Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Christmas & New Year’s Around the Corner...

 

How are this year’s holidays different for you?


Nearing the end of a calendar year, the inevitable lists come out: best movies of 2020, most memorable images of 2020, most memorable people of 2020, and so on.


What is certain is that this year had such momentous events, those who survived them can attest that the year twenty-twenty was different.


I am recalling a certain week at the end of August, where a record heat combined with freak dry lightning caused fifteen hundred wild fires in northern California alone. The air was seriously unhealthy, in addition to the masks we wore for a pandemic that had kept us sheltering in place for over five months. Between the pandemic and the fires, family members lost their homes and jobs.


Then, in just one week (that same end of August) both Facebook, Blogger and my website host— decided they were done with their old formats and forced a conversion to a new one. The latter seems so trivial compare the existential challenges all around. But the confluence of the *all of it* nearly broke this camel’s back. It’s hard to try to build a website and adjust to new screens (when most of life has moved to screens) as you literally can’t take a deep breath.


And just then, I had one of those illuminations: I realized I and most around me were more alive than we’d been. As the mounting challenges pressed, we were awakened. From then on, days felt blessed rather than cursed.

 

I hope the coming holidays are the same for you. When listing the year’s personal highlights, may you see how very blessed the year twenty-twenty has been.

©Silent Night by Shelagh Duffett

(Passed away June 24th  2020)


Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Speaking of LATKES...

 

The point (or excuse) of filling the house with the smell of frying is the miracle of OIL. It was only enough for one day but lasted for eight when the Maccabees liberated the defiled temple and the eternal light at its center was re-lit with special sacred oil.


It’s about OIL. It’s a downright greasy-fatty-oily festival.

So while latkes are potatoes fried in oil, and Israelis gobble sweet dough fried in oil (sort of strawberry jam filled yeast donuts), lets focus on the oil here.

This means the classic latkes can be made with any vegetable, so long as you fry them in oil.

So I take the classic potato latkes recipe and...

INGREDIENTS

·         1 1/2 pounds baking potatoes (3 to 4 potatoes)

·         1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered

·         1 large egg

·         2 tablespoons matzo meal or unseasoned dry breadcrumbs

·         1 teaspoon kosher salt

·         1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

·         1 cup oil

·         Applesauce and sour cream, for serving

 

Instead of the potatoes, you can grate zucchini, carrots, parsnip, yams, or chopped asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, or the king of all oil gobblers, the thirsty eggplant.

 

{You’ll have to adjust the amount of binder, i.e. breadcrumbs, to the moisture of the vegetable you use, likely increasing it a bit}


Happy oleaginous eating to us!



 


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Let There Be Light

 

There is something powerful about bringing light into darkness.


When I was growing up in Jerusalem, Hanukah held special charms for me. My family was not religious, and Hanukah is “religion-light” in that all work is permitted and there is little by way of ritual, save the nightly lighting of candles.


And so it was less of an exterior event, and more of an interior one. Hanukah happened at home. This suited me and mine just fine. In Israel at that time there was nary a hint of the competition with Christmas, so ubiquitous in the USA.


When my kids were little we had a yearly Hanukah party, and shamelessly did compensate for our no-Christmas home with presents and decorations I never saw in my own childhood in Israel.


But I returned to my roots. Hanukah is no more party-time, or presents time, or any other whoopty-doo time. Hanukah is, once again, the smell of frying latkes and most of all, candles. If nothing else, the pandemic returned all of us home, and reminded us how this is our anchor.


A slight modification (because my roaming ever-curious cats will surely burn their whiskers) requires strategic placing of the menorah. We don’t get to put it in the widow, as is customary. But candles it is.

Their charm is undeniable.

“...One for each night

They shed a sweet light

To remind us for days long ago.”

From Hanukah Oh Hanukah


{Last year’s 8th night^. Hanukah this year begins the evening of Thursday, December 10 and ends the evening of Friday, December 18}


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

This Day, DECEMBER 1st, in History


December 1, 1955 - The birth of the modern American civil rights movement occurred as Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama, for refusing to give up her seat to a white man and move to the back section of a municipal bus. Her arrest resulted in a year-long boycott of the city bus system by African Americans and led to legal actions ending racial segregation on municipal buses throughout the South.


The struggle to confront and make amends to a racist legacy continues to this day. Rosa Parks was one punctuation point on a long, continuous timeline.


To young’uns, born at a time of an African-American president, this seems like ancient history and yet they sense history’s long shadow in various ways even now. It’s impossible to understand today’s grievances without remembering and reminding what is, in historical context, a blatant disregard for the full humanity of others.


A much wiser person than me, who is also a renowned psychologist, put it this way: “Humans are hardwired to think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘not us’, with all the defensiveness this implies.” This served for self-preservation under threat and did, at times of great scarcity, have a function. But, I only hope, we are slowly evolving to override this and to understand that race and religion do not make anyone “not us.”


Remembering Rosa Parks today.



Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Giving Thanks...

Giving Thanks for---


^Friends who stop by^

^Felines who hang out^

^Family, Always^

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

IF YOU HAVE A FRIEND WHO DRAWS, WRITES, OR PERFORMS...


You may know the brilliant children’s book series IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE. This post is not about that if, but about the inevitable creative friends you have (I sure do) whose output you are aware of.


My personal experience is on both sides of this aisle. I’m one who writes and the mother of a performer and the sister of another. I’m an audience member and art-lover. I’ve read plenty on writers and illustrators’ chat boards and heard even more in personal interactions.


This post is about how well-meaning friends and relations manage to inadvertently stick daggers into the creative bubbles. It’s one thing if they intend to, but this is about the unintended insults born of (let’s be generous here) ignorance.


The most common ones are going into the list below. Feel free, in the service of enlightenment, to add in the comments.

The first one is the biggiest of biggies.


*Don’t ask to read/see/listen to your friends’ creative work and then say nothing. If you can give constructive criticism, that is helpful. You can always couch it with what you genuinely thought worked. But saying nothing is the worst. If you really thought it was not good, say something, and don’t ask again. One writer I know said a relative walked over to tell him she had read his book. Then, you guessed it, nothing. Relative changed the subject.
Don’t. Do. That.


*Don’t offer advice about something you know less than little about. A writer on a chat-board lamented her husband told her she should “storm the acquisitions meeting” at a publisher, after her agent told her the manuscript was going to acquisitions that Tuesday. Maybe in husband’s business this is done, (doubtful) but a more likely explanation for this sort of advice came from seeing movies or reading “take charge of your life” silly how-to books. Similar nonsense advice is to pester published writers for “their connections.” This is how corporate America works, but not fine publishing.


*Be fair and accept that if you don’t like something, someone else might like it. Creative output appreciation is subjective. Professional reviewers ignore this stance, as they must convey confidence and the illusion their assessments are objective. They are paid to believe this and make us believe. Don’t. Be. That.


Reading the above, it is tempting to never ask to see or hear others’ work. But if you’re genuinely interested and your creative asked for your advice, be a good friend and do the best you can. If you know you can’t, be a good friend and say you can’t.
My Beta readers are the bestest and I try to be half as good to my friends as they are to me.



Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Are You Tired of CORONA Yet?


Beware of branding, for it may come back to burn you.

CORONA, once just a Latin word for crown and a nice sounding one at that, is now *the global enemy* to be vanquished. But remnants of its old glory branding days are everywhere.

Beer^


Beans^

Seltzer water^

Chocolate^

Cars^

And in case writers, ever sensitive to words, want to forget about it~~~
Hemingway’s old typewriter.^

Oh, brothers and sisters-- I need cake...
^GAHHHHH!^

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

The Revival of the Telephone Conversation


The Skype/Zoom form of communication was once a novelty, and then a secondary way of conducting business. COVID-19 made it the primary way.


My kids, generation Z/ Millennial, use text for “not in the mood or place to be seen” exchanges, and faceTime/Skype/Zoom for “let’s hang out” times.  It never seems a consideration to use the phone the way we did, for voice only. To be fair, until Email that’s all we had for instant exchanges.


But having to stare at a screen and having it stare back at you for hours on end during these times of minimized in-person connectivity has brought about a kind of screen fatigue.


Young’uns, as well as us old fogies, are using the phone to call and talk, no screens. I didn’t think I’d see that again.




Other strange rollback is the minimization of using public transportation. That was the hip/environmentally correct way to go only a year ago. Now it’s best to drive the family car and better be in it alone, sans family. One car to a person? The horror. 


And remember the reusable grocery bag? That was the conscientious way to go. Now it isn’t allowed. So if you walked to the store, just let them give you those darned disposables to take your food back home.


But of all these things, it’s the sight of young adults using the phone in voice-only mode, which makes me think I went to sleep and woke up in 1990.



I wonder how to reflect all of these^ in my current WIP.


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Character and Theme


Most good stories are memorable because of their characters.

Most writerly how-to advice says to start with character.

I always had the themes first. What is this about? Only then the “who is this about” seeped in.
Developing the characters took care and deliberateness. The theme came naturally, the characters less so.


A few months ago, an unusual character popped in, and I followed this character to the end of the story.


One member of my critique group said, “Cute character, but you need to develop the theme.”

Blasted bubblegum! My way of writing had changed.


Of course, it isn’t either or. There’s more than one way. But for the first time I realize that no matter how old I am or how long I’ve been at it, I, too, am a writerly work-in-progress.


So the theme of this post is change is eternal πŸ˜‰

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Feeling Wistful


Many years ago, I had a friend who was important to me and I think I was to her.


Changes in her life made her drift away. I didn’t look for her. But one day she walked into my life again, and her presence was a blessing. She helped usher a different chapter in both our lives with grace and the kind of warmth possible in old friendships.


Then she vanished, only to reappear at an important junction, again. It was as if the great weaver was threading our strings and resuming embroidering at just the right time.


A few more years, and we lost touch. I thought of her, and trusted we’ll meet again, as the British song goes, “some sunny day.” πŸ™


It was actually a foggy afternoon, when I got the urge to look her up. I did what people do who have no acquaintances in common: I googled. Yay! She had Facebook account, and yup, she had posted recently, including a photo of the two of us from way back. I commented on the photo with glee, and also sent a friend request. That’s the protocol of Facebook: you "friend" people who are already your personal friends, you accept friendship from people who will never be more than Facebook friends, and you ask for friendship from people who once were good friends.


I didn’t get a response. I figured that was that, or maybe not.


A few months ago, out of the blue, I got a keen urge to look her up again. I went straight to Facebook. The last post on her timeline was two years old. On one of her posts, another of her friends wrote that she will be missed forever now that she is gone.


The date of her earthly departure was a month before my old friend request. She was much too young to have made this transition. 😒


I’ll never know the last chapters of her life. But I felt wistful and also marveled at the intensity of the connection I experienced right then. To write the whole story of our intermittent connection and how much it meant would be writing a full-length novel, not a short blog post. To try to make sense of it, as one does when constructing a novel, would take more inventive powers and imagination than I have access to for now.


 But nothing stops my feeling that a story is looking for a proper tying of loose ends, the way editors ask us to do.




Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Looking for Balance


When DS, an enthusiastic baking intern at the home kitchen, noted how quickly the dough rose as compared to his previous experiences, I commented on the role of sugar to jazz up the yeast, and salt to retard yeasty over-exuberance.



Put it this way: it’s a prized balance of the bready arts.


This made a literary quote pop out of my memory bank:

Henry James



I use adjectives, and I use adverbs. I’m aware of their effects and omit them where they add nothing. I kill them where they detract. But they have their place, and the key is balance.


No slavish rule following will help achieve balance. Great writing is just this, measured and effective. Like fresh bread, which is neither too light nor too doughy.


Wow. So many adjectives in this post. Which should I have cut?

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Great Question of the Week


The same four-year-old from next door (mentioned in this post) gave me the highlight of the week, again. Call these our philosophical back-yard neighborly chats.



Four-year-old: “Auntie Mirka! Auntie Mirka!” (Our neighbors are of Indian origins, so every non-related adult gets to be “Uncle” or “Auntie”)

Me: “Hi there!”

Four-year-old: “What are you doing?”

Me: “What do you think I’m doing?”

Four year-old: “Cleaning the yard?”

Me: “Good guess. What are you doing?”

Four year-old: “Me too. I’m cleaning the yard.”

Me: “That’s good.”

Four-year-old: “Auntie Mirka! Auntie Mirka!”

Me: “Yes?”

Four-year-old: “why do I always want to talk to you?”


I’m left speechless. But I admit it’s a great question.



Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Storytelling is for Always


When I was one year old, my mother and I flew from Israel to the United States because her father, my grandfather whom I never met, had just died. My father stayed behind, and our stay in Florida, which was supposed to be short, lasted nine months.
It would be a foreshadowing of my parents eventual divorce, when I was seven. But for a time, it was an extended separation.


When we left, I spoke in two-word sentences in Hebrew. When we returned, I spoke fluently, and in English, a language my father barely knew. But my father understood the very first thing I said to him when he greeted us at the port of Haifa, where our ship had docked. He told me about this meeting many times. He said I looked at him, took his hand and said, “Daddy, tell me a story.


I forgot whatever English I knew not long after. I would learn it (or re-learn) some years later in school, as a second language. But I knew this sentence because in re-telling my father always said it in English.




Tell me a story. No matter what or where, no matter how or whom. There are always the stories and the storytellers who tell them.

πŸ“š~Keep telling stories~πŸ“š



Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Repeat Questions on Writers’ internet Forums


I belong to three writers’ forums and five more writerly groups on Facebook. Many have multi-published veterans who participate. Almost all have many more newbies, and the questions they ask are surprisingly similar.


Why “surprisingly”? Because a simple search or quiet observation for a short amount of time would have given the answers to most.


Here are some questions I see over and over (and over and over)😦. There are different opinions as to the “right” answers, but I’ll give mine here because they reflect a general consensus, some experience, and this is my blog, after all 😜


*Should you nudge an agent who has had your unsolicited submission for a while?
Basically, no. You’ll be adding to their bursting Inbox. Let them know you have an offer from another when you do. That’s all the nudging that makes sense.


*Should you send the latest revision to all the agents who have yet to reply to your unsolicited submission, since you made changes you are excited about?
Basically, no. Unless the changes are vast and make a story unrecognizable, you will be making changes many times after feedback and spontaneous brainstorms. No agent is thrilled to know you sent him or her something that you hadn’t already vetted and polished before approaching them.


*Should you mention to an agent that you got another’s full request?
Basically, no. A full request shows interest, but most do not lead to offers. Only offers are possibly relevant to an agent.


*Should you mention how much another much-lauded writer praised the manuscript at a critique session? How much your critique group loved it?
Certainly not. And don’t mention your kids’ approval or your mother’s, if you’re lucky enough to have such a family.


The thing is, unsolicited queries require only one thing—

that you wait patiently, keep querying others, and don’t reveal your inner fretting as you move forward to, hopefully, an offer you are happy to accept.


And after that, it’s your agent who gets to wait on editors’ responses.



Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The FUTURE?


The other day, a writing friend said it was hard for him to write to an unknown future.

I offered that the future, by definition, is unknown.

“But with all that is going on, it’s hard to plan,” he said.

True.

My suggestion, which is also what I do, is plan anyway.

There’s a paraphrasing of an old Islamic Hadith, said by Martin Luther King Jr., “Even if I knew the world is going to end tomorrow, I would plant a tree."

Works for me.

What does this mean in real life context? I’m writing, while making sure we have enough toilet paper for the next who-knows-what. I can’t plan for every shortage, so if the next one will center on hairnets, tea or open-toe sandals, I may not have a sufficient stash. But I will have toilet paper, and also writing paper, and enough sense to know that there’s never a better time to plant a tree.

Onwards.



Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Last Few Months


A writer friend reminded me that as different as these last few months have been, for many of us they were more the same as the pre-pandemic world.


Because books are books, and stories are stories, and the things that matter are very much the same.


But the publishing world is trying to access what is different, not what is as before. As they do so, those of us who want to be published are swinging in the breeze of changing winds.




To that end, I’d love to hear from others. Have you found that you are reading/watching differently? Have your book-buying habits changed? If you could rule the publishing world, what do you wish you could find on virtual shelves?


Maybe the most surprising thing, for me, is that at the height of the rapid closures and public tension I found it hard to focus on reading or writing original stories. But shortly after, (shortly here means about eight weeks) the ability to be a reader and also a writer returned with aplomb. What about you?


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Facebook Friendships et al


Most of my Facebook friends are colleagues, and most are not people I have met in real life. I especially enjoy the artists/illustrators posting their wonderful work and the kid-lit writers who post well-worded witty status reports. I know of them, but this is not the same as knowing them.


Facebook has been a miraculous connector to people from my past, half a world away. It’s been the most convenient way to message my kiddos, also half a world away. Maybe 20% of my Facebook friends are people I have met outside of the virtual space, and I designated them as “close friends” per Facebook lingo, as opposed to “Acquaintances.”


I get friend requests almost every day. It used to be enough that we had many friends in common (always kid-lit related) and I could find something about them on the internet to verify they were the real deal. But I have learned that isn’t enough, through some less than positive experiences.


So, if you want to friend someone, may I suggest that –

A.    You have a photo of your face (not a flower or your dog) as your profile picture
B.     You make sure to have a banner photo, not a black hole, and hopefully your banner is personal
C.     You are not selling “Author Services” or “Life Coaching,” because this is essentially spam even if you are a real person doing this one friend request click at a time. I’m not arguing with colleague friends who approve these sorts of friend-requests, (as I can see on the request that we have hundreds of friends in common) but it’s not for me, thank you


Otherwise, I look and carefully approve individuals who in some way may contribute to the life of my Facebook community, and I love hearing about the many blessing (as well as join in the struggles) shared on the site. 
I have come to value what Facebook offers.


P.S. The banner^ is a screenshot of the old "classic" Facebook formatting, which I prefer for not putting my face at the center. Alas, like everyone else, we've been switched to the new and improved (?πŸ™€?) header. But this will serve as a memorial to what was 😿

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Replacing the Handshake


Or—
New Etiquette for the New World

A pandemic caused us to behave differently while wondering which or what of the old ways we may keep. One of the first things to go was the handshake.


You know, that thing the ancient Greeks developed to show an approaching stranger you are not armed and can be trusted. That thing young people had to practice so they can do well on job interviews. Firm, but not too firm. Spirited, without being too energetic as to cause a concussion. There you go, just right.


Apparently, it isn’t anymore. Neither is the elbow bump, that touching of the very place we’re instructed to cough into. The Far East’s light head-bow with hand on one’s heart (I always found this elegant and touching) is one fine new way.


There’s also new etiquette for virtual gatherings, a la Zoom and such. There’s new etiquette for how to walk on the street. Hence, there are new requirements for storytelling. Movies shot before look downright historic.


It’s hard to know how much will stick with humanity for the longer run. But considering how long we’ve kept the handshake, (well after the knife-in-hand lost its prevalence) it’s likely we’ll have a few new etiquette rules added to our collective vocabulary.


A friend made the observation that in her childhood she used to ask her mother why grandma saved every piece of string.
“Grandma lived through the Great Depression,” her mom explained.
Someday, our grandkids will ask why Grandma wipes grocery bags with bleach, and our kids would explain that we lived through the Great Pandemic.


Storytellers are watching, and everyone is learning.



Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Writers’ Conferences


Or
Writers and Conferences


I wrote this post *just* before COVID-19 blasted the four corners of the earth, and all conferencing went virtual. I put the post on the back burner, thinking I may or may not post it shortly/later/never.
I decided that, although it chimes positively anachronistic at the moment, it's also positive to think of in-person conferences as something we'll get to experience again. Some of the points I made could apply to virtual conferences, which are ongoing.


My personal experience of conferences for writers is limited. I’ve attended two, and presented in one. I’m no maven. If you want the most comprehensive guide to such, check this link from the best go-to guide, posted shortly before the SCBWI Winter conference in New York City. This yearly event is mammothian (just made up this word πŸ˜‰) but there are many much smaller and more manageable gatherings for the uninitiated.  Jane Friedman tells all in the most helpful way, as always.


But my post is about a personal experience at the first regional conference I attended. Take it as a cautionary tale, or just a funny story if you find the image of someone slipping on a banana peel hilarious.


I was not a complete newbie, and I already knew that conferences are not the place to shove one’s manuscript into the hand of a pleasantly conversing agent or editor. Outside of pitching sessions specifically designated for it, it is bad form to push one’s work when not asked.


Even if I hadn’t known this, (from talking with very experienced writers) common sense would have prevented me from doing something as unthinkable as sliding a manuscript under a bathroom stall where a professional is relieving herself. I heard of such horrors and couldn’t believe a civilized person would do something like that, but it seems every conference brings back some stories that amount to this sort of conduct.


I’m also a shy person who does her best to compensate by being friendly. I smile a lot in a room full of strangers when our eyes meet. Maybe too much, but it’s a coping mechanism that occasionally manages to help not only me, but also the person I smiled at.


So on that lovely fall day, right after the registrants completed a check-in, a bunch of us strangers stood outside the main conference room awkwardly smiling. That was when I spotted a heavy-set young woman who looked incredibly unhappy, coming out of the rest room. I hadn’t seen a single person in that hallway that looked as miserable. She looked like she was about to cry and then pass out.


My empathetic (and also shy) nature immediately felt like asking her if she was okay. Instead, when we made eye contact, I smiled and said, “Hi!”
My over-friendly tone was genuine; here was another soul feeling much more awkward than I. Poor thing.


If looks could kill, the look I got back from her would have.


Boy-oh-boy, I thought. This one is one to stay away from.


Only moments later, at the Welcome address, I saw my would-be-killer on the stage. She was the keynote speaker and the big-five editor many came to hear.


I did an internal silent face-palm. So this is who that was, I thought. How was I supposed to know? I never googled the speakers so I would recognize them on sight.
That very moment I realized she thought I was one of those pesky folks who ambush an editor as she comes out of the bathroom. As in, my next move right after the “hi” was to shove something into her hand.


So to Jane Friedman’s excellent post I would add— don’t do as I did then. When we get to gather again, remember that such coziness was never welcomed even in halcyon days, pre-pandemic.

In addition to researching the speakers, make sure to google the speakers with images so you recognize them ahead of time, and if you see any of them coming out of the bathroom, look away. πŸ˜”


©Joann Mannix 2012


Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Ghosting in Fiction and Life


Ghost (verb, to ghost someone) = the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.

Has anyone ever ghosted you? For that matter, have you ever ghosted anyone?


It’s happened to me (twice) although I have never done it to anyone. I’ve broken all communication with someone only once, but with a clear explanation. Having a friend or colleague disappear in the midst of an enthusiastic and close friendship is distressing, and despite re-establishing communication later and assurances that it was nothing I had done, it’s never the same.


Ghosting is apparently a standard feature of casual dating. I wouldn’t know, because I never dated casually. Increasingly, it’s a feature of the writing world’s business practices. Agents or critique partners disappearing into the ether after a flow of communication, and then, without a word--- nothing.* I haven’t had that, either, and I hope never to find myself in such a situation. I sure wouldn’t do this to anyone.
*There are closed/secret writerly Facebook groups I belong to, where lists of professionals who have ghosted their own clients are shared. Sadly, not as rare as I wish it were.


 I was thinking about how breaks of close relationships are depicted in fiction, and it’s always dramatic. A speech, an outburst, maybe even violence, and “we’re done.” A clear demarcation for all to see. But how would ghosting appear in a fictional story? It’s the anti-drama, the no-sound/no-word/no-action event. Much more challenging to write and yet, to anyone who’s experienced ghosting, it is a dragged out wrenching life event. It’s worthy of a writer’s challenge.


So this is where I’m at, writerly-wise. All advice or venerable literary examples welcome.