Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Visiting My Childhood Home---

---Is Like Visiting Old Writing

Just returned from Jerusalem, where I had the privilege of visiting the house and neighborhood I grew up in. I was reminded of an old Shalom Aleichem story where he returned to his childhood home and found the rooms have grown smaller, the street became alleys, and the tall trees have grown shorter.


Don’t get me wrong- West Jerusalem is undergoing a frenzy of new building, as is the whole country of Israel. It is a dynamic place with an almost maniacal energy, for good and bad. But my old apartment building and the streets surrounding it are not part of this fever, and they felt much lessened to me.
I write here not about the stuff you get from the daily news. I got a taste of that in the city-wide alarm sirens when collisions on the Holy Mount erupted, and saw the helicopters hover over. I saw troops descend on a shopping area near the old city the day a Palestinian minister died after altercations with Israeli security. Those troops were there to prevent further violence, which did not materialize. But this is not what I am referring to.

For the most part, the city of my birth and the country as a whole are thriving. Israel is bustling, creative, and internally argumentative as ever. Art galleries and cafes are full, and the fruits and spices of the market fill the streets with intoxicating fragrance. Jerusalem is eternally “the navel of the world,” as Ezekiel 5:5 and 38:12 coined it thousands of years ago.


But, at least to my eyes, not my old home. Not the place where I grew, and dreamt, and finally left only to dream of it, looking backwards.

It occurred to me that this experience is akin to visiting my old writing. Have you done that? Some writers say they can’t bear to read their old writing. Some aspects I remembered as powerful turned out to seem awkward, derivative, and so much less effective that they were in my memory. Reading old stories or old blog posts can have a discouraging effect.
But then, I always find glorious surprises. Not what I remembered, but what I barely noticed and certainly forgot. A turn of phrase with eloquent charm I can hardly believe came out of my typing hands. A line of dialogue as surprising as it is both punchy and profound. Did I write this? Pat-on-the-back.

Bittersweet. Like visiting my old home.

Here is my little unexpected bit of love that I found in Jerusalem, with an old feral alley-cat. In the weeks I was there, I came back to visit him many times, and he slowly allowed me closer. I worried about him when it rained hard and I couldn't find him in his usual spot. But when I called, he came. Finally, he agreed to  be photographed for my post, here.


13 comments:

  1. Love that story from Sholem Aleichem!

    I did revisit some of my old writing when I moved to a smaller home and had to downsize. Some was dreadful, some was surprisingly good. What I liked about some of the early efforts was the freedom of not knowing the rules and the pure joy of writing that comes through. I miss that.

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  2. I've only gone back once to my childhood home in India and couldn't bear to disturb the occupants. But the gate and the puddle right beside it were so familiar. I threw away all my old writing when we moved. But enough has been published that when I lead workshops I can either share a beautiful piece or one that could still use some editing. LOL. It's bittersweet.

    The kitty is a love!

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  3. I do like to revisit my old writing and I love going back home to my hometown. I'm one of those people who enjoys strolling down memory lane.

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  4. An interesting and well-chosen analogy. I, too, have had occasion to revisit some of my older writing. My unpublished mss tend to fall in the disappointing category. But when my children were young I fairly often wrote 'family letters' to my big extended family. I re-read a number of those last spring when we were going through my SIL's home, and, like you, I was delightfully surprised. I think I was actually a better writer back then than I am now. Maybe as Barb says--the freedom of not knowing the rules allows the pure joy to come through.

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  5. It was fun to read about your old home, Mirka, and it's a great analogy. I haven't opened up very many old writing files. I should try one today but might not like what I read!

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  6. Wonderful post Mirka. I enjoyed it and your pictures very much. I will have to think about those old writing files. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. I've reread old work at times. Usually I'm disappointed. My childhood home is across town from me, looking a bit run-down despite newer siding. I enjoy driving past my grandparents' home better. It's farther away, so not as accessible, and I have such golden memories from there.

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  8. Reading this reminds me of the song, "The House That Built Me." And our works are part of building us too, but I hadn't thought of it that way. Thank you for reflecting on your home. Seeing things through your eyes, without political slant, affected by your surrounds is refreshing. Thank you for sharing Mirka.

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  9. I am astonished that a cat that beautiful has not been adopted by someone! I'm happy you made friends with it -- perhaps it will help it to approach another kind stranger and find a real home. Although I realize as I'm writing this it's probably perfectly happy living rough because, hey, it's a CAT. But if it showed up any my house, or on my block, I'd do my best to add it to the family.

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    1. The feral cats I saw in Jerusalem were stunningly beautiful. Many of them would win feline beauty contests. People leave food for them, so they are not emaciated. Jerusalem had a trap-neuter-vaccinate-and-release program, so the feral cat colonies are largely healthy.

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  10. Yes! I know exactly what you are talking about, both in visiting an old home and in visiting with old writing.

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  11. What a wonderful trip that must have been, Mirka. In reading The Voice of Thunder, I feel like I've already been to your home!

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  12. This is such a beautiful post, Mirka. It is so true that our oldest memories often don't live up to our expectations when revisiting the past. But then there are always the unexpected surprises. This is definitely the same when reading old writing. You are right--some of it can be downright cringe worthy, but every so often a gem appears. Thanks for sharing about your trip!

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