Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sirens over Tel Aviv

This is the Tel Aviv building where we are currently staying on the top floor - the penthouse is set back so you can't see it from the street, plus it's rather small. As an architecture aficionado, I thought it would be cool to live in a Bauhaus building, but that also means as an older building it has no bomb shelter. When sirens sound, we huddle in the stairwell with our neighbors, a stairwell that, as you can see, features a column of class windowswhich is not exactly explosion-friendly either.

I was going to continue with my Manaus journal, but alas, with air raid sirens howling on a daily basis while I am in Tel Aviv, life has become absorbing in other ways!

In fact, Tablet Magazine has just published my eye witness report: An American Mother Visits Israel on a Mission. Mosey on over there because this Tel Aviv visit is a mighty odd convergence of choice and purpose for me.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Manaus Journal (1) - Terrific Games, Horrific Travel

A snippet of what it was like to be in the stadium
during a World Cup game
I had the good fortune to travel with two of my children to attend two Group Stage World Cup games in Manaus, Brazil. We were joined by friends there who were coming from other parts of the U.S. Overall, it was a great trip. Sadly, however, our trip was bookended by travel nightmares, the likes of which make a good story in hindsight, but had my body spewing adrenaline the entire time I was dealing with a five-hour delay that caused us to miss the one daily flight from Miami to Manaus, spending the night in a hotel on American Airlines' dime without our luggage (from now on a t-shirt and fresh underwear are traveling in my carry-on), worrying whether we'd make it standby on the one flight the next day because of course everything was booked due to the World Cup (we did, but only because a massive thunderstorm delayed other passengers), and, on the way back, a cancelled reservation and another unplanned night in a hotel, this time in Manaus, with our luggage, again on AA's dime.

American Airlines put us up at the Tropical, which is apparently where
all airline personnel spend the night in Manaus (We met a nice
Brazilian pilot at breakfast the next day.). Nevertheless, my daughter
got nasty bites there from what we assume must have been bed bugs.
As I look back on that week of traveling to Brazil to the World Cup, I have a hard time separating the air travel disaster from the otherwise thrilling adventure of experiencing the Amazonian rain forest and being in a stadium during a World Cup game. So I think I will run a few "Manaus Journal" posts to share my adventure and to sort it out myself, and hopefully recapture some of the magic of my first foray south of the equator.

Ah! The glory of airline travel! Especially when you are stuck spending
11 hours in a utilitarian airport like the one in Manaus. At least, it was
still all about "futbol" - here waiting passengers are watching
the Germany - U.S. game in the check-in hall.
The Manaus airport redeemed itself somewhat when we discovered
the fan zone on the lower level with fake lawn and fake palm trees
and a bunch of futons to relax on, and charging stations for our
phones, and, of course, large TV screens to follow the games.

We were lucky that the first game we got tickets for was the U.S. versus Portugal (when we applied for the tickets the game schedule wasn't released yet), and so we actually got to cheer for Team USA. The video above was taken by my daughter who had no idea that she was about to capture the first U.S. goal, so her jumping up and our happy screaming are included. Here's to more exhilaration and joy in traveling!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Glen Finland on the Power of Storytelling

Meeting other formidable writers is one of the great benefits of attending a writers residency. And so, last January, I had the great fortune of meeting Glen Finland during my residency at the VCCA. She is the author of the memoir Next Stop about what happens when an autistic son grows up.

We first met over breakfast, and afterwards I went up to my room to get ready for the day and I Googled her as I had really bad Internet connection in my studio. Up popped her essay "Doors Opening" about spending a summer teaching her 21-year-old autistic son how to navigate the Washington, D.C., metro system, published in the Washington Post. It was so captivating that I read that essay right then and there, sitting on my bed, the laptop propped up on my thighs. "Doors Opening" formed the nucleus for her subsequent memoir, Next Stop, and it is indicative of how the whole book is written: swiftly, deftly, the reader gets pulled into the story of this family and this boy, a story that is poignant, heartbreaking, and often viciously funny.

In March, Glen was gracious enough to do a Q&A with my memoir students at StoryStudio Chicago, and out of that conversation grew my interview with her, published in the Washington Independent Review of Books. One point that Glen makes that I particularly liked was on why it is so important that we tell our stories:

"From childhood, we understand ourselves and our identities through the stories that we are told. In the book, I say that I am not a doctor, and I’m not a researcher, but I am a mother, and I can tell you stories. I believe that when we hear stories over and over again about the “other,” namely other kinds of people, and those stories are mainly negative, then we start to believe them. So if you have an opportunity to do something important for someone you love, such as tell a story, then you have the responsibility to do it. In my case and that of other parents of children with autism, our stories are about as close as other people will come to ever understanding autism."

Read the rest of my interview with Glen Finland here.