Vidui (Confessions)

Today is the holiest of holidays in Judaism, Yom KippurYom Kippur is the Day of Atonement.  On this day, we repent (teshuvah) and confess (vidui).  We beat our chests as we utter each transgression.  We deny ourselves earthly pleasures: food and drink; bathing;  lotions and perfumes; feeling the softness of leather on our skin; and sex.  Repentance, prayer, and charity combined will save us from God’s judgment.  Unlike other religious traditions, there is no one to repent for our sins except ourselves.  We ask for forgiveness to all we have harmed.  We pray that God forgives us.  We hope our names are added to the Book of Life.  We remember the dead.

I will start with my first confession: Yom Kippur rattles me.  Ever since I was a child, the imagery of my name being inscribed into the Book of Life has caused anxiety.  What if I don’t make it?  What if I wasn’t good enough?  One year, I stole stickers from a classmate.  I had asked her where she had purchased them (with every intention of getting my own) and she refused to tell me.  This wasn’t the first time I was refused information.  I was incensed.  When she wasn’t looking, I took them.  I remember trembling when it was time to face my own actions.

Growing up, I was perplexed as to why  Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) came before Yom Kippur.  I could still taste the sweetness of honey-dipped apples while imagining worst case scenarios.  Why couldn’t we reflect, apologize, and then celebrate?

My relationship with Yom Kippur only grew more complex as time passed.  As I grew older, it wasn’t just about stolen stickers.  My concerns became more philosophically complex.  Some sins are black and white, while others exist in the gray.  I struggled with ideas of theodicy and judgment.  How is a judgmental God compatible with a loving God?  How can a just God allow evil to exist?  Why are good people punished?

As my own nuclear family started to deteriorate, I tried harder.  I became more observant.  More thoughtful.  I prayed.  I bargained.  I simultaneously was angry.  If I was doing everything I could, why was this happening?  Was it about the fucking stickers?  Honestly, I thought this for awhile.  And then I had my own awakening and realized the irrationality of this thought.

As I studied Judaism from an academic perspective, I was able to take a step back and develop a healthier perspective on what this time can mean to me.  I still wasn’t there yet, though.  The tipping point was finding my own recovery through a 12 step program (Al-Anon).  I came in at my lowest point, still fearing God and believing that I was being punished.  But then I came to understand God on my own terms, or “as we understood Him.”  My 12 step work wasn’t just recovery from addiction and other “-isms”, it was also a spiritual recovery.

The steps also reinforce the idea of personal accountability in a healthy, manageable way.  We look at our own character defects and make direct amends.  Step 10 asks us to take personal inventory.  It is a continual process of reflection, connection, and growth.  My program also helps me weed out what belongs to me and what belongs to others.

I have fallen in love with Judaism countless times in my life, but it also takes courage to be critical of your own religion.  I realized that my relationship with Yom Kippur was dysfunctional.  I still get those nagging worries, but I also remind myself to be gentle.  Making amends doesn’t happen in a week or a day.  It is a continual process of self-reflection.

On this Yom Kippur, I am not observing in the traditional sense.  I’m not a synagogue nor do I have a grumbling tummy.  However, the traditions which I choose to observe compliment other parts of my life.  I believe strongly in making direct amends and taking personal inventory.  I am sorry to anyone I may have harmed, knowingly or otherwise.

Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art: to bring all our energies to each encounter, to remain flexible enough to notice and admit when what we expected to happen did not happen.  We need to remember that we are created creative and can invent new scenarios as frequently as they are needed.

Maya Angelou

I don’t have a lot of space in my life for harsh judgments.  Instead, I pray for openness, new experiences, understanding, compassion, flexibility and acceptance.

 

 

 

Play Chess, Not Checkers: Advice From a Boss Bitch

It seems like the word “entrepreneur” can be found everywhere.  Entrepreneur is a  buzz word that’s usually prefaced by a hashtag or splashed onto an IG post in a trendy font.  The fascination is understandable – there is a certain glamour associated with the term.  Who doesn’t want to be known for taking a risk and coming out on top?  How many of us fantasize about owning our own business, managing our own schedules, and nourishing our own ideas?  At the end of the day, we all want autonomy.  For myself, that autonomy is found through blogging.  I freely admit that I have my own entrepreneurial ambitions and I am continually seeking guidance from fellow boss babes and bitches.

Since I am new to the whole idea of owning and growing a business, I was excited to discover a how-to guidebook, Boss Bitch: A Simple 12-Step Plan to Take Charge of Your Career, written by fellow millennial Nicole Lapin.  Lapin’s bio is impressive: a NYT bestselling author, news anchor, consultant, and nationally syndicated personality.  And did I mention that she is only one month older than me (33 years old)?  Yikes.

Boss BitchThe book is a mixture of practical advice and motivational pep talks.  Whether self-employed or an employee, Lapin encourages women to shun traditionally rewarded role of passivity.  The main message of the book (which is encapsulated in the bright yellow dust jacket): shine bright,  aim high, and create an empowering professional life. 

Boss Bitch is a really great primer for women who are just starting off on their own or looking to create a side hustle.  I wouldn’t recommend it to those who are seasoned professionals, or those turned off by the repeated use of the word “bitch”. It’s in the book.  A lot. 

One of my favorite quotes pertains to leadership:

 

A leader plays chess and not checkers.  Even though I’m terrible at chess, I know that not all pieces are the same; each one has it owns special moves and role as part of the strategy of the whole game.  But in checkers, all the pieces are the same and interchangeable.  A manager might look at her employees that way, as proverbial cogs in the work machine.  No one likes to feel like that.  Leaders, on the other hand, understand that each player and eace move is unique, and play the game accordingly.

Great advice for all boss bitches, current and aspiring. 

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

BlogHer17: A Reluctant Attendee’s Perspective

Blogher17 Canva.png

If you know me personally, then you are intimately aware of my ability to deliberate ad nauseam.  Whether it’s buying a pair of pajamas or scheduling a surgery (both are true events), I have the tendency to contemplate the pros and cons to the point where they start bleeding into each other, leaving me with nothing but a muddled mess that once resembled a decision. 

I started to feel curious about attending a blogging conference after my good friend and former coworker, Asia, wrote about her own experience at TBEX.  (By the way, Asia’s blog, Navigable World, is filled with beautiful pictures, inspiring posts, and awesomeness.)  I knew that I wanted something that was local, substantive, and relevant to my blogging interests.  After a straightforward Google search, I discovered BlogHer17

Orlando? You’ve got my attention. 

Workshops about storytelling and professional development? Yep, that’s what I need in my life.

Amazing keynote speakers? Stop.  Seriously, JUST STOP.  Now you’re just showing off…

I had the perfect (for me) blogging conference staring me in the face, but I still was reluctant to commit.  Reasons started swirling in my head: my poodle is dependent on my company, the tabby cat has had a bad cough, it’s too expensive, I have never traveled alone, my threshold for socialization is low, etc.  The list was already taking shape in my head and I was leaning towards a solid “NO”. 

Yet……despite all of the cons and my inner fears of leaving my comfort zone, a small whisper inside of me said, “Yassss.”  So I clicked on the registration, booked the hotel, and was on my merry way to my first blogging conference.

It really wouldn’t be fair to you, dear reader, to bore you with the minutiae of the conference.  My personal goals for attending included:

  1. Networking and picking the minds of fellow writers/bloggers
  2. Learning more about developing my platform professionally (branding, monetizing, etc)
  3. Strengthening my storytelling skills

It was a challenge to pick out which workshops to attend, but the ones I ended up going with included:

  • Storytelling Your Way to Healing and Support
  • Best Practices for Creating Multiple Online Income Streams
  • Powering Up Your Business For Success: A Discussion on Becoming a Business Magnate
  • Activism for the Part-Time Revolutionary: How to Make a Real Impact
  • Book Publishing Today: Self- Publishing and Hybrid Publishing Are the New Normal

All of the workshops I attended included knowledgable and impactful speakers.  I was busy taking notes (btw, I totally take great notes).  I learned about some great tools and platforms to enhance my blog, and my own list of takeaways from the conference included:

  1. I am totally entrepreneurial and I need to embrace this part of myself.  I am a #girlboss. If I harness that power for good, I can do amazing things.
  2. Diversify your income streams.  There are so many ways to build your blog and earn income, but the trick is not to get stuck on only one idea.  If something doesn’t work, keep on moving.
  3. Build relationships.  Seems like a no brainer, right?  Yet, we often are too busy doing our own thing to notice the people around us (or online).  We get so busy being the content producers that we forget to connect.  Take time to notice what others are working on.  Be present.
  4. Self-publishing shouldn’t be stigmatized.  Traditional publishing methods are extremely competitive and don’t always guarantee the best outcome.  Self-publishing allows authors to retain control and often means higher revenue. 
  5. Editors are your friend.  Invest in someone who can proofread your work.

I came home buzzing with excitement from all of the wonderful people that I met and the amazing workshops I attended.  Plus, Chelsea Clinton.

Chelsea

Taken on my inadequate phone, but I was really this close.  Seriously.  It was great.

Without any hesitation, I am excited to say that I am looking forward to attending BlogHer18. : )

Fiction or Foreshadowing: Tell Me How This Ends Well

Common bookworm struggles include discovering new reads and having a large enough budget to accommodate said book discoveries.  When I stumbled upon Penguin Random House’s program, Blogging for Books, I was thrilled.  Free books in exchange for book reviews (which I happen to love writing)….a definite no brainer! 

9780451496881Within the literary fiction genre, David Samuel Levinson’s Tell Me How This End Well grabbed my interest as a work of Jewish American literature. The colorful dust jacket and cartoonish font belies the narrative found inside Levinson’s story, which is packed with complex characters and literary themes.  Some themes which grabbed my attention include:

From Bondage to Freedom

Passover, the Jewish holiday which recalls the Israelites escape from Egyptian bondage, serves as the symbolic backdrop for the novel’s main plot development.  The Jacobson family has endured the emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse of its patriarch, Julian Jacobson.  Julian has all of the traits of a psychopath and the family has suffered long enough under Julian’s watch.  As the family reluctantly gathers for the family Seder, a plan unfolds with the intention of killing Julian. 

The plot is revealed through the narration of each of the Jacobson children, Jacob, Edith, and Mo, followed by their mother, Roz.  The individual attention given to each family member’s perspective is one of my favorite parts of the novel.  Readers are able to see Julian through the eyes of each person, and just like in real life, each Jacobson has internalized Julian’s actions differently. The plot to kill Julian is messy and often takes unexpected turns.  The family initially is not working together, which leaves the reader to ponder, “Which family member will lead the Jacobson family out of their own personal Egypt?”

Second Generation Relationships

An added dimension to Levinson’s novel is the tense relationships that exist between second (and even third) generation Jews and Germans, post-Holocaust.  Readers are first introduced to Jacob Jacobson, a queer screenplay writer living in Germany with his lover, Dietrich.  Levinson spends a lot of time describing the tensions between Dietrich and Jacob, which culminate in a bizarre beach scene where Jacob and Diet are arrested by the police for public indecency.  “What wasn’t right was so wrong, so utterly, horribly, disgustingly wrong, that it was nearly indescribable, nearly but not quite, for there was Jacob in the schmatte with the yellow Star of David embroidered into the pocket and there was Dietrich in the SS uniform, shiny black leather boots and all.”

It would take a lot of psychoanalysis and white space to break down the complexity of this scene.  My interpretation is that Jacob and Diet’s relationship ties into larger themes of power struggles, personal empowerment, and what it means to be a Jew in the 21st century.

Isolationism vs Interventionism

In the futuristic landscape of 2022, American Jews are the subject of regular anti-Semitic attacks.  Israel has been disbanded and Israeli refugees find themselves unwelcome guests.  Even though this may be a work of fiction, Levinson’s portrayal of an isolationist United States is not too far off from our current political climate.  The questions which Levinson’s novel pokes at, and which every Jewish person has found themselves asking include, “What happens when things go south again?  What safe haven will exist for Jews?”  In fact, the title of the book, Tell Me How This Ends Well, can be an invitation to discuss not only the personal ending to Julian Jacobson’s reign of terror, but the larger ending (or beginning?) of the Jewish plight. 

As the novel comes to a close, readers discover that Jacob is welcomed in Berlin.  Germany has become an unexpected ally to the Jews.  The U.S. Jacobson family members continue to struggle with anti-Semitism.  Jacob tries to convince them to join him in Germany, “…which made it a capital offense to harm in any way or kill a person of Jewish descent”.  Fast forward to 2024 and the last page of the novel, where Roz Jacobson has passed away and Germany has ratified the law, removing Jews from “The Approved List of Protected Species”.  In an uncertain and unsafe landscape without their matriarch, the Jacobson children continue onwards.

Tell Me How This Ends Well is a challenging and thought provoking novel.  The characters are memorable.  There are so many competing themes in the narrative and I felt the pull of all of theme, which served as a distraction.  With that being said, this would be a great book selection for a JCC book club or Jewish American literature class, as there are many angles to discuss.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

33/3

Birthday Post

It’s my birthday.  Specifically, my 33rd birthday.  It looks a little strange in print.  My twenties have sailed away, but I feel more inspired and focused as each year passes.  Since 33 is a fun number to divide, I thought I would write a little post divided in threes.

1/3 (Eleven Facts About Me)

  1. I am a native Floridian, born in West Palm Beach and transplanted to Boca Raton at the age of four.  Things I like about Florida: the sun, great birds, my house, and the friends and family that live here.  Otherwise, I hope to move within the next 15-20 years.
  2. I’m a southern girl at heart.  If I won the lotto, I would pick up and move to Savannah in a heartbeat.  I love Savannah’s diversity, intimate feel, and architecture.  Plus, I’m a sucker for moss-covered trees.
  3. My educational background is pretty unique.  I have a bachelor’s degree in Jewish Studies, a certificate in Women’s Studies, and almost enough credits for an English degree.  My original intention was to become a rabbi.  My professors then encouraged me to become a professor in those fields.  None of those things ended up happening, but I love my studies.  My heart still skips a beat when I immerse myself in any of those subjects.
  4. Poodles.  If you know me, you know my poodle obsession.  Poodles have been a constant in my life.  Coco, Teddy, Princess, and now my Bobbi.  #dogmom #pawlife

    Poodle Love

    Bobbi

  5. I’m late to the cat game, but my husband’s passion for animals of the feline persuasion rubbed off on me.
  6. My favorite color is purple, which also is the color of the women’s movement.
  7. I have a love/hate relationship with clothes.  I like being clothed, but my style leans more towards matching coordinates which your grandma might have worn.  I love crazy prints, tie dye, and jeans.  I hate pants with buttons, shorts, and the current trend of shirts with shoulder cut-outs.
  8. Tea is for me.  Love herbals, greens, and blacks.  I start every morning off with a cuppa.  Nothing is more refreshing than unsweetened iced tea with lemon.
  9. My Starbucks drink is venti green tea lemonade with two pumps of classic, shaken by my husband.  (He looks so cute in his apron, btw.)
  10. My wedding anniversary is 11-11.  It wasn’t intentionally planned – it just worked for everyone.
  11. I am 95% certain that I don’t want to have children.  I love (LOVE) children – their perspectives and playfulness.  I also love (LOVE) my alone time.  I felt societal pressure for a long time, but it takes more courage to step back and recognize what you are able to give to another person (and what you can’t).

Favorite Movies

3/3 (Goats, Goals)

  1. Write my heart out.
  2. Start my own freelancing and editing service.  I would offer assistance with copy, editing, resume services, academic endeavors, etc.  Basically, I would start charging for all the services that I tend to give away. ; )
  3. Blog consistently and connect with other bloggers.
  4. Enhance my skills in marketing, PR, content strategy, and graphic design.
  5. Own a silkie chicken.

    Silkie

    Look at that face!

  6. Eat less sugar.  Really, it’s a problem.  I love healthy, natural foods.  I also love ginger ale and Coke.  Chocolate and OJ.
  7. Learn how to garden.
  8. Cultivate a creative life.  I have made a lot of progress toward this goal.  AND…I am starting watercolor classes (this week).
  9. Pay down my debt.
  10. Learn new vegetarian recipes.
  11. Let the good in more often.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accidental Blogger

It’s been a minute, folks.  I’ve had many post ideas, but found myself lacking in either time or motivation.  I intend to make improvements in this area, with plans to write with more consistency.  Even though I haven’t posted much, I have continued to make my way through some amazing books, including Eating in the Light of the Moon and The Handmaid’s Tale.  In another blog post, I want to explore the theme of female autonomy from both fiction and non-fiction perspectives.  But…..that’s not this post.

This post has more of a back-to-basics kinda theme.  Why do I blog?  How did it all start? My personality leans toward enigmatic, so I thought I would share how I fell down the rabbit hole.

AccidentalBlogger

How did I become a blogger?

To answer this question, I have to elaborate on my views on blogging versus writing.  Wait…you might be thinking that they are the same thing, right?

I draw a distinction between blogging and writing.  I am a writer and blogging is just another tool which I use to promote self-expression and/or ideas.  I am minimally interested in all of the typical blogging ventures: SEO, growing audiences, trends, branding, etc.  Perhaps I should have more of an interest, but at this moment, my blog is still primarily a creative tool.  And that is really how it all started.

I have always kept paper journals.  Somewhere in a box lives my hot pink Mead spiral from first grade, a collection of haiku from fifth grade, and lots of paper journals filled with bad poetry and teenage angst.  I became an accidental blogger sometime during the New Millennium, joining the LiveJournal wave.  It probably started out of a pathetic attempt to keep track of the three friends I had in high school, but it soon became a regular habit.

LJ was actually a magical community.  I connected with people close and far.  We had an LJ meet-up at Barnes & Noble.  We were opinionated and argumentative; supportive, kind, and intelligent.  My LJ timeline included starting college while overcoming personal tragedy.  In a blink of an eye, my world had fallen apart.  LJ was a place where I felt less lonely.  It also served as distraction as I read about other peoples’ lives.  I had the freedom to explore deeper ideas and join communities of like-minded people.

As we all know, nothing stays the same.  Newer technologies emerged and people started to spend less time on LJ.  It still exists, but it isn’t the same.  (Honestly, I haven’t been on the site in years).  Myspace happened.  Facebook emerged.  Everyone wanted to be friends of Tom or Mark.  Instead of reading words, audiences were more interested in pictures with brief captions.  I hopped on the Myspace bandwagon and tried blogging – it was awful. I have already shared my thoughts about Facebook.

I stopped blogging.  My community had disappeared and I was really busy with school and work.  I wrote some pretty badass Amazon book reviews, but my online writing presence was diminished.  A particularly intense bout of depression brought me back to blogging, and Seferlover was born.  I started to use this blog to help me express myself and distract.  I have had one loyal reader (shout out to Dayle!).  Honestly, it didn’t matter if I had a gaggle of readers.  The words just needed to pour out of me.

As I have grown as a person, I find that I also have a desire for my blog to undergo transformations.  It will always be personal, but I really have the desire to focus on book reviews and analysis.  My future blog self would like to contribute more to other sites, exploring our current social and political climate through the stuff that I read.  That’s my jam.

Speaking of jam, I always listen to music when I blog.  LJ days included a lot of Ms. DiFranco, Tori Amos, and Nine Inch Nails.  I still am pretty emo: I love me some Sufjan Stevens, Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes, Simon & Garfunkel, and any rendition of the song “Shady Grove”.

 

 

 

 

Worldly Possessions

December is the perfect month to reflect on the material possessions acquired in one’s lifetime.  My husband’s gift to me this year was my Macbook.  For Chanukah, he has given me art supplies each night.  The general idea is,”I support your creativity and I know you can do awesome things”.  And while I could go on about my never-ending wish list and all of the household renovations I lust after, I thought I would look at it from a different perspective.  If I could only keep five possessions, what would I choose?

Rules: all pets are automatically included (they are family members, not chattel); all photos are included, and my engagement ring & wedding band remain on my finger at all times.  Now that the groundwork has been established, here is my top five list of most beloved worldly possessions:

One: My mom’s needlepoint canvases.  When I was about 12 or 13, my mom took up needlepoint.  Before the internet made crafting easily accessible to everyone, my mom took up needlepoint the old-fashioned way: books and seventy year old mentors at the local sewing store.  Mom built up an arsenal of fancy stitchwork, resulting in two of my favorite wall decorations.  Currently displayed in my living room are the pieces I call “Wise Unicorn” and “Hot Air Balloons Take Flight”.  My mom always had a love for all things whimsical, which is reflected in her canvas choice and thread colors, which range from rainbow to metallic.

Two: God Gave Us Mary/3-10-1925.  In the treasure trove which is my china cabinet is a small , 2 inch x 2 inch, gold-framed needlepoint canvas which reads “God Gave Us Mary, 3-10-1925”.  It belonged to my maternal grandmother, Marietta.  It was created by one of her family members (presumably her mom or grandma).  My grandmother was one of the most important people of my lifetime.  For a large portion of my life, she was my caretaker.  The safety and comfort I felt around my grandmother has not been replicated since she passed away.  To me, Marietta was sent by God and that small canvas is a physical reminder of her presence/presents.

Three: My ketubah.  My husband and I just celebrated four years of marriage (and over a decade of togetherness).  We were married on 11-11 underneath a handheld chuppah, surrounded by friends and family.  I spent weeks picking out a ketubah.  I browsed online for hours.  Many were either too trendy, too modern, too abstract, or too traditional.  We finally took a drive over to a friend’s Judaica shop, where we decided on a piece which celebrated the Jewish lifecycle with cute watercolor symbols for special times throughout the year.  Our ketubah is egalitarian and is a constant reminder of the partnership which we have chosen together.  It is irreplaceable.

Four: Pawprints and animal ashes.  In the master bedroom closet is where the remains of our beloved pets, Teddy, Princess, and Tony, can be found.

Teddy was my second poodle, a white miniature adopted when I was four years old.  Teddy lived an insanely long life, was hit by a car twice, and loved eating Golden Grahams every evening.

Princess was my first puppy.  We brought her home at eight weeks old.  She was a cottonball of an animal who loved mischief, snacks, and sprints through the backyard.  In her old age, she developed diabetes.  I stuck myself with an insulin needle twice for that pup.

Our third pet, Tony, passed away this year.  Tony was a stray tabby that wandered into Mark’s life.  He was an instant lover who had a snarl for a smile.  Tony was my first (and best) kitty love.

Five: Eeyores.  Most people are unaware, but I am a lover of all things Winnie the Pooh, especially Eeyore.  Who doesn’t love a sad donkey?  One of the things which I love most about my husband is his indulgence of my silly passions.  Over the course of many years, Mark has built me a beautiful collection of Eeyore figurines.  I display them in my china cabinet and take them out once or twice a year to “rearrange” – ok, so maybe I have a little fun playing with them.  They are a reminder of how loved I am by my lover.

I hope your special belongings are also filled with love and meaning.

Disclaimer: this post was written under the influence of Sufjan Stevens.