Before The Red Tent, before Good Harbor, before and during six books on contemporary Jewish life, I was a columnist.
I wrote essays about friendship and fashion, about marriage and electoral politics, about abortion, lingerie, situation comedies, birth, death, God, country, and my dog. I covered the waterfront and the supermarket, my synagogue, the waiting room outside the intensive care unit, and my own kitchen table.
I did this over the course of twenty years for publications that included a weekly newspaper with a mostly twenty-something readership, and later for a Sunday-magazine audience of millions. I wrote for food lovers in a New England magazine, for the parents of young children in a national publication, and for an international Jewish audience in an on-line magazine. Most of the time, my assignment was weekly; sometimes, it was monthly.
My job was to report on the events of the day and the changes under my own roof. The challenge was to pay closer-than-average attention and then shape my experiences and reactions into entertaining prose that rose above the level of my own navel. It was more than a great job -- it was a meaningful job.
This collection, culled from those publications and years, turns out to be a sort of diary. It includes musings about the contents of my refrigerator as well as reflections about the most important decisions of my life. To divorce and marry again. To have a child. To live a Jewish life.
I suppose it's a measure of how much the world has changed that what once seemed like "edgy" choices now seem fairly mainstream. But at the time, I was thinking and doing things that were simply unimaginable for women at any other period in human history. Having been born female, white, and middle class in the United States, in the middle of the twentieth century, meant the women's movement happened to me, in me, for me. It meant that it was highly unlikely that I would die in childbirth, and it meant that I could teach my daughter to speak in her own voice. It meant I could love my work and love my family. And it meant that there was an audience for what I had to say about the trials and joys of this girl's life.
Actually, the audience was the great, unexpected gift of the assignment because they wrote back. A few said, "No way," and "How dare you?" But many more said, "Me, too," and "Thanks."
We connected -- my readers and I -- because we were trying something entirely new. We were not just tinkering around the edges, adjusting our "roles" as women and men. We were reinventing the female psyche and soul, which of course required a radical recasting of the male. We're still at it, too, and with more confidence, wisdom, and resources every year. That our daughters and sons are blasé about this transformation is a measure of our success.
Looking back through these essays, reflecting on the reflections, is a lot like leafing through the family photo album. I stop and exclaim over the difference between my daughter then (kindergarten) and my daughter now (college). The changes in me are not quite as photogenic, but I think I've become kinder and more patient. I sure hope so.
My tent is filled with friends and songs and books and memories. My tent -- and I hope yours, too -- is filled with blessings. Come see.
Copyright © 2003 by Anita Diamant