Pesach - Enforced Slavery?

The holiday of Pesach (Passover) is fast approaching, and this year, the concept of deliverance from slavery will take on a new personal meaning. I have to meet three deadlines in the week before Pesach, so when Seder night comes round, I will not have to work very hard to summon up emotions of relief as I experience my own delivery from bondage.   

I do feel pangs of guilt when I speak to my family abroad. While they have been slaving away, and cleaning their houses from top-to-bottom since January, I have spent more time on the computer than I have taking care of my husband, my girls, and my home. (Luckily for me, my husband is actually far more domesticated than I am and actually enjoys cooking, cleaning, etc. - I know, he was a rare find.)

I thank G-d for giving us the holidays, because we are not just celebrating historical events, but are reliving the highs and lows that accompany each festival on a personal level. Each person, on whatever level, has experienced in their lives their own Exodus, and it is in this way that we can infuse personal meaning into each chag (holiday).

The holidays enable me to stop and smell the roses. Lately I have found that time has been passing by too quickly for my liking; I am not sure why this is, but before I catch my breath, another weekend is upon us. The presence of the Jewish holidays on my calendar force me to stop and think about myself and my connection to G-d.

Over the last seven years of my career, I have edited a number of works about Pesach, two haggadot and various compilations of thoughts on Jewish holidays. One perspective on Pesach which I found to be particularly refreshing was provided by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner in his work, Moadim LeSimcha: Explorations into the Jewish Holidays. (No pressure, but if you order the book off my website from Amazon, I get some sort of [monetary, I think] reward.) I very much enjoyed editing this book, because it was a break away from the typical thoughts you hear about the chagim.

Here is a quote from his book that I identified with so much that I decided to place it on the back cover. I think the women out there who are gearing up for Pesach will particularly get a kick out of this:

It shouldn't take more than a day to clean the whole house, including the kitchen. Anything more than that is a stringency. If we are not capable of dealing with the extra workload we decide to take on, we deplete our energy and take out our exhaustion on our families. Not only is there increased tension between husband and wife, but we show our children a very negative example by shouting at them things like: I told you not to go into this room anymore. Why did you go in?! Eat on the porch! Eat standing up! Don't touch! The whole kitchen looks like it was overturned by vandals - the husband and children will tremble in fear, eating in some corner, while the woman of the house glares at them like a drill sergeant. Is this preparation for Pesach? Is this educating children? No, it is a reign of terror with the mother as Pharaoh presiding.

So, not only is excessive Pesach cleaning unnecessary, you run the risk of becoming a Pharaoh yourself! I like this man. A lot.

Quote of the day

Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?

Henry Ward Beecher
US abolitionist & clergyman (1813 - 1887)

Yeah, I'm with you there, Henry.

At your service...

If you have any questions that relate to editing and writing, and the English language in general, I am at your service. I can't promise that I will be able to answer all your questions, but sometimes it helps to hear another perspective.

Online socializing - blessing or curse?

Against my better judgment, I got ensnared into joining Facebook. For those of you who are not in the know, Facebook is an online social network that connects you with friends from the past, your next door neighbor, colleagues, ex-flames, you name it....  You can post as little and as much information as you want, and can share an unlimited number of photos, videos, etc.

The reason why I question the wisdom of joining is because I know myself and I do have a tendency to get distracted while I am working, and Facebook provides me with yet another mindless excuse to take just one more tiny break.  The good news, though, is that I reconnected with an old friend from my high school in England whom I have not seen or heard from in over ten years - Dalia, it was great "talking" to you! Thanks to online resources such as Facebook and blogging, the world is getting smaller and smaller by the minute, and in the words of Tom Robbins, "if the world gets any smaller, I will end up living next door to myself!"

From a psychological perspective, I question, though, how beneficial and "healthy" it is to become so immersed in the Internet that we withdraw into ourselves, and forget how to interact on a one-to-one level as human beings. In this day and age, real social encounters, I would imagine, run the risk of becoming awkward and potentially nerve-wracking. It is one thing to express yourself freely in the privacy of your home or office - after all, you don't need to worry about contemptuous glares from your computer screens - but to reach out to another person in a public setting, such as a party, could be such an intimidating experience that you end up counting the minutes until you can return to the safety of your home, where you can type away on the keyboard to your heart's content. 

This type of social anxiety brought on by trends in blogging and online chatting might sound extreme, and you may wonder which type of person would really be that socially inept as to experience the above, but my instinct tells me that such social angst happens more often than we think. I have an acquaintance, let's call her Elizabeth, who seems to have a split personality. When I see her at parties, social get-togethers, and the like, she is withdrawn and quiet. She doesn't come across as being shy- she just has a distant aura about her. When we chat online, however, it is literally as if I am communicating with another person altogether. There is no point of resemblance between Elizabeth A, who I see every now and again in public settings, and Elizabeth B who is extremely expressive and even eloquent. 

People feel like they can let their guard down in the virtual arena, and while that can be a potential blessing, because they can tap into parts of themselves they may never have discovered, and can access knowledge and information that would otherwise have been blocked to them, it can also be a curse and a vicious cycle. The more you become "hooked" on blogging and online socializing, the harder it is to venture out of your cocoon and face the real world.

I would imagine, although I am not speaking from experience, that this problem applies to the world of dating. You meet a fantastic guy on a dating site - you have so much in common and you count the minutes until you next see him online (you can see where this is going). It gets to the point that you decide you want to take your online relationship to the next level - let's set up a date. The big night arrives and you are sitting at a table facing a complete stranger, and you are tongue-tied. Suddenly all your mutual interests, likes, and dislikes evaporate into thin air - how do you make the adjustment from writing cute little messages with no real repercussions to interacting with a person face-to-face and establishing a real relationship? Anyway, just some food for thought. As always, I'd be interested in hearing what you think.

Before I go, though, just to present the other side of the coin, I read today that an 107-year-old woman in Australia has just started writing her blog. Considering I never grew up knowing my GRANDPARENTS, let alone GREAT-GRANDPARENTS who reached the 100-year milestone, it is an incredible concept that this centenarian is going to be sharing the pearls of her wisdom with the rest of the world.

Online resource for copy-editors and proofreaders

If you are an editor or proofreader living in Israel, and would like to share or receive information about all editing-related topics in this country, there is an email list to which you can subscribe -

You need not be embarrassed about asking the most simple of questions on this list. There are editors who ask for help in basic grammar, such as where to place a comma or semi-colon in a sentence. 

Mosquitoes - the stuff that poetry is made of

I have to be honest: I have never enjoyed reading poetry, and could never understand what all the fuss was about.*  In primary school (that's elementary school to you American heathens), I recall struggling to make my poems rhyme. They went along the following tenuous lines.... "I'm a poet and I didn't know it..." "The snow covered the mountains, look can you see the fountains?" In high school, we left the world of rhyme behind us, and instead would analyze poetry to death. In exams I "did the do" and would wax lyrical about the hidden meaning behind the words, and the rhythm, and what it all symbolized, because that is ultimately what the examiners want to read, and it worked. Lo and behold, I got that coveted A grade in my GCSE and A' levels. (Note to anyone who wasn't lucky enough to be educated in England - A' levels are the equivalent of your SAT's. There is actually a world of difference between A' levels and SAT's, but that's the subject of another post.)  To this day, I turn down any editing projects that involve poetry. Give me a straightforward sentence that reaches the end of the line any day.

There is one exception, however, to the "I can't abide poetry" rule. Many moons ago, when I was a teenager, I came across in the public library a volume of selected poems by D.H. Lawrence.  To give you some background information about this writer: This man was notorious in the 1920's for his controversial and best-known novel, Lady Chatterly's Lover, which contained some rather explicit descriptions of sexual relationships. At the time, such subjects were strictly taboo, and the novel was banned in England and the US until the sixties.

Anyway, returning to the point of this post, when I saw the name D.H. Lawrence on the spine, I immediately picked up the book. I had read another novel of his, Sons and Lovers (I am sure by now, you can detect that love was a central theme in his works), and I was a big fan. After leafing through a couple of pages, I think it would be safe to say that I was mesmerized by his poetry in which he ascribed human emotions to animals. Truthfully, after reading his poem "The Mosquito," I have never looked at this blood-sucking insect in the same way again.  Warning: the poem you are about to read is not for the faint-hearted. 

The Mosquito

When did you start your tricks,
What do you stand on such high legs for?
Why this length of shredded shank,
You exaltation?
Is it so that you shall lift your centre of gravity upwards
And weigh no more than air as you alight upon me,
Stand upon me weightless, you phantom ?
I heard a woman call you the Winged Victory
In sluggish Venice.
You turn your head towards your tail, and smile.
How can you put so much devilry
Into that translucent phantom shred
Of a frail corpus ?
Queer, with your thin wings and your streaming legs
How you sail like a heron, or a dull clot of air,
A nothingness.
Yet what an aura surrounds you;
Your evil little aura, prowling, and casting a numbness on my mind.
That is your trick, your bit of filthy magic:
Invisibility, and the anæsthetic power
To deaden my attention in your direction.
But I know your game now, streaky sorcerer.
Queer, how you stalk and prowl the air
In circles and evasions, enveloping me,
Ghoul on wings
Winged Victory.
Settle, and stand on long thin shanks
Eyeing me sideways, and cunningly conscious that I am aware,
You speck.
I hate the way you lurch off sideways into air
Having read my thoughts against you.
Come then, let us play at unawares,
And see who wins in this sly game of bluff,
Man or mosquito.
You don’t know that I exist, and I don’t know that you exist.
Now then!
It is your trump,
It is your hateful little trump,
You pointed fiend,
Which shakes my sudden blood to hatred of you:
It is your small, high, hateful bugle in my ear.
Why do you do it?
Surely it is bad policy.
They say you can’t help it.
If that is so, then I believe a little in Providence protecting the innocent.
But it sounds so amazingly like a slogan,
A yell of triumph as you snatch my scalp.
Blood, red blood
Forbidden liquor.
I behold you stand
For a second enspasmed in oblivion,
Obscenely estasied
Sucking live blood,
My blood.
Such silence, such suspended transport,
Such gorging,
Such obscenity of trespass.
You stagger
As well as you may.
Only your accursed hairy frailty,
Your own imponderable weightlessness
Saves you, wafts you away on the very draught my anger makes in its snatching.
Away with a pæan of derision,
You winged blood-drop.
Can I not overtake you?
Are you one too many for me,
Winged Victory ?
Am I not mosquito enough to out-mosquito you?
Queer, what a big stain my sucked blood makes
Beside the infinitesimal faint smear of you!
Queer, what a dim dark smudge you have disappeared into!

 * Disclaimer: It goes without saying that my strong dislike of poetry doesn't extend to the poetry that my husband has on occasion written for me. That kind of poetry I will read any day.

An Ode to Coffee

As I sit here at 10 p.m. on Thursday evening (quite sad, really), willing myself on to edit just another couple of chapters, fuelled by a "supersized" mug of coffee, it brings to mind an astoundingly fresh historical novel that I read last year called The Coffee Trader by David Liss.

The novel takes place in 17th-century Amsterdam (in the aftermath of the Spanish Inquisition) and is centered around a trader named Miguel Lienzo, of Portuguese Jewish descent, who has just emerged from a financial disaster and hopes to recover his fortune by trading in the virtually unknown new commodity called [WAIT FOR IT, *DRUM ROLL*] coffee. I particularly enjoyed reading about people's reaction to this bitter brew in the 17th century. They found it hard to believe that money could be made from this weird and exotic beverage. I can't even begin to think what my (professional) life would be like without coffee. There's a G-d in the world.

Anyway, on that note, my coffee break is over. It's back to work.

Rap music...sounds like somebody feeding a rhyming dictionary to a popcorn popper

The subject of this post is a quote from my favorite writer of all times, Tom Robbins. I start reading his books with the knowledge and acceptance that the world will look radically different once I have finished. When I prepare lunch for myself, I half expect the can of baked beans to start talking to me - inanimate objects take on a special life force in his masterpiece Skinny Legs and All. You come away from the book with the sneaky suspicion that until now, you have lived your life as if you have been on the set of a black and white movie, and suddenly you are seeing things in color. A revelation. Every sentence in his book is a gem, and no word is wasted.

I recently read an online article in which Tom Robbins revealed the secret of his writing, and while I wouldn't necessarily advise writers to adopt this approach, it was definitely an eye-opener:

When he starts a novel, it works like this. First he writes a sentence. Then he rewrites it again and again, examining each word, making sure of its perfection, finely honing each phrase until it reverberates with the subtle texture of the infinite. Sometimes it takes hours. Sometimes an entire day is devoted to one sentence, which gets marked on and expanded upon in every possible direction until he is satisfied. Then, and only then, does he add a period.

Next, he rereads the first sentence and starts writing a second, rewriting it again and again until it shimmers. Then, and only then, does he add a period. While working on each sentence, he has no idea what the next sentence is going to be, much less the next chapter or the end of the book. All thoughts of where he is going or where he has been are banished. Each sentence is a Zen universe unto itself, and while working on it, nothing exists but the sentence. He keeps writing in such a manner until he eventually reaches a sentence which he works on like all the others. He adds a period and the book is done. No editing or revising in any way. When you read a Tom Robbins book, you are experiencing the words not only in the exact order that he wrote them but almost in the exact order that he thought them.

“But wait a minute,” I interrupted. “The first sentence of your first book, Another Roadside Attraction, is ‘The magician’s underwear has just been found in a cardboard suitcase floating in a stagnant pond on the outskirts of Miami.’ Are you telling me you wrote that sentence having absolutely no idea where it was leading?”

“Yes,” he said. “I knew I could explain it later. I like painting myself in corners and seeing if I can get out.”

Identify your audience

Before you submit your manuscript to a publisher, or better yet, before you begin writing your book, sit down for a minute and consider the potential readership. Ask yourself who you think will most likely want to read this book. This will influence the tone and direction of your book. For example, if you are writing a book about Kabbalah, we all know that you're not the first or last person to do so; there are a plethora of Kabbalah works out there on the market. You will need to provide a fresh perspective on the subject in order to make your book stand out from the 150 other Kabbalah manuscripts on the publisher's desk. If you are writing about a subject that requires specialized knowledge, but want to target your book to a wide audience, make sure to explain and define any complex concepts and language.

It is the publisher's and submission editor's job to weed out those manuscripts that are cliched and lack originality. They will only take on your book if they can identify a potential market, and unless your writing is of an excellent literary standard, your manuscript will gather dust on their desks and will eventually end up in the garbage.

One final word of advice: you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Your first page, your first paragraph, your first sentence, needs to grab the reader. Don't expect the reader to persist through 100 pages of waffle to uncover the point of the book. From word go, you need to engage your readers.

On that note, I will get back to work.

The joys of bathroom reading - Part Two

I just know that you have all been sitting on the edge of your seats waiting for a second installment of weird and wonderful words with which to impress your friends, so here goes. I couldn't resist. (Brownie points to those who already knew these words, and yes, I am spending far too much time reading this bathroom book.)

Franch: To eat greedily

Rhotacism: Excessive use of the letter "R"

Wamfle: To walk around with flapping clothes

Charientism: A veiled insult

Moll-buzzer: A thief whose specialty is robbing women

Mubblefubble: Mental depression