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Malcah and Chayym Zeldis, Israel, 1949

Malcah and Chayym Zeldis, Israel, 1949

Excerpt from Capricorn Rising

Below is a brief excerpt from the story Capricorn Rising, which will appear in the spring issue of the American Literary Review (http://www.engl.unt.edu/alr/Home.html).  I am working on a collection of stories very loosely based on the lives of my parents (see above), Americans who lived in Israel from 1949 to 1958.  I was born in Chadera, Israel, in 1957 and although I did not grow up there, the country nonetheless exerted a strange, gravitational pull on me throughout my childhood.  This story, and the others in the collection, began as a way to explore that fascination.


It was sometime in January that the goats first appeared. There were about twenty of them, mostly black, though some were marked with small patches of white. Their fur was coarse and their eyes were as dark as their coats; they moved quickly and with great delicacy, as if on tiptoe.
Libby was the first to see them and she told no one, not even Stanley. Her status here on the kibbutz was a fragile commodity at best; she was aware of the slight derision with which the older, more experienced kibbutzniks viewed her, the newest Anglo Saxit from America. She had shown up at that first day wearing Chinese style cropped pants and a matching top of figured, apple-green satin and black ballet flats. Her lipstick was crimson, to match her nails. Why she chose this outfit, purchased in New York during her brief stay before the boat embarked for Israel, was unclear even to Libby. She just knew that she wanted to appear in something that no one in back home Detroit would have thought to own or wear.
The kibbutzniks who watched her descend from the wagon with Stanley just stood and stared at this festive, if highly inappropriate ensemble. Libby could feel, through the thin soles of her flats, the hard packed earth, the stones that littered its surface. By the time she reached Stanley’s tent, her feet and calves were covered in a powdery, tan colored dust.
“Tomorrow we’ll see about getting you some work clothes,” Stanley had said, slipping the shoes off and wiping her feet with a grimy looking handkerchief. “And boots. You’ll need them.” Libby just nodded, happy to be here, happy to see him again.
She had met Stanley at a Zionist youth group meeting in Detroit. He was four years older, in college already, and the smartest, most charismatic boy in the room. Her mother didn’t like him. “That one has his head in the clouds,” was Sonya’s comment. “He’ll trip over his own two feet one day because he’s always looking up.” Libby didn’t care, and when he dropped out of school to go live in Israel, she was burning to follow him. He wrote to her, covering page after page of thin, onionskin sheets with his precise, dense printing. “What we’re doing here is a miracle,” he wrote. “You have to come and be part of it.” And after a protracted battle with her parents, during which her mother twice threatened to put her head in the oven, that’s just what Libby did.
So for the goats to have revealed themselves to Libby first would have been unseemly, presumptuous even, in the kibbutz hierarchy. Libby knew this and was silent. Soon enough, everyone else had seen them too and speculation about their origins consumed the small community.
“They might have belonged to an Arab,” said Yonkeleh, a young, balding man whose remaining reddish hair stood out from the sides of his head, like ear muffs. Yonkeleh’s uncle was the Mayor of Beer Sheva and that gave him a certain stature in the community. “Maybe they escaped. Or were abandoned. They could be diseased you know.” He was thinking of the tubercular cows, scrawny and wall eyed, that had to be sold off some months earlier, the barns thoroughly scoured and disinfected before another lot could be brought in.
“They’re not diseased,” said Nissim, a Syrian Jew who had shared Stanley’s tent before Libby came. Nissim had walked from Damascus to Israel, wearing the outgrown herringbone suit from his bar mitzvah, hair slicked down by pomade from a jar that had been bought before the Germans invaded Poland. All his papers and and photographs of his family had been burned by the British; he was told it was too dangerous for them to exist. He had been unable to contact his parents for several months. Finally, he learned that they had been killed along with his sisters and his grandmother; their house blown up by neighbors incensed at the family for harboring a Zionist. If Yonkeleh had a sense of privilege conferred by birth and connections, Nissim’s was the kind conferred by endurance.
“Are you sure?” Yonkeleh didn’t like being challenged.
“If you don’t believe me, you can look yourself.” Nissim walked away, leaving Yonkeleh standing there with his thumbs in his belt, looking foolish.
The goats certainly hadn’t seemed diseased to Libby that first morning when she encountered them, trotting together in a pack on the dusty, rock strewn road that led to the maxan, or laundry. At first, Libby thought they were a trick of her mind or her eyes: the sky was not fully light yet and she was tired. As she hurried to work, she saw a what seemed to be a dark cloud up ahead. But the cloud was not in the sky, it had instead settled in the road. And it seemed to be moving at a very rapid pace.
Libby slowed as the cloud changed shape once, twice and then turned out not to be a cloud at all, but the herd of goats. Coarse black fur, black eyes. Dainty, mincing hooves. Libby let them all pass before she resumed her walk to the laundry. She would be late now, and Vered, the woman who dropped off the first batches of clothing would be annoyed. “The Anglo Saxit likes to sleep,” she would say in her thickly accented, sing-song English. At least she spoke English. So many of them didn’t. Nor did they want to. English was a distraction, an impediment. They were here to build a nation, not have a tea party. What did they care about English? Hebrew, that coarse, starkly beautiful language resurrected from the dead was good enough for them; after all, so many of them felt resurrected from the dead too.

Twiggy and the Gang

My mother was not a regular reader of high end fashion magazines when I was girl in the 1960s, but my friend Diane’s mother—a cool, soignée blonde with an alluring French twist and a lily-of-the-valley infused cloud of Diorissimo hovering perpetually about her—was and whenever I visited, Diane and I would pore over their slick, bright pages together in a companionable reverie that needed no words.  Veruschka’s Slavic exoticism held us deeply in thrall; the preternatural perfection of Jean Shrimpton’s full, exquisitely lipsticked mouth was like a valentine.  We longed to look like them, but we knew these girls—and they were, after all, girls—would always remain at some poignant and unattainable remove from us, or anything we could ever aspire to be.  With their sinuously lined eyelids, thick manes of hair, and aloof, worldly posturing, Shrimpton, Veruschka and their ilk had already assumed the lacquered and impermeable gloss of fully grown women, and had left us far, far behind.
So you can imagine our mutual astonishment on the day in 1967 when we turned a page in Vogue and found ourselves locking eyes with the vulnerable, unvarnished and most astonishing of all, impossibly young face of Twiggy. From the moment I saw her boyishly cropped hair, faint spray of freckles, tremulous mouth and huge, wide-open eyes, I felt a visceral shock of recognition. Although she was not one of us—neither Diane nor I were so deluded as to imagine that—we could discern that she was nonetheless only a few baby steps ahead, and onto her fey, coltish image, we could project that of an adored babysitter or someone’s cool older sister.  The vestigial childishness of her narrow hips, and her pipe stem legs only confirmed our immediate sense identification. Twiggy was the first model appearing in a women’s magazine that was not precisely a woman; instead, she embraced and exalted her at moments awkward—yet always adorable—girlishness. And since it was clear that Twiggy loved being a girl, not a woman, she gave us the heady permission to love what was still girlish in ourselves.
Quickly, Diane and I spread the word, and the fifth and sixth graders who comprised our little pack were eager to climb on board. We formed our own Twiggy fan club and at the weekly meetings, quizzed each other on tidbits gleaned from teen magazines. Real name? Leslie Hornby. Birthday: September 19,1949.   Soon we could recite the complete catechism: she attended Kilburn High School for Girls and began modeling at fifteen. Her nickname—first Sticks, then Twigs—soon morphed into Twiggy; that was the one that stuck.
Those magazines yielded pictures too, and we jostled each other for the chance to see images of her riding her bicycle, sipping hot chocolate with her boyfriend-turned-manager Justin DeVilleneuve or romping with a litter of puppies; clearly those dogs were as besotted as we were. Pages were roughly torn out, taped to our walls, doors, and book covers; we wanted to “be” Twiggy, each of us vying furiously for the right to inhabit the Cockney cutie’s persona for the duration of our “let’s pretend” games.
When the meetings were over and we went back home, we pestered our mothers for the Twiggy lunch boxes, tights, sweaters, tote bags, and paper dolls flooding the market.  Diane’s mother, more indulgent than mine, was willing to purchase the Milton Bradley Twiggy board game, the Twiggy Barbie made by Mattel, a Twiggy lunch box, binder, pen, and tote.   I had to settle for the paper dolls.
Then there was the memorable occasion when we all saved our money and descended, en masse, upon a local beauty parlor (the word salon had not yet come into common parlance) begging for Twiggy bobs.  One by one, we stepped up to the chair, submitted to the long, floral print smock and the flashing scissor blades.  Diane’s smooth blonde hair—very much like her mother’s—was the perfect raw material for the coif; once shorn, her face, newly revealed, now displayed an angular grace none of us had noticed before.  Nancy and Betty fared a little less well; Nancy’s hair was too thick, resulting in a style that looked puffed rather than sleek, and though raven haired Betty looked cute—she always looked cute—she was nothing like Twiggy. Still, I would have traded their experience, gladly, for mine.
During the interminable wait for my turn, I fairly pulsated with excitement.  How would the cut look on me?  Would I be transformed? What secrets of my soul would it reveal?  Would the haircut bring me one step closer to feeling like Twiggy might have felt? I never had the chance to find out.  The beautician (re: stylist, see note above) told me that my shortly cropped, uneven bangs would need to grow several more inches before they could be coaxed into anything like an approximation of my idol’s.  I stepped down from the chair, crushed.  By the time my bangs did grow long enough, the cut seemed like an afterthought and I never ended up getting one.  And although our collective Twiggy love continued through the 1960s, she was eventually replaced in our affections by the new crop of American beauties—Cheryl Tiegs, Cybil Shepherd, Christy Brinkley—that bloomed in her wake.
In the decades to come, Twiggy went on to become a singer, an actress (both stage and screen) a television personality and most recently, a judge on America’s Next Top Model.  She’s been highly successful in these various pursuits, but for those of us who remember her back in the day, her most resonant incarnation, both culturally and psychologically, occurred somewhere in that mid-sixties, Carnaby-incubated madness. I began to ponder why this was so; what made her different from the girls who had come before her, and what made her image, even all these years later, such a powerful symbol—maybe even talisman—of that era?
Unlike her predecessors, who were largely silent in the public realm, Twiggy talked.  She also giggled, guffawed and was occasionally—and charmingly —tongue-tied. The gamine girl from Twickenham, Middlesex—a town about twelve miles southwest of London—was possessed of a lower class accent that both spoke of the times and directly to them. And, to quote Bob Dylan, another sixties icon, the times they were a changin’.  Cheeky, underclass interlopers like Twiggy were upending the old, deeply entrenched supremacies of class and money.  She could easily have been the girl Beatle: she had both the background and the street cred. And like a true Beatle, she made no attempt to hide her own unvarnished roots; quite to the contrary, she, like the lads from Liverpool, made a virtue of them.  During those years my friends and I had swooned for Twiggy, we swooned for the Beatles too:  Paul’s cherubic cheeks and sweet voice, John’s surprising, low-key irony, George’s soulful silences and Ringo’s sad-clown charm.  I didn’t realize the connection back then, but now the link seems so apparent.  Twiggy, like the Beatles, was part of the new order in which the past, and all it represented, was going to be less important than the future.
Twiggy was also considered the world’s first super model, and it seems telling, in retrospect, that it was her very rawness that allowed her to assume the role.  For she had a certain self-consciousness that was both unique and touching; until she came along, models were not generally thought to have selves about which to feel conscious. And they were supposed to hide any self-consciousness—now in the sense of discomfort or awkwardness—under the veneer of their sophistication and grace.  Twiggy blew these precepts to smithereens.  Her unpolished—and at moments downright gawky—demeanor both heralded the youth culture that was storming the barricades, and announced, loudly, that the spoils belonged not so much to the strongest but to the youngest.  She was the proverbial breath of fresh air, the clean sweep, the very face of change in a pair of two-inch false, feathered, eyelashes.
Not long ago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s costume department mounted the spectacular and much-touted show, Model As Muse. It was walking through that exhibition that I saw—for the first time in decades—the face I remembered staring out at me from the pages of the glossies. There she was with the flower painted round one eye; here she was with the spiky, drawn-on lower lashes that gave her a doll-like mien.  There is something both deeply shocking and supremely comforting about looking at photographs remembered, vividly, from the past. The intervening years become nothing but a mist, a skein of smoke, easily dispersed as you confront not only the photos, but also the person you were when you first saw them. 
Then I came upon an image I did not remember seeing: Twiggy standing in front of the window of FAO Schwarz, when the store was on 58th Street and Fifth Avenue; across the avenue, the north corner of Bergdorf Goodman’s can be glimpsed, along with the somewhat obscured entrance and awning to the old Plaza Hotel.
Twiggy wears a short, citron-green suit with a pointed collar and patch pockets. On her head is a matching beret; on her famous, often-knock-kneed legs, a pair of patterned tights. In one arm, she holds a large stuffed owl brandishing a Steiff tag; Steiff was known for producing the ne plus ultra of stuffed animals, and the owl, which looks to be a good twenty-four inches high, is a splendid example of their stunning craft. Was there some witty juxtaposition being drawn? A visual contrast between innocence and experience?  Youth and wisdom? 
Most remarkable of all is the group of people flanking Twiggy.  Like the model, they are all on the outside, peering into an unseen window display, and each and every one in the crowd wears a flat, two dimensional paper mask.  While I did not see the photo back in 1967 when it appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, I suddenly recalled the masks, which my friends and I all wore, one Halloween, along with our striped, turtle necked mini dresses (mine was giddy medley of hot pink, turquoise, yellow and black) and our white, Courrèges-inspired go-go boots.  Talk about a madeleine moment. 
We walked the streets of our Brooklyn neighborhood, masks firmly in place, ardent in our collective hope that they would…what?  Protect us from harm? Lead us into a bright, hope-filled future? Sprinkle some of Twiggy’s magic girl-power upon our untried young shoulders? Even all these years later, I still cannot say for sure.  But it is worth mentioning that about three years ago, I told my stylist to crop me closely, like a lamb in spring, and I’ve been sporting the super-short coif proudly ever since.  Without my being fully aware of it, Twiggy was right there, in whispering in my ear.






The author in 1967, trying to grow out her bangs

The author in 1967, trying to grow out her bangs

Traveling Light

A dear friend invited me on a girls-only jaunt to Palm Beach in March.  Sounds like fun, right?  Well, although the plan doesn’t leave for another month, I have already broken out in a cold, clammy sweat. No, it’s not fear of flying, though I confess to being afflicted with that too. Instead, it’s another, perhaps less commonly discussed travel related anxiety: fear of packing. While I love to travel, the actual process of sorting through my possessions, deciding what I need and what I do not arouses in me a kind of primal panic, as if the wrong decision will somehow leave me exposed, vulnerable and adrift—a stranger in a strange and hostile land.
It’s not that I’m not organized—far from it.  Days before my journey, I lay everything out in neat piles on my bed: T shirts and underwear sorted by color, socks tightly balled as fists, shoes nestled toe-to-heel in their floral drawstring bags.  I circle the piles like a panther stalking its prey, adding to one, subtracting from another.  I break out all the cosmetic samples I have been hoarding for months—the doll-sized bars of soap, the foil packets of shampoo and conditioner—and add them to the mix. I make lists; I check them twice. 
But despite my best efforts, I can never seem to get it right: I either bring too much, and feel as if I am carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders or bring too little, and end up like Cinderella before the timely appearance of the fairy godmother.  I remember traveling through Europe on a student rail pass years ago; I somehow felt it was imperative to my well-being and happiness to lug with me the thick, taxicab-yellow terrycloth bathrobe I had recently started sporting around my dorm at college. Even dry the thing weighed as much as a woolen horse blanket, yet despite its cumbersome heft, I refused to be without it.  On that same trip, I made a pilgrimage to a famous bookstore in Oxford and while the extremely courteous staff were more than willing to ship my precious—and of course hardbound—volumes back to New York, I would hear none of it: the books, like the bathrobe, were going with me.
Then there was a trip I made, solo, to Paris. The September day I departed from JFK International Airport was blazing hot, smack-dab in the middle of a late summer heat wave that had the city wilting like week-old lettuce.  I packed sandals, cropped linen pants and sun dresses, utterly unprepared for the 55-degree temperatures I found when I touched down at Charles DeGaulle.  My first night, I slept wearing my nightgown, my only blazer—a light, unlined cotton affair—a half-slip and a silk scarf that nearly strangled me.  The next day, I hurried off to shop—hardly a punishment in that fashion drenched city—but instead of looking in a leisurely manner, considering my options, weighing my choices, I had to blow my whole clothing budget in a single morning.
Or else I forget some small yet essential item, like the tried-and-true Land’s End black maillot I neglected to pack when I visited a friend at her weekend house in Bucks County. While my ever-so-gracious hostess loaned me one of her bathing suits without a second’s hesitation, it neither fit nor was flattering and I spent the entire time feeling like a walrus that had mistakenly wandered into a party of swans.
Is that what it is then? The fear of not fitting in, not feeling comfortable or at home?   Of course, one is not at home when one travels—that’s precisely the point of traveling.  But there is a delicate stasis that I’m after, some way in which I want to achieve the perfect balance of being receptive to what’s new, while at the same time, having some continuity with what’s not.  Packing right would be the bridge.
Not everyone, I know, is similarly plagued. My husband can pack for a trip of six weeks in an hour without a twinge of anxiety.  Three shirts, two pairs of slacks, two more of shoes, a few changes of socks and underwear, hat, jacket and it’s a wrap. He tosses his few toiletries, such as they are, into a clear, Ziploc bag. I watch with envy and with awe but I know I will never be so nonchalant about the process of leaving one place and going to another. 
The ancient Egyptians treated death as the ultimate journey; their tombs were literally crammed with all that they would ever need in this life, or in any other: clothing, jewels, wigs, headrests, tools—in miniature, because even the ancients needed to conserve space—glass vessels for perfume, slate palettes for grinding cosmetics. They knew they were off to a place they had never been and from which they would not return.  Packing well was the final act of preparation to ensure that the passage was smooth, the landing, without bumps.   I can relate.  And while I don’t aim to pack like an Egyptian, for an eternity that seems less and less certain in our fraught and tremulous age, I still long for a time when I will feel sufficiently at home—in the world and in my all too mortal skin—no matter what I’ve brought along for the ride.


Let Them Eat Cake

I’ve been a devoted Francophile since the age of 12, so I was delighted when it became apparent that my daughter Kate, now 14, is following along in my footsteps.  French is her favorite subject at school, and together we swoon over French food, clothes, shoes and chocolate. It has been my dream to take her to Paris to sample la vie française first hand but malheursement, our finances dictated otherwise. So I decided if I couldn’t take the girl to Paris, I would bring a bit of Paris to the girl.  Last Christmas, I ordered a bûche de noël, the traditional holiday cake served in France, from a very fine local bakery (the place had a French name I might add) and eagerly described to her the charms of this quintessentially French dessert.  But when I picked the cake up, I found and austere and streamlined chocolate block that lacked the whimsical, woodland inspired decorations—mushrooms, gnomes, leaves, and berries—I was expecting. I served the cake anyway—I had 25 people coming over and no plan B—but inside, the disappointment rankled. 

This year, with that memory still on slow burn, I was going to skip the bûche de noel entirely, until my friend Maryann MacDonald shared her recipe for a no-bake version that I found both delicious and charming.  Kate and I tried it and the results, I have to say, were more than satisfying; the two cakes we produced—and that she embellished—made up for last year’s disappointment and then some.  I’m including the recipe here, for any who want to try it, as well as photos of our very first—but certainly not last—homemade bûches de noel.  Joyeux Noël to all, and to all a good night.


1/2 cup powered sugar plus additional for garnish
1/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp instant espresso powder
2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 9 oz. package chocolate wafer cookies

Sift 1/2 cup sugar with cocoa and espresso powders in small bowl.  Beat cream and vanilla in large bowl until soft peaks form.  Add cocoa mixture and beat until stiff peaks form. 

Spread wafers with cream and line up sideways on long platter.  Spread remaining cream on outside of log.  Cover, chill at least 2 hrs.  Can make 1 day ahead.  Pull tines of fork along length of log to resemble tree bark.  Just before serving, dust with confectioner’s sugar to resemble snow, and decorate with meringue or chocolate mushrooms.  Cut log on diagonal into thick slices.  Makes 10 servings.

CHRISTMAS IN THE CITY

Throughout my childhood, being Jewish was defined in terms of what we did not do: go to church, wear a cross, celebrate Christmas or Easter.  None of this was unusual: of course Jews don’t do these things.  But for most Jewish families, at least the ones I knew as a child, such negatives were balanced by the positive things they did do: attend Hebrew school, celebrate bar and bat mitzvahs, observe the Sabbath, and the major Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah.
Yet we did none of these either. My parents, and my father in particular, had their own spin on being Jewish.  He and my mother had spent the years between 1948 and 1957 in the new state of Israel, ardently pursuing their own socialist and spiritual dreams.  For them, being Jewish was inseparable from days spent in the Negev, planting trees and milking cows; from the sound of the hot, dry wind in the afternoons and the surprising and welcome cooling that came with the purple dusk.

Although I was born in Israel, my parents left before I was a year old.  I spent my childhood listening to my father’s stories but as captivating as they were, they had as much concrete reality for me as Cinderella’s glass slipper. In the actual realm where my life was lived – Ocean Parkway, in Brooklyn – I wanted some tangible ritual and ceremony, something I could understand.  And since Hanukkah had come only once or twice to our home, and tepidly at that, I focused on Christmas, or, more aptly, having a Christmas tree.

Trees were everywhere: in my friends’ homes, in the store windows on Flatbush and Church Avenues and on television.  There was even a glittering tree in the lobby of our apartment building.  I could not believe my older brother when he told me that the beribboned boxes that lay about its skirted base were, in fact, empty.  To acquire this coveted object, I tried every childish strategy I could marshal: crying, begging, bargaining, but all to no avail.  There was to be no tree in our house and that was that.
Eventually, I gave up the fight though later, many of my teenage Christmases were spent in the Bronx with my best friend, Wendy, whose parents, although Jewish, had no such scruples about having a tree.

When I reached my 20’s and was living on my own on the Upper West Side, I no longer wanted a Christmas tree.  It seemed to be an anachronistic symbol of some imaginary intact family – my parents had long since divorced – and my Jewish roommate and I generally spent Christmas at the Thalia movie theater.
But when I married a man of Anglo-Irish descent, I soon found that Christmas – and Christmas trees – now had a legitimate place in my life.  My Catholic husband had grown up in Portsmouth, N.H., and for him, Christmas trees were as a natural a part of winter as snow.  Still, in our first years together, we did not have a tree of our own, but vicariously enjoyed the trees in the homes of his various family members.  It was only when I became pregnant with our first child that I felt my old childhood longing for a tree return, as strong as ever.  Together, we inspected the offerings of our Korean greengrocer on Second Avenue.

“Too spindly,” my husband said of one; “Too blobby,” was his verdict on another.  Apparently this tree-picking business required expertise in which I was lacking.  Finally, he settled on a small, shapely pine and lugged it up to our third-floor apartment, leaving a trail – magical as that of Hansel and Gretel’s in the woods – of fragrant pine needles on the stairs.

I hurried out to Pottery Barn on Lexington for ornaments, and came home with golden clocks, glass balls, wooden angels.  I hung and rehung them until I was satisfied with the result. Strings of white lights were added.  I stepped back as my husband flipped the switch and – lo! – all the childhood enchantment came rushing back.
In the years since, we have always had a Christmas tree.  For our son and daughter, a tree will be part of their childhood.  Yet having a tree does not make me into a Christian.  I am not much different than I ever was: a nonobservant, still questioning and ever questing Jew.  But now I am a Jew with a Christmas tree.  Recently, I read that many interfaith couples have chosen to amalgamate their different traditions: think Christmas trees adorned with dreidels; Santa with a yarmulke.  Although this compromise might satisfy the spiritual longings of some, for me it would dilute the very magic I am seeking.  I want my symbols unalloyed, in their purest, most potent form.
On December evenings, I walk the streets of the neighborhood where we now live and see the bright and glowing trees in the windows of the brick and brownstone houses, fragile buffers against winter’s longest and darkest days.  Then I climb the steps to my own house, where the tree in the window shines as brightly as any other, and know I have come home. 

Material Girl

“When I’m working on a novel, everything is material”, says my friend, the writer Christina Baker Kline.  Christina, author is the author of four novels, including, most recently, Bird in Hand and The Way Life Should Be.  She is co-editor, with Anne Burt, of About Face: Women Write about What They See When They Look in the Mirror and co-author, with Christina L. Baker, of The Conversation Begins: Mothers and Daughters Talk about Living Feminism.  She has edited two other anthologies: Child of Mine and Room to Grow.  She is Writer-in-Residence at Fordham University; her blog is A Writing Life: Notes on Craft and the Creative Process.  She generously offered to guest blog, and here is her post:


It’s Back-to-School night, an annual ritual I must repeat three times this year in three different schools.  (Bad planning, those birth dates.) High school, middle school, elementary, it’s all the same: green-tinted fluorescents buzzing faintly overhead, the slight whiff of disinfectant, at least one nervous teacher with a fistful of bullet points, several dozing parents.

Yet despite the surface sameness, each endless evening is endless in its own way.  So I look around, and I pull out my writing pad.  I note a bead of sweat on the new vice-principal’s brow.  The inspirational bromides of the athletic director (and the whistle he wears around his neck, even in front of parents at 8 pm).  The Julia Child-like guffaw of a frizzy haired bio teacher.  (Did I just glimpse a flirtatious glance between the band leader and the pianist?  Maybe not. But his wife is watching him like a hawk.)

And then there are the parents. Tired and bedraggled, restless and impatient, alert and engaged. Some, like me, are taking notes. (Other writers? No, probably just better parents than I’ll ever be, legitimately interested in keeping A days and B days straight.)  Directly in front of me, a group of women wearing running shoes and windbreakers, all with similar gray-streaked layered haircuts, cluster together; across the room, a tall blonde in a low-cut purple dress bites her frosted lower lip; half a dozen dads in suits surreptitiously check their iPhones and Blackberries. Stay-at-home moms in tennis bracelets (and some in tennis whites) contrast with working moms in tailored dresses carrying stylish totes.  Latecomers of all stripes stand wearily against the back wall.
Time flies, and before I know it I’m back in the parking lot with a page full of characters and an idea for a scene.  See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?