One Key to Writing Success: Ask Yourself This Question

The City Council of West Des Moines, Iowa, gave the delegation from Mateh Asher, Western Galilee the key to the city.  Yep, I now have a key to West Des Moines!

The City Council of West Des Moines, Iowa, gave the delegation from Mateh Asher, Western Galilee the key to the city. Yep, I now have a key to West Des Moines!

The other day I spoke to a woman who told me she wrote a creative non-fiction essay for the first time in her life. Francesca was now trying to get it published in wide-circulation magazines and was getting a lot of rejections. “What should I do?” she asked me.

“Well, you have to ask yourself this key question,” I told her. “What’s more important to you: re-writing the essay to fit the needs of the magazine or writing the essay just for you?”

Francesca hesitated. Then she said she wanted to publish it as it is.

Well, that’s the answer that everyone wants to hear but that rarely happens.

When you write, ask yourself: what’s more important? To publish the essay, which means that you’ll need to do a lot of studying of magazines and what they print, or simply reap the joy from writing the essay?

Both answers are correct. Neither answer is wrong. But you can’t write an essay or a story or an article and want a magazine or newspaper to print it if it doesn’t meet their editorial needs.

Every magazine has a style. If you want to publish a piece in Commentary, let’s say, you need to look at what the editors want. They don’t publish cartoons. They don’t publish articles on fashion. They don’t publish articles on kale chips. They publish serious –how else can I put this? – commentary. And short stories.

So, Francesca has a choice. As writers, we all do. We can decide to write for ourselves and enjoy the process of writing, or we can study the market and then write the piece to fit its needs.

Let’s say you want to write a story for The New Yorker. Go to the magazine and look at the stories. Take Margaret Atwood’s brilliant story, “Stone Mattress.” The first sentence reads: “At the outset Verna had not intended to kill anyone.” Now, as an exercise, write a story using that sentence as your first sentence. (But change Verna to Stevie or Charlotte.) Set your timer for as long as you think you can sit and write uninterruptus. Let’s say, thirty minutes. Get pen and paper ready. (Or computer but that’s harder for this kind of exercise.) On your mark, get set, go. Write and write and write. Don’t stop to correct. Don’t stop to think. Let your muse do the thinking for you.

Then stop and put it away. When you have time again, start from where you left off and keep going. You will have a different story then Atwood’s. (You will also have to get rid of that first sentence.)

If you’re dreaming of writing an article for The Wall Street Journal, study their style. In an oped piece, you need an opening sentence stating your position, two or three points, and a closing argument. You need less than 700 words. You need to get to the point. You need to say something that nobody else has said. “Paid Maternity Leave is Good for Business,” claims Susan Wojcicki. “I was Google’s first employee to go on maternity leave…” She had a point to make and she made it.

The key to writing success is to ask yourself, What do you really want? Then decide, what am I going to do about it?

This rule also applies to life. We have to look at the situation we’re facing. We might not like it. But we need to accept it and then decide what we want to do about it.

Posted in Acceptance, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

1 Thanksgiving Message From Karen Casey: There is No Such Thing As Bad Luck. Only Lessons to Move Us Forward.

Author KAREN CASEY

Author KAREN CASEY

Diana Bletter: Today I welcome Karen Casey, author of Each Day a New Beginning, A Woman’s Spirit, Let Go Now, and more than a dozen books on spirituality. I have cherished my dog-eared, torn, ripped, scribbled-on copy of Each Day a New Beginning which my sister gave me in 1983. Karen, you wrote that book anonymously and I never thought I’d get to find out who you were. In it, you wrote, “Please accept each day’s meditation as an offering of my hand to you.” Over the years, I have felt your guiding presence and I thank you now. You have passed on to me so much strength. Had you written anything before you wrote that first book?

Karen Casey: I had loved writing as a child. And I had written a 300 page dissertation for my Ph.D. But no other books. I did discover in graduate school, before getting sober, that writing was a transformative experience for me. I loved writing every paper I was assigned to write. I never fretted over them. Words seemed to flow. It’s hard to explain.

Diana Bletter: One of the tools you write about is detachment. This is such a challenging concept for some people because we’re raised to believe that being selfish was a bad thing. You write that detachment “allows us to live our own journey and respect the journey of others too, embracing the knowledge that our greatest gift to one another is to let one another ‘go’ to learn what they are here to learn without out our interference.” It seems like a habit we have to unlearn. What are some tools people can use to practice detaching?

Karen Casey: In regards to detachment, it’s a mindset that must be developed. When one comes to believe that letting others go is an act of love, it becomes easy. I always tell people I work with to practice “stepping aside,” both literally and figuratively. Adjusting to the gift of powerlessness, which is another way of thinking about detachment, makes it a sought-after quality. It truly is the mindset I most favor.

Diana Bletter: Your book, Cultivating Hope, explores how, “amidst personal tragedy and the turmoil of world events, many of us struggle to sustain a sense of hope…” Can you give us an example of one principle that helps people develop a positive outlook?

Karen Casey: My own spirituality developed over time, of course. I listened to others. I read what worked for others and I grew in my belief that every event was intentional and God inspired. I chose to believe this. Believing in God and the perfect journey is far easier than not believing it. My desire for a peaceful life makes my choices pretty easy. I won’t lie and say I live in a state of constant peace, but I always know that when I’m in a state of dis-ease, it’s because I’m in someone else’s business. As one of my Al-Anon buddies says, “there’s two kinds of business: my business and none of my business.” The spiritual state of my life is directly the result of my silliness to let others live THEIR JOURNEY.

Diana Bletter: I love how you write that you will “never be done writing or speaking or connecting with each one of you in whatever way I can. So even though we may never meet in person, connecting here is a way we can both feel the presence of God.” This is such a powerful concept. I know you helped me when you wrote the following: “Our higher power will help us do whatever task lies before us. And no task will be ours except those for which we’ve been readied. Our job is simply to go forth, taking God as our partner, and set about completing the task.” I can’t tell you how many times I repeated these sentences to myself before I had to do something scary – including riding my motorcycle to Alaska. Those words became my prayer. Can you explore your concept of spirituality?

Karen Casey: A positive outlook is first and foremost a decision, I think. Personally, I have believed for many years that everything that happens is designed for our ultimate well-being. I also believe that all experiences are the follow-through of the “sacred contracts” we made with other souls before being born into these lives we are living. I want to be clear that before recovery I didn’t believe this. In fact, prior to recovery I lived in a perpetual state of poor me. Hope is a guarantee if we choose to believe that nothing is simply coincidence. And that there is no such thing as bad luck. There are just lessons that move us forward.

Diana Bletter: Finally, this blog explores how we live and write our best chapter. I remind myself that I need to take care of myself in the Big Four each day: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. What are some of the ways you take care of yourself each day?

Karen Casey: I’m committed to exercise. I’m committed to eating healthy. But first and foremost, I’m committed to my spiritual life. I am part of a conference call every morning with a group of women. We share a spiritual reading and discuss what it means to us. I also read a spiritual text with my husband every morning. We discuss what it means to us too. Having a spiritual direction every morning is key to my positive state of mind. And most days I do some writing on a book, my blog or plans for a future activity. I need structure and my spiritual activities offer that structure. Thank you!

Check out Karen Casey’s books and the posts on her blog. She has so many sentences that seem effortless and yet are so plump with meaning. Here’s one I came across the other day that I’ll end with:

How we were never kept us from becoming who we wanted to be. This truth continues to reign in our lives.

Posted in Acceptance, being a hero in your own life, detachment, Gratitude, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Judge a Book By Its Cover: My Novel, A Remarkable Kindness

A REMARKABLE KINDNESS

A REMARKABLE KINDNESS

I posted the book jacket of A REMARKABLE KINDNESS on my FB page but now present it here. Can you tell a book by its cover? Doesn’t this cover make you want to dive right in?

The work of this designer at HarperCollins has exceeded my wildest expectations. I fell in love with it right away, including the font and white lettering.

And, I am also posting the 90-second trailer for the novel. Like a movie trailer, it’s supposed to spike your curiosity, explain a bit about the novel, and convince you to go right to amazon and pre-order the book. Watch the trailer here:

I know it’s wee bit early to start promoting the book but it’s like a pregnancy, nine months away, and I figure I can make a few announcements. Since self-publishing The Mom Who Took Off On Her Motorcycle, I’ve learned nobody else ain’t gonna do nuthin’ fer ya. (Does a triple negative make it only a negative?) So I’m trying to get the word out.

A Remarkable Kindness. It’s not just a novel about four American women who are members of a burial circle in a small beach village in northern Israel. It’s the idea of doing a remarkable act of kindness for someone else. Pass it on.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

The Tin Horse Author Janice Steinberg’s Rule #1 On Writing: Go Toward What Scares You

Writer Janice Steinberg

Writer Janice Steinberg

I’d like to welcome novelist Janice Steinberg whose novel, The Tin Horse, (Random House) has been translated in four languages with Portuguese and Japanese in the works.

Diana Bletter: How did you move from writing as an arts journalist to writing mysteries and then The Tin Horse, which in a way, is a mystery about two sisters?

Janice Steinberg: I’ve always done both novels and arts journalism, in various combinations depending on what doors were opening for me … or slamming shut. In 1993, I sold a mystery to Berkley, and I focused on mysteries through a five-book series. Then I wrote a thriller. It was my big breakout book! Alas, my agent couldn’t sell it. At a certain point, I was so heartbroken, I thought, okay, universe, what do you want me to do next? A few days later, I got a call from a friend at the San Diego Union-Tribune, saying they needed a dance writer. That led to several years of arts journalism and teaching—novel writing at UC-San Diego extension and dance criticism at San Diego State University. Eventually, I missed the immersive experience of working on a novel. I’d been carrying an idea about a marginal character in the detective classic The Big Sleep. I wanted to tell her story, but didn’t know if I could do it. Even though the idea came from a mystery—and, as the story took shape, there was a mystery element in the missing sister—I realized it had be a much more character-driven novel than I’d ever done. That was terrifying! Which led to Rule #1 of my “Seven Rules to Write By:” “Go toward what scares you.”

Diana Bletter: Who are your favorite writers and how have they influenced you?

Janice Steinberg: I had favorite authors when I was younger—Colette, Virginia Woolf, Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, Adrienne Rich—all of whom had, I think, a similar profound influence: They helped me believe in the importance of women’s stories and women’s voices. These days, I don’t think in terms of favorite authors. Rather, there are books that grab me so much that I go back and reread: The Madonnas of Leningrad, an exquisite book about memory and imagination by Debra Dean; See Under: Love, Israeli author David Grossman’s novel about the impossibility of writing a Holocaust novel which succeeds in being a wrenching, poetic Holocaust novel; The River Midnight, Lillian Nattel’s magical realist novel set in an Eastern European shtetl. The book I see reverberating most in the novel I’m writing now is one I reread because the first time, I didn’t get what all the fuss was about: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. On a second read, I was awed by the psychological complexity.

Diana Bletter: New Yorkers know about early nineteenth-century Jewish life on the Lower East Side. The Tin Horse introduced me to life in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. How did you stumble upon setting your story there?

Janice Steinberg: It really was a stumble, a very happy one. I just wanted to tell the story of this marginal character in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, a woman described as having “the fine-drawn face of an intelligent Jewess.” So I started by knowing she was Jewish and living in Los Angeles in 1939, when The Big Sleep was published. I did research to figure out where in L.A. she would have lived, and discovered Boyle Heights, a neighborhood directly east of downtown that, in the 1920s and 30s, was a rich center for Jewish culture—kosher delis and butchers, synagogues, Yiddish and workers’ societies, a bar where gangster Mickey Cohen hung out, etc. I got hugely lucky in that the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California had done an oral history project. I was able to listen to people’s memories, some of which sparked major incidents in the book—for instance, a woman talked about going to her first day of school, holding her mother’s hand. The mother, an immigrant, had never learned to read, and her hand was trembling because she was terrified of being exposed as illiterate. That story inspired my chapter about Elaine’s and Barbara’s first day of school.

Diana Bletter: What are you working on now?

Janice Steinberg: I’m about 200 pages into a novel about a three-generational California Jewish family. It opens with a 50th birthday party for Aaron, a divorced computer nerd who fears he’s drifting into a sad, lonely old age. Then, at the party, he meets the woman of his dreams. There’s just one problem. It turns out she’s there as his father’s date. Things get more complicated and juicy from there.

Diana Bletter: Finally, my blog talks about making this the best chapter of our lives. What are the things you do on a daily basis to make this your best chapter?

Janice Steinberg: When I sit at my desk each day, before I start to write, I listen to five minutes of affirmations that were customized for me when I was facing the thrill and scariness of having The Tin Horse published and stepping onto a larger public stage. And a source of great joy is my practice of Nia, a body-mind-spirit technique that draws on dance, martial arts, and healing arts. I trained to teach Nia six years ago, working with principles designed to increase my awareness and pleasure in living in this body.

Thank you, Janice! I will definitely remember your words, “Okay, universe, what do you want me to do next?”

Find out more about The Tin Horse, Boyle Heights and Janice’s writing here.

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Six Lessons I Learned from a Dead Bird

wild life dead bird

I sat down to eat my breakfast the other day and promptly heard a boom against the window. I looked and saw a bird conked out on the pavement. The bird must have hit the window, conked its head, and now lay SPLAT right there in front of me, on its back.

It twitched its legs.

Besides that, it did not move.

I was about to eat my yogurt-and-granola peacefully but it seemed that the Universe had a lesson to teach me about dying.

I am a member of my village’s hevra kadisha, the burial circle, so I’m used to seeing a woman in the stillness after death. But I didn’t want to witness this poor bird’s twitching. I did not want to see those final moments before death. I thought, OK, what’s the lesson? Life is so unpredictable, short and fragile. We have to appreciate each moment. We have to find compassion for all creatures. We have to remember our own mortality. And we have to accept what we cannot change.

Got the lesson, I thought. I prayed for the little bird’s soul and its passage to the next life. I wanted to give it some privacy so I went back to eating my breakfast.

Then I felt bad for casually eating while the bird was dying, DYING, so I looked again. And—huh? The bird had popped up while I wasn’t looking. It was standing and looking around as if nothing had happened. Ha!

So what were the next lessons?

We can’t save anyone else. We can love them and pray for them but we sometimes have to sit back and let them either nap or struggle (I’m not sure which) until they can get back on their own two feet.

We don’t know the truth about anyone else. We don’t know what’s really going on in anyone else’s life. Sometimes we think someome is struggling and we can’t bear the discomfort of watching them. We want to jump in and save them. But if I had approached the bird, I might have hurt it more than I could have helped.

Finally, we can’t give up before the miracle. Just when we think it is all over, something amazing could happen. That bird was the hero of its own life story.

wildlife live bird

Posted in Being a Hero In Your Life | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Andria Williams’ Debut Novel: The Longest Night

Debut Novelist Andria Williams

Debut Novelist Andria Williams

I’m happy to welcome Andria Williams, who just sold her debut novel, The Longest Night, to Random House. The sale of her novel (originally called The Falls) and the sale of my novel, A Remarkable Kindness (originally called The Women’s Burial Circle) were announced in Publisher’s Marketplace on the same day. Andria then contacted me and we agreed to interview each other. Andria hosts the Military Spouse Book Review, a polished, literary blog which not only features reviews of books, interviews, and poems but also insights into running a house when a spouse has been deployed. Without further ado:

Diana Bletter: You just sold your debut novel, The Longest Night, to Random House. Congratulations! That is wonderful! Can you tell us about the book and how you got the idea for it?

Andria Williams: The Longest Night is set in Idaho Falls, Idaho, in 1959. A young Army nuclear specialist named Paul has just come into town with his wife Nat and their two daughters. Paul’s hoping to lay low and just take things day by day, working on a small training reactor out in the desert, but he and Nat soon become entangled with his no-good boss and the boss’s scheming wife. Pressures only build as Paul realizes that the reactor is failing and his boss has no plans to do anything about it. He’s also begun to fear that his true-blue Nat might be falling for another man. Something’s got to give for him, but whether it’s his marriage, his career, or his safety, I’m not gonna tell. The story culminates with the only fatal nuclear reactor accident in U.S. history, on January 3rd, 1961. 

I guess if anyone asked me what the novel’s about I’d say it’s about a marriage, Paul’s and Nat’s, and the effect that distance and jealousy can have on two people who started out quite in love.

As for where I got the idea: I first read about the fatal nuclear reactor accident in Idaho Falls years ago, while doing research for another, now-abandoned novel. The story always stuck with me. I was intrigued by the setting, the cast of characters, the time period. It was far enough in the past that I felt comfortable maneuvering it as fiction, but near enough that I could imagine it.

Diana Bletter: When and why did you start writing?

Andria Williams: I started writing The Longest Night about three and a half years ago. I’d written all my life, but after having children, I stopped writing for the first time. I almost didn’t feel justified in carving out the time for myself, partly because I’d never made a penny off of writing. It took me a while to find my way back into it. When I started allowing myself to imagine these characters, Nat and Paul and the rest, it was so much fun, it was such a relief, like finding out I was still in there somehow.

 I had two little kids and not much free time; my husband’s military career means that we have a pretty traditional division of labor. I wake up early with the kids and I put them to bed at night, and by that time I’m pretty zonked. Writing after the kids went to bed wasn’t going to work. So, like a lot of writers who have kids, I just started setting my alarm clock a little earlier each morning. First fifteen minutes, then thirty, until I worked myself up to waking about two hours before my original six-thirty. At times, I thought: I’ll never write a novel this way; some people make a career out of it — how can I accomplish this in a handful of minutes a day? But it was like compound interest. It grew and grew almost on its own. At the end of the year I somehow had a big fat stack of 400 pages: I had a novel. I sat there and stared at it and thought, Well, damn!

 It was worth the effort even if no one ever saw it but me. Every part of my life felt even happier and better and illuminated by the little imaginary world I’d carved out in my mind.

Diana Bletter: How did you find your literary agent? What are some suggestions you would give to beginning writers?

Andria Williams: I found my agent the old-fashioned way: I just sent out a bunch of “cold” queries to agencies that represented literary fiction, fiction set in the American West, and so forth. A lot of agencies responded with a quick “no, thanks” but others said, “Sure, I’ll take a look at this thing, whatever it is, you strangely enthusiastic woman.” So that was exhilarating, to get past that first barrier. I’d been holed up in my house with little kids for years – even getting a rejection letter made me feel like I was participating in the world of letters.

 Eventually, one agent stood out to me as being the most interested in what I was writing, and just “getting” what I was trying to do. The only catch was that she was the newest hire at her agency and hadn’t been made a full agent yet. But her responses to my novel were so genuine and smart that I decided I was going to hang in there for a year or so and see if my luck panned out with her. I pulled my manuscript from the couple of contests I’d entered it in and just waited, and all the while she was sending me revision suggestions and I was just hustlin’ like crazy to get them back to her and make the novel as good as it could be. By the time she was made an agent, my novel was much improved from its initial state, and so when she showed it to some other agents they agreed that she should take me on, and that’s how I nosed my way in there.

 My suggestions for finding an agent would be: Write a strong query letter and get your first 30 pages as good as they can be; don’t worry if you don’t have “connections” in the industry, because if someone sees and likes what you’re writing they’ll make sure they get in touch with you; and don’t start out by querying the top agent at the industry. The agents who’ve been there longest have full client lists, but the newer agents might still have some wiggle room.

 Diana Bletter: You run the Military Spouse Book Review Blog. Why did you start this? How do you think your involvement in the military impacts your writing?

Andria Williams: All those first years I was a military spouse, I didn’t know of any other military spouses who wrote. I hadn’t even met many who liked to read the same stuff I did, but that’s probably my own fault for not asking enough people.

Then I met another mil spouse who was as crazy about books as I was, and we started a two-woman book club. We were very dedicated. We read a book a month and even though she usually steamrolled me and chose Latin-American literary-history-romance-type stuff because she was from Mexico, I was more than happy to go along with this. We met for Mexican food and drank margaritas and talked about a lot of Isabel Allende.

Long story short: I thought it would be fun to start a blog for the military spouses out there who love books, a place where they can write about what they’ve read, see what other mil spouses are reading, and explore some of the recent literature that might be of particular interest to us as members of military families. And then I thought, This should be a spot for all women connected to the military, including veterans. It turns out that female veterans are reading and writing a lot, and I get contacted by veterans at least as often as I do by military spouses. I love it.

So much of our daily life is taking care of kids or supporting our spouses – it’s all worthwhile, but maybe not too intellectual, and I wanted a place where we could come and think. Just read and write and think.

Diana Bletter: Finally. My blog talks about making this the best chapter of our lives. What are the things you do on a daily basis to make this your best chapter?

 Andria Williams: I try to not ever take anything for granted, I try to stop and enjoy the little moments in the day that make me feel good – and even if it kills me, I never, ever miss a day of writing.

Thanks so much, Andria. Now the only problem is that I have to wait until Spring 2016 for the book to be published. It’s one huge fat baby but I bet it will be worth the wait. I’ll have more information on Andria down the road. 

Meanwhile, for those who are curious, Andria’s agent is Sylvie Greenberg at Fletcher & Company LLC. Ms. Greenberg is looking for “strong writing and powerful stories; her taste in fiction leans toward the literary, and she is interested in a wide range of non-fiction topics, including business, sports, humor, science, memoir and history.” More information here.

 

Posted in Writers, Writing, Your Best Chapter | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Jewish Book Carnival: October 2014 Edition

Hear ye, hear ye. Step right up to the October 2014 Jewish Book Carnival, where www.thebestchapter.com is happy to host. This is a monthly event for those who cover Jewish books online to “meet, read, and comment on one another’s posts.” The posts are hosted on a participant’s site on the 15th of each month.

Ladies and gentlemen, here are links to wonderful sites, in the chronological order in which I received the notices.

Batya Medad covers a magical adventure book based on the Bible.

Over at Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod’s blog, she explores how she “ended up writing a Bible story for kids (and why you might, too).”

The newest episode of The Book of Life podcast, hosted by librarian Heidi Estrin, features three live interviews from Book Expo America with representatives from Charlesbridge (Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice McGinty), Image Comics (Noah by Darren Aronofsky), and Dundurn (Fields of Exile by Dr. Nora Gold, and Stealing Time by Anne Dublin) about their forthcoming Jewish titles for kids and adults. You can hear the podcast online here.

Anna Levine has recently begun a new website here. The website links reviews and recommendations of Jewish picture books for children with activities for educators of young children. These last few months, Ms. Levine has been looking at children’s books for the High Holidays. The site is not restricted to the newest books but also to old favorites–with “hopes that we can make the old seem new again.”

Children’s book author, Barbara Bietz, shares her link about Jewish books for kids.

In October, Jill Broderick at Rhapsody in Books reviewed The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff.  This is a story about an 18-year-old Polish girl in 1940 who falls in love with an injured American Jewish intelligence officer.  Broderick writes, “The author nicely weaves a bit of background into the story about what happened in World War II to both Jews and non-Jews in Poland, as well as providing some insights into Polish anti-Semitism.”

Sandra Bornstein has written about several Jewish authors and their books on her website, as well as favoriting picture books for Sukkot.

On My Machberet, Erika Dreifus spotlights Ronna Wineberg’s new novel On Bittersweet Place. Erika writes: “In the pages of Ronna Wineberg’sOn Bittersweet Place, one finds echoes of Anzia Yezierska and Betty Smith; in the fictional story of Lena Czernitski’s immigrant family in the first quarter of the 20th century the reader recovers a piece of our larger American history.”

And, The Fig Tree Books blog joins the Carnival with an exciting announcement about a project FTB has launched. They’re looking for smart, enthusiastic readers to write about specific fiction titles that evoke and engage with American Jewish experience. (And they pay their reviewers.) Please be sure to read the detailed overview and query guidelines.

Over at the Behrman House Blog, there’s an post on “ My Kids are My Best Testers.” And, on “Reinforcing Your Expectations for a Respectful Learning Environment Today.

AtKathe Pinchuck’s blog, Life Is Like a Library, Pinchuck looks at From Foe to Friend, a graphic novel by Shay Charka using three of S.Y. Agnon’s stories.

Thank you to all of the participants! Please visit the linked posts and share your comments and responses.

Finally, here at www.thebestchapter.com, I’m taking votes on the following question:

What is your favorite Jewish book? And ten extra points if you can answer: What makes a book Jewish? Is Daniel Deronda a Jewish book because it has a Jewish character? Is The Sun Also Rises an anti-Jewish book because of its portrayal of Robert Cohn, called “the morose Jew”? Does the same answer apply to Huckleberry Finn? Feel free to comment!

Thank you,

Diana Bletter, Author of the forthcoming novel, A Remarkable Kindness, (HarperCollins, August 2015)

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When We Don’t Always Know What’s Best for Us.

In my last blog post, I wrote about looking for spiritual lessons in difficult situations. I wrote about trying my hardest with my step-son, Izzy, to find a way to reach him. I’d made a conscious decision to love him without expecting anything in return. And the miracle was that our relationship grew and now it’s quite strong.

After I posted the blog, Izzy told me, “It was so hard in the beginning for me to share my Dad with the other four kids—and my older sister. But now, when anyone asks me, I always say I have two brothers and three sisters. I’m really proud of that.”

Shlomie always complained that Libi bossed them around when they were younger. Libi thought Shlomie was really annoying.

Shlomie always complained that Libi bossed them around when they were younger. Libi thought Shlomie was really annoying.

They fought hard back then. ‘Twas challenging. We’d burn rubber getting out of our driveway just to calm the three boys down because they were fighting in the back seat. (I’d look in the rear-view mirror and see legs and fists flying.) If you had told Izzy then, down the road you’ll appreciate this big family, he would not have believed it.

We don’t always know what’s best for us.

As I wrote, sometimes our hardest lessons are our best teachers. Sometimes things we think are awful turn out to be wonderful.

Sometimes it takes us years to figure out why something happened, why the puzzle pieces fit into place.

In the tent

In the tent

If you look at the photo of all of us in our tent—we were camping in a lovely place called Horshat Tal in northern Israel—you can see how Izzy is clinging to his Dad (Jonny’s) neck. It was definitely tough for him to go from being the youngest child sharing his father with only his big sister, Libi, to having four new step-siblings all younger than him and vying for his attention.

But if we try to look at all our problems as a chance to learn lessons for our spirit, then we can grow. And we have to remember not to step in when people we love are suffering. We don’t want to deprive them of the lessons they need to learn.

It takes time to figure things out. Sometimes it takes years until the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Sometimes we never know the why. All we can do is try our best to muddle through and hope that eventually we will understand things in a different way.

At the kitchen table, reenacted a few years later. Back row, Libi, with Eyal, her son who's now two, Amalia, Ari, Libby with Abigail, Izzy and Shlomie.

At the kitchen table, reenacted a few years later. Back row, Libi, with Eyal, her son who’s now two, Amalia, Ari, Libby with Abigail, Izzy and Shlomie.

 

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New Twist on the Old Serenity Prayer.

Your toughest experience can be your best lesson.

I learned this when my husband, Jonny, and I combined our six children—three boys and three girls all under the age of eleven—into one blended family.

I had the hardest time with my stepson who, at the time, had serious ear infections causing partial deafness and serious ADHD. I really tried hard with him. I prayed that I could use the challenge as a lesson in my spiritual journey.

What’s the spiritual lesson? I kept asking myself. What can you learn? And oh, I kept praying that I’d find it.

A few years into our relationship, after making a lot of effort, things startedgetting better with my stepson, whom I nicknamed Izzy. That was when I met a woman who had just become a step-mom to two boys, one of whom she didn’t get along with. I shared my experience with Izzy and told her that I hoped she could look for the spiritual things she could learn about herself. She said, “Oh, I’m not spiritual at all…we just don’t get along and that’s that.”

It’s been about ten years since that conversation. Her relationship with her stepson got worse. My relationship with Izzy has only gotten better. We had our rough spots but I looked for things I could do to improve things within myself. Like being more patient, being a better listener, doing things that he liked and not things I necessarily liked, and loving unconditionally, without any guarantee I’d get anything back in return. I had to learn to be less me to be more me. To be the best me I could be. I learned to make sure I was taking care of myself and that way I could take care of him.

If someone had asked me at first, I would have wanted to change him. But I learned of course the twist on the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the courage to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know it’s ME.”

The toughest challenge turns into the best lesson.  Izzy and me.

The toughest challenge turns into the best lesson. Izzy and me.

So there you have it. True love now grows when we’re willing to just give it out. We can do the things we have to do with grace and love by being grateful for all we have. It’s a miracle because we can make a conscious decision to love. We really can. 

Posted in Acceptance, How to Change Your Life, People, Relationships, Transformation | Tagged , , , , | 15 Comments

Tool For Tuesday: Even in the Midst of War, Celebrate Life. Photos of a Henna Ceremony in Israel

Even in the midst of war, celebrate life.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Especially in the midst of war.

A lot of Islamic terrorists boast that they will win against the West because they celebrate death and we celebrate life. As if that’s something to be proud of.

Glorifying death is not the point of living. Let’s celebrate life. No matter where you are and how bad things are. Life is so short and death is forever. So in the midst of all the terrible tragedies, life goes on. It has to. It must.

Only a few days after the Hamas-Israel War ended, we attended a henna ceremony for our friends’ daughter who’s about to get married. Which is why I’m dressed like that in the photo above.

Lee & Ofri at the start of their Henna Ceremony. They don't usually dress like this.

Lee & Ofri at the start of their Henna Ceremony. They don’t usually dress like this.

Henna ceremonies are still popular among Jews from Morocco and Yemen, as well as in communities in India and many other Arab communities. The ceremony, where henna is applied in beautiful designs on the hands and gifts are exchanged, has its origins in the Bible.

Henna by Sienna designs

Henna by Sienna designs

Often henna was applied to the skin to celebrate different rites of passage. (I got information on this from Henna by Sienna.)

The groom’s family is from Morocco

The groom's father and uncles

The groom’s father and uncles

and even though the bride’s family is originally from Eastern Europe, everyone joined in to celebrate.

The ceremony was held a week before the wedding. Close friends and family came to the bridegroom’s house. There was Moroccan food and desserts.

Jonnyand I weren’t going to put on these

traditional Moroccan clothes but then we said, we gotta do it. We can’t sit on the sidelines of life. So there you have it.

This is what Jonny and I would have looked like if we weren't born in New York or New Jersey. But, alas, we were. Notice how I've got instant full body. Why is that? It looks like I have half the buffet table under my gown.

This is what Jonny and I would have looked like if we weren’t born in New York or New Jersey. But, alas, we were. Notice how I’ve got instant full body. Why is that? It looks like I have half the buffet table under my gown.

 Meanwhile, we still have to celebrate. No matter what our situation is, we can find one thing to listen to, see, smell or touch to make it better. We can find someone who’s hurting and try to lift their spirits. We can do a small act of kindness anonymously.

No matter what. Despite everything. Or, because of everything.

At the ceremony, everyone got dressed in Moroccan clothes. The women lit candles and carried trays of sweets. 

The bride's mother

The bride’s mother

The crowd carried the bride and groom in a special chair.

The bride.

The bride.

And then the two families exchanged gifts and sweets.

Why is this a Tool for Tuesday? Because it proves that life is what we make it. I’m still working for peace and praying that there won’t be any more wars and hoping against hope that dialogue in the Middle East is still possible.

Gotta keep choosing life. 

Exchanging sweets and gifts.

Exchanging sweets and gifts.

Posted in Tool For Tuesday | Tagged | 6 Comments