What Can We Steal From Marcela Sulak’s “Getting a Get”?
Title of Work and its Form: “Getting a Get,” creative nonfiction
Author: Marcela Sulak
Date of Work: 2012
Where the Work Can Be Found: Ms. Sulak’s piece was published in the Winter 2012/2013 issue of The Iowa Review. (A top journal that is also beautifully designed.)
Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Writing Identity
Ms. Sulak begins by describing her fairy-tale romance: “We dated for three weeks, were engaged for four, and lived together for six.” At the end of the first paragraph, she informs the reader that the fairy tale didn’t last: “Divorce,” she says, “gives us more, if less romantic narrative options.” The piece describes the process by which she and her husband finalized their divorce in a rabbinical court. As the wife in the case, Ms. Sulak is largely a spectator. The rabbis deliberate, deciding whether or not the differences between Ms. Sulak and her husband were irreconcilable enough to grant the divorce. In between sections taking place in the dramatic present (the divorce), Ms. Sulak tells the reader about her wedding and and employs the recurring motif of the fairy tale to illuminate the difference between reality and the way we imagine our lives will end up. Ms. Sulak is dealing with some very heavy concepts: feminism, the state of women in Orthodox Judaism, the meaning of grace in our lives, the pain of separating from someone you love and more. In the end, Ms. Sulak fulfills the promise made by her title and gets her Get, wondering where the document, like the intimacy she shared with her husband, really ends up.
Humans are storytelling creatures: much more homo narans than homo sapiens. We aren’t made of one narrative, but countless ones that intertwine to make us who we are. How often have you noticed the connection between two different situations from different formative experiences in your life? These anecdotes are part of the larger story of who you are. Yes, friends, we are creatures made from stardust and story and poetry and music and art. Ms. Sulak makes this connection explicit by weaving descriptions of fairy tales into her narrative. Ms. Sulak translates these stories and they are clearly an important part of who she is. Early in the piece, she confesses that she tried to alleviate some of the stress of the hearing by reading poems; the tears she cried leads her to think about the dubious relationship between birds and women in fairy tales.
With such a passive role in her divorce ceremony, it’s not surprising that Ms. Sulak contemplated the free will granted by the deity in which she believes. “If G-d would not withdraw,” she writes, citing mystical Jewish literature. “People would lack free will.” Ms. Sulak then includes a poem she had previously published on the topic of grace and how a person shapes his or her identity in the context of the forces that control us. Every writer unites his or her work in a different way and some more obviously than others. Think about Stephen King; most of his works take place in the same universe and in some of the same communities. Castle Rock and Derry…they’re all clearly a part of Mr. King’s concept of himself.
“Getting a Get” is primarily a story about how Ms. Sulak GOT her GET. She is, however, an amalgam of all of her experiences. That’s why she stopped her divorce narrative to tell us about her wedding and to relate her daughter’s request for a sibling. Some readers may wonder why Ms. Sulak kept interrupting the dramatic present. By doing so, the author makes the story about a human being in full, not simply a person who happens to be at her divorce hearing.
What Should We Steal?
- Acknowledge that your writing is an important part of your identity. As a writer, you understand a little bit more deeply how strongly who you are is shaped by the stories that happen to you and everyone you meet. Ms. Sulak understood this and inserted one of her poems into the essay; how will you enmesh the works you create?
- Contextualize your primary story by tying it into other important personal events. The “sacraments” may be a list of milestones that help us measure our lives (and those of our characters), but there is so much more to why we are who we are.