Malleable Memory

Memory is malleable.

In my short story The Broken Bottle, I refer to Akira Kurosawa’s seminal movie Rashomon, in which each witness to a murder tells a different story of the crime – including the ghost of the victim. While Rashomon paints a scenario in which individuals may or may not be lying to us about their memory, I propose that our own memories lie to us. Often they tell us the stories we want to hear about ourselves. And what we want to hear changes as we move further and further away from the truth of the event. (Of course, “want” may be debatable. But I’ll leave that psychological discussion to another time.)

Johanna, the protagonist of The Broken Bottle says, “It’s as though the young woman I was back on that wet July night stands in the middle of a polygonal mirrored room. Though she is surrounded by the facts of the moment, all she can see are the distorted reflections, refracting through time.”

When I look back on my childhood, which I shared with my sister and my parents and an assortment of friends, family and pets, it’s an ethereal landscape. Sometimes shrouded in dense fog. Periodically illuminated, so that specific places or people stand out so clearly that I can taste the air, smell their perfume, feel the emotions in the pit of my stomach – especially the shock of embarrassment or great hurt or ecstasy. But mostly, everything and everyone in my past are Read More

Choices

Reprinted from my old blog which is now closed.

A few years ago, I broke both my arms. One moment, I was happily strolling along with our young puppy galumphing at my side. The next, I was sprawled face down in the asphalt of a parking lot.

More shocking than the thwack of pain was the blink-of-an-eye speed with which it all happened. I had tripped over a hidden metal rod in a supposedly landscaped island, and suddenly I had no control over my own body. Gravity took hold and threw me to the ground. Though only a few months old and still untrained, Watson was a good puppy and sat next to me until a stranger came by to help me get up.

Can you imagine what it was like to have both my arms in slings for months, useless, unable to do the most basic things for myself? One of the more memorable moments was after a few weeks of frustrating (and boring) passivity, when I was Read More

Being Alien: An Essay in Progress

Today, while doing my morning exercises, I clicked through Netflix and ended up watching “First Contact: Lost Tribe of the Amazon.” It’s a fascinating documentary about an anthropologist’s first interaction with one of the isolated tribes of the region. But my interest wasn’t only intellectual. I was curious about how the tribe Daniel and I had once met might have fared. (To read a bit about our experience in the Amazon, please go to a lighthearted piece I did for Lawrence Schoen’s Eating Authors.)

According to “First Contact,” an Amazon region of about 30,000 square miles (spread across the border between Brazil and Peru) is home to the majority of “uncontacted” people in the planet. Uncontacted means that they have had no recorded interaction with the outside modern world. However, many (if not most) have been watching us for a long time. Read More

Carving a Sacred Place

Nate Favors from The American Hands Project by Sally Wiener GrottaToday, I will write.

Because it is time.

I’m not sure when I last wrote. At least a year. No, it was more like a year and a half, except maybe for a couple of essays and one or two very short poems. I’m not talking about the reviews and features that currently represent the bulk of my livelihood, but my core writing. The novels, stories, poems and essays that reach through my throat into my gut and haul out my voice through my heart.

I write because pouring myself out onto the keyboard is how I have always tried to make sense of a senseless world. I don’t understand the pain we cause each other, the hate, the distortion of love. War and tribalism. Walls between individuals, between tribes and nations, that are built up brick by brick over years of preconceptions and propaganda. So I create stories to try to help me find the right questions to ask that might yet explain the inexplicable. Perhaps, I can also use it to try to navigate my way through the morass of this new world that now envelops me.

I write because through words, through Story, I have long discovered myself. So I shall write with the hope of rediscovery, not of the woman I am or have been, but this new woman I am now forced to become. Without my compass, without the living breathing other soul who lived within me, by my side, facing each morning as a new adventure to be shared.

Where do I start? At the end? That’s one simple sentence. Three words. Daniel is dead. In my novel The Winter Boy, I wrote, “How people die shapes our world.” Read More

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

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.

Pointing My Compass Toward Home

Pointing My Compass Toward Home by Sally Wiener GrottaIn early August, a yellow jacket hitched a ride on our windshield. I’m sure it was entirely by accident. He had landed on the glass, as a rest stop in his flight to and fro (from and to where, I’ll never know). Of course, we were parked at the time – at the vet’s picking up medicine for our dog Watson as the last stop in an afternoon of errands. So, you can imagine the wasp’s disconcertion when his resting place suddenly growled to life and started moving at the speed of wind. He hugged the glass, splaying his six legs as wide as possible, maximizing contact with the surface, holding on for dear life. (Why he didn’t just let go and fly away is another mystery to me.) We didn’t stop again, until we arrived home, about 15 miles over the mountain from where he first touched down. He remained on the windshield, while we unloaded the car. I didn’t see when he flew away.

I’ve been wondering ever since about that yellow jacket. Did he ever get back to his home turf? Could he survive away from his nest? Was he so traumatized by the experience that he no longer could function as a normal everyday, workaday wasp? Or do modern wasps take such disruptions in their routine in stride? (Or, should I say, in flight?) After all, our yard, cemeteries, field and stream are rich hunting grounds for wasps, bees, birds and all kinds of critters. Was the trip on our windshield therefore an easy relocation for him? If so, did he ever find a new nest, a new family, new friends, to help him redefine his sense of self within a place?Read More

How Lucky Can You Get?

Glass Half Full or Half Empty by Sally Wiener GrottaThe other evening, we were driving home from a photo workshop I had just given at the McBride Library (Berwick, PA). I was in the back seat. Daniel was driving, and my Dad was in the front passenger seat. My two best friends. The two loves of my life. Whenever they can, they attend all my seminars, lectures, book signings, and exhibit receptions. Always there for me in good times and bad. I don’t know what I would do without them.

Suddenly, a thump and a slight swerve. We had hit a deer, a young, not insubstantial buck. I saw it fly off our front grill, onto the hood, headed for the windshield and straight for Daniel and Dad.

In the blink of an eye, everything could have changed. Read More

Opening Myself to What Might Come

My Faith by Sally Wiener GrottaI don’t know what I believe about a God. I find it difficult to accept an all-powerful being who is, at the same time, able to dwell in/be the entire universe and, yet, anthropomorphically dabbles in the second-to-second trivia of 5 billion individual human lives on a flyspeck of a planet, when that planet is just one among billions upon billions, in our one insignificant galaxy.

My faith is rooted in the connection we can make when we meet another person, when we hold a child or fully experience a mountain vista.

Yet, I am now part of my temple’s woman’s Torah study group. Not only part of it, but the facilitator for our first session, and our rabbi – Peg Kershenbaum — asked me to write a prayer to start our first meeting. As Rabbi Peg wrote to me, “The traditional prayer begins in the standard way (Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe Who sanctified us by commandments and commanded us) and ends ‘to engage with the words/matters of Torah.’ La’asok b’divrei Torah. The word engage is the same word as that used for earning a living or actively plunging into a project or transaction. We roll up our sleeves, flex our muscles and sharpen our intellect and dive into the fray!”

How was I to write a prayer that would be true to who I am, if I don’t really believe in the kind of God that is represented in the Torah? After many hours of conflict and contemplation, this is what I came up with:Read More