Together beneath the Abrahamic tree: Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom adventures

Two weeks ago Sunday, two carloads of my Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom chapter drove down to Chicago for an afternoon of camaraderie and training in how to engage in thorny discussions.

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Along with the Wisconsin contingent (Milwaukee and Madison), women came from Illinois (Chicago and beyond) and Iowa (Quad Cities).

Our facilitators did a great job, and the hours passed quickly.

The following week, my story about my own experiences pre-dating and since joining the group ran in the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle. So, in the spirit of “well, maybe we can’t all just get along but damnit, I’m not gonna stop trying,” I’m posting it here.

It was interesting to write, because I’d just been told to “write a first-person piece” about the group. Looking at where I’d come from and how I’d ended up as a SOSS member was the most respectful way to accomplish that without accidentally violating the privacy of my chapter sisters.

The journeys for all of us are so different. I’d love to see an anthology of personal journeys to chapter membership.

But that’s another story for another day.

Click here to see mine: Click me!

 

 

 

 

‘A preference for autocrats and dictators:’ Op-ed writer luckier than Riyadh Ibrahim

On Wednesday, The New York Times published an anonymous op-ed by someone serving at the pleasure of President Trump.

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“Wait, you mean they didn’t even sign their name!????? And the paper still ran it!????”

It was not exactly news to read that the current occupant of the White House is a petty bully who does whatever makes him feel good and repudiates anyone who dares to intimate that he is anything less than the Greatest Being in the Entire Universe.

Also not news? Covert resistance and dissent in the White House.  Rogue POTUS Staff announced itself on Twitter shortly after the inauguration in 2017.

From the get-go, it was clear that @RoguePOTUSStaff was comprised of mid- and lower-level staffers, worker bees beneath the notice of their imperial betters.

The news part was that this writer self-identified as one of the Imperial Betters.

“…many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations. I would know. I am one of them.”

The operative word, of course, is “parts.”

“We want the administration to succeed and think that many of its policies have already made America safer and more prosperous….”

(These, according to Imperial, include “effective deregulation, historic tax reform, a more robust military and more.” Imperial isn’t specific about “more,” but based on his or her definition of “safer and more prosperous,” all signs point to a hawkish member of the 1 percent class who has never sat in the cheap seats.)

As to President Trump’s “worst inclinations,” Imperial provided this example:

“Take foreign policy: In public and in private, President Trump shows a preference for autocrats and dictators, such as President Vladimir Putin of Russia and North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un…”

I have lots of thoughts about this whole matter, but the one thing that I keep coming back to is the book passage of which I was immediately reminded. It’s from The Outlaw State: Saddam Hussein’s Quest for Power and the Gulf Crisis,” Elaine Sciolino’s examination of Iraq and the rise of Hussein’s Baathist Party was published in 1991. Which I know because I reviewed it for The Milwaukee Journal. (Sciolino was a New York Times reporter covering Iraq – file under “random weird coincidences.”)

Here’s an abridged version. If you get a copy of the hardcover edition, it’s on Page 90.

“In 1982, just as the war with Iran started to go badly, Iraq’s minister of health, Riyadh Ibrahim, was executed. Saddam told foreign reporters that Ibrahim had knowingly distributed contaminated medicines. In a rambling speech to the Revolutionary Command Council, which was also filmed and distributed to Party leaders, Saddam called the minister a dangerous saboteur, a traitor. His crime was not just an inadvertert action, a mistake, but a political crime against the state.

“Those who knew Ibrahim and his family told the tale differently. According to an Iraqi doctor who investigated the matter, Saddam became worried when Ayatollah Khomeini began to demand Saddam’s ouster as the price of peace. “One day, when the pressure of Iranian military forces was very high and Iraq was under the threat of occupation by the Iranian Army, Saddam called a cabinet meeting,” the doctor said. “Saddam was in a critical situation. He asked the cabinet ministers, ‘Is there any solution you can find to solve this problem?’ They said, ‘No, Mr. President, you are the hero of our country. You are defending our territorial integrity.’

“Saddam replied, ‘No, tell me the truth. What is the best way to stop the Iranian invasion, even if you believe my resigning is the way to stop the war.’ All the ministers said, ‘No, we don’t agree with you.’ Then Saddam said, ‘No, I don’t mind if you tell me the truth.’

“The health minister said, ‘Yes, Mr. President. I have a suggestion. If you resign temporarily, for three or four months, the Iranian Army will go back to their bases and then you can reappear again.’ Saddam said, ‘Yes, thank you very much. You are very brave. Thank you for your solution.’ He asked the other members what they thought and they all said no to the suggestion. After the meeting, Saddam turned to his bodyguards. They captured Ibrahim and led him out of the room.

“The wife of the minister knew the First Lady. She asked the First Lady to intervene and ask the President to release her husband. When Saddam’s wife told him about the matter, he called the minister’s wife himself and asked if she was asking for her husband’s release. She said, ‘Yes. You’re his friend. You are the leader.’ Saddam asked her, ‘When do you want your husband?’ and she replied, ‘As soon as possible.’ ‘Can I send him tomorrow?’ Saddam asked her. She said of course.

“The next day the security forces came to her house. She rushed to the door and asked, ‘Where is my husband?’ They gave her a big black bag and said, ‘This is your husband.’ And she found the body of her husband, chopped into pieces.”

‘Enemy of the People’ reveals building blocks for ‘fake news’ story on cataract surgery

Cataract surgery #2 is in the rear-view mirror. I have decided to use the opportunity to don my journalist/ “Enemy of the People” hat and pull back the curtain on how trained reporters go about preparing for and conducting interviews in order to bring readers useful information.

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This is the hairstyle of a print journalist, but I am actually sharing this post-op picture so you can see my very dilated right eye.

Why am I qualified to do this? The obvious reason might seem to be those two recent cataract surgeries. The actual reason is my history as a professional journalist.

Before the “Social Work by the Seat of my Pants in a Snake Pit” years and my current gig as “The Happiest Public Librarian in North America,” I worked as a reporter and editor at two newspapers and one magazine. I continue to write freelance pieces for a couple of outlets.

Some reporters go to journalism school. My sister falls into that category. Some just write and write, starting at a tiny little publication – maybe their high school or college paper or a local alternative weekly – and work their way up the food chain. That’s how I did it. All my training was on-the-job, with some second-hand wisdom from the good professors in the journalism school at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire courtesy of the newsroom at the Marshfield News-Herald, full of reporters who’d all attended there and regularly quoted their professors in conversation.

By the time I got to Marshfield, I’d already developed my own writing hierarchy, to which I continue to adhere.

  1. Accuracy – If the facts aren’t right and it’s not coming out exactly the way you’re trying to express what it is you’re trying to express, keep trying.
  2. Accessibility – If you have to use big words and long sentences to be accurate, so be it. But if you can say it with small words and short sentences, that’s better.
  3. Cleverness – If you can do those two things above and be entertaining and witty and clever, more power to you!

The pay was terrible, but being a reporter was a great job. News reporters go where things are happening and gather information on it. The major questions in newsgathering are Who? What? Where? Why? When? How?

Let’s say the “happening” is a house fire. Here’s what a reporter sent to the scene of a fire needs to put together a story:

Whose house? Where is it? Was anyone inside? How did the fire start/how was it contained/how did people get out? When did it start/when was it contained? How many firefighters/battalions responded? If there were people in the house, did they get out? Was anyone injured? Killed? Were there smoke detectors? Who reported the fire? When does the fire department expect to issue a final report? What is the cost of the damage? Was there insurance? How much? (The Public Affairs Journalism prof at Eau Claire told his students to “follow the money.”)

The reporter gathers the available information and writes it in a way that anyone reading it can easily follow. Here’s what it might look like:

“Three people, including a firefighter, were injured in a house fire at 123 Broad Street on Wednesday. Captain Edward Schnauzer of the Mayfield Fire Department said the cause is unknown at this time, as is whether or not there were working smoke detectors.

A passerby noticed smoke coming from an upper window and called the fire department shortly after midnight. Two occupants of the house, a 39-year-old woman and an eight-year-old boy, were taken to St. Bernard hospital for smoke inhalation. One firefighter was treated and released for minor injuries, according to a hospital spokesperson. Three other occupants of the home escaped without injury.

Four battalions responded to the fire, which took two hours to get under control. No nearby houses were damaged.”

That’s news reporting. You go to the event, you find an authority who knows what’s going on, you cite that authority in your story (eg: the fire captain), any other authority who you end up needing to talk to as a result of talking to the first authority (eg: the hospital spokesperson). You might also get a quote from a neighbor watching, one of the people living in the house or, if the house was rented out, its owner, depending on their availability and the time between your reporting and your news outlet’s deadline.

This same principle applies to municipal meetings, political gatherings and basically any event in which there is a beginning, middle and end. If deadline precludes you from reporting on the middle/end, you report as much as you can on the beginning and then follow up to write the rest if the event warrants doing that. (Maybe the fire turns out to be arson for insurance purposes, children playing with matches, or faulty electrical wiring. Depending on the cause, the story you write will either be a small thing or something you follow through to a trial and sentencing. You never know, which is part of the adrenaline rush of being a news reporter.)

But today, I am going to be a feature reporter doing a feature on cataract surgery.

That “who, what, when, where why and how” of newsgathering is also going to come into play.

Who gets cataract surgery? Why? How? What happens? Is it covered by insurance? Are there complications? What are they? Those are the questions I’m going to look to answer.

Because it’s a feature story, I’m going to want to talk to (preferably local) people who’ve undergone the procedure. I will look for someone who is happy with the results, and someone who isn’t. I’ll want to interview a doctor who performs the procedure to get his or her take on what happens, what prospective patients should know going into it and about aftercare and followup.

I can’t do those interviews, though, until I’m educated enough to ask the right questions.

I’ve had cataract surgery. But this isn’t just a first-person story, even though I’m going to let readers know I’ve had the procedure.  So I will set my experience aside for the moment.

When it comes to background research, Google and Wikipedia are your friends, as long as you treat them as starting points and not final authorities.

Entering “Cataract Surgery” into a Google search box turns up 11,600,000 results in .54 seconds.

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The top of Page 2 looks just like the top of Page 1, minus the Froedtert ad.

The top result is an ad, which I know because of the “ad” box to the left of the URL.

Someone has paid money to have their listing come up first, a big ol’ red flag to anyone in the news or library business. Librarians and reputable journalists share a reverence for reliable, unbiased information. Our goal is for end-users to be able to make an informed decision about whatever it is they’re looking to figure out. The best way to help make that happen is by providing high-quality, objective source material.

Which is why Google is only a first step. I make a point of going several pages in – usually seven to 10 – to get a sense of what’s out there and what people are looking at and for. (Paid ads aside, Google tends to rank its results, so more popular results show up on the initial pages.)

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This is on Page 1
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I’d definitely check out the National Library of Medicine’s information. (Note that those paid ads are still up on the top of Page 3.)

I gravitate toward sites with .org, .edu and .gov as extensions. I don’t rule out commercial sites (.com), but if a site’s main objective is sales, there’s an obvious bias. I can probably do better with a different type of site.

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This is on Page 7. Good for seeing how doctors think.

In addition to my Google search, I’m going to hit up my local public or university library (assuming I have access to a university library) and check out their books and databases.

The difference between a search engine and library database is like the difference between your grandmother’s attic and her spice rack (if your grandmother is a great and adventurous cook). The former is full of random stuff that’s been piling up there for years; the latter is orderly, relevant and everything on it is fresh. In other words, it’s highly curated. Library databases contain information that’s been pre-selected by subject experts for reliability and quality.

I select my source material, I read it, I get literate about my topic. Some of that will come into my story, with citations from those articles ( e.g.: “According to a 2018 study by…. ). Other information will come from interviews. I’d want to talk to at least one person who had the surgery before I talk to the doctor, which would inform some of the questions I asked the professional.

The finished story will emerge from these elements.

With all my information gathered and in one place, I look at it as a whole, searching for a starting point. (I call this part “finding my way in.”) If I get it right, my final product will be accurate, accessible and entertaining.

Here’s a completely true sentence that could serve as the lede (journalist-speak for the first sentence) of how I’d start this first-person story:

“If I had run over my glasses three weeks earlier, it would have been a disaster. But cataract surgery rendered it a non-issue.”

Writing with one eye: diary entry of a neurologically unhappy quasi-cyclops

It’s been a long month.

Two weeks ago I underwent a procedure most people call cataract surgery, which I have unilaterally nicknamed “extreme Lasik.”

It has left me unsettled, crabby and neurologically unhappy.

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The slightly fuzzy version of Hasan Minhaj is a rough approximation of the way everything I look at appears at present.

I know cataract surgery is different than Lasik. With Lasik, a medical professional reshapes your cornea using a laser. Cataract removal is when your cloudy lens gets broken up, suctioned out and replaced with a new, custom-made clear one.

The results are the same in that (worst-case scenarios excepted) you end up with clearer vision. That’s the good news.

The bad news – for me, at this moment – is that in the US, cataract surgery is done one eye at a time with a minumum of four weeks between procedures.

Which means that I have another two weeks of walking around like this, “this” meaning that at the moment, one eye doing is one thing while the other is doing something else completely.

For the first time since I was eight, I have nearly perfect distance vision my left eye. I remain wildly nearsighted in the right. If I put my glasses on (with the lens removed from the “fixed” eye), I have clear vision in both. But because glasses distort an image slightly, everything is two different sizes and my brain – to use a scientific term – spazzes out.

Glasses are no longer a viable option.

So, at the moment, I am not wearing glasses. Visually, it’s like being being stuck in that point in “Stranger Things” right before everything goes horribly sideways.

Evidently, I’m legally able to drive with one eye, so I am, but just during the day. When thngs get too weird, I just put my hand over my right eye and look out the left for awhile. Some people suggested wearing a patch, but I will only do that if I can accessorize with a parrot and a bottle of rum. Which are definitely not part of the library’s acceptable dress code, so…no.  I have settled for  whining a lot, which is making me excellent company (NOT!)  for everyone lucky enough to be in my orbit.

Meanwhile, the world goes on. I am reading “The Lemon Tree” by Sandy Tolan and absorbing information about the founding of the State of Israel that diverges wildly from what I was fed as a kid. Integrating what that means moving forward is going to be a sad and important job.

Omarosa figured out that she was better off throwing President Trump under Air Force One instead of trying to reboard it. One grandkid is learning to swim and the other one is working toward getting up to eight pounds.

And as of yesterday, the world is a sadder and more silent planet with the passing of Aretha Franklin. Sweetheart and I were lucky enough to see her perform four years ago at the Wisconsin State Fair, a peak moment because she is – as is the case for so many people – part of the soundtrack of my life. Unlike a lot of performers I’ve seen at “smaller” venues, she very much did not phone it in. Her three-hour set included all of the big hits, lots of new material and plenty of solos by members of her 20-plus piece band.

At one point, between songs, she said she had an old friend in Milwaukee and asked if that woman was in the crowd. She was. They had a conversation right there – the friend from her seat and Aretha from the stage. They did a little catching up. Aretha asked about her children and grandchildren (some of whom were there) and made arrangements for her to come backstage after the show. Then, she continued on, dazzling us with her voice, piano styling and her very talented nephew, who was part of the band.

Hitting the ‘delete’ button on Facebook: a Dispatch from the quiet zone

 

On April 10th, I posted this on my Facebook feed:

I was going to just leave quietly, but it feels disrespectful to so many of you who I care about. I joined Facebook quietly in December of 2006 as a puckish joke on one of my kids, and it quickly became a mechanism for staying in touch far-flung friends. It also helped me make new friends, and valuable connections. But for a lot of reasons, it’s time to go. I’m reassessing a lot of things in light of Mom’s death, and the way I engage with social media platforms is on that list.

 Regarding Facebook, I know enough about what privacy means in an electronic environment to have kept my settings set at maximum privacy, not take any of those damn quizzes or list my forty favorite songs, colors or facts about myself I wasn’t willing to share. But the way Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg made it okay for anyone who let the vampires in to also let them in to their friends’ houses was not okay.

Two days later, I clicked “Delete my account.” I was informed that if I logged in within two weeks, all would be forgiven and my account restored.

Now, that’s a non-option.

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And then, with a single keystroke, I flushed Facebook.

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over Facebook’s lack of respect for user privacy, but knowing what I knew about the ways in which data gets collected, mined and used, I was less surprised about the outrage than I was at the constant (see blog archives for the paper I wrote about it in 2008) insistence by Zuckerberg & co. that they had no idea that FB data could be used for anything other than good. If I, a nobody sitting at my kitchen table in 2008 could identify multiple ways personal data could be used for less-than-savory purposes,  there’s no excuse for those two to turn into a pair of outraged Victorian ladies, all atwitter at this assault on their delicate constitutions.

Still, a lot of people, whether or not their data was scooped up by Cambridge Analytica (mine was, unsurprisingly), are sticking with Facebook.

I’m not one of them. When I left, Sumner & Jessica were about to become first-time parents. I wonder how my fellow librarian pal Keith in Syracuse is faring, whether Celia got to the beach for the annual sea turtle rescue and how many impromptu house concerts and other adventures Marge has had in the last week (probably about 20, knowing her as I do).

But the truth is, Facebook had become an avoidance strategy. In the time Mom was declining, it was a way to decompress and run away from thinking about what was going on in my life. The energy it took me to do what I needed to for her left me with little time to address my house, which was becoming more cluttered, and the long-form project I’ve been working on – mostly in my head – for decades.

So really, Cambridge Analytica was just the final push forward on a journey that I’d been trying to summon up the will to start taking for awhile.

Since leaving Facebook, I can’t say I’ve made major strides on any of these things. But I have made strides.

As I write this, the radio is on and I’m half-listening to an episode of Hidden Brain in which a young mom talks about how reluctant she was to portray anything but the perfect life and compare hers to other peoples’ perfect lives.

The dog is begging for a bite of the waffle I’m eating, Sweetheart broke a dessert dish in the microwave warming syrup; there’s a load of laundry in the wash and the litterbox needs changing.

I was actually on national television and in the New York Times for being one of the first “old” people on Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg may have kind of needed me then, but he sure doesn’t now. At the time I quit, I had more than 1,500 contacts. All of them were there for a reason, whether or not we’d met in person.

I used Facebook to connect people with each other, to stay in touch with far-flung friends and to stay current in my job. There are times when I miss the ease of being able to manage those connections.  But I managed just fine before Mark Zuckerberg.

I’ll be fine without him.

Shit-pile theory of life explains mysterious difference between Democratic and Republican *sex offenders

Al Franken announced his resignation from the Senate Thursday in the wake of a bunch of disclosures from women that he was handy and not in a good way.

That was shortly after the Republican party publicly endorsed Roy Moore, the Senate candidate who was reportedly banned from the Gadsen Mall for creeping on (to use a term I first heard out of the mouth of Ex One’s best friend Tommy) “Tenderonis.”

Since then, there has been a lot of handwringing on social media about why it is that Republican sex offenders* are, for the most part, circling the wagons while Democratic sex offenders* are, for the most part, resigning from office.

I, too, was struggling with this. Well, I was. Then I filtered it through the Shit-Pile Theory of Life, at which point it made perfect sense.

The “Shit-pile Theory of Life”  

I don’t remember when I came up with the Shit-pile Theory of Life (Shpitol). It was at some point during a decade running a Displaced Homemaker program at a Large Midwest Technical College. I wanted to encourage my participants to keep moving forward, even when what was in front of them looked scary and insurmountable.

Here’s how I explained it in those one-on-ones with my participants. For starters, I substituted “Manure” or “poop-pile,” given that shitpile is NSFW.

Every single person – regardless of how rich, successful or powerful – is born with a pile of shit. Here’s the person {insert hand gesture indicating person on left} and here {insert similar hand gesture indicating shitpile on right} is that person’s pile of shit.

Here are four different ways people deal with their piles of shit:

  1. Some say ‘Omigod, Omigod!!! It’s a pile of shit!!!” And they freak out and run around like headless chickens because they’ve got a pile of shit. This, it goes without saying, is not a healthy or effective way of dealing with their shitpiles.
  2. Some say “Oh yeah? A pile of shit? Not here!” These people address their pile of shit by throwing it at other people. Not a good idea, because shit gets thrown back at them and they end up engaged in a constant metaphorical shitwar in which everyone gets dirty.
  3. Some say “Pile of shit? What pile of shit? I don’t smell anything. You must be hallucinating.” These people end up in deep doo-doo, because ignoring your shit does not make it go away.
  4. Some say, “I’m going to turn this shit into fertilizer if it’s the last thing I ever do.” Those are the ones who, if they don’t give up, eventually end up with a garden.

How does this apply to the current situation with, globally speaking, the Republicans, aka “elephants” and the Democrats, aka “donkeys”?

At first, everyone was running around like headless chickens. Since moving on from there, the elephants are now throwing and ignoring their shit. The donkeys are trying to turn theirs into fertilizer.

 

Turning shit into fertilizer is hard work. It takes time, thought and deliberation; the end result is growth.

Far easier, in the moment, to throw or ignore it. But as a long-term strategey, it rarely works. Shit has a funny way of sticking around. When you throw it at other people, they tend to throw more back. Ignoring it is even more dangerous, because not only it does it not go away, your pile actually gets bigger and will eventually bury you.

It’s anybody’s guess what will happen tomorrow when Alabama voters head to the polls to pull the lever for Roy Moore, Doug Jones or write-in candidate Lee Busby.

One thing I do know? Ignore that steaming pile at your own peril.

*Sex offender: a person who has offended another person or persons by invoking sexual acts/behavior using words or actions

 

Recent reading adventures: A “Some-ary”

 Before I was a librarian (by which I mean from the time I was about 3), I read a lot.  As a baby journalist in the early 1990s, I started reviewing books and discovered the fun and wonder of sometimes getting paid to read. Which didn’t stop me from continuing to do it for free.

Since becoming a librarian, I have discovered that what I read has now taken on the weird addition of having some sort of Mystical Librarian Stamp of Approval.

I have noticed this both in and outside the library.

Confession: I like it.

So, without further ado, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve been reading lately.

“The Wonderling” by Mira Bartok

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I just finished this and wish I hadn’t, because I didn’t want it to end. I’m probably going to read it again. Soon. Evidently there’s a movie deal in the works, and it’s easy to see why. Bartok’s imagination pantry is a well-stocked place, and she’s a great cook.

Because we tend to like our comparisons,  I’m just going to say that this book is what you might get if you tossed Frances Hodgson Burnett, Charles Dickens, Phillip Pullman, Garth Nix, JK Rowling,  Charles deLint and an afternoon soap opera into a blender. Perfect for the tween set and anyone who loves getting lost in a good yarn. (My nephew is totally getting this for Christmas.)

“What this story needs is a Vroom and a Zoom” (A Pig in a Wig book) by Emma J. Virjan

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The Grandkid (aka my favorite small person) was over last night and I read this aloud to him. That was after reading it aloud to Sweetheart. Grandkid was riveted, which is pretty impressive given that he’s 19 months old. Not so surprising, though, because the story is about a race and like Sweetheart, he’s a big motorized things fan. Good for car enthusiasts. Also wee people and the people who love reading to them.

“Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots” by Deborah Feldman

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This one is a library weed my sister told me to read years ago. (There are plenty of copies available in other branches). Feldman describes growing up curious in a religious sect that frowns on imagination and constrains its adherents to the narrowest of options. I have a particular bias for these types of books, partly because I’m in the process of work on a book-like object in a similar genre and partly because someone in our own family a generation back made a similar break, although from a far less (though still plenty) restrictive sect.

Being raised by her grandparents after her mother broke away when she was small, leaving her behind, and a father who was part of the community but incapable of caring for her meant she was slightly different and suspect from the start. Growing up, she knew to hide her love of reading and keep trips to the public library secret. As an adult, watching the community protect ideals over exploited and injured community members pushed Halpern to pick a side. In the war between her love for the grandparents who raised her and the chance for her child to grow up whole, she chose her son.

“Miriam’s Secret” by Debby Waldman

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Yeah, she’s my sister and yeah, the book is set in on a fictional farm that draws heavily from our family’s farm.  But this Depression-era story of a kid from New York City who spends a few months with her grandparents provides a kids-eye view of life in tough times without a bunch of moralizing and commentary. Same goes for Jewish ritual and practice. It’s all very matter-of-fact and organically woven in to the story, mostly told through the relationships between Miriam, her grandparents and the hired men who help run the farm. Also, anyone who is my cousins will laugh themselves silly at the grandmother in this story. To say ours was never that tender is a major understatement.

“Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson

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I’m only on page 23, which is okay because Book Group isn’t until next week. But already I’m looking forward to bedtime so I can read more of this story by a lawyer who has made addressing inequities around mass incarceration and the death penalty his life’s work. And I’m very grateful to Sally for choosing it for us to read. It’s been on my list for awhile, and this is the push I needed to get off my tush and read it.

“Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun” by Sarah Ladipo Manyika

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It’s very short, only 118 pages, but so very good. Another book club pick, this one thanks to Cynthia, who hosted last month. I’ve never met a protagonist like Morayo, maybe because most of the fictional 75-year-olds are supporting characters who are usually supported. By a cane or a wheelchair or some other old-person marker. Morayo is  single, childless, a retired academic who drives a Porsche and is and living the good life in San Francisco. Well, that is, until she falls and breaks her hip. Maybe it’s because I have a mom in a nursing home. Maybe because I’m getting older and have a slew of friends who are single and childless. But this book really resonated. Also, anyone who arranges their books by how well their characters would get along, as Morayo does – real or not – is my kind of person.

 

Facebook Posts

I should probably spend less time reading these, but there is this one group to which I belong that is feeding my brain-growing side a lot. I can’t talk about it, because it’s a secret group. But it’s very good for my soul. And it’s good for my soul to keep up with the people I value in 3D, given our sometimes way-too-busy lives.

 

My Twitter Feed

Not as much here, but it’s interesting to see what people think and to get information on breaking news stories – bearing in mind, of course that it’s always best to verify.

Twitter is also a good place to remember how little you matter if you are not a brand or a celebrity. Most of my posts are met with radio silence. I might as well be posting on my bathroom wall. But it’s okay. In 100 years, no one will care anymore about most of what’s happening now anyway, and so in at least one sense, my tweets are on the leading edge of a curve!

 

Road Signs

Because I drive. And sometimes ride my bike.

 

“Jonah” by Some old Middle Eastern Storytellers (Translation by the Jewish Publication Society)

Yesterday, in Mom’s room. As part of my alternative Yom Kippur observance.

 

 

“Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death and Jazz Chickens” by Eddie Izzard

BelieveMe

See above about “Unorthodox” and book-like objects. I am a big Eddie Izzard fan, so when I saw this on our “New” shelf, I was all over it. I read it at work and wrote a review for a future issue of the library newsletter. It’s pretty humble stuff for a celebrity memoir, mostly him describing what it was like before and after his mom died when he was six, his decision to live as openly transgender in 1985 and the process that led him to be able to carry that to his onstage persona, which, for years he stuck to what he describes as “boy mode,” and generally his operating philosophy, which is to act as if you’re capable of more than you are. It’s actually a very Jewish concept (not that Eddie said that) – the “engage in action and intent and belief will follow.”

Sweetheart and I have tickets to see him here this coming weekend, and I’m looking forward to it.

“Liner Notes: On Parents & Children, Exes & Excess, Death & Decay & A Few of My Other Favorite Things”  by Loudon Wainwright III

LinerNotes

I just started this one, too, at work. What I said about “Unorthodox” and “Believe Me.” It’s interesting to read in narrative form about some of what he’s written and sung. You get a bigger picture and context, and it’s fun to be a fly on the wall for his encounters with Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Judd Apatow and other household name-type people. Because I’m also a big fan of the work of his singing family members and friends (Lucy, Martha, Rufus, Sloan, Chaim Tannenbaum, Suzzy Roche and the McGarrigle Sisters), reading about them is kind of like getting to hang out with people you know but not so well and learning more about them.
On a separate but related note, I will always have a tender spot for LWIII, who gave me what remains one of the nicest compliments anyone ever has about my writing. I profiled him 12 years ago for a piece in our local alternative paper. When he showed up for the gig, I asked him to sign the story. He said “I read it over dinner, and it didn’t even give me indigestion.” When I told this story to Suzzy & Lucy a couple of years ago, Lucy’s comment was “That sounds like him.”

“Toad on the Road: A Cautionary Tale” by Stephen Shashkan

Toad-on-the-Road

What I most like about this picture book is that you can sing it as your own improvised blues tune.  It probably works in other genres, too – punk, jazz, plainsong, recitative, rockabilly. It’s adorable, funny, charming and features a female tow-truck driving working mother. Which is pretty much everything.