Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Excerpts from Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write
a new book by Gayle Brandeis

The Seder Orange

Baruch Atoh adonai, Elohainu Melech HaOlam

shehecheyonu v’kiymonu v’higi-onu lazman hazeh.

Thank you, Source of all Blessing, kind Creator,

for keeping us alive and sustaining us and allowing us

to reach this time.

(Traditional bracha, or Hebrew blessing, sung when eating a fruit for the first time that season.)

For the last few decades, many Jewish women have chosen to place an orange on the seder table at Passover. The citrus glows like a ripe sun next to the bitter herbs, the roasted egg, all the other traditional seder foods. When the fruit is sectioned and shared at the feast, people fill their mouths with a juicy affirmation of female power.

There are many stories about the origin of this ritual. Some believe it started when an elderly Jewish man made a comment that having a woman as a rabbi made as much sense as putting an orange on a seder table; others believe this comment was directed at lesbian rabbis in particular. One telling of the story has the man saying that a woman rabbi makes as much sense as a crust of bread (a forbidden food during Passover) on the seder plate. A woman, so the story goes, replied that a female rabbi is more like an orange on the seder plate than a crust of bread—she represents a transformation of tradition, not a transgression. Whatever the true root of the ritual may be, placing an orange upon the seder table has become an act of defiance for women, an act of reclamation and celebration. It’s an act that says we belong here. We bring so much richness to the table.

Ritual can be a profound tool for women who want to break through perceived limitations and claim (or reclaim) our own power. We can turn a wall into a window, sometimes with the simplest act.

Have you been told there are certain things you can’t do, or say, or write about, because you are a woman, because "nice girls" wouldn’t explore such things (whether it’s sex, or pain, or any other topic that reaches deep into the body’s experience and memory?) How have those limitations on your creative life become so engrained in your own body and mind that you have constricted your own scope of expression? You may want to keep an orange on your writing table (or create another ritual) to remind yourself that you are welcome here--in your body, on the page—and that you are free to experience yourself, express yourself, fully.



When an apple fell on Sir Isaac Newton’s head, he discovered gravity. When I see something fall, I rediscover lightness.

Falling is a moment of loss of control, a moment that breaks through all the constructs of how a person is supposed to behave. It flies in the face of upright society. It reminds me that the body has its own agenda, its own humor and vulnerabilities that the mind has no power over. Think of how the word fall is used. We fall in love, we fall to sleep, we fall to pieces, we fall into every dark region of the human heart, every place that operates in a sub-conscious, uncontrolled, way. Falling is a subversive, and often hysterical, act. At the same time, it is part of the natural cycle—think about how leaves fall, how they give the tree space for new growth.

When I first learned to ice skate, the first thing I was taught was how to fall down. It taught me to be less afraid of really falling, because I also learned how to get back up. I came to enjoy the thrill of falling, the glittery rush before I hit the hard ice.

As writers, maybe we need to learn how to fall, too, or at least not be so afraid of falling. We don’t need to always be upright, in control of what we are writing. We need to let ourselves slip around on language a bit, fall into the well of dreams and sensation that courses underneath.

Try writing with your eyes closed. Let your words slide around the page, wherever they end up. Write with the hand you don’t normally write with. How does this affect the content of your work? Try writing on a new surface—use a fat marker on a huge sheet of newsprint. Let yourself be sloppy, careless. Like being on ice, this new surface can help you slip around, fall into new ways of using language.

Other times, when your work seems to take on its own life, taking you into dark territory you had not planned to explore, let yourself fall into it. It may feel scary, it may feel exhilarating—just let the tumbling words take you where they need to go. Your fruitflesh is resilient. You’ll be able to get back up.

© Gayle Brandeis
*Read an interview with Gayle here*
Excerpts used by permission, courtesy of HarperSanFrancisco.  All rights reserved.