The Nay Sayers

On this bleak evening, I find myself trapped indoors by Sandy’s cruel, devastating winds; it’s time to share the next piece of the story. I’ve been avoiding this post for a long time. Every time I sit down to write about this, I find an excuse. I talk myself out of it; the laundry needs to get done, dinner needs to be made, ModPo lecture’s need my attention. Suddenly, I’ve run out of excuses. There isn’t a better time than the present to talk about the Nay Sayers.

I have an overwhelming amount of love and support in my life. My family, my friends, old and new, have given me the push time and time again, to continue doing what I love. They have taught me how to have confidence in myself, even when things were difficult and the situation seemed bleak. For a time, they had more faith in me than I did in myself. And when the going gets tough, I find myself surrounded by people who love me.

For every ten people showing me their support, there was at least one person rooting for me to fall on my face and make a fool of myself. While the percentage of “Nay Sayers” seems relatively small, to me, the negative remarks made me feel as though the positive reinforcement didn’t exist. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat Pray Love” once wrote that the worst thing an author can do is google themselves. While they may find many positive words on their behalf, it is the harsh, negative comments and reviews that stick with them much longer. In my case, the “Nay Sayers” were part of my immediate life. They were my teachers, my friends, and school mates. The more I began to publicise the fact that I was writing a novel, the more I was met with disapproving, shocked looks from people who did not believe that I would make it past ten pages.  And even when I continuously proved them wrong, they had warnings of upcoming failures. I’m not going to tell you that I was able to rise above the harsh words and disapproving gestures and continue onward as though it didn’t matter to me- It hurt. A lot. In a life of passionate living, you’d think that it would be easy to stay on a “happy go lucky” path, but I find that very often, leading such a passionate existence makes one vulnerable and more open to pain and slow healing wounds. It was incredibly difficult to know that people who I loved and cared for did not support what I was doing. Some thought I had lost my mind, while others believed that writing a novel was a way in which I could distract myself from the future I was about to partake in. Either way, when the topic came up in conversation, I would change the conversation in haste, swiftly trying to avoid a snide comment or questioning glare. I had very little patience for people who simply did not understand.

At the same time, Spring was fast approaching. I found myself with a serious case of “Senioritis.” I was at the point of no return. School was almost over and I could care less about it. All I wanted was my diploma so that I could get as far away from there as quickly as possible. Passover was around the corner, and with Spring Break would come the answer to my future. Behold, a letter from the principals of the seminary I had interviewed for would determine the future of my position in the Orthodox Community…or so I thought.

In High School, I noticed, things of small caliber tend to become explosive and grow to be dramatic, life changing events. Such was the case with Seminary. “It is a truth universally acknowledged” (Thank you, Jane Austen) that any young Yeshiva student must be in want of a Seminary graduate for a wife. Your choice of Seminary attendance, in the eyes of young, naive high school students such as myself, was set to determine who you would marry, and how quickly you would marry. I bought into that notion with the best of the naive folk.

And then, my letter arrived.

The choice Seminarys’ around the world arranged to release their letters to all students on the same weekend, obviously in a undermining scheme to have the students of the world compare their acceptances or failures. When I parted from my friends at end of the school day on the afternoon that the letters were set to be released, I knew that I was parting from them in a matter of impending doom. As much as each of us shrugged off our fates, on the inside I knew that each and everyone of my friends, myself included, were terrified at what such a small piece of paper could contain.

It may sound strange, but a wave of relief washed over me when I opened my email to find a rejection letter. All of the weeks of worrying suddenly disappeared. I felt incredibly at ease with the fact I was left to face.

” Dear Miss Hershkovich,

Thank you for applying to ______. Unfortunately ________ (fill in generic rejection here).

Wishing you much success in the future.”

Of course, the overwhelming relief I felt was soon washed away by the unbelievable amount of pain that I felt from receiving such a letter. My twin sister found out later that night that she had been rejected as well. We danced around my bedroom like drunken fools, trying to wash away the fact that we were both torn with emotions. The following morning, her secondary option welcomed her with open arms. I, being absolutely sure that I had made it into my first option, didn’t bother applying anywhere else. Lesson learned. I would find out later that I wasn’t accepted because I was “Ba’al Teshuva.” The slaps just kept on coming. As the letters continued to arrive, I watched my classmates celebrate. I tried to be happy for them, but on the inside, I just wanted to scream.

Fast forward a year and a half later, I found myself graduating from Bais Rivkah Seminary in Brooklyn, New York and returning to my hometown for a “transition summer” before joining the work force of America. It is difficult for me to say that I enjoyed my Seminary experience, because truth be told I didn’t. But, like all experiences in life, both challenging and enjoyable, one must learn to take the best out of every situation. But the stories of that experience are for another time.

I was still hard at work on Shattered Illusions, using every minute of free time and every last ounce of my sanity to make it work. I found myself bombarded by “Nay Sayers” in New York by people who had, for some reason, decided my chosen path would never get me far, and that I was setting myself up for destined failure. It had even reached a point when the principals of my Seminary very seriously told me that if I continued to write while attending their institution, they would ask me to leave. It was not because of the fact that I was a writer, that came very much in handy for them. It was because I was writing something that they deemed controversial. Had they bothered to listen to what I had to say, they would have understood otherwise.

But none of the harsh words or painful jabs at my passionate path was more painful than the stab that came from my closest friend. It was a long time coming, something I felt was coming from a mixture of true concern and a tad bit of jealousy. Here was someone that had outwardly supported me from day one (though she was pessimistic at times), who doubled her role as friend and confidant with her position as editor of the early drafts of the novel (though she very rarely had something good to say). I trusted her opinion. I was clueless about what I was doing, and so was she, but she seemed more confident in her position than I did. Until the day that I received a very concerned phone call from her.

At first, I believed that something was truly wrong. The level of anxiety in her voice allowed me to fear the worse. She began by saying that she loved me, and that with that in mind, she had something to tell me that I may not want to hear. She began to wander off on a monologue that shocked and angered me. She said that as my best friend, it was her duty to tell me that she was worried that I had taken my “book thing” too far. It was a great idea and all, and she acknowledged my hard work and dedication to it, but she was worried that my dedication to creativity would, in the near future, leave me with nothing.

I found her worries amusing. We had argued in the past regarding my creative outlets and my need to live a beautiful, passionate life. I assumed that this argument would end as they all had, and that I would walk away unharmed. Unfortunately, such was not the case.

She then proceeded to tell them that she thought that while it was very noble and ambitious of me to write a novel, she felt it was best for me to “stop while I was head” rather than get my heart stomped on later. I was entering a dangerous, painful world, she told me, and she would never want to see me go through the pain of having hundreds of publishers reject me. “What ifs” were thrown around, mixed in with her bitter lecture. I heard everything that she had to say, then quickly made an excuse and hung up the phone.

“What if you never get published? What if you die with this unfulfilled dream? What if your manuscript just sits in a draw and collects dust for the rest of your life? Won’t you regret it? You’re putting all of your eggs in on basket, and I am worried that if this doesn’t work out for you, you will have nothing.”

I will have nothing. Those words were the worst part of it all. Couldn’t she understand that writing was so much more than a need for publication? It was and continues to be part of who I am, such a thing cannot be stripped and removed so easily.

It is an unfortunate truth I see in the lives of many of my creative friends: People expect them to fail. The life of a passionate, creative person is not looked upon with eyes of satisfaction. True, it may not be a money making lifestyle for many people. Many of the authors that I have come to know over the past two years are people who still hold day jobs, who still struggle to make it in this world. Of course, such an industry is hard to break into. Years of sacrifice and hard work may or may not lead a person to their goal. But, isn’t that true of all endeavours? Can the same not be said of businessmen, or entrepreneurs?

One can choose to allow such bitter words of disapproval sink into their soul and drown their spirits. I, however, absolutely refuse to become one of those people. Life is meant for living, not for hiding away from reality because it may be too harsh to face.

As I go off into the big black abyss of my future, I have to admit that I am terrified and also a bit insecure in my decisions. But, I also realize that anyone who has ever gone off into uncharted waters must have felt similar to the way I feel now, which gives me a small ounce of comfort. I don’t know how to do what I am doing, I have no way of knowing if this is the right way or not. But I guess I’ll never know until I get there. So, this is me, being a pioneer. One thing is for sure: If I allow others to take up “free rent” in my head, I might as well call it a day and throw it all away now. A life worth living is a life worth fighting for.