Tuesday, September 24, 2019

SOLTuesday: #FiftyYearsAgoToday

            I’ve kept all of my date books since I started using one in 1963. So while I remember this meeting and the change it made in me, I wouldn’t have remembered the exact date or what else I was doing around the same time without this one.
            Fifty years ago tonight, I went to my first women’s liberation meeting. It was at the apartment of a reporter for the New York Post, where my husband worked, and if I hadn’t been there recently for a party I think I wouldn’t have had the courage to go to this meeting where I knew practically no one.
            The meeting was of the “women’s caucus” of the New York Media Project, a group of media professionals who were against the war in Vietnam. In 1969 “women’s caucuses” were cropping up in many groups like this. I had been working for a book publisher, as a secretary, for just a month, and had heard of the Media Project, but wasn’t yet part of it. But in my work at the publisher, I had just finished reading a “manuscript” (a box of ephemera: leaflets, flyers, papers) of Women’s Liberation Movement documents, and felt what journalist Jane O’Reilly later called, in the first issue of Ms. magazine, “the click experience,” when myriad inchoate feelings and thoughts about my life as a female all clicked into place.
            I asked my husband (yes, my husband!) if he knew anyone at the Post who was involved in this WLM, and he told me about Lindsy Van Gelder and Bryna Taubman. And he added that they were having a meeting on September 24.
            Reader, I went. And in a roomful of mostly strangers, I spoke up during the discussion. I had never done that. But these were all women, and women who were encouraging each other.
            Up to this moment I had always felt that men were absolutely sure of what they thought, and because I was rarely absolutely sure of what I thought, I didn’t dare open my mouth for fear of being shot down. But these women were saying some things I agreed with, and some I didn’t. It felt possible to speak up in support of one side or another without having to prove I was 100% right.
            That was the beginning of my leap into women’s liberation and feminism, and I have never looked back. It has saved my sanity.
            (And the one bittersweet thought now is that my husband isn’t here to have several long discussions about those early days, and how we rockily yet successfully navigated our life together as many other relationships failed to do.)
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.
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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

SOLTuesday: A Short Story

(This is a lightly fictionalized account of something that's actually happened. I'm wondering how it reads to people who don't know me.)

She hates me. The woman in 4B. I live in 2B. She wants my apartment. I’ve lived here for 50 years. My husband died here, and so will I.
            She hates me, the woman in 4B. She has three children under 10. Sometimes I see them on the street. I take the stairs instead of the elevator. I’m 78. As long as I can walk up the stairs I will walk up the stairs. 
            Our apartments are the same, but not quite. They each have two bedrooms. But mine has long hallways, hers doesn't. My halls are lined with bookcases; I don't know where she keeps her books. Her kitchen is smaller, her living room is bigger. But the two bedrooms are why she hates me.
            The person who owns the apartment next to mine died. His wife doesn’t want to die in the same apartment, she wants to sell. The woman in 4B thinks if she had my apartment, she and her husband could buy the apartment next door and have lots of bedrooms, lots of room for the three children. The boy is the oldest. The girl is maybe seven, and there’s a new baby.
            Her husband sent an emissary, the real estate agent who lives in 2D.  She said I had many opportunities: I could buy the next-door apartment, put a door between them, rent to a roommate whose rent would pay the extra maintenance, and I’d have another person who’d notice if something went wrong with me. I’m old, after all.
            Or I could trade apartments with the family in 4B. The apartments are the same. The fourth floor would have more light. The apartments are the same. I’d be doing a good deed for that family. I don’t even know them, even though they moved in two or three years ago. I take the stairs, not the elevator.
            But. But. But. I don't want to move. 
            She hates me. I imagine her conversations with her husband. "What's wrong with the old bitch? The apartments are identical. There's an elevator. She'd have more light." And I wonder, why did they have a third kid when they knew they only had two bedrooms?
            But the apartments are different. I love my long hallway. I love my kitchen, which I renovated 10 years ago. Those two extra flights of stairs might be good for exercise, but what about those times when my bladder needs release as soon as I walk down the street to my building? I hate potty talk, but at a certain age bodily functions become insistent. And most important, my husband never lived in that other apartment layout. His memory would get lost without the long hallway and bookcases.
            I tell her husband, no.  I invoke my husband's spirit. He's fine about it. But I know she hates me. 
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

SOLTuesday: Facebook as Therapy

            It’s been more than three and a half years since my husband died, yet I still often find it hard to get out of bed in the morning and get started on my day. A few days ago, I posted this on my Facebook page:
What is my purpose in life? This is not a question I ever think about, it seems to have religious overtones. Yet I think it may have some psychological relevance because I sometimes still have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Jack is a handy hook to hang my purpose on. When he was alive, perhaps I felt my “purpose” was to live with him, do things we enjoyed together, and do other things separately and report back to each other. Like, my “purpose” was to have another person always available to talk to, to talk at, to bounce off of, even to argue and fight with, and, as time passed, to have a history with. That purpose is gone, and I am still somewhat flailing about, trying to get at “why” I want to do the things I “want” to do. There’s a lot here to unpack.”
            Several friends helpfully gave me the usual suggestions: volunteer, help others, find the projects I couldn’t do when married. Reading them, however, I realized the real underlying problem, something I've been aware of for many years. It's not purpose, it's self-motivation. It's setting my own goals, and then actually, really following through on them. I'm fine at meeting other people's deadlines or needs, but have been lousy at bridging the distance between idea/thought/desire and action. My husband was, in a way, an external goal, which I either met or struggled, often successfully, against. Now, it’s just me. It’s my own motivation. I have to learn how to pay attention to it and to use it. 
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

SOLTuesday: History in Philadelphia

            I just spent two days in Philadelphia with a couple of friends. We intended to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see the Gee Bend’s quilt exhibit, but neglected to check whether the museum was open on Mondays until we arrived at our B&B—and it isn’t.
            But all was not lost. We had reservations for a walking tour of the Old City with a tour guide who’d been a student of one of my friends several years ago. The tour was wonderful. Tim gave lots of information that I hadn’t known, like that Betsy Ross had three husbands, and outlived them all. We walked down Elspeth’s Alley, the oldest continuously used street in the country and a National Historic Landmark District. The street was first created in 1702, and there are now 32 privately owned and lived-in houses, which were built between 1738 and 1836. Several houses still had the fire company plaques that entitled the owners to priority fire-fighting because they’d paid for that service. There were many more fascinating stops, including the very first post office next to Benjamin Franklin’s home, because Franklin was the country’s first postmaster general. It’s still a functioning post office, but also looks like a museum.
           After the tour, we stopped at Shane’s Confectionary, opened in 1863 and continuously operated since then. I bought some intriguing chocolates: chocolate with cayenne, chocolate bar with ginger, and traditional fudge with nuts and a peanut butter fudge. The store also stocks Wilbur’s Buds, which look very much like Hersey Kisses because the person who created Hersey Kisses was an apprentice to the creator of Wilbur’s Buds and went off to give the idea to another candy maker near Hersey, Pennsylvania.
            If you’re in Philly, or happen to be visiting, I strongly recommend taking the Old City Walking Tour. 
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

SOLTuesday: Bookcase Finds

            No, this is not about books, although I’ve been doing a lot with my books lately.
            Recently, three shelves collapsed on one of my many bookcases—I’d had books two rows deep, and those shelves just weren’t built for that. I had to cull, and quickly, to get those books off of the floor.
            Having done that job on one bookcase, I thought I’d tackle the others before I was forced to by more collapse. But as I got started, my daughter reminded me that my husband used to stash emergency money, maybe $100, in “a book,” and since Jack’s no longer among the living, I can’t ask him which book it was. So Christie and her husband came over to help, riffling through books on four shelves of the “fiction” bookcase.
            In the process, they found, stuck behind books, a month’s worth of New York Times Book Reviews from 2005—and a brown paper bag. I know exactly what that bag is for.
            Jack used to buy a small container of yogurt at a neighborhood
deli as his movie snack, and often he didn’t get a bag to put it in. So he made a point of saving small paper bags like this one for his movie yogurt. Usually, he put the bags on a top shelf in a kitchen cabinet, but I guess this one never got there. It just ended up in the secret world “behind things,” out of sight, out of mind.
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

SOL Tuesday: Bird’s Eye Views of the Grand Canyon

This was the perfect SOL for last Tuesday, when my daughter and I were on a Road Scholar tour of the Grand Canyon. The day started with a flyover of the canyon in a tiny DC6, and proceeded to long walks and a visit to the Geology Museum in Grand Canyon Village, and by the end of the day I was too exhausted to write. So here it is today. Maybe I’ll do another one for today if an opportunity presents.
            Our little plane had maybe 12 people (and there was another plane with the rest of our group) and everyone had a window seat. Here is a shadow of our plane as we took off from Grand Canyon Airport (“since 1927” and they offer helicopter flights as well). 
            But it's taking a really long time to upload the videos to this blog, so I'll just add a couple more amazing, awesome, unbelievable—adjectives just don't do it justice—photos of what we saw. And I can't figure out how to move the photos so they are next to each other, so that's why layout looks so silly. (Any other Blogger users out there who know the trick?)
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Friday, June 7, 2019

52Essays New Wave #7: Ironing

            My aunt gave me this housekeeping tip many years ago: if you don’t have time to iron immediately after doing the laundry, you can wrap up the damp clothes, put them in a plastic bag, and keep in the freezer until you do have time. Of course, she was thinking the next day, perhaps, or by the end of the week. She definitely did not mean months and months and months.
            I hate to iron. When I was a teen, my mother enlisted me to help her with the ironing, which included sheets and pillow cases, and my father’s dress shirts and boxer shorts. Everything was white, boringly white. Boxer shorts had hard-to-figure-out geometry, but at least they were small.
            The dress shirts, on the other hand, were interminable. But I never forgot the approach: first iron the collar, both sides; next, the sleeves, wrists first, then the whole sleeve, both sides; third, the yoke, which you had to fold along the seam line so it would lie flat; lastly, the large right front with buttons, back, left front with buttonholes. Even in the summertime, he wore long-sleeved shirts to work, and it seemed to take forever to iron just one. Even though my mother’s ironing board was adjustable and I could sit, it was so much work. I vowed I would do as little of this chore as possible when I grew up.
            Fortunately, jersey fabrics and polyester in the 1960s and ’70s made this vow easy to keep. When I bought silk blouses, they’d go to the dry cleaners. And when Jack and I married, I made it clear I would never iron his shirts. He didn’t care; he took them to the laundry, and eventually he found a place to work where he could wear T-shirts. (My father didn’t like starch in his shirts, which is why his didn’t go to a laundry.)
            Then my aunt’s tip. By this time I had accumulated a few rayon blouses and washable silk. Ironing sometimes was required. So into the freezer they went, and a few months later, maybe when something was on TV (I was ironing when the U.S. invaded Iraq), out would coming the adjustable ironing board and iron.
            But some time ago, I washed a summer dress I had made and a blouse I bought in Montreal in 1985, packed them into the freezer, and there they stayed. For years. It’s possible they’ve been there for 10 years.
            Today, I’m packing for a trip and needed to touch up a shirt I want to wear. Why not iron those clothes in the freezer? That turned out to be harder than I thought.
            The blouse seemed frozen solid. It took at least half an hour to thaw, with the iron, and unroll it, bit by bit. The fabric doesn’t seem to have been damaged, even when I had to pull it apart—I wonder if there is liquid built into the rayon cloth.
            I should have taken a photo of it all rolled up, but you can see (1) part of it partially undone, (2) ice crystals; and (3) ironed product. I do love this shirt. Why did I leave it in the cold for so long?


Tuesday, May 7, 2019

SOLTuesday: Widows Galore

            Widows’ Words: Women Write on the Experience of Grief, the First Year, the Long Haul, and Everything in Between, an anthology from Rutgers University Press (which I have a piece in) had its pub date last Friday. On the weekend, the editor, Nan Bauer-Maglin, gathered together more than half of us for a book party.
            We were in the lovely Upper West Side apartment of another contributor, and most of us were meeting for the first time. In one case, five women had collaborated, sharing their experiences in writing with each other, while one who was a writer brought their experiences together—yet none of them had met face-to-face until last weekend. One woman had come from Michigan, another from Virginia, another from the U.K. Some brought new partners or husbands, others (like me) brought a friend—and in true small world fashion, my friend found
work colleagues there who were related to the contributor from the U.K.
            I knew the anthologist and one other contributor, and had met yet another contributor at another book party the day before, so reading their essays filled in details about them some of which I knew already, others I was learning for the first time. But it was helpful to see the faces of those whose contributions I was just reading; they can stick in my memory much better now that I can see the face of the writer.
            We will see more of each other as we hold more book events—one contributor is also an artist, and at the gallery where her paintings are now on exhibit, there will be a book reading in on Thursday, May 9. I’m not reading at this one, but probably will at a bookstore event in the fall.
            It was, as many experiences widows share, fun and bittersweet.
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

SOL Tuesday: A Jolly Memorial

Memorials are generally somber affairs, especially when the “departed” are close family or friends. But the one I went to yesterday was almost a party.
            It helped that I did not know Jennifer, the young (48 years old) woman who had died. I was there with my cousin, who had driven up from Virginia, and she was a close friend of the woman’s mother, having met the daughter only once. But I know from my experience that it feels good to have a lot of people around as you commemorate or celebrate a life.
            The memorial took place in the Palm House at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, a light-filled space that felt very appropriate for the woman I heard described by her wife, sisters, college friends, and more recent friends. Under each of our chairs was a piece of colored paper and a Sharpie. At one point people were asked to write the word or phrase that best described their memory of Jennifer—and then to crumple up the paper and toss it to the person who was at the microphone, who then read each one. Not what you expect to do at a memorial.
            When the reminiscences were over, we had delicious catered food—Mexican at one stand, Moroccan at the other—outside, serenaded by a small band. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating well; it was chilly, and while some people sat at the outdoor tables, others retreated back to the Palm House.
           Later, children brought out boxes of party hats and glasses, like this pink one. And everything ended with the band leading a parade around the lotus ponds in front of the Palm House, and playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
            A friend of mine who died a few years ago from kidney cancer had a party while she was still able to appreciate it and so she could be present when her friends celebrated her. Jennifer, who apparently loved parties, turned down that suggestion. But she wanted her family and friends to have that party, even if she wasn’t there. And it felt good to continue life for the rest of us.
            And just to illustrate life and death going on all around us all the time, as my cousin and I were leaving the botanical garden, a heron swooped in, grabbed a goldfish from the lotus pond, and flew off with its dinner. 
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

SOLTuesday: Notre Dame

            I’ve been to Paris only twice and never went inside Notre Dame. My last trip, in September 2016, I went to the Ile de France and to another church there, St. Chappelle, which is beautiful. But when I got to Notre Dame, there were long lines, and I can’t stand for long without sciatica pain. So I’ve missed all that was burned inside. 
           I did, however, get this photo of the “zero point” from which all distances from Paris are measured. It’s embedded in the flagstones in the large place in front of Notre Dame. Later that day I crossed one of the bridges from the ile to the mainland and saw hundreds of padlocks attached to the railing. “Locking our love” I was told they symbolized. Jack was the true romantic in our relationship, so in honor of him, I bought a padlock and attached it.
It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

52Essays New Wave #6: Braised Cabbage, Jewish and Italian

            About 25 years ago I was in Budapest for a conference. One night I ate at Kispipa, a restaurant the was supposed to be Jewish haute cuisine. (This looks like a common restaurant name, with several still in Budapest, but I can’t tell whether any of them is the one I ate at.) I ordered roast goose, which came with deliciously “steamed cabbage” and something called “onion potatoes” (according to the menu). The goose, the first time I’d ever eaten it, had “the texture of juicy but very well done pot roast,” I wrote in my journal. The cabbage was less steamed, more braised for a very long time, possibly in some stock. I wrote then, “It still had an astringent bit, but it was mellow, not sharp like sauerkraut,” and it was perfect with the rich goose. The potatoes were roughly mashed, just as I make them at home, with tiny bits of onion. The whole meal was delicious.
            Some months later, back home, I was looking through Marcella Hazan’s “More Classic Italian Cooking,” and saw a recipe for Smothered Green Cabbage, Venetian Style. It was fall, and I wanted some cabbage. It called for very thinly sliced cabbage sauteed with some chopped onion and garlic in a quantity of oil and a dash of wine vinegar, and then cooked very slowly for a long time, an hour to an hour and a half, stirring every 10-15 minutes to mix in the caramelized bits. When I ate it, it brought back the taste of the “steamed cabbage” at Kispipa. I’m thinking the only difference might have been the fat, goose or chicken fat in the Hungarian restaurant, olive oil in the Italian dish. I’ve made this cabbage many times since, and I always slice by hand, since I find that meditative.
            And a few more notes about that Hungarian dinner. It started with sour cherry soup, covered with dollops of whipped cream. And for my coffee, I asked for cream, which puzzled the waiter until he brought me—a bowl of whipped cream. 

It’s another year for the essay a week challenge, 52EssaysNextWave. If you’d like to try it, go on over to the Facebook page for 52EssaysNextWave and sign up. Or just read some of the essays that will be linked to there. I'm way behind this year (it's clearly no longer the sixth week of 2019), but going to try to catch up.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

52Essays Next Wave #5: Family History

The other day I went to a genealogy workshop at the Municipal Archives, where I learned what birth, death, and marriage information is available for New York City. I had the marriage certificate for one set of grandparents, but I was also able to find the marriage license, which included information about names and birthplaces of my grandparents' parents. My grandfather's parents were both born in the same city he was born, Vitebsk, in what's now Belarus. My grandmother's mother, however, was born in Vilno aka Vilnius, in what was Russia then and now is Lithuania. Since my grandmother and her father were both born in Lodz, then Russia, now Poland, I wish there were some way of finding out how my great-grandmother got from Vilno to Lodz—did her family move from Vilno to Lodz? or did my great-grandfather travel to Vilno and meet her there? I have no idea what he did for a living, but I know he died before my grandmother and her mother came to the United States.
            Also of interest is that a city alderman (the equivalent of a city councilman today) was the person who married them. Does this indicate a certain kind of status for my grandfather or grandmother? Or had they done some sort of service that generated a certain amount of goodwill on the part of the alderman, Herman Bauler? Was he from their part of the world?
            When I looked up my other grandparents’ marriage certificate and license, I found more baffling information. There were actually two sets of licenses and certificates. On March 28, 1917, my grandparents were married at City Hall by a city clerk, with a witness whose name, Thomas Douglas, makes me think he was someone at City Hall, not someone my grandparents knew. But then, on May 25, 1917, there’s another license and certificate stating that Joseph S. Somerstein, a “reverend” (not a rabbi), married my grandparents at 611 East 6th Street, with two witnesses, Abraham Blaustein and Abraham Sternthal, whose names suggest they were friends of either grandfather or grandmother.
            Why two weddings? One of the women working at the archives had this thought: one set of parents didn’t think a marriage at City Hall was a real marriage and they needed to be married in a religious ceremony. But why a “reverend”? Was Somerstein really a Christian minister or did the clerk filling out the certificate not want to write “rabbi”? Or was this a little dig by my grandfather, who I’m pretty sure by this time had become an atheist, so it didn’t matter to him what religion he was married in? (As a union organizer, he once told me, he would sit outside of workplaces and eat a ham sandwich; since God didn’t strike him dead for eating traif, this was supposed to show that the union wasn’t against God.)

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

SOLTuesday: Like vs. Such As

            I’ve been a copy editor most of my working life, at book publishers, the Village Voice, and Publishers Weekly, and for many years teaching copy editing at NYU’s journalism program. When I first started teaching I had come across an editorial in the New York Times on the topic of “like” vs. “such as.”
            Older readers may remember a TV ad for Winston cigarettes featuring the line, “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should.” This is generally considered ungrammatical (“like” should be “as” in this case), and the ad was widely ridiculed at the time. But a side effect was to make some writers leery of using “like” in any comparative form at all. And some grammarians encouraged them in their fear. The result was the proliferation of “such as” in such sentences as “The reading list for Freshman English included classics such as Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, and The Red Badge of Courage.”
            Maybe this reads okay to you, but that “such as” is clunky to me. It could be split: “...such classics as...” Or it could be replaced by one word, “like.”
            Where I am free-lance copy editing now, there is a proliferation of “such as.” It’s as though all the editors at this magazine were taught by English teachers who’d been spooked. So today, I went to the basement, where I have all my teaching files, and found the clipping of the 1985 New York Times editorial on the subject. I e-mailed the top editors at the magazine I free-lance for and made my pitch to change some of those “such as”s to “like.” I await their verdict.

It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.