Monday, November 22, 2010

History Can Be Closer Than You Think

People that know me know that I love to travel. Seeing different places, cultures – the history and stories that are trapped inside the architecture of buildings. Witnessing how different people live. The past two years I have traveled the Baltic Sea to Russia, The Mediterranean to Egypt and Israel and have been in awe over images I have seen. Trying to wrap my brain around dates of ancient cities buried beneath the soil because our country is so relatively new that I can’t comprehend such things. (I’ve always thought of history as traveling to Boston or Philadelphia.)

Well I owe the U.S. an apology because even if we don’t have the same amount of years, there is still plenty of beauty to be found across our country that God has supplied through nature. I think back to my travels down the Appalachians to Ashville, the beauty of Mackinac Island in Michigan and family trips as a child to Pikes Peak in Colorado. And yes, we even have history in the streets of New York as you look at old buildings and think back to how things were at the turn of the past century. 

This weekend, I thought of history as I walked through Ocean Grove and Asbury Park on the Jersey shore. I’ve always been a snob about the Jersey Shore (thinking it is the awful show that MTV has given us.) But the Grove offers rows of Victorian homes and the boardwalk has its own history of the numerous feet that have trod those boards – and once again, people are working to bring it back to life in Asbury. (The old carousel building is still wonderful to look at and I personally love that a theatre company is using it as a place to present live theatre where children once rode round and round on colorful carousel horses.) 

So it’s time I give America another try and do more travels within our own country. Yes, I traveled it back in my early twenties while on tour for a show - but I obviously didn't retain as much from that period as I should have. New Orleans next summer (where I’ve never been) and perhaps go to more places in the west as well. One shouldn’t write off their own backyard so quickly – and Jersey: please remind people that we do offer some nice spots in our state that having nothing to do with the stereotypes that are shown on television.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

National Un-Friend Day

Jimmy Kimmel is calling tomorrow NUD (National un-friend day) on facebook. It got me thinking about a letter I wrote last fall and submitted to a few papers: but never was picked up as I am no Jimmy Kimmel. I do, however,  include my year old letter as today's blog in honor of Mr. Kimmel. 

Open Letter to Facebook Friends:

Isn't the internet an amazing place? With a click of a button - we can reconnect with people we would never see without getting on a plane and flying to them. We can see photos of their children, what they look like after 20+ years and try and play catch up in a quick email -to bullet point those important events in our lives.  We can chat with family members miles and miles away or read what someone we might see on a regular basis is eating for dinner.  Facebook has become the social networking site for the “Thirty-Somethings” and older to try and recapture that favorite moment from high school or reach out to a broader group of friends that share our same interests.  

But that is one of the things we should remember. Just because we grew up on the same street or used to sit across from each other in the cafeteria in school doesn't necessarily mean we are the same people we were back then.  Times change and hopefully, so do people as we grow into the adults we have all become.  This also means there are greater chances that we have grown apart in our beliefs, values, and who we are as people.
I think it is time to take stock of what we have created on the world-wide-web and play clean up in our Facebook friends folders.  It shouldn't be about the quantity of names we can assemble in this virtual world.  It should be about the quality of people we chose to surround ourselves with.  To build us up when we are down.  Pick us up when we fall.  And yes, make a jab now & then to keep us grounded in who we are. 

For that reason, I invite those people who have “friend-ed” me to use this week to decide if I am the correct person to have on your list of friends and if not - by all means, de-friend me.  There is no harm: no foul.  I won't feel hurt or upset.  We shouldn't feel guilty about clicking on a link that cuts a tie to a past that just maybe...should have stayed in the past; even if it were fun to catch up with each other when we first came across each other’s name and face on that big blue screen.  Make the coming weekend the time to clean your own personal "virtual world" by removing those people who you believe should be removed.  And in another five years - you can send a simple email if you really want to find out where they are at that point in their lives.  

To quote a non Facebook-friend, "maybe the honeymoon of Facebook has finally worn off" - but I may just have to pick up the phone to find out what that friend is making for dinner tonight.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Amazon: A River of Self-Published Books

Many people are weighing in on the decisions made by Amazon this week and while I am utterly sickened by the content around the book in question – it has me thinking about other ramifications that could come out of this. There has been a long standing debate over self-published books in general: both novels and non-fiction. While the past five years has seen a growth spurt in self–published books (many of which run straight to Amazon’s digital services as they offer the best % of return for authors), there has always been a question about who is reviewing/editing/signing-off on these books. 

I read all the time and I’ve read both books published by large publishing houses and even some that are self-published that I can download to my kindle. And I’ve enjoyed (and sometimes detested) both sets. Just because an editor is behind something doesn’t always mean it’s going to be the best book to come around. But the fury over Amazon’s decision to place the right to ‘make a buck’ over the right to ‘make a moral decision’ will most likely turn people away from the self-published books that already had a stigma attached to them. (Even though not all publishing houses still employ full time editors to work with every author they bring through their doors.) 

I have submitted novels to several small publishing houses & most of which tell you what they will and will not print. (Pedophilia, bestiality, gratuitous sex scenes are just a few of the “not allowed” topics I've seen.) Getting a publisher is difficult at best. It all depends on what your writing, who your audience is, and if someone will be willing to pay for that book before a publisher can champion it. 

I’ll be curious to see what kind of changes this debacle will put in store for the hundreds of writers out there who actually write quite well, but are unable to get that break of a publishing house. Thanks to Mr. Greaves – the outlet they have formerly had may not be as available to them in the future. And if they are writing a fiction book or memoir that deals with gruesome details of an awful childhood – those authors may be thinking twice before sharing such incidents. I suppose it all remains to be seen how this will play out for struggling writers who actually have stories to share and not despicable ‘how-to’ novels on evading the law.  

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gotta Have Faith

I recently returned from Rome, Italy where I visited the Colosseum and stood where history could literally be felt in the rocks. As a Christian, I thought what it must have been like to be sent into that vast ring in the center of the structure to be killed because of one’s beliefs during the Reign of the Roman Empire.  To be feed – still alive - to a lion so they could pull your muscles away from your bones and die a slow painful death. Last year I traveled to Amsterdam and was able to walk through the very house where Anne Frank and her family hid for two long years while those around them were being persecuted simply because they were Jewish. 
And then to think how she almost made it through that horrible time, only to be discovered and led off to a concentration camp herself.   

I grew up in the South and really only knew Christians until I did a production of Fiddler on the Roof in 9th grade and met my first Jewish person. Once I moved to NYC, I took a religion course in college and began to study other people’s faiths.  People’s attitudes towards those that are different from them, based on their belief system began to baffled me. It demonstrates yet one more instance where we as humans are incapable of tolerance.

In the past ten years, we have heard the word ‘Muslim’ more and more and as a religion, it has grown as one of the largest three in America. As I watch our president journey to other countries and discuss Muslims (while he continues to dodge jabs about himself being a Muslim), it got my mind to thinking. How hard must it be for those who are simply trying to live by their faith to exist when there are extremist who bring shame upon all of them? I’ve never thought it was right to blame (persecute) a whole based on a subset: but we do it all the time.

I wonder if I will ever live to see a time when those of different faiths allow room for each other. I sort of doubt it. Religious wars have been going on throughout time. It’s just a shame that no matter where you travel, someone is always quick to speak ill towards another groups faith. (I saw my own tour guides doing it while in Israel.) At least there, I was able to ponder some of the teachings of Jesus: those that all Christians should think about each day before we go casting stones.       

Monday, November 8, 2010

Free to Be

I applaud when someone wants to be an individual and not conform to society. This is not an easy thing for anyone to do – due to peer pressure, religious beliefs, etc. But when a child who has not fully been tainted by what others say is acceptable does it: WOW!  Recently a blog has been circulating on the internet about a mother who allowed her son to dress up on Halloween as a girl character from Scooby Doo – because it was the child’s favorite character. Naturally it started some sort of debate about gay issues, but I do not believe this has anything to do with homosexuality.

Children play dress up. That’s what they do. Parents (hopefully) encourage creativity and imagination. And kids will eventually grow out of this playtime (unless they go into the theatre, but that’s another story.) There have been books and movies written on the subject and few of them get into the gender confusion debate. The movie Bruno (released to DVD as The Dress Code) had a boy saying he got his power from his dress, much as the Pope does at the Vatican. (There are many religions where men continue to wear – what the normal eye would call a “dress.”)

Another mother has written a book celebrating the fact that her son was so different that he likes to play dress up – not showing fear and angst over the fact that he believes he is a ‘princess boy’ when he was told boys cannot be a princess.

My mother was in early childhood development for other thirty years  - and still works as a ‘foster grandparent’ in a kindergarten class every day. I grew up hearing what she witnessed in her classroom daily.  Little boys and little girls go play in the area of the room called ‘home living’ and will dress up like mom and dad.  And sometimes (heaven forbid) the little boys will pick up a doll and walk around with it. (Something they may very well be doing if they ever become fathers.) These are normal behaviors and it would be wonderful if adults could not get so worked up looking for a deeper meaning. 

Think back to the 70s when Marlo Thomas said it was okay to be who we wanted. Let kids be kids. Love them. Celebrate them. And let them be creative.  That child may end up being a designer, architect, actor, teacher or the CEO of a company one day. That’s the wonderful thing. You just don’t know what they’ll become. But stifling creativity at an early age will not allow their minds to roam free later in life when that very creativity may be what puts money in their bank and most importantly - brings them joy.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Writing in Fall

Each November, the has a "write a novel in a month" challenge. Last year, I took that challenge and won. (Winning doesn't constitute anything except that you actually wrote 50,000 words during the 30 days - but it's a confidence booster.) 

I used that as a starting point, continued with numerous edits through the winter and spring and my novel Patchwork of Me was born. That novel is now sitting in the hands of a few publishers trying to find a home. 

This is a great organization that not only encourages writers, but creates a network of people that authors can check in with so you don't feel that 'you are alone." Writing is such a lonely art form that it is very helpful to have others to turn to when you just need a pick-me-up. It's also a great way to challenge yourself to get your wheels moving. Recently, I hit a wall with my latest novel, but something happened when I returned from my vacation. Something about the fall air outside got my juices flowing in my brain and I'm happy to say I am back in full swing this week. My body clock may be off (causing me to wake at strange times in the night) - but those hours awake have been put to good use with listening to my characters drive my story along. 

To all those taking the challenge again this year: I say kudos to you! It's only early in the month and you can do it if you put your mind to it. Write! Write! Write!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Red Velvet Cake

Today my mind is all about a certain boy that turned nine years old. He is just like any other child who gets to spend the day hearing the sounds of “happy birthday” shouted as he walks down the hall of his school. He will be opening presents and reveling in the knowledge that sweets will be a part of his birthday dinner as well. This nine year old is my godson – and I am so proud to see all that he has become. 

Several years ago, I wrote the following poem about him:  

Today my godson looked me in the eye. 
We had a connection like never before. 
No, he's not a baby who is finally noticing the world. 
He is three years old. 

My godson has his own world he lives in. 
Most times, people are not allowed to visit. 
There is happiness in his world and confusion as well. 
I'm sure he wonders why we can't all understand what he's going through. 

They say there are many forms of autism. 
e loves to recite the same things over and over. 
It's a thrill when I can interject a new word into his
Running monologue and hear him repeat it. 
It means I somehow was invited in for that very short moment. 

I have no idea what is in store for him down the road. 
There is growth and changes every day. 
But for a moment, he actually stopped and looked me deep in the eye 
as if to acknowledge he knew I was there and that he was there too. 
My heart melted.

Now, these six years later – it is amazing to see him coming into his own. He still sees the world through his own filter, but I’ve been able to witness his incredibly smart mind as he sits and does homework; the joy he brings to those around him when he engulfs them in his laughter; the happiness he possesses in living the routines that keep him balanced. From horseback riding, to karate to eating red velvet cake at his favorite restaurant – he is just like every other nine year old who experiences all the world has to offer.  Happy birthday, Gabe!    

Monday, November 1, 2010

Back to Life

I just returned from an amazing vacation – one of those ‘once in a lifetime things’ that I could go on and on about seeing the Roman Coliseum, the Pyramids of Egypt or standing in the stable where Jesus was born in Bethlehem…but instead I chose to discuss those moments we notice when we return home.

There are several factors that play into your return experience (length of time away, location you went, etc) – and maybe these are just things that happen to me – but I wanted to share a list that jumped out at me.

     1. About two days before vacation is over, my mind returns long before my body and I began to list the things I need to accomplish once I return.
      2. Walking in your house after being away for more than two weeks and everything just ‘looks & feels’ different from the hotel room/cruise ship statement you've called 'home'.
      3. Remembering there is no milk in the fridge for breakfast and either you or your spouse has to draw straws to see who is going to go to the store.
      4. Creating that pile of dirty clothes as you unpack and the realization that you and only you will be doing that laundry. (Along with the towels you can no longer throw on the bathroom floor expecting someone else to pick them up.)
      5. Using your real toothbrush instead of the travel toothbrush.  Awwwww.
      6. Never noticing how much junk mail you really receive until it’s all there in one pile.
      7. Getting behind the wheel of your car after being escorted around on tour buses and taxis during your vacation – but like a bike, you pick it right back up with no problems.
      8. Like a fool, deciding to return on Halloween night when all you want to do is go to bed and all the neighborhood children are laughing and screaming outside your window - so you turn off all your lights so they will not ring your doorbell.      
      9. The weather. Just a few days ago I was in shorts and running the air conditioner in my stateroom on a cruise ship every day – only to return to the coldest morning New Jersey has seen this season.  Ouch!
     10. The trees that I swear were still wearing their leaves when I left decided to let go of them and several found a nesting place on my car windshield.  Watching them blow off the car this morning on my way to work reminded me once again that vacation (and warm weather) was truly over.