Two years prior to making moving to Israel, I had a panic attack about what I might do for work once we made aliyah to the Holy Land. I had never not worked and wasn’t about to begin a life of full-time homemaking when I had never been much of a homemaker to begin with. Quickly I applied to graduate school and was accepted into a two-year program that combined masters and doctorate degrees in the field of psychotherapy. Two years not including clinic hours. Two years of full-time study, and I had five young children at home. Concurrent to the application process, I became pregnant with my sixth child.
I sat on the bathroom floor of our Long Island split-level ranch home and wept while holding the university catalog in my shaking fingers. After a few minutes, however, I stood erect and made a fortuitous decision; if I couldn’t become a therapist, I’d become a wig stylist.
Okay. So it’s a stretch. But the point of the story is that I wanted to learn something that would satisfy my artistic nature, I had a lot of energy and wanted the independence of managing my own business. It would have to be something that didn’t require, initially, too much Hebrew.
Thus decided, for several months I drove into the bowels of Brooklyn and climbed a narrow staircase to learn the skills required for the thriving art of sheitle machering. The other eleven women in the intense program were ultra-Orthodox, and even though I was plenty religious myself, the differences were stark. The other gals were generally poor, working as clerks in Manhattan’s Diamond District or as assistants in the neighborhood’s charedi nursery schools. I drove a top-of-the-line minivan, wore expensive clothing and jewelry, eschewed stockings, and elicited immediate distrust. It was evident that I would not be elected prom queen. No one spoke with me.
At the beginning, I cut my fingers often with razor-sharp scissors and learned to carry super-strength Band Aids in my pocketbook. But I loved it. Cutting: thinning; weaving; perming; dying; there was not an area of the field that I found distasteful. As soon as it became apparent that that my passion for the craft would take me far beyond home hobbyist, I earned the respect of my instructors and course mates.
Even though the aforementioned life episode took place 16 years ago, I never lost my interest in learning how to do things. Some of the other non-brain-surgery type skills I’ve acquired include interior room painting, elemental electric wiring, toilet tank tinkering, driving (badly) a stick shift, stuffing grape leaves, and playing exactly two songs on a banjo.
Having received some modest recognition as a writer over the past decade, it has often been my pleasure to address various organizations on the subject of “Writing Our Lives.” I use these occasions to offer some hard-learned insights about the art of recording our personal histories. Yep, I’m a big believer in “being remembered.” I’m also a big believer in taking chances and exploring new territory as a sure-fire method of staying young and thinking “out of the box.” Being “boxed-in” is, for me, a whopper no-no . . .
Not too long ago — after one such talk — I was invited into the adjoining radio station to share a few thoughts with an English-speaking audience. The host and I had a few yuks, someone took a picture of me wearing headsets, and I left. In the parking lot, the station manager appeared and asked whether I’d be interested in having my own show.
I’ve always held that God gives us a large canvas upon which we can paint each day and only at the end of our waking hours can we assess whether we’ve completed a masterpiece or need to return to “Intro to Life Art 101.” Have we painted tolerance? Laughter? Acceptance? Or are our drawings hodgepodges of rage? Animus? Retribution? Revenge? Morning after morning, I recommit to partnership with the Lord and announce, “My art set is ready. Let me paint something new!”
This must be the reason I insanely agreed to do a radio gig week after week. Humming the song “I Can Do That!” from A Chorus Line, each Wednesday afternoon I press my shrinking frame into a tiny studio and make phone calls to people I’ve never met, play songs that occasionally meet with the approval of my adult children, read outrageous news stories, and try to let people have as good a time as I’m having. After all, I like to laugh and learn. Doesn’t everyone?
Which is why I froze dead in my tracks when, last week, the station engineer told me that he wasn’t coming in on my given day, and I’d have to man the show by myself. “Say what?” I screamed. After all, my job is to sit at a desk and look smart. I don’t “do” buttons. I don’t even look at a computer screen. The sound board has a lot of numbers, dials, and slide-type things on it. Yeah? I don’t think so . . . .
And doesn’t being the oldest presenter on the station count for something? Apparently not, because after a 40-minute lesson during someone else’s time slot, I was sent home with the expectation that on Wednesday afternoon I would run my own program.
Aarrrrgh! I did it!
While I talked over the music a bit too much (Who ever heard of Bon Jovi anyway?), inappropriately guffawed my way through a report about the Hostess Twinkies Diet, and played Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” when I meant to air Sly & the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music,” it wasn’t too bad. Expecting me to answer the incoming live chats might have broken me, but, all in all, it was a valiant first effort for this “what-can-I-learn-today” grandma.
This morning the station manager called to ask if I want to move to a two-hour show at nights. Hmmm.
Present me with a super-strength antiperspirant and unopened bottle of vodka and I just might think about it.
In fact, I just may learn something.