Blog Connections: The Power of Writing

A surprise comment on an old blog post reminded me of the power of writing and the importance of family stories.

On, Friday, April 6, 2012, I wrote a Good Friday post, recalling how when I worked as a reporter for the Danbury (CT) News-Times, I met a woman who’d been arrested for serving beer on Good Friday, breaking Connecticut’s then “Blue” laws that prohibit the sale of alcohol on that day.

A couple days ago, I received this comment on that post.

Kathleen Tenk was my mother. She’s been dead 31 years now. What a surprise to see this article from just 3 years ago. She always stood up for what she believed in. I try to do the same. I hope she knows that.

Honored that Lisa Beauregard Tenk had found my post and touched that my words reminded her of her mother, I corresponded with her through blog comments and later via email.

How did she find my post, now over 3 years old?

She wrote:

Just couldn’t sleep last night and Googled her name. The power of the internet. I will be visiting tomorrow with my sister and my mom’s 2 surviving sisters. I’ll share this with them. They will be happy to be reminded that her spirit and life are remembered.

 I asked her if she’d mind if I wrote about our exchange and she responded:

I would not mind at all! There are so many stories like that about my mom. I often think I should have written a book to keep her memory alive. When I shared your blog on FB there was someone who commented that they were there the night she was arrested. Everyone loved and respected her.

Thank you again!

My blog readership has slipped (as has the amount I post), and often I’m happy that the  loyal readers I’ve amassed continue to comment. This comment from an old post shows that one never knows who may read your work; if not today, maybe tomorrow, or even in a year or two, or three.

 

Posted in Blogging, daughters, Family, interviews, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Cary, Anthony, & Alice: More Books

Summer’s nearly over. Here’s a few titles to carry you through Labor Day.

Princess Bride fans take note. Cary Elwes, the actor who played Wesley, has written a memoir about the making of the 1987 movie, based on the 1973 book by William Goldman. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of movie making. You read how the film was cast and produced, and of the obstacles, like unpredictable British weather and actor injuries. You learn how director Rob Reiner had to leave the set to stifle his laughter when Billy Crystal, playing Miracle Max, added so many lines to the script he left everyone in hysterics. Reading the memoir reminded me how charming the book and movie are and how I need to reread and rewatch. 516Fd4+DlsL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_

Five hundred plus pages fly by in Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, the well-deserved 2015 Pulitzer winning World War II novel. We meet a blind French girl, Marie-Laure and an orphaned German boy, Werner whose lives ultimately intertwine on the remote French coast of Saint-Malo. Told in short chapters, alternating from one character to the other, the novel is compelling . 51MfO0a70ZL._AA160_

I’ve always been an Alice Hoffman fan since way back and enjoy her more recent fiction, especially  The Dovekeepers. In The Marriage of Opposites she brings us to the tropical island of St. Thomas in the early 1800’s where Rachel, the future mother of Impressionist artist Camille Pissaro, defies her synagogue and society to marry Frederick Pizzaro, a family business associate. Set at a time when slavery existed and people didn’t cross racial barriers, the novel shows how this family (based on fact), managed to thrive and maintain friendships. 51pHROF6adL._AA160_

 

Happy to have some book suggestions!

Posted in art, Books, Judaism, Movies & TV, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Weighing in on “Watchman”

I admit I was one of the flocks of millions who anticipated the new Harper Lee novel with glee.  A chance to re-enter that world of small town Alabama and the world of those characters, Scout, Atticus, Jem and Dill? Count me in. I consider To Kill a Mockingbird one of the best books ever written. I’ve taught it to 8th graders, and even had a cameo role in a local stage production as a member of the jury.

I did not however pre-order the book, Go Set A Watchman. Practicing thrift, (sometimes) I added my name to the waiting list at my library. I was number 12. No rush, I felt, I have plenty to read.

Then the first chapter was released early. And I read it. And thought:  dull. Passive. Too many modifiers. Too much exposition. Dialogue like, “I’ll have an affair with you but I won’t marry you.” I didn’t care about the adult Scout, now using her formal name, Jean Louise and her want-to-be fiancé, Henry Clinton, an assistant in Atticus’ law practice.

I almost quit reading. I do that now with books if the end of the first chapter does not engage me. I’d heard enough about the rest of the book: Atticus now in his 70’s and a bigot, defending the ways of the old South. No Jem, he’s dead. WHAT?

No Dill.

No Boo Radley. How could it be any good?

Add to that all the controversy about whether Harper Lee even gave consent to publish this book. That it isn’t a complete novel but merely a draft of what became her international best seller. That her editor, long since deceased, helped her mold Watchman into Mockingbird. That publishing this book was purely a blockbuster for Harper Collins, owned by NewsCorp, in other words, just making Rupert Murdoch richer.

Then I read two articles that delayed my returning the book, deciding I should give the book a fair trial before condemning it.  This one  urges readers to look at Atticus as a man, complete with inherent inconsistencies and complexity, instead of as a hero as he is in TKAM.

Writer C. Hope Clark’s posted her review on Facebook. She wrote:

“…No, Atticus was not painted a racist, but should be considered more of a realist. He was part of change, but recognized it as a difficult and complicated changing of the guard. Change is painful and is never handled with a clean break regardless of what people want…”

I can’t say I agree with everything in her review. I found the writing inferior to TKAM, the novel plot-less, and the characters stereotypical.  I was fascinated though to see how Lee developed as a writer, under the guidance of an excellent editor. The adult Scout is a bit autobiographical; Harper Lee returned to Alabama after leaving for college and then working in New York City.

Yet I miss the old characters, forever immortalized in To Kill A Mockingbird.  The novel maintains its place as most beloved of all time. I read most of Watchman at the beach. Toss it in your beach bag and give it a try. Love to know what you think.

Posted in Books, reviews | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

Summer Slices

Summer is slip-sliding away and this year; I have the August 1st curse as I’m returning to the classroom in a couple of weeks. I’ll be teaching creative writing to 7th & 8th graders. So now August feels like Sunday nights—in a good way—anticipation of new learning, sharing and writing.

Meanwhile it’s been a packed summer with family and friends, biking, reading, writing, swimming, and a couple of shows.

I caught up with Tangerine Tango contributor Gabi Coatsworth on one of my trips to Connecticut.  IMG_0931

My high school friend Lynn organized a mini-reunion centered on her brother’s performance in South Pacific at the Ivoryton Playhouse. He and his wife are opera singers. Great performance; it’s a show that doesn’t seem to get dated. The message of “you’ve got to be taught” is a strong now as when the show first came out in 1949. IMG_0939

Then my friend Yvonne suggested we take advantage of Restaurant week in NYC. I tend to avoid the city in summer – too hot and too many tourists. But I’d never taken advantage of Restaurant Week before—a three-course lunch for $25. Really. The dessert was amazing—a chocolate mousse/espresso/hazelnut concoction.  IMG_0948We turned it into a complete outing and saw the revival of On the Town. Music by Leonard Bernstein, ballet, and NYC. Though we felt the show is dated, we had fun.  IMG_0950

I’ve had friends at the lake IMG_0955and we’ve done some biking excursions, including 120 miles round trip to our friends in Orson, PA. (over two days.)IMG_0923IMG_0924

I took an on-line poetry writing class and realized how bad I am at that genre. I still struggle to understand a lot of what’s written for adults. Yet I enjoyed the challenge and am inspired to rejuvenate an old manuscript and work on it more seriously. Stay tuned.

We still have some outings ahead—a beach day, and a visit to New Orleans, (talk about hot and humid) to help our daughter get settled into her apartment before she starts law school. I’ll miss my trips to San Francisco as I’d gotten to know the city while she was there. NOLA, I’m sure will capture my heart soon enough.

Now it’s time to start thinking about lesson plans and what I’ll wear the first day.

Until then, I bought a new lunch box.

Posted in Friendship, New York City, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

CVS Goes Big: Receipts, Stores & Anti-Smoking

Often bigger isn’t necessarily better. Take CVS.  Even Jimmy Kimmel on his ABC late night show complained to President Barak Obama about the length of the drugstore’s receipts.

In Katonah, New York, a bedroom suburb 45 miles north of New York City, the local zoning board voted to limit the size of new retail establishments, effectively blocking CVS from building a nearly 7,000 square foot superstore in a small shopping center, replacing a smaller store already there. Residents wanted to maintain the town’s character; it banned Starbucks nearly 20 years ago.

I understand “NIMBY” – “not in my backyard.” I’ve seen one of these mega-sized CVS stores and wondered what more could they be selling. I fill prescriptions at an independent store in my town and love the personal attention and quick service. When other stores in town have closed, this pharmacy has absorbed some of their business, adding a music department and photocopying area. Yet for items like sunscreen, aspirin, hair products, and the like, I’ll stop into my local CVS. And while I’m there I might buy milk or candy too. I crumble their excessively long receipts; I’m not organized enough to keep them safe somewhere for the next visit. I agree with Kimmel, it is a waste of paper.

Yet CVS deserves commendation too. The company announced that it’s resigning from the US Chamber of Commerce because the chamber and its foreign affiliates are lobbying against anti-smoking laws. Last year, CVS stopped selling tobacco products and believe the chamber’s campaign stymies the drugstore chain’s mission to improve public health.

Bravo, CVS for having the courage to act. Perhaps we can forgive the company for having ridiculous receipts and wanting bigger stores.

Boo, Chamber of Commerce for supporting business interests at the expense of global health.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in commentary, Education, health, news, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Mushroom Mystery

Some magnificent looking mushrooms have sprung up in front of the house across the street. The size of salad plates, appearing suddenly when heavy rains followed a heat wave, they seem magical, planted by a garden troll or an alien. IMG_0913 IMG_0914

In my mind, I’m gathering and giving them a quick rinse, chopping a bit, and sautéing in butter, garlic and fresh herbs. I’d mix them with wild rice or serve on top of pasta. Or just eat straight from the pan.

I remember years ago we had a houseguest from Australia visiting. After a summer rain, she collected the mushrooms from the lawn. My mother panicked and admonished her, worried about having to tell her mother she’d been poisoned. Jane, our guest, assured us these were fine. Trusting her, we ate them and they were great.

But not knowing mushrooms—with more than 1,000 varieties worldwide and many of them poisonous- I’ll stick to buying at the grocery store and leave identifying to the botanists who study them. There’s a Czech adage that warns: “Every mushroom is edible, but some only once.”

Nevertheless, they remind me of nature’s mysteries. Beautiful. Temporary. Mystical.

Posted in environment, food, Nature, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

July 4th: Gun Control NOW

It’s a rainy 4th of July here in northeastern Pennsylvania. I’m making a pasta salad to bring to our friends later; a combination of vegetables and seasonings. I’m listening to a panoply of patriotic music  aired by the local NPR station. And as I chop and listen, I’m thinking about the day’s significance and question where we go from here.

Last week’s Supreme Court  ruling that grants gay marriage nationwide, make this year’s 4th celebrations of independence and freedom historical. Facebook encouraged users to enhance their profile photos with a rainbow hue, to acknowledge the victory with the LGBT symbol.

This followed on the heels of the horrific church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, where a 21-year-old white male gunned down nine innocent African Americans during worship.

This December will mark the three- year anniversary of the Sandy Hook, CT school shooting, where a 20-year-old white male opened fire, killing 26 people, 20 children among them. Since then a group of cyclists ride to Washington, DC, wearing green jerseys, to promote stricter gun control and background checks.

Will a color be adopted to represent the Charleston massacre? How long will it take before colors are more than symbols and become law?

I doubt the Founding Fathers thought much about LGBT rights back in the 18th century. In a society created by militant uprisings and where many differences were solved by duels and other violence, they enacted the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms. The amendment has been subject to debate.

They didn’t foresee how the nation would change its views of civil rights but they had hopes. If around today, I bet they’d be advocating that it’s time to amend the Second Amendment to protect innocent lives. IMG_0898

Posted in celebrations, Civil Rights History, commentary, Education, Family, Grandchildren, History, holidays, news, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments