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 , , | 4 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

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 , , , , | 14 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.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

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