Mechaye Hametim (1393 words) by seekingferret
Fandom: Yentl (1983)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Avigdor/Yentl Mendel | Anshel Mendel/Hadass Vishkower
Characters: Avigdor (Yentl), Yentl Mendel | Anshel Mendel, Hadass Vishkower
Additional Tags: Yeshivish
Come, the letter says. Come.
This is easy to talk about. I watched the movie Sunday morning, then Sunday afternoon a pinch hit came up. I grabbed it instantly. Then it was due Wednesday night, and I had D&D on Monday, so I basically had two nights to write it. But it only took me one! I wrote the whole story Tuesday night, then edited it and consulted with Lanna as my yeshivish consultant and posted it on Wednesday. It was kind of just that easy, the timing worked out ridiculously perfectly.
Yentl is a mostly great but sometimes frustrating movie and the recip requested an engagement with the problems in the way Hadass is treated, so I obliged. I tried to toe a careful line on the yeshivish and the Talmud references- making them specific enough to ground the story in reality, but not overly specific in a way that made the story inaccessible.
The line in Berakhot 58b that gives the story its title is one of my favorite random bits of Gemara, because I am super uncertain if it's a joke or not. The Rabbis are arguing whether one says Shecheyanu, the blessing thanking God for keeping us alive and bringing us to a new joyful occasion, when one sees a friend after a long absence. Rabbi Joshua says you do, but only if the long absence is fairly short, on the order of months. If the absence is longer, he says, you thank God for bringing back the dead. That has to be a joke, right? That's not a serious blessing, it almost feels like a bracha l'vatala, a blessing made in vain, since God has not actually brought back the dead. But in the case of this story, because Yentl is an identity that has been carefully erased and then just as carefully brought back, in a sense the rekindling of her friendship with Avigdor and Hadass is a raising of the dead.
I think the other thing my story is about is Barbra Streisand's vision of America. I'm told that in Singer's original story, Yentl does not go to America, but just moves on to a different yeshiva town to try again as Anshel. But in Streisand's adaptation, Yentl goes off to America, to a land where maybe she has a chance to be both a woman and Torah scholar. And I push a little further, and suggest that maybe America is a place where Hadass can love both a woman and a man, a place of new opportunities and new rules. A different kind of raising of the dead. [Weirdly, I sent Yentl to Philadelphia instead of New York, betraying the perpetual New York fetishism trope of my fic. I'm not sure why I did that; Perhaps it's just that it let me have her working at JPS, perhaps it's because I was due to visit my Great-Uncle, who fled Brooklyn for the Main Line, the following week.]
My other story, though... It seems hard to know how to talk about it. The amazingly insightful comment I got from my recip made it clear to me just how unconsciously personal this story was. Brakebills has always reminded me of my alma mater, and everyone I know who's read the book and who went to a top tier tech school has agreed with me that Brakebills South in particular is engineering school in a nutshell. More than anything else, I think this story is a reflection on my college self, as I stare at my ten year reunion coming up in a handful of months.
Fast Times at Brakebills South (5376 words) by Seekingferret
Fandom: The Magicians - Lev Grossman
Rating: Not Rated
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Plum Purchas, Professor Mayakovsky
"Did you win your year?"
"I sure did," she said. "By a mile."
I may have told this story before: When I was a sophomore, we had a course on prototyping techniques. It was only worth half the credits that our calculus and physics classes were worth, but within a few weeks the weekly projects were eating fifteen or twenty hours a week, time we desperately needed to study for other classes. We complained to the instructors, who told us "Look, you don't really need to spend twenty hours a week on these projects. As long as you spend a couple hours a week, turn something in, you're going to get an A in this class just for showing up. But if you keep up working the way you have been, you won't regret it." We kept working twenty hours a week for the rest of the semester, and yes, to this day I don't regret it. I learned a lot of valuable engineering techniques and principles in that class. But stepping back from it, if that's possible, by looking at Brakebills South as the analogue... it kind of seems not okay. Like, okay, you got a bunch of workaholic engineers to work harder with nebulous promises of future benefits. Good for you! It's exactly what Mayakovsky does and it works with brutal effectiveness on Quentin and Alice and it burns out Josh and Janet and Eliot, and in my story with Plum it does something a lot more ambiguous.
Plum is interesting to me because I saw a lot of people not make it through Cooper- bad grades, irresponsible behavior, mental health issues, etc... But as the number of students dwindled, the number of dropouts dwindled, too. My class lost about a third of its members by senior year, but nobody who made it to senior year failed to graduate on time. For Plum to get kicked out of Brakebills as a fifth year is astonishing to me. The kind of people who make it through the ringer at Brakebills, who survive Mayakovsky, do not just suddenly screw up in the kind of way that gets you expelled. Especially because by the time you reach fifth year you have connections and relationships with the faculty and staff that ought to make them much more tolerant of you. My senior year we literally broke into an abandoned building on campus and stole a file cabinet and a table-saw and walked it across campus to our lab, while the security guards waved at us.
So I had to figure out how to write a version of Plum who lived on the edge, who was talented and disciplined enough to survive four and a half years at Brakebills, but who could have relationships with faculty frayed enough that one mistake could get her thrown out. Expulsion looms over my fic, I think, this endpoint that seems both inevitable and impossible given Plum's trajectory. For Plum, college is a place to explore and push boundaries, and that's the sort of thing that works until it doesn't. Plum doesn't realize, or is incapable of acting on the fact that, she's flying without much of a net. My recip commented on how I wrote Plum as 'brittle', and I think that's exactly it: Plum is hard, but hard metals are brittle.
But Plum is also a survivor, someone capable of picking up the pieces after a wrecking failure. Basically Plum is super awesome and I love her so much and it was great writing a story that, er, plumbed her depths. What this story sets up is the way that Plum reconstitutes herself after finally crashing and burning for real in The Magicians Land. How she ends up a Queen in Fillory after all is said and done. Of course, I don't mention Fillory at all in this story because I can't stand Fillory. I feel like this story let me testify to the parts of the Magicians series I love while carefully straining out all the parts I can't stand. I am very pleased with the final result.