When I was doing my student teaching, one of my 9th graders asked me, “Merket, are we ever going to a read a story that isn’t depressing or about death and dismemberment?” As I honestly stopped to think about it I realized that there would only be one short story, “The Gift of the Magi,” and truthfully half of my students still found that story to be depressing.I’ve been thinking about writing lately. I’ve liked writing for a long time. When I was in elementary school I created a series of picture books that I sold to all my elderly neighbors and in high school I wrote truly embarrassing, dramatic pieces about my interactions with boys I had crushes on. In college, my writing matured somewhat as I became a pro at literary analysis and technical essays. During my final year of school, I took an Advanced Creative Nonfiction class where we spent the entire semester perfecting a single essay. My essay explored the fallacies and realities of love which seemed mundane compared to the theme of mental illness and apostasy that pervaded most of my peers’ works. Towards the end of the semester I met with my professor to get some feedback. We sat in his tiny closet of an office and this experienced writer said to me, “I feel like you’re holding back in your writing. You’re missing something, something . . . sexual.” All I said was, “Oh” then I took the rest of his advice and left. Trust me, if that was missing it was intentional. If you’d asked me what the essay was missing, I would have said faith.
Earlier this year, I read My Name is Asher Lev for the first time. The book is about a Jewish boy who discovers he has a great talent for art. As he grows up, he has to choose between never living up to his potential as an artist or truly becoming an artist, but estranging himself from the people he loves. (Hopefully Potok can forgive me for that oversimplified plot.) I found the story both troubling and compelling, in other words, thought provokingly good. As I read, I realized that I’m not willing to strip myself down and put everything on paper. There are some things that I just hold too personal to make public and too many people I wouldn’t want to risk offending. Honestly, if being published means tearing out a part of myself or burning bridges, then I guess it’s not for me. While I will probably never earn any sort of fame for my prose, I think I’m ultimately okay with that.