Tuesday, December 20, 2011

HelloGiggles, Automatic-ally

Hey, so HelloGiggles.com featured my new book Automatic as their Item of the Day yesterday!

Besides being (actress-slash-singer-slash-Hitchhiker's Guide wunderkind) Zooey Deschanel and (producer) Sophia Rossi's website, they also feature particularly awesome writers such as Julia Gazdag (who wrote this piece) and Apocalypstick (who's just great), and it's a place that I actually read, which makes it particularly astounding for me to see my book in the same graphic space that I'm used to seeing things that are...well, not my book.

[A]fter blazing through the whole book in one sitting, I sat lost in a puddle of memories I had forgotten I experienced.
I love this book. I also love that even though you can get it for a kindle or as a pdf, you can also get a real life copy that’s handmade. And for $4.99. Including shipping. That’s way more than worth it. I don’t even understand that pricing. I’ve paid $25 for books that didn’t touch me as much as this one did.
Here, read the rest of it!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Automatic, the Real (Well, Paper) Version

So I wrote this book. It's a short book -- 15,000 words, or about a quarter the size of your average novel.

The book's on Kindle and as a pdf for pretty cheap, $1.99. I'm an old-fashioned sort, though -- I really like reading things in my hands. So I handmade a version of Automatic, which you can buy right here, and see photographs of below.

It's called Automatic, and I think it's really amazing. It's about my best friend and I, growing up as nerds in a  rough neighborhood, and falling in love and going crazy and listening to R.E.M., and him dying. (Spoiler, but it happens pretty early.)

The printed version is a little more expensive than the electro one -- it's $4.99, including postage (inside the US). It also includes a free download of the ebook.

You can order it on PayPal right now:

So, it's a good deal, right? But you're asking, is it hot? Because you're like that. And it's okay to ask.

The front features a cutout cover. The inside front and back covers are hand-lettered by me.

Inside, the pages are printed in a font that's easy to read (I could kill some of my favorite books for having ugly chapter headings) and large, but not too large. 

I also play with the text a bunch. You'll see. 

(It's blurry because I'm using the camera on my $25 cellphone, not because the words are. Promise.)

Seriously, just $4.99. And you'll get an ebook to read right now, while you wait.

(By the way, I can only ship to the USA. If you're abroad, drop a note, let me know where you are, and I'll set up a special link.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Casting the Losers Movie

I got asked by the folks at the My Book, The Movie blog to draw up a dream cast for my book Losers. Since casting movies with 14-year-olds is sort of an impossible feat anyway, I decided to throw all the rules out the window. Half my cast is dead. The other half are way far away from being fourteen years old. Here's a snip (or read it from the start):

Hollywood would probably want Jupiter to look like Christian Slater in Heathers. I'm going to go with Ewan McGregor, though -- five years before Trainspotting, with his hair a little shaggier and his eyes a little more feral. His best friend, Vadim, in my head was always an Igor type. (Except, of course, that in Russia "Igor" is a name that real people actually have, and one of my best friends is named Igor, so I need to watch the references around him.) He's cool in his own way, but we'd probably have to prettify him up, so instead of, like, a 14-year-old Kyle MacLachlan who isn't quite ready to star in Blue Velvet, we'll probably have to go with what can only be described as a Wesley Crusher-type.

Read on ----->

Oh, and I talk a little about the process of making the movie 1/20from the writer's point of view anyway, which usually doesn't mean much, since they try and keep the writers far, far away from the production -- except that I snuck my way onto the set running for coffee and stuff. Fun. Illicit fun.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Me: It's great to see you here. But why did you move to Crown Heights?

Ari: To show the people of Gotham that their city doesn't belong to the criminals and the corrupt.

(I promise, this wasn't a setup. It just popped up in the middle of a conversation.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Day at the Movies

Today was the first NYC screening of 1/20, the movie I wrote! My whole family was there -- my kids, my parents, the generation in between (uh, my wife and me). It was wonderful. I was more uncomfortable than ever. It's so hard to see something you wrote and not be able to stop and change the lines before you recite them. When I read live, I'm always rearranging the words on the page so they sound better coming out of my mouth. Watching a movie you wrote, you're like rubbernecking at your own accident. (Not that i was reciting them in the first place.)

1/20 movie

(And honestly, I think the movie turned out amazing. Such good actors. The director makes everything look beautiful, even electric toys with their guts hanging out. Not to mention the city of Washington DC. But I keep hearing my lines, and thinking, did I really write that? No. Once the music's left your head, it's already compromised.)

1/20 movie

I think i'm a lot more successful at being a father than being a writer. Not that I'm that good at either one, but being a father, you just screw up and you have to keep going. Being a writer, you're never sure if what you're doing is good enough, so you just keep redoing it, until someone rips the pages out of your hand and gives them to a publisher.

1/20 cast and crew

And I should say, thanks to Rew Starr and her posse for making the showing so successful. And for making me feel at home at a theater with that many animal heads hanging on the walls.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hasidim on Halloween

So yesterday was Halloween, a holiday that causes me no end of consternation.

You know how the Official Jewish Community is always talking about being Jewish on Christmas, and feeling peer pressure, and not knowing how to deal with it? Well, Christmas is easy to ignore -- all my non-Jewish friends are non-Christian anticapitalist anarchists of the Occupy Wall Street variety, anyway -- but Halloween is not. Creepy music! Costumes! The macabre! Back before I was religious, it was a religious holiday.

Yesterday, the Kveller staff asked me for any Jewish-related Halloween memories. I started writing something. Then I changed my mind and drew it as a cartoon instead. You can read the whole thing over at their blog, if you want. Can I recommend that you do? I'm pretty proud of it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Caught Rapping on Video

Aaaaaah. I hate the way I look on video. But I do rap, and that's something of a consolation, right?

Yesterday the amazing Sawyer Novack and I got interviewed about 1/20, the movie I wrote and he costarred in. We were promoting the first New York City screening of the film -- which is happening on Sunday, November 6 (see below). He was a really good sport. And we saw each other for the first time since filming, and (now I'm going to sound like a grandparent or something) he's at least twice as tall as he was when we shot it, and he's been up to all this other stuff. For instance:
New Anti-Smoking Ads Warn Teens 'It's Gay To Smoke'

That's right. SAWYER IS ON ONION.TV. (And it is totally offensive, and hilarious. Sawyer comes in at 1:55 if you're squeamish.)

And, yes, we're going to be screening the movie live! It's at the Branded Saloon in Brooklyn. It's a "brunch screening" at noon, whatever that means. Come and figure it out with me. (Oh, and here's Part 1 of yesterday's interview, which I'm putting on the bottom because I fidget a lot at the beginning. I know. Diva.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dressing the Part

So a few weeks ago I stumbled across this weird video. It's a fashion show from the '80s, a Jean-Paul Gaultier collection featuring hot bored-looking chicks dressed up as Hasidic Jewish men.

Of course.

I was basically compelled to feature it in a Jewniverse, which I did (it's out next week--subscribe right now to get it!). Then I wrote it. Then I thought that was the end of it.

It wasn't.

Today I'm wearing a white button-down shirt. It's a far cry from the punk-rock t-shirts of my choice, the vaguely hip blazers of my wife's selection, but it's what I've been wearing more often lately. Like Gaultier, I might be going through a phase of my own -- albeit, less fashionably. And, uh, less revealingly.

I have to say, I kind of like it. I feel more serious -- about work, about myself, and about little things. (My posture is improving dramatically.) It's a little more distinguished. And when I walk down the streets of my own relatively ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn, I get this whole stare of respect and/or identification with a group of people whose respect or comradeship I never thought I'd be after. Which is to say, the old guys. I always wondered why the bulk of retired people didn't just wear t-shirts and Bermuda shorts. Now I think I know.

Anyway. A few weeks ago, the online show Rew and Who did a feature on 1/20, the movie I wrote. It's filmed in the East Village, in a studio in the back of a bar called Otto's Shrunken Head, and it's every bit as punk and alterna-something as you think it is. I was invited in for an interview along with one of the stars. Heading out of the office, I shed my starched and Jewish shirt and changed into a more-suitable Mumm-Ra t-shirt (which you might think is related to Mamre, where Abraham pitched his famous tent, but is actually the bad guy on ThunderCats) and ran downtown.

So that was how I filmed the first interview:  

We got invited back today -- we're appearing with Alan Merill, who wrote "I Love Rock 'n Roll." And again, I'm wearing a white shirt. This time, I'm not taking it off. After all, there's nothing more punk than not looking very punk in the first place. This might not be all of who I am, but it's a part of who I am.

Even if they mistake me for Jean-Paul Gaultier.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

She-mix-ni Atzeret

Tonight starts Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, the final round of Jewish holidays -- for this month, anyway! Here's a little mix that I stumbled into putting together, song by song. This morning at synagogue I was getting ready for Shemini Atzeret, which starts tonight, looking ahead in the prayerbook -- you know, like peeking at the ending. One thing I always forget is the Prayer for Rain, Tefilat Geshem, which is the beginning of the rainy season in Israel. Which immediately stuck this song in my head. It's not exactly a part of the traditional liturgy, but I've been singing this song longer than I've been praying:

The celebration kept coming, and so did the songs. The new Y-Love video, the first song from his upcoming album, is out today. (And the album has a shout-out to my book! And it features Andy Milonakis, who's the weirdest and most original thing on MTV right now.

And, just to tie everything together, our house guest just wandered through the room and heard the song. "Oh!" he said. "Is that the new Drake video?" I had no idea what he was talking about. "I thought you'd know," he said. Apparently, the platinum-selling hip-hop artist Drake has a new single, too, and in the video, he and his companions are drinking Bartenura Moscato D'Asti -- which my older daughter calls "blue wine" and which is the only kind of wine my mother drinks. It's bubbly and sweet and basically like alcoholic soda. It makes family meals tons more fun...and is there any wonder that it's the beverage of choice among Jewish soul singers?

Once again, here's the money shot: Happy Shemini Atzeret!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Stuff That Counts

Every year I make these "12 steps to a better matthue" lists. This year I decided not to. Decided there should only be one item on the agenda this year: Spend more time doing stuff that counts, less time doing stuff that doesn't.

Right now I'm doing mindless Internet stuff. But doing it in the kitchen as Itta cooks. Counts, I think.

Friday, October 7, 2011

1/20: The Official Sub-Page

Just as a matter of site stuff: I added a page here for 1/20, the movie I wrote. (It isn't the film's actual website, which is more comprehensive and informed; this is just sort of reminding me that I wrote a movie, and anyone else who winds up on that page too I guess.)

1/20 movie

And Kayla Dempsey, who plays Yvette, and I were just interviewed yesterday on the punk variety show Rew & Who. Kayla bursts out with some a capella Janis Joplin because she is incredible. Rew is pretty amazing, too. I mostly just giggle and prevaricate. Here's Part 1. Edit: Here's Part 2! With Kayla singing Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz." She is so amazing.

And because I'm not quite ready yet to stop talking about it constantly: I wrote a new book! It's about my best friend dying and the R.E.M. album Automatic for the People and the first time I fell in love. Check it out and review it. You can even maybe buy it, if you've got $2.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Q: Why is it that Steve Jobs is dead at 56 but Robert Mugabe and Gaddafi and Assad and all the murdering despots are alive and well?

A: Dammit, don't you think this is a question for G*d? Wish I could tell you the definitive answer. I'm kind of lucky i'm not a rabbi.

Steve Jobs wasn't the greatest human being in the universe. If someone would've asked me before today, I'd say he did a lot of crappy things for digital rights and content creators. He also did a lot of great things. Far be it from me to speak loshon hara about the dead.

But why do bad things happen to good people? Why is my best friend dead? Why do complete scumbags and idiots get paid tons more than I do? How does a dork like me wind up marrying someone well-put-together and coordinated like Itta? Seriously, it's all divine providence. You just gotta trust that the divine bureaucrats know what they're doing.

(Question from my mother-in-law. The title is hers, too.)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Yom Kippur Jury Duty

So I need to tell you, it's really weird being called onto a jury the day before Yom Kippur. When I tell people, they've mostly been quick to freak out about the religious rules about it -- mostly, that I'll be in court until an hour before the holiday starts, and apparently you're supposed to have a great, grand feast the day before Yom Kippur. In the exact words of the Talmud (I don't remember; I'm totally paraphrasing) -- "Anyone who stuffs his face the day before Yom Kippur, it is like he fasted for two days."

Something tells me people don't eat in courtrooms. I don't know this for sure, but I feel like I'd remember it if I saw someone on Ally McBeal or Law & Order crunching on some Dipsy Doodles. (Or, on Ally, probably unpeeling a suggestive-looking banana.) I actually don't know at all what to ally mcbeal courtroomexpect, beyond the specifics of the trial. Officially, I'm not allowed to share it with you, but let's just say I found it strange that they still accepted me as a juror -- considering my new book came out last week, and I told them all about the accident at the center of the story. *whistles*

I know I should have tried to get out of it. Believe me, as a small nonprofit employee who writes a daily email and a father of two, it's really freakin' hard to make the room in my life for it. (And I guess you could make the case that Idid try to get out of it -- see above, the part about my book.) The real kicker came when I asked a lawyer-friend, and he said, "You'll get off without a hitch. They never choose Orthodox Jews for a jury." And now I sort of feel like I'm the first Hasidic Jew who's ever served on a jury, and I've gotta make a good run of it, or else everyone will think Hasidic Jews are draft-dodgers. Jury-dodgers. Whatever.

But as the trial date gets closer and closer, I find myself getting both more apprehensive and more excited. Partly it's that I'm going to be put in charge of somebody's future, someone's fate, and maybe a lot of money. Partly that it's reflexive. Just like this person's going to be standing in front of us, I'm going to be standing in front of God, defending my lifestyle choices and excusing my slip-ups and asking for another shot.

I don't think any of this renders me partial to the defendant or the plaintiff. Or maybe it does? That's all any of us can really do, right? -- take our life experience and apply it to our verdict. I'm talking about the New York District Court case, and to my own divine case.

So I probably won't get to have my pre-Yom Kippur feast this year. But I have a feeling it'll still be meaningful. Plus maybe I'll meet Lucy Liu?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I Just Nullified My Sins, and Now I Can Do Anything

I've been going to synagogue every morning this week, which is rare for me. I used to skip synagogue all the time because I slept too late, and then it was because my kids were up too early. I never got to see them any other time because of this full-time-job thing (you know, the one that enables me to write stuff like this, and for you to read it)...so mornings seemed like the perfect opportunity to do that, and let my wife sleep late (bonus points).

jewish prayingBut this week I've been getting into the swing of it. Putting aside my religious snarkiness, and telling myself that I've got a four-day weekend for Rosh Hashanah, and I'll spend plenty of time with the offspring then. Also--I'll say this quietly, because I really don't want to jinx it--the kids have been sleeping later.

Also, services have been keeping me on my toes. It's not just the normal routine of praying and saying amen. There are different things you do every day. All week, before services we've been saying selichot, this really intense 15-minute-long prayer where you recount all the bad stuff you've done this year and then ask G-d to forget about it. And then tachanun, which is another confessional sort of thing, not to be confused with Catholic confession, because when we take account of our slip-ups, we do it directly to G-d. And then the shofar blasts at the end of services, which are supposed to literally scare the living sin out of you.

And then, this morning, hataras nedarim.

If you're saying what?, rest assured, dear friends, so did I. We all gathered round a makeshift rabbinical court -- that would be three of the old dudes at the synagogue, because according to Jewish law, basically anyone can be a judge (well, sorta) -- and we all recited this liturgical thing that listed all the oaths and promises we may have inadvertently made, and asked them to nullify those things. I'd never done it before. Or maybe I just don't remember? But now that I have, I sort of feel the infinity of infancy. Like I've sworn away all my oaths and all my sins, and now I can do anything. I just have to not think about taking a nap or checking my Google Reader stream.

I have this irrational idea in my head that, just because I wrote a book with Yom Kippur in the title, I'm some sort of authority on repentance. Whereas the truth is, I'm probably just an authority on how to mess up really badly, and on a grand scale. But that's what the High Holidays are most fundamentally about, I think -- coming face to face with the stuff you've done wrong, and trying to make it better. And then, being able to do anything.

Friday, September 23, 2011

R.E.M. Broke Up and So Did I

I wrote this story. I was sort of saving it for a while, waiting for something big to happen. And then it did.

R.E.M. released the album "Automatic for the People" in 1992. I was 14. I was about to fall in love. My best friend was about to fall into a coma. I hadn't learned how to play air guitar yet, but I was about to. And every song on that album was screaming my name. Automatic: Liner Notes for R.E.M.'s "Automatic for the People" is part journalism, part memoir, and part sitting-around-and-agonizing-over-how-great-things-can-be. From Northeast Philadelphia to running away to Athens, GA hotels and the seedy underbelly of Veterans Stadium, Automatic is about a time when you fell in love way too easily -- with people, with music, and with the insanity of your own life.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

12 Steps to a Better Matthue

I wrote this last year. Stumbled across it on the Intertube. I don't know how I got there, but it feels like a sign from somewhere. I hate reruns, but this one's pretty intense. I hope you like it.

Oh, yeah -- we hit it again. Two parking tickets this morning, and one's more than $100.

Man, this Rosh Hashana is shaping up to a great start.

I flipped. It's not pleasant to say, but I felt steam coming out of my nostrils and ears. There was a very small phone, and I started yelling into it -- to a friend, who really didn't deserve any of it. I mean, he didn't write the tickets.

"How do you do it?" I asked my friend. "You're always growing." It's true: he's always talking about how he's waking up at 5:30 a.m. instead of 6 in order to get more stuff done, or the vegetable patch he's tending on his balcony, or new recipes for cobbler (I don't even know what cobbler is).

He told me: "It's hard to perfect your butterfly stroke when you're struggling to keep your head above water." And I feel like this is hitting pretty much everyone I know right now. How do the Lehman brothers (assuming there are brothers, and that they're Jewish) focus on being better people? How do we keep from going bankrupt? How does the girl I know who just tried to kill herself work on the abstract idea of "improving herself"? How do I start helping out with the cooking and the laundry when I'm in the office for 8 hours, the subway for two more, and there's this book I wrote that I'm supposed to be promoting?

Pretty much the only one I know who's having an easy time of it is my editor David, and that's because he's being played by Michael Cera in the movie of his book. Okay, stop. Not to pick on David (L*rd knows he's pick-on-able), but he could probably tell me about problems of his own. Problems that seem at least as dire as the $160 worth of tickets we racked up today...or the innumerably worse sin that I keep on committing by telling the rest of the world about it.* Everyone's in a different spot in life. And even each of us -- we're in a different spot than we were last year, or last month, or 5 minutes ago. And we don't do penance in Judaism. Instead, the idea is to constantly be moving up -- ratzu v'shuv, we call it. One of my friends just moved to the South last year, met an amazing rabbi, and blasted through Rosh Hashana. This year, he got fired and she's skipping it. I was better at doing a lot of things last year than I am this year...and I can say that having a screaming 7-month-old got in the way of some of them. (Sayonara, complete-and-uninterrupted morning prayers.) Most of them, though -- well, I spent some time trying to do the perfect butterfly stroke, and some of that time trying to sink myself.

Every year I put together a top-12 list of ways to a better Matthue for Rosh Hashana. Last year, it took me till Simchat Torah. But here's my Rosh Hashana resolution for this year: Try to stay in the moment. Don't worry about things until they're right in front of me -- but, as much as I can, try to see everything that's front of me, and try to keep them from turning into things to worry about. When Zusha came to the Ba'al Shem Tov and mourned that he'd never be perfect, the Ba'al Shem Tov told him, "Try to be less like me, and more like Zusha."

This Rosh Hashana, I'm going to try and be more like Zusha.

And I'm going to be better about seeing what's in front of my face.

* - It's true. Lashon Hara, or gossiping, is one of the worst things you can do to a person. I'm praying as I write this that her good humor, together with the faint possibility of teaching people a constructive lesson through it. D'oh.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Kosher Zombies & Vampires

Are zombies kosher? Or, more specifically, can zombies keep kosher? Asks a friend, the amazing comic writer Ashley-Jane Nicolaus:

Long story short, a friend of mine moved to a new place next to a really really old Jewish cemetery - so that got us thinking, if the zombie apocalypse were to happen, are brains kosher? Inquiring minds need to know...
I'm no kosher expert, but a few decades of eschewing the swine have prepped me with a little background knowledge. Not to mention thoroughly geeking out with random books of Jewish law.

So here's the deal.

imaginary kosher animalsYou can actually eat the brains of a kosher animal. Well, some kosher animals. My mother-in-law (who, I should note, is a native Australian) LOVES cracking open fish skulls & sucking the brains out. (I'm a vegetarian & i think she does it to psyche me out. It doesn't work.)

But that's not what you want to know. If you want to know about zombies, you want to know about REAL HUMAN BRAINS. Well, humans -- or any part thereof -- is not permissible to eat, regardless of whether you're talking about kosher-keeping humans or non. (You really wish that whoever started the blood libel rumors had Google access to give them a clue.) In order for any animal to be kosher, it has to have cloven hooves and chew its cud. So basically, if you're a kosher zombie, you are screwed.

One additional consideration: Kosher vampires are screwed as well. In the process of making meat kosher, the animal's body has to be completely drained of blood. So you know how, on Buffy, when Angel and Spike became good guys (or impotent), they had to drink the blood of animals? (Just kidding. You don't actually need to know that.)* Animal blood is out, too. I suppose there's a case to be made that, when a life is at stake,** Jewish laws such as kashrut don't apply. Then again, zombies and vampires aren't technically alive, are they?

If you're curious for more, you should probably check out Are Dragons Kosher?
* -- I believe a similar thing happened in Twilight, but I've mostly blacked it out.
** -- Notice how I avoided a pun about stakes? Joss Whedon is rolling over in his grave.***
***-- Apologies. I know Joss Whedon is not dead.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Favorite Book

Q: What is your favorite book?
A: It changes. Right now, either Gut Symmetries by Jeanette Winterson, which I've read a bunch of times, or Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon, which I still haven't read. I started it a year ago and I'm almost halfway through.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

JDate and Superheroes

Our dear friend JT Waldman alerted us to this cool little wink to the Jewluminati. This week, DC Comics -- the company that publishes Superman and Wonder Woman -- is completely rebooting its line of comics. What does this mean? Watch this video, and you'll know more than you ever wanted to. (Don't worry. It's funny.)

A totally minor caveat: The video isn't overtly Jewish at all until 1:27. Then, for the final 3 seconds, it retcons the entire video into being nothing BUT Jewish.

Oh, I know JDate is an easy punchline. But I have to confess (as someone who's never been on the site), it does what it's supposed to do. My sister met her boyfriend on JDate, and they're getting married this weekend. Did you notice there's absolutely no sarcasm in this post? JDate really does work magic.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Wish, An Excerpt, and Some Music

Today is my grandmom's birthday. Here's a link to a poem I wrote about her. It's called Dizzy.

I learned what Halloween as the same time I learned what Mischief Night was. My parents left all the lights on downstairs that night, and they closed all the blinds. I smiled to myself. It was like our private family hideout. Why didn’t home always feel like that? But their mouths were grim. In the morning, broken eggs streaked the windows of the houses on our block. The tree on the corner was mummified in toilet paper. I had nothing but my mind to connect the dots between last night and that morning. Halloween for me wasn’t about ghosts and candy; it was about the shadowy strangers who liked to threaten you from the shadows finally stepping out of the shadows.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Best Reason for a Border Crossing

The cast and crew of 1/20, the movie I wrote, were invited to speak at New York Law School last week. I wasn't there, but Ayako Ibaraki and Kayla Dempsey were. Gerardo, the director, was Skyping in, which is why he looks like a talking head from Futurama.

Also, if you're in Mexico City, 1/20 is showing at La Casa Del Cine this Monday, August 24. Admission is free, so if you really want to see it, you can buy a plane ticket and count that as your admission. (Plus, bonus, Mexico!)

C MALO PRODUCCIONES Presenta la cinta:
El documental “1/20” muestra la perspectiva de México desde unapunk inmigrante japonesa orgullosa de los Estados Unidos.  No hay subtítulos, porque la sutileza de las demandas de actuación se centra en la audiencia.  La presentación es suave e infantil como una nueva forma de rebelión contra las convenciones cinematográficas. 
 La generación de “1/20” ha rechazado todas las reglas, mientras que secretamente busca el sentido en una cortina del nihilismo.
La presentación de “1/20” se realizará en Lacasadelcine.mx el miércoles 24 de Agosto a las 9 PM.
Meanwhile, I'm still pretty lost in my new memoir. (In a good way, I think.) (Uh, mostly.) With fiction, you're creating a story, and every part of it--characters, plot, setting, accidents--goes toward building the story. When you write nonfiction, you're dealing with stuff that already happened, and trying to magically change those things into a story. Even if you already know what the story is, you don't necessarily know what needs to be there for the story to happen. So you can -- hypothetically -- write a chapter that's 15,000 words long, and then realize that it doesn't belong in there at all. And then you just hit DELETE, or tuck it into your back pocket and think it might be good for another story someday, and then you just carry on.

Hypothetically, I mean.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Books for Bullies

I promise, I'm not going to turn my blog into a collection of reviews. There are things I really honestly want to tell you about my OWN life, not some wacky fictional characters in my imagination or something like that.

But Brianna at TeensReadToo.com had really really cool things to say about Losers:

This was a good read. From the very beginning, I sided with Jupiter, of course. It wasn't fair to him that he always got picked on because he wasn't from around there and had a different accent. I loved how he decided to change when he got tired of always being bullied. It made sense to transform himself when he was starting a new high school. Not everyone knew who he was, so he could really be anybody that he wanted to be. I thought that was a really brave thing of him to do.
My fave part: "I definitely think bullies should read LOSERS so that they can understand what the people being bullied are going through - and maybe, just maybe, they'll understand that it's not right."

Amen. And, here -- read the whole dang thing.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Every Day Is Yom Kippur

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a writer named Adi Elbaz. She'd just finished Yom Kippur a Go-Go and wanted to talk to me. Could she do it? And could she do something with it?

She just wrote a really, really sweet piece about my book. It's here. This is just a bit of the awesomeness contained:

yom kippur
Lonely (Wo)man of Faith in a Modern World

In many ways, 
Yom Kippur A Go-Go  is the story of Hava Aaronson, or me as a 12th-grader: the story of to-thine-own-self-be-true-ing against the odds. And the odds are even stronger when you purposely seek them out, as Roth does: when you consciously make yourself a stranger in a strange land, no matter how appealing its social ethic. Because Roth’s story of religious tribulation takes place, almost entirely, in the anything-goes wastelands of San Francisco’s Mission District, where, as an Orthodox Jew, he—not the chick doing performance art with her own menstrual blood—is the freak. 

Read the rest >>

We also had a pretty intense email interview. I'm not sure if she'll use it for something else, or I might ask if it's ok just to put up here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why We Pray What We Pray

I became Orthodox under the guidance of someone who advised me to run from it. Rabbi Dr. Barry Freundel, the rabbi of the Kesher Israel Congregation in Washington D.C. -- whose name you might recognize from the 2000 presidential election, when he was constantly quoted as "Joe Lieberman's rabbi" and asked deeply-thought questions like, "If a nuclear war breaks out on Shabbat, will Senator Lieberman be allowed to help out in the ensuing battles?"

how to pray jewishIn addition to being a rabbi, he holds advanced degrees in chemistry and biology, and is a fiendishly rational thinker. While many people are attracted to religion through mystical stories and supernatural powers, for me the draw was the exact opposite. I was already totally nuts. I needed something to ground me, a rational set of rules to lead my life by. I started by going to Rabbi Freundel's weekly halacha shiur -- a three-hour class about everything from washing your hands before getting out of bed to whether one needs to tie tzitzit on a rain poncho to what happens if you start eating a ham sandwich, realize it's not kosher, then get a craving for macaroni and cheese -- are you allowed to? (Yes: because ham doesn't fall under the category of kosher meat.) "Run the other way," he said. "We are competists." I'm a masochist. It just made me hungry for more.

Anyway. Rabbi Freundel has a new book, Why We Pray What We Pray, and it's a doozy. The book is an excellent field guide to Jewish prayers, perhaps the most well-conceived and fully-realized book on the subject in English to come out in years. (And just so you don't think my opinion is weighted, he is also the man who forced me to type up 112 pages of notes about tefillin. Five times.) What the book lacks in scope, it makes up in depth -- choosing just six different prayers, giving their history, previous incarnations,

Which might sound boring under someone else's wing. The first chapter is dedicated to the Shema -- and Freundel picks apart its history step by step, discovering that, in its 3000-year lifespan, the prayer once included several other parts of the Torah -- and things that didn't even come from the Torah, including the second line of its present incarnation -- as well as one whole Torah portion (this part was ultimately excised, on the grounds that it would take too damn long for normal people to get through) and the entirety of the Ten Commandments. Later chapters go through other prayers, some of which (like "Nishmat") have just become known as long and sort of meandering in the present liturgy, others (such as "Alenu") have become sing-songy and equally meaningless for us. This book is an adventure in the best way, a book that makes us love words again.

Reading Why We Pray, I sometimes wished that Freundel, and not some boring dictionary-like rabbi, wrote the lines of commentary underneath the prayers in my normal old prayerbook. Then I changed my mind. Those little two-line insights are good for ignoring on a day-to-day basis, and jumping right back into the prayerbook. These stories are at their best for actual reading, for paying attention to and for diving into. As Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Lord Sacks says (in this superb video), Jewish people are great at being kind to others and at studying, two of the three pillars on which the world rests. The praying part -- taking these words that we say every time we set foot in a synagogue* and giving our prayer meaning, a life beyond our lips, and a meaning above the dullness of mundane routine -- is what we need to work on.

And here, folks, is where it starts.

* -- every time we set foot in a synagogue and it's not for a disco Bar Mitzvah party, I mean.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Happy Bleedin' Bloomsday!

Today is Bloomsday, named after Leopold Bloom, the main character of James Joyce's Ulysses and patron saint of 21st-century literary snobs everywhere. bloomsday(I write this as a proud literary snob myself. My own history with Ulysses: I took it out from Northeast Regional Library on a summer loan in fifth grade, spent the entire summer reading the whole damn thing and not understanding any part, oblivious to the sexuality and the social motifs, and bloodly loving every minute of it.)

For more information on Bloomsday and Joyce, check out the Jewniverse that I wrote about it. And please notice Joyce's own depiction of Leopold Bloom to the right. Contrary to everyone's hopes and dreams and chagrin, Bloom isn't actually Jewish, by the strictest measure of Jewish law, anyway, as well as by his own estimation -- the character was born to a Jewish father and a Protestant mother, and converted to Catholicism to marry that feisty Molly Bloom, but still keeps getting mistaken for a Jew.

The occasion of Bloomsday, of course, means that I need to do everything possible to let everyone in the universe know about it. There are tons of Bloomsday events going on, from marathon Ulysses readings at North Carolina's Old Books on Front St, Philadelphia's Rosenbach Museum, and elsewhere...and online, of course. There's a special Twitter adaptation called @11lysses going on right now, and it is frighteningly brilliant, and a worthy successor to Joyce's on inscrutability:

 James Joyce 
 James Joyce 
 James Joyce 

Go read the rest of it now! And go wish everyone you meet a happy Bloomsday. They won't know what you're talking about, but they'll appreciate it.

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