Archive for April, 2012


P is for Persimmon

   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

persimmon2Why? Who knows!!!

(…I think I’m running out of ideas…)

No, really, just stick with me for a minute here.

A few months ago, I saw a persimmon at the store for the first time. I thought about buying it and trying it, but I’ll be honest—I was scared that:

  • a) I wouldn’t know how to eat it.
  • b) It would be gross and I’d have wasted three bucks.
  • c) It would be a subpar experience as compared to eating a fresh one off the tree (which we can’t get here in Canada, as far as I know).

As a result, I still haven’t tried a persimmon. And that’s too bad, because looking back, those were really dumb reasons for not trying something I was curious about. My idiot brain, should it have been working properly, neglected to realize that:

  • a) The internet will gladly tell me THOUSANDS of ways to eat a persimmon.
  • b) Three bucks is a small price to pay for potentially finding a new favorite food; plus, how often do I spend three dollars on a new food like that? Never. Once isn’t going to bankrupt us.
  • c) DUH. Of course a piece of fruit that ripens on the truck is going to be subpar to one eaten right from the tree, but it’s the same thing with berries in the store in winter, and I still buy those…

Moral of the story? (Well, besides that Faith spends way too much time thinking about fruit in the grocery store.)persimmon

I think it’s that, when it comes to new things, it’s really easy to rationalize away why we shouldn’t or can’t or won’t do something. But if we’d just take half a second and think about the excuses we’re making—and admit that we’re just stalling because we’re scared or nervous or anxious—we’ll realize that none of those excuses actually hold water, and there are plenty of ways to break down the barriers (that in many cases aren’t actually real barriers at all, just mental walls we’ve built for one reason or another).

Don’t miss out on life’s experiences! Eat that persimmon!!! Or, uh, whatever it is you’re rationalizing yourself out of. Smile


O is for Open

   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

Something different!As a writer, I think it’s important to be even more open to new ideas, concepts, and things or people that are “not like us” than the average individual.

Think about all those times when you go to the grocery store, or walk down the street, or find yourself at a function where there’s someone who, due to their behavior or appearance or loud opinions, you’d typically steer away from. Or maybe you end up in a place where things are done differently, or in a different order, or in a manner that might otherwise offend you simply because it’s not what you’re used to.

Instead of becoming judgmental, or offended, or walking away in a huff, I think as writers, we have a responsibility: To learn, to question, to understand, and to try and see things from the other side.

We’re the ones whose imaginations, whose stories and perceptions, help to shape those of the people we reach with the people and situations we create. If we write off things that are different simply for the sake of being different, how limiting is that?!

And how will that help anyone to see beyond outer perceptions?

I’ve been in more than one situation recently – and met several people – that instinct wanted me to write off as “DO NOT LIKE” simply because it wasn’t how I was used to things being done, or the people as “INFERIOR” simply because I didn’t like them based on a first (superficial) impression. I’m not ashamed to admit it! We all do it, we just don’t like to talk about it or we’re embarrassed to admit we think this way.


It’s required an active shift in my perception filters to become more open to accepting these situations and people as learning experiences. As a way to expand my view of the world, and to realize that everyone, everyone has something interesting about them that we could never know from a simple glance at the surface.


It means seeing the good or fascinating in the different because of the differences. Not dismissing the different simply for the sake of it being different.

Writing off anyone or anything because of immediate personal bias does an enormous disservice to the rest of the world, because as writers, we need to draw on the different, the strange, and the things that no one else is brave enough to try to understand.

The more open we are, the more incredible and wondrous the world will become. And the more we understand that? The better this place will be for all of us. Smile


N is for Nothing

   Posted by: Faith    in Everything Else

question-markI have no idea what to post about today.

Exciting, eh?

Guess that’s what happens when you agree to blog for a month, then make a list of all your intended topics without actual notes next to those topics to explain what the heck you meant by THAT.

Today’s note said “noticing”. Er, okay. I’m sure I had a brilliant post planned, but darned if I have a clue what it was.

Oh well!

So, uh… how’s the challenge going for everyone else? o_O


M is for Magic

   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts


“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around

you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most

unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

- Roald Dahl


L is for Librarything

   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

Ahh, Librarything.

Where would I be without it?

Pile-of-BooksWell, for one, I wouldn’t have a complete catalogue of all my books. Now, if there’s ever a fire or a flood, I have a record for insurance purposes of all the books I own.

But cataloguing your books is only one perk of using this site, which I vastly prefer to GoodReads. And before you ask, no, Librarything isn’t just for libraries or librarians! Really, the “library” part in the title refers to the ability to catalogue, categorize, and provide information about your books and others.

Over at Librarything, I’m also an active member of the group “75 Books in 2012” – our challenge is to read 75 books each calendar year, and this year is my fourth time in the group. Admittedly, we’re more about the books than the numbers, so even if you only think you’ll read 20 books this year, we’ll still let you in and welcome you with open arms!!!

It’s a place to go to discuss books with like-minded individuals, where religious and racial and political differences are actually discussed like civil individuals, with respect and deference and logic leading the way – seriously, where else on the internet can you find that?!?!

Since joining Librarything and the group, I’ve expanded my reading horizons in ways I could never have anticipated. I used to read ONLY fantasy or sci-fi, but now I’ll pick up the occasional literary novel, oodles of non-fiction, contemporary dramas, cozy mysteries, maybe even a romance or a western or *gasp* something mainstream. If it’s a good story, who cares what genre it is?

stack-of-books2My TBR list has expanded to include well over 500 titles, and it’s growing! And in the process of reading and recommending books, I’ve made real, sincere friendships. The group supports each other, encourages each other through hard times, and bonds together for strength (such as this past January after the death of a long-time group member). We celebrate each other’s achievements and victories (beating cancer! getting married! having a baby! a new job! going back to school!), and every year there are multiple REAL LIFE meet-ups of group members.

I haven’t had the opportunity to attend one of these yet, but a few of us are in discussion about a Toronto meet-up… so, fingers crossed!

If you’ve never hopped onto Librarything to take a look around, what are you waiting for? Come find me in the 75’ers group, and let’s talk books!



K is for Kosher

   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

Kosher Chinese:

Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion

by Michael Levy

Memoir / Travel

Release Date: 2011

Book Depository Synopsis:

kosher chineseAn irreverent tale of an American Jew serving in the Peace Corps in rural China, which reveals the absurdities, joys, and pathos of a traditional society in flux.

In September of 2005, the Peace Corps sent Michael Levy to teach English in the heart of China’s heartland. His hosts in the city of Guiyang found additional uses for him: resident expert on Judaism, romantic adviser, and provincial basketball star, to name a few. His account of overcoming vast cultural differences to befriend his students and fellow teachers is by turns poignant and laugh-out-loud funny.

While reveling in the peculiarities of life in China’s interior, the author also discovered that the "other billion" (people living far from the coastal cities covered by the American media) have a complex relationship with both their own traditions and the rapid changes of modernization. Lagging behind in China’s economic boom, they experience the darker side of "capitalism with Chinese characteristics," daily facing the schizophrenia of conflicting ideologies.

Kosher Chinese is an illuminating account of the lives of the residents of Guiyang, particularly the young people who will soon control the fate of the world.

My (Brief!) Thoughts:

I read this book on recommendation from someone in the Librarything 75’ers group (what’s that, you ask? I’ll talk about it tomorrow! *yay*). The book was written by a Jewish American Peace Corps Volunteer, and chronicles the two years he spent teaching in rural China — the location of "China’s other billion" — which is a very different area from the China most Westerners are familiar with (ie. Beijing, Shanghai).

He presents his experiences and observations with humor, poignancy, and more than one anecdote of moral dilemmas he encountered along the way. I found his objectivity refreshing — he never delves into cultural superiority on either side — but at the same time sympathized with certain situations where I, too, would have been unable to stay quiet (ie. responding to horrific animal abuse, even though it made a bad situation even worse).

I found that the book is more than a travel memoir — it’s a rare insight into the goings-on of rural China and the shift between old and new. I believe this book wraps up around 2007, so it would be interesting to know how things have continued to change since Levy’s time there.
I’m sure my little review here isn’t doing this book the justice it deserves, so if this is a topic that interests you (world issues, memoirs, etc.), I really do encourage you to pick up this volume and give it a read.

About the Author

michael levyMichael Levy is the author of Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China’s Other Billion (Henry Holt, July, 2011), a memoir about his experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in western China. Mike is currently teaching at Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn, New York. He returns frequently to China to check in on his students and visit the basketball courts where he momentarily attained stardom. While in the United States, he keeps strictly kosher. While in China, he eats anything with four legs except the table.


J is for Judgment

   Posted by: Faith    in Everything Else

I’ve heard a lot of debate recently over whether authors should also be book reviewers. As if having an opinion on a book you’ve read shouldn’t count anymore, once you’re published.

clinicalGuidelinesI can see both sides of the argument, and I think there are valid points on either side!

If you’re published, you’re part of a smaller community, and is it fair to cast judgment on your peers? Particularly when it comes to books you didn’t like—is it right to critique work from a fellow author? Won’t that mean bad press for you and some really awkward moments when you run into that author at an industry convention?

But on the other side, everyone knows that not all books are for everyone. So what if you don’t like Author X’s work and write a review explaining exactly why, leaving anything personal out of it (like any good reviewer, focusing only on the storytelling)? Aren’t we all mature enough to realize that it’s not personal? Hopefully Author X would, if she read your book in the future, judge it on its own strengths and weaknesses instead of retaliating against your bad review.

And then there’s the editor and the publisher to consider. Will they see your critique as a strike or attack against them?

I know some authors have worked around this potential conflict of interest by only posting reviews of books they like, ignoring the bad ones entirely. Kind of like positive reinforcement… ignore the bad stuff, praise the good, and eventually the good behaviors (books?) will prevail.

It’s a good idea, but where’s the honesty in that? I’d like to know what my favorite authors enjoy and dislike—it might give a little more insight into the way they tell stories.

How do you feel about authors writing book reviews?


I is for Incubate

   Posted by: Faith    in Creating Coldcuts

How long do you let ideas incubate in your mind before actually attempting to write them down?

infant-incubatorSometimes I get a story idea and keep it to myself for awhile, letting the concept simmer. If things start to take shape, I’ll write it down in an idea journal (or, let’s be honest, whatever random scrap of paper happens to be around at the time).

Then, it’s incubation time. You know those ideas—the ones you’re sure you’re not ready to write yet, that need more time for development.

It may take a week, or a month, or several years before I’m ready to write it—not counting those stories that demand to be told immediately. But those are far and few between.

I think it’s a good idea to let concepts take a bit more shape before putting things down on paper… it’s akin to mental outlining, ensuring we don’t move into the story too quickly, before we really know what we want it to be about.

That said, the idea baby has to come out of the incubator eventually! Even if we’re not quite sure we’re ready for it… because, in all honesty, who ever is?

And don’t worry, you’re not alone in this. Author Neil Gaiman blogged his experience in getting ready to write his now award-winning story, The Graveyard Book:



Worth waiting for…


In 1985 or 1986, watching my son Mike wheel his tricycle around the graveyard next door to our house that we used because we didn’t have a garden, I thought of an idea for a story about a small boy who wandered into a graveyard and was raised by dead people.

Then, deciding I wasn’t a good enough writer, I didn’t write it.

graveyard bookOver the years I’d pick up a scrap of paper and try to write a scene from near the beginning, conclude I wasn’t good enough yet, and put it aside.

Recently I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t getting any better. So I wrote a short story called "The Witch’s Headstone", which will probably be chapter 4 or 5 of the book.

And today I finished writing Chapter One of The Graveyard Book, and it’s a real book. I know it’s a real book because there are all sorts of things I don’t quite know yet, and I can’t wait to find them out.


It’s okay to let our ideas incubate! But we have to let them out eventually…


H is for Harmony

   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

purple_flower_1280x800Something for writers to keep in mind when creating stories… because ultimately, stories are about people—and it’s the differences between those people that make up the heart of a good story:


“The downfall of the attempts of governments and leaders to unite mankind is found in this- in the wrong message that we should see everyone as the same. This is the root of the failure of harmony. Because the truth is, we should not all see everyone as the same! We are not the same! We are made of different colours and we have different cultures. We are all different! But the key to this door is to look at these differences, respect these differences, learn from and about these differences, and grow in and with these differences.

“We are all different. We are not the same. But that’s beautiful. And that’s okay. In the quest for unity and peace, we cannot blind ourselves and expect to be all the same. Because in this, we all have an underlying belief that everyone should be the same as us at some point. We are not on a journey to become the same or to be the same. But we are on a journey to see that in all of our differences, that is what makes us beautiful as a human race, and if we are ever to grow, we ought to learn and always learn some more.”

- C. Joybell C.


…I admit, I’m not really sure who this person is (and her blog is really awkward to get around), but I thought that was very well said!


G is for Gratitude

   Posted by: Faith    in Rye Thoughts

gratitudeComplaining is so much easier than being thankful.

You know the saying. Your mother or Sunday School teacher or grandmother probably said it to you at least once: “You need to have an attitude of gratitude!”

But how many of us actually do? It’s so much easier to think about the crap in the world, or in your own life, than stop and remember the good things. The newspaper headlines sure don’t help, either.

I once read somewhere (I wish I could remember where!) that one of the best things you can do for yourself, if you’re feeling stuck in a rut and teetering on the verge of overwhelming disappointment or depression, is to keep a notebook by your bedside.

Every night before you fall asleep, write down three things you’re grateful for: three good things that happened that day, or that you love, or that you’re just plain glad exist in the world.

The theory is, over the course of doing this for a few days or a week or however long it takes, you’ll start to realize that there ARE good things, and that the good in your life really does outweigh or at least put into perspective all those things that seemed bad or upsetting or just plain wrong with life.

I can’t imagine it’d be easy. But forcing ourselves to think about the good things?

I think that’s a pretty darn good idea.

What would be the first thing on your list?

Today, mine would be… sunshine. Smile