Posts Tagged ‘Reed magazine’

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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LOST IN SPACE

An eye-opening astronomy video—one of many in recent years—has been making the rounds of Facebook. It brings to mind a piece of Hasidic wisdom uttered when the observable universe was far smaller than now. Both pose fascinating questions regarding how we can make sense of humanity’s place in the cosmos.

This particular animated video beautifully demonstrates the nearly unfathomable size of creation. The camera starts on the massive Himalaya Mountains and pulls back to reveal the Himalayas as a small blip on our Earth, itself a fraction of the size of the sun, which is but one among billions of stars in our Milky Way Galaxy, itself one of billions of galaxies. We may know this intellectually, but the video offers a startling perspective. At its end we can’t help wondering how far creation extends and how we can ever truly understand it. We also marvel at our own diminutiveness.

On the religious level, Rabbi Simcha Bunim (1765-1827) presented the paradox of human existence quite in tune with science. He exclaimed that everyone should have two pockets. One should hold a note declaiming, The world was made for me. The other should hold a note stating, I am but dust and ashes.

We can easily take the vastness of creation as a negation of our human worth. But Rabbi Bunim warns against that. In the Torah, God puts human beings at the center of creation. Don’t take that lightly. After all, we can comprehend to a significant degree that same vast universe. We’ve made great headway investigating such incredible forces as gravity and black holes. So while within the known universe, human beings are barely specs, our self-awareness and comprehension encompass the creation that dwarfs us.

Of course, we each have a natural perspective through which the world revolves around our hopes and dreams, accomplishments and failures. This, even as astronomers discover new planets capable of supporting life. Are we really alone? If so, our insignificance and uniqueness become even more pronounced. Still, we live our lives as if the universe were merely an extension of ourselves. This leaves us walking an intellectual tightrope. Not surprisingly, we often lose our balance.

My short story “Beautiful!” (REED Magazine issue 69), which I mentioned last week, deals with this subject. A retired astronaut marks his eightieth birthday. He has seen the earth from a weightless vantage point provided to only a few human beings. Like many astronauts in orbit before him, he exclaimed “Beautiful!”

But as with other astronauts, his elevated view of earth not only stimulated but troubled him. How, he wonders, can we fail to treat our fellow human beings—all of us so small and fragile—with compassion? Why do ego and lust make our brief lives so difficult for ourselves and others? On the other hand, given the size and age of the universe, what difference does it make what we do?

Will “Beautiful!” clear everything up for you? It will disturb as much as enlighten you. Living simultaneously on the macro and micro levels is no easy task. The sum of human misery testifies to that. Giving the matter some thought, however, just might make a difference in the way we struggle through our brief appearance here on tiny Earth.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And this Monday, give a little thought to what Memorial Day really means. May the memories of American forces who gave their all be for a blessing. 

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YOUNG MAN, OLD MAN

In New Orleans recently, an African-American cab driver said, “Have a good day, young man.” “Young man” (I’ll be 72 in July) is a term of respect in the Black community. It tickled me, because elders in America don’t get much respect.

Leviticus 19:32 states, “You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old.” Generally, that gets little traction. Check out how often young people remain seated in senior-preference seats on San Francisco’s buses. (When offered a seat, I decline. The elderly need seats; I don’t.)

Dave Eggers offers a frightening look at youth chauvinism in his 2014 novel The Circle. A social-media company—a mash-up of Facebook, Apple, Google (Alphabet) and others—has a state-of-the-art Silicon Valley campus in which 30-year-olds are hard to find. The protagonist, a 24-year-old woman—and new employee—thinks 30 is over the hill. One can’t possibly contribute to society when three decades have sapped one’s energy and enthusiasm. But good judgment takes time to develop. The Circle’s increasingly invasive use of social media and related technology—promulgated, interestingly, by two senior executives of late middle age sprouting faux wisdom—threatens not only individual privacy but also sanity.

Granted, elders don’t always keep up with technology. (I call on my 20-year-old great-nephew Matthew.) Yet we have much to offer in terms of values—including thoughts on appropriate uses of technology. We provide perspective earned both by successes and our failures. Employees at The Circle think that enhanced technology automatically makes life better. Elders—and readers of The Circle—know the matter’s not that simple.

Perspective, however, isn’t all roses. Witness my short story “Beautiful!” in REED Magazine issue 69, the literary/arts annual of San Jose State University. I read a few pages Tuesday evening at the edition’s launch at Books Inc. in Mountain View. On his 80th birthday, a former astronaut marvels at how we can leap into space yet can’t—or won’t—provide for the basic needs of much of humanity. Old age and peace don’t always sync. The story’s ending is disturbing for a reason.

Still, while young people can learn from elders, elders must recognize the validity of youthful energy and ambition, and graciously yield their places to the young. Old age, after all, brings limitations—physical, intellectual, emotional. I’m still writing (and, I hope, making sense). I’m fit; I walk four to seven miles a day. But, for example, my night vision has worsened. Last week, we visited our son Yosi in middle Tennessee. He drove us on country roads at night. I’d have driven at half the speed. Actually, I wouldn’t have driven those roads at all. At night, I see 30 to 50 percent less than Yosi. That’s why many elders drive only in the daytime. Oh, and I’m in bed by ten, ten-thirty the latest.

Another caveat: Age doesn’t automatically confer wisdom. Many elders see the world through lenses distorted not only by physical weakening but also a lifetime of intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual limitations. Ignorant young people usually become ignorant seniors.

That said, if I can share any wisdom as another birthday approaches, it’s this: Each year I have fewer answers and more questions. Young people just might want to give that some thought.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And if you have something to say about getting older, let me know. But do it now. Before you forget.

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PASSION

Long ago, a client asked me a difficult question: “What’s your passion?” His was the piano. The question stunned me. I loved spending time with my family, and my work kept me busy and fulfilled, but I had no answer. Things have changed.

I’m proud that my family is filled with passion. Carolyn loves acting, takes classes and auditions for film, TV and commercials in San Francisco and Los Angeles. She loves singing, too, and takes lessons. She has a lovely voice and really knows how to sell a song. I know. I hear her in the house every day.

My oldest, Seth, is passionate for science fiction in movies and on TV. He also loves video games. Seth is an incredible Star Wars aficionado. That’s why Carolyn and I, with Aaron and his husband Jeremy, flew to Los Angeles for a traditional Jewish Christmas Eve. We joined Seth to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the TCL (formerly Grauman’s) Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. Sharing Seth’s excitement and observations—about the story and the technology—made the event special.

My middle son, Yosi, loves music. You expect that from the fiddler for the band Hurray for the Riff Raff. (They play Carnegie Hall on January 29.) A percussionist at San Francisco’s School of the Arts, Yosi taught himself to play violin then followed up with lessons by outstanding professionals—lessons he still takes when he has time. You know the old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, practice, practice.” Passion can make things happen.

My youngest, Aaron, developed a passion for modern dance at Humboldt State. He took a dance course as a freshman theater tech major wanting to better understand how to light dancers on stage. Everything changed. He majored in dance and became an accomplished professional, touring all over the United States as well as Europe and Southeast Asia. He holds a B.A. in dance from St. Mary’s College.

Me? I started writing fiction over forty years ago. That “after hours” career went nowhere. With a young family and a growing business, I stopped. Yet I wrote a nonfiction book about the business side of freelancing, Solo Success, which Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, published in 1998. Then I discovered a passion for the Hebrew Bible and independently published God’s Others: Non-Israelites’ Encounters With God in the Hebrew Bible in 2009.

A decade later, transitioning to retirement, I returned to fiction on a whim. That produced Slick! Passion grew. I love telling stories. Just as important, fiction helps me make sense of the world. Of course, when a reader tells me he or she enjoyed one of my books, I’m thrilled.

What’s new? Reed, the literary/arts annual of San Jose State University, recently accepted my short story “Beautiful!” about a retired astronaut on his eightieth birthday. It will appear in May. And I completed my second—but hardly the last—draft of a new novel. I have more novels—and stories—waiting in the wings.

What your passion is doesn’t matter. Cats? Running? Baking? Sailing? Fixing old toasters? The Warriors? Carpentry? Knitting? Collecting souvenir spoons? They’re all good. To be passionate about something is to be fully human. Today, I’m passionate about being passionate.

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

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