Ten Things To Remember On Trust.

Here's total trust. That's Ari walking on a highline in Turkey. He's got a harness on. But still.

Here’s total trust. That’s Ari walking on a highline in Turkey. He’s got a harness on. But still.

Here’s a prayer on trust that my friend, Amy, wrote. She sent it to me and I modified it a bit for all of us.

I trust there is a plan even when I don’t know what it is.

I trust that the process is perfect no matter how it appears, and that my path is mine, no one else’s.

What is ultimately good for me can look bizarre but I still trust my journey.

I know that all is good–there are no mistakes.

I trust that I am watched over and that my heart is attached to G-d’s.

I need to remember that G-d smiles on me all the time.

I trust that whatever is completely overwhelming right now, whatever seems hopeless and wrong, will not last forever. At some point I will get a break; the right people will show up to enhance my journey and everyone and everything that is not for my highest good will drift away on their own.

I trust that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be today.

We came up with different acronyms. Mine is: Total Reliance on an Unknowable Real Thing. What’s yours for TRUST? Send ’em in.

And I hope that whatever you are going through today, you can trust that it’s what you need to learn an important spiritual lesson.

Look how tiny the people look down below. Then again, don't.

Look how tiny the people look down below. Then again, don’t.

Posted in Acceptance, living simply | Tagged , | 1 Comment

How to Keep Writing No Matter What: The Novelist Who Learned How to Beat Writer’s Block

How satisfied can one gal be? This is me getting my first look at the ARC OF ARK -- the Advanced Reader's Copy of A REMARKABLE KINDNESS.

How satisfied can one gal be? This is me getting my first look at the ARC OF ARK — the Advanced Reader’s Copy of A REMARKABLE KINDNESS.

This is a post for all those writers who want to give up. Don’t. No matter how long it takes, keep going.

I was so disappointed when the novel I now hold in my hands, A Remarkable Kindness, got rejected by more than a dozen publishing companies in 2006.

Because I was hurt and dejected and feeling a bit sorry for myself, I stuffed the novel in a drawer and refused to even think about it. Then, in 2013, I was at the Jewish Book Council promoting my memoir, The Mom Who Took Off On Her Motorcycle, and it hit me in one of those epiphanies (if it were a Hollywood movie, there would have been a bolt of lightning): REWRITE THAT NOVEL.

That was in the spring. I reworked it through the summer of 2013. Reworked is putting it mildly. I had to rewrite almost each sentence. I polished it the way a guy might polish his first car – with a toothbrush. I originally had the point of view be a third-person narrator. I decided to make each of my four main characters write in her own voice. I had to change every “she” to “I” and every “her” to “my.” Changing the point of view was important because I had to really get into each character’s head and see the world through her eyes. Would Lauren think in this kind of metaphor? What simile would Emily use?

Still, there were some days when I thought, this is crazy, what are you doing I did not have writer’s block – I had writer’s neighborhood. Why are you wasting your time? But then I told myself,

IF YOU GIVE UP, YOU WILL NEVER FORGIVE YOURSELF.

I felt like I was writing in a cave, scratching away at a dirty stone wall. But I kept going. When I was ready, I gave it to some trusted friends to read. Then I sent it out to literary agents. One kind agent told me that it’s really hard to get the voice right and the characters sounded too much alike. So, I rewrote it all again, changing every “I” back to “she” and every “my” back to “her.”

Can you see how tough this all was?

The first time around, my novel was called, The Dead Can Never Thank You. (My daughter, Amalia, said that it sounded like a ghost story.)  When I resubmitted it, I called it The Women’s Burial Circle, which sounded too much like an anthropologist’s look at a weird ritual in Papua, New Guinea.

Then I stumbled upon literary agent, Steven Chudney, who accepted the novel. Like an architect able to envision a house in his head, he was able to envision how the book should be. I reworked it again using his guidance. He sold it to Rachel Kahan at HarperCollins within a few months.

So, if you are reading this and feeling the blues because if you haven’t sold your novel yet, keep working. It took me a lot longer than I thought it would – about eighteen years longer – to sell my second book. But don’t smash your computer. Keep moving your fingers over the keyboard or (as in my case) using a trusty fountain pen.

Right before I opened the box containing A Remarkable Kindness.

Right before I opened the box containing A Remarkable Kindness.

If you’re stuck, here is one exercise you might try:

Write a story in which one character has a secret that she/he has to tell someone about. Begin right at the moment she or he tells the secret, and then work backwards. Here’s a sentence to start with:

“What do you mean, impossible?” I said. This is based on the sentence I used to start me writing my story, “One Kiss, One Baby, One God,” for Commentary Magazine.) You can mix it up:

“What do you mean, impossible?” my boss/my best friend/my lover/my son/my priest said…

Set your timer. Give yourself however long you think you can stand sitting and writing fast. Write as much as you can in thirty minutes, let’s say. Do this a little at a time and you will have a story. Then put it aside for a while. Take it out to show your ideal reader. Do not send it out to magazines until you have had it read and edited. Take your time. As Malcolm Gladwell says, we have to put in our 10,000 hours.

And remember – if we write to get approval and admiration, then we’ll always feel slightly dissatisfied. We have to write for the joy of writing, just for the pleasure and the abandon and the free-fall feeling we get putting words together. Approval is an inside job. We have to fill our own wells.

We have to do the thing that calls us.

My husband, Jonny, wrote me:

“It is yours; you did it. You NEVER gave up. You got knocked down but you got up. You have guts. When I think of the word perseverance, your name heads my list. You experienced ups and downs and near crises but diligently continued no matter how many rejection letters you received. I am sitting back enjoying your success – so well-deserved.”

Proving myself – to myself – is the best feeling around. So all I can say to you, keep going. I really believe that the universe supports our dreams.

Posted in A Remarkable Kindness, how to write, novels, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Arthur Ashe: Words of Wisdom on Living Simply.

Arthur Ashe

Arthur Ashe

When Arthur Ashe was asked, “Why did God have to select you for such a bad disease?”

He replied:“Fifty Million children started playing Tennis, 5 Million learnt to play Tennis, 500 000 learnt Professional Tennis, 50 Thousand came to Circuit, 5 Thousand reached the Grand Slam, 50 reached Wimbledon, 4 reached the Semifinals, 2 reached the Finals and when I was holding the cup in my hand, I never asked God “Why Me?”

So now that I’m in pain how can I ask God “Why Me?”

Happiness keeps you Sweet.Trials keeps you Strong. Sorrows keep you Human. Failure keeps you Humble. Success keeps you Glowing. But only, faith keeps you going.

Sometimes you are unsatisfied with your life, while many people in this world are dreaming of living your life.

A child on a farm sees a plane fly overhead & dreams of flying. But, a pilot on the plane sees the farmhouse & dreams of returning home. That’s life. Enjoy yours…

If wealth is the secret to happiness, then the rich should be dancing on the streets. But only poor kids do that.

If power ensures security, then VIPs should walk unguarded. But those who live simply, sleep soundly.

If beauty and fame bring ideal relationships, then celebrities should have the best marriages.

Live simply. Walk humbly and love genuinely.”

Sometimes we have trouble following Ashe’s suggetions. Sometimes just living our lives simply doesn’t seem so simple. Whaddya we do? Just for today, go to your own Six Senses Spa. Fill your life with treats for each of your six senses.

Look at something beautiful, listen to something beautiful, touch, smell, taste something beautiful for a treat. And lastly, pray something beautiful. Fill your own soul with a pray of thanks for things for which you can feel grateful.

Arthur Ashe said: “From what we get, we can make a living. From what we give, we can make a life.”

Posted in Arthur Ashe, Arthur Ashe quotes, living simply | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

3 Things You Can Do for Someone You Love (Besides Leave them Alone)

So, they want to go swimming in icy waters? Just let 'em.

So, they want to go swimming in icy waters? Just let ‘em.

Heard on the street about that difficult-to-define word, detachment.

DETACH.

Don’t Even Think About Changing Him/Her.

That is what detachment means. It’s either your business or none of your business. We can’t jump in and turn the screws in someone’s head. We can’t get them to see our point of view, and the harder we try, the more we make a mess of things. That’s when we need to detach. What does it mean?

We stop reacting to everything other people say.

We learn to answer in simple, almost banal language. The five great responses:

Mmmmm.

I’ll think about it.

You may be right.

Mmmmmm.

Oh. Oh? Ohhhhh.

One time my son Ari came running to me to tattle tale that his older brother did something.

“Ohhhh?” I said.

He said, “Yes, oh!”

It’s easier to detach from a stranger or an acquaintance; so much harder when it’s our loved one. But we need to remind ourselves that we can’t change ’em. As my southern friend, Elaine, used to say, “Just pray for them, honey.”

So that’s two. Detach and pray. The third thing you can do is remember that love means:

Letting Others Voluntarily Evolve.

We can love people and not try to change them. It’s up to them. As it says in the revised serenity prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know it’s me.

 

Letting Others Voluntarily Evolve.

We can love people and not try to change them. It’s up to them.

Posted in detachment | 11 Comments

Tool For Tuesday: What If This Is The Last Photo You’re Going to Take?

The Last Photo

The Last Photo

It’s very hard for most of us to really dive into the present and accept where we are right now.

Oh, maybe we want something more, better, newer, WARMER. (For those of you experiencing a blizzard!) More fun, more action, more youth, more more.

I put up this photo that my friend Janet took a few months before she died. She sent it to me and wrote, “Just enjoying each day and trying to stay serene and grateful for all that I’ve had in life.”

None of us knows when our last day on earth will be. But we do know that we’re all going to reach that exit door and have to walk out through it.

So let’s make the most of today. It’s all we have. It’s our own; it’s what we make of it. And it’s not going to last forever. Let’s try not to wait until our final hours to really live the lives we have been given. Let’s try to really feel grateful and present in our lives.

Tool For Tuesday: What if this is the last photo you take? What would you do differently?

Posted in Be Less You To Be More You, Being a Hero In Your Life, countering depression | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Anita Diamant: On The Red Tent, Writing, And Her Latest Novel, The Boston Girl

Photo by Gretje Fergeson

Photo by Gretje Ferguson

I am honored to welcome Anita Diamant whose novels include The Red Tent, Day After Night, and her latest, The Boston Girl.

Diana Bletter:  I admire the way you are able to write historical fiction in such a way that the reader feels immediately swooped into the time and place you’re writing. The Red Tent takes places in Biblical times; Day After Night takes place after the Shoah just before Israel was founded, and your latest novel, The Boston Girl, is set in pre-World War I Boston. How do you choose your time periods—or do they choose you? Some writers say they write and then fill in the historical details after the first draft. What about you?

Anita Diamant: I don’t choose a time or place, nor does a time or place “choose me.” My novels usually start with a story. I wrote Day After Night after I heard about the rescue of prisoners from the Atlit detention center in October of 1945. I knew nothing about it and it seemed like a story in need of telling. I came to write The Last Days of Dogtown  after reading a pamphlet about how the original settlement of Cape Ann (North of Boston) came to an end in the mid-1800s; and there were several names attached to that tale that also drew me in.

I begin by reading about a historical period so I have a basic sense of the concerns, slang, food, worldview of the period. I am not interested in becoming an expert but I do want to avoid any and all anachronisms. Once I begin writing, I circle back to fill in historical details.

Diana Bletter: The Red Tent was lyrical, almost like a woman-written midrash, and Addie Baum in The Boston Girl is downright funny, throwing out zingers like the one about her Shakespeare teacher, Mr. Boyer, who spoke as if “…every other word started with a capital letter.” Can you talk about finding the right voice in your work?  

Anita Diamant: I think I find the voice in the process of revising and revising and revising. Dinah, in The Red Tent, had to have a somewhat “elevated” tone – no slang – but nothing that would read “biblical,” which in English means the King James Version. Addie got funnier and looser in later drafts as I got clearer on who she was – which is to say, a pistol.

Diana Bletter: You’re the founder of Mayyim Hayyim, a community mikveh, ritual bath, and an important educational center. You’ve emphasized the idea that Jewish rituals give our lives meaning. Can you talk about how you chose to reclaim this ancient ritual and put a different spin on it?

Anita Diamant: While writing a book about conversion to Judaism, (Choosing a Jewish Life,) for research purposes I made several visits to the Boston area mikveh that was open for liberal conversions for only two hours a week. One day when I was there, I saw a line out the door. The Conservative movement had graduated a class from its program and brought everyone to the mikveh on the same day so a dozen men, women, and children spilled down the stairs and onto the walkway. In a way, it was inspiring to see so many people waiting and wanting to become Jews. But it was hot in the sun and the mikveh is no place for a queue.

The mivkeh should be a place for reflection and celebration but none of those people had the time or space for a thoughtful, personal ritual. And afterward, there was nothing to do but get back in the car. As if it was no big deal to transform your identity, alter your family constellation, and change the Jewish people forever.

That shondeh, that injustice, started me thinking about the need for a space where  converts could linger at the mirror, before and after the blessings and immersions that symbolically transform them from not-Jewish to Jewish. A mikveh where there would be a gracious room for songs and blessings, for hugs and champagne, for gifts of books and candles.

That’s where it started. The Boston Jewish community got behind the idea and ten years ago we opened an amazing resource for marking all kinds of transitions: traditional ones like conversion and monthly immersion, and others based in basic human and Jewish needs: after ending chemotherapy, after a year of mourning, after a period of sobriety.

Diana Bletter: Some writers use an outline to write novels. What about you? Do you find your characters often do things that surprise you? Do you have a set schedule for writing? Any special suggestions for new writers?

Anita Diamant: I do not use an outline. While I wouldn’t say I’m surprised by my characters, they do unfold and reveal themselves as I rewrite them.

I have no set schedule for writing, though my best hours are usually in the morning, after coffee and a walk with the dog.

New writers: read and read some more. Read deeply and widely and from cultures and eras other than your own.

Diana Bletter: What are you working on now?

Anita Diamant: I am not working on a book-length project and don’t plan to for several months. I will be doing a lot of promotion for my new novel, The Boston Girl.

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 each day a part of your best chapter?

Anita Diamant: I try to be as kind as I possibly can and to recognize the kindness in others.

Thank you, Anita, for your interview! For more information on how Anita Diamant discovered the Rockport Lodge and turned the house into her latest novel, read her blog here. You can also read about her novels and non-fiction books on her website.

If you have any questions for Anita Diamant, feel free to ask now!

Posted in historical fiction, mikveh, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Six Tips For Writers: What I Learned As COMMENTARY Publishes My Story, “One Kiss, One Baby, One God”

A nothing-to-do-but-be moment.

A nothing-to-do-but-be moment.

Nothing to do today? You can read my short story in Commentary Magazine here. It just came out. I am honored to be published in this respected journal.

I sent this story in to the slush pile and the editor, Abe Greenwald, liked it. Which shows you that even if you don’t know anybody, you can still get published. But before you send it out to magazines, send it to readers whom you trust.

They will read your work and give you good suggestions. Don’t get all defensive or lazy. Listen to what they are telling you. Wait. Think. Dream. Then rewrite. Polish it all over again. And then send it out. I got at least six rejections for this story over the summer. At first I felt—well, rejected.

Then I thought, what is wrong with the story? Here are things I learned:

1. I realized that in the earlier versions, the narrator didn’t reach some kind of change or epiphany or moment of self-understanding. That is crucial. It is the salsa that makes the story.

Not all good stories end with a resolution, however. Check out Stephen King’s “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away” for a cliff-hanger.

2. Come up with a title that is original. Anyone can give a story or a book the name of a character. That does not tell us much. At first I called the story, “A Blue Streak,” because one of the characters talked a lot. It didn’t seem that inviting. I liked the title in Commentary because it is also a play on the central idea in Judaism of one God. The start of monotheism, really. And it sums up the idea of the story.

3. I decided to start the story in the middle of a conversation. I wanted readers to feel like they’re eavesdropping to two people’s intimate discussion. I wove the background of the characters’ lives into the story. No introduction is needed. I also started in the present and then went back in time, introducing the problem (the narrator has a burning secret) and then figuring out what she will do about it.

4. Nail down that voice. I was writing in first person, and wanted the narrator to have a special way of speaking and viewing the world. Her similes and metaphors and observations were uniquely her own.

5. I wrote this story doing a timed writing exercise, real fast over several days, and then went back to fill it in and plump it up. Not all writers work like this but I do. I also write my first draft using my trusty fountain pen on paper.

6. Just keep writing, reading, editing, and writing some more. Most important, remember that writing is like training for a race. We have to put in a lot of miles for that one race. Above all, what I learned was this: No matter what, even if nobody would ever accept this story, I enjoyed writing it. And rewriting it. I simply refused to give up. I hope this gives you some encouragement on a day when you feel like you are writing away, feeling as hopeless and lost as a dinosaur walking through Twenty-First Century Manhattan.

Do not give up.

And if you still don’t have anything to do for the next 90 seconds, watch the trailer for my novel, A Remarkable Kindness, (HarperCollins, August 2105) here.

Posted in publishing, rejections, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

18 New Year’s Resolutions Ending With: Live The New Year One New Day at a Time.

About to Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) with some of my crew, December 2014.

About to Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) with some of my crew, December 2014.

What’s your word for 2015? Mine is joy. I plan to seek joy each day. We think our time on the planet is limitless but there are only a certain number of hours left. Which is why I spent one of my last days of 2014 going out on a stand up paddle board with some of our crew.

I’d like this year to be a string of memorable days. So my new year’s resolution is to make each day count.  Here are some of the other things I hope to do:

1. Stay positive. My old habit? I used to always point out what was wrong with the picture rather than what was right. I have to work hard to get the critic inside me to shut up.

2. Seek joy. And more joy.  I no longer ascribe to that notion that life is for suffering. And I don’t get any extra points for being a martyr.

3. Stop to smell a blossom, to watch the birds, to listen to the wind rustle through the trees.

4. I won’t let my pride prevent me from admitting I’m wrong and saying I’m sorry first. So many times I’ve held onto that idea, “The other person should say sorry first,” which is a waste of time and so silly. Nations, too, can start racing to make amends first.

5. Reach out to someone I don’t think I like and making her/him a friend. Okay, maybe not a close friend, but an acquaintance, nonetheless.

6. Not reacting to every rude/insensitive/dumb comment thrown my way. I won’t give away my poise and dignity so easily.

7. Stop hitting the rewind button and replaying terrible/hurtful scenes in my head. And stop trying to come up with that brilliant line that I should have said at the time. The scene is over. Done. Resentment only poisons our own well. I want to fill my brain with positive images and thoughts.

8. Let go of futile regrets. Auld lang syne, which translates roughly as, “old long since” or “time goes by.” (I never knew that either!) The statute of limitations ended at midnight. It is so old. It is gone.

9. Reminding myself that envy is a hostile form of self-pity. And every time I go there, to make a gratitude list, beginning with A and going to Z, of all I have to be thankful for.DCIM100MEDIA

19, Emotional control trumps situational control. If I lose it, I lose it. If I stay in control of myself, the situation doesn’t turn into a power struggle. I win if I keep myself in check.

11. I can’t control my loved ones. Or change them. All I can do is keep loving them without judging them. I can practice live and let live.

12. Even mental criticism of other people is harmful energy that blocks joy.

13. Prayers are positive energy. They’re not guaranteed to give me what I want but it’s a way of creating good karma.

14. I can face any problem that comes my way without getting so overwhelmed that I slip into paralysis, confusion, self-pity and/or depression. I can make a list of what I need to do and go about doing those things, following simple steps, each day.

15. I can avoid people who pull me down. Oh yeah. I can’t save them. I can’t rescue anyone but myself. I won’t help them by jumping into the boat of misery with them. And if they make me feel bad because I feel good, then they belong in my No Friend Zone.

16. I can’t take care of anyone else unless I take care of myself. And I do this by filling my own well. Going out on the paddle board spur of the moment was one way I filled my own well. Standing on water gave me new perspective. If anything gives me new perspective, it is thinking about our tiny place in the universe. (Check out Phil Plait’s article with videos of the earth here for more perspective.)

17. I can say no to people I love. They might accuse me of not loving them. Then I can say, “Oh no, if it is because I love you that I am not saying yes.”

18. How to change my life? By living this new year one new day at a time.

Posted in Be Less You To Be More You, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , | 22 Comments

Tool For Tuesday. Think. Especially in this Harried, Hyperbolic Holiday Season

la fotoI got entangled in a family dispute the other day. One of those silly arguments that flare up and everyone gets worked up. I told myself not to jump in but I was unable to stop myself and suddenly I made a bigger mess of things.

Maybe it’s the holiday season. It seems there are more of those kind of arguments about this time of year. Some people are making things homey. Others are acting homicidal. So what’s my tool for Tuesday?

Think. Think before we speak.

Is what we are about to say…

Thoughtful? Helpful? Intelligent? Necessary? Kind?

I could have used this tool! Eventually, the crisis passed and everything is calm again but I wished I’d remembered that sooner. I forgot about it and I coulda, woulda, shoulda used it.

Today I want to remind myself that emotional control always trumps situational control. If I stay in control of myself, then the situation is bound to get easier. And I need to think before I speak.

Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah to all my friends!

Posted in Acceptance, being a hero in your own life, Tool For Tuesday | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

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