Positive Development in Negative Spaces: Anne Frank and Peter Schiff

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Despite her own fears as well as the horrors going on outside the crowded annexe where Anne Frank and her family were hiding from the Nazis, Anne, like many girls her age, was mooning over a boy.  His name was Peter Schiff and Anne recalls a poignant dream about him in one of her candid entries.  She writes:

This morning I woke up just before seven and immediately remembered what I’d been dreaming about. I was sitting on a chair and across from me was Peter… Peter Schiff… the dream was so vivid… Peter’s eyes suddenly met mine and I stared for a long time into those velvety brown eyes. Then he said very softly: “If only I’d known I’d have come to you long ago.” I turned away abruptly, overcome by emotion. And then I felt a soft, oh-so-cool and gentle cheek against mine, and it felt so good, so good.’

On another date, Anne describes Peter so well we can almost see him:

Peter was the ideal boy: tall, slim and good-looking, with a serious, quiet and intelligent face. He had dark hair, beautiful brown eyes, ruddy cheeks and a nicely pointed nose. I was crazy about his smile, which made him look so boyish and mischievous.”

Anne would never know what became of her childhood sweetheart, but history tells the sad story.  Peter was imprisoned in two concentration camps, arriving first in  Bergen-Belsen, before he was transferred to Auschwitz, where it is known that he perished although the exact date is unclear.

Like Anne, we, her readers, could only envision Peter in our heads.  This remained so for nearly sixty years, but in 2009, one of her classmates donated a picture of Peter to the Anne Frank House.  Here he is:

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It would have been lovely to know if this young love would have come to anything, if, as Anne hoped, they were able to consummate their desire.  Calling Peter by his pet name, “Petel,” Anne opines:

Once, when Father and I were talking about sex, he said I was too young to understand that kind of desire. But I thought I did understand it, and now I’m sure I do. Nothing is as dear to me now as my darling Petel!’


For Hemingway’s Birthday, A Gift to the World

Hemingway Scrapbooks

JOHN F. KENNEDY PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY / AP (The birth certificate and family photograph of Ernest Hemingway from a scrapbook created by his mother, Grace Hall Hemingway.)

Long before “scrapbooking” was a verb, mothers were collecting memories about their children and their achievements in volumes for posterity.  Fortunately for both fans and scholars of Ernest Hemingway, his mother, Grace, was one of these women who kept meticulous journals of her now-famous (and infamous) son.

This week, in honor of what would have been the iconic American author’s 114th birthday, July 21, 1899, the  John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston has made available to the public the digitized journals.   There are a total of five volumes and all can now be viewed online here.

For scholars, this is particularly exciting news as the majority of the collection has never been available and only a few fortunate researchers have seen it at all. Prior to their digitization, the leather books were kept in a dark vault to prevent them from crumbling and otherwise becoming damaged.

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Not At This Time: Rejection Letters to Famous Writers

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Why is dad so sad?  Probably because he just checked his mail and found his self-addressed stamped envelope in his box, his manuscript inside, and the dreaded form letter saying, “We are sorry, but your manuscript does not currently meet our specific needs.”  The first dozen or so times, Dad wanted to believe the closing line promising to review his work in the future but…

Dr. Seuss (aka Theodore Geisel) knew the feeling.  His now-classic children’s book  And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street was rejected a whopping twenty-seven times before it was finally accepted by Vanguard Press.  This may be your fate as well.

Putting your work out in the world is scary. Rejection sucks. It can make you afraid to do it again.  But you have to try.  Because the twenty-seventh or twenty-eighth time might just be the one.

Novelist Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Treesoffers this advice to writers feeling wounded:  “This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”

To give you hope, here are ten rejections of famous writers as well as a some of their reactions and advice about coping with rejection:

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Celebs Gettin’ Schooled by 8-to-12 Year Old “Grammar Cops”

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Red Balloon is a private school in Brazil designed to help Portuguese and Spanish-speaking children become fluent in English.  The faculty came up with an innovative idea to engage kids AND help them learn. They encouraged the children to follow their favorite celebrities on Twitter and then tweet them back,  correcting their often egregious spelling errors.

Here are a few of the best recent Celebrity Shamings:

1.  Rihanna

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2.  Daniel Radcliffe

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Feats of Greatness, Feet of Clay: Authors, Flaws, and the People Behind the Stories

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(Orson Scott Card poses at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, in 2008. Wikimedia Commons/ Nihonjoe)

“Just because someone’s a member of an ethnic minority doesn’t mean they’re not a nasty small-minded little jerk.” ~ Terry Pratchett, from Feet of Clay 

There is a reason I frequently shy away from reading biographies:  people suck.  Even the best people suck.  If you want to go on admiring someone, don’t know them personally.  The art, of course, speaks for itself.  It need not be burdened by the shortcomings of its creator.  But (at least for me) it is difficult to separate the two once you know.  You cannot, as the saying goes, unsee something.

Today, a lot of people, including myself, were surprised to learn that beloved science fiction writer Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Gameis an anti-gay activist, and has been for a very long time.  In 2008, he wrote that “marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down.”   Responding to the Supreme Court decision on the topic of gay marriage, Card told Entertainment Weekly  “it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.”

Hmmmm…. interesting that someone who is against tolerance wants to see how people with tolerance respond….

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Before I Die: Communities, Art, Purpose, Reflection

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A few years ago, artist Candy Chang lost a good friend. The experience left her thinking a lot about death, what in her life was of value, what she wanted to do while she had time, and with whom she should spend those hours.  While she knew she wanted to define these objectives, Chang says that she “struggled to maintain perspective.”  She wondered if others felt similarly adrift.

Chang noticed that there was an old, abandoned home in her New Orleans neighborhood, a perfect canvas for expression. She, along with a group of friends, painted one side of the home in chalkboard paint and created a “Before I die ___________________ ” stencil:

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Chang had no idea what to expect. But she and her friends attached little baskets of chalk to the sides and stepped away to wait and see:

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To Chang’s great delight and surprise, the very next day, ” the wall was bursting with handwritten responses and it kept growing: Before I die I want to… sing for millions, hold her one more time, eat a salad with an alien, see my daughter graduate, abandon all insecurities, plant a tree, straddle the International Date Line, be completely myself…”.

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A Class on the Art of the Final Farewell

SuicideNote

(George Eastman‘s (co-founder of Eastman-Kodak) suicide note. Eastman shot himself in the heart after suffering from chronic spinal pain which left him partially disabled.)

When someone makes the decision to take their own life, often the first thing many people want to know is whether they left a suicide note. Some people, like Eastman, leave just a few words the living are left to ponder; others leave long, detailed letters of regret, pain, and loss. Whatever the method, there is no denying that the final, written words of anyone who has made this decision are compelling.

Taking a class on the composition of suicide notes though…well, that’s definitely new. But philosophy professor Simon Critchley of New York’s the New School  believes there is much to be learned, artistically and rhetorically, from suicide notes. He recently hosted a course called the  “Suicide Note Writing Workshop.” One of several classes offered in month-long series of programs called “The School of Death,” Critchley came up with the idea after hearing about a program called “The School of Life” in London.  Critchley (my kind of guy) called it ” “a particularly nauseating philosophy of self-help.”

Critchley realizes it is a dark subject and also a “way of mocking creative-writing workshops.”  But, in the workshop’s defense, the professor explained to The New York Times,  “We’re not mocking suicide. We’re doing this as a way to understand it. And why not be a little insensitive? People are terrified in talking about death.”

Fifteen students signed up for the workshop which looks closely at suicide ethics from antiquity to present-day. Suicide notes themselves, Critchley says, are a relatively recent innovation. “In antiquity, there was no need to leave a note,” he said. “It would have been obvious why you killed yourself.”

Notes examined include those left by  Adolph Hitler,Virgina Woolf, Kurt Cobain. After analyzing a variety of suicide notes, from both the infamous and “ordinary” people, the class was asked to write their own last words. They were given just fifteen minutes to do so and the goodbyes had to be contained to a 4″ x 6″ index card. One woman wrote this for her children: “When you inevitably discover those things I kept secret, let these not diminish the reality nor the magnitude of my love for you.”

It is an interesting way to think about communication, especially since these last words, when not a classroom exercise, come from people who largely failed at communicating.


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