The Sprecher & Rose

My father often told me a story about his older sister Rose and the neighborhood sprecher

In 1918, my Aunt Rose lay feverish and weak, barely aware of her mother wiping her brow with a cool cloth. Even my Grandma Anna was beginning to lose hope. That’s when they called in the sprecher.

At this point in the story, Dad would explain that sprecher meant “speaker.” I never learned Yiddish, but some of his words stuck; this one particularly. And it has influenced me in more ways than I’d realized.

The sprecher’s role in the Jewish immigrant community was to sit by the bedside of a seriously ill loved one, to hold her spirit within her body with his words, to not let it fly away, to fight death itself with his own spirit.Read More

Take It from a Freelancer: Time Management Tips for Working from Home

U.S. Navy Clock by Sally Wiener GrottaWelcome to my world. Millions of folks are now working from home, whether they want to or not. While we strive to flatten the curve of Covid-19, many are discovering that having a home office requires a whole new way of functioning. Well, pull up a chair, and let me tell you about my daily time management routine. Maybe some of the techniques I have used during my decades-long freelance life will give you some ideas of how to maintain your usual level of productivity while living through this newfangled status quo.

I have been lucky. I’ve made my living as a freelance writer for my entire career.  Looking back, I realize that I have produced quite a large number of stories, reviews and essays, and several books. Yet at the end of many a day, I have lamented how much I didn’t get done. It’s the minutes that distract and can feel wasted. That’s what prompted me to develop one short morning routine that has helped me get some control over the minutes and hours that make up my life.

The centerpieces of this routine are my master task list and a digital calendar (such as Outlook’s or Google’s calendar).

My task list itemizes various things I must or want to do, organized along a loose time line, such as tomorrow, next Tuesday, next month on the 23rd. Before turning off my computer for the night, I look at the tasks listed for the next day (as well as what I failed to do today), and move things around (perhaps to later in the week or in the month) to try to make the list “doable” within the time available tomorrow. (Well, I try.)

Then, in the morning, after breakfast, I open the day’s calendar, and I make appointments with myself to work on specific tasks, according to the following criteria:Read More

Seeking the Sunlight

Shayna finding the sun, photo by Sally Wiener Grotta

When Shayna isn’t by my side, I can usually find her sleeping in the nearest bright circle of sunlight wherever it might be as it travels across my rugs. I believe it’s more than instinct that drives her. She knows – in her flesh, in her spirit, in the way she sees life as a series of nows – how to seek (and give) pleasure and comfort even on cloudy days.

We can learn a lot from our dogs. Read More

Guest Blog: Coming Out of a Creative Coma by Stacia Friedman

"Bahiana" by Stacia Friedman
“Bahiana” by Stacia Friedman

Three years ago I came out of a coma. Not the kind that lands you in a nursing home, but the kind of self-imposed creative coma many of us inadvertently experience. After receiving my degree in Fine Arts, I put away my oil paints and pastels to pursue a career in fashion design. Although I continued to use my color and design skills, I did not touch a paint brush or canvas for decades.

When I finally left the fashion industry in my early thirties, I did not go back to art. Instead, I pursued a writing career. As creative as that turned out to be, it wasn’t until I was in my 60s that I impulsively enrolled in an Introduction to Watercolor Workshop at a local art center. It was an odd choice. Read More

Renewing My Creativity with a Little Help from My Friends: Van Gogh, Cezanne, Bob Dylan… and You

Please click this image to read the full newsletter.

I was very gratified how many folks sent me emails and notes in response to my most recent newsletter, in which I invited people to share what inspires their creativity. I’m reprinting the cover letter below and providing a link to the full newsletter (please click the image to the left), in the hopes that even more of you will share the experiences that helped you “reach deeper and wider” within yourself.

“A couple of weeks ago, I spent Wednesday evening wandering around the Philadelphia Museum of Art with a new friend, sharing some of our favorite works of art as a way to get to know each other. So we visited a few of my old “pals” — Cezanne’s Bathers, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Duchamp’s Nude Descending Staircase, the chapel-like room of Brancusi’s sculptures, and other works of art that are my current points of reference. These are among the artists whose pieces I visit when I need to be pulled outside myself, to find new paths into my own creativity.

“I crave the fellowship of artists, writers and all kinds of creative thinkers, the many who came before, as well as those who “walk” beside me. I need them almost as much as I need air and water and chocolate. Read More

The Creative Magic of a Darkened Theater

"Girl from the North Country" at the Belasco Theater, New YO
Girl from the North Country at the Belasco Theater, New York City

Is it un-American of me to admit that spectator sports leave me cold? Sure, I can get a contact high from my young nephews’ excitement when one of their heroes sinks a perfect 3 point shot into the basket. And I used to enjoy sitting with my father while he watched an intense rally between tennis champions. But that has more to do with being with the people I love when they’re happy. 

Intellectually, I can appreciate athletic virtuoso performances. It’s impressive how a well-trained mind can control every muscle, every fractional movement, how those powerful (and beautiful) bodies can do things I couldn’t even dream of achieving. However, for me, passively sitting on my duff, watching baseball, basketball, football or any similar game can be as boring as watching the minute hand on an analog clock ticking away the hours. I’d much rather be doing something… well, almost anything else. That applies not only to watching sports on TV, but also attending sporting events in person.

And yet, sports fans would probably be just as bored by one of my favorite pastimes: sitting quietly in a darkened concert hall or theater. The difference is that nothing within me is engaged by sports. On the other hand, a great play or fine piece of music fills my mind, awakens all my senses and sends my thoughts and emotions on unexpected journeys. In that darkness, fed by the creativity of others, ideas and words percolate out of me, often Read More

Thank you Toni Morrison… and Trapeta B. Mayson

Trapeta B. Mayson, Philadelphia's Poet Laureate, speaking about Toni Morrison at The Rosenbach
Trapeta B. Mayson

This past Tuesday, I attended my first Rosenbach lunchtime talk. The Rosenbach museum and library is one of Pennsylvania’s hidden treasures, though it is open to the public and is now affiliated with the Free Library of Philadelphia. The elegant Delancey Street double townhouse contains a remarkable collection of rare books and documents originally assembled by the Rosenbach brothers, famous dealers in books, manuscripts and art. It’s also the site of frequent public discussions, readings and lectures that fill the intimate rooms with interested and interesting people from near and far – such as the monthly lunchtime talks.

I didn’t know what to expect, except that the topic was one of my favorite authors – Toni Morrison – and the speaker would be Philadelphia’s Poet Laureate Trapeta B. Mayson. I was sure that it would be a hour well spent. Besides, I needed to get away from my writing for a bit. I’d been struggling with the first draft of my new novel’s second chapter, and the more I fought the words – the more I wrote, edited and deleted – the more frustrated (and, yes, self-doubting) I was becoming. Perhaps, I had finally bitten off more than I could chew with this ambitious project.

"I never asked Tolstoy to write for me." Toni Morrison

Throughout the hour, Trapeta interspersed Morrison quotes and her own poems, a weave of words and ideas that illuminated the ideas she shared, until they shimmered with energy and life that could not be denied. She spokeRead More

Book Review: “The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit” by Lucette Lagnado

"The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit" by Lucette Lagnado

Some time ago — certainly more than a year — a good friend suggested I read The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit by Lucette Lagnado. My friend Tom has impeccable taste in books, music and… well just about anything. So, I immediately bought the book and put it on one of my shelves among the many other to-be-read books in my library.

Let’s face it; one of the facts of a bibliophile’s life is that her library contains an inordinate number of books she is looking forward to reading. (And, of course, she has a library rather than a home, where every spare wall is covered with bookshelves, and scores of overflow books are piled next to her bed, on her kitchen table, in her bathroom and just about everywhere else.)

I’m delighted to say I finally got around to reading Lagnado’s memoir this week. Tom was right; it’s an elegant and eloquent work that absorbed me with its personal poignancy and fascinating universality. 

Depending on where the mutable borders were drawn at the time of various births, Read More