Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Merchant of Phoenix

I come from a long line of merchant Jews. We're kind of the middle class type Jews, not the rich ones and not the Torah scholars. We're the ones who own stores and laundries. As a matter of fact, my father owned a laundry in Chicago. My grandfather? A shoemaker. My great-uncle? A tailor. My great-grandfather? A woodcutter. Like in Little Red Riding Hood.

Once my relatives came to the United States, they were a little pushy about their occupations. They knew that the riches of America were theirs for the taking, but first they had to take them. That meant that they had to let people know what they did for a living, how their product or services could change the customers' lives, how things could be so much better with clean laundry, a well-made pair of shoes, or a finely tailored suit. 

Of course, I was mortified by my relatives. I felt if they had just been American-born, they would not have been so pushy. They'd have been more polished, more reticent, maybe less embarassing. To me.

Since I'm a little slow, I want to tell you what I figured out today that made me think that maybe I have to be a little pushy today on my blog. On Poetica Magazine's website where I'm the Blog Editor, I'm hosting a writer this week who writes quite movingly about interviewing children of Holocaust Survivors and how she's spent some time reading the literature they've been producing. So all day long I've thought, "Oh, that's me, right? Children of Survivors and the literature they're producing. Me." Gulp.

And since I realize that Holocaust Survivors like my mother are becoming rare and soon all the world will have are the children of survivors and the stories we have of growing up with our parents, I wanted to do something I would normally shy away from doing: direct you to two venues where my writing is appearing in March. Even though that's, um, pushy.

I haven't written too much on this blog about how crazy it was growing up one of seven sisters in Skokie, where it was assumed that my mother was deranged for not stopping at two children. After all, what was she trying to do? Repopulate the world after the Holocaust? One of my stories, called "Seven Sisters," an excerpt from my (unpublished) book Seven Sisters is appearing on my friend, Sandra Hurtes', website for the month of March. Spend some time while you're there looking at Sandra's work. She's a brilliant essayist and child of Holocaust Survivors whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post and is forthcoming in Poets and Writers. I highly recommend her collection of essays, On My Way to Someplace Else, which can be purchased on her website.

If you can imagine what it was like having parents whose greatest thrill was going on vacations to visit other Holocaust Survivors all across the country so they could sit and cry for hours over all the misery in the world while their children stuck to plastic-covered sofas, then you can imagine what my childhood was like. A story of mine about vacations with my parents, called "Holocaust Vacation," is being published in an anthology of the work of Children of Holocaust Survivors coming out in March, called Mizmor L'David (Psalms of David). Even ignoring my own work, the Anthology is filled with some fascinating cutting edge work from writers who are children of survivors.
 
There, I did it. Now we'll get back to our regular programming.

Do you come from a long line of merchants, like me? What are you doing with your writing life? Any ambitions? Does anyone know a great literary agent?

28 comments:

  1. I came from a long line of unhappily married women.
    I intended to change that...and I have.
    Your embarrassment over your family being merchants instead of uptight wasps is funny.
    All the people in our area who were anybody were merchants.
    The wasps were called yuppies, and becoming one was a crime against good deer hunting and decency.
    lol

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  2. wait a second here...
    I just realized something.
    Besides my best friend Amber's blog about her family...Your blog is the only other blog I read that isn't weight loss related...unless you count alan at fool's fitness...which is actually supposed to be a weight loss blog, but never is. I read your blog cause I just like it. You are a good writer.

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  3. I enjoyed Seven Sisters. You have a talent for writing and your descriptions are vivid. I loved the line-up of sisters! Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Love the Seven Sisters. I related so to the birth control comments - as people use to ask me those questions - and to the why seven girls - as my father kept trying for a boy also.

    But mostly I love the numbers because I number my kids online. Rather than use their names, they are #1 through #6 (who swears he is getting gypped out of his being an only child by older siblings moving home).

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  5. That's terrific that you're being featured two different places this month! I will definitely be reading!

    My dad owned a gas station when I was a teenager. My first job? Pumping gas. NOT glamorous!

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  6. I read "Bending Toward the Sun" back in October and I think it is so important that all of you- children of the Holocaust survivors- keep these stories alive. As you said, their numbers are becoming fewer and fewer and it is left to the children to carry the stories and remind their children ( and MINE) what can happen when the world looks the other way. So, be pushy all you want... you have earned that right... and I appreciate being directed to other venues to read these stories.

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  8. Linda, bring on the pushy! It is a pleasure to read your stories and, as a fellow writer, I get a vicarious thrill to see your writing in print. Congratulations on these two "clips"!

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  9. Chris, I swear you should do stand up comedy, though I imagine you doing it with a completely straight face! "A long line of unhappily married women" indeed! And no chance of the Jewish immigrants of being WASPy or Yuppie or whatever. Even now, Husband and I own a flooring store. Doomed I know! And thanks for the compliment.

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  10. Holocaust survivors have come to my kids HS to talk to them and it's so powerful. My roommate in the hospital when my 19 year old daughter was born was the child of survivors and she told me their story (on my request). I cared for nursing home patients with tattoo'd numbers as a teen. I think you're right; now the burden falls to the families. It's so important; good for you to think pushy, but you're not pushy.

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  11. I am so grateful you posted this. Sometimes pushy is a good thing. I can't wait to dive in!

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  12. OMG Linda - could you have possibly covered more (potential) territory here? ( know a little of the world of which you speak, though sadly, too few stories were passed down. My grandparents and great grandparents left Mother Russia at the turn of the 20th century - just one of the "usual pogroms" rather than the Holocaust.

    I do understand the sensitivity to the "pushy merchant" mentality. I never particularly thought to categorize the social strata involved. There were doctors, scholars, musicians, teachers, furriers and other trades people.

    I will certainly visit the links you mentioned, and as for ambitions - I suspect mine resemble yours. There's a little matter of feeding my children however, and life intervening with my "writing life." Irritating, no?

    But if that literary agent you find has a twin, or one of my scientific cousins who "clones" can work her magic, maybe we can take the metaphorical plastic off the teal sofa, and tawk.

    A delightful post.

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  13. I don't think you are being pushy! What is life but trying to get your point across...Billions of dollars are spent by big time companies trying to do the same thing. I will be checking out your posts in both places, and will be honored by doing so! Thanks for letting us know where to find more of you!

    You did your family proud!

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  14. Weighting Around, thanks for visiting and I enjoyed visiting your blog today as well! I appreciate your kind words and for reading the excerpt. From, the number 6 sister, Linda :)

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  15. Nicki, to this day when I'm at a party with other family members people STILL don't bother remembering which sister I am. It's just "what number are you?" And now my sisters make fun of me for that number one stuff, because, of course, number one is eight years older than me and no one wants to be older at this point!

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  16. Geez TKW, I totally forgot my Aunt and Uncle who owned a gas station till you mentioned it. And my aunt schlepping out to pump gas in cars wearing a mink stole. Yes. More trauma.

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  17. Thanks, Jennifer. It's interesting to compare the differences in the stories. The parents, of course, tell the complete narrative of what happened, but the children of survivors tell what it was like growing up with their parents, how much fear was passed on, how much of the war stories were related. Turns out, there's a lot of interesting variety. But it's a little scary to be the next generation responsible.

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  18. Kristen, thanks so much for your kind words.

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  19. Maureen, I guess there's more to this aging mother thing (she's almost 80) than I realized. She's also one of the younger Holocaust survivors around. Thank you for asking people for their stories. Not everyone can talk to an audience (my mother can't) but I know from personal experience that they all need to talk.

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  20. Amber, thank you. I'm sure coming from a big family, you'll be able to relate to some part of it!

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  21. BLW, isn't it funny how family histories are lost to time? Getting my family's history from my mother involved sitting still during more excruciating stories than I could honestly stand. She remembered everything in verbatim Yiddish, then translated for me.

    And, yes, when I get my elusive agent, or you get yours, let's all lend a helping hand to our writer friends.

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  22. Maria, thank you for visiting my blog and thanks for your kind words, I appreciate them!

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  23. Linda, you have some stories to tell and then some. Vacations & sitting on plastic covered sofas while your parents talked with other survivors is a perfect hook. It gets me curious and wondering what stories were shared, and if the kids (you included) listened in or tried (like kids do) to tune out.

    I'd read your book today already if I could.

    PS: My gram passed away recently and we are all mourning the fact that we didn't write down more of her stories. So write down your parents stories while you can, while they are still here to share them.

    PPS: I met a Literary Agent once, and didn't like her much. To find a good fit with a lit agent I've only heard this advice: research, research, research.

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  24. Linda,

    Just read the Seven Sisters. LOVED it! I especially love how you describe your fights as children! So vivid and wonderful!

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  25. I can't wait to read it. Pushy is good sometimes, otherwise how would we know where to go to read more of your writing?

    Congrats on being published so much this month!

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  26. Terresa, You're absolutely right - we tuned out, though in retrospect I'm lucky I did so I didn't get overloaded on the horror of the Holocaust. And I agree, I've also met agents I haven't liked.

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  27. TKW, Thank you for my excerpt! The compliment means so much coming from a great writer like you! I can see our memoirs side by side on a shelf somewhere - Kitch tormented by other kids, and me, tormented by my parents!

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  28. Charlotte, Thanks! I appreciate it!

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