Jennifer Lang is one of those writers who combines writing with another passion of mine: exercise. True, I lean more to Pilates than Yoga (yogalates anyone?) but at any rate, we both have the mind/body connection up front and center and I'm so pleased to finally have her on the site. I am also, as always, keen to introduce more people to writers living in Israel who write in English, so welcome Jennifer Lang!
A San Francisco Bay Area native, Jennifer Lang lives and writes in Raanana, Israel. Her essays have appeared in Under the Sun, Ascent, The New Haven Review, and on Brevity's One-Minute Memoir and NPR's Hanukkah Lights podcasts, among others. A Pushcart Prize and Best American Essays nominee, she earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and serves as Assistant Editor for Brevity.
GG: Please explain the connection between writing and yoga.
Writing and yoga are one and the same: quiet, internal, mind-and-body quests. Like treasure maps, they offer different clues, myriad locations, endless starting and stopping points along the journey.
In both practices, my brain pounds. To write, I switch on the Right side, responsible for creativity, to string together sentences, and the Left, the inner critic, to edit them. To yoga, I dance from pose to pose (Right side) until I stop and check myself (Left side) to make sure I'm straight, squared, strong.
In both practices, I push myself to my edge. On the page, I dive into the conversations that make me sound mean, the interactions that leave me vulnerable, the stories that reveal our humanity. On the mat, I test a new arm balance pose or lift my legs into tripod headstand, always stopping before pain.
In both practices, I hone agility. At my desk, I play—with words, structure, patterns—to stay nimble-minded. On my mat, I bend back, twist, and turn upside down to stay nimble-bodied.
GG: Why do you think you gravitate to nonfiction?
For the first ten years of my professional life, while country hopping, I wrote for the French Section of the World Jewish Congress in Paris, for the Public Affairs department of Technion - Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, and for the San Francisco Jewish Federation in my native northern California. In 1997, toward the end of my second pregnancy, I quit my day job to take a night class on how to write a nonfiction book. In our final class, after reading my first chapter aloud, the nameless instructor shared unforgettable feedback: "I think you should use your voice and write a memoir."
For the past 22 years, I've been looking for and experimenting with that voice to write feature articles on pregnancy and parenting, women's health and yoga for online and national print magazines as well as first-person stories for my (defunct) blog about my latest move to Israel, Wall Street Journal's Expat blog, and Kripalu's blog on yoga, health, and wellness.
This past winter, I attended a fiction intensive workshop. During the first prompt, when I wrote about a single, twenty-something woman who checked into an Airbnb in Jaffa and ran into the sealed room on the first night of Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, I understood I could veer from the truth but still write what I know.
GG: "In writing, I rely heavily on my writer and reader friends for support and critique to help my sentences flow and my words to pop, but every teacher tells me the same thing—listen but trust my instincts." Do you still agree with this quotation I took from one of your interviews? Do you believe writers should have support and critique groups?
Writing is such a personal endeavor. Some people prefer to go it alone, while others need validation. Some people thrive on feedback from a writing group, others don't. It's not right or wrong, good or bad but individual choice.
I rely heavily on my writer friends for support and critique because I don't always sense when I've written the situation and the story, if I've started or ended in the right place. I envy more experienced writers who don't need affirmation and will never forget my mentors during my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts, who encouraged me to trust my instincts more.
GG: How do you think your writing is informed by your life traveling between the USA/Israel/France?
When my yoga students ask me when I started practicing or why I've stuck with it for the past 23 years, I always say the language lured me in from the get-go. My first teacher, Rodney Yee, spoke of rooting into the ground, feeling the floor underneath our feet, anchoring into the earth.
For the past three decades, I have moved, learned new languages, immersed in foreign cultures first alone, then with my French husband, and finally as a family of five. We've lived in Israel, France, California, New York and back again in search of a place where we both feel whole and safe. When I write, the same themes surface: uprootedness, outsiderhood, and identity. I write to figure out where I belong, if I should stay, and what home means.
GG: Where do you wish to see your writing career in five years?
At the risk of sounding greedy, I have many wishes and dreams:
- To continue teaching workshops and host master classes and literary events at my place, Israel Writers Studio
- To lead writing and yoga retreats in Israel
- To see my memoir-in-progress become a book
- To continue to turn upside down on my head and play with abandon on the page