icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle



"The Devil's Inferno" © Peggy Weis with permission.


How do you separate yourself and your memories from History? How do you separate your presence from so many absences? Questions I can only ask, and never answer.


-Viet Thanh Nguyen, "A Man of Two Faces; A Memoir, a History; a Memorial"



It's been several years since I have written a memorial piece on 9/11, but I woke thinking of that day out of my sleep this morning. I had watched the 60 minutes segment on the firefighters last night and must have been thinking or dreaming about it. The images in my waking thoughts were silent, without sound, the hush of the city as the buildings collapsed forever seared in every 9/11 survivor's psyche.


I was still living in New York City that day. Our home was a co-op on the Upper East Side and  I was teaching at NYU and Gotham Writers Workshop. Our daughter, Chloe, was in her own apartment on the Upper West Side; she worked close to the World Trade Center. She was running in Central Park listening to the radio on her Walkman when she heard the news; thankfully, she had not yet boarded the subway. When she got home she called our landline, not yet an artifact. Patiently, she uttered three simple words: "Turn on the TV."  If memory serves—and memory after trauma weakens—that  was the last we heard from her until we established email contact. For some reason, email was still working, and I was grateful that the phone lines were up on the West Side of Manhattan so that Chloe could reach my mother to assure her we were all okay.


But that was us, our family, safe and sound in a city that had become a war zone, the enemy combatants dead in the debris of the Towers, suicide bombers from the other side of the world, a world none of us had ever visited, much less understood. What did it have to do with us? Americans I knew who cared about the world outside our borders, and America's role in that world, hypothesized instantly and endlessly about what this seminal horrific event signified and portended for the future.


But first things first, there were confused seniors in our building who required care, and workers who had arrived early in the morning and had no way home. The American Red Cross sent out a call for blood which somehow was conveyed throughout the city. My husband, Jim, has Type O, the universal donor, with a special enzyme which was badly needed. We pulled ourselves out of the apartment and headed to Second Avenue. It was only as we surfaced from our apartment building that we saw and smelled the billowing smoke and the stream of workers covered in ash escaping the site. We made it to the Red Cross, but were turned away. Few if any survivors had arrived in the emergency rooms. The Red Cross did not need blood.


Time collapses  in our memories. Maybe it was a week later, maybe two weeks when I joined the crowds walking the city in running shoes, stopping at makeshift paper memorials and "have you seen?" signs, writing poetry and attending readings, lighting candles for the dead. I started to immerse in the history of the Middle East, Islam, extremism and fundamentalism, imperialism and jingoism. All of that history is still relevant today—in the upheaval in Israel and Palestine, in Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in America's withdrawal from Afghanistan, in the right wing surge in the United States.


The beginning of the term in that vivid, terrifying autumn of 9/11 was delayed, and when I got back into the classroom at Gotham Writers Workshop Irene and Phil Tufano were waiting for me. Phil was a firefighter who lost all his friends in one of the Towers. He wanted to write something about his experience, even though it was still so immediate and raw. And when I returned to NYU Professor Vasu Varadhan was waiting for me. She lost her son, Gopal, in one of the Towers, a loss she did not tell me about until months later when we started working together on her memoir, On My Own Terms; A Journey Between Two Worlds.


In the writing is the healing. the connection, the attempt at understanding, and the testimony for future generations.

Post a comment


PS 75, Emily Dickinson Elementary School, an example of 1950s Brutalist Architecture. To the parents of little privileged kids it felt like a behemoth, a fortress against a dangerous, divided city. With thanks to Carol Skyrm © 2023 for the photograph.



I'm hungry for knowledge. The whole thing is to learn every day, to get brighter and brighter.


-Shawn Corey Carter aka Jay-Z




It's the beginning of the school year and e-Bay is selling off collectible metal lunchboxes to nostalgic adults eager to wallow in their childhood obsessions.  I was tempted to bid for my favorite but figured it was probably rusted, and which one was my favorite anyway? I can't remember. It probably changed every year depending on my television or book serial heroes and heroines of the moment. I never liked cartoons; the characters I preferred were all live action.  Lassie maybe? Nancy Drew?


We went to Woolworth's on Broadway between 102nd and 103rd Street, on the East Side of the Street to load up on school supplies. That Woolworth is long gone, but my memory is vivid. Oh, how I loved that store. Spalding balls, jump ropes, jacks, Crayola crayons, the store was a treasure trove for any kid—with money. Rich, poor, I never knew the difference. What I wanted and needed was there and I could have it.


I couldn't wait to see my neighborhood friends back from holidays at summer houses and camps, and learn something new at school. Like all affluent kids in my Upper West Side neighborhood, the premise and promise of education was a constant; it was never questioned. Towards Labor Day our parents herded us to clothing stores and shoe stores to buy new outfits. We'd grown and we were learning fast that we were privileged, that the school we went to was okay, or more than okay; it was mostly White, and the teachers were too. The demographic we lived in signaled privilege and safety. There was no busing, not yet anyway, the public schools in Manhattan were de facto segregated as were our neighborhoods and, to a large extent, they still are. Black and Brown kids lived somewhere else, up above the invisible interface, which in my hood was 110th Street. My friend Rochelle lived there, but I never went to her house. The memory of this childhood friend comes back to me often. Her mother was a nurse, my mother was a doctor, and they were friends. They both worked at the Margaret Sanger clinic downtown and every morning, once I was allowed to walk on my own to PS 75 on 96th Street and West End Avenue, Rochelle and I walked to school together. She came to my house for lunch and sometimes after school also. Now that I think of it—where  was my new lunchbox?  My mother must have packed it for me in the morning before I left for school and she left for work on the subway with Rochelle's mom. My lunchbox was there, waiting on the counter, next to Rochelle's lunchbox.  We must have insisted on owning a lunchbox even though we ate lunch at my home and Rochelle brought hers to "live" with mine every school day. We asked our moms if we could live together. They laughed and said it wasn't possible.


At lunchtime, a maid was waiting for us. She was often a Black maid; there were many over the years. I heard my parents talking about this maid and that one. I would try to befriend them when my parents weren't home. I can't remember any of them.


Rochelle was the only Black girl in my class and possibly in the school. Both of us lived out of the catchment area and we should have attended a school on 105th and Amsterdam near the projects. The school and the neighborhood had a bad reputation. I had always assumed that my parents and/or Rochelle's parents strenuously advocated and received "waivers" for both of us to go to PS 75.  Years later I learned that my parents had lied about our address, that they'd used a colleague's address, and that Rochelle's parents had done the same, so desperate were they for their children to have the best education in our red-lined neighborhood. It seems unlikely their deception was ever uncovered. Or, maybe by the time it was, the teachers didn't want us to leave. Rochelle was smart, I was smart, we could spell and read and talk with a clarity any teacher would appreciate, if the teacher was well trained and kind. One or two of them were not.  They needed to go back to school as much as we did, or more than we did. Would you believe me Reader if I told you that in Miss Brill's Second Grade classroom at PS 75  there was a "dunce corner" and that a whole generation later, when my daughter went to a public school kindergarten on the East Side of Manhattan, there was a "time out" corner in a still nearly all-White kindergarten class. All the Black kids were on the top floor of that East Side school in a persistent and pernicious de facto bused-in segregation. And the teacher of my daughter's kindergarten class targeted the boys in her class for humiliation as she ordered them to face the corner, albeit they were all White boys. God help us, and them, if she'd had Black kids in the class; she was vicious. And the parents could not stop her, or change her, that was obvious at meeting after meeting. I sometimes stood outside the door at pick-up time and watched this teacher abuse the boys verbally. I glared. I wanted her to know she was on notice. The principal had put her on notice, but it was too late for me, and many other parents. We'd had enough, we took flight, leaving the poor White kids behind on the bottom floor of that de facto segregated neighborhood school.


This was all long before lockdown drills and pandemics though the catchment areas and neighborhoods in the city are seemingly unchanged since I was a child, calcified in their callous disregard of fairness and opportunity. Separate and unequal. Separate but unequal.  


I called PS 75 to check on current admissions policy. The guy who answered the phone was friendly. "895 West End Avenue," I told him, " between 103rd and 104th." I was put on hold as Nat King Cole sang "life is still worthwhile." The guy came back and confirmed that PS 75, Emily Dickinson Elementary School, was in District 3, but that my kids would have to go to PS 145 up near the projects.


"Oh, nothing has changed in New York City," I said.


"I'm sorry you're disappointed," he said, but he misunderstood, He thought I was a parent with a school age child. I hadn't said otherwise, and I didn't disabuse him. I was just asking questions without identifying myself as a journalist. I wanted to know, I was curious.


"I like the Nat King Cole," I said.


He laughed, "Oh, you like that?"


"Yes," I said.


"Don't be disappointed. Depending on enrollment, you might be able to get a waiver."

Be the first to comment

The Louring Sky

photo of the River to Ridge Trail in New Paltz, NY © copyright Carol Bergman 2023


What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.


― Jane Austen



In the decade I lived in London, I never minded the weather. I bought myself a well-made expensive umbrella, stayed calm and carried on. I had no expectations that it would be warm and/or sunny anywhere in the British Isles, having prepared myself for the louring English sky with my reading of Austen and Bronte. Louring. It's the perfect word, a variation of lowering. Indeed, dear reader, I can think of no other word to evoke the soft, sometimes drizzly grey blanket that sits under the blue sky and sun's rays, obscuring it, obfuscating it, chilling those that walk beneath it in all seasons, until recent climate-changed warmer summers. Indeed, it must have been rare for Jane Austen to feel the sun's warmth during her lifetime (1775-1817) else she would not have written that sentence.


If the weather is so often awful, why do the Brits talk about it incessantly? It was a wonder, really to have found myself a willing participant in the ongoing, continuing, unrelenting conversation about atmospheric conditions, and to relinquish that cultural habit once I returned to the United States. Oh, how I missed it, though. It was a lubricant in a notably reserved society where conversational lubricants, however ritualized, are sorely needed  So, too, the kettle always on the boil, the porcelain tea pot, and the extremely strong cuppa with just a dash of milk. That tradition has sustained me to this day, especially at breakfast. There's solace in the thought that the often brutal British Raj in India (1858-1947) left one beneficial legacy, at least.


Fast forward to the summer of 2023 in the Mid-Hudson Valley under a too frequent louring sky. Cool one day, humid and blistering the next, culminating in ferocious thunder storms and flooding. Morning, mid-day, and night, I check my two weather apps, I check the air quality, I pay attention to the fires in Canada and am grateful there have been no fires in the Minnewaska Ridge of late. I plan a walk and talk with friends early or mid-day, or late, depending on the weather. Weather conversations inevitably culminate in climate change conversations in the present tense. The change is here, we are living it.


With thanks to #sistersinlaw Joyce Vance (Alabama), Jill Wine-Banks (Illinois), Barb McQuade (Michigan) and Kimberly Atkins Stohr (DC) for inspiring this blog post about the weather. 





Post a comment

Where's Melania?

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1898, an emancipated woman constrained by tradition. Photo: Courtesy Franklin D. Roosevelt Library

We will not be turned around

or interrupted by intimidation

because we know our inaction and inertia

will be the inheritance of the next generation

 from "The Hill We Climb," by Amanda Gorman


A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it's in hot water.

-Eleanor Roosevelt



I've been thinking about the elusive Melania, the Slovenian-American former model who started dating Trump after meeting him at a party in Manhattan in 1998, exactly 100 years since the photo of Eleanor Roosevelt I chose for this blog post was taken. When asked by the NY Times what kind of a First Lady she would be, Melania said, "I would be very traditional. Like Betty Ford or Jackie Kennedy."


Traditional. How does that play these days? Very well, apparently, in some retro circles. That said, Melania's low profile, her near disappearance during the indictments is interesting, even understandable. Apparently she's sequestered with her parents and her nearly grown son, Barron. Wouldn't you do the same, dear reader? Stay clear. Sequester yourself with those near and dear? Redecorate the home you bought in Slovenia? Keep your Slovenian passport up-to-date? Make sure your son had dual citizenship? Send your parents back to your Homeland before the trial/s?


During the administration of her beloved—if  that is what he was—Melania  also maintained a low profile, albeit she worked various charities, like most obedient and hard working First Ladies who learn quickly to second fiddle their husbands. Without exception First Ladies who had  pre-White House careers abandoned them when their guy made it to the Oval Desk—even Michelle abandoned her successful law career—and  then tried to keep on keeping on with book contracts, healthy gardens, and other "projects." Bill Clinton groomed Hillary for her Senate run by giving her an important position in the cabinet, re: healthcare, was that it? Was this appointment before the Under- the- Oval Desk Scandal, or after? Was it a deal the maligned couple struck when they were still in Arkansas?  During the 1992 presidential campaign, Hillary, a smart First Lady, quoted from the obsequious First Lady Handbook: "Our lives are a mixture of different roles. Most of us are doing the best we can to find whatever the right balance is . . . For me, that balance is family, work, and service."




I am wishing Melania well in the months and years to come. Truly I am. But I am also wondering when, if ever, the United States of America will wake up to its smart women politicians and vote one of them into the White House, not as an appendage to the President as a VP, or a wife, but into the Big Chair, where surely one of them belongs. Eleanor, Hillary and Michelle could have carried the responsibility well, wouldn't you agree, dear reader? They were smart enough, educated enough, worldly enough, and tough enough. And I suppose we could say the same for Kamala, if she is given the chance, though she remains unimpressive in many respects. But then again, she's in the Big Man's shadow. And it's a long one.


Post a comment

Deep in the Green

Fungi on an old-growth tree in New Paltz, NY photo © Carol Bergman 

A garden is like the self. It has so many layers and winding paths, real or imagined, that it can never be known, completely, even by the most intimate of friends.

― Anne Raver, "Deep in the Green: An Exploration of Country Pleasures"


Deep in the green this morning, the air clear enough and cool enough to have a very early morning walk past farms, haystacks, the Minnewaska Ridge in the distance visible for the first time in weeks, and then visit with my friend Jo Ann who has offered me chard from her raised-bed vegetable garden. It's been netted top and bottom to avoid tick infestation, her husband Jeff assures me, but I've sprayed up before arriving anyway. I'm still a city girl, have always lived in apartments, and never even participated in an urban communal garden, though I have visited and admired many, both in the US and overseas. I have a green thumb for indoor plantings, though, and when I lived in London on the top floor of a Victorian house with a skylight streaming cloud-diffuse English sunlight onto the landing, the spider plants went wild. Chlorophytum Comosumis is their Latin name, and they are immigrants from Southern Africa apparently, naturalized plants that have contributed so much to our controlled indoor landscapes, an illusion that all is well with the landscape outside with its droughts, floods, smoke-filled air, and human malfeasance.


Until this week, the atmosphere in the mid-Hudson valley has been tropical, all flora and fungi abundant, a welcome side effect of our climate changed summer. Jo Ann's garden is no exception, but as we walk into her flower garden she complains that it needs weeding, that weeds have become abundant also. And what is a weed, exactly, I wonder? When did a plant become a weed? In what century? In what geothermic era?


The Weed Science Society of America—yes, there is a society for the study of weeds—defines a weed as a plant that is not wanted, that germinates constantly and invasively and without our consent. These weeds interfere with the plantings we have chosen to nurture and propagate, the vegetables and flowers we cultivate for our pleasure and nourishment. A metaphor, perhaps, for the invasive weeds in our body politic and continuing attempts to rid ourselves of them without poisoning ourselves.


But I digress. Let us return to Jo Ann's garden and her bounteous gift: two kinds of chard, basil, cucumber and a sweet yellow zucchini. The stir fry was delicious.

Be the first to comment

Barbie is an Aryan Fraulein

Ruth Handler was a mature, intelligent businesswoman when she bought the rights to the  German "Lilli,' and transformed her into Barbie. 



I tried to straighten him out, but there is only so much you can do for a person who thinks Auschwitz is a brand of beer.


-David Sedaris



I don't know if Willa Paskin, Slate's TV critic and host of their Decoder Ring Podcast is Jewish, Christian, Muslim or a Jewish Buddhist, and I'm not sure it is even relevant, but it is niggling me, as the Brits would say. I was listening to her being interviewed  by Natalie Kitroeff on The Daily, New York Times podcast, about the history of the Barbie doll and its new blockbuster iteration. About two-thirds into the interview Paskin casually mentioned that Ruth Handler, co-owner of Mattel and developer of the Barbie franchise, was Jewish. The word "Jewish" fell gratuitously in the middle of the sentence like a prong on a fish. The prong never was extracted: there was no context, no backstory. Kitroeff let the moment pass without further questioning. She's the Central American, Mexican, and Caribbean NY Times Bureau Chief and relatively new as a host to the podcast. Maybe she's still learning, or just standing in for someone on vacation. The gratuitous labeling deserved a follow-up question, which never came. That's a shame because there is a significant connection between Barbie's origin story and Ruth Handler's origin story.


Handler was a child of Jewish-Polish immigrants, already the owner of Mattel, when she traveled with her husband to Switzerland, and discovered a beloved German sex-toy doll based on a comic-strip character, "Lilli," created by Reinhard Beuthien for the nationalist right-wing tabloid newspaper Bild in 1952. There were few if any Jews left in Germany to enjoy this buxom, blonde-haired Bavarian/Aryan masterpiece. But Handler was attracted to her three-dimensional realism, bought the rights, and transformed her into an oversexualized American ideal woman. Barbie's Aryan birthing, a smidgin beyond the Nazi era, was ignored, or forgotten.


The podcast interviewer's oversight--or disinterest-- in the story behind the story reminded me of a passage in Richard Ford's Sportswriter, the first in his Frank Bascombe trilogy. The lonely and miserable protagonist parks his car at the train station during rush hour one evening and watches the crowd surging onto the platform. He comments on all the "Jewish lawyers" who commute to DC from New Jersey every day. Why not just "lawyers?" I wondered. Why "Jewish lawyers?" What is this? And is it the character talking, or Richard Ford talking? Why has Ford written this antisemitic trope into his character? Instantly, my stomach dropped, I lost my sympathy with poor old Frank, and then I lost my concentration. I'd had the same sensation of disgust and fear with Wharton's antisemitism, Hemingway's antisemitism, and Picasso's misogyny. For the record, I haven't stopped admiring all of them.


Ford is a still living writer so I wrote him a letter and sent it c/o his agent and his publisher.  I never got an answer, of course, but a few years later I saw him in a restaurant eating alone. I was having lunch with a sophisticated relief-worker friend who came from a similar background as Ford—WASP, Southern—and I told him about the letter I'd written. He suggested I introduce myself and mention my letter, and though I don't like to disturb well-known writers in public places, I got up from the comfortable banquette and walked over. As I managed to unfreeze my angry brain all I could say was, "I love your books," which is true. I walked away feeling defeated, hurt and cowardly. What had happened?  I have faced down antisemitism often in my writing life, and in person, too, but the encounter always sets my heart pounding.


My friend consoled me, we paid the bill, and left Ford to savor his solitary lunch.


A few years later Colson Whitehead took Ford on at a literary party. Whitehead had written a bad review of Ford's recent collection of short stories and Ford was so upset that he told Whitehead that he was just a kid and should "grow up." Ford then proceeded to spit at him. So, I thought, I was right about Ford; he's a racist and Colson Whitehead is a mensch. He made light of it, and even cracked a joke as Ford was seething. Ford was warned by friends to cool it, that he'd never live down what had happened that day—a white writer from Mississippi spitting at a Black literary star is a trope in itself. Indeed, the incident has become a literary cause célèbre. The time has passed to give even well-known literary racists, albeit brilliant writers, a pass.


Post a comment

Are You a Bot?

A book of novellas by yours truly is fully copyright protected. If the AI companies want to scrape the text, they'll have to pay me a fee. The cover is © copyright Peggy Weis who would also require payment and credit.


Dialogue from 2001 Space Odyssey, 1968 (Based on a 1951 short story, "The Sentinel," by Arthur C. Clarke) :


Interviewer: HAL, despite your enormous intellect, are you ever frustrated by your dependence on people to carry out your actions?


HAL: Not in the slightest bit. I enjoy working with people. I have a stimulating relationship with Dr. Poole and Dr. Bowman. My mission responsibilities range over the entire operation of the ship so I am constantly occupied. I am putting myself to the fullest possible use which is all, I think, that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.





Once upon a time, not that long ago, I would make a phone call to Verizon, say, or Spectrum, or any other company, and chat to a live person about a discrepancy in my bill, get it "sorted," as my British friends say, wish the person a good day, and breathe a sigh. But person-person contact is mostly over. This week it hit me hard, partially because of the strikes in Hollywood, more later. But also because I called Verizon, and received a link to a "chat on text" opportunity. Yes, dear reader, an opportunity. The entity—what else to call it—kept texting, as follows:


 "I understand."

 "Are you a live person?" I asked.

 "Yes, I am a live person."

 "If you are live person, why do you sound like a bot?"

"I understand."


This conversation was almost as entertaining as the one between HAL and Mission Control in 2001 Space Odyssey.


Artificial Intelligence. Now I get it. Sci Fi predicted this just as Cli Fi predicted our climate changed summer. But there is more : the theft/scraping of  copyrighted work, and the threat to the livelihood of writers, film-makers, artists and musicians. My husband is a long-standing member of the WGA, the strongest writers' union in the country, and I am a long-standing member of the Authors Guild and PEN America. In this household, we #standwiththeWGA in its strike action which, if successful or unsuccessful, will have a ripple effect on every creative professional in the years and decades to come.


Even if you do not share my union politics, dear reader, at the very least consider the toxic effects of dehumanization because this is what the abuse of AI implies, for all of us. However artistically rendered, AI generated characters, images, melodies, dialogue and chats are usually stilted and barren. Undoubtedly, the technology will improve, as it always does, more reason to stay ethically grounded and examine what it can and cannot do, and what it must not ever do. Just imagine a future where all humans begin to sound and act like bots until no one can tell the difference. 


My husband and I shifted our mobile carrier from Verizon to Spectrum. It was, primarily, a financial decision, but all-told, our local Spectrum office is friendlier. We spent more than two hours with Eric and Dionne, kind and patient people, who asked the computer questions about the process, which was complicated and arduous, albeit a mostly human endeavor. The machines surrounding us that day—screens and phones and WiFi routers—were tools, and nothing more.


Post a comment

One Small Thing We Can Do

Shabazz Jackson upgrading the Reformed Church Community Garden compost pile. Photo © copyright Carol Bergman 2023


As we work to heal the earth, the earth heals us.

-Robin Wall Kimmerer, "Braiding Sweetgrass; Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants"



I encountered Shabazz Jackson at my favorite compost pile next to the Reformed Church Community Garden on Huguenot Street in New Paltz, NY where I have been casually dumping my scraps for about five years. In a volunteer partnership with the garden's Caring for Creation Committee, Shabazz is making use of their built infrastructure to educate the neighborhood and gather data on how much food waste households generate in Ulster County. His tools are a shovel, a wheelbarrow, an easy-to-construct ecology box—more later—and his degrees in economics, biology and chemistry. I took note of the logo on his truck—GREENWAY—watched him working for a while, then momentarily felt embarrassed by my innocent questioning when I realized this guy is an experienced professional and a teacher, well known in the county as "the compost guy."  Born in Beacon and raised at his grandfather's knee in a vast wilderness which has now been swallowed by Hudson Highlands Park, the dirt under Shabazz's fingernails is legacy. So, too, his business acumen. Knowing that as a Black family they'd never get a bank loan in 1960, the Jacksons pooled their money to buy the property and held onto it all through Shabazz's childhood, resisting Governor Rockefeller's offer to buy it for his planned donation to the state for the park. "We were sitting on the porch together the day a black limousine pulled up to the house and though I was only ten-years-old, my Grandpa sent me down the stairs to find out what "they" wanted."


"They want to buy the house," Shabazz reported.


"Tell them that if Governor Rockefeller comes here personally, I will sell it to him," his grandfather said.


Rockefeller never showed.


"Big story there," I said to Shabazz. "Time to write your memoir."


We were talking on the telephone on a rainy, flood threatening climate catastrophe Sunday. "You do not need to be re-educated, just re-trained," he assured me. "Those food scraps you have been dumping on an open pile are a health hazard. They attract flies, rats and bears."  And there is an essential intermediate step we have been missing—odor control, known as OCB. It's a mixture of food waste compost and kiln dried hardwood shavings designed by Shabazz and his business and life partner, Josephine Papagni, to absorb the moisture and the sulfur produced during decomposition. The result is Zero Waste, which should be everyone's household goal, whether we have gardens or use communal compost piles.  


No more dump and run, I thought to myself:


Step 1: Open the covered ground-level ecology box

Step 2: Dump food scraps out of my counter-top compost pail

Step 3: Cover the food scraps with odor control mixture from the pile next to the box

Step 4: Close the ecology box, walk away with my empty reusable compost pail

Step 5: Begin again


According to the International Zero Waste Alliance, whatever is re-cycled and does not go into the landfill will contribute to climate change harm reduction. The cumulative effect of each person's effort is worthwhile, however imperfect or minimal it may seem as we are doing it. Composting is one small effort; there are many others. (Check out the Zero Waste Hierarchy on the International Alliance's website: https://zwia.org/  )


Shabazz considers the Huguenot Street site a pilot education project and is eager for its users to take a (free) workshop. Give him a call @ 845 656- 6070 when you are in the Mid-Hudson Valley and he'll meet you wherever you are, or contact him on his website: https://www.greenwayny.com/home.html

Post a comment

The Enduring Joy of Books

Cincinnati, 1928. Before local libraries, there were bookmobiles. 


Our father used to tell us stories about a bookworm named Wally. Wally, a squiggly little vermicule with a red baseball cap, didn't merely like books. He ate them.

-Anne Fadiman, "Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader"



I thought I heard the young mother say, "Do you want a snack?" Her tattooed arms were loaded with books, her three children ranging in age from 6 to 13 or so, were restive, disobedient. Their mother was trying to distract them with promises of a snack, was that it? No, she'd said, "Do you want a smack?" I was a volunteer and decided to intervene, for the sake of the overwhelmed mom and the children. It was a rainy day, good for attendance the Gardiner Library Director, Nicole Lane, had told me when I arrived. She was right. The crowd was thick and included many children. And now this mom needed some help, so I helped by chatting up her adorable kids, and asking them lots of questions while their mom browsed more books. Hundreds were laid out neatly on tables in the community room for the annual book fair of the library, just down the road from me. I had taught a Haiku class there recently, admire the library's vitality as a community center and its devoted staff, and volunteered for a three-hour stint at the fair. Nicole instructed me on my responsibilities: straighten books on the tables, fill in spaces with boxed books under the tables, and answer questions, such as "Where are the children's books? Or "Where are the reference books?"


I tucked away my backpack and rain gear in a corner, thinking, well, I'll pile the books I want right here, then turned around and stood at attention for a few moments. Book lovers must have felt the vibe of my abiding interest in them and the books they had chosen. Many appeared in front of me like old friends continuing a conversation about the thrill of their finds. Men, women, small children, babies, all of them readers or readers in training. One dad had his baby in a sling and was bouncing her gently as he moved methodically from table to table. "That baby is already a reader," I said as I followed him. But he was too immersed in a book he'd picked up to answer me. Sometimes, when the din of the happy running around kids subsided, the room hushed in concentration and a palpable reverence.


I was a writer in a roomful of readers of all ages. I tried to pay attention to everyone's comments, so that I might be able to make use of them in my work, if that is possible. Is it possible?  Probably not, but I enjoyed the conversations and I conducted informal surveys: "Do you also read electronically?" Just about everyone does, it seems. As do I. But all agreed: somehow it's not the same. These beautiful recycling books, bound and tactile, are so inviting, I thought.


I spotted four books I had donated and decided I missed them too much, I would buy them back. Thou shall not covet, I said to myself. During a culling before my most recent move, I promised myself and my husband I would only keep books I thought I'd reread—eventually—or needed for a project. Nice try.


What is it about these sacred objects? Well, that's just it, they are sacred to me. As a writer I understand the effort it takes to create a book, to make it work on the page. When it works, I want to own it as inspiration.  I hope some readers feel the same about the words I have written. I suppose that is the goal in the end: to write something beyond the ephemeral that touches and engages the reader.


Twice during my three hour volunteer stint, a woman talked to me excitedly about the plot of a much-loved novel she had re-discovered amidst all the treasures.  I listened attentively. The plots weren't of great interest to me, but no matter. The  held physical book had become a bond between strangers, a talisman, one of many that found new homes that day.


If you are local, please join me for a banned book club  I will be facilitating at the Gardiner Library in the fall. The schedule will be announced in their newsletter.



Post a comment

Bombs Away

Daniel Ellsberg © cooyright Michael Gold 1971 for the New York Times, with permission. His son Robert was my editor on "Another Day in Paradise; International Humanitarian Workers Tell Their Stories." Robert reports that this is one of the few photos of his father smiling.

Vietnam was a country where America was trying to make people stop being communists by dropping things on them from airplanes.


-Kurt Vonnegut


Sound familiar? Can we transpose this sentence to read: Ukraine is a country where Russia is trying to make people stop being Ukrainian by dropping things on them from airplanes. Except that the Russian military and their mercenaries are using missiles and scorched earth tactics as they did in Chechnya.


War. When will it ever end?


George Kovach (1947-2020) served as a combat infantryman in Vietnam where he was awarded a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars for Valor. Like many soldiers who have experienced brutal combat, and been trained to kill against his nature, he suffered from PTSD. He married, went into real estate, raised children, and found that his debilitating symptoms were eased when he returned to literature, which he had always loved, and when he was writing. After earning his MA and then MFA in Creative Writing at UMass Boston, he launched Consequence Magazine, an award-winning literary journal addressing the culture and consequences of war through poetry, prose and visual art. He eventually returned to Vietnam to meet other writers who had fought in the same war, as enemies. Let us hope that Russian and Ukrainian writers who are fighting today will once again share their work at a PEN America gathering, among many other venues:




I have worked with humanitarian relief workers and combat veterans over the years as a writing mentor and can attest to the healing power of témoignage, as the French call it. It means testimony, or witnessing, and it is powerful.


To contemplate the consequences and impacts of a war in the midst of a war is difficult, if not impossible, especially when one nation—Russia in this case—is  the obvious aggressor. Clarification only arrives after a ceasefire and later when truth and reconciliation commissions have done their work, or the International Criminal Court in The Hague has prosecuted documented atrocities. This process takes decades. In the meantime, the artistic community—journalists , writers, dramatists, visual artists—can  begin to sift the events, and their experiences, as they create work that attempts to explain, and to heal.


Consequence Forum is an online offshoot, or continuation, of Kovach's original literary magazine. I found it by chance as I was trying to place this essay about America's first lockdown drills:




I invite you to browse the Forum's mission statement, offerings, submission requirements and conversation. Their editorial standards are high, they are responsive, they have a small budget, and, most importantly, they are dedicated to working for world peace.


This post is dedicated to the memory of Daniel Ellsberg.

Be the first to comment