Over the years, I’ve been asked by other writers where I come from and the answer has always been the same: nowhere special. I didn’t work my way up in a Manhattan-based magazine or attend Journalism school. I didn’t even take English in college. Still, I write.
When fellow writer and friend, Caren Osten Gerszberg, invited me to participate in a Blog Hop in which writers express their views on the writing life, I was intrigued. I love hearing how others approach the process, what influences them and why. Check out Caren’s inspiring post to read more.
Below are my answers to the four questions that are hopping from blog to blog. Next week, three gifted writers—Nicki Gilbert, Ruth Ebenstein and Erris Langer Klapper—will post their responses to the same questions on their respective blogs. Enjoy the read and feel free to share with anyone who strives to hone this craft.
1. What am I working on/writing?
This question makes me realize how frenetic and disjointed the process is. I’m 45 pages into a memoir about my relationship with my brother, continually submitting stories to literary journals and writing contests, always sharing my works-in-progress with my writing group and forever attempting to complete stories that won’t leave me alone. On an irregular basis, I post here on this blog, which is my effort to see the good in a place that I never dreamed of calling home. I’ve re-entered the world of online writing as a contributor to Kripalu’s blog called Thrive as well as to elephantjournal, a site dedicated to the mindful life. For the past few years, I’ve been teaching adult writing classes, which I create myself and have come to love as much as the writing itself.
As if that’s not enough, I’m embarking on a new adventure: a low-residency MFA in Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Over the next two years, I will be reading, writing and critiquing the work of others as well as exploring the hinterlands of my psyche.
2. How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?
As a writer, I’ve reached the point where I loathe the linear story. Each time I start a new story, I think of the template—the form or shape—it can take, maybe the same way an artist approaches an empty canvas. In my most recent blog post entitled A Story of Words, for example, I took six words or expressions in Hebrew that I’ve learned recently and related what they mean, how I learned them and what it feels like to be surrounded by foreign words. In my story called “In the Name of Peace”, which appeared on ducts.org in summer 2010, I interspersed news excerpts relating to the Oslo Accords with the story of my nephew’s circumcision ceremony, which fell on the twelfth anniversary of the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin as well as on the circumcision ceremony of his assassin’s newborn son. In “Words from Fabi”, I played with tense, using present in italics to describe a journal my friend Fabienne had given me as a testament to our friendship and past in plain font to tell the story of how we met, what the relationship meant to me and why it dissolved.
3. Why do I write what I do?
This is such an interesting question. So basic and yet not something I’ve never put into words. I write what I do because it nags and pulls and tugs at a place deep inside of me, in my head, sometimes waking me up at night and other times interrupting me while doing the most mundane activities. Usually, my stories are about people or places or things about which or whom I am passionate; some are based on memories that are begging to be excavated. Since the beginning, I’ve written from a place of knowing—from being pregnant and mothering, being the younger sister to my older brother, the new immigrant, the only daughter or the guest at a party or the wife of a Frenchman, and on and on. I have no idea how to create characters or make up plot. I write what I live and love what I do.
4. How does my writing process work?
Like someone with several personalities or dozens of day jobs. Frenetic. Jumpy. Disconnected. All over the place. Fast and furious at times, slow and teeth-pulling at others. I sit, I type, I edit each sentence as I write. I move sentences around before I’ve finished the paragraph. While writing, I hear my email ding in my inbox and check it. Or my husband Skypes me from his office in Tel Aviv and I switch screens. Then I return to my page. I regurgitate words, sift through memories of conversations and feelings or read old diaries, attempting to excavate the emotional truth, the heart of memoir writing. My cell rings; I answer. It’s someone calling about my yoga schedule or the ad in the Jerusalem Post about an upcoming writing course. I jot down notes, their name and email and tell them I will send them an email with more information. I return to my open Word document. To write. As best as I can. As accurately as possible. As clearly as can be. Until there are no more words to share, no more anecdotes or scenes to reveal the essence of the story.
Meet my fellow Blog Hop writers:
A freelance writer, blogger, editor and frequent contributor to The New York Times, as well as many national magazines and websites, Caren Osten Gerszberg blogs for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today. She also blogs about travel for Embark, a blog focusing on family and adventure travel. She is the co-editor of “Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up” (Seal Press), and the blog of the same name. For two years, she wrote a bi-weekly column, Mom U, for the New York Times education blog, “The Choice,” about the parents’ perspective of the college admissions process.
South African by chance and Californian by choice, Nicki Gilbert lives in the Bay Area with her husband, four kids and an aging dachshund. With dreams of reporting live on CNN, she majored in Drama and Journalism at Rhodes University in South Africa, met a boy, married him and moved almost 180 degrees west to San Francisco, to live her life as a wife, marketer, event coordinator, non-profit board member, and eventually stay-at-home mom. There was very little writing and even less acting during those years. Last year Nicki started blogging for Times of Israel, and now writes on her own website called Red Boots – from dancing to walking and everything in between, and beyond. As a reluctant yet full-time, barely-at-home mom, writer, avid reader, country music lover and wannabe surf diva, she write to keep perspective about it all. With tears, humor, skepticism, love, pain and truth. Trying to keep it real. Follow her at www.redboots.me and on twitter @nixgilbertca.
Ruth Ebenstein is a journalist/writer who loves to laugh heartily and often. Born and bred in Michigan, she has lived in Jerusalem for more than half of her life. At 16, she published her first front-page story in the Southfield Eccentric, her hometown newspaper, about the challenges of a job search—which culminated in getting paid to do laundry and iron for Mom! Ruth’s articles have appeared in Tablet, Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, The Jerusalem Report, The Virginian -Pilot & Ledger-Star, Washington Jewish Week, and Bnai Brith Magazine. Writing was her coping strategy when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 42 while nursing her baby. Galvanized to support others, Ruth is now a lobbyist in the realm of women’s health. She has authored a children’s book, “All of this Country is Called Jerusalem”, and is penning a memoir, How to Laugh (and Cry) Through Breast Cancer (www.laughthroughbreastcancer.com). An article on her friendship with Ibtisam Erekat, a Palestinian breast cancer survivor whom she met at their Israeli-Palestinian breast cancer support group, will be published in a forthcoming issue of The Atlantic. A blogging immigrant, she has taken the plunge at www.laughthroughbreastcancer.blogspot.co.il
Erris Langer Klapper is a retired lawyer, mom and wife. Her interests include travel, healthy and simple cooking, fitness, reading, volunteering and gardening. After years of working on legal projects and spending countless hours working up the courage to pursue her true passion, Erris finally launched her blog ErrisSpeaks.com. Her blog is only one month old, but the positive feedback she has received has served as an affirmative inspiration to forge ahead. Erris is working on freelance writing and on a manuscript. A self-professed nomad, Erris has lived in Israel, South Africa, New York and New Jersey and currently resides in Pittsburgh, with her husband, two teens and new puppy.
Mostly American, a little French and kind of Israeli, I’ve spent decades jumping between continents. The question that has plagued me most is which way is home? For the past 20 years, I’ve thrived on one constant: wherever I live, I write. Once upon a time, I wrote for Alternative Medicine, Parenting, Yoga for Natural Solutions, Yoga Journal until I changed gears to write my own stories as well as to teach Creative Non-Fiction writing classes. My essays have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, the South Loop Review as well as on ducts.org, among others. In 2011, we relocated from White Plains, New York to Raanana, Israel, where I continue to write and teach and push the boundaries. Sign up on opentoisrael to stay connected.