Mid-Week Field Notes–September 28, 2022

Field Notes

Some very quick things:

  • Today is Ethel Rosenberg‘s birthday. She was born in 1915.
  • Now that we’re about to enter the last quarter of 2022, I’m beginning to think about goals for this quarter and for 2023. I wonder who out there among you The Whole Megillah readers sets goals.
  • My Writing the Past–News and Views about Writing Family History and Memoir–will go out on October 1. It features an interview with memoirist Edvige Giunta. If you haven’t yet signed up for your free subscription, please do.

Happy 5783!

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#52snapshots 2022 | Week 38–Natural Resources in Your Region

This week requires a list of natural resources near where you’ve lived or in your region. I chose to write about the flora and fauna in my neighborhood, starting with the plants and trees on our property: pink rhododendrons that flanked the porch, red rose bushes that groped their way along our neighbor’s garage, wisteria like soft blue cabbages that lined the storm cellar boundaries, and the big oak tree below the brick retaining wall. Its leaves grazed the windows of the front bedrooms. Its acorns scattered across our slate landing (now gone) like bags and bags of jacks. The oak tree is gone now. Maybe its roots upended too many concrete blocks of sidewalk.

The neighbor across the street had an elm tree, but it was on the property itself and not on the curb. The house next to it had a mimosa tree whose leaves curled up at night to sleep. Farther down the block, some house had a Japanese maple. The block above us had a horse chestnut tree and now I wonder whether Chestnut Street had any chestnut trees and whether Maple Street had maples, Beech Street any beech trees, Elm Street any elms, Hickory Street any hickory trees. I doubt Forest Street ever had a forest except in Lenni Lenape times.

I will have to scan the real estate photo of our house from 1959.

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Mid-Week Field Notes–September 21, 2022

Field Notes

Some very quick things:

  • Here’s an interview with Deborah Kalb about my new book, Ethel’s Song: Ethel Rosenberg’s Life in Poems.
  • Are you watching the new PBS documentary, “The U.S. and the Holocaust?”
  • I have eight writing sessions this week. I love when prompts unearth events and places you haven’t thought of in years. I had forgotten, for instance, that my father had me tested to help me figure out what I should major in. I had forgotten how poorly I sewed until my persistence to learn and do kicked in and I become a master seamstress. I know many writers don’t believe in the power of prompts, but I would encourage you to try them. Just take a look at Sonja Livingston’s Fifty-Two Snapshots.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 5783! Happy New Year – L’shana tova!

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#52snapshots 2022 | Week 37–Where You Have Lived

This week requires a list of places we’ve lived and note the natural resources surrounding those places. I suppose I could have written about the Passaic River in Kearny, New Jersey or the Meadowlands when we still called them the swamps. But I chose to write about Jacob-Burckhardt-Strasse 35 in Konstanz, West Germany where I lived from September 1977 through June 1978 for my Junior Year Abroad program with Rutgers University.

I wrote about the “Bodensee,” Lake Constance, as a tourist attraction and kiosks with all sorts of snacks and my favorite “Spezi,” a combination of Fanta and Coke. I wrote about the bees and the spiders. But I dwelled on describing the attack of the sheep on the dorms one September Saturday afternoon. They nibbled on the falling foliage and played hide-and-go-seek under the stilts that held up the dorms. They smelled something fierce, awful fierce.

The sheep, who were led to the fields that separated the dorms and the University of Konstanz, represented the Old World. The university itself, founded in the 1960s as a center of social science, represented the modernist New World. It was blocky with blue conical art installations.

The University of Konstanz, Germany as it is today

Flipping through my photo albums from the time, I found one of the sheep. I wrote about them in my “Writing from and about Photographs” writing sessions using the Amherst Artists & Writers method. Now I can’t stop thinking about all my experiences that year, especially as a Jew in Germany. On Christmas Eve, one of my dorm mates asked, “Do you want to come to Christmas Mass?” I said, “No, I’m Jewish.” “Oh,” he said, “I didn’t think there were any left.”

I may decide to make writing a memoir about this year abroad a future book project.

Make a list of all the places you’ve lived, the actual street addresses. What natural resources were in the area of each? Now choose one and write about it.

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Mid-Week Field Notes–September 14, 2022

Field Notes

Some very quick things:

  • Ethel’s Song: Ethel Rosenberg’s Life in Poems officially went on sale yesterday! Starred review in School Library Journal. And, here’s an interview with Barbara Bietz at Jewish Books for Kids.
  • Poetica Publishing has published “Miss Emma Lazarus Enlightens the World,” the 2022 Miriam Rachimi Micro Chapbook Prize winner.
  • Revisions to make on my novel-in-verse work-in-progress manuscript. that’s due to my editor in early October. I know what I’ll be doing this weekend!
  • I had to clean out my office (the former living room) this week to get rid of a large “U”-shaped unit and make room for three new bookcases and a new desk. In the process, I found manuscripts of picture books and essays. I couldn’t throw them out. Maybe someday I’ll go on retreat and find ways to make these pieces work.

Have a good week, everybody!

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#52snapshots 2022 | Week 36–Where You Come From

This week calls for writing about where you come from–city/town, region, neighborhood. This is something I know a lot about since I authored four books about my northern New Jersey hometown (Images of America: Kearny, New Jersey; Kearny’s Immigrant Heritage; The Kearny Public Library and Its Town; and Legendary Locals of Kearny). But instead of writing a few paragraphs as instructed, I chose to write a poem with the anaphoric phrase, “I come from,” not unlike the George Ella Lyon poem so often used as writing prompt in schools and workshops.

I waxed poetic about the repurposed Schuyler estate property on which my block was built in 1925, Lenni Lenape land. I noted the industries that contributed to World War II and General Pershing’s visit to town to dedicate the World War I monument. I had to include the town’s heritage of British Isle immigrants whose descendants wore kilts and spats and squeezed “The Highland Fling” on bagpipes in the high school marching band. I would be remiss not to recall the Carnegie library. And above all, I had to highlight the town’s exit on the New Jersey Turnpike, 15W.

I took it down a notch to our house of white clapboard and either red or green trim, depending on my mother’s whim at the time, the brick stairs and stoops, and a porch perfect for playing jacks while it rained.

The Schuyler Mansion, “Fairlawn Manor” (Kearny Museum)

Where are you from?

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Mid-Week Field Notes–September 7, 2022

Field Notes

Some very quick things:

  • I have learned my lesson! I now type in generative writing sessions rather than handwrite in a notebook. The reason? It takes so many hours to type up the dozens of poems for my novels in verse. I’m working on a proposal for a new one, and during COVID, I must have written more than a hundred poems for it in three notebooks. The good news is that I’ve already generated a lot of content. Whether I keep it is another matter.
  • I will be giving a reading from Ethel’s Song: Ethel Rosenberg’s Life in Poems at a book birthday Zoom launch with my alma mater, the Vermont College of Fine Arts, on October 19, 8 pm ET. Stay tuned!
  • I’ll be offering two free workshops for people who have not written with me in my workshops. One is Writing from and about Photographs, Tuesday, October 18, 7-9 pm ET, and the other is Writing Family History, Tuesday, October 25, 7-9 pm ET. If interested, please send an email to barbaradkrasner(at)gmail(dot)com.
  • I am thinking of occasionally blogging on The Whole Megillah about my pursuit of family history, since it often inspires my writing. If you think this would be a good idea, please comment below.

Have a good week, everybody!

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#52snapshots 2022 | Week 35–The School Cafeteria

In elementary school (Roosevelt School), everyone skipped home for lunch, even if that meant scarfing down a tuna sandwich in fifteen minutes, seeing who won Jeopardy with emcee Art Downs, and climbing the hill back to school. The only exception was on Thursdays, when my mother would be doing the weekly marketing at my father’s Shop-Rite and the house was too busy with food deliveries in preparation for the Sabbath. Thursdays we ate at Sid’s, just a block north from the school. We feasted on meatball sandwiches and candies like Red Hots, Pixie Stix.

My twin and I collected lunch money from our father during our two years at Lincoln Junior High to step across Kearny Avenue to eat at the Copper Kettle. I think we ate mostly hamburgers.

It’s strange. I can see the Kearny High School cafeteria in my mind’s eye–the original one built over the swimming pool on the first floor or the small one down the hall as well as the one that opened around 1973 when the new annex offered more space. But I don’t recall at all whether I bought my lunch or brown-bagged it. I do remember buying Drake’s cherry pies and Linden chocolate chip cookies. I remember my best friend’s mother sometimes making me tuna sandwiches with olives and olive oil on a Portuguese roll. During freshman year, I do know I brought cheese sandwiches on one slice of toasted Wonder cut straight through the middle to make two very thin slices of bread. I brought a Tab or Fresca.

Kearny High School (Classmates.com)

What are your school cafeteria memories?

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Mid-Week Field Notes–August 31, 2022

Field Notes

Some very quick things:

  • I’m PhinisheD! I graduated Sunday evening with my Ph.D. in Holocaust & Genocide Studies from Gratz College. The commencement ceremony was emotional, including a cantor-like rendition of Hatikvah. I’m dedicating part of Labor Day weekend to getting all the books used in my dissertation off the floor.
  • Ethel Rosenberg is in the house! I received my physical copies last week. Buffalo News called Ethel’s Song: Ethel Rosenberg’s Life in Poems a “fascinating work of historical fiction.” The book officially debuts on September 13.
  • My new novel in verse goes off to my agent in the next few days! Then I have gobs of handwritten pages to type up for yet another YA historical novel in verse.

Have a good week, everybody!

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#52snapshots 2022 | Week 34–Local Traditions

I admit I had a false start on this prompt. I originally read it as outdoor traditions, and well, my family rarely did anything outdoors. I re-read the prompt and realized it was about local traditions. Many of mine revolved around the shul, Congregation B’nai Israel of Kearny and North Arlington. I wrote about the Purim Carnival and the Hebrew National hot dogs we got on Memorial Day, my father proudly wearing his Jewish War Veterans cap, and I proudly wearing the crepe-paper poppy.

I also recalled our annual Christmas dinner at the Jade Fountain Restaurant where we were also sent the night before Pesach so my mother got us out of her hair while she changed the dishes and made overall preparations for Passover. It was likely we’d run into other Jewish families from the area. In the years we attended the Jewish Y camp, Nah-Jee-Wah, in Milford, PA, we attended the reunions at a roller-skating rink in Union.

On a secular level, sure, we attended some parades on Kearny Avenue, the July Fourth fireworks in the high school stadium with a great view of the New York City skyline. I suppose during high school years, I must have gone to some Thanksgiving football games against Nutley.

One important tradition my mother established with her sister and brother was to visit their parents’ graves in the Zaromber section of Montefiore Cemetery, just past the mausoleum of Rabbi Schneerson. I often drove my mother to her sister’s in Flushing to take part in this ritual, which turned into an all-day thing. It was a great opportunity back at my aunt’s after the cemetery to indulge in family history, surrounded by photographs of my grandparents, Max and Rose Perlman (aka Pryzant). The three Perlman siblings kept up this tradition for many years even when they could barely walk. It must have ended when my aunt developed Alzheimer’s. My mother never felt “right” unless she visited her parents’ graves. Her mother died in September, just before Labor Day; that must have given rise to selecting the Sunday of Labor Day weekend as the day for the ritual.

Max and Rose Perlman on their wedding day, 1918, New York City

Which local traditions will you write about?

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