Sunday, May 27, 2012
My Friday was wild. I went to the Amazon listing for Memories from Cherry Harvest to add information about an event in Oakland on July 19 at A Great Good Place for Books (7 PM) and I noticed that the publication date for the book had been moved up almost a month. So I emailed my production manager at Counterpoint to ask what was up. She emailed back immediately. She thought she had told me that the pub date had been moved up, apologized for leaving me out of the loop, and informed me that she had received an advance copy of the finished book from the printer the day before! Apparently my copies will be shipped to me next week.
I’m still in shock. Especially since I have not seen a finished copy yet. This has been my dream my whole life. I have struggled to be patient these past months as the publication process has unfolded. I have tried not to think about it so I could sleep at night. I was pacing myself. Only 6 months to go. Now only 5 months. Now only 3. Now next month, oops, no, now NOW. In a flash it happened, rushing to me swifter than expected.
Here is one of my deepest most personal fantasies: A UPS van pulls up in front of my house. The driver gets out and walks to my door. I open the door and sign for a heavy box. The driver hands it to me and walks away. I carry the box into my living room and put it on the floor in front of me and open it up. Inside, a treasure, value more than diamonds, more than rubies, inside are books. All the books are the same. A novel. And I wrote it. I have imagined this scene in detail over and over again for a dozen years. I can see the light on the driver as he walks to my door. It is always late afternoon in summer and the light is golden on the brilliant green trees. My fantasy is going to happen this week.
Today I had a conversation with my father. Dad is a mathematician. He wrote a book in the 1970s that was light years ahead of its time. In the past 10 years Dad’s work has been rediscovered and as it turns out there are many mathematicians who were trying to work out things that Dad had already worked out and described in his book over 30 years ago. In a few weeks Columbia University is hosting a 3-day mathematics conference that will revolve around Dad’s work. Obviously Dad is delighted to have his work back in the spotlight and put to good use. It just goes to show that if we live long enough there’s no telling what will happen. Dad said this to me today, that he had lived long enough to see his work recognized in this way. It has become the foundation for an entire area of mathematics development. In his lifetime.
When I was very young I set out to be a writer. Writing is my passion. Books are my passion. I have always written. I write every day. But I also intended to publish and that was not panning out for me. The years were flying by and I was not accomplishing what I had set out to do. I have been blessed and am grateful for the wonderful life I have had so far. Yet always it bothered me that I had not done this one thing that was so important to me and that I had set out to do. That’s why I self-pubbed The Call to Shakabaz – and that was a very rewarding experience; but did not carry the level of recognition that being published the traditional route has and will do. Perhaps you have experienced the satisfaction of doing what you set out to do in life, but if you have not reached your goal yet, then let me encourage you; encourage; what a great word(!), let me support you in having the courage to hang on to your dream, and to keep working for it, because it may still be coming. It may arrive in a flash.
Now available wherever books are sold.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
On Friday, I took a break from working 12-hour days writing a huge grant to benefit children in the foster care system in Santa Clara County so that I could fly down to San Diego for the college graduation of my son’s girlfriend Tina (from San Diego State University). Tina and Akili have been going together for over four years and he is pretty much part of her family by now, as she is part of ours. Yael drove down from L.A. to celebrate with Tina too. And after the incredibly long ceremony (Tina was at the very back of a huge number of graduates who needed to walk), Tina’s family and ours went out to eat. Her parents, siblings (with spouses), and their children, plus our family (minus Sudi) were at the table. Included in the group was Emmett, Tina’s new nephew, born a month ago. After spending the whole week working like crazy writing about the impact of childhood trauma on infants, toddlers, and preschoolers; and attempting to craft a complete description of the wonderful safety net that Santa Clara County is trying to put into place for these unfortunate little ones, I was especially moved to behold the way in which Tina’s family cherished their newest little member.
Emmett was a preemie so he doesn’t do much yet other than sleep and eat. He slept most of the time, but did grace us with a few waking moments so we could see his eyes. While awake, he peered ever-so-intently into the faces of each member of the huge bustling family into which he had been born as he was passed from hand-to-hand and adored by everyone; welcomed over and over again by this mob of loving family eager for him to begin to participate actively in their lives.
So should it be for every baby.
Tina is “the baby” of her own family, and yesterday her parents were the first ones in the arena and just about the last ones to leave, and we screamed and hollered when Tina walked across the stage. From birth to adulthood. So should all children be cherished and adored.
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Last week I sent an “email blast” to give folks a heads up that Memories from Cherry Harvest will be released June 18 and is available for preorder from booksellers now. As a result of the email blast, I received emails from quite a few people about their own exciting work. In some ways, I feel as though I have been sitting on the sidelines all these years because I have not had the opportunity to fully offer my gift to others. Meanwhile I have been enjoying the gifts of other writers, artists, musicians, and creative souls. So this past week, when my little message about my own creation ventured out, and then returned with such abundance in its wake, I felt like it was at last a fair exchange. Here is a sampling of the discoveries the blast brought in.
I learned about two novels written by Rosine Nimeh-Mailloux. Rosine’s younger brother Mike lived with my family for a couple of years when he was in high school. Rosine and Mike are Chrisitian Arabs whose family was forced to flee from their home in West Jerusalem when Israel became a state in 1948. They moved to Bethlehem (where Mike was born). Rosine was an exchange teacher in the town where I grew up (she taught English). She befriended my parents, and when the INS forced her to leave the U.S., she went to Canada, and my parents took in Mike, whom she had managed to rescue from the war-torn Middle East and had brought to the U.S. Rosine and I have not communicated for many years, but when I sent Mike the email about my book, he forwarded it to her. A flurry of emails between Rosine (who lives in Ontario) and myself followed and the upshot is that she is sending me her novel entitled The Madwoman of Bethlehem. Her is the link to find out more. She is also the author of a book of short stories about her family’s experiences in the turmoil of the Middle East entitled Mustard and Vinegar.
I have a friend, Professor James McIntosh, who taught American Literature at the U. of Michigan at Ann Arbor. I have never taken a class from Jim, but we became friends and enjoyed many an evening of literature-talk together. His wife was the curator of the campus art museum for many years. They are lovely folks. Jim’s area of greatest expertise is American lit. of the 1800s. This week I learned that Jim is the editor of a Norton Critical Edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short works entitled Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tales. The second edition is just out. Scholarly work, not “creative” writing, but Norton, well that’s quite impressive. Jim is sending me a copy so that I can read his foreword in the edition. Here is the link to find out more.
In a completely different direction (not literary or high-brow.) My Cousin Joe’s teen daughter Emily is a singer and she is featured in a pop music video posted on YouTube last week to sell her song “The New Cleopatra” on iTunes. Here is the link to her debut on the music scene. (If you feel inclined you can view the page and click on the “like” button to give Emily a boost.)
Returning to literary connections, I want to mention Helen’s poetry and that of her daughter Dorothy. Although I did not first find out about my Scottish friend Helen Lawrenson’s new book of poetry this past week, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I learned of its release. I met Helen in Dundee in 1970. As long as I have known her, she has written exquisite poetry that uses the beauty of the natural world to teach life lessons, always delighting the reader with her keen eye for detail. Helen lives in Wormit, just across the Firth of Tay from Dundee. Here is the link to the information about her chapbook of poetry entitled Upon a Good High Hill. I already knew about Helen’s poetry book, but this past week Helen’s daughter Dorothy’s poem “September” was selected as one of the Scottish Poetry Library’s Best Scottish poems of 2011! Here is the link to Dorothy’s poem. Here is the link to it online. But I’m going to be so bold as to reprint her poem here in its entirety since it’s brief, beautiful, and reminds me so much of the poetry her mother wrote when I first met her over 40 years ago.
By Dorothy Lawrenson
This far north, the harvest happens late.
Rooks go clattering over the sycamores
whose shadows yawn after them, down to the river.
Uncut wheat staggers under its own weight.
Summer is leaving too, exchanging its gold
for brass and copper. It is not so strange
to feel nostalgia for the present; already
this September evening is as old
as a photograph of itself. The light, the shadows
on the field, are sepia, as if this were
some other evening in September, some other
harvest that went ungathered years ago.
[Published in Painted, spoken, 22]
Obviously, I am not the only one who has been busy. And as I send word out into the world about my humble accomplishments, word continues to come back to me about the accomplishments of others. We are all doing what we do, following our heart where it leads us. And that is a very fine thing.
Sunday, May 6, 2012
My friend Rajni is on my mind this week. I met Rajni when we were both 16 years old. We have the same birthday. In my 16th year, my family lived in Dundee, Scotland for one year. I attended the Morgan Academy in what was the equivalent of my junior year of high school. This was in 1970-71 so it was before the British education system switched to “comprehensive.” Prior to the switch, schoolchildren took an exam in 6th grade that determined whether they would attend a university-bound school in grades 7-12 or a vocational school. The Morgan was for university-bound children. Children tracked to the vocational school were not prepared for university but rather for a trade. If they wanted to go to university they would have to attend a junior college for several years to complete the coursework necessary to advance to a university.
I was allowed to attend the Morgan because my father was teaching at Dundee University so I suppose the powers that be assumed I was college-bound material. Even so, for my first month at the school I was placed in sophomore-year classes because they assumed that an American child could not perform up to the level of a British child. After one month, they realized that I was way beyond sophomore year and they moved me up to junior-year level classes. My younger brother and I were the only Jews in the school. We were practically the only Jews in the whole city. My friend Rajni and her two sisters were the only East Indian students at the school and the only Hindus. Everyone else was Christian. Interesting, huh?
Back before the switch to comprehensive education, the powers that be automatically placed all Indian and Pakistani students (and there were many) in the vocational schools. Even though most of them spoke excellent English and many were very bright, they were never allowed to go up to the university-bound academy in Dundee in 1970: rampant racism. One of Rajni’s older sisters had duked it out with the authorities and managed to get into the Morgan (the very first Indian student to attend). She was a star student and she paved the way for her younger sisters, all of whom were allowed to attend in her footsteps.
It’s not surprising that Rajni and I became instant friends. We were both presumed inferior intellectually until proven otherwise. She was my best friend for my year in Dundee. Both of us had to work twice as hard as the other students in order to prove ourselves, and prove ourselves we did. Although we have not seen one another since 1980, we stay in touch. Rajni went on to become an exceptional woman. She completed her law degree at university and practiced law for several years. I remember her once telling me that she had a fantasy of appearing in court in a sari, just to make a point about the competence of Indians. It was just a dream. She never did it. But here is what she did do: Rajni became the very first Asian (Indians are referred to as Asian in Britain) judge, either male or female, in all of Scotland! This occurred many years ago. She has served as a judge for most of her professional career. This is an extraordinary accomplishment. But I am not at all surprised. Rajni is an extraordinary person. (She is also, by the way, married to a lawyer and has two grown sons, both college graduates accomplished in their fields.)
This past week, I sent Rajni an email to let her know that Memories from Cherry Harvest will be available in print on June 18 and that I will be sending her a copy. She replied in a brief email: “I cannot express my joy for you as eloquently as you. You were a huge influence on me in the short time we were at school as best friends. I look forward to reading your book.” I am touched and humbled by her words. I wrote back, jokingly, “Behind every hugely successful woman is a terrific high school girlfriend.” It’s more than a joke, though. Our girlfriends, our women friends, are often the only factor that makes the difference between success and failure, between perseverance and collapse, between hope and despair. Back in 1970, before “feminism” and “women’s lib,” before the ERA was passed in Congress (though never ratified by enough states to become law), all we had going for us was each other, our sister-girls who cheered one another on and believed in each other. That’s how we made it through. I believed that Rajni could do anything she set her mind to, and she knew I believed in her, as she has believed in me all these years. I’m proud to have been a small part of her accomplishment; she is certainly a small part of mine.