Monday, February 25, 2013

"A Lesson In Writing...Or Am I Just Wasting My Time?"

I have always wanted to try this.  Last Friday, I published a post recounting my Purim recollections.  I rewrote it twice, before finding it acceptable – or at least acceptable enough – to publish.

Today, to provide you with an “Insider’s View” of the process, I shall republish that post, illuminating the changes I made to the Purim piece.  If you’re like me, this will be interesting.  If you’re not, probably less so.

I never like reading the “Shooting Script” of a movie.  If I want the final version, I can simply watch the movie.  For me, it would be far more educational to read the earlier versions of the script, to get a sense of how the version they decided to go with evolved.

So it won’t be impossible to follow, I have chosen a post where the revisions were less substantial than in other posts.  Also, though I did two rewrites, I will combine those revisions, again to enhance readability.  Otherwise, it’s a hodge-podge, and who of us has time in their busy lives for that?

I have excluded the revisions involving “typos” or accidentally omitted words, because there is nothing you can learn from that, other than that I am slowly losing my mind.  Or possibly not that slowly.

I hope this exercise is of, at least, some minimal value.  Of course, I feel that way about all my posts.  This one seems of specific interest to writers.  But, hopefully, not just writers.

Let me know what you think.  (So I can do it again sometime.  Or, conversely, never.)

Okay, here we go.

“Singing The Purim Blues”

Purim is supposed to be a happy Jewish holiday, in contrast to, say, the High Holidays, which are primarily spent begging for your life. 

Purim, depicted in the biblical Book of Esther – which is also a scroll, which is unscrolled and read on Purim – tells the story of how a plucky Jewish woman named Esther (changed from “a Jewish girl named Esther”, to avoid feminist “feather ruffling”) who had won marriage to the Persian King Ahasuerus in a contest where she was accorded “Prettiest in the Land” honors, reveals her religious affiliation to her husband, thus averting a massacring of the Jews, engineered by the King’s second-in-command, Haman, whose odiosity (a made-up word, because I could not come up with an actual word) is perpetuated through eternity (streamlined from “throughout eternity) by Jews on Purim eating fruit-filled pastries molded (changed from “constructed”, for streamlining – two syllables are better than three – and because it seemed more “pastryatorially specific” ) in the shape of his hat.

A “good news” story – the Jewish people rescued from destruction.  A perennial “Best Seller” in Hebraic circles.  And yet, for me, the holiday of Purim has a bittersweet component, based on two troubling events from my personal experience (changed from “of my personal experience”, because “from my personal experience” seems better, though I am admittedly shaky on – or is it “when it comes to?” my connectives.)

In no particular order, an order required, because you cannot tell two stories at the same time:

When I was in college at the University of Toronto, determined not to take any courses that could even remotely lead to career, I selected, (comma deleted, and then reinserted, in a struggle concerning enhanced readability) during my graduating year, (ditto with this bracketing comma) to study Near Eastern Literature, which was the Bible, not as “You better believe this, or you can count on big trouble in the Afterlife”, but as historical literature.

I am reminded that, as a much-needed break from studying for my college “finals”, my friend Alan and I escaped, spending a weekend in New York (changed from “spent a weekend in New York”, for upgraded dramatization), where, between visits to the theater and sampling escargot, I studied for my Near Eastern Literature exam by reading the Gideon Bible generously (“generously” added, in a possibly misguided display of understated irony) provided for us in our hotel room. 

I remember the first page of it (“of it” added for clarity) saying, “Leave this Bible in the open; the next person might need it.”  I did, in fact, need it – to bone up for my Near Eastern Literature exam (“Near Eastern Literature” added, for specificity, which made it seem a little funnier) – so when we left, I packed it in my “carry-on”, and I studied it on the plane ride home (“ride home” added, again for laugh-enhancing specificity.)
I also saw The Gospel According To St. Matthew on the trip, so it was not an entirely frivolous undertaking.  (Added “on the trip” in the middle, and changed “trip” at the end to “undertaking” – I am not exactly sure why.)

Among other eye-openers - and indeed the eye-openingest eye-opener of them all - was I was apprised that the Story of Esther - a young woman (changed from "girl"; see above) saving her people from destruction – was, in fact, not real (changed from “not necessarily real”, for enhanced accuracy.)  Or, at least, not original to the Jews.  Our professor explained that strikingly similar stories appear in other people’s holy writings as well.  Esther was simply the Jewish incarnation of a multi-cultural myth.

Now, remember, in my formative years, I was educated at the Orthodox Toronto Hebrew Day School (replacing “I attended the Toronto Hebrew Day School”, for increased comprehensiveness, clarity, and literary prettiness), where you received a month’s detention for eating a non-kosher hamburger.  (If it had cheese on it, I think they killed you.)  We were instructed to believe that the Bible actually happened.  As written. 

I remember being reprimanded for mumbling dismissively (replacing “chortling derisively”, for enhanced accuracy, though, to be honest, I don’t think I ever found what I was looking for) when we learned that, when the Ten Commandments were delivered from Sinai, the blind could suddenly see, and the deaf could suddenly hear.  I somehow found that difficult to believe.  (“Somehow” inserted, for enhanced skepticism.)  Although, with my eye problems, that could have just been a sour grapes response for missing out on that healing opportunity.  (Changed from, “a sour grapes response for my missing that healing opportunity”, though, from a laugh-inducing standpoint, the wording is still not entirely satisfying.)

My Near Eastern Literature professor explained that it was not uncommon to appropriate mythological tales from other religions (changed from “My Near Eastern Literature professor backed up his claim that ‘Esther’ was a borrowed story”, the “replacement version” being less clunky and more accurate), citing that (replacing “with the evidence that”, because two words is better than four) the Biblical story of “The Flood” was predated by the Mesopotamian “Epic of Gilgamesh”, which originated “The Flood’s” deluginary (a made-up word, because I could not come up with an equally evocative actual word) narrative. 

My drummed-into-my-head beliefs (changed to “My indoctrinated beliefs”, then changed back, because I use “indoctrinated” later, and writers are invariably penalized for using the same word twice) were dropping like flies.  Esther apparently didn’t happen, and “The Flood” had happened before.  It’s a good thing my college professor hadn’t gone to my Hebrew school (“Hebrew” inserted for religious specificity.)  Peddling that nonsense, he’d have gotten detention for Life!  And possibly stoning.  (“And possibly stoning” added.  It could be a “reach”, or it could be a laugh.  I took a shot.)

Purim, for me, had been mortally wounded.  And on top of that, there was this:

I was thirteen years old.  (Changed from “I am thirteen years old”, to enhance the “presence” in the storytelling, then changed back, because I am congenitally unsteady with my tenses.)  I had just had my Bar Mitzvah.  (The same story with “have just had” and “had just had.”)  

It was my last year attending the Toronto Hebrew Day School, and, at an assembly, the graduating students (changed from “the older students”, for increased specificity) were putting on a Purim play.  Reenacting the historic events I would later learn had never taken place.  (Changed from “had not taken place” because “never” seemed funnier.)

I did not have a big part.  In fact, I was an “extra.”  A palace soldier (changed from “a soldier”, for enhanced specificity), or something.  (Not only did that school try to indoctrinate my brain (there’s that word, “indoctrinate”), they did not know I had talent.)

The soldier’s costume, I was instructed – since the location was Persia – involved a turban and a robe.  My turban would be a bath towel, my robe, the exquisite Scotch plaid flannel bathrobe I had recently received for my Bar Mitzvah, and adored.  (“and adored” added, to enhance the bathrobe’s significance, raising the stakes for what ultimately occurs.)

I looked good in the play. 

Afterwards, it was back to class, where I removed my wardrobe, folding my bath towel into my school bag, and hanging my treasured bathrobe (“treasured” added; see above, Re: “enhanced significance.”) in the cloakroom.

That night, I left for home, forgetting the bathrobe in the cloakroom.  When I returned the next day, it was no longer there. 

I was totally devastated.  (Allotted its own paragraph, for enhanced emotionality.)

An orthodox Jewish child had made off with my bathrobe.

Such, for me, are my tarnishing memories (“tarnishing” is a misplaced modifier and not exactly right, but I couldn’t think of anything better) of Purim Past (changed from “memories of Purim”, in an effort to echo “A Christmas Carol” and enhance my modest narrative’s comparative ‘weight.’)  To this day, I am not certain which loss was more significant – the debunking of a longstanding belief, or the pilfering of my bathrobe.

I believe it was the bathrobe.

And there you have it.  That’s how I spend a number of hours of my day.  Am I making it better?  Or am I just fooling myself? 

If you have a definitive answer to this question

I don’t really need to hear it.

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