How to Repent Right

The idea of repentance always fills me with performance anxiety. Most of it’s due to the prayer service, which starts at 9 a.m. and doesn’t end till sunset (some congregations take a 1-hour break; mine usually does not, because they are zealot wackos). But there’s another reason, too — I wrote a memoir called Yom Kippur a Go-Go, and whenever somebody starts to say “Yom Kippur,” I suddenly think they’re talking about my book.

yom kippur a go-go by matthue roth
It’s weird how a book can take up this much space in your subconscious. Even my own book. It’s an instant warning to myself to shape up and do good. It makes me feel like I’m being watched. In my first novel, Never Mind the Goldbergs, there’s a line about flipping the pages of the prayerbook back to front. I never used to be careful not to do that — but now that it’s out in the world, I feel like EVERY SINGLE PERSON is watching to see me do exactly that.

In that respect, it’s almost healthy to write a memoir. Not because you’re getting your secrets into the open (please don’t ask me about Chapter 8 ) but because you’re working through your past, getting it out and learning from it. The New Year is about polishing our pasts to straighten out our future, and there’s nothing like having a hefty, solid record to look at your own life from a distance and analyze exactly where you slipped up with a new and anxious freshness.

And besides — if you can’t learn from books, where can you learn from?

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