Thursday, October 2, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour

I want to thank Vanessa Larson for inviting me to partake in this project! When I visited the graduate class of creative writing at UMass Boston this past spring, I was warmly welcomed by both students and professor, but it Vanessa who came over during break and started speaking to me in Hebrew. After a short chat in the dim hallway, we connected through a shared language, history, and a particular take on life and literature. I soon discovered Vanessa’s writing was as compelling and vivacious as her personality; it is rare to meet like-minded people, and I appreciate each and every opportunity I am given! To visit Vanessa’s blog, please go to - http://tinyurl.com/q828ykp

1.     What are you working on?

I am currently developing a short-story collection that centers on life in Israel. For example, the story of a young Jerusalemite who desperately wishes to better his life and immigrate to New York City (an excerpt from "Escape" - http://tinyurl.com/kmu2mbn); the unfolding friendship of two teens, a girl from Tel Aviv and a boy living in a West Bank settlement, and sheds light on the differences between these two communities and ideologies (an excerpt from “Not That Far From Tel Aviv” - http://tinyurl.com/na4wmda); and a memoir-based account of the recent war between Israel and Gaza, sketching out my experiences, impressions, and observations (excerpt from “Summer Notes” - http://tinyurl.com/olgffla).
       As an Israeli-American writer, my homeland’s multifaceted reality evokes in me a sense of deep concern; my writing is the reply.

2.     How does your work differ from others of its genre?

With background in visual arts, I cannot quite relate to the concept of genre. In fact, artists are encouraged to mix various media. Like wise, though I think of my literary work as fiction, I tend to blend in non-fiction details and stories, some poetry, and more. So mine might be a mixed genre, if you will.

3.     Why do you write what you do?

Because nobody else is doing it, and I believe those stories—these particular viewpoints—need to be expressed. But more specifically, I have no choice but to put in words the narratives and characters that keep knocking on the inside of my brain, demanding I channel them into the world, and won’t leave me alone until I give them life.

4.     How does your writing process work?

Often the seed for a piece is based on personal experience, or a few experiences weaved together, and sometimes it starts with an issue that bothers me. For example, the treatment of African refugees in Israel, which resulted in my short story, “Africans, White City, and a Pint of Guinness” (an excerpt from the story - http://tinyurl.com/kot9zpl)
       Once the seed has been planted in my mind, it takes some germination—days, weeks, months, or even years—for it to have a voice strong enough to activate the creative juices that produce a first draft.

5.     So now I tag other writers:

I met Meg Winikates in a local writing group, and although I am not a huge fan of Young Adult literature, I fell in love with her remarkably gripping dragon story, so beautifully executed I had the movie playing in my head as I was reading it.
       Meg is a freelance writer and museum educator who majored in English Literature and Language at Harvard University. She writes poetry and fiction and contributes to Brain Popcorn, a blog on interdisciplinary education, as well as to the Peabody Essex Museum blog, Connected. In her current project, Palettes of Light, Meg collaborates with photographer Michele Morris, featuring photographs paired with poems, written specifically for the image. One of these photo/poem pairings is an entry in this year's Venice Arts gala gallery show. To learn more about Meg and her writing, please visit: www.mwinikates.com

Kayleigh Shoen and I share two courses at Emerson College this semester, and I quickly realized I should look for her insightful comments and ideas during class; I often learn quite a bit from her!
       Kayleigh is an MFA candidate at Emerson College, where she teaches composition in the First Year Writing Program and nonfiction at EmersonWRITES. Her fiction has won Community Literary Awards in her hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan, and has appeared in Bastards and Whores. She blogs sporadically about her life at Kayleighsstuff.blogspot.com and about her dining experiences at Gourmanding.blogspot.com


Friday, September 19, 2014

Wartime Diary (excerpt)

July 10, 2014

My vacation is turning out quite different from what I had imagined. What a rapid escalation since I had left Boston on June 22: following the kidnapping of three Jewish teens in the West Bank on June 12, Israel arrested Hamas activists in the West Bank, threatening to shake down the organization; the three teens were found dead on June 30; on July 2 a Jewish man, assisted by two teenagers, kidnapped a sixteen-year-old Palestinian and burned him alive; meanwhile, Hamas began launching rockets into Israel from within populated neighbourhoods; Israeli Air Force bombed Gaza Strip in response, killing a family of seven in one blow; the man charged with killing the Arab kid is expected to plea for insanity after announcing in court he was the Messiah; the Palestinian militants who started the whole thing might have acted on their own.
            Was this war dictated by a handful of teen-killing lunatics on either side of the conflict? It doesn’t matter now; the Israeli government approved the recruitment of 40,000 soldiers for reserve duty. The air is charged. It carries the acrid smell of revenge.
            I need to remind myself why I came here this summer: spend time with family (meet my new baby niece!), chill out from an intense year of teaching, and enjoy a well-needed sun therapy; after 23 years in the Boston area it is safe to say I’ll never get used to its brutal winters.
            For now, September is tucked away in the future, and my summer seems deliciously long. I’m free as a bird, a single bird—war or no war.
            But did I somehow sense what lurked ahead when I chose to bring along Wartime Writings by Marguerite Duras? Her WW2 experience as a member of the French Resistance was quite different from mine, yet her words touch me: the endless wait at the end of the war for her husband to return from the concentration camp, the daily visits to the centre where truckloads of liberated prisoners were brought, imagining him unexpectedly ringing the doorbell, or lying in a dark ditch uttering his last words; would he say her name? Her mind kept switching back and forth between hope and despair like a pendulum gone haywire.
            I put down the book and glance around the guestroom, mine until August 5: the caving bookshelves shoulder frayed encyclopaedias beside hordes of novels yet read; the walls hung with colourful souvenirs, Thai charms, Brazilian wood-masks; the deep freezer storing enough food for five families; Grandma’s portrait on the table, her hollow stare digging into me. I took this picture when I was a photography student in college. I wanted to create a female generational series: Grandma, Mom, and me. I knew Grandma would soon be lost to Alzheimer’s, yet I had abandoned the project; probably put off by the dreary geriatric ward where she was living.
            I like this house, and this town, Kfar Saba, is far better than my hometown of Rishon LeZion. Too bad I had already left home by the time my parents had moved here, some twenty years back. When I visit Israel in my dreams I often get confused and end up in the dilapidated apartment building of my childhood. Or worse, I find out my parents had sold their current place and moved back to the old one, the neighbours frozen in a time capsule. What about Lior, I now wonder, the beautiful, gentle boy who lived in the apartment below us? Does he show up in those dreams, or do I remember he was shot dead by Palestinians on a remote West Bank road about twelve years ago?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Not That Far from Tel Aviv (excerpt)


A cold breeze welcomed them at the summit. A few dark clouds traveled overhead. Talia zipped up her sweatshirt.
       “Since the ‘70s we have been fulfilling the biblical promise of populating this land, from the sea in the west to the Jordan River in the east,” Gideon’s booming voice sounded. “For the past few decades we were able to reclaim much of our ancient land. With God’s will, we shall have it all before too long.” He stopped for air, before concluding, “As someone famous once said, we stand here on the land of liberated Israel.”
       “Haven’t these people lived here for a long time?” asked Talia, pointing to the Palestinian village at the hill’s foot. “Shouldn’t they have some of the land too?”
       “And how do you reckon our country was made possible?” replied Gideon. “It was always us versus them.”
       “But—“
       Gideon turned to the group. “Let’s keep walking,” he said. “I have much more to show you.”
       Talia stood there confused as everyone began descending the hill. Noam smiled at her. “Shall we join the herd?” he whispered.
       Stepping down the hillside the two trailed behind the others.
       “I wish I could meet these people,” Talia said, gesturing to the village below.
       “It’s illegal for us to go there.”
       “I know.”
       “And dangerous, of course.”
       “I tend to believe they won’t harm a seventeen-year-old girl.”
       “You’re naive.”
       She shrugged. “I‘ve heard that before.”
       “And they’ll probably force you to marry one of their ugly old men.”
       Annoyed, she replied, “I will push you down if you keep talking like this.”
       “I actually believe you,” he said with laughter, then asked in a more serious tone, “You’re leaving tomorrow morning?”
       “Yes.”
       “Will you visit here again?”
       “Not sure. I might have enough material for my paper, and I do have lots of exams coming up.”
  “I hope to see you again.”
       “You could come to Tel Aviv.”
       “My parents won’t be crazy about the idea.”
       “Well, I might visit during Passover vacation, I’ll see how things go.”
 Seeing his pleased expression, she added with a playful smirk, “But only ‘cause you’ve asked.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Africans, White City, and a Pint of Guinness (excerpt)

I see him before he notices me, sitting on a bench, his long legs stretched forward. I let go of my backpack’s left strap, hug the bag with my right arm, and glance around. Rotten luck, nobody’s anywhere near. I could turn around, or cut into a side street … no, that might prove counterproductive. Well, I’ll just put on my combatant demeanour. As Maya mentioned, you can see them everywhere around the city, so no big deal, just keep a steady pace.
            As I pass him, I realise he is looking at me, and my eyes can’t help but meet his. I issue a tiny smile and keep walking, hoping my steps seem poised.
            “You Israelis think we Africans bad people,” I hear him complain behind my back.
            I stop and slowly swing around.
            “I beg your pardon?” I say.
            “You hear me,” he replies, turning his face away from me.
            “Well, I don’t know you, but I don’t think you’re a bad person,” I say.
            He nods with exaggerated motions. “You do, you do, all of you.”
            “No, really, I don’t.” I take a step in his direction. “Look, I know about all the trouble your people have been going through. I read about it in the newspaper all the time, and I’m really sorry. I wish it was different, you don’t deserve to be treated like that.”
            “If you care, you tell government,” he says in disdain with his face still turned away.
            “Right, the government,” I sneer. “If only they had ears.”           
            His eyes meet mine again; I see a hint of amusement in the corners of his mouth.
            I take a step forward, saying, “It’s not an easy country, you know. Even for Israelis.”
            “Better than my country,” he mutters, then asks, “You no like it here?”
            I suppose for him Israel is a version of the Promised Land.
            “Well, I don’t live here, I’m just visiting,” I reply.
            His brow springs up. “Where you live?”           
            “America.”

            His face softens as he gets up from the bench. Glancing at my left hand, he grins.
            “No husband?”
            Caught off guard I say, “No.”
            “Ah,” he exclaims, his eyes glimmer with warmth, then narrow when he inquires, “boyfriend?”
            “Eh … well …” Hesitant to lie, I search for an elegant way out.
            ”You marry me and take me to America,” he announces, taking a confident step forward. “I make you very happy.”
            I observe him more closely. Not a bad looking guy: pleasant features, broad shoulders, and that smooth coffee-tinted skin. I could be his Stella, and he will bring back my groove. Well, he’s not that much younger, but he probably has some groove for me, even if it lasts no more than five minutes.
            He looks at me and his face gives off fumes of fondness. He takes another step forward. 

            “I’m a lesbian,” I hear myself declare as I flinch back; embarrassed for my false statement, yet relieved to have found an exit.
            His face freezes for a brief moment, then twists into revulsion.
            “I no marry you!” he spits the words at me, his arm slicing through the air as if pushing me away. “You be shame to yourself!”
            Feeling obliged to defend my declaration for the sake of those it represents, I say, “There’s nothing wrong with being gay, it’s perfectly normal.”
            “No, no normal,” he retorts. “The Bible says—“
            “I know what the Bible says!” I cannot help but cut him off, my voice sharper than intended. “Do you really want to live by the Bible? You might not like all the rules and regulation in that book, you know.”
            But the exchange is clearly over; he flounces himself around and slumps into the bench facing up street. I walk away feeling ill at ease though uncertain as for what I could have done better.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Escape (excerpt)

            “Nissim, you hardly touched your food. Take some couscous, it’s your favourite.”
            “Not that hungry, Mom.”
            “But Grandma Yvonne stood on her feet all day yesterday to make it.”
            “People who buy that flavourless readymade couscous in the supermarket have no idea what they’re doing,” said Nissim’s father, moving his callused hands through his thinning hair; a habit kept from hairier days. “Eat something, eat,” he urged his son. “You’re skin and bones as it is.”
            “Is the heat,” croaked Grandma Yvonne, her head sinking deeper between her shoulders. “It kill us all.”
            “And every year summer is worse,” added Uncle Hemo, spooning rice in almonds and raisins into his plate.
            “Is good thing your father not here anymore,” said Grandma, looking at Hemo. “The heat kill him if his heart don’t.”
            “Your poor grandfather would have wanted his namesake to make something of himself,” said Aunt Mazal, turning to Nissim. “You’re already twenty-seven, you should find a wife, start a family.”
            You never married,” grumbled Nissim.
            “It’s different for women,” she replied with a wounded expression.
            “How?” he asked, this time with a genuine curiosity.
            “Enough!” Nissim’s father said. “You’re upsetting your aunt. God knows she wanted to marry, but she had nothing but bad luck with men.”
            “Sorry,” mumbled Nissim, glancing at his aunt.
            She furnished a faint smile, her face flushed. “That’s all right.”
            “Even if he had a girlfriend, where would he take her?” asked Hemo laughingly. “To that little apartment I rent him for just a few shekels?”
            You call that shithole an apartment? Nissim thought.
            “Don’t torment the boy,” said his mother, putting a soft hand on her son’s arm. Nissim noticed her chipped nail polish, glanced at Aunt Mazal’s nails, bright red and perfect looking as always, and with a mixture of sadness and guilt wondered why his mom couldn’t be as presentable as her sister.
            “Simha, you spoil your son rotten,” said Uncle Hemo to Nissim’s mom. “No wonder he can’t find his place in the world. Look at my Avi and Shmulik; I raised them to be tough, and now they’re both making lots of money in America.” He turned to Nissim. “You should join them,” he said, and Nissim was surprised by the tenderness in his uncle’s voice. “You could help Shmulik sell clothes in Miami, or Avi could set you up in that moving company he works for.“
            “He belongs here with us,” said Simha firmly. “Not among strangers.”
            “Those gentiles have no God,” remarked Mazal.
            “There are plenty of Israelis and Jews in New York,” said Nissim.
            “People abroad anti-Semite,” muttered Grandma in disdain.
            “That’s not true!” Nissim said.
            “Show respect for your elders,” his father chided him. “Grandma Yvonne is your only remaining grandparent.”
            “More arrack?” Hemo lifted the bottle, looking at Yaakov, Nissim’s father, who took his empty glass to meet the bottle midair with a clang. Hemo carefully poured the transparent liquid, sending a wave of anise into the air.
            “That’s good,” said Yaakov with a nod. Hemo refilled his own glass and replaced the bottle on the table.            
            “Yes, yes,” he sniggered at Mazal’s curled lips. “We know you don’t like the smell. Maybe you’re Ashkenazi, no?” Mazal’s expression turned offended again.
            “I have your sister in my belly nine month,” said Grandma, giving him a look of reproach.
            “Just kidding,” Hemo said, lifting both arms halfway in mock-surrender.


Friday, April 18, 2014

I See You


I see you in the streets, in train stations,
Sitting on a park bench.
Your skin is dark, light, smooth, wrinkled, scarred.
Your hair is long, short, or curly.

You are beautiful.

You live in the city, in a village.
A refugee camp.
In a steady house,
Or rove the streets.
In Europe, Africa, Asia, America.
You have a family.
You’re all alone.

You represent me too.

You're not afraid.
You fight the wars you need to fight,
Celebrate your victories,
Reconcile your defeats,
And move on.

And you get stronger as the years go by;
Develop inner muscles,
Stand upright,
Smile even when the smile does not show on your face.

And each day you grow more beautiful.

This light of yours won't fade even after your death.
That glowing fire in these
Open
Seeing
Eyes.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Crushed (excerpt)

       “Kiss, kiss, kiss,” chanted the group, egging me on after I had admitted to liking him or something of that sort. “Kiss, kiss, kiss!”
            I was not the kind of girl to back off a dare, so I planted a peck on his cheek—as smooth and firm as a baby’s against my lips. Slight plumage rode above his mouth. He accepted my gesture with a deep blush and shut eyes. We were thirteen-years-old.

They came from Mevo Beitar, a village near Jerusalem. The weekend activity was organised by the Beitar Youth Movement, which I had joined together with a few other misfits; we didn’t care much for the snobbish Scouts. About a dozen of us in total spent the night in the large rectangular room of our town’s branch. Typical teens, spent would well describe that night; there wasn’t much sleeping involved. Can’t remember how the merriment began, but it culminated with me kissing one of the out-of-town boys.
            The following day, we hung out in a eucalyptus grove with our counsellors. I joined my crush and a couple of his friends for an exploration, and we ventured away from the others. Ambling through the woods, he was showing off his new pocketknife, marking the trees we had passed with its sharp blade. I glanced at his hand, wondering what it’d feel like sliding mine in his. It was a sunny day, and a gentle wind rustled the leaves above. The air was sweet, and I was happy in the company of these three adventurous boys.
            Engrossed in play we chanced upon a small group of older boys that seemed to have popped out of nowhere. Their tall leader sported dark fuzz under a prominent nose. His eyes were locked on my friend’s hand-holding knife. Quick as lightning, a premonition flashed in my mind: my love’s palm cut diagonally, the incision turning into a crimson-dripping streak. I chased away the image. 
            “I want it,” the tall guy commanded, pointing to the knife.
            From the corner of my eye I could see my new pals turning pale. It’s my fault, I thought; I should have paid more attention. I knew we’re nearing a bad neighbourhood. I took a step forward, facing the strangers at eye level. At that age I was nearly my full height of five foot six, and I knew most toughies would think twice before hurting a girl.
            “Are these your little brothers?” one of them asked with a smirk.
            “Yes!” I replied to the gang’s laughter, the tension around us releasing like air out of a popped balloon. I was awash with a warm wave of victory; my distraction attempt proved successful!
            As the older boys turned to leave, their leader quickly snatched the knife from its owner, leaving my friend’s inner hand cut diagonally. Oozing red.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Dreams

… you hear me?  I never think of you at daytime,
So why,
Why
Do you keep sneaking into my dreams, time
And
Again?
Never quite declaring yourself, nor
Your intentions.
Once, as a baby I gently cradle in my arms, then
An innocent neighbor in a house painted white on the inside,
As I looked out the window, peering into the dark,
Remains of last winter’s snow still on the
Ground.
(Yet I knew it was autumn by now.)
A flock of large birds just landed on the dark ground
And I could just make out their silhouettes.
Straining my eyes, the birds seemed as gees for a split second
Before moving closer; then I saw them in their peacocky
Splendor.
Blue-and-green sparkles of proud males, tottering in the yard, their
Heavy bodies in contrast with their graceful feathers.
I called you to the window: Look!
Your shoulder was warm against mine; I was drawn to you.
Reluctantly saw you
Walking away.

Lost in daydream for a few days after, it all melts away eventually;
The dream, the stirring.
No remnants, not even a trace.
Forgetfulness
In
Fullness.
I know darn well the distinction between dream and reality.
My days are busy, my
Routine is firm.

So why,
Tell me
Why—
Do you keep sneaking into my dreams?


Friday, February 14, 2014

But the Green

Hesitation,
and the moment passed.

Was it?

Your gaze, this green, the glaring
of the eyes; and a hint
of stubbled chin.

Moving away, perhaps
I forgot, and all is right.

But then

Some stolen
glances, the unrelenting
gleam.

I cannot.

I cannot deny.
Why should I?

I look away, and
everything fades but
the green.


Friday, January 24, 2014

After the War


After the War,
My grandfather had to decide:  United States of
America, or Israel.
(Or so the story goes.)
And he chose,
And his choice became mine
By default.

He had great dreams,
They all had great dreams:
Rebellion,
Redemption,
Resurrection.

Shedding the old to embrace
The new,
To start anew                       
In the Newland.
(Only the new soon resembled the old, but that’s another story.)

It took me twenty-six years
To overturn my grandfather’s decision.
(I recently read that America is the real home of the Jews.  Not
Sure about that, but the living here, summertime and all, is easy.)

The darn thing is this: I drown in my desire to return to Europe.
War and all.


Friday, January 3, 2014

Waiting


Minutes streaming down the hourglass,
Dribble into
Days,
And every day
I cross paths with strangers enveloped
In heavy coats; chins tucked, shoulders stooped.

I want the sun to rise; I want to laugh out loud.
I cannot hear what you are saying now,
I cannot smell the roses in the summer garden
At the back of the house
Where she sits alone, thinking of her husband who had left her
And all the mistakes she had made;
How could she unravel it all, it is clearly too late.

And I run down the street away from her pain,
I want to see the sun again,
Hear the birds chirp, diminish all that pain; to relieve it all,
Let it leave it
All.

I cannot stop now; I’m already on my way, I cannot leave now,
I am waiting for the pain to dissipate,
I want the coats to be unshelled, the
Sun to burst in dance.