I started writing stories when I was six years old.
My first grade teacher would give us empty booklets with half the page lined for writing and the other half blank for illustration.
“Write a story!” she’d say, and send us off with crayons and pencils.
I relished this weekly assignment. My stories shared a common theme: a girl, bored with her reality, yearns for adventure and is magically swept into a different world. My girls went under the sea, to outer space, and backwards and forwards through time. In the end, they would face a choice: would they return to their old world or would they stay on in the unknown?
While exploring the beauty of fantasy, I was also deciphering the ugliness of reality. As the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, I was born into true stories of cruelty and violence. Generations of my family’s joyful communities and strong businesses in Europe were swiftly uprooted and destroyed. After World War II, my grandparents crash-landed into New York City’s housing projects and my parents were born into a community of refugees — the Children of Survivors.
This refugee community shared an intimate awareness of suffering. These families were recovering from the gaping wounds left by loved ones lost and hearts broken. The pain from these wounds does not recede into history but rather ripples through time; descendents bear scars upon our minds, hearts, and DNA. Like the phoenix, however, we must rise from the ashes. We must rebuild hope and relearn how to thrive.
Suffering and Joy
As I grew older, the awareness of suffering which was my legacy advanced like a storm cloud. In college, my passion for the humanities led me to complete a degree in English Literature. Every course I took introduced a new wave of suffering. In addition to anti-semitism, I learned about racism, colonialism, sexism, global warming, mass incarceration, and more. The world was literally and figuratively burning with pain.
Simultaneously, I was completing a second degree in a field that I had studied since I was eleven years old: Italian, La Bella Lingua, the language of love and beauty. I studied abroad for a semester in Italy where the sunshine, art, wine, and poetry cracked my heart wide open. I fell in love with the juicy and vibrant flavor of Italian life. Like the girls in my stories, I had entered a wondrous new world from which I did not want to return.
Upon graduating from college, I saw two paths for my future: fighting for social justice in New York City or magically escaping back to Italy.
It seemed that I had been presented a choice between suffering and joy.
I wanted desperately to continue drinking wine and reading poetry in the sun-drenched Italian countryside. However, job opportunities were abundant in New York City and so I returned there. I organized for workers rights, staffed homeless shelters, ran environmental sustainability programs, and taught literacy. While I gained satisfaction from all of this meaningful work, I was also exhausted and frustrated. Despite expending great energy, there were no signs that these social ills that I was combating were abating. My sense of purpose was slipping away and leaving hopelessness in its wake.
In my war against suffering, I was suffering.
Where was the joy that I had felt as a dreamy child and as a college student in Italy? I realized that I was starving for joy and no longer knew how or where to find it. If joy only existed in my childhood and in Italy, then I feared it could elude me for the rest of my life.
That my future would be a constant, fruitless immersion in suffering was a dismal prognosis I could not accept. There had to be a way out of suffering, a route to return to joy, and a way to reconcile the existence of both.
Steering the plot
The world is full of painful and oppressive stories. For us characters, most of these stories were written before us and exist outside of us. If we remain unconscious of them, these stories will drive our own. Our power lies in our decision to steer our own plotlines and become our own agents of change.
Like the girls in my stories, I yearned to move into another world in which there existed more open space. I wanted room to create a future outside and beyond what seemed possible, that filled me with joy as I brought joy to my community. Unlike the girls in my stories, however, I couldn’t wait for a magical force to take me there. If I wanted to change my world, I would need to do the construction myself. My writing is about how I learned to be the driver of my own story and infuse it with joy.
By profession, I am a teacher. I thrive when championing dreamers, stretching imaginations, and cultivating growth.
- polyglot: a person who speaks, writes, or reads a number of languages.
- ambivert: a person whose personality has a balance of extrovert and introvert features.
- highly sensitive person (HSP): having hypersensitivity to external stimuli, a greater depth of cognitive processing, and high emotional reactivity
- multipotentialite: someone with many interests and creative pursuits.
- locavore: a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food.
- Bu Jew: one who follows both Jewish and Buddhist belief systems.