Spike Lee called. He was looking for Indigo. He saw her in “She’s Gotta Have It”, a Netflix television series and knew she was perfect for a short film of his, “Broken Bird” that he wanted to produce. It was about a biracial girl, 12 years of age, struggling with her culture and identity while studying for her Bat Mitzvah. (Broken Bird screened its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2020). Indigo is nearly 13 now, lives in Brooklyn with her parents and sisters. She’s the granddaughter of a friend of ours. Indigo got so inspired by her role in the film that she decided that she too would train for and experience her own real Bat Mitzvah. And then the coronavirus hit.
I learned of this backstory as it was part of her real bat mitzvah earlier this month through zoom. In the midst of the very real, and tragic racial justice crisis in this country, it was an honor to witness a young biracial girl’s poise and performance, even through zoom, and to see her friends and family participate in the sacred “coming of age” ceremony. The service was held in her home, without a rabbi or Torah, but her teacher was a good substitute as she had a beautiful voice (as did Indigo) fitting for the occasion. As is customary in a ceremony and celebration of this type, the bat mitzvah shares her thoughts about life with the audience. We were all enthralled hearing from her.
Her story, struggles and performance, along with those of many others in today’s movement causes me to ponder why put thoughts and ideas into words. Why put feelings on paper and communicate with others? Why do we write? On some level writing helps make sense of one’s place in the cosmos. It helps the one who writes and may help others in their journey too.
Historians say the art of writing made its first appearance about six thousand years ago even though humans have been living (and dying) for a million years. Drawing, signs and pictures predated writing, but writing could not exist until there was an agreed-upon mix of formal signs or symbols “that could be used to reproduce clearly the thoughts and feelings the writer wishes to express”. Cuneiform was that first writing system originating in Mesopotamia. Historians say writing became gradually a form for memorandum, then a system for recording spoken language, and a medium for communication, thought and expression. Five thousand years ago scribes were writing using pen and ink and “sheets” of papyrus.
Whenever people have had to record and preserve events of history including their own personal history the need to write has occurred. Writing helps people heal from loss, grief or personal tragedy. Once there were diaries, memoirs, autobiographies and personal journals. Now there are podcasts and blogs as well. It is through writing and sharing with others that one heals says writer Louise DeSalvo in her book “Writing as a Way of Healing”. She says “a thorny experience, especially from dislocation, violence, racism, homophobia, anti-semitism, rape, political persecution, incest, loss, illness” is helped through writing about it. And given the disruption and pain and suffering playing out in America (and the world today), it’s fortunate that this is done.
Whether it’s journaling or poetry, a novel, memoir, blog post or a speech, writing appears to be a vocation that my family practices.
We Halperns seem to have a thing about wanting to live a meaningful life, a worthy, thoughtful life that enables us individually to become who we want to be. We seem to want to share our experiences and paths with others as well. Consider these:
“This is hard work, but I want more than a paycheck. Why do I do it?” Several widely-read books demonstrate a deep and broad market for serious nonfiction about finding meaning and motivation through work. “Wellsprings of Work”, my brother Skip’s book identifies deep spiritual drives that can make work personally fulfilling. This was true with his career in investing and lawyering – work that some may think is soulless and materialistic. Once these drives are understood, they are sources of meaning and motivation that many other people across many occupations can tap into as well.
Animated by personal stories – his experiences with Warren Buffet and Bernie Madoff; with professional baseball, tennis and hockey stars; with governments from Beijing and Bangkok to Barrow, Alaska and beyond – “Wellsprings” explores sources of inspiration for making work meaningful, whether you’re just starting your career, in mid-career or entering retirement.
My wife Arlyn published her spiritual memoir “Dancing into the Light: a spiritual journey of healing” in 2018, and it continues to do well as she conducts book group discussions about it. The back cover copy says it’s “ a heartwarming memoir that captures one woman’s transformative journey of self-discovery by making peace with a family at once extremely dysfunctional yet oddly endearing”. Through a series of fateful events, her adventures leads her from a Chicago suburb to Israel in the aftermath of the Six Day War, to Sweden with the love of her life, on to India too, as she travels down the path of Buddhist practice and Indian classical dance. It is a coming of age story and moving account of one woman’s spiritual quest in the 1960s and ‘70s. It’s a great read (and available on Amazon).
Both of these books are testaments to their authors’ vision, zeal and diligence. Both required lots of research and travel, interviews and readings to help compose and make sense of their lives. In my own way too I speak to this pursuit. See blog posts “How should you spend your time?” and “The people you meet while traveling” in particular.
Unless you’re Stephen King whose been known to write a 500 page book in less than two months, it takes most people years to write a novel; writing a novel is too much for most of us. (It’s certainly too much for me.). Ten years it took my wife to write her memoir, and Skip’s been working towards his book for some time as well. It reminds me of an art history class from college that focused on the act of creation. The Swiss sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti complained how difficult it was for him to convert a concept in his head into a bronze sculpture.
It takes me some drafts to compose each blog post while staying on a self-imposed schedule of writing a post every three weeks. By being on a deadline I am more aware of my surroundings, my daily existence and the passage of time. But I can’t imagine being a beat reporter seemingly always on deadline like author Roger Kahn in his baseball classic “The Boys of Summer”. He had deadlines everyday, sometimes two or three a day depending on the number of stories he had to write for the newspaper. Whatever your vision, whatever your experiences and story, regardless of medium, it takes a lot of work to get it right.
That’s is for now. See you again in a few weeks. I have a kernel of an idea for the next post and I’ve started writing ideas down.
By the way, my most recent blog post from July 4th, generated 7 times the usual feedback and comments and included a view from Finland too. Can you please tell me in 25 words or less what I did right to generate such a response! Thank you.