Advice From My Inner Sage

Last Friday I attended a writing retreat sponsored by the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center. The first part of the retreat was a workshop led by Cathy Luna and Serin Houston. As part of the workshop, we did some free writing in response to a few different prompts. The prompt I used was “write a letter to yourself from your wisest inner sage.”

The prompt reminded me of a weekly exercise we did when I was either in 5th or 6th grade. Every week someone had to be the class monitor. At the end of the week, you had to produce minutes that detailed what had gone on during that time. When it was my turn to be monitor, I always tried to find interesting ways to present the minutes. One time I wrote them as if I was on the ceiling looking down. For the exercise last Friday, I wound up writing about publishing.

My wisest inner sage gave me advice about my book. She is positive it will get published. She assured me that there are a variety of ways this could happen. After I began writing, I realized I was about to do a hierarchy of publishing like my younger son Alan’s hierarchies of  M&M’s and French fries.

Here is my hierarchy:

The best outcome would be agent to publisher. This doesn’t seem that realistic, but it is something to strive for.

Next best would be securing a contract from a commercial publisher. This is really an outlier because I am unlikely to get a commercial press without an agent. However, if Cynren  would take it after I send them the second draft that would be a score. If I send it to Algora, the publishers of  Brewing Battles, that will also count as having achieved some degree of commercial success.

Third in line  would be Feminist Press. This is the press I always wanted to publish the book, but I recently found out that they are close to submissions at the current time, so it is a no go.

After Feminist Press would be  any academic press. I have queries and book proposals out to several of them, so we’ll see what happens with that.

The next to last in terms of desirability would be hybrid publication. I think my age gets in the way of my considering hybrid because it sounds like a vanity press to me. My Aunt Ruth’s friend Laura paid a press to publish her book about Shakespeare and politics. It is terrible looking with large font. It just doesn’t look like an actual book. I am afraid of getting scammed.

The last possibility in the hierarchy  would be self-publishing but that feels like a lot of work. I am going to talk to both Levelers Press which is local, and Off the Common which is their self-publishing division. It is my fervent wish that my wisest inner sage is correct, and my book is published.

I have written several other posts about publishing. One is recent, from last year. The other two are from  over ten years ago when I had published Brewing Battle and first started working on Dames, Dishes and Degrees. You can read them here and here.

 

Book Party

Yesterday I helped host a book party for Aaron Berman, author of America’s Arab Nationalists: From the Ottoman Revolution to the Rise of Hitler, (Routledge 2023). Aaron, as some of you know, is my husband. The event was lovely with a mixture of colleagues, family, and friends attending. Aaron read from the book and answered questions.

Here are two pictures from the party:

Here is  how to buy the book. Here is a link to an interview of Aaron by Jadaliyya  as well as a link to his appearance on the podcast, New Books Network, crosslisted in both American Studies and Middle East Studies.

 

Chopped Liver

As has often been the case lately, I find myself not knowing what to write. After a few weeks off, today is the first day of the latest session of Nerissa’s writing group. In the chit chat before the group formally started, one of the participants remarked in response to something someone else said,  “What am I -chopped liver? That quip brought back memories of the dish.

For several months, leading up to Passover, my mother would save both the liver and the fat – schmaltz – from every chicken she cooked. She was following her mother’s practices. My grandmother and grandfather owned a delicatessen in Long Beach, Long Island. As I have written elsewhere, my grandmother was an amazing cook, although she cooked Eastern European dishes and did not really cook American things such as a hamburger.

Once my mother had enough livers and fat, my father took over. He would render the fat; the pieces left over were gribenes. Gribenes, similar to pork cracklings, are one of the best foods in the world. I would love to have some right now.

Using the rendered schmaltz, my father would chop and mix the liver with the fat and some onions. Delicious. Memories of food are all mixed up with memories of the people who made the dishes. Eating gribenes and chopped liver would feed my palate but also my soul. Remembering my father, with his sly humor, cooking with me, a sometimes-sullen teenager is both sad and comforting.

I have my grandmother’s apron from the store. That is what we called Al’s Delicatessen. Whenever I put that on, the memories flood back. Her kind, generous face. Her care for everyone in the family. My mother’s grief when her mother died.

Richard is right; to say “what am I – chopped liver?” when chopped liver carries such precious cargo must be a compliment.

The Impending Crisis

Today’s post  was going to be about my plans for 2023, however, the ongoing debacle that is the Speaker of the House election caused me to go in a different direction.

As many of you know, I have a PhD in American history from Columbia University. The first step in that process was obtaining a master’s degree. To achieve that I had to take courses and write a master’s essay. My master’s essay was entitled “A Perceptual study of the Ante-bellum Yeomanry 1820 to 1860.”

I looked at non slaveholding whites in the southern states, analyzing travel narratives and political documents. One of the books I explored was The Impending  Crisis by Hinton R. Helper, published in 1857. The book played a significant role in one of the country’s earlier protracted Speaker contests.

Here is an excerpt from my 1978 master’s essay:

On December 5, 1859, the first session of the thirty-sixth Congress convened in Washington. Three days earlier John Brown had been executed and the atmosphere was extremely tense. A major problem facing the Congress was the lack of a party majority in the House of Representatives. There were 101 Democrats, 109 Republicans and twenty-seven Know Nothings – all but four from the South. There were also a few independents. Many congressmen were armed, and John Branch of North Carolina challenged Galusha Grow of Pennsylvania to a duel.

The tension and potential for violence focused around the selection of a speaker of the house. This position had particular significance since many politicians believe the 1860 presidential election would be decided by the House of Representatives. The speaker, who had wide appointive powers, would obviously play a vital role in such an event. At the end of the first ballot, John Sherman, Republican from Ohio, and Thomas S. Borock, Democrat of Virginia, emerged as the two major candidates. John B Clark of Missouri then introduced a resolution declaring:

“… the doctrines and sentiments of a certain book called “The Impending Crisis of the South – How to Meet It”, purporting to have been written by one Hinton R. Helper, are insurrectionary and hostile to the domestic peace and tranquility of the country, and that no member of this House who has endorsed and recommended it, or the compendium from it is fit to be speaker of this House.”

This resolution served as the basis of a two month debate of the sectional controversy which had confronted the nation for many years.[1]

Because John’s Sherman was an endorser of the compendium, Clark’s resolution was directed against him. Republican responses ranged from complete denouncement of The Impending Crisis to a denial of knowledge of the “true” nature of the book. Since the compendium had been modified, others admitted signing without having ever read the work.

Sherman’s explanation of his position contained several of these arguments, but none were particularly successful in breaking the deadlock. On February 1, 1860, two months into the term, Sherman reluctantly withdrew his candidacy. After forty-four ballots, William Pennington of New Jersey, a member of the People’s Party, was elected.[2]

The speakership contest greatly increased The Impending Crisis’s popularity, but the conflict is important historically for its prefiguring of the succession crisis of 1860-1861. Both the rhetoric and actions of the Southern Democratic congressman tell us much about their fears, concerns, and ideological justifications which are crystallized significantly since 1850 and would ultimately propel the nation towards civil war. …

The level of violence in the Congress rose dramatically and the tenseness of the atmosphere was increased by the fact that some southerners “favored disruption over the issue of John Sherman’s election to the speakership, as the spark which would set off the explosion they desired.” Most southerners did not consider secession as a viable option at this time, but the conflict increased the probability of disunion if a Republican became president.[3]

Hinton Rowan Helper c.1860 Engraving by Alexander Hay Ritchie.

[1] Congressional Globe, 36 Cong., 1st Sess. Washington, 1860, 1-3.

[2] Ibid., 147-148, 546, 548.

[3] Ollinger Crenshaw, “The Speakership Contest of 1859-1860, John Sherman’s Election A Cause of Disruption, “ Mississippi Valley Historical Review, XXIX, o. 3 (December 1942), 336.

© Amy Mittelman 2023. Do not reproduce without the author’s permission.

Happy Holidays

Everything I know about Christmas is complicated because I’m Jewish; an outsider looking in. It seems to me that every year America starts celebrating Christmas earlier and earlier. The Hallmark Channels which I frequently watch when I am trying to fall asleep, started its round of formulaic Christmas movies in October, blowing right past Halloween and Thanksgiving and not stopping to celebrate either.

In October 1996, I started working at Wing  Memorial Hospital. Simultaneously with my hiring,  the PA system began blaring Christmas music which lasted well into January. There was also a huge Christmas tree in the cafeteria. Wing Memorial Hospital is in Palmer, a semi-rural Western Massachusetts community. Many of the people who worked at the hospital were from Palmer or the surrounding towns. Several had never been to either New York or Boston.

Yesterday, because I didn’t want to watch a Christmas movie, I chose a Law and Order episode from 2009. The plot revolved around the  murder of an evangelical Christian who was planning for the end of times as described in the Book of Revelations in the Christian Bible. One of the characters’ organizations moved Jews from  Russia, transporting them to Israel. Evangelicals believe that one of the preconditions for the second coming of Christ is that there will be an ingathering of people in the Holy Land. Getting Jews there is an important part  of the evangelical project.

The Law and Order episode reminded me of something that happened while I worked at Wing. One of the nurses, Julie, was an evangelical Christian who believed in the prophecies and stories contained in the Book of Revelations. She lived in terror of having her computer password be 666, which is “the number of the beast.” One day she was expounding on her understanding of the end times,  claiming that everyone would have to accept Christ, or they would die.

I asked her what would happen to the Jews. She replied that they would face the same fate as all other non-believers, despite needing Jews to bring Christ back to Earth. After this conversation, Julie was apparently curious why I or anyone else would care about the Jews in the first place and inquired if I was Jewish. I replied yes. Someone else then  asked me if I was really Jewish  because Lori, another nurse, was married to a Jew. I replied,  “I’m Jewish, my husband’s Jewish , my children are Jewish, my parents were Jewish.” That ended the conversation.

When I started working at Wing, I didn’t  make a conscious decision to hide my Jewishness, but I didn’t advertise it either. Following the conversation, I was now outed as a Jew. With nothing to lose, I asked the dietitian who was responsible for holiday decorations, if it would be possible to have a menorah. She had an enthusiastic response and proceeded to decorate the cafeteria with  Jewish ritual objects as well as the Christmas tree.

Once the menorah was up, I got an e-mail from one of the respiratory therapists. Mike, another Jew, told me that he had worked for the hospital for many years and had always felt like an outsider until that year when I convinced them to put up the menorah.

As 2022 ends, we are living in a moment in which anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic hate crimes have exponentially increased. Much of the media has been obsessed with Kanye West and his antisemitic rantings but there are more disturbing things that have gotten less attention. An article on AlterNet cites a “recently published survey showing that one in four hiring managers exhibited antisemitism.” Because American society considers Ashkenazi Jews white, antisemitism often flies under the radar. In 2016, Donald Trump brought it above ground, where it now remains.

Grand Prix Figure Skating Final

Yesterday and today, I spent a good part of my time watching the Grand Prix figure skating final. The Grand Prix series is six different skating competitions held in six different countries. The skaters who compete get points depending upon their ranking in each competition. After the six events are over, the top six skaters in each of the four skating disciplines; men and women singles, pairs, and ice dancing, compete in the final.

Watching skating has made me miss Twitter primarily because for several years while watching skating, I also followed Jackie Wong’s commentary on Twitter. When I went to Skate America, I got to speak to Jackie Wong, which was a wonderful experience. Despite wanting to see what he has to say about this current competition, I have continued to abstain from looking at Twitter.

The other time I missed Twitter was this past Tuesday when Reverend Raphael Warnock won his Georgia runoff. Again, I resisted going to Twitter to comment and instead messaged my sons and daughter-in-law about Warnock’s historic win, using WhatsApp. I will have more to say about the election in a subsequent post.

Last Friday, after I posted, I did go to Facebook and Twitter to announce that. I thought I might look at both platforms for a bit, but found it very overwhelming and I wound up not doing it. Although I thought not looking at Facebook and Twitter would free up time, that hasn’t really happened yet. Instead of looking at Twitter and Facebook, I have rediscovered games I had on my phone that I had not played in a long time. I guess the part of my brain that wants to aimlessly look at something needs filling whether it is with social media or my paint by number app.

What to Write

Today is Wednesday and I am at Nerissa’s writing group. I have missed a bunch of meetings and it feels like I have been gone for much longer. I most often use this time to write a blog post, but I am at a loss of what to write.

From the third week of October to the beginning of November, we traveled. We arrived home on November 7th, the day before Election Day. I had so much anxiety about what was going to happen during the midterm elections, as well as worry about the relative I visited in Florida, and no sense of what I should do next on my book.

Although we have been home nine days, the first week back was a wash. I had a lot of trouble reintegrating myself into my daily existence despite being thrilled to be home. In Florida, where we spent 10 days no one wore masks, and it seemed like no one cared about COVID anymore. Once we got home, back to saner western Massachusetts, more people were wearing masks and seemed to realize that COVID hasn’t gone anywhere. A cruise ship that just embarked in Australia had eight hundred passengers with COVID.

So far, my husband and I have escaped getting COVID which is amazing. It feels like everyone is going to get it at some point. On the other hand, since my husband has asthma, I have tried extremely hard to protect and prevent us from getting the virus.

Before I left for Florida, I had finished a second draft of my manuscript. I also have a few queries and proposals to some publishers. I had originally intended to do NaNoWriMo when I returned from Florida, but now that I’m back I have decided not to. I didn’t work on the book at all the first week we were back, but two days ago I did start working on the introduction.

Introductions and conclusions – I haven’t written any conclusion yet- are the hardest parts of a book to write. The standard introduction to a nonfiction history book where the author tells you what is in every chapter doesn’t feel like the kind of introduction I want for my book. Having said that, I don’t really know what kind of introduction I do want

My plan is to continue to work on the introduction and then read aloud the eight chapters to see if they hold together as a book. In other words, if a reader finishes chapter one do they feel compelled to go to chapter two and so on. I am also going to try to send out more queries and book proposals in my, as of yet, never-ending attempt to get a publisher. As always, I will keep you posted about my progress.

Skate America

I am watching Skate Canada while I am writing about my attendance at Skate America last week. Both competitions are part of what is known as the Grand Prix figure skating series. The International Skating Union (ISU) sponsors this series of competitions each season.

Skate America was the first in the series and was held at the Skating Club of Boston’s beautiful facility in Norwood, Massachusetts. I was extremely excited to go to this competition for several reasons. My coach is on a synchronized skating team from Skating Club of Boston, so I was really interested to see where she skates every Monday.

I was also anticipating seeing such athletes as Ilia Malinin and Gracie Gold compete. Although it was a lot of days and sometimes the rink was frigid, I had a wonderful time. I saw Ilia complete his quadruple axle which was thrilling beyond words.

I found Gracie Gold’s performance very moving. She has shown such grace and determination in her brave attempt at a comeback. Gracie is really an inspiration to anyone who has ever suffered defeat, mental or emotional distress, or physical disabilities.

I also had several celebrity sightings and interactions which made the event even more exciting. The first day there I had a nice conversation with Jackie Wong from Rocker Skating about media coverage of skating and how  the USFSA doesn’t always appear to be aware of  the best way to maintain and grow its’ fan base.

I spoke to Ilia Malinin after he had finished his practice and before he went on to the ring to complete his competition which included his successful quadruple axle. I also had conversations with Ashley Wagner and Mirai Nagasu. I attended the 2016 Worlds in Boston in Boston and saw Ashley Wagner when she won her silver medal, I have always been a fan of Mirai Nagasu, and it was nice to have a brief conversation with her.

The last big competition I attended was Nationals in San Jose  2018. I went with my cousin Marla who died this past June. May her memory be for a blessing.

It is always inspiring to see skating in person and Skate America was no exception. However, it was very draining so I may wait a few months or maybe a few years to attend another big competition in person.  Worlds will be in Montreal in 2024 and in Boston in 2025. Those two will probably be the next opportunities for me to go to something in person.

We came home from Skate America on Monday and tomorrow we are going on another trip. My next blog post will be November 11.

Book Progress

I completed my second self-initiated NaNoWriMo today. It is a little confusing because I thought I was going to stop yesterday when I set up the counter in NaNoWriMo, but I worked two hours today. NaNoWriMo will not let me add the two hours without creating a new goal, so I am not going to bother.

I worked for twenty-one days out of the twenty-seven because I had to take a few days off for the Jewish holidays, some other activities, and a personal matter. I worked approximately ninety-eight minutes a day for a total of over thirty-four hours.

I now have a second draft of all the chapters except one. I hope to complete the revision on the first chapter by the end of this month. I am not going to start the official NaNoWriMo until Nov. 9th or 10th and then will work the remainder of November.

Next week I will be attending Skate America which is in Boston so I will not have a blog post Friday, Oct. 21st. Tune in again on Oct. 28th.

Angela Lansbury

My original plan for today’s post was to update you about progress on my book. However, on Tuesday, Angela Lansbury died,so I have decided to say something about that today. Tomorrow, which will be the last day of my latest self-initiated NaNoWriMo, I will post about that process.

As my faithful readers will remember, from the end of 2021 to the beginning of 2022, I watched every episode of Murder She Wrote and read a book by Angela Lansbury. More recently, I read a book that had Jessica Fletcher as the heroine.

When Angela Lansbury died this Tuesday, the New York Times ran an obituary which included  a mini documentary about her life. It featured her speaking. Something she said was very meaningful. “I’m an actress not just a pretty face.”

She was a woman of character and immense talent, and I really admired her. You can read my post about Murder She Wrote here.

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