Wordsanctuary Revisited

Musings of a writer-teacher-counselor.

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Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

I am inquisitive and have worked in writing, editing, and teaching. I am a citizen of the USA and also concerned about the world. This is an addendum to my original blog, Wordsanctuary. That's at www.wordsanctuary.blogspot.com Please check out my column at www.insidehighered.com, "A Kinder Campus." Click on Career Advice to find it. Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Sprite of Technology

If you ask me—the Sprite, I mean Spirit of Technology—I’m much like a Gentry, I mean Genie that does all kinds of tricks once unleashed from the bottle--or unpacked from the steel-stapled, bulky box of knuckle-busting Styrofoam and popcorn-styrene beads that scatter on the floor and stick to your fingers like some new type of Cleveland snow. I’m swift, I’m crafty, I’m nimble, I’m edgy, I’m unpredictable. I’m mischievous enough that…when I sense someone panicking at the user’s end…I get …shall we say…feisty? Prone to playing practical jokes? I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself.

Remember, for old time’s sake, the three “lll’s” you didn’t type in the word “colllege” in the cover letter for that job you really wanted? That was me at my best! Ha! You don’t want to work anywhere where they lack a sense of humor, do you? And the missing “o” in “proofreader”? "Profreader?" Rumor has it that you teach in a college. Do you suppose that word is a Freudian slap? I mean slip? That silly mistake was your own hasty fault. You didn’t bother to use the spellcheck feature. I admit that Mr. Spell Check is drab and tedious…doesn’t grasp anything “outside the box” (maybe because he lives in it) and plays entirely by the rules, even if they don’t make sense. ("The rules of technology" he certainly imbibed from the day he was conceived in the mind of that engineering student that couldn't spelll....) Once your fingers start step dancing on the keyboard, you know that your extaordinary mind won't miss a beat. Right?

Incidentally: Spell Check picked up some sorry habits along the way. He's lateral. I'm sorry, I meant to say: literal. Lean in and please don't tell anyone I told you: He color codes his tiny socks, all black and pure cotton, by day of the week. He won’t play trucks, I mean tricks…doesn’t know how!

Now, I bet you’re thinking of the time your resume wouldn’t print, period? You know: Not print even a period? That wasn’t me at all. And don't blame Spell Check. That was The Trusty Printer, whose warranty had just expired two days before. Like clockwork. T.T.P. goes right by the book. (Remember books?) A whole crew works on her to make sure that she doesn’t spurt one iota of extra of ink or powder (I mean power) or modify her even, modulated, predictable, whirring sound that's positively hypnogogic. I mean hypnotic. That is, until the warranty is up. What you might hear then sounds a lot like a cornered rabbit. Or--could it be that those sounds coming from you? Why moan? Two days past warranty is pretty good! Dial 1-800-BUY-MORE. You don’t think that innovations like cut-and-paste and click and instant reboot (sorry, rebate) come without a prize? (I meant to say: price.)

Whenever you get too cozy and assume you’ve finally figured me out, some engineer has already mutated my microchips, rewired my quarks, and rekindled my sparks. The less of me you actually see, the more you’ll be surprised. I promise. Who knows? Maybe, I’ll soon be living under your fingernails, recording every thought you didn’t utter. If you trim them, you’ll leave a trail…

C’mon—don’t be sacred. Let’s go typing!
Center Photo: The Spirit of Technology expressed itself long ago in Maria's genuine Walking Doll, whose hip screws predicted a future orthopedic convention. Maria spent the first two years of her life in pajamas, leading to a lifelong love of cotton, pastels, and elastic waist bands. Left and Right Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with a little help from Spirit of Technology (right).

Friday, December 28, 2007

Writers Circle Resumes in 2008


Where? Ethel A's house. Contact Maria's home or cell phone (or email her) for address and day/time. Curbside parking available. Wear steady boots in case of snow or ice.

Who? Aspiring writers of all levels of experience and interest.

When? Starting Friday, Jan. 4. 1:00-2:30 p.m.

How much? $35 for six sessions, a bargain in Cleveland's writing community.

Genres? All welcome. The mixture of voices and types of writing works well.
We have had participants interested in just about everything: essays, memoirs, poetry, opinion editorials, children's books, plays....we stretch with the group's motivation and inclination.

All welcome? Well, almost. Please don't come if you don't want to learn from others and prefer a cut-throat writing group.

See You and Your Muse Soon!
Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

You Go, Girl! (New Children's Book)

Loretta Magden's The Treetop Bird Family is available now and had a fine write-up in The Cleveland Jewish News. You don't have to be a parent, or a birdwatcher, or even a lover of children's books to enjoy this charming, beautifully conceived, well-crafted book. I loved it from the moment I handled it...the layout and design are as good as the story, and you may feel that you have crawled into the bird's nest yourself. A treat at the end of the book is the recipes.

It has been my pleasure and privilege to have Loretta as a writing student in my classes for years. She is lyrical, funny, wildly creative, sweet, and gets to the heart of the matter--in writing and in life.

Here's the Jewish News write-up:
And here's a link to Amazon, if you'd rather purchase that way.

Loretta has a talent that is expressed in on-the-spot improvisation as well as more polished writing.

She is an inspiration to us all.

Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Sialia currucoides (Mountain bluebird)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A House Mouse Speaks

She’s boiling mint in the kitchen now. And burning incense! Phew. A paper-towel roll covered with foil is now in the gap between stove and wall. I looked at my own reflection. Or was it someone else’s? A fine specimen.

I admit that I was too bold that morning, enticed by the smell of peanuts left in an open can in the living room. Though I had been scratching for weeks, that nutty scent compelled me to gnaw through an entire wall in one night.

They don’t call me Mus musculus for nothing. My nose guided me. I was in “gnawers’ high” when I stood on the stove and stretched to my full two-and-a-half inches (not including tail). What were the odds that she would walk in at that moment?

I stood still. My white belly bulged. I'm proud of that; it's testimony to my skill at finding snacks. “Eat, drink, and be married” is my motto. My fur is glossy brown, with a sprinkling of sawdust and a few distinguished strands of gray. She looked at me. At first I thought I could make her run. My eyes are quite compelling, I've been told by several ladies. And I can usually get my fellow males to take off with my "look that kills."

But in that split second when I read her mind, I took it as a cue. She thinks I’m disgusting!

Well, I've rarely been so insulted, so I leapt behind the stove and dove down the stairs. One never knows what people might do if they panic. And anyway, my ego was bruised.

Disgusting? Me? Sure, I carry a bit of salmonella. Nobody’s perfect. Some day they will find out that protects me from worse things. I mean no harm at all. And if they don't want me here, will they stop making it so easy for me to get in (assorted gaps in the outside bricks and a virtual crater underneath the porch)? I have to laugh when I hear about those studies of mice running mazes. In this house, there are five ways in and ten ways out. Any mouse who misses this chance is a fool.

She turned off the coffee machine, and I prepared myself for new smells from the Big Box. I can’t pronounce refrigerator, but I know what’s inside. She prepares breakfast daily for her mother. Toast, a donut, yogurt, cereal--once a cheese sandwich! My plan today was to nibble on the table, then proceed to the peanut-room. Or maybe climb to the top shelf; I smell rice and I suspect it's in one of those little boxes with the easy-open lid. You know the kind; humans lift it with their fingernail, and my nose works just fine. Barely lost a whisker doing that in the past.

But she changed her routine. Left without even a handful of cereal strewn about. I suspected she was up to something. An hour later, she came back, wiping the stove with bleach. Phew! That stuff is not at all appetizing. And I heard her talking to her mother about me, and dashing into the other room with a bag of pancakes that she foraged from somewhere else.Her mother is the kind lady in flannel nightgowns who has a sweet voice and sometimes drops special crumbs for me. A real doll. Call me a dreamer; I wondered for a moment if they might be planning to feed my family. Pancakes aren't our favorite and no one needs to make a fuss and clean the stove for us. We prefer it a little gummy and with the delightful bouquet of mixed pastries and soups.

Maybe it was some kind of new holiday: National Feed Your House Mouse Day?

But then I heard words that chilled me to the bone. “Exterminator.” “Trap.” Then I heard: “No poison." Calming myself, I took a few deep breaths and fell into deep slumber.

I dreamt of smells and noises. Nightmares, really. I woke up to the odor of a cat! Where did that come from? Rumor has it that cats wouldn’t have been domesticated, except for the likes of me. And what do they do to show their gratitude? They chase us, toss us, and stink up the basement with their litter box. This particular cat hissed and refused to eat while on watch. Chill out! It paced all night. I am tricky. I've left my scent everywhere...that's part of my allure...but so far, it's just me and Minnie.

Then, I heard more rustling. They blocked the opening between the refrigerator and dishwasher with steel wool. Ouch! And they put out boxes with peanut butter! Don't think I'll fall for that. My cousin Gus went into one of those and was never heard from again.

And now I'm absolutely certain that it's a conspiracy: a high-pitched noise begins to penetrate the walls. It makes my fur stand on end. I get it: No poison means slow torture. I’m so irritable, I start to nibble on the wires. My father taught me this, but warned me that you can’t go too far. Just gently graze the rubber surface with your front teeth…

I won't budge. This is my house. Well, sort of. Come to think of it, not exactly...

My girlfriend wants out now. She wants to settle down, start a family. She says it’s her--or this house. I tell her that we might be here long after humans and cats are gone.

She tells me to stop musing and get moving.

Pictured: Zapus hudsonius preblei (Prebles Meadow Jumping Mouse) is a relative of Mus Musculus (who is also known as Mus domesticus).
Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Image Library.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Why I'm Back

During the months when I was indulging myself on the original Wordsanctuary blog (the predecessor to this one), my lightning-fast fingers happily danced on the keyboard, and I also became fairly adept at borrowing pictures from the stunning collection of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Life and work intervened, and my blogging bent was abandoned. Then, in the wee hours of Christmas morning, wanting to chat with Santa as he stopped at our house, I instead became sucked back into cyberspace by inspiration as powerful as that little angular attachment on the vacuum cleaner. From out of the corners, the cobwebs. From out of exhaustion, rekindled hope. One minute, I'm weeping at my sink (having been overwrought at watching The Nutcracker and admiring the grace and art of the performers, but also remembering that I used to dance before my auto accident altered my range of motion and strength. Then I tried to express this to my son, which he took as self-pity, but that wasn't really the point. I was trying to express that art, music, dance, theater, writing, have always been important to me--and even if I have not achieved distinction, I have supported others who have certainly become adept in their craft. And in my life, too, have been people whose friendships kept me aloft in trying times. My cherished friend Brigitte (a Unitarian and a Sufi) died last year. I had written a tribute to her, hoping to publish the piece in UU World. I tried, and I respect the editors' right to say no. Months ago, I intended to post it to the original Wordsanctuary. Delays. A trip to England to pursue Holocaust memories. Family history searching. Loads of work. Debt. Disappointment. At the sink one set of thoughts led to another; I soon was wrung dry of tears, had filed away the dishes, and found myself in the deep end of the cyberspace pool (which is risky, as I don't swim much). My piece on Brigitte's impact on me is finally here in a new blog. A funny piece about my battles with technology has found its way here, too. No patience to try to market my zany humor or my deep thoughts at the moment. My fingers don't fly as fast; I've graded too much student writing to have precise syntax and fluent rhythms; my designs are in my head but not quite emerging perfectly. Perfect writing? No. But at least present.

Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


I was heartened to find that a recent issue of Cleveland Magazine included a well-written KSU Magazine article detailing the work of a traumatologist concerned about the Middle East. Decisions on public policy might take into account trauma--and its multigenerational legacy--whether due to natural disaster, war, crime, or other factors. I lived for seventeen brief years with my father, a Holocaust survivor. I absorbed a wide range of emotions from him--including the ability to joke in multiple languages. Though he was traumatized and saw images of hell I cannot imagine--and lost through genocide his wife Silvia, mother Sura Rojsa, father Jacob, daughter Eugenia ("Jenny"), sister (Cilla), nieces and nephews under the age of ten (Maxy, Gitla, Bella, Meyer, Abram, Isak) and older (Moritz, Ben, Milly)...and his brother (Leo) who disappeared somewhere after the war...and countless cousins in Germany, Poland, and France whom I cannot name...my father had a creative mind, a fine singing voice, and intelligence that could not fully flower in the U.S. due to trauma and language limits. But he provided for us and kept us clothed and fed. He had studied medicine in Germany before the war and moved into textile study and business due to an eye injury.

The story of my father's life is yet to be written, but my sister has begun (from her perspective):


Memoir, Memory, Mentors

"All emotions are pure which gather you and lift you up; that emotion is impure which seizes only one side of your being and so distorts you."

--Rainer Maria Rilke
Today, over lunch at Claddagh's Irish Pub, we caught up with a friend from Columbus who is an avid reader. I told him about Joe Mackall's recent book Plain Secrets (Beacon 2007), which I devoured during the grading of research essays as a reward. Joe wrote about a particular group of Amish--Swartzentruber Amish--and his friendship with a family living near him. The fact that he built the friendship is as amazing to me as the actual book, which is a finely polished gem.
Joe was a fellow student in a few classes when I was an undergraduate at CSU many moons ago; it was good to read his work recently and learn of his success.
His wife Dandi is a prolific children's book author; according to her website, she has published over 400 books; she must have great energy and stamina.
Another book by Joe, The Last Street Before Cleveland: An Accidental Pilgrimage (U of Nebraska P, 2006), is his spiritual autobiography I would say...and I read that in one curious gulp before moving on to Plain Secrets. At least a few folks would agree with me that it's a book revealing great vulnerability, regrets, gratitude, and an unexpected awakening:
I do not tire of memoirs, especially those by people I have known even a bit. I have several drawers and folders full of my own spiritual memoirs and thoughts. Whether I will ever put that particular jigsaw puzzle of words together, I don't know. But at least I have tried to probe and explore and have had some fine, sensitive spiritual advisors along the way...from Jewish, Unitarian, Buddhist, Catholic, Unity Church, and other traditions...
One of the most satisfying pieces of my professional life has been fostering, observing, admiring the growth of memoir writers...first through OASIS which folded due to Cleveland Clinic cutbacks (they were one of our valued sponsors), and then our spin-off group, Writers' Circle, which has flourished and blossomed but is currently hibernating.
The picture of me on this blog was taken when we met at Mayfield library...one of our varied meeting places. (Look closely: You can see my son's sneaker-covered foot peeking out near the elbow of my left arm...the right one on the picture.) We met at Kaufmann's, an occasional coffee house when others at Kaufmann's were conducting healthy adventures, such as frying fish, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Beachwood Family Health Center, South Euclid-Lyndhurst Library, University Heights library, Barnes and Noble Bookstore, Joseph-Beth Bookstore, Workmen's Circle, my back porch...a now-defunct coffee house...too bad I was so busy teaching and motivating, I did not take copious notes of the incredible creative processes I observed. No matter.
With writers of varied personalities and genres, it never got dull.
I miss Fran and Miriam and Paula (read some recollections at http://wordsanctuary.blogspot.com/2005_06_01_archive.html) and Florence and Sanford and Olive and Betty and Bill and Harriet and Shirley, and others who have died...They were vibrant, inspiring, and courageous writers. Although I was technically their teacher, the reality is: We were a community of writers, learning from and supporting one another. Family health issues in Fall 2007 led to my putting Writers' Circle on hold for a while. Perhaps we will rekindle the ongoing experiment some time.
The work of some members of the group is in Cleveland's Bicentennial-Tricentennial Time Capsule to be opened, Universe willing, in 2096. It was compiled into a chapbook called Beauty in Youth and Age, featuring senior writers and high school students. Only one or two "collectors' items" are left. It was an honor to facilitate that group and arrange the manuscript...I credit Lauren Feiglin for her faith in the project and her confidence in me as a teacher. She was the type of mentor who stood in the wings and said: "good job"..."what do you need"...and had remarkable creative gifts herself.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Wishing all my readers and friends a blessed Christmas, a peaceful Solstice, a belated Happy Chanukah, and a Happy New Year. If I have omitted your tradition (or you have none), wishing you goodwill, good health, and good fortune.

Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A Community Minister Remembered


Conceive the Soul as a fountain,
And these created things as rivers:
While the Fountain flows, the rivers run from it.

Put grief out of your mind,
And drink of this River-water.
Do not think of the Water failing—

For this Water is without end.


Her favorite flower was the purple iris, her eyes as blue as cloudless sky. Her hair was gold as sunbeams, her voice soothing as a breeze. Her heart embraced family and friends; her spirit soared across mountains and oceans. Brigitte Brunhart, who died on September 28, 2006, was a community minister and a cherished friend.

I met Brigitte at a lay ministers’ training program she helped design and implement at First Unitarian Church in Shaker Heights, Ohio, in the 1990s. I was a trainee in the program and a new UU. Though we both eventually shifted our memberships elsewhere—Brigitte selected East Shore Unitarian Universalist Church in Kirtland, Ohio, and I joined Church of the Larger Fellowship and other spiritual organizations—our friendship remained intact.

From the outset, I was struck by Brigitte’s passion for life and desire to serve others. The program she spearheaded at First Church still influences me—whenever I need to reach out to someone struggling, particularly someone I don’t know well. Beyond being adept in the art of service, Brigitte herself possessed what can be best described as a healing presence—with all the mystery and kindness that phrase suggests. She could listen intently; she could speak up courageously.

Brigitte and her husband John McBratney adopted two children, Kumar and Indra, from Nepal, demonstrating that love indeed encircles the globe to those receptive to it. My son and I admire the vision to create family in this way. We remember our too-infrequent play dates and one day, in particular, when Brigitte and Kumar arrived at our home with armloads of gently worn T-shirts. My son, an only child, was in a phase of wearing only cotton shirts with animal prints on them—and this replenished our supply.

Combining motherhood with service to others beyond our immediate circle was a quest Brigitte understood. We spoke freely about striving to attain that delicate balance. One night, she suggested that we steal away to hear the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Music Center, some distance from our homes. She was willing to drive—if I would pack a picnic basket. It was one of the few performances I heard in my stressful years as mom of a preschooler with asthma and as a teacher.

My parents were immigrants from postwar Europe. Brigitte was originally from Lichtenstein. She was fluent in German and French, and I have smatterings of both. Thus, we could talk a bit in other languages; she had the grace to overlook my faulty grammar. Friendship, after all, is not so much about the words—but rather, the delicate threads of thought and emotion linking mind and heart. Her handwriting and needlepoint, precise and graceful, showed her ability to create beauty in even the smallest space.

Serious illness in Brigitte’s final years and an auto accident in my life rerouted much of our own energy into quests for personal healing. She understood firsthand the frustration of being restricted by health concerns. She traveled to Colorado and back to Ohio several times, seeking traditional and complementary treatment. We re-connected when we could, and I valued each conversation. Her depth of understanding was forged decades before, when she had first faced and overcome a life-threatening illness. At that time, as a student of comparative literature, she shifted her studies to massage and the related healing arts to help others.

On my birthday a few years ago, I encountered Brigitte in a parking lot by chance. I burst into tears, overwhelmed by my own lengthy rehabilitation and a legal case. She was not only a comfort; her conviction helped me persevere.

All healing paths are finite. Brigitte had done hospice work and was not afraid to discuss death and the process of letting go. I once revealed to her anguish as a relative faced an operation of unknown outcome. There were few people that I felt could understand. She reassured me that most of the people she had supported in their final weeks of life made peace with who they were, with what they had done and left undone. I have relied on this insight many times, and it has eased the pain of losing dear relatives and friends.

The last time I saw Brigitte, she spoke with her eyes. She winked. She smiled. I gave her flowers to symbolize her strength and beauty and a silky toy rabbit, her gentleness--suspecting it was our last visit, but hoping to be wrong. The weekend of her memorial service, my mother was very ill; I knew I’d have to delay saying goodbye to Brigitte.

I have decided to defer saying goodbye indefinitely. My memory of her as a minister of compassion will always fill my heart.

Photo Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


These charming songs are well-done in print and actually sung at: