Sunday, October 30, 2011


On Wednesday my youngest child turned 20 years old, marking the end of over 14 years of parenting teenagers. I once heard a joke that went something like “your grandchildren are your reward for not strangling your teenagers.” To be honest, I’m not sure that teenagers are significantly more challenging than toddlers. They are certainly more expensive than toddlers, but each is challenging in their own way. I am proud to say that I enjoyed my teenagers. They were a lot of fun. I’m extremely grateful they survived. And exactly what they survived? I really don’t ever want them to tell me.

So today, while contemplating my complete transition over to parenting adult children, I discovered a very disturbing article in the paper about a fake parenting study published by the satirical magazine The Onion as a joke. I have no quarrel with The Onion’s article. I am taking issue with the people who thought it was for real and agreed with it. Now that is scary. The Onion article heading was “Study Finds Every Style of Parenting Produces Disturbed, Miserable Adults.” They pretended a study was conducted and found that no parenting practices or styles were successful; that every parenting style produced “profoundly unhappy adults” who are bitter and isolated, and “unprepared to contend with life’s difficulties.” The story was a joke. It was run in the same issue with an article entitled “Nation Finally Just Breaks Down and Begs Smart People to Fix Everything.” The make-believe research study mentioned in the article is attributed to the California Parenting Institute (CPI) in Santa Rosa (just down the road from me).

When Robin Bowen, executive director of CPI arrived at work on Thursday morning her office was swamped with phone calls and emails from people who believed the article was true and wanted copies to prove that they were right all along in their theories that no matter what parents do it doesn’t make a difference in how their children turn out! One woman called because she is writing a book about how parenting doesn’t really have any impact on children and she wanted a copy of the report. CPI has been working hard for over 33 years to provide parenting education in an effort to help people raise healthy, happy children.

I am astonished and shocked that there are so many people who seem to think that parenting makes little difference on how children develop and eventually turn out as adults. The fact that so many people thought the study was for-real and agree with it is pretty disheartening. I know that no one who reads my blog is this ignorant, so I’m preaching to the choir here. But I just have to say, I think all the problems of the world would go away if everyone raised their children well.

Next Sunday I will be on vacation and won't be blogging. I'll be back again the next week.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Each Voice

A couple of weeks ago, Diane McEachern of Bethel, Alaska took her three rescue dogs, Mr. Snickers, Seabiscuit, and Ruffian, with her to a site on the Alaskan tundra, held up a cardboard sign that said “Occupy the Tundra,” and had a photograph taken. She sent the photo to the Occupy Wall Street organizers and it was posted on Facebook, where it went viral. Why do I, and so many others, find this photograph so moving?

Diane is one little person off in the wilds of Alaska who thinks it’s important to raise her voice and be counted. And she’s right. The way the world will change is one person at a time, one step at a time. No matter how isolated we are or how small the sound of our own voice may seem, we must speak up anyway. Each voice added makes the message slightly louder. And who is to know what small action will make a big difference? As snowflakes pile up on a great oak tree in a storm, eventually one of those snowflakes will be the one that causes the tree to break. I have seen it happen. Which snowflake was it?

I also loved hearing that one of Diane’s co-workers saw her picture on Facebook and offered to join Diane on the tundra the following weekend. As my mathematically gifted husband points out, “Diane has already doubled the size of her demonstration.”

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Frances and Me

When I received a call from Tom Southern at Boaz Publishing in the fall of 2009 to inform me that I had won the Frances Fabri Literary Prize, I had no idea who Frances Fabri was and no way of foreseeing the extraordinary journey ahead. This is the story of my soul-connection to Frances Fabri and how her legacy is changing my life.

Frances Fabri was born on September 22, 1929 in Bekes, Hungary. When the Nazis invaded Bekes in 1944, she (age 14) and her parents were transported to Auschwitz. She never saw her father again. She and her mother saved each other’s lives on many occasions and, miraculously, were both still alive when the war ended. Frances and her mother emigrated to the U.S. in 1956 along with Frances’s husband, Emery Fabri (whom she later divorced). Frances studied history and literature at Hofstra University in New York. In 1972, she moved to San Francisco. She spearheaded efforts in the U.S. to begin compiling oral histories of Holocaust survivors. She founded the Holocaust Center of Northern California and she designed the protocol for interviewing survivors that is used to this day. When she died in 2006, she left her estate to her friend Matthew McKay. Wishing to use the inheritance from Frances to honor her memory, Matt and his wife Judy, in collaboration with Tom at Boaz, established the Frances Fabri Literary Prize.

The Fabri Prize seeks to “discover deserving but underappreciated works of fiction and have them published.” I had spent over 15 years working on Memories from Cherry Harvest when it won the Prize in the fall of 2009. Tom informed me that the Prize Committee had decided to award the Prize to two novels that year, but that they felt the other novel was closer to being ready for publication than mine. They would award the Prize to the other novel in 2010 and to mine in 2011; and Tom and the McKays wanted to meet with me to discuss work they felt needed to be done on my novel. Not only would my novel be the first novel written by a woman to win the Fabri Prize, it would also be the first that had a Holocaust theme as a core element of the book. Part one of the four-part book is based on the true story of some of my family members who survived the Holocaust. When I was awarded the Prize, I read about Frances for the first time and was astonished to discover that it had been her deepest desire to preserve the stories of those who had survived the Holocaust so that their experience would be remembered. This impulse to remember was one of the reasons I wrote the book.

In March 2010, I met with Tom and the McKays to discuss the changes they felt needed to be made to my novel, which were considerable, but I was open to hearing their suggestions. I felt the revision was doable, and I was willing to do it. I spent the next six months rewriting the novel yet again. In the fall of 2010, I sent the new version to Tom and the McKays. They loved it. I thought we were good to go; but it turned out that more was in store for me. The McKays had decided (and Tom agreed) that they wanted to “up the ante” on the Fabri Prize by moving it from its home at Boaz (a tiny press) and placing it under the wing of a larger and more prestigious publishing company. They wanted to raise the visibility of the Prize and the books produced as a result of the award. For the next few months, Matt and Tom met with Charlie Winton at Counterpoint Press to hammer out the details of moving the Fabri Prize to Counterpoint. Every once in a while I received an email from Tom thanking me for my patience. I believed that this was a move engineered by the spirit of Frances. I researched Counterpoint Press and was overwhelmed by the list of authors under their imprint (including, among others, Donald Barthelme, Wendell Berry, Janet Frame, Allen Ginsberg, Anne Lamott, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, and Gary Snyder).

Forget patient, forget excited, I was now crossing over into the realm of terrified, awed, and overwhelmed. Not only was my lifelong dream of being published going to be realized, but I was going to be published by a publisher with the resources to help me reach a wide audience and perhaps experience commercial success. In July 2011, I signed a publishing contract with Counterpoint. I am stunned by how seriously Charlie and his staff are taking me, an unknown author, and my book, a first novel that I have been writing for 20 years. Charlie hired Anika Streitfeld, one of the best book editors in the business, to work with me on revising the book. I am now in the middle of that process and have never worked harder in my life as a writer. I am not being pressured to make any changes that I do not wish to make. Counterpoint is leaving all decisions about creative content up to me; but I trust Anika (I can see how she earned her reputation) and I am taking her editorial suggestions seriously and working to address them.

In a few weeks, the McKays, Tom, and Charlie will announce the move of the Fabri Prize to Counterpoint, and Memories from Cherry Harvest as the first Fabri Prize title to be published by Counterpoint. The book is scheduled to officially launch in June 2012. Look for it! Each morning, when I go for my walk, I sense the spirit of Frances Fabri walking beside me, cheering me on. Her life’s work was all about remembering the Holocaust through the stories that emerged from it. I hope my life’s work can help fulfill her vision.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Occupation of Wall Street

Every day at 7 PM the “General Assembly” gathers in Liberty Square in NYC to protest the corporate takeover of America. This protest action is called the Occupation of Wall Street. Similar general assemblies are taking place throughout the country and in countries throughout the world. To find out more about actions of the Occupation and the daily General Assembly in NYC click here.

The NYC General Assembly has posted the official Declaration of Occupation on the General Assembly website and for this week’s blog I want to repost the Declaration. Here it is, in its entirety.

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.
As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.
They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses.
They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.
They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press. They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit.
They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.
They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.
They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.
They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts. *
To the people of the world,
We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.
Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.
To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.
Join us and make your voices heard!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Farewell to Wangari Maathai

Last week Wangari Maathi, founder of the Green Belt Movement, died at the age of 71. In 2004, when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, she became the first African woman to win a Nobel. (The fact that it took so long for an African woman to win a Nobel is a sad comment about the world in which we live and about whose work is valued and whose is not.) Maathi created the Green Belt Movement in her native Kenya in 1977 with the dual purpose of restoring the natural environment of Kenya that has been devastated by deforestation while at the same time empowering women to become economically self-sufficient, to stand up for their rights, and to do something concrete to preserve the environment. The Green Belt Movement organized the women of rural Kenya to cultivate (in tree nurseries) and plant trees.

In 1985, the UN held the third global women's conference in Nairobi. During the conference, Maathai gave presentations to describe the work of the Green Belt Movement. She took delegates to tour nurseries and to plant trees. Her activity at the women’s conference helped to secure funding for the Green Belt Movement to expand its activities outside of Kenya. In 1986, Maathi founded the Pan-African Green Belt Network, through which representatives from 15 other African countries came to Kenya to learn how women could set up programs to combat “desert-ification,” deforestation, soil erosion, water crises, and rural hunger.

As a result of her work empowering women and planting trees, Maathi was twice imprisoned, and in 1992 she suffered a severe beating at the hands of the police while leading a peaceful protest. Her husband divorced her because she was too headstrong and he “couldn’t control her.” She was forced out of her home and stripped of her position as a teacher at the University of Nairobi. Nevertheless, she won a seat in the Kenyan Parliament in 2002, which she held until she was forced out of government in 2008. After that she took her politics back to the streets.

Maathi taught the women of Kenya that it was their civil right to preserve the forests of their homeland. Her work continues after her death. She achieved significant environmental protection in Kenya through tree planting, soil conservation, sustainable management of the local environment and economy, and the cultivation of local economic resources. The Green Belt Movement will continue to help women throughout Africa to generate their own incomes through business ventures such as seed sales. Through Maathi’s work, thousands of impoverished women have been educated about forestry and the Green Belt Movement has created over 3,000 jobs for women. What better legacy to leave? I honor you Wangari Maathai.