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The Mental Yentl: Excerpts


Excerpt 1

I come from a long line of medicated women.
During my childhood, on any given Sunday, my parents would drag us kids (my older brother, older sister, and me) into the car and drive to the ritual extended family dinner. Mom and Dad were smokers back then, and with the windows rolled up against the nasty Chicago winter, it was an unbearable one-hour commute from our house in South Shore to Division Street, where my grandparents lived above their bakery.
During these Sunday dinners, I found myself mesmerized by my loony Aunt Lill and Aunt Rose. I loved how the company of a few extra animated and histrionic women could diffuse my mother’s nutty personality. For some reason “crazy” in a group was entertaining, while one-on-one with “crazy” was just terrifying.
Though I adored these women deeply and cherished their affection, I had no intention of becoming like them. But DNA has its own agenda, and I eventually recognized a great many similarities between us. Due to my own critical thinking and obsessive drive to make sense of things, I have become a MENTAL YENTL—a student of crazy.
I can explain.
“Mental” is a fairly obvious choice—though, I admit, not terribly P.C.
It’s the word “Yentl” that I have taken liberty with. In the Barbra Streisand film Yentl, based on the Isaac Bashevis Singer’s tale of “Yentl the Yeshiva Boy,” Babs plays a young girl who defies tradition to become a scholar during a time when Jewish women were not allowed to read sacred texts. In my mind, a Yentl can be any female who wishes to uncover the deeper meaning of whatever it is she yearns to hold close to her soul. Therefore, today, I am a Mental Yentl, someone who lovingly studies and appreciates the fine art of wackadoodle.
I’m thinking there are many of us Mental Yentls out there.
We would be those unknowing students who spent our early lives at the feet of many neurotic masters. These matriarchs, whether they were clinically diagnosed or just quirky, loud, and vivid, guided us through our formative years while believing we would grow up to apply the mother’s lessons, cook the mother’s recipes, and marry the man of the mother’s dreams just like they had been pressured to do. And, in our efforts to do right by our familial tribes, we struggle to balance our independence and guilt as we fall in love with the right guy but marry the wrong guy, and then have babies we have no idea what to do with, only to divorce the guys we have no idea what to do with.
After that, we choose jobs outside the home, learn to cook healthier, stay single or remarry, raise our children, and then launch our children. And sadly, with but a few minutes to catch our breath, we find ourselves enduring great loss as we bury an assortment of family members, and realize the front line is gone, and it’s now our turn.
Life itself is wackadoodle.
I now sit at the head of my family’s table, and from my chair, I dedicate this collection of stories, essays, song lyrics, and general undefined mishegas* as a love letter to my families’ matriarchs “of blessed memory.” It is my intention to honor and validate the remarkable women who came to those Sunday dinners clutching their emotional baggage, knowing they would have much preferred a lovely pocketbook.
—L’dor v’dor* (From generation to generation)
*FYI As a Mental Yentl, my world of words has been infiltrated with Yiddish since I was born. Yiddish is the tongue of my people, and this expressive language has become the endearing slang of our daily vernacular.
But not everyone knows Yiddish, of course, and since it is not in my nature to stir up a dose of crazy-making, I’ve included a Yiddish glossary at the end of this book. It is my pleasure to do this for those readers who haven’t been to New York City or seen a Woody Allen or Billy Crystal movie. We here at Mental Central wouldn’t want you to aggravate yourself or get a heartburn, but rather enjoy these stories with a cookie, a lovely glass of milk, and a Glossary.
So bubeleh,* just flip to the back of this book, and in alphabetical order, you’ll find whatever it is that you don’t understand. Gezundheit*