Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Resurrecting Holocaust Poetry

As I mentioned in my goals for the second half of 2013 one of the things that I am in the process of doing is getting back to the, sometimes daunting, task of submitting poetry to magazines for publication. It has been approximately eight years since I last published a chap book of original work and subsequent pieces have been languishing in my computer since that time. Individual poems, sequences, chap books, and collections are just sitting there waiting for me to do something with them. This is a task that I frequently revisit as many of you may remember the last time I wrote about this on my previous blog, From Goy to Oleh, in April 2011.

While I do have poems spanning a wide range of topics and experiences, most of the more well received poems that I have written are my own recreations of the lives of three victims of the Holocaust: Hertha Feiner, Janusz Korczak, and Filip Müller. The poems are fictionalized historical accounts of what might have happened in the world immediately surrounding these people.

The general thought behind them is that every memoir has something missing. Sometimes it’s a forgotten foreshadowing phrase said in passing or simply what is happening outside when their focus is on the room in which they are sitting. These are the aspects painted in this collection. It is my hope that these poems are not only stirring but accurate as well and I have, so far, been fortunate enough to verify that very fact with those who were there.

Many people have asked me why I started writing Holocaust poetry. I really don’t have an answer to that question but I can tell you how it happened…

During the winter of 2004, I began writing about the Holocaust because I needed an outlet for my own pain and fear. It was not a conscious decision to write about Janusz Korczak, it just happened. I began relating to Korczak and his children on the most basic level: I was depressed, I couldn’t eat, and I was in pain. It was a time in my life when writing was work.

I was struck not only with what Korczak recorded in his diary but also by the thoughts of what was not written in those pages. This feeling was intensified further when I would come across passages that were of longing, passages that recalled of a different time in Korczak’s life, a time without worry. I understood the feeling of wanting to escape but my thoughts were firmly planted in the Warsaw orphanage in which Korczak was writing amongst sleeping children.

It was the contrariness between thought and reality that forced me to scribe ink on the page. When Korczak wrote, “I used to write at stops, in a meadow under a pine tree, sitting on a stump. Everything seemed important and if I did not note it down I would forget. An irretrievable loss to humanity,” I couldn’t stop thinking about what the children were experiencing at that time, at that exact moment. Were they awake or asleep, were they hungry, were they scared, were they healthy or sick? What was happening outside the window, what sounds did they hear, what smells slipped through the cracks?

That is how these poems started and resulted in some of them being published in Midstream Magazine, The Endicott Review, The Hypertexts, Charles Fishman’s anthology Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust, and my own chapbook (the Janusz Korczak section), Kaddish Diary (Pudding House Publications, 2005). The need to know more can be a powerful motivation.

I continued writing Holocaust poetry for the next few years after that completing three small series. However, the resulting nightmares and emotional exhaustion increasingly gotten worse resulting in my taking a break from writing about the subject.

Maybe it is finally time to resurrect these Holocaust poems and start working on reinforcing memory. Maybe I will finally be able to do so. Maybe enough time has passed.

If need be, I will spread them out and in between those sketches from my own life that I have filed away. I might even use some of the images from this blog to provoke the concise language I have since lost. Hopefully, results will come with this renewed focus and I can finally fulfill the goal I set many years ago… to publish a complete collection.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start by pulling them from cyber storage, re-familiarizing myself with my former voice, and getting them into circulation. We will see what happens.  

Friday, July 12, 2013

Attempting to Find Home: 2011 Edition

After experiencing so much preparation, hard work, stress, bureaucracy, joy, spirituality, and love, today is one of mixed emotions for me. It is a day to remember joy but which also leaves me asking the question what if? I don’t think that either one of those feelings will ever go away especially on this day, our Aliyah Anniversary.

Two years ago our Nefesh b’Nefesh charter flight landed with a roar of cheers and tears rolling up and down the aisle. As we finally came to a rest, there was a mix of both vocal anticipation and stunned silence. It was time for us new Israelis to return our feet to the home land.

We were overwhelmed by the joyous noise that flooded this old terminal at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. So many people were there to greet all of us… some of them didn’t even know anyone on the flight they just wanted to support us. I can’t even remember the walk from the plane to the reception as the mix of no sleep (on the 10 hour flight) and excitement has hazed my memory. 

I will always consider that moment to be one of the greatest of my life but sometimes a journey can start off great and, not be the right path. This is what we faced during our time in Israel. Our Aliyah adventure came to an abrupt end as Hashem led us back home to our family. I may be disappointed by the outcome but I will never regret the choice we made to try.

It is a day that I hope is being celebrated throughout the beautiful land of Israel by many of our fellow olim from that flight. I wish everyone nothing but the best and I pray that your dreams surround you throughout your lives. I also encourage anyone thinking about making Aliyah to pursue it with everything you have and every essence of your being. I guarantee that it is something that you will never regret regardless of the final outcome.

Monday, July 1, 2013

New (Half) Year’s Resolutions

I want this pin!

I can’t believe that we are half way through the year already. Many changes have occurred (some good, some bad) but the fact that I can’t seem to grasp the hours of each day still frustrates me. Every day there is something that gets carried over to the next making my “to do” list more of a living compilation of tasks rather than something I can simply check off and throw away.

Some people set goals in the beginning of the year but I like to be a little different and put greater emphasis on the second half of the year. Of course, there are a few certain things that are achieved in the first six months but, in the end, it’s all about how you finish the game not about how it begins. Therefore, it is now time to outline my list of goals, in no particular order, for the second half of the year.   

1.      Improve my health – isn’t this something that is, in one shape or form, on everyone’s list? For me, it really comes down to two very simple things, stop smoking and lose about 60 pounds (I have struggled with both over the years). There is an entire subset of things I could list in order to accomplish this but, again, those are the common things that everyone jots down. What is different than most is that I have to make sure to schedule regular checkups with my doctors just to keep an open line of communication and make sure I am doing things the right way.
3.      Find a place to live – Such a basic thing to have on a list at first glance. However, there is a greater underlying factor to this which is why I have chosen to list it. We have an apartment which has served us well and we live in an area that is very familiar but we are both looking for home. We have been looking for this for a long time now and in many locations and while we have been comfortable and thought we had found it a few times it just didn’t hold up against the clock and calendar. Hopefully, we find home this year.
4.      Find a new job – Minor detail. As was posted previously, I have been seeking a new position for some time now. While it has been difficult at times I am still confident that not just a job but a career is waiting for me because it just takes one to make it happen. As the great SNL philosopher Stuart Smalley (not to be confused with the pull your hair out quote from Senator Franken) said, "I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. And doggone it, people like me."
6.      Full year as a Mason – I have only been a member of the fraternity since April and I have already gotten a tremendous amount out of Freemasonry. There are a number of personal things that I would like to achieve in this first full year and many goals that I have set for myself in this category including, just to name a few, completion of the Master Builder Award and Lodge of Research requirements as well as becoming a member of Scottish Rite. It’s going to be a busy Masonic year.
7.      Sons of American Revolution Application – This project has been put aside since the fall and it is time to “git-r-done”. Given the time of year it is especially poignant to get this done soon. I am proud of my family heritage and for me this is a great way to show it. I will be sure to write more about this process and my family’s Revolutionary past in a future post so stay tuned.  
8.      Publishing and Readings (one is already booked for November 16th in Collegeville, Pennsylvania) – If I remember correctly, it has been almost eight years since I last actively sought publication of my work. It is a very trying and tiring process that I am not particularly fond of but it’s an addiction that never leaves you so I guess it’s time to do some lines and chase the dragon once again. So, keep in mind that I may be creatively and poetically medicated moving forward. The long layoff from giving readings coincided with my vacation from publishing. If I am going to publish I have to read as well. I always enjoyed the performance side of writing because that is where you find out if a poem or story works. You feed off of the reaction, good or bad, which helps you to improve and pushes you to challenge yourself and your audience. Words on the page are just ink and paper, the experience defines the creation.  
9.     Continue to explore my faithMany changes have occurred in the past couple of months with regard to our observance but our faith has remained steadfast. The means by which we express and embrace our faith has evolved over time to something that suits us both as individuals and as a family rather than subscribing to the black and white outline of a particular branch of Judaism. While it is not for everyone it is how we connect with G-d and I look forward to exploring our faith and deepening that connection through His words and his creation.
10. Travel - I am looking forward to continuing our weekly excursions both as a way to spend time with my wife and also to explore the beauty of creation that surrounds usWe have weekly day trips planned out to last the summer and into fall but, like anything else, it is flexible and I am sure it is going to change. This is also a means to feed content to this blog and share with you some of the wonderful places that surround me in my own Commonwealth. I hope that it will encourage some of you to so the same and explore and appreciate the places that are near to you but you never took the time to visit (this is especially important for those of you who may have children).

That is my list. It may change, in fact I am certain it will, but this is a starting point in recommitting to the process of improving myself throughout this year. This is the foundation of change and the map which I can fall back on to keep myself moving forward (ING is of no use with the above goals). What are the things that you would like to work on or accomplish in the second half of 2013?

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Truth Will Set (Your Wallet) Free!

I am a person who is always looking for the best deal. Many times that requires comparing products, price shopping, and adding coupons into the mix. Sometimes I can only employ one or two of these factors and sometimes it requires all three. However, sometimes it just takes a little luck and a smidge of effort in order to get the best price possible… FREE!

As of late, I have been picking up a few items here and there at job fairs which have demonstrated varying degrees of quality and usefulness. This is a great way to collect a mismatched set of plastic cups, travel mugs, and random memory foam stress relievers (best used when you hear the words “we’re not looking for someone with your background at the moment”). All in all, nothing is really worth bragging about (both the item and where you got it).

My wife has also been picking up a few free items lately. She came home yesterday with a grab bag of literature from an all day conference she attended at the Loews Hotel in Philadelphia (the conference was also free which is a find in itself). I was going to attend the event with her but Mr. Sandman was being a particularly persistent bastard yesterday. Anyway, while the information may not be helpful to many it was useful to her and, therefore, a great free find.

My latest two acquisitions are of a completely different free breed. High quality useful items are something I am always looking for and getting them for free is just a bonus. The two items pictured will be used and used a lot… one right away and one in the future.

I came across the free Siddur while browsing through my Facebook feed. A few friends had shared the link for the giveaway and when I saw it I had to claim my copy. This was not a contest; it was on a first come first serve basis. Simply click on the link and fill in the shipping information.

I knew the company, Koren Publishers Jerusalem, and have other Siddurim from them so I had no qualms about sharing my information. A few weeks later and the book was waiting for me at the front desk. Now I just have the simple task of learning Hebrew and this will be a heavily used addition to our library. Like I said earlier, this is the item that will be used in the future.

An item doesn’t have to be fancy to be a great freebie. Sometimes it’s the simple items that prove to be the most useful. A perfect example of this is the map I received from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

The arrival of this enveloped was met with some trepidation because usually when you have an envelope in your mailbox with that return address and your registration isn’t due it means bad news. So, when this parcel arrived, I was ready to break out the check book and survey the bank account. I find it both impressive and disturbing the pucker power an envelope can have when the return address it related to a government agency. It was a pleasant surprise to find something useful enclosed in the PennDOT stationary.

With all of the traveling that we have been doing lately and all the trips that are planned over the next several months, this map is something that will be used over and over again. For me, old school maps are a much better way to find those out of the way places that the Maps App on my iPhone can’t pronounce. We often forget that technology has its limits and sometimes the best way to find something or someplace that you didn’t know you were looking for is by flipping through the pages of a book or unfolding a map on the table.

It just goes to show that free stuff (and clichés) can be found all over the place. All you need to do is pay attention and be willing to commit about 30 seconds in filling out your mailing information. Note that some of you may have to take off the tin foil from your noggin to accomplish this. Some of the items are going to be more useful than others but, who cares, its free. If you really don’t want it I’m sure someone you know will or you can donate to charity (which would, in turn, make it free for them).  

What are some of the items you have gotten for free? What are some of the items you wish you didn’t get for free?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Job Insecurity – The Marco Polo Paradigm

Ever since my wife and I returned from Israel and moved back to the Philadelphia area, my employment situation has been in flux. Since the beginning of 2012, I have had a couple of sales positions as well as my current position working the desk of my apartment building during the night. It has been difficult to land a job that was a good fit for me where I know I was adding value to the company and I enjoyed going to every day.

As many of us experienced during our childhood, I feel like I am treading water in a deep pool yelling “Marco” with the anticipation of hearing the response “Polo”. To this point it has been a one way discussion (no, I have not started answering myself). But, just as you did when playing the game, you keep calling until you get your bearings and find the right direction you need to travel. I know there are fish in the water I just have to catch one.

Throughout that time I have longed to return to my chosen profession, the industry I left to move back down here from Manhattan, Public Relations. Over the years, I found this profession to be rewarding both creatively and socially with writing and pitching being my two strongest areas. I thrived on finding ways to get the client’s voice heard and I enjoyed making the connections and getting to know reporters in order to make mutually beneficial introductions.

Of course, this is something that I have continued to do on a personal level both through Rotary, Masons, and other organizations. I have given both my time and creativity to help others and I continue to write for the sake of my own creative sanity. However, it would be nice to find a place, to find a company, where I could bring those to areas of enjoyment together again.

As many of you may have seen, I have posted an open position on my LinkedIn profile to this effect leaving the name of the company blank with the start day coinciding with the current month. PR is applicable to so many businesses and industries that I can’t limit my search… with that said, the recent trips that my wife and I have taken have open my eyes to one of the logistical roadblocks that I have, until now, place before me.

Prior to our explorations, I have limited my search to Philadelphia and the surrounding counties. Basically, I have been an idiot. Now I am expanding my search to include the entire southeastern part of the Commonwealth (Pennsylvania is a commonwealth not a state) as well as the counties immediately north of that area. With writing permeating the bulk of my educational and work experience, and where my natural talent lies, I am also opening up to a wide variety of opportunities where writing could possibly be the centerpiece of my efforts. I can always find a way to add PR and networking to the mix in some way, shape, or form (travel writing is an idea that comes to mind).  

For those of you unfamiliar with my background, please consider the following bullet points:

·        Seasoned PR professional with placements in both national and trade publications including (but not limited to) The New York Times, ComputerWorld, Forbes.com, Baseline (byline author), ReadWriteWeb, and Processor.com.
·        Experienced social media strategist accomplished in the creation and implementation of media campaigns simultaneously across multiple platforms.
·        Strong writing and editing skill set applicable to numerous industries with experience ranging from internal communications, speech writing, and press releases to bylines, reviews, and social media posts.
·        Diverse writing portfolio which includes publication in both print and online mediums ranging from poetry and short stories to blogs, editorials, and research pieces of a personal and business nature respectively.
·        Research experience encompassing a wide range of topics including (but not limited to) genealogy, Holocaust studies, public relations, and business and social media trends and statistics.
·        Accomplished public speaker, emcee, and event planner. 
·        Proficient in Microsoft Office, SalesGenie, ProfNet, BusinessWire, Cision, Factiva, and numerous social media platforms (and the business applications thereof) including Blogger, Wordpress, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
·        Active in local community and nonprofit organizations with a wide variety of leadership duties and charitable causes.

So, I will finish this brief post / employment update by requesting your assistance. I am open to new opportunities, new challenges, and a new chapter in my career. If you happen to know of anyone looking for someone who possesses the above set of skill please reach out to me by sending me an email at seanmt4d@yahoo.com. Of course, I also enjoy the opportunity to meet new people so if you happen to be in the area or know someone in the area I would like to get together over a cup of coffee so that I can properly introduce myself. I look forward to hearing from some of you in the very near future.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Brother to Brother - אח לאח

Since becoming a mason I have tried to stay organized and get all my applications and petitions submitted in a timely manner. For the most part I am keeping on top of all the items on my Masonic to do list. One of the most interesting things on that list was completing my affiliate membership.

A little over a week ago I got an interesting envelope in the mail. It was a package that I was not expecting to arrive for another several weeks as it had to come from a significant distance. Once I opened the envelope and examined the contents I was able to officially say that I am an Affiliate Member of the Holy Land Lodge #50 in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Affiliate memberships are not something done by all Masons but, for me, this was very important if not necessary. It is another tie between my home and my home land and it brings the connection between Masonry and my faith together in a meaningful way. As many of you already know, faith is essential in Freemasonry and now Freemasonry is enhancing my connection with my faith.

It is connections such as this one that increase my awareness of the bond I have with G-d in all my actions. Discovering such links in my life has been essential in the transition that my own personal faith has taken. While I may no longer be observant in the traditional sense, my awareness and appreciation of G-d has been heightened to a level of faith and awe that I have never experienced before.

My observance lies in attentive perception of and gratitude for all that Hashem has given me. No matter what your specific beliefs may be, faith deepens when we pay attention and admire G-d’s work. It is in His creation that the opportunity exists for us to honor our creator in both heartfelt prayer and actions.

Each of us must find the best way to connect with G-d and explore the different means by which we can bring G-d into our daily lives. For me it is a matter of keeping it simple and bringing little pieces of my Judaism into every aspect of my life such as my affiliate membership. Sometimes, it is the little things that can have a biggest and most lasting impact on your life. 

I am just a simple man trying to simplify the world around me and what works for me may not work for you. Maybe you need those big decisions or stringent rules to bring about a deep connection. There is nothing wrong with practicing your faith in that way… it may be the best way for you to understand G-d. 

Regardless of belief or practice, we need to keep in mind that we are all brothers of the same Father and like children we all have different ways we connect with our father and we all have a bond that is both common and dissimilar at the same time. Remember this simple truth and support your fellow brother. Let them find that connection and support them as they discover their own personal link between their faith and the fraternity.  

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Shabbat Travel: Enjoying What G-d Has Given Us!

Many of you have read my last two posts which were about the day trips that my wife and I have taken over the last couple of weekends. As was previously stated, this is a significant change to our weekly routine as we have previously attempted to observe Shabbat in the more traditional Orthodox way. The purpose of this post is to address this observance shift and explain a little with regard to why we have made this change.

What we have found over the last year or so was that while we were so focused on how we observe Shabbat that we had lost sight of the real purpose of the day. We had been focused on limiting ourselves about what we could and couldn’t do that we weren’t able to see what we could do and what was available to us. We were separating ourselves from our family, our friends, and the community and not spending any real time together. We were withdrawing from the world.

We both wrestled with the question of what Shabbat really means to us and how we honor G-d on this day. In the end, it came down to a simple question that we both had to answer for ourselves: does G-d want us to serve Him through solitude or by showing our deepest appreciation for all that He has given us in this world and in our lives?

Needless to say, we both agreed that there are too many beautiful gifts that have been bestowed upon us for us not to show our boundless gratitude by doing our best to embrace as many of them as we can. This is what led to our decision to make Shabbat our day of exploration and discovery. Not only are we taking the time to appreciate the people in our lives but also all the places around us that we have never taken the time to visit.

This change allows us to not just pray with words but with our actions. We will never be able to see all that G-d has created nor will we ever be able to meet all those created in His image but we are going to try to see as much as we can and meet as many people as we can. It may not work for everyone but this is what connects us with G-d and the journey is what brings us together and I pray that this exploration will continue to increase our appreciation of what we have and what we have yet to receive.