Cultural Bias

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?…

Not So Random Musings

Paper Birds

I’m overdue for an update. Usually, I have ideas and themes all worked out (and ebook giveaways all set), but this time it’s different. I still have books to give out, but the main theme of this “sharing” eludes me. So I’m going to write about a few issues that I found interesting in my last month of reading, editing, and watching the news. Reading Last year, I finally bit the bullet and started reading Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” series. I’m on book 11 now… Robert Jordan (this is a pen name of James Oliver Rigney Jr.) began writing the first book in these series, “The Eye of The World” in 1984 and only published it 1990. Considering just how popular and influential these series were/are, it gives hope for writers like me… I love the world created in these books. It’s very complex and deep (and wide). But I kept finding similarities to other fantasy series I’ve read. Of course, there’s the homage to Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” series. But I expected that — those were really the founding high fantasy series that gave birth to all the rest. But there was also more than a…

Memory and Storytelling

nerve cell

Our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. — Oliver Sacks, The River of Consciousness, page 121 Our memories are not static. Each time we reach for one, we refresh and form new neuron connections, in fact changing the memory itself via our contemplation of it. Like Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle — we can observe a particle’s momentum or its position but not both simultaneously — each time we recall a particular event, we change it due to that recollection. After the mental touch, the memory is no longer the same. And this is true not just in some metaphorical sense, but in a real, tangible, physical way — the act of recall alters the neuron structures forever! And yet we eagerly recollect our favorite memories, and we just as eagerly try to forget the painful ones (and the very act of thinking of those painful memories makes them that much stronger, that much more connected and integrated into our neural memory networks). Social groups have always been aware of this property of memory. Cultures are molded out of stories, songs, epics, ballads, and now memes that bind us…