Thursday, April 11, 2019

I'm (Sadly) Over a Purple Clover

My final Local article about my ice cream commercial (among other things)
Call me the Grim Reaper of the freelance personal essay. Every outlet I write for turns to ashes.

When I first entered the fray, there were scads of publications that swooned over well-crafted short-form non-fiction. As a new freelance writer, I was heady with the possibilities, most of which paid a decent sum. A site that published one of my essays paid me $500!!!! While that lofty number was an anomaly, paychecks of $300 were not unusual. Wow! I told myself. I can DO this writing thing, and be adequately recompensed to boot!

My first hint that something was amiss came a while back when, VERY shortly after publishing a piece of mine, Metropolis (a Philly-based site, featuring some really strong writing) folded. Surely just a coincidence! thought I. And for a while, everything else was going swimmingly. I wrote for niche publications like Racked (all about shopping). I scored with the local NPR outlet, Speakeasy, and quite a few times with The Philadelphia Inquirer. I discovered Purple Clover, dedicated to Baby Boomers, and had a couple of essays featured in quick succession. And I became a regular columnist for The Chestnut Hill Local, a stellar small newspaper that published more than 60 of my pieces in the course of nine years.

Last summer, I got word that Racked was no more. Speakeasy reduced its essay offerings from weekly, to monthly, and even then skewed towards commentary on hard news (my “news” is pillowy soft). The new op-ed editor at the Inquirer eschewed the slice-of-life essay entirely. Purple Clover ceased operations in November. And, a final nail in my freelance coffin, my dear editor at the Local just last week informed me that the paper was undergoing a total revamp and, (guess what?) based on the smaller number of website “clicks” personal essays received (compared to the police report items), there would be no more column for me or my essayist ilk.

I am still peddling my wares, but to a dwindling clientele. It seems the survivors of the purge are either the Pantheon (NYT, Washington Post, The Atlantic, etc.) or sites that pay chump change (my favorites are the ones who compensate only by the view, and payment kicks in when you top 1000 views. Now THAT’s motivating! Not!) I am eager to build up my freelancing resume for sure, but at age 62 feel that a payment of $30 is honestly not worth my while.

I love writing, and reading others’, essays. They are windows into my scribbling sisters’ and brothers’ souls, and offer me wonderful new ways to observe and reflect on life. I challenge you, my dear readers, who have borne with me through 318 blog posts/essays (but who’s counting?) Pick up a magazine (or check one out online). Search for the personal essays. Champion them, these terrific bite-size bits of insight. Be part of a rising tide that floats all writing boats.

Let’s be harbingers of a renaissance, not witnesses of a sad literary ending.

"I'm Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover"

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Visiting the Band--and Our Daughters

Rose and Hannah

Holly and me

A bright Springtime sun shone yesterday, and the weather was only part of the warmth I felt.

It was a Girls Day Out in New York with my dear friend Holly, and our daughters Rose and Hannah. We have been friends since the girls were babies, and now these babies are all-grown-up Brooklynites with apartments and Manhattan careers. As we ate lunch in a delightful bistro, we laughed and split desserts and caught up on each other’s lives. I recalled playdates, the Mother-Daughter Book Club we were part of when our girls were in elementary school, and the decades of Christmas week family dinners shared. The little girls who ran lemonade stands in an Oreland yard, have become two accomplished young women navigating a big, exciting, stressful city.

Outside the theatre

 After lunch, Hannah and Rose went on with their days, and Holly and I proceeded a few blocks north, to Broadway and our matinee. The Band's Visit swept the Tony Awards in 2018, and for good reason. Everything, from the imaginative set to the impeccable performances to the haunting score, is top-notch. The storyline is simple—a military band from Egypt is invited to perform in an Israeli city, Petah Tikvah. When they purchase their bus tickets, the Egyptians mistakenly book passage to a totally different place with a very similar name, Bet Hatikva. And so they arrive in this isolated desert town, where they are invited to send the night. The townspeople are used to waiting for something to happen, from the restless cafĂ© owner Dina, who longs for a more exciting life, to the young man who camps out at the town’s only pay phone, waiting (and waiting) for his girlfriend to call him. The arrival of these strange musicians definitely makes things happen. Dina develops feelings for the band’s conductor. A squabbling young couple finds peace as they listen to a band member’s beautiful clarinet solo soothing their fussy baby. A sweetly singing Arab coaches a clumsy Israeli youth, who fears approaching the girl he likes. The band’s 24 hour visit changes everyone, and offers a glimpse of the amazing possible—a world where traditional adversaries discover common ground, no matter their language or culture or political baggage.

On the train ride home, I thought about friendship, and how much we all need it in our lives. Often, random encounters spark these lasting relationships (I met Holly when she, the pastor’s wife, watched tiny Rose in the church nursery when we first visited Christ’s Lutheran in 1989). Were we destined to connect? Were the musicians who misspelled their destination meant to connect with the residents of Bet Hatikva? I am forever grateful that we bump into each other on the road of life, stop and recognize that we are companions.

Something is always happening. In New York. In Bet Hatikva. Even in Oreland. I feel so lucky to have had something wonderful happen to me, on a sunny Spring Saturday, in the company of women I love very much.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Beloved Communities

The lucky ducks!
Last Saturday there were two significant Seyfried events, my book launch party in the afternoon, and a concert featuring Sheridan in the evening. Both events were the culmination of a lot of effort. I have been working on my fourth book of essays, In Discovery, for many months. Sher has been diligently practicing piano for the Rubin Memorial Concert at Kohelet Yeshiva High School, where he is the music teacher.

In both cases, we have labored more or less alone, and have been hopeful about, but not sure of, the finished products. Many were the nights when I would be at the dining room table, scribbling my stories, while in the next room Sheridan was going over his solo pieces for the concert—New Age music by George Winston, David Lanz, and Philip Aaberg.

At last, the book was published, and the concert program was ready. March 9th was the magic date for twin celebrations. My dear friends Bev and Bob opened their lovely home for the book party. Rose, Julie and Julie’s boyfriend Gil were here from New York City. Patrick got off work and came over from Downingtown. I greeted many friends as well, and signed and sold dozens of books. I had the opportunity to read four stories aloud to the assembled group, and for the first time heard laughter and applause for these new works.

Later that night, Steve and I traveled to the Main Line for the concert. Sheridan was warmly introduced by the Rabbi, and did a fine job of playing. Our son introduced each work with thoughtful comments about his eight years of teaching, and being part of this close-knit Orthodox Jewish community-- “Things I’ve learned at Kohelet...” connecting each observation to the musical composition to come. At the end, he played violin, and was joined by some of his students and some talented alums of the school for a really fun bluegrass set. We were very proud of the obvious affection everyone there has for Sher, and their appreciation of both his talent, and his dedication to their children.

Musicians and writers spend countless hours working on their own, practicing their instruments, or moving sentences and paragraphs around. To have the chance to share the fruits of their labors with others is pure joy, especially when the audiences are people they know well, and care about deeply. Sheridan and I were surrounded by love last Saturday, and we both understood how wonderful those experiences were.

Beloved communities come in all shapes and sizes. They gather in times of happiness, and sorrow. They support each other. They delight in each other. In a tough world, we all need a community around us…church, school, neighborhood. I pray that everyone has a day like Saturday in their lives, when their beloved community surrounds them and embraces them. And I pray we can form communities like that, wherever we are and wherever life takes us. Everybody needs a cheerleader sometimes. Let’s be that cheerleader for one another.