Monday, May 28, 2018

Q & A with Yermiyahu Ahron Taub on PRODIGAL CHILDREN IN THE HOUSE OF G-D

Starting this year, every fourth Monday I run a Q & A with a fellow writer. This fourth Monday features Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, the author of Prodigal Children in the House of G-d: Stories (2018) and six books of poetry, including A Mouse Among Tottering Skyscrapers: Selected Yiddish Poems (2017). Preparing to Dance: New Yiddish songs, a CD of nine of his Yiddish poems set to music by Michał Gorczyński, was released in 2014. Taub was honored by the Museum of Jewish Heritage as one of New York’s best emerging Jewish artists and has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize and twice for a Best of the Net award. With Ellen Cassedy, he is the recipient of the 2012 Yiddish Book Center Translation Prize for Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories by Blume Lempel (2016). His short stories have appeared in such publications as Hamilton Stone Review, Jewish Fiction .net, The Jewish Literary Journal, Jewrotica, Penshaft: New Yiddish Writing, and Second Hand Stories Podcast. 

Check out the Q & A  from 2017 with
Yermihayu Ahron Taub and his o-transator Ellen Cassedy
about Blume Lempel and Oedipus in Brooklyn
C.M. MAYO: You are co-translator (with Ellen Cassedy) from the Yiddish of Blume Lempel's extraordinary short stories, Oedipus in Brooklyn. Would you say that Lempel's work has been an influence on your own fiction? Can you talk a bit about some of your influences, and your favorite writers?  

YERMIYAHU AHRON TAUB: Blume Lempel is certainly a source of personal inspiration, and working with Ellen Cassedy on that project was and continues to be a great joy. Despite suffering enormous familial loss in the Holocaust and years of creative block, Lempel built a career as a Yiddish writer with single-minded focus and commitment. She created an authorial voice that was uniquely her own and a prose rich in poetry, experimentation in time and voice, and empathy. She looked at characters at the margins of society and at themes still considered taboo, including abortion, prostitution, and incest. I was drawn to Lempel's work for all of these reasons and in researching her autobiography, came to be inspired also by the example of her courage in life and art. Our work overlaps somewhat in our interest in life at the margins and blurring the line between poetry and prose, although I think much of Lempel's work is more firmly anchored than mine in the realm of the experimental and avant-garde. I do see Lempel as a kindred literary spirit.  

I have been reading voraciously and widely since childhood. It's difficult to pinpoint specific literary influences. I prefer to think of texts whose effects remain with me. Even if I don't recall particular plots, the authors' themes and concerns, and overall sensibilities remain. I am interested in writers who take risks, who go against the grain, who can create a marriage of emotional impact and beauty of language, who write with psychological acuity and care. 

A partial list of favorite English-language fictional texts, in alphabetical order of author's last name, include:  

Julia Alvarez, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents  
Michelle Cliff, Abeng
Marian Engel, Bear  
Janet Hobhouse, The Furies 
F.M. Mayor, The Rector's Daughter  
Elizabeth McCracken, The Giant's House: a Romance  
Gloria Naylor, The Women of Brewster Place  
Joyce Carol Oates, Where is Here?  
James Purdy, 69: Dream Palace and Other Stories  
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea  
Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, Home, and Lila  
Sinclair Ross, As For Me and My House  
Elizabeth Taylor, Angel and Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont  
Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth  

If we include non-fiction, poetry, and Yiddish literature and world literature in translation, there would be many more titles to add.  

C.M. MAYO: You have been a consistently productive writer and poet for many years. How has the digital revolution affected your writing? Specifically, has it become more challenging to stay focused with the siren calls of email, texting, blogs, online newspapers and magazines, Facebook, Twitter, and such? If so, do you have some tips and tricks you might be able to share? 

YERMIYAHU AHRON TAUB: The digital revolution has helped bring about a dynamic international literary culture. Poems and stories can now be read by anyone with computer access. Blogs such as yours also support the work of writers and connect writers and readers. Before appearing in book form, much of my work has appeared in online publications. In the digital age, it is more affordable to publish literary 'zines, although maintaining the availability of defunct journals remains an issue of concern for literary publishers, writers, and readers. Facebook is useful for sending out announcements of new work and seeing what colleagues and friends have been doing. I also enjoy the travel, food, and family photos that people post! I started on Facebook fairly recently. I thought it would take more of my time that it actually has. I am not on Twitter or other social media. 

There's only a limited amount of time in the day. I like to set aside time for daily translation, reading, and/or writing or writing-related business, as well.  The proliferation of media in the digital age offers tempting distractions from writing. There are now so many offerings in television and film, many of them quite literary and demanding extensive viewing time. 

Still, I always return to the written word. And I prefer to read in hard copy. Nothing has replaced words on a paper—the joy that comes from concentration on those words, turning the page, the touch of paper, the heft of a book in one's hand or one's lap. The poems "Eavesdropping" and "Luddite's Exhortation" in my fourth collection Prayers of a Heretic explore the pleasures—cerebral, sensual, and otherwise—of books and reading from books. The key to productivity is tuning out all of the distractions to draw on the creativity that emerges from focus and quiet, or perhaps more aptly put, quietude. One can be sitting in a noisy cafe and still be in a place of internal quiet. 

But, of course, there are many ways to live and work as a writer. Find what works for you and honor that process.  

C.M. MAYO: Are you in a writing group? If so, can you talk about the members, the process, and the value for you?  

YERMIYAHU AHRON TAUB: When I lived in New York, I was in the Yugntruf Yiddish writers' circle for many years. Attendees brought in a poem or a story and shared it with the group. It was a great way for me to get feedback on my Yiddish writing and to encounter new Yiddish creativity. That group continues to meet.  I have attended two sessions of a poetry group here in Washington, D.C. I'm not sure if that qualifies as being "in a writing group." Here too, folks distribute the poems, read it aloud, and then provide comments. The feedback was quite rigorous and helpful, and I enjoyed the gatherings. However, I've only attended two sessions since my recent focus has been on writing prose and on translating from the Yiddish.  

C.M. MAYO: Did you experience any blocks while writing these stories, and if so, how did you break through them?

YERMIYAHU AHRON TAUB: Fortunately, I did not experience writer's block while writing these stories. As I note in the book, I wrote Prodigal Children in the House of G-d while on an artist's residency at The Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow (Eureka Springs, Arkansas). Having three weeks to concentrate solely on writing enabled my turn from poetry to fiction. TWCDH was a magical experience — a great studio, friendly staff and writers in residence, and the ideal setting that combined natural beauty and a charming, historical small town. During the afternoons, I took walks and worked through ideas for the writing I was doing in the studio. Sometimes, I took walks with other writers in residence. 

C.M. MAYO: Back to a digital question At what point, if any, were you working on paper for these stories? Was working on paper necessary for you, or problematic?  

YERMIYAHU AHRON TAUB: My writing life as an adult has largely been conducted on the computer. Of course, the digital revolution has made it easier to submit work to literary magazines. Instead of having to print out hard copies, write and include a self-addressed stamped envelope, and go to the mailbox or post office, one can now submit work electronically. Writing on the computer also allows for extensive revision.  In my childhood and youth, I wrote by hand. In college, I sometimes submitted papers typed on a typewriter. So I remember well the challenges in the revision process back then. 

C.M. MAYO: Do you keep in active touch with your readers? If so, do you prefer hearing from them by email, sending a newsletter, a conversation via social media, some combination, or snail mail?  

YERMIYAHU AHRON TAUB: I welcome feedback from readers. I prefer e-mail over other forms of communication. I sometimes go for long periods of time without checking Facebook. I rarely use snail mail. I try to answer all letters. Giving readings, particularly ones that include a Q & A, is another great way to connect with readers. 

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> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

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M.L. recommends checking out Yermihayu Ahron Taub's page on Beltway Quarterly.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Cyberflanerie: Noteworthy Blogs of Late & More

Holding the Light: Pat Dubrava's luminous essay, Not Even the Trees.

Rose Mary Salum, Mexican poet, novelist, essayist and editor of Literal ponders #MeToo.

Mr. Money Mustache reveals his breakfast, among other things.

Low Tech Magazine:  Ditch the Batteries and History and Future of the Compressed Air Economy.

Granola Shotgun on Thousand Oaks. I was struck by the comment by host Johnny (in reply to Here in Van Nuys):
"I’ve come to the conclusion that fretting over aesthetics (like the abundant use of synthetic grass lawns and Lee Press-On faux facades) isn’t a productive use of my energies. Neither is kvetching about regulations or other people’s attitudes about… anything. Let it go.
"Focus on the underlying structural dynamics. Some places are well suited to change and will ride out future dynamics better than most. Others are destined to decline rapidly under the best of circumstances. Thousand Oaks will endure for quite some time because the people who live there have political authority and money to buffer themselves fro quite a lot. It’s a good place. It’s just not my place."
Here in Van Nuys on The Parking Police. This is a blog I've been following regularly. I am seeing some of these very same issues in northern California, where I have family, and as a novelist-sociologist (all novelists are sociologists) and ex-economist (yes, I used to be an economist) I find them fascinating. It's a grim portrait of place at times. But such is our societal and fiscal trajectory. And I want to get my mind around it.

Black Liszt: David Black talks about Innovation Stories in his new book.

Typewriter Revolution: I am honored that Richard Polt dedicates the poem "Vanilla" to Yours Truly. (I am back to typing on a typewriter again, now that I have another Hermes, an Hermes Baby, circa 1960s.) I got the dedication because I supplied the word as a prompt. Funny, I thought of "vanilla" as exotic and spicy-- I forgot, having lived in Mexico so many years, where vanilla is a sharply delicious flavor, and vanilla icecream packs some zing, its connotations of blah north of the border. (P.S. With his typewriter advocacy, Polt, a noted professor of philosophy and expert on Heidegger, is doing something far more interesting than it might appear at first glance.)

Cal Newport shares his morning routine with Business Insider. His blog is here.

The Archdruid has suggested that his readers try a secret experiment.



David J. Silverman gives an interview to Ben Franklin's World podcast about Thundersticks. This is a brilliant, important book.


A signal of a cultural tide turning: Rebecca Solnit's essay in this month's issue of Harper's, Driven to Distraction.

Fodder for another blog post: I recently took out a batch of print magazine subscriptions, so as to spend less time on the iPad. So far so good-- and if not for my Harper's subscription, I would have missed Solnit's essay. But I treasure the blogosphere. As a writer I love the freedom and speed; as a reader, I relish the adventures with unique, unfiltered voices and their sometimes fabulous, sometimes squirrely, othertimes, whoa, too-way-out-for-prime-time ideas and information.

>>Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Blast Past Easy: A Permutation Exercise with Clichés

By C.M. Mayo

As of this year, the second Monday of the month is dedicated to my workshop students and anyone else interested in creative writing.

Yes, this was on my bookshelf and
yes, I actually used to consult it
I've previously posted on my favorite exercises for a fast-acting manuscript Rx, what I call "emulation" or "permutation" exercises, here. (Which one is it, emulation or permutation? Depends. That would be another post.)

The basic idea is to take a phrase or perhaps as many as a few sentences from another writer's work or from your own manuscript, and play with it in some predetermined way. Sometimes the exercise might prompt a new piece; othertimes it might give you just what you need to brighten up the blah or smooth a rough patch in a draft. Moreover, for my wampum, permutation exercises beat crossword puzzles by a Texas section. (Yowie, that was an orangutang's tea party of imagery!)


Yes, I am being silly. To play, you have to be willing to be silly! Tell your ego to just take a long cool breath. You, dear writerly reader, do not have to use the results of your writing exercises in your manuscript, never mind show them to anyone else.

Simply, for any given permutation exercise, come up with a bunch of things! Maybe elegant, maybe dorky. Maybe even dorksterly dorkikins dorky. Then circle the one or two results that, for whatever reason, strike your fancy and/or seem apt for your purposes.

In my experience, and that of many of my writing students, doing these exercises is a tiny investment for a mega-payoff. The more often you do these little exercises, the easier they get, and this ease will greatly serve you in your endeavors to write, and in particular, to write more vividly. You will also get practice in generating material you are able to, la de da, discard. And discarding unworthy bits and pieces of a draft, and even whole novels, without attachment, that's a vital skill for a writer, too.


There are as many permutation exercises as you can dream up. This one, what I call "Blast Past Easy," plays with cliché.

How can you spot a cliché? If a phrase sounds familiar and/ or it came to you too easily, it's probably a cliché.

What's wrong with cliché? For more discerning readers, whom presumably you would want to have, cliché signals a lack of originality and/or naiveté and/or sloppiness. In sum: mediocrity. There are exceptions-- for example, a fictional character or the subject of biography might use cliché (and if they do, that tells us somehing about them, does it not?) And some essayists use cliché for comic effect. (I'll be posting about intentional diction drops anon.)

"Like deja vu all over again"-- well, you can debate me, but I'm going to call that a cliché, except  as used by Yogi Berra, because he's the one who came up with it.

Here are a few clichés I happened upon in recent weeks' reading, and my permutations-- four each. If you feel so moved, a good exercise could be to add more permutations of your own.

"Talk does not boil the rice"
Talk does not shampoo the pooch
Talk does not slice the pepperoni
Talk does not iron the shirts
Talk does not roast the turkey
(You might try a permutation of the noun, "talk," e.g., art; violin playing; texting

"Shoveling smoke"
Shoveling soap bubbles
Shoveling Koolaid
Shoveling fog
Shoveling thunder
Shoveling granola
Shoveling marshmallows

"Bet you dollars for donuts"
Bet you deutschmarks for Dingdongs
Bet you dinars for dinos
Bet you dollars for diddlysquat
Bet you pounds for peanuts

(Part of what makes "dollars for donuts" such an appealing cliché is the alliteration, that is, the repeating "d"s of "dollars" and "donuts." You might try varying the sound, e.g., silver for Skittles, or, pesos for pips, etc.)

"Let the cat out of the bag"
Let the cockroach out of the bag
Let the bedbug out of the backpack
Let the tarantula out of the pickle jar
Let the troll out of the compost pile
(Another permutation could be to switch the verb, e.g, Put the cat in the bag; stuff the cat in the bag; drown the cat in the bag; swing the cat in the bag, etc.)

"The bee's knees"
The snail's tail
The donkey's ankle
The sloth's toenail (doesn't rhyme but, oh well, I like it)
The kitten's mittens (is that a cliché?)

"A fish out of water"
A mole out of its hole
A horse out of its pasture
A sheep out of its herd
A credit card nowhere near a department store

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P.S. Visit my workshop page here. For more exercises, help yourself to "Giant Golden Buddha & 364 More Free Five Minute Writing Exercises."

Today's exercise is

May 14 "Barrel, Mirror, Telephone"
In three sentences or less describe the barrel. In three sentences or less describe the mirror. Where is the telephone? Describe what happens.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Jeffrey Mishlove's New Video Series "InPresence"

Highly recommended: Psychologist Jeffrey Mishlove's new series of short inspiring talks, "InPresence," on his YouTube channel, New Thinking Allowed. 

InPresence  0001:

InPresence 0002:

InPresence 0003:

To date Mishlove has posted 70 InPresence videos.You can find these and his many interviews on the "playlists" page for his YouTube channel.

(I am honored to say that a couple of years ago, for New Thinking Allowed, Mishlove interviewed me about my book, Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book, Spiritist Manual.)

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.