Ear­li­er this week, Joshua Cohen told us how to write a book like Coney Island and about the biggest ceme­tery in the world. His new nov­el, Witz, is now available.

I’ll end this first blog­ging expe­ri­ence with a nod to a neigh­bor. We pass often. Each life has peo­ple like this; satel­lites that main­tain polite orbits — espe­cial­ly in a city no one’s tru­ly alone.

Such acquain­tance­ship is akin to blog­ging: Note this entry’s loose­ness, its casu­al con­struc­tions, much more famil­iar and less demand­ing than any in my nov­el, Witz. Also note that I don’t know you. We are pass­ing. These words are a nod….

The neighbor’s name I don’t know either. I call her Tape Woman, and H. does and D. does, too (H. and D. are close friends).

We call her Tape Woman because she — a white woman, old­er — binds thin strands of black elec­tri­cal tape around her head. Above a robe of lay­ered garbage bags, her face is sec­tioned by lines of this adhe­sive, ren­der­ing her in appear­ance the ide­al­ized off­spring of a Jew­ess and a zebra, or a walk­ing-talk­ing-to-her­self Bride of Franken­stein who’s mis­ap­plied her tef­fil­in (phy­lac­ter­ies).

It’s tempt­ing to think that the num­ber of lines wound around her face sig­ni­fy some­thing: that some form of numerol­o­gy, or body mod­i­fi­ca­tion cab­bala, might be involved.

Three lines of tape (above eyes, under nose, on chin) could mean one thing. Four lines (above eyes, under eyes and over nose, under nose, on chin) could rep­re­sent anoth­er. I imag­ine her­met­ic wis­dom, salvif­ic mes­sages, prophe­cy being com­mu­ni­cat­ed. Per­haps the lines of tape sym­bol­ize the pil­lars of the uni­verse, accord­ing to the rab­bis: prayer (tefi­lah), char­i­ty (tzeda­ka), and repen­tance or return (teshu­vah)?

D. says pass­ing Tape Woman on the street (Brighton Beach Ave.), or board­walk, means two days of bad luck.

H. swears she went to school with her daughter.

So she’s crazy. And is fre­quent­ly harassed and insult­ed, in Span­ish and Russ­ian (when she mur­murs to her­self, she mur­murs Eng­lish). But once she did some­thing — action, a phys­i­cal act — that healed me, that gave me to myself more whole and alive.

One spring after­noon, tak­ing a break from the book, I walked the board­walk toward Coney. Tape Woman stood on a bench, fling­ing out her hands in a feed­ing ges­ture. But her hands were emp­ty and the birds, expect­ing a feed­ing, only cir­cled and squawked.

She clenched her hands again, grip­ping the wind.

And then again she flung out her hands and again the birds, more mad­dened than me, shrieked with disappointment.

This was writ­ing. A para­ble for writing.

There is no feed, there is no feed­ing — books being mere fan­tasies or laps­es. I am a crazy old lady, too — all writ­ers are and all read­ers are birds. And the only truth is shrieking.

Joshua Cohen’s most recent nov­el, Witz, is now avail­able. He has been blog­ging all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing. Vis­it his offi­cial web­site here.

Joshua Cohen was born in 1980 in Atlantic City. His books include the nov­els Mov­ing KingsBook of Num­bersWitzA Heav­en of Oth­ers, and Caden­za for the Schnei­der­mann Vio­lin Con­cer­to; the short-fic­tion col­lec­tion Four New Mes­sages, and the non­fic­tion col­lec­tion Atten­tion: Dis­patch­es from a Land of Dis­trac­tion. Cohen was award­ed Israel’s 2013 Matanel Prize for Jew­ish Writ­ers, and in 2017 was named one of Granta’s Best Young Amer­i­can Nov­el­ists. He lives in New York City.