Saturday, December 26, 2015

CHAZAK!

חזק חזק ונתחזק


Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek!

As we conclude the reading of each book of the Torah, it is customary for Jews to say these words, which mean: Be strong, be strong and may we be strengthened!

Today we read Parashah Vayechi, the last in the book of Exodus. Joseph mourns the death of his father, Jacob, and then at the end of the parashah,Joseph himself dies. And then the congregation recites those words, "Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek."

Ever since my father died in November 2013, I've had a hard time saying and hearing those words without crying. Because I hear my father saying it to me, when I was depressed, or sad, or going through a particularly rough time in my life. Chazak. Be strong.

It's been two years since Dad died. Mom died suddenly and unexpectedly in March of this year. Every time we finish another book of the Torah I think, "Maybe this will be the time I finally hear those words without crying."



Today wasn't that day.

Now, more than ever, I miss my father, because I realize more and more each day I owe who I am to the person he was. How much of my knowledge of and interest in of history and world politics comes from sitting watching documentaries and war movies with him as a young girl. How I heard his voice in my head when I went into New York City two days before Christmas and instead of being distracted by my cell phone made sure I was aware of what was going on around me at all times because of the terrorist threat. Life goes on but be aware. CHAZAK!

I wondered today in synagogue if Dad's parents said that to him. In the picture above we are with my paternal grandparents, Harry and Mollie. I'm in the lower right corner.

2015 has been a tough year. But thanks to the guidance my parents gave me, my family, my friends, and my faith, I am still standing. Chazak. Chazak. V'nitchazek!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Emotion Regulation - because Life has no "Trigger Warnings"

There's been a lot in the news recently about trigger warnings on college campuses. Depending on who you listen to, they are necessary to protect those who have been through traumatic events and whose PTSD might be triggered by the material to be covered in class, or a symptom of the "PC police" coddling Millennials from true intellectual engagement. As someone who has suffered from PTSD from childhood sexual abuse (wrote about that here) I have stayed quiet on the issue.

Until now.

Last night my daughter and I went to see Spring Awakening. I'd bought her tickets for Hanukkah, but I've been so busy with work and other life issues that I went into the performance knowing absolutely nothing about it other than that people said it was amazing. I didn't read the Playbill beforehand and so the entire story and performance was a complete surprise.

(DON'T READ FURTHER IF YOU DON'T WANT SPOILERS)

-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-

There is a scene where Martha and Ilse sing about the sexual abuse they experience ("The Dark I know Well"). During this scene, I was well and truly triggered. I felt sick to my stomach. I wanted to curl up into a ball. I wanted that song to END. Every second it went on seemed to last a freaking hour. I was deeply, deeply uncomfortable and unhappy and I did not like feeling those feelings or being in that place one little bit, especially since I'd paid no small amount of money for the privilege.

But I took deep breaths, and I told myself I'd get through it, and the song would end, and I'm not the child I was then, and it would be okay, and the song did end, and I felt sick for about another ten minutes, but then I was fine.

During intermission, I told my daughter that scene had been rough for me. She said that she'd wondered if I would have to leave, and I told her that it was okay, because I've learned how to regulate my emotions and breathe through it. I can't stop the feelings from happening, but I can sit with them and know that they will pass.

There were times in my life when I didn't know that, like when I was a teenager. Then, in order to not feel, I would get stoned, or drink. Or when I was an adult, when I would eat and then purge.

And this is why I'm finally saying that I don't think trigger warnings are a good thing. Because there are no trigger warnings in real life. You will be assaulted by these emotions when you least expect them and you have to learn strategies to deal with them. If you're constantly given warnings, you won't get the practice you need for a lifetime of unexpected triggers.

In terms of learning those strategies, what worked best for me was Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which I did as part of my bulimia treatment.

But whatever you do, learning to regulate those emotions is going to be more useful in the long run than any number of trigger warnings.

Friday, November 20, 2015

You call this progress? Dumbing down our kids in the name of Education Reform

I've been working my tail off the last few weeks revising both of my 2016 novels, CHARMED I'M SURE (S & S Aladdin) and IN CASE YOU MISSED IT (SCHOLASTIC).  ICYMI is the one I told Mom I sold on a three page proposal. She died suddenly and unexpectedly four days later, so I have not only been writing and revising this novel through deep grief while helping my siblings deal with Mom's estate, I've been doing it on an incredibly short deadline. I think that qualifies as "grit" don't you?

In this latest round of revisions on ICYMI, my editor queried if high school students would know what the Rosetta Stone was.




     When something like this comes up, I go on social media and ask teens, HS teachers and media specialists for the answer. I also get answers from my peers who have kids of that age. What I found from this query was that everyone of my generation - ie/ graduated high school in 1980's or before had learned what the Rosetta Stone was in either middle school or high school. 

Today - not so much. A few high schools yes. Most no. Some whose kids had been to London knew it, because they'd been to the British Museum. 

Why is this? 

Well,  this might explain something. 





I've written many, many many times about how the overemphasis on standardized testing is damaging education.  But now, when we see candidates for the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE making claims that the pyramids were built by Joseph for grain storage it's all the more important that our kids know about the Rosetta Stone - so they know that it was the key to deciphering hieroglyphics and can use their critical thinking skills to put two and two together to realize "No, Dr. Carson, we know your bizarre theory isn't true because the Egyptians WROTE THIS STUFF DOWN!"

We need to study history so that as we hear all the anti-immigrant rhetoric being bandied about by politicians about Syrian refugees, kids know about the tragic voyage of the SS St Louis, "The Voyage of the Damned", a shipload of Jews trying to escape Hilter's Germany who were refused by country after country and were forced to return to Europe - many to their death. If you haven't read it, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum put out a powerful statement yesterday:





When I write about the overemphasis on standardized testing and STEM, I inevitably get anonymous commenters on my political columns making statements like this with no evidence to back it up:


Except then you look at the evidence:



So we're narrowing the curriculum on the false premise that it pays. And meanwhile, we are taking away the very subjects that provide context and meaning. The subjects that help students develop empathy and theory of mind. The subjects that might prevent us from making the same mistakes we did in the past. 




George Santayana

 Please. Get involved. Lobby your politicians. Lobby your Board of Education members. Fight this. Our country depends on it. Our world depends on it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

How my writing kids (ages 10-12) would vote to change society



      When I went to meet with my Writopia writing workshop kids this evening, I'd just read that voter turnout in my town was a mere 20%, and that really depressed me. I know it's not a Presidential election year, but municipal elections count. We're electing the people who run our towns and cities and perhaps most importantly, our schools. As it turns out, there was a late burst which brought us up to 33%, but still, that's pathetic.

If you don't vote, folks, you shouldn't complain when things aren't the way you want them to be. Yes, there are problems with the system, and yes, it often feels that our voices don't count nearly as much as the deep pockets of corporate interests, but not voting is an illogical option.

We always do a short writing warmup, and this evening, I spoke to my kids about how sad I was about the low voting turnout and so for the 10 minute warmup, I asked them to think about what issues would be important to them if they had the power to vote.

The answers were worth listening to - particularly for politicians.



  • more subjects in school, such as social studies, chemistry, and much more.
  • more gun safety.
  • more air conditioning, because some schools don’t have any air conditioning.
  • more activities, so kids can learn more, such as music, karate, art, and more.
  • more recycling.
  • more medicines for sick people.
  • more homes for the homeless.
  • no more war.
  • no bullying, not just in school, but everywhere.
  • good education for kids, and parents get paid a good amount of money.
  • healthy food in school cafeterias.
  • more food donations for the poor.
  • food for less money, for poor people that have at least a little money.


  • All guns illegal
  • no homeless people, and everyone has a least a small apartment
  • Things cost less
  • You can drive at age ten, but only in small cars, and you can’t go on main roads or highways
  • School lunches gave real food, and not some horrible mixture of stuff that they call salad.  Also, they have a real menu, and fancy waiters and stuff
  • Everyone gets a phone, at age seven in case of emergencies, but it only calls parents and 911 until they're older
  • no homework, you spend six hours in school why should you spend another hour with mountains of homework
  • no war

  • I would change gun laws. I would make guns illegal all over the world. They don’t solve anything. Except killing people.
  • I would make a law so that people of any race could vote.
  • Cafeteria Lunches. They suck and they aren’t healthy. I would make sure every kid in America would get a healthy lunch.
  • Every kid could get a good education.
  • Every adult could get a good paying job. And they would get paid more than the minimum wage.
  • Make sure that schools are safe for the kids. Make sure that no shootings happen or bomb threats… Make sure there are at least 2 police officers on guard every day.
  • There wouldn’t be as many homeless people. Make sure they have food, water, and a little shelter.
  • People that live in places where a lot of hurricanes, tsunamis… happen. They could have a place where they would be safe. Equipped with food, and water, and most importantly candy… J.K( but candy would be nice)
  • Mostly,CHILD ABUSE!!!!! IT’S REALLY NOT O.K AS THE WORLD CHANGER I WOULD MAKE SURE ALL OF THE KIDS IN THE WORLD WOULD BE SAFE.
  • NO RACISM!!!! IT KILLS PEOPLE ON THE INSIDE!!!



That 10 minute writing prompt told me so much about kids in city schools.They want more from their education than core curriculum and standardized tests. They want arts and music and the things that other kids have.

Holding class in Stamford on the day after a woman was shot dead in a city park, these kids want gun safety laws.

But most this was the sentence that spoke to me most: "No racism!!! It kills people on the inside!!!"

Out of the mouthes of babes...





Friday, October 9, 2015

#IAMSTIGMAFREE

I've written about my struggles with depression before. I've also written (and testified at our state capitol) about how private insurers discriminate against mental illness and the need for mental health parity. I've chosen to be open with my struggles, particularly with young people, because I think it's important for them to see that with therapy and medication (and it can take years and a lot of trial and error to find the right combination of medication, because medicating the brain is art as much as it is science) it is possible to lead a productive, fulfilling, purposeful life experiencing a full range of emotions including happiness and joy.

I'm also open with it because adults, who have their own preconceived notions, need to understand that people with mental illness diagnoses are productive, tax paying members of society, who contribute to their communities. For too long, the stigma surrounding mental illness has created a sense of shame for far too many people. I can't tell you how many people have thanked me for being open after I've given a talk, and then whispered to me, tears in their eyes, about their own experiences. Or the number of adult women who have picked up my YA novel PURGE, as if they were going to buy it for teen, and then quietly confessed that they, too, are or were suffering from an eating disorder.

Medication will be a part of my life, forever. I've had well-meaning, but incredibly ignorant people tell me it's "a crutch", that it's "a pharmaceutical conspiracy to keep me enslaved," that I should use exercise, a walk in the woods, music, meditation...... Yeah. Done all of those. In fact, I still exercise, walk in the woods, listen to music, and pray/meditate. But my life as a functional productive human being who has written 14 novels in the last ten years, as well as more political columns than I have time to count right now, raised two kids, dealt with the loss of both my beloved parents, and tried to give back to my community, could not have happened without being on the right cocktail of medication.

For that, I am blessed that I can afford to keep seeing the same psychiatrist out of network for the last 15 years. I made that choice, because she understood me when I got out of the hospital, where they'd put me on lithium, and I said, "I feel like they opened up a door inside me and took away all my creativity." She understood when I told her how when I was in the hospital for the second time in 12/01, I'd watched a documentary about a photo shoot People Magazine did of women who'd been pregnant on 9/11/01 and lost their spouses and since had their babies.  She understood that it was the kind of thing that would normally have me bawling and going through half a box of tissues, but I watched it completely dry eyed with the thought, "Wow, that's sad." She knew such lack of affect and emotion wasn't the real me, and she was willing to try something different to help me come back to myself instead of just telling me to "be a good girl and take my meds."

Together, we found the right combination, which has worked for over a decade. Sometimes we have to tinker, depending on external circumstances, but generally it's been a working formula. I've also been blessed with some great therapists over the years who have helped me work through the day to day struggles. None of this could have happened without insurance and being able to afford it.

How many people are like me, but can't afford it the treatment?  How many of them end up in prison instead of being able to be productive members of society living in the community, because resources and treatment aren't available, or they can't afford their meds copays?

Think about that when you look at the State Budget. Think about that the next time a politician says they're going to scrap ACA as the first thing they do when they get into office. As a self employed person, I used to have to worry every year that my insurance would be rescinded at renewal. ACA protects me from that. I've asked several of the big mouth politicians who say they want to scrap ACA how they will protect people like me (SELF-EMPLOYED ENTREPRENEURS WHO PAY TAXES, I MIGHT ADD)  if they do that and the response I get is *crickets*.  They don't have an answer. They just want to destroy without having a better plan. That isn't acceptable. It's reprehensible.

#IAMSTIGMAFREE And I am angry at people who play politics with the things that allow me to remain that way, and who want to cut the programs that could help others achieve the success that I have.


Monday, October 5, 2015

Why I hate Accelerated Reader - Part II




Last night, I received this email from a reader through my author website:


I've written before about why I'm not a fan of programs like Accelerated Reader.   But getting this email reminded me once again of how a generation of kids is being restricted from developing a love of reading in a way that I, fortunately, was not. Then we wonder why we have problems with literacy, comprehension, writing and critical thinking and inquiry. In my experience, these things are related.

When I was growing up, I had the good fortune to be a free-range reader. I was not restricted by ridiculous programs like AR. Nor was I restricted by parents censoring my choices. I was blessed with parents who encouraged me to read well above my grade level, and librarians who handed me books to keep my habits sated.

If I found an author I liked, I was free to read EVERY SINGLE BOOK THAT AUTHOR WROTE if I wanted. When the librarians at the Marylebone library handed me Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, I subsequently inhaled Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and Around the World in 80 Days.  Or when I got interested in historical fiction and read my first Jean Plaidy novel, I read the rest of them without worrying if they were "in the system." I just read, read read. And while I was reading I was learned history, often looking up things in the encyclopedia to learn more about a certain time period because it fascinated me or because I wanted to see if what was in the novel was the real story.

It enrages me that school systems are spending scare funds on expensive programs like Accelerated Reader which LIMIT kids' reading choices. If we want to encourage a genuine love of reading and creative inquiry, this is the wrong way to go about it.

Fortunately for my correspondent, my book WANT TO GO PRIVATE?  is in Accelerated Reader, but when I wrote back, I said they should discuss with their parents first because it's recommended for 9th grade and up. My parents would have let me read it. I would have let my kids read it with discussion before and after. But it's up individual parents to do the parenting. Each kid is at a different level of maturity and can handle content and situations at a different time.

That's the great thing about books, when kids are allowed to read freely. If they aren't ready, they put them down and move on to the next one.

We don't need Accelerated Reader. We should be spending the money we're spending on AR on certified school librarians. Decades of research show they make a difference. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Bittersweetness of Honeycake



Every Rosh Hashanah, we could always count on Mom to make us all honey cake - and her honey cakes were delicious. Last year she sent some in a care package to my daughter, who had just started her freshman year at college and wasn't able to come home for the holidays.

It's almost six months since we lost Mom so suddenly and unexpectedly, and although we are carrying on, working, surviving, doing the things we need to do,  and trying every day to honor her memory, there is still such an enormous hole. As I told her when we were together at StoryCorps:   (see podcast episode 421, end "remembering Susan Silverstone Darer") "If our family is a wheel, you are the hub."

This weekend, it hit me all over again that Mom isn't here to make the honey cake. Like taking over the responsibility for hosting the seder, which made me feel like I really was a grown up who would never again sit at the kiddie table (the place from which I always wanted to be promoted and suddenly longed for again) it's time to make the honey cake. 

I knew I had the recipe somewhere, because I have made it one or two times before. After a bit of digging I found it, still on the fax roll (anyone remember thermal paper?) from when Mom faxed it to me in 1997, when my son was four and my daughter was one. Because it's on thermal paper, both the recipe and Mom's handwriting are fading. My written notes in pen are still clear, as I made my own marks on the recipe. 

The honey cake recipe - still on original  fax paper, which is now fading. 

And so we pass on the traditions from generation to generation: L'dor v'dor.  Someday, G-d willing,  I hope my children will make this honey cake for their children, and remember their grandmother as they eat it. And me, too, after I am gone. 

Wishing you all a L'Shanah Tovah - and may all the people of the world experience the sweet blessing of peace. 



Sunday, August 23, 2015

Alienating the Mishpoche in favor of the Rapture: Israel's destructive US policy

During the Bush Administration years, Chabad of Greenwich, where I attend Shabbat services, had a speaker from the Israeli Embassy at our Kiddush lunch. His title was something to the effect of “Outreach to Evangelicals.”

I listened with attentiveness and interest to his speech about efforts to garner increase support from Protestant Evangelical mega-church leaders and their flocks. Afterward I raised my hand and asked the question that had started to bother me as he spoke: “Why are we allying ourselves with people who only want there to be an Israel so that the Rapture can happen, and then if we don’t accept Jesus as our personal Saviour we take the down escalator to the hot and fiery place?”

He shrugged and responded “We don’t believe the Rapture will happen and Israel needs support now.”

While I understand Israeli pragmatism, the response bothered me then, and as I watched the recent GOP debate, I couldn’t help thinking how this full-throated embrace of right wing evangelicalism has been incredibly short-sighted on Israel’s part, serving to alienate a wide swathe of American Jews.

During the debate, several candidates made statements that were contrary to Jewish law on abortion, in attempts to pander to evangelicals. Scott Walker said that there should be no exception to save the life of the mother, claiming it is a “false choice.”

"I believe that that is an unborn child that's in need of protection out there, and I've said many a time that that unborn child can be protected, and there are many other alternatives that can also protect the life of that mother. That's been consistently proven," Walker claimed, despite the fact that back in 2012, in response to another GOP politician making such claims, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stated: “Despite all of our medical advances, more than 600 women die each year from pregnancy and childbirth-related reasons right here in the US. In fact, many more women would die each year if they did not have access to abortion to protect their health or to save their lives. These inaccurate comments are yet another reason why (The College) message to politicians is unequivocal: Get out of our exam rooms.”  

Mike Huckabee, Israel’s Evangelical BFF who in July claimed that by negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, President Obama would “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven” went even further. “I think the next president ought to invoke the fifth and 14th amendments to the Constitution. Now that we clearly know that that baby inside the mother's womb is a person at the moment of conception."

Interesting, because under Jewish Law, the unborn fetus is not considered a person until it has been born. In fact, until forty days after conception, the fertilized egg is considered as “as water.” Yet this man, whom the Israelis court and view as a friend, went so far as to claim,"It's time that we recognize the Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being.” 

Perhaps Governor Huckabee – and the rest of these pandering candidates -  should read George Washington’s Letter to the Jews of Newport  to remind themselves the precepts of religious freedom upon which our nation was founded.

As if this weren’t enough to turn off a thinking, literate, American Jew, there was the recent “inspirational Christian romance” from Kate Breslin, For Such A Time, in which a concentration camp inmate falls in love with the SS Officer commandant, billed as a retelling of the Story of Esther with a magic New Testament.

I. Just. Can’t. Even….

My dear mishpoche in Israel, who send emails telling me how I should vote…(not to mention the disgustingly racist ones that if one substituted "Jew" for "Muslim" read as if Goebbels had written them, which I've learned to delete without reading) this is why I ignore your advisements.

You’ve chosen to ally yourself with forces in our country that you wouldn’t dream of electing in your own.

What’s more, we’re then subjected to insulting pieces calling us “cowards” for supporting Israel without blind obedience, like this recent one:  “Liberal Jews are afraid to oppose the Iran Deal” by Vic Rosenthal posted on the Jewish Press. The Jewish Press was formerly edited by the late Meir Kahane. 

While insulting the vast majority of American Jews, and complaining what a shanda is it that the AIPAC meeting supporting the Iran deal has to be held in an Evangelical church instead of a synagogue, Rosenthal conveniently neglects to mention the long list of Israeli military and intelligence officers who support the deal. 

He isn't the first American Jew to make such insulting and patronizing remarks. Years ago, I spoke to a retired men's club at a local conservative synagogue. I was told, as a member of the press who writes opinion columns, that I should keep any criticisms of Israel "in house." 

Apparently being a Jew isn't compatible with my First Amendment rights. Yet these same gentlemen were asking why moderate Muslims weren't speaking out against extremists. Perhaps moderate Muslims were getting the same message I was? 

I was also berated loudly by a man at shul during the period of saying kaddish for my father because I said I wasn't going to the Stand with Israel Now rally. I explained that I felt conflicted about the bombing of Gaza, something that caused this man to go red in the face and start shouting at me.Israeli soldiers in the IDF who fought in Protective Edge apparently have the right to feel conflicted and express themselves about it, but I, as an American Jew, do not. 

If Israel is losing support amongst American Jews, it is their own government's policies they should blame, not American Jewish cowardice. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Why you can't post my entire book on WattPad: For Dummies

I just spent what was probably the most difficult four and a half months in my recent memory writing a book that we sold to Scholastic on a very short proposal less than a week before my mother died suddenly and unexpectedly of a deep vein thrombosis.

After turning in the book to my wonderful editor Jody Corbett last Friday, I set off with my daughter, sister, and two young nephews to visit my cousins at their house up in Maine for a much needed break.

I was so determined to relax that I didn't take my computer with me. But I did have my phone, and when I was on wifi, I got this email:

So I recently read your book, Backlash. I love it. It is an amazing book and I'm in the proccess of reading it for a third time. I would like your permission to post your book on a website/app called Wattpad. It would give thousands to millions of people to read the book and enjoy it as much as I have. It would be written just as it is in the book and all credit will be towards you. It would be published within the next few months. Please get me back to me as soon as possible.

Seeing as I had just had to notify my publisher about someone publishing chapters of Backlash wholesale on WattPad so they could get their legal department to issue a takedown notice, and I'd sent them a list of about 15 websites claiming to offer "free PDFs" of my books, this was not good for my blood pressure and relaxation.

I forwarded the email to my agent, the wonderful Jennifer Laughran, with a brief message: "OMG WTF?!"

Her response was equally succinct: "LOL WTF?!"

I decided to wait till I was back in front of a computer to write a response, because, my lovelies, Auntie Sarah is going to need all ten fingers for this rant.

We authors LOVE that you LOVE our books. We LOVE that you read our books more than once. People wonder why I still have books from my childhood on the overcrowded bookshelves in my house. Why I still have books from my mother's childhood, and the copy of Noel Streitfield's Ballet Shoes that my Aunt Marilyn read in her childhood.




It's because these books are like old friends to me. I cannot bear to part with them and I love to walk into a room where I am surrounded by my old friends. It gives me joy to think that a book that I have written might someday be old and worn on someone else's shelf, and similarly handed down as an old friend.

BUT - and here is the big but...everyone in my family PAID FOR BOOKS, even if we bought them second hand. Now not everyone can afford to pay for books, and at the rate I read, I would have read my parents out of house and home. So my parents would take me to the library every week and I'd come home with a stack of books to keep me sated until the following week.

"Oh, but Auntie Sarah," I hear you whinge, "It's such a HASSLE to go to the library....and I'm TIRED and it's HOT or RAINING or it's COLD and SNOWING" or _______________(fill in excuse here).

Guess what?! There's this great thing called OVERDRIVE that many libraries offer so you can borrow ebooks onto your e-reader or phone or laptop without your butt even leaving the comfortable surface upon which you have placed it!

I use this myself and it is both fabulous and convenient. You can even put books on hold and they will automatically download to your bookshelf when they become available. It couldn't be easier!

What's that I hear?   "But Auntie Sarah...what about me posting your entire book on Wattpad, where  it would give thousands to millions of people to read the book and enjoy it as much as I have. It would be written just as it is in the book and all credit will be towards you" ???

Oh yes. That.

HERE IS MY CLEAR, NON-NEGOTIABLE, UNEQUIVOCAL ANSWER:

NO YOU MAY NOT  POST MY BOOK ON WATTPAD, OR ANY OTHER SITE. THIS IS CALLED COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT, AND IF YOU DO THIS YOU WILL BE HEARING FROM MY PUBLISHER'S LEGAL DEPARTMENT.

Why am I being so mean about this, you ask?

Let me explain a few financial facts of life for you, Dear Reader.

If you mean what you say about loving my books, you should know that I write these books you love from a home upon which I must make mortgage payments. I am a single mother with two children, who is self-employed, and therefore does not have health insurance as a benefit of employment. Such health insurance doesn't come cheap, but it is very, very necessary with the medical conditions I have in my family.

I'm not complaining about working hard. It's what I do and it's how I was brought up. I work many different jobs in order to be able to pay my bills.

 But nothing makes me more depressed and demoralized than looking at the search terms that are used to get to my website. My name is the 1st, but the 2nd through 10th terms are "free PDF" and permutations of my various book titles.

If you say you "love" my book, but then have the chutzpah to ask me to publish it on WattPad, it's exactly the same as saying, "Hey Auntie Sarah, I love what you do," at the same time you're picking the wallet out of my purse.

 Then when I call you on how wrong it was to do that,  telling me that losing all my money and credit cards because you want to give the money I've spent years working for and am counting on to pay my mortgage and health insurance (not to mention keeping THIS GUY in dog food and Lambchop toys) to 'thousands and millions' of random people because.....???? I'm not really sure why. "Exposure?" Honey, let me tell you a fact about banks that hold your mortgage and health insurers (see also, electric company, gas company, car mechanics, gas stations and grocery stores): THEY DO NOT ACCEPT "EXPOSURE" AS VALID CURRENCY FOR PAYMENT.


Here's the thing, dear readers. If you keep posting and downloading my books illegally and my publishers don't make money and therefore I don't make money, then why am I going to bust my butt to write a book when I'm intensely grieving my mother, who modeled a strong work ethic as well as respecting others and not stealing?

I write because I love it and it's what I've always wanted to do, even when I was getting my MBA in Finance and being told I'd never make a living that way by my late father. Do me a favor: don't make my father right by illegally downloading my books. Or any writer's books.

If none of the above is enough to convince you to cease and desist, know this: it would kill my very soul to have to go back to working on Wall Street because you've made it impossible for me to make a living doing what I love.

Friday, July 3, 2015

In which I need to take some advice from my 25 year old self...



My mother kept everything, which means that going through her apartment is overwhelming, but also filled with gifts from the past. Yesterday, I found a set of CD's that were converted from tapes, which were converted from stenographs made by my late grandfather Murray, who worked with William Randoph Hearst, with United Artists, and was President of 20th Century Fox International. Grandpa died when I was 6, so my memories of him are mostly of him and Grandma taking me to FAO Schwartz (which itself is now going to be just a memory) to buy my first Barbie - who had red hair.
But thanks to this oft-converted technology, I'm now listening to my grandfather's voice (with his amazing New Yawk accent) telling stories about Alexander Korda, how Korda discovered Vivian Lee, Korda's relationship with Churchill, and all sorts of incredible stuff. And that's just halfway through disc one.

I also found a folder of letters I'd written to my parents in the late 80's, when I was working on Wall St and going to  NYU business school at night for my MBA. This letter was written when I was almost finished with the MBA, but clearly feeling the strain.

"I know that I'm working toward long term goals, but to tell you the truth, I'm sick of working towards long-term goals, I want start living my life, not just passing time till I get to some point in the future."

At this particular point in time, I really needed to read those words from my younger, and apparently wiser and more clearer thinking self. Fifty-two year old me is still equally as goal oriented, ambitious, and hard working. Some things never change. What has changed is that I'm now putting that ambition towards a career that I really love, the one that I wanted to have all along but was told would never make me any money. I love my work, and so I don't mind working the hours I do, because most of the time, it doesn't feel like work.

But this summer has been crazy stressful. It's the third summer in a row that I have not one, but two books due at the end of the summer. One is a revision that had to be put off because of Mom's unexpected passing, and I'm grateful for that delay, because there's no way I could have tackled it back in March/April. The other is a totally new work, which I'm super excited about, but we haven't officially announced yet.

This week, one of my really good friends, Maura Keaney, was visiting from Virginia with her young son, and she invited me to go to the beach with them. I haven't been to the beach in my town in over two years. Maybe three, because I've spent the summer on book deadlines. I call my mid-life crisis convertible "the beach" because running errands in it, or driving to teaching jobs is the only time I get sun. When she posted pictures from Island Beach, I regretted that I wasn't able to spend the time with them catching up and making sandcastles. I love making sandcastles. I miss having the time to make sandcastles.

But Mom's apartment isn't going to clear out itself. My books won't write themselves.  As Robert Frost said so beautifully in one of my favorite poems: "But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep." 

Still, I am listening to 25 year old Sarah. If 27 years later, I still feel the same way, I think it's pretty important to take heed of her words. Mom's death taught me that we never know when the last day will come, and I don't want mine to come when I'm still waiting for that distant point in the future when I get to stop and smell the roses. Or make the time to meet with friends I really care about and build sandcastles with their children.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Dads of Daughters: This is how you do it

Ever since Mom passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in March, we've been going through her apartment, trying to get the place ready for sale. Mom saved everything. EVERYTHING. 

Today I found the speech that my father gave at my wedding. Of course, I heard it before, on Sept 3rd, 1989, but that was a long time ago, and I was pretty overwhelmed with emotions on the day. I remember crying at the time, but today when I found it, I cried again for completely different reasons. My father died in November 2013, but even before that he had lost the incredible intelligence and way with words that made him the man he was to Alzheimer's. But not the love for us. He never lost that. His eyes always lit up when he saw us, even if he didn't remember our names.

Finding this speech brought my father back to me and made me miss him all over again. But it also reminded me of how much of who I am is because of who he and Mom were. If I am brave, it was because Dad and Mom were brave. If I have the courage to stand up for what is right, it is because he and Mom were courageous. 

If I have now found the love and support of a good man who respects my intelligence, it is because my father deeply loved my mother and respected her intelligence. 

Fathers of daughters: This is how you do it. 







Monday, June 22, 2015

Cognitive Dissonance




Like most Jews in the Diaspora, I was brought up to support Israel unconditionally. I was excited to bring my quarters to Hebrew School every week to insert in the slots in the JNF folder, so that when it was filled a tree would be planted in my name in the Holy Land. Dad's sister made aliyah in 1949 and she and my uncle raised their family on different kibbutzim.

Over the last 10 years I have had an increasingly hard time reconciling the vision of Israel I was brought up with to the current political reality, and it has made it impossible to maintain that unconditional support.  This put me in the awful position of being berated in synagogue on Shabbat when I went to say kaddish for my father and get away from politics, by a man who thought I (and indeed, all Jews in the Diaspora) have no right to such misgivings.

Last night, when I saw the racist joke tweeted by Israeli talk show host and socialite Judy Mozes, I wondered if the Israeli government is trying purposefully to destroy their relationship with Jews in the Diaspora.

You see, Mozes' husband, Silvan Shalom, was appointed last month by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lead negotiations with the Palestinians and to oversee strategic dialogue with the United States. What better way to oversee strategic dialogue with the United States than to have your wife make a RACIST JOKE ABOUT OUR PRESIDENT DAYS AFTER RACIALLY-BASED SHOOTING OF NINE INNOCENT PEOPLE?!!

Then we've got Michael Oren publicly disparaging POTUS on every conceivable front -while pushing his new book.  That's after Netanyahu accepted the GOP invitation to address Congress prior to the Israeli elections, in a massive breach of protocol, and had the chutzpah to claim it "wasn't political", but meanwhile was broadcasting it from his website and collecting signatures at the same time.

Here's my question for Israelis and their government: we just lost nine wonderful Americans to racist violence. Let's call it what it was - we lost them to white supremacist terrorism. To people who hate Jews as well as blacks.

And guess what, Israel and Netanyahu? The people you are aligning yourself in the United States? They aren't speaking out against racism. In fact, they are avoiding it at all costs. Rick Perry called it an "accident," then "pivoted" to blame it on drugs instead of racism. Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee said "I'm not a South Carolinian" . Lindsay Graham said "The confederate flag works here."  

For strategic and pragmatic purposes, Netanyahu's government chose to ally itself with the right-wing evangelical base of the Republican party. During the Bush era, one of the Israeli embassy outreach officers to the Evangelical community came and spoke at our synagogue, and I asked him: "Why is Israel aligning itself with Evangelicals when they believe there should be an Israel so that the Rapture can happen and then if we don't accept Jesus as our personal Saviour we take the down escalator to Hell?"

He shrugged and said, "We don't believe in the Rapture, and we need the support now."

Well, I hope that support works for you, Bibi & Co, because in currying support with the right, you are losing the support of Jews like me who remember what it was like for us. Who remember that it was not so long ago that it was our families that were discriminated against and reviled. And that's why we believe in social justice and fight against racism and discrimination - not perpetrating it and allying ourselves with those who do.

During the Gaza bombing campaign, someone forwarded me the most disgusting racist anti-Palestinian screed I'd read in a very long time. If you'd substituted Jew for Palestinian, it could have been written by Goebbels. I forwarded it to my Rabbi, hoping that he might say something about it in his sermon - warning people about the sin of Loshen hara, reminding them about Joshua and the Spies, etc. But instead, he made an excuse - that when people are under stress they make bad choices.

Trust me, I understand that. I've made a lot of bad choices under stress, and continue to do so, and most likely will continue to do so. BUT....I was really disappointed by that response, because as Seth Godin pointed out so well recently:


I'm sick of being told to keep my criticism of Israel "in house" by people who ask "where are the moderate Muslims? Why aren't they speaking out?" only to see continued behavior that I find reprehensible from the highest levels of the Israeli government.

"People like us, we don't do things like that." 

Judy Mozes made her racist tweet against our president on the anniversary of the death of Jewish civil rights activists Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who along with James Chaney were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi during Freedom Summer. She should be ashamed of herself. And Israel should be ashamed of her.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Dear Teenagers - Some advice from my late Dad...via me

My dearest teens. You know I love you. I really do. That's why I write books for you, and love to answer your emails. So that's why I'm writing this post. Because I care. 

I subscribe to several daily news, business and tech email blasts to keep me informed for my "other life" as a columnist - and also because I'm interested in what's going on in the world. It helps me to be a better writer and a more interesting person. 

This morning, to my horror, in an email blast that calls itself Business Insider "Tech Select," these were the first three stories:



Relegated to "other news" were stories about how Tesla is building batteries for use in buildings and how Facebook's Ad service affects businesses. But the first three stories were about teenagers (that's you, my dears) doing this viral challenge to have have plump lips with dangerous and painful results.



After my first thought, which was to be mad at the alleged grown ups at alleged "Tech Select" for the ridiculous way they are prioritizing "news", I started hearing the voice of this guy in my head:



That's Dad and me, the day I graduated from college. Sadly, Dad passed away in November 2013 after a long struggle with Alzheimer's, but I still hear the things he said to me, the advice he gave me, as clearly as if he were standing right next to me like he was in this photo. 

And when I saw those headlines, I heard his voice saying something he so often asked me when I was a teenager: "If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?"

I'm sure many of my similarly aged friends heard something to that effect from one or the other of their parents, and were as sick of hearing it as I was. 

But there is wisdom in them there cliches, my dears. Trust your Auntie Sarah on this. 

I get it. You are trying to figure out your identity. You want to be heard. And there's so much pressure today to be SEEN. 

I'm old. Or as my daughter would say, "OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLD." We didn't have things like Instagram and Facebook and YouTube when I was a teen. Heck, we didn't even have the Internet. We didn't have cellphones. So we didn't have to worry about how many followers we had or how many likes we got, or if we could get our YouTube video to go viral, because there wasn't a YouTube and viral was something associated with a disease you didn't want to get. 

But here's the thing. I was in a video that did go viral. This one.   It's had over 1.1 million hits on YouTube. 



Yet that conversation didn't go viral because my son and I went into the StoryCorps booth with the intention of creating something viral. We didn't even know it would be on NPR Morning Edition. We didn't even know that it would be turned into an animation. We didn't know, when we walked into that booth, that one day we would be on Good Morning America.  We never thought for a moment that because of it we would be on our very first red carpet: 





We certainly hadn't the slightest idea that one day we would be in the front row at the TED Conference when Dave Isay, the founder of StoryCorps, and winner of the 2015 TED Prize, announced his Wish for the World.   




All of those incredibly amazing experiences happened because my son and I went into the StoryCorps booth with the sole intention of having a genuine, honest conversation with each other - of making a loving, human connection. And we did that. Even if none of the other things had happened, we would have achieved what we set out to do. 

The rest is gravy. Really exciting and wonderful gravy, and I am so grateful for all of the experiences we have come out of this. I also continue to be amazed by how this conversation connects with people from all over the world, no matter their nationality, race or religion. 

That's what's important, my dears. Not having plump lips. Not looking like anyone else. Being the best YOU that you can be and making human connections. 

 So please, I beg you - the next time you think about doing one of these ridiculous challenges, just remember my dear old Dad and pick up a book instead. You'll thank me later. I promise. 


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Another Dear Congressman Letter








Dear Jim - 

I already wrote you another Dear Congressman piece on the subject of school libraries  after our meeting last year. Today you asked me "So it's bad for a legislator to ask for facts and data?"

Well Jim, of course it isn't, and I feel, once again, you are asking me a disingenuous question, which makes me lose even more of the respect I once had for you. Because Jim, you know I once had a LOT of respect for you. What's more, I BELIEVED in you. I really thought that if we sent a smart guy like you to Washington it could really make a difference for our country. I lost my columnist gig with Hearst over you - but I even thought it was worth it, because I believed in you that much. 

But you want to know something? You have done more to make me discouraged with our political system than anyone. It's the people we believe in most that cause the greatest damage to our beliefs. 

So why do I feel you are being disingenuous? 

Let's see...perhaps because when we met to discuss education, I brought you lots of "facts and data." I brought you studies that showed that TFA are less effective than traditionally trained teachers, and the higher costs to school districts of their frequent turnover. 

I brought you data about how despite charter schools like Achievement First claiming 100% graduation rates, if you look at their cohort graduation rate from the students who start 9th grade it's nothing too special. 

I told you about charters not serving the same special ed and ELL populations and Achievement First having the highest kindergarten suspension rate in CT, and the lawsuit against them for special ed violations and how it made me furious when I read it because some of the things they were PUNISHING kids for were the kinds of coping strategies my son would use when he was trying to avoid a meltdown when he was having sensory overload. But these kids were being PUNISHED for that. 

But despite being my legislator, you didn't appear to have the same intellectual curiosity about THOSE "facts and data."And I can't help thinking that it's because it's too politically inconvenient for you to do so. That's why when you asked me the question about research on school libraries, it seemed more like you were deflecting me so you didn't have to answer my question, rather than requesting actual facts and data. 

I gave you the facts and data anyway, because there's over 40 years worth of studies proving the efficacy of having certified school librarians. Annual Testing like SBAC that we're wasting so many billions of dollars on? Not so much. But that doesn't seem to make a difference to policy makers, does it? Because facts and data don't appear to be driving education policy. 

 Why weren't you, and Dan Malloy, and Arne Duncan et al asking such questions BEFORE making the policy that is destroying our education system, driving teachers out of the profession (despite Gov Malloy's utterly ridiculous claim that they are all leaving "because they were hired at the same time, like the state troopers") and wasting billions of taxpayer dollars? Why weren't you asking questions about no-bid contracts by all the crony edreform folks? Because I've been asking those questions. 

Here's another thing that seriously rattled me about my Congressman: your reaction to being told of a Democratic elected official threatening to sue a member of the press, despite not being able to point to anything factually inaccurate in the piece. There's a name for when someone does that -  it's called a SLAPP suit - stands for "strategic lawsuit against public participation", and it's intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense.

 If a Republican had done this during the Bush years, I know you would have had something to say about it. But instead you laughed it off, like it wasn't an attempt at press intimidation by your own party. Now you're probably going to tell me you're a supporter of the First Amendment, but your reaction sure didn't give me a whole lot of confidence that as my Congressman you're going to do much to protect me, a constituent of yours and a journalist, if it's someone in the Democratic Party at fault. In fact, it showed me that you are happy to put party over process. 

And that, Jim, is why I am not a party member anymore, and why you, personally, have made me so incredibly disillusioned with the political process. Because if someone I thought was a smart, good guy ends up like this after a few terms in Washington, what the hell hope do we have in this country?

I would write more, but I spent four hours today doing a library program with seven other authors getting kids excited about writing - because they don't get the chance to do enough creative writing in school these days. Too much testing. Too much Common Core. All those things you told me were so wonderful and needed. 

I spent the afternoon with kids who crave creativity - who couldn't wait to use their voices. Isn't that what we should be encouraging in a democracy instead of test taking?


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mom's Words of Wisdom

When you're grieving, you never know what will trigger the next meltdown, that next wave of uncontrollable sobbing, the feeling that your heart is broken into so many tiny fragments that it cannot ever possibly be whole again.

This morning I wanted to be brave, because my mother had been taking a memoir class at the Ferguson Library in Stamford, and she'd been working hard to complete her recollections, focusing on the theme of strong women in our family. I found out from someone in her class who came to make a condolence call that the deadline is April 18th, and so I'm going to try to finish the job for her.  Her work was all laid out on the dining room table in her apartment, and we'd put it in an archive box.

I hadn't had the courage to start reading, but I knew I had to do it today.

And at the end of chapter two, I read this:

"Life is a patchwork quilt. Each piece of experience, whatever size or shape, is part of our whole being. Our friends and family, our children, and their children, our forbearers and those to come in the future, all enlarge the quilt. We are covered in their love. And our love covers them.

I learned from a woman who was a prisoner in Romania in solitary for several years. She said that experiences couldn't be taken away from her, as material things can. Throughout her incarceration and torture, she made her thoughts turn to experiences: trips she would retake in her mind, planning how she would decorate her new home if she got out. Give yourself and your family every experience, don't wish you had done something and put it off."


My mother was an amazing, strong woman. I miss her so much.

PS: I taught my youngest nephew "Carpe Diem" on Sunday. I told him it was the way smart people say "YOLO." Then I introduced him to my friend Irene, who grew up in Germany and is a Latin scholar, to make sure he said it correctly. So now he knows how to say it in both English and German learned Latin. CARPE DIEM, my friends. And sew your love into the patchwork quilt of humanity.





Sunday, March 22, 2015

Eulogy for my mother, Susan S. Darer

Delivered at Temple Beth-El, Stamford, CT March 22nd, 2015

When you’re a teenager trying to assert your own identity, pretty much the last thing you want to hear is how much you look like your mother. But I heard it a lot, and in that funny way history has of repeating itself, my daughter Amie has heard it once or twice herself, much to her chagrin.

But standing here today, nothing makes me happier than knowing that I bear a strong resemblance to my mother.

Since Mom’s unexpected passing earlier this week, we’ve all been in shock. Every morning we wake up hoping that it was bad dream, only to be hit again with the painful understanding that living in a world without our beloved mother and grandmother is the dreadful new reality.

I make my living as a writer, but when I tried to begin penning this eulogy, I had a rare moment of writer’s block. Because how can mere words sum up Mom?

I first tried – and failed – to do this in the dedication of my book CHARMED, I’M SURE which comes out next spring. I’m so, so grateful that I gave Mom the manuscript to read on her recent trip to Israel, so that she knew about the dedication. It says: To my mother, Susan Darer, for teaching me to become the woman I am today.

But that short sentence doesn’t begin to do Mom justice.

Here’s where it helps to have friends who are bestselling authors, so you can crib the words and ideas that they write in in their condolence letters.

Cinda Williams Chima wrote this: “You look so much like her, and I’m sure that’s not her only legacy to you. So you can think of yourself as carrying your parents forward through the years.”

Reading Cinda’s words made me think about Mom’s greatest legacies to John, Anne and me - the ones we are endeavoring to carry forward.

The most important of these is family – not just us, not just our aunts and uncles and first cousins, but our great aunts and uncles, and our second and third cousins. Unfortunately our great aunts and uncles are no longer with us, but when we were growing up it was like having multiple sets of grandparents, dispensing love and wisdom and guidance. Family gatherings were big fun affairs, and if you married into the family you probably needed a scorecard to keep track.  But the second cousins we grew up are with are here today supporting us in love, and our kids are friends with their third cousins. That’s what we mean in Yiddish when we use the word mishpocheh.

But another legacy our mother left us is the knowledge that family members aren’t merely the people related to us by blood or marriage.  She modeled that we create family by caring about those around us. Seeing faces here from so many different time periods and facets of her life is a testament to that. As someone who is struggling to face the fact that she no longer has parents, I hope that I can look to you, the extended family Mom created, to continue to dispense the love, wisdom and guidance our mother is no longer here to give us.

For all of us who loved Mom, the shock of her sudden passing feels like having limbs torn off without anesthetic.  In recent years Mom hadn’t just been my parent, she’d become my friend. During challenging moments with my teenagers, I’d call her up and apologize time after time for everything I’d ever said and done to her when I was a teenager – and as everyone who knew me when I was in high school can attest, I had a LOT to apologize for. It got to the point that Mom gave me the Jewish equivalent of a Papal Indulgence – “Enough already, I forgive you once and for all!”

Mom with her granddog, Benny
We were able to have deeper conversations, about life and love, and even politics, a subject area where over the last decade of being a columnist I’ve developed a reputation for being rather outspoken. I know this made Mom proud, even though it sometimes caused her problems. For instance, there was the time someone who couldn’t get my unlisted phone number left her several vitriolic messages late at night, resulting in us having to file a complaint with the Stamford police.  I was beside myself because I’ve had to develop what it takes to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune but folks should know better than to mess with my mom.
Still, I was glad we’d started to have such conversations, because when I was growing up, politics was an area where my father’s voice overshadowed my mother’s.  

Beth Styles, to whom I’m so grateful for being here with Mom’s New World Chorus family today, wrote about how our mother returned the love she received from fellow choir members after Dad’s death by volunteering to be the leader of the Chorus’ care team. Beth wrote: “It was her desire that everyone in the choir felt known and acknowledged.” 

That really resonated with me, because my son Josh and I found out that we’d lost Mom when we’d just got off a plane on the way back from attending the TED conference in Vancouver after hearing Dave Isay of StoryCorps, winner of the 2015 TED Prize, announce his Wish for theWorld. 

StoryCorps is an oral history project that aims to provide people of all backgrounds with the opportunity to record and share their life stories in the belief that “every life matters equally and infinitely.”

Anne and I interviewed Dad for Father’s Day shortly after the first StoryCorps booth opened in Grand Central in 2003. It wasn’t long after that, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, so we’re so grateful to have that recording. In 2006, Josh and I went into the booth together, and as a result, ended up at the TED conference last week. In 2010, Mom and Dad were recorded at StoryCorps as part of the Alzheimer’s initiative, and later that year, I interviewed Mom. I’m so glad I didn’t wait.

To honor Mom’s memory please consider having a conversation of your own with someone you love. You no longer have to wait for an appointment at a StoryCorps booth – at TED, Dave announced a new StoryCorp app, which helps you with questions and gives helpful hints on how to record a meaningful interview. It then allows you to upload your recording to the Library of Congress.



 Don’t put it off, because as I learned so painfully this week, you don’t know when you’ll kiss your mother goodnight after spending a great evening together and say: “See you when I get back, I love you,” only to return to find out that you won’t see her again, ever.

Mom touched so many lives in a positive way. In an age where society too often focuses attention on the loudest, the flashiest and the wealthiest, she was a quiet, humble hero. She was my hero. My greatest hope is that I will live the rest of my life in a way that is truly worthy of the example she set.