Shameless self-promotion

The goal of writers (well, most writers), aside from producing life-changing ideas and dizzying prose is to be published. It used to be we had to type out a clean copy (probably with onionskin copies) and go through the tedious process of correct binding, correct envelope, correct postage, of standing in line at the post office for correct postage, and then waiting the six months or more for a possible response, usually a small memo saying “Thanks but no thanks.” Then, because simultaneous submissions were verboten, we’d start the process all over again, maybe with rewrites, maybe not (after all, one editor might like what another one rejected).

Computers and the world of cyberspace has made the submission process much easier, but that is a double-edged sword, because now there is no deterrent to the hack writer who can easily send material everywhere with the click of a button.

So an acceptance is doubly appreciated and celebrated. And that is my roundabout way of announcing that, yes, my story “Mikvah” was a finalist in the Escape Into Life contest, which was judged by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler. The story will be published on the Web site sometime in May and can be read there.

I am heartened.

Goodbye, Whitney

I am writing this through angry tears.

Whitney Houston is dead, leaving a hole in the world.

The tears are natural–hers was perhaps the purest, most unique voice of a generation, a powerful, soaring, free sound that could lift you to the clouds. When she sang, she sang directly to your heart, creating an intimate connection, a hypnotic cocoon that sealed out personal troubles for a while. Her range was tremendous, her tone perfection, her control effortless. Her Black soul was unquestionable, yet she touched peoplea across cultures, spoke to anyone who understood and felt the power of music.

My anger comes from the waste–the erosion of her voice and final death through drug additction and poor life choices. I used to–still do–long for that vocal quality, that ability to pull music from a bottomless well of purity and emotion. That a person could possess that gift and waste it is unfationable to me.

But, as I have learned so often in my life, one never knows what is in another’s heart or home. I don’t know the demons that drove her to drugs, don’t understand how she came to live such a tumultuous personal life. The operant words here are “I don’t know.” All I can say now is I hope she is at peace, and say I will mourn that gentle touch, that soul-soothing sound.

I am sad and angry.

And bereft.

I Hate Politics!

I normally shy away from politics, but the recent situation in Washington has
caused me great anxiety, and more, embarrassment. With all the backbiting and
infighting between Democrats and Republicans (all branches) more befitting a
tacky reality show than a governing body, our rulers appear as simply rival
gangs engaged in a turf war, and the results could be devastating. The most
recent and, I think, most alarming, example is the upcoming presidential speech
on employment. We all know we re in a dire jobs situation, and the President
will present a major plan to get us out of this fix. However, his speech was
scheduled for the same day the Republicans were holding an election debate.
They whined, and THE PRESIDENT BACKED DOWN, changing the date of his speech. By
doing that, he gave up much of his power, as he practically admitted that their
debate was more important than his speech. Wrong move. Mr. President, we need a
leader—a Michael Douglas to stand at the presidential podium and declare with
steely gaze, “I am the President.” Conciliation is no longer effective. Please,
Sir, take command and lead us.

Quick writing update

Got a story coming out!  Always exciting–“The Gift” will be in the July/August issue of Cicada magazine. It’s a literary magazine for young people, and can be found at booksellers like Barnes and Noble. This is the company that puts out children’s magazines like Cricket and Ladybug. They’re really nice, and the quality of their magazines is top-notch.

You go, Wisconsin teachers!

It’s been interesting watching the recent demonstrations both by and against teachers. Yes, against teachers. People have been wielding signs suggesting that teachers have it pretty great, and why should they be able to negotiate better conditions. There seems to be a misconception about teachers—that their jobs are a breeze, they get summers off, paid a lot, and basically have a smooth ride.

Let me offer some illumination: I was a teacher in Wisconsin, and left because I was burned out and tired of spending every waking hour outside of the classroom either grading papers, attending meetings, or developing plans for parents. After listening to people who begrudge the people who raise their children a decent living or the chance to negotiate for it, I have the perfect solution.

Let’s eliminate teachers and schools completely.

Instead, we will shift the raising and educating of our children back where it belongs: on their parents, making parents responsible for their kids’ studies. They would be required to track their kids on a regular basis with the state, submitting lesson plans and progress reports, working to state standards and being responsible for test scores. Let the parents teach the kids social skills, and deal with inattention and recalcitrance. Of course, the parents would be required to rack up continuing education credits (at their own expense), and pay for materials out of their own pockets. For this, the state would provide a stipend for each child at the level accepted by the state legislature, requiring from the parents a detailed listing of how the funds were used (with receipts attached). For that, the state would provide health insurance (with a large co-pay and deductible required). This would be considerably less expensive than having all those greedy teachers and their exorbitant salaries!

Of course, if both parents work, they would have to figure out how to fit in the students’ time. Maybe one could work third shift, and teach during the day? (I know teachers who have a second job at night to make ends meet.) Hey, piece of cake, right? After all, how hard can it be to teach a child not only academic courses but citizenship, manners, cooperation, and tolerance?

After all, that’s what teachers do. And their reward? A salary that’s a third of what they might make applying their skills and intelligence in the private sector. And the “appreciation” of the parents who think they have it so easy. So let the parents do it. I dare them.

What goes around . . .

. . . And so time moves quickly. Another winter come and going, a new dog, a son getting married, and (finally) stories going to print. Life does continue, it seems, and I am happy to be carried along on the tsunami. Despite the pains and losses of the past two years, I am stronger than ever, better than ever with the confidence born of knowing that what whatever I screw up, it will pass, whatever tragedies lie ahead, I can handle them.

Well, most of them.

There are some things that you know you could never get over, never rise from, and all we can do is pray we never face them.

As for me, well–forward.


New blog post at

Another Step Forward

On June 19, 2010, I will become the first MFA graduate from the new Northwestern University MFA-Creative Writing program. I am proud of the achievement, and look forward to setting new goals. This was a long and at times excruciating journey, and I hope to be an inspiration to others. Nothing’s impossible, if you are willing to put in the effort. You can reach any goal if you ignore those who say you are not young or strong or smart enough. If someone else can do something, chances are so can you, although sometimes you have to find your own way to do it. Be strong, be persistent, be successful. Good luck.


New blog entry at  “On The Periphery.” Check out my latest ranting about the MMR immunization controvery.

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