Friday, January 8, 2010
What's a Story without an Audience?
My (ex) father-in-law is in town. I've always respected him, but it's taken 13 years to truly adore him. Last night I tweeted that I was picking him up from the BART station because, even though he is blind, he wouldn't let me fetch him from the airport. There really isn't' any arguing with Michael, so ... I was there when he arrived in Berkeley.
The short story: Michael survived the holocaust with his sister by living in the woods for many years, was saved by Hillel, shipped to America, where he worked very hard and completed degrees at MIT. He married an equally amazing woman (also a survivor who had worked her way up to be among the first women to graduate Harvard Medical School) and had four kids. Regina died tragically of breast cancer when she was 48. Her youngest son was 10. Bankrupt from medical bills, Michael started all over and triumphed once again. He's been married to his second wife, a journalism professor at Rutgers, for over twenty years and between them they have 11 grandchildren.
Since separating from my husband, I've had the opportunity to spend time with Michael alone. When he is in town we'll go to lunch - just the two of us - and chat about current events, work and family. He is 85 years old and sharp as a needle. I spent time with him today and we spoke mostly about his latest projects - he's writing. Books. (He said "what else am I going to do all day? I can't watch television, or read the newspaper, so I write.")
He's completed an, as yet, unpublished autobiography about his life and, most recently, he self published a book compiled from Regina's notes - a memoir. GRIT: A Pediatricians Odyssey from a Soviet Camp to Harvard. This afternoon he was consulting with me about ways to market it. Despite a front page story in the New Jersey Jewish News, a review in The Jewish State, and a couple of speaking engagements, it was not selling. "Cori," he said, "HOW do I market this book?" Drawing from my long long long ago stint in publishing, I began to answer, but he interrupted with the kicker question: from my very wise 85 year old FIL, I heard "and WHY does it matter to me?"
Um, wow. Marketing a book - now that's concrete business stuff - I can work with that - help him sell a few more books with publicity on social media channels and plans for November Jewish book month and ... (blah blah blah)... but WHY DOES IT MATTER? to HIM? I'm flabbergasted he asked. Me. I didn't know what to say.
Finally, "well Michael, you clearly want Regina's story told, and what's a story without an audience?"
He agreed. Quietly.
Then proceeded to tell me about his current project - an epic novel spanning 3 generations - a reflection of his life during the illness and after the death of "Regina." He explained the outline... I suggested he skip the novel and go directly to a screen play. It's a good story. It would make a great movie.
I wonder who would play me.
PS - before writing this post I (obviously) googled Michael. I was surprised to find he has his own website. I've no idea who made it or keeps it for him, but it has some interesting stuff on it. .