Starting at Zero

I was recently talking to friend of mine about my life, starting over, what I’m going to do now… the usual fare these days now that I am unemployed. And I had a revelation. I really can start over. I have no job, no relationship, nobody depending on me (now that Shira is going to Japan at the end of July) except my dogs. [And my mother, and that’s another story.] So the reality is that although I can’t MOVE anywhere else (for many of the same reasons that I didn’t go with Ken to Northern California), I can reinvent myself. It’s a strange thing to be starting again. Strange and damned scary.

I have long had an alter ego. Rebekkah. This blog is named after her. And I have been thinking lately that maybe I should just become her. What would that look like? What would that feel like? Could she get work where I have been unable to?

[Aside: OK, now right there I see we have a problem. I can get work. I just can’t get work that is going to put food on the table and pay my mortgage–because I am a single person in a house that still has 10 more years to pay off (at an insanely low interest rate), and I need so much more than minimum wage to make my monthly bills. Holy Shit. How AM I going to pay my mortgage? But I digress.]

And then I remember that I have started working as a freelance writer (ha!) and writing coach. And so I don’t want to be looking for jobs anyway, except that I need to eat. Which brings us back to the above thoughts. Maybe Rebekkah can find work where Erika can’t, or maybe she could at least get that book finished! (You know, the one I’m going to publish so that when coaching clients ask me if I’ve published a book I can say, of course I have!)

Rebekkah. She’s much more fearless than I am. She doesn’t worry about what people think. She works with people who are trying to reconnect with their spiritual sides, especially when their religious upbringing tells them one story about themselves but their hearts tell them another.

Rebekkah does yoga and has a Bohemian spirit. She connects with nature and loves to be outdoors and sees the possibilities in all things. She is an amazing photographer, and she has such dynamic energy that people naturally want to be around her.

Rebekkah isn’t concerned with what people think, and she wears what makes her happy. She doesn’t shave her legs. Or under her arms. And she isn’t freaking out that her daughter is moving to Japan for a year and that she will be living alone for the first time in her entire life. Just her and the dogs. No partner. No children. No job. Just Rebekkah and her spirit of possibility.

Rebekkah Skysong is Simply Skysong. She is who I turn to when I need to sing a solo or speak in front of a group or publish an article on my website. She has been very quiet lately–evidenced  by my overwhelming lack of blog posts in the past two years. Although there are about 14 half-written testaments to what has been going on in my life, Rebekkah hasn’t seen fit to get them out there.

So back to my revelation. I could just become Rebekkah. Why not? Change almost everything about me in one fell swoop. Hello, my name is Erika. This is who I am and this is my new story.

Starting at ground zero. So many possibilities.



Do you have an alter ego? Advice for starting over? Your own story to tell? Let me know!

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Crossing Pico/Robertson

jdate-momMy daughter was checking her many, many messages on her many, many dating apps a while back, and she came across this one. At first Shira thought it was some woman checking her out (which has been known to happen. She is beautiful, and she is open to it), but no, it turns out the woman was matchmaking for her son. And at first, I thought she was on OK Cupid, but when she told me no, it was JDate, we both broke down in hysterical laughter. Cyber Yenta. You may have had to be there…

So we took a look and, indeed, her son is athletic and handsome, and very likely, had he approached my daughter on his own (this was before she had a BF that she found IRL), she may have been interested. But…

So here’s a question… Has life really changed since matchmakers were a thing? Although I hear that matchmakers are still a thing. Isn’t JDate its own kind of cyber matchmaker? Matchmaker Mom is on JDate scoping the wares for her son. I find that really funny. And maybe that’s what I should have been doing for Shira, if I were really a committed mother dedicated to helping my daughter find true love. Clearly I’m slacking off in my mothering duties. And Matchmaker Mom has called herself “NotusualJane.” Clearly she knows it’s not usual to be making matches for your children. Doesn’t she??

I then showed Shira Crossing Delancey because it’s about matchmakers and dating, and even though it takes place in the eighties, it’s still pretty on target. Although maybe 30 years later there aren’t any more pickle men–I wouldn’t know, not living in New York. But the movie is about looking in the not usual places to find your soul mate. Or maybe looking in the usual places that you are resisting.

For Shira, that has turned out to be in a DnD session–the best friend of her friend’s little brother. She and her current beau are very happy together. For me, well, I’m still halfheartedly looking, both in real life and on the apps. But maybe I’m not exploring all the options. Maybe I need to start looking in LA. Maybe I need to start playing DnD (according to Shira). Or maybe… Mom, you want to help me out here?

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I ghostwrite for a living. I come up with insightful pieces about Jewish themes and write succinct essays and articles that are sent out into the world under another person’s name. For the most part, I don’t have a problem with this. It’s what I get paid to do. But it kills my mother. Every two weeks I send her my writing attributed to someone else, and every time she emails me back asking when I’ll get my own byline. I have given up explaining to her that that is never going to happen, at least not on these pieces (I do get credit for other writing I do). But some days, it kills me a little bit too, because I am proud of my work.

Granted, a lot of the writing is collaborative–my boss gives me feedback, and I change things here and there. We talk together about some of the articles before I write them. But sometimes it’s all me. My own idea. My own writing. Her approval. So here is the ethical dilemma. Can I print some of those here? Can I get some sort of credit for the ones that are primarily mine? For the handful of people that read my blog? Can I create an anthology and call it “My work as a ghostwriter”? My Life as a Ghost? Can I do it if I publish the original versions before she added her comments? How do professional ghostwriters handle this?

Just some of the questions running through my head this morning as I work on another piece to be released into the universe without my name attached.

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Call Me Feminist

I have, after another 7 months, finally come up with the post topic that has kicked my butt into writing again. It’s time for me to reclaim my feminist self. I spent so much of my younger life standing on my soapbox for women and feminism and LGBTQ rights, for separation of church and state, and, of course, for women in religion. For god’s sake, I have an MA in religion with an emphasis in feminist theology! I have a Certificate from USC in Gender Studies! To say nothing of the actual PhD in Social Ethics. What the hell happened? Life happened, kids happened, but primarily, I think that fear happened. And as I sit at my desk and think about what it is that I want to focus on with all the information in my brain and the passion in my heart, the topic that rises to the top is feminism–in all its manifestations.

I first became involved with the feminist movement 35 years ago, and you would really think that our country (and world) would be far more enlightened than this. But, alas, I am wrong, as I have been about so many things lately, and watching us make Trump-sized steps backward into the darkness has been so disheartening.

And so, with a fire in my breast that I truly haven’t felt in over a decade (since I got the PhD maybe?), I feel like I am back and powerful and need to add my voice to the feminist community, and to the community in general. Of course my particular area is religion and ethics, so specifically, I want to help give a voice to anyone who has been put down by religion and who believes that their choices are somehow less than spiritual or unsanctioned by God (or whoever), or in some other way wrong for them because that is what they have been taught.

Social ethics is about how we make our choices. The overarching question that ethicists ask is “what ought I to do” and from this question is naturally derived the question of “on what do I base my choices?” Ethics is about drawing from our moral base, whatever that may be, and applying what we believe to how we live our lives. Ethics is not about God or religion. It is about working in community and treating each other (and ourselves) with the respect that we deserve. Whether you believe that we are all creatures of God, or don’t believe in a god at all, we all deserve respect just because we live on this planet, and the space we occupy is a place of dignity simply because we are in it.

This is a difficult idea for people to hear and accept sometimes, especially people who grew up in a religious tradition that puts them down for who they are (different, woman, queer, single, whatever) rather than boosting them up because we are all inherently divine, whatever we believe. I’m climbing back on my soapbox.

So call me woman, call me queer, call me ethicist, call me crazy, call me feminist. I will answer.

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My beautiful children at Hanukkah 2016

The election truly crushed my spirit, and I had pretty much given up on writing my blog. I just had no enthusiasm for it. Two things happened recently to change that. The first was that I sent a few posts to a friend, and in the re-reading, realized I missed the writing. The second was this post by my friend Lisa. It wasn’t so much her very amusing post as the comments afterward that inspired me. Yes, I really did miss writing about my slice of life experiences. So I was thinking this morning, as I was walking Buttercup, that it was time to start writing again. That it is cathartic, that the small joys that bring happiness to my own life (and the travails as well) might as well be shared in this time of, well…

I never thought of myself as someone who ran away from problems (except maybe my looming divorce for the first 9 years), but since last November, I have truly become an ostrich. And I have to say, it has been very therapeutic. I never listen to the news (and although I miss NPR, I can’t afford the risk of a news break); I don’t read the email alerts that come into my inbox if they seem even remotely related to Washington DC; I cancelled my newspapers; and in my beloved The Week, I go straight to “It wasn’t all bad.”

Yes, this is probably immature, but it is allowing me to focus on my own ups and downs. On the things I’m responsible for. On the things I am grateful for. On the things that are most important–some things which I have some control over, and some which I have none, but they are my things, nonetheless. As Lisa points out, writing about the little stories is liberating. And I have plenty of those.

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Just Vote

I didn’t think that I was going to be so emotional about this election. It has been such a clusterf*@k since the beginning and I thought by now I was immune. But here I am teary-eyed. As I have mentioned in a previous post, four years ago, I never really believed that Hillary Clinton had a prayer. And I was dead wrong. And here we are on what is a truly momentous day in American History. It’s still early. I have no idea how the voting is going. All I know is that today is historic. I just read an article about people putting I Voted stickers on Susan B. Anthony’s grave. That brought more tears. It has been not quite 100 years since women got the right to vote in this country. Here you can watch a livestream of men, women and children standing in line to pay their respects to a woman who helped make today possible.

No matter what else you are doing today, make time to vote. We live in a country of great privilege, and this is one of the most vital. I just can’t stress it strongly enough. Vote. Encourage your neighbors and colleagues to vote. Drive someone who can’t get to the polls. Take your children to watch you vote. Be a part of our truly amazing democratic process. Just vote.

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img_4653Last Friday, October 14, was the one year anniversary of my first post. This got me to thinking about far I have come in a year. First, my house is still pretty much as I last wrote about it, so better than last October, but not where I would like it! The garage is currently enjoying a few days of being less cluttered, as Shira and I had to clear much of it so that the new garage door could be installed.  But that gave us the opportunity to start the new Jewish year with something that’s new–and something good coming from something bad (the last door was accidentally crushed). The new door has windows that let the light in. A fine metaphor for starting off a new year.

It rained this morning, for the first time in oh so many months, and now in mid-October, my plumeria is finally blooming (and so are the irises). This is the first time it has ever had flowers, and I’m so excited. Another beginning.

img_4687I believe I’ve become a lot calmer over the course of this year. I’ve made some new friends, on the blog and off, and I’ve discovered new blogs that help expand my universe. I’ve read a lot more fiction this year, which is truly amazing, and I’ve discovered a number of new podcasts that I am really enjoying.

Currently I’m listening to Happier with Gretchen Rubin. I often feel that I find these shows at exactly the right time in my life. She covers topics I’ve already written about, like satisficers, but also things I plan to write about, like whether you savor or spree (think Netflix and chocolate).

One of the things that Gretchen talks about is coming up with a one-word theme for the school year. Tweaking this a bit for the Jewish new year, I am choosing “productive” as my theme for the year 5777.  So I am putting it out there: I want to be more productive in writing this blog, productive in finishing the conversion of my dissertation into a companion book for The Poisonwood Bible, and productive in getting my house uncluttered and my son’s room cleared out. Which brings me back to where I was a year ago, blogging about letting go and clearing out space, both mental and physical.

So dear friends, please keep me on the path to productive. I can use all the help I can get. A very happy and productive year to all of us. Let’s continue to let the light in.


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washington-sunsetOnce again it’s Erev Yom Kippur. A day that traditionally leads me to be self-reflective out of synagogue. For many years I struggled with what I “should” do on this day of atonement and what I really felt in my heart to be appropriate. When I was much younger, I even wrote a poem  about that internal conflict that was going to be published in a book of women’s essays (volume 3), but the book never got published. The poem itself, however, led to a lot of discussion in my Jewish women’s group.

My favorite part of Yom Kippur has always been the singing of Avinu Malkeinu. So much so, that when I used to attend services where it was spoken and not sung, I felt let down, like I had been denied something crucial to my High Holiday experience. It took me a few years to realize that the reason I felt so denied was because singing that prayer was my primary reason for going to services. It was the music that spoke to my soul. And I realized that atonement for me is not about sitting in shul, but about my relationships with others.

Judaism is very particular in the way we atone and is unlike Christianity in its perspective on transgressions:

On Yom Kippur, God mercifully erases all the sins we have committed “before God”—but not the sins we may have committed against our fellow man. If we really want to come out of this holy day completely clean, we need to first approach any individual whom we may have wronged and beg their forgiveness. This applies whether the offense was physical, emotional, or financial (in which case, seeking forgiveness is in addition to making appropriate monetary restitution).

Just as the offending individual is enjoined to sincerely seek forgiveness, so, too, the victim is expected to wholeheartedly forgive—provided he is assured that the plea for forgiveness is indeed sincere. (From

So it is that time of year to ask forgiveness for the sins I may have committed against others, whether intended or not. And it is the time of year to consider how meaningless so many of our fights and disagreements are. How holding on to them is self-destructive. And that maintaining our relationships is more important than who is right. At the risk of endlessly repeating myself, Yom Kippur is a good time to call those who are important to you and tell them that you value their love and friendship over whatever differences you may have.

Yom Kippur is also the time to forgive those who have hurt us, whether intentionally or not, and to move on from that hurt, no matter how hard. Because it is a fresh new year.

So if I have not had an opportunity to ask in person, please forgive me if I have hurt you, if I have said or done anything to cause you pain. And if I have, I hope you will let me know so that I may make amends.

My friend Marty Cohn Spiegel leaves us with these words: As we are about to embark on the new year, 5777, I pray that a year with three 7s in it will bring us good fortune, calm, peace, and happiness, and leave behind the stress and anxiety of the past year. May we forgive and be forgiven, and may what was broken in our lives be mended.

May it be so. Shanah Tovah.

Posted in Beauty, Forgiveness, Gratitude, loss, Poetry | 4 Comments

American Beauty

barbie-legsI discovered a big bruise on my shin the other day, and when I went to show it to my daughter, the words inadvertently popped out of my mouth: “I hate my legs.”  The moment they were out, I regretted them. Why would I say something like that? Why would I care about what my legs look like at a moment when I was showing her a bruise?  Well, it was the end of the night so they weren’t super smooth, and I have other bruises and marks from life, but mostly I think it is because I am conditioned to say I hate my legs. What a terrible thing. My legs look like legs are supposed to look and, thank god, they work like legs are supposed to work. So why would I hate them?

I have spent much of my life trying to overcome the ridiculous American standards for beauty. I was fat from ages 13-24, but those years were enough to imprint on me a lifetime of being afraid I’ll again get fat. And of seeing myself as fat. I recognize that this is a very distorted image, but even now, 30 years later, I don’t have a clear picture of myself as just healthy. And I still hate my legs. I don’t wear shorts or skirts above my knees (even though being “petite” apparently demands that). I have also always wished for larger breasts, even though my breasts have worked well for me my whole life. No backaches, perfect for breastfeeding, appropriate for my size. And in reality, there aren’t many things I would trade about myself for a larger cup size.

As hard as it is for me to not be worried about the fit of my clothes (or the state of my hair) on any given day, I do know that in the big picture, it really doesn’t matter. There are too many people in my life who have many more things to worry about than their pant size (although I know they do anyway), and that helps put things into perspective.  I am fortunate to be waking up and walking on my own volition, and I’m quite grateful that I still have my breasts. My friends who have real struggles remind me of these blessings every day.

I hope I have taught my children that what truly makes us beautiful is how we interact with others and the good we do when we have the chance. And I hope that I have instilled in them the knowledge that no matter what we look like, we are beautiful when we are the best versions of ourselves. Everything else, nonsense it all is, to quote Notting Hill. And I really just have to get over the thing about my legs.

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Diver Appreciation

aop_2016-47_2121x1414_1227265_wmLast Saturday night was the Volunteer Diver Appreciation Party at the Aquarium of the Pacific. Shira volunteers there as a diver, an aquarist, and as an education docent. But tonight was about honoring the divers.

At 23, she is one of the youngest volunteer divers, I learned, and it seems that everyone has taken her under their wing, both staff and other volunteers. Shira is fortunate to have a very bubbly, easygoing nature; effervescent is how someone once described her, and I can’t think of a better word.

She was allowed to invite one guest to the party as her “plus one,” and I was honored to be chosen. And even more gratified when every person she introduced me to gushed about how much they loved her, how hard she worked, how she was always smiling, how kind she was to the guests. But I get to work with her three times a week, so I already knew all this, because my coworkers constantly tell me.

It is a very special blessing for a parent to have a child like Shira. And I am blessed that we are so close. Here’s to telling our loved ones how much they are appreciated every day, even when there’s not a special party.

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