Mid-Week Field Notes–May 25, 2022

Field Notes

Some very quick things:

  1. Final Stretch! Comments on my dissertation have now come in on from all three readers. A diverse set of comments. I hope to get the next iteration of the dissertation out very soon. The title is now “Family, Survival, and Hope: The Persistence of Resistance and Rescue in North American Children’s Holocaust Literature, 1940-2020.”
  2. I’ll be presenting a version of the dissertation at the Association of Jewish Libraries conference on June 27.
  3. I attended the meeting of the Amherst Writers & Artists Northeast Chapter over the weekend where the focus was on turning memoir into fiction. We were given certain situations and we had to use an object from our writing desks. My object was a collage of my great-grandmother. My situation was a 75-year-old man unpacking in a Paris hotel. What fun this was! I haven’t written fiction prose in a while and now I can recall how much I like it.
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#52snapshots 2022 | Week 20 — What You Saw

This week’s snapshot prompt asks us to write about what we saw that we cannot unsee. I wrote about the time when my son was six, already diagnosed with ADHD, and we attended a Cub Scout picnic in the nearby park. Soon after we arrived, we saw a woman beating her toddler with either a ruler or a stick. The poor kid screamed and cried. My son said, “Mom, you have to do something.” He knew what it felt like to be hit like that. His father did it to him, and the abuse to both my baby and me catalyzed my divorce.

I approached the Cub Scout leader, easily found since he wore the classic khaki uniform. He refused to do anything, even though this abuse was in plain sight.

I took my son in hand and we went to my car in the lot. Because I worked in the cellular division of AT&T–this was the early 1990s–I had a cell phone. It was larger than a blackboard eraser. I called the police.

They came quickly and apprehended the woman. She screamed out, “Who did this? Who called the police?” My son and I looked at each other and agreed: now was a good time to leave. I admit I was afraid the woman would seek us out in retaliation.

I lost any respect for the Cub Scouts that day. We never knew what happened to the woman or the child. But we felt good that we had taken action. Mostly, I was proud of my son for standing up against abuse, even as a six-year-old.

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Mid-Week Field Notes–May 18, 2022

Field Notes

Some very quick things:

  1. I’m thinking about what I want to write in the future. Should I continue to write kidlit or go strictly adult literary? Do I continue to write novels in verse or maybe try a graphic novel? Or just stick with prose? Does anyone else struggle with this?
  2. I didn’t get into a US Holocaust Memorial Museum alumni fellowship program and the Bergen-Belsen Perpetrator Summer School didn’t have a sufficient number of applicants for 2022, so this frees up my July to whip my current work-in-progress into shape. The manuscript is due to the editor in October.
  3. There’s still room in the Amherst Writers & Artists Write Around the World campaign to Writing the Past with me on May 26, 7-9 pm ET. If that doesn’t interest you, check the whole schedule and donate to a social justice initiative.
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#52snapshots 2022 | Week 19, What You Hang Onto

Week 19 asks about what we hung onto in our past and what we hang onto now. An immediate image emerged in my mind’s eye: a teddy bear pin with googly eyes that a neighbor gave me for my fifth birthday in 1962. Even though its brown belly fell off one day, I still keep it in my jewelry box. It has no real monetary value. But it’s cute and fun and brings me back to our Clinton Avenue Camelot of the Sixties when the street’s kids, mostly Jewish, played kickball in the street until dark, collected lightning bugs in Mason jars, spit watermelon pits everywhere, and gave theater productions organized by the neighbor who gave me the pin. It was a time when our families were intact, and the future offered so many possibilities.

The teddy bear pin I’ve held dear since my fifth birthday

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Mid-Week Field Notes–May 11, 2022

Field Notes

Some very quick things:

  1. May is Jewish American Heritage Month. Many museums and other institutions are offering in-person and virtual events.
  2. I wrote about my maternal grandparents’ ketubah over the weekend. Many years ago, when I began my genealogical pursuit, my aunt gave it to me in an envelope. It was in small, torn pieces. I still haven’t put it together, but at least I put it in an archival-safe sleeve. What family documents might you have that could spark some writing?
  3. My biographical/novel in verse, Ethel’s Song, debuts on September 13, I’m working on publicity deliverables with my publicist and publisher.
  4. I thought I would engage in poetry revision this month, but I’m going to push it out until July when I think I have more “mindspace.”
  5. The summer is filled with conferences and workshops. I’m presenting at two conferences and was accepted into a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum faculty seminar (virtual) and the Kenyon Review Poetry Workshop (virtual). I’m also teaching an online summer course at the community college. What are your summer plans?
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#52snapshots 2022 | Week 18, What Future Did You Imagine for Yourself?

The prompt for Week 18 involves writing about what you really loved with two options. Option 1: Think about the objects and information you amassed as a child and make a list of your obsessions, interests, and hobbies. Write about one of them. Later make a list of what obsesses you now and explore the connections between the two. Option 2: What career or future did you imagine for yourself based on your interests?

I went with Option 2, and I surprised myself by how much I wrote about my desire to become a fashion designer. Especially during high school and after college I examined the amount of time and dedication I gave to the craft. Every holiday I sewed. Every weekend I sewed. It was how I expressed myself. I gave it up in 1983, after earning my MBA and getting a relatively high-paying job at AT&T.

Some examples of my sewing projects, including dresses, gowns, pants, blouses, and bathing suit

I also constantly wonder about whether I should have heeded my guidance counselor’s advice to apply to and attend New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology. I considered myself too intellectual to make a success of that, but still I wonder.

This prompt is a rich one, as I think about other interests I developed. I was an avid stamp collector as a kid, going to stamp shows with my father. In college, I developed a weird fascination with vampires and actor Christopher Lee who often portrayed Dracula in Hammer Films. I amassed an eclectic collection of books about vampires. Fortunately, this interest faded as quickly as it emerged. I also had and still have a fascination with movies, especially movies of the 1930s and 1940s. Any one of these interests could spark its own essay.

What future did you imagine for yourself? What fascinated you as a kid?

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Mid-Week Field Notes–May 4, 2022

Field Notes

Some very quick things:

  1. There’s still room in my May 26 Writing the Past session! Amherst Writers & Artists dedicates the month of May to its Write Around the World fundraiser. For as little as a $10 donation, writers can choose from among dozens of opportunities to write with others around the world to timed prompts. See the event schedule.
  2. The May issue of my free newsletter, Writing the Past, featured an interview with memoirist Sue William Silverman. Next month I feature an interview with memoirist and family history author Rebecca McClanahan. Go to my website and sign up to subscribe. Each issue also comes with a photo prompt.
  3. Last Sunday my four-week course, “Crafting Stories from Your Family History,” began at JewishGen. In July/August, I will be offering another four-week course about writing family history at the Adult School of Montclair (New Jersey). Both courses are virtual through Zoom.
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#52snapshots 2022 | Week 17, We’re All Survivors of Something

This week requires making a list of what we’ve survived and to write about one of them. I couldn’t really get beyond what I’ve survived. My list ranges from the physical–scarlet fever, bacterial meningitis, cancer, and badly-behaving parathyroid glands and gall bladder–to bad bosses and teachers, classmate and colleague criticisms–too young, too old, too tall, too fat, too Jewish, too smart, too stupid. I also included the deaths of my parents, poor choice of a spouse and overall poor decisions. I survived my own naivete and ignorance. The inability of people or their lack of interest to tell the difference between me and my twin sister.

I don’t know that I would actually want to write about any one of these, except perhaps junior high gym class when the gym teacher would look away when it was my turn at the gymnastic equipment. I could manage the balance beam just fine, but the horse was a whole other matter. Maybe when the semester ends I’ll write about this, because I can still visualize the Lincoln School gym and the teacher, her hair tied back in a pony tail, rolling her eyes.

My worst Junior High nightmare

What have you survived?

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Mid-Week Field Notes–April 27, 2022

Field Notes

Some very quick things:

  1. More evidence arrived in the last week cementing my need to engage in revising my poetry. I’m devoting time in May to that. But good news! Amherst Writers & Artists literary magazine, Peregrine, accepted a short nonfiction piece.
  2. Amherst Writers & Artists dedicates the month of May to its Write Around the World fundraiser. For as little as a $10 donation, writers can choose from among dozens of opportunities to write with others around the world to timed prompts. I’m donating my time to leading three sessions focused on writing the past. See the event schedule.
  3. There’s still time to register for the JewishGen course, Crafting Stories from Your Family History. We meet on four consecutive Sundays (May 1, 8, 15, and 22) from 11 am to 1 pm ET via Zoom. For more information and to register, click here.
  4. Looking for a productivity tool? Since January, I’ve been using Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner system. Though a bit pricey, it helps me keep all the flotsam and jetsam of my life organized. What I like best, I think, is that the planner provides space to set annual, quarterly, and weekly goals as well as to reflect on what’s working, what isn’t, what you should start/stop/continue/improve. Hence my self-direction toward poetry revision.
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Living Links | Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors Share Family Testimony

There’s still time to register for the Yom Hashoah webinar featuring two third-generation Holocaust survivors–Avi Wisnia and Leon Geyer–whose lives and missions have been shaped by their grandparents.

To register, click here.

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