Do you trust me?

My one son has the memory of an elephant.

He can remember the details of events that happened when he was three, trips we took when he was four.

My other son — not so much.

He hardly remembers his best friends from America, and what he does remember is from stories we’ve told him and pictures we’ve shown.

We’ve fabricated most of his memories by sharing our own.

What I mean by that is, my son now claims to remember things I’m not sure he does.

He’s recounting stories of stories. Not stories about actual events in his memory.

Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist, claims that this is not unusual. That our memories are easily-manipulated.

Unintentionally, and intentionally.

In her recent Ted talk, she offers a firsthand account of working on a crime case gone horribly wrong.

A man was wrongly identified by his supposed victim and convicted of rape — purely on the testimony of a woman who claimed she remembered him doing it.

I’m conflicted by this.

On the one hand, I’m extremely uncomfortable that a person may be put in jail for a crime he didn’t commit simply because one or more people remembered seeing him at the crime — which apparently happens a lot (less so now that we can use DNA evidence). On the other hand,

I desperately want to be believed.

If it were me — If I remembered this man as the perpetrator of the crime against me — I’d better well be believed!

I want raped women to be believed.

I want children to be believed.

And, even when a crime hasn’t been committed against me, even when I have not been wronged, I want to believe in my memory.

I want to know that what I remember seeing and doing and feeling and hearing actually happened.

I am emotionally attached to my memory.

My memory serves me.

Most of the time.

And yet, intellectually I understand that my memory is nothing more than an ever-changing interpretation of an event or an experience.

I think about memory a lot — as a parent, as a child, as a wife, as a writer.

I am very conscious of making my children’s memories, for instance.

I am very conscious that no matter how hard I work to make them good, they might remember them bad.

It’s in these conscious moments that I have great compassion for my own parents.

It’s in these conscious moments that I feel frustrated, too — knowing that there is very little I can do to control or manipulate another person’s memory of me.

As a writer, I acknowledge that my memory is faulty, even though I happen to have one that’s particularly strong and sensitive to detail.

And yet, I honor my memory when I write. I let it lead me down dark hallways, and up vanilla-scented stairwells.

I let my memory pierce that outer wall of my heart so that I may feel love not just in the past but in the present.

We put ourselves at great risk by ascribing so much power to memory – -this is true — especially in situations where memory may put an innocent man in jail;

But if we don’t give so much power to memory; what then?

If we laugh at it; belittle it; if we judge it; doubt it; forget it …

What happens then?

Who are we without our memory?

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Is blogging the new MFA program?

Before I was in high tech, I was in publishing.

At Scholastic, I worked in the creative marketing department, not directly with authors, but with their work; trying to make their work appeal to the largest audience as possible.

My claim to fame is that I wrote responses to fan letters for R.L. Stine and K.A. Applegate. So if you came of age in the late 90s, we were probably pen pals.

I also was a part of the exciting marketing campaign surrounding the release in the U.S. of the first Harry Potter book.

Good times.

After I left Scholastic, I spent a few years in other publishing jobs: in the promotions department at Parade Magazine and as an assistant editor for a Jewish newspaper.

I soon became expert in making other people’s work better.

Of course, through this experience, my work became better, too.  In addition to assigning and editing stories to freelance writers at the Jewish newspaper, I would report on local happenings and sometimes interview C-level Jewish celebrities for features.

Every time my boss, the Editor, would hand me back my first draft, I would grimace at the red marks in the margins.

But the marks, when implemented, always made my stories better.

In time, I became a confident writer of short form non-fiction. Your work becomes better the more you write and the more heavily you are edited.

I imagine the process is similar for any form of writing; especially in fiction and poetry, two genres in which I am experimenting and want to improve.

This is why so many emerging writers and published novelists come out of MFA programs.

They’ve dedicated themselves to writing, yes — but they’ve also committed to being publicly criticized for two years in the hopes of improving. In the hopes of one day being so good they will be noticed. Noticed like a misused metaphor, like a dangling participle.

This element of the writing program — the communal critical eye — is missing from the fantastic writing community that is the blog-o-sphere.

I never — or hardly ever — publicly criticize a blogger’s work. If I add a comment to a blog, 99% of the time it’s a positive comment. If it’s a negative comment, it’s finely worded so as to not offend the author.

I’m not talking about political blogs, where trolls feel completely uninhibited to offer their frank opinions about how the author is a stupid, naive right-wing psychopath. I’m talking about the community of essayists that have sprung up through the popularity and ease of the blogging platform.

Mommy bloggers.

Aspiring novelists.

Flash fiction writers.

People who feel the need to chronicle the every movement of their cats.

Everyone can be a published writer now.

A published author even — thanks to Amazon.com and a host of self-publishing software.

And, yes, this is awesome.

Really awesome.

And … not so awesome.

I like to read good writing.

I like to pay for good writing.

I’m annoyed when I read bad writing, especially when I’ve paid for it.

I want the books I read to have been written by people who cared enough to become better writers. I want those books to have been through at least one, if not five, careful revisions by an editor.

I say this not just as a writer, but as a consumer of the written word.

Maybe I hold myself up to too high a standard. (That sounds obnoxious, I know. )

Maybe if I didn’t, I would already be a published author myself now. (I’m not counting The Fantastic Adventures of Me & My Friends or the two other activity books I wrote for Scholastic. That also sounds a bit obnoxious, doesn’t it?)

Maybe I’m worrying for nothing.

Maybe the world is a happier place because more people are writing and finding their own audiences.

But I think there is room for criticism in the blogging world. Perhaps we would do more to support each other by not just commenting when we think a post is good, but when we think a post is almost good — when something could be just a little bit better if only it was rewritten once or twice.

It irritates me when I write a post that I think is really good and a commenter writes something simple like,

“Lovely.”

This happens a lot. Which should be a good thing.

But I want to follow up on that “lovely.” I want to know, “Why?”

“Why do you think this is lovely?”

Did it strike a chord?

Was it my careful phrasing?

Was it how elegantly I described the herd of goats by the side of the road?

And how could it be better? How could I rewrite it into something you’d be happy you paid for? Satisfied you spent your time on?

This is what is missing from the blogosphere. And why, at least now, blogging in community will never be as serious as a writing program.

Most of our comments are just blatant attempts at trying to attract new followers.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Are you a blogging writer who seeks comments like this? Who wants more than just a

“Great post!”

If so, let me know — perhaps we can build a more critical commenting community together.

Help each other… emerge…from red marks in the margin.

How to recognize a poet

If you write poetry and no one reads it, is it still a poem? What if no one likes it?

Gets it?

Shares it?

What if it’s never published?

Never praised?

Is it still a poem?

How — really — does one recognize a poet?

Is the title earned? Learned?

I admit —

I am a reluctant poet.

Reluctant, not because I don’t enjoy weaving short thoughtful phrases together and calling it poetry, and not because I don’t enjoy reading short thoughtful phrases woven together by others

but mostly because I am not 100% sure how to recognize a poem.

And I am not 100% sure I am a poet.

Poetry confuses me. It makes me insecure.

I doubt it. I judge it. In a way I don’t judge novels or articles or essays.

When I read poetry, I am often left confused.

When I write poetry, I am overly critical. Hungry for approval and acknowledgment.

Is it the writer in me, I wonder, that is anxious and unsure?

Or is it the human?

There was a time when I thought I knew poetry. When I thought that poetry was as simple as alliteration

alliteration

as simple as limericks … as quatrains … as rhyme.

I was in third grade and poetry was the unit during Language Arts.

We created a poetry book — I still have it. It’s bound in wallpaper and decorated with a rainbow colored pride known only by nine year old girls and confident gay activists.

poetry book

And I am moved by the poet I was then.

I am struck by how I saw the world when I was a poet, and I am envious of the girl who strung together lavish gibberish and confidently presented it as verse.

Oh, how the words flowed then…

/

walking down the stairs

holding tight to the staircase

taking your first step

Your parents at the bottom

finally your (sic) down the stairs.

/

In 1983, under the instruction and guidance of Mrs. Wald, I wrote a 12-page, wallpaper-bound book of poetry.

The pieces vary in length and in depth.

They cover topics that range from my childhood home to the mountains of Japan.

They make perfect sense and no sense at all.

Some rhyme, some reference people I no longer remember.

30 years later, I read this book of poetry and I am moved.

Does that make me a poet?

Is that enough?

I say it is.

It’s enough.

Not enough for contests or Ph.D.s or prizes, that’s for certain.

But enough to offer me the confidence

to write another poem

tomorrow.

Midterm exam in letting go

I imagine the ultimate test in letting go is when you die.

If you progress into the afterlife or Heaven or stay put, cold in the grave (depending on your beliefs and spiritual affiliation), you get an A+ in letting go.

If you turn into a nice ghost, just hanging around moving chairs and creaking doors ’cause you have  a few things left on Earth to clean up, you can probably bank on a C + with the chance to take the test over when some nice human with special powers comes along, notices you moving chairs and stuff, and helps you transition into the post living world. If you turn into a scary ghost or some demon that possesses toy clowns (like in Poltergeist), you clearly are still majorly stuck, and have official failed the “letting go” test.

But if there were a midterm exam on letting go, I’d say that test would look like your laptop click click clicking and never turning on again.

And when your computer died — because apparently that’s what the click click clicking always means — and it took your creative writing and your photos to the grave with it, the midterm exam demands of you proof you know your material. You need to prove to  your friends and your family and your readership — and most of all to yourself — that you truly live this thing called ‘letting go.’

To pass the midterm, you need to breathe in deep, say a prayer that you did do a backup a month ago — and then publicly show some gratitude for that.

To pass the midterm, you need to be thankful that living your life on Facebook and Instagram means that part of your life exists somewhere else —  in that mythical land called “the Cloud.” To pass the midterm means writing an essay that explains why a dead computer is like ten times better than a dead person and five times better than a solar flare powerful enough to wipe out the electrical grid, and take the Cloud with it. To pass the midterm is to acknowledge that you do not know everything and to actively remember the times in your life when opportunity has appeared in the middle of an assumed catastrophe.

To pass the midterm, is to type your blog post on your smart phone and be happy you have a smart phone on which to communicate and smart people whom may guide you on how to cope with the loss of things that feel really really important…but are in the end, just things.