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October 2009 Archives

in my neighborhood, CSPAN2 Channel 148 on Time Warner, but wherever you are, it IS CSPAN2, 10 PM tonight. Michael Rosen interviewed by John Hope Bryant on "Words Matter." Gosh, Words Do Matter?

I know why I LOVED Soupy Sales when I was 5 and 6 and such. Joy! Escaping the dulldrums of monoculture... My Mom, Shirley, remembers the cream pies. I hardly remember the cream pies. I remember...

The greatest, loop-y show way back then (old school) to all smiling-happy-wicked children in the US.... Clark Terry & Oscar Peterson. Thank you, Mr. Milton Supman, Soupy Sales. Who died in the Bronx yesterday.

Our oldest son Ripton (of Morgan & Ripton) is at Elon University, in North Carolina. His school posted a Q&A with me yesterday about What Else But Home. Thank you to Elon, Eric Townsend and President Leo Lambert, an awfully sharp man. to READ the Q&A....

the Your Turn show, on WTVT-FOX 13 in Tampa, hosted by Kathy Fountain, and produced by Anne-Marie Fagler, interviewed me live yesterday, 12:30 - 1 PM. Thank you, Kathy & Anne-Marie. Can I get a copy?

I came back to NY last week then left again. Now I'm in FL with my Mom & Dad, heading to Orlando for a bookstore reading at UrbanThink! Bookstore, 625 East Central Boulevard.

BUT, while I was home I walked into my new favorite coffee shop among my other favorite coffee shops in NY, Everyman Espresso, 136 E 13th Street. I was standing in line behind a 40'ish year old guy ordering an esspresso from an even younger guy behind the counter. My recollection of the conversation:
"A single espresso, please."

"Here or to go?"

"To go."

"I'll have to float that over some hot water."

"I don't want that."

[What does the coffee-master mean, float over water??]

"I can't make it otherwise. Espresso doesn't travel."

"Please just make it."

"I can't. Espresso has to be drunk within 60 seconds, or it getts bitter."

[I'm waiting for the guy in front of me to get angry, get irritated, act out... I'm getting irritated, I want to act out...]

"Okay, make it for here."

"Good decision."

I'm deciding that I love New York. I've been in Seattle, Portland, Ann Arbor, Milwaukee, Madison, Greensboro, around and around... seeing the good of every place the way Thoreau walked by farms, living in each of those cities, making lives for myself, and here I am in THIS city and it's beautiful.


Michael Jackson comes over the speakers, "I'm starting with the man in the mirror. I'm asking him to change his ways..." The people behind the counter crank up the volume. They start dancing and throwing their hands in the air. The customers in the cafe start singing and throwing their hands in the air.... "I'm starting with the man in the mirror. I'm asking him to change his ways..."


I was @ Boswell's in Milwaukee (Daniel Goldin was a huge support!) & @ Nicola's Books in Ann Arbor (Bill Cusumano was a huge support!) and I'm sure I'm not mentioning people I should.... Watchung Books in NJ, thank you....


and some birds were having a hard time in Milwaukee...


& I hope this one made it...


& WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio interviewed me, Mitch Teich, will post when Mitch airs the piece.... where the radio offices are....


I'm about to start with Boys & Girls Clubs, community learning in colleges and neighborhoods....

What Else But Home's ABOUT to be on TV - WATCH on C-SPAN starting this Saturday night!

from C-SPAN's Book TV website:
After Words: by Michael Rosen, What Else But Home, interviewed by John Hope Byrant.

WhatElseButHome finalcover-SCALED.jpg

About the Program
An upper-middle class, New York City boy goes out to play baseball with the underprivileged kids on the lot across the street. He invites them home to the family penthouse for a snack, and his parents eventually take all of them out of the projects and put them through school. Mr. Rosen discusses turning his family of three [correction, 4!- Morgan, YOU ARE a huge part of our lives] into a family of nine with Operation HOPE CEO John Hope Bryant, and author of new best selling book, LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World.

About the Author
Michael Rosen

Mr. Rosen is a former real estate developer and investor who's also been a Wall Street CEO and an assistant professor at New York University. He's author of two other books: "Turning Words," and "Spinning Worlds." (actually, 1 book: Turning Words, Spinning Worlds ~ yes, Gi Gi, it's not inexpensive!)

Future Airings

* Saturday, October 24th at 10pm (ET)
* Sunday, October 25th at 9pm (ET)
* Monday, October 26th at 12am (ET)
* Monday, October 26th at 3am (ET)
* Sunday, November 1st at 11am (ET)

Please watch. John Hope Bryant is a whirlwind of energy, and fun to speak with. I enjoyed his company, and I hope you'll enjoy the two of us on "After Words," C-SPAN Book TV.

My suitcase is disintegrating. I've too many of some parts of what I wear and not enough of others - I'm washing laundry in the shower. I'm drinking too much coffee. I miss Jeff, Fritz & Amanda at Continuum Cycles. I think nothing of a quadruple espresso. I called home yesterday morning or the day before, woke up Morgan, spoke for a bit and told him to go back to sleep. I called again later in the day. Turns out Ripton came home from college for the weekend -- he and I has spoken. I hadn't known. You want your kids to grow up healthy and happy. But do they have to go so far away? I'm away, but it's temporary, laundry drying in the back of the rental car en route to Milwaukee.


Sometimes you walk down a street and what you need, not what you're asking for--more than that--is right before you. If you've read my book, you might remember what this photo alludes to. I can make something better. Maybe you mostly can.

The woman at A Room of One's Own Feminist Bookstore, in Madison, WI, who'd driven 60 miles and told everyone there that What Else But Home is not only a great story but beautifully written, please do be in touch. Thank you for your enthusiasm and respect of the work.

I was at Wordstock, the hot hot book fair in Portland. I was paired with Jerome Gold, who'd written a book about his 15 years working in a juvenile facility. Everything was beautiful and perfect. I stood by the Powell's stack of my books like an unrepentant Fruitchandler (the "handler" part) and told those reaching for What Else But Home that it was a beautiful book. I'd received schedule after schedule from the Wordstock peoples. I'd been interviewed for a podcast. I'd never heard a word from the Wisconsin Book Festival peoples except the original acceptance that I was in a feminist bookstore with a woman who'd written about Helen Keller's teacher: Kim E. Neilsen, author of Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller.

I'd have to rush out of Portland, fly to Seattle, change to Chicago, sleep 3 hours in an airport hotel, fly to Madison, get a car to downtown and wait till a bookstore opened at noon. I wanted to cancel.

The room was full at A Room of One's Own Feminist Bookstore. I was wrong. The Midwest peoples wanted to know about Philippe, Anne Sullivan Macy, Juan, William, Helen Keller, Morgan, Carlos, Kindu & Ripton. And you, the woman who drove 60 miles, said you'd read that I'd messed up and missed Bellingham, and you're right.

I have to rush to Wisconsin NPR, Lake Effect.

My loved ones,,, hug, hug, hug - & where appropriate, kiss, kiss, kiss

In Seattle, completely mis-did things, last night went to Third Place Books in Late Forest and was supposed to be at Village Books in Bellingham. There was no way to get to Bellingham on time. Or even close.

I messed up, in more ways than one. I don't want to mess up, ever.

I'm Jewcy.com 's LEAD STORY today, will send out an email blast about that. They say a "Military Dad." That's a bit far, Will and Juan went off to the Navy but came home.

I'm reading Written on the Body, Jeanette Winterson. That's writing:

"Superficially she seemed serene, but beneath her control was a crackling power of the kind that makes me nervous when I pass pylons. She was more of a Victorian heroine than a modern woman. A heroine from a Gothic novel, mistress of her house, yet capable of setting fire to it and fleeing in the night with one bag."


"In the heat of her hands I thought, This is the campfire that mocks the sun. This place will warm me, feed me and care for me. I will hold on to this pulse against other rhythms. The world will come and go in the tide of a day but here is her hand with my future in its palm."


So - click ==> Jewcy.com - LOOK @ the 2nd piece, My Day as a White Guy in Prison - & if that's TOO HARD, CLICK ==> HERE, for the piece itself.

Back in the old-school days, my roommate, Eran, used to have a thing for Stevie Nicks, he said she was... well, I shouldn't say. Now that I'm older, Steve Nicks meets Tom Petty - Free Fallin'

Just came back from NAIBA in Baltimore - New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association. Like, why didn't I realize I should know 10,000 Independent Booksellers to make best friends with? Is NAIBA extraordinary? Yes. I sat and spoke with a good number of booksellers. I had nothing but admiration, for older folk pursuing creativity in their established places and young booksellers the the guts and naivety to open new ones. Carla Cohen continues to be Queen. In my book. So to speak.

I am old-school. Earlier today I thought, "good, I've made my Jewcy.com post, my assignment was done, and FORGOT I have at least 700 words by tomorrow, Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday.

Next week, Mon - Fri, I'm blogging on Jewcy.com - 20&30 year olds read there. I'm 53. People my age come to my bookstore readings, mostly. The Jewcy folk want me to focus on Social Justice. I'm going to do that.

This airplane has wifi and they're giving out free trials. My battery is running down. They don't have plugs on the plane.

I can't get prison out of my head. The hundreds of boys I saw and the 50 or so I spoke with in Juvenile Hall, San Francisco. Unsolicited praise from one of the City Youth Now people who hosted me there, sent to the woman helping figure my bookstore and book fair travels:

"Michael was just superb.  He really connected with the kids, was patient with their many questions, very  anecdotally interesting --which brought his book alive to the youth-- and he was curious about just who the kids were (as they were about him), which they found flattering I think.

We were overjoyed to have him come to juvy hall.. and are grateful you helped make that happen."

Okay, so you know, she's right. I did connect with the boys there, electric. Going clear, when you know. They were 15 to 18 years old. I've said, they could have been the brothers of my five "bigger boys." They'd done an average of two, two and a half years of prison, I think. I put down the statistics a couple of blogs ago. 40% will end up back in adult jail. 60% of them will be "dependent on [the] system", meaning homeless, assistance, jail.

I'm putting this picture here again, because it moves me so:


EDUCATION: "Crime can be prevented if schools teach juvenile offenders to read" - Children & Youth Services Review, J.S. (2207) - from City Youth Now 2008 Annual Report, Pg 10. I assume they don't mean being able to read "Don't Steal" signs and such. More, like, a passion for writers like me? Or Iceberg Slim?

from Page 4: "The youth we serve come from low-income families, often with histories of child abuse and neglect, gun violence, incarceration, and/or substance abuse."

So let's be more honest, even - which I know from our five "bigger boys": also from single mother families, or a woman who has raised them as their mom. Maybe they have 3 or 6 siblings from 3 or 5 different men who passed through. Did their mom's read to them? Their dads by and large weren't around for that. And I'm not blaming anyone - the system is broken. Ending this poverty and oppression is much more complicated than "fixing our schools." That's just what I'm thinking as I'm over the clouds. It doesn't rain up here.

Zero people (as in 0, ling, ephes, nada, not a unfamiliar soul yet a few of my SF friends) came to talk with and hear me read at Books Inc, the bookstore near the Opera building, later that same day. Prison was electrifying, Books Inc was saddening. They'd pasted a poster for my book in their window. They'd made a huge display for another author coming later in the week. His book had a cute dog on the cover. Books about us Americans taking care of doggies and kitty-cats are big. And memoirs about beautiful women, especially with their photos on the cover. BIG! We have a dog at home, our pug Mr. Jenkins. He traveled across America with us when we piled 7 of us in an SUV and headed off to explode the limits of the ghetto for our bigger boys. Maybe we should have stuck a photo of Mr. Jenkins on my cover? Race frightens us, class frightens us. We hide it behind curtains we are expert at not opening, our obsession with jails and warehouses we sort-of want to also function as "schools" and "public housing" and "juvenile halls" & "criminal justice" systems.

I know it can be different. mip'nei tikkun ha-olam, fixing those vessels of sacred light one at a time.

I'm on the way to NAIBA, in Baltimore, Eastern Seaboard Indy Booksellers.

Dear Sister Fiedler, I've written the letter pasted below, and tried to mail it to you but you don't have a physical address anywhere on your site for your Interfaith Voices radio show.. So I've pasted it also into your "Contact Us" tab of your website. As I note in my letter, your rejection of discussion of my book has given a welcome of opportunity for thought on sanctity. I hope, with deep respect, to hear from you. I would love to talk....

My Letter:

Dr. Michael Rosen
Lower East Side - New York, NY

October 2, 2009

Sister Maureen Fiedler
Interfaith Voices

Dear Sister Maureen Fiedler:

I value Interfaith Voices, and am writing because you recently rejected a discussion of my book, What Else But Home: Seven Boys and an American Journey Between the Projects and the Penthouse. One of your producers said, "the religion angle isn't strong enough for our show." Your thought provided a welcome to consider what a "religion angle" is in the service of sanctity. I returned to my touchstones of sanctity; Matthew and Jesus, the prophet Micah, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and his friend Reverend Reinhold Niebuhr, the Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Han, and though he might have disagreed (yet also smiled), to Robert Frost, the poet of the state of my youth.

My title, What Else But Home, is from Frosts' Death of the Hired Man; the farm hand Silas returns to the place of "no where else to go," where "they have to take you in," without the reader yet understanding he's come to die. Frost leads us along with Silas' promises to clear the upper pasture and ditch the meadow, to trade work for care. Frost entwines us with a conundrum between of means-ends expectations, on one hand, and love, compassion and home, on the other. The wife, Mary, defending Silas, answers her husband's cynicism:

"It all depends on what you mean by home.
Of course he's nothing to us, any more
Than was the hound that came a stranger to us
Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail."

If abandoned, therefore, to be given love as much as the stray dog. So Frost is telling us of Matthew 25:34-40, but I'm rushing ahead.

The nine of us, in our extended family, are Catholics, a Protestant and Jews, black, brown and white, some of us are conventionally "religious" and most are not, we are from poverty and wealth, we are young and middle aged.

My business was destroyed during September 11th, my office then on Rector Street near the Trade Towers. My employees and I watched the destruction and death and I decided after to write about compassion and community, the dimensions and boundaries of our responsibility to each other.

My wife and I are White and Jewish. We live in the Lower East Side of New York, a racially, economically and religiously diversified neighborhood. We adopted our oldest son, Ripton, here. Our youngest son, Morgan, was born in Grand Prairie, Texas, and we brought him home after the week of interstate compact.

In the miracle of adoption, neither of our sons, each White, looks particularly like my wife or I, but so much of them is us. We converted them to Judaism, and brought them up as such.

Eleven years ago, in the summer of 1998, Ripton walked us onto a blacktop baseball field in a small park across the street from our apartment. He joined an ongoing sandlot game, the only White boy, and invited his teammates home after. Ten or a dozen came for video games and food. Five of those boys, four and five years older than Ripton--Black, Dominican and Puerto Rican, Catholic and Protestant, English and Spanish speaking, from public or other subsidized housing--moved into our home over the years and also became our sons.

When Ripton walked us onto that Tompkins Square baseball field, he and Morgan were attending the Abraham Joshua Heschel School, a Jewish school named for the rabbi who marched with Reverend Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery arm in arm with Reverend Ralph Abernathy, a Catholic nun and some others, all garlanded in white flowers. I've read that bigots spat on the nun, Rabbi Heschel later telling Reverend Niebuhr that this dishonor disturbed him nearly most of all. How can we "Love your neighbor as yourself," Rabbi Heschel asked, if we oppress and ghettoize our neighbor. Rabbi Heschel walked in the shoes of Jesus and Hillel - "Do to others as you would have them do to you." When asked why he marched, Rabbi Heschel answered, "When I march in Selma, my feet are praying."

I know, when we took our five bigger boys (now young adults of twenty-three and twenty-four) into our home and family, that we were praying. They were hungry, certainly at the end of every month when their mothers' assistance checks ran low, and we fed them. They needed clothes and other belongings of youth--books, sneakers, baseball gloves, balls, bats, and we shopped with them. They needed health care, my wife is a physician and we provided for them. One of our sons unfairly ended up in jail and we helped him to be released. Others of our sons were accosted by police and together we averted prison. We have helped when their brothers have been incarcerated. Most importantly, we continue to empower them by pushing unrelentingly for education; each of the older boys quite amazingly finished high school, often with our effort, and we have now gone through years of financial, emotional and tutoring support towards college degrees. We now have six sons in college--each of the five bigger boys and Ripton.

You know that I am paraphrasing Matthew. I also spoke with your radio program producer about Rabbi Heschel, in relation to Ripton and Morgan's school and marching to Montgomery. I told her of our surprise meeting with Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth in Birmingham, Alabama, as our extended family made a trip across American. I told her of a theology interchange I heard soon after we met the bigger boys. "What are Jews?" one of them asked Ripton and Morgan. Another asked if Jews believed in G-d. Ripton and Morgan both answered "yes." Another of the five said that was impossible, Jews can't believe in G-d because Jews don't accept Jesus as G-d. So Ripton and Morgan, my wife and I could never enter heaven. Then the boys went back to their video games.

During the early years of knowing the bigger boys, two of Ripton and Morgan's babysitters were gay, causing that more stringent theologian among them to announce that our babysitters were condemned to Hell, though "good people." And in 2004 a group of our sons went to see Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, prompting a conversation I overheard with the stringent theologian telling Ripton and Morgan that "your people kilt Jesus," as he understood from the film. We Jews bore that responsibility through the generations. He explained that he loved my wife, his two Jewish White brothers and me, but we were sadly condemned to an eternal hereafter of damnation, though we were "good people" (yet again). I joined that conversation, tried to paraphrase a Thich Nhat Han thought I'm fond of:

"People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. All is a miracle."

That son wasn't having Buddhist thought about the miracle of life recognizing earth and embracing compassion.

I tried Saint Catherine of Siena: "All the way to heaven is heaven." My son remained unconvinced of a voice across systems of faith.

In explaining our story with your producer, I tried a touch of Talmud: "And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world." I told her about a friend who'd early on told me we were in a fight to save the bigger boys' lives. I doubted him, till he pointed to the murder of two of our bigger boys' fathers, the death by drugs and AIDS of a bigger boy's mother, the death by drugs and jail of a bigger boy's father, the drug dealing and jail terms served by some of their brothers, their siblings dropping out of high school, the early teenage pregnancy of a sister, the lack of job skills all around, the statistically early death and morbidity among poor people of color, particularly males. We were fighting for their lives by pushing them to complete high school and college degrees, fighting for their lives; the wage difference between college educated and not is often the difference between middle class life and poverty.

I tried more Mishna and a touch of Kabbalah with your producer: mip'nei tikkun ha-olam, "for the sake of repair of / perfecting the world." That through our actions we can bring justice and mercy to the world, repair broken vessels of sacred light. Your producer seemed unconvinced that the mundaneness of buying school clothes for boys on a baseball field without, of attending parent-teacher conferences for boys who weren't quite "ours" and who never had parents attend such conferences, could repair a few broken sacred vessels of light, did really address a religion angle of American life.

I also told your producer of my African-American Protestant son explaining to his college friends he was "half-Jewish" and calling me his "Jewish pops." I told her about our seven sons lighting Hanukah candles together each year. Of me finally buying Christmas gifts and decorating a tree in lights and stockings for our Christian sons--since I'd come to love them, their system of faith could have no less importance than mine within our home. I told her of our son Ripton's bar mitzvah in an Orthodox synagogue, all our sons introduced from the pulpit as brothers.

I am reminded of Rabbi Heschel's thought that "To maintain the right balance of mystery and meaning, of stillness and utterance, of reverence and action seems to be the goal of religious existence." I am also struck, in the diversity of our extended family, by Reverend Neibur belief that, "We live our life in various realms of meaning which do not quite cohere rationally. Our meanings are surrounded by a penumbra of mystery, which is not penetrated by reason."

It seems to me, in the details of our lives with the bigger boys, building family through accepting many mysteries and comprehending some meaning, in synagogue and in church, in celebrating disparate holy days, in trying to do justice, love kindness and reminding ourselves to walk with humility, that there would be a great deal for you and me to speak about concerning issues with proper "the religion angle" for your audience. But what do you think? I have faith that the mystery and grace of G-d also resides in the swing of a young boy's bat towards a baseball on a blacktop field.

In friendship,

Dr. Michael Rosen


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