Daniel and I enjoyed strolling. Wherever we were, whether near home or on some other continent, we’d go for rambling walks. Often with no destination in mind, turning where our feet and curiosity pulled us, stopping when something demanded our full attention, or to simply sit and absorb. It was our way of connecting. With our surroundings, whether it were nature or a cityscape. With the rhythm of life and culture. With each other. Every walk was an adventure, an exploration, a learning experience. And fun.
More often than not, I'd have a camera in hand. When we were away from home, Daniel usually carried my camera bag, which would be packed with lenses, various camera bodies, model releases and the other paraphernalia that fill such bags, including dozens of rolls of film. (Yes, this was in the pre-digital era.)
On this particular walk, the sun slanted on the arid sub-Sahara of Kenya's Samburu National Park. Golden light and long shadows mottled the parched landscape, creating unexpected shapes where I had seen only a flat and near featureless expanse in the midday overhead sun. Dotting the far flung vista were occasional groves of trees, indicating probable water sources.
Our only companion was our guide. Unlike the lanky statuesque men of the local Samburu tribe who moved through their domain with the graceful lope of a gazelle, our guide was compact, with a center of gravity that seemed to keep him in constant contact with the earth under his feet. The air was alive with almost subliminal sounds that I couldn't really identify — probably bird calls, perhaps insects and far off animal calls. The sky above was as wide as any I've ever seen, stretching from horizon to far horizon, devoid of any sign of mankind's imprint on nature. No wires, no buildings, no vehicles or sounds of traffic. Not even the contrail of a high altitude plane.
As we rounded the edge of a comparatively large grove of trees, we saw a small river which had carved a crevasse in the dry soil so that the embankment seemed to tower over the waterway like a tiny cliff. At the bottom of the near embankment slept an enormous crocodile. He was motionless, a stunning sculptural figure composed of dense shadows and pools of light. (more…)
Next weekend is Daniel's and my wedding anniversary, so I've decided to mark it by
placing Daniel's and Dad's ashes.
We'll be placing Dad's ashes with Mother's in the garden we had created for her, under a Japanese maple. Dad liked to sit on the porch to be with her, and I know that's what he would want.
We'll be creating another garden for Daniel, and next Saturday will be only the beginning. Daniel always wanted to do something about the erosion of our stream bank on our field. So over the next few years, I will be creating a mostly native plant garden along the bank. The one non-native plant I'll be using is a weeping willow which was one of his favorite trees, and that's what we'll be planting next week with his ashes.
I'm hoping this will help me deal with our first anniversary alone, by honoring my two men with beauty and sharing it with my friends and family.
I’m not sure which editor first gave Daniel and me that nickname. When we were long-time Contributing Editors at PC Magazine, I remember being pleasantly surprised when various people started referring to us as Team Grotta. It came so naturally to their lips that we felt that they had been using the term for a while. Perhaps it had developed organically, put forward in staff meetings and in office discussions. “Why don’t we put Team Grotta on that project?” or “Ask Team Grotta, they’ll figure it out.”
Not that it was exclusively a PC Magazine thing. Other editors and clients took it up, as did conference and workshop organizers and, eventually, readers.
When I look back, I sometimes feel that Daniel and I were the last to hear the sobriquet. But we were delighted when we realized what a nice compliment it was to who we were professionally and personally, how well we worked together and how others had learned to depend on us.
Team Grotta. I’ll never know if it spread out virally from one person’s dubbing of the two of us as a single well-tuned entity. Or was it an outgrowth of the nature of our relationship which was evident to anyone who saw us together? Heck, a number of years ago, a young couple with whom we used to square dance told us that their toddler son thought that “DanielSally” was one name. (more…)
I’m not sure when I last wrote. At least a year. No, it was more like a year and a half, except maybe for a couple of essays and one or two very short poems. I’m not talking about the reviews and features that currently represent the bulk of my livelihood, but my core writing. The novels, stories, poems and essays that reach through my throat into my gut and haul out my voice through my heart.
I write because pouring myself out onto the keyboard is how I have always tried to make sense of a senseless world. I don’t understand the pain we cause each other, the hate, the distortion of love. War and tribalism. Walls between individuals, between tribes and nations, that are built up brick by brick over years of preconceptions and propaganda. So I create stories to try to help me find the right questions to ask that might yet explain the inexplicable. Perhaps, I can also use it to try to navigate my way through the morass of this new world that now envelops me.
I write because through words, through Story, I have long discovered myself. So I shall write with the hope of rediscovery, not of the woman I am or have been, but this new woman I am now forced to become. Without my compass, without the living breathing other soul who lived within me, by my side, facing each morning as a new adventure to be shared.
Where do I start? At the end? That’s one simple sentence. Three words. Daniel is dead. In my novel The Winter Boy, I wrote, “How people die shapes our world.” (more…)
Since Daniel passed away, I have received so many kind and tender condolence notes. Quite a number of the senders shared stories about how Daniel inspired/helped/influenced/mentored them. Many were stories I had never heard, or versions of stories I knew told from such different perspectives. One came from the Pennsylvania Senate.
I had no warning that this Declaration of Condolence was on its way. I simply opened a rather large manila envelope and there it was, in an official-looking leather presentation folder. Over the next few months, I hope to write about some of his many adventures and experiences that are behind this simple eloquent declaration.
It means a lot to me when others recognize Daniel's achievements and his contributions to community. Thank you to everyone for remembering Daniel’s brilliance, accomplishments and especially his kind generosity, and sharing all your stories about him.
I sit at a blank screen, knowing it’s time to write. That’s what Daniel would tell me to do with the jumble of emotion, pain, emptiness that has consumed me.
Some years ago, I saw a man attack another with a broken bottle. We were in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, a normally high decibel neighborhood, with sidewalk traffic as dense as the streets. Families with scampering children and couples arguing or holding hands and business folk, tourists, conventioneers, and yes, the always present hungry homeless folded in on themselves. Crowds of people walking too fast, or strolling and reading window menus, or juggling large grocery packages festooned with pictographic Chinese words. And somewhere behind the neon signs and fatty aromas, a verve of hidden life, mysterious, almost alien, yet so very familiar.
However, that wasn’t the Chinatown we saw that night. The hour was so late that the tiny corner restaurant we chose was an island of unresolved energies on a nearly darkened street. (Or at least as dark as any street in Chinatown gets.) I saw no pedestrians through the large plate glass windows during our entire meal. Just the incessant rain and the puddling reflections of a sleeping city. While we waited for our check, Daniel went into the men’s room. That’s when it happened. A sudden, vicious eruption of fists and blood, of glass gouging and slashing, unintelligible screams and flung furniture. (more…)
Daniel Grotta, my dearest friend, lover, partner, husband, joy of my life, passed away two nights ago – December 13th, 2015 at 10:29 PM.
I’m told that I’m supposed to write more about him, to create an obituary to mark his passing, his existence. But words fail me right now. Words, ideas are what we share… shared… the fabric of our love that binds us soul to soul, mind to mind. I’ll write more later about him, about us. Not now.
In response to various questions: instead of flowers, if you want to give something in Daniel Grotta's memory, please consider sending donations to these:
B'nai Harim, P.O. Box 757, Pocono Pines, PA 18350- our small, close-knit synagogue in the Poconos where Daniel so enjoyed being part of a warm, intelligent community
Newfoundland Area Ambulance Association, 441 Crestmont Dr, Newfoundland , PA - 18445 -- where Daniel volunteered as an emergency responder and ambulance driver for quite a few years, saving lives and caring for our neighbors.
With Dad now gone, we really don't need the large Center City co-op apartment we shared with him as our Philadelphia "pied a terre." (Please click on the picture to view a slideshow of the apartment.) So here's a great opportunity for folks looking for a 3-bedroom 2-bath apartment only one block from Rittenhouse Square (1919 Chestnut St.).
* Monthly co-op fee is less than $1,000
* Includes all utilities, basic cable, 24-hour doorman, maintenance, etc.
* Garage for up to 2 cars at $80/month/car
* Fitness Center & Pool at very reasonable prices
The William Penn House co-op is so well managed that the monthly co-op fees for January and February of 2015 were waived for everyone.
In the beginning…. How many tales start with those three words? In all languages, from every people who have ever walked this earth. Here is mine – or at least, my latest.
In the beginning, there was Story. Before Story, all was amorphous, unfathomable. Mysteries too profound and daunting to ever be knowable. Yet the human mind needs shape and form. We struggle to create it even in a dense, nebulous fog. We look up at the night sky with its chaotic multitude of stars and see creatures and gods staring down at us, maybe even watching us.
We are so small and insignificant, mere pebbles in the surf, tossed here and there by forces beyond our ken. Why? Who made it so? Questions formed in our minds and gave birth to Story. And with Story, we stepped up one more evolutionary level, becoming human.
Story gives shape and meaning. It’s how we learn to ask questions, to try to find answers.
The nature of Story is that it is as changeable as the world it seeks to understand, as varied as the many storytellers who weave the tales. With every retelling, new threads and new colors are added, as new answers try to reshape the questions, sometimes replacing the old.
I have been fascinated by Story as long as I can remember. At a very young age, I was privileged to be immersed in a wide ranging buffet of tales, all of which shaped my mind, my beliefs and eventually my own tellings. Greek mythology. Christian parables. Jewish, Asian, African and Native American folk tales and spiritual traditions. So similar in many ways to each other, as each human being is similar to others, especially in the nature of our questions. And yet, just as each person is unique, each tale came to me as an individual, with a personality shaped by its progenitors, birthplace and cultural milieu. Over the years, they have merged and morphed, becoming as much a part of me as my childhood memories – which are yet another series of stories I tell myself, a personal mythology that I use to try to understand who I am, where I came from, and why.
So, though I may not be able to pinpoint which influences came from which tale, I carry them within me. They taught me the important lessons of Story: that questions are what propel us, and that a good tale touches all of us, reaching through barriers as nothing else can.
That’s why storytelling is an integral component of all education and why in my novel The Winter Boy, it’s a primary vehicle used by the Alleshi (a cloistered society of widows) to train the young men entrusted to them. Tell a student a fact or idea, and it has a small chance of sticking, with more and more being forgotten as time passes. But give students a good, meaningful story that threads (more…)
We've donated several of our books to a fundraising auction for Friends Select School (Sally's alma mater). It's a great school, but the auction is also an excellent opportunity to possibly get some nice bargains.
Three autographed Grotta book packages are up for auction. (To bid on them, please click on the underlined titles):
1. J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle Earth By Daniel Grotta
The first biography written about the creator of "The Lord of the Rings," this paperback is now an out-of-print collectible. "J. R. R. Tolkien is one of the most beloved and enigmatic writers of the twentieth century, yet surprisingly little is known about the personal life of the author of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. After a traumatic childhood, Tolkien experienced the bloody trenches of World War I, then lived most of his life as an Oxford scholar in a cloistered academic community. In this fascinating illustrated biography, author Daniel Grotta examines how much of Tolkien's personal experience fired his incredible imagination and led to the creation of Middle-earth and its inhabitants. "
2. The Winter Boy and Jo Joe, two novels by Sally Wiener Grotta
A 2015 Locus Award Nominee & Bookwatch Reviewers Choice. Reminiscent of Mary Doria Russell, Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. LeGuin, "The Winter Boy explores important political and social issues within a dynamic, character-driven otherworld. In The Winter Bo,y a cloistered society of widows has forged a centuries-long peace by using storytelling, reason and sexual intimacy to train young men destined to be leaders. But a new widow's first season with a "problem" boy erupts into conflict, anger and danger, when she uncovers a web of conspiracies that threaten his life and could destroy their entire society.
A Jewish Book Council Book. In Jo Joe, a young mixed race Jewish woman confronts her first love, is menaced by a violent old enemy, and uncovers a secret about the bigotry that scarred her childhood.
3. Honor and Seven From Haven by Daniel Grotta Seven From Haven is a collection of seven gentle short stories of the paranormal with O'Henry-like sensibility, charm and humor.
What is it to be honorable? In the eyes of others? In your own heart? Is it what you've done or who you are? A novella, Honor explores the human cost when patriotism, personal ethics and the deep bond of friendship collide. Honor is currently being developed into a theatrical play by the playwright David Zarko.
Reminiscent of Margaret Atwood, Mary Doria Russell and Ursula K. LeGuin, The Winter Boy is masterful storytelling that explores important political and social issues, wrapped up in masterful storytelling.