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The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF), taking place July 24 – August 9, 2010, announced today the launch of the New Jewish Filmmaking Project’s Half-Remembered Stories, a new multi-media exhibition, co-created by young adult filmmakers, who explore their Jewish past by combining new digital media formats with traditional storytelling forms. SFJFF teamed up with San Francisco based production company Citizen Film and 11 Bay Area emerging artists, ranging in age from 15 to 25, to explore “half-remembered” aspects of Jewish history from the digital generation’s point of view. The result is 50 short films, several of which will premiere on the big screen at the Festival, and 11 multi-media collages to be presented online beginning June 22, 2010 at www.njfp.org and at interactive kiosks in theatre lobbies throughout the festival.

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How Many Stamps Do You Have?

Passports and visas became requirements for foreigners traveling in the United States in 1918. Since then, the laws, restrictions, requirements, expenses, and the amount of time put into acquiring and maintaining a valid passport and visa have grown to an extremely challenging point. Traveling in and out of the United States is becoming more difficult. The difficulties of obtaining a passport and a visa prevent people from reaping the benefits of travel.

A common challenge people face when dealing with the process of buying a passport and visa is time. The time it takes to receive a passport after the long complicated registering process can be from 6-10 weeks. This creates challenges right and left, and anybody who wants or needs it any quicker can receive it maybe two weeks earlier; but of course they just need to pay another sum of $60-$70 dollars more.

Alex Brown, a Mill Valley local; working in the Mill Valley public library is a frequent traveler. She is constantly in and out of Mexico. Having a friend with a Mexican citizenship she crosses the border once or twice a month. She states in a personal interview on May 9, 2010, “Before the passport laws were changed in 2008 or 2009 I didn’t even need to bring my passport with me crossing the Mexican border.” Later she talks about how the traveling has become more recently, “The Mexican border is extremely lax, going back into the U.S. is such a hassle; driving through San Diego it can sometimes take you five hours. They pull you over to ask questions, identification, drivers license.” Alex now uses a border fast pass just to avoid the constant struggle that comes with returning back into the U.S.

On top of the passport struggle, there is an emigration issue that Alex addressed in her personal interview. The lack of passport ownership has a great deal to do with time and money, but I wouldn’t be surprised if just knowing the difficulties of emigration was a large factor in the lack of passport owning Americans as well. There are numerous reasons why every U.S. citizen should be entitled to the ownership of a passport and visa and have are capable to get a hold of them easily as well.

Although the government has been addressing this particular problem with the passport system by creating the new border “fast pass,” it qualifies only for land crossing such as Canada and Mexico. The process to own a fast pass is even more complicated and expensive than a regular passport but afterwards traveling across these particular land borders is quicker and easier. Even though this seems like a step further in the advancement of passport and visa ownership I believe that these fast passes are really another way to keep the business flowing in and out of the states. In CQ Weekly Liriel Higa states in her Narrowing the Highway to America’s Neighbors article, “U.S. citizens made more than 130 million trips across the borders with Canada and Mexico last year. The stakes are high for companies that depend on routine border crossings…” Higa then points out potential risk about America’s economy if passports continue to be this much of an issue, “Requiring a passport of everyone who crosses the border may have the wider adverse economic effect of slowing the removal of trade barriers begun more than a decade ago by the North American Free trade agreement…”

Money is a significant factor into the recent challenges in obtaining a modern day passport as well. Passports began being purchased for a somewhat decent rate of $60-80 before this generation with a renewal rate of about $60 and that was hard enough for the more financially challenged citizens. Sometime between 2008 and 2009 the price increased all the way up to $97 to purchase and renew and other sources, such as Howard LaFranchi from EBSCO host recorded that the cost of your first passport has skyrocketed to a whopping $135, (not including getting the 2 year or 10 year renewal depending on whether you’re an adult or a minor.) To the successful wealthy American this may not seem like such a large amount of money, but to the average everyday American struggling in our up and down economy this can seem like an exuberant finance which compared to making a living and providing food for the family might not seem like such a critical item to invest in.

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Passports and visas are definite contributors to holding most Americans in their own little western bubble. Obtaining passports in the U.S. while as difficult as it sounds is still admittedly easier than obtaining passports and visas in other countries. The dilemma starts with the motivation of the average American citizen to even want to leave, travel, experience other ways of living and culture. What inspires an American nowadays?

Carol, a frequent traveler, has hundreds of stories about her voyages to many different foreign countries like India, all over Africa, in Sudan and Egypt, all over Europe, and Kazakhstan. She was able to travel to Kazakhstan 6-10 times a year because her husband works internationally. She says, “Other countries make it much harder for local people to obtain passports, they ask you why you want to travel and think you are going to leave the country for good.” After her years of experience dealing with visa difficulties to traveling all throughout Europe and being exposed to such different cultures, peoples, and places, she tells me, “The reason some people don’t travel has less to do with money or time, as it does where their not wanting to step out of their comfort zone. Some people are afraid of language barriers and the difficulties of leaving what’s familiar and dealing with foreign currency, different traditions, and customs.”

The incentive to obtain a passport in other nations is so much greater because people have a higher interest in venturing outside their borders and affiliating with other people. It really all comes down to basic education in a country.  In many other places they speak multiple languages, and because of this, they are exposed to other people and cultures, whereas in America, a majority of the population will only speak English for their entire lives, or rarely use any other languages they might have learned if they had ever learned other languages at all. Later in the interview Carol says, “Once people understand foreign cultures, they won’t see them as threat and may even focus on their similarities instead of their differences.”

With the already instilled Western mindset of “never having to leave” being so comfortable in our own nation without willing to see what the other parts of the world and cultures are like, this is only more reason to make passports more accessible to the everyday American.

We can’t control the people to go somewhere and learn other languages or even to interact with other people and cultures, but we can still control the accessibility of passports and visas for Americans, thus maybe instilling a little more motivation or incentive to travel, grow, thrive, and learn.

I know I’ve found my inspiration to travel. Along with my incredible Manhattan to Kazakhstanian godmother Carol, my uncle Andy’s beautiful wild travels all over the globe have lit up my entire life and exposed a whole another way of life for me.

As written about in my previous blogs (http://njfp.wordpress.com/2010/03/02/the-ability-to-be-the-greatest-inspiration-in-somebodys-life-without-ever-knowing-them/), his ability to embrace the world’s mysteries, beauties, and challenges with such grace and determination has changed my life.

He and others with stories similar to his have inspired me to become the person I am, to grow into myself, and to learn about the others with whom I share this planet. The best (and sometimes the only way) it seems to achieve such self-fulfilling and experiential goals is to leave the comfort zone of our borders and stretch our wings. I hope others find their inspiration as well, hopefully being able to do so with the same ease we have had for years without dealing with the burden of the everyday hassles of traveling; with passports, money, security, and time. We all seem to strive for our balance; we should be able to find that journeying throughout other countries as well.

Without maintaining connection with each other across the nation, I know we’ll lose the very connection we have with one another locally, and even the connection that holds us together within. It is time to reach out, and it is time to choose what each one of us is reaching for.

What are you reaching for? What or who inspires you? Share your thoughts about this issue with me and others on the blog and hopefully inspire many more.

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I interviewed my grandmother Susi on camera before her death, when I was 14. A few weeks ago I logged that footage into my computer, letting it run as I worked in another room; I could hear her voice—and it was so much more familiar than I remembered. It surprised me how vividly images of her house sprung up in my mind and how strongly they captured me. I wrote a list: the long tufts of grass peeking from between the rough concrete squares in her garden, the tree with the wonderful leaves, the lemon tree, the smell of the house, the taste of chocolate ice cream, the chex-mix and coffee-bean-chocolate in jars. It’s funny because reading that list now, I can’t figure out which tree had the wonderful leaves and find it unexpected that, of all things, I thought of the lemon tree. I had grown used to hearing her voice in her house, and hearing it from my computer now, it seemed as if she was next to me.

She and Leonard suddenly seemed close . . . as when we had once interacted and I heard Susi’s voice and she was part of my life. I felt they weren’t so far off. My dad was telling me of Leonard’s taxi-driving, how he drove like a lunatic. But that’s not far from how my dad drives, and I could picture Leonard in that seat as a father, swinging through the streets. Why had a frail, sad image of Susi and Leonard engrained itself in my mind and become permanent? Susi in these tapes didn’t look as weak as I had remembered—instead she was tolerant and good-humored and animated, reminding me a lot of my dad. I would add that Leonard, too, was not how I’d pictured, that he was tall and strong even in his old age; but I’m not sure if that was the case.

And as I watched the tape of Susi today, I was surprised at her energy. When the setting changed, however, and she sat in her room, the sad realization emerged that my memory had been correct to a degree. In this indoor footage I could see Susi’s frailty: her tiny shoulders and spare white hands, her messy hair and papery neck. Though she exuded strength in her character and though she made clear that life would not fade until she was ready, her body was weak.

Memory and reality is echoed and bounding, softened as it approaches and moves. The material and relied-upon facts, or what I viewed them to be, were based on my memory and skewed. With distance, the echo’s calmed, and mingles with emotions. I won’t picture Susi as bearing the weight of this last image… of her frailty and weakness. There are too many different images to rely on one. It makes most sense to me to imagine the feeling she creates—with her voice and the bright warmth and eagerness in her face. Also—I remember which tree had the wonderful leaves now and I can’t believe I didn’t connect it before: they weren’t so much leaves but bunches of tiny dried petals that floated away in flocks when squeezed.

A few clips of Susi are below:

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Protected: The Bible of Survival

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memory not material

I interviewed my grandmother Susi on camera before her death, when I was 14. A few weeks ago I logged that footage into my computer, letting it run as I worked in another room; I could hear her voice from where I was—and it was so much more familiar than I remembered. It surprised me how vividly images of her house sprung up in my mind, and how strongly they captured me. I wrote a list down that night: the long tufts of grass peeking from between the rough concrete squares in her garden, the tree with the wonderful leaves, the lemon tree, the smell of the house, the taste of chocolate ice cream, the chex-mix and coffee bean chocolate in jars. It’s funny because reading that list now, I can’t figure out which tree had the wonderful leaves, and find it unexpected that, of all things, I thought of the lemon tree. I had grown used to hearing her voice in her house, and hearing it from my computer then, it seemed as if she was next to me.

She and Leonard suddenly seemed close . . . as when we had once interacted and I heard Susi’s voice and she was part of my life. I felt they weren’t so far off. My dad was telling me of Leonard’s taxi-driving, how he drove like a lunatic. But that’s not far from how my dad drives, and I could picture Leonard in that seat as a father, swinging through the streets. Why had a frail, sad image of Susi and Leonard engrained itself in my mind and become permanent? Susi in these tapes didn’t look as weak as I had remembered—instead she was tolerant and good-humored and animated, reminding me a lot of my dad. I would add that Leonard, too, was not how I’d pictured, that he was tall and strong even in his old age; but I’m not sure if that was the case.

And as I watched the tape of Susi today, I was surprised at her energy. When the setting changed, however, and she sat in her room, the sad realization emerged that my memory had been correct to a certain degree. In this indoor footage I could see Susi’s frailty: her tiny shoulders and spare white hands, her messy hair and papery neck. Though she exuded strength in her character and though she made clear that life would not fade until she was ready, her body was weak.

This isn’t how I’ll picture her though… there are too many different images for me to rely on one. It makes most sense to me to imagine the feeling she creates—with her voice and the bright warmth and eagerness in her face. Also—I remember which tree had the wonderful leaves and I can’t believe I didn’t connect it before: they weren’t so much leaves but bunches of tiny dried petals that floated away in flocks when squeezed.

A few clips of Susi are below. The last one was filmed by my mom.

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This past Yom Kippur was the first time in five years that I fasted. And it sucked. As I entered the 22nd hour, I was doing laps in an Olympic-sized pool of self-pity. For perhaps the first time ever, I regretted taking a day off of work. I kept thinking how unnatural the whole thing was. I was hungry. There was food. I should eat. Fasting went against every animal instinct I had.

It was at this point that some part of my hunger-addled brain began to flicker. How great is it that we can not eat–by choice. I could’ve eaten any number of things lying around the house. Or I could’ve gone out and ordered food. Or I could’ve called a phone number, and someone would have brought food to me. In other times and other places, being presented with all of those options would have been nothing short of a miracle.

And yet it’s because food is so plentiful that we have the choice not to eat it. It’s like the old joke about how you never visit the legendary landmark next door until someone comes to visit you. Since you know it’s always going to be there, you don’t feel the need to take advantage of it immediately. And so it is with food. The more we have, the less we need.

Of course, these thoughts didn’t help the fast go any faster. As soon as 6:06 rolled around, I went after the snack tray as if the dolmas might evaporate any second. However, the fast did make me think, which I guess is the point of the holiday. It also reminded me of a concept I heard about a while back called the tragedy of the commons.

The idea refers to a hypothetical plot of land shared by a number of farmers. If the farmers each have enough sheep to keep the grass at a constant level, everybody wins. However, as soon as one farmer decides to try to earn more by adding another sheep, eventually the grass will run out, the sheep die, and everyone loses.

Especially the grass.

This applies to any limited resource; people will try to get as much of it as possible for themselves, but if everyone does this, the resource runs out. However, if we know we have enough, we can feel safe taking what we need, and nothing more.

And yet, even though we live in an age of unparalleled prosperity, there is still a general sense of unease. We know that the world is at a tipping point. It seems that the higher we build, the more complex we get, the more precarious our position: the recent financial collapse has demonstrated that quite clearly.

Historically, humanity’s goal has always been to grow. But, as we stand on the brink of 7 billion people, it’s becoming apparent that growth isn’t sustainable. What would happen if some crisis struck and crippled our modern infrastructure? Could we repair our own cars without electricity? Could we plant a garden without looking to the internet?

Which brings me to zombies. As you may have noticed, zombies are incredibly popular these days. These unreasoning, brain-hungry corpses are neck and neck (no pun intended) with vampires in terms of Google searches and kicking the crap out of werewolves, which is made all the more impressive by the fact that vampire-based fiction is currently responsible for approximately 78% of the American economy.

Suck on that, Team Edward (That makes sense, right?)

Several of my friends have started planning for the zombie apocalypse, and even have an escape route planned out in case of zombie attack.

While both vampires and zombies are undead creatures roaming the night looking for more people to infect, over the years vampires have been transformed into sparkling sex symbols, while zombies remained violent, bloodthirsty brutes. However, in recent films as well as all across the internet, the interest in zombies tends to focus on the aftermath of a zombie attack, rather than on the zombies themselves.

There’s both a lengthy Wikipedia article specifically on the zombie apocalypse and a Zombie Survival Wiki, not to mention an academic paper from the University of Ottawa about the effects of a zombie outbreak. Part of the attraction of the zombie apocalypse is the sheer freedom of it. I mean, in some respects, life would be like a giant game of Grand Theft Auto. You could go around, stealing cars, running over zombies, and doing missions for various underworld kingpins.

However, there would be a more serious side, and that’s where all this obsession and preparation would come in.

In almost every zombie movie, the survivors are forced to find a way to provide their own food, shelter, and clothing–to survive without modern technology or conveniences. You’d have to be prepared to go days without eating, and to live with only what you can carry. So, really, the aftermath of a zombie outbreak could stand in for that of any large scale disaster.

Say there’s a terrorist attack. Or some global warming-related weather event. Or the electric grid fails. Or SARS makes a comeback. Or genetically modified plants gain sentience and go on a killing spree. Or any of the dozens of things the news threatens us with every night. What would you do? Of course, nobody’s seriously preparing for all these events, and with good reason. You’d go crazy from the stress, or at the very least people would think you’re extremely paranoid for acting on what seems like a very unlikely possibility. And yet the anxiety remains. You can see it in the increasing popularity of hobbies like knitting, homebrewing, and DIY projects in general. There’s something in the air, and real or not, it’s best to be prepared.

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By: Klaira

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to interview my younger brother Naum (or Numa as we call him) about his knowledge of our family history, and more specifically,  about our great grandmother Chaya. Since he has read my blog, I was expecting him to reiterate everything that I have been writing here, with his own personal spin. However,  what he said both surprised me and shed light of the nature of memory.

Numa struggles to recall what he has read and what he was told by his parents, grandparents, and myself . He recollects the facts due to their excessive repetition but can’t piece them together. Perhaps we are putting too much pressure on the importance of remembering one’s history, at such a young age. Maybe it is just too much weight for an eleven-year-old to carry on his shoulders.

Eventually –keep in mind that the original interview is close to 13 minutes–Numa admits that what  he doesn’t remember is really what he doesn’t know. This makes me wonder: what is the essence of Chaya’s story that will be passed on to the next generation?  Or will she be just a name in our family tree? 

At the end, I asked him what he thought was the moral of Chaya’s decision. Even though his answer was quite tentative, his ultimate message was very strong.  And it offered an alternative idea about Chaya’s story that I  had never thought of before.

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Scouring (2)

Yenny

From what I observe, people victimized by war or traumatic upbringing speak very little of their past. It seems their offspring fill in those drifting spots mostly after their death: Scouring and piecing together signs, we can faintly merge feelings that, in reflection, feed or skew our understanding. We are guided by feelings, not by reason. In asking my father a few questions, it was interesting to see how his descriptions of his mother are not concrete, yet are memories of great impact.

“When she was pregnant with Chris,” he said, “she spoke to me, saying, brothers/siblings tend to be jealous of all the attention newborns get—and not to be jealous of Chris, on the contrary, to help with him and help take care of him.” My father is tremendously sensitive and self-sacrificing. There are times when he feels he must guide what has lost guidance—and he emerges into the foreground, but never pushes to the center. He took Susi’s urging deeply to heart: “I was very active with my younger brothers—maybe to the point of overlooking myself.”

DSCF0035_1

Though my father has told me snatches of his childhood stories, of his sports triumphs—bold moments—and likewise, of his shyness and uncertainty, I have never been able to form a clear picture of who he was. I imagine he was extremely sensitive, as he is now, but his self-awareness must have come later in life. Through his first years of young assurance and then through the change when his brother was born, I suppose he developed a view of life he is comfortable with. Though he says he is a “rough, tough man, naturally,” that time of his brother’s birth was a natural way of moving him into his whole frame. It wasn’t a change, as within were traits of modesty since birth: As he says, “it was then I became ready to stand in the background, off stage.”

Andy_paint_Susi154

This sense of guidance my father bears—of helping his brothers and others around him—is an abundant part of what I knew of Susi. She was strong and encouraging, always a stable balance. For my father as well as for me, she encouraged art and writing. My father says of his early drawings, “Susi saw the knack and nurtured it,” though to most, the moving figures didn’t “seem to particularly point to much talent.”

My father made this drawing [on the right] with no particular person in mind—starting by scribbling—but upon finishing, was struck by its resemblance to Susi. He assumed it was brought about in the subconscious—his closeness to his mother embodied in its nature. Much of his work evolves around his parents and family, as much of him reflects their composition.

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YennySusi (my grandmother) kept extensive journals from a young age, writing in German. My father compares her journals to mine except she wrote about her ideas rather than feelings. As they transitioned to English, it is interesting to see how her language progressed: her essays were covered in a teacher’s correctional red ink, though underneath this ink (intended to point out grammatical errors), her own words were lyrical and expressive. A year later, in her wartime narrative of the political situation, her language was almost text-bookish.

These are some later journal entries about my father, kept together with entries by Susi’s mother in a large, thick, gold-edged book…

Andy_babypix155

Whoever displeases Andy is a “bad boy.”–e.g. If I am not standing at attention with a piece of toilet paper the minute he is finished I get balled out: “Come here, badboy!” After getting his booster shot Andy went crying into the waiting room and walked up to each waiting patient saying: “Doctor is a bad bad boy!”’ My dad comments that this is where I inherited my demanding side—before, he had thought it was from my “Tartar” mom.

Andy_childpix_aga_160He often talks of his “Cowboys and Indians” days….

Even at the age of three Andy loved his bottle. Cowboy hat pulled down over his eyes, booted legs crossed, he lies on the sofa and sucks on his bottle and glares at anybody who dares to smile. One night at 3 am, he woke me, hands me the empty bottle with these words: “I’m a big boy now. I throw away my bottle.” And sure enough he never asked for it since.

My father remembers this event in remarkable clarity. In his memory it was five or so in the morning when he marched to his parents room and made the announcement. By the time they fully awakened he had already slammed the door and was headed downstairs to throw away his bottle. He remembers opening the door, the air still and dewy.

Andy_childpix_161

Sept 52 . . . For some time now Andy has been calling himself “poor little Andy. But today at dinner he changed his tone: “More avocado!” he orders, “for a rough man!” I say: “Well Andy which are you going to be? Poor little Andy or a rough man?” “Both!” he says. “I am poor little Andy at school and a rough tough man at home!” And right he is too!

My dad, in answering a few of my questions about Susi, referred to himself “as a rough, tough man, naturally.” This entry by Susi is a nice summary for me: I’d grown familiar with stories of my dad hating school and feeling pressed under, and also stories of fights and defiance. I hadn’t known he spelled it out for himself at such a young age, so clearly—and his mother was there for observation and agreement.

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by Zoe Pollak

(Bolded words are revised.)

In the world of science, you would need a machine that moves faster than the speed of light to travel through time. But you involuntarily move through this dimension every day.

 You may regard the past as cemented, but it is always changing. Let’s say you have a lot of work to do. You might reminisce longingly about being in grade school, when you were free to take time for granted. But if you revisit that same moment on a different day, your naiveté might appear as a limitation.

 Your memory will always refine particular moments and blur others, and its multiple realities are as infinite as the parallel universes that exist in theoretical physics.

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by Zoe Pollak

In order to travel through time, you would have to harness the power of a star. But you involuntarily move through this dimension every day. You may regard the past as cemented, but it is always changing. If you have a lot of work to do, you might reminisce about being in grade school and think back to when you took time for granted. If you revisit the same moment on a different day, you might instead be drawn to the shortcomings of its simplicity. Your memory will always refine particular moments and blur others, and the combinations of alterations are as infinite as the parallel universes that exist in theoretical physics. The past’s fluidity is memory’s only constant.

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by Zoe Pollak

Dear Jeremy,

Thank you for your suggestions for last post’s questions. I looked up both books on Amazon, where I was allowed to read the first two pages or so of each. Reading them side by side, it was interesting to compare the author’s relationship with his subject: while Heschel starts off with the personal and (at least I’m assuming) then ventures on to the more collective, Yerushalmi starts by talking about memory in very broad terms- Jewish history and “Jewish past.” Both works helped me in looking at my own project, because I’m combining the personal and the ethereal (as Sam said) to present my “thesis” about memory and the past: I’m using home videos and my own writing, but I’m also using videos of natural processes, old music, and the writings of others (many of them happen to be Jewish) to offer different views of time and memory.

So my follow-up-question is: do you know of any other Jewish scholars, historians, or professors who have tackled large topics such as history, the past, memory, and time using a personal lens as either a starting point to ground his/her audience or to establish conceits and draw parallels?

Thanks!

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Theory #372 (2)

Craning back my neck to a time somehow faded into the distance, I feel I have lost familiarity. It was so recent—my grandmother lived and we could still set down our bags on her cold red-and-white tiled floor, traipsing through the vast Susi-young_striped dress_cropwooden house that distinctly smelt of musky cedar and books. I remember chocolate-covered coffee beans (always saved for my cousin and me in large glass jars that required effort to open). Her house has since been sold and demolished, and I spurn to visit the bare site of where it stood.

I remember Susi’s feeling, her floating softness and thoughtfully formed words; crooked toes and fingers; her quiet smile through which each of her son’s faces showed. It seems we have lost everything of my grandparents, and so suddenly. What I keep of her is her memory—and a memory not-yet-explored through her journals and her kept books from childhood; her “inner presence” still waits to be released. And much of my perception of her (perhaps subconsciously built up and developed through my father: his manner and makeup and his closeness to her) has brought me closer to Susi, even after her death, the connection strengthened. I feel now that I did not know my grandmother as a person. I knew her as a protecting and nurturing woman, an ice cream-offering and paper-editing grandmother, who enjoyed the nature of her immense garden and whose body was slowly deteriorating.

One theory of my father’s, out of his million theories, evolves around the deep emotion, incited in the 1930s and ‘40s, that is passed from generation to generation of Jews, brewing in a fear and anger kept just below the skin.Martin boys_148

By beginning with my father and close family, examining from inward to out, I will explore my grandmother, to first understand what I am made up of. My father says that at times he felt Susi’s submerged rage or unease, which, from bursts or motivations within his mother, edged into his life. I have yet to unearth its effects on me, to discover if what my dad feels exists: that subsequent generations are connected to the terror of the Holocaust.

My uncles and father, the four Martin Boys, compose in such varied ways each aspect of my grandparents. Without my grandparents to bind our family together, the familiar feeling of family perceived by a nine year-old remains as it is, without expanding; though family events are comfortable and I watch the adults laugh with each other in an old-buddy way, this bond of feeling had been established under our grandparents. It feels somewhat forced, our fun, as if it is an extension of what once was rather than an unfolding experience.

(In this photo my dad is second to the left.)

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Andy Bonapart. He was one incredibly inspiring human being. Touching the lives of hundreds around him while he still here with us, and continues touch others and myself with his unforgettable persona, wise words, and a beautiful idea on how to live the life you have while you still have it. What I decided to do my half remembered story about, was this man, the uncle that I never knew yet has probably had the largest impact and inspiration on my life than any one I have ever known, without even knowing him.

 I started with his post Berkley graduation, in 1982 in Fiji. His friend Phil went with him in the beginning and by the time they went down to Australia Phil decides to stay while Andy treks on to New Zealand. He had a lot of fun in New Zealand especially because he was now a lone traveler, meeting all kinds of people, staying on farms, working for his shelter. He later moves to Thailand and than Nepal where he begins thoroughly documented his travels by recorder and staying in beautiful places in Kat Mandu. He talks about staying in a tea shop, lists 10 minutes of recordings of all the people he has met, their addresses, where they let him stay, the people in the tea shops to the homosexual couples apartments. On his last trek of his journey he hikes Mt. Everest, alone. His recordings are amazing, descriptions of staying at Everest base camp (19000 ft elevation), the glaciers, and his moments of clarity where he breaks down sobbing thanking my grandma and grandpa for bringing him into this world.

Listening to these recordings, hearing the stories from countless cousins, relatives, and friends about the outgoing excited knowledge hungry man he was has been an absolute delight to listen to. Knowing that this amount of respect and attention I am giving my uncle that I have never even met just from hearing about his journey and his life is completely mind boggling to comprehend just how much I would love him if I had actually had the chance to meet him as well.

My love for running, and for carrying an intellectually stimulating conversation, for being outdoors, for clearing and centering my mind and for clearing it of unnecessary clutter, my passion for traveling, for constantly seeking for more questions and answers, the passion I have for people around me, and my unusually extroverted persona, have all been traits I have picked up on and grown on over the years, and traits that I am particularly inspired to keep be proud of and excel on thanks to my uncle Andy.

Self Interview Questions:

Why do you want to escape from suburbia?

What did Andy mean to you?

Why does he inspire you?

Why do you want to travel so much?

In your own eyes who was Andy?

What is the shed?

Why is it important?

How did i come to live there?

What are some of your ambitions you have, was the shed one of them? How is it helping you?

Does a lot of your anxiety come from your strong desire to detach yourself from your family?

How much influence do you think Andy has had over you and how you want to live your life?

Do you think the connection you feel with Andy is something that only you notice or do you think that your dad sees the similarities you feel you have with him?

Are you going to follow in Andy’s footsteps and chase your dream to travel the world, where do you want to be in 10 years?

Is part of your strong desire to see the world underlined with anger toward where you are now?

Do you think the technology-influenced generation we live in now is holding you back in a way that Andy didn’t have to experience?

Does the addiction to cell phones, computers, and technology in general hold you back from your maximum potential? Do you think the addictions holding other people, back as well?

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by Zoe Pollak

When the viewer first enters the Memory Paths (Zoe’s Time Machine) website, a typed introduction will appear for them to read. This introduction will establish the context for the interactive clock and its memory pods. Here’s a draft for my intro. Any feedback would be great.

Memory Paths

 Currently, physics does not allow for time travel to the past or future. In order to visit your ancestors or travel to the year 2020, scientists would have to harness the power of a star and you would have to travel faster than the speed of light. And even if time machines did exist, you would not be able to travel farther back in time than the point of their creation. But you travel back in time every day, and not solely by remembering an event that occurred a long time ago. This time travel is involuntary.

Perhaps when you think of your childhood, nostalgia distorts the positive aspects of your youth and dims the more difficult memories. If you have a lot of work to do on a given day, you might reminisce about being in grade school and think back to when you took time for granted. On a rewarding day, you may revisit that same time in the past, but will instead focus on the fact that your outlook was not mature enough to appreciate what has brought you satisfaction today.

While your past is often regarded as theoretically cemented, it changes every day – its fluidity is the only constant. Memory will always refine particular moments and blur others, but the combination of alterations is as infinite as the parallel universes that exist in theoretical physics. And because by the end of tomorrow evening you will have garnered several more new memories, your memory’s collection of refractions only increases.

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by Zoe Pollak

-Find image of clock for webpage interface

-Write intro for project (description of project that provides context for the viewer)

-Finish writing for all memory pods

-Finalize music list

-Finish recording quotations

-Find footage of time-lapsed flowers, stars

-Think of settings for new footage to shoot

-Export DVD material to computer so that I can edit it

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New Discovery

This gloomy Monday night, I happened across something amazing: Creative Commons search engine through Flickr.

For those of you who don’t know, Flickr is a photo sharing website where people can post basically any snapshot, blog picture or photograph that they want. Now, as I am gathering photographs for my final look into the streets of  San Francisco, this search engine is essentially my new best friend. I can look through thousands of San Francisco photos that the owners have given full permission to use! To commemorate this momentous occasion, I decided to post a few of my favorite findings.

San Francisco circa 1950

Upper Fillmore St.

Pacific Heights Victorians

And my personal favorite…


-Note: These have all been edited by me. :] –>Samantha Abernathey


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Question For Jeremy

Hey Jeremy!

My question, and its a rather long one that could have an enormous answer, is:

What role did Rabbis play in Jewish communities of turn of the 20th century New York?

My project revolves around the struggles my great-great-grandfather had with religion, and as he was an ordained Rabbi in New York at this time, I feel that in order to fully understand him, I have to understand where he was placed in society.

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Jewishness

Hi Jeremy!

I’m curious about the “qualifications” of being Jewish. I have always thought of myself as Jewish but I know very little about Jewish culture. I don’t celebrate the religion. I feel strange being the end of Jewishness in my family — my grandmother identified strongly as a Jew and my father less so, but is still quite connected to it. It turns out, because my grandmother’s blood father wasn’t Jewish, I’m only an eighth Jewish, barely at all. It’s funny to think about… my grandmother fled the Holocaust and left journals and stories about it. It had a huge effect on our family.

I know people have really different ideas about what makes them Jewish. Is the definition still that your mother has to be Jewish?

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By Jason Zavaleta

I ask Jeremy:

My story is about my Grandfather, a gambling addict, married at 17, a father 18, he spent all his time hiding from his family, had a heart attack at 38, and finally went into recovery in the mid 70’s. At my Bar Mitzvah, he encourage me to be a “mensh”, and in his Gambler’s Anonymous speech in 1992, he said he himself was a mensh. So…

Mensh?

1.What is the meaning of the word “mensh”?

2.What did that concept mean to the people who believed in it, then and now?

3.How does it affect a situation where someone who has sinned comes out of a bad behavior and becomes someone who can face themselves?

4.Can mensh-ness be earned? Can it ONLY be earned?

5.From a society standpoint, does being a mensh define our life values?

6.If so, how does Jewish culture perceive and value a mensh? The Jewish version of Maslow’s pyramid, is that the best?

????

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While I have been unfortunately bogged down with a heck of a cold this past week, I have been thinking a bit about where to take my project.

My main question for viewers and Jeremy is:

What locations or streets do you or your family have clear ties to?

Because essentially, that is the basis for my project. San Francisco is an amazing city, but not only is it a wonderful place, but it is deeply embedded into both my culture and my family’s past, present and (hopefully) future. I think that every family and every person out there has those ties somewhere, even if they do not realize it themselves. Home is indeed where the heart is, but who says you can only have one home?

By: Samantha Abernathey

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by Zoe Pollak

In response to Thursday’s session, I came up with a couple of questions relating to my theme and Jewish culture/history:

-What different notions of time were held among Jewish physicists such as Einstein and Feynman?

-Are there any portions in the Torah that discuss memory and time in relation to one another?

Albert Einstein

Richard P. Feynman

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by Zoe Pollak

Here’s a new website I found: www.wordblast.blogspost.com. My aunt told me about it, as it is her blogspot (she shares it with a friend). She and her friend are both playwrights, and they decided that they would “tell part of a story and then say “and then…” and pass it on to the next person” with a play. “What would happen if two writers e-mailed each other maybe a line (instead of a word!) at at time? What if you had to write a line a day and only gave yourself five minutes to do it? Or maybe assume one character in a two person play, and write their response to the previous line of dialogue (or action, as the case may be)?”

So the two playwrights started writing a play, blog entry by blog entry. I am posting this website here because the website that I am working on is going to be interactive, and while “wordblast” isn’t interactive like my website will be, it is in the sense that two people are creating a piece of art together without a set path. Like my “time machine,” my aunt and her friend do not have a pre-determined destination or linear storyline.

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My plan for this week was to post the titles and short introductions to my “podcasts” but as of my meeting with Jeremiah and Sam today, I need to revise one of them.  As such, here are the rough drafts of two of them.

For my first podcast (Introduction of Solomon)

Spark/Struggle

(Religion and Disbelief)(The Overarching Need to Do Good)

For my last podcast

Impact

(A Seperation From What Was Known)

I hope to have a revised third title and the interview questions to my grandfathers follow up and my mothers tomorrow.

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by Zoe Pollak

After meeting with Sophie, Emma, and Julie last Thursday, my project changed once again. For the span of about five days, I was sure I was going to create a single-channel film, but after Thursday we have decided to go back to the interactive website idea. However, this new website will be very different from the previous idea; this new idea presents the viewer with a clock, and in each number, a “memory pod.” Each memory pod is composed of a visual and an audio piece. The viewer gets to choose what audio piece they want to hear while watching the video, which is the interactive part of the piece. So for example, the number 7 on the clock might be an old family video, and the viewer gets to choose whether they want to play a quote or a piece of music against the visual. Some of the audio pieces will repeat from number to number in the hope that the viewer will “accidentally” choose the same piece of music twice, but for different visuals. I want this repetition to allow the viewer to experience different emotions around the same audio clip, which draws off of the previous interactive webpage idea- my interest in the five sense’s influence over memory and how one particular sense can govern a person’s emotional attachment to a specific time in the past. Each time the viewer selects a new number, the webpage will refresh so that the clock’s numbers are jumbled. The clock’s numbers will only be in order at the beginning, because I want the interface to reflect my theme: the interpretation of the past is continually changing based on current experiences.

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Cemetery Therapy

Interviewing my dad; wow, well that was an experience. He was my first interview I had every done as well as a family member! It was exciting as well as a bit nerve racking…especially for the reasoning behind the interview. I asked him a bunch of heart hitting questions, I wasn’t even quite sure he was ready for. But we worked up to it and I think I got what I usually get, and what I expected. Instead of bringing out some nostalgic heart squeezing intense emotions, I got a few more exciting stories about Andy, some more background on my dad’s life, and a full on father to daughter lecture on how to go about life safely. I mean what did I expect? I gave my dad a perfect opening for a chance to counsel me and try and give me his words of wisdom when I was completely all ears.

Although that it went well, even though there were still a lot of unanswered questions, the funny thing about the interview was feelings came up for ME that I never thought would be brought up, or even have. During my dad’s speil he said some words to me that really hit me in a place I had never addressed. I guess he noticed a shift in my emotions or something because after the interview he asked me about how I was feeling. I wasn’t really able to describe what I wanted to say, the words wrung my throat like a dishtowel. In trying to explain to him what was going through my mind tears began to swell up inside me like a water balloon and his hug just stuck the tack right in the water balloon and a whole other feeling emerged. He said some words to me that I won’t forget for a long time while trying to explain the protectiveness his brother’s death might have instilled in him as a dad:

“Mayana, you are so busy growing up, running around, trying to get everything done all the time, that you never let yourself stop and smell the daises.”

As corny as it sounds it just made me realize the insanely amount I love my dad.

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by Zoe Pollak

Last Thursday we spent almost an hour talking about my project, and I got fantastic feedback. This weekend I considered everyone’s suggestions, and have decided to change my project from an interactive website to more of a viewer-sit-back-and-watch type of layout. I’m now leaning toward a short film that will contain every element of the website, just in film-form. The content will be the same, still focused on time travel and memory, but rather than actually asking the viewer a series of questions in the hopes of generating their memories, I will present them with my memories and talk about my relationship with those memories, and the previously explicit questions will be implicit. If anyone has any suggestions for how to implement that interactive aspect into the project (which I’d like to keep in some form or another), that would be great, and I will post a more solidified update next week after my meeting with Emma, Sophie, and Julie (coach/mentor) on Wednesday. Thanks again for all the great feedback!

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By Jason Zavaleta

This past weekend, I interviewed my mother Denise. This was the first of five interviews about my Grandfather’s life; about being a gambling addict, going through recovery, and finally living the end of his life as a “mensh”.

My mother spoke about how she felt isolated from him when she was a child:

When it came to the end of the interview, and a few tears had been shed, I asked her is there’s anything else she’d like to say about her dad:

To Be Continued…

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by Zoe Pollak

The challenge- Explain what the Time Machine is succinctly.

So here’s my (feeble?) attempt at being concise:

In my interactive website (“Time Machine”) I will transport the participant to the past by conjuring up his/her memories from memories of my own. The “Time Machine” will ask the participant questions about his/her view of the past and whether he/she believes the past to be cemented or malleable. The “Time Machine” will divide memories into different aspects governed by different senses in order to suggest that current experiences shape our relationship to older memories. Through the “Time Machine,” I will use open-ended questions to argue that by just living in the present, we ultimately travel back in time and alter the past; what we experience in the present and anticipate about the future alters the way we perceive our past. Thus, the past is not static; each day we create a different version, continually re-shaped by an accumulation of everyday experiences.

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TRANSCRIBING

So after hearing about “transcribing” things, honestly it sounded like a complete bore. But while I was doing my first transcription on Andy’s tape recordings from his travels, I have never been more entranced! Listening to his voice was one of the coolest most psychedelic experiences, on the whole hour CD I couldn’t get past more than 12 minutes because I had to pause it every few minutes and quote something! Everything he was saying I could relate to so much. Listening to him jump from one topic to the next with such ease, made me go through a series of emotions, getting this unusual almost nostalgic feeling. I couldn’t help but chuckle at so many parts about standing out as a “white tourist” or talking about Mill Valley like he was sitting right next to me kvetching about the same things I do!

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Andy so far:

6:49 minutes in, “I’ve been cruising a bicycle for the last few days and its fun getting right in the thick of the quagmire, the miasma, the congested flair of Kathmandu.”

Andy running a marathon, he developed a strong passion for running after he graduated Berkley

Reading this sent me into my own daze of my love for my beautiful green Peugot bicycle. Reminicing the dreamy bike rides I’ve had around towns, through hordes of people, and got me pondering about my own future cobblestone bike rides through rural foreign towns.

10:33 minutes in, “The old crowd of Mill Vallians, the IJI people, Berkley contents, Biet people Hillel people, Zionest people, Kol Shofar people, Democratic context people, work people, etc.”


The way he calls people “Mill Vallians” pretty much sums up our town to this day.

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Sound designer and sound artist, Jeremiah Moore, is one of our media coaches who has been working with NJFP’s Alex Pollak. Jeremiah shared this site with us as an example of how the focus on place, combined with the visual elements, and placement of the audio clips, all contribute to the success of the project. Take a look around and navigate through the various questions on the top header.

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In light of my upcoming interview with my mother, I decided to post my plans for future shooting. :]

Mom (Linda) Interview Questions:

-Can you tell me where you lived when you were in San Francisco?

-How long did you live in each place/how long have you/did you live in San Francisco in total?

-Do you have any favorite things about where you lived?

-What was your favorite place to hang out/to go out to eat? Where did you go for fun?

-What is some of your fondest memories of San Francisco?

-What are some other San Francisco streets that you have memories about, good or bad?

-Can you tell me the story about where you met my dad?

-Where did you guys go on dates?

-Any dramatic events you remember taking place in SF?

-What do you most distinctly remember?

-What do you miss the most?

-Can you tell me where and when we moved?

-How is San Francisco different from where we live now?

LOCATION LIST

1.    Fillmore & McAllister- Sid & Polly: video, photos, quotes

2.    Clement?- Mom and Dad: video, photos, quotes

3.    Cole & Haight- Marisa & Sam: video, photos, quotes

4.    Pacific Heights- Sam & Polly & Sid: video, photos, quotes

By: Samantha Abernathey

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by Zoe Pollak

“And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine dipped in lime-blossom tea that my aunt used to give to me (though I did not yet know and had to put off to much later discovering why this memory made me so happy), immediately the old grey house on the street, where her bedroom was, came like a stage-set to attach itself to the little wing opening on to the garden that had been built for my parents behind it (that truncated section which was all I had seen before then); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square, where they sent me before lunch, the streets where I went to do errands, the paths we took if the weather was fine. And as in that game in which the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping it in little pieces of paper until then indistinct, which, the moment they are immersed in it, stretch and shape themselves, colour and differentiate, become flowers, houses, human figures, firm and recognizable, so now all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne, and the good people of the village and their little dwellings and the church and all of Combray and its surroundings, all of this which is assuming form and substance, emerged, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.” –Marcel Proust

I came across this famous quote a couple weeks ago, and started thinking about why certain objects evoke the past. In other words, what about the rain or a certain kind of tree or type of food evokes our nostalgia? I have thousands of memories, and could create endless lists of different things these memories contained: tons of locations, smells, people, colors, etc. But why is it that when we see specific things we become so much more reminiscent than when we see other things that have also had a part in our memories?

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Twin Journals

by Yenny Martin

Amongst my grandmother Susi’s many stories, written as she neared old age, was a short piece addressing her blood-father, known to her as “Uncle Paul.” Before the war Paul and Mitzi were entwined in a romance, interrupted when Paul left for the front. Upon his return, he discovered Mitzi married to a man who her parents dubbed “acceptable”: Alfred was a well-bred Jew. Mitzi and Paul continued their relationship some years into Mitzi’s marriage and into Susi’s childhood. Feeling a need to begin a pledge of loyalty to her husband, Mitzi finally broke it off when Susi was nine.

In her writing Susi speaks of two journals: each a token of her mother and of Paul, each written to her in the months before her birth. Her mother gave her the first journal when she could easily read on her own. Susi was very touched by it—it described the calm of a beautiful marriage and the strong love between her and Alfred. This journal, as Susi wrote, “was the basis of my stubborn belief that I was Alfred’s child, even when Leonard tried to tell me otherwise after Alfred’s death in 1961.” But as Susi grew into teenage years she became embarrassed by the book’s sentimentality and let it lie on her shelf, untouched. Many years later, in America, her mother again handed the book to her and Susi returned it to the shelf.

Past the death of her parents, and as her family dispersed—as her own marriage was set off course and her sons steered toward college—she re-visited this journal. Her therapist had asked her to search through papers or letters to try to uncover “something hidden and strange about [her] early childhood.” Returning to the dust-gathering shelf where the journal housed, she was “flabbergasted” to find with it another book of the same binding. This was Paul’s. It was a documentation of the time before Susi’s birth and “incontrovertible proof” of their relationship. Susi, with so many questions, had no answering-source. Her parents no longer lived: what remained were only facts. The two solidly inked journals provided fragments of her blood-parent’s states—further details were left to fade with them. . . . “It makes me sad [that] I did not respond to my mother’s giving me his book. What must she have thought? That I was angry at her?” She felt if she had known this when she was younger, she would have treated Alfred more softly during the depression of his end-years. She said, “Mieze told me many times that I would never know how noble he was. I guess she referred to his making it easy for her, always treating me as his own child and Opau [Paul] as a family friend. When in 1923, she wrote so glowingly about their love and their deep understanding of one another, perhaps that is what she meant, and it was true.”

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Here are the questions that I used to interview my mom.

Could you tell me about the role religion played in your childhood?

What was your parents stance towards religion?

Can you remember your parents talking about Solomon Lowenstein?

What is your stance on religion now?

When raising a child, what attitude did you take towards religion?

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As you may have noticed, zombies are incredibly popular these days. They’re neck and neck (no pun intended) with vampires in terms of Google searches and kicking the crap out of werewolves, which is made all the more impressive by the fact that vampire-based fiction is currently responsible for approximately 78% of the American economy.

Suck it, Team Jacob (That makes sense, right?)

There are numerous articles written about the zombie apocalypse, and my friends even have a route planned out in case of zombie attack. Now, granted, Cracked.com isn’t a leading scientific journal, and my friends are…well they’re the type of people who make zombie maps, but the point remains that zombies are certainly on peoples’ minds. But why?

As this article points out, the idea of the living dead has been around since Babylonian times. Our modern conception of zombies is mostly shaped, however, by more recent texts like “Frankenstein” and authors like Edgar Allen Poe. This, plus the Haitian practice of voodoo has led to what we now think of as zombies. But the question is, why is this idea so persistent? Why does it resurface again and again, across time, space, and cultures? One thought is that they were the living (or not) embodiment of our unconscious doubts over our own humanity. That is to say, they are an outlet for deep uncertainties about what it is that defines personhood.

Of course, what an object represents can change over time. There is an element of bricolage, or placing something that already exists in a different context to create an entirely different meaning. For example, vampires were originally portrayed as diseased, bloated corpses that fed on the living. However, as people began finding the whole neck-sucking thing sexy (I guess?) vampires became synonymous with eroticism. Similarly, an army of mindless zombies have represented Communist hordes, rampant consumerism, and corporate greed, just to name a few. So what do modern zombies represent?

To me, the most interesting thing is that the focus seems to be on the aftermath of a zombie outbreak, rather than on the zombies themselves. There’s both a lengthy Wikipedia article specifically on the zombie apocalypse and a Zombie Survival Wiki, not to mention an academic paper about the effects of a zombie outbreak. Of course, the zombies could still represent Communists or terrorists or killer bees or whatever, but the fact remains that the focus seems to rest more on the apocalypse and less on the zombies. So, again, we have to ask why.

Going back to the article I mentioned earlier, there are several reasons listed for why people are fantasizing about a zombie apocalypse. Some of the reasons are obvious. I mean, in some respects, life would be like a giant game of Grand Theft Auto. You could go around, stealing cars, running over zombies, and doing missions for the Yakuza (or looting stores or whatever). However, there would be a more serious side, and that’s where all this obsession and preparation would come in.

You’d need to provide your own food, shelter, and whatever other amenities you would want. So, really, the zombie apocalypse could stand in for any large scale disaster. Say there’s a terrorist attack. Or some global warming-related weather event. Or the electrical grid fails. Or SARS makes a comeback. Or genetically modified plants gain sentience and go on a killing spree. Or any of the dozens of things the news threatens us with every night. What would you do? Of course, nobody’s seriously preparing for all these events, and with good reason. You’d go crazy from the stress, or at least people would think you’re extremely paranoid for acting on what seems like a very unlikely possibility. And yet the anxiety remains. So preparing for a nuclear holocaust makes you seem crazy, but preparing for the zombie apocalypse? That’s hilarious. Or is it?

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Did you know?

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

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Obituary Excerpt:

Above is an except from the obituary given at my great-great-grandfather’s funeral.  I am having trouble tracking down the interview with my grandfather, so that will be up tomorrow, but in the meantime give this a listen.

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some admired work

http://dontshaveyourtwat.blogspot.com/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sophisticated/sets/72157623050537369/

http://www.treelaw.com/about/bio.html

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If you’ve watch the video that Adam posted and want to see the actual projects, this link will direct you to the story projects that are featured in the video.

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The Future of Storytelling

Hey all, I’m just posting a brief video that you might be interested in. It’s something I worked on the other day, and it ties in really well to what we’re doing:
Forget E-Books: The Future of Digital Storytelling

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by Yenny Martin

At his grandfather's funeral: Leonard is center, staring at the camera. Aga is beside him crying and Kuka stands at the coffin's head with hands crossed. (Click to view a larger image.)

My father says my grandpa Leonard very rarely talked of his childhood in Harbin. He spoke once of his mother’s “home remedies” and once of a conflict with a Guomindang officer:

Aga, her brother Peter, and Leonard.

Aga, his mother, would brew a glass of raw ground liver each morning for Leonard to drink; she considered it an aid for anemia. For him, this was a torturous exercise.

Leonard’s daily route to school forced him to cross a narrow railroad bridge, its walkway wide enough for two people abreast. On his way one day (probably after ingesting the liver potion), he was approached by a crossing Guomindang officer. Considering Leonard too slow to move from his path, the officer began to beat him with his walking stick. The rail ties were set far apart—the bridge was crossed gingerly. As he was being beaten, whipped full-strength in every direction, Leonard could only concentrate on the water far below—finally clinging a rail tie to keep from collapsing through.

Leonard, left in the foreground, with his grandfather directly behind.

Twenty years ago, this story allowed my father and sister to find Leonard’s home: In the Russian part of Harbin, after passing many bridges, they came across an old iron railroad bridge. Following it, they were greeted by a little neighborhood; crowded with cottages and sweetly layered with snow. For my father it was quite a contrast to the gloomy torment of Leonard’s portrayed childhood.

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After a lengthy discussion with Jeremiah on how to upload files I have recorded to the blog, WordPress will still not accept them, even after converted to .mp3.  Other than that, my project is progressing nicely; I’ve recorded the interviews necessary, and hope to have them up as soon as I find a way to get them on the internet.

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by Zoe Pollak

Ten Negative Memories of Childhood (to supplement the past week’s list, not in chronological order)

1. Feeling out of control of my parents’ lives when they dropped me off at my kindergarten class. Every day I went through a ritual with the parent who dropped me off, making them promise not to get punched, shot, killed, abducted, or lost while they were not in my sight.

2. When my cousin Marissa got Baldy, the rarest Beanie Baby. She made sure to call me from her house in New York to tell me she got him, and I felt terrible. (About a month later, I got a package with Baldy in it from her dad.)

3. When I was eight and my other cousin teased me by holding my A’s baseball cap out the window while we were driving on the freeway to Seaworld. He didn’t mean to let go, but he did. We all got out to look for it for about an hour and didn’t find anything, and the rest of the way to Seaworld my cousins and I cried- I cried because I wanted my cap, my cousin Jared cried because he felt guilty, and my cousin Marissa because our trip would be delayed to look for my “stupid hat.”

4. Getting to Seaworld after losing my cap. I had just started feeling better at the sight of the dolphins when a woman passed Marissa and me with a huge stuffed animal. Marissa told her the stuffed seal was really cute, and the woman gave it to her. That was the final straw. I felt terrible, and made my dad and uncle play in a water gun game (the sole two dads playing against a bunch of middle school boys) to win me a stuffed animal like Marissa’s.

5. The second-grade drive to Pt. Reyes. I had one enemy in that class, a girl named Christie. My dad volunteered to drive a student in addition to myself, and I told him I was worried Mrs. Rynerson would assign us Christie just to make me upset (she was a diabolical teacher). My dad reassured me that there was only a one in thirty chance of that occurring. Of course the next day when we looked at the driving sheets, my teacher had assigned Christie to our car. The whole drive to Pt. Reyes was tense and silent. (About two years later, Christie and I became best friends for the remainder of elementary school.)

6. My dad getting remarried when I was around eleven. I was not used to sharing him with anyone else (I am an only child), and the new dynamic with his wife really threw me for a loop, to say the least.

7. Middle School. All three years were terrible. I was at my “awkward age,” had horrible teachers who were almost all either racist or excruciatingly boring, and had a whole group of bullies who picked on me everyday in PE.

8. When my mother flew to Spain for a work conference for almost two weeks when I was in fourth grade. Her trip was the longest time I had been away from her, and I felt very worried about her safety (I figured that if I wasn’t around to protect her, something bad might happen). For about two days I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything.

9. When I got salmonella at Disneyland. I got it from raw beansprouts, and felt miserable. We had to stay in the hospital overnight and I still remember the pain in my stomach. I was around four years old.

10. Feeling patronized by my parents when we visited family. Often I was told I was interrupting the adults, and felt left out of conversations.

Ten Reasons Why I am Glad to be my Age

1. I have more control over my day. I can get to places on my own, make plans with my friends without the help of my parents, and make decisions on how I want to spend my time.

2. My friends. Now that I am in high school, I have the best group of friends I have ever had.

3. My cellphone. I get to call people whenever I want, and when I was little I had no interest in talking on the phone. I thought it was boring and an activity for adults. Now I love talking to people on the phone, and because I have a cellphone I get to call people in other states who I don’t get to see very often.

4. My job. I’ve gained a lot of independence and self-confidence from working. (I have worked at a bakery in Oakland for almost 2.5 years.)

5. Knowing my way around Berkeley. When I was little, I always depended upon my parents to drive me to school and to friends’ houses. Now I get to decide where I want to go and when, and enjoy walking to school and around Berkeley.

6. English. It has become my favorite class, and I look forward to reading novels and discussing them. I love writing expository, argumentative, and creative essays.

7. Responsibility over my own social etiquette. I don’t have my mom or dad scolding me for interrupting and condescending to me like when I was little.

8. Classical music. I listen almost every day, and now that I am older, I appreciate it. When I was younger I regarded classical music as something to fall asleep to, but now that my ears have become attuned to different musicians’ styles and composers’ idiosyncrasies, I don’t listen to it as background music.

9. Being able to watch R-rated movies. I know this sounds juvenile, but most of my favorite movies are rated R and when I was younger I felt left out when my older relatives got to see movies that “I was too young to understand” or were deemed inappropriate for a child.

10. College. While I will miss my parents, I am looking forward to living on my own with people my own age. I can’t wait to take classes I will be interested in and get to know a new city or state.

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Chapter 4: A Re-examination

By Jason Zavaleta

I decided to look back at my Bar Mitzvah blessing, now knowing where my Grandfather’s words came from.

The line that now stands out to me the most is the one right after he tears up, “Be a human crutch to those who fall”. In the first few lines of his speech, he mentions the “human crutches” from his past, people who helped him get through those tough times. Then he said, “Be a mensh”, a man who contains “all the goodness of humanity”.

I think about how those words shape who I am today. Today, I want to do what I can to make a difference in the world. Starting at home, with my friends and family, I try very hard to maintain a lifestyle that makes people feel good, that fulfills my need to bring good things to the world. I think I’ve always have been that way, but I remember and can feel when I listen to his words, that he definitely help remind me of the direction I should be heading.

Considering his past, it makes sense. I think he suffered through feeling empty, and lost. I’m sure he didn’t want me to feel the same things he felt.

This blessing is now more personal, since hearing his speech. It was the one time I feel I made a connection with him that was more than just everyday talk about what I was doing and the weather difference from New York to California. I guess that if I were to talk to him now, and asked about his speech, what he wanted me to take away from it, would be his blessing. He said everything that he wanted me to be, and by doing so, perhaps I wouldn’t make the same mistakes as him.

I have a better idea of what this blessing means, but to fully understand it, I need to continue to find out more about my Grandfather’s past.

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by Yenny Martin

Verbally recounting her stories, it seemed as though Aga—Leonard’s mother and my great-grandmother—was once again in the midst of dramatic wartime scenes and the emotions 70 years ago were still as keen in her mind.

Aga’s husband, Kuka (Victor), was an aide to Admiral Kolchak, head of the White forces in Siberia during the Russian Civil War. Kuka was stationed in Omsk where he regularly dropped by Aga’s house, on the grounds of visiting her brother. Of course, like many other young men, it was not Aga’s brother he wished to see. Aga was dismissive at first,

uninterested in hair “too curly!” However, Aga’s mother was fond of Kuka and allowed him to rent a room in their house. Over time Aga “became used to him” and they were married. At 16 she was pregnant, harboring Leonard in her womb.

Aga and Kuka

Soon, as the Whites retreated from the approaching Reds, it was time for Aga’s family to flee. When their train approached Irkutsk she was told that Kolchak’s train was stranded in its station—Kuka aboard.

The scene was chaos: the Czechs, held as prisoners of war during WWI, held the city; they were stuck in Russia. Their single objective (a difficult one as opposing forces lay as barriers in the west) was to make their way eastward to Vladivostok. They were willing to side with Red or White if it presented advantage. Here, in Irkutsk, they were a third army.

Kolchak’s train was in the control of the Czechs—who were about to turn it over to the Reds . . . who would kill Kolchak and his officers. On hearing this, Aga left her family in search of a way to help her husband. I imagine that was an extremely difficult split: no family would want their 16 year-old daughter wandering a war-scene (on a futile task) . . . just as no family would be strong enough to restrain the stubbornness and passion and desperation in a girl like Aga.

Kuka is at left (in black hat), saluting. Kolchak is at center, facing camera.

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Adapted and addicted

Have you ever started having entire conversations with people just to realize the person was having a conversation with somebody else on their Bluetooth?

Do you remember when you were in middle school or elementary when you begged your parents for a cell phone? Or when it got to the point that everywhere you turned or everyone you would try to converse with in reality would be lost in another unknown cyber dimension?

Well if you don’t know what I am talking about you are probably already addicted, adapted, or just very secluded but the truth is we ALL are addicted and adapted. It’s a shame but it’s the truth and I’m still trying to wonder how I become one of them.

Truth is, I dreaded the thought of getting a cell phone, and I even begged my dad not to get me one. Even in late elementary all my friends were getting them or begging their parents for one. It seemed so strange…. telephones are for my mom who is a lawyer, or for the house. Why would I, just being a 10-year-old little girl need one? My parents gave me many reasons which seemed like more and more bull when I think about it but back then they weren’t even too sure why I “needed” one.

But it had something to do with “keeping track” of me. I even said “Well then why don’t you just stick a tracking device in my head.”

My mom actually ended up sticking one in our dog instead.

Anyway I remember I walked or biked home one day after school like I usually did, like I had been doing all my life and said hello to my dad and there in the middle of the living room was a big cingular box.

“Oh no dad you shouldn’t have, REALLY.”

“No baby! It was my treat; really I want you to be safe! You’re always walking around by yourself all the time I just want to know where you are.”

“Ehhh…thank you I guess but I really don’t want to use it that much…”

“Of course just when you go out, so I can know where you are.”

(more…)

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NYTimes – One in 8 Million – New York Characters in Sound and Images

Click on the image for one of my favorite stories – The Walker.

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