Monday, April 20, 2015

Meaty Memoirs

     I had the great pleasure of meeting both Patricia (Patty as she likes to be called) Volk and Sonia Taitz yesterday at ORT's annual luncheon in Chicago.  I arrived early, and the two authors were sitting in a corner of the large room at the Bryn Mawr Country Club where 300 women would eventually gather.  

     I had just finished reading Shocked for my book club and had been bowled over by the creative structure that Volk used to compare her mother ("the most beautiful woman in the world") and the inventive fashion maven Elsa Schiaparelli.  The author had never met Schiaparelli but had read her memoir as a young girl.  She was smitten and reread the book many decades later in researching her own memoir about a daughter's relationship with her mother and what set her mother apart from a woman like Schiaparelli.

       So, I walked up to Patty, shook her hand, and waxed eloquent about how much the book moved me and how the structure blew me away.  She seemed genuinely pleased, something I wouldn't necessary assume from an author whose book was reviewed by the New York Times as "a meditation on the plastic possibilities of womankind and a very special treat."  

      Maureen Corrigan, NPR Books, had this to say:

     "Did your mother read at least the galleys of the book before she died?" I asked.
     "No," Volk said.  "I couldn't have written it while she was alive."
     "That's a problem I'm having.  How do you write about family and friends when they are still around and risk offending them or ending the relationship?  Maybe you can address that when you speak later today."
     "Yes, and if I forget, please ask me that question during the Q&A."
     There was no Q&A, but Volk began her talk by asking the woman who had asked her about writing memoirs to raise her hand.
     I proudly raised mine.  She'd remembered.
     And even though she'd said earlier that she couldn't have written her memoir while her mother was alive, she took a very different stance this time around.  "Write whatever you want.  Don't care whether or not you hurt someone's feelings.  Tell the truth."
     Now I hadn't read Taitz's The Watchmaker's Daughter but immediately plopped down my money before walking to her and Volk.  I didn't want to offend her.
     I was honest.  "I bought your book and am looking forward to reading it.  Judy Levin whom I think you've met recommended that everyone in our book club pick it up."
    I handed her the book.
    "Would you please sign it for me?"
     Taitz picked up the pen she had at the ready and, having seen my name on my name tag, wrote "To Jane.  Enjoy!"
     And enjoy I have.  I've plowed through half of the book and didn't put it down later on Sunday when the Chicago Blackhawks played their third game against the Nashville Predators.  And I'm a big Blackhawks' fan.
     Like Volk, Tatiz has written a mesmerizing memoir.  Her parents, both of whom are Holocaust survivors, came to the U.S. where Tatiz was born.  Straddling the worlds of both the Old Country ad the New, Ziddish versus English,  Tatiz manages to find her place while keeping her heritage alive.

  I have a lot of work to do.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


“This is an industry that is really built on people’s hopes and dreams. Authors write books for all different kinds of reasons. In the past, we were seeing that more of the authors were talking about building their careers and telling their stories. Those were the key things that they were interested in, and fulfilling a lifelong ambition by publishing a book,” Weinberg notes. “This year, what we saw was that more of the authors were very interested in making money, and this was also one of the top priorities. People this year expressed a more career-focused kind of perspective. They were interested in publishing books and building a reputation, and of course in making money.”
                                        Digital Book World and Writer’s DigestAuthor Survey 

Wow!  More authors interested in making money!  Imagine that!
Hey, writers need to make a living, too.

But for those of us "retired" folks who have scraped together enough money to keep afloat, writing is no longer about the financial pay off . . . probably never was.  Because, let's face it: Only a fraction of authors make it big . . . And I mean big.

Authors like J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, John Grisham rake in millions and millions.

But the rest of us?  Well, it's often a struggle.  How many times have you heard about the budding writer who holds down a full-time job and writes at night or early in the morning?


Some of those writers have miraculous stories to tell about suddenly writing a best seller.

Alas, most do not.

So, why write?  Here are some of my reasons.  Please share yours.

I write because I must.

I write because I have something to say about something I feel passionate about.

I write because the journey winds in miraculous ways.

I write because I want to share the stories of extraordinary people and, sometimes, my own.

I write because I hope my readers will laugh, cry, learn, and act.

I write because I learn something new every day.

I write because the challenge consumes me.

I write because it's just plain fun.

If you respond with your list, I'll publish them all over social media.

Can't wait!

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Baby Boomer's Lament

At the risk of offending my younger (make that much younger) friends and family, I just don't get this selfie thing; in fact, I don't understand the whole "smart" phone deal, either.

Sure, I use a cell phone to google some important piece of information (Who is the actress who stars in "Madame Secretary?), to call folks, to get directions, even to access my emails.

But I don't use my cell while I'm walking with a companion, having dinner with friends, or to take selfies anywhere I happen to be.  In fact, I don't take selfies at all.  I mean, okay . . . If I ran into, say, Gloria Steinem or Mary Karr, even a hunk like Paul Newman when he was still alive, I might be inclined.

But at an intimate dinner --- indeed, an anniversary outing --- with my husband?

That's exactly what happened a while back.  A young woman with long black hair and already tons of makeup, took out her mirror, combed her hair, blotted her lipstick and starting taking selfies while her husband sat there, silent.  I have to wonder what he was thinking.  Was this self-centered wife of his really so stuck on herself instead of him?

Call me old fashioned.  But don't people spend time together so they can share stories, worries, future plans?  You know, that age-old art of conversation?  If not, why do they bother spending time together at all?  

When we Boomers wanted to see a friend, we didn't put our phones on the table, available at a second's notice to answer a call, check an email, read a text.  

Okay, so we didn't have cell phones back then in the dark ages.  Ma Bell was still in business.  And if we needed to make an important call, we'd go to a pay phone or phone booth, put it our change, and dial.  And that we did in private, aside from those crazies who squeezed into a phone booth to set a Guinness record.

Our conversations were private to be shared with the person on the other end of the line.  We didn't want strangers on a bus or train or walking down the street to hear what we had to say.  And we certainly didn't want to be rude by talking on the phone when with friends or family.

Alas, I think society has gone around the bend with no chance to return.  Tech companies will continue to introduce even more devices, more apps, more programs to allow users to "plug in" anytime, anywhere.

My solution?  Declare a mandatory 24-hour moratorium on the use of any and all cell phones.  Those who break this "Day of Rest" will face a $100 fine.  Then we'll see a pause in the world of immediate gratification and maybe some face-to-face communication that encourages eye contact, a bit more privacy and, yes, a bit less invasive chatter.

The only problem:  A new class of addicted citizens who will require immediate care.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Another Decade, Another Blog


Unique, often humorous take on life experiences and events from award-winning author and journalist, Jane Leder. The 60 something survivor of the 1960s (Whew!) rarely considers herself too seriously and encourages readers to "Take her advice because she's not using it.

Get a good look at my blog name and its description.  Why?  Because in a matter of months, I'll no longer be a SixtiesSister.

Nope.  I'll cross the proverbial line from one decade to the next and will have to either come up with a new title that has nothing to do with age (That sounds like the best idea) or create something catchy like SexySeventies or SeventySomething, or SeventyIsTheNewFifty.  (Someone told me that the other day.  My question to her was, "At what point can we safely admit that we're just plain old?")

Like other Boomers who are about to take the plunge, I can't believe that it was . . . (picture me covering my mouth and mumbling to myself) years since we did all that great stuff from marching against war and for civil/feminist rights, going door to door in support of Eugene McCarthy's run for President, discovering the Beatles, eating a lot of ice cream after imbibing on a Saturday night, experiencing the deaths of two Kennedys and Martin Luther King, saying "no" to just about everything our parents stood for, watching "Woodstock" and so wishing we'd been there, committing ourselves to our chosen professions but never hesitating to have a good time . . .

I often yearn for those times when everything seemed possible, when the naysayers were in the minority.
Computers, cell phones, eMail, social media hadn't yet been invented.  We actually wrote letters, talked on the phone, and talked to one another.  (Oh, brother!  Now I'm sounding like my parents.  Blah, blah, blah.)

But we were more personally connected.

We were more optimistic.

We believed in change.  (Not the b.s. we hear during every local/national political campaign.)

I could go on, but you get the point:  The Sixties rocked.  My sixties rocked.
If you have a suggestion for my new blog name, please send it my way.

Peace and love.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Forgetting How Old We Are


March 4, 2014; Washington, D.C. – Carl Kasell, the famed voice of NPR News for three decades turned comedy star of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, has announced he's stepping down this spring after a five-decade career in broadcasting. Kasell will record his final broadcast for Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! this spring; celebration shows are planned in the show's home city of Chicago, and in Washington, D.C.

Carl has been gone from "Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me!" for over a month.  But we were in Mexico and missed the news and his final show.
When I turned the radio dial to 91.5 Saturday morning upon our return, I was surprised to hear the voice of Bill Curtis.  I would know that voice anywhere.  Curtis has been a media staple in Chicago for decades.
But I was confused.  Where was Carl?  Ill?  On vacation?  He couldn't be off the show for good.  His voice on a winning contestant's phone message remained the grand (and only) prize.
For several weeks, I listened to "Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me!"  No Carl.  
Just this morning, my husband, his family from Ann Arbor, and I were hanging in the kitchen.  My husband spun one of his exaggerated tales.
"You know," I said.  "That reminds me of the stories on . . . the NPR show.  What's the name?"
"'Wait Wait . . . Don't Tell Me!'" 
"Right.  It's the time in the program when each panelist reads a supposed news snippet about a most improbable event.  It's the contestant's job to somehow guess which one is true."
I turned to my husband's cousin and his wife.  "So, your challenge is to decide whether what this esposo of mine says is true or not."
Everyone laughed.
"Whatever happened to Carl Kasell?" I said.
"He retired," my husband said.  "I think he's ill.  He's 75.  What do you expect?"
"Well, my dear," I said.  "You turn 72 this year!"

I recognized the voice of Bill Curtis straight away.  After all, he's been a media staple in Chicago for decades.  
"Why is Curtis doing the show?" I asked.  

Monday, April 6, 2015

Years Flying by

Every time I have to fill in my birthdate online by scrolling down the years, the exercise rudely reminds me of the years behind me and the decreasing years ahead.

The whole process brings my mortality into clear focus.  I realize how many folks are younger than I am and am shocked that I've gotten so old!  Well, maybe not SO old but old nonetheless.

Where has the time gone?  Sure, we've all asked ourselves that question many times.  But now I REALLY mean "Where has the time gone?"  And how much do I have left?

Initially, the whole business freaks me out.  Then I breathe deeply, close my eyes, and say to myself, "Okay, if you stay healthy and don't get hit by a bus or die at the hands of some lunatic who flies a plane into the side of a mountain, you may have a good 20 years or so."  My parents both lived into their early 90s and, so why shouldn't I?

Then I choose a twenty-year period in my life, say from my 50th birthday onward or from the day I married the second time around until the publication of my second book.  Wow, I think.  A lot went down between those marker events.  So, yippee, I've got a lot more stuff to look forward to.

I guess I should think about compiling the proverbial "Bucket List" and all those things I want to do before I kick the bucket.  Somehow, that seems a bit too daunting.  I'd rather just let things play out as they may and take my chances.

And the next time I'm asked to complete an online form by filling in my date of birth, I think I'll opt not to sign up for that online app or apply for that loan.  I'll print out the damn form and actually fill in the blank by hand.  Imagine that!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Youth Suicide: What To Do About It?

The following article appeared in the April 26, 2015 edition of the Chicago Tribune.

Officials: Crystal Lake teen suicides highlight prudence needed in response

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Mythologized Story of Our Births - Part One

All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won’t be the truth: it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story.
                        Diane Sutterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

            The story of my birth on July 25, 1945, a few weeks before the Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and six months before the official start of the “Baby Boom,” has morphed into a drama of heroic proportions.  Well, maybe not heroic but courageous, gallant, determined.  It was, after all, a time of war when ordinary people lived extraordinary lives.  I have no doubt that over the years the details have been exaggerated, even modified to provoke suspicion in the minds of the most trusting of souls. What if the story has been mythologized?  It’s not the truth that matters but the persistent memories that count. Memories are like the whispered words in a game of “Telephone.”  By the time the last player repeats the words out loud, they are nothing like the original.  The fluidity of the game mimics the ever-changing stories of our lives—stories that create reflections of the past and decisions in the future.

And do share your birth story with me below.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Little Things

Maybe I'm trying to rationalize my return from two months in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Perhaps it's the leave taking of delightful weather, speaking Spanish, taking yoga from the best instructor I've ever had.

Or maybe it's the festivity of the place.  The fiestas left and right.  The chance to just let it rip.

But there are the little things I won't miss . . . the things one has to put up with when traveling in a foreign country like Mexico:

*     The cobblestone streets that look charming (see above photo) but that make walking a challenge.  Sturdy shoes and head down required.
*     The lack of central heating.  January and February mornings and evenings can be rather chilly.  The temperature can drop into the 30s.  But there's no thermostat to dial up.  Nope.  It's a gas fireplace(s), small electric heaters, piles of blankets, multiple layers of clothing . . . Still, with all of these accoutrements, there's no guarantee that you'll be warm.
*     The water, when sipped from the tap or accidentally used to wash fruits and vegetables, that often leads to "Montezuma's Revenge."  Bacteria.  A parasite.  Who knows?  But gulping down a cool glass of tap water is a no-no.  Eating fruits and vegetables that have not been washed in aqua purificado is also a big no-no.  And, dear me.  Don't dare swishing water after brushing your teeth or you risk spending a good deal of your vacation on the toilet.
*     The signs in most bathrooms, public and private, plead for you not to flush toilet paper but to put it in the available can or waste paper basket.  Now, I don't know about you, but the idea of putting used toilet paper in an often open container doesn't smell right.
*     Ah, and speaking of smells, it's the polluted canal that runs through the city that sends visitors and locals alike for cover, or, at least, a pair of hands over nose and mouth.  I've actually seen those in the know wear those face masks that are most appropriate for working in a hospital, not walking down a charming but smelly street.
*     While I'm at it, I have to mention the casa-shaking noise after every toilet flush (okay, we cheat and flush), every hand wash and definitely after bath or shower.  One night someone forgot to release the toilet handle, and we were bombarded all night long until my husband dragged himself out of bed, followed the noise, and lifted the handle.

My friends will kill me if they ever read this blog (They won't!) and all of my complaints.  After all, they were stuck in Chicago and suffered bone-chilling temperatures, dark, gloomy days, and piles of snow that required shoveling from morning until night.

What right do I have to complain about minor inconveniences?  I guess it all depends on your perspective.

Sunday, March 1, 2015


     Here I am in beautiful San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, consumed by finding a vacation rental for 2016 and what I see as the end of a friendship.
     I met Alice (I'll call her that) and her husband in a Spanish class five years ago.  We became fast buddies and shared not only our desire to learn a second language but art, travel, food, and a love for the Mexican culture.  She and her husband were finishing the renovation of their casa in San Miguel and already talking about sending more time away from their home in the frozen tundra of the north.
     The next year, Alice and I became Spanish buddies and helped each other learn irregular verbs, direct and indirect objects, expressions not found in any Spanish books.

     I looked forward to our classes and to the social time we spent together --- enjoying Mexican restaurants, sipping wine on their terrace with a view of all of San Miguel, traveling to Lake Patzcuaro and beyond.  Alice and her husband were two of the most laid back, take-it-as-it-comes people we'd met in a long time.  We appreciated their patience and apparent lack of major stress.

     Then things changed.  We remained Spanish buddies but spent less and less time together socially.  I was hurt.  Confused.  Didn't understand why our friendship had changed.

     When I asked her about this and why, for example after bumping into them with another couple at the cine but not invited to join them for dinner, she became stiff, distant.  "I refuse to play the high school game."  I took that to mean that she was uninterested, annoyed at having to consider my feelings and unwilling to have me or anyone else suggest that she ought to be loyal or cage herself with one group or another.

     No matter the "I" statements I gave, she didn't budge.  No matter the "I" statements about how we valued her friendship, she wasn't moved.  Never once did she acknowledge my feelings.

     And this year during our two months in Mexico, nothing has changed.  Alice seems to see our time together working with a Spanish tutor as the extent of our friendship.  There have been no dinners, no drinks on the terrace, no jaunts outside of town.  Oh, there have been empty invitations from both Alice and her husband.  "We really should get together."  "We bought a new case of wine. You should share some of it with us."  And so it goes.  We have one week left before returning to the frozen tundra and have not once spent any time outside of class.

     So, how have I juggled my hurt and frustration?  I left our class together and am working alone with our tutor.  I wait to respond to her emails and make them short and sweet.  Even when she "vented" (her word) in a recent email about all the decisions she has to make to expand a second home with gardens the size of a small botanical and the apparent stress between her and her husband, I didn't respond.  Yes, I thought about it.  I even penned a draft.  But it's remained unsent.

     It pains me that I have been so disappointed, so hurt.  I'm almost 70 years old and should be spending my time on more important things.  But good friendships are hard to make the older I get, and I sure thought mine with Alice would last and grow.

Friday, February 27, 2015

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

     Getting out of Chicago's winter for two months has saved me from Seasonal Affective Depression and made my life so much richer.  If only I could stay another month and avoid what is turning out to be one of the coldest and snowiest Februarys in the Windy City.  But no such luck.  
     This is our fifth consecutive year in San Miguel de Allende.  What a treat!  I've learned Spanish, met other Gringos and engaging Mexicans, traveled to several other cities, attended the annual writers' conference, and just plain hung out in what is now the glorious sun.

     Yesterday, my husband, son, and I took a day-long trip to Canada de la Virgen, pyramids occupied between 540 A.D. and 1050 A.D. and opened to the public just a few years back.  With Albert, our engaging guide, we walked the same path the Otomi walked all those years ago up to the currently excavated site.  The climb was a breeze in comparison to many of the hikes up streets in San Miguel, but the steps leading to and from the center vortex of one of the pyramids were narrow and steep. Like many of the others in our group, I clung for dear life on the way down.  But I'm here to tell the tale.
     After three hours of touring, we returned to the bus that took us to a nearby ranch where we were served a hearty lunch of rice, beans, potatoes with cheese, chili rellenos, quesadillas, a homemade cheese, corn and flour tortillas.  Delicious but not the best for a dairy intolerant woman like me.
     Today I'm off to Spanish class and to meet a friend who quite unexpectedly showed up in town.  We haven't seen other for probably 30 years!
      We're in the midst of a hunt for a place to rent for next year.  It's not easy.  Ever since Conde Nast named San Miguel one of the best cities to live on the entire planet, folks are flocking here and making us "regulars" search high and lo.  Keep your fingers crossed.  The last thing on my wish list is to weather a Chicago winter!