Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Can you guess what's on my mind?

It was nearing the end of her month-long writing sabbatical, and she hadn't gotten nearly as far as she'd hoped. She couldn't even begin to explain how she felt.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Balance and Moderation

I am hoping for balance and moderation (as the title to this post suggests). Achieving this goal is likely impossible, as the the lines (of what? of everything) are constantly shifting, making the enterprise challengingly unpredictable. Nevertheless, I have come upon a few ideas lately (in print in various publications) that struck me as offering some guidance in this respect. First, from the New York Times.

David Brooks: I guess I should try to explain what I think moderation means. . . .  I guess it means restraining your impulses and trying to gather evidence about the crime before rendering a judgment about what it all means. Moderation means understanding that we all have a tendency to exploit events in order to ride our own hobbyhorses, so it’s usually best to try to pause and put aside one’s prejudices and try to look at each event in as neutral a way as a possible.
Moderation is a disposition rather than an agenda. It means calibrating your opinions to the strength of the evidence. It means pausing to look at any event from alternate perspectives.
 Second, from Moment magazine, from the editor, Nadine Epstein. Some of you know that several years ago, I won the fiction competition sponsored by this magazine. Ever since then, I have been a subscriber, in part because I appreciated their award and in part because I appreciate what they do as a magazine. Here's part of what Nadine had to say in the latest issue.

For several years now I have observed what I call the "Not in Mixed Company" syndrome, that pesky inability to talk about Israel in mixed company. By mixed company I don't mean Arabs and Jews or Jews and Christians, but Jews and Jews. Beyond the comfortable confines of a few select venues where it is understood that everyone agrees with one another, talking about Israel in organizational, public, or even private settings has become fraught with acknowledged and unacknowledged complexities. Jew-to-Jew, Israel is a deeply polarizing subject.
I'm with her, which I'm sure you realized, or I wouldn't have quoted her. A year or so ago, I got into an argument with a cousin of mine because he used the word savages to refer to . . . well, to be honest, I'm not sure what he was using that word to refer to. Arabs? Palestinians? those who are anti-Israeli or have negative feelings toward Israel or toward Israelis or at least toward some Israelis or toward some of the things that they have done? The reason I don't know is that I got too upset too quickly rather than finding out what he meant and telling him why I objected to that word. I thought I was reacting against him because of his extreme position, but now I see that I too was taking an extreme position because I didn't take the time to find out what he meant.
This cousin sends out multiple emails (sometimes several a week) on the subject of Israel (letters to the editor; articles he picks up from elsewhere; news about Israeli achievements in science and technology), and by some quirk of technology, I always get TWO copies of each. At first, I just deleted them without reading them, telling myself that I didn't like them because they represented an extreme position. I don't claim to be as well-informed about Israel as he is (in fact I don't claim to be well informed at all), but I told myself that I didn't like the strident tone. After a while, though, I guess he wore me down, and I took a peek. What I discovered is that they were well written and represented a passion and high level of fear and concern rather than anything really "bad."
     Passion is good, but moderation is also good. In the novel I am working on, I have character who is learning to play the violin (and also learning to be a person), and her teacher points out to her that one of the great difficulties is doing the hard work of drilling and discipline but still being able to let go and soar. And by the way, I am currently reading David Grossman's novel To the End of the Land, and finding that for someone like me, literature is the best way to enter a difficult topic--in this case, Israel.
     One more quote, from last week's Newsweek and an article by Stephen L. Carter called "Man of War," about Obama as commander in chief of two wars.
The need to pick from among several unappealing ways to defend the nation is what separates presidents from pundits. I believe that much of the virulent hatred directed at President Obama's predecessor, and at Obama himself, arises from a rejection of this proposition. To the hater, the world is simple, not complex. The answers are obvious. "If the president were only as clear-eyed and wise as I am," the protester thinks, "he would see the world as it truly is, and make better decisions." It turns out, however, that in time of war, very different presidents may see the world in roughly the same way.
Oh, that it were all simpler and the answers more certain. Oh, that we could find the balance between passion and reason, the balance between discipline and soaring.

Oh for a modicum of serenity.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Birthday Cake

Today is my daughter's birthday. Happy birthday, sweet girl. I know your name isn't Becky, but it's the best I could do from a distance.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Diversity of Discomforts

That poor baby is teething, and that's what's causing her/him such discomfort. I'm feeling a little bit this way myself today (uncomfortable, not teething), so I decided to rearrange the words in my blog title to reflect this fact.
     Why am I feeling a diversity of discomforts? I suppose you can guess some of them. Tragedies in Tucson and accompanying rhetoric. I'd like to write more about that, and perhaps will next week, when I get my thoughts clear. One piece of it that I keep returning to is the shooter--and the massive impact that one person can have on an entire nation. One person is really relatively small (regardless of actual height and weight; in this regard the shooter appears to be relatively average) to have such a large impact. Having a semi-automatic weapon increases the impact, or creates the impact. But still . . . one person.
     Another important source of the discomfort is that this month--January--I have taken off from my commercial work (mostly taken off; I have a few smallish responsibilities) to work on my novel. My dream was that by the end of the month I would have a solid draft, perhaps even ready to send to my agent. Far more accomplished authors than I am would never admit that in public. When it's in progress, no one really knows how an artistic project will go, whether it can follow any timetable of completion, whether it is truly viable. This is the reality as I understand it from myself and others.
     So . . . the first week of my writing sabbatical was rousing. By Sunday, I had the first five chapters in a shape I felt quite good about (something writers are not supposed to say out loud, as the worm can turn at any time). Monday, starting in on chapter 6, the worm turned. By this morning I was in a panic.
     I calmed myself a little by moving away from the chapter and working on a structural overview, thinking that seeing the events of that chapter in context might help me solve my problems. This did help to some extent, and I managed to muddle through chapter 6. Decided to leave it for now, give it some breathing room, move onto 7, and continue to consider the structure of the whole work, how the parts may eventually fit together, how the threads weave in and out. But . . . I'm worried. And not just a little bit uncomfortable.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

End of an Era

Oh, sorry. Have to go off topic again. Because yesterday, the chic woman in the photo slipped away at the age of 104. She--named Ida Tumarkin when married to her first husband, Sam (pictured above)--was my husband's grandmother. Sam was his grandfather. When she was born, she was named Ida Zweig. And when she died (or slipped away), she was named Ida Kesselman. I love this photo, especially the easy physicality of their companionship. Sam loved boats, and here they are, on the water.
     I could tell many stories about Ida (Sam was gone by the time I entered the family). For now, I'll just share the above image and another one: that she danced in spike heels at her 80th birthday party. As my husband said of her, "The evening gown is her business suit." He said this because she was a very active community leader and fundraiser on the gala benefit circuit.
     Until about 10 years ago, she lived in a glorious light-and-color-filled apartment in Miami Beach. As my daughter said when she heard that Ida was gone, "She was an institution." And I suppose that's true when you've lived so long. For my husband, having Ida alive into his middle age prolonged a phase of life beyond what most people experience. Few of our contemporaries even have one parent alive, yet my husband still had Ida (and both parents). It's a family with lots of longevity. Jim's mother, Janet, is on her way to Ida's funeral as I write this.
     I remember my mother saying that no matter how old someone was, nor how long they lingered with their illness, it's always a shock when they die. It's that final finality, the hole left in the world.