On Waiting, Watching, and Writing about Family
September 2, 2020 § 11 Comments
By Jennifer Lang
In bed, under our Crate & Barrel paisley duvet cover, I crisscross my legs with my husband’s. Philippe squeezes his bicyclist thighs against mine. I turn on my black-framed Kindle. He stares at his white-framed one. I read Jayson Greene’s heart-crushing Once More We Saw Stars. Philippe reads my uploaded manuscript. My insides flutter like a sixth grade girl picking an oxeye daisy. I want him to read it; I don’t want him to read it. Gulp!
Last week, after confessing that I was procrastinating over submitting my manuscript and he asked me why, I hemmed and hawed. Because you’re in it. The kids are in it. I said. I’m not really asking for your blessing but need you to know what I’m doing before I press send.
I’d already been down this road. A few years ago, during my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I began writing about my marriage and my uprootedness. For two and a half years, I dug into boxes of old photos, outdated journals, letters to my parents that they had returned to me, and wrote. When, during our family dinner on Rosh Hashanah, I shared my accomplishment, my three young adult kids balked, understanding they were in the story too. A few months later, after a trusted reader-writer-friend read my manuscript, she recommended I ask a different question, write a different story. I put my 65,000-something words away with no regret. Six months later, I started anew. I turned the spotlight on my inner journey: a seven-year struggle, both on and off the yoga mat, to make peace with moving from America to Israel and to reclaim my sense of self. Still, our 25-year-union and the products of that union play important parts.
I glance at Philippe’s screen and glimpse a familiar sentence: “I program it to Go Home, even if home is actually hiraeth, an untranslatable Welsh word meaning grief for the lost places of your past” from Year One: 2011-2012. He changes the virtual page. I force myself to focus on my book. He shuts off his gadget. I keep reading.
Night after night, after watching one or two episodes of “Ozark,” we snuggle and read. As midnight draws near, I shut down and close my eyes and wish for undisturbed sleep. Not a given in midlife. Not easy with a man who snores. Not certain with a never-ending global pandemic and raging uncertainty.
Days dance by. Coronavirus numbers fluctuate all around the world; the we’re-all-in-it-together feeling fuels me.
After another sticky afternoon under relentless Israeli sun and a cool shower to remove the grime of Tel Aviv streets, I lie under the lightweight covering in bed and tangle my legs with my husband’s. Sometimes we discuss Wendy and Marty’s money-laundering dramas in Missouri. Sometimes we share food finds in the half-closed Carmel Market. But seldom do we discuss what we’re reading. I’ve finished my book and started Finding Chika by Mitch Albom. My eyeballs stretch left toward Philippe’s screen. When I see the chapter in big, bold letters “Child’s Pose,” I know he’s in Year 3: 2013-2014.
Married almost thirty years, we love binge-watching Netflix dramas and buying exotic spices when we travel. But we don’t share the same taste in books. He usually sticks to historical fiction, while I have a soft spot for memoir. He doesn’t understand the point of stories based on someone’s life. If you know the ending, what’s the point of reading (or watching) a true story?
Time is blurred by social distancing and masks and travel bans. One exceptionally hot day in July, I peek at his Kindle and recognize my words: therapy, trade-offs, freedom, warrior two pose. He is inching toward the end: Year 7. And I steel myself for the inevitable conversation, knowing I cannot move forward without it. What does he—my overly critical, keenly intelligent, overtly biased husband—think of my memoir? As I turn the pages of Christy Lefteri’s novel, The Beekeeper of Aleppo about Syria’s civil war, I cuddle closer to him and wait. The only thing any of us can do.
Born and bred in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jennifer Lang lives and writes in Tel Aviv. Her essays have appeared in Baltimore Review, Under the Sun, Ascent, Brevity Blog, and Crab Orchard Review, among other venues. A Pushcart Prize and Best American Essays nominee, Lang holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and serves as an Assistant Editor for Brevity. Find her at israelwriterstudio.com and follow her @JenLangWrites.