Timing is Everything. Part III. Or How I Battle Imposter Syndrome and Prevail! by Susie Lubell

After I submit my final painting, I leave for the rest of the summer and that is that. I don't talk about the project much. I don't check in to see if the curatorial committee has accepted my final work. I just put it out of my mind. It's like when you don't talk about your pregnancy until 12 weeks. You just tell your mom. That's the model I went with and I think it's because I didn't want to jinx it and I didn't want to get my hopes up too high. So I just lived with my anxiety. 

As the opening gets closer and I receive emails from the organizers asking for photos of my work in process, a short video, to sign up to speak during the opening week, it starts to become real. And I do as I am told. But still, even up to the week before the event, when I see pictures on Facebook of the art being hung and my piece not among them, a part of me worries that the committee has decided not to include it at the last moment. My fears are completely baseless and yet they worm their way into my thoughts like a little biblical plague. It is the same old imposter syndrome rearing its ugly face. By now the website is revamped and all of the works are available to preview. They are all stunning. Mine still is not on the website.

A few days before the opening, my mom flies in. She wasn't planning to come but decided to use up her airline miles at the last minute. She comes to the opening event along with my family, in-laws and closest friends. I show up early and a wave of relief washes over me as I see my girlie donkey hanging between Chukat and Pinchas. Before the actual opening I speak to a group of 20-30 people about my interpretation of Balak. A few minutes into it I finally relax. We go out for dinner nearby and return an hour later for the actual opening. By then the gallery is packed. The Director of the Israel Museum spoke about the project along with the Founder of the Jerusalem Biennale and of course, Shoshana, who started Women of the Book so many years ago. I feel incredibly relieved and proud. I can only imagine how Shoshana is feeling. She is beaming.

In the next few days my mom and I return to the gallery and I give my talk twice more. At one of the talks an older British man comes up to me with a younger woman, his daughter, and asks if my painting is for sale. I explain that only the entire collection, as a whole, is for sale, but not the individual paintings. But that he was welcome to buy a limited edition print. He wants original work and asks if I had other paintings for sale. I give him my card. It seems that they have just bought a house in a beautiful old neighborhood of Jerusalem, just outside of the Old City, and need to decorate the great white bare walls! I tell him I am happy to bring over a selection of paintings for him to choose. A few days later he sends an email with a list of the ones he wants to see and we set a date. 

I spend the whole morning at their house moving paintings around, drinking coffee, chatting about this and that. They are so lovely. The daughter, who is about my age, is enamored by one of my goats. And her parents purchase two other original paintings. And they want to see more when they return from London in December. 

I literally haven't stopped painting since that day. I feel inspired and supported. Validated enough to feel confident but still vulnerable enough to create work that is accessible and authentic. My older styles, which I'd all but abandoned, have found their way into my new pieces, like old friends. Reminders that nothing is wasted. No experience nor experiment. No phase nor fear. It's all coming out in the work as a true reflection of who I am today. 

For you art collectors: limited edition prints of Balak are available now on my ETSY site. I'm offering them at about 30% less than what the Jerusalem Publishing Atelier is charging. That's because I love you. 

Timing is Everything. Part II. Or How I Came to Paint a Donkey in a Pink Housecoat. by Susie Lubell

Once the initial excitement of being selected to participate in the Women of the Book project wears off, the panic sets in. What in the hell was I going to paint? How would I interpret this wacko chapter with a talking donkey. I had managed to wiggle my way into the project without fully realizing that these women were all highly accomplished, highly trained, widely exhibited contemporary artists. I had told the curatorial committee to trust my process. Like I have any kind of process at all! I finger paint! And the kicker is I have three weeks to get it done including a round of critique by the curatorial committee. I was leaving for August so it had to be done before then. Did I mention I had just broken my toe?

So I start to do research. I read whatever sources I could find on Balak. My mother in law brings over books and sends articles. I spend that whole first weekend reading Torah. And interpretation after interpretation. All the while I just keep having visions in my head of Bilam standing together with his donkey like in that American Gothic portrait by Grant Wood (see above). Except the woman is a donkey. I start doing some sketches. And there's one with Bilam riding the donkey and one with the donkey riding Bilam and one with Bilam and Donkey sitting at a dinner table together. 

Then finally I meet Shoshana, the founder of the project, to get my piece of parchment. She drops off the tube with the parchment inside and gives me a bunch of scraps too for experimenting. She is lovely and encouraging. The parchment feels weird. Like a lamp shade. How am I going to paint on this stuff? I take it home and immediately start painting in acrylic on the scraps. I experiment with gesso, without gesso, I spray water on it. I glue some paper to it. It seems pretty sturdy. I can totally do this. No problem.  It dries all curled up. Damnation. I lay books on it overnight and it flattens out. Salvation. 

Without knowing exactly what I'm doing and without a full understanding of the material I'm working with (both the story and the parchment), I decide to start painting. I just need to put paint down because I'm running out of time and the blank parchment is giving me anxiety which is making my toe hurt. I spend an hour making marks and strokes, mainly finger painting. Every few minutes I read the text again. I start to pray. I'm not kidding. I tell God that I need a little vision on this thing. I ask God how it all ties together. The paranoid king, the blind prophet, the talking she-ass, the blessings, the curses, the rage, the beat-down, the orgies with Midionite women, the plague, that horrid impaling scene at the end. What. On earth. Does. It. Mean. God? 

When God doesn't answer I call Sharone. She was a religious studies major and even considered the rabbinate at one point and we chat for a long time about what it all means. I tell her about my American Gothic vision and she can see it too. We talk about the master and servant relationship, about the powerful ruler archetype. We talk about disobedience and how it plays out over and over in the parasha. We talk about how Bilam disappoints Balak and the donkey disappoints Bilam and the Israelites disappoint God. Again. We talk about the context of this chapter. The Israelites have been traveling for nearly all of their forty years in the desert and God is still trying to get them to behave so they can enter the promised land. And they are still totally blowing it, And we talk about the divine feminine - that feral, creative, subversive spirit and makes our donkey heroine open her mouth and tell her master what's what. 

And with all that in my head I go to work. And as I paint and pray and meditate, the parts of the story unfold onto the parchment. You can read about my interpretation here. I send Shoshana a preview and after presenting it to the committee she comes back with some critique. I make some changes, hand off the final piece and hope for the best. 

He Didn't Say Sorry by Susie Lubell

Dear Babu,

I know it's not your birthday. I'm writing because something bad happened. Your friend in preschool lost her Saba. She came to preschool yesterday, the day after it happened, and told your teacher that her Saba died. That he was killed and the man didn't say he was sorry. Your Aba came home and told me what your brave little friend told your teacher and we both just sobbed because we thought about your Saba and how close you are to him. And how he picks you up all the way to the sky. And how you laugh and sing together. Saba is your best friend. And it seems right now like he'll always be with us. But I guess we never know. Your friend's saba just got on a bus in his neighborhood in Jerusalem, like a regular saba, and a bad guy killed him just like that. And now he's gone. And her savta is in the hospital because she got hurt too. It's all so hard to understand. Even for grown-ups. 

Your Aba and I do what we can to keep you safe but bad things happen all the time, all over the world. Now seems extra scary because it's harder to know when we are safe and when we are not. So for now, you can feel safe knowing that you are loved. We love you. Saba and Savta love you. Grandma loves you. Our whole family loves you and all of our friends. And they all love their own families too. And so it goes like that on and on. In spite of everything, there's still so much love in this world.

Mieces to pieces,
Mommy

Timing is Everything. Part I by Susie Lubell

And God said, "I can see your undies, Donkey."

And God said, "I can see your undies, Donkey."

Three and a half years ago my father-in-law calls to tell me about an article he has read in the Jerusalem Report about an American woman in Israel who has initiated a community art project called Women of the Book. She has gathered dozens of Jewish women artists from around the world to each create a visual interpretation of the 54 weekly chapters of the Torah. There's an urgency in his voice which is rare. He thinks the project might interest me and he's right. I do some research on the woman and it turns out that she is about my age and we have some friends in common. And she lives about 20 minutes from me. It also turns out that according to the project website, they are still accepting new artists. So I send her an email. 

She replies. Turns out the selection committee is meeting in a few days and she invites me to submit an application. So I spend some time looking at the available chapters and am not inspired. It is a lot of tedious laws and not the good kind, like don't kill anyone. They are regarding genital discharge and marrying your brother's wife if he dies in battle. In short, the nasty laws and laws about doing the nasty. I know. I'm very mature. The only thing half way interesting to me is the bit about stoning of the wayward son but that hits a little too close to home. I tell her I'll take a pass.

A week later, after further research, I settle on parashat Terumah. It talks about instructions on how to build the alter for God while traveling in the desert and I feel like there might be some good imagery there to work with. Also my mom is coming for her first visit since we have made Aliya so I'm in the process of setting up the spare room for her to feel comfortable and I'm seeing some parallels there. It's kind of a stretch. I write a short essay about my ideas and send in a sketch and images of my latest paintings. 

She sends an email that she has just had a baby and so the process has been put on hold in the interim. That is fine with me. I am in no rush. I never hear from her again. I never followed up either. Something isn't right and I know it. I forget about the project.

Fast forward three years and I get an email from the same woman. She's cleaning out her inbox and is very sorry for never having responded after my submission. She wants to know if I am still interested in the project. There are still chapters available and they are listed on the website. I can't decide if I am disgusted or delighted that she would get in touch after all this time. I decide to go with delight and reply to her that the website is not up to date and I can't figure out which chapters are still available. Weeks pass and she doesn't reply. I am not surprised. This was March 2015.

In June 2015 I get a call from her. She's seen my latest work and thinks I am a good fit for the project. Where have you been cha cha?  She goes on to explain that while my previous work, the watercolor landscapes, are lovely, the medium doesn't work with the project. The paintings are meant to be done on parchment, like a real Torah scroll, and eventually stitched together for display. She tells me that the project is going to be featured in the 2015 Jerusalem Biennale at the gallery at the the old train station in Jerusalem. It's all finally coming together but she's still missing a few chapters. I tell her that frankly I am not interested in any of the available chapters and she mentions that a new one has just become available since another artist decided to leave the project. She thinks it's perfect for me. The chapter is Balak. 

Now I am not a Torah scholar. I can count on one hand the chapters that I know by name. But I know Balak because it's the one with the talking donkey. THE TALKING FEMALE DONKEY. It's the one where Bilam the prophet goes to curse the Israelites at the request of the Moab ruler Balak and instead God fills his mouth with words of praise: How goodly are your tents, Oh Jacob, your dwelling places, Oh Israel. I have won the Torah lottery. 

So I submit another application with some ideas and a collection of my recent works. I come to understand from the updated website that it's a longshot since the artists involved in the project are leading contemporary Jewish artists who have exhibited in all the big museums around the world. To make a baseball reference, this is the Show. I set my expectations low. And anyway chances are good that I'll never hear from her again. A week later I get an email that the curatorial committee has met and they want to invite me to participate in the project and when can she drop off the parchment...That was a Thursday. The next evening is Shabbat and the portion of the week is Balak. Timing is everything. 

Eleven by Susie Lubell

Taken right after getting off Montazooma's Revenge at Knott's Berry Farm this summer. I am never going on that thing again.

Taken right after getting off Montazooma's Revenge at Knott's Berry Farm this summer. I am never going on that thing again.

Hello kiddo.

Happy birthday. It's that time of year again. When we look back at what a year we've had. The ups. The downs. The completely inexplicable. The truth is I can't remember much past last week but I'll try to review some highlights. 

You won. We bought you a phone. We said we wouldn't and we did. We explained that you didn't need it. That it wasn't necessary. That it would only cause problems. You listened. You agreed. But you kept asking anyway and we just couldn't take it anymore. You broke us. High persistence. Low distractibility. Well done my boy. You will go far in this life. I gave you the choice of having my old iPhone 4 for free or a $100 toward the phone of your choice. After days of searching eBay and Amazon you took the $100 and upgraded to a shiny refurbished iPhone 5c, paying the rest off from your own savings. And that was that. Aba and I worried that it would be a disaster. That you would lose it or break it or spend all your time on it, but I'm happy to report that it's been fine and now I don't have to get a zillion Whatsapp messages from your classmates. And that rechargeable case you insisted on buying has come in handy when my phone has died on occasion. It's nice to have one early adapter in the family. Now you just need to get a job to support your habit.

But we didn't just get you a phone. This was the year that we went balls out. We said, sure, all the research points to handheld devices as the singular factor causing the deterioration of verbal culture, handwritten expression and empathy. True, the radiation these things emit is enough to pop corn, cause a blood moon and melt the ice caps. But why stop at one device? Why not throw caution to the wind and TURN. THIS. MOTHER. OUT. You know what I mean? So we bought you a Kindle and a Raspberry Pi too. And a drone. 

The Kindle is just plain genius parenting. English age appropriate books are expensive as hell in Israel and generally hard to come by. You can't just pick up Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing at the library. The only English books at our library are the Fifty Shades trilogy that I donated last year. But on the Kindle you can get whatever you want and sometimes it's even free. Plus I can use it too. Win. Win. Win. 

The Raspberry Pi is sadly also a device and not an actual pie. It's like a bitty motherboard with ports whose operating system you load on an SD card depending on what you want to do. I don't even know what I just said. All I know is that the whole thing cost me like $30 and whatever you did to it made it turn our television into the Internet. 

But electronics aside, it's been a great year for a lot of other reasons. You kicked it up a notch in piano. You joined the local roller hockey team. Your first friend in Israel who moved to Canada two years ago moved back and now he's basically Canadian. We should send all Israeli kids to Canada for a makeover. He was a great kid to begin with but now he's a Canadian level great kid. And speaking of great kids, you and your sister have found some common ground in your plight to grow up in the same house. Turns out the only thing you can't stand more than each other is listening to your little bother yammer away all day long. That child does not shut up even for a second. Like if he's awake, then he's talking and it drives you and the rest of us mad hatter. Wait, I think I hear him now. He's saying stop widing on da compuda because I'm tawking. Only God can save us my dear. And earplugs. 

Beautiful boy, I wish you another kickass year. I wish you patience and empathy. Such difficult skills but you are getting there slowly. I wish you endless curiousity and wonder. I wish you would clean up your room. You are a shining light. A shining, rechargeable, solar powered LED light.

I love you,
Mommy

 

This Many by Susie Lubell

Hello gorgeous.

You've told me not to call you Babu anymore or even Idan because your name is now Aba of the Animals and, alternatively, Aba of Spiderman. Sounds like someone just turned four.

Happy birthday! It has been a stellar year. One for the books. We started off by starting preschool! You and your best friend Omer bid farewell to the idyllic toddler oasis of your dear Yulia and entered the whirling, chaotic, vertigo-inducing cacophony that is municipal preschool. After six weeks I had a meeting with your teacher to discuss your progress and she said, well he's not especially social. Or verbal. Or coordinated. So I added that he is also likely color-blind! She didn't think that was as funny as I did. But, as expected, in time you have opened up to your teachers and classmates. You speak a seamless mix of Hebrew English so consistent it might qualify as an official creole. And you are coordinated enough to get yourself dressed in the morning so I don't really give a crap if you can hold a pencil. Yet.

This year has been an interesting one in your development. On the one hand you are so much more independent and everything that was once so exhausting, like getting you ready in the morning or getting you in and out of the car, or putting you to bed, is totally manageable now. I'll never forget when you decided after one Shabbat dinner that you were going home with Saba and Savta to spend the night. They actually had plans the next day but you weren't having any of that. You declared that you were sleeping over, went upstairs and packed your bag, put on your pajamas, came downstairs and waited for them by the door. How could they say no?

On the other hand, you regularly point out that you are still a baby. And when you're not Aba of the Animals, you are a baby animal. It can be confusing to the untrained eye. There's a lot of back and forth. A lot of I can do it myself! Followed by you do it! I'm a baby! You could see how that would be sort of hard to follow or predict or understand or decipher.  This stage made me want to strangle your brother. But not now. Not with you. Because you are still my baby. Even as I see that you've become quite long and skinny and the eyes that once took up half your head are now fairly proportionate to the rest of you, I like that you are still little. 

You know what else I like? I like that the whole week you wait for Friday night dinner so you can play your ukulele with Aba and sing Shabbat songs. I like when you and your sister set up the whole downstairs with pillows and stuffed animals. I like when you get out your tools and do work on the house. I like that you still don't notice when your shoes are on backwards. I like when you put on your favorite songs and do capoeira-esque cartwheels on the carpet in the entryway. I like when you ask your brother to read you stories.

I hope next year brings you much joy and maybe a dog. I hope your nose stops running. I hope you agree to eat something besides yogurt. I hope all the animals and Spidermans realize how much they lucked out with you as their aba. I hope we can put your afternoon nap behind us. I hope I manage to make some family albums this year like I did before you were born so that you don't have to keep looking at baby pictures of your brother and ask if they are of you. They're not. Sorry. 

Mieces to pieces,
Mommy

On Saying Yes by Susie Lubell

A week ago I was on a camping trip with a few families and I got a phone call from the director of my choir. I sing in a choir. I like to sing. I've always liked to sing. In college I sang in an a capella group which might have been the best thing about college. We rehearsed twice a week and performed around campus. It was good fun. But once I graduated, I stopped singing. Anyway, this year the director of the music school in our town (the guy who built it from nothing) announced that he was starting a new adult choir and even though I preferred to sing Annie Lennox and Led Zeppelin rather than Mendelsohn and Psalms, I decided to try it. Turns out it doesn't much matter what I'm singing. I like it all the same.

But back to the phone call. He called to ask if I wanted to sing a song in Yiddish at the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony in our community. I let out an incredulous chuckle. Are you kidding me?You want me to sing in public? In Yiddish? Next week?  He said No, not kidding. Yes, Yiddish song. In front of people. Next week. Isn't there anyone else you can ask? I mean I barely speak Hebrew and you want me to sing in Yiddish? Gevalt! He said, I want you to do it. It's a beautiful song. It fits your voice. I told him I'd think about it. He said he'd send me the music and a recording of him singing the song. He sent both immediately after we hung up. He was serious. 

We returned from camping and I ran into him at the supermarket. Ugh. Are we doing the song? he asked. I still hadn't said yes. Sensing I was on the verge of saying no, he said, "listen, let's practice it a few times and then you decide." I didn't want to disappoint him but I also really didn't want to learn a new song in another language and sing it at a public ceremony four days from now.

You see I get nervous doing anything live in front of other people. Even just talking. This is why I like blogging. Because I can edit. If something doesn't come out right, I can go back. I can even unpublish. I can SHUT. IT. DOWN. Performing is not like that. Once you hit the wrong note or screw up the words, you're done. I mean, your life is not over, but it's still a bummer. An irreversible bummer. And I tend to hold onto bummers for a long time. I wasn't always like this though. I used to perform all the time in a children's theater company. I used to play piano in recitals and in front of judges. Even in college, performing with my group was a rush. I loved it. I sang solos in front of hundreds of people. I regularly made a total ass of myself on stage. It was awesome. But in the twenty years since the last time I was on a stage, a kind of performance anxiety had taken hold. We can even call it fear because that's what it really is. Fear of looking foolish. Fear of making mistakes. Fear of getting in over my head. And it's kind of pervasive. I felt it in graduate school. I felt in my various positions in my various careers. This fear that I'm just not qualified. 

Plus there's this thing about knowing when to say no. People are always talking about being skilled at saying no. Knowing when to forego opportunities because they are not worthy of your time or energy. Understanding your priorities. Not getting roped into someone else's circus. I'm all for that. And in my quest to slow down and stay focused on my family and my work and my own happiness, I've gotten pretty good at saying no. Maybe too good. Some days it's more or less the only thing I say all day. Just ask my kids.

But then I recalled what he said on the phone. I want you to sing it, he said. That's when I had my Moses on the Mountain moment. If the director of the music school asks you to sing a song, no matter what language or key or day of the year, you sing it. You go learn the music and sing the song. Because he knows you can and your job is to trust him. If you get the call (and in this case it literally was a call) you answer it. Had he asked my son or daughter to play piano at the ceremony, I would have encouraged them to do it because the only reason not to is the fear and that's not a good enough reason. And all this without mentioning what an honor it would be to sing this particular song in rememberance of those who had perished in the camps and fighting in the resistance. And those who lived to share their horrors.

So I said YES. And I practiced and we worked on it together and I practiced more. I practiced a lot. I even recorded myself singing and we all know how painful it is to listen to a recording of yourself. But I said YES. I let go of my fear. I got up on stage in front of 500 people and I sang my heart out. I said YES.

The Salt Water by Susie Lubell

I'm peeling the shallots and crying. I'm crying because I'm not with my whole family on Passover. But reminders of them are here with me. I'm setting the table for sixteen with a mix of plates (does anyone have setting for sixteen?). Half are the blue Calico china that my mom bought when I was three. Half are from the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem which I bought when I decided I was old enough to have my own plates. I'm setting out the silver candle sticks for Shabbat that belonged to my grandmother. 

I'm crying because I'm remembering all of the Passover seders over the last forty years. I remember seders with the Sitzman family. I remember wearing my green velour jumpsuit, the one I wore every day for two years. I remember looking for the Afikomen in their twenty acre backyard. It might have only been half an acre. It might have just been a large patio. It seemed to me like a giant space to find a tiny cracker.

I'm crying because I'm no longer at the kids table. I remember seders at my parents' house, the house smelling of tsimmes and chopped liver and matsoh ball soup. I was always the youngest. I remember singing the four questions and reading about the son who was too young to ask. My brother always read about the wicked son. I remember thinking that was awesome. I remember drawing the hagaddah covers and my mom having them laminated and then using them for the next twenty years. I remember seders as a teenager when my Uncle Herb had to read about the bitter herbs. I remember hiding the afikomen and making the adults looks for it. 

I'm crying because I am so grateful for the family I married into. I remember the huge, wild seders at the Rosen house in Beer Sheva when my brother-in-law used to invite half his medical school class. It was one long kids table. I remember attempting to make matsoh egg rolls and vowing to never do that again. I no longer had to read the four questions because Mr. Rosen had a little sister!

I'm crying remembering a time when I felt more free. Before marriage, before mortgage, before kids. I remember trekking along the Anapurna trail in Nepal and realizing it was seder night. We ran into some other Israelis and asked if they wanted to have seder with us and they told us the seder was the night before. Oops. So Mr. Rosen and I improvised. We rolled a joint for our bitter herb, ate some dried fruit and nuts and called it charoset and then lay in bed freezing at 14,000 feet singing Who Knows One until we passed out. 

I'm crying because this year none of the kids at the kids table need my help eating. We've spent the last ten seders making memories for little kids. I remember the first year that Eliyahu came to our seder. I convinced Uncle Aaron to dress in a sheet, a rasta hat and sunglasses and swirl in at just the right moment sending small children into terrified hysterics. I remember when the older cousins couldn't find the afikomen until we noticed my one year old daughter sitting on the floor next to the hiding spot eating it. 

I'm crying because of the damn shallots. I'm preparing the chicken, roasting the vegetables, putting the hametz in the back room, unfolding the tablecloths that belonged to my husband's grandmother who passed away a year ago. I'm handling her silver too, amazed by how it feels different than our regular "silver"ware. I'm dusting off the Delftware seder plate that my cousins bought us at the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam for our wedding. I'm hauling down the extra chairs. I'm cutting flowers for the table. I'm covering the matsoh. I'm finding the hagadot. I'm preparing the bowls of salt water for the table so we can dip the parsley like we've always done. The salt water seems especially symbolic. I'm crying and I'm letting in the holiday and the memories and the flavors and the traditions and the love.

Hooked by Susie Lubell

On Sunday I took my daughter and sister-in-law, for their birthdays, to a crochet workshop in Jerusalem! Just the three of us and our fantastic teacher Shira who is a textile artist and has a studio space in the charming Designers in the City compound in the back of Nocturno Cafe at Bezalel 7 in Jerusalem (for you locals).

I had been trying to work out what to do for her on her actual birthday and since it's been rainy, anything outdoors was out. I thought about a movie or ice-skating but neither of those were realistic. So I did a search for mother daughter activity in Jerusalem (sometimes you just have to ask google directly) and that lead me to the Fun in Jerusalem website where I saw a listing for acrochet workshop! For ages 8 and older!  A two hour workshop to learn how to finger crochet a rug or basket using recycled tricot (tshirt) materials. I had been wanting to learn to crochet for ages. In fact we come from a long line of crochet goddesses, namely my Grammy, who at 91 years old crocheted the kippot for my wedding. 

So I contacted Shira who was very responsive and we set a time for late Sunday afternoon. It turned out that my sister-in-law was also free and since she and my daughter share a birthday week and they have a very close relationship, I thought it would be really special to include her. And it was awesome! Shira was amazing and worked beautifully with my daughter. The time flew and we actually learned how to crochet! And Aviv picked it up really quickly which made her feel like a million bucks, especially since by the time she'd basically made herself a hat, what I was doing looked like cat's cradle.  

And now we are hooked! Pun intended. Yesterday I went back to Jerusalem and bought four skeins of cotton yarn and we're setting out to make Aviv a circular rug for her room. Turns out you need to use a needle for this kind of skinny material, but crocheting with a needle is even easier than using your finger! 

Anyway, Shira was fantastic and is available to host birthday parties at her studio or at our home. And she's an incredible textile artist. Check out her ETSY shop and Facebook page

Eight by Susie Lubell

photo credit: Naomi Davis

photo credit: Naomi Davis

Dear Sugar Bee,

Happy birthday to you my dear. Another year goes by. A great year I'd say. The days of tantrums over bumps in your ponytail? Gone. Crying because your favorite tights are in the laundry? Over. Psychotic episodes and hyperventilation over homework? Thing of the past. You are kind of a badass, my little girl. A thoughtful, self-aware, clothes folding, towel hanging, little brother dressing, mommy snuggling, vegetable eating badass. And it hasn't all happened over night. You have worked hard! Harder than many. 

Let's take reading for example. Uch! Screw reading. Who needs it? Well it turns out that reading is important even though it is difficult. And yes, reading the time is also important, namely so you can stop asking your mother. And I know everything is backwards here. You read right to left but then tell digital time left to right! What?!?! That makes no sense! Tell me about it. You learned how to read music this year too and English, both of which are also left to right! It's enough to drive anyone completely mad hatter. I get dysgraphia just thinking about it. But you never give up. You are diligent and persistent and it is quite spectacular to watch. 

And you know what else was spectacular to watch? Your first judo match. You were so nervous and didn't' even want to compete. And then you got out on the mat and DOMINATED. You were like a fairy ninja. You pranced over to your opponent with your raven pony tail bouncing and then threw him to the ground like a sack of potatoes! Huzzah! You surprised everyone and I think you even surprised yourself.

As for our power struggles, which once took a daily toll, they are now so sporadic that when they occur I think we are both startled. I have gotten better at recognizing one in the making and diffusing it and you have gotten better at letting whatever it is go in the first place. It's harder to let things go with your brothers though. I know. I wonder sometimes how you much being a little sister to your older brother has shaped you. For better or worse. We'll never know I guess but I think your relationship is becoming incrementally easier for you to handle. Increments sometimes so small they can only be detected by a scanning electron microscope, but still. It's forward motion. You have yet to finish a game of Taki with him that didn't end in huffing up the stairs, but at least it's not huffing and screaming.

Thankfully you have many friends to distract you from sibling strife. And to watch you all play together is to watch magic unfold. You still make tea parties for your dolls and animals. You still sing and dance around the house. You rollerblade through the living room, arms flailing. And while you've given up on a little sister, your brothers are willing participants when you want to play hair and nail salon. Plus you have adopted several older girlfriends and relatives to be your proxy sisters. I think those are the best kind of sisters anyway. 

I hope it's another wonderful year for you Sugar Bee. Full of rainbows and hearts and smileys. Your spirit, intuition and courage are a shining light to me and Aba and all who know you. Except for maybe that little boy you trounced in judo. He's afraid of you. Very afraid. 

love you mieces to pieces,
Mommy

Allowing for Failure in the Creative Process by Susie Lubell

Imagine how different our professional lives would be if we allowed more time for ourselves to play. Tinker. Mess around. Daydream. And not just "creative" professions. Isn't it Google that allows their employees to spend 20% of their time developing pet projects. They've done pretty well for themselves, I'd say. I think probably the best ideas come out that way. They certainly don't come out from telling ourselves to come up with them.

A few days ago I got to hear an incredible speaker in our tiny community library. World renowned collage artist and illustrator Hanoch Piven came to speak on the topic of communication, creativity and play.  Maybe you don't know his name but you've seen his collages on the covers of Rolling Stone, Esquire and Time Magazine. He's kind of a big deal. And yet his genius sort of evolved from a place of failure. A little background:

Hanoch Piven always liked to draw as a kid. He loved cartoons and caricatures but instead of pursuing this passion he found himself studying software design and math after his army service.  Safer choices. But dissatisfied with this path he applied to Israel's premiere art school, Bezalel, and was not accepted. So he applied to other schools and ended up studying illustration at the New York School of Visual Arts. At some point he began to feel that his drawing skills just were not at the same level as his classmates and he hit a wall. He tells the story of how he came across an old poster advertisement for Charlie Chaplin's film The Great Dictator and the image was simply the contour of the face, a black block for a mustache and a wisp of black bang on top. But it was so obvious that not only was it Hitler, it was Charlie Chaplin playing Hitler. He was astounded by how such little visual information could convey so much. Soon after he was trying to draw a caricature of Saddam Hussein (this was around the time of the Gulf War) and nothing was working. He saw a box of matches near his drawing table (his girlfriend at the time was a smoker) and by simply placing the matches as Hussein's exaggerated mustache, not much else was needed to convey the persona. 

And so began a 25 year career of creating collages, mainly celebrity portraits, out of everyday items, food and garbage. Every portrait he showed was immediately obvious. He also talked about how the process of creation for him is more about playing than anything else. His studio has boxes and boxes of items and he simply plays with pieces again and again, switching and reconfiguring, until something works. And up until it finally works, it's a lot of stuff that doesn't work. He says, "there is a lot of inspiration in the process itself. To start the process with failure. To allow yourself to fail. But once you are there, the failures lead to success". 

I love the idea that he creates by playing. He accesses that curiosity that we all have as children but often lose as adults. It reminded me of that quote by Picasso "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." He even showed a picture of Picasso, one of my favorites, one that I have hanging in my own studio, sitting at a table with rolls at the edge where his fingers would be. Silly Picasso. 

This is exactly where I'm at. I'm letting myself play. I'm painting layer over layer until I like what I see. When something isn't working, I let it dry and let it go. I glue some paper on top, make some new marks and move forward. I look at the those marks and see what emerges. A woman, a monkey, a giraffe. Whatever it is, I let it in. Hearing Hanoch speak about his own similar process was like getting a little nod and pat on the back. You got this girl. Keep at it.

And I should also mention that for someone so accomplished, he comes across as a lovely man. A mensch really. He holds creativity workshops all over the world for children and adults and lectures on the topics of creativity, communication, innovation and education. Here are a few snippets to enjoy. The Ted Talk especially contains much of the material he shared with us in the library.

And the Sea Parted by Susie Lubell

Sometimes connections and messages present themselves and I happen to have my eyes open and then I get to witness something extraordinary.

Last week was the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and my Facebook feed was full of Never Again sentiment with all of the horrifying imagery that, together with chicken soup, Sabbath candles, Fiddler on the Roof and standing under the chuppah, forms the core of my Jewish soul. I clicked on a few links and managed to see images I had never seen before which I didn't think possible. One link in particular focused on the children of the holocaust and I stared at the tiny, terrified, malnourished faces and I thought of my own children and the world we live in today. This year the anniversary of liberation coincided with the Torah portion Beshalach, the splitting of the Red Sea. And just as the Israelites were released from bondage and crossed over to redemption, so did the survivors of Auschwitz. Except even now, after so much time has passed, nothing much has changed. Humans around the world are still enslaved and broken. European Jews live in fear again. Humanity hasn't learned. Let's just say I was not in a good place. 

The next day, on Thursday, I went to a bat mitzvah in Jerusalem. In fact I just went to drop off a print that the mother of bat mitzvah girl had bought from me as a gift for her daughter. This was a client of mine from Sweden who had flown to Israel with her family to celebrate the occasion as they had done for their three older sons. She invited me to join them for the ceremony but I had a doctor's appointment and anyway wasn't sure I would want to spend my morning at a bat mitzvah service for a family I didn't even know. 

That morning I looked up the address and discovered the ceremony was at Congregation Har El in Jerusalem, the founding congregation of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. And it turns out the rabbi there was the first rabbi of our Reform congregation in the little town where we live. I had a feeling I'd be canceling my doctor's appointment.

When I entered the modest sanctuary my client Anneka walked over and welcomed me with a big hug. I gave the print to her daughter Hannah and when she saw Magic Girl with her name inscribed in Hebrew she actually squealed and bounced on her tiptoes. I spoke with Anneka and her husband for a few minutes while we waited for the other guests to arrive. In fact they were German but had moved to Sweden many years ago because of a real estate opportunity. They lived an active, progressive Jewish life in Sweden but were thrilled to be able to celebrate the bnei mitzvah of her children in Jerusalem. Their daughter had learned her Torah portion by studying via Skype with Congregation Har El's cantor.

Once all of the guests arrived (we were only about 25) Rabbi Ada welcomed everyone in English and invited Hannah to the bima to read the poem "I am a Jew", written in 1927 by Jewish French writer, poet, translator and playwright Edmond Fleg. Je suis Juif. But Hannah read it in her native German. And to hear this beautiful twelve year old girl, with the clearest blue eyes I have ever seen, read and affirm again and again, in German, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, felt like redemption itself.

Together we chanted the prayers of the morning service, the same ones I read when I became bat mitzvah almost thirty years ago. And when it was time for Hannah to read her portion from the Torah, which was passed to her from her father to her mother to her older sister and three brothers, the rabbi mentioned that the breast plate decorating and protecting this holy book was donated by Otto Frank, Anne Frank's father and sole surviving family member, when he visited the synagogue in the 1960s. On it, in large Hebrew letters, is engraved In Memory of Anna. Both names, Hannah and Anna, are derived from the Hebrew word for grace. And indeed Hannah was the essence of grace as she chanted her Torah portion, before family and friends, seventy years after the ovens at Auschwitz and only a few weeks after the horrific violence in a changing Europe. Her voice was brave, almost defiant, as she affirmed her sacred place in the history of the Jewish people. And with belief and hope restored, she walked us through the parted waters to the other side.

He said AJIME and I turned into Hyper Sports Mom by Susie Lubell

I never thought it would happen to me. I would read those articles on Huffington Post and everywhere else about problems associated with kids specializing early in one sport or another. And parents contracting Psychotic Bleacher Syndrome whereby they focus all of their own childhood sports failures and triumphs into radicalized sideline encouragement. And I was smug. I thought, that will never be me. First of all, I don't care about winning or losing. I care that my kids are active and coachable. Second, my kids don't really play sports. Problem solved.  We tried peewee soccer. We tried gymnastics. We tried dance. None of it really took. My oldest is into riding his bike and that's good enough for me. And my daughter has made it clear that she is not interested in any sport where she has to do anything in front of anyone. She's just not one of those kids who like to be in the spotlight or warrant any undue attention. Unless we're at home and then she wants a lot of attention. Mostly mine. And her brother's. Separate issue. But I still wanted her to do a sport because I believe practicing a sport is important, especially for girls. Self-esteem and all that. So last year she started Judo. There were a few meets over the course of the year but she made it very clear she was not interested in competing. And I didn't want to drive her an hour to the meets so that was fine with me.

I come from a fairly sporty family. My brothers and I all played competitive sports through high school. My husband too. He was on the Men's Israeli National Gymnastics team. So of course I wondered why my kids don't want to compete? What's wrong with them? They cheat at cards so they obviously like to win...But because I get distracted easily by other questions like, what am I making for dinner and why is there so much laundry, I forgot to be overly concerned. We also don't live in America, so competitive youth sports is less of an issue.

But last Saturday everything changed. We took my daughter, as a family, to a town near Tel Aviv, for her first Judo meet. When we first heard about the meet I told her that I thought she should try it and she immediately spelled out in no uncertain terms that she had no interest in competing. So I backed off. A few days later I casually brought up the subject again and said, well maybe we can just go and see what it's like but you don't have to compete. Don't bother bringing my uniform, she said.

The day of the meet we tried to convince her that it would be fun. She might enjoy competing. It's not about winning but about trying your best. Her dad talked about how he used to get nervous before gymnastics meets. And I told her how I used to have butterflies in my stomach before soccer matches. But then once you're doing it you forget about anyone watching and you just have fun. We basically regurgitated all the regular stuff. She wasn't convinced. I brought her uniform anyway.

I texted her coach to say she would need a little encouragement. We got there early and she suited up while giving me the hairy eyeball. We entered the gym and there were fifty little kids ages 4-8 running around and maybe a dozen from our town. Chairs were set up for the parents. She was looking around, taking it all in. She was visibly nervous. Her coach walked over and explained that the kids would first just warm up like they always do so she could just start with that if she decided not to compete that would be fine. She had tears in her eyes. She walked out to the mat anyway.

After the warm up the other coach split them into groups by age and belt and by then she must have felt more comfortable or maybe couldn't figure out how to escape because the matches began and she wasn't going anywhere. The other coach called her name and she walked over to the center mat and met her opponent, a seven-year-old boy with a yellow belt. She was completely calm and knew exactly what she needed to do. She walked to the side and when the coach shouted RE, she bowed. Then he called AJIME to begin the match and she ran at the little boy across from her and THREW. HIM. DOWN. I mean I couldn't believe what we were watching. We had never seen her fight before. Sure we'd seen her have tantrums about practicing piano and doing her homework and we'd seen her try to kill her brother. But this was something else entirely. She was completely in control. After she pinned him the first time both kids popped up and again, AJIME. And she threw him down again. Three times! Then there was a final bow and they shook hands. She had two more matches after that and did very well in both.

After the meet we gave her a huge hug and asked how she felt and she talked about how her heart was beating really fast and it was a lot fun. And how she wants to go to all the meets and the spring retreat too. I had videotaped all the three matches and in my euphoric state I posted the best one on Facebook. And the comments and likes poured in. I watched that video about fifty times. I was overcome with pride for my little judoka. And I realized that I had never contracted Psychotic Bleacher Syndrome before only because I had never had the opportunity.

A few days later I started to wonder how I would have felt if my daughter had been the little boy that she crushed. Would I still have been proud of her for just competing, as I had always said I would be. I never imagined myself the kind of parent who would get so caught up in my kids' achievements but here I was suddenly wondering if maybe she shouldn't start practicing judo twice a week. And what if she wants to quit, like she tried to at the end of last year. Would I allow it? But she's so good, I could here my future self whining.  I just want for her all of the self-esteem and personal growth and satisfaction and physical strength that come from training in a sport.

What happens next? Do I just let her decide to do something else next year if she feels like it and squander her natural ninja talents? I definitely think this competition has made her want to continue but she's as mercurial as they come. She could very well want to play skate hockey next year and that will have to be fine. I have to just hope that she will continue to enjoy an active life. And that I'll be able to support her choices, her triumphs and her defeats with the same spirit and grace she showed last week on the mat.