I look down, then take a deep breath before starting to speak…
My name is Barbara, and I am a writer. (There! I’ve said it.)
Does this sound like the beginning of a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous? Well, when you are a writer, it can be a bit like having an addiction—or maybe even worse sometimes. You can’t help yourself. Your mind craves words and ideas and the orderly arrangement of them. There is even the pleasurable relief when you’ve had your “fix” of putting words together on paper or on a screen. On Shabbat this can happen only in your mind, of course, which may tide you over until after Havdallah—until you can wind up—in a sense—going out of your mind, setting its contents carefully—or frantically—on the page or screen.
So a writer can’t help herself. Where ever she is, she is surrounded at all times by her workplace. The world offers boundless opportunities, materials that can be utilized for her craft. Scenery, communications, interactions, situations, information. Everything observed can become in some way part of her writing whether for immediate use or stored for the future. There is probably an un-named part of her that keeps her attuned at all times to the raw materials—something that keeps a corner of her at arms-length from the environment so her powers of observation are always in gear. The career writer is always working.
James Thurber was aware of this, although he didn’t always realize that he was “working” much less that it could be apparent to anyone else when he didn’t have a pen in his hand. His wife could always tell. At a cocktail party, she would sometimes give him a reminder. “Thurber,” she would say. “Stop writing!”
In the book entitled, “The Forest for the Trees,” Betsy Lerner refers to this type of writer as the natural writer. Everybody, no matter what their profession, needs to write a note, an email, or a report—but the natural writer, like Thurber and others, are in a class apart. In an interview with the Paris Review, the poet Pablo Neruda claimed that for him, “…writing is like breathing. I could not live without breathing, and I could not live without writing.”
So some people are in agony when not writing, but perhaps more often the struggle to produce a written page can be just as painful. Why, then, when the words don’t just fall onto the page in the proper order—and this does happen on occasion, B”H—why do people keep at this solitary endeavor that can almost be felt as a punishment?
The writer writes to communicate, to connect with people in ways that may not otherwise be possible, to share helpful or interesting ideas, to make sense of things that she ponders and thinks others might also wonder about and want to understand. The solitary pursuit gets her out of her confinement especially if she is self-contained as an introvert—(and especially during this age of Corona.)
But at times, while the words are busy weaving their way through the convolutions of her brain and not ready to cooperatively line up on the page, the writer may resort to pausing—although she is still working—she may pause to look out the window at a pleasant scene. Then suddenly almost without her realizing it, she may see the design taking shape, her purpose being fulfilled. How did it happen?
I would like to suggest that Hashem is my partner. Who better than the Master Writer? I do not look at the Torah as a literary accomplishment, but rather marvel at the magnitude of Hashem’s work and His Essence. Having been taught at an early age that Hashem is Omniscient and Omnipotent, I view the Torah as one clear draft. While we humans need editors and sometimes may produce updated versions of our work, Hashem created a single draft—the most complex and complete work of all time and intended to serve us for all time. It encompasses so much more than words inked on parchment.
Think about this for a moment with me. When Hashem interacts with Adam and Eve and they disobey, it is all part of the Script that Hashem has set forth. They were essentially reading the lines that Hashem provided for them. Any argument or conversation or change of heart in the Torah does not come about because the people were given free will. I have come to believe that everything–even in our own world—happens because Hashem planned it that way from the beginning. Nothing was left to chance. We, in this world, were meant to be dispersed into many different nations and languages. The Tower of Babel? Scripted by Hashem. Conversations with Moshe? Scripted. The events and their outcomes were all part of the Master Plan. Our so-called “free will” today coordinates with the Plan. As humans we go about our business not knowing what is in store for us. In our prayers we are essentially asking that what we pray for should be what Hashem has planned for us, that what He has planned for us will be pleasing for us.
So imagine the magnitude of Hashem. Not only does He know each one of the world’s billions of people and every blade of grass, He knows every electron by name, location, and history, and every particle that we have yet to discover, and every illness that we have yet to suffer–G*d forbid—and every cure. Just imagine…
Hashem is a partner to us all, but only in recent years have I realized that He is my partner in writing.
My career as a writer began at an early age. I was about three years old when a small cat jumped on me. It was a dramatic episode that I duly recorded—however not on paper at that time—but the nine words that comprised my story have remained in my memory to this day. Those words? “All of a sudden, a kittycat bite my dress.”
But writing is a career that can be recognized or not. I have only recently been published—unless we count the poem that I wrote in elementary school that went into a school newsletter. Through the years I have kept a journal and written poetry, short stories, and essays that remained securely filed. While being sidetracked by the vicissitudes of life, my journal was my constant companion. Perhaps the years have enabled me to mature as a writer so that I can turn the many years of journaling into publishable material. Perhaps this was the Master Plan all along. Perhaps this was Hashem’s gift to me.
When I told a friend who is a caterer that her skill at preparing and presenting her food was a gift from Hashem, she was taken aback. It doesn’t just happen without long hours of intense work, she told me. Of course. I knew how hard she worked. We may be given a gift from Hashem, but we won’t know it unless we work hard to discover it.
And so I have worked, and as always, I am thankful to Hashem for giving me the words.
This post was presented as a talk on November 28, 2020 at Kehillat Ahavat Tzion in Ramat Beit Shemesh.