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Marlan Warren is a journalist, novelist, editor, playwright, screenwriter, blogger, website designer, and publicist. She is the author of the fictionalized memoir, Roadmaps for the Sexually Challenged: All’s Not Fair in Love or War and the AIDS memoir, Rowing on a Corner. She reviews for Midwest Book Review. Marlan is also a filmmaker.

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My life, your life, our lives inside and outside of Los Angeles and its angels.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Judith Fein, Author of "The Spoon from Minkowitz": "Finding roots is the solution for a rootless life."

           A Bittersweet Deep Roots Journey to Ancestral Lands
Author: Judith Fein
Photographer:  Paul Ross
ISBN:     978-0-9884019-3-8
Publisher: GlobalAdventure.us
Pub. Date: Jan. 5, 2014
Paperback  & All E-Formats      Pages: 243      Price:     $18.95
Publicist: Marlan Warren   E-Mail: roadmap.girl at hotmail

Summary :  Author Judith Fein embarks on a quest to call on ancestors and urges us to do the same in The Spoon from Minkowitz: A Bittersweet Deep Roots Journey to Ancestral Lands.

Interview with Judith Fein, Author of The Spoon from Minkowitz -
A Bittersweet Deep Roots Journey to Ancestral Lands:
 Finding roots is the solution for a rootless life.”

 I heard the Eastern European ancestors of many people like me
 calling out. “Remember us. Don’t forget us. Our story needs
 to be heard. Write our story. Write your story."
—Judith Fein, The Spoon from Minkowitz

     Judith Fein is a travel journalist’s travel journalist. She has globe-trotted unencumbered by maps and prior research from Mog Mog to Vanuatu. By her own account, she has swum with Beluga whales, consulted with a Zulu sangoma in South Africa, and eaten porcupine in Vietnam (“not with relish”). In 2011, when Fein and her photojournalist husband Paul Ross visited Tunisia during the Arab Spring, the French-speaking American Fein found herself on the radio, speaking to Tunisians about Democracy. Her popular book Life Is a Trip: The Transformative Magic of Travel depicts highlights from her decades of soul-searching adventure, which include a road trip with a Maori tribe on their way to reunite with their European roots. However, for Fein—whose motto is “I live to leave” —a big chunk of travel-mystery was still left uncracked: her own ancestral roots.

     Fein’s new book, The Spoon from Minkowitz: A Bittersweet Deep Roots Journey to Ancestral Lands, takes us with her on the trip she finally made in 2012 to the shtetl her maternal grandmother left behind in an obscure Ukrainian village known as Minkowitz.

     The Spoon from Minkowitz came out in January 2014, and has already garnered stellar reviews. Catharine Hamm, Travel Editor of the Los Angeles Times, found The Spoon from Minkowitz “as tense as a thriller and as tender as a love story. Judith Fein’s…quest to connect the dots of her life will have readers laughing, crying and, most of all, cheering her on.” Bill Tammeus, co-author of They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust called the book “compelling” in its ability to “move beyond the borders of Judaism and even beyond Holocaust history to a universal story of love.”

     We had the opportunity to catch Judith Fein for a moment when she is not in perpetual motion to talk about the deeper meanings of genealogy as explored in this book.

For those who have not yet read your book, what is “the spoon from Minkowitz”?

My grandmother was from a Russian village called Minkowitz. And that, plus five other facts, were all I could ever get out of her about where she was from and why she left. She spoke mainly Yiddish, so maybe that was a reason. My mother told me virtually nothing, no matter how much I begged when I was growing up. So then I meet my husband Paul, and we’re immediately attracted. But here’s the kicker: when I ask Paul to ask his parents about their ancestral roots, it turns out his father’s family came from…Minkowitz.

Okay. So the “spoon.” When Paul told his parents we were getting married, his father offered us the only thing left from his parents’ shtetl in Minkowitz”: a soup spoon they brought with them to America.  I treasured it because it made our ancient connection so real to me. We made a place of honor for it under the chupa  (Jewish wedding canopy) on a satin pillow.

What impressed me about your search was that it wasn’t a matter of buying a plane ticket to Minkowitz. You practically “feel your way” through Russia. The same is true in the stories you told in Life Is a Trip. Would you call your process “right brain”?

First of all, there are no planes to Minkowitz. And yes, “right brain.” I call it “following the arrows.” It’s about keeping eyes and ears open. If you trust you will end up in the right place, and if it’s meant to be, you will get there. One friend says I don’t seem to be traveling as much as channeling. She’s dubbed me “The Human Travel Channel.”

This book is like Jewish version of Roots, the Alex Haley book that traces his African American family history. It also reminds me of Safran Foer’s  Everything Is Illuminated, especially when you and Paul are in that stifling car where the driver refuses to roll down the windows in blistering heat. If I were a Hollywood producer, how would you pitch The Spoon from Minkowitz to me?

I’d say it’s a kind of Everything Is Illuminated meets Life Is a Trip.

If there is a link between The Spoon from Minkowitz and Life Is a Trip, what is it?

In Life Is a Trip, I take readers to l4 exotic climes where they experience new and different ways of dealing with life issues—everything from love to death to ambition to family tension. In The Spoon from Minkowitz, I take readers into the land of their ancestors, and into the depths of their own souls. 

Why is connecting to our ancestors so important?

Finding your roots can be the solution to a rootless life. In my book, I talk about roots travel, talking to grandma, digging deep into family roots to find  out who you are and where you come from. Ours is a rare culture that doesn't honor and connect to our ancestors. Everywhere I have traveled, I've experienced ancestor worship, ancestor ceremonies, ancestor altars, ancestor honorings.  It is time to bring this powerful awareness to our shores--with humor, heart, and information.  

What’s next for Judith Fein?

What’s  next for me is also what’s next for The Spoon from Minkowitz. The critical response to the book has been wonderful, and I am planning ancestor events and talks in various cities.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

All the world's your stage at Dominic Oliver's Behavioral Improv Workshop: "Fly without a Net."

On a warm Monday evening at Dominic Oliver’s Behavioral Improv Workshop at the NoHo2 studio in North Hollywood, Sammy Corrado shares with a rapt audience a trick of the trade he’s learned as a “reader” who helps audition actors for the hot series, The Mentalist:

“Don’t ask if you can do it again.”

Corrado is one of several speakers Dominic Oliver has invited over the last year and a half since his workshop launched. When Corrado finishes, the actors get busy with theater games, improvisation, puppetry, masks, monologues and scene study.

“Sammy’s invaluable casting session experience gave us a unique opportunity to see both sides of a process that scares the pants off a lot of actors,” said Oliver, who invites speakers as well as guests. “I encourage audience. Strangely, it makes my players less self-conscious. I want them to fly without a net and have no fear.”

Behavioral Improv is Oliver’s own term. “We put the focus on character behavior as much as the great, funny line. Because I come from TV, film and stage, I can show how observation and behavior help actors find a character more easily for a part or audition. It’s improv as an acting process, not only a destination.”

Sessions start with a guided meditation that allows players to settle into a more relaxed state. Then for the next few hours, Oliver takes his charges “from 0 to 60” with passion and humor. By evening’s end, actors are galloping off to unexpected, hilarious, places.

“It’s great to watch players surprise even themselves,” said Oliver, perhaps thinking of the somewhat shy young actress who transformed into an old lady demanding that someone fix her vibrator, or an acting newbie who “found a hidden depth that was incredibly rich and moved me to tears.”

Oliver also taught improvisation and commercial acting at the Vincent Chase workshop in Hollywood. He took time out from his busy routine as an actor, teacher, screenwriter and novelist (he recently co-wrote a Cold War suspense thriller, Jitterbug Lift, under the pen name “Oliver Flynn” with partners Jay Flynn and Kaenan Oliver) for a little Q & A:
Q: Where did you grow up? Have your origins affected you as an artist?
A: My life is an improv. I grew up in New York City and wrote a scene for my first movie part that starts, I was a kid on 42nd Street; you had to act to survive.

Q: In the film, All That Jazz, the choreographer tells a frustrated dancer that he doesn’t know if he can make her a great dancer, but he knows he can make her a better one. Does that ring a bell?
A: Exactly my philosophy. I have great respect for Bob Fosse’s work. I know he made a legion of dancers much greater than they were. That’s what we all hope for as coaches.

Q: How do you help players break away from the obvious?
A: We take time to explore the core of the character, find the vulnerability and play the ambiguity to reveal what you feel. The more we tune in and observe others around us in detail—even someone we know—the more depth and variety we bring to our roles.

Q: Your workshop actors can start off stiff, but soon they’re zooming through improvs with comedy and inspired moments.
A: Once a player relaxes, frees him/herself up and begins playing truth, tapping into intuition and imagination, and connecting to one another, real magic happens.

Q: Do you ever push students to get beyond their comfort zones? Ever had anyone rebel?
A: I push them all the time. The comfort zone is what they’re coming to me to leave behind. A lot of actors have difficulty with anger, so we work on using and also releasing it. As for rebellion, if it’s there I help them work around it. The more confident they become, the quicker that disappears.

Q: What’s the deal with the masks?
A: The mask is a tool. Mask work, especially combined with music, informs the non-mask work in a way that simply doesn’t take place intellectually.

Q: Any favorite roles?
A: My best role was probably as a pawnbroker on NYPD Blue. My favorite is Mangiacavallo in Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo. And I got to play a Klingon.  I didn’t know much about Klingons, so I used improv tools to find that guy. Doing mirror work in costume and makeup, using the reflection, gave me the character.

Q: What is your greatest tool?
A: Compassion for the process. I focus on being perceptive about what turns players on, how to work out the kinks and get to the right place. What I give them is trust—in me, in themselves and each other—and that pays off.

Dominic Oliver’s Behavioral Improv Workshop meets every Monday at
7:30 p.m. at the NoHo2 Studio, 10428 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, California 91601.

The novel Jitterbug Lift by Oliver Flynn is available in paperback, Kindle and Nook online:

Amazon paperback

Amazon Kindle

Barnes and Noble Nook

Thursday, February 28, 2013


"It's like hitting the 'Reset Button,'" one of my newcomer clients said a couple days ago just 10 minutes into his introductory session, seemingly oblivious to the fact that all hell was breaking loose just outside the studio, as the Loudest Garbage Truck Ever had stopped in front of the studio's windows and was busy making noise that would go on for 15 minutes. 

The Reset Button. I like that. 

So the new campaign to get people in the door who might not otherwise hear of Reiki energetic balancing and healing is in full swing. And so is my great experiment to get out and meet people, hand them a flyer, and talk to them about the healing effects of Energy.

I feel a little like a door-to-door politician at this Election Time. It's not my style to go around asking people if they've ever had "Reiki" (Tibetan/Japanese Energetic Healing), and then proceed to tell them why they might love it. But so far it is quite rewarding. 

I will write more in the next post about the Performer's Relaxation Program ("Relax-the-Act"). But just wanted to show you the Studio's newest flyer (below) and get your response to it. 

Don't be shy...Let me know your thoughts. And if you just love it, please share with friends.

News Flash: 
A very satisfied regular client will be leaving town soon and moving back to her hometown. She's asked me if I will drive with her back East so that I can teach her friend self-healing with Reiki! Very flattering. She said, "We have other people who do Reiki here, but I told her that she really should learn it from you." And she offered to pay my expenses and air faire back to L.A. 

Will I take this generous offer? Hmmmmm....Not sure. But teachers live for moments like these.

Please contact me at LetReikiLightShine at yahoo dot com if you're interested in an intro session. And ask me about packages and discounts for referrals, etc.

In the meantime...Happy Healing to you all! Oh, and here is the newest flyer for the Studio:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

San Francisco Street Scene by Susan Weinberg-Harter (copyright)

I'm putting the finishing touches on the blog I created for the award-winning San Diego artist Susan Weinberg-Harter whose watercolors and linoleum prints reflect her deep respect and love of nature, and her insightful traveler's eye when she ventures outside of her SoCal domain.

Susan is a "birdwatcher" and has been known to go on tour just to catch glimpses of birds she can't see from her kitchen window or strolling near the marshes of Del Mar. One watercolor recently graced an Audubon Society cover.  Here's the link if you'd like to take a peek:  http://susanweinbergharter.blogspot.com/

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Why a Doula? Women, Pregnancy and Power


8 mos. pregnant, Mom after Hurricane Donna
[Photo ©Leonard Warren]

          This photo of my mother was snapped by my father right after Hurricane Donna in Ft. Myers, Fla. Donna had torn the roof off the house behind us, sent boats into carports, flooded the streets, and buried our yard in debris. Mom had played the piano the whole time. The next day, despite being in her 8th month of pregnancy, my 39-year old mother was out there hauling away banyan tree branches. She'd lived through the Depression, World War II, a stormy marriage, and she wasn't going to let a little hurricane get her down. Less than a month later, my brother tried to be born "upside down," and the trauma sent her into a mental collapse so severe, the hospital would not release her for a week.

          Would things have been any easier or better if she'd had a doula?

         "What is a doula?" you ask? I'd never heard of one either until I met an actual doula who runs a service for pregnant women and couples, and also offers childbirth education classes in Los Angeles. This doula explained that doulas support, educate and advocate pregnant women and their expectant partners. She also expressed interest in my public relations services, so I put on my Researcher's Hat to think about doulas and what they mean to me personally.

          The first thing I learned was that most people believe doulas and midwives are the same. But one main difference is that doulas act as advocates for pregnant women, helping and guiding them through their legal rights as patients.

         According to Wikipedia, doula comes from Ancient Greek, meaning "female servant" or "slave." One website calls doulas "the must-have accessory for the 21st Century," making the service sound chic and almost frivolous.

          Well, what about those legendary peasant women who squatted in the fields to plop out their progeny? After all these years of birthing babies (anyone seen Gone with the Wind lately?), why this and why now? 
          As a childless woman hearing about doulas for the first time, it was a stretch for me to comprehend why anyone would need more than a trustworthy obstetrician, a loving partner and a book on pregnancy and childbirth. Wasn't that all that my own mother in her post-World War II pregnancies had?

Mommy & Me just before Pregnancy #2
[Photo ©Leonard Warren] 

       My mother came through her childbirth experience with me fairly unscathed. She complained that the problems started after I was born since I was colicky and cried all the time. Photos reveal my mother looking exhausted as she bathes me and watches me drink for the first time with both hands.

1951 -  "Look, Ma, two hands!"
[Photo ©Leonard Warren]

          I found one website for "Radical Doulas," which it defines as doulas who may fly in the face of convention with advocacy for LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, 
Queer) clients and even abortion [http://www.radicaldoula.com]. 

         Full-spectrum doula services include working with first-time parents, VBACs (Vaginal Birth After Cesarian), LGBTQ families, and survivors of sexual abuse and trauma. A qualified doula can even assist at a water birth.

          Next, I asked friends for their own doula experiences, their responses confirmed that doulas do very good work. One in San Francisco had this to say:
I didn't have one for myself, but have known Doulas throughout my life. They partner with women for navigating the portals of birth. They are guides, coaches and confidants who are steady and present - through the miracles of this particular life change. I don't know more than that - simply that they are stellar beings who love what they do... 
 I've never met a Doula who's complained about her work.
          So now I am convinced that doulas are cool. There must be so much more to their service than first meets the eye in a brochure or website description. I look forward to learning more about how doulas empower and celebrate women in the birth process.

My first bath.  [Photo ©Leonard Warren] 
     Still, I wonder if a doula could have made a difference in my mother's 1960 "breech birth"? My Aunt Vera (Dad's sister) at the end of her life revealed to me for the first time that the hospital had told my father they could not allow Mom to come home with the baby until Dad could prove that he had someone at home who could help with the baby. Aunt Vera came from her winter home in Miami, and was there when my mother was released a week after giving birth, baby in her arms and a big smile as if it had all been a piece of cake.

 Mother & Baby: Home at last. [Photo ©Leonard Warren] 

        Aunt Vera could not have children, and her adopted son had married the previous year. She was my "glam" aunt whom I called "Auntie Mame" for her glitter and wealth. But there she was, helping Mom siphon off her unuseable milk, making formula, diapering, and being present.

Aunt Vera, Monty, and Me
[Photo ©Leonard Warren]

          Until now, I've accepted my aunt's inference that Mom's post-partum depression was shameful, maybe even a sign of weak character. But as I study the photo of that very pregnant woman schlepping branches as tall as she is, helping my father after the hurricane, I realize that this is a woman who knew how to pull herself up by her bootstraps. The fact that her breakdown probably had so many factors (her own mother suffered a post-partum breakdown that she could not recover from) makes me wonder if an "advocate" such as a doula could have helped her get faster psychiatric attention and counseling.

           My mother wrote on the back of this photo (below): "Me home from hospital with Vera and Roie." Roie was my mother's friend who had the same religious background and 
a daughter my age. You can see her at the far right, almost out of the picture....

          But not quite.
 Mom (right), Vera (center), Roie (left)
[Photo ©Leonard Warren]
           Sisterhood was as powerful back then as it can be anytime. My mother called them "girlfriends." I don't know what they talked about, but I believe this photo shows how their support helped to make the foundation of their women's lives stronger and helped them to stay resilient. 

        Perhaps midwives and doulas pick up where girlfriends must leave off, as they offer to serve with expertise and genuine care that comes from the passion of doing what you love.

Mommy & Me: my favorite picture [Photo ©Leonard Warren]

Note: This story was first published on my Open Salon blog, "Swimming in the Experience Lane" on Jan. 10, 2013

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