Fiction or Foreshadowing: Tell Me How This Ends Well

Common bookworm struggles include discovering new reads and having a large enough budget to accommodate said book discoveries.  When I stumbled upon Penguin Random House’s program, Blogging for Books, I was thrilled.  Free books in exchange for book reviews (which I happen to love writing)….a definite no brainer! 

9780451496881Within the literary fiction genre, David Samuel Levinson’s Tell Me How This End Well grabbed my interest as a work of Jewish American literature. The colorful dust jacket and cartoonish font belies the narrative found inside Levinson’s story, which is packed with complex characters and literary themes.  Some themes which grabbed my attention include:

From Bondage to Freedom

Passover, the Jewish holiday which recalls the Israelites escape from Egyptian bondage, serves as the symbolic backdrop for the novel’s main plot development.  The Jacobson family has endured the emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse of its patriarch, Julian Jacobson.  Julian has all of the traits of a psychopath and the family has suffered long enough under Julian’s watch.  As the family reluctantly gathers for the family Seder, a plan unfolds with the intention of killing Julian. 

The plot is revealed through the narration of each of the Jacobson children, Jacob, Edith, and Mo, followed by their mother, Roz.  The individual attention given to each family member’s perspective is one of my favorite parts of the novel.  Readers are able to see Julian through the eyes of each person, and just like in real life, each Jacobson has internalized Julian’s actions differently. The plot to kill Julian is messy and often takes unexpected turns.  The family initially is not working together, which leaves the reader to ponder, “Which family member will lead the Jacobson family out of their own personal Egypt?”

Second Generation Relationships

An added dimension to Levinson’s novel is the tense relationships that exist between second (and even third) generation Jews and Germans, post-Holocaust.  Readers are first introduced to Jacob Jacobson, a queer screenplay writer living in Germany with his lover, Dietrich.  Levinson spends a lot of time describing the tensions between Dietrich and Jacob, which culminate in a bizarre beach scene where Jacob and Diet are arrested by the police for public indecency.  “What wasn’t right was so wrong, so utterly, horribly, disgustingly wrong, that it was nearly indescribable, nearly but not quite, for there was Jacob in the schmatte with the yellow Star of David embroidered into the pocket and there was Dietrich in the SS uniform, shiny black leather boots and all.”

It would take a lot of psychoanalysis and white space to break down the complexity of this scene.  My interpretation is that Jacob and Diet’s relationship ties into larger themes of power struggles, personal empowerment, and what it means to be a Jew in the 21st century.

Isolationism vs Interventionism

In the futuristic landscape of 2022, American Jews are the subject of regular anti-Semitic attacks.  Israel has been disbanded and Israeli refugees find themselves unwelcome guests.  Even though this may be a work of fiction, Levinson’s portrayal of an isolationist United States is not too far off from our current political climate.  The questions which Levinson’s novel pokes at, and which every Jewish person has found themselves asking include, “What happens when things go south again?  What safe haven will exist for Jews?”  In fact, the title of the book, Tell Me How This Ends Well, can be an invitation to discuss not only the personal ending to Julian Jacobson’s reign of terror, but the larger ending (or beginning?) of the Jewish plight. 

As the novel comes to a close, readers discover that Jacob is welcomed in Berlin.  Germany has become an unexpected ally to the Jews.  The U.S. Jacobson family members continue to struggle with anti-Semitism.  Jacob tries to convince them to join him in Germany, “…which made it a capital offense to harm in any way or kill a person of Jewish descent”.  Fast forward to 2024 and the last page of the novel, where Roz Jacobson has passed away and Germany has ratified the law, removing Jews from “The Approved List of Protected Species”.  In an uncertain and unsafe landscape without their matriarch, the Jacobson children continue onwards.

Tell Me How This Ends Well is a challenging and thought provoking novel.  The characters are memorable.  There are so many competing themes in the narrative and I felt the pull of all of theme, which served as a distraction.  With that being said, this would be a great book selection for a JCC book club or Jewish American literature class, as there are many angles to discuss.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

33/3

Birthday Post

It’s my birthday.  Specifically, my 33rd birthday.  It looks a little strange in print.  My twenties have sailed away, but I feel more inspired and focused as each year passes.  Since 33 is a fun number to divide, I thought I would write a little post divided in threes.

1/3 (Eleven Facts About Me)

  1. I am a native Floridian, born in West Palm Beach and transplanted to Boca Raton at the age of four.  Things I like about Florida: the sun, great birds, my house, and the friends and family that live here.  Otherwise, I hope to move within the next 15-20 years.
  2. I’m a southern girl at heart.  If I won the lotto, I would pick up and move to Savannah in a heartbeat.  I love Savannah’s diversity, intimate feel, and architecture.  Plus, I’m a sucker for moss-covered trees.
  3. My educational background is pretty unique.  I have a bachelor’s degree in Jewish Studies, a certificate in Women’s Studies, and almost enough credits for an English degree.  My original intention was to become a rabbi.  My professors then encouraged me to become a professor in those fields.  None of those things ended up happening, but I love my studies.  My heart still skips a beat when I immerse myself in any of those subjects.
  4. Poodles.  If you know me, you know my poodle obsession.  Poodles have been a constant in my life.  Coco, Teddy, Princess, and now my Bobbi.  #dogmom #pawlife 

    Poodle Love

    Bobbi

  5. I’m late to the cat game, but my husband’s passion for animals of the feline persuasion rubbed off on me.
  6. My favorite color is purple, which also is the color of the women’s movement.
  7. I have a love/hate relationship with clothes.  I like being clothed, but my style leans more towards matching coordinates which your grandma might have worn.  I love crazy prints, tie dye, and jeans.  I hate pants with buttons, shorts, and the current trend of shirts with shoulder cut-outs.
  8. Tea is for me.  Love herbals, greens, and blacks.  I start every morning off with a cuppa.  Nothing is more refreshing than unsweetened iced tea with lemon.
  9. My Starbucks drink is venti green tea lemonade with two pumps of classic, shaken by my husband.  (He looks so cute in his apron, btw.)
  10. My wedding anniversary is 11-11.  It wasn’t intentionally planned – it just worked for everyone.
  11. I am 95% certain that I don’t want to have children.  I love (LOVE) children – their perspectives and playfulness.  I also love (LOVE) my alone time.  I felt societal pressure for a long time, but it takes more courage to step back and recognize what you are able to give to another person (and what you can’t).

Favorite Movies

3/3 (Goats, Goals)

  1. Write my heart out.
  2. Start my own freelancing and editing service.  I would offer assistance with copy, editing, resume services, academic endeavors, etc.  Basically, I would start charging for all the services that I tend to give away. ; )
  3. Blog consistently and connect with other bloggers.
  4. Enhance my skills in marketing, PR, content strategy, and graphic design.
  5. Own a silkie chicken.

    Silkie

    Look at that face!

  6. Eat less sugar.  Really, it’s a problem.  I love healthy, natural foods.  I also love ginger ale and Coke.  Chocolate and OJ.
  7. Learn how to garden.
  8. Cultivate a creative life.  I have made a lot of progress toward this goal.  AND…I am starting watercolor classes (this week).
  9. Pay down my debt.
  10. Learn new vegetarian recipes.
  11. Let the good in more often.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accidental Blogger

It’s been a minute, folks.  I’ve had many post ideas, but found myself lacking in either time or motivation.  I intend to make improvements in this area, with plans to write with more consistency.  Even though I haven’t posted much, I have continued to make my way through some amazing books, including Eating in the Light of the Moon and The Handmaid’s Tale.  In another blog post, I want to explore the theme of female autonomy from both fiction and non-fiction perspectives.  But…..that’s not this post.

This post has more of a back-to-basics kinda theme.  Why do I blog?  How did it all start? My personality leans toward enigmatic, so I thought I would share how I fell down the rabbit hole.

AccidentalBlogger

How did I become a blogger?

To answer this question, I have to elaborate on my views on blogging versus writing.  Wait…you might be thinking that they are the same thing, right?

I draw a distinction between blogging and writing.  I am a writer and blogging is just another tool which I use to promote self-expression and/or ideas.  I am minimally interested in all of the typical blogging ventures: SEO, growing audiences, trends, branding, etc.  Perhaps I should have more of an interest, but at this moment, my blog is still primarily a creative tool.  And that is really how it all started.

I have always kept paper journals.  Somewhere in a box lives my hot pink Mead spiral from first grade, a collection of haiku from fifth grade, and lots of paper journals filled with bad poetry and teenage angst.  I became an accidental blogger sometime during the New Millennium, joining the LiveJournal wave.  It probably started out of a pathetic attempt to keep track of the three friends I had in high school, but it soon became a regular habit.

LJ was actually a magical community.  I connected with people close and far.  We had an LJ meet-up at Barnes & Noble.  We were opinionated and argumentative; supportive, kind, and intelligent.  My LJ timeline included starting college while overcoming personal tragedy.  In a blink of an eye, my world had fallen apart.  LJ was a place where I felt less lonely.  It also served as distraction as I read about other peoples’ lives.  I had the freedom to explore deeper ideas and join communities of like-minded people.

As we all know, nothing stays the same.  Newer technologies emerged and people started to spend less time on LJ.  It still exists, but it isn’t the same.  (Honestly, I haven’t been on the site in years).  Myspace happened.  Facebook emerged.  Everyone wanted to be friends of Tom or Mark.  Instead of reading words, audiences were more interested in pictures with brief captions.  I hopped on the Myspace bandwagon and tried blogging – it was awful. I have already shared my thoughts about Facebook.

I stopped blogging.  My community had disappeared and I was really busy with school and work.  I wrote some pretty badass Amazon book reviews, but my online writing presence was diminished.  A particularly intense bout of depression brought me back to blogging, and Seferlover was born.  I started to use this blog to help me express myself and distract.  I have had one loyal reader (shout out to Dayle!).  Honestly, it didn’t matter if I had a gaggle of readers.  The words just needed to pour out of me.

As I have grown as a person, I find that I also have a desire for my blog to undergo transformations.  It will always be personal, but I really have the desire to focus on book reviews and analysis.  My future blog self would like to contribute more to other sites, exploring our current social and political climate through the stuff that I read.  That’s my jam.

Speaking of jam, I always listen to music when I blog.  LJ days included a lot of Ms. DiFranco, Tori Amos, and Nine Inch Nails.  I still am pretty emo: I love me some Sufjan Stevens, Vampire Weekend, Fleet Foxes, Simon & Garfunkel, and any rendition of the song “Shady Grove”.

 

 

 

 

Worldly Possessions

December is the perfect month to reflect on the material possessions acquired in one’s lifetime.  My husband’s gift to me this year was my Macbook.  For Chanukah, he has given me art supplies each night.  The general idea is,”I support your creativity and I know you can do awesome things”.  And while I could go on about my never-ending wish list and all of the household renovations I lust after, I thought I would look at it from a different perspective.  If I could only keep five possessions, what would I choose?

Rules: all pets are automatically included (they are family members, not chattel); all photos are included, and my engagement ring & wedding band remain on my finger at all times.  Now that the groundwork has been established, here is my top five list of most beloved worldly possessions:

One: My mom’s needlepoint canvases.  When I was about 12 or 13, my mom took up needlepoint.  Before the internet made crafting easily accessible to everyone, my mom took up needlepoint the old-fashioned way: books and seventy year old mentors at the local sewing store.  Mom built up an arsenal of fancy stitchwork, resulting in two of my favorite wall decorations.  Currently displayed in my living room are the pieces I call “Wise Unicorn” and “Hot Air Balloons Take Flight”.  My mom always had a love for all things whimsical, which is reflected in her canvas choice and thread colors, which range from rainbow to metallic.

Two: God Gave Us Mary/3-10-1925.  In the treasure trove which is my china cabinet is a small , 2 inch x 2 inch, gold-framed needlepoint canvas which reads “God Gave Us Mary, 3-10-1925”.  It belonged to my maternal grandmother, Marietta.  It was created by one of her family members (presumably her mom or grandma).  My grandmother was one of the most important people of my lifetime.  For a large portion of my life, she was my caretaker.  The safety and comfort I felt around my grandmother has not been replicated since she passed away.  To me, Marietta was sent by God and that small canvas is a physical reminder of her presence/presents.

Three: My ketubah.  My husband and I just celebrated four years of marriage (and over a decade of togetherness).  We were married on 11-11 underneath a handheld chuppah, surrounded by friends and family.  I spent weeks picking out a ketubah.  I browsed online for hours.  Many were either too trendy, too modern, too abstract, or too traditional.  We finally took a drive over to a friend’s Judaica shop, where we decided on a piece which celebrated the Jewish lifecycle with cute watercolor symbols for special times throughout the year.  Our ketubah is egalitarian and is a constant reminder of the partnership which we have chosen together.  It is irreplaceable.

Four: Pawprints and animal ashes.  In the master bedroom closet is where the remains of our beloved pets, Teddy, Princess, and Tony, can be found.

Teddy was my second poodle, a white miniature adopted when I was four years old.  Teddy lived an insanely long life, was hit by a car twice, and loved eating Golden Grahams every evening.

Princess was my first puppy.  We brought her home at eight weeks old.  She was a cottonball of an animal who loved mischief, snacks, and sprints through the backyard.  In her old age, she developed diabetes.  I stuck myself with an insulin needle twice for that pup.

Our third pet, Tony, passed away this year.  Tony was a stray tabby that wandered into Mark’s life.  He was an instant lover who had a snarl for a smile.  Tony was my first (and best) kitty love.

Five: Eeyores.  Most people are unaware, but I am a lover of all things Winnie the Pooh, especially Eeyore.  Who doesn’t love a sad donkey?  One of the things which I love most about my husband is his indulgence of my silly passions.  Over the course of many years, Mark has built me a beautiful collection of Eeyore figurines.  I display them in my china cabinet and take them out once or twice a year to “rearrange” – ok, so maybe I have a little fun playing with them.  They are a reminder of how loved I am by my lover.

I hope your special belongings are also filled with love and meaning.

Disclaimer: this post was written under the influence of Sufjan Stevens.

SoCo

I am not a good traveler.

As much as my heart may desire to explore other places, I am a creature that thrives on routines.  My sanity is held together by very specific sleep habits (a fan for white noise, complete silence and no lights or electronics), access to soft, furry mammals, and my beloved tea kettle.  With the requisite conditions mentioned above and a good 8-9 hours of sleep, I am Mary Poppins in the morning.  Anything less and I become an awful human, disinterested in the world at large and feared by my husband.

Needless to say, I was a bit hesitant when we embarked on our first vacation in years.  I brought everything necessary for comfort (including my four year old poodle, Bobbi) and we set out for Bluffton, South Carolina.

Bluffton, South Carolina is a small town west of Hilton Head.  Bluffton is home to many retirees, including my in-laws.  It is a perfect combination of old and new, with a charming historic district and new construction communities filled with cookie-cutter homes.  Geographically speaking, it is a 30 minute drive from Savannah and Beaufort, and about two hours away from Charleston.  Mark and I always feel like we have entered a bucolic daydream, happily escaping the frenzied and abrasive lifestyle of South Florida.

Highlights of our fall sojourn included:

Binge listening to Serial podcasts in the car.

Enjoying Pepper Chicken Stew, which my mother-in-law prepared for our tummies

Exploring Beaufort on a horse drawn carriage tour,which included learning more about its history, architectural wonders, and relevance in pop culture. Movies such as Forrest Gump, The Big Chill and Prince of Tides have been filmed in Beaufort.  Beautiful homes in historically accurate colors line the streets, with porch roofs painted in haint blue, a Gullah tradition said to ward off evil spirits. Mark and I visited the grave of Robert Smalls. We ended our day by exploring the graveyard at St. Helena’s, a parish established in 1712.

beaufort-house

Idyllic

beaufort-grave

Grave at St. Helena’s in Beaufort, SC

Sunday was devoted to my favorite southern city, Savannah.  Savannah is eclectic.  Bull Street is where you will find Oglethorpe’s squares and quaint storefronts.  Savannah is great for artists, history buffs, foodies, and city dwellers.  I dream of one day owning a Victorian jewel, complete with a porch for reading and sweet tea sipping.

My husband’s desire was to tour the Mercer Williams House, made infamous in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  I was tickled by the fact that the house is still inhabited by Dr. Kingery and her cat.  In fact, I spotted a cat toy underneath one of the antique furniture pieces.

Besides our tour, we enjoyed lunch at one of our favorite Savannah spots, Goose Feathers Cafe.  I had the Bird’s Nest, which is grits topped with two poached eggs, salsa, and surrounded with a “nest” of cheddar.  After lunch, we made a stop at The Book Lady Bookstore (which is quite possibly the most charming used bookstore ever).  Mark picked up a signed copy of Mike Doughty’s book, while I stumbled across a Savannah local’s work, The Woman Who Spilled Words All Over Herself.

We stood in line for ice cream at Leopold’s.  I had a scoop of honey-almond and Mark ordered a banana split.  We wrapped up  our day at the marketplace, where my husband bought way too many pralines.

writers

Bookstore.jpg

Selfie.jpg

We stink at selfies.

On Halloween, we joined Mark’s parents in Charleston.  It was a bad day to be in downtown Charleston due to the start of a well-known trial.  Instead, we opted to head west, eating lunch at The Glass Onion.  It is a very, very good thing that this restaurant is far away from me.  I would eat there everyday and that would be unfortunate for my waistline.  The menu changes daily.  I ordered the shrimp po’boy, which was buttery and flavorful; Mark dined on the clam po’boy.  The iced tea was crisp and refreshing.  The mashed potatoes were rich and lumpy.  It was the yummiest.

After lunch, Mark and I traveled to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.  I wanted to see a plantation, specifically from the slave’s perspective.  Magnolia is one of the first plantations to offer tours of the slave quarters.  Our tour guide, Joseph McGill, was extremely knowledgable.  He is an advocate, working with The Slave Dwelling Project.  It was humbling to see the small cabins which families shared and inhabited until 1990.  (That’s not a typo….descendants really lived there until 1990).  Magnolia’s main crop was Carolina gold rice.  Flooding rice fields meant pestilence and hard, manual labor.

As we were leaving, we saw the plantation’s cat, Sylvester.  He is 21 years old and very friendly.  The plantation was both beautiful and eerie.

Kitteh.jpg

If you are still with me, I am impressed with your dedication.  Our vacation was the perfect blend of southern comfort, and it left me with the slightest feeling of wanderlust.  I am already pestering Mark about where our next road trip will take us.  In the meantime, I have good books to take me to faraway places.

Keep Your Head Up

When inspiration strikes, it is rarely a wise choice to question its origins.  The motivation for this post arrived at the gym, while I was lifting and listening to rap on Pandora.  2Pac’s “Keep Ya Head Up”* played, and these lyrics jumped out at me:

“And since we all came from a woman
Got our name from a woman and our game from a woman
I wonder why we take from our women
Why we rape our women, do we hate our women?
I think it’s time to kill for our women
Time to heal our women, be real to our women
And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies
That will hate the ladies, that make the babies
And since a man can’t make one
He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one
So will the real men get up
I know you’re fed up ladies, but you gotta keep your head up..”

*Let me just go on the defense: Yes, I am fully aware of the complicated history of hip-hop culture and the objectification of women.  That’s not what this post is about.  I felt empowered by the lyrics and wanted to used them today.  If you would like to break down hip-hop culture, watch Byron Hurt’s Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes.

I have been keyed up ever since this election cycle started.  From the beginning, I argued that Trump would win the nomination.  The country’s atmosphere has felt toxic for quite some time.  Institutionalized racism, misogyny and corruption has reached a boiling point.  It is my contention that the events that are unfolding are in direct response to the leadership of a black man and the potential nomination of a woman.  And if we listen to “Keep Ya Head Up” within the context of our current culture, being a black woman is a double strike.  Between 1993 and now (23 years!), the same concerns are still relevant.

Generally speaking, I am really scared about the direction our country is heading.  Specifically, I am really fucking concerned for women.  All women.  All day.  Everyday.

In his essay “Men, Masculinity, and the Rape Culture”, Michael Kimmel writes:

“What is it about groups that seem to bring out the worst in men?  I think is is because the animating condition for most American men is a deeply rooted fear of other men – a fear that other men will see us as weak, feminine, not manly.  The fear of humiliation, of losing in the competitive ranking among men, of being dominated by other men – these are the fears that keep men in line and that reinforce traditional notions of masculinity as a false sense of safety.”

Let me not mince words:  Donald J. Trump’s trumped up masculinity reinforces misogynistic attitudes and threatens the progress of feminists (both men and women) who have been working to unravel the dangerous construct of masculinity which Kimmel has written about extensively.  Trump uses rhetoric, fear mongering, and a pack mentality to keep men (and by extension, any of his supporters) in line.

The video leaked this week illuminates the pack mentality which Kimmel describes.  Bush and Trump’s banter demonstrate a type of masculinity where powerful, rich men are free to take their spoils (women), and arguably, less powerful men, either non-celebrities or non-conformists, are the pussies without pussy.

We have tons of footage depicting Trump’s attitudes towards women.  What concerns me most is how other men are responding.  I need not look very far to find examples:

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Never mind the harassment over the past eight months that I have rocked Hillary’s logo as my Facebook profile pic, but I see these comments EVERYWHERE on social media.  Women that support Hillary are labeled stupid, “slovenly”, and their femininity is questioned, while their male counterparts are mocked as weak, feminized men.

Can we look past the rhetoric, gimmicks, and buffoonery of Donald Trump?  Can we look within ourselves and truly evaluate our own attitudes toward sexuality, gender, and the patriarchy?  Kimmel writes toward the end of his essay these words:

“Part of transforming a rape culture means transforming masculinity, encouraging and enabling men to make other choices about that we do with our bodies, insisting that men utilize their own agency to make different sorts of choices.  To ignore men, to believe that women alone will transform a rape culture, freezes men in a posture of defensiveness, defiance, and immobility.”

A vote for Donald Trump is a vote for the status quo – a place where men must conform to stereotypical masculine norms and women are objects to grab and eyeball.  During this contentious time, do we have the strength to keep our heads up and speak out?  If not with our words, with our vote.  It is one of the most powerful tools we have right now.

Noble Pursuits

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. So medicine, law, business, engineering… these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love… these are what we stay alive for.

John Keating in Dead Poets Society

My husband and I were flipping through channels this weekend and stopped on a movie channel showing Dead Poets Society.  We both hadn’t watched this movie in a few years.  I snuggled into the couch with my fuzzy blue blankie and quickly became engrossed.

I needed to hear the aforementioned quote.  Honestly, being artistically inclined can  be thankless and demoralizing.  In a society which is shaped by achievements and monetary incentives, it is difficult to exist as a human powered by something more.  I have never been particularly interest in the typical carrots which people spend their lives striving to achieve.  My life force comes from words: taking them in and putting them together.

Words which have recently inspired me are contained within Rupi Kaur‘s milk and honey.

trying to convince myself

i am allowed

to take up space

is like writing with

my left hand

when i was born

to use my right

the idea of shrinking is hereditary

Eight lines.  Succinct and impactful.  How many women can see themselves in this poem?  I relate to this not only as a woman, but as a writer.  There have been so many moments where I wanted to not exist or take up space as both a woman and writer.  If only I were someone or something else….

Yet, I have learned that I can’t shrink away from what I am called to do.  This is what I have been given.  I can embrace it and continue to look for encouragement on this path which I pursue.