Archive for November, 2009

On Being Jewish

Thanksgiving dinner was wonderful! We were invited to a good friend’s house for the festivities and when I asked what I could bring, the hostess’ answer was, “Nothing!” How good is that, I ask you? I trotted off to the store and bought a big box of chocolates for her since I do know that is one of her weakness. The only thing that muted my euphoria somewhat was the fact that I did not spend the day with any of my kids or grandkids. They were all in different parts of the country, each involving the purchase of an airline ticket and going in and out of airports on the busiest weekend of the year. And how would I figure out which house I should go to without offending anyone. Visiting them had to be postponed.

I truly enjoyed the Thanksgiving party not only for the lavish dinner but also for meeting a group of very interesting people. It seems that each one of them had a unique story to tell about their work or their background. The most interesting conversation was with a gentleman who told my husband that his family, although ethnically white Russian, spent much time in Harbin. “Harbin?” my husband said, “My wife has been in Harbin.”

Questions about what each of us was doing in this undistinguished city in China followed, undistinguished except for the fact that the Trans-Siberian Railway ends in Harbin. And if any of you have read my memoir, Becoming Alice, you would know that I have been on that train, and must necessarily gone through Harbin in my odyssay to America.

In time my Russian friend asked why I left Vienna, one of the great cities of the world. I gave him a one word answer, “Hitler,” and realized that he had no idea that I am Jewish. This has happened to me so often that I sometimes wish that my identity could be read on my physical appearance like it can on the face of an African-American or Asian person.  I have been told often, “But you don’t look Jewish.” I wonder what characteristic I must have to look Jewish. And I have heard people say, “But you don’t act Jewish.” I ask you, how do Jews act that makes them different from anyone else?

That brings me to the question for which I still don’t have an answer. Do you have to look like and act like the person you are with to be accepted? Isn’t that what we call bigotry? And what can you possibly do with the person who doesn’t fit into any kind of slot?  We live in a world now where that is becoming more and more the norm. I am grateful that I don’t have that problem. I find people interesting as they are, especially when they are different than I am. I understand myself. I can only learn from those who are not like me.


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Just in: “Becoming Alice” is available at 50% discount at the iUniverse Holiday Book Sale until Nov 29th. Use Code: FAMILY 1109 at check-out

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Everybody is talking about Thanksgiving this week. My friends want to know if I’m cooking and having the big meal at my house. As it happens, my family lives in all the far corners of the United States and although we’ve travelled to each of their homes over the last few years, we opted to stay home this year. The reason is that we will all be together five weeks later for my daughter’s wedding. And the reports about the expected traffic jams and airline delays have sent shivers up our spines. We are lucky enough to have close friends who have invited us for the festivities, so we don’t feel too bad about not being with family.

In the discussions about the upcoming holiday I learned that all my friends, from whatever ethnic background the may come from, look forward to Thanksgiving. I was amused by my Mexican girlfriend who told me how she was fixing her turkey and all its accompaniments. Along with the stuffing and cranberries, she included tamales and enchiladas. She said she loved Thanksgiving, a holiday in which she could combine both her American and her Mexican culture.

I have many Jewish friends and they without exception call this, namely Thanksgivng, their favorite holiday. You may ask why. Do they serve chopped liver appetizers or matzo ball soup as an entre? Nope. I’ve never seen that done. I think Jews consider themselves Americans and are part of this culture. If they are American born, they have no other culture and if this country has given them sanctuary, they are proud to fit into it with enthusiasm.

What sets Jews apart in America is their religion and Thanksgiving makes no religious destinctions whatsoever. When Christmas and Easter come around, Jews do not celebrate. They do have holidays and festivals of their own which are theirs alone, as do other religious groups.

But is is Thanksgiving which is common to everybody here, a holiday from which no one need to be excuded. No wonder it is a favorite with so many of us ethnically and religiously different Americans.


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When I started writing Becoming Alice, a member of my writing workshop told me I’d do well because memoirs were in style. What she meant was that there was a large demand for memoirs at that time and I’d do well with sales. Her comment made me feel like I was selling hamburgers or tacos because drive-ins were becoming popular, or homes and condominiums because the real estate market was hot. In fact I was only interested in telling my story and having as many people as possible read it to learn about the historical era in which I had lived, or to be entertained by the family dynamics in which I grew up, being both pathetic and humorous.

Fast forward just a few years and I am still intrigued by the waxing and waning of the poplularity of different genres in published books. It seems to me that there continues to be a strong interest in books about World War ll, the Holocaust, persecution of Jews, their harrowing  escapes, and the post traumatic stress suffered by them afterwards. The latest  successful books, such as The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak and Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum give testimony to this fact. I may even add my book Becoming Alice, A Memoir to that list in that it has done so remarkably better than I’d ever have dreamed it would.

Now there is another trend that fascinates me. It is the popularity of vampire books that I see being published and being made into movies. On the news last night I learned that the vampire craze is not limited to teenagers; their mothers are becoming equally enthused about this genre. Personally, I don’t get it. It seems to me that one paranormal book is like every other paranormal book and one vampire story is like any other. Obviously I don’t understand the attraction. My only salvation is that I’ve noticed a few readers on the internet posting their impatience with the dirth of books available to young adults who do not want to read vampire stories.

Perhaps there is a shining light at the end of the tunnel yet, and good old Becoming Alice will continue to appeal to many of the silent majority that haven’t gone screaming for their copy of Twilight to their Barnes and Noble stores.

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As I drive my car to the grocry store, or bank, or gas station, I often think about what I shall write about next. That is, what I shall write about when I finally have finished working on my social networking sites and blog.

It has been said that authors write about what they know, about people they have met, about stories they have seen evolve among their acquaintances. I believe that is true. Perhaps they write stories that are not exactly real, but are the basis of what finally ends up in print. I am itching to write some of the many stories I have experienced myself, and have seen lived by those around me.

My dilemma is that I am afraid that people I write about will recognize themselves. My fear is that they may not agree with the way I see them, or the way I interpret what has actually happened, or that I write about them and their situation altogether, whether it is flattering or not. I was even advised that some legal issues may arise from such an undertaking, namely that I might be sued if an character didn’t like the way he/she was portayed. Taking that into consideration, I obtained signed forms from several individuals whose pictures I included in my memoir, Becoming Alice, along with permission to write about them as I personally remembered the events and their behaviors in them.

Now, I would like to write stories about people anonymously. I would not like for them to recognize themselves. I think I may have found a way out of my dilemma though. I was wondering, as I filled up my tank at the service station, what would happen if I put each characters’ personality, peculiarity, and idiosyncrasy into some sort of mix-master and swirled them all together, if they would know that I was secretly writing about them.

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I’m convinced that my dog, Connor, thinks he’s a person. I’m not sure if he looks at our kitchen clock before he starts to stare me down for his evening meal, but he most certainly knows when it is four o’clock and it is time for his evening meal. If I happen to be tied up with something, usually at the computer, he doesn’t hesitate to march up to me to me in my chair to stare me down.  He knows very well that barking makes me mad.  Locking his eyes onto me is his only way of telling me it is four o’clock.

If he feels like taking a nap in the afternoon, he waits until my husband and I are otherwise occupied and then he sneaks into our bedroom, jumps up onto the bed and drifts off into slumberland. Usually he gets a good long nap in before one or the other of us discovers him.

But what absolutely confirmed his identifying himself as a human being, was the time my husband and I were trying to replace a burned out flourescent light under our kitchen cabinet. We needed to bend over and look up to find where to dislodge the tube that needed to be replaced. Before we knew it, I saw Connor’s paws on the tile counter and there was Connor with his head tilted up trying to see what we were looking at. What was he going to do? Help us change the flourescent light? Perhaps he thought, “If only I had hands …”

My husband recently finished reading a book entitled The Places in Between by Rory Stuart in which he read about a Mongolian belief that when a dog dies, his soul is reincarnated and returns to earth as a human being. I wonder if that equation works in the reverse, namely when a human being dies, his soul may be reincarnated as a dog.

Connor, dear Connor, maybe you are a person.




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To Be Private, or Public?

WordPress is coming out with a feature whereby the public can know from where, geographically,  you are writing your blog. The blogger may chose to let that be known, or not. There are already a number of Comments listed by those who think it is a great feature and wonderful idea.

What I want to know is, why? What difference does it make where I am located? Are you going to come over to my house and have coffee with me? Or, are you one of those people I need to be afraid of? Why is it then that so many sites make a point of telling you, when you register, that the information you supply will be kept stricly private? As it is, even knowing my e-mail has resulted in my being bombarded by a multitude of entrepeneurs who want to sell me something. I’d like to have a nickel for every time I’ve hit the Delete button up to this point in time.

On the other hand … here I go again, sounding like Zero Mostel … there are a lot of sites in which I participate where my primary purpose is to tell them to go to my website, www.alicerene.com to learn about Becoming Alice. That involves giving away a goodly amount of information abou me. It seems that people want to know about who this person is that wrote this book before they consider buying it. Okay! I’m okay with that.

So, I spend my time doing a bit of a balancing act between being public, but only so far, and being private. This means that I must make a decision each time some one, some site, some other, digs for more information than is already posted publically. It is turning out to be a lot of work. One good thing I have learned along the way is that some of the sites, like Twitter and Facebook will actually shut down some of the predators.

The other good thing is that I have made some connections and found information through these sites that I would otherwise not have had. I especially like getting comments on my WordPress blog, so please keep them coming. Meanwhile, I shall continue to do my balancing act everywhere else.

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