Earlier this week, David Ebenbach wrote about what makes a creative process and a short story Jewish. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
The period immediately after your book comes out is a wonderful and strange time. On the one hand, the work you’ve done — which for most of its existence just hung out on the hard drive of your computer, feeling not quite real — is now in front of you, in a very concrete form, between two covers. Your work is a book, a thing with mass and substance, an object that other folks can find and get and read — maybe even folks you don’t know! In that way it’s the joyous culmination of perhaps years of work and efforts to get the work published.
On the other hand, it’s definitely a weird time. The main weirdness is that, when your book comes out, suddenly you’re probably doing all kinds of unusual things to help the book succeed: you may be giving readings, driving from one bookstore to another, sitting on panels, Googling yourself way too much and checking your Amazon Rank (please don’t, if you can help it) — and also perhaps doing what I’m doing here, which is writing about writing. Every one of these activities is the result of very good fortune — you couldn’t be doing them if you hadn’t gotten that book into print — and they’re generally a lot of fun (aside from Googling and Amazon Ranking, the dangers of which I cannot stress enough). Yet you’ll notice that there’s one thing missing from that list of activities: aside from writing about writing, you may not be doing very much writing at all — not the kind that probably led to the actual book you’re now holding in your hands.
Earlier this week, David Ebenbach wrote about what makes a short story Jewish. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
Is my fiction Jewish? In my last blog post I came to a firm conclusion: yes — and no. Well, I think I can make the same bold claim for the creative process I go through when I’m writing. On the one hand, I have to do the things all writers do, whatever their background: I have to start with some promising, mysterious, uncertain thing (a line, a character, a mood), and work with it until something more whole develops, and keep things open so that I can revise and revise and revise, as drastically as is required, until I have a piece that I can comfortably call done. Again, this is what all writers do. Yet, when I look at it more closely, I have to say that I do those things pretty Jewishly.
What do I mean? Well, the creative process is a basically dead thing if it’s just a bunch of pre-ordained steps that you follow from start to finish. Creativity becomes powerful when it’s infused with purpose and meaning and direction — the distinct purpose, meaning, and direction brought to the work by each author — and that infusion, in my case, comes from the wisdom of Judaism.
David Ebenbach’s collection “Into the Wilderness” is now available. His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
I think most Jewish writers, at one time or another, face the question of what makes them Jewish writers, as opposed to just writers. For example, consider Joshua Henkin’s blog post, “Are You A Jewish Writer?” posted on this very site, back in June. I personally run into this kind of question in panels at just about every literary conference I go to, during question-and-answer sessions at readings, in interviews, and so on. And I think it makes sense; ours is a history of, on the one hand, segregation from non-Jews, which tends to make a people very aware of its identity, and, on the other, it’s a history of needing to hang onto that identity across an enormous diversity of time and place. Without a doubt all of this tends to produce a mindset that wants to ask, “But is it Jewish?” It also tends to produce literature full of Jewish characters doing clearly Jewish stuff, super-Jewishly: rabbis, bar mitzvahs, bagels, and so on.
But a writer can get tired of the question. As Henkin pointed out, “No one asked Updike whether he considered himself a WASP writer.” Indeed. In America in the 21st century, we Jews are still a somewhat identifiable community, with our rabbis and bar mitzvahs and the like, but let’s face it: a day in a (non-Orthodox) Jewish life is largely the same as a gentile life. We don’t spend all day saying: Oh, my G-d, I’m Jewish! I’m taking a Jewish shower! I’m doing my Jewish walk to work! What a Jewish day I’m having! For that reason, a lot of the stories (and poems, for that matter) I write are just intended to be stories, and not particularly Jewish stories. In other words, we live in a situation where we have the option of writing past our labels. And yet….