Cultural Bias

We are all immigrants in the land of COVID

A masked American family in 1918

I think human souls are tied to the land that bore them, shaped by it, created to fit the terrain, the weather, the language, the culture of the motherland. When transplanted into a new land, forced or otherwise, souls need to conform. They get broken somehow, edges filed away, bones cracked, empty spaces are hidden or forgotten. That’s why it is easier for kids to abandon their old homelands and immigrate to a new homeland — their souls are still flexible. Adults never truly adapt, they are forever broken, torn away from their motherland. And people who leave their birthplaces when they are somewhere in the middle — not quite adults not really children — become strange misfits. On the outside, they look like they belong, but scratch below the surface and there are surprising gaps and unexpected breaks in their psyche. America is the land of broken souls. “First-generation” or “foreign-born” comprise as much as 13% of all Americans (per 2013 census), more than one in ten! In many ways, immigrants are the most vulnerable population — these are the people who will never quite fit into the fabric of their new homes, they will forever remain tied to…

On the Magician Spectrum

Magic Made Here

There are two extremes on this spectrum: people who are externally motivated and those who only need what’s already inside them to get moving on a project. No one is always internally motivated and no person always needs an outside push to get started, but one thing for sure during this quarantine — those who are mostly internally driven do better. It is the same problem that people who are self-employed or who work from home face — not everyone is suited to that life. And for those who are now forced into it, depression looms. For those who can’t spin gold out of thin air or conjure dreamscapes or invent a new life and a new way of living, life becomes so dull that hours drag and days lay heavy while months and years slip away. Those who are able to make new things — artists and writers, housebuilders and gardeners, twiddlers and toymakers, composers and musicians, leather crafters and basket weavers, computer engineers and software designers, potters and jewelers, mathematicians and scientists, filmmakers and universe builders, gymnasts and mountain climbers…makers of all kinds — are never bored. There is never enough time to do all that’s inside our…

Love in the Virtual Worlds

If men were portrayed as women

Happy Valentine’s Day! In honor of this special holiday, I wanted to say something about love and women’s power. My first novel was “Suddenly, Paris” — a story of true love in many worlds. I wanted to write a science fiction romance. But not a gooey mush of a thing, but a story where the female lead was smart and abled and powerful…and flawed. And I wanted to embed the romance in a real (albeit far fetched) science, computer science, in this case. I ultimately wrote the book with my husband and it won numerous awards including being placed on the Long List for The James Tiptree Jr. Awards in 2016. (The free ebooks link below has this book.)   I started writing this story at the height of the Twilight craze. I saw girls in sixth grade who have never read a book in their lives hold this one and read it in their spare time! What was it about Twilight that grabbed hold of the zeitgeist of that time? I read all those books too and I really liked them…and not. So I wanted to analyze the attraction they held for women of all ages. So what was it? 1. No…

A Path in Life

mind

There is a general recognition that time perception speeds up as we get older. As kids, we felt our summers lasted a lifetime; as adults, summertime slithers out of our hands before we even get a chance to pull our sun hats from storage. With each year, time shortens and compresses to practically nothing. But is that all? Are there other changes that we are simply less aware of that transform our psyche as we age? And is this adult feeling for temporal foreshortening uniformly distributed throughout human cultures (historically and geographically)? Since I’ve just published two books this year (“Harvest” and “God of Small Affairs”) that considered human development on cosmological scales of existence, there was something in those stories that tickled my brain — what else changes so dramatically over our lifetimes? And I think the answer might be our goals and expectations. As a kid, I played at how long I could hold my breath, how long could I hang from a pole, how many times I could jump the rope before getting tangled up… How many grapes could fit into my mouth? (It was really gooseberries, but who knows what they are on this side of…

Jew-ish Sci-Fi

Jew-ish Universe

This month, I’ve jumped in head first into dark and cold waters of book marketing. I’ve learned a lot that was new to me but was probably obvious to any salesperson — other people (unlike me) like to read very specific genres of books. For example, if you are into a billionaire werewolf romances, you are NOT into werebear billionaire romances. Yes, people like what they like and there are many authors who are happy to write for very niche audiences. But I read lots of different things, fiction AND non-fiction. I read WWII spy novels AND science fiction. I like action adventure AND historical fantasy. My taste in books is as broad as the stories I like to write. But apparently, that’s not good for marketing. My books are all so different that I’ve been having a hard time zeroing in on a unifying theme for my stories. And then it hit me — I write Jewish Science Fiction…or Jew-ish Sci-Fi. So what’s Jew-ish Sci-Fi? It’s a hero journey to save the world, where the hero belongs to a tight group of outsiders forced to make their way in the world by their talents and smarts and who are…

Forty Years of Cultural Dissonance

Pastrami Sandwich

This May was the fortieth anniversary of my family’s arrival in America. We came as refugees. My husband and I celebrated this momentous event (this marks over two-thirds of my life here) by visiting the Tenement Museum in downtown New York City. The biggest takeaway was the strong sense of “strangers in a strange land” mentality. People arrived not knowing the language or customs, not having a place to sleep or an ability to source work. It was scary. It took a very strong impetus to leave all that one knew and understood behind, to leave family and friends, to leave familiar food and places…to leave behind the mother tongue. (Did you know that the word “cow” is not under K in a dictionary? How are people supposed to find words when they don’t even start with the letter that they sound? Back then, I ended up drawing a cow in the middle of a sentence to finish my homework.) Without a language in common, it is very difficult to forge social ties. It is the main reason people “bunch up” by their cultural heritage into neighborhoods like “Little Italy,” “China Town,” “Little Russia,” “Jewishberg,” “Japantown,” “La Pequeña Habana,” “Little…

The Wheel of Culture

Finding treasure in the sea of content

Societies continuously try to recreate themselves — shared holidays, shared news, shared traditions, shared language, shared music, shared myths, shared victories, and shared griefs. Shared origins… So by telling each other stories, we recreate ourselves over and over again. Where do we come from? Where are we going? Who are our heroes? Who are the villains? These stories pass our values as a society from one generation to the next. It’s how we understand each other. “Rosebud.” There was a time where everyone in America knew exactly what that reference was. Now? Nope. “Remember the Alamo!” People still know the phrase, but its meaning — the short cut to meaning that this phrase used to represent — is no longer widely available. Cultural propagation used to be easy when everyone knew everyone else in the small village they all lived. Strangers were either killed or assimilated. People easily recognized “their own.” Sometimes, it was as simple as the way you’d pronounce a word. Such cultural distinctions to divide between “us” and them” are called Shibboleth. Do you drop your p’s or roll your r’s? Do you wear “snickers” or “runners” or “trainers”? Is it “herbs” with an “h” or without?…