Monday, April 28, 2014

Open Mouth.....

Having posted the blog tour blog, I wasn’t going to write a regular edition, but changed my mind. There is something I want to get off this rather considerable chest.

Every so often, there are moments of transcendence. One can never plan to have one, be in the same room as one, or have so much of an inkling one is about to happen, but one happened yesterday and it came all the way from Asia. It was a simple statement made in response to the kind of news we seem to be having a whole lot of lately.

President Obama, when asked about the Donald Sterling/Clippers debacle, said simply:
When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don’t have to do anything, you just let them talk.

Mark Twain
That will go down as one of the most brilliant, astute commentaries on modern life. It will become a meme. People will truck it out the way they truck out other famous stupidity quotes like:
"Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience."        

Albert Einstein
"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."  
Forrest Gump

"Stupid is as stupid does."   

See, there’s this entire cottage industry centered around the collection of offensive statements by random Americans. Just google Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Scott Walker, or Michele Bachmann. You'll find all sorts of hideously offensive stuff masquerading as cogent political thought. 

Seems we have a whole lot more people opening their mouths to allow all manner of dumb to fall out. Just last week  Cliven Bundy was auditioning for poster child. Alas, Donald Sterling has trumped even him.

Donald Sterling already had a dicey reputation as a racist, but the NAACP was about to give him a lifetime achievement award for his generosity on behalf of young people at risk. Kinda reminded me of that urban legend about the kiddie show host who said, “That oughta hold the little bastards.” While that was debunked long ago, these days, microphones are left on and we get to hear all sorts of unscripted things. Donald Sterling might now hold the record for the broadest range of offensive remarks in a single recording.

But here’s the thing: the President is so spot on here. If you suspect someone is a hater of any stripe and want to know how truly heinous their opinions are, engage them in an friendly conversation. Truly stupid people have no ability to self-edit. They will happily explain their homophobic/racist/anti-Semitic theories in sotto voce,  assured that you will be joining up with them right away. Or, as George Bernard Shaw's best dustman proclaimed, "I'm willing to tell you. I'm wanting to tell you. I'm waiting to tell you." In fact, just like Alfred P. Doolittle, you won't be able to shut them up either.

I digress. Let's go back to Donald Sterling and the LA Clippers. Pro sports has been compared to slavery but with the slaves getting lots and lots of money. The players may have a union, but they are fundamentally gladiators bought, sold, and traded at the owner's whim. Therefore, it should come as no surprise when an owner sounds like the master from down on the plantation. After all, he has, as Mr. Sterling pointed out, given his players "food, and clothes, and cars, and houses." Just like the master. I suppose he also thinks they should be grateful. .....

While most sentient human beings see this as a problem, the system does not look to be changing any time soon, but change it will....eventually...when the teams start being owned by more former players and coaches....people who understand how flawed the system is, and who might be able to change it. 

Yes, Donald Sterling is a grotesque caricature; he is a gargoyle...but he is not uncommon. When we talk about the 2%'ers and the wage equity gap, there is your living proof that it's not always about the amount of money. It's about the power that amount of money can wield. As rich as many of the players are, as much as some of them manage to fall into the top 5%, it's not enough to give them power. The money gives them flash and some transitory prestige, but it does not open the doors that need to be opened to participate in the upper crust. If it did, Magic Johnson would be a Republican.  

Next time you shell out for a big ticket sports event, remember that. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Pro sports fans are not born; they are created by mass media. 

The Writing Process Blog Tour ~ or I'm not the only one and here's proof

Today’s episode is part of a blog post relay which focuses on both the writer and the writing process.  Rebecca Kanner, author of SINNERS AND THE SEA, graciously invited me to be a part of this virtual tour. To be honest, I was thrilled to be included!

I am supposed to answer the following  questions….and no, they have nothing to do with why this night is different from any other night.

Question #1: What am I working on?

At the moment, I have three disparate projects going on. My mother would probably say I have shpilkes; I prefer to think of it as a variety of deep interests.

1.  This blog, The Wifely Person Speaks, is really the biggest things on the boards right now. Believe it or not, it ain’t easy. Even though I publish only once a week, I must go through three or four “what if” versions before I finally decide on the final one. 

2.  Although I had a contract with a publisher for DREAM DANCER, I have withdrawn it at this time, but I hope to sign with a new publisher very soon. It's been a long road for this book, but I am optimistic it will land in the right place. You can read the opening on the blog site; just click the link above. 

3.   Midrash, a kind of biblical commentary, has been my fun writing for some time. I do have a blog, MIDRASH STATE OF MIND, where I have posted several of those commentaries. Right now, I am focused on the transition from Genesis to Exodus. The stories of Joseph and Moses are endlessly fascinating and I am deep in research for that transitional period. 

 Question #2:  How does my work differ from others of its genre?

It’s all mine and that makes it unique. But the three genres do differ.

1.  The blog is all me. It’s not a mommy blog nor a widow blog, it’s just a POV blog. It’s my take on the world, so that makes it different. Other than death threats and threats of bodily harm, I welcome all comments, and to date, everyone, even the haters, get a response from me. It’s worth mentioning that one of my very early critics who wrote terrible things is now one of my best correspondents.  Our politics remain polar opposite, but we do have similar taste in film.

2.  When I wrote  DREAM DANCER, I thought I was writing lust in the dust. Turned out, I was writing neo-feminist action adventure literature. I was told this by editors at several large publishing houses who said lovely things about the book...and all said, this is a book whose time has not come. Hang on to it; it will. Well, I think the time is now. 

3.  Midrash is an attempt to explain that which is not written. I am acutely aware that the bible is written about people whose time does not resemble our own, yet I find they have much in common with us in the 21st century. They had families, people they loved, people they trusted and didn’t trust. When I write between their lines, I am mindful of the period in which they lived, yet I want the things that bind us to be the focus. What I love most are the strings that link us to them, and how their lives parallel ours. Human emotion has not changed too much over the last 5,000 years …give or take a few millennia. That just fascinates me. 

Question #3: Why do I write what I do?

Peel  an onion and you get a thousand layers. Peel back the public persona and you get an endless spiral of contradiction….and that is an exploratory adventure! My job as a story teller is to expose the spiral and imbue it with some semblance of sense. Whether it’s the blog or the novel or a midrash, my ultimate goal is to expose the readers to something they’ve not seen before, provide them with new information, and leave them wanting more. (That must be the show person in me. I suppose.)

Writing is breathing; I could not function without it. Entranced by word choice, I love the linguistic structure of language and how every individual strings sentences together in a unique way. They are fingerprints of the brain. And I do love picking brains whenever I get the chance!

Question #4: How does your writing process work?

My process begins with listening for that first tiny voice of a character whose story needs to be told.

where I write
Characters do live in my head. From the moment one whispers, “Have I got  story for you!” they sit on my shoulder, whispering their tales into my inner ear. They become real in many, many ways. They have opinions and preferences, good habits and bad ones, but they are always there.  I learn to listen not just to their stories, but how the story is told. Writing emerges from listening. In my process, they go hand-in-hand, and I cannot separate one from the other. 

Being self-competitive, I would go batty if I decided on a set number of words or so many hours in the chair per day. Instead, I go for whether or not I have gotten from point A to point B...and if I am satisfied with that progress. Of course, some days are better than others.....

And now, I must pass the torch to three other writers, all of whom I greatly admire: Jenna Zark, Sean Murphy, and Steve Artley. Jenna and Sean will be posting their answers next Monday, May 5th.

Jenna ‘s plays have been produced at Circle Repertory Company, Illusion Theater, History Theatre, Minnesota Jewish Theatre, Blank Slate and elsewhere. After her play A Body of Water debuted at Circle Repertory, it was published by Dramatists Play Service and selected by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture as a play that “breaks new ground.” Jenna's new novel The Beat on Ruby's Street focuses on a young Beat girl in Greenwich Village in 1958 and can be found at The book has a terrific companion site, Beat Street Blog. Jenna is also a member of the Twin Cities musical theater collective Prosody. 

Sean, on the other hand, is a speculative fiction writer who explores ideas of identity and the rough edges of how we define reality. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he is also a long-distance runner, photographer, singer, and is a member of Wyrdsmiths, the Twin Cities-based professional writers' group. His blog, Mental Chaff, is a window into his brain.

Although Steve Artley is not able to fully participate at this time, a trip to ArtleyToons Online is more than worth the click. Steve is a wonderful editorial cartoonist and now, the author of a new graphic anthology, The Aphelion Arc.  I am a great devotee of his cartoons and as I write this, I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of my very own copy of TAA. Do pop over to both sites; you won't be sorry.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Well, this was the week that wasn't. I took all of Passover off from work, so technically I'm still on holiday until Wednesday morning. One can never call this a vacation....this is 21 home cooked meals, preceded and ended with massive amounts of cleaning and box shlepping. Sometimes I wonder why I just don't take the week after Passover off, because I'm usually too exhausted to function on the days immediately following the holiday.

Passover is an interesting holiday, filled with lots of symbols and family gatherings and all sorts of similar stuff. It's also the holiday most closely tied to the old blood libel tales....the ones that accused Jews of kidnapping and slaughtering Christian babies so their blood could be used to make matzah. Blood libel was used to spur the pogroms in Czarist Russia in the areas within the Pale where Jews were permitted to settle. That area included much of LithuaniaBelarusPolandMoldovaUkraine, as well as parts of western Russia. Most of my family is from that region, so I grew up hearing a lot about pogroms, hiding from the Ukrainians, and the random destruction of entire shtetls, the little villages where Jews were required to live. 

So when Jews were handed leaflets as they emerged from synagogue last week, the text was not exactly a surprise. We'd heard it all before. This time, however, there is mass and instant media and I could not wrap my arms around the idea that some government would actually announce they were rounding up Jews. In fact, I responded to the first email I got on the topic with "Need to see more about what's really happening."

Let's be real clear: I was not dismissing the report. I just wasn't buying it, even when Secretary of State Kerry made his announcement. It just sounded too weird...and like a schoolyard double dare. 

Well, to date, no one has taken responsibility for what was ostensibly a political provocation kind of hoax. That said, there is plenty to talk about in the incident.

First: Soviet style propaganda machines still work. Whether or not the Russian separatists were behind the notices remains to be seen. Whoever did it must have found an old copy of Disinformation! The Best of The KGB. This makes one wonder about how far things have really progressed in the former Soviet Union is this stuff is effective. 

Second: Jews are still seen as vulnerable. The Ukrainian Jews were pretty sure it wasn't real, but it went viral anyway, with all sorts of people making all sorts of statements, some of which were not so veiled threats. This was a clear win for the leafleteers. It got a big giant, negative exposure on the world stage for free. 

Third: The instant news cycle is not our friend: No matter what the intent, the viral nature of the instant news cycle encourages conclusion jumping and the vitriol that comes with it. I keep thinking about all those jokes about itchy fingers on "the button." 

It's impossible to turn back the clock to a time where deliberation preceded print. No one is about to give up breaking newsflashes and the twenty-four-second news cycle. But just because it's available, it does not mean we have to believe everything we read. We still have to be able to distinguish between news and baloney, between fact and spin, between information and manipulation. In other words, we need to remember how to read. We need to stop, look, and listen.


You don't always find just rumor and innuendo when you stop, look, and listen. Sometimes, you find real news that has gone unreported by the the NY TIMES, CNN, or NBC. You find out that 250 miles southeast of Kiev, in Zaporizhia, the Gimyat Rosa Synagogue was firebombed on Saturday night, February 22nd...and on this past Saturday night, the main synagogue in Nikolayev in southern Ukraine was also firebombed. You can watch the bomber in action in the video clip posted at The Jewish Press

How many of you, dear Readers, knew about either of those?

So here's the thing: Ukrainian Jews are being used as political pawns and we all know pawns are the most expendable pieces on the chess board. Both sides view the Jews as a way to bring down world ire on one side or the other. They are a small enough population with the country but have large, vocal support from outside.  I am afraid this may only be the beginning. 

And so to end...I've got ten minutes to post this before I light candles for the last two days of yom tov....holy days. Chag same'ach to those who observe...and last minute wishes for a happy Easter to you folks on the other side of the fence. 

Wifely Person Tip o'the Week
Vet, verify, and get the facts straight. 
Going off half-cocked on any topic does more damage than good. 
In other words, be sure you know your stuff. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Value of Cottage Cheese

Last year, it was TempTee whipped cream cheese. This year it's Breakstone's cottage cheese. 


So I will make cottage cheese. I've done it before. it's not a seriously big deal. But can someone explain to me why Jews gouge other Jews for keeping kosher....more especially kosher for Pesach? I mean really? Do we not have lawyers who would love to start a class action suit in a beit din for predatory Pesach pricing? Folks, where is the outrage? Where is the bruning* Anger, Wrath, Indignation, Trouble, and the Messengers of Evil to avenge we who practically have to toivel our entire kitchen annually only to be ripped off at the grocery store? 

And just as I was getting up a good head of steam on the topic, some nutball reportedly yelling "Heil Hitler" shot people at The Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and at Shalom Village Senior Living Center. Murdered in the parking lot of the J were Dr. William Lewis Corporon and his grandson Reat Griffin Underwood. Neither was Jewish; they went to the Methodist church nearby. The woman gunned down at Village Shalom has not been identified at this writing. 

How do I complain about cottage cheese when there are people out there still hunting Jews for sport? Or so it would seem since he was targeting Jewish communal centers. It's not like we're walking about with yellow stars pinned to our coats any more. Coming on the heels of the Nazi dinner party at Gasthof zur Gemutlichkeit here in Minneapolis, how can we even be surprised that stuff like this happens?

One of the really interesting aspects of Pesach are the commandments to remember. Remember, we were slaves in Egypt. Remember what the Eternal did for us. Remember the taste of tears. Remember the plagues in Egypt. Remember it all in this order (seder) so that no part is omitted.

As Jews, we spend a whole lotta time remembering stuff....not much of it very pleasant. There's an anti-hubris theme throughout the seder and the liturgy in general. The reminders are matter how comfortable you get in any place, remember you were strangers in the land of Egypt, and you are strangers here. 

A single nutball shouting "Heil, Hitler" as they're carting him off to jail is a pretty strong reminder. Ross "Doubt-That" Douthat writing week after week about how this nation should be running on Christian values only is a pretty strong reminder. The Jewish Agency recently reporting that 40% of all racist violence in France is targeted at Jews is a  pretty strong reminder. 

We never forget. We circle the wagons a little closer, and we watch each other's backs. We remain constantly vigilant lest we be caught being vulnerable. It's what we do. We are supposed to watch out for each other. As it is written:

כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה
All Israel is responsible one for another.

This does not stop at the edge of parking lots. It extends into the halls of the JCC, into the lobby of Village Shalom, over by the day school playground. The responsibility is pervasive and demanding. If we don't care for ourselves, who will? We make sure we are all safe. We make sure all our kids are safe. We do not abuse each other. We do not kill each other. We look out for those who may be in need. As it is written: "Let all who are hungry come and eat." 

Somewhere in there is the idea we should all eat kosher. But there is no comparing the value of cottage cheese and human life. Human life, so fragile yet so extraordinary, trumps everything. Health takes precedence over every observance. Watching out for each other is a package's all about all of it. You don't get to choose which parts. 

Watching out for each other is not voluntary; it is neither midrash nor minhag. It is halacha

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
There are 7 weeks between Passover and Shavuot, 7 weeks of counting the omer.
While you're counting the omer, count something else of importance along with it. 

* Bonus Note *
*For the real old timers who remember the original Gutstein & Goldberg...there were wonderful typos in the text. Some of them have gone on to become treasured family memories. One of those gems is BRUNING ANGER. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

One of the more interesting (at least to me) aspects of being a widow is that you have no one to blame but yourself. I mean, you’re making decisions about stuff on your own and you get to own the outcomes. All by yourself.

So when the opportunity presented itself to submit DREAM DANCER to a local publisher, I grabbed it. I knew the publisher a little, I knew what was sold under her imprint, and I figured I had nothing to lose.

Except time.

It took her a full year to decide to publish the book. I signed the contract three days before my 60th birthday. I knew there would be work to do, because technology had changed since I wrote the book in the late 90s. Would I leave it where it was, or would I edit to include cell phones and Wi-Fi? I was anxious to begin and was looking forward to the process. I even announced it here.

And I was anxious to begin work.

Then I was still anxious to begin work.

And then I was worried because the work was not started.

My publisher decided to edit DREAM DANCER herself. And still the work was not started.

Publishing late 2013 became early 2014. Publishing in early 2014 became mid 2014. Mid 2014 became later in the year. No pub date was ever set, no edits, no move towards galleys. Each time I asked the question, I was assured all was well.

Well, all was apparently not well. To the best of my knowledge, work on DREAM DANCER was never started. After almost three years of waiting for something to happen, I think it's time to stop waiting.

Therefore, it’s with great sadness that I announce I have withdrawn DREAM DANCER from my publisher. It is an amicable parting of the ways, and for that I am glad. 

As for what happens now, I don’t know. It’s a good book….or so I’ve been told. It’s an action/adventure kinda romp. I thought I was writing lust in the dust, but it turned out to be something more than that. It was fun to write, and I hear it’s fun to read. I am open to suggestions as to what to do next. Honestly, I don’t have a clue.

Meanwhile, this blog goes on. And on. And on.

If you are a literary agent….or even play one on TV, let me know. I could sure use a good agent right about now.

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week 
Elphaba says: No good deed goes unpunished.
Remember that. It's not merely important....
It's true.