Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"J" Jewish Guilt of Writing

by Rich Keller

If you happen to catch a writer in a certain light you'll notice a few traits you wouldn't see on a lawyer, a professional curler, or the president of a medium-sized country. There's a pall of resignation on their face, perhaps a pinkish flush on their skin from too much sighing. And if you look into their eyes you can detect a slight uplift in their pupils like they are searching for something in the ceiling.

This is not contemplation for a new idea nor frustration at how poorly they think their story is going. It can now be told that this is a result of a nagging voice from inside their head. One that won't stop, even when they have to go to the bathroom. It's the voice of their internal Jewish mother.

First, I have personal knowledge of the phenomenon. Not only am I a writer but I was raised Jewish and filled with guilt. Second, you can replace "Jewish mother" with any religion or ethnicity -- they all exhibit their fair share of guilt. For those who had even-handed mothers or were residents of Miss Hannigan's Hudson Street Orphanage, I provide a stereotypical example of the exquisite perfection that is motherly guilt:


Grown Child with Family: So, we've set the sofa bed up for you during your visit.

Mother: Oh, thank you. I'm sure it won't cause any more back pain than I already have.

GCwF: Um, well, you could sleep in our bed, and we could sleep down here.

Mother: No, dear. You go to bed and don't worry about me. It's not like the doctor said there was a huge chance of paralysis if I didn't sleep on a supported mattress.

GCwF (after a few minutes of eye rolling followed by a sigh): Fine, mother, take our bed.

Mother: Such a loving child.


Now, take a look at the transcript of what a writer has in their head on a daily, if not hourly, basis. For instance:


Author: Well, I've tried to write today. I think I'll watch Fuller House the rest of the afternoon.

Guilt Voice: Well, if you feel you've done enough.

Author: I've done just fine, thank you. I need a break to recharge the batteries.

GV: All right, deary, go ahead. You can always finish your work tomorrow, or next week, or maybe just hold off until it feels right.

Author: I'm going to finish it tomorrow.

GV: If you say so.

Author (after a few minutes of eye rolling followed by a sigh): Fine, I'll write two more pages.

GV: Such a sweet writer.


There's both good and bad to the Jewish guilt of writing. True, it prevents you from finishing up that last season of Salvage Dawgs on Netflix. On the plus side, the voice keeps you productive and encourages you to push through to reach a goal -- regardless if it's done with a bit of muttering and a possible correction in your eyeglass prescription. In the end, like your real mother, the imaginary one in your head is right ... sometimes. Don't fight it. Embrace the guilt and work to be the best writer you can.

Such a dahling author!

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