Published on : 09/12/2017
By : Arista Asmawati
Sometimes, I’ve misjudged the demographics or psychographics of the magazine editors or book publishers to whom I’ve submitted my work. On those occasions, I’ve been told that my writing was “too academic,” “too slipstream,” or “too feminist.” Rarely, though, has any gatekeeper had the lack of common sense (I’m being polite) to tell me that my work was “too Jewish.”
All things being of equivalent weight, I’m not only indignant, but also surprised that this happened. I can’t grasp why someone, especially someone who is a fellow Yid, would use such rough labeling.
Folk in the publishing industry, who know me, realize that I am: a proud member of Am Yisrael, a grateful resident of Eretz Yisrael, aware of my beliefs, and determined to use any empowerment my platforms lend me to express those beliefs. What’s more, I’m extremely intolerant of bias against my people, my land, or me.
Furthermore, folk who don’t know me, or who don’t know what I stand for, nonetheless, don’t usually dole out any narrow-mindedness. It’s deemed politically incorrect to do so.
Hence, I’m thunderstruck that a Jewish editor refused to publish one of my short works because it reflected our heritage. No, I’m flabbergasted.
I’ve never hidden my twinned love for spiritual truths and for make-believe worlds. I use no pseudonyms to hide one part or another of my publications from my audiences nor do I use different versions of my real name to keep my “brands” separated.
I write as readily about religion, parenting, and communication ethics (see: Conversations on Communication Ethics
), as I do about purple space kittens, two-headed telepaths, and gelatinous wildebeests. Albeit, as of late, given certain publishing deadlines, my prickle of imaginary hedgehogs, sadly, has been receiving little attention.
My spiritual books include: Dreams are for Coloring Books: Midlife Marvels, Jerusalem Sunrise: Veracious Celebrations
, and Citrus-Inspired Ceramics
. Additionally, I’m collaborating with Rivka Gross, for Tachlis Magazine
, on a serialized novel, My Neighbor Judy
, about v’ah avta l’re’echa c’mocha
, loving your neighbors as you love yourself. Moreover, one of my first regular writing gigs, a job that began in 1975, was for Pittsburgh’s The Jewish Chronicle
Among my parenting books are: Mothers Ought to Utter Only Niceties, Word Citizen: Uncommon Thoughts on Writing, Motherhood, and Life in Jerusalem
, and Oblivious to the Obvious: Wishfully Mindful Parenting
. Whereas I’m still shopping around another essay collection about parenting, as is true with my imaginary furze-pigs, and for the same reason, I’m presently taking time away from the topic of raising children. On balance, I’ve spent years written blogs and columns on parenting for publications in North America (e.g. “Life with Teens and Twenties” for Natural Jewish Parenting
and “Stages, Teens” for Type-A Parent
), in Europe (e.g. “Concentrated Awareness” for The Mother Magazine
), in Oceania (“Suddenly Teens” for Kindred
), and in the Middle East (“She Said: She Said” for The Jerusalem Post
A “nice Jewish girl,” can write for well-known religious and well-known secular publications, simultaneously. Granted, in the short run, narrative’s power makes for great entertainment because it purports spurious notions. Nevertheless, in the long run, narrative’s power has helped fuel Am Yisrael’s longevity during our extended exile since narrative can be chock full of Truth (with a capital “T.”)
In terms of my involvement in writing, it’s words’ fluidity that excites me about colossal spoglings sprouting fur or fins. Words’ power, moreso, moves me sincerely and deeply when it comes to each week’s Torah portion.
Torah, after all, features manifold conflicts, from population-crushing diseases to villains. Torah, too, features manifold resolutions, from population-restoring cures to heroes. Torah’s answers and champions, not the figments of my imagination, are what link me to the Master of the Universe.
Ironically, what’s day-to-day faith to me, is what my publishers call “magical realism.” I’m not going to disabuse them of that classification. Just because I know that miracles can be hidden in “nature,” and just because I believe that revealed marvels are often built from simple events, doesn’t mean that any time soon my bosses will join Am Yisrael, in general, or read Chassidut
, more exactly.
That said, my writing stays Jewish. I might kill off many darlings in my worldly works, but I don’t employ gore to keep my plots moving. As well, even as relationships flourish in my worldly works, I disdain graphic descriptions of private exchanges. As far as I’m concerned, enthymematic reasoning functions even better in fiction that in nonfiction. If, for instance, two of my space traveling characters go into a room and only one comes out, but the room is left a wreck and strange viscera is found dripping off of its walls and furniture, no more needs to be said. Either the aliens engaged in unspeakable sex or in unspeakable violence. Readers can determine what occurred through context clues.
It follows, thus, that I’m irked when my “Jewishness” doesn’t suit an editor. In my esteem, Shabbat is the best thing, ever. Period. Family purity makes total sense. Living a life of mitzvot is the correct route. Plus, if I want to: sing about Europe’s former shtetl life, praise people who regularly visit the Kotel, or roar about how nifty kashrut is, I will. I don’t abide prejudice.
On the other hand, maybe the fellow, who rejected my piece on the basis of its religious content, was neither discriminatory nor blinkered. He could have been merely mistaken. I’d like to think that he was basically confused. Consider, we are approaching our major court date, the Yomim Noraim, that period when The Boss tightly scrutinizes us. Consider, too, that I’ve received misguided feedback from other editors.
Just last week, I had a piece of flash fiction rejected by a publishing supervisor, who thought that my writing was a snippet of a memoir. A few emails later, we shared a laugh when I revealed that, unlike the tale’s protagonist, I never: birthed twins, hired cleaning help, or had any employees about whom to write. Even so, I appreciated her blunder since it showed that my conveyance of an imagined reality read like nonfiction. Yee-Haw!
In another, less recent, case, a different editor, one who lives near the European city in which I had set a story that was accepted and published by him, asked my opinion of certain landmarks. He, too, thought I was writing from life.
In that situation, too, I had to set a gatekeeper straight. I explained that I had never been to that municipality, only that I had tried to be thorough in my research. He and I laughed. That editor then invited to be his guest, if ever I found myself in his part of the world. He wanted to see how my sourced data would compare to actual experience.
Although the editor, who labeled my work as “too Jewish,” never backed down, I’ll not apologize for being Jewish or Israeli. Although the editor who thought I was trying to slip in nonfiction, happily published a different story of mine, one in which Jupiter is run by intelligent lobsters, and although the third editor continues to invite me to visit his hometown, I’ll not apologize for creating wonky works. Some gatekeepers get the gist of Jewish, wonky me, but others don’t.