MemberJuly 9, 2020 at 7:27 am
“I’m flippin’ in, to a world, into a lifetime full of meaning….”
Standing outside his room, I hear the strains of an old CD he’s purchased two years ago before he left to Yeshiva; “Flippin’ In”, by one Ari Goldwag, Pure Soul album. He’d joked about it at the time, said his friends remaining behind in the US had wanted to buy him an insurance policy against flipping out. I peer through the gap in his door and see him lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling. His hands are stretched out behind his head, a gemara lying closed on his stomach. He’s taking a break.
I watch him for several minutes. He hits the button on his mp3 player to replay the song a second time. “Shana Alef in Yeshiva as I start my year…”
He sits up in bed, putting the Gemara on his desk, and lays back down again. He rubs his forehead and eyes.
“I’m flippin’ in, to a world, into a lifetime full of meaning…I’m flippin in, and behind me all the emptiness I’m leaving…Keep your televisions, your big money and fast food. I’m gonna spend my life, as a full-time Jew.”
His face is pensive, abstract. I move quietly away from the door and head for my study, where I sit down and think. The song he’s listening to about tells it all.
“Shana Alef, Shana Bet, has come and gone…a roller coaster ride and I’m still holding on…” Yes, two years have passed and he’s still holding on. It wasn’t easy for him either.
“I’ve had my ups and downs, there’s no doubt about that…and for me, coming close to G-d is still where it’s at….”
He’s home from Israel for summer break now; home around the house again. Somewhat quieter, but still the same. Helpful to his mother in the kitchen. Teasing his younger siblings, the new serious set to his shoulders in no way subtracting from his sense of good humor and fun. Yet he’s different. He’s at ease with us, yet the changes are there.
My son is flipping out.
The years peel back suddenly. I’m nineteen. Confused, searching, and honest enough with myself to know that frightening as this is, a religious life maybe has a chance for me. Maybe. I walk out of a shiur one day inspired, determined to make a move. The first tentative sign of change in me had been the decision to keep Chalav yisrael and Pas yisrael. One move, a springboard for more.
That day I bid a regretful farewell to my favorite Stella Dora cookies and Milky Way candy bars. Goodbye Carvel ice cream and Reeses peanut butter cups; no more late night dairy slurpees at the Seven Eleven back home. I had stuck out like a sore thumb at times in the dorm or parties, but stuck to my guns. It wasn’t easy when I’d see the guys sitting around over the treats I’d once enjoyed in a big way, but no pain, no gain. With time I didn’t miss it as much.
I remember telling my decision to one of the Rebbeim, before I could weaken, and the two of us celebrating it over the third Shabbos meal at his house with Chalav yisrael ice cream for dessert. A sweet introduction. He’d strengthened me at the time about expecting comments-negative, cynical, or otherwise- from friends and family on this step, and to take heart that I was going in a good direction.
Having ‘flipped out’ himself, years back, he understood the challenge, and much more that I couldn’t articulate. I didn’t need to. He told me that Chalav was also the gematria of “Chevel “-a rope, or chain. Taking on a commitment to Chalav yisrael would serve as a chevel yisrael-a rope connecting me further to my Jewishness and the life I wanted to lead.
Not long after I’d taken this on myself, I’d begun to push myself further and my learning had picked up speed. I finally began to find myself in it, find a place for it in my life. Getting in to shacharis on time had been next and it had been forward and uphill from there. While I hadn’t ‘flipped out’ all the way to black and white, I had made considerable changes in my daily way of life, upholding a far more religious standard then previously; particularly my views in regard to marriage, life goals, and the way I’d raise my future family.
During my college years, my contact with the girls from Sterns I encountered on the shidduch shuttle was polite yet distant. I made no overt efforts to draw anyone in. One girl in particular caught my attention. A degree of refinement I could not exactly define made me notice her over some of the others. Her green eyes held mine for a moment when I looked at her, before she blushed pink and turned slightly to the window before turning her attention studiously-modestly- to the textbook she held.
Racheli Katenstein, I found out upon discreet inquiries from friends, was twenty five-just one year younger than myself at the time. She was completing her Jewish studies and degree with an eye towards radiology in the future. She had moved more to the right, as I had, several years before. She had a gentle sense of humor, an optimism that was realistic and constant. There was depth, sensitivity and a desire to grow. And for the first time, I thought of my own future in serious terms of marriage.
Two days later I asked one of my rebbeim who had become my mentor to try and set me up, only to find out that she had already been asking one of her teacher’s about me. We dated for three months, two of them a mere formality as our mutual convictions of the shidduch grew. Four months after that we stood under the chuppah.
The phone rings. I come back to earth with a thud, remembering that it’s Aharon who’s dealing with this maze now.
My son has me worried. I take a closer look at his face during lunch after speaking with Racheli. Something’s definitely bothering him. He does look pale, his eyes tired. Distant and preoccupied. Like he’s coming down with something. Maybe he’s not sleeping well. Or maybe he’s…
“Aharon?” I catch him on his way out the door. I notice a small white shopping back in his left hand. The outline of a pocket sized sefer within.
He pauses, his shoulders tightening somewhat before he turns around. He smiles, but it seems somewhat wan. “Hi Dad. What’s up?”
“You have a minute to talk?”
He shrugs and steps back into the house. He pulls the door shut after him and I imagine his longing glance at the outdoors before it is cut off. “Sure.”
He follows behind me to my study. His step is wary as he enters. I gesture at the chair across my desk, then drag my own chair around it and pull up next to his. I sit in silence for a minute and he makes no move to break it. The rustling of his shopping bag as he fingers it is the only sound in the room.
He shifts slightly. “What’s going on Dad?” He asks finally.
I shake myself from my thoughts. “I was going to ask you that, actually.”
He flinches, almost invisibly. “Nothing much.” He tries to smile. “You know, settling back in here. I think I’m still jet lagged.” He stops, then continues in a rush. “It’s okay so far, but I miss it. Yeshiva, the guys. Teachers.” His cheeks flush. “I’ve been getting some chazarah in though. I’d like to- uh, keep up with my learning this summer.”
“Good!” I smile. “I wish I’d had your grasp on things when I was back in yeshiva.”
The brooding look flashes through his eyes so quickly I almost miss it. Which sentiment was it that set it off? His amazing grasp in learning? My yeshiva experience? Yeshiva in general?
He’s a smart kid. “Uh Dad, I realize there’s a reason you’ve called me in here.”
I lean back in my seat. “True.”
He shifts in his seat. He doesn’t say anything.
I get to the point straight out. “I notice you’ve been looking a little…strained. Tired.” I give him a quick glance and sure enough his forehead tightens.
“I’ve been a little tired.” He agrees.
“You’re not sleeping well at night?”
His eyes are guarded, his face closed. “I guess.”
I move my chair a little closer, then move it back, conscious of the distance he needs. “I’m asking you as a father, not a psychiatrist.” I can be straightforward when it’s called for it, as I navigate the landmine of father and son territory. My own father never did this to me.
His face softens. He gets the message: I was worried about you.
“Yeshiva years can be a tough time at your age-at any age really but especially as you’re getting older.” I play on a hunch at this point. “There are decisions you’re going to make. About higher education, or where you want to go in life…”
His eyes widen, then blink quickly. “Uh, yeah. Sort of.”
Whoa, I can hear him thinking. Where’s he coming from? Am I on the mark? Way off base? I hope I didn’t push things too much. I stand up. “Perhaps this wasn’t a good idea.”
His eyebrows go up.
“Sitting here, I mean.” I look across at him. “You in the mood for an ice cream? I promise not to interrogate. We’re way overdue for a man’s night out anyways. But if you want to talk about anything I won’t stop you…”
He grins, the serious look suddenly lifting from his face. He’s nineteen after all. “Have you ever heard of a guy who’d turn down an ice cream?”
Actually, I have. When I was severely depressed back in college, the banana split Yonatan brought back for me after I’d refused to accompany him sat melting on my desk until it turned to a forlorn puddle of sweetness and good times turned down.
I smile back at him, glad for his typical eagerness. “Grab your jacket then. Tell your mother we’re going out while I straighten up in here for a minute. Okay?”
He stands up and gives me a quick glance, grateful. “Sounds good.” He pauses in the doorway. “Thanks Dad.” His voice is quietly appreciative.
I smile again, the touch of pain that makes it falter only allowed in after he leaves the room, his step lighter. If only my father could have done this for me. My shoulders firm up. I’m the father now, and a good one. No need to drown in the past-it’s the present that’s important now, something I’ve worked on myself to create solid ground for my children.
There’s no need for me to straighten the already clean desk; I just needed a moment for my thoughts. Planning strategy to reach him, but not as a mental health professional. Just his father. I’m determined to give my son what he needs.
I opt for a double scoop of tiramisu; he goes for a scoop of strawberry, vanilla fudge, and double chocolate, topped off with hot fudge. Teenager’s appetite.
He pushes the spoon around the flavors, letting them melt slightly. He likes his ice cream softer as opposed to hard. I’m the same way myself but sense that his movements with the spoon are a delaying tactic, a thinking how to say it approach. In the end he says it straight out.
“I’d like to switch Yeshivos, Dad.” He pushes the spoon deeper in to the ice cream, then licks it off.
I wasn’t expecting this. “How about you tell me more?”
He scans my face cautiously. This comes as a surprise but I’m neutral and unafraid to hear what he says. He’s a good kid, on the brink of adulthood. I trust him.
His shoulders relax. “I mean, the yeshiva I’m in is fine, I could go back for Shana Gimmel, but I want something more. Need something more.” He takes a spoonful of ice cream. “This is good.”
I nod. “What are you looking for?”
I watch him take a deep breath. “I want to go to Chofetz Chaim.”
“It’s an amazing place. I’ve looked into it.” His voice picks up speed. He’s animated. “They can get college degrees too. It’s sort of a colored shirt place, like they can be chilled about some things, not black and white yeshivish, but that doesn’t negate the standard of learning. Or the rebbeim. Rabbi Orlofsky went there.”
He’s got me there. He knows I’m crazy over his shiurim; they’ve gotten a laugh out of me on my worst days.
“It has a great standard Dad.” He pauses, unsure again. “They’re into Kiruv. A lot of them get semicha and go out of town when they’re married.” He blushes. “I know, I’m nineteen but there’s a time to start thinking…”
“You’re a little young to be planning that part now, don’t you think?” I can’t help a half smile from crossing my face. “What would your mother say to that, I don’t know…?”
“I’m not there yet, don’t worry.” He laughs with me. “You know what I mean.”
“I understand. Not marriage necessarily but your future plans.”
“Yeah.” He looks thoughtful. “It might be a long term goal anyways.” He shifts his shoulders, suddenly looking shy.
I think for a moment. “You know of course, that I also went to YU. It’s not exactly Yeshivish Umbrella.”
He nods but doesn’t say anything. It’s obvious that he’s looking for a higher goal than my own. Is he ashamed of me? I had a very different background then the one he’s been brought up in. He seems intent on growing. I’m proud of him.
“I’m guessing that you’ve considered continuing there but want something more. That’s wonderful.”
I smile. “I went through a tough time in my older teenage years. I was around your age.”
He blinks. “Doesn’t everyone. Tell me about it.”
The slight bitterness in his tone confuses me momentarily. I know he has depth but am unsure what he’s thinking. “It was a little bit more than that actually.”
He looks at me, curious.
“Let’s get back to that in a minute.” I smile wryly. “I’m not sure how much detail I want to get in to. The point is that at some point during that-let’s call it conflict, or confusion-I began moving gradually more to the right. I landed up in Israel at that point and this time I landed on my feet. I was at Torat Shraga for Shana Alef, then Shana Bet…and then I ended up staying another year after.”
I smile again in recollection, my eyes distant. “It took me a while, but I really got into it then. The rebbeim were incredible-and that’s kind of what started me moving more to the right. The people they were, the way they lived and taught by example. They were good people. Real people.” I look him in the eye. “You know how you’ve been brought up. Our family is not quite yeshivish but we’re closer to it than not, if you know what I mean. We’re a sort of blend.”
“I can understand you wanting more. That’s what growing is about.” I pause, unsure. He knows I learn daf yomi each night and that we’ve discarded our TV years back. Filtered our internet and iPhones with K9 two years ago. Cut out the movies and replaced them with family time. It hasn’t been easy, but worth every second of struggle. I know he respects me for it, my commitment. He doesn’t know about my recent decision to add a forty five minute night seder to my day yet. On impulse I tell him.
He looks at me and I can see he’s impressed. There’s a strange light in his eyes reminding me of my yeshiva days, of the passion my own eyes held as I progressed further. “That’s amazing Dad. Really.”
“Thank you.” I feel suddenly bashful for some reason. “You see, I’m growing too. It’s never too late.” I take notice of his melting ice cream. He follows my gaze and picks up his spoon as I take up my own again.
“This is good.” He says again after he swallows, and I know he means more than the ice cream. Our talk.
“I like it too. We should do this more often. You’re a good guy, you know. Your mother and I are very proud of you. And we trust your judgment.”
“Tell me more about Chofetz Chaim. I see you’ve thought of this a lot.”
He nods, swirling his spoon around so the chocolate smoothes into the vanilla. “I haven’t been sleeping much. Thinking.”
I’m inwardly relieved. I’ve been there. A classic case of over thinking an issue, deep into the lonely reaches of night, contemplating it to death. An adolescent in the grip of mental angst, deliberating the depth of his character and where it will take him. Where he wants it to take him. It’s enough to dim the lights in a person’s eyes, to turn the face pale with exertion. But he has a goal. I’m happy he’s agreed to talk it out with me.
He licks a bit of fudge off the side of his mouth, then reaches for his napkin. After wiping his mouth, he plays with it between his fingers, forming his pitch carefully. He speaks and speaks. He’s excited, tentative, pleading. I see the vision growing in his eyes. I see a man across the table from me. I’m amazed that this is my son. Perhaps he’ll end up on a bench in the Mir one day. Anything’s possible.
“You can flip out in color too, you know.” I point out. “I’m not discouraging you. You’ll find your own way. Just take it slow. One move at a time.”
He looks thoughtful, almost relieved. “I really wasn’t ready to go black and white yet. In clothing, anyways.” He admits. “I thought about it a lot but it’s just not me at this point. I’m still getting into the learning. I don’t want to jump in all at once and then burn out. It doesn’t mean I’ll never go to college; I want to have a plan for the future. I just need some time to sort things out first.”
Somehow an hour passes, then two. We’re still sitting at the table in the ice cream shop, ice creams long finished. At some point I jokingly ask if he wants doubles. He laughs, making a comment about his mother being really happy about killing his appetite for supper.
I tell him he’ll manage it just fine. Sheepishly, he doesn’t argue. “Reisner’s sister Naomi claims that when a guy says he’s going for a pizza, he means it.”
I laugh. The girl has a point. “A pizza. Not a slice or three.”
“Right. You won’t hear a guy say, “Gosh I had a whole pizza, I’m such an idiot, I gotta work it off. It’s a guy thing. Personally,” he shrugs with a grin, “I would just move on to dessert.”
“Exactly. So what will you have?”
He comes back with two Snapple iced teas. We split a brownie bar in half, feeling somewhat full from the ice cream, and purchase a second one to bring home for Racheli.
“What about friends?”
He sighs. “I still have my friends. I wouldn’t drop them but I want to move on. I spoke it over with Eitan.”
Eitan Gold is a good guy, solid, pleasant and smart like my son. They spent two years away in Israel at Torat Shraga together as roommates and fast friends. He’s well mannered, and from his visits to our house, I see how they complement each other. Eitan is somewhat less serious in nature, always with a good joke. He’ll pull Aharon out for a game of basketball or to schmooze with his friends after Maariv. But he’s a serious learner and extremely goal directed when it comes down to it.
“He’d also like a change but still wants to go back another year. He’s not ready for it yet. Maybe we’d have a chavrusa by phone, maybe he’d join me eventually. He’s still thinking it over.”
“You’d make new friends too.” I point out.
“Yeah.” He looks pensive. “I’d like that.”
“You’d be dorming?”
He looks unsure. “I have to find out. I don’t know what arrangements students make.”
“We can definitely look into it. I think you’re heading in the right direction.”
His eyes fill with relief and gratitude. He is quiet for a minute. He looks me in the eye. Then, “Thank you.”
That’s all he says. Nothing more is needed.
It’s a difficult path he’s embarking on, filled with the struggle and pure, sweat filled happiness of hard earned growth, a journey that’s never too late to continue on for myself. When we get home, I plan to pick up the phone and do what I should have done long ago. There is a long distance number I need to dial. I still have the number.
I will hear the warm voice of a Rabbi I’d once admired; ask how he is, and respond in turn. Speak about life. Really hear him and decide what I can implement. And I know this is thanks to my son, a son who wants to grow without throwing his parents under the bus. A son who is elevating himself without pressuring, without putting us beneath him-and drawing us along with him.
We leave the store together, beginning the road home. In more ways than one.
Ten years have passed since that conversation between my son Aharon and I. He’s twenty nine now. Married to a sweet, devoted, and intelligent Bais Yaakov girl who was able to look past his degree and plan for the future to the ben torah he is and respect him for it; appreciating him with all that he brings to their marriage.
They live in Israel with their four children: Hudis and Chani, four year old identical twins, mischievous two year old Natti and month old Bassie. Racheli and I must be content with phone calls, Skype, and occasional visits. We are proud grandparents-and parents.
My two older daughters took a year out of their lives to go to Israel, spending it at JEWEL and Neveh seminary before returning to Sterns to complete their degrees. That year away was a decision they’ve never regretted, and a decisive factor in the future life they want to lead. My youngest, Aliza, is graduating high school now, still finding her way. We moved further to the right when she was younger, but she has her struggles, as we all do.
But it is Aharon who gives me the most joy.
Aharon spends part of his day in the beis medrash, waking up early for vasikin followed by morning seder. He works afternoons, comes home to his family for a few hours in the evening, and puts in a decent night seder later on. He counsels at a religious therapeutic center for challenged teens; guys of all ages and stages, dealing with life stresses and confusions. Aharon deals with them all in his own unique way, with warmth, humor, and a smile; most of all a genuine understanding and kindness. He knows how to hear, but more important he knows how to listen.
He’ll stop into his old yeshiva sometimes and give a hand to some of the Shana Alef and Shana Bet guys, or anyone he sees struggling; throw them an oar. Learn with them. Invite them to his house for a Shabbos meal. Talk things over, counsel them in a ‘been there, done that’ kind of way. He can talk football and knows the lingo, what makes them tick, and where their interests and weaknesses lie. He’s a cool guy, successful, and the other guys seem receptive, even drawn to him. I’m not surprised. He can spot positive qualities and strengths from a mile away, believes in them, and lets them know it.
“I never would have thought that this was where my life would go, but I can’t ignore the pulling of my heart and soul…’
Somewhere along the line he earned his semicha. He still wears his colored shirts; neat light blue or grey during the week, and dark and white on Shabbos. His children will attend Bais Yaakov schools and standard chareidi yeshivos. Their home is one of torah, filled with love and acceptance for other Jews of all types. Aharon and Rina teach their kids’ right from wrong and connection to Hashem with simplicity and beauty. The children take this way of life as a given, little realizing the journey undertaken to reach this place.
I look back on that conversation years back as a turning point in his life, in all of ours. Switching yeshivos soon after was a challenging climb for him, and life altering. But he stuck with it. Learned to love it. Eventually he fit in, made a name for himself there. They recognized his desire and determination to grow; allowing nothing to get in his way. His passion for learning could not be subdued by the adjustment to a new way of thinking, slow progress, and occasional despair.
There were times, he told me later on, when he’d put the pillow over his head and cried late at night from the sheer frustration of not grasping the material he was learning and the difficulties he’d had in resisting the temptations he was leaving behind. He’d asked Hashem for assistance, in English. A life of Torah still drew him despite it all. He wanted it so badly, sensed it was right for him.
He didn’t give up.
He learned to overcome his pride and reach out for help when stuck. And they celebrated him when he began to move forwards, gradually, and then rapidly. He developed the side of himself keen on looking out for others; quietly replacing the box of tissues on the tables in the winter, catching up a sick friend on shiur, keeping him company in the dorm as he recovered, and welcoming newcomers to the yeshiva, offering assistance.
Some of the younger guys found themselves talking things over with him when in a tight spot, sorting through the logistics of various dilemmas to reach clarity. They knew he’d never knock them for admitting a weakness.
And then one of those same guys has an older sister. A great girl, is he interested? He calls home and we speak for a while. One of the rebbeim navigates the shidduch along with him, guiding and supporting. He pops the question to her three months later, on a mild spring evening: A great girl, is she interested? The rest, as they say, is history.
“But there’s something about these words of torah that I find….leave a deep impression there upon my mind….” “So I allow my heart to be open just a bit…I let those holy words in, and before I know it, I’m flippin in…”
Shana Alef and Shana Bet had turned him on, broadening his vistas. The things he learned shocked him out of his complacency, packing a powerful punch. His entire outlook on life changed from a carefree teenager to a searching and goal directed person, going on manhood; willing to search within himself and ask some hard questions. It could have ended there. Yet it was his choice to take things further, rather than dropping back into the routine of his previous life once he returned.
Today he leads a fully religious life, reaching out for personal guidance from his educators, yet a role model to his younger friends. He’s continuously learning Torah, working on his inner growth, and raising a cherished family while making a decent and fulfilling livelihood. He’s a whole and happy person. This is the vision he’d had years back. A vision he’s reached and maintained through sweat and tears.
He still has that CD of his. “Flippin In.” Still a favorite. He plays it for the guys coming over, he tells me. He looks at them and they look at him, and sort of smile, sheepishly or with relief on their faces. The song is real; it’s true. Give yourself a chance. Go in with an open mind. There is no pressure. It’s about real life, spirituality, and plain practicality; taking things one step at a time and moving upwards.
“Even if you believe flippin’ out’s the biggest sin, just know you don’t have to be flipped out to be flippin’ in…”
Go for it.
MemberJuly 9, 2020 at 1:20 pm
So it’s just these 2 chapters? I have to digest this. Please don’t hate me but I still believe that “I” is better than
“myself.” (And the conversation 10 years ago was between “Aharon and me.”) But this isn’t the time to proofread.
I like the real touches – Rabbi Orlofsky, Ari Goldwag. I loved the conversation in the pizza shop.
I’m trying to figure out, what is your vision? Just these 2 chapters? Or do you have something bigger in mind and you want to introduce us to these characters? Other questions:
What was Aharon’s teenage bitterness all about?
Was the father not frum or did he just become more serious religiously?
What would a story map look like? I can’t offer you more details about a story map but there have been some threads here that spoke about it. It’s a matter of what should have weight, what should be developed, if there are teasers does that imply a chapter 3, etc.?
Sorry I’m not as cohesive as I should be. IyH I hope I got the ball rolling.
AdministratorJuly 9, 2020 at 7:02 pm
Ellie, this is masterful! You did a great job on every element: I love the way you portrayed the father in such a multi-hued way–he is so believable and real; the son is sketched perfectly, down to the “a pizza” joke! The tension is good, the vibe is upbeat and interesting. Wow!
Was there a specific question you had about the piece that you were asking for feedback on?
MemberJuly 10, 2020 at 3:10 am
Very very real! And well written. I love it.
MemberJuly 12, 2020 at 3:04 am
Thanks for the feedback! I’ll change it to “I”:)
For some reason-I don’t even know why- I was nervous to use the real touches as you mentioned, but I’m happy you liked it. Also definitely had to give credit where it’s due-the lyrics are all Ari Goldwag. I love that song:)
To answer your questions, I’m not sure what my vision is. I’m wondering if I can turn this into a book-I already have several completed short stories. Each is a boy with his own story regarding an issue of mental health or struggle. I have prologue written but very half baked, which opens with Aharon as the group therapist leading the first session of that group. Then the book would move on to each individual’s story.
Your question on Aharon’s ‘teenage bitterness’ was an interesting one for me-that alone can turn into another chapter possibly. When I wrote that comment, I was unsure. It could have been a vague comment referencing something his father didn’t know, or the comment of a jaded teenager who has seen too much. Perhaps a friend of his went through something and he had to witness it or be there for him, as Yonatan was there for his father. Many teenagers have it hard-it’s just a hard time. It’s actually something instinctive I would have said about my teenage years. Or it can be something more; you got me thinking.
The father grew up modern orthodox (though there a wide range there), and became more serious. I wouldn’t say not frum, but pretty distant. I should incorporate that when describing his background to make that more clear. Thank you!
As far as the story map-I really have to check the other threads and look up more about it. I’ve never written one, and I’m terrible at writing plots. So there’s a lot of work I need in that area.
You were pretty cohesive-thank you!
MemberJuly 12, 2020 at 3:32 am
I can’t remember where I heard the pizza joke, but I used it in my manuscript as well because I liked it:) A friend of mine (a woman) said “or you can just cut a pizza in half and say you had 2 slices’:)
Feedback-I guess first on my mind is, is it realistic and accurate-does it sound like a male is speaking or acting? I write often in first person point of view as a boy or man. For some reason, writing about girls is much harder for me. This meant intensively researching boys/bochurim and what they are like. I also studied yeshivish lingo from various sources so I could use it-there is a great dictionary called Frumspeak by Chaim M. Weiser, which defines many yeshivish words & phrases. It was an excellent guidebook and read.
Incidentally, I called R’ Nachman Seltzer for assistance as part of my research as I like his style very much. He initially discouraged me from writing on boys, saying ‘girls writing about boys sound like girls writing about boys.’ After I persisted, he kindly answered my questions and gave me information. As an aside, much later I sent him several stories and he emailed back “I don’t know how, but you got it!” That was a high moment for me:)
I’ve been looking for bochurim to review my novel manuscript ‘Real Control’ for accuracy or any feedback at all but haven’t found anyone willing yet. So long story short, that’s a big part…I don’t know many boys in real life.
What are your feelings on woman/girls writing about boys as a central characters?
Other main feedback questions are to find out if it is an interesting read to others, any comments, and to hear any corrections if details are found to be inaccurate. In general but especially regarding mental health and medical matters, I am very particular to be as accurate as possible. These are dangerous areas that can be misleading with consequences.
Ok, sorry I ran on so long here…but this is what I’m looking for feedback in for most of what I post here now.
MemberJuly 12, 2020 at 3:37 am
Thanks Brocha! I try to keep things as real as possible.
Often I say, I don’t know how to write, only how to feel. I try to put feelings to writing. Real life is a great teacher. Writing wise, I need to learn a lot of technique. I don’t know how to write a chapter or make a story map-and creating a plot from scratch-forget about it. I’m happy I’m here to learn more and join other writers:)
MemberJuly 12, 2020 at 3:59 am
From what I’ve seen, girls writing about boys is much more common in the frum world than boys writing about girls. Probably also because there are much fewer male authors, in the first place.
In (most) of the few examples of that, it definitely sounds like… boys writing about girls.
It seems like boys– especially bochurim– are not as into reading as girls are, and when they do they usually like action-packed thrillers like Yair Weinstock or Nachman Seltzer’s books. I can’t imagine boys going for an emotional drama though I could be wrong.
I’ve written some kids stories about boys and my brothers liked them, but they were much more adventurous than social-emotional-mental type.
You’re very astute to notice the importance of yeshivishe reid, because that’s one thing noticed is missing from when girls write about boys. There are other little things too, like the fact that they usually call each other by last names.
L’maaseh the yeshishe reid is, for me, taka not so shver, because I have brothers 🙂
MemberJuly 12, 2020 at 4:23 am
You make some very important points. I would be interested if you would share some of your stories. What age did you write them for?
I’ve heard many bochurim don’t go for reading much, and when they do, like you said, it’s usually the more action packed thrillers. In one of my stories, I have a boy reading and lending out a book by Yair Weinstock. I doubt boys would go for an emotional read either…
I don’t know too many male authors who write about girls. Dov Haller usually seems to feature them as minor characters and leaves them faceless in physical description with limited appearances. I like his Rapaport 55 very much, and his short stories. I remember reading an article in Family First on the topic of a limited market of frum male authors and how some are ashamed to because it’s ‘for women’. So even if they do write, they will mostly go by a pen name. R’ Nachman Seltzer and Dovid Sussman are exceptions.
My question is then, if women and girls can like it but boys wouldn’t-does that mean that some story details are inaccurate? There are some more sensitive boys, but it’s a minority from what I understand. For instance, sometimes I will portray a male that (shock!) actually has feelings and it will show at times. He might even cry. Maybe when no one is looking. Maybe-when someone is looking, which can be quite mortifying for them. So maybe we can read like that but boys might immediately take that apart. I’m afraid a bochur would fall apart laughing if they read my work…but wouldn’t that be a true test in authenticity? Or should I just be satisfied if girls are okay with it?
I will never understand the calling by last names, but there’s many things about the male species that may take kabalistic powers to understand:) And likewise males attempting to understand us:)
So l’maaseh, it’s not gnoi kluhr if a boy would go for it:) Es pas nisht for a boy to be emotional chalila:)
MemberJuly 12, 2020 at 6:06 am
The real question is, what age did I write them at 🙂
I always wrote about elementary-school-aged kids, usually when I wasn’t much older than that myself, though maybe I’ll share a recent excerpt here.
Yitzchak Goldman is one very good male author, by the way– I don’t know why he’s not so famous because his stuff are amazing. There’s Meir Uri Gottesman, too.
I think that girls sometimes have an interest in reading about boys or boyish stories, but not vice-versa. Like, many girls enjoy thrillers but just can’t imagine a bochur curling up on the couch to read, say, Split Ends (sorry, Riva!)
I think that in general, a good way to gauge the level of realisticness when it comes to writing about emotion in boys is to a) read male-authored fiction and b) take a look at the men in your life!
My question is, what is your target audience/ who did you have in mind as the readers of your story?
MemberJuly 12, 2020 at 6:25 am
If you’re going to intend this for boys, my suggestion is it’s kedai to at least weave in a high-stakes and geshmak plot-based, suspenseful subplot, as roiv boys are taka not interested in these gantze boring emotional-mental shtusim… you maskim?
The promise of teefe lomdishe droshes on feelings, with nothing much else going on, just isn’t going to rope them in… unless your reader happens to be into psychology.
MemberJuly 12, 2020 at 6:48 am
Here’s the excerpt I promised 🙂
Page 5 of a 40 page document. And counting.
The main character is a 12-year-old living alone with his little sister in a somewhat dystopian/post apocalyptic future.
I did not go to school. I couldn’t. In fact I doubted I’d ever return, to that mundane place for kids, where your biggest problem is too much homework and the coldness of your pizza.
Shacharis finished and I stuffed my fists into my pockets and walked quickly to my bike.
I found my wheels and unlocked the combination, stuffed the lock into my back basket, and swung one leg over the leather banana seat.
“Hey, Asher, yo.”
I looked up. It was Ari, who I’m friends with, usually. He’s in my class.
“Just wanted to know if you’re interested in continuing the game from yesterday. Score’s three-nothing, remember?”
“No.” I slid all the way onto the bike and started to pedal, in the other direction, away from Vineyard Street.
“Wow, wow, wow.” I heard Ari hustling after me. “Your’n a bad mood today. What happened, Silensky?”
I looked at him this time, eyes glimmering, slit. “You really want to know?”
This time I think Ari caught my vibe. His expression went a little loose, scared even. “What?” he asked, meek. “You… flopped your farher or something…?”
I snorted. “No. My sister’s dying.” With that I pedaled away, not waiting to watch his jaw clacking to the ground.
Ari’s lucky; he has his whole family. His grandmother died but she was old anyway. What does he know of tzaros?
Let Ari tell the class, let him not; I didn’t care. I just pedaled and pedaled, glad to get away from it all. I rode home, dropping my bike onto the driveway, glad to just be here, a private spot with no one to hound me.
I let my bike clatter onto the steps and bounded up onto the landing, punched C into the combination lock and then stopped short. A big yellow envelope was jutting out of the mail slot, looked like a government thing, better not be something bad—
I grunted, ripped the note down, scanning it as I punched the door open with my shoulder. Ahh. I turned and collapsed onto the couch, paper in hand. “Look,” I muttered to nobody, “I don’t have time for this. Perry’s about to die, I have to tell my siblings but I can’t, just can’t be the one to do it… what do you want from me?”
The paper wasn’t answering. I sighed and combed my fingers through my hair, squinted at the page.
* * *
If you want more, just let me know… 😉 🙂
MemberJuly 12, 2020 at 6:59 am
Like your lingo! 🙂
The image of a boy curling up on a couch to read made me laugh:) True, I don’t think they will go for emotional shtusim. I guess it’s wishful thinking on my part that a boy can actually understand that kind of thing…
I guess my target audience would be women and girls…though I can’t help but hope that perhaps a male therapist would pick it up. Or a female therapist who can gain from awareness on the subject. One dream I have? Getting it reviewed and/or a haskama from a therapist, someone who has a name in the area, and especially someone like R’ Dovid Goldwasser. I can hope…
The reason…it’s on a bochur with an eating disorder (among other plot details) It is a true and rarely discussed topic: men suffer from eating disorders, but are shamed for it and outnumbered by women. But there is still that percentage, and I believe their suffering is doubled by it being ‘a girl thing’. It is far more difficult for a boy to get treatment for an eating disorder than it is for a girl. The statistics are higher than listed, because too many are in hiding.
This is an essential part of the story, though not the only main action occurring. There is even humor at different points but it probably is too deep for boys. I’m not good at writing thrillers…
I use the technique of reading writing by men. That has helped me get a better idea of what might work and what definitely won’t.
As far as the men in my life…there aren’t many, and most who are win the prize for being emotionally stunted with little to no ability to express emotion or affection. And I don’t mean like your stereotypical male-perhaps it’s a trauma response. Perhaps that’s part of why I’m driven to the opposite end-I break down my characters until they feel something…and rebuild them from there. There are some men who I met later on though who are emotionally healthy enough to acknowledge feeling down, or afraid etc. Basically they were human. I’m grateful I know of those few, because otherwise I might think men are completely robotic. I guess it depends on the person.
MemberJuly 12, 2020 at 7:01 am
Wow. This is great! You had my attention captured right away. I definitely want to read more.
MemberJuly 12, 2020 at 7:06 am
Critique also welcome.
MemberJuly 12, 2020 at 2:19 pm
[quote quote=20020]Hi Fayge, Thanks for the feedback! I’ll change it to “I”:) For some reason-I don’t even know why- I was nervous to use the real touches as you mentioned, but I’m happy you liked it. Also definitely had to give credit where it’s due-the lyrics are all Ari Goldwag. I love that song:) To answer your questions, I’m not sure what my vision is. I’m wondering if I can turn this into a book-I already have several completed short stories. Each is a boy with his own story regarding an issue of mental health or struggle. I have prologue written but very half baked, which opens with Aharon as the group therapist leading the first session of that group. Then the book would move on to each individual’s story. Your question on Aharon’s ‘teenage bitterness’ was an interesting one for me-that alone can turn into another chapter possibly. When I wrote that comment, I was unsure. It could have been a vague comment referencing something his father didn’t know, or the comment of a jaded teenager who has seen too much. Perhaps a friend of his went through something and he had to witness it or be there for him, as Yonatan was there for his father. Many teenagers have it hard-it’s just a hard time. It’s actually something instinctive I would have said about my teenage years. Or it can be something more; you got me thinking. The father grew up modern orthodox (though there a wide range there), and became more serious. I wouldn’t say not frum, but pretty distant. I should incorporate that when describing his background to make that more clear. Thank you! As far as the story map-I really have to check the other threads and look up more about it. I’ve never written one, and I’m terrible at writing plots. So there’s a lot of work I need in that area. You were pretty cohesive-thank you![/quote]
Reading it I felt, you’re introducing us to some people whom you’re going to let us know more about. I do feel that you can take them places and they’re meant to be part of something more. Looking forward!
MemberSeptember 7, 2020 at 12:11 am
Ellie, I love your style! You’ve done a great job for not having many boys in your life 😉
StoryLuver – please give me more! I’m sitting at the edge of my seat!
MemberSeptember 13, 2020 at 10:00 am
Ellie, I really love the way you write!!
And I don’t think you have to give the reader everything. It’s okay for the reader to wonder “what is he so bitter about?” etc.
MemberSeptember 15, 2020 at 12:16 am
Ellie, I like your style, and I enjoy reading about male characters. So I can be your target audience 😉
Storyluver, that excerpt was REALLY good! I think you got the boy thing, plus it’s very compelling! I want to hear more about it being a dystopian/post apocalyptic future setting. Does that even exist in frum literature?! You have me hooked!
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