An Open Letter to Yael Bartana

Dear Yael,

I am an Israeli-American. I was born in Los Angeles, live in Givatayim, go to university in New York but will be studying in England next year.

The reason I’m telling you this is because I am part of two worlds – I have two homes and no home, two countries and no country. This is a kind of internal enigma that I haven’t yet gotten around to exploring yet – the seeds of what I want to do with this puzzling idea are still revolving in my mind, floating in some sort of wind. Hopefully they will find some fertile ground and grow there one day.

Today, I was stunned. My mother and I went to see your exhibition at the Helena Rubinstein in Tel Aviv. I took three Manifesto posters in each language so that I’d be able to give some away to people I love. The ideas that you represented – and the way you represented them – were so beautiful, so thought-provoking, and so intensely personal to someone who has lived here most of her life and felt both aliened and forcibly integrated. During the films, I was constantly thinking, wondering, trying to figure out the future that I was seeing in the foreshadowing clues that were in the barbed wire, the spotlight, the arm-band, the assassination. But I also yearned so dearly to hope, to be among my generation – the candle-lighters, the optimists, the naive, the third generation who are furthest from the past traumas but still, somehow, touched by them.

I wanted to go to Hebron after I left those rooms, posters clutched tightly furled under my arm – I didn’t have a rubber band – and find the first Palestinian youth who would trust me and ask him to take my hand. We would go and buy two tickets to Poland. We’d call our families and friends once we got there. Maybe if he escaped from his ghost town and I escaped from this country that ignores its ghosts, we’d be able to show others, as you did, that the possibility was real. How naive. But what a wonderful wish.

I have written to authors before. I’ve never written to an artist before. I hope that, if you do read this, my respect and admiration for you comes through my words. You have inspired something within me – the flame of anger always burning towards this country, but also the drops of innocence and hope that try to dampen that fire. Most of all, you’ve awoken my imagination and my thought, and for that I must thank you from the bottom of my heart. A work of art has not touched me so in a long, long time.

Thank you, thank you, thank you,

Ilana

__________

Yael Bartana is the creator of “And Europe Will be Stunned” which premiered at the Venice Biennale.

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An Honest Cover Letter

Dear Publisher or Literary Agency,

I love reading. I love writing. I bet you hear this all the time, but I just want you to know that I mean it. When I begin to talk about books, I feel my stomach leaping and the tips of my toes curl in excitement. When I sit down to write every day, I feel as if this is something I will gladly be doing for the rest of my life, even if it doesn’t result in a lot of money. I’m fully willing to become a waitress to support my writing habit.

However, it’s probably harder getting published as an unknown waitress who writes during her hours off than as a literary agent or editor at a publishing house. Working with you will give me an “in.” Am I being too blunt? Forgive me, but that’s the point. I’ve spent the last two and a half hours drafting (or attempting to draft) clever, concise and comprehensive cover letters in which I subtly explain why I will get down on my knees and beg to work for you. My mind is fairly wrung out, and so in order to refresh and cleanse it, I’m telling you the truth.

The truth is that while my biggest goal isn’t to become a publisher or literary agent, these are jobs that I would do a lot to get if they would help me support my writing habit while also letting me deal with books all day. I’ve been working in a bookstore during the last month, and I’ve found that the mere presence of hundreds of books is enough to keep me motivated and happy. Only think how well I’ll work for you at a job that would involve not only seeing books but reading manuscripts and writing letters!

I fear that my formulaic cover letters will get swallowed in the mass of other likely, qualified candidates that will contact you. If I had the guts, I’d send you this letter instead – although, to be fair, I’d probably work at it a lot longer and make it wittier and more touching than it is.

The bottom line (or, rather, lines) is that I love books, I’m passionate about the written word, and I would love to work anywhere that helps in the process of getting a book from the writer’s personal hard-drive and into the bookstore where I happily purchase it. Even though you’re businesses and your goal is to profit, you also save my life along the way by continuing to publish the books without which I wouldn’t know how to survive the emotional and mental turmoil that every human being goes through.

Hire me, hire me, hire me,

Help me keep writing and books in my life forever by letting me leap into the publishing world during my sophomore year at college,

(I promise you won’t regret it,)

Sincerely,

SlightlyIgnorant

Alphabet Nonsense

Once upon a time,

The letter A took a walk.

She saw the letter B

And boy, she had a shock.

**

B was round where A was not,

And A was quite appalled.

But the letter B laughed at her,

And said “Try being small!”

**

When A became a she realized

That she had some roundness, too.

She sought out B and asked him if

He’d be her friend, real and true.

**

So A and B had lots of fun

And paired up for many words,

Like abbey, abort and able,

Abolish, abet and absurd.

**

They were friends for many years,

And they met some other letters,

And they learned never to think

Of themselves as anyone’s betters.

**

A and B liked C and D,

And many others as well,

They were a band of twenty-six,

The spellers and the spelled.

**

But A and B have special status,

They’re nobler than the others,

For the alphabet is named after

Their great-great-Latin-grandfathers.

Dear Santa

August 27, 2010

Dear Santa Clause,

Mommy and Daddy say you don’t exist because we’re Jewish. But my best friend Wanda says that you do and she’s my best friend so I’m going to listen to her.

I’m 8 and I’m starting 3d grade tomorrow. I don’t want to go back to school. But Wanda says that Christmas will be here very soon (in 4 months) and that then I can get presents from you if I ask for them nicely.

Wanda got a lot of nice presents last year. She got another pony doll for her collection and a bathing suit for the summer (she says that was a funny present to get in the winter but I said it was a good idea and that you’re smart for thinking ahead) and a computer game about ponies (how do you know that she likes ponies? Does she tell you?) and also a book that’s about a horse (she likes ponies better than horses but she still liked the book. It was about a ghost horse! It was a good book. We read it together.)

I have been very good this year Santa. I wrote in my diary every day like the reading and writing teacher said I should last year because I wasn’t so good at it. Mommy helped me with spelling all the time but then she also showed me how to find the right spelling on Google. Do you know about Google Santa? I bet you do. Maybe you started it. I asked Wanda why I couldn’t email you and she said that you didn’t have internet in the North Pole (or South Pole? I can’t remember but I’ll ask Wanda before I send the letter).

I have also been helping Mommy do shopping for food every week and I take my dog Pesky for a walk every day (Mommy and Daddy take him for walks too) but only around the park because Mommy doesn’t want me to cross the street alone yet. I crossed the street alone once because Wanda dared me to but except for that I have been very good!

I know it is early to write to you, but I wanted to tell you that even though I’m Jewish and we have Hanukah I still want to have Christmas too. It’s not just for the presents. I’m not greedy! It’s just that Wanda has a fireplace and we don’t so I think you’ll have to come in through the window in my room (it’s biggest) and then I’ll get to see you. I want to meet your raindeer. Why are they called that Santa? Do they like the rain?

Like Mommy said to do I’m reading everything I wrote now to check for spelling and I fixed some stuff (ok a lot of stuff but I’m getting better!) and I know that I asked you a lot of questions. Will you write back to me Santa? I hope you will. I want a penpal.

I hope I see you in December!

Sincerely,

Me (Wanda says you know who we are and that we shouldn’t write our names in case someone else finds the letter and tries to find out where we live. But you know where we live already so that’s ok)

A Birthday Card and Love Letter

To the dear, amazing, wonderful and incredible author, world builder and inspiration, J. K. Rowling,

(And also, to the fictional character who we all wish was real, Harry James Potter,)

I want to you wish you an incredible birthday. Many months ago, in May of 2009, I wrote a short little piece about how the Harry Potter books were the first ones I read on my own. I’d like to go further now, and tell the story again, because I truly believe that without the Harry Potter books, I wouldn’t have become the reader I am today. If I wouldn’t have become the reader I am, I wouldn’t have begun to write. I wouldn’t have discovered the wonders of dozens of other authors, their worlds, their views and their legacies.

But it all started with the eleven-year old wizard, forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs, that was invented by you, Miss Rowling. And I’d like to share the story of how these books changed my life, and why I’m so grateful to you.

When I was eight years old, my chief activities were playing with my friends and watching television. I was a TV kid. When I was even younger and my mother taught me how to read in English, I fought tooth and nail against it. Remember, I’d learned Hebrew at school with everyone else, but my mother wanted me to be as fluent in English as I was becoming in Hebrew. I was already bilingual, but she knew that if I didn’t learn to read and write in English as a child, I’d probably lose a lot of the benefits of being so.

By the time I was eight I knew how to read in both languages, but I didn’t like to. I liked being read to – I loved stories, it’s true. It was also the age where my friends and I spent our time inventing stories and plays and games. Stories were a big part of my life, but words on pages weren’t.

Shortly after my ninth birthday, my brother turned thirteen. For his Bar Mitzva, a great-aunt of ours gifted him with the first three Harry Potter books, the third of which had only just come out, all in hardcover. I remember I thought to myself that the books sounded dumb when someone explained to me what they were about. My nine year old mind wasn’t excited, for some reason, by the prospect of a wizard boy.

My brother read the books on his own, of course. I remember distinctly, however, the first evening my mother started reading the first book to me. I was in my bed, the same one I still sleep in now, and she read the first line, “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” I remember cutting in then and saying something along the lines of “But the book’s called Harry Potter! Who are these people?” and my mother smiled and told me to wait patiently and we’d see together.

A couple weeks later, when we reached the chapter titled “Halloween,” while my parents were having their Friday afternoon nap, I read the whole chapter alone without telling anyone. When my mother started reading it to me that night I felt so guilty that I confessed that I’d read it alone. I thought it would hurt her feelings. She was, of course, ecstatic, and gave me her blessing to continue reading the book, and the next and the next, on my own.

So Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (I had the American version) was the first book in English that didn’t have pictures in it (except for those small ones above the chapter titles) that I read most of alone, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the first book of this sort that I read completely alone, from start to finish.

It changed my life. I just kept on reading. I discovered a love for fantasy, that led me to dozens of amazing books, and later branched out to every type of book imaginable. If I’d never reached that point where I wanted so badly to know what was about to happen that I picked up the book and read the next chapter alone, then I’d never have become such an avid reader. And being a reader… means the world to me.  I can’t imagine ever living without books. I can’t imagine never reading.

Harry Potter remained with me for years, and he’s still with me. I grew up with him. When he turned seventeen when the seventh and final book came out, I turned seventeen. The books saw me through the beginning, middle and end of puberty, they saw my first kisses and first periods, my first relationship and first breakup. They saw me through my father’s death. I can’t count the times I’ve read them. I know that they’re going to remain with me for my entire life.

Thank you, J. K. Rowling, for creating a world, characters and plot so amazing that you convinced a nine-year old who watched as many hours of TV a day as she could to find the wonder and beauty of words. Thank you, Harry Potter, fictional as you are, for being the star of this author’s books, for being courageous but normal, for being talented but average, for making me feel kinship with you. Thank you, Hermione Granger, the Weasleys, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks, Serius Black, Fleur Delacour, Luna Lovegood, Dean Thomas,Seamus Finnegan, Neville Longbottom, Lee Jordan, Oliver Wood, Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet, Katie Bell, Parvati Patil, Lavender Brown, Professors of Hogwarts, Rubeus Hagrid, the Malfoys, Dobby and Winky, Messrs. Crouch and Bagman, Tom Marvolo Riddle who grew into Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters, and, last but definitely not least (and I’m probably forgetting so many other good characters here), Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore- thank you for filling eleven (so far) years of my life with your magic.

A Love Letter to Chicago

Dearest Chicago,

In the short time I’ve spent with you, you’ve managed to charm me. Quite apart from you keeping my brother safe and sound for four years, you have alluring qualities that are all your own. I really felt comfortable within your limits and amongst your streets, and even though you’re one of the most crime-ridden cities in the United States, your beauty and loveliness still shine on as always.

You started out as a small town and you were officially made a city when you had three thousand residents. A city with a population of three-thousand when you began! Such a number is hardly considered worthy of a town in our day and age. Still, you knew somehow that you would be grand someday, and the same went for the people who lived in your embrace. Each building was built for beauty, practicality and grandeur – all three qualities together, without ever neglecting a one. Your streets were built in such a way that you would be easy to understand and navigate so that everyone would feel welcome to rest their boots upon your sidewalks and streets.

Over the years, you grew outward and became larger and larger, but you never gave up your simple beauties – your lake-front is as bare as it ever was and your river had pathways all along its sides. Buildings were built taller and taller, and yet you still feel spacious and airy, not intimidating or claustrophobic.

Chicago, you are a city of modern beauty.

Letter to the Author

I am a great and loyal fan of many writers: Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Tamora Pierce, Jacqueline Carey, Kate Elliot, Libba Bray, Sarah Dessen… the list goes on and on. These are authors who are living and writing and creating today. These are authors whose books I can look forward to, whose careers I can actively follow (what with the wonders of the online community these days). I treat these people with as much reverence as I treat my favorite bands – more so, perhaps, because their fame is often less materially rewarding and their renown is limited to the community who enjoy their particular genre; meaning my respect for them and awe of them grows because of the difficulties they face in pursuing their chosen careers.

I’ve met Neil Gaiman. He was a darling, and managed not to seem the least bit bored during the two signings of his in which I participated. He is an incredible public speaker. He is extremely popular, though, and I have never felt the urge to write to him. So, also, with many other of the authors I love.

I wrote to Jacqueline Carey though. I wrote of my passion for her books and my admiration for both her literary style and her imagination, for her beautifully-wrought characters and her intricate plots. She wrote back. She really did. It was a while after I had written, but she did write back.

Which is why, I suppose, I’ve been struggling for days with trying to find the perfect wording for a second letter – this time to Tamora Pierce. I grew up on her books – I own every single one of them, and there are many, believe me. The smell of the pages of those well-thumbed novels of hers bring back memories from countless instances, and I’ve read and reread her books endlessly. I hope that once I find the words to write to her properly, she’ll respond. I shouldn’t expect it, but I can’t help but hope.

It’s overwhelming, sometimes, to love and admire people with such creative minds and incredible determination. But it’s often inspiring too.