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The Great Jewish American Novel

Leah Milstein

I opened a new document and hit ‘File, Save As’: The Great Jewish American Novel 1.doc. Success coursed through my veins. My novel had begun

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

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MIND GAMES Pulling up the document on my computer, I tried to ease myself back into the story’s setting, and the protagonist’s mind. Oh, I knew what the story would be about; I just needed to get into the right mode. The right frame of mind. I needed another coffee

"W rite a novel? You can’t even write a coherent grocery list!”

I waved off all the skeptics. After being a full-time working mother for over a decade, juggling the long hours away from home (and late evenings at the computer to meet deadlines) with laundry, cooking, homework, and raising a houseful of active young children, I was eagerly anticipating my new role. With the birth of my new baby, I traded my working-mommy card for the stay-at-home one, with the plan to finally pen my Great Jewish American Novel.

I’ve always loved to write, but finding the time between catching the 8:01 a.m. bus to the office and matching 326 pairs of socks (believe it or not, none of them had a partner) was tricky. But now things were different. “I’ll have hours to write while the baby naps and the older kids are in school,” I assured everyone — and myself.

My extended maternity leave was used to learn the ropes of being a full-time SAHM. It mostly included new balabusta-dig experiences such as making the beds, trying new recipes — I finally made the Duncan Hines chocolate cake I’d heard so much about — and matching socks. The latter because the 30-gallon plastic storage bin holding all the unmatched socks was full, and one of the first lifestyle changes we had to make when I stopped working was to cut the sock budget.

However, once I was settled in my new role, and had the baby on a predictable enough schedule of one to three naps a day ranging from 15 minutes to two blissful hours (when in the car), I was ready to launch my writing career.

“You have to set clear boundaries,” counseled my friend Ilana, who has successfully worked from home for years. “Set your schedule and stick to it. No interruptions. For example, between nine thirty and two every day, I don’t leave my desk. My babysitter takes care of the baby and anything else going on during those hours. After two, I’m Mommy. I leave the study, close the door, and don’t walk back in until the next morning. Be disciplined.”

Well, obviously, my situation was a little different, and I could afford to be more flexible. Plus, I didn’t have a babysitter. She had a good point, though, so I set aside the morning nap as writing time. Monday, the first day of my new career dawned, along with the baby’s nine o’clock checkup, stealing the morning nap. I know, I know, rookie mistake, but I was so used to booking the first appointment so I could run to work. No worries, the world had waited ten years for my masterpiece, it would wait another day. Or two. (Tuesday was the 30-second-nap kind of day.)

Wednesday morning, 9:28 a.m. We were in naptime mode (the baby, not me).

I glanced around for Mrs. Fisher’s writing guide, but my son must have taken it back to school. I sighed. For the tuition I paid, I should have at least gotten two copies

I was filled with purpose, resolve, and determination. I ignored the breakfast dishes in the sink and the sticky orange juice imprints on the floor. I did throw in a load of laundry. I figured the washing machine might as well work while I did. I finally settled at my workstation with my second cup of coffee. (Okay, I grabbed a granola bar, too. Cost me just a minute. It’s not like I was getting paid for my time.)

I opened a new document, hit File, Save As, “The Great Jewish American Novel 1.doc.”

Success coursed through my veins. I had arrived. My novel had begun!

My writing instructor had said, “The opening sentence should grab your readers’ attention. Start with dialogue, or a dramatic scene. Make an entrance. Be descriptive, use your senses. Let the readers see the scene, hear the noise!” Mrs. Fisher was actually my son’s fourth-grade English teacher, but with the number of hours of homework I had supervised, and the considerable tuition I had paid, I felt justified in using her writing outlines as my guide.

I hit Save again, just to be safe, and my fingers itched to begin.

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