Just Too Insecure

I published a book, and now the time for self-doubt begins.  When I first saw a video my brother made showing my father pointing to some photos in a very old album, I was shocked. I did not know of the video’s existence. When I watched it with my father and began questioning him about the various events he discussed with my brother, I was upset that he was unable to answer many of my questions. Why did I never sit down with him earlier to really delve into the details of his early life?

After he died, I began to try to learn his story on my own. I found many documents in his dresser and then began to learn the ins and outs of genealogy research. I turned my discoveries into a letter to my children. That was where I thought my project would end. I never realized I would uncover enough information to write a book.

I wrote, and rewrote over and over. I added more research and interviewed many people to help fill in the holes along the way. Then I struggled with what to do with this letter which had now become a book.

Once I decided to put the book out there on the Internet universe, my insecurities surfaced. I began to question the positive comments by the few friends and family who encouraged me to do this. Did they like it because, as my friends, they “had to?” Were they secretly thinking I was crazy to believe a stranger would enjoy reading a book about my family?

As many times as I beat myself up, I also cheered myself on because I knew the story was good. It was unique, and even if the writing is only mediocre, I believe in the tale.

How many times have I watched a television show where the villains are Russians? We are constantly seeing commercials encouraging us to learn about our ancestors and to follow their trail. Immigration is a hot topic in today’s political arena as are stories of the Great Depression as a comparison to our own Great Recession. We all enjoy routing for the underdog and love stories of mystery and adventure. My book has it all, so why do I question myself?

I looked for answers with the help of my good buddy Google, who lead me to a Facebook group called “Insecure Writers Support Group.” I learned it is common for a writer to fluctuate between the belief that his book will be a runaway hit and the anxiety that it is useful for nothing more than kindle for a fire. I guess my feelings are normal.

So I put in a request to join the group and then worried I would not be accepted. Talk about feeling insecure! Fortunately I was accepted, so I can now enjoy the conversations of other neurotic writers like myself.


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Not Their Decision to Make

Immigration is a hot topic these days. A big question is what to do with the young children crossing the borders into the United States. It’s a problem which I am not trying to solve, but I considered it a great deal as I was writing my father’s story.

When my Russian-born grandparents decided to return to their homeland with their six New Jersey-born children, none of them could refuse to go. Like all children whose parents relocate to a new town or different state, they had to live with their parents’ decision.

Years later, when the family decided to leave the Soviet Union, much of the world was already involved in the Second World War. My father was the first to leave, and once German forces invaded the country, the rest of the family was stuck there.

My aunts begged the American Embassy for shelter and financial assistance to leave but got little help. The attitude was that they chose to move there, so they were on their own.

As I read the correspondences between the State Department and my father’s family, I could not help but think how wrong this was. They were children when they left New Jersey. It was not their decision to make.

Reading about all the battles occurring at the state and federal level regarding what to do with the children, both those born here of non-citizen immigrant parents and those children living here who were brought to the United States, I always think, “It was not their decision to make.”


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Nothing Really Changes

What drives people to listen to anti-establishment people like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders? Fear, anger, and hopelessness are a few adjectives which come to mind. As I watch and read the news, and listen to the discussions regarding this very unusual American election, I am reminded by what motivated my Russian grandparents to move their family from New Jersey to the Soviet Union in 1931.

They too had similar feelings of fear and hopelessness, so they listened to a man who promised to make their lives better. The voice which promised jobs, free education, housing, and healthcare was Joseph Stalin. We all know that was a very bad decision for all of them.

I am not in any way comparing Donald and Bernie to Stalin. My point is that most people, whether they are rich or poor, Americans or even Syrian or Iranian, have similar basic needs—to be healthy, safe, and happy. We just cannot all see eye to eye on how to achieve those goals.

We call each other names, argue, sometimes to the point of violence, and often refuse to walk in the shoes of our neighbor. Our disagreements may sometimes even destroy friendships and families. We forget that, in the end, we all want at least the same basic needs met for ourselves and our families.

When my grandparents decided to follow the call of Joseph Stalin and move to the Soviet Union, they probably offended or confused some of their close friends. But they were doing what made sense to them, just like many people today, who are so passionate about a candidate who may not make sense to you or I.

So often while I was writing my book, Do Svidanya Dad: Tracing the Story of an American Family Trapped in the USSR , I saw similarities between what happened to my father’s family and what is happening today. As immigrants to new a land, particular that specific country, I should not have been surprised. But I was.


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I Don’t Remember

Chapter 2 of my book, Do Svidanya Dad: Tracing the Story of an American Family Trapped in the USSR, explains the moment when I realized  I made a huge mistake that I could never fix. Perhaps it is not too late for you.

Dear Dad,

“I just don’t remember.” The instant you uttered those words, I knew I made a terrible mistake that could never be erased. I was stunned and felt a deep sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I realized I waited too long to talk to you, and your memories were lost forever.

On that day, you and I were watching a video that David filmed fifteen years earlier. It showed you looking at an old photo album and reminiscing about the friends and family in the pictures. You had a sharp memory then, describing the places you visited and associated anecdotes. I was excited when I first saw the video and later sad and disappointed that I had never seen it years ago. You loved watching it.

Until then, I was certain I knew you because you had been my dad for fifty-three years. I recalled a man who loved his family and job at Allied Chemical. I did not stop to speculate about the boy who became my father or to consider the events in your past which molded your personality.

You were proud of your children–Arlene, Ellen, Mart, Dave, and me. As each new grandchild arrived, you insisted that each child was more brilliant than the preceding one. You were always a nag, but as a parent, I understand it was because you wanted us to make as few mistakes as possible.

You worked hard to ensure there was a meal on the table and clothing on our backs. I never had a sense of being poor or disadvantaged. If you could analyze how to fix something, you did it yourself. I remember when Ellen and I discovered a broken window behind the washer in the basement. You repaired it with a Tupperware lid, cardboard, and duct tape. It was not a professional fix, but it solved the problem and cost nothing. You were resourceful!

It was not until after you died that I considered how much more there was to your story. You were thirty-six when I was born–the first of your five children–so you lived many years before becoming a father. While you told us tales of your past BC–before children–I believed little. I was too busy studying, spending time with my friends, and later raising my own family to ask questions.

Everyone who knew you was aware that you spent nearly ten years living in Russia. While other kids’ dads told stories of playing baseball or fishing in the local pond, you spun tales of mingling with Russian assassins and later trying to warn a United States intelligence agent of the Pearl Harbor attack. At our skepticism you always said, “I have the papers to prove it.”

What papers? Why did you never show them to me, and why did I never ask? I have asked myself this question over and over, Dad!

What was it like moving to Russia as a young American boy or coming of age in a country under the cold-blooded leadership of Joseph Stalin? You escaped by traveling across the whole continent of Russia alone ahead of America’s entrance into World War II. How? Now, in “that moment,” I desperately wanted to know it all, but the hourglass was empty.

That moment has haunted me. I imagine it so often, and the memory evokes so many emotions–anger, disappointment, guilt, and sadness. Most of those emotions are directed toward myself. If only I had taken the time to listen when you tried to share your memories, I would be familiar with your history, Dad, and you would have known I was interested.

I cannot change the past. “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”

After you passed away, I decided to begin. I made it my mission to learn what horrors your family suffered in Russia and the role you played in bringing them home. Genealogy research, and that “eureka moment,” when I stumbled upon telegrams, memos, and letters you wrote now stored at the National Archives, enabled me to assemble your very complicated youth. I filled in the blanks by interviewing individuals who had traveled similar roads as you. What I discovered and who I met on my journey of discovery was surprising.

I hope an afterlife exists and you know what I am doing. Several of my friends have suggested that maybe you have been there walking beside me and guiding me toward many of the explanations I have been seeking. Perhaps you are.

I watched that recording many times and think of you every day. I admire you as I learned how nothing prevented you from doing what you had to do to protect your family. I am sorry and I hope you will forgive me.



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Reflections- May 1941

I thought I would include the first two chapters to give any interested readers a feel for what I have written in my book, Do Svidanya Dad: Tracing the Story of an American Family Trapped in the USSR.

Marty’s dreams of becoming a doctor were shattered by the sound of a loud knock on the classroom door. No one spoke. Each student was fearful of being snatched from the classroom by the uniformed officer of the secret police who interrupted the lesson. One minute Marty was peering through the eye of his microscope in biology class, and the next, he was pulled from class and issued an ultimatum: renounce your American citizenship and become a Soviet citizen or leave school.

While his family never intended to stay in Russia permanently, Marty expected to live there until he completed his education and then return to New Jersey as an American citizen educated abroad. That could no longer happen. His life story, penned in his imagination, suddenly had to be rewritten and the characters recast.

When he and his five siblings refused to become Russian citizens, they were exiled from Leningrad and forcibly resettled in Novgorod. They immediately began planning their exodus from Russia. They needed to secure travel documents from the embassy and find enough funds to pay for their transportation home. Raising the money would take time. They found employment in Novgorod and wrote to their friends back in New Jersey asking for financial assistance.

One year later, Marty found himself peering out the window of the Trans-Siberian Railway as it chugged across the barren expanses of the Soviet Union. Ten years after leaving New Jersey, he was finally returning home, but this time he was alone.

Marty was not afraid to travel by himself, but his stomach churned with uncertainty and guilt at having abandoned his family. His face drained of color when he learned that he was the only one in his family permitted to leave Russia. Anxious conversations and gut-wrenching soul-searching resulted in the final decision. There would be more opportunities to secure the others’ return to the United States once Marty was safely home rather than from within the confines of the Soviet Union. He could not look back or continue to carry the burden of guilt.

He took a deep breath and surveyed his surroundings. The train was brimming with Jewish refugees–men, women, and children–many escaping Poland after the Germans stormed into their country during the autumn of 1939. Some were also traveling solo, separated from the security and companionship of their families.

As endless forests of pine trees whipped past him, he couldn’t help thinking how he, a young man from New Jersey, ended up alone on a train in the Soviet Union. Before the move halfway around the world, he had been a happy twelve-year-old boy who loved to caddie at the local golf course and play street games in the neighborhood.

Back then he lived on a quiet street in the small town of Rockaway where the biggest news in town was the annual Halloween pranks or the arrest of someone’s dad for making moonshine in his basement. Oh, how he longed for those days now!

After the stock market crash, his father lost his job at the steel mill, but his parents were skillful at concealing their troubles. Pa found odd jobs around town, and his twin sisters, Nancy and Helen, went to work at the hosiery mill with his uncle Mark.

Marty heard the tales of families who lost their homes and of children in tattered clothes forced to beg for food in the streets. But this did not happen to his family, so he was shocked when his parents announced their intentions to sell their house and move to Russia. The explanation was that the Soviet Union, unlike most of the world, was isolated from the effects of the Great Depression. Jobs were plentiful there, and his parents had family back in “the old country.”

There was no arguing with his mother and fatherjust sad acceptance by Marty and his five siblings. Within months, his parents sold their house, and they made arrangements to move in December.

Marty wondered how different their lives would be if they never left Rockaway. He would have a job, his sisters might be married, and he could be an uncle by now, but he could not dwell on what may have been. All he could do now was to focus on getting home to New Jersey and then helping his family join him there. The enormity of the task was overwhelming, but he was determined to succeed.

The compartment Marty rode in consisted of a long narrow corridor down the middle, with clusters of wooden bunk beds on each side of the aisle–two upper and two lower. Military officers patrolled the train, constantly pulling the window shades down whenever they felt the view needed to be concealed.

What could they be hiding, wondered Marty, but he could not waste time on useless speculation. He needed to concentrate on planning what to do once he arrived in Japan, where he would board a ship for the next leg of his journey home.

Every day Marty found himself lost in his thoughts as he stared out the window at the ever-changing landscape. It was hypnotic. Many of the men on the train passed the time playing chess with each other. Marty was happy for the diversion and companionship.

One day, his spell was broken by the excited cries of the passengers as they passed Lake Baikal. This lake, the oldest and deepest in the world, was reminiscent of the ocean which Marty recalled from the journey to the Soviet Union. So much had happened since then–the worst being the death of his brother.

He closed his eyes and recalled that December day in 1931 when his family left their carefree world in New Jersey behind them. None of them realized how much their lives would change.

Stay tuned tomorrow for “I Don’t Remember: April 2014”

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It’s done. My book is out, and I feel proud, relieved, and fearful. It is like the naked dream, because while my book was sitting on my computer, I was safe. Now my words are exposed and that is a scary feeling.

Will anyone who knows me and reads it enjoy the story, or will they cringe but be afraid to tell me? I have a new appreciation for anyone who puts themselves out there, whether they write a book or act in a movie, play, or television show for the first time. It is a very vulnerable position, but I have no regrets. It’s a unique story.

When I began this project seven years ago, it was never my intent to turn it into a book like this. I thought I was going to write a short story for my children so they could learn about their grandfather. I never imagined I would discover enough to write a book!

I did not realize how much history I would learn by digging into my father’s past. I decided to write it from his point of view, with letters from me intertwined throughout the story explaining the roundabout journey I walked trying to piece together his life. I wanted to make it interesting enough for my grandchildren to want to read it during my lifetime, which is why I chose this format.

After spending all this time researching and writing and rewriting, the actual moment it went live on Amazon was quite anticlimactic. There were no bells or no confetti. I got into bed and then asked my husband, “Did I just publish it?” Sure enough, when I went back to my computer, it was there. The action of approving the proof set it in motion.

So it is there on Kindle now and in paperback tomorrow I believe. In a month or so, it will be available online at other booksellers such as Barnes and Noble and Books a Million.



Do Svidanya Dad- Tracing the Story of an American Family Trapped in the USSR


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The Time Has Come

The time has come. I am ready to publish my book and I am both relieved and excited about my decision to do this on my own.

Back in September, after sending out query letters to fifty-two literary agents, I decided to sit back and evaluate my motivation for writing this story. Although every writer wants to see their novel on the best-seller list and has visions of a movie deal (I won’t deny that I would be thrilled and already have the theme song picked out), my driving force behind researching and writing my book was to finally learn my father’s story and tell it to my children and grandchildren.

It is obviously a very personal story, so I did not want an outsider dictating which chapters should or should not be included. Each chapter—the story about my grandparents’ immigration to American, the comparison between my two sets of grandparents, the days spent in London en route to the Soviet Union in 1931, and the circuitous path taken to research this story—had a purpose.

So in January, I turned my research to the self-publishing process. I learned a lot, made many mistakes, but I am finally ready to take the plunge.

There was so much to consider—the size of the book, the margin sizes, the font type, what to put on the front and back covers, digital or print (I chose both), company to use, and price. It was humbling to learn how little money the author makes on each sale.

I investigated hiring a professional editor, but the cost was too much for a book that may sell only enough to pay for a small cup of coffee and perhaps a muffin. So I enlisted the help of some friends and relatives to help find the mistakes I missed on my many, many edits. To anyone who may read it, know that I did my best and apologize for any flaws. (I was trained in the field of mathematics and computer science, not writing.)

Last week I received a proof copy of the book and made a few more tweaks to the cover, changed the size, and reread for errors one more time. I have read it so many times that I am sick of it, but I hope that any readers will enjoy the story and come away with the lesson I learned, which is to sit down and talk to their elder family members about their lives while the memories are still fresh. I believe it’s a unique story and am proud of the result.

Stay tuned for information on its launch.


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