My day in photos in reverse since the battery on my phone is about to die.
Bath time tonight.
My youngest daughter, Rachael, took me to the Pantages Theater today to see a production called Circus, 1903, The Golden Age of Circus.
According to the playbill:
The producers of the world’s biggest magic show, The Illusionists have teamed up with the award winning puppeteers from War Horse to present a thrilling turn of the century circus spectacular.
Sensational puppetry puts Elephants back in the ring as never seen before along with a huge cast of the most unique, amazing and dangerous circus acts from all four corners of the world, from strong men to contortionists, acrobats to musicians, knife throwers, high wire and much more!
We saw acrobats, contortionists, tightrope walkers, a magician, jugglers, and more. Lots of fun and lots of laughter. Pure escapism. Just what I needed.
Thank you, Rachael, for a lovely afternoon.
We stopped afterward at a restaurant across the street named Feast Kitchen and Grill that was excellent. The food was fresh, simple and delicious. I had a huge plate of food for $12.50. I will definitely be taking Ray there soon.
Here are a few photos:
Today I worked with one of my UCLA students on a paper centered on Elie Wiesel’s book, Night. This is Wiesel’s first-hand account of being forced to leave his home in Transylvania (along with his entire village) and relocate first to Auschwitz and later to Buchenwald concentration camps during World War II. The volume is slim but powerful. In only 115 pages, Wiesel brings into focus the horrific experiences that he and his fellow captives suffered at the hands of the Nazis.
In the preface of the 2006 edition (the original was published in 1958), he explains why he wrote this book. He writes, “I only know that without this testimony, my life as a writer – or my life, period – would not have become what it is; that of a witness who believes he has a moral obligation to try to prevent the enemy from enjoying one last victory by allowing his crimes to be erased from human memory.” This is the first of over 40 books Wiesel has written, all with the common theme of speaking out against injustice. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for his tireless efforts to help those who are oppressed.
In the wake of all the horror that is occurring all over the world now, Wiesel’s Night is a stark and poignant reminder of how important it is for all of us to speak out against abuse of power. He states in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “One person – a Raoul Wallenberg, an Albert Schweitzer, one person of integrity, can make a difference, a difference of life and death. As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our lives will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.” He stresses that we must never remain silent if we see suffering. That it is our job as moral human beings to address any abuse of human rights in order to help bring about change.
If you want a heart-wrenching look at the evil that can occur when power is left unchecked, then read Wiesel’s Night. This book could indeed serve as a present-day wake-up call for people all over the world to recognize the terrifying consequences of remaining indifferent to human suffering. It is our job in this life to look power, corruption, and abuse square in the face; not shy away from painful situations because they make us feel uncomfortable. Truth telling is not easy, but can shift the power differential over time. It is often the only real weapon we have at our disposal.
I highly recommend this book. It is simply, but poignantly written and carries a message that feels as pertinent today as it was back in 1958. This book emphasizes that none of us is immune from human suffering and we must stay ever vigilant to the oppressive nature of individuals and governments.
Otherwise, we might find ourselves forgetting what History has taught us, and, in so doing, condemn ourselves and others to a life of oppression. Speaking up is the first step towards change.
I am very pleased and proud that I have a flash fiction piece that has been published in the Real Women Write Anthology published by Story Circle Network. This is a wonderful collection of poems, memoir pieces and flash fiction. To order an anthology here’s the link: http://www.storycircle.org/frmanthology.shtml
Here is my story.
Jacob Peterson stared at the tall taupe vase with its intricate pattern of circles and lines that held a bouquet of purple and white lilacs. He loved that vase. He had made it with his own two hands. The pattern on it reminded him that life had dozens of lines and intersections, places to connect and disconnect. The flowers, with the tiny blossoms and sweet scent, helped him to remember that no matter how difficult life could be, there was always beauty to be found in nature that could salve the soul.
Now was the time that his heart needed salving, having just learned from a phone call that his beloved best friend from childhood, Kit, had died in a motorcycle accident. Ah, how cruel life could be. He and Kit had a whitewater rafting trip planned in just a few weeks to celebrate their twenty years of friendship. There would be no fun trip now, only Jacob traveling across the country to his hometown for Kit’s funeral. He sat staring at the vase, wondering about those intersections and let the tears flow down his cheeks.
Five days later Jacob sat surrounded by family and friends in the familiar old Episcopal church where he and Kit had met. Everyone was there to commemorate Peter John Kitman, the best and most adventurous person most of them had ever known.
Jacob listened as old Father Morgan spoke loving words of the boy he had watched grow up, someone the old priest certainly had not expected to bury. “I am looking over the congregation here,” Father Morgan said, spreading both arms to include everyone, “and I see open and loving faces. Faces of people that only our Kit would have had in his life.”
He paused, then laughed. “Oh, how well I remember the antics of a few of you out there after being trained as altar boys along with Kit. What a lively bunch you all were, sneaking a sip of the altar wine and rearranging the kneelers just to have a little fun.
“Now Kip, of course, went on to become a gifted botanist, someone who felt driven to learn more about the world around us. This came as no surprise to all of us who knew him. He was always stopping to examine the petals of an unusual flower or researching to determine the exact type of moss growing on a wall. He had a power of observation that made him special.
“Kit was a person who could ‘see’ in the best possible way. He lived in the present moment and focused his attention on the particulars in the world around him. That is one of the reasons we are all here. That same focus extended to his family and friends, and made him one of those people who everyone could count on to be right there with you in your time of need or if you just wanted to have fun.”
Jacob felt the sting of tears. That was so true. Yes, Kit was always right there no matter what the circumstance.
Father Morgan went on to describe Kit’s many accomplishments, then added that God had him now in his loving arms and, because of that, everyone could feel at least a measure of comfort. He smiled at the congregation and said, “I am hopeful that Kit’s untimely death helps all of us to remember not to waste another moment pondering ‘What if?’ but rather to listen to our hearts and strike out in the direction God leads us.” His eyes lingered on Jacob.
Jacob shifted in his seat. He knew that Father Morgan was giving him a little prod from the pulpit. The last time they had spoken – just a year back, over the phone – Jacob had admitted to the old priest that he was lost. He had enjoyed college and the first couple of years of his corporate job, but then it had all gone cold as he began to long to do something more meaningful. He had remained in his job, but he wasn’t inspired. He was still searching and now Kit was gone, the one person on whom Jacob relied to provide support and guidance. But now he heard the old priest’s words from a new perspective. It was time for a real change.
After the service, Jacob hugged Father Morgan at the back of the church. “Thank you for that inspiring eulogy. I believe I know where I’ll be going now.”
The old priest’s blue eyes lighted up. “And where might that be, Jacob?”
“I am going to open a ceramics studio, Father. It’s been my passion my whole life, but I’ve not pursued it because everyone has always told me I can’t make money being an artist. But I’ve decided as of today to take my savings from my corporate job and use it to head in a direction that will make me happy. I don’t need much money to live on and I want to live instead of just exist.”
Father Morgan opened his arms and pulled him close. “There you go, dear boy, that’s the ticket. Live your passion! Money is highly overrated, let me tell you, son. I know a lot about that.”
Jacob smiled as he headed for the reception. The intersection of circles and lines. Yes, that was indeed what had brought him to right here, right now, and to a realization that was going to change his life. He knew Kit would be very proud. In fact, he felt proud too in a way that was new and different and made him happy even before this adventure began.
Ray and I are heading up to Ojai to spend the night tonight. This is our Valentine’s gift to each other, to go to the peace of the orange grove until tomorrow afternoon. At that point, we will give each other the second part of our Valentine’s gift, an overnight visit with our two beloved grandchildren, Nico and Luna. We will be picking them up on our way home and bringing them to our house. These overnights are a highlight of our week. Nothing compares to the sweetness of a our little one-year-old and almost four-year-old.
Life feels stressful at present with all the national turmoil. I look forward to seeing the moon tonight as it lights up the grove and listening to the night sounds.
Happy peaceful evening to you all.
I’ll be checking back in tomorrow evening if I have the energy!
Two of My Favorite Valentines (Three counting Sarah behind Nico)
I am happy to report that I have four Western regional winners (8 states) in the oldest and most prestigious writing contest for youth, grades 7 – 12, in the United States. Alumni recipients include such notable writers as Truman Capote, Stephen King, Sylvia Plath, and Robert Redford.
Alexa N., a senior at Harvard-Westlake, has won a regional Gold Key for her personal essay, “On the Road Again,” which chronicles her recovery from the trauma of being hit by a car. This entry will go on to national competition.
Charlotte D., a sophomore at Marlborough, has also won a regional Gold Key for her personal essay, “A Danischefsky in a Haystack.” This story details the harrowing escape of Charlotte’s Jewish great-grandfather and his brother from the Cossacks in the early part of the 20th century. Her entry will also go on to national competition.
Josh F., a senior at Beverly Hills High School, has won a regional Honorable Mention for his essay, “Legacy,” which poignantly explores the legacy provided
to Josh by his medical researcher grandfather, Papa Samy.
Eli A., a senior at Beverly Hills High School, has also won a regional Honorable Mention for his essay, “1190 Chairs.” This essay explores how the mundane task of setting up 1190 chairs over a several week period at Stanford University when working as a research fellow provided an important life lesson about earning real respect.
All of these students, along with my other students whose work did not win a Scholastic award, have spent many hours perfecting powerful pieces of writing. I am proud of all my students for their hard work. I am delighted that Scholastic has chosen to honor at least a few of the many who are so deserving.
The national winners will be announced in March, 2017. All entries winning a Gold or Silver Key nationally will be invited along with their teachers to a celebration at Carnegie Hall in New York City in June. Fingers are crossed for our Gold Key winners. I have been to Carnegie Hall before for this event and it is wonderful. I wouldn’t mind going again!
Congratulations to all.
Congratulations to my writing student Fong Nham, who has recently been accepted to the M.D. Program at the Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine (HWCOM) for the Class of 2021. Fong is a UCLA graduate and currently works in medical research at City of Hope. His parents escaped from the brutal Communist regime in Vietnam in 1990 and came to the United States as political refugees. Fong not only demonstrates how hard work can pay off, but he epitomizes the American value of pulling oneself up by his own bootstraps. He sold handmade jewelry at flea markets while attending UCLA to lessen his educational debt. He will bring his compassion, kindness and discerning mind to the field of medicine, enhancing the health care experience of all he meets. In other words, he is a fine young man.
Congratulations, Fong, on this wonderful accomplishment. You will be an exceptional physician who will make our world a better place.