Who the Heck Are We?

Most of us are concerned (or even obsessed) in one way or another (or many ways) about our identity.

Male, female, trans, non-binary (and, yes, I know there are more options out there). Smart or smart-ass, kind or a pushover, equanimous or apathetic, voluptuous or fat, Jewish American or American Jew, discerning or judgmental, aging or decrepit, compassionate or pitying.  I could go on.

Here’s an interesting little tidbit of information –  over 30% of the Buddhist leadership in the United States is Jewish. There’s even a name for a Jewish person who meditates and otherwise follows some (or many) Buddhist precepts – she’s a Ju-Bu.

Way to go! Nice option for avoiding yet another identity decision.

The Jaya series, recently renamed A Jewish-Buddhist Mystery Series, is a study in contradiction – identity complexities all over the place. Yoga teacher Jaya herself is a meditating, Buddha-quoting Jew. She’s intuitive in a haphazard, unaware way. She makes brave decisions from a place of confusion and weakness.

Her sidekick, Ansui, is grumpy and big-hearted, philosophically wise and interpersonally clueless. Her love interests run hot and cold, close and distant.

The series itself seems to be searching for its identity. Book One is a cozy mystery, filled with quirky characters and little violence. Book Two is more in the direction of Jewish mysteries with historical puzzles to solve while avoiding disaster. And Book Three – wait for it – is headed toward true detective. Jaya’s adventures have escalated from long-range rifle fire to kidnap and brutal murder. 


Don’t blame me. The characters take me where they want to go. I’m only telling their stories.

Now there’s another identity issue. Some authors believe they’re in control. They plot and outline and then fill it all in with (hopefully) talented writing. I’m the other kind. I plot and outline and then set my characters free to drag me hither and yon.

People say that writers write what they know. Several readers have asked me if Jaya is me. I suppose there’s a little of me in every character but, no, Jaya is definitely not me. Here’s Jaya:

Oh! Did you think I was going to post a comparative picture of myself? Suffice it to say that this ISN’T me.

And I don’t know firsthand about kidnap or murder, have never solved Jewish mysteries or been a true detective (though I’ve watched enough Blue Bloods, Chicago PD and Law and Order to just about pass the detective exam). I don’t know about or really have much of an interest in genealogy and, while it’s true that my minor in undergraduate school was history, I have no patience for remembering historical facts, names, and dates.

Longer ago than I care to admit I stopped struggling with identity issues. My friends and family might disagree but here’s how I see myself:

  •      Rebelliously inconsistent in almost every facet of my life
  •      Flitting from one interest to another
  •      A dilettante, I learn things superficially and abandon them at will
  •      Open-minded to the extreme at times
  •      Stubbornly clinging to ridiculous views and habits at others

Hand on heart, aren’t you a little like that, too?

So what are the constants in our lives?

Here are some of mine:

I love my family – every single one of them
I’m loyal to my friends – always
I’m a reader – always have been – always will be

What are yours?



Check it Out

Life. It has its good days and its not-so-good days. Ups and downs. roller coaster

And then there are stages of life. These were some of mine. Being a kid. Being a teenager. Being on my own. Being a student. Being part of a couple. Being a parent…with little kids in the house and then bigger and bigger and then no longer in the house. Being a worker. Being partially-retired. Maybe someday being just plain retired.

Sometimes we don’t even notice that we’ve switched stages


until we’ve been in the new one for awhile.

Each stage has its rewards and challenges. I just took a couple of seconds to remember how I walked around in a fog of no sleep when I had infants under my care. And then took a couple more to remember how nothing melted my heart more than my children’s faces.

There’s a stage of getting old and then there’s a stage of being old. Technically, I guess we’re all getting old from the minute we take our first breath but we all know that, really, getting old is something altogether different.

While it’s politically correct or just polite to talk about getting older, there comes a point when you’re just OLD. Getting older is the gentle surprise of an ache here and there or less drive to get out there and jog a few miles, or grab a few more clients. Being old is more a not-so-gentle shock than a gentle surprise.  old young shadow

They say that old is a mindset. They are young.

So I’ve created a new website and blog about being old. Yes, folks, I’m 65 years OLD; no longer 65 years YOUNG. (is that even a thing?)

This website will remain for yoga, books and beyond and I’ll allow myself to ruminate on my new website, in brutal honesty, about the challenges and rewards…yes, there ARE rewards…of BEING OLD.

You can find that part of my life here:


Meanwhile, a word about my latest book. I tried to market this one. Read some articles. Spent some money. Alas, it hasn’t sold any better than my first book. I’m wondering what’s up with that.

Maybe Jaya and friends just don’t appeal to readers. Have you read it? Can you send me some honest words about it? I’ve pretty much decided to abandon Jaya for now – and mysteries altogether – and move on to a totally different genre.

quirky books 2                quirky books 1            quirky books 3

What do you say?

An Old Person’s Tale

My name is Aliza and I’m a gadget addict.

Yep. I don’t deny it. I’m one of those people who can’t keep her hands off her smartphone when she’s sitting across from you at the coffee shop. You know the type.smartphone shop The one who knows the nicknames of more people on the Hearts Multiplayer App than of relatives. Who keeps her iPad on the night table so she can check Facebook before her feet hit the floor in the morning.

The only thing I have to say for myself is that I’m aware of and fighting my addiction. Some days more successfully than others.

I’ve weaned myself off reading and sending Whatsapp while driving. Yay! Once upon a time, in primitive times, people might have been considered insane if they consciously took their eyes off the road for “only” a minute or two while driving at 60 mph but now you probably appreciate that achievement.

smartphone danger

I can refrain from taking my phone out of my purse and off silent after the movie, when I’m having dinner with friends…without needing a Xanax. I’ve even been known to LEAVE THE HOUSE WITHOUT MY SMARTPHONE! (but that may be as a result of encroaching forgetfulness) forgotten

I believe that having a few real flesh and blood friends is healthier than having hundreds of Facebook friends. I realize that I’m fortunate to have a living, breathing human being sharing my house who cares about me and actually enjoys talking to me. I know how dangerous it can be to be totally unaware of my surroundings as I cross busy streets or walk down partially deserted streets after dark.

And yet…sometimes I wonder.

As someone once said (when he was a young person), the times they are a’changin’.

Our kids’ and certainly our grandkids’ world is full of electronics from Day One. Eighteen-month-olds have that swiping motion down pat to change screens (maybe year olds). Several of our toddler grandchildren call me on their own. No parent required. They identify my photo sitting right there alongside my phone number, swipe to send and happily chatter away to me in gibberish. Instead of being engrossed in a book, our older grandchildren spend hours  (or as much time as parents allow) watching clips and entire shows on their phones.

Maybe it’s an old person thing – thinking that books are intrinsically better than electronic entertainment. Maybe it’s very 1990s to believe that in-person conversation is more valuable than texting. Hey, it’s true that the less one engages in face-to-face conversation, the less she needs all that pesky vocabulary to be gained by reading books.


Soon there’ll be driver-less cars so we can text to our hearts’ content while traveling. We can learn to use walking sticks like the vision-impaired so that we can keep our eyes on our screens while getting around outside. And, anyway, maybe soon there’ll be no need to even go outside.

(a) Kindle versus (b) print books? (a) Amazon versus (b) Barnes & Noble? (a) Webinar versus (b) professional conference? If you answered (b), (b) and (b) maybe you’re a dinosaur

So, here’s the thing. I think my outrageous addiction to electronics helps me feel comfortable saying (out loud) that I mourn the simpler days of walking barefoot with my friends during the long Texas summer evenings, feeling the warm, soft asphalt under our feet, looking at the lightning bugs and listening to crickets; that I’m ridiculously ecstatic to have grandchildren who love to read; that I’m fighting to reduce my screen time and my gadget budget.

I can’t help but believe that my generation is exceedingly lucky to have not had the temptation to live a solitary, sedentary existence, inside our homes, iPad or iPhone in hand. But, at the same time, I know that it’s an old person’s belief. And that’s as it should be. We had our chance to change the world for the better (and I think we haven’t done a terrible job so far compared to our parents’ world).

So here’s my prayer: May our children and grandchildren make a better world with these crazy electronic tools in their hands, because it doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere in the near future.



Women, WWII and Wonder

After reading tons of Holocaust Literature in my teens, I put it aside for decades. I didn’t go to WWII movies, and wasn’t pulled in the direction of Holocaust museums. Not so much a case of avoiding the horror, tragedy and evil so much as a feeling that I’d seen it, read it, knew enough about it.

I don’t remember the first Holocaust book I picked up a couple of years ago or why. It was probably a hand me down from a Canadian friend I often share books with. Whatever the reason, I was stuck. In a good way. I went on to read Those Who Save Us, Once We Were Brothers, The Nightingale, All the Light We Cannot See, One Early Morning and others I can’t recall at the moment.

Just when I think I’ve read my last, the wonderful woman at Sefer v’Sefel, the used book store whose aisles I love to wander, a friend or Bookbub.com recommends a book I have to read. I’m no longer surprised at how many fascinating stories of human capabilities stretched to their outer limits and plunged to their depths and beyond there are or at the talented people imagining and writing about them.

I’m also not surprised that the heroes, damaged as they may be, in many of these books are women. Ours are not usually the stories of military bravery, though there are some of those now sneaking into general awareness, but more the stories of our hearts putting us at grave risk. Stories of using our wits and cunning for the sake of others, in spite of being left breathless at our own actions. Stories which don’t always have good endings for us but usually have happy endings for those we’ve helped at the cost of our lives or mental health.

When I look around at the actions of neo-Nazis in Europe and the U.S., rampant murder in Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Somalia and other places around the globe, I’m tempted to shake my head at the world into which I’ve brought children and they’ve in turn brought my grandchildren.  But, as it turns out, our world has always been full of opportunities to sacrifice ourselves in the name of easing the pain and tragedy that results from the evil of a power-hungry, greedy, hate-infused minority.

The bravery that evil inspires in the breast of those who are involuntarily faced with its reality provides endless material for authors and hours of wonder and awe for readers.

I hope you’ll take a minute to join me in praying for a cessation of cruelty and hatred and the day when we, as authors, will have to search for other avenues of inspiration.

Dinner with Buddha

Dinner with BuddhaAuthor Roland Merullo has served Buddha breakfast and lunch and, now, in his new book Dinner with Buddha, dinner. Here we rejoin the characters we met and learned to love in the two earlier books.

The narrator is 52 year old Otto Ringling, former senior editor for a book publishing firm in New York. Otto is once again called on by his sister, Cecelia, to join her esteemed Russian/Tibetan monk husband, Volya Rinpoche, in an adventure.

From their North Dakota retreat and meditation center, they head out to the mountains, guided by one of Seese’s dreams, stopping along the way to meet people based on her directions. Otto’s skepticism, mixed with admiration, toward his much respected brother-in-law provides a foundation upon which readers can stand firmly.

Volya Rinpoche’s enthusiasm and joy in living in the moment, as expressed in his slightly off kilter English and newcomer’s understanding of American culture, repeatedly brings a smile to the reader’s lips. When he adopts the phrase, “Bet your ass, man!” from someone along their journey, Otto reflects on the trouble he could get into –

“I didn’t have the energy just then for yet another lesson in the American vernacular, though I found myself wondering, tiredly, if one day this new affectation would get him into trouble. In a week or two weeks, up in the mountains somewhere – Wyoming, Colorado, Montana – a tough waitress would ask him if he wanted anything besides butter with his oatmeal and he’d say, “Bet your ass,” and there would be a scene. Or he’d hold the hotel door for a bull rider and his girlfriend on the morning after a rodeo and the young woman would thank him, and he’d say, “Bet your ass.” Or we’d be in a library in New Mexico, there to do research on American Indian artifacts, and the librarian would ask, “Can I help you” Bet your ass you can. Or we’d be in a rest area, the kind that were peopled by lonely men in sedans, and Rinpoche would head for the edge of the trees, curious about some butterfly or bird he’d seen there, and one of the men would say, “Want to take a walk?” And so on. There was no end to the trouble a misplaced “bet your ass” could cause a person. This was my mind spinning. this was my mind.”

BuddhaRinpoche’s syntax in English is charming. Otto’s relationship with him is complex. Seese’s love for both her husband and her brother is generous and unconditional.

The reader learns, along with Otto, to appreciate and trust Rinpoche’s wisdom, even as he’s described as having a Speedo bathing suit which Otto describes thus,

“Given the inappropriately small size of Rinpoche’s Speedo, and the powerful torso and legs it revealed, and given the kind of antics of which my brother-in-law was capable, I said a small prayer of thanks, as we made our way to the elevator, that, this time at least, he’d decided to wear his robe over the bathing suit.”

Incongruously, Rinpoche Volya joyously yells, “Colorado!” as he cannon balls into the motel swimming pool and rises at 3 a.m. everyday to sit in silent meditation without moving a muscle for 3 hours. He loves his wife and daughter with all his heart and yet when Otto is consumed with worry about them, after hearing about a possible threat to their lives, says:

“Right now. In this minute, in this second, Chinese killing?”


Tapping three times on the table. “In this second, they killing?”


“They hurting Shelsa?” (his daughter)


“Worry is in your mind the pictures. You think you see these men but what you now in this minute see is this,” he pointed to his own face. “And this,” the teacup.”Worry is worry, man.”

Something is afoot. Changes are on their way. Hints abound but clarity is slow in coming. No matter. Every chapter is filled with gems for the reader to remember for her own life journey.

I loved this book. I didn’t want it to end. I worried about whether there would be “Dessert with Buddha” or if this was IT.  anxiety

The final Merullo book about these people I’d grown to love.

And then I heard Rinpoche’s voice and tried to integrate his instruction to “rest inside that love now, man, and we be quiet.” and not to “pay too much attention (to that feeling) or try to hold onto it because the part that wants to hold on is the part you letted (sic) go to have this feeling.”

meditation 11


Buy and Enjoy!