Change Begins with Me

What hell it must be to be the mother of a black son in this country. I can empathize, but I cannot know in my bones her daily and nightly horrors and fears, the hard realities that blacks and other people of color (POC) have had to deal with for far too long.

Black Teen Shares The Rules His Mom Makes Him Follow When Leaving The House
Black Teen Shares The Rules His Mom Makes Him Follow When Leaving The House

I am a privileged white middle-class woman. When I walk in a neighborhood where I’m not known, or go for a drive at night, I take for granted that I’m safe as are most of my family. Does that mean that my liberal foundations are meaningless? I must ask myself: Have I dreamed and wanted change but not done enough? Have any of us done enough? If we had, perhaps we could have prevented the destruction of so many lives… so many deaths.

The hollow statements of support we’ve seen for Black Lives Matter from bureaucrats, corporations and celebrities are meaningless. They change nothing, I look instead for inspiration from declarations such as Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s statement. SWFA openly recognizes their/our mistakes of the past and has established real plans and changes to affect greater inclusion and diversity within its own ranks. SFWA is putting words into action and money shared.

I must ask myself: What actions can I take? Open my pockets, of course. However, I’m an individual writer with only small donations to give. No, I must do more. I must demand justice and fairness. I must work to end institutional racism and the daily acts of bigotry and evil. My first step is to listen to POCs and respond by doing what they tell me they need. Because at the end of the day, when black mothers are living nightmares I can only imagine, I know that change begins with me, with my actions.

Words are not enough.

A New Wave of Authentic Communication in the Era of Covid-19

A Facebook friend shared a music video with me: “Neil Diamond & Puppies to Put a Smile on your Face.” It’s a charming bit of fluff, photographed outdoors, with Diamond singing and playing an acoustic guitar, and puppies romping in the fields. The pups are a nice touch, though I have the feeling the only reason they’re present is that a producer or someone said, “Hey, if we want a video to go viral, we need kittens or puppies in it.” But what bothered me the most was that Diamond lip-syncs a soundtrack that is obviously studio produced, with particular attention to enhancing his voice. 

Overall, the video is missing authenticity, that special element that says, we’re all human, and we need connections to each other, to nature, and to puppies. Instead, we view Diamond through a technologically managed veil that doesn’t allow us to touch or be touched.

Okay, I’m being very unfair. That video was produced in 2014 – six years and a world away. Back then, life was filled with movement, activities, responsibilities. We were constantly running from here to there and back again. Proud of the long, hard hours we worked, we strove for grueling levels of excellence, holding ourselves and everything around us to a high standard of productivity. Is it any wonder that we expected hard-earned perfection from our entertainment, based on take after take, melded together digitally to create a flawless whole? The Neil Diamond video was appropriate for that time.

But not for today.

Covid-19 has changed so much so quickly. Sheltering in place, hopefully in our own homes or apartments, we’re unable to move about, and for many, unable to work. Some of us are completely alone, though lucky singles like me have a dog or cat or even a bird or snake to keep us company. But for the majority of us who have Internet connections, we’re not truly alone. We are connecting with each other on a deeper, richer level than ever before – and far more frequently. I’m no exception.

I find myself Zooming every day, sometimes more than once, connecting with friends and family, but also with professional peers and business associates. In the mornings, I exercise with my sister-in-law Lee, and we’re often joined by our friend Saroj. It’s an intimate hour that starts our day on a warm positive note. Before, after and even during our aerobics video or yoga or weight training, we share our thoughts and concerns, discuss our plans for the day and support each other. Our friendship has been permanently changed by these exchanges, deepened.

My family Zooms once a week. (And yes, it is now a verb.) In normal times, I’d be lucky to see some of them every couple of months. I haven’t seen the St. Louis contingent in years. Of course, the kids dominate while parents, grandparents and the aunt (me) sit back and smile, and sometimes get a word in edgewise. We take pure pleasure – or for those who know Yiddish, we qvell – just seeing the faces of the people we love,  knowing they’re safe, and being able to share a half hour of unimportant patter while ensconced so many miles away from each other. The time we spend together online is far richer than a phone call or any kind of communication – other than the wished-for, someday-soon in-person gatherings.

Itzak Perlman: a story & some musicEven in my quiet hours, I’m not fully alone. In addition to enjoying videos of plays from Broadway and London, I’m kept company by authors’ readings and musicians performing at home. For instance, Itzhak Perlman epitomizes this new wave of heart-felt communication. He posts periodic short videos on Facebook – just him and his violin. Looking directly into the camera, he shares a short story or personal feelings, then plays a few minutes of music. And we feel uplifted by the very same sense of love that makes Perlman a violin virtuoso.

But it’s not just personal or artistic connections that have become more authentic. Business meetings are often disrupted by a cat jumping on someone’s lap or a child running about in the background. Such personal interruptions would have once been deemed inappropriate but now create a warm moment that we can share with our associates. To use a Yiddish word that says it all, our meetings are becoming menschlichkeit . (Sorry, it isn’t an easy word to translate. It has to do with being a mensch, being a human being, personable, caring, involved, and more than that.)

We’re depending on Zoom and similar videoconferencing services in this time of isolation. As we connect through our screens, we’re allowing not only our friends and family, but business associates, fans and other “strangers” to glimpse who we are behind the public masks we’d carefully crafted. Our pets, our children, our private homes are on display, warts and all. And we’ve become – like the Velveteen Rabbit – real to each other, and to ourselves.

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NOTE: Thank you David Strom and Paul Gillin for mentioning this essay on their FIR B2B podcast.

 

BookTV Video: The Wordsmiths Project by Sally Wiener Grotta

A blast from the past.

Out of the blue, Google Alerts notified me of a video online that featured me. When I clicked on the link, it took me to C-SPAN’s BookTV archives. Back in 2007, the launch exhibit of The Wordsmiths Project was displayed at the entrance to Book Expo in NYC’s Javits Center. The Wordsmiths Project (which predated my American Hands by a couple of years) featured my interpretative portraits of people behind the scenes in book publishing, such as editors, agents, reviewers, publishers, etc. I dedicated it to raising funds and awareness for ASJA’s Writers Emergency Assistance Fund

I had a fabulous time with the project, spending time with fascinating people, getting to know them, and then creating photo images designed to capture not only their appearance, but who they are, and how they relate to books. Though the video quality and color aren’t great, I hope you enjoy viewing it as much as I did being interviewed for it.

Video: Preparing Newborns & Toddlers to Love Books & Reading

In this first episode of my new interview series, I chatted with Saroj Ghoting, the Early Childhood Literacy consultant, about how to prepare newborns and young children to be ready to learn to read. More importantly, Saroj shared tips for engaging children in the joy of books which will make them lifelong readers.

 

Further Information & Links

About Saroj Ghoting

Saroj Ghoting is an Early Childhood Literacy Consultant and national trainer on early literacy. She presents early literacy training and information sessions at national, regional, and state conferences, and training for library staff and their partners. She has been a consultant for the Public Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children of the American Library Association on the Every Child Ready to Read @ your library® early literacy initiative. She has authored seven books on early childhood literacy including The Early Literacy Kit: A Handbook and Tip Cards, Storytimes for Everyone! Developing Young Children’s Language and Literacy, STEP into Storytime: Using StoryTime Effective Practice to Strengthen the Development of Newborns to Five-Year-Olds and Time for a Story: Sharing Books with Infants and Toddlers.

Video: Sally Wiener Grotta Reads Her Beatles Short Story “The Truth Within”

For your listening pleasure, below is a video of me reading my story, “The Truth Within,” from Across the Universe: Tales of Alternative Beatles.

George Harrison is on a mission: To convince the leader of the free world to stop going to war — abroad *and* at home. But will President Richard Nixon listen?

“I’ve got to get Nixon hooked on transcendental meditation. Can you imagine a chilled Nixon, at peace with himself? No more daring the world to knock that chip off his shoulder. No more ‘manning’ it up to hide his inner doubts. TM will get him past all the nonsense that blinds him to the truth within him. And poof! No more carpet bombing and napalm and so many dead and wounded. No more war.”

If you enjoy this story, please share it with your friends. 

Click here for more author video recordings from Across the Universe: Tales of Alternative Beatles.  

And buy the book here.

The Sprecher & Rose

Sally Wiener Grotta talking with Erika Funke (WVIA-FM) about storytelling
Click to hear Sally reading this story on ArtScene with Erika Funke (WVIA-FM). The photos are from a previous appearance on the show.

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