Life certainly presented all her faces this week for me. Blustery rain and wind claimed superiority over Tu b’Shevat (the Jewish birthday of trees), while the promise of Spring and renewal whispered at me in gentle, little breezes as I bid a sorrowful farewell to two dear friends. But perhaps the contradictions are always self-evident. Perhaps this week I was simply more attuned to the rhythms and melodies of material Life.
Ari jumps to his feet as the door bell rings, and I put aside musing to welcome my guest, Peter Altschul. In addition to composing music, Peter assists groups and organizations to become better at motivating people, resolving conflicts, managing diversity, and planning for the future.
Me: Peter, welcome, how nice of you to drop by!
Me: As we chat, would you like a cup of tea? Or perhaps you’d rather have coffee?
Peter: Unsweetened iced tea would be welcomed — or an IPA, if you have it.
Me: You are in luck, my friend, since unsweetened iced tea is also on my menu today! Now I also have a few tidbits to nibble, a cookie or maybe a piece of fruit?
Peter Anything chocolate or nutty would be great; thanks!
Me: Okay, chocolate covered peanuts should suffice. Where would you feel most comfortable: here at my kitchen table?
Or would you like a comfy chair in the living room?
Peter Kitchen table is fine.
Me: Ah, now that we’re settled, tell me a little about yourself. What part of the country do you live in?
Peter: I’m an east coast brat now living in Columbia, Missouri.
Me: Have you been there long?
Peter: Ten years
Me: What do you like best and least about living there?
The arts scene — especially the music — is outstanding. Most people are friendly. I do miss the public transportation and employment opportunities.
Me: Is your writing influenced in any way by where you live?
Peter: Probably, but I’m not sure how.
Me: Can you describe your writing process for me? For example, do you have a certain time of day you find most productive? Or a special place where you find inspiration?
Peter: I have no fixed schedule; I write when I have the urge and/or an idea. When the weather’s decent, I like to write outside on my deck. Otherwise, I find it easier to write away from my apartment.
Me: What got you started writing?
Peter: Up until ten years ago, I hated to write even though I knew I was a decent writer. Friends and colleagues encouraged me to write a memoir, but I never took them seriously — until a professor accepted me into a PHD-level nonfiction writing class. I was shocked; it was my first creative writing class. So my journey as a writer began.
Me: And I wonder, why do you write? I mean, if you could sum it up in a word or in a simple statement, what keeps you writing?
Peter: Given my current situation, writing is the best way for me to convey my thoughts and experiences to others.
Me: And now a few more “creative” questions, if you don’t mind, so I can get a better glimpse of you as a person. What kind of fruit or vegetable would you say best expresses your personality? Why?
Peter: I’ve always loved bananas.
Me: What do you like to do on a rainy day?
Peter: Go for a walk if it’s not raining too hard. Otherwise, reading or listening to sports and/or music.
Me: What’s your favorite part of going grocery shopping? What do you think that says about you?
Peter: I dislike grocery shopping. Too crowded and I have to rely too much on others to get the job done.
Me: Would you rather vacation at the beach or in the mountains? Why?
Peter: I prefer fresh water over salt water; so I suppose mountains. On the other hand, seafood is fresher and tastier near beaches.
Me: What is your favorite punctuation mark?
Peter: The comma, as it creates the most conflict about its use.
Me: What role have children played in your life? How about in your writing?
Peter: I have three wonderfully challenging almost-grown stepkids. They’ve taught me so much about humility, flexibility, and patience. Perhaps, that’s indirectly affected my writing.
Me: What is your favorite fairy tale/children’s story? Why?
Peter: I’ve never been much into fairy tales — perhaps, “Jack and the Beanstalk” comes to mind. But thanks to my niece, I became hooked on the Harry Potter series. Is that a fairy tale?
Me: It might as well be, it has become such a part of modern literature. Oh, I know you need to get back to your busy life, but before you leave, tell me a little more about your writing, won’t you? And where I might read your work?
Peter Sure, you can visit
for information about my memoir (2012), my book of concise essays (2017), my blog, Twitter feed, professional stuff I have written, and music I have composed.
Me: Thank you so much for visiting with me today. I hope you’ll come visit me again very soon.
Peter: Thanks for the hospitality and good conversation. I welcome the chance to do it again.
As the door closes behind my guest, I think about the many other topics Peter and I might have discussed, deep, insoluable questions aboutlife and death and the meaning we seek in between.
But for now, shadows are growing, and Shabbot is near. My hand finds the trusty candlelighter, and I carefully draw the flame to the wick. Time stands still as I watch the flame flickering. I breathe deeply in, then slowly out, wave the glow up and toward myself, around in a circle to embrace family and loved ones, outward to include all the world. Time is an illusion, I muse, there is only this moment, now. And I whisper:
Blessed are you, Beloved One of all time, Who enables us to bring Your light and Love into the world, and to receive the Light and Love of all those with whom we journey.
And let us say: Amen