Welcome to another installment of If My Book, the Monkeybicycle feature in which authors shed light on their recently released books by comparing them to weird things. This week Shifra Malka writes about Dare to Matter: Lessons in Living a Large Life, her memoir just published by Green Place Books.
If Dare to Matter: Lessons in Living a Large Life could be a real person, it would be a little she, dressed in some version of the color orange, without any hint of a girly, dainty pink. Short, lacy-white cuff socks are tightly hugging her plump ankles, smugly stuffed into her mother’s high heels. On the wrong feet, of course.
Her name is young Shifra, named after the main character and grown author, Shifra, in the Dare to Matter story.
Young Shifra, like grown Shifra, was not supposed to be what she turned out to be: a larger than expected body of work, 340 pages of a highly- personal narrative. A memoir, in fact, that features a core message that insisted on having its say. Young Shifra started out presenting interviews that grown Shifra had conducted as the producer and host of a live radio program covering social and educational initiatives.
But she didn’t end there. No, that would have been too straightforward. Too safe. And, definitely too simple. Young Shifra had to assert her independence. She had to do things her own way. How she got me, grown Shifra, her parent-author, to show up and speak for her is a question I still cannot answer. That stubborn mix of quirky and moxie often gets the better of author-parents, I have come to learn.
And as complicated children are wont to do, young Shifra wore me down, depleted me, many times along the way. “Why are you making me write you,” I’d ask young Shifra?
It was after Chapter Five, the chapter on money, that I understood how parents in despair promise never to have another child; the family is big enough after all. She just kept running ahead of me, making me chase her breathlessly. She wasn’t following my script; children often don’t.
“I don’t understand where you are going. Why can’t you just stay simple like other children-books? And for G-d’s sake, smaller too, at all costs.” This had me walking away from young Shifra, vowing never to finish her bidding, never to return to that keyboard. And actually I didn’t.
After that Chapter Five, I called husband Zack, whose legendary husbanding features prominently in the story, “I had no intention to write what I just wrote. I am done. I can’t go back to it.” I then called upon my believing, even-tempered Editor with training in mental health, who drew on both skillsets to re-assemble the undone pieces of my psyche agitated by truths deeper than I was prepared to find and offer up through young Shifra.
Zack, Editor, and fate, found a way to call me back into “mothering” young Shifra. A relative offered me her used laptop that she had just replaced, and with that began the world of writing in cafes. I would not ever return to that desktop computer. Now I’d have a way to travel past and overcome resistance. The smells and sounds of the coffee shop camaraderie would lure me and young Shifra into its environs. I’d take her with me, cuddled in my laptop. She’d open up to me and before I knew it, my book- child and I would be conversing and then she had me talking for her, doing her bidding. Children are powerful in that way, having their honest say with a relaxed, unsuspecting adult . So are those smells and tastes of pleasure that the coffee shop offered me for less than $5 every day. Much cheaper than a babysitter.
And then came another chapter, not too far behind. It was about womankind, a species I adore. But this Chapter Seven called me back so many times, like a child supposed to be going to sleep asking for “just one more cup of water, please, just one more.” Every time I thought I was finished with her, she’d snag my attention and not let me go…quite similar to what author Shifra does to her older sister every day as an anxious fourth- grader terrified to go to class.
And yes, young Shifra who has grown to be known as this book, Dare to Matter, many times wanted to throw in the proverbial pen and give up, just like grown Shifra. “It does not matter anyway,” she’d cry. I, grown Shifra, had similar thoughts, but showed up anyway, putting my fingers to keyboard and to keep playing it. I told her to continue sharing her secrets, that the music would come. And it did.
And as this little girl grew, she told me this line from author Douglas Adams, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.” I’ve had to have extraordinary patience with young Shifra; so happy I did. She has done me proud.
And yes, she has started nagging me to write more on her behalf. But that’s another story, literally.
Shifra Malka is an award-winning writing and communications consultant based in Baltimore, Maryland. As the producer and host of a weekly radio program on social and educational issues that aired live in the Mid-Atlantic region, she was known for eliciting hard, honest responses from her interviewees when posing the questions that others were too hesitant to ask. Underlying these conversations was one pressing question Shifra always wanted to answer: What makes our lives matter? Daring to step right into the heart of life’s complexities, her search for answers to this question is refreshingly approachable and impactful.