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Archive for July, 2009

Last week I had lunch with two acquaintances whom I hadn’t seen for quite a long time. Between munching on low-caloried salads and diet Coke, we tried to catch up on the major things that had happened in our lives since we’d last seen one another. After disposing of couples who divorced and elderly who died and those who moved to other parts of the country, we asked each other about what our children were doing.

Mother number one told me about her two daughters, their husbands, and their children, all living within fifteen minutes driving distance from her home. She spoke proudly about their jobs and the successful careers they had. She spoke about her grandchildren and their accomplishments academically and in their chosen sports. She spoke about trips she’d invited them on. And she told me about seeing them often, picking them up from school and taking them to their lessons, be it gymnastics, ballet, or soccer. During her discourse, she praised each and every member of her family and expressed an enthusiasm and joy in spending so much time with them.

Three days later, I again found myself at lunch with mother number two, this time at a Mexican restaurant with a large tostada and glass of ice tea in front of each of us. My companion, I had never elevated either one of my luncheon parters to the friend category, went through the same discourse about her family. Her children also lived close to her and told me about each of their jobs, how old each grandchild is and where he or she is going to school and what their particular sport was in which they participated. What was missing was any element of appreciation or pride in what each was doing.

I asked if the daughter who was living in Oregon had any children and she said no. I probably was out of line in asking if the couple had problems in that regard or whether they simply decided not to have children, something that I find not so unusual in this generation. She answered that she did not know … she never asked.

I thought that unusual. I tend to think other people’s actions or decisions unusual when they behave in a fashion that is foreign to me. I was going to go on with our conversation by asking how often she saw the children who lived in her proximity, but then thought better of it. What was missing was the enthusiasm and joy that was expressed by the lady with whom I’d had lunch earlier in the week.

It got me to thinking about this thing called love. Then I remembered my first writing teacher who’d advised us that love was the hardest subject a writer could take on. But here I go with the first blog on my subject. Analyzing what I had experienced this last week, I felt that love is not something that can be ordered like polite behavior or good manners. Love is something that is there, or not. Love is something some people are capable of, or not. Perhaps there are reasons for this being so … or not. It makes you wonder, what is this elusive thing called love.

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I had such a good time this afternoon. It was completely unexpected. Actually I didn’t even want to go, but it was one of those types of situations where not going would have looked really bad. Let me explain.

My husband Bob has an aunt who lives in the Jewish Home for the Aging in the San Fernando Valley and today they were having a birthday party. Bob’s aunt was celebrating her hundredth birthday. Yes, I didn’t misspell the word … her 100th birthday. Now, nursing homes are not my most favorite places to be. I do have a little experience with them, leaving me with memories of an incredible odor that greets you once you pass the front door; visions of highly polished tile floors and green pea colored walls dotted with sleeping humans hunched over in their wheel chairs.

But go I did, and my first surprise was that the nursing home was a brand new building with narrow walkways through garden areas leading to the various  wings of a five story building. Along the way we saw artistic bronze sculptures on pedestals or life size pieces of differing subjects, famous people, nature objects, etc. Through the automatic doors leading inside, I braced myself for the odor. None!

Recovering from my shock, I noticed the floors were carpeted, gray with purple insets leading to sizable individual rooms. Cheerful patterned bedspreads! Pictures of landscapes on the hall walls. Glass cases at the entry of each room showing pictures of the occupants, at an earlier stage in their lives, and snapshots of members of their family. I was not sure I was in the right place, that is not until I saw a smiling, uniformed caregiver push an elderly lady in a wheelchair down the hall.

Eventually the hallway filled with more wheelchair patients, all going into a large community room. We followed; we were in the right place. The room was filled with about fifty old people, lined up in six or seven rows facing one end of the room in which a piano waited for a player. No one spoke, each one of the elderly were in their own world, listening to some private conversation, unless they weren’t asleep altogether. They were clean and dressed nicely in street clothes … no hospital gowns. Some wore earrings and necklaces. Here and there two of them might be caught in conversation. Several had balloons tighted to their chairs, obviously they were people who had July birthdays. It was a communal birthday party.

The program was started by a thin, bespectacled woman who introduced the piano player and a man on the drums, each of whom was, without a doubt, well into their eightieth decade. I thought, heaven help us, as Irv and Joe sat down. And then my jaw dropped as they began to play songs from perhaps fifty years ago, cheerful songs with a lively beat that had me tapping my foot and clapping my hands. 

I looked around the room at the audience, trapped in their wheelchairs, and saw that about half of them were smiling and clapping, just like me. Some of them were even singing the words to the  songs. And I thought about how great that scene was. How great to bring these people back to a time that must have been so much fun for them. How great to bring that fun to them now when they need it even more.

And I was so impressed with the two octogenarian performers, who obviously had been entertainers all of their lives, who could still turn it on and render the audience into putty in their hands. Even Bob’s hundred year old aunt, who I’m not sure always knew who we were, was dressed in a starched blue and white blouse with a string of red beads around her neck and shiny silver rings in her ears. She smiled at most of the performance, except when she was busy downing a large piece of chocolate cake with ice cream.

Kudos to the Jewish Home for the Aging. I’m so glad I went today. I had such a good time.

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Back to Self-Help

It is the day after the Ventura Book Festival. It was a very nice event, although I must say that having been a participant in the Los Angeles Times Book Festival last April, the experience was like comparing baby food to a scrupious steak. Yet, every experience adds a bit more understanding to what readers are looking for when they chose a book. In this case, it reminded me again that there are so many people who go through life being unhappy with themselves or their inter-personal relationships. They spend years struggling with their self-image. They have trouble making friends. And they can’t get along with their family members, bonds they can’t deny or sever.

The first time I became aware of the fact that “Becoming Alice” was so meaningful to some of these people, was at a presentation I did at a local library. After I’d spoken, a young girl, who seemed to be a late teenager, told me that she was the kind of teenager that I described myself to be, i.e. shy, withdrawn, ashamed of myself, without friends or any self-esteem. She wanted me to tell her how I became the sef-assured woman I seemed to be speaking to those attending my presentation.

Another time I was made aware of how large a group of people still have problems of this kind is when I checked the list of author interviews  on “The Authors Show.” I’ve been checking the site to see when my interview with Don McCauley will air. In doing so I discovered that the majority of authors that are interviewed on this show have written books on “self-help.” Wow! There must be a huge market for this subject.

And then yesterday someone picked up my book at the Ventura Book Festival and read the back cover word for word. She was taken by the phrase, “the debilitating power of famiy ties.” She told me she understook its meaning exactly, since she was still struggling to put those problems to rest. She was trying still to … help herself. Wow!

Reading “Becoming Alice” is not guaranteed to heal. It only shows the path that one girl took that as she took her first steps  on the road to becoming the woman she is today.

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I’ll be at the Ventura Book Festival all day signing “Becoming Alice.” Such fun!! Besides, it’s lovely being at the beach while southern California is melting in 100 degree heat.

I’ll tell all tomorrow.

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In today’s news there is an article about former President Jimmy Carter leaving his church of sixty years because of their refusal to ordain women as minsters and their interpretion of the scriptures to state that women must be “subservient to their husbands.”

Kudos to Jimmy Carter! I have not always agreed with all of the positions President Carter has taken, but he is to be admired for this one. When I think about women’s lives in so many countries in the world, especially in Middle Eastern cultures , I feel only pity for them. They have no rights, except those which their husband might relinquish. And that does not happen because of the fact that they would “lose face” among their male counterparts.

I also wonder why women who are members of some religous sects in in our own country chose to be completely subservient to their husbands. In this country, after all, they have the right to chose their destiny.

Perhaps my feelings are so strong on this subject because I grew up in a family where my father completely dominated my mother. Even though it was in a time before the feminist movement had taken hold, my mother began to rebel against her bondage. When I think about what she did and how she fought for her rights, as I spelled out in my memoir Becoming Alice, I have come to think of her as the “original feminist.”

I may not have given her credit for her efforts then, but as I have grown older I realize that she was a role model for me.  I shall always be proud of her for doing whatever was in her power at the time to better her place in the world. What is so hard for me to understand in this day and age, is that remnants of that old, archaic philosophy of  man’s domination over woman still exists. Thank you, Mr. Carter, for taking a stand.

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Yesterday on the news we heard that Walter Cronkite died. I felt terrible. I remember being depressed when Franklin Delano Roosevelt died. I didn’t feel anything when Michael Jackson died, except maybe to feel sorry for this tormented person who had to resort to drugs to get through every day of his life. I feel bad when some entertainers, whom I’ve enjoyed over the years, die. I feel bad when a friend dies, or an artist, a painter or musician, who enhances the quality of my life, dies. But why is it that I’ve felt the loss of both FDR, and now Cronkite, so much more deeply.

I think it is that they both represented father figures to me. They were people who I could trust. They were charismatic. I thought they were honest with us, they would make decisions which were in our best interest. They were father figures to me.

Of course, they weren’t perfect. We now know that when WWII was winding down and FDR was so terribly ill, he made the mistake that we know as Yalta. I think we forgave him because of all the right things he did for us, such as getting us out of the Depression, Social Security, and essentially making most of the right decisions that won us the war.

They were human:  how about that radio broadcast in which Cronkite broke down as he was telling us about the Kennedy assasination. And the courage he had to come right out and say that the Vietnam was not winable.

Perhaps I felt so strongly about these father figures because I respected my own father so highly. It was not until I was well into my adolescence when I started to have some of my own opinions that differed from his, that we got into some trouble. I was no longer able to keep him on the pedestal on which I had him as a kid. I wonder if  FDR and Cronkite expected to be placed at that lofty height.

Dad, I guess you were human too. But thanks for being you, for being the same kind of father figure as FDR and Cronkite, not perfect, but with so much for which to be admired.

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I’ve been spending quite a lot of hours on my computer. Actually I’ve been spending those hours on the internet. There is a difference. If  I’d have been on the computer per se, I’d have been working on my next short story or novel, depending on how long it eventually became. Unfortunately I have only done about a dozen pages so far, and have rewritten them three times already. I get to them so infrequently, that each time I pull the work up, I have a different mind set and the whole piece changes drastically. 

But I really want to talk about the internet, especially as it relates to my book, Becoming Alice. I have gotten several reviews of my book, and luckily all of them have been positive. What I don’t understand is that each of them will give an almost complet synopsis of the book before getting to the last sentence or two in which tells the reviewer states what he/she really thought of it. That’s fine. I’ve even improved my original synopsis by stealing an idea or two from a review. I only worry that some of the readers who are checking the book out might be getting a little tired of reading so many synopses before getting to the meat of the matter. Hope I’m wrong!

Then there is the matter of checking my statistics, i.e. the number of people who are looking at my website, my blog, etc. Those charts look like the jagged line of shark’s teeth …up, down, up, down. Someimes they go way up and I get really excited until the next day when nobody checks in at all. One of the days with the highest activity was when a source in Brasil was visitng my website like crazy. I don’t get it! How’d they find out about Becoming Alice?

Not all the statistics are given in charts. For example, there is the Amazon book ranking that you can check. I haven’t figured that out yet. Last March it was somewhere around 190,000, by April 3rd it was 900,000 and on April 5th about 92,000. How many books do they need to sell to lower the ranking 800,000 points? Certainly not 800,000 books. More recently, last Monday it was approximately 1,500,000. Today it is 321,459. I don’t get it!

And another thing: It is clear that I love to write. I wish I had more time for my next work, but I can do a few paragraphs by blogging pretty regularly. Now, I have just found out that writers can get paid to do blogging for others. I don’t get it! Why would anyone want to have someone else say what only you can say in your own way? I don’t think that is what blogging is all about.

As to WordPress … I know I have to enter my Username and Password each time I get around to blogging. But why in the world do I have to enter my Password twice before it will let me into WordPress? I don’t get it!

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