ellenkushner: (EK/DS wedding band)

Because of a bad headcold, I've had less time and brainspace this year than I would have liked to meditate on what I need to repair in myself, my community, my world. It's something I really like to do during the High Holy Days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and is part of the traditional Jewish ritual calendar.  I've written about it here, with some links.

Tonight begins the final 24 hours of our opportunity to dig deep and come out the other side.  We've had 10 days of thinking & talking - now comes the hard stuff, the pure physical endurance of the 24-hour Yom Kippur fast. Can't get too profound then, so seizing my last chance to say something.

I'm going to let Debbie Notkin do it for me.  She's a dear friend of many, many years. You may know her on LJ as [personal profile] wild_irises . Or as one of the amazing women behind the longrunning feminist SF/F convention Wiscon - where, this past year (2012), she was honored as Guest of Honor.  And so had to make a speech.

Debbie's speech made me weep with love - and with the opening up of heart and intellect that a good sermon gives. There was something rabbinical in it - especially since at points what she addressed was weirdly close to the great scholar Maimonides' discussion of "the Ladder of Tzedakah (Charity)," as they called it at Park Synagogue Sunday School - here well-presented as "Eight Levels of Giving."

Which is also apposite for the High Holidays, a traditional time to give help to those in need - as it felt right to me to be spreading the word about a friend who was forced to ask for help from the community this month.  I know it was hard for her to ask . . . And Debbie's GoH Speech addresses that, too.

Here it is, from the Wiscon website.  In typical Debbie fashion, it opens recognizing the occasion, the moment, and everyone in the room; on page 2 it kicks into the universal. I hope you get the chance to read it.  
If you don't want to click through & read the entire thing, here are some bits I particularly want you to see:

Generosity, like anything important, is more complicated than it sounds. ....

[A]ccepting requires its own very particular generosity of heart and mind. I’m not talking here about gratitude or even politeness—we’ll get to that—but simply the choice to accept. Whether you accept generosity easily or (for any number of reasons) you have trouble being on the receiving end, accepting what’s offered is an active choice. 

Debbie talked about giving money, giving time, giving attention.  And then she said:

If all these complications are part of the giving side of generosity, how complicated is taking? ....

Some people take easily; either they are good at asking for what they need and want, or they are good at getting it without asking. I admire them; when being good at taking is done with awareness, it’s a beautiful skill. It makes the givers happy, it makes the takers happy, and balance is maintained. Some people who are good at taking are also extraordinary givers, probably because they’re getting the nutrition they need to keep giving.

For other people, taking is a challenge.  

I find it useful to think of asking and taking as learnable skills, valuable skills, rather than either a character trait I was just born or raised without, or a reflection of weakness. In fact, taking is something we’re all likely to need skill at, and doing it makes us stronger. ....

Giving with a main motive of being paid in gratitude is problematic. Let’s face it, gratitude is lovely. I appreciate it when I get it. But I try not to make it a condition of the gift (especially not one of those internal secret conditions that I never tell the other person about and get grumpy when they don’t follow my secret script). 

.... [T]he power exchange is not as simple as it usually looks. The more I can remember that taking is giving, and giving is taking, the easier the whole transaction gets. 

Debbie, thank you for that speech, and for all that you do for your friends and community every day.

ellenkushner: (EK/DS wedding band)
Well, for one thing, I'm much too flighty.  Yes, there have been times in my life when I've cared deeply enough about some potent symbol or aesthetic to want it permanently.  But  when I think of what I might have been stuck with if I'd been permitted to choose a china pattern at age 25 (that would have been pricey/fancy enough to have to keep always) - let alone a skin design . . . I blanch.  Go back a little farther, and yes, there would be unicorns (medieval, yes, but still).  Look, I do not like to wear even the same earrings often; the idea of having a permanent skin decoration just does not compute. 

And besides, I remember being told that traditional Judaism prohibits tattooing, because in ancient times it was the involuntary mark of slaves.  (I put that into a conversation the highly-tattooed Theron Campion has with his half-sister Jessica in Delia's & my book, The Fall of the Kings - of course, the Campions are not Jewish.....are they?).  It turns out this is not quite right - the campus Hillel.com site explains it better. 

What I do have is a set of 3 plain silver rings with words stamped on them, which I can take on and off.

I put them on for the High Holidays:  for the 10 days of turning and returning that is the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

The words come from a song* with music by Philip Glass and lyrics by Laurie Anderson (whose album, Strange Angels,* is, to me, a perfect expression of the spirit of the High Holidays - was she even joking, in "The Ouija Board,"  [from her album The Ugly one with the Jewels] when she said that in past lives she was "...Hundreds and hundreds of rabbis" ?)  The song, from Glass's remarkable album Songs from Liquid Days,  is called "Forgetting":

A man wakes up to the sound of rain 
From a dream about his lovers 
Who pass through his room. [....]

The man is awake now 
He can't get to sleep again. 
So he repeats these words 
Over and over again: 
Bravery. Kindness. Clarity. 
Honesty. Compassion. Generosity. 
Bravery. Honesty. Dignity. 
Clarity. Kindness. Compassion.

I couldn't fit all the words on the 3 silver rings I ordered - but the ones I have serve to remind me of the verses.  They are things I think I need all the year 'round.  If they were on my skin, I might stop seeing them.

*Both  the songs "Forgetting" and "Strange Angels" are important parts of my "Door is Opened" special.

    ellenkushner: (EK/DS wedding band)
    My hair isn't washed, and it's not going to be. I'm going to finish the important email, then eat some dinner, put on white linen, and go, before sunset, to a nearby synagogue and join the congregation to begin Yom Kippur by asking to be released from all wrong vows that I have made this year, and to fast for 24 hours to seal the bargain with the year's cycle for the chance to begin again when the Gates are Closed at sunset tomorrow night.

    I'm so glad many of you liked my "The Door is Opened" High Holiday show. Here is the companion piece, a Sound & Spirit show I made a few years later, about the Book of Jonah - which is read aloud on the afternoon of Yom Kippur, and has much to do with seeking, finding, and turning, turning just right to listen to one's inner voice.

    If it won't play here for you, just go to:

    And, yes, some years my birthday does fall on Yom Kippur.
    ellenkushner: (EK/DS wedding band)
    Wishing all you wonderful and generous people a very sweet and healthy and happy new year.  May you turn, turn, and return to the spirit that is best in you.  May your good impulses outnumber your bad ones, your good deeds outweigh your foolish ones . . . and may you be written in the Book of Life for health and happiness, safety and love.

    Here is a High Holiday radio special I wrote some years back, which was rebroadcast as part of my PRI/WGBH series Sound & Spirit.  It's a personal meditation (with music by Richard Thompson, Laurie Anderson, and others - here's the playlist) on the themes of friendship, family and forgiveness, as I feel they relate to Jewish observance of the Days of Awe, the days between the beginning of the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Fast of Yom Kippur, a solemn time to take stock of one's life, and make good on everything from debts to emotional injury.  To me, this time is a privilege, even a pleasure.  If I have said or done anything to offend you in the past year, I hope that you will forgive me for it.  That's the beginning.

    I call my show The Door is Opened

    The hour of radio also features the voices and wisdom of Rabbi Harold Kushner (no relation - though he looks *just like* my dad!), Joel Rosenberg (Boston poet & translator of the Reconstructionist siddur) and Rabbi Barbara Penzner.
    ellenkushner: (Default)
    ....was just eaten.

    Now I'm looking forward to my parents' arrival on Sunday, and to bullying my dad into eating whatever I tell him to because "I have to use it up!" - including strange rare treats like the fancy-schmancy oatmeal, and the end of the really good French cheese.  He'll do it if he has to.  And to hearing Delia & my mom warbling Gilbert & Sullivan and Tom Lehrer together as they grate carrots and whip eggs to a leaven-y froth.

    Between then and now lie deserts of vast eternity of cleaning cabinets & shifting boxes of dishes & food - mostly by Delia & her Minions, I admit . . . I finished most of the shopping today - though I sure hope those unopened boxes of matzah meal in the basement from last year have lost none of their savor.

    My favorite line from yesterday's radio interview with Frank Stasio - actually his intro to the interview before ours:  

    No other Englishman beheaded by a monarch has moved as much product as Sir Walter Raleigh.

    (No, of course I didn't remember it verbatim!  I wrote it down.  And it turns out you can hear the whole very entertaining interview with  Mark Nicholls, co-author of Sir Walter Raleigh: Life and Legend, on the same page as ours

    (I haven't listened to ours, yet.  You listen, and tell me if I sound like an idiot!)

    ellenkushner: (DREYDL)
    The Hedgies' First Chanukah:

     the hedgies' first chanukah 

    We got home & candles lit a little late tonight, since my first night of Chanukah present - also my "I had to have 2 fillings and the dentist is right down the street from the highbrow movie theatre" treat - was the 5:00 showing of Undertow.  A wonderful film - part ghost story, all "yes they (the sweetly stunning Peruvian fisherman w/the pregnant wife, and the seriously cute artist) are truly gay for each other" . . . It's really well-constructed (just saw The Squid & the Whale, at last - what a tremendously SAD movie! - but I can't stop thinking about how well it was constructed, too - every minute counts, and means something that will matter by the end) - good-hearted and sexy and also about people in a closed society, which I'm a sucker for.  It plays fair with everyone. It touches on a lot of my favorite themes & templates - including class, disguise/identity, and myth - Oh, heck, you see why I worship Paul Witcover and of course [livejournal.com profile] deliasherman - I can never write coherently about things I really like.  I just don't have the patience.  People are lucky to get 25 words of blurbage out of me when I read mss.  Anyhow it's a lot more restrained than my books, but if you like them you'll probably like Undertow, too.

    Anyhow-- the Hedgies.  They are admiring one of our several Chanukah menorahs (which I've been informed are now more correctly called Chanukiot (singular: Chanukiah) - well, excuuuuse me! when I was a kid, it was always the menorah, thank you very much).  Delia loves to buy them.  This one is pewter, and she got it for me the year I wrote my JONAH show for Sound & Spirit.  See, it's shaped like a Big Fish . . . and if you peer hard you can see Jonah all curled up inside. 
    ellenkushner: (Thomas the Rhymer)
    Just found (via Twitter, of all things) this lovely & loving review of the French edition of my Thomas the Rhymer.  In the online 'zine Yozone.fr, reviewer Nicolas Soffray concludes his review of Thomas le Rimeur with: "Ellen Kushner est une voix majeure de la fantasy merveilleuse, hélas bien rare en français...." --and adds something nice about « À la pointe de l’épée », as well (which their other reviewer really hated - oh, well... It got plenty of nice French reviews elsewhere.  And that cover...!)

    And in today's NYTimes, a big piece on KlezKamp ("a Yiddish Brigadoon" that meets annually to revive the language & folkways of the living culture the Nazis pretty successfully demolished) enlightens us as to the origins of a phrase I'd always translated as "old wives' tales":

    Michael Wex, a Canadian author and philologist, taught one group about the derivation of the term bubbe mayse — literally “a grandmother’s fable” but an expression used for any implausible tale. It was, he revealed, based on a 16th-century chivalric story about a Christian knight named Bovo who improbably marries a princess under a chupah — a Jewish wedding canopy — and arranges a circumcision for twin sons. Over time, few Jews were familiar with Bovo, so the expression morphed into something said by a bubbe.
    ellenkushner: (EK/DS wedding band)
     . . . as we try to eat up all the remaining bread, pasta, crackers &  cookies  before Passover begins on Monday at nightfall!

    My parents are coming for the entire week, and my mother keeps a kosher kitchen, so there's no rest for the wicked as we desperately try to get ours in shape for her.  Honor thy Father & thy Mother, after all . . . seems a small price to pay.  

    The "reward" is that I get to hold both family seders here in our diningroom.  I shall keep order.  We will sing the songs I like, with the tunes I like.  There will be Discussion, but not too much.  Dinner will be served at a reasonable hour.  All will love me and despair-- I mean, we will all have a very nice time.  And sing songs.  Lots of them.
    ellenkushner: (DREYDL)
    This is surprisingly adorable.

    That soundtrack, however, has got to go.  

    Does anyone even know the Old Tune "Mah Nishtanah" anymore?

    Yom Kippur

    Sep. 27th, 2009 04:57 pm
    ellenkushner: (EK/DS wedding band)
    I'll be off-line for the next 24 hours, observing the fast of Yom Kippur. If you've always wondered what the heck it was all about - or if you're Jewish and dislike YK because you think it's all about guilt and suffering, I humbly invite you to go here:


    and listen to the program that is currenly featured (and will be archived alphabetically in the complete list of shows) called THE DOOR IS OPENED.

    I think it's some of the best work I've done. It explains how I feel about the high holiday traditions this time of year, as a time of contemplation and an opportunity for connection and renewal.

    May you & yours have a sweet and a healthy & a happy new year! Even if you're not Jewish, there's something about the fall that always seems to say New Beginnings . . . . Enjoy, and be well.
    ellenkushner: (DREYDL)
    Skip the jokes, OK? I'm really sick of them. My mother never tells me to "Eat a little something" - indeed, she looks askance when I announce that I'm hungry - which I am every couple of hours, and as a result can't believe everyone else isn't, too, which is why I'm always offering people food. My mother does not "guilt" me when I don't call her often enough; indeed, when I do call her, she gets antsy after about 10 minutes and says, "Well, that's enough for now." My mother keeps a kosher kitchen and reads fluent Hebrew. When she was 17, her parents caught her packing her bags to run away to fight for Israeli independence, and grounded her. All 3 of her children have Biblical middle names. She's a Jewish mother.

    The Jewish Women's Archive, a terrific organization I worked with some in Boston, invites us to post your own photos of our Jewish Mothers on their Flickr page.

    In honor of Jewish American Heritage Month and in celebration of Mother's Day, the Jewish Women's Archive is creating a special photo collection about "Jewish Mothers."

    Photos can show a Jewish mother, now or in the past, in any context -- mothers at home or at work; mothers in the family and in the community; mothers of different generations and family constellations; formal portraits or candid snapshots.

    How would you like to represent Jewish mothers?
    ellenkushner: (NYC: RSD)
    Just watched "At Home in Utopia" on PBS' "Independent Lens" & was really blown away! More than just a documentary about workers' housing in the Bronx, it's a perfect bite of 20c American history: immigrants, their children, their dreams, the Depression, the War - which united Americans as one people at a time of fragmentation - the Commie witch hunt, and race relations. (Plus, the footage of the guy's mom in her Bronx kitchen looked exactly like my Gramma Rose in hers - same body language, same stuff on the wall....)

    It's airing this week (probably repeating tonight) on your public TV station. Record it! Watch it!
    You can check local listings & see a preview here.

    The filmmaker, Michal Goldman, I knew slightly in Boston, and I really admire her work. Among her other documentaries is Umm Kulthum, A Voice Like Egypt, "about the diva of Arabic song and her country." I made the mistake of taking Delia to see it, and she bonded with Kulthum's dictum "never be late for something that won't wait for you" with the result that I have no leg to stand on when I don't want to leave for the aiport *quite* so early . . . .
    ellenkushner: (TEA)
    Here's a photo!

    Also, did you see the NTimes profile on Michelle O's cousin the Rabbi? Capers Funnye is in the "Hebrew Israelite" movement - a fascinating chapter of African-American history & culture all by itself - and also studied at a mainstream Jewish Spertus Institute. He leads a Hebrew Israelite congregation in Chicago. My favorite bit from the terrific article by Zev Chafets:
    On one of the days I was there, in early February, I was the only white Jew in the shul, and an old guy in front of me kept turning around and showing me the right page. There’s a nudnik like him in every shul I’ve ever been to.

    I forgave him, though, during the Torah service, when a young man faltered over the blessings and looked mortified. “Not your fault, young man,” the nudnik said. “The fire of the Torah burns so hot to where sometimes it just confuses your mind.”

    Oh, yeah!

    Delia & I are home now, and realizing we were so focused on getting my Mom's house Pesadikhe, we totally forgot to make sure we had any food when we got home! Shopping lists have now been made, and recipes dug out. We are doing half-measures (don't ask, Mom!) but trying to be strict about what we're eating for the remaining 6 days. It's an annual Spiritual and Physical Discipline I like to practice. Almost everything has to be prepared from scratch, from a limited set of ingredients. If I lived like this year-round, I'd surely weigh less and be healthier, too. I always watch what I eat (and don't have much of a sweet tooth), but I'm a big Grazer, and my Passover snacking options are limited to Fruit & Nuts.... Every year I think I should at least make a stab at it. But it's Work, and I never can. At least this is an 8-day period when I am supremely Conscious of what I eat, and that carries a little.

    It also means I get to tell my favorite Matzah joke again! (Just consider me the annoying uncle who asks each year if you've heard this one, and ignores you if you say, YES!):

    So (famous blind musician) Ray Charles goes to a Passover Seder, and they hand him a big square piece of matzah. He holds onto it for a moment . . . .
    . . . and then exclaims,
    "Who wrote this shit?"
    ellenkushner: (EK/DS wedding band)
    Written yesterday:

    Bright sun on melting snow of Cleveland
    Six hours to Seder
    Better scrub!

    When I posted my lame little effort on, ehrm, my Facebook page, [livejournal.com profile] stardragonca was kind enough to reply: Seasonal reference? Check.
    Juxtaposition of two thoughts half independent of each other? Check.
    Sincerity of heart? Check.
    Yes, we have haikai!

    though someone else said it made him think I was gearing up for a surgical procedure at the Cleveland Clinic. Maybe should change the last line to:

    Back to work!

    Today seems ridiculously easy by contrast: all the dishes are changed over, shelves scrubbed - all we have to do is cook Dinner #2. It is completely fercackt to have to do all that changeover all day *and* be expected to host a giant meal at sunset. But every year, women all over the world manage to pull it off, and have for thousands (of years. And guests).

    There has thus arisen a certain bravura bravado:
    - OMG, I've got 22 people coming the first night!
    - Oh, our first night is just the 4 of us, plus the in-laws. But then we've got - waitaminute, is Sam coming? - 18 . . . .

    What's your best score ever? Or just this year?
    ellenkushner: (DREYDL)
    Have you noticed that no one in my books ever eats bacon or ham? No hard feelings; it's just not a part of my world view, and therefore doesn't show up in my worlds! (I only realized this recently when someone in a novel I was enjoying tucked into some....)

    I was raised in the branch of Judaism called "Conservative" - less rule-bound than the Orthodox, but with a lot more Hebrew and tradition than Reform Judaism. It was founded partly in reaction to the Jews being allowed to join the modern world about 100 years ago. What to give up, and what to keep? As Wiki explains, it's "a modern stream of Judaism that arose out of intellectual currents in Germany in the mid-19th century and took institutional form in the United States in the early 1900s."

    I drifted away, but am proud to see that it is continuing to evolve in response to changes in society. My mom handed me their new quarterly magazine last month, "The Freedom Issue: Looking at Passover, Liberty and Identity." Imagine my surprise to find a ton of articles about GLBT Conservative Jews - including rabbis! Because in a landmark decision in 2006, the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (yes, it's complicated. There is no Central Authority in Judaism. Think of it as . . . oh, different schools of Kung Fu which you can choose to adhere to?) voted to allow out gay men and lesbians to be ordained as rabbis and to allow rabbis to perform same-sex commitment ceremonies. I learned a lot and was very moved by the articles. They're all online for you to read at will. Here are some of my favorite excerpts from longer articles:
    Read more... )

    * * *

    And finally, there's a swell article on the origins of the Seder: a Greco-Roman Symposium of the 2nd century! It's short, so I won't excerpt it, and just urge you to read it if you've always wondered why the emphasis on reclining, hand-washing, and arguing philosophy around the meaning of food. Not to mention Why Four Cups of Wine? It just makes my cultural syncretism heart go pitta-pat.

    * * *

    Tonight was the first Seder. Smallish, for various reasons. My mom, Delia & I worked hard, and it was good. Another tomorrow night.

    May your parsley be springy & green, and your Liberation joyous!
    ellenkushner: (EK/DS wedding band)
    I thought it was just a joke - but I"m finding out in NYC how many of my Jewish friends take the ritual of going out for a movie & Chinese food on Christmas Day very seriously . . . . My cousin Paul, who's going to visit his son on his Junior (H.S.) year abroad in a small town in northern France (where young Jon has been living with the only Jewish family in town, and whooping it up as the Cool American Kid who plays drums) seems deeply distressed at the prospect (Eurovision + Foie Gras = just not the same, eh?) . . . . So for everyone who can't make it to the flix, or who just needs a little Holiday Cheer, I recommend the Simien Mountain Fox production of Elizabeth Wein's beautiful and twisted novel The Winter Prince (stills from the someday-to-be-made, ah, blockbuster).

    We just watched the movie Casanova (2005) and found it utterly charming: fabulous costumes, sexist University lecturers, con games with multiple identities, girl with occasional sword, big keystone scene of Venetian masked ball with fireworks (and Georgette Heyer-like chase scene in which someone says, "We can escape on my barge!" and the director actually left in the bit where the horse-drawn actress mutters, "This is the last time I travel coach" . . . what's not to like? (And could I have that green dressing gown, please?)

    Oh, and Geoff Ryman has a new short story up on Tor.com, "The Film-makers of Mars." Gorgeous.

    And, behind my back, [livejournal.com profile] deliasherman has just posted a "review" of my Klezmer Nutcracker, and some stellar Advice to Young Writers.
    ellenkushner: (DREYDL)
    Tonight is the first night of Chanukah.

    I'd like to "regift" you with a post I wrote last year at this time, entitled "Storytelling, Candles & Prayer."
    ellenkushner: (Latvian THOMAS)
    More gift suggestions for the holidays:

    For the Medieval Music Enthusiast who wants the perfect Holiday Music to put on as background for parties & cookie-baking:
    I did the narration on a radio special based on this one (check your local listings to see if it's airing this year!) - and I must have listened to these tracks a million times . . . and I could listen a million more without being bored! Music by Renaissonics, "an improvisatory Renaissance dance band" that will make you tap your feet.

    For the Obscure Klezmer Enthusiast who thinks s/he has it all (and also for people getting married this summer who want some musical roots inspiration!) :
    From my pals at Center for Traditional Music & Dance:
    "Legendary klezmer clarinetist Dave Tarras (1897-1989) returns to the repertoire he had learned as a young man in Europe. . . . The recording is structured according to the sequence of a traditional wedding and will offer the listener a deeply emotional memory of life as it was lived then, transmitted by one of the most creative men who lived it. Available for the first time on CD...Tarras's last studio recording."
    ellenkushner: (DREYDL)
    I've known Joe Kessler since he was a longhaired teenager playing an electric blue fiddle in Harvard Square, busking for change. And keyboardist Michael McLaughlin is one of the guys who arranged the original "KlezNut" music for Shirim - and helped me write The Golden Dreydl - we had so much fun working together that I invited him to be the music director (and pianist/accordionist) of my Esther show - where he started working with Joe when we brought him in for fiddle . . . . and now they're in a band together (with some other great improv guys)! Listing their influences as "John Zorn, Don Byron, Frank London, John Mclaughlin, Shlomo Carlebach, Eric Dolphy, Ivo Papasov etc." KLEZWOODS has samples of their "Emo / Roots Music / Nu-Jazz " on their MySpace page, and are doing a FREE show on Dec. 22nd in Cambridge at Atwoods Tavern - wish I could be there - they're great to experience live - So you go, and give them my love!
    ellenkushner: (DREYDL)
    Well! Now we've got that non-commercial eating holiday over, we can get back to the serious business of getting ready for ChristmasAndaVeryWarmHolidayGreetingtoAllOurJewishFriends.

    Much love for last night's Stephen Colbert Christmas Special, especially this:

    And here are the lyrics, if you want to sing along. But best to let the professionals handle it.

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