Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

What Will You Say?

Let’s say you and your spouse/SO build a home. The two of you design and build the whole thing yourself. (Just go with it; in this scenario you’re excellent builders.) Then you furnish and decorate it together, exactly the way you want it. It’s your dream home, and one day when you both retire, you’ll move into it. 

Now let’s say you have some relatives who’ve fallen on hard times. There’s company layoffs, and medical issues. Their children are in danger of ending up in foster care, or on the street.

So you do the compassionate thing and let them move into your dream house. But you tell them to take care of it; if they trash it, you’ll trash them.

Now let’s say you find out that some other family members will be needing the house in a few months. They’ll need it even more than the current residents. So you tell the folks who live there now that they need to start looking for another home.

Then let’s say your spouse/SO dies. You can’t stand the idea of living in the home you designed and built and furnished and decorated together, all by yourself; so you decide you’ll eventually sell it.

You tell the people living in the house now, and the ones who are looking forward to moving into it in the future, that the home will not be available indefinitely. They need to find a new place, as soon as possible.

 What if the current residents decide that since you’re going to sell the house anyway, they don’t have to take care of it anymore? They quit mowing the lawn. They don’t change the air filters or clean the chimney. There’s a kitchen fire from all the grease, and they don’t repair the damage. They even start hocking the furniture and artwork to pay for their new car.

How would you feel? Would you say, “Oh, well, I wasn’t going to keep it anyway.”?

My guess is, no. You’d probably get mad, maybe even “trash” them, throwing them out.

Here’s the thing, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now: You and I, and everybody else now living, are the current residents. The other family members, waiting on the house – our earth – are future generations.

Someday, this world will cease to exist. But it’s not up to us to bring that about ahead of schedule, stealing from future generations the resources they need to live.

If we don’t care for our home – hocking the furniture by destroying habitat to such an extent that species go extinct, or burning the kitchen by strip mining – what will the Builder of the house think of us? Even if you believe the builder is going to destroy it anyway, was it given to you or I to say when? No.

If you don’t believe there’s a builder, then what about your children’s children? What will you say to them when they ask why we didn’t save the elephants and the whales and the forests when we could, so that they could enjoy them too? Or when they ask why we didn’t stop pollution so they could drink without boiling water and breathe without getting asthma? What will you say to them?

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For Your Consideration (aka, Help a Writer Out?)

I’m experimenting. Below is a possible opening for an upmarket novel set alternately between the present day and Nazi Germany.

Would you give it read?

 

Ruth waited until she heard the front door slam, signaling that her great-grandsons had left for school, before she shuffled into the kitchen. Her grandson Abel had already gone to work, so only his wife Rebecca – Becky – remained. What was wrong with the name Rebecca, heaven only knew. But the nickname was the least of it. Ruth had raised Abel the best she could when his parents died, but her teaching didn’t stick. There was so much he’d let go of, and so many other things he’d embraced. Why, last night Re – Becky – made hamburgers from non-Kosher beef, and even let the boys put cheese on them!

 

“Good morning, Bubbe. Coffee?” Becky held up a mug. At least they all used the familiar Yiddish term of endearment. Ruth didn’t think she could stand being called Granny.

 

Yo – yes, thank you.” Ruth dropped into one of the steel-framed chairs at the modern table. She ran her gnarled hands over the top. Smooth and light, it was another reminder of how quickly things were changing. Never again would she sit at the sturdy, oak table she and Isaac had raised their family around, feel the grain of the wood as she polished it, remembering what caused each ding and scratch. It was gone now, sold with the rest of her things. She’d wanted to stay in New York, where her friends and memories were.

 

There, everything was familiar. The Kosher butcher knew what cuts of meat she preferred. Her neighbor Miriam brought her chicken-matzah-ball soup every Sunday. When Ruth spoke Yiddish in New York, everyone understood her. And no one spoke of church or Christmas, because they all went to synagogue and celebrated Hanukkah. But when Isaac passed – just a month ago – it seemed like yesterday, and yet so long – Abel insisted she come live with him and Rebecca. In Kansas of all places.

 

Here, nothing was the same. She had to become a vegetarian just to keep Kosher. Lights and appliances were turned on and off all Sabbath. Abel was the only one who understood Yiddish. Kansas even smelled different. There were no aromas of falafels or freshly-baked challah. Only artificial scents, purchased with the groceries, touched her nostrils here. And people said “Merry Christmas” all the time. Rebecca always answered, “You, too,” but Ruth couldn’t bring herself to do that. Not just because she didn’t celebrate it, but—

 

“Bubbe!” Becky’s voice brought her back to the kitchen. “Did you even hear me?”

 

Neyn—no, I’m sorry. What did you say?”

 

“I said I haven’t gotten everything I need for Hanukkah. There’s not a Judaica store nearby, but the Hallmark Store has some things. Would you like to come along?”

 

It would be the perfect chance to get a card for Miriam. “I’ll be ready in a few moments.”

 

#

 

Becky kept complaining about the crowds, but they didn’t bother Ruth. She was from the largest city in the nation, after all – these spacious stores didn’t know the meaning of crowded.

 

What bothered her was Christmas. It permeated her very body: lights shone in her eyes, carols flooded her ears, cinnamon and bayberry invaded her nose. How could Abel and Rebecca stand it? At least they didn’t have a tree in their house, although Ruth suspected they might have, if she wasn’t there. She’d seen Becky surreptitiously peeking at things to hang on one.

 

As Becky paid, Ruth fumbled in her purse for some change to pay for Miriam’s card. Becky moved out of the way. Ruth looked up just as the cashier said, “Merry Christmas!”

 

And now, will you let me know what you think? (You’ve always wanted to tell a writer what was right/wrong with their writing, haven’t you? Now’s your chance!) Here are a few questions that you can address, or just leave any feedback you wish.

  • Would you continue reading it or set it aside?
  • Can you “see” Ruth? The setting?
  • Did you stop reading or skim any of it? If so, at what point did that happen?
  • Any part you thought was especially touching, or intriguing?

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, or PM/email me privately.

Thank you so much!

Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New

 It’s that time again, when everyone is posting “Best of” lists and annual evaluations of life, and setting goals or making resolutions for the coming year.

 

I had a good year. Here’s the broad picture (I’ll spare you the details).

I accomplished the two career goals that I really wanted, both related to writing and editing. There was a third I-don’t-want-to-but-feel-like-I-should goal that I did work grudgingly hard toward for about six months, and finally decided it just wasn’t worth it. So glad I did; that one just wasn’t for me.

I didn’t have a book published this year, but have worked on two novels that I’m writing, and have edited several for other people. One of the more interesting was the Sing & Cook book. I’ve done cookbooks before, but the “Sing” part made it unique and intriguing.

I advocated a bit more for causes I believe in. Not on social media so much, but in real life. I’d like to do much more; this is definitely an area ripe for improvement.

I volunteered.

And I enjoyed plenty of play time, including a trip to Missouri to attend LauraPalooza and visit friends. This was certainly a highlight.

I did something new: glassblowing.

I learned something.

Something I set no goals for and therefore did not happen: better health. Too much chair time (but that’s how I met my career goals!), not enough moving time. And too much Blue Bell. And menopause certainly hasn’t helped. When I set goals for 2018, this shall be addressed.

Something else I didn’t do last year, or ever before: choose a word to focus on through the year. I’m choosing one for 2018: Rise, inspired by Maya Angelou’s poem. I want to rise above fear to courage, rise above stagnation to progression, rise above complacency to action, rise above anger to compassion, rise above helplessness to helpfulness. Of course I try to do these things anyway, but perhaps by keeping the word before me and making a concerted effort, I can do even better.

I don’t do “Best of” lists. This is partly because it’s too hard to choose, and partly because often what I’d choose is out of date – I’m reading books and watching movies from last year, or even last decade. Somehow it doesn’t seem fair to rank those among the current year’s releases, especially when there are many current things I know would rank higher if I’d read/watched/listened to them.

So here are some of my goals for 2018:

  • Finish writing my novel The Jew’s Ornament
  • Write at least two blog posts a month
  • Assist in getting the novelized memoir of one of my clients accepted for publication
  • Implement the marketing/publicity/advertising plan I’ve prepared for my writing and editing
  • Move an hour a day, at least 4 days a week
  • Do something I’ve never done before
  • Learn something new
  • Volunteer at least an hour a week

I hope your new year is filled with joy, accomplishments, and peace.

The Good King

Today is the Feast of Stephen. Where have you heard that recently? Oh, yes, in that carol: “Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen…”

A fellow writer recently blogged about favorite Christmas songs. I commented that one of mine is the carol about the good King. I love the imagery of a king going out to physically help a peasant.

 

Did you know this song is based on a real ruler?

   Wenceslaus was born in Prague about 905 to a Christian father, the Duke of Bohemia, and a pagan mother. He was raised and educated by his grandmother (his father’s mother), who was also a Christian.

The Duke died when Wenceslaus was about 13 years old. His mother became regent and began to impose a secular reign. The grandmother disapproved of this, and encouraged Wenceslaus to usurp his mother’s power. The power struggle between the two women was fueled by various advisors who pitted Christians against pagans in an effort to advance their own interests. It wasn’t long before the grandmother was murdered (strangled with her own veil) and the mother exiled for the deed.

Wenceslaus took power when he turned 18. He tried to unify Bohemia under Christian rule. He was known as a pious, educated, and intelligent man who cared for the poor and the sick, and widows and orphans. It is believed by many that Wenceslaus even took a vow of poverty, though there is no direct evidence of this. He established several churches, including the rotunda of Saint Vitus at Prague Castle.

He also sought to ensure peace by forming an alliance with Germany. For a few years Bohemia enjoyed tranquility and security. During these years Wenceslaus married and had children, including a son who became next in line to the Dukedom. This removed Wenceslaus’s brother Boleslav from the line of succession.

 In 929 the peace ended when German king Heinrich I the Fowler invaded Bohemia and forced Wenceslaus to submit. Boleslav took this opportunity to undermine Wenceslaus’s leadership and turn people against him. A group of knights aligned with Boreslav assassinated Wenceslaus on the steps of a church as he was entering to attend Mass.

Wenceslas was considered a martyr and a saint immediately after his death, and legends sprang up about him within just a few years. One written account states, “rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he [Wenceslaus] went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.” (Centuries later Pope Pius II, who walked ten miles barefoot in the ice and snow as an act of pious thanksgiving, proclaimed this legend to be factual.)

Holy Roman Emperor Otto I posthumously “conferred on [Wenceslas] the regal dignity and title” and Wenceslaus was viewed as a “righteous king,” one whose power stems from his piety. Thus we sing about “Good King Wenceslaus.”

May his example and lesson encourage those of us who live with plenty to remember and care for those less fortunate.

Good King Wenceslas looked out      
on the feast of Stephen,
when the snow lay round about,
deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night,
though the frost was cruel,
when a poor man came in sight,
gathering winter fuel.

Hither, page, and stand by me.
If thou know it telling:
yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?
Sire, he lives a good league hence,
underneath the mountain,
right against the forest fence
by Saint Agnes fountain.

Bring me flesh, and bring me wine.
Bring me pine logs hither.
Thou and I will see him dine
when we bear the thither.

Page and monarch, forth they went,
forth they went together
through the rude wind’s wild lament
and the bitter weather.

Sire, the night is darker now,
and the wind blows stronger.
Fails my heart, I know not how.
I can go no longer.
Mark my footsteps my good page,
tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
freeze thy blood less coldly.

In his master’s step he trod,
where the snow lay dented.
Heat was in the very sod
which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
wealth or rank possessing,
ye who now will bless the poor
shall yourselves find blessing.

Merry Christmas!

Happy Thanksgiving

We return thanks to our mother, the earth, which sustains us with all things.

We return thanks to the rivers and streams, which supply us with water.

We return thanks to all herbs, which furnish medicines for the cure of our sicknesses.

We return thanks to the sun, which has looked upon the earth with a beneficent eye to give us warmth.

We return thanks to the moon and stars, which have given to us their light when the sun is gone.

Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit, in Whom is embodied all goodness, and Who directs all things for the good of His children.

~Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Thanksgiving Prayer

 

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has. ~Epictetus  

 

When eating a fruit, think of the person who planted the tree. ~Vietnamese Proverb

 

Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot. ~Hansa Proverb

 

THANKSGIVING DAY

Come gather round the table

To say a happy grace,

For family and food and friends

And a smile on every face.

The harvest now is over,

The fields are clean and bare,

For all the fruits are gathered in

And stored away with care.

Be thankful for the harvest,

For friends so good and gay,

For happiness and loving care

On this Thanksgiving Day.

~Kathryn S. Gibson

Thanksgiving – A National Day of Mourning

When I was a child in school, each November was spent learning about “the first Thanksgiving.” The  Pilgrims” (Puritans) were glorified as the first settlers of a wild land, as godly people who treated the native population fairly and only fought back when first attacked. The “Indians” were portrayed as “noble savages” who were helpful but uncivilized, and who needed the moral guidance and social refinement of white men to become better individuals.

Of course, the Puritans were far from the first settlers: the indigenous population had been dwelling and prospering in the Americas for many centuries. Even other Europeans had been coming to the New World for a few hundred years. And while the Puritans certainly believed in God and tried to live as they believed He wanted them to, their actions in stealing food and land from the native peoples, and murdering them when they objected, is not a moral ideal.

Less than 5% of the U.S. population has native blood, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the national narrative tends to ignore the perspective of Native Americans; but since the very survival of the European settlers was made possible by them, we owe it to Native Americans to consider their side of history’s story.

In 1970, one of the few remaining members of the Wampanoag, Wamsutta Frank James, was invited to participate at an official Massachusetts state dinner celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Mayflower landing. He accepted, and prepared a speech. When officials previewed the speech, they felt it was not appropriate, saying, “…the theme of the anniversary celebration is brotherhood and anything inflammatory would have been out of place.” Instead, they gave him some prepared remarks to make. He declined, and made his original version public. It read in part:

It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my thoughts. This is a time of celebration for you – celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People. Even before the Pilgrims landed it was common practice for explorers to capture Indians, take them to Europe and sell them as slaves for 220 shillings apiece. The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans. Mourt’s Relation describes a searching party of sixteen men. Mourt goes on to say that this party took as much of the Indians’ winter provisions as they were able to carry. Massasoit, the great Sachem of the Wampanoag, knew these facts, yet he and his People welcomed and befriended the settlers of the Plymouth Plantation. Perhaps he did this because his Tribe had been depleted by an 23epidemic. Or his knowledge of the harsh oncoming winter was the reason for his peaceful acceptance of these acts. This action by Massasoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people.

The tentative peace and cooperation of the 1621 harvest celebration can be appreciated by everyone; what is often forgotten is that it was followed by centuries of war, land theft, slavery, and genocide—almost always initiated by the white settlers. This cannot be a cause for celebration among those whose peoples were the victims of these atrocities, nor should it be for anyone. In view of the tragic outcome for their people, some Native Americans have declared the fourth Thursday of November to be a National Day of Mourning, a day to stand up and ask to be heard as they speak of the atrocities done to their people, and how it has repercussions to this day in the discrimination Native Americans still face.

Yet, even among native peoples, there are differing viewpoints. The anti-holiday sentiment expressed above is one of these. Another is that although the traditional view of Thanksgiving does ignore and misrepresent some important history, it also shows that it is possible for different cultures to come together in goodwill. Some feel a sense of pride for the generosity of spirit exhibited by their ancestors, and wish to focus on the example set at the “First Thanksgiving” of the cooperation between the two parties.

My family recognizes the dilemma, and we try to use it as a teaching opportunity. We have much to be thankful for, and denying that doesn’t help anyone. Celebrating the harmony and generosity of the First Thanksgiving does not mean we must forget the rest of history; extolling our own blessings does not mean we must deny those of others. We can affirm the guilt of the white settlers’ centuries of brutalities toward the Native Americans and work to right them, while also rejoicing in our many blessings. We can learn from the past and be thankful that we are, however slowly, moving toward a future of brotherhood among all peoples.

Thanksgiving is time to celebrate and delight in family and friends, prosperity and gifts. It is a time to remember all we’ve been given, and share it with others. May we all remember both the Thanks and the Giving of the day.