Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Double/triple Standard


As many of you know, I am a walker. Pretty much everyday, I take a long walk around my town. By long, I mean an hour or so. Occasionally, I have a walking partner, but mostly, I'm on my own. Occasionally, I take my cell phone and chat with my daughter or sister or friend as I walk. But mostly, it's me and the inside of my mind and the world itself. Sometimes, I have small adventures. Sometimes I pick up litter, especially plastic and glass bottles and drink cans. Sometimes I notice things that make me wonder . . .
      One thing I saw a few months ago that made me wonder--about myself as much as the thing I saw--was a woman in a yard who had climbed up on a window sill and was trying to open the window.
I am a responsible person who has been known to report suspicious activity (although I'm never completely certain what qualifies as suspicious), but I immediately noticed that I was continuing with my walk rather than doing something along the lines of calling the police. I'll say right here that the woman was white. And, of course, the woman was a woman. But if she hadn't been either of those things, I realized, I might not have so blithely walked on by. (So finally I am getting back to the topic of this blog--discomforts of diversity, or assumptions related thereto).
      A few days later, again while out walking, I saw a woman burying a small box among a row of box hedges next to an apartment building.
Again, this was not a usual thing to see. But the woman was doing this in plain sight, right next to the sidewalk, making no attempt to hide. The woman was white. And again, the woman was a woman. But what if she had looked Middle Eastern? or been a Middle Eastern man? In either of those cases, the burying of a small something near an apartment building might have seemed suspiciously scary.
     I wish I had a magic photo wand I could wave to show the difference between what I actually saw (white woman at window; white woman burying small box) and what would turn that odd but supposedly benign sight into something supposedly suspicious. I guess that's what you call profiling. When one kind of person does something, it's probably okay. When another kind of person does it, it might not be.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Continuing the Sentimental Journey

Okay. Maybe it's because of the holiday season. Maybe it's the dream I had last night about being back in my parents' house, which was about to be lost or was already lost (hard to explain this in non-dream reality). Maybe it's the latke fumes still in the air. But sentimental thoughts . . . And then I was sorting through some papers over the weekend, and I came across this.

That is my father's turkey recipe. Note that first he gives the standard recipe, taped to the page. Then he gives his own (typed at the bottom), which is the opposite of the standard way. I bet the typing is my mother's, as she did most of the typing. I love the typewriter-ly look of it with the corrections and the uneven line spacing and left-hand margin, and especially the crooked last line. I love the dark imprint of the scotch tape. And of course, we have the handwritten addendum, about the book group discussion (Wide Sargasso Sea, which I've never read but now am feeling inclined toward) and the potential suede jacket. He mentions Elaine, who is my sister. And he mentions "all three of you," which would be me and my two sisters. So he sent this to all three of us. Elaine tells me she has a copy hanging in her kitchen.
     How long has it been since someone wrote to you and said they would love to buy you a jacket? My father was not a Saks kind of person by nature, so it's interesting that the jacket was from Saks. I did let him buy it for me, in the green. My mother got one in the tan. I wore it for years until the lining was completely shredded.
     My husband makes the turkeys in our house, and they are quite delicious. He does not use my father's method, but I will say that my father's turkeys were remarkably delicious as well.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Auntie X and Auntie Y


Every time I sit in on a discussion of my novel, I learn something new. Last night I attended the meeting of a local book group, and it was no exception. This was a group of perhaps ten women who have been meeting monthly for over ten years. I was invited because one member emailed me while she was reading the novel. She grew up in Detroit, in all the same neighborhoods and schools and synagogues that inhabit my book, and she was moved to contact me. One thing led to another, and there I was in another warm living room with people who have rich, interlocking relationships with each other, who love to read books, and who take the time and trouble to gather to discuss them. It's enough to give one hope for the world.
     The discussion ranged widely around social issues and urban issues and "white flight" and migration patterns in Chicago, New Haven, and other parts of the country. The book group members discussed Harry and Ruth and Curtis and Alvin, asked questions about my process and my background, and shared stories of their own. Then, one woman mentioned the Chanukah party that takes place in the chapter called "Family." In particular, what she focused on were the latkes--the "good" latkes and the "bad" latkes.
     In the picture above, you see what I think of as good latkes. One sign of a good latke is that the batter was grated by hand (not in a food processor or from a mix). How can I tell that this batter was hand grated? The well-defined potato shards. This is essential to a good, crisp latke. The latkes in the above photo are also golden, and you can thus be sure that they are very crisp. Now . . .
the soggy (bad) latke. You can see from the way these latkes drape over each other that they are not crisp. And you cannot not see the well-defined potato shards, so these latkes were likely derived from a mix or a food-processed batter. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I try very hard to be tolerant and empathic and understand differences/diversity. But on the point of good versus bad latkes, I am rigid.
     The issue that the woman in the book group raised is that when you are seated at a table with these two plates of latkes, which are you going to eat? Are you going to be polite and eat one of Auntie X's soggy latkes so that hers don't sit untouched? Will you forgo Auntie Y's golden crispy ones just to make Auntie X feel appreciated? Will you forgo Auntie Y's crispy ones and settle for Auntie X's soggy ones so that others can enjoy the superior product (the martyr approach)? How will it look if the crispy pile disappears in a minute, and the soggy pile remains all evening? Perhaps more important, how will Auntie X feel about Auntie Y (perhaps they are sisters) as a result of this latke affair, and vice versa? There is always the possibility, of course, that some will prefer the soggy latke, that they don't see them as "soggy" at all but pleasantly accessible.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Chanukah

You know how it is sometimes, when you start to say something, and you've got so many competing thoughts and feelings, all jockeying for position in the funnel that leads down from your brain and the funnel that leads up from your heart, all simultaneously toward the tip of your tongue and/or the roof of your mouth or wherever speech comes from? And it's so much at once that whatever it was you thought you might say comes out kind of like ba, ba, ba, a motor boat that can't quite get started, a babble of confusion, a twirling tongue? Well, that's me and Chanukah. At least this year. I mean, I don't even know where to begin.
     With the annoying opinion piece in yesterday's NY Times by Howard Jacobson, recent Man Booker prize winner trying to be funny? They say his award-winning novel is funny, and I had been anxious to read it until I read his NY Times piece yesterday, which I did not find at all funny or even clever.
     With the story of the time (years ago) when my mother called me to say Happy Chanukah? And it was a time when I didn't care (or didn't think I cared) about Chanukah, and she started singing Chanukah songs over the phone, and I felt annoyed, but then something clicked in, and I started singing with her, and soon I was crying.
     With the Chanukah song sheets, which I have in a folder in my file cabinet downstairs? These are song sheets that my mother mimeographed (yes, this was pre-Xerox), so the print is that purple color, and the letters are slightly swollen. She always brought them out on Chanukah, and we (the rest of the family) always acted annoyed. But I saved them. Okay, I know it's hard to see, but you get the idea. That's her staple in the upper left hand corner, and that's her hand writing, and that's probably her wine stain near the bottom right. A family heirloom?
     Okay, call me sentimental. Fine.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Home for the holidays

In honor of the concept of home, and the diversity of home-concepts, I present a simple multiple-choice quiz, with the pleasurable side benefit that there is no right (or wrong) answer. Which of the following homes most suits your innermost alternative-home fantasy?

Home number 1? Earth-sheltered house.
Home number 2? Tree-stump house.
Home number 3? Hanging-over-paradise house.
Or home number 4? Personal-moon house.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Last Frontier

I remember when my father joined the Gray Panthers. It must have been the early or middle 1980s, and it seemed very cool to me--a riff on the Black Panthers, a riff (and not just a riff but a movement) growing out of rage and focused on activism in the face of negative attitudes toward one's group.

I liked the idea of my father as an activist, and I remember when he came to Chicago for a regional Gray Panthers convention. Gray Panthers was started by Maggie Kuhn, who said "We are the risk takers; we are the innovators; we are the developers of new models." Here's Maggie.

I am writing this because although I am old enough to be a Gray Panther (and in fact, my hair is gray--that is, I allow it to be gray and thus find myself in a minority), I am still subject to ageist thoughts and reactions. I will level with you. At one of my readings in Michigan, two women came from a nearby seniors housing community. The activity director brought them. One was in a wheelchair. The other used a walker. Their posture was bent. And although I greeted and introduced myself to most of the people who attended the reading,  I did not approach those two women. I realize now that it must have taken significant effort for them to come.
I can't say precisely why I ignored them, or I am too ashamed to say. I barely even glanced at them, though I was aware that they were there. After the reading, however, I noticed that my friend William was deep in conversation with them, which drew me over. William introduced me, explaining that one of the women had been a professor at Wayne State (can't remember now, what her field was; literature? anthropology?), had written extensively in her field, had donated her writings to the Walter Reuther archives at Wayne State and the Burton Collection of the Detroit Public Library. Only then did I begin to engage with her, to listen to her, and also to feel shame at my earlier ignore-ance of her.
     As my friend Pat pointed out when I told this story, one sad thing is that it focuses solely on what this woman used to be. What about the present?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Extraordinary

I just returned from the most extraordinary week in southeast Michigan and a series of book events--six of them in four days. I must have spoken to hundreds of people, both in groups and individually. I was delighted to learn that high school students at Cranbook in Bloomfield Hills and the Rudolf Steiner Waldorf school in Ann Arbor have been reading my book. Some of the Waldorf students came to my reading at the Ann Arbor Public library, and they warmed my heart with their earnestness and interest. I met people from my past, people who knew my sisters, people who knew my parents. People who did remember me from elementary school and high school. People who didn't remember me from elementary school and high school.
     I read from my book, spoke about identity and Halloween, spoke about dreams and aspirations (what drives us and what limits us). I read passages from my novel--the opening scene in which Harry is driving to work, the one about Harry and the bike giveaway, the one about Harry's visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts when Diego Rivera is painting the frescoes, the one about Ruth on the way to her meeting, the one about her when she finds herself at Margo Solomon's Moroccan luncheon.
     The capstone event was my visit with the U-Michigan Honors students and parents. I first met with them in an informal lunch setting, where I spoke about my life path, from shy, intimidated college student who never said a word in class, to editor and writer, now standing before them and not even nervous. A miracle. Here is the story that one student wrote about that lunch. Later that afternoon, I spoke to an audience of parents and students in one of the university's big lecture halls, and even then, I WAS NOT NERVOUS (unbelievable).
     At that session, I read a section of the novel that I had not read aloud before. It's from the beginning of the Riot/Rebellion chapter, when Alvin and his friends are heading out on a Saturday night, and it's the closest the reader gets to Alvin's inner life. I'd never thought about reading that scene aloud before. I've always felt a little skittish about Alvin--that perhaps I had taken too big a risk in trying to write from the point of view of a black teenage male. But I remembered something from a recent book event, where the facilitator pointed out that the wide-ranging book discussion had failed to say much about either Alvin or his father, Curtis, and that perhaps this represented a kind of discrimination or ignore-ance. So I read to the U-Michigan audience about Alvin, and I loved doing it. I felt that the section had energy, momentum, that it portrayed him (and his anger and his doubts and his wisdom) with respect. And I'm so glad I chose that section.
     I could say a million more things about this visit to Michigan, but now I am back, and now I am exhausted. Plus I am undergoing the rebellion of the electronics--both my oven (with Thanksgiving coming) and my laptop (with another novel to write) seem to be in a state of distress. And I have an award event to attend tonight--the prose competition of the Guild Complex (which I judged).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Halloween

I've written about Halloween on this blog before--specifically, I wrote about it last October. In that post, I described the uncomfortable feelings I have about the strangers who come to my door trick or treating. I don't expect to feel differently about that this year. I've actually come to dread Halloween to some extent, though it's a rich mixture of magic and nostalgia and dread--perhaps an appropriate mix for this particular holiday.
     At any rate, Halloween has special meaning for me, and as I've mentioned before, my novel begins on Halloween. I can cite multiple reasons for this, and as I have multiple book events next week (see schedule in right-hand column), I will use a deep dive into the meanings of Halloween as a launching pad for at least some of my presentations.
     What I've noticed this year about the weeks leading up to Halloween relates to decorating trends. When I was a girl, although Halloween was a time of great excitement, people didn't decorate their houses at all (at least not that I remember). Of course there was the pumpkin on the porch or in the window, but that was it. Gradually, Halloween has become a marketing phenomenon, and decorations have become more and more extensive and elaborate. But they have also changed in character. A few years back, it was all about those nylonish-inflatable-type decorations. Bright colored and friendly and silly, at least until they collapse in a dirty pile on the front lawns. You know what I mean.
Other items I have seen with regularity are the spider-web things that people stretch over their bushes and so forth.
 

And there are pretty little lights. And pumpkins, of course: Real, ceramic, and plastic. Plastic or wood gravestones with funny inscriptions (can't think of any at the moment) are also common. Bony legs and arms and feet emerging from the ground. Skeletons hanging from trees. Witches that have crashed into trees.



What I want to say is that this year, I have noticed a decidedly more ghoulish look to the decorations. Large plastic rats. Zombie-like faces emerging from spider webs. Big hairy bats with fangs. A skeletal bride and groom enclosed in a cage and hanging from a tree. Other skeletal creatures with really horrible faces.
     When I mentioned this "trend" to my husband, he said, "Scary things for scary times."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stumped

That's how I feel about this week's blog post: stumped. It's not that there are no topics available. There was that article in the NY Times a week or two ago, pointed out to me by a faithful blog reader, written by an African American man who takes the train to work into NYC everyday and who has observed that the seat beside him consistently is left empty by white passengers, even when all the other seats in his car are filled. And, he pointed out right off the bat, that he has excellent hygiene and wears very good business suits.
      And there's the novel I'm reading now, called Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, by Elizabeth Taylor (1912-1975) (the other Elizabeth Taylor, as she sometimes is called)--a British writer. The book opens when the widowed Mrs. Palfrey is moving to a rooming house for the elderly, all by herself and in a taxi, no one to help her, as she and her daughter don't care much for each other, and she and her grandson don't either. It's a fascinating book, about age and loneliness and odd bondings of people. One could say (and for the sake of unity in this blog post, I will) that the characters in this novel are in the same situation as that man on the train in the NY Times article. I could say a lot more about how it's got me stirred up and focused on age, but I won't.
     And then there are all the stories about people I've met and the stories they've told me at my various book events, some of which I have told in previous posts. But there are many more I could tell. Instead, I'll just tell one thing I learned at a book event last week: Even though the errors in my novel were corrected when the book went into paperback, they have not been corrected in the Kindle version. I'd like to do something about that, but really am not sure where to start. Ideas? Volunteers?
     So the word "stump" came into my mind as I was thinking about what to write this week, and I started looking at pictures of tree stumps, and I realized that some of them look like a kind of tunnel or entryway into the underground. The word omphalo comes to mind: umbilicus or navel. And the omphalos stone (meaning center of the universe) at the shrine of Delphi.
Sometimes at readings, I have told a story about a tree stump that inspired the ending of my novel. The story (in very abbreviated form) is that while I was researching my novel, I was a guest in the home of an old friend. She was out of town, so I was alone in her home for several days, researching, writing, pacing. It was summer and very hot, but her home was freezing because I could not figure out how to adjust the AC. So I would sit, wrapped in a blanket looking out her back window, which had a lovely view down a hill to a creek and a wooded area. One day I decided to go outside to warm up and walk down to the creek. I noticed a tree stump and headed for that, as a place to sit. When I got to the stump, however, I saw that although it looked solid from the front, like a place where one could sit, it was completely decayed and decomposed around the back when one got the full view of it.
     You know what decaying wood looks like--spongy and moist and layered and orangish, with all manner of beetles and other insect life scurrying around. And as I stood there, looking at the solid front and the decaying back, it struck me that everything depends on perspective. What one sees depends on the angle from which one looks and how closely one looks. And this struck me as so important a thought, and so relevant to my novel, that I scurried back up to the house, opened my laptop, and drafted the last scene of my book. If you look at the last page of the novel, you will see a reference to that tree stump.
     So there you have it. A stump can be an opening. It can even be a house.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Normal/Normality


I'm not going to pretend to understand what happened in the "former Yugoslavia" in the mid-90s. I mean, I do understand that a brutal war occurred, that thousands were slaughtered, that atrocities against humans were committed, and that many lives were shattered. And I understand that ethnic divisions/hatreds/histories between Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians (or Bosniaks) were at the center. 
     At the time, I remember NPR reporters asking experts and insiders of all kinds to explain to the rest of us what the sources of these ancient conflicts were. 
     Historical battles, borders, territories. These were some of the answers. My friend, Vesna Neskow, a writer whose family comes from this part of the world has given up (I hope only temporarily) on the novel she wrote about these people and this world. 
     "It started to seem too much like a lesson in history," she told me, "as if I had too much of an agenda," she said. "Do people understand what that war was about?" she asked me. Speaking for myself, no, not really, but on the other hand, yes, of course.
     What prompted me to take up this topic this week was a story I heard on NPR a few weeks ago. The story started out by saying that 15 years after the war, Sarajevo appears to be a city healed. But the reality of the region is that ethnic divisions remain.
Education, which should foster a multicultural society, has instead been manipulated by each ethnic group. There are separate education ministries, and each draws up its own ethnically based curricula and textbooks.
The part of the story that struck me most deeply was this:
In many towns and villages, few refugees displaced during the war have gone back to their homes. More and more young people are segregated: They've never met anyone from the other two ethnic communities. . . .
Says organizer Emin Mahmutovic, "Young people, they are starting to think that ethnic divisions are normal."
 One thing I like about writing this blog is that I don't need to come to any conclusions. I can do with this material whatever I want, including simply putting it out there. While reading about Bosnia, however, I did learn that during the war, this beautiful bridge in Mostar was destroyed. 
It has since been rebuilt, but what could be more metaphorical than a bridge destroyed? And what could be more normal (at least for me) than worrying about what normal can or should be.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Through the Back Door

I've met a number of people because of my book. Some I have met at readings, and in a post-to-come I will tell about some of them and the stories they have told me. Others I have met via email--that is, people who have written after or while reading my novel because they have been moved by it or appreciated it or wanted to point out errors. One of the people who wrote to me (who signs in here as rasirds) lived for many years in Detroit (but does no longer) and has become a regular reader and commenter on this blog, and I thank you/her very much for your/her interest and participation. 
     Another person who emailed me, Marcy Feldman, still lives in the Detroit area and is planning to host a book event for me when I visit in November. She is an extremely dynamic and socially conscious person, and she heads an alumni association of people who attended her Detroit elementary school. This group raises money and provides many other kinds of much-needed enrichments and services to the students and families of this neighborhood school.
     One of the benefits of heading this alumni association is that Marcy has managed to keep in touch with many people from her past and get to know them as adults. Which leads to the subject of the post: the back door.
     Through Marcy, I heard this story from Lynn, a member of the alumni association who no longer lives in Detroit. Lynn kindly gave permission for me to retell it.
     When Lynn, who is African American, was a little girl, a Jewish friend of hers (let's call her X) invited Lynn to come over after school to work on a school project. As Lynn and X came up X's walk, however, an African-American woman--the "maid"--appeared at the front door.  She studied Lynn very carefully, held the door open for X, then turned her attention to Lynn and said, "Where you think you goin'? You need to go to the back door."
     Here's what Lynn says: "Later that evening when I was dropped at my house, my mom was anxiously waiting to hear about my first study date.  I told her what happened, and still today, I can remember the look of pain and horror on her face."

We can only imagine what X made of this. And we can only wonder whether X's mother knew about this, and if she did, what she would have said. And we can only imagine the damage that must have been done to the "maid" and/or her fears about her job and/or her place in the home of X's family to inflict this kind of treatment and humiliation on a little girl who had been invited to this home. And, certainly, we can all quietly sit with our own painful musings about the impact of this incident on Lynn all those years ago. 
     Because Marcy has rallied her fellow alumni, she has also had the privilege to revive this relationship with Lynn, and the two women have made it possible for me to tell you this story. In a follow-up email, Lynn said that she thought this must have been a very common experience for African-American children. This makes me realize how little I knew about the many black children (we used the label Negro back then) I went to school with and what I might hear if any of them stepped through time into my current life.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Some days . . .

 . . . the heart and the mind are tired, and one must take a less arduous path. So, here, for your viewing pleasure, a "simple" image, from the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Some might say that Grand River and Joy is not a "beach read," but clearly, not everyone would agree (shhh . . . it looks like she's near the end).

And (as a celebration of seasonal and locational diversity) another one . . . 

She looks like she's nearing the last page as well . . .

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Intersections

I've just come back from a few days in New Orleans. We went to visit our daughter, a lighting designer. The theater company she is a member of was/is performing The Mad Woman of Chaillot, written by a French playwright in the '40s, a tale of corporate greed and oil lust. The New Orleans group decided to mount this play well before the Deep Water Horizon oil explosion. So History stepped up to intersect with their artistic concerns and interests.

* * *
 
I have always loved the bowl shape of the Mississippi where it hugs/contains/cradles the city of New Orleans. I spent some time looking at maps of New Orleans on this visit, as we stayed at a B&B that had many antique maps of the city on the walls of the dining room, and the B&B owner liked to talk about them and the city's history as we ate breakfast. One thing I hadn't known was that NO was originally planned as a walled city. This wall would have contained the area we now know as the French Quarter, the Vieux Carre. Our host did not think that any of the walls had ever been built. The walls were intended for protection from the native tribes. But, our host said, the settlers and the natives ended up getting along well, so perhaps this is why the wall project was abandoned. In my novel-in-progress, I have a character in a contemporary setting who is proposing to build a wall along the border of his town because he is afraid of the people who live on the other side. I do not think he will get very far with this project. But it seems worth exploring.

* * * 
When we arrived at the B&B, our host introduced us to his wife, who was sitting in a corner of the living room, gluing glitter onto stilettos, and she had a whole shoe rack of amazing women's shoes waiting in line for similar treatment. They explained that she is one of the Krewe of Muses. In NO, Krewes are the groups that parade during Mardi Gras. And this particular krewe is beloved because as the muses float by on their floats, they throw the glittering shoes out to parade watchers (the things they throw are called "throws," and these shoes are considered to be high-quality throws.) 
     If you read this blog, you know that the muse is a concern of mine. Also, a concern of my friend Patry. My last morning in NO, when I went to check my email in the living room where the glittery shoes are produced by a Krewe Muse, I found a message from Patry, saying that she had just completed our collaborative muse-summoning/blueberry-pie-baking annual ritual. Furthermore, every time I am in NO, I contemplate the unusual/unpronounceable/impenetrable array of street names. Terpsichore, for example. Melpomene. Euterpe. When I mentioned these names to my godson over dinner, he shrugged, so casual. "Oh," he said, "the names of the muses."
* * *
The work of W. G. Sebald, one of my great literary inspirations, is saturated with just these kinds of intersections and "coincidences," as we call them. It is reported that when asked about the role of coincidence in his work, Sebald said that whatever path he took in his writing, he always, sooner or later, came across another path that led quickly back to some detail from his own life. He also said that the more one was attuned to look out for such things, the more frequently they occurred.
* * * 
One morning at breakfast, we met a young woman who is in the army, stationed in Louisiana, part of an engineering brigade that works on vertical projects. She may have called it the "vertical unit" or the "vertical brigade" (I am not sure), but she explained it by saying they work on bridges, towers--anything, I guess, that takes one up. She was also one of the first responders during Hurricane Katrina, staying for a time in the Convention Center, then in a camp the army set up. An actual person who is trained to take charge in the midst of human catastrophe. Sitting quietly and eating breakfast. And I was thinking about that, with a hushed awe. I was thinking about that capacity in her, but I'll admit, I was also thinking about the circus act that occurs in my new novel--what I call the "Spiral Ascent"--and I was thinking about whether she might have any tips for me.
* * * 
There's no real way to end a post like this but to sit with the idea of intersections, let it filter down and see where it takes us.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Feeling Lunar

The dates of the Jewish holidays are based on a lunar calendar. And as "we" are currently in the midst of the Days of Awe (see previous post), I have been particularly aware of the moon. This doesn't happen to me every year, but this year, it has. 
     Rosh Hashanah occurs at the new moon (because, I suppose, it's the start of the new year). Makes sense.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which begins this Friday night and is the day on which the Book of Life and Death is written and sealed (or something along those lines; "who shall live and who shall die"), occurs at the half moon.
That ends the Days of Awe, but coming right up is Sukkot (or, as I used to call it Succos), the harvest festival, or the festival of booths, which occurs at the full moon.
In the most embarrassing, humiliating, regretable error in my novel, I wrote that Succos is a spring holiday. My friend Laura pointed the error out to me after the book was published (eternally grateful, Laura), and it has been corrected in the paperback. I cannot for the life of me figure out how I managed to make such an error, but my only excuse is that there are so many pieces and levels to a novel that "something's got to give."
     Which leads me to the next phase of this post, which is that in all this lunar immersion (have you actually looked at the moon lately? If not, please do so tonight, as it has been quite an alluring presence), I have been thinking of and singing to myself all the moon songs I can think of. "Fly Me to the Moon." And "It's Only a Paper Moon." And "It Must Have Been Moon Glow." And "Moon Over Miami." And "Moon Dance." And  "How High the Moon." I'm sure there are others I haven't thought or heard of, and if I did a Google search, I'd have multiples in minutes. But, please, if you have others to suggest, step up and do so.
    To end, here is a lunar image of great merit. I tried to find the person to credit for this (and others to be found at the website) but couldn't actually find a person. So thank you, imaginative lunar visionary. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Days of Awe

In honor of the Days of Awe, I'm reviving a post from a year ago and reposting it with a few updates/revisions. A sweet year to all of you, and thanks for reading.

I usually don't listen to the radio on Sunday mornings while eating breakfast because I'm letting myself ease into the zone of writing and don't want to be distracted. But this past Sunday morning, I got engaged in a broadcast of the wonderful Speaking of Faith and an interview with Rabbi Sharon Brous about the Jewish High Holidays (which began last night). Rabbi Brous says that in her congregation during the High Holiday services, she pushes her congregants to lie prostrate--flat on their faces, hands outstretched and palms up. The more uncomfortable they are with doing this, she says, the more important that they do it--if only for a few seconds or minutes.
I couldn't find a photo that looked exactly like what she described, but I think you can picture it. The idea for Rabbi Brous is that when she prostrates herself in this way, she is acknowledging and accepting and experiencing the lack of control, submitting to some higher power. I'm not saying it as well or beautifully as she did, so I encourage you to listen. Here is some of what she has to say about the Days of Awe, from her website.
These are days in which we step out of our daily routines and attain a sense of the sublime, a sensitivity to the mystery of life. Each year we are given the gift of time to reflect seriously on the people we have become, and dream once again about who we can be. We engage in heshbon hanefesh - intensive self reflection, in which we review our behavior over the past year, identifying mistakes and shortcomings. And we make teshuvah - serious, sincere return, as we work to refine ourselves and repair broken relationships. We connect and reconnect with the best of ourselves, our family members, our friends, and God. Through this process, if we do it right, we are able to discover a renewed sense of wonder and mission in our lives.
Ah. There's an image with the open palms. 
    This year, as the Days of Awe begin, I am deeply into yet another revision of my second novel--with feedback from my agent as well as several trusted readers. Writing and revising are arduous, but I believe I am working toward greater depth, and toward realizing the potential of the story and the characters.
And simultaneously my husband and I have just returned from New Orleans, where we visited our daughter, and where one still (five+ years post-Katrina) feels such a rush of hope and devastation and recovery.
Not sure how to end this post. Perhaps I'll just lower myself onto the floor right now. Palms up to the sky.