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Monthly Archives: April 2014

Women Mentors and Co-Conspirators–we all need them!

Joan and her pal Dorothy used to make up poetry together.  Here’s one of their less successful but more amusing efforts.

Joan on March 1, 1939. Doesn't she look swanky?

Joan on March 1, 1939. Doesn’t she look swanky?

Monday March 12, 1939, Age 16

            …. [A]s Dorothy was at typewriter and wanted to write, I decided to make up a super-modern poem  so we did…Dorothy types by the hand-finger-search-method, much as I think and so we got along fine—for a while…it was super modern and I dictated lots of dots and no capitals…here is how it went….


i hate them…

brutal, inhuman, repulsive, lowly…

my soul shrieks discreetly….


i am a goldfish in a deep grey ocean

tests are quicksand..they are eating away my soul…

horrible, ghoulish, suffocating…



Isn’t it beautiful….I think so. When we were done, Fraser sang out Iliadically, “Sing, Goddess,etc.” and I got up on a table to enunciate. When Barbara shouts joyfully, “Oh, good afternoon, Mr. Jacobsen” and I leapt unagilely down. Bang…and read it from the floor…to much applause.

I wanted to call it a poem in very blank verse but Fraser said then it would have to be in unrhymed iambic pentameter so I didn’t…Anyhow, it was well received and we put it up on the bulletin board entitled “Poem in the Very Modern Manner.” Rick didn’t quite understand the “goldfish” line:

Says he: “But goldfish don’t live in the ocean—“

Says I: “Well, that’s the idea—I’m out of my element.”

He: “O you’re marvelous …You ought to do something about that.”

Me: “I shall…”

Oh, but that was cute. Me standing on the table sprouting poetry.


Joan spouting poetry

Joan spouting poetry

Much fun was had by all.

Now, I’m sure Joan would be the first to agree that this poem is not, shall we say, of Shakespearean quality.  But she and Dorothy had a fine collaboration and enjoyed themselves.  Plus gave joy to others.  Women in cahoots with each other–a theme in so many women’s lives.

Women helping women was the theme recently for me at the Story Circle Network Conference, a wonderful event that occurs every two years.  Women writing life stories and memoirs gather, sharing their stories and techniques for producing heart-felt, passionate, funny, and moving stories from their lives and the lives of women they know.

Perhaps the most moving moment for me was when young Joan was honored by one of the presenters as her mentor in the field of oral history.  Carole Garibaldi Rogers, the journalist, oral historian, and poet — and an old friend of my family — presented on From Census to Story: Bringing a Family Tree to Life. 

Carole Garibaldi Rogers, a dear friend and Joan's wonderful writing colleague

Carole Garibaldi Rogers, a dear friend and Joan’s wonderful writing colleague

As she introduced her material, she explained how  my mother Joan, a long-time member of the same writing group with Carole, had been a nurturing mentor in the field of oral history.

Susie with Carol Rogers. Photo by Laura Cottam Sajbel.

Susie with Carole Rogers. Photo by Laura Cottam Sajbel.

Women helping women– over the decades and over millennia.

At the conference, I presented on From Family Documents to Published Book and shared tips from my learning process for Home Front Girl.  One student had masses of oral history material.  How to cut it down?

I cited, as always, my mom.  Joan had said concerning her oral history interviews that there is always a story in the transcript.   You have to create a short story out of that material and make it glow.  Sometimes the person telling the story does not realize what the narrative arc of her own life is until she starts telling her tale.  Maybe it is only the editor who polishes it into a coherent narrative.  As I said, “I always listen to my mother.”

Susie teaching a workshop at the Story Circle conference

Susie teaching a workshop at the Story Circle conference. Thanks to Sallie Moffat for taking photos.

I’ve been blessed with many mentors–at Story Circle, Susan Wittig Albert, the amazing creator of the group, generous with wisdom and warm support.

Susan Wittig Albert, writer dynamo and writer extraordinaire

Susan Wittig Albert, generous dynamo and writer extraordinaire

And my pal, Laura Cottam Sajbel, who joins me in various writing gigs.

Laura Sajbel, writer pal and co-conspirator

Laura Sajbel, writing pal and co-conspirator

But most of all and always–Joan.


New York World’s Fair 1939

Recently, the New York Times reported about a couple who collect memorabilia from the 1939 New York World Fair. You can read the entire article here.

Dr. Roy Goldberg at left and Keith Sherman at the right next to their plaster model of a statue from the 1939 World’s Fair in Queens. Credit James Estrin/The New York Times .

Dr. Roy Goldberg at left and Keith Sherman at the right next to their plaster model of a statue from the 1939 World’s Fair in Queens. Credit James Estrin/The New York Times.

Dr. Roy Goldberg and Keith Sherman collect everything from menus to scrapbooks to posters.  Even a plaster model of a statue shown at the Fair!  The original, full-sized statue, “Riders of the Elements,” stood on the Avenue of Transportation.

"Riders of the Elements" at the 1939 New York World's Fair

“Riders of the Elements” at the 1939 New York World’s Fair

The Times quotes Louise Weinberg, the manager of the archives at the Queens Museum concerning the style of such sculptures.  “It was of its time and, I think, futuristic….It was in the genre of many of the other sculptures that were done at the time. They grew out of futurism and Art Deco and a streamlined style. They were rooted in traditional sculptural ideas, but they were far-reaching in their aspirations. It was all about building the world of tomorrow, which was the theme of the fair.”

Poster advertising the Fair

Poster advertising the Fair

The Fair opened 0n April 30, 1939.  In this video clip, Franklin Delano Roosevelt opens the Fair, aware of the world’s political tensions.

Unlike the eyewitness in that clip, Joan clearly saw how the war influenced the New York World’s Fair in 1939 which she visited the week World War II began in Europe.  She had spent the summer at camp. The  Fair was advertised to young people as an especially appealing way to learn.

Joan would graduate from high school in 1940.

Joan would graduate from high school in 1940.

This photo was taken the day the Germans crossed into Poland–only when the photo was snapped, no one in the countryside of Michigan was aware that the violence had begun.

Joan at summer camp on September 1, 1939. You can see what wrote exclamation marks after the date.

Joan at summer camp on September 1, 1939. You can she wrote exclamation marks after the date.

She writes in her diary that night.

Age 16, Friday, September 1, 1939[1]

I have been reading about the [World War I] dead and am thinking how awful it must be for a mother—or a father—to know their grown son dead. After bearing and bringing through childhood to the prime of his life a son—to find that all this is futile, that all this is ended—all vain. That he died before he began to be himself. To lose a child must be in a deep sense far worse than to lose a husband. It must make one lose the sense of continuity. . . . A husband dead means that you are, in a way, dead—but to lose a child means you lose immortality—that you shall not go on. . . .

[1] Ironically, Joan wrote this entry before she knew World War II had begun on this day.

The futuristic style of the Fair is reminiscent of another 1939 classic:  The Wizard of Oz.

The futuristic style of the Fair is reminiscent of another 1939 classic: The Wizard of Oz.

Then she and her mother take the train to New York to visit the World’s Fair.  This Fair Newspaper from Monday, September 4, 1939 tells what happened at the fair on the day Joan writes the poem below.  If you look at the articles in that link, you can see that museums like the Louvre in Paris, National Gallery in London, and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam ask the Fair to keep the treasures lent for the duration of the Fair until further instruction.  The museums fear for the safety of their treasures should they be returned to a Europe at war.  To read much more about how the Fair became politicized, read this fascinating piece here.

Article from the first week of World War II, showing how the Fair reflected the world's turmoil.

Article from the first week of World War II, showing how the Fair reflected the world’s turmoil.

While at the World’ s Fair, Joan writes this poem, reflecting on the conflagration begun in Europe.

Age 16, September 4, 1939[i]                                                                                          

                                         New York World’s Fair 1939

We shall remember this peace –

This caught moment of half-night beauty

Music – and a night bird blinded by the spotlight

That same light which has just flashed

Following it as it moves.  On a white cloud

Music – the last rose of summer chimes so sweet

I am afraid I shall have to forget it

Or die, not hearing it again.

The pylon gleams and the sphere is pale blue in the night

White shall be this memory forever, I think.

The last rose of summer is too beautiful, I fear.

Even the wind is white.

Some day they shall dig up this circle

Row upon stone row of seats  —

And the molded screen and the broken figure

Atop this tower will be half-gone — or all

And the lights ungleaming

But they shall know we passed.

They will wonder perhaps who sat here

What motley crowd idled — it is we here

In our colorful rest that they shall wonder if

The red flag flying and the stalwart figure atop

May still remain in tatters.

But I — this girl in the blue dress and Juliet cap —

I will be utterly disappeared.

Uncurled from the stone seat and unlistening then –

To any music – even this last rose chiming

Even then, though even then, when they ponder these ruins

And this place is ivy-grown and mossy,

Even then, though,

I think we shall remember this peace.

[i] “8:25 P.M. Written while listening to music in the outdoor amphitheatre of the Russian exhibit.”

Newspaper article from the time Joan was at the Fair.

Newspaper article from the time Joan was at the Fair.

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