Guest post by Santa Fe author, Claudette Sutton
New York is the city of my past -- in fact, several of them.
It's the city of my young-adult past. In my early 20s, in the early '80s, I got my BA from the Seminar (now Eugene Lang) College, worked, and lived in an East Village walk-up with my cat Pekoe.
It is the city of my parents' past. Dad arrived here in 1947, a handsome, fresh Syrian émigré by way of Shanghai. Mom was born in Brooklyn, though her parents moved to Washington D.C. when she was a little girl. She came up frequently to see her cousins, and her parents moved to an apartment in the Franconia on W. 72nd Street (just off Central Park, near the Dakota) when Mom was in her early 20s, so she could find a Syrian husband. (There are differing versions of that story.) She found one. Mom and Dad married in 1950 and lived there briefly before moving to Washington.
And it’s the city of my ancestral past. The Syrian-Jewish immigrants began arriving here at the turn of the last century -- my maternal grandfather, Abe Beyda, and his family among them -- and settled in the Lower East Side before moving to Brooklyn.
On this trip, all my pasts are interlacing with one another and with my hopes for the future, and -- since New York never fails to keep us firmly rooted in the present -- with the exquisite now.
Yesterday was Memorial Day, our last day up in Westchester, and Charles's last day before flying home to go back to work. David and Carolyn took us to the beautiful Innisfree Garden in Millbrook ("one of the world's ten best gardens"), then drove Charles to JFK and me to the train station in Hartsdale, where I caught the commuter train to Grand Central, for a taxi down to Soho. Initially sad to be alone in the station Charles and I passed through three separate times in the past few days, my spirits jumped when I checked into my very own room at the Solita Soho Hotel (recommended by a friend from New Mexico who is also here for the Jewish Book Council conference). I unpacked and headed just next door to a French restaurant for a glass of white wine, a bowl of chilled melon-mint soup, and an hour with my journal before going to bed early.
On this Manhattan stage of my trip, I'll be giving a reading tonight at Congregation Edmond J. Safra, the synagogue in Manhattan for the Syrian community. This morning, I'll visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, just a few blocks from my hotel. I read there's a nice tea shop, Harney and Sons, a few blocks away, which I'd love to check out, and this is Soho, on the edge of Chinatown and Little Italy, which means, who knows what else...
First, breakfast: Baz Bagels, a few blocks down Grand Street from my hotel. Eggs (scrambled), tea (English Breakfast), a bagel (“everything”), and cream cheese (“plain”). I don’t know what it is – we can throw rings of dough into boiling water in Santa Fe, too – but there’s nothing like a New York bagel.
The Tenement Museum visitors' center has a fantastic bookstore honoring New York’s many immigrant stories (I hope soon to include Farewell, Aleppo; I sent them a copy.) The museum itself is a restored old tenement at 97 Orchard, built in 1863, home in its time to over 7000 immigrants before being abandoned and shuttered for decades. Today it has been upgraded to modern safety standards as a museum, while stylistically preserved in its earlier state.
On their "Shop Life" tour, our bright young guide tells us about the German, then Jewish, families that ran businesses here from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. In the 1870s a German couple opened a saloon in the basement that served as a restaurant, bar, bank, post office, support center and social hall for the upstairs tenants. In time "Kleindeutschland" spread north to 14th Street, and east all the way to the East River, enticing people down from wealthier uptown neighborhoods for German food, music, dancing and bier.
By the end of the century, the Germans had disbursed and Eastern European Jews took their place. By 1900, our guide explains, the "Jewish East Side" was not only the largest Jewish community in the world but the most crowded place on the planet -- with a higher concentration of Jews even than back in the shtetls in Europe.
Our guide doesn't mention the small subgroup of Middle Eastern Jews. Their far more numerous European Jewish neighbors greeted these swarthy-skinned, Arabic-speaking immigrants with skepticism, sometimes outright disbelief, that they were really even Jewish. My Grandpa Abe was part of this first wave of Syrian Jews, arriving with his mother and three siblings in 1902 as an 8-year-old boy who didn't speak a word of English. His father had come two years earlier, selling dry goods door to door and on the streets with a pushcart, until he saved enough money to send for the family. They lived for a time just a few blocks from here on Hester Street, in a two-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor (because rent was cheaper than on the lower floors), with a potbelly stove for heating and cooking, a sink in the hallway shared all four apartments on that floor, and an outhouse behind the building. Eventually they moved to Brooklyn, to the Syrian-Jewish neighborhood that thrives and expands to this day.
“The end of of a community like Little Italy or Little Germany means its success,” our guide says, "because they've moved up." For most immigrant groups, I can see this is true. The curious thing about the Syrian Jews is that they measure success precisely by their resistance to assimilation. Financial success has made the community more self-sufficient, more contained – more like a hive of bees, functioning together as a unit, than individuals making it on their own.
On the way back to my hotel I call Mom and Dad, who have just arrived in Maryland from Florida for the summer. My family's migration to this country once took them across oceans and continents. At this point in their lives, my parents have the migratory path of birds: south in the winter, north in the summer. This is good. I give Mom as vivid a sense as I can of the sights, sounds and tastes of my trip. To Dad I give a description of the talk I'll be doing tonight at the Safra Synagogue. I'll take him with me in spirit. Wish I could take him physically.
Guest Post by Santa Fe author, Francie Healey
"Creating and writing Eat to Beat Alzheimer’s from concept to publication has been a three year long journey that has been full of technical, creative, personal and spiritual growth."'
- Francie Healey
This book has been an avenue for all kinds of learning: how to deal with obstacles, how to have a strong voice, how to advocate for what really matters to me, how to compromise, how to relate concepts to readers that educate and empower, how to be brave, which is also, how to be vulnerable.
I couldn’t have persevered and succeeded without my team, my family, and the support of friends and mentors. And even with help, there are some moments that must be walked alone, that really are about the growth we yearn for on a very deep level. I believe any creative project or risk we take, anything that feels like a leap of faith into the life we hope for, will bring about situations where we need to confront our own shadow. In other words, taking action towards a meaningful dream will lead us along a path that must address the inner places that had been previously holding us back. For example, it had been my habit, formed very early on in life, to surrender my voice and defer to another’s authority, even if that other’s viewpoint differed from my perspective or need. When I was faced with the opportunity to go back into this old habit and sacrifice my own vision for the book, for what another proposed it should be, I had the chance to become more conscious of this temptation and to choose differently. I am happy to say that I used that opportunity to speak up and advocate for what I wanted for Eat to Beat Alzheimer’s, and was very well received. Of course that scenario had nothing to do with anyone else, and everything to do with me, and what I personally was learning from this creative process.
From my perspective, addressing this level of psychological and spiritual growth was essential for the writing and publishing of Eat to Beat Alzheimer’s to continue moving forward. Even as I was refining my writing, researching and organizational skills, I still needed to address the deeper growth opportunity for this experience to be successful in a way that was aligned with my own vision and needs.
"There were, and are, many levels operating when we pursue a project like a book, and especially I think, a first book. My experience all the way through was a bit like a juggling act, constantly moving parts that needed tracking and attention, while always holding the whole picture in mind."
Researching for Eat to Beat Alzheimer’s opened up so many paths that it was important to stay focused on what needed to be in this book, versus what would overwhelm it. I really wanted to have rich research-based content that would ground the premise of the book for readers; so they would know why I used the ingredients and recipes I did and what was happening in their bodies from the foods they were eating. Eat to Beat Alzheimer’s is based in science and good data. I want my readers to have access to that information so they feel empowered in their decisions around food. As we looked into all the research, it became clear that this is an abundant and emerging field, so it was necessary to contain the information we gathered, and bookmark areas for later research and writing projects. Eat to Beat Alzheimer’s has been an incredible project that has meant a lot to me personally and professionally, and it appears to be just a starting point for more to come. As I continue to learn and grow, I am inspired to continue sharing what I am discovering about healing and wellness.
And now that Eat to Beat Alzheimer’s is published and in the hands of readers, I am really delighted to have made such an accomplishment that will also serve as a stepping stone to even deeper dives into this area of brain health and overall wellness. I couldn’t have sustained such a project if it wasn’t a passion of mine: bringing good information to people and helping clients and readers to awaken to the potential they have, right now, to make significant positive changes in their lives. On the other side of publication, looking back, I am grateful for the process, even the rigorous challenges, which only served to strengthen me as an author. I trust that Eat to Beat Alzheimer’s will offer readers valuable insight and healing because it certainly did that for me in the writing of it.
There is something very powerful about bringing an idea into form. To make a concept, that begins somewhat as a fantasy, into a reality is a birthing process. And like birth, it is hard and messy, and takes a lot longer than we think it is going to take. Moreover, it is transformational and humbling and very tender to put something that is precious to me (like healing with foods and empowerment with education) into form and out into the world. At times the pull to protect my idea and keep it safe appeared to be in conflict with completing the book and getting it out there. So much of the journey has been about surrendering and trusting. I think that is why Eat to Beat Alzheimer’s feels like a beginning to me, rather than the end of a project. Writing it has stirred up so much passion, curiosity, and inspiration to continue learning and writing and being a voice for wellness. I had to constantly surrender any fears that would push me towards perfectionism, control, and worry. Fear does not serve the creative process. Instead, invoking trust in the writing, and my life, helped the book take form and become clear. As much as my vision for Eat to Beat Alzheimer’s was important to me, it was not about controlling the process. Allowing the book to unfold, and using my vision as an anchor point was the way I was able to move along the trajectory and eventually finish the book for publication. Writing, for me, is a dynamic process that synthesizes all the points vying for attention and wanting to be heard. It is important to honor each voice, or each point, allowing room for all, while holding the gestalt so that everything eventually flows within one stream, accentuating the underlying message of the project. For Eat to Beat Alzheimer’s that is a message of hope and empowerment. It is a message that I had to live and breathe as I wrote the book. Infused within the content of Eat to Beat Alzheimer’s, is the grit required to put one’s health as a priority and the courage it takes to awaken to our inner authority, which knows how to take the rein and steer each of us on a path of true vitality and wellness. Ultimately, disease is not inevitable, though death will come. We can all continue to awaken to our innate worthiness for health. Eat to Beat Alzheimer’s offers a lot of tools for turning in this direction, for choosing into life more deeply and honestly, by putting our needs, physiologically and otherwise, first and foremost.
Overall, I think any creative process can be a metaphor for living life. Bringing forward authentic expression about what we care about, what we love, and who we are is indeed, a recipe for health. Eat to Beat Alzheimer’s is infused with the many layers of healing and wellness, from the nutritional basics and biochemistry, to creating a mindset of openness and kindness, to instructions for cooking and creating health with foods. As I move forward as an author and a health and wellness professional I am excited to continue exploring each layer more intimately, and sharing my explorations with the world.
Guest Post by Marty Gerber - Terra Nova Books Editor
Bookends is a New York Times column in which two writers go mano a manoover a book-related issue chosen by editors to put them at opposite ends of the widest possible spectrum.
One such recent spectrum was book subjects that are "underrepresented in contemporary fiction." (Though the question “Compared with what?” was ignored, I think the intended answer would be the world we breathe and bleed and breed in.)
For Ayana Mathis, joy was on top of the “missing” list. Today's writers, she said, have dived into a sea of "despair, alienation, and bleakness." And she sees the reason clearly—a need to "write against" our culture's most common images of how people live: those created by ad writers and political speech-makers. As a result, Mathis says, "We have elevated suffering to the highest of virtues."
However, the counterpointing Siddhartha Deb awards writers more personal responsibility for what they ignore: refugees drowning at sea, life in solitary confinement, endless doomed struggles to merely pay the rent. "Literary fiction," he says, "seems cut off from . . . the very substance of living." And the cause that he sees goes deeper than Mathis's view; it is "the narrowing of sensibilities and interests of those writing today."
I realize there's a theory that "literary fiction" is impervious to the marketplace, that its creators should somehow be able to buy gas and pay the babysitter with specie consisting of the good, the true, and the beautiful. This is fantasy, of course. Reality is that those allowed by idealism or trust fund to avoid considering what people might want to read—the "demand" part of the capitalist equation—are pretty few on the supply side of the writing world. The large majority might wish they had that luxury but know they’re sadly stuck with the need to at least occasionally consider their audience.
Deb holds out Elena Ferrante, a writer focused on "unpalatable truth," as someone who "might free herself from the tired pursuit of fiction as a matter of professional advancement" and replace it with "indifference to what the market wants." He probably regrets that she's shown no interest in having her novels go unread. As a fallback, my best suggestion is that Deb, an author praised for both his fiction and non-fiction, step forth himself into that land where writers answer only to themselves.
"The rot of today’s literary scene," he laments, is "reinforced by the corporate demands of mainstream publishing houses"—clearly unacceptable for any person of honor. It's only a matter of time, I'm sure, before Deb will be bravely putting his keyboard fingers where his mouth is—except, that is, for the middle one proudly reserved for his readers.
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