June 23, 2020 Foreword to My Memoir on Patreon
It’s been many weeks since the lockdown began. I’ve had a lot more time to dedicate myself to other projects. I’ve also had a lot more time to worry about things like surviving economic collapse in this expensive city and the future of my wonderful little business. So after much consideration, I decided to dig up an old project from 2015 and share it as a digital offering to my Patreon sponsors.
This will be a memoir I worked on in 2015. I have many, many chapters even though I never finished it. I will share these pages as a serial production. Shannon, who runs my blog, already lined up several installments, and we should have many more installments ready soon. We will set the posts up to go live every other Monday morning, starting next week, the 29th. It’ll be like the forzetzoong or serials of my childhood — a good story served in generous helpings. Do you remember running to the mailbox for your next installment of whatever drama was in the local paper? It’ll be like that!
I worked very hard on the pages back in ‘15. It was all-consuming for some months. Then I stopped writing. I tried to start again in 2016, but I didn’t feel comfortable with the voice. It gathered dust. Too much time passed. Five years might not seem like much, but a lot has changed. When I originally wrote this, I still worked for the same Hasidic insurance company that hired me at 17. I lived in the suburbs in a lovely little old colonial on the hill, and it felt like I had adorned myself with the superficial trappings of success. Five years ago I still had those starry eyes for secular higher education and the intellectual class and for fancy pants writers. I was still a greenhorn, naïve and idealistic, and I refused to be let down. I was still going to learn of the ways in which the world would disappoint me and at the same time delight me. I was still too afraid to say anything that was unexpected for an ex-Hasid. I was a wee thing, yeah.
I have a much more matured perspective now, and by definition, this has changed how I see the past. If I were to write about my life now, it would be different. Now, I would want to speak more directly to the reader in my present voice, for intimacy and frankness and to communicate the larger scope of my reflections. I would need to write a new memoir, and I don’t want to.
I always had conflicted feelings about the prospect of writing a memoir. On the one hand, I love to tell stories. I have some interesting stories to tell, and I want to share them. On the other hand, my particular story about leaving Hasidism fits far too neatly into the genre of the ex-religious memoir. It feels impossible to wrestle my narrative away from the stale fairy tale. Oftentimes when I tell my story, I am disappointed to see that I told one story but the listener heard a different one — the one that they wanted to hear about brave individuals breaking away and all that. I want the reader to feel my ambivalence about my journey, to feel my grief and joy at once. I don’t want you to sit in the stadium cheering “Leave, leave, leave!” Because that’s surely not how I experienced it.
I also don’t like being a reductive heroine who escaped a repressive society for the happily ever after. I was always afraid that I would be pigeonholed into this stock character. I worried this would be all that people found interesting about me. This is a problem even without a memoir, but if I wrote with the microphone of a publishing house, people would have no interest in my insights in gender or religion or culture, no patience for the history of this particular interesting building on Marcy Avenue or on Bedford, no desire to read an analysis on this religious toy or that new trend. When I’d speak of anything but my “story,” they’d get distracted by their phones, and their enthusiasm would drain like a bad battery. Forever and ever, they’d demand my story. I’d be an old withered lady at the nursing home and they’d demand: “Ma’am, your story?” And I’d open my mouth for mashed veggies and to comply. This is the stuff of haunted tales, not happily ever afters.
These fears made me afraid of finishing it. Even years later, when friends would suggest “Maybe you can try to sell your memoir to make rent?” I felt dread at the thought. And you know, I’m really so glad that I built my business instead of publishing a memoir. Conformity is suffocating, be it to conform to the ideal of Hasidic mother and housewife or to conform to the role of ex-religious success story. I am out here in this great city, marching to my own beat, being curious about things beyond my own navel, and it’s a good balance.
So maybe it doesn’t make sense on face value to share these pages on my blog, but I am not one to be sensible like that anyhow. I like the idea of sharing some pages on a more intimate forum. There is also something wonderful about coming full circle and sharing this on a blog, because of the role the blog has played in my life. But that…that’s part of a long story. So children, gather ‘round…
I hope you’ll enjoy it. Many thanks as always to everyone who supports me and makes it possible for me to remain a stubborn fool.