Monday, May 2, 2016

What are you planning to make of yourself, young man?

Over the mantle hung three formal family pictures. When Natasha came back from the kitchen I asked her about them. 
At once, her Mama cut in. “My daughter comes from a long line of musicians,” she said, in her heavy Russian accent.
“Mama,” said the girl. “I can speak for myself.”
I pointed at the first picture. “Who’s this?”
“This,” said Natasha, “Is my great grandfather, the famous Abraham Horowitz, who graduated from the Kiev Conservatory at the turn of the century. He rose to stardom rapidly and toured from Moscow to Rostov-on-the-Don, where he was often paid with bread, butter and chocolate, rather than money, because these were tough times.”
“And this?” 
“This is Joseph Horowitz, my grandfather. He aspired to become a violin player, but his hand was damaged for life, when the riffraff attacked him during a pogrom in Odessa. So instead he became a music teacher. Later, he developed a method, a unique method to memorize long passages of music, by practicing the notes back to front.”
“And this,” she said, reaching up to touch the third picture, “this is my Papa, Benjamin Horowitz. When he came to the states he became a conductor. Meanwhile he took that method one step further. Instead of the traditional way of playing through the passage repeatedly, you would commit it to memory, or rather to your subconscious mind, by means of performing it every night before falling asleep—without holding the instrument in your hands.”
“A spendthrift, that’s what he was,” Mrs. Horowitz blurted out all of a sudden.
“Now, Mama, don’t start!” said the girl.
“Who’s starting?” the older woman threw her hands in the air. “I’m already in the middle of talking!”
“Then please, please stop—”
“What, I’m not allowed to tell the truth? The only inheritance your Pa left us is a dream, the dream of you becoming famous one day, and oh yes, how could I forget, also a bunch of heavy loans on the house, without any means of paying them off.”
“Why complain so much, Mama? It was fun for you, wasn’t it, while it lasted—”
“Which wasn’t too long, the way he gambled away his money! By the time his illness started, we were already hopelessly in debt.”
Undeterred, Mrs. Horowitz shook her head, which in turn shook her bird-nest style hairdo. “Years earlier,” she said, “before he asked me to marry him, everyone was so, so very impressed with his talent. They predicted such a bright future for him. Where are all of them now?”
“But Mama,” said the girl, “what does the bright future he had in the past have to do with the present?”
“It has everything to do with here and now. You,” said Mrs. Horowitz, turning upon me, “yes, I’m talking to you! What’s your idea of the future? What are you planning to make of yourself, young man?”

Lenny in The Music of Us

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Volume I & II, woven together: Apart from Love
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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Happy Mother's Day: what to expect

Can't wait for our celebration to begin...Can you? 
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In the spirit of Mother's Day, we have stories to tell you
And audiobooks to give
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It may be you!
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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The last morning I spend with my mother

After a while, she stirs. Her hand hangs, for a moment, in midair, a motion designed to reach out to me, and hug me, perhaps, in her own manner. Yet I can see that it is only herself, in the end, that she embraces. “On me your sin,” she smiles sweetly, placing a hand on her breast, where the heart can be found. “Let your curse be on me.” 
The sleeve, meanwhile, continues to climb, as if of its own accord, over my shoulder. By now it is covering the entire length of my arm. To my amazement, a part of me seems to have disappeared. Esav’s arm is beginning to take shape in place of mine.
She leans over me and with a sharp eye, threads her needle. But for some reason, we cannot bear to look at each other eye to eye. “Give me one minute, let me mend it,” she says, removed from me, smiling to herself. “We don’t have much time, I’m afraid. Your brother is on the hunt, and so are we.”
I sit there at her feet watching her work. My mother is so skillful in manipulating that sleeve. Inside of it, my limb feels hot, suffocated. I let her control me, control my hand. It is no longer my hand. 
By and by, a perfect calm comes upon me. I have no thought in my head, no clue that this is to be the last sunrise, the last morning that I spend with my mother; no premonition that our time together is running out, and that I should kiss her, and hug her, and bid her farewell. 
Yet for some reason, glancing around me, I commit to memory every aspect of this scene, every detail: The vivid pattern of the rug, spread across the dirt floor. The embroidered silk pillows, leaning against the woven headrest. The little blemish, barely visible in the corner of the blanket. The silver thread coming apart, at one point, at the bottom of the canvas. The jug of water, half hidden behind the curved leg of the bed.
I can hear little noises: The occasional cry of a newborn baby, searching blindly for his mother’s breast. The light snores of the maidservants, some of whom are just starting to wake up, only to fall asleep again. The yawns of the shepherd boys, stretching their limbs lazily under the sheepskins in the neighboring tents. The unrest of the sheep, the lambs, the kids, the goats, all eager to go out there, to graze in the sun-flooded fields.  
Meanwhile the needle flies back and forth, forth and back, over my shoulder, catching the light in its path. I am transfixed. I wish I could stay here forever. This place is so full of charms. 
This hour is so intimate; so sweet, and it is fast coming to its bitter conclusion. 

Yankle, in A Favorite Son

I have long been fascinated with the story of Jacob and Esav. To me, it captures several layers of emotions which we all go through in our families: a rivalry between brothers, the way a mother’s love, unevenly divided, can spur them to action, to crime, even; and how in time, even in the absence of regret, a punishment eventually ripens. 

The story had been brewing in me for several years before I put pen to paper. Being an artist, I had expressed it through sculpture long before I wrote the words. So here you can see Yankle and his mother Becky, plotting to cheat the father. Out of a sense of shame, they are unable to look each other in the eye. 

Having been cheated, I found that the character I wish to explore is not the victim of the crime, but rather the perpetrator. What are his motives? Has regret set in? Does he love his father even as he is cheating him? Does he long for the early years when he still had a bond with his twin brother? 

I wrote the first chapter, Lentil Stew, and thought I got the story out of my system. But no, Yankle kept chatting it my head, demanding that I record his thoughts. I wrote the second chapter, and the same thing continued to happen. It was not until I wrote the last chapter, The Curse of the Striped Shirt, where I find a ‘poetic justice’ to conclude the story, that Yankle finally fell silent...

So when reading my story, do not seek clear distinction between heroes and villains: no one is wholly sacred, because--like Yankle, the main character here--we are all made of lights and shadows, and most of all, doubt.

My clay sculptures of Jacob, asking, "What if my father touches me?" 
and of his mother, saying, "On me your sin, my son"

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Monday, April 25, 2016

I reckon she saw some clue of what was coming

Lenny’s gone, but still, I’m thinking about him, about how he’s touched on that time, the lost time nearly five years ago, when I went out the door, swearing I ain’t gonna come back to him, not ever. What he hasn’t said—and what left such a bitter taste in my mouth—is how he told me, back then, “You are a nice kid, Anita. Go, go back to where you came from. Go back to your mama.” 
And what he don’t know is that ma wasn’t all too happy to see me, “Because,” she said, “I told you so, didn’t I? Didn’t I say, he’s gonna grow tired of you, and dump you before you know it? He’s gonna go back to his wife, ‘cause it’s her that he wants—not you! And if not her, then—then, it must be something else with him, always something else, like, looking for other women. Maybe they remind him, somehow, of that thing, who knows what it is, which he found in her. Maybe what he’s really looking for is just, like, the idea of her.” 
And when I mumbled, “Whatever,” ma said, “I knew it! She can twist him around her little finger, if she wants to.”
She didn’t tell me nothing else about this thing, this idea of her, which ma thought was fixed, somehow, in Lenny’s head, like some piece of music; and I, I didn’t ask. Instead, I bought a six-pack for her and a six-pack for me, and we sat down on her pillows, on the narrow iron bed, drinking beer; she talking, me weeping all night, after which ma wiped my face, and grabbed the palm of my hand—like she used to do in the old days—to read it. 
And she told me to stay put, to wait for her, ‘cause she had something crucial, something real big to tell me, like, about the future. I reckon she saw some clue of what was coming—but didn’t quite grasp it, not in full, anyway, ‘cause the next thing you know, ma went out, came back a second later, picked the empty beer bottles, and took them with her. Along the way she gave me a peck, smack in the middle of my forehead, which surprised me. 
Then, having kissed me goodbye, she went out again, and then... Then, on her way to work, right there on the corner of Euclid Street—Bang! I could hear the sound, out there—she was killed in a car accident. 

Anita in My Own Voice

Volume I: My Own Voice
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Friday, April 22, 2016

This is more than a game of chess

This is more than a game of chess
Your move is more than just a guess:
Our party is so fine
Join us, let us pour the wine!

We’ll bring sweets to celebrate
A hard-fought battle… So don’t be late! 
Meet us here, be our knights
Lets move across the blacks and whites!

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The lamp swings like a pendulum, pictures sway on their nails 
Then slip down the walls, leaving scratched trails 
Amidst the quake, the grief, the confusion and scare 
Slowly ascending is my father's armchair 

And beyond all these outlines of what I see there 
Beyond the sofa, the knickknacks, the old furniture 
Light pours in, and it paints something new 
It reveals, it unveils at this moment a clue 

The clue to a presence only he could once see 
A presence he longed for, because only she 
Could call him back home, and envelop him so 
Touching-not-touching, her hands all aglow 

These pages, upon which he'll never scribble a line 
Are floating from the shadows, into the shine 
Only she can now read the blanks, she and no other 
He's ascending into the hands of his muse, his mother.

Here is a detail from the top center of my oil painting, My Father's Armchair, and a detail from its bottom. These details are also visible on the cover of my poetry book, HomeWhile everyone notices the hands at the bottom, few discover the subtle appearance of the face at the top, because it exists in a different layer than reality, hinting at the presence of a muse... 

 It is extremely difficult to photograph this piece, because the layer of gold, which is exposed in places, reflects light in unpredictable ways. So I snapped the picture in one room, then another, with diffused daylight coming from the side, the front, the top, with and without flash, then took it outside and snapped it in sunlight, in the shadow, here, there and everywhere... You get the picture.

At last I found one version that looked fine to me. First I had to fit the image to a prescribed size (according the book size I have in mind.) Then I created the shadows of the lettering. You may notice that the shadow's color is not black, but rather it is the darkest purple of the painting (which can be seen in the lower left corner.) Also, I blurred these shadows, so they do not have hard edges, but fuzzy ones. Then I selected a soft yellow, with which I typed the title, Home; and a less bright version of this yellow, with which I typed my name and my father's. Being brighter, the title 'comes forward' in relationship to the author names. 

Normally I would make sure that all text fields are of the same width, or that they are arranged in a way that the one on top has the shortest width, and the one at the bottom has the longest width, which creates a sense of stability. Not so here, because I view my childhood home through the shaky lens of memory...

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"Not only does the author take the reader into a wonderful world where words are like music, ebbing and flowing with a rhythm that is captivating and beautiful, but she also gives life to her father's writings"

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Make no mistake: this is a war

Make no mistake: this is a war
Everyone's fighting for a score!
Shall I hide here, in the dungeon
Wait for my foe to raise his bludgeon?

No! My secret weapon let me wield 
And come out on the battlefield!
With you by me, let's make history
And charge ahead to victory!

Our secret weapon, you ask? It is your voice!
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