Archive for the ‘BOOKS/ART/CULTURE’ Category

THE MARVEL OF SMALL MUSEUMS

Back in the ’50s, American car companies introduced new models—radically different—every year. Advertisements touted that them as longer, lower, wider. Americans loved everything big. Many still do. Me? Take museums. I like small.

The best-known museums are—to use a term—yuge! In London this March, Carolyn and I again visited the British Museum. We’re members. I love lunch in the members dining room. Great soups! But the enormous crowds can make a visit a little—or a lot—less pleasurable. We’ve also seen the permanent exhibits—including the Rosetta Stone—many times.

I get worn out with the Louvres in Paris and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. We went to the Met a few weeks ago. We do every time we’re in the Big Town. My favorite part? Walking up and back through Central Park. The crowds and exhibit choices—too big.

Thankfully, we discovered the Museum of Art and Design (MAD) at Columbus Circle. The building rises nine stories but has a small footprint. The rotating exhibits feature contemporary (or relatively so) artists and are modest in size.

We had the galleries almost all to ourselves. I loved the work by Derrick Adams, presenting the challenges African Americans faced traveling the nation before passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. MAD also hosts artists in-studio. We chatted with Katya Grokhovsky, who came to the U.S. from Ukraine as a child and creates fabulous installations.

My favorite museum is small—and hardly typical. SFO Museum places exhibits—small and smaller—throughout San Francisco International Airport. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, SFOM offers fabulous opportunities to see carefully curated, constantly changing collections of art, craft and design when you fly. And even if you don’t. Many can be accessed pre-security. The airport may be crowded, but with these exhibits, you can get up close and personal.

When Carolyn and I fly overseas, we take in the pre-security exhibits in Terminal A and Terminal G. Domestically, we usually fly out of Terminal 2 where we just saw an exhibit on Maneki Neko—Japanese cat statues bringing good luck to homes and businesses.

SFOM has hosted many exhibits since the concept’s inception in 1980. My favorites include radio bars from the 1940s (we have one that belonged to my parents), women’s shoes (over the top), typewriters, cocktail glasses, gambling devices, American folk art, Chinese porcelains and evolving flight attendant (nee stewardess) uniforms.

Small museums abound. We love London’s Pollock’s Toy Museum (oldtoys) and Florence Nightingale Museum. The Morgan in New York has offered wonderful exhibits (from Babylonian jewelry to Ernest Hemingway). Who but the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco would put on display Mahjong and its impact on American Jews? (My mother played; my sister still does.)

SFOM won’t achieve the fame of the Met, the Louvres or the British. And truly, you can visit many other wonderful large museums around the nation—the Chicago Art Institute, the Smithsonian complex—and the world. We love the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

But size doesn’tmatter. A single, carefully curated exhibit in a modest space—like an informal dinner with family or friends—can deliver big rewards. That’s no small feat.

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TWO KINDS OF THEATER

During a recent visit to New York for our nephew’s wedding, Carolyn and I attended six Broadway shows. One put in perspective recent Palestinian efforts to mark “Land Day” and the 1948 Naqba or Disaster stemming from the birth of Israel.

The Band’s Visit(11 Tony nominations)—a play with music rather than a standard musical—is based on the 2007 Israeli film. In 1994—a year after the Oslo Accords—a small Egyptian police band—it bills itself as an orchestra—visits Israel to play at an Arab cultural center in Petah Tikvah, a suburb of Tel Aviv/Yafo. Inside Israel, they mistakenly take a bus to the fictional Beit Hatikva—Home of Hope—in the Negev desert. They must wait until morning for a new bus.

The owner of a small café offers hospitality—hers and her employees. Only nominal peace exists between Egypt and Israel. But these men are strangers in a strange land as were the ancient Hebrews in Egypt. The band members spend a long and melancholy night discovering that these Israelis—these Jews—endure their own suffering. Beit Hatikva bears no resemblance to Tel Aviv with its office towers, lively beach scene, marvelous restaurants and vibrant nightlife. Its residents feel isolated, lonely and bored. Soured relationships and thwarted ambitions have left them wounded.

As the band and their hosts get through the night, all experience moments of understanding. Their mutual humanity becomes apparent. The show’s message is heartening. Real peace is possible if only Egyptians and Israelis encounter each other as individual human beings.

Demonstrations on Land Day and the Fridays preceding it constituted street theater. The results proved anything but music to anyone’s ears. Under cover of smoke from burning tires, Gazans failed to take down the border fence and intrude into Israel. About 60 were killed by the Israeli army. Most were members of Hamas, the thugocracy that runs Gaza and pledges to destroy the Jewish State.

The demonstrations revealed yet again that mob-to-army contact usually generates terrible—if desired—repercussions. Hamas supported the demonstrations hoping that the Israel Defense Force would kill enough Gazans to earn global condemnation. Some condemnation has come Israel’s way. But not much. Israel’s short-term policies—for good and bad—will remain unchanged.

Regrettably, Land Day never had to happen. In 1947, Palestinians and the Arab states could have accepted the United Nations partition of the British mandate. A Palestinian nation—one never existed before—would have had its capital in East Jerusalem. It also would have held more territory than after the 1967 war, which produced borders Palestinians now insist upon. What’s more, no refugees would have been created—those forced to flee by a war of their leaders’ choosing and the many who fled voluntarily at the urging of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem pending Arab victory.

Palestinian desire to eliminate Israel or trigger Israeli “one-state” national suicide reflects pure fantasy. Right-wing Israelis’ desire to ignore Palestinians represents a parallel fantasy. Peace can only be achieved by accepting reality and embracing our common humanity.

The Band’s Visitmay win many Tony awards. Future Land Days will bring Gaza only more losses. Israel won’t be a winner, either. Tikva—hope—remains in short supply.

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IDRIS ELBA, EAT YOUR HEART OUT

Carolyn and I have a friend in London, Asif Khan, who’s a terrific actor. He’s now in San Francisco performing a one-man show consisting of four monologues, Love, Bombs & Apples, by Golden Thread Productions at Potrero Stage. It’s great. He’s great. British star Idris Elba should worry.

Asif and Idris are up for the same acting award in Britain—proof that Asif’s career is moving forward. Which it is. In March, we saw Asif in London starring in a stage version of E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India. Wonderful performance. Wonderful play.

Which brings me back to Love, Bombs & Apples, written by Hassan Abdulrazzak, a British playwright born in Prague of Syrian parents and brilliantly directed by Rosamunde Hutt. (We hosted Asif and Rosamunde for dinner at our house Wednesday night.) This show challenges American audiences as it did audiences in the U.K.—and in more ways than one. Recapping…

The first monologue presents Asif as a Palestinian actor in the West Bank searching for sex in a society which limits such opportunities. In the second, Asif does a chameleon-like transformation to bring us a nerdy Pakistani-British author (Asif’s parents are from Pakistan) so intent on realism that his huge novel strikes British security forces as a terrorist’s bomb-making manual.

The third monologue offers a young, restless Pakistani-Brit from Bradford, where Asif grew up. At an Apple store, he considers joining ISIS, since their members use iPhones to record themselves and their abhorrent acts as tributes to power and glory.

Surprise: Each piece is suffused with humor. These Muslim characters are funny. And human.

Something different happens in monologue number four. Asif plays Isaac Levy, a New York Jew whose father is a big supporter of AIPAC and defender of Israel. He’s totally believable. The passionate Isaac follows his father’s position until he meets a leftwing Jewish woman named Sarah. Sex brings them together. The Israel-Palestinian issue rips them apart.

Isaac wants Sarah and his family to discuss the situation rationally. I suspect he sees a middle ground between the views of his father and Sarah. But in the end, Isaac feels he must choose between them. His last line encompasses the conundrum faced by many—probably most—Jewish-American families regarding discussion of Israel: “It’s gonna get ugly.”

Does it have to? Recently, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett (I spent Passover week with him at Masada) and leader of the rightwing HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) party, addressed the Israel Awards ceremony. (Leftwing novelist David Grossman won the literature prize for A Horse Walks into a Bar.) Among Naftali’s comments: “We are a nation of ideas and we are a nation of debates… We argue in loud voices, and in the middle of the argument we find the breakthrough moment…” Of great importance, he also stated, “…if I had a button which I could push and make all Israelis share my exact opinion, I would not push that button.”

Will Asif win out over Idris? They’re both terrific actors. In the end—I’m rooting for Asif—it won’t matter. Award contests don’t disturb the peace. Two peoples claiming the same land does. We know. It’s been ugly for years. I fear it’s going to get uglier. At the very least, as Love, Bombs & Apples prods us, we can start listening to each other.

Love, Bombs & Apples plays at Potrero Stage, 1695 18th Street, San Francisco, today through Sunday and again from April 26 through May 6. Information and tickets: goldenthread.org.

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TEOTIHUACAN

An “us vs. them” world tends to produce belief in cultural superiority. But human beings share more in common than perceived—and, admittedly, sometimes real—differences that may separate us. Exhibit A: Teotihuacan.

Teotihuacan is a sprawling pre-Columbian archaeological site northeast of Mexico City. Famed for its huge pyramids, Teotihuacan once contained 125,000 residents. Carolyn and I went there over 40 years ago. So naturally, we attended the recent exhibit of Teotihuacan artifacts at San Francisco’s de Young Museum.

One piece particularly fascinated me: an incense burner dated 350–550 CE. No photo—at least taken by me—can do it justice. Fifteen to 18 inches high, it depicts a king or priest with a huge headdress. Its multi-planar construction could suggest a 21st-century artist. I didn’t over-think the piece. I just stared in awe.

Some Americans might think this piece primitive since it’s highly stylized rather than realistic. But such art, found worldwide, speaks to me far more than European art of the medieval and Renaissance periods, at first stylized then trending towards realism.

The Teotihuacan piece led me to wonder: How do Americans who don’t visit museums view art from outside the U.S. and Europe? Do they consider valid only European art of the 12th through 19th centuries? Do they think that legitimate art comes only from white Christian civilization, and its Greek and Roman antecedents?

No knock on European art, but my preferences run to Native-American, Latin-American, African, Middle-Eastern and Asian art—along with anything from antiquity. Also, the European Impressionists and many modernists. Why?

Stylized or representative art involves me precisely because it isn’t photo-realistic. Here I turn to Plato, who wrote of numina and phenomena. Simply put, all physical objects in the world represent—but cannot duplicate—their conceptual ideals, known as numina. For example, all physical chairs—phenomena—cannot replicate the ideal no matter how beautiful or utilitarian.

Likewise, no painting or sculpture of a horse can depict the ideal horse. By definition, any physical image is too specific and thus limited in scope. But artists still grapple with numina. Picasso drew a horse utilizing a single line—what appears to be a simple outline. The viewer’s imagination fills in the details and comes to some understanding of the concept of horse. That’s what makes representative art so engaging.

Regardless of style, representative art—like realistic art—expresses the universal human desire to understand the world in which we live and in doing so, ourselves. With clay, wood, metal and plastic; on board or canvas or rock; in leather and fabric; on slabs of stone or cave walls, artists from all places and times have sought to come to grips and move us with a greater reality.

The need for art is so basic, all cultures pursue it. Placing geographical constraints on art’s value dehumanizes artists—and ourselves. Moreover, variance in form and style does not make one culture’s art superior to others. There’s art well-done and art not particularly accomplished. Art presents is with a win-win proposition.

We can learn much from the art of other cultures, past and present. Their history and religions can inform us, too. As the old saying goes, we’re all different just the same.

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IT ONLY TAKES ONE

My friend Marty recently emailed to say how much he enjoyed my novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht. I hear from readers only occasionally. Then again, I don’t email authors. My purchase of their books tells them what they most want to know. Still, I need to acknowledge an author whose short story got to me.

Nathan Englander’s “The Reader” in the acclaimed anthology What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank touched me deeply. The story will appeal to any serious reader. Writers will experience a near-visceral response.

“The Reader” concerns both a writer, referred to as Author, and a devoted fan, called by Englander—you can see this coming—Reader. Author has reached relatively old age. He’s written several very successful novels—about one per decade. (No way I could take that long, but that’s another story.) Now, he’s driving cross-country on a book tour for his latest (unnamed) novel. Alas, his reputation no longer serves him. At one bookstore after another, he finds not small audiences but no audience at all. His career isn’t even running on fumes. But he encounters one exception.

Reader, also an old man, follows Author to every stop on the tour. While Author finds his fall from the heights both heartbreaking and debilitating, Reader will have none of it. He insists that Author deliver his promised reading at every store. Moreover, Reader insists that so long as he creates an audience of one, Author must give a great performance. Reader cares that much.

Why did I respond so much to this story? Fiction proves valuable because it arouses empathy. Every writer can see in Author either the fragility of success or the failure to achieve it. For most writers, the latter applies. I’m not sure it’s the worse position to be in.

Why do writers keep writing when readers aren’t reading? Maybe it’s an odd addiction. More likely, it’s a compulsion to share our observations of, and response to, the world. Think of it as therapy masquerading as art.

I don’t know how many Americans write fiction. I do know that among what may be millions of writers, only a small percentage ever get published. A smaller percentage get published regularly. Even fewer achieve enough success to give up their day jobs.

Ultimately, even the greatest writers fall by the wayside. For Author, this constitutes a living death. Of course, I’ve never come close to Author’s accomplishments. Still, everyone likes a little applause. So, when even one reader, like Marty, tells you that your work matters, you experience the emotional equivalent of being brought back to life by a defibrillator.

I relish the compliments I’ve received. A while back, I read from my story “Beautiful!” at the launch party for San Jose State University’s new edition of its annual REED Magazine. The audience offered enthusiastic applause, and the previous year’s editor asked me to sign his copy. What a rush!

It should be noted that Author’s experience translates to any profession or pursuit. Success rouses our spirits. Failure—no matter how many successes, large or small, precede it—can crush them. Check out Englander’s “The Reader.” See how you respond to Author’s pain. I felt it in spades.

You can purchase THE ODD PLIGHT OF ADONIS LICHT directly from me or at Amazon. If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

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CONFESSIONS OF A CULTURE CRIMINAL

Last September, I wrote about “cultural appropriation” in “Let the Book Burning Begin.” Some attendees at a literary festival in Australia excoriated the novelist Lionel Shriver for advocating that “white” writers should be free to create characters of other ethnicities. They can also excoriate me!

My novel Slick! (one of Kirkus Reviews’ 25 Best Indy Books of 2012) presents Arab characters. They revealed all kinds of traits, some culturally specific, others simply human. Some characters I like. Others I satirize—as I did white American diplomats.

In San Café, I created—gasp—Latino characters. Again, I satirized human nature across ethnicities.

I avoided crossing most ethnic bounds in The Boy Walker but cop a plea to “cultural speciesism.” Like me, all my major characters are Jewish, but the novel’s narrator is the shattered Greenbaum family’s 12-year-old English Bulldog Brute. However, the speciesism isn’t all that grievous. Brute’s also Jewish.

In Flight of the Spumonis I had the gall to write about an Italian circus family with Irish roots. Was it okay because Italians and Irish are white? People think Jews are white, but I know many Jews with other genetic backgrounds. Also, I don’t identify that way. Still, I got enough Jewish characters into the novel to cover my tracks—including a “black” character who’s equal parts African-American, Chinese, Native American and, yes, Jewish.

Which leads me to my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht. I’m not giving much away by saying that Adonis is not—gasp again—Greek (would that be a no-no?) but Jewish. Yet he undertakes a relationship with a woman named Emily, adopted from Korea by white parents. He works closely with a Mexican-American named Fred. Can it be that in the major art museum where Adonis works, his contemporaries include people with Korean and Mexican genetics? Or must Adonis, living in a large but unnamed city, encounter only other Jews?

In Adonis, I also created an African-American character. I can imagine cultural purists salivating then snarling that Hunter Kirk must be a semi-literate gangster representing every racist’s stereotype. Or a star entertainer or athlete with no depth. Wrong! He’s the museum’s executive director. True, he shows Adonis a football in his office, but the protectors of cultural purity may be surprised:

“People always seem so startled,” said Dr. Kirk. “Or they think, Well, sure. All black men play sports.” A second-string tight end during his senior year, he’d caught the winning touchdown against his school’s archrival with seventeen seconds left. “Division Three ball. No pro scouts in the stands. Well, maybe one or two but not to see me. It was my only touchdown of the season. If you must know, of my career. A broken play. Life’s all about timing.” And discipline, he pointed out. It took discipline to earn a Ph.D. and an MBA. “No easy task for your average street kid.” He chuckled. “Of course, my father was a corporate lawyer, and my mother was a pediatrician.”

How dare a Jewish writer believe that an African-American can be educated and skilled, can lead a major arts organization, can be (final gasp) like anyone else? Take me to literary court and accuse me of recognizing the humanity in all ethnicities. I’ll plead guilty.

You can purchase THE ODD PLIGHT OF ADONIS LICHT directly from me or at Amazon. If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

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“Hamilton”

Finally, we got to see that hit about our history,

And all the men who, bold, told old King George

We’re out to set our nation free.

We’d seen the news, the interviews, and heard the tunes.

Now our views are: this show’s great and one to celebrate.

We had great fun at “Hamilton.”

 

We didn’t waste our shot. No, we didn’t waste our shot.

‘Cause what we got

Was song and dance within a riveting plot.

 

And, we took a backstage tour.

Repeat, we took a backstage tour.

At “Hamilton,” we know someone

Who made it even more fun.

What’s more, we stood there on the stage

The very place where George-Three raged

While Hamilton talked revolution

And the solution to building a nation

For all. Big and small.

That’s one tall order,

Keeping it real from border to border.

Oh yes, we had a backstage tour.

Ooooh. Ooooh.

 

And ooooh, we met some of the cast,

Young people from all those backgrounds,

Producing all those sweet sounds,

Representing every branch of our family tree:

You and you and you and me.

Reminding us we are family because our colors

Blend into one red, white and blue humanity.

 

We didn’t waste our shot.

No, we didn’t waste our shot.

I thought about my family tree,

A shout out to my grandparents

Sailing into New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty

Welcoming them to the land of the free.

Nothing guaranteed but the will to succeed.

 

After more than a century,

I hold on to the memory and like to think how

Lady Liberty, her torch raised high,

Her eye on all those immigrants,

Welcomes my father Morris—Moishe still—and shy of three.

She sings, her silent voice so resonant

(Born in Poland he can’t be president

But what counts is what he can be):

“Know what you’ve got here, boy. A shot here, boy.

And listen now to what I say:

Let no one take your shot away.

Big shots with small minds seeking any lame excuse

To cut our Constitution loose

And trample on the glory of those who made us great.

Don’t let them be the ones to tell your story.”

 

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s right.

We all have rights. It’s worth the fight

For freedom.

Staying silent would be dumb. We’re all Americans,

Building our nation, reinforcing its foundation,

Seeking to rise up, rise up beyond our station.

Immigrants like Sam and Kayleh, Lyon and Minnie

Came for opportunity.

Not just for them but everyone,

Away from fear and squalor, hollering for just one thing:

Their shot.

Which they got.

 

So, let’s remember sun to sun,

There something more in store than fun

When the lights go on and voices rise.

You better bet we owe a debt to

Alexander Hamilton.

 

The post will take two weeks off and resume on Friday, May 19. Meanwhile, check out the first two chapters of The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

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LET THE BOOK BURNING BEGIN

Political correctness recently broke out in Brisbane, Australia. Officials at a writers festival were so upset with novelist and keynote Lionel Shriver (The Mandibles), “they censored her on the festival website and publicly disavowed her remarks,” according to the New York Times. What horrific things did she say?

“Ms. Shriver criticized as runaway political correctness efforts to ban references to ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation from Halloween celebrations, or to prevent artists from drawing on ethnic sources for their work.” (“Lionel Shriver’s Address on Cultural Appropriation Roils a Writers Festival,” Rod Nordlund, 9-12-16). Re artists, some people believe that white authors should not create non-white characters. Ms. Shriver disagrees. “She deplored critics of authors like Chris Cleave, an Englishman, for presuming to write from the point of view of a Nigerian girl in his best-selling book ‘Little Bee.’”

Right on, Lionel! Like Incendiary, Cleave’s first novel, Little Bee is fabulous. Little Bee, the Nigerian girl who Cleave created, exhibits biting humor and remarkable courage. She offers a different perspective on England—one well worth examining. Oh, and Cleave creates sympathetic white Britons, as well—women as well as men.

Political correctness seems to demand that authors, playwrights and screenwriters create segregated worlds. Mark Twain (Huckleberry Finn) and William Styron (The Confessions of Nat Turner) would be long forgotten. But all writers would pay the price. The Good Lord Bird by African-American James McBride would have its wings clipped since the white abolitionist John Brown plays a prominent role. Sherman Alexi, the Native American writer, would have to eliminate whites though they’re integral to his novels and stories.

Amy Tan? Imprisoned in Chinatown and the Middle Kingdom. Englishman Tom Rob Smith’s magnificent Child 44 set in Russia? Nyet! The late Bernard Malamud’s stories set in Italy with a Jewish protagonist and all those Italians? Bury the Italians. I’m sure I can find enough people to say Kaddish.

The foolishness never ends. Jewish Steven Spielberg directed the film version of The Color Purple with a screenplay by the Dutch-born Menno Meyjes. Scandalous! The Broadway smash Hamilton features minority actors playing America’s white founding fathers and mothers—and rapping. Man (and woman) the barricades! Then there’s earthling George Lucas creating all those aliens in Star Wars. Talk about intergalactic cultural insensitivity!

Let’s get real. Writers tell stories by drawing on their experiences with people of all ethnicities. They observe. They do research. And they imagine. Good writers create characters of any ethnicity who reveal human nature at its best and worst.

I don’t restrict my characters to Jews. Specifically, Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews. Specifically, men. Specifically, old men. In Flight of the Spumonis, the street kid Jimmy Q represents four different ethnicities, one of them Jewish. Do I get a pass? The private eye Moonbeam Cherney is a woman but Jewish. Cut me some slack? In my newest novel, the powerful executive director of a major museum, the holder of law and MBA degrees, is Black. Have I crossed a forbidden boundary?

Sure, we could purge our libraries, bookstores, Amazon and homes of all books guilty of cultural appropriation. But then we’d appropriate the cultures of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, China and much of the Middle East. And our shelves would be bare.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And read a good book—whoever the author is and whatever ethnicity the characters. It’s a human thing.

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TORN BETWEEN WORLDS

The Hebrew word shalom means “hello,” “goodbye” and “peace.” It comes from shalem, which means wholeness. When we feel whole, we experience shalom—peace. When we don’t, our inner conflicts can have grave consequences for ourselves and those around us. This theme ran through the four movies Carolyn and I recently saw at the Jewish Film Festival in San Francisco.

A Tale of Love and Darkness by the Israeli-born American actress Natalie Portman is based on the autobiographical novel by Amos Oz (nee Klausner; Oz means strength in Hebrew). Oz’s parents came separately to Israel from Eastern Europe in the 1930s and met in Jerusalem. His mother, well educated and from a once-wealthy family, could not cope with the challenging life in Israel before and after independence. She became increasingly depressed and committed suicide. Interestingly, Jerusalem is equated with the biblical city of Shalem along with the Canaanite priest Melchizedek—about whom I write in God’s Others—mentioned in Genesis 14:18. In 1967, Jerusalem was reunited by the Israeli military. Yet it remains culturally divided between West (Jews) and East (Arabs).

Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You focuses on the hit TV shows Lear created from the the late 1960s through the ‘80s. The controversial but highly rated “All in the Family” featured Carroll O’Connor as the right-wing, irascible Archie Bunker and Jean Stapleton as his beleaguered but loving wife Edith. Hunkered down in his Queens home, Archie resists the whirlwind of social and cultural changes in America. He feels lost in a time warp, hence the title music “Those Were the Days” with its brilliant line, “Mister, we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.” Which we could not. Yes, Archie is a racist and a misogynist. Still, there’s something lovable about him because he cannot conceal his basic humanity.

The Writer is an Israeli TV series created by Sayed Kashua. Its protagonist Kateb (Yousef Sweid) mirrors Sayed as the creator of the actual Israeli hit show Arab Labor. Kateb reveals Sayed’s feeling of dislocation—an Israeli Arab sympathetic to the Palestinians but a thoroughly modern resident of Jewish West Jerusalem. Ultimately, Kateb takes a teaching position in the United States. Kashua has been at the University of Illinois for two years and is applying for his green card.

For the Love of Spock tracks the development of the character Dr. Spock in the famed “Star Trek” TV series and movies. It also profiles Leonard Nimoy, the actor who brought Spock to life. Spock—whose famed hand salute is the sign of the priestly blessing given by descendants of the kohanim (priests) during Yom Kippur and observed by the young Nimoy in his Boston synagogue—is half-Vulcan, half-human. Spock’s cold logic typifies his Vulcan self, but echoing Archie Bunker, he periodically reveals his human emotions. Nimoy himself suffered a dichotomy. Most Trekkies saw him only as Spock and didn’t know about his other acting work or concede that Nimoy was a person in his own right.

The Jewish Film Festival runs through this weekend in San Rafael and Berkeley. It’s worth attending. It’s also worth looking at any of the films through the lens of human beings torn between worlds. To a great extent, this represents the human condition—as does the search for shalem.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And if you’re looking for someone with dueling personalities, check YouTube for my 2013 stand-up routine at San Francisco’s Purple Onion.

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SERIOUSLY FUNNY

Last Friday, I invited readers and Facebook friends to You Tube to see the stand-up comedy act I performed in 2013 at San Francisco’s Purple Onion as research for my novel The Boy Walker. I spent many hours writing that nine-minute set. Was it because I was a neophyte? Jill Maragos, a professional funny woman, confirms the axiom that it’s harder to make people laugh than cry.

Jill developed her sense of humor to survive growing up with a crazy family in Buffalo, New York. Also, she holds degrees in broadcast journalism and mechanical engineering. The progression to stand-up was natural and inevitable.

Four years ago, Jill was working on an acting career in Los Angeles. To better understand sit-coms, she took a stand-up course. She discovered she could write humor. Since she was a performer, Jill started doing open mics. Then she got gigs—most without pay. Her first experience hooked her. “I couldn’t shake the adrenalin rush from making people laugh.” She equates audience response to unconditional love. At the end of 2015, her husband Matt was offered a job in the Bay Area. Most of Jill’s best-paying gigs were up in the Pacific Northwest, and travel there from the Bay Area is as easy as from L.A. They moved north. Jill’s career headed north, too.

Like most stand-ups, Jill creates material by looking into herself. Pet peeves offer one reliable topic. Does she write eight hours a day? “My writing goes in spurts,” she says. She spends about 15 hours a month actually at her laptop. But writers are always working. “I gather a lot of material just walking around.” She takes notes in her joke book, a notebook she brings everywhere. “I try some of the jokes on friends.” Matt hears all of her material and offers advice. Some, she takes.

In addition to developing new bits, Jill constantly enhances her current routine. “I’m really particular about jokes,” she says. “I tend to overwrite.” She may spend hours on a bit to end up with a few minutes she believes will work. She experiments with new material at open mics. Jill’s also merciless. “I’ll toss out a good joke for a better one.” Her goal: always have on hand 45 minutes of top-notch material.

Probably the bane of all stand-ups is going on the road. Jill describes it as “like solitary confinement with half an hour like a surprise party at the end of the day with everyone you’ve ever loved and known. Then you drive someplace else or go home.” Still, she hits the road with enthusiasm. Those are paying audiences out there. In the next few years, she’d love to open for a headliner on tour. She reveals her approach to making that work: “My material is dirty enough for me to be interested in using it but not so much I’d conflict with the headliner.”

Some people wonder how Jill can devote her life to stand-up. “How could I not?” she responds. That’s why she’ll appear in San Francisco tonight (July 8) at the Hell Hat Improv Comedy Show and Friday night, July 15, at the Underdog Wine Bar in Livermore. Friday to Sunday, August 12–14, Jill will appear in Laughlin, Nevada at the Edgewater Casino & Hotel. Whatever happens at the tables, Jill’s show will be a sure winner.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And get more on Jill at jillmaragos.com.

The blog will take off July 15 and return July 22.

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