The book has the despiriting quality of real life. It’s chock-filled with disappointment, pettiness, derangement, greed and other qualities that I see in myself every day.
The interview is part of my series on American-Jewish literature.
As a child, Naama dreamed of becoming "a painter or illustrator."
Luke: "And how did you realize that writing was your art?"
Naama: "It was kinda accidental. We didn’t have much in the way of creative writing in elementary school or high school, but toward the end of elementary school, probably sixth grade, a teacher assigned a personal essay, which was really novel. I wrote a silly but lively thing about being a fresh big sister to a baby and the tussle between the urge to go comfort him in the middle of the night and the urge to run away. I read it in front of the class. It caused a shift in my personality. I was very introverted, but reading this, I became quite the performer and enjoyed that transformation and the attention from the teacher. That planted the seed."
Luke: "Tell me how the flame developed from there."
Naama: "It was not a steady thing. I did not write for myself or anyone else until much later. As I became more disaffected as an adolescent, I wrote some parables against conformity and fundamentalism, very bad but very righteous. Then I started writing some terrible poetry. That sealed it (late high school).
"Even though I started in Israel, I was writing in English."
"I was raised by American parents in Israel. I was born in the States, but now most of the time I speak in English. When I write in Hebrew, I’m kinda rusty."
"My writing path was pretty erratic. I didn’t stick around any one place long enough to form long-term relationships with any mentors."
Luke: "What were the most interesting reactions you’ve received to your book?"
Naama: "To the texture of the prose. I never expected people to react so much to my voice. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. It’s a natural thing. At times it got pretty hard to take when the what of the stories got overlooked in favor of how I write and how the language sounds odd to some people."
Luke: "Did you suffer much doubt that you had a book inside of you worthy of coming out?"
Naama: "Sure, and still do."
Luke: "Nobody seems to find any comfort in this book."
Naama: "Let me think. Let me do a quick run through. Let’s see, who’s happy? No, no, you’re probably right. It is a salutation to the grieving so what do you expect? Israel is a painful place. It was founded on top of a bleeding wound and it continues to bleed in all kinds of directions, people turn to it for all kinds of reasons, good and bad. It’s not meant to be a Hallmark Hall of Fame production. That it’s not a comforting read does not bother me much."
Luke: "Why do you choose to live in the United States?"
Naama: "This is where I am. We owe it to every place, to every life, to try to form a bond where you are. My life was marked by so much back-and-forthing, I feel that I want to try settling. To say that after 20-something years of being here tells you something about the viability of that desire. I have a fear of being addicted to wanting to be elsewhere."
Luke: "A major reason I live here is because it is easier. What role does ease play in your decision to live in the United States?"
Naama: "That’s a tough one to answer because I’ve never experienced living in Israel as an adult. I’m told it is not easy living there and not for the obvious reasons of security. Right now the economy is so crushing here…"
Luke: "Are there any transcendent non-rational things you believe in?"
Naama: "I’m totally irrational. I believe in the evil eye. It’s something I picked up growing up in Israel. I hate tempting fate. I’m afraid of saying things are going well."
Luke: "From your first-hand experience, what have you loved and hated about Orthodox Judaism?"
Naama: "I loved the absolute reliability of the experience of elevation. It’s like clockwork. Every Shabbat, every chag (Jewish holiday). For the observant, with every practice. There are so many during the day. Then you go back to the same thing, that can be so terribly constricting. The requirements to conform to these delineated guidelines that are so intricate that it is staggering… There are specifications for every behavior, it can become like madness after a while."
Luke: "Perhaps my primary motivation for writing is my frustration with real life. I’m curious, where does your urge to write and create come from?"
Naama: "I think that’s very well put. It’s a similar thing, a restlessness. Things that stick to you like burrs, things you wish you could change or understand or wish you could resolve more satisfyingly. You can make that happen, at least aesthetically, in writing. You take an incident and imbue it with meaning."
Luke: "Under what emotional states do you do your best work?"
Naama: "I write a lot better when I’m happy. I write best when I come in contact with self-acceptance. As an example, an approach that seems, well, here comes the evil eye thing again, I’m afraid to say it because it won’t work out, what seems to be working is to recognize that I have the attention span of a squirrel, and so to work on three or four things in parallel and that keeps me happier. If I don’t accept that, I try to work on one thing and I don’t do anything all day and that just breeds further frustration."
Luke: "What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?"
Naama: "I’ll start with weaknesses. That’s a lot easier. Discipline. Imagination. I feel that my imagination is lacking. I depend on what happens, on what I’ve seen, and I can’t make things up. I’ll put things together. All my stories are total Frankensteins. None of them are autobiographical.
"I’ve never gotten around to strengths. That’s too dangerous."
Luke: "Out of all the jobs you’ve held, which have you enjoyed the most? Accountant?"
Naama: "No, that was terrible. I liked bartending. I liked being around a lot of people… I liked working with the mentally ill though at times it was unbearably difficult.
"I can’t call it a job, but in the last few years, I began doing a little community organizing. I started this initiative and it’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had. I wish I could get paid for it… I started up a tiny mothers group of Israelis and it’s turned into a hundred families that meet regularly. Like most writers, I’m an observer. I prefer to be on the sidelines, but at the same time I crave social settings, so it’s the perfect setting to be in where you bring everyone together."