| Calligraphy |

Free Hand

I want a detailed and unfiltered report. I wanted it so badly. I wanted to discover what it was about me that made my days just an endless chain of same, of boring predictability, of getting nowhere, ever

My name is Riva Bergman, I have four kids, I’m a school librarian, I hate tomatoes. I’m not sure if I need to punctuate this and I’m just rambling so I can fill up ten lines on this unlined paper so this graphologist can analyze the dots on my i’s and the crosses on my t’s and the slant of my letters and conclude that I’m a kind and refined person who is sensitive to people’s needs and in touch with my feelings and also very creative. Because of course he won’t publicly announce that I’m a dimwit and a coward and that I have zero confidence or ambition, even if it’s the truth, which is why I find this whole handwriting analysis business stupid. It’s great for teens who love hearing how amazing they are, but — hey, I’m done, ten lines. Goodbye.

I turned my paper facedown and shook my wrist. Around the table, heads were bent, pens flying over paper. For a moment, I thought I should rip up my paper and write a new paragraph — would this graphologist guy be insulted by what I’d written? He’d assured us that it didn’t matter what we wrote, he wouldn’t even read it.

I shrugged. Who cared, really? It had been Miriam’s idea to call down a graphologist to our parents’ anniversary party. Personally, I thought the point of a family party was to sit around and schmooze with your siblings, and enjoy a good meal, of course. But Miriam argued that we needed a program, and since nobody offered other ideas, and she actually got this David Karr’s phone number and called him, and she was sponsoring it; did we have a choice but to cooperate?

The waiter brought in dessert. I stood up and went to the kitchen to cut up some fruit for my diabetic father (kind, sensitive to people’s needs). When I returned, Karr was collecting the papers.

He started with my parents. “I want the truth,” my father warned him. “Don’t tell me how amazing I am, tell me what’s wrong with me, why was I punished that I can’t have dessert.”

We laughed, but of course Karr said only positive things. And my father didn’t seem perturbed; he reveled in the announcement that he was “a deep thinker, people savvy, and strongly principled.” He nodded along with the sophisticated analysis, forgetting to demand the bad and ugly.

After my mother’s report (ambitious, creative, courageous, unstoppable — admittedly all true), Karr went in random order. My brothers kibitzed around, teasing each other about hidden strengths and saintly powers: “Hey, look at that, you got all of Tatty’s genes, when are you becoming a lawyer?”

When the graphologist reached Ari’s paper, everyone perked up, eager to discover the secrets hidden in Miriam’s husband’s handwriting. What was it about him? About them — Miriam and Ari as a couple. Created a designer brand in men’s fashion that became “the” name. Involved in endless projects and events, traveling the world for various causes. Our family’s power couple. And so cool about life, totally chilled. Like they had no idea how stress even looked. Take this graphologist — you’d think Miriam had nothing more important going on in her life than booking entertainment for an anniversary party.

“Suave,” Karr started. He paused, brought the paper closer to his eyes and whistled. “Man, intense one, here, eh?” He coughed. “Okay, so I see a deep understanding of mental patterns. A person who’s not afraid of risk but also not impulsive. There’s — there’s a lot going on in that brain, a lot of activity.”

“Einstein,” my brother Avigdor muttered.

Miriam chuckled. Ari gave a lopsided smile, and as Karr continued with the analysis, reached for the seltzer. His face didn’t darken or brighten, just registered mild interest, like it was somebody else being dissected. Suave alright.

As he moved along to my sister Bracha, I got a text from my friend Tziporah. When can we talk about the shoe store? Need your creative input for some setup stuff.

Not now, I replied. I’m about to find out who I am.


Lol, nothing, ttyl.

Karr called my name.

Instinctively, I tensed. Don’t analyze my handwriting.

I watched Karr hold up the paper and squint. I fidgeted. I’d heard enough that evening to realize that although this graphologist cleverly made every person sound like a success story, he knew what he was talking about. Even if he did leave out the juicy stuff, whatever he said was unquestionably true.

What was he going to say about me? Quiet? No, he’d call it refined, or introverted. Laid back — which euphemism would he use for that?

Nice handwriting,” Karr started. “Neat and structured. That’s an organized brain. Levelheaded, uncluttered.”

“Our master librarian,” Miriam contributed.

Thanks. Thanks, sister, really, thank you so much.

The analysis was short. An exaggeration of my creativity; lots of “kindness” fluff, terms like “easygoing” and “mellow” and a bunch of other synonyms for the word boring.

I knew I was blushing furiously. Of all the ridiculous ideas in the world, a graphologist. I glared at Miriam. But of course, my sister was ecstatic. And why not, accomplished person that she was. Got her praises publicly sung.

“Really, Mr. Karr,” my brother Mordechai grumbled. “You’re being crazy nice to everyone. Can you say some real stuff, too? I don’t mind blushing a bit. Go ahead and tell it like it is.”

Karr smiled. “Listen, if you really want a detailed and unfiltered report, I could do it for you, but not on the spot. I can take home your paper and write you up a report. It would cost you 30 bucks, if you’re cool with that.”


“Hey, I want a report,” my brother Avigdor piped up. “Can I get one too?”

“I can do it for whoever asks,” Karr replied. “Uh, here.” He reached for an empty plate from the table and blew crumbs off it. “Whoever wants me to send them a report, I’ll pass around a paper, write your name and email address. It’s $30, you can put your money in this plate.”

The plate went around the table, Karr’s collection box, and when it reached my place, I paused.

I want a detailed and unfiltered report. I wanted it so badly. I wanted to discover what it was about me that made my days just an endless chain of same, of boring predictability, of getting nowhere, ever.

I snapped to get Chaim’s attention. His eyebrows knotted, and I understood his question. Thirty dollars to find out who you are? Are you insane? You don’t take cleaning help, you don’t get manicures, you don’t buy yourself lunch, ever. A handwriting report, seriously?

But I was serious. It was suddenly mightily important to me, more than clean bathrooms and pretty nails.

Please? I mouthed.

He shrugged, as in, Do as you please, I totally don’t get you.

I took out my wallet, withdrew a ten and a twenty, and dropped them onto the plate.




A week after the party, as I was sitting down at night to make a credit card payment, I got the email. The sender was davkarrhand1@gmail.com, subject: Graphology Report.

My fingers tingled as I downloaded the attachment. It was a four-page PDF. The first page contained a bunch of disclaimers. I skipped that part. After that was a chart with four columns. Letter formations, characteristics, handwriting traits, features. I skipped that too. I didn’t care how, I wanted to know what.

Graphology analyzes the relationship between personality, conducts, intellectual level and volitive level, temperament, and character in handwriting. Here is an analysis of each followed by a summation of the integration of factors that depict an overall narrative of the writer.


Like a reader turning to the epilogue of a story before the first chapter, which I always warned students not to do, I scrolled down to the summary. I dug in like I was breaking a fast.

When I looked up, Chaim was staring at me. “What are you reading?”

I didn’t respond.

“You made the payment?”

Dazedly, I shook my head. Then I turned back to the screen and reread the whole thing.

The writer presents with strong perception of surroundings… orderly frame of mind, ability to distinguish fact from theory… constant conflict between rigidity and flexibility… possesses classic entrepreneurial spirit… inner drive to push herself, test limits, explore opportunities, learn new things… tremendous amount of energy, ambition, curiosity, confidence… a commanding voice, remarkable leadership qualities… initiative…

… facing dual forces… sometimes restricted by a desire to maintain stability. Caught in the chasm between security and opportunity… self-doubt, fear of unknown, fear of letting go… intrinsically riddled with fears but ultimately persistent, through strenuous inner work, fighting uncertainty with gumption in the determination to reach goals.

“Riva, you look like you’re having a heart attack. Can I know what you’re reading?”

I looked up from the screen. “It’s… the report. From Karr, the graphologist.”

“Ohh…” Chaim grinned. “So that guy with the crystal ball predicted your doomsday?”

“He didn’t predict anything. It’s a dry report, but look what he’s saying.”

I turned the screen in his direction and waited. When he finished reading, he looked up, smirking. “My dear, I don’t understand this guy’s fancy language, but I really don’t think you should take this seriously. I mean, confidence and reluctance, aren’t those contradictions? And I think you can say that about pretty much anyone?”

“You don’t understand!” I cried.

“You’re right, I don’t. Explain, what is he trying to say?”

I stood up. “That I have potential. That I can accomplish huge stuff, that if I allow my determination to drive me, I’ll have endless opportunity. That… That I can earn real money.”

His forehead creased. “But you earn money. You get a paycheck every week. That’s pretty real money. And steady, no?”

“But that’s the whole problem! The steady part. We’re — I mean, I — am so obsessed with this steady income, I’m stifling my chances, I’m getting nowhere.”

Chaim was silent for a moment. “You paid $30 to hear this?”

I sighed. “Never mind,” I muttered.

It was quiet for the next few minutes. I watched Chaim log in to Chase and review the statement.

“Chaim,” I started.

He glanced at me sideways.

“Remember when the school asked me to run the flower sale before Shavuos, a few years ago?”

“Uh… yeah, I remember.”

“The sale raised a lot of money for the school.”

“Right, that was great. And your floral arrangements were stunning, you’re super talented.” He coughed. “What are you trying to tell me?”

“I think Karr is right. I think maybe I do have an entrepreneurial spirit.”

He rolled his eyes.

I ignored him and sat down again, pulling the laptop back in front of me. I completed the credit card payment, then went back to read the first few pages of the handwriting report, just because this did cost me $30, I should get the most out of it. But none of the other information carried any weight after the summary. I had it all there, black on white, the facts I’d always known but actively denied, because—

Because I was just a school librarian, I did my thing and kept the peace. Steady, secure, predictable routine. Same, same, same, day in, day out.



“Don’t you think we need to discuss the future? A plan for marrying off our children?”

“Cross the bridge when we get there?”

I gave an exasperated sigh. “Come on, Chaim, be realistic. My librarian salary and the money you make writing mezuzos and tefillin covers us for now, but it won’t get our kids to the chuppah.”

He leaned back. “Well, there’s our life insurance plan. And we’ll make takanos weddings….”

“I’m serious, Chaim.”

“Okay, so what do you want me to do? Give up safrus and…? What’s your idea?”

“I don’t have an idea. I’m just… thinking aloud. Acknowledging that we have a problem.”

“Do we?”

“Yes. We’re a financial crisis in the making.”

Chaim sat up straight. “Look, Riva, I know you’re excited about this analysis, but honestly, you’re overreacting. This guy tacks a few adjectives onto you and you’ve arrived at our children’s weddings. Come on, Dina is six years old — why are you worrying now?”

“Because it’s only wise to have a plan.”

He sighed.



“I want to start a business.”



How do you start a business? How do you pick a business to start?

I had no idea, but I was definitely going to find out.

When I walked into the Bnos Yaakov library Monday morning, the room felt stifling. I gazed at the rows of books, neatly sorted along the shelves (neat, structured; organized brain), and cringed.

Could I start a business when I spent my days lending books to kids?

I guess I had no choice. Don’t quit your day job and all that. Or maybe that was a mistake? Maybe that was my fear of letting go taking over again?

Ha. As though I had a passion I wanted to pursue.

Think. What kind of business could I start?

As the first class showed up in the library and I started scanning returns, I did a mental process of elimination:

Not a men’s fashion brand, I wasn’t going to compete with Ari and Miriam.

Not an Amazon business, too many horror stories.

Not a retail business, I was way too scared to invest.

Not real estate development, come on, I’m female.

I knew I had to boil my choices down to a category: retail or service.

Hmm. Retail meant investment. Investment meant risk. I didn’t like risk. Then again, I didn’t like fears that stood in the way of pursuing opportunities.

But what would I sell? Baby layettes? Cheesecakes?

“Mrs. Bergman, can I take out an extra book this week?”

I nodded absently. Or maybe a service business was a better idea? People claimed that service was limiting, you could only work whatever number of hours a day, there was no room for growth. But growth could mean hiring staff, and then there was no limit, right?

Goodness, I had no idea.

The girl sprinted off, hugging her book selections. Wait, why did I let her take an extra book? That was against my rule, I never let girls take extra books. I knew if I said yes once they’d start taking advantage and I would lose control completely.

Maybe I should give up my day job after all.



Tziporah called as I was walking through the door.

“Did I tell you I have an entrepreneurial spirt?” I asked before she could say hello.

“And hi back, I love you too.”

“No, I’m serious.”

“What happened?”

I kicked off my shoes. “I always knew it, but I sort of just got it confirmed.”

“Uh, amazing?” There was loud noise in the background, pounding. What was she doing? “But before I hear about your midlife crisis,” Tziporah said, “can we talk about my husband’s store? You never got back to me.”

“Whoops, sorry, I forgot about that.” I groped around under the bed for my Crocs. “What’s that noise?”

“Just pounding my chicken cutlets.”

Oh, right, supper. I pulled open the freezer. How did I forget to take out the chicken in the morning? Uncluttered brain.

“So here’s the thing,” Tziporah started. “We’re doing some remodeling in the store, I told you, right? The construction is almost done, but we can’t figure out how to do the window display. I know you’re good at these things, you totally have an eye for it. I bought some props, but I have no idea what do with them. Think you’d be able to come over to help?”

“Uh, I’m totally flattered, and I’m glad to help, but I never did such a thing in my life. Why would you trust me?”

“Let’s just say I saw your pantry and I trust you.”

I blushed. My pantry was nice. I’d worked hard on it, and if I could admit it, I think I’d accomplished that magazine-style “look.”

“See, I knew I could count on you,” Tziporah said. “Now tell me about those spirits.”



The school’s library had become my personal torture chamber.

I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand the mindlessness of scanning books and organizing shelves, of helping girls choose between Pyramid Base and The Most Wanted List.

“You never complained about your job before Mr. Handwriting told you that you’re Bill Gates,” Chaim remarked.

He wasn’t taking me seriously. I was going to plotz.

Really, how did you start a business? I knew people sometimes used skills from previous jobs. So what should I do? Open my own library? Well… maybe?

Sunday morning, after dropping my kids off at play dates, I strapped Nachi into his car seat and headed over to Tziporah’s store.

“Remind me,” I asked Tziporah as I settled Nachi into his stroller with a bag of chips. “What made your husband open a shoe store?”

Tziporah put down a huge glass cube. “His father used to own a shoe store, when they lived in Homestead, so my husband familiar with the industry. And he had the contacts.”

I frowned. My father was a tax lawyer. I wasn’t sitting in school at this point in my life.

I turned to the boxes on the floor. “Let’s see what we have here,” I told Tziporah.

She showed me the props. I analyzed the space, throwing around ideas. For the next two hours, we puttered around on the stage behind the window, experimenting with different designs. It was fun, I actually enjoyed the work. We were going with a modern look; clean space, very linear.

“I love it,” Tziporah declared. “Oh, my goodness, Riva, it’s stunning. You’re insanely talented. Thank you so much.”

I blushed. “My pleasure, seriously. I really enjoy this stuff.”

Tziporah grabbed my arm. “Riva Bergman!”

“That’s my name.”

“Okay, listen! Remember that graphology report you told me about?”

“You bet I do.”

“Listen to me, this is brilliant. Window displays. You should totally turn this into a business.”



That night, when I repeated Tziporah’s idea to Chaim, he just shrugged. Which was better than laughing in my face, I guess.

“But do you agree?” I pressed. “Can you see me doing window displays?”

Chaim pulled a sefer off a shelf. “I agree that you’re very creative, and that you’d probably enjoy the work. What should I tell you? I think this whole ‘starting a business’ thing is ridiculous, but fine, go ahead. Bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, I get it. So I guess try it and get it out of your system.”

“But how will I find clients?”

“Uh… not sure.” He frowned. “Knock on windows?”

I glowered.

But turned out, I didn’t have to go out and find clients. They found me.

“OMG, Riva,” Tziporah shrieked into the phone two days later. “You’re not going to believe this.”

“Try me.”

“Are you sitting?”

It was lunchtime in school. I unscrewed the coffee jar in the teachers’ room, sprinkled granules into a cup and pressed the knob on the percolator. “I’m standing, I’m holding a cup of hot coffee and I’m wearing a white sweater, so don’t make me faint now.”

She giggled. “No, seriously, sit down. You saw those pictures of the shoe store window display I sent you, right?”

“Uh-huh. Is your husband satisfied?”

“Forget my husband. Kentucky Garden Malls.”


She was laughing uncontrollably now. “Our social media guy posted those pictures, we got 639 likes, and this guy from the Kentucky Mall messaged us to ask if we can put him in touch with our designer!”

I gulped. “Your — what?”

“Riva, do you understand what this means?”

I looked around the teachers’ room, sure that everyone was staring at me. Frantically, I lowered the volume on my phone.

“No, honestly, I don’t understand. He doesn’t mean… me.”

“You bet he does!”

I abandoned my coffee, hurried out of the room and dashed into the stairwell.

“But he can’t — I mean — I’m not a designer!”

“Well, you are now. He saw the pictures, your work speaks for itself.”

I didn’t know what to say — what to think. “This is crazy,” I muttered. “Crazy.”

“It’s wonderful,” Tziporah said, laughing again.

“Listen, honey, I’m at work, I need to go back to the library now. We’ll talk, okay?”

“Sure, go,” Tziporah said. “And meanwhile I’m giving him your email address.”



If Karr would analyze Tziporah’s handwriting, I knew exactly what he’d report. Hotheaded, impulsive, excitable.


I was going to kill her.

I knew it was unprofessional not to reply promptly, but really, what was I supposed to answer this Kentucky guy? That my friend lied, I wasn’t a designer, sorry, wrong address?

Chaim got a huge kick out of the whole thing. “My cool wife,” he said, wiping down a quill. “Traveling on business trips.”

“I am not traveling anywhere,” I snapped. I grabbed a folding chair that was leaning against the wall of his workshop and jerked it open. “This is crazy, how did this happen to me?”

“Entrepreneurial spirit?”


But to my surprise, Chaim encouraged me to go for it.

“I actually think it’s not a bad idea,” he said.

“Why, because you want me to get the craze out of my system? I’d rather it stay in my system and not make an utter fool of myself.”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying. You really did do a gorgeous job for Tziporah, so the truth is, why not? If you have the talent, why shouldn’t you use it?”

I gaped. “You’re saying I should fly to Kentucky to set up—”

“I’m not telling you what to do, just that I don’t think you should dismiss this invitation so fast. It might be the start of something big.”

“Chaim, you don’t get it. You know what ‘real’ display windows involve? This shoe store was a heimishe zach, totally spontaneous, and it happened to have come out okay. But in the real industry, you spend weeks planning the lighting and the props, the symmetry and I don’t even know what else, I never did this before!”

He smoothed the parchment on his desk. “You know what they say, ten years of schooling can’t compete with inborn talent. If you have it, you have it. Training is overrated.”

I couldn’t believe we were having the argument in reverse. Why didn’t he get it? I was a fraud. I had zero experience under my belt. I didn’t have a single real client to speak of, I never set up any window displays other than Tziporah’s husband’s shoe store! There was no way I could accept this offer.

Facing dual forces… Caught in the chasm between security and opportunity….

Please, this wasn’t a chasm. I had a job, a real, steady job. Flying off to Kentucky meant taking off from work, giving up something that was definite — my paycheck — for a risk, a job I would almost definitely fail. I have no experience, they didn’t realize. Pictures are deceiving. They’d see my work in real life, they’d send me packing, they’d be furious, and rightly so, and it would be humiliating, a disaster, much, much worse than dead-end book scanning, and—

Self-doubt, fear of unknown, fear of letting go…

I left Chaim to his mezuzos and went upstairs to throw in a load of laundry.

And I left Mr. Kentucky’s email marked as unread.



Intrinsically riddled with fears but ultimately persistent, through strenuous inner work, fighting uncertainty with gumption in the determination to reach goals…

Did you reply? Tziporah texted me the next morning.


She called me. I told her I was in a rush, I was on my way to school.

“Excuses,” Tziporah scoffed.

“It’s not,” I said desperately. “You have to believe me, Tziporah. I really don’t feel like I can do this. I don’t have any schooling, I don’t have a portfolio, I’m a total phony. I should’ve started this years ago, but I didn’t, and it’s too late now, I’m not allowed to accept, ethically.”

“That’s self-flagellation,” Tziporah asserted. “You can start anytime, this will be your experience, this is how you start building a portfolio. Every professional had a first account.”

“But they don’t know that they’re my first account.”

“They could’ve asked.”

I hated her logic. I hated her social media guy. I hated Karr. It was all his fault, with his stupid handwriting report, put these crazy ideas into my head. Chaim was right, we’d been happy, comfortable, things were going smoothly. Why was I stirring things up? What did I need this headache for?

Because you have a tremendous amount of energy, ambition, curiosity, confidence… initiative… inner drive to push yourself, test limits, explore opportunities…

The next day, a deposit was wired to my bank account.

It was official. I was in business.



Mr. Karr had left out one detail from his report.

Master pretender.

It was incredible how my mouth could say things that sounded so smart while inside I was practically quaking. As I scheduled conference calls and responded to emails, I was frantically researching window display ideas. I combed through websites, looked at hundreds — thousands — of pictures, with mounting dread.

But these guys were totally nonchalant, approving my absurd ideas almost without questioning, so I had no choice but to actually order those props I’d sent them links to. And as the plans started coming together, and I got delivery confirmation emails, they asked the obvious question. When are you coming?

“My cool wife is flying off on a business trip,” Chaim sang.

“Are you sure you’ll manage Nachi? Maybe I should take him along?”

Chaim laughed. “Yes, sir, I’ll add more lighting, just hang on while I go change this kid’s diaper.” He shook his head. “Seriously, Riva. Don’t you trust me with my son? Really, be grateful that I’m my own boss and have a flexible schedule.”

Didn’t he realize that I didn’t want him to make it so convenient?

He did, I knew he did, and so did Tziporah. Both of them argued that this was a strong bout of imposter syndrome, but I knew the truth: I was relying on luck to survive.



They were calling my flight.

They were calling my flight.

It sounded so professional, I almost regretted not wearing a power suit for the occasion.

It didn’t make sense. What was I doing in the airport, holding a folder full of design plans?

“You know what I just realized?” I asked Chaim. “I don’t think these Kentucky people even know that I’m Jewish! What do I do if a man wants to shake my hand?”

Chaim laughed so hard, I wanted to throw my folder in his face.

“You need to go, Riva. You can’t miss the flight.”

“Maybe I should.”


I shivered. “Okay. Okay. Wish me luck.”

He heaped brachos on my head, promised me for the hundredth time that he’d manage just fine, it was only five days, just focus on your work, you’ll be great, you are great, just go already.

I took one last deep breath, gripped my carry-on, and walked to the gate.

The seat next to me was empty. I thanked Hashem for that; I didn’t think I could put up with a neighbor on this flight.

Tziporah texted me a warm “good luck” message with a fingers-crossed emoji. I smiled.

It was only when I was finally sitting, with nothing left to do, when it was just me and my thoughts — and nerves — that I allowed reality to register.

I was flying to Kentucky.

I was above my fears.

It was an astounding realization. All along, I’d whined and argued, relied on my cheering squad to push me forward, but now it was only me, I was in it for better or for worse, I could succeed, I would succeed, and—

And even if I didn’t… it didn’t matter.

It really didn’t matter. Because I’d already succeeded. I’d succeeded, because I’d fought my insecurities, went out of my comfort zone, I’d dived into this project despite my doubts and fears. The fact that I was sitting on this plane, alone, pursuing this wild opportunity, this was success.

Strenuous inner work, fighting uncertainty with gumption…

I felt light. I leaned back in my seat comfortably, allowing my eyelids to droop, a soft smile on my lips.

And in that elevated moment, I recognized that I owed a tremendous debt of gratitude to David Karr. That graphologist guy had literally restored my vision, shown me what I was capable of, stuck the tools I always owned but never knew about, into my hands.

Thirty dollars — the best investment I’d ever made.

The plane’s sound system crackled to life. It was time to fasten seatbelts, watch the safety demo, turn off cellphones. I checked my emails one last time before powering off.

There were two new emails in my account.

One was a promo. I deleted it.

The second was an email from davkarrhand1@gmail.com.

Hi Mrs. Bergman,

Hope all is well.

I’m writing to apologize for a mistake I made. Another member of your family just reached out to me to get her handwriting report, and when I went back to the handwriting samples from your family party, I realized that I’d already written my analysis on that sample. It seems that I accidentally mixed up your papers and sent you a report on the wrong handwriting. I greatly regret this error and hope this doesn’t cause you aggravation.

Please disregard the previous report. Attached is the correct report.


David Karr

(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 806)

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