• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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May You Build a Ladder To The Stars

The high holy days. As a teenager, it used to mean getting stoned outside the synagogue behind the playground named for kids who died. Why did I become irreverent instead of reverent. Why did I hate everything and everyone? Today in temple, I watched an older man rub his wife’s shoulders, then knead her neck, then run his hands up and down her back. The first knuckle on his index finger was crooked and rigid with arthritis; soon his whole hand would be gnarled like tree roots. I prayed he would stop when I noticed another man rubbing his wife’s back a few rows up. What the fuck is this, I wondered, an epidemic? Then I said kaddish for my father and for my sister, and then for some reason Lucy Grealy, who came into my thoughts unbidden. Then I went to a break the fast party and a woman came up to me and said, “You wrote that book. The fat book. You’re not that fat.”

I hope that all of us who keep writing are written again this  year into the book of Life. Are you hanging in?

59 Responses

  1. Yes. And if my clients would leave me alone for just five minutes I could write another book.

  2. If you’re not reverent then what are you doing saying kaddish?

    Being pissed at G-d is also a form of reverence. My guru used to say, if you have to hate someone, hate Krishna (G-d). All He wants of us is ourselves, any way He can get us. Everything else is a waste of time.

  3. Finally got the last kid in college and now my husband says we have to fricking downsize but yeah, I am hanging in.

  4. We’re such bad Jews here. No fast, no temple. No Kaddish for loved ones. If I’m lucky I might make it into the Book’s marginalia.

  5. Hanging in, holding on.

  6. Goodness knows I’m trying.

  7. I live with someone I like, love, respect, and admire; today I did a small nice thing for a neighbor and planted bamboo. This weekend, I’ll spend time with a friend of over 40 years, a guy who was a friend in times when we didn’t have money for groceries. Next week, I’ll see our oldest son and his family.

    In between all that, I’ll write and edit and wonder how I got so lucky. No, I’m not hanging in, but walking quietly through a fine place, knowing that it hasn’t always been so, and that this path, this place, will end. For now, though, this now is all there is.

  8. It’s been a tough few weeks, but a shot of sunlight appeared from a journal editor and today I went to see TC Boyle read. About 7 hours ago, the wind shifted. And I don’t say or mean that lightly.

  9. I’m not Jewish, but I did atone a little today, in my half-hearted roundabout way.

    Also, I reentered a story I wrote a few years ago, and found that, incredulously, I didn’t hate it. I only changed a couple of words, and better than that even, I’d forgotten the story enough that I could really engage with it as a reader. Naturally, the story is one of the darkest ones I’ve ever written. My usual favorite themes: sex, death, decay.

  10. I’m drifting. Bade farewell to my dear friend who died this morning; holding her cool hand one last time and whispering love and thanks for her friendship. Then, drove to the vet to learn that my sweet Bad Dog has a degenerative hip joint condition. The Life Clock ticks too loudly and insistently in my ears at the moment.

  11. yes, ma’am, i am hanging in. may the lord keep and bless you always.

  12. Glad to hear you’re not that fat. “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”

  13. Although we were both brought up Jewish, my husband and I are raising our own children as atheists. Yesterday my 8 year explained to us why Jews fast on Yom Kippur. “They don’t eat because they don’t want to get large. Seeing a lot of large Jewish people around wouldn’t be a good thing.” We laughed. Oh, did we laugh. After we told her how wonderful she was, we did tell her that she was wrong and that she should NOT convey that message at school tomorrow but, hot damn, was I proud. An eight year old using the word large instead of fat? That’s monumental.

  14. I don’t why you became irreverent, but it appears you have at least one foot in the water, crossing to the other side.

  15. Yes, I am. It’s been a strange year, a lot of ups and downs, but I’m here and I’m glad. And…I can’t stop staring at the doughnut.

  16. I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth…
    Faith is hard; a mystery. I’m hanging-in.

  17. I just have to share something that’s related to all this.
    Yesterday morning, bad day, very dark, very down, scary down. I remember reading once that if you smile for three minutes, doesn’t matter what makes you smile, just using those smiling muscles changes your brain chemistry. They even did tests; students held pencils in their mouths sideways for three minutes and the chemistry changed in their brains. I thought about trying it…ehh, why bother, miserable was what I was.
    When I went on line I saw a ‘you tube’ link about a bunch of people laughing on a subway in Berlin. I clicked on it. Is it funny, not really but I watched, I smiled, I really smiled at the young chick who up and moved without laughing; what a pill. Then I left for work…smiling. The cloud had lifted. The light shone for the rest of the day; end of story, hell no.
    So last night I sit down to read, pick up book, AFTER LIFE by Rhian Ellis. Started where I left off, pg 143, “…I asked him have you ever been in a horrible mood and then gotten out of it by smiling?”
    Weird huh?
    If you feel like shit today…

    Smile and the world smiles with you.
    Turn your frown upside down.
    The longest word in the English language, ‘smiles’. A mile between two s’s.
    Have a nice day. I mean it…may you day be nicer than nice.

    • Too many close calls to think I have any control over anything, so I try to make the best of what I have and never fear farting too loudly if it makes a crying child smile.

    • The character who says that in the book is trying to make excuses for lying — claiming that lying is no different from smiling when you’re sad… at least that’s how I remember it…

      Few things are more disturbing than a crowd of people laughing for no reason…

      • Right? That video seriously bums me out.

      • Uh…the fact that I don’t like the video doesn’t have anything to do with your enjoyment of it. Also, telling someone you don’t know to “lighten up” is a douche maneuver.

      • Hey Shanna:
        That’s me the douche dame, douche daughter, as a matter of fact I am the manager of the douche department. I say so many inappropriate things that when you look up douche in the dictionary, my name is the definition. Look up asshole, idiot shit and fungus fuck and guess what…my name.
        I’m not as young as you, or as smart and I haven’t won all those fancy writing grants like you have. As a matter of fact the only grants I know were WT stores they went out of business years ago and of course the President, we dated; that’s how old I am. I probably haven’t done half the shit you’ve done but Shanna, I’m laughing and you’re not.
        Have a nice day.

      • RE: you are absolutely correct about the excerpts meaning in the book. That sentence was very timely for me at the moment I read it because it was almost as if some sort of divine force was explaining the unexplainable, just for me because I had such a rotten last few days.
        It’s interesting also that RE are the initials of the author.

      • strange coincidence… 😀

      • Oh, no, I’m laughing.

    • thank you, wry. that was delightful and infectious (two words that usually don’t go together).

      • Thank you Tet, your comment and the video made my day.
        Shanna and RE I sometimes laugh at the stupidest stuff. Lighten up…laughing at someone laughing is better than crying because they are.

  18. I’m finding a stronger grip to my surprise.

  19. I keep looking for the diamonds.

  20. Awww, Lucy Grealy. I wish you would write a memoir about all the fucked-up people you edited.

  21. I made an attitude change, and so now I’m hanging in just fine, thank you for asking.

    The attitude change consisted of gratitude. Yeah, I know, same-oh, same-oh.

    But nothing is truer than feeling grateful for having a lover, good health, great kids all grown up and doing good in the world, and the constant joy of reading.

  22. Yes, hanging in. Went to temple and actually enjoyed the sermon. I’m a High Holidays Jew. I fasted until 10 a.m. yesterday.

  23. I wish we Catholics had some of those high holy atonement days. Thanks for helping us to hang in, Betsy.

  24. I didn’t meet a Jewish person until I went to college and this was the first year that I learned what Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur mean. I celebrated the New Year with a secular Jewish family here in New York. I didn’t fast or atone this week, but I looked up the Mourner’s Kaddish and listened to it for my mother. I lit a candle for her and read Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish. It made me wish I had grown up with rituals. My mother was an entirely irreverent woman who deserves my reverence. Here is to another year, hanging in there, in the Book of Life.

  25. I’ve been reading what some of you have to say about the High Holy Days, and realized that I have few rituals in my life. On certain days I cannot help but reflect, and hoist a glass “to absent friends”, but that’s about it.

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