Posts Tagged ‘ALfred University’

GRATITUDE

The post I intended has been postponed a week. I want to get to something both overdue and necessary.

Gratitude.

Cheers to the people on the pandemic’s front lines. Doctors and nurses. Ambulance drivers, lab techs and hospital janitors. A shout-out to non-medical folks promoting the general welfare: farmers and laborers, factory workers, cops, firefighters, EMTs and ambulance drivers. Also, workers at public utilities. Everyone along the food chain. Pharmacists, techs and associates. Mechanics. Bank personnel. Bus, subway and train drivers along with cabbies and on-demand drivers. And everyone else getting it done.

Thanks also to so many people who, over 75 years, I owe so much. I’ll miss some—maybe many—but here’s a sampling.

My parents, Morris and Blanche, taught me to love and do the right thing. Unlike many, they walked the walk. My terrific sister Kay Zaks (and brother-in-law Herb). We encourage and comfort each other across the continent.

Family and friends—Ron and Lynn Laupheimer, David and Ellen Newman, for example—laugh (sometimes) at my jokes and put up with my introversion and occasional lack of social graces. I can’t name everyone, but you know who you are. And if you think you’re in this group, you are.

Now, a few names from the past. My kid/teen buddies Marty, Lenny, Alan, Mickey, Sammy and Dennis. Mrs. Fulton, my teacher in third and fourth grades at P.S. 174, who provided great encouragement. So, too, Mrs. Bushinsky, my Sabra teacher in Hebrew School. Les Kozerowitz, from Camp Colang (summers) then Alfred University, remains a valued friend.

Two men helped me during seventh grade when my emotions went off the rails. When I balked at being bar mitzvah, Rabbi Josiah Darby of Rego Park Jewish Center convinced me to stick with it. Am I glad! When I was miserable—isolated from friends in the seventh-grade Special Progress class that would vault me to ninth—Dr. Gramet, principal at Russell Sage Junior High, gracefully encouraged me to enter eighth grade the following year. And hats off to Mrs. Alexander, my eighth-grade home room/art teacher. I recovered a lot of my lost sense of self in her class. And always, the Perlstein family doctor, Irving Nachtigal, took care of us.

Dr. Mel Bernstein, chair of the English Department and my adviser at Alfred, taught me a great lesson: Never forget your sense of humor. Staff Sergeant Thomas “Fat Cat” Johnson gave basic training at Fort Dix perspective. John McCarthy, my boss in Fort Sam Houston’s Special Services office, modeled true professionalism. Brother Louis Schuster, a dynamic Chaucer scholar at St. Mary’s University where I earned my M.A., reminded me to maintain the discipline I’d learned at Fort Benning on both the academic and life fronts.

John Fabian helped me build a successful freelance copywriting business. Marty Weiner and Larry Raphael were more than rabbis. Friends, their support of my writing, along with Jim Shay, Ron Eaton, Jane Cutler and Tom Parker, mean so much.

I consider my Torah Study buddies, including Dan Weiss and Ira Fateman, as brothers—and sisters.

I don’t know where I’d be without Carolyn. And I love my kids—Seth, Yosi and Aaron (plus husband Jeremy).

Thank you one and all. “No man is an island,” wrote the British poet John Donne. Truer words.

Happy Passover, Happy Easter, Happy Ramadan. And if you’re celebrating anything else, may you also find joy, fulfillment and courage.

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15 MINUTES OF FAME

In 1968, the artist Andy Warhol wrote, “In the future, everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes.” Until last Sunday, I found myself fourteen minutes short. So I added a few seconds to my meager sum.

I held a launch party for Big Truth: New and Collected Stories. My guests gathered at Lokma Turkish restaurant in my neighborhood. They found parking! I enjoyed treating them to Turkish appetizers, selling some books and, most of all, reading two very short stories and the beginning of a third. Hear for yourself on YouTube.

Yes, I’d love to top Warhol’s 15 minutes. My book Solo Success: 100 Tips for Becoming a $100,00-a-Year Freelancer sold about 3,300 copies, and I was interviewed for radio and print. I relished the whole process, but as I stood in the national spotlight, it barely flickered.

In truth—a big truth—life owes us nothing. Most of us live in anonymity, although I’m delighted to say that I’ve had a very nice life. So when you have the chance to celebrate something special—something that means a lot to you—you jump on it.

I’ve never been taken with recurring calendar dates. They strike me as artificial. In this regard, I confess to not caring about my approaching birthday. It’s for family and friends to say, “Glad you were born.” The accomplishment belongs to my parents, Morris and Blanche. Another big truth: My mother did the heavy lifting. It’s doing something yourself that calls for a little back patting, even if you risk dislocating your shoulder.

I admit to being picky about celebrations. High school graduation? No biggie. A diploma was an expectation and never in doubt. College? The same, although I confess that my four years as an undergraduate were the worst in my life. The fault was not the school’s—Alfred University in western New York is wonderful—but my own. I had no idea why I was so often miserable and detached. Only later did I understand that I was a fairly extreme—if functional—introvert. It took decades for me to come to grips with, although not perfect, myself. I get by reasonably well now, but I avoid situations I know I’ll find uncomfortable.

Then there was graduation from the Army’s Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1967. OCS was a challenge and thus something to celebrate. Getting my M.A. from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio? I worked for an ad agency days and went to school on the G.I. Bill nights—three courses per semester for two years. No free time. But Carolyn encouraged me. That was worth a little applause.

But I’ll always revel in bringing out a new book. Readers often have no idea about how much effort and psychic pain is involved along with the joy of creating a story. If I flog my books—and ask people to read them—you know why.

Now, I’ll back away from another date with celebrity until my newest novel, almost completed, comes out. I hope it will bring my minutes of fame—among family and friends at least—up to two or even three. I also hope you’ll celebrate yourachievements and the few minutes of fame they’ve earned you.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories,is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy.

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SHAKESPEARE AND BALKANIZATION

“Dead black men” has become  oft repeated . Baltimore sadly offers the latest focal point for this phrase. “So attention must be paid,” says Willie Loman’s wife of her suffering husband in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. But there’s a parallel to which attention also is due: “Dead white men.” That’s the rationale for rejecting much of Western literature, including Miller and, even more important, William Shakespeare.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported on April 23 (Shakespeare’s 451st birthday), “A new study finds that English departments at just four of 52 top-ranked universities require English majors to take a course on the 16th century playwright and poet who is considered the English-speaking world’s greatest man of letters.” The subject was discussed—and debated—on yesterday’s syndicated radio program Forum hosted by Michael Krasny.

Call me biased in favor of Shakespeare. I received my B.A. in English from Alfred (New York) University in 1966. Seven years later, I earned my M.A. in English at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Both schools mandated courses in Shakespeare, as well as in Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1343–1400). Dead (English) white men? Yes. Important dead white men? Yes again. Their gifts to literature and thought helped create the foundations of what we write and read—and think—today.

English departments say they love Shakespeare, and their English majors can pick up a play here, a sonnet there. But a whole semester let alone two? There’s so much more to read by outstanding authors from many diverse cultures. True, literature is broader than Shakespeare and the English-speaking world. At both schools, I studied a range of literature, including then-contemporary authors. Over the decades, the quantity of new contemporary fiction (including mine) has grown enormously. The classroom can’t cover it all. It never could. But Shakespeare and contemporary/ethnic literature aren’t mutually exclusive.

This controversy reflects a conundrum in American culture. George Santayana famously said, “Those who are ignorant of the past are condemned to repeat it.” Yet many Americans view the past—which they often condemn (it was hardly perfect)—as superfluous. They also see it as distinct from their roots. I get that. My mother’s family arrived here starting around 1885; my father landed here in February 1906. Many of the laws and values that guided their lives—and mine—had already been established. To understand my place in America, I must know our societal past.

Then there are people who believe that education should either be comprised of learning to code or studying revolutionary philosophy. Basic math, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division? We can use our cell phones. History? European thought from antiquity through the present equates with racism. Besides, the world didn’t really exist before we reached age 15. Religion? Marx called it the opiate of the masses. But wait. He’s a dead white man. What the hell! Let’s consign the Bible, the Vedas, the Quran—all scriptures pre-dating Scientology—to the flames.

As to literature, why not Balkanize it? Let every ethnic group reject our common culture and study only its own writers. But let’s not be surprised if we find ourselves united only in spouting politically correct platitudes ultimately forcing us to consider Macbeth’s lament regarding “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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