The Middle Of the Road, With John Pavlovitz

I’ve been traveling, and editing my novel, and not blogging a whole lot. But, I read this amazing post by John Pavlovitz, who often thinks things I think too. So I’m sharing it. I sit right in the middle of the road with him. This quote hits on a truth I feel daily: “

Feel free to leave a comment; let’s start a conversation.

Here’s John’s Blog post:

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GIPYKAPOW! Have you stopped by Tales From the Motherland Facebook page to spread some fairy dust? I’m grateful for each Like. Follow me on Twitter, LeBron James does (for real… well, he did. But he may have dropped me recently)! Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. Honest, constructive feedback is always appreciated. Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email,  no spam.

©2011-2019  All content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, I’m grateful, but please give proper credit and Link back to my work; plagiarism sucks!

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Summer Reads: The Overstory

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THE OVERSTORY, by Richard Powers

This book swept me away. I mean, lost deep in the forest, and not wanting out, swept away. At 512 pages, this was not a short or easy read, and it shouldn’t be. This is the story of our planet’s most important living creatures: trees. The fact that Richard Powers wrote a book about trees and their magical mystery and made it both compelling and personal, is why (in my opinion) his masterpiece won the 2019 Pulitzer prize for fiction. The way Powers weaves history (hence my shelf placement), nature and science, and fictional lives is compelling and seamless. This is a book that I feel I’ve been waiting my whole life for.

Okay, that’s a big statement, so let me tell you why. I am the product of a father who loved nature and the forest. He lived to be lost in the woods, and he shared that with me and my siblings. I lost him when I was only ten, but have always felt the pull to nature and the mystery of forest. I NEED to be around big trees and quiet woods, the way other people need to ski, read, or sing–– all things, I also love. From the first pages, Powers pulls the reader into a world where trees feel; reach out to us; speak a silent, mysterious language; fight for survival, and are ultimately rely on man, when man uses them carelessly and without understanding their importance on this planet.

Richard Powers weaves several stories over time and the history of people and the trees around them. These stories, different and compelling individually, all come together in the age of environmental activism and the fight to save some of the biggest trees on Earth. This tapestry of story telling is compelling and beautifully done. They meet in ways that might be missed, due to some of the nuances and clever storytelling. This book kept me spellbound through most of the book. Each story had its own fascinating arc, within the arc of the overall book. I looked up so many facts, and found myself looking at trees differently, even though I’ve always been a tree hugger.

There was a line in the book that has haunted me: “What you make from a tree should be at least as miraculous as what you cut down.” A neighbor recently cut down several massive (HUGE) evergreens in our neighborhood, and I burst into tears, having just finished this book–– I swear, I felt them crying. They were removed to get more sun on their yard. Those trees were at least 100 years old; they housed humming birds, and countless other species. They survived the sprawl of our town. And they were cut to expand lawn.

The Overstory has many of the stereotypical elements of Pulitzer winners: it’s verbose at times; it’s heady and intellectual, while telling a good story; it’s longer than it needs to be. But it won this elite honor because it’s that good. This book demands your attention. It’s not a book to read for fun. The subject is too important, and the stories are too detailed to read for distraction.

Since I finished, this book has continued to spin in my head. The characters in this book are living in my head. I’m hugging more trees; I’m thinking more about my impact in the natural world. The history here is on my mind. As we build a new home, I want to believe that what we are making something as miraculous as the trees that were cut down for the lumber. However, I’m not sure that’s possible. A tree can’t really be replaced. The Overstory is that rare book that I will read again… a long time from now, when the spell has finally worn off.

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Summer Reads: Four Friends

Rumors of my demise are probably pretty accurate. I had a blog. I had readers. I loved it. and lately I barely exist in that world. I have been writing, writing, and writing more for my novel. I’m editing like crazy and re-writing. I’m deep in there. And I’m reading, a lot. I’m sharing some of my book reviews, pretending I’m blogging. Bear with me. Have my back. I miss you.

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FOUR FRIENDS, PROMISING LIVES CUT SHORT, by William D. Cohan

** I am vague in areas to avoid spoilers.

I heard about this book when Willian Cohan was interviewed for something on CNN. They gave a little plug for the book, and I was intrigued. Having grown up in Massachusetts, and as a college prep tutor, I know a lot about Andover, and the story sounded compelling. However, I found this book very disappointing. In fact, I returned it once about half way through, but decided I should finish it to write a fair review. I bought it again and wish I hadn’t.

I was turned off by page 24 in this book, when Cohan writes about the death of a childhood classmate, Brad Morrison. Referring to Morrison’s death, Cohan summarizes with: “his life snuffed out in an instant, a victim of appallingly bad judgment.” I was barely in to this book and found this comment so incredibly harsh and insensitive. Brad Morrison was 14 years old! I wondered how his family would feel reading this, and commented on that in my notes. I subsequently found this comment by Brad’s sister very powerful to read: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/1…The rest of my review hits on this point repeatedly: there is a shocking lack of empathy or human concern by William Cohan for the subjects in this book, or their friends and families. As a journalist, he does not need to sugar-coat or report only the good, but is there a need to denigrate these people? It put me off to a negative start, and nothing changed my mind throughout this book.

As other reviews have noted, the author beats the reader over the head with Andover. Yes, it’s a very prestigious school. Many readers may not have heard of it before, but sixty pages in, when Cohan finally introduces the first “friend,” I was getting really sick of hearing about how special it is, and how only the elite of the elite get in, unless they are special, or token minorities. The Andover bits are peppered with misogynistic comments; catty observations, and holier-than-thou storytelling. It came off as vapid and repetitive. Interestingly, the first chapter (about Andover) is titled: “Not for Oneself,” when everything Cohan reports about these four men (except Jack Berman), seems to focus for the most part, on very egocentric lives.

The story of Jack Berman, the first of the four friends, is the one story that truly held my attention and speaks to true tragedy. The child of Holocaust survivors, Berman’s story is powerful and inspiring. Berman was not raised in a privileged, pretentious home; he worked hard, was highly intelligent, and his parents built a life from nothing. His older brother recognized Jack’s incredible intelligence, when Jack was quite young, and sought a better education and life for his little brother. Berman did not arrive at Andover with a legacy, or wealth; he got in on his strength of character and academic accomplishments. All of these stories end in tragedy, but Jack Berman’s is the only one that does not stem from his own failings (as suggested by Cohan). This story is truly heart-breaking–– about a man who was good and righteous. He did not ride on coat tails, he forged his own path to success and his life ended in the most horrible of ways.

Unfortunately, all three of the other stories focus on hubris, entitlement, legacies that are hard to live up to, and boys (then men) behaving badly. None of the subjects seem to be actual “Friends” of the author, and at times, the reporting reads as jealous nit-picking and salacious gossip–– for instance, it was not unusual for young people to be smoking weed, or doing cocaine in the mid-seventies and early eighties, but Cohan reports these activities as if those involved are criminals, with intense focus on these foibles, and little attention to their strengths or accomplishments. Granted, there is some very irresponsible behavior (serious car accidents, over-use of drugs, etc), but there is too much focus on this aspect of their personalities, and not enough on the good.

These four men all graduated from one of the most prestigious, rigorous college prep schools in the world (again, be prepared to hear that over and over), and yet Cohan makes it sound like all but Berman got through without any effort. I don’t buy that. They failed exams and partied, but we don’t get to see the hard work and focus that must have been part of their success and graduations from Andover. I found it very tedious and repetitive. There’s little depth in the reporting, but a litany of bad behaviors, about four boys who become successful men, then die tragically.

And that is another key thing that bothered me in this book: all of these deaths are indeed tragic. These men died young, and all of them in unnatural, shocking ways. Yet, aside from Berman, Cohan tells each story in a way that seems to indict each man in his own death. While I see that there were decisions made that led to these tragedies, I found this storytelling akin to the trolls who weigh in on tragedies in online news stories––arm-chair analysis, based on hearsay and presumptions. After Berman’s story, this repetitive (Engquirer’esque) style of reporting turned me off this book. Having bought the book a second time, I finished it.

The author frequently quotes friends, family, and acquaintances of the subjects, but intersperses very bold statements between quotes, as if they are continuations of the quotes; when in fact they appear to be Cohan’s assumptions. For instance, about John Kennedy and Carolyn Bessette (who is dragged through the mud in this book–– zero compassion or balance in reporting!); Cohan is quoting Sasha Chermayeff (a close friend of John) about his marriage: “He took these incredibly super sexy pictures of John and Carolyn where they were like on fire. She even said to me,’We were like on fire during that session,’ and you can tell”… (same paragraph, but outside quotes:) But she was fickle, Chermayeff continued. Caroyln was married to John but had fallen back in love with Bergin. “She wanted it all…” This kind of “reporting” or storytelling is very misleading, I believe. Cohan slips these observations in, stating that Chermayeff stated this, but it’s not in quotes. This happens often in all of the stories, but particularly in the JFKjr story. In addition, there are countless editorial mistakes that really jumped out at me (as an editor)–– dates and details that change, with no explanation. I read this on Kindle, so maybe there were glitches (?), but I highlighted many of them.

Finally, the book gives about 60 pages to the first three men, but about 135 to John Kennedy. This came off as particularly exploitive and sensational. As others have noted, there is nothing new here, but I felt that Cohan put an exceptionally negative spin on almost all aspects of John’s life. He is painted as an entitled, (excessive) drug using, angry, promiscuous, risk-taking, careless, (insert endless other negative assertions) boy and then man. There is little compassion for the young man who grew up in a spotlight not of his choosing. That he did many things that young people his age did. He wanted a happy life, and lived life fully… and died in an accident that can’t be fully explained, because all 3 passengers died tragically, that day. To insinuate that it was due to Carolyn’s pedicure (I’ve run late for silly reasons), or John’s hubris, is underestimating the power of fate. We make a series of decisions every day, that sometimes end in horrible ways… when on another day, these same things might go very differently.

I found this section particularly salacious and insensitive. I wasn’t looking to learn anything new about JFK Jr; I doubt there is much more to learn. The man’s life was lived under a microscope, and after his death everyone with a story came out to talk. These stories were reported endlessly, as they are on the anniversary of his death each year. It’s sad. Cohan didn’t need to focus double the space on one “friend,” when all four men lived lives that were full and ended equally tragically.

I tried to read each story as written, but found the overall arc of each one focused too much on negative details, and hurtful interpretations. There is too little good here. There is too little about the other things that made each of these people human, and fully fleshed out. It’s sad that William Cohan, a “friend” of these men has written a book that takes away from their lives, rather than telling a more balanced story, that brings compassionate light to their lives and deaths. I was very disappointed, and can only imagine that the families of these men, are too.

Final note: this is an easy read, and each story is told separately. If you’re on the fence, it doesn’t take a big chunk of time to read this book.

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GIPYKAPOW! Have you stopped by Tales From the Motherland Facebook page to spread some fairy dust? I’m grateful for each Like. Follow me on Twitter, LeBron James does (for real… well, he did. But he may have dropped me recently)! Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. Honest, constructive feedback is always appreciated. Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email,  no spam.

©2011-2019  All content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, I’m grateful, but please give proper credit and Link back to my work; plagiarism sucks!

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Friday Fictioneers: When It All Falls Apart

Couldn’t find the muse last week; this week the muse found me. Thanks to Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for her weekly patience and work, and for the wonderful photo by Valerie J. Barrett. I welcome honest, constructive feedback; please take a moment and share your thoughts.

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When It All Falls Apart

Standing in the kitchen Ella’s face flushed, as Sam explained for the second time why he needed space. Why she wasn’t good enough.

“I wish we could iron out our differences, but I think we’ve just grown apart.”

The kettle whistled an alarm, as Ella slammed her hand on the counter. She ignored the pain that shot up her arm.

“We haven’t grown apart; you stopped trying months ago, Sam!”

“What do you want me to say?” He groaned.

“I can’t spoon feed you answers anymore, if you don’t even love me.”

Ella took a deep breathe, and let go.

(100 words)

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GIPYKAPOW! Have you stopped by Tales From the Motherland Facebook page to spread some fairy dust? I’m grateful for each Like. Follow me on Twitter, LeBron James does (for real… well, he did. But he may have dropped me recently)! Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. Honest, constructive feedback is always appreciated. Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email,  no spam.

©2011-2019  All content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, I’m grateful, but please give proper credit and Link back to my work; plagiarism sucks!

 

 

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Friday Fictioneers: He Leaves Me Hanging

Computer issues and shadowing Rochelle in Israel… in the same cities, but we never ran into each other. I’m back! I’m grateful for Ms. Wisoff-Fields and her hard work each week, and the photo prompt this week from Susan Eames.

This story was inspired by an old diary I recently came across, when I was in love for the first time. We dated for three years–– seventeen to nearly twenty, and as these things often go, it ended with a broken heart, and growth.

As always, I welcome honest, constructive feedback.

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© Susan Eames

 

HE LEAVES ME HANGING

As he kissed me goodnight, I felt him leaving me. I wanted to hold on, beg him to stay; I wanted him to go and let me breathe again. It was all in that one kiss.

“Is everything okay,” I whispered, waiting for the blow.

“Sure. I’m just tired.” His eyes betrayed him. “I love you.”

I clung to the hope his lies offered.

He left me hanging, and we lingered in a bittersweet ending for weeks. When he finally said the worlds: “I think we should see other people,” I breathed a sigh. And cried for weeks.

(98 words)

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GIPYKAPOW! Have you stopped by Tales From the Motherland Facebook page to spread some fairy dust? I’m grateful for each Like. Follow me on Twitter, LeBron James does (for real… well, he did. But he may have dropped me recently)! Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. Honest, constructive feedback is always appreciated. Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email,  no spam.

©2011-2019  All content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, I’m grateful, but please give proper credit and Link back to my work; plagiarism sucks!

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Friday Fictioneers: All The Lonely People

Thank you Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for your weekly dedication and hard work for Friday Fictioneers. When I first saw Roger Bultot’s photo prompt this morning, I thought it was a church; I immediately thought of writing this story. Then I noticed the Star of David on the window, and went somewhere else instead. This other story stayed with me all day, until it finally fit the 100 word format and I could type it out. Honest, constructive feedback is always appreciated. I will visit your page as well, but it may take a while. If you read both of my stories this week, you rock extra! Thank you!

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© Roger Bultot

 

All The Lonely People

Eleanor hides in a pew, and swallows one last pill. Having strived to live a faithful life, she hopes this will look like something else… a heart attack, perhaps? Only cordial smiles from Father and worshippers; no one loves or notices her, beyond her duties at the church. Measuring days in grains of rice, from weddings she never attends, is no life.

Father McKenzie tries to remember anything personal for Eleanor’s sermon. Years of cleaning and moving about like a ghost; he never asked about her life. Where did she belong? A pang of guilt makes him pause, and then passes.

(100 words)

And now you must go here to enjoy true genius.

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GIPYKAPOW! Have you stopped by Tales From the Motherland Facebook page to spread some fairy dust? I’m grateful for each Like. Follow me on Twitter, LeBron James does (for real… well, he did. But he may have dropped me recently)! Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. Honest, constructive feedback is always appreciated. Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email,  no spam.

©2011-2019  All content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, I’m grateful, but please give proper credit and Link back to my work; plagiarism sucks!

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Friday Fictioneers: Next Year In Israel

Thank you Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for your weekly commitment and passion. Thank you Roger Bultot for this week’s photo. I’m grateful for the time each of you takes to read my work. I’m moving slowly, but do my best to return that kindness. As always I welcome honest, constructive feedback.

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© Roger Bultot

Next Year In Israel

Lori gathered her long auburn hair, securing it under her favorite hat. Prepared for final Passover celebrations, she glanced in the mirror, grabbed her prayer book, and left with her family for services.

“Shabbat Shalom; chag sameach!” she sang out to Rabbi Goldstein, as she entered the hall. Mutual respect for their faith forbade any physical contact, but twenty years of friendship sparkled between them.

A loud crack filled the synagogue. A second one sent searing pain down the Rabbi’s hand and arm.

“Lori, run! I’ll get the children!”

Lori lay in her beautiful Pesach dress, her eyes watching God.

(100 Words of grief)

 

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Lori Kaye, age 60

** This week, my story shares a moment of the horror at Chabad of Poway in CA. Lori Gilbert Kaye was murdered by an anti-Semite, despite her husband’s efforts to save her. זכרונה לברכה May her memory forever be a blessing.

Rabbi Goldstein lost 3 fingers, and ushered a room full of children to safety–– including his four-year old granddaughter. Two Israelis, who came to the US to be free of violence, were injured, including a nine year old girl.

Each year in our Passover/Pesach Seder, we utter the words: “This year we celebrate here, next year in Israel,” for all Jews call Israel their home.

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GIPYKAPOW! Have you stopped by Tales From the Motherland Facebook page to spread some fairy dust? I’m grateful for each Like. Follow me on Twitter, LeBron James does (for real… well, he did. But he may have dropped me recently)! Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. Honest, constructive feedback is always appreciated. Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email,  no spam.

©2011-2019  All content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, I’m grateful, but please give proper credit and Link back to my work; plagiarism sucks!

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