Uncommon Courtesy: Why Do Some People Fear Being Generous?

Philadelphia Flower Show by Sally Wiener GrottaA couple of weeks ago, Daniel and I were at the Philadelphia Flower Show, an annual indoor spectacle of flowers, fantasy gardens and all things green. The oldest horticultural show in the world (since 1829), it’s a wondrous showcase and educational forum for serious gardeners, topiary artists, flower aficionados, kitchen gardeners and even jewelry makers who work with plants. The last time Daniel and I had attended the Flower Show, we had been newlyweds. Every year since, we kept missing it: off on an assignment somewhere else in the world, on book or article deadlines, or simply too involved in our lives to think of scheduling a visit. Last week, we happened to be in the city at the right time so Daniel could have some minor surgery. Since he was just out of the hospital and still recuperating, we borrowed my dad’s motorized scooter. That allowed him to enjoy all 33 acres of the show, despite his post-surgical weariness.

The crowds were beyond dense, and most people thought nothing about darting in front of the moving scooter, much as they would if they were jockeying for one more car length during rush hour on the Schuylkill Expressway. It was some of the trickiest driving Daniel had done since India. Still the displays were stunning. Daniel particularly enjoyed seeing the show from the viewpoint of the many children who stood about the same height as his seated position. Their sense of wonder and exuberance was contagious; everything was new and exciting… from the fairyland-like scenes to the profusion of exotic, sometimes bizarrely shaped plants. Even the scooter was a source of merriment and “I want” syndrome. What’s more, unlike the thousands of adults that crowded about us, the children made eye contact with Daniel.

After a couple of hours at the show, the scooter started beeping a low battery warning. Daniel had wisely brought the charging cord which we plugged into an electrical outlet in a dark corner down a small hallway. Daniel wasn’t dependent on the scooter, except for endurance. So we could have continued walking around the show for about a half hour while the battery got a top-up charge. The problem was that we were concerned about leaving Dad’s scooter unattended.

I went to the scooter rental table in the concourse just outside the show door. Behind it was a curtained off area that was empty, but had several electrical outlets that weren’t being used. I suppose it was where they charged their scooters, when they were returned. I told the woman who stood behind the table our problem and asked, “May I plug the scooter in back there? That way, my husband will be able to continue enjoying the show.”

She smiled and said, “If it were up to me, sure.” Then she turned to a second woman who had just arrived. “But my shift if over, you’ll have to ask her.”

The other woman initially ignored me, even though I am certain that she had heard my exchange with her associate.

I repeated my request to her. “My husband has just had surgery, and we’re using a scooter so he can be here, but the battery is about to die. May we plug it into one of the outlets back there for about a half hour?”

She stared at me, clearly uncomfortable if not aghast at being asked something she wasn’t primed to deal with. “No, I can’t,” she said emphatically. Then, she returned to ignoring me.

I was flabbergasted. Why would anyone flatly refuse such a reasonable request to help another, especially when it would cost her nothing?

That trivial 60 second interaction has haunted me ever since then. I’ve been trying to understand why she reacted that way. Sometimes, I dismiss it as a sad example of how courtesy and decency are alien or an annoying imposition to some people. But there must be more to it than that.Read More

A Lovely Review of “The Winter Boy”


The Winter Boy by Sally Wiener GrottaSally has been receiving so many great reviews for her novel The Winter Boy that I’ve convinced her to let me periodically post links to them here.

“What a wonderfully woven story. Tragic, touching and thoughtful… [The Winter Boy] deals with love, loss, war, personal growth, forgiveness and strength in ways you’ve likely never seen within the pages of one book. I am a fan of Sally Wiener Grotta to be sure. She is a fantastic writer and the two books I have read and reviewed so far are night and day from each other, in topic only. The writing and storytelling in each was absolutely wonderful: she is an author on the rise, so keep an eye out for her.” To read the full review by Melody Weathers on FollowBooks.com, please click here.

Is Obesity the New Obscenity?

 

Leonard Nimoy and Raphael
Leonard Nimoy’s photo and the Raphael inspiration

 

Facebook has decided that I post offensive material, and I have been warned to desist.

On Saturday morning, I logged into Facebook, expecting to spend a few minutes checking what my friends were up to, reposting some of their more interesting comments, pictures and links, and responding to messages. I also had links that I wanted to post about art, writing, grants and creativity – plus the usual humorous, heartwarming or meaningful pictures or videos I thought folks would enjoy. In other words, I planned a routine social visit on Facebook, before logging off to work on my current novel in progress.

But Facebook had other plans for me.

Instead of taking me directly to my FB page, a rather intimidating message popped up. It stated in no uncertain terms that I had posted an offensive nude photograph, which Facebook had excised from my page and feed (i.e. censored). Then I was shown my online albums, was commanded to remove any other pictures of naked people, and I had to confirm by checkmark that I had no such pictures left on Facebook. I didn’t think they were referring to the various Renoirs, Matisses, Goyas, Picassos and such that I’ve posted over the years. So I clicked the Agree button, and I was allowed to enter Facebook’s supposedly squeaky clean domain.

Of course, I knew immediately which photograph Facebook had found so offensive, and I’m convinced it wasn’t because it was of nude women, but because it was of obese nude women.

In fact, it was a picture from The Full Body Project, a book of photographs by Leonard Nimoy, which is Amazon’s number one best seller in Women’s Studies. What’s more, my posting wasn’t just of the photograph, but a link to a lovely tribute to Mr. Nimoy in the New York Observer My Friend Leonard Nimoy was a Fervent Feminist by Abby Ellin.

SO MUCH MORE THAN SPOCK

Like many millions of others, my fascination with Leonard Nimoy began with a young girl’s crush on Mr. Spock. But it was only as I learned more about the man behind the actor, that I began to admire him – as a thinker, author, artist and philanthropist. And then there was the phone call.Read More

Extremists Make Extremists of Us All

I am not Charlie.

I have been uncertain about writing that phrase ever since it came to my mind just hours after Wednesday’s horrific murder of twelve satirists in Paris.

I fear I may be opening myself to attack from friends and acquaintances – potentially from all sorts of strangers on the globe-circling Internet.

But it is the truth. I am not anything like Charlie Hebdo.

I do not ridicule or insult others’ heartfelt beliefs. I would no more draw Mohammed with his genitals hanging out than I would paint Jesus having sex with Mary Magdelen or a Jewish man with a humpback and an exaggerated hook nose (as the Nazis did).

I believe in building bridges between people, not throwing up unnecessary walls.

On the other hand, my faith rests not only in freedom of speech but also in the sanctity of expressing differing, even diametrically opposing opinions and ideas. Without that essential debate, our lauded freedoms are built on hollow ground.Read More

On Writing: A Complex Web of Inspirations Behind My Novel “Jo Joe”

Sally Wiener Grotta, author of the novel "Jo Joe"

For the BookGoodies.com spotlight on my novel Jo Joe, I was asked “What inspired you to write your book?” Here’s the answer I gave them:

“To some extent … [Jo Joe is]… about a boy I once knew, who worked for us part-time after school, doing odd jobs around the house — when it wasn’t football season. Bob wasn’t very bright, at least not in those things I had been taught to measure intelligence. But once I explained to him what I needed or wanted, with clear step by step instructions, he would absorb those directions within himself. And even though Bob was taciturn — apparently not trusting in his ability to form the words to explain himself — after he thought a while about what I had said, he would tell me his ideas about how to make the work easier, better. Then, he did whatever it was I needed. Quite well.

“As long as it was something physical that needed doing, something he could see in his mind as involving his hands and body, Bob was quite competent. That’s why, while he did poorly in school, barely passing, he was the high school’s star halfback.

“Bob dreamed of avoiding the rut of a life that loomed before him. Read More

What Is Your Writing Routine?

Winter Boy and Jo Joe, novels by Sally Wiener Grotta

In an interview for Ivory Owl Reviews, the first question Rhiannon asked was about my writing routine. Here’s the answer I gave her:

“Whenever possible, I try to devote my mornings to writing, though life often intervenes.

“The first draft of any novel or short story is me telling myself a story, listening carefully to the characters who become my constant companions. I am often surprised by a plot twist or sudden veering within the dialog, but I hold tight and enjoy the ride.

“In the second draft, I start to take control over the story and the characters. Often, this is when I introduce sharper, more delineated tension, and fill out the details that give depth.

“In the third draft – well, I usually lose count of the number of rewrites; it’s often in the dozens, if not scores. I work and rework the prose and plot, sculpting the personalities and histories, refining and polishing the story, while making sure every word I use is the one I really meant.

Writers are often divided into two camps:Read More

Michelle Bowles asked Sally “What inspired you to become a writer?”

Sally Wiener Grotta by Daniel GrottaIn an interview for her blog What is that Book About, Michelle Bowles asked Sally, “You have a very distinguished writing portfolio, what inspired you to become a writer?”

Here’s Sally’s answer:

“I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love stories – both listening and creating. I wouldn’t go to bed unless my mother told me a story first. Often, I would fall asleep in the middle, and continue the tale in my dreams.

“When I was about 12 years old, my older sister gave me a notebook and told me that I should keep all my poems and stories in one place. I filled up that notebook rather quickly, and she bought me another. Over the years, the poetry got better, the stories more intricate and fully developed, and the notebooks piled up though I’m not sure where they are at this point.

“I began writing professionally Read More

Spreading My Petals Wide

Spreading My Petals Wide by Sally Wiener Grotta

Our field is peppered with wildflowers, poking their heads through the grass and weeds, pushing upward and outward. Seeking. As buds, they are merely promises of what might be. Only when they spread wide their petals, so that they might attract and absorb sun, rain, the caress of a breeze, the attention of bees; only when they have every pore open to receive, do they become their full selves. A glory of colors, synthesizing all that comes their way into something that is uniquely their own.

Sometimes, I feel a bit like a vampire, because I take bites of everything I see and feel, of every person I meet, and mash them up into ideas that are new, or at least in new forms, and spew them out as story. But recently, I’ve been feeling like a wildflower.

The more I open myself to stimulation, to others’ ideas and laughter, to being touched by tears or a loving caress; the more I taste through the pores of my skin or inhale divergent currents, the richer my work becomes….

Please click here to read the rest of this essay which was recently published in When Women Waken, a Journal of Poetry, Prose and Images.

Dining with a Newly Discovered Amazon Jungle Clan

 

Lawrence M. Schoen
Lawrence M. Schoen

 

When Lawrence Schoen asked me to write about my most memorable meal for his Eating Authors feature on his blog, I could have chosen any number of spectacular culinary experiences I’ve had. That’s because one of the things that I share with Lawrence’s fictional character the Amazing Conroy is a love of experiencing new, wondrous foods wherever I travel. (Okay, Conroy’s travels are intergalactic; mine have been limited — so far — to our small birth world, Earth.)

Daniel and I have traveled on assignment for various glossy magazine and other clients to all seven continents (including Antarctica three times) and many exotic islands (such as Papua New Guinea). Along the way, our research always included discovering the local delicacies and great chefs. So, in answer to Lawrence’s question, I could have written about the finest vegetarian meal I ever had in at a Buddhist monastery on a Hong Kong out-island, or the Kobe beef dinner with a couple of drunk Toyko business executives, or maybe the 6-star midnight catered supper in Paris. But they all pale in my memories to a weekend that Daniel and I spent in the Amazon Jungle. (We titled the resulting story , which was syndicated to numerous regional/city magazines and newspapers, A Weekend in the Stone Age.)

To read the story of my most memorable meal with a newly discovered Amazon Indian clan, click here.