A drab and wet November morning–perfect for revising at
the Royal Coffee House.
Monday evening two weeks ago I wrote a story. I wrote it
sitting in my car, with my laptop plugged into the car’s one outlet (my battery
has surpassed its lifespan), while waiting for my son’s basketball practice to
finish. I wrote about the day’s horrific events; I simply had to, and waiting
in the car was the only quiet time I was going to have that day. Tuesday
morning I revised it, sitting in my favorite café where I stop to avoid rush hour
traffic after dropping my boys off at school.
Revising, I took out a lot. Then I emailed it to my friend
who’s the main character in the story. After all this was a true story, and I wanted her to be comfortable with it before I even sent it
out for possible publication. Tuesday night, amidst her grief, she emailed
back, “It’s lovely.” Wednesday morning I pitched the essay to Tablet; on Thursday it was published:
Fatal West Bank Stabbing Hits Close to Home.
Comments on Facebook included “powerful”
and “stunning.” That essay is only “stunning” and “powerful” because it is
not the whole story. It doesn’t mention that my younger son was part of the
library presentation and that he shared photos from our trip to the French village
where his grandmother had been a hidden child during World War II. It does not
mention that my daughter is currently serving in the Israeli Defense Forces,
and that that Monday morning, before doing the library program, I had gotten
scared for the first time since she’s been in the IDF when I read that a
soldier had been stabbed at a Tel Aviv train station. It does not mention that
the principal of my children’s high school was visiting the school where we
were meeting for a recruiting event and that we all chatted about how my
daughter was doing, and about Kristallnacht, and about my rather fitting
I did write all that at first. My first draft contained the
whole story and all its tangents. But for the essay to work, I knew it had to
focus on what had stunned me so much that day: That we could have run a library
program on Jews in fear for their life, only to learn, minutes later, that the
librarian’s niece at been brutally murdered, simply because she was a Jew.
Shaping this essay reminded me again that when we write
stories from real life, we have to omit things. Just because something is part
of an experience, doesn’t mean it needs to be part of the story.
I allowed
myself to write the entire experience, and then I cut. Cutting hurt because of
course I wanted to talk about all of it. But an essay isn’t talking. I
mitigated the hurt by using my tried-and-true method of dropping what I cut into
a “parking lot” document. What you, dear readers, were left with was an essay
that worked, even if it wasn’t the whole story and probably precisely because it wasn’t.