The following comes from guest blogger Pamela Ehrenberg.
As we fly out the door to my daughter’s preschool—”Is today the day you need a two-liter bottle/four dollars/a percussion instrument?” I sometimes think of the ancient Israelites, hastening to flee Egypt. “We don’t have time to boil an egg for your lunch—here, take a cheese stick.” I wonder if ancient Israelite children ever wore mismatched sandals and if some of their parents felt guilty for trying to do too much: “If only I hadn’t been trying to jot down this fleeing drama for a novel, we could have let the bread rise last night.”
At Tot Shabbat recently, I learned that angels are incapable of multitasking. They receive their mission, come to earth to complete it, and return for their next set of instructions. We were advised to “be like the angels,” to avoid getting distracted. I have a long way to go. But what do angels do when they learn everyone’s donating pet supplies at that day’s birthday party? How do angels avoid distraction when their one-year-old learns how to flip on and off the oven light? Maybe I missed that part while I was chasing my son away from the grape juice cups in the back of the Tot Shabbat room.
Last year I developed an online workshop for the Writer’s Center of Bethesda, Maryland called “Making Time to Write in an Impossibly Busy Life.” (Because it’s online, participants can join in from anywhere—this spring someone participated from Ukraine!) We address goal setting, community, perseverance, and flexibility as we cheer each other on in pursuing our writing goals. I hadn’t thought of the workshop as particularly Jewish, but in six thousand years of Jewish history, there are plenty of lives more “impossibly busy” than my own—not just from dodging persecutors but also from struggling to earn a living and feed a family in extraordinary circumstances.
And yet we’ve kept alive our traditions of art and literature, Torah and learning, even amid daily circumstances that would seem to snuff them out. It’s easy to imagine Jewish painters in 19th century Russia, or Jewish musicians in medieval Spain, wishing they had just a little more time to think through their creations or create a few more. I’ll bet at least some of them felt the familiar frustration that they couldn’t pay adequate attention either to their art or to their “real-world” responsibilities. But they forged on, as do we.
“Be like the angels?” Sure, when I can. It’s blissful when I write for two hours uninterrupted, or when I snuggle with both my children and a whole stack of Amelia Bedelia books. But for the other 99% of my life, I have to believe that the distractions fuel the art. My books are better because of my children, and hopefully my children are better because of my books. If we wait to begin creating until our lives are less busy, we would have been waiting for six thousand years.
The Talmud says, “It is not upon you to finish the work, but you are not free to ignore it.” Here’s wishing a happy and productive summer to all.
—Pamela Ehrenberg is the author of Ethan, Suspended (2007) and Tillmon County Fire (2009). Her online workshop “Making Time to Write in an Impossibly Busy Life” will be offered again in Fall 2010. See www.writer.org or www.pamelaehrenberg.com for additional information.