Book Club Tour Challenge Progress Report. Week Two. And Going Nuts.

In a word. Oy. I can’t believe it’s two weeks in, and I’m already pulling my hair out. I knew this thing wouldn’t be easy. I knew as a virtual unknown with little following in the literary world, that I had my work cut out for me. And I might not succeed at all in meeting my goal, getting all fifty states on board and visited within a year’s time. But I also knew I had the state of New Jersey in my back pocket right from the get-go, so I refused to let anything faze me. I approached this like I approach any other challenge I set for myself. With wide-eyed optimism and dummy donuts for breakfast.

donut girl

The idea for the video to get the ball rolling, came out of the blue. Like one of those lightbulb moments. And I loved it from the start. It was a project unto itself where I spent hours upon hours of time and putting on make-up that I wouldn’t normally bother with, while trying to have this mumbo jumbo two-minute script memorized so I wouldn’t keep looking off to the side every other second at my cheat sheet, like an bleepin’ idiot. But once I finally had it down pat, once I felt that it was as good as it was going to get, I released it. Again I was under no great illusion here that this would be my ticket to ride. That after a reasonable amount of time and people spreading the gospel that this cute little old lady author was available for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs . . . that the other forty-nine other states that I did not have in my back pocket, would come banging down my door. Let alone knock.

Yes, I had a lot of shares, a lot of buzz and plenty of views over these past two weeks. But that’s it. And with time ticking (remember this challenge has a shelf life of 50 weeks), I immediately turned to Plan B: In case you’re not yet familiar, this is the go-to website for anyone, anywhere looking for every conceivable type of social club or activity. A group to go hiking with, people to have drinks with, go to the movies with. Seriously, it’s great! When I moved to California not knowing a soul, it was a perfect way for me to meet new friends. And I did.

And now I believed it would also be a perfect way for me to go from state to state, introducing myself and my little book to as many clubs as I could find; all without ever leaving the house or changing my jammies.

In my mind, it couldn’t be any easier. Having so many opportunities right there at my fingertips, in such a centralized spot. It reminded me of the good ole days when I sold insurance for a living. Wow. Talk about pounding the pavement. Jesus. Un-believable. I would drive around for hours looking for business parks and literally go from door-to-door, in the hot Florida sun, all decked out in my professional skin: suit and heels. Just praying to God that someone would eventually feel sorry for me and buy something.

Anyway, I’m getting off track here a bit. I think the point I was trying to make is that I was so hungry to be successful, that I was willing to do anything. To put up with anything to get the job done. And despite the passage of time, I’m still that tenacious girl, and this job for me would be no different.

So I stuck to the plan. I created what I believed to be the perfect email. (I’m the writer, remember?) And day by day, in those spare clips of moments between editing my next book and helping take care of my granddaughter, I began to work my way through the website. Starting off though with the state of Florida for the simple reason that’s where I live. And as luck would have it, I found over ten clubs within a twenty-mile radius of my house. Wow. Another bonus, I remember thinking as I sent off the emails, as I waited and waited for a single reply. One day, three days past without hearing a word from any of the organizers. And when the fifth day came and went I began to get a little panicky. Thinking oh boy, something’s definitely wrong here. Maybe the emails didn’t go through. Maybe they got deleted somehow. And just as I was about to repeat the entire process all over again, because what else could I do, I finally received a response. A response I had not expected.

“Our club is meant for serious readers ONLY. Do not bother us again!”

Wow. If that didn’t burst my bubble, the next email that came a day later, sure as hell did.

“It is our club policy not to allow authors to attend our meetings. It’s too disruptive. I’m sorry.”

Too disruptive? Is she f**cking kidding me?

Needless to say, as much as I wanted to argue with the wall, I had no time or choice but to plow on. This was after all still my Plan B. A plan I still felt confident would work, complete with good odds, forty-eight other states to try, and a fresh batch of dummy donuts waiting for me on the table.

So on I went. Back to the computer. Doing an Internet search for the biggest cities in Alabama before proceeding once again over to the site. There I managed to locate one club in Birmingham, one in Mobile, and nothing, I mean nothing in Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and Dothan. This didn’t make me at all happy. But I shot off my whopping two emails anyway and repeated the process for Alaska and Arizona.

As you can imagine, Alaska isn’t exactly the book club capital of the world either, but Arizona certainly made up for the first two states, and in spades. Yielding over fifteen clubs. I was thrilled. And after I shot off all those emails, after I noted each club into the excel spreadsheet I’d created to keep track of all my doings, I began to feel as if the door was finally opening up, and things were heading in the right direction.

Yes, that was me yesterday afternoon at around 3:30 pm. All hopped up on those dummy donuts and giddy throughout the day and into the night. Right up until 8:00 pm when things went seriously south faster than Superman and a speeding bullet after I received an email from advising me that I could no longer use their site. My account was now shut down, locked out, and in other words sista, here’s the boot, screw you and go figure out another damn plan. Because this one . . . ain’t gonna fly.

I felt like crap. I could not believe this was the attitude and the perception I was now forced to face. How did I go from a million opportunities to zero in a blink? From easy peasy to what the hell do I do now to find all these clubs? I wanted to scream. Because honestly, nothing else seemed suitable for the occasion. Yes, perhaps I was having one of those melt-down, kick in the ass moments reminding me that nothing from nothing in this life ever comes easy. Especially those things worth having. Only I couldn’t concentrate on that. I couldn’t because I was still blinded and too caught up in my own small world of frustration to allow this wonderful message of resiliency to wrap itself around me.

But . . . that was yesterday. And today, well, like they say: it’s a whole new day. Another opportunity. Another chance to shine and make this thing happen. The only problem for me right now is, I seem to be coming up a little short on my next course of action. Plan C.

Any suggestions? I’m all ears.





Photo credit: Flickr themanwho66

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A Sister’s Birthday. No Candles. No Cake. Just Memories.

Today would’ve been my sister Marilyn’s birthday. I say would’ve . . . because she died twenty-eight years ago of melanoma. So as the one left behind, the one that cherishes and mourns her, I get the honor of paying tribute to her. Something I do every year on this day.

Mari in office

Not one big on birthdays, this, her sixty-fifth, she would have hated. Hated the idea of it, the very sound of it, the fact that nothing was the same as before, that her body parts drooped and creped, thusly acknowledging that milestone passage into true senior territory, would be the last thing in the world she’d want to do. But given that she isn’t here to argue the point, I will speak on her behalf and say: she would have gladly accepted that fate over the other.

More than likely Marilyn would have caught the last flight from New York to Florida so she wouldn’t have to act sullen in front of her friends over a celebratory lunch or dinner, feeling it okay to act sullen in front of me. We’d spend the day together doing her favorite things: shopping, eating, taking a long drive, meeting with my children, who are now grown and barely remember her face. You see Marilyn never married. She had no children. So as the years progressed with no sign of those transformative experiences happening to her and without a word of complaint, she embraced mine as her own. Heartily and with grace.

mari and jared at zoo 2

Many times over the years I’ve found myself wondering how her life would have turned out—if she had lived. I’d love to imagine that the clothing business she’d started right before she got sick became a wild success, or that her Mr. Wonderful just so happened to live next door. I’d love to imagine that everything glorious my sister wanted in her life, eventually and fortuitously landed right in her lap. You know, as her sister, I get to dream those dreams for her, simply because I can. Because that’s my job. I am still her other half . . . even though she’s no longer here to nag me religiously like she did wherever, whenever the mood struck. It was a nagging I dreaded and a nagging I now long for, beyond words.

sisters zoo 2

It’s strange to think when we lose someone close to us, all that we’re really left with are those constant reminders of what we miss and those moments we’ll never share. And I didn’t want it to be just that. I demanded there to be some purpose to all this tragedy. If not, I knew I would drown.

The answer didn’t come right away. But it did though in between the course of my life winding and lengthening, as flowers blossomed and leaves faded. Marilyn’s death beyond forcing me to adopt a healthier lifestyle, also forced me to face certain ugly realties about my life going nowhere, and make those hard decisions that require the type of backbone I didn’t honestly believe I had. Decisions, in retrospect, I now see were all for the better.

So, that is what I take away with me today as I quietly eat this imaginary slice of cake chock full of a million imaginary calories and decorated with my sister’s name on it. That life is a crummy crapshoot. But it’s all we’ve got. So live it as honestly as you can remembering that those we love are always with us, always cheering us on.

Wherever they may be.

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Immigrant Stew

It never seems to fail, that just as I’m getting used to one thing, another comes along and takes its place. And the start of a new year is no different.

I must admit, I’m glad the holidays are now behind me. I don’t do parties anymore. I’m not much of a drinker and I personally don’t feel any great need for a crowd around. To me small talk is just that—small talk. Though the whole celebrating thing was great when I was younger. When Jack Daniels and I were on a first-name basis, when it wall all about the gathering of family where gifts, love and food overflowed in some magical abundance beneath wintry skies, snowmen and stories of Hanukkah, a requisite not just for me but for the children I would one day have. But now, now that they are grown and gone from my nest, I’m quite content to simply immerse myself in this sense of quietude I feel I richly deserve while assimilating all this newness in my own uniquely me fashion.

Cleaning. Closets, drawers, cupboards. All those projects that require my utmost attention that I’ve managed to put off for some phantom rainy day. However, once I get started, and once there’s a pile of paperwork sitting in the middle of the living room that I know needs at least an hour or two of shredding, I lose interest. I’m already onto something else. And after a few days, or as long as it takes to acknowledge this monstrous heap on the floor isn’t going to get done anytime soon, I shove the papers back into the bottom of the closet with the hope that I’ll at least get to it before the year is out.

Then somewhere in between all that, when the urge tugs at me the hardest, I find myself rummaging through all the family photos. Photos smooshed haphazardly into three huge sweater bins that I’ve managed to have fit snugly underneath my bed. You see . . . I no longer live in a big house. Over the years my living space has dwindled considerably from four bedrooms to one. And through no quest of my own, I somehow in all that moving, became the designated guardian of these photos. These faces lost in the shuffle of time, more precious than gold. My sister as a teenager, lying on the beach looking up at me, her smile full of promise. My parents, both vibrantly young and glamorous. My cousins, my grandparents, my children, old boyfriends, and an ex-husband whose photos I should have put a match to. They’re all there. Even the pictures of me as a curious toddler, as a young girl showing off her white Go-Go boots, granny glasses and frizzy hair out to the wall. God, I was so crazy then. Struggling like everyone else in the business of navigating through the hurtful and muddy waters of trying to fit in. Oh yeah, I remember those years. And well.

As I linger nostalgically over these snapshots, now yellowed and worn, I can’t help but wonder where would they all be now if my grandparents didn’t come to America? Or worse, if the doors at Ellis Island were locked?

immigrants. 2

To them and all the other Jews, Poles, Lithuanians, Chinese, Italians, Irish that fought tooth and nail to get here? Where would I be? Where would any of us be for that matter? Albert Einstein, Irving Berlin, Aldous Huxley, Helena Rubinstein, I.M. Pei, W.H. Auden. Can you imagine what America’s postcard would look like without these geniuses and giants? Or the generation that followed and their contributions we’d never enjoy? There’d be no Steve Jobs. No Walt Disney. Which means no iPhone, Mickey, Minnie and Donald. You can kiss them all goodbye! 

As children we’re created to see the world through innocent wonder. We leave the chaos of it in the hands of those we imagine to be older and wiser. But that sense of purity only lasts so long, because the way of the world intrudes its ugly head and forces us to endure small skirmishes of hatred and bigotry dished out by neighborhood bullies labeled as nothing more than rites of youthful passage—when in fact they’re anything but, leaving us stained forever. I remember the first time I heard the world “kike.” My sister was eight and I six and we were in the school playground. I needed to go the bathroom and my sister being the eldest, led me there by the hand. Little did we both know that a group of older girls would storm in after us, would grab my sister by the hair, turn her upside down and beat the shit out of her, while I watched on sobbing. As the word continued to pummel into her, I knew it was just a word, but it sliced through me like a knife, nevertheless.

Me and mari2

I suppose the seed of bitterness starts at moments just like this. And while that day remained seared to my brain throughout my life, that and many others that somehow could have, should have broken me, I refused to allow that type of thinking to color my world.

I refused to hate back. Coming from a family whose culture was terrorized and annihilated by the swift arm of anti-Semitism, the idea of doing likewise seemed abominable to me. I only had to look at my grandmother, a women I adored tremendously, a woman of Russian roots who spoke not a lick of English and stood no taller than a breadbox with breasts that swallowed you whole as they sucked you into her embrace, to know that everything I am, I owed to her. A woman of good stock. Someone from humble beginnings that despite the grave risks ahead, trekked willingly across dangerous waters in search of something more out of life, something better.

flo and grandma 2

Who doesn’t want these things? Aren’t we getting tired, getting angry that a day doesn’t go by without news of yet another school shooting? What does it matter that we don’t all look the same, dress the same, pray the same? Isn’t a donut still a donut even if it doesn’t have a hole? Isn’t it much more important for us to see past those differences of ethnicities and focus on all those commonalities of emotion we do share? I’m talking about the basic stuff. The critical and inherent things. Wanting a long life, a healthy life, not to be poor or alone, and a safe place for our children, all our children to thrive and aspire.

Sometimes we easily forget that while the face of America has changed, its beating heart remains very much the same.

Donsky.Phillips Clan

Yes, things have gotten more complex. Even scary. Yes, we need to take different measures to protect and preserve. But in doing so, we can’t ever lose sight of our most basic premise: We are a nation of immigrants. Those blending cultures, seasoned ideas and colorful talents which in every surging wave built bridges, dams and railroads, towns, villages and cities that in time transformed and spanned across a wondrous and sprawling continent as far as the eye could see.

In Hebrew, the word “reshit” means beginning. Now, I’m not so sure one always needs to hit rock bottom before acknowledging it’s time for a change and to start over, but I do believe that’s exactly where we are. At the bottom. And the best I can do is hope, no pray that we collectively, as people branching out from this magnificently rich pot of immigrant strew, embrace the new year as the beginning to our something better. Okay, maybe it’s a stretch. Maybe I’m just California dreaming here. But miracles do happen every day.

Or so I’ve been told.




Photo credits:,, Donsky/Phillips archive


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