Fourth COVID: books, music, uniqueness, humor, reality-grounding, poems

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Fourth Letter to Family and Friends during this COVID-19 Pandemic

While on one hand, it looks as if we can ‘meet’ more in person, death rates keep rising in some provinces, states and especially in nursing homes. I am trying to keep up my good spirits by contacting family and friends as often as possible. I’m reading many good books of all kinds, not only novels, but memoirs, biographies, non-fiction in history, anthropology, fine arts, music and more. I’ve been composing and playing piano, creating my own arrangements. I’m also collecting uplifting, interesting and humorous blogs to share. I’ll be sharing some with you in this post.

Dear Family and Friends:

I just discovered that one of my favorite mystery writers, of whom I forgot, was Harry Kemelman. I noticed that one of my many book publishers mentioned him and produced a list of his novels. I read many of them in the late 80's and early 90's. I, like many other voracious readers, sub-consciously believe that writers just keep on writing and never 'die'... It is a total delusion, but Kemelman was more than just a mystery 'plot' writer. His themes within the mystery novel taught me much, not only about Judaism, but the weaknesses and strengths in so much of humanity. I wish some of his novels would at least become TV series. I think the audiences would be universal.


(a post written about five years ago)
Dear Friends:

I subscribe to Wise Women Canada. They send out a notice of blogs every couple of weeks. I certainly do not have time or interest to read every blog, and often have no time to read any blog. This time, when I saw the first title, I decided to spend a few minutes reading this. This woman, a mother of over a decade, described her 'motherless' life. Some of what she described was painfully close to my experience of my mother, except that my mother did not have the grace to leave; moreover, my step-father did not have the courage to separate from the terrible situation in which he found himself.

This brief blog is a tribute to the writer's courage to reveal her vulnerability and truth about her background. I am sharing it via e-mail only, to some friends who can appreciate that many of us came from family environments which were very far from safe or healthy. A couple of you had healthy and safe parenting, but had a conscious presence of loss and loneliness for several diverse and different reasons. I have written more than once in my diaries, about the courage and determination we women have employed and adapted to become what we are today. The writer of this blog seems to be about the age of our eldest children. In my opinion, it takes more than bravery to raise children. Raising children takes summoning up large 'amounts' of energy, courage and determination each day, as soon as one awakens, dresses, makes breakfast, awakens the children, etc... for years and years. We never get a medal for it; nor do we get much acknowledgement. We also, in many cases, returned to college, university or special training, to return or to acquire or develop, new careers, while still caring for our offspring. I wish our offspring realized what this 'wise woman' came to realize.

Enjoy! Have a great weekend.
Love, Diane.

Teacher’s Tender Note to Her Students Goes Viral

Teachers often play a vital role in encouraging their students not only in learning, but also in feeling good about themselves and broadening their views of the world. When Charlie Owens received this letter from his teacher after taking a standardized test, it speaks volumes as to how some teachers really do get to know the children in their care.

The headteacher, Rachel Tomlinson, sent the letter to every student at Barrowford Primary School in England and her unusual letter went viral around the world.

The letter reads:

“Please find enclosed your end of KS2 test results. We are very proud of you as you demonstrated huge amounts of commitment and tried your very best during this tricky week.

“However, we are concerned that these tests do not always assess all of what is that make each of you special and unique.

“The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you — the way our teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do. They do not know that you can play a musical instrument or that you can dance or paint a picture. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day.

“They do not know that you write poetry or songs, play or participate in sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister after school. They do not know that you have travelled to a really neat place or that you know how to tell a great story or that you really love spending time with special family members and friends.

“They do not know that you can be trustworthy, kind or thoughtful, and that you try, everyday, to be your very best… the scores you get will tell you something but they will not tell you everything.

“So enjoy your results and be very proud of these but remember there are many ways of being smart.”

Share this letter if you appreciate the words of wisdom!

I’m a professional comic. Here’s why you need to laugh about this pandemic.

May 12, 2020 By Judy Carter

Laughter, like supermarkets, should be considered an essential business. Our mental health depends on it.

The pandemic has brought serious challenges: people losing their health, their jobs, not to mention the COVID-19 pound weight gain. In short, there is nothing funny about the coronavirus.

Or is there?

COVID-19 takes away our sense of taste and smell. But there’s something it can’t – and shouldn’t– take away– our sense of humor. That’s key to helping us cope during these stressful times.

Laughter, like supermarkets, should be considered an essential business. Our mental health depends on it. Studies show laughter relieves stress, soothes tension, relieves pain, improves your mood, boosts your immune system, resolves conflict and just feels good.

Have you ever noticed that joking about a problem can make it more manageable? That’s because at its core, comedy is about telling the truth, in an unexpected and counterintuitive way.

In my online Comedy Workshop when discussing how long it takes to get Covid-19 test results back, this joke popped out of my mouth:

I’ll tell some of these coronavirus jokes now, but you’ll have to wait two weeks to see if you got them.

The entire Zoom workshop exploded into stress-reducing laughter... As Stephen Colbert wisely notes, “You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time.”

Actually, laughter and the virus have something in common–they’re both contagious. Rather than spreading fear, why not learn some comedy techniques to spread humor? With no vaccine against COVID-19 in sight, laughter just might be the best medicine. As a matter of fact, it may be the only medicine.

Over years of teaching comedy workshops, I’ve developed techniques for turning problems into punchlines. I’ve taught these techniques to software engineers, accountants, even, the most unfunny, dentists. In these uncertain and often unnerving times, they are more important than ever.

1. Your life is a joke

When writing comedy, start serious… end funny. Day one in my comedy workshops we get real by answering this question: “What’s wrong about your life?”

Your starting point could be, “I’m getting a divorce!” “I can’t stand my kids!” “Cancer.”

That’s right. A woman in my workshop once got an audience to laugh at cancer. She said, “Anyone see my bumper sticker? ‘Lose weight now… ask me how.’”

Did her ability to find the funny in a serious topic boost her T-cell count and help her go into remission? According to her it did, so what else matters?

2. Think counter-intuitively, like a comic

Where others see problems, comics see punchlines. We have a warped, or as I like to say, counterintuitive view of life. A dysfunctional family or a quarantine has an upside: potential material. We flip our fear to make it work for us by looking at the positive side of fear.

For instance, I threw this setup out during my online comedy workshop; “There are some advantages to being quarantined…” One student shot back: “Finally, a good excuse to stay six feet apart from my husband.”

Okay, maybe not comedy gold, but it got a laugh, and also threw some sunlight into the world.

3. Don’t Get Mad — Get Funny

We can’t stop people from saying hurtful things, but we can choose how to respond. Why not try making a humor choice? This is the same technique I have used to squash a heckler on stage and it works great in life as well.

The technique is Validate and Paradox. That means to repeat in a calm voice the stupid thing someone said to you: “So, you think I’ve gained weight? Right?”

4. Keep a journal

Comedy is in the details of life. You think you’ll remember funny moments, but unless you write them down, they will vanish. Writing 10 minutes each morning might just have you end up as the first story of your hilarious memoir. The details of your day such as when you tried to make a dinner out of peanut butter, an artichoke, and a can of sardines. Or, that adorable song your 7-year-old made up about her experience of the quarantine. Or, how you adapted to running out of toilet paper. As we comics say, “Bad for life—good for comedy.”


As an author, Judy doesn’t like to brag, but she did write the Bible. No joke, she’s the author of “The New Comedy Bible” and “The Comedy Bible Workbook.” These books contain exercises from her renowned Hollywood comedy workshop which launched the careers of Seth Rogan, Maz Jobrani, Hannah Gadsby and many others. During the quarantine, Judy is giving away her complete online speaking and comedy workshop for free..

Beyond this COVID-19 Pandemic in our troubled Earth, there is Spring. I wrote this poem over thirty years ago. I am a ‘process thinker’ rather than a ‘categorical thinker’. Enjoy!

Walking in the Rain of Creation

by Diane Stevenson Schmolka
(Spring, 1984)

though this rhythm beats the dust of spring earth from its ice cradle and mineral particles dance into droplet intervals it has no artifice no art amiss its true withiness it owns its issue free of winds of metered time of space staved to keep out chaos and in its dance takes the feet of them that tread the unconscious collective energies and renders them to absorb air sun and seasons all through my garden those feet become dust rain treads without shame takes risks among stumps and grasses

in compost a phoenix rises free from its crow position to resume a self-vulnerable and energy consumable in its season

those feet, those hands shaped by a destiny superficial knowledge has labeled

this issue inviolate its ultra violetness rolls away stones though bones choose to assume a form and muscle into art its edifice is timeless, the age irrelevant its love our resurrection from our dirge water graves

and all I can do is spin out symbols from an archetypal theme and fling them notes and all into the universe.

I’m adding this post to my 4th letter to each and all of you, because its message applies to each and every person. This Constructionist Rabbi is reaching not only to the Ottawa ‘community’; she is reaching out to the ‘inner spirit’ of each person, no matter what they believe or where, and in what condition, they might be living.

Message From Rabbi Liz to the Community

When we first began to put our services, programs and events on line, it seemed like we were embarking on an unbidden yet short-term adventure. It has become abundantly clear that the new realities imposed by the international COVID-19 pandemic will be with us for a long while.

It’s important to say, up front, that we are being confronted by a multitude of losses, and that with loss comes grief. As individuals, as citizens, as family members, and as a part of a community not able to gather, we are missing out on one of the things we do so well together, in person. At the same time, over the past few weeks I have witnessed and participated in extraordinarily supportive and comforting gatherings through “the screen” for shiva minyanim and funerals.

As awkward as it may sound to say this, they gave me great comfort as I, along with thousands of other Jewish clergy and lay leaders, deepen the work of re-imagining what we do for the long haul, for with change, and loss, and challenge, come the need to look in different directions.

As we take those steps, though, some things do not change: our core values, our friendships, the stories and experiences we have shared, and the anticipation, together, of what lies ahead. We can’t sing together, nor can we share a delicious potluck Kiddush – oh, how sad it feels even to type those words! Yet there is so much we can do, and are doing.

My first supervisor as a student of chaplaincy, Rabbi Dayle Friedman, offers a 3-fold teaching from the Hasidic master and rebbe the Baal Shem Tov, who lived through a time of great unrest and uncertainty in 18th century Poland:

Yield to the Reality: we must grasp, understand and accept what we are facing, in order to be able to make constructive choices. In the yielding, we can see what will emerge.

Discern the Present: after yielding and grieving, we explore, bringing our curiosity and excitement, along with our core values, to what might be new and fresh.

Sweeten the Experience: as we create and discover new vistas, we can bring joy and delight to the process and the opportunities.

Along with key members of our community, I’m learning new ways of discerning how to bring the reality of the present to the kinds of experiences we are accustoming to sharing together – Bart Mitzvahs, the High Holy Days, family and adult learning, to name a few. We’ll be putting our heads (screens?) together, purposefully, with new tools and new approaches. And while some of them might formally fall under the rubric of “virtual” contact, there is nothing un-real about the caring, the praying, and the connecting that we have been able to experience over these past several weeks.

We are being confronted, like some of our mythic ancestors, by a great test of biblical proportions. Our health and well-being, and the health and well-being of kol yoshvey tevel/all who dwell on earth, is being profoundly challenged. As a sacred community, we will make our way through the sacred cycles of the year, and our lives, with caution, concern, and a renewal of commitment our core values. We’ll be working diligently, together, to cohere around a set of plans and practices that hold up those concerns and values, while maintaining this precious, loving, caring community.

.... This, and the great vista before us, buoys me.
... May we grow back, not to what was, but instead towards what we can become...
Ken yehi ratzon – May it be so.
- Rabbi Liz

Dear Family and Friends; to close this 4th letter, I will add a couple of ‘Spring Haiku’ I wrote about a decade ago.

Spring in Ottawa when trees are in bud birds take note barks don’t bite sap begins to run squirrels leap grasp at straws

warm days but cold nights make transitional dominants brilliant sonic bites

sun rises higher radiant before noon moon gazing gains ground

Vivaldi ‘s Spring sequences in local malls colors dominate

the Experimental Farm returns our geese to seed us to ground

(c) Diane Stevenson Schmolka

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Page last modified on March 24, 2021, at 01:57 AM