Starting a blog in the Shmita year

Starting is always the hardest part. I don’t know about you, but I’m a certified perfectionist. If I can’t visualize exactly how something’s going to look when it’s done, it’s almost impossible to sit my butt in the chair and just start. This works out great for me, sometimes. I write entire essays in my head in the shower before sitting down and typing out the final draft in one go. But when I’m not feeling inspired? When I don’t know what I want to say? When the project is too big to visualize in a single sitting? Those times it’s easier not to start at all.

“So how’s your novel going?”

Funny you should ask.

The last two years have been one of the most radical learning experiences of my life. Forget studying abroad. Forget undergraduate research. I’m not even talking about fitting an entire story world with half a dozen characters and a magic system inside my head. The most difficult part of the last two years has been learning how to sit and a chair and start typing, even when I have no idea what’s coming next.

It’s a good skill. An important one. In fact, it’s one I’m using right now.

I’ve wanted to start a blog for years. But without a five-year plan of every post I’m ever going to make, the prospect of starting has been too daunting. What if I run out of content? What if I get too busy? What if I sit down to write and have absolutely nothing important to say? It’s all possible. Then again, I can’t know unless I try.

So here I am, starting a blog on the 4th day of the Jewish new year, in the 7th year of the Shmita, a year devoted to letting fields lie fallow and not beginning new things. Ironic? Maybe. But I don’t actually think so.

The Shmita year originated with the Jewish agricultural calendar, which ran in seven-year cycles. Every seven years, the fields would be allowed to lie fallow and unplanted, while all remaining crops would be given over to those who wandered the countryside. (All debts were forgiven, too, in case anyone wants to remind the US Department of Education about that rule. Can we call that “freedom of religion”?)

Today, observation of the Shmita more often takes the form of a more personal, spiritual kind of “fallowness.” We give ourselves a sabbatical year (yes, that is where that term comes from) to take a break from “the hustle,” from “rise and grind” culture, and allow ourselves to nurture what’s already been growing within us. Just as the ancient Israelites would use the Shmita year to tend their perennial crops and fruit trees, we can use the Shmita to tend our own long-term goals. We leave aside any instant gratification and turn down short term projects like the annual crops that would sprout, grow, and die in a single season, and instead nurture our existing trees so that they can continue to bear fruit.

Isn’t this blog a new project?

Yes and no. It is new—new to me. A new medium, a new platform. But at the same time, it’s not unrelated to everything I’ve been doing for the last two years.

For two years I’ve been working hard on the manuscript for my thesis novel, and now as I enter the last semester of my MFA, I want to use this blog as a platform to reflect on all that I’ve learned (and continue to learn). I’d like to share some of the research I’ve done as I’ve dug deep into Jewish folklore and mythology, as well as the writing (and publishing) process. I want to use it, too, to keep in better touch with the cycles of the Jewish year. I’ve tried in the past to reflect each month at Rosh Chodesh about what the new month will bring, but I haven’t always found the time; I’m hoping this blog will help me stay a bit more accountable as I try to establish routines and rhythms for my post-grad life. Most of all, I hope that what I share has some value to someone out there. If you’re reading this, thinking how excited you are to learn more about Judaism, mythology, and writing, then this blog is for you.

I’ve put this blog off for years now, but it’s time to stop letting the perfect stand in the way of the good. If I have any goal for the Shmita year, it’s this. I want to prove to myself that my thoughts don’t to be perfectly polished before I can share them, because we’re all just figuring these things out together. And if my thoughts can spark a discussion that helps me change my own mind, so much the better.

I hope I’ll have some successes to share over the next year. I hope there will be cause to celebrate—not just my graduation, but maybe an agent signing or a book contract, too. It’s my dream to become a full-time writer, but whether that happens one year, five years, or ten years from now, I’ll have this place to share what every piece of the process looks like. Because writing doesn’t have to be a solitary endeavor. We might celebrate, we might cry, we might wallow in disappointment—but we can do it together.

So here we are. My first post. Is it perfect? No. Does it have to be? Absolutely not. In fact, I’d prefer it if it wasn’t.

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