,
That winds about the fernie brae?
That is the road to fair Elfland,
Where thou and I this night maun gae.”

I have always wondered with these writers what lies behind the surfaces of roads overgrown with weeds to places long forgotten. In my own imagination–like Tolkien’s–there is a kind of melancholy of the magic that the world either lost or hides. To put it exactly, as a child I always wondered what the fairies did when no human was watching them. I wanted to believe they were utterly different from human beings, and not mere plot devices in stories. As an adult I read a book of Irish myths that refers to a place “Otherworld” where the gods hide in the glen. To find magic you had to wander there, and then you might not be lucky. Yet all true tales seemed to have some of their roots in that spiritual realm… Y.B. Yeats, more Irish than Catholic, wrote The Celtic Twilight, and I find it more than amusing. He speaks of “the Good People,” as the Irish peasantry call the fairies. He speaks of the tricks they play on humans, and not just those beneficial deeds done by them. Does he actually believe in fairies? I can’t tell… I have read that he rejected his father’s rationalist faith, as occasionally is the root of the mystic’s call. As Amos said,

“I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet.”

I know it seems odd that a Jew would refer to Christian fantasists or Celtic mythology to explain the necessity for the stories I weave, yet I feel like there is the fertile ground of the Spirit in all faiths, if only the believer can find it. It is even stranger that is true when my first published work was Jewish and my first published book a rewrite of Biblical stories.

Yet there is a midrash I hold close to my heart:
God was a Gardener, and the world his Garden where he planted a lily. Thorns got in the flower bed and he would not destroy them, for fear of destroying the lily. That lily form whom the world exists is the Jewish people. Yet for all we know there may be other flowers whom God loves just as much as us. Other religions may equally come from God.

I believe God speaks to Hindus as Vishnu, Buddhists as Buddha, Muslims as Allah or Mohammad, and Christians as Jesus. Ultimately, though, I believe he speaks to these people in these guises not because they are his true face, but because he speaks to people in the language they understand. A fool would go to a foreign country and expect to convert people without speaking the language.

Or to put it another way. I remember a Christian asking me how Jesus’ name was spelled in Hebrew. I told him that Jesus’ Jewish name was Yehushua (there is no “J” in Hebrew). I explained that was the Hebrew spelling. The Greek spelling was Jesus. And the Japanese might call him “Isa.” Now, this is an example as how one being can have a multiplicity of names. I don’t really believe in Jesus (under any of his names) but if I did I might say that people pray to Krishna who actually believe in him. That is what I believe about God. Many people in many languages pray to God using many different names.

“The righteous of the nations will have a place in the World-to-Come.”