She hurt me. Or, shall I say, I was hurt by her? Words really matter, as I've recently re-learnt, so I better choose them wisely. That said, I was hurt by the (rather insensitive) way in which she chose to speak to me.

It was the evening of Rosh Hashanah. About forty-five minutes before candle lighting, and all I had left to do before greeting the New Year was to bathe and make a few phone calls. I decided to call my friend Tali first.

"Hi Tali. L'Shana Tova! I'm calling to wish you a year full of vibrant good health, deep and lasting happiness, and spiritual and material success!" "Amen," bellowed Tali, who readily blessed me in return. After a few loving exchanges and a little catching up, I asked her if she had read my most recent blog post, to which she replied in the affirmative.

I was asking mostly because I really cared about her opinion"Oh." I said, somewhat surprised, "I wasn't sure if you had, because you didn't comment on it, and normally you are among the first to respond."

It wasn't exactly that I was fishing for a compliment. Sure, Tali's feedback had in the past reinforced my thinking and, admittedly, stroked my ego, but I was asking mostly because I really cared about her opinion on the ideas in the article.

"Weelllll," she temporized, letters lolling on her tongue like a runway carpet, unfurling in anticipation of something epic to follow, "to tell you the truth, (cough, cough) I didn't comment this time because I had nothing nice to say."

Unsure as to whether or not she was joking, I let out a small laugh.

"No," she said, tone hardening a bit. "I'm serious. I didn't like it."


"In fact, I'm kinda glad you brought it up, because I've been meaning to tell you that lately I haven't been able to stomach your work. I mean, it's not that you're not a talented writer, but it's your style and what you write about that has been making me sick."


"Yeah, it's so dogmatic. So perfect. So cliché. It's sickening already. And no offense, but I've gotten to the point where I can't even read it anymore."


"I'm telling you!" she said, anger emanating from a place deep within her. "It's oppressive! I feel as if I'm stuck in some sugar-coated fantasy barf when I read it."

"Fantasy barf?"

"Yes. Because it's so darn cheesy and dishonest."


"What's wrong?" she asked, clueless. "You're not mad at me, are you?"

"Huh? Mad? Me? I don't know. I mean . . . no. I don't think so. How can I be mad? You're just giving me your honest feedback, right?"

"Exactly! I'm just being honest."

"Well . . . thanks for your honesty, I guess."

"Anytime! Now if you don't mind, I better get going. But you have yourself a wonderful new year! L'shana Tova. Love ya."

"Uh . . . Okay. Goodbye."

Could it really be that my writing was cliché and cheesy? I waited for the line to go dead before allowing tears to run free. Then I watched my hand, in an out-of-body sort of way, as it tremblingly hung up the phone. Dismayed, I headed mechanically toward the bathroom, where I spent the next twenty minutes soaking in a tub of sudsy water, feeling stained with self-doubt, anger, sadness and defeat.

Could it really be that my writing was cliché and cheesy? Did it sicken all the other readers too? Have I been obliviously oppressing people all this time and embarrassing myself in the process?

As the scent of my cinnamon-raisin challah baking in the oven sweetened the steamy bathroom air, I submerged myself under water to replay and process the dreadful conversation. I felt worse with each passing moment, and I began to wonder how I might possibly pull myself together in time for the New Year. Just moments ago I was all gung-ho about 5770. I was feeling optimistic and joyful about everyone and everything, and excited to begin a New Year of continued happiness, creativity and good relationships. But instead, there I lay underwater, holding my breath, holding a grudge, and holding a very critical self-judgment over my head. "L'shana Tova"? A good new year? Ha! Was that supposed to be some kind of cruel joke?

Swirling in emotions, I toyed with the idea of calling Tali and telling her how I felt. I constructed a few possible conversations—none of which would be pretty or take away my pain. Her words were already released, and even if she tried, she could not take them back. Besides, it was almost time to light the holiday candles, and there wasn't enough time to call her and get into it.

So I tried to forgive her. To let it go. To be strong. To wipe away her words from me like "sugar-coated barf." Getting dressed for the holiday, my mantra became, "You can please some people some of the time, but you can't please all the people all of the time."

As I put on my beautiful holiday clothes, I struggled to stop her words from gnawing away at my self-esteem. She's just one person with one opinion, I told myself. Surely there are people out there who appreciate my writing. What about all the compliments and encouraging letters I've received? Don't they count for anything? And what about the articles that have been published on They wouldn't publish something nauseating, would they?

But try as I might, her words had already triggered something deep inside me, and all the positive feedback I'd gotten over the years no longer meant a thing. I was bombarded with insecurity, self-doubt, even self-loathing. Maybe she's right. Maybe I should stick with my day job and leave the writing for the pros. Maybe G‑d agrees with her, and wanted this message to be delivered to me because He too is disgusted by my work. And maybe instead of being upset at her for the way she spoke to me, I should thank her for having the courage to be upfront? After all, it's the real friend who tells you when you're walking around with toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe, isn't it?

Maybe instead of being upset at her for the way she spoke to me, I should thank her for having the courage to be upfront?Rosh Hashanah came and went. I managed to lift myself back up to a state of joy and come to terms with Tail's critique. I figured there must be at least one worthwhile lesson mixed into her message; the rest of it was her own issue and could be disregarded. When the holiday season ended and it came time to get back to the computer, I had mixed feelings about how to write. I sat down a few times and tried to experiment with a new, bolder style, but every time I attempted to write, something important came up.

There was carpool to drive. Facebook friends to chat with. Coffee to brew. Laundry to fold. Kickboxing classes to teach. My life suddenly become so busy that I didn't have even ten minutes a day for my silly writing hobby. In fact, it wasn't until six months later, when somebody asked me about my writing, that I finally realized I had not written a single thing. And worse, that I had pulled my embarrassing blog off the web.

That was when I grasped how deeply I was affected by Tali's words. And how vulnerable I was to a little bit of criticism. But how could this be, I wondered? I'm a tough woman—a fighter—a national martial arts champion! I'm the strong and powerful Taekwondo master who teaches empowerment, perseverance and belief in oneself. How could I be the fragile, breakable "wuss" who gets knocked down and out by a few harsh words!

So with the voice of my old coach re-awakened in my head, I put on my gloves and took another shot at writing. I put my blog back up in cyberspace and sat myself down to write. I was all pumped and ready to go, but I had nothing to say. My mind was blank, and even when I did have an interesting thought, I couldn't manage to get it out of my head. I was stuck.

Another six months went by, and I had still not a written word. Rosh Hashanah was approaching once again, and this time I was determined to start the year off on a sweeter, more productive note. Fortunately, G‑d arranged it that I would be attending a women's event in my neighborhood where a very special woman would be speaking. Sara Esther Crispe, editor of's "The Jewish Woman," came to Chicago to speak about effective communication. Among the topics she addressed was how to deliver constructive criticism in an effective yet delicate way that would yield positive change. (Too bad Tali couldn't make it!)

Another six months went by, and I had still not a written wordInspired by her speech and captivated by her presence, I wanted to get to know her. But should I introduce myself to her? I imagined I might say, "Hi, Mrs. Crispe. We never met in person, but you might remember me from those few corny articles I wrote last year that you were kind enough to publish on your website. Anyways, I think you are great!"

Miraculously—not to sound too cheesy—I didn't have to introduce myself because she actually recognized me from my headshot! Not only did she remember me, but she even asked me where I had been! Shocked, and feeling particularly comfortable in her presence, I opened up and told her all about Tali and the "ineffective communication" that led to my writer's block. "And since then I have not been able to write a single thing!"

"Write about that!" Sara Esther urged. "This is your new assignment."

I came home from that evening feeling inspired and honored. Last year at this time G‑d sent a messenger who knocked me down, and this year He sent one who picked me up. I sat down in front of my dusty computer and started banging away. To repent for wasted time and to protect against future distractions, I immediately deactivated my Facebook account and made a commitment to myself and to G‑d to get back to writing. Writing, I recognized, was part of my personal path toward returning to G‑d. Part of my soul's mission and part of returning to my true self. How appropriate it seemed that this return to writing was happening now, during the ten days of return and repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Reflecting on my fallow year, I can't help but feel a sense of shame that a few critical words stopped me from doing what I have been passionate about for so much of my life. Up till then, writing had been a constant source of pleasure, healing, and self-expression for me. This disturbing experience introduced me to a broken part of myself that resonated with the belief, "I am not good enough. I cannot succeed." Fortunately, this experience also introduced me a new, more empowered and self-confident part of myself. I truly experienced the Jewish concept of a yeridah tzorech aliyah, a descent for the sake of an ascent. Had it not been for that blow, I never would have been challenged to really work on myself and my writing.

Meanwhile, Tali never apologized. Nor has she asked about my writing.

But I have an important message for Tali and all the other Talis of the world: If you don't like my stories, don't read them!