Lemon Juice in the Sun

For a few days now, I’ve been ruminating about blanks. We recently bought a Kids’ Mad Libs for Aviva. She lost interest after two nouns, a color, and an adjective, but Greg and I completed a couple of pages together and had a blast.

All our lives, we’re conditioned to fill in the blank. When I grow up, I want to be a _________. I call it the Capital T Thing.

As a child, I wanted to be a poet. My first book was called “Bad Days For Jennifer” – this was in kindergarten, before I officially and legally became Jena. My first magazine subscription was to Stone Soup. Somehow, though, aspiring to be a poet, a writer, was never enough. I thought I needed a title, a profession, a CAREER.

Since college, I have tried my hand working for a family foundation, as a Hillel director, a writing teacher, a career counselor, and a life coach. I spent about ten years seriously considering rabbinical school. For three weeks in 2004, I headed up a philanthropic institute of great merit.

Then I woke up. Or maybe I was waking up gradually.


I got married. I kept writing, for myself, in journals and emails and napkins. I smoked Bali Hai cloves in back alleys all over town, closeted even from my husband.

I had babies, one and then a second. I nursed those babies. I ate too much cake. I sustained friendships. I ran and I hid and I kept busy. I accomplished things. I kept filling in the blanks. Shooting blanks.

Paramount was doing something big, something splashy, something sexy and meaningful and important. Most of all, it had to be a “fit.” What do I do in this world? I asked that question in a thousand ways to a thousand people. Surely there was some Capital T Thing that would fill in my blank for good, where my gifts would really shine.

Paramount was making sure all the blanks were filled in, figuring out next steps, defining contexts and goals and plans and trajectories. Once, a supervisor, in a way meant to be caring that stung, said I was like a flea, jumping from idea to idea. Ouch.

There was mindless eating, smoking, running away from the big empty spaces that loved to stare up at me without offering any answers. A lot like the sky, it turns out. Like the sun.


In 1994, when I was twenty and entering my last year of college, I self-published a travel journal called “By the Star,” recounting a summer spent living in a rural Russian orphanage and traveling to Prague after that. I take it off the shelf now, and read the preface for the first time in a decade or more.

What strikes me now are the words I wrote about picking out a new journal after filling three over the course of that summer’s travels. “Writing in these books has never felt like a duty or a chore to me; it has long been as integral a part of my life as sleeping, laughing, waking, singing. This is, however, the first time I have transformed the private into something public.”

It seems quaint now. I read these words and don’t quite know how to react. Can I love the me I was then? When I wrote that passage, I had just barely heard of the Internet and couldn’t quite wrap my head around what it was. Now blogging is an integral part of my life, as journaling was than. The lines between private and public are blurred.


I’m not sure exactly why this is on my mind tonight. Something to do with the blanks, with writing. Something to do with losing my desire to accomplish anything. This in itself is an experiment. I want to experience the blank mind, the not-knowing, without fear. I want to allow the blank to fill in by itself, like lemon juice in the sun, like mystery ink.

7 thoughts on “Lemon Juice in the Sun

  1. Shelli says:

    hmmm…you have a delicious way of taking all these thoughts I have and putting them into words. It seems like my blank has always been filled in with “writer,” but there are so many other blanks around that word. I don’t know the context.


  2. Chloe says:

    I’m fascinated with all the different jobs you’ve had Jena. I think I get this—I’m often trying to fill in the blanks about what I’m actually doing with my life. Sometimes it feels soft and comfortable not knowing, like there’s nothing to figure out. But that usually passes, and I start looking for answers again. The comfortable periods are getting longer each time though. I like the idea of mystery ink.


  3. *camerashymomma* says:

    beautiful post. “can i love the me i was then?” that resonates with me, and i agree, something here feels kindred. i’m glad you found me and i found you. i’d be glad to have you add the~spirit~of~the~river to your blogroll. i enjoy your writing and your thoughts.


  4. bella says:

    Me too, with losing the desire to accomplish anything.
    It is amazing what comes to find me, when I stop exerting so much effort in seeking.
    Its all right there, right in front of me.



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