December motto plus optional isolation

CanceroustumorsurroundingrightkidneyDr. Jeniffer Simon, a caring and experienced urologist, Geissinger Medical Center, State College PA showed me on her computer this image–a cancerous tumor surrounding my right kidney, referring me to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. “Unless you have surgery quickly, you will be dead in 10 years.” The date: April 5, 2013, 4 P.M. We hugged; I cried.

The order of this posting (typically presented in a hodgepodge of disorder):

  1. Motto
  2. Paraplegia and the recollection of previous cancers
  3. The last part of cancer therapy
  4. Optional isolation
  5. Joanna’s wedding
  6. This I believe


Make haste slowly is the motto.

Gold coin Emperor Augustus (63 BC to 14 AD) minted to display the symbol for his motto: "Make haste slowly."
Gold coin Emperor Augustus (63 BC to 14 AD) minted to display the symbol for his motto: “Make haste slowly.”

I first came across this seemingly contradictory expression when trying to learn Latin: Festina lente.

Unless one is in a situation such as mine, Make haste slowly appears to make no sense.

Speed and slow are opposites.

The last part of cancer therapy

My situation comes at the end of a difficult time.

The time began in April when I was diagnosed with kidney cancer and reached medical optimism after I left my home in State College, PA where the expertise to save my life did not exist.

This is my first "step" in getting to New York.
My first “step” in getting to New York.

I was referred to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City—a five hour car ride away. On August 8th, Dr. Paul Russo removed the cancerous tumor, saved my right kidney, and essentially prevented me from dying of kidney cancer. It was a gift of 10 years.


In The Canary Murder Case by S.S. Van Dine, Philo Vance—almost certainly the most obnoxious snob in the history of detective literature—is helping his friend the district attorney solve a difficult murder. The district attorney says, “’Well, well! So the case is settled! Now if you’ll but indicate which is the guilty one, I’ll arrest him at once, and return to my other duties.’”

“’You’re always in such haste,’ Vance lamented. “Why leap and run? The wisdom of the world’s philosophers is against it. Festina lente, says Caesar; or, as Rufus has it, Festinatio tarde est. And the Koran says quite frankly that haste is of the Devil. Shakespeare was constantly lamenting speed. ‘He tires that spurs too fast betimes.’”

Still from the 1929 film version of The Canary Murder Case
Still from the 1929 film version, The Canary Murder Case

Vance, whose name in 1927 became synonymous with private detective, goes on to quote Moliere, Chaucer and the Bible on the subject.

My energy level is sufficiently low and my acuity high enough I understand Vance’s point without citing the additional paragraph.


For the past 20 years, I have been a paraplegic unable even slowly “to leap and run.” Paradoxically, in high school I received a letter sweater for running 2 ½ miles regularly during cross-country competitions. My best record was clocked running two miles in less than 12 minutes, hardly the Olympics, but good enough for Cheltenham High School  in Wyncotte, PA.

Yes, I would like to leap and run. There are a lot of things I would like to do that I cannot.

What I want to do is live life to the full and in the process make a contribution along the path I have committed myself.

I certainly have done a lot of living in the past 20 years as a paraplegic. In one of my three trips across the United States from sea to shining sea, I took my battery-powered scooter and drove it around the rim of the Grand Canyon.

In California, I watched my elder daughter Joanna train a horse to jump a fence. As I watched, the horse did something amazing. After going over the fence for the first time, the horse did a double-take, shaking its head as if to say, “I do not believe I did that.” Joanna’s smile of accomplishment…

In Santa Cruz, one glorious day, Amelia my younger daughter and I boarded a ship and watched whales frolicking.


Isadora Duncan
Isadora Duncan

For a while, I chose the Isadora Duncan School of Dance rather than rehabilitation–both dance and physical rehabilitation have become an essential part of my doxology.

The brilliant physical therapist Alicia J. Spence at State College's Phoenix Rehab begins; it is time for me to return to her.
The brilliant physical therapist Alicia J. Spence at State College’s Phoenix Rehab begins; it is time for me to return to her.

In the Silicon Valley, I wrote a technical manual for KLA-Tancor on inspecting silicon wafers for defects. Often, I scrubbed down, putting on a white gown and hat; wheeling into the clean room where my readers would be using the documentation.

The recollection of previous cancers

After radiation treatment for cancer, I fathered my two children, published three books, and loved and was loved in return.

The experience of having cancer twice, first at age 28 then at 42—treatment which burned my spine and made me unable to walk certainly slowed me down. It did not stop me. Nor has the experience of having cancer for the third time at age 65 stopped me.


“The Roman historian Suetonius… tells that Augustus… thought nothing less becoming in a well-trained leader than haste and rashness, and, accordingly, favorite sayings of his were: ‘More haste, less speed’; ‘Better a safe commander than a bold’; and ‘That is done quickly enough which is done well enough.'”

Wikipedia continues, “Gold coins were minted for Augustus which bore the image of a crab and a butterfly, which was considered to be emblematic of the adage. Other pairings used to illustrate the adage include a hare in a snail shell; a chameleon with a fish; a diamond ring entwined with foliage; and, especially, a dolphin entwined around an anchor. Cosimo I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany had festina lente as his motto and illustrated it with a tortoise with a sail upon its back.”


Frequently, I suspect I have not learned from experience.

The same mistakes seem to repeat themselves in predictable order. This is most often the case with loss of energy. So often have I felt my body filled with power and enthusiasm that when the power disappears and getting out of bed becomes a chore, a dark cloud seems to hang over me.

The cloud is not there now.

Recovery from surgery has surprised me by its slow pace.

When I returned from New York in August, the combination of weakness and pain made me grateful to be alone.


One consequence of my receiving a cancer diagnosis in April of this year is that the telling provoked waves of  affection and attention not merely from those close to home.

A woman whom I had loved intensely in 1972 ( not seen or heard from since) read here on this site an optimistic account of my situation and responded with an e-mail followed by phone calls. We talked about the children we did not have together, the life we did not share, and the strangely odd and encouraging fact that affection untended continues despite the reality that it had its origins so long ago.

Friends appeared with whom I had lost contact for decades. My expectations of how good people could be to me were vastly exceeded by reality. I have emerged from surgery with the feeling of being cherished. Nothing I can say or do can ever repay my gratitude. You know who you are and yet you do not truly appreciate how much you have graced my heart.

Often I feel words used to describe me are wrong, just wrong. I do not think of myself as “brave” or “courageous” or a “fighter.” When I think of myself, which I do often, I try to stop—meditate and in my own fashion pray that the ego will dissolve and I will just continue, pursue the path.

Optional isolation

Late in August, back at my apartment, alone, feeling that strange happiness that comes when intense pain disappears, whoever I am is comfortable to me. By nature I am impatient. By nature, I am persistent. Then, the phrase make haste slowly serves as a comfort. I will do what I need to do when the time comes. I will be grateful for energy and understanding when I cannot do what needs to be done. If the sky falls and I do not have the strength to stop it, the sky falls. Such is life.

Joanna’s wedding

Before I scooted Joanna down the aisle, she drove me to New York for the surgery. My friend  Ben Carlsen drove from State College to New York to bring me back home.
Three months before I scooted Joanna down the aisle, she drove me to New York for the surgery. My friend Ben Carlsen drove from State College to New York to bring me back home.

Going to Joanna’s wedding in October appears now on the second day of December a miraculous event. Weeks before I boarded the plane, I did not believe the energy would return. I persisted. Giving away my elder daughter on a farm in Mebane, North Carolina produced euphoria that brought me through and carried me home on Delta Airlines.

Amelia was my caregiver at  the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge in NYC where we roomed together before, during, and after my surgery.
Amelia (right) was my caregiver at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge in NYC where we roomed together before, during, and after my surgery.

At the wedding it was a delight seeing Amelia again in North Carolina a seeming aeon away from New York , saying goodbye before she returned to Spain for her third extended trip.

I loved:

  • Watching my sister Sarah Leah Schmerler dance without inhibition after the intensity of being together at the hospital in New York


  • Revisiting my 12 year-old only nephew Asher Simonson with his unexpected moments of humor
  • Seeing his father Robert Simonson who had lugged my mobility devices around the Island of Manhattan
  • My son-in-law Jade Phillips and his firefighting colleagues who, when the festivities were over and the bonfire burned out, literally picked up my exhausted body and flung me into the passenger side of a truck


Then fatigue. Delight in being alone. Concern I would not finish the work I must finish. Optional isolation. Appearing outside my apartment only occasionally. Seeing as few people as possible. Avoiding crowds, large gatherings, and familiar places where I have been surrounded by affection.

Periodically, I receive calls, visits, e-mails and reports of those who ask with affection and concern “Where’s Joel?”


Life continues.

A dear friend becomes sick. Miles and often even a few blocks I do not have the energy to travel keep me from being where I would otherwise like to be.

I sit in my apartment and wait. A rush of energy and I find myself writing, as I am writing now, without stop, expressing while leaving dishes unwashed, my bed unmade, not yet able to complete rigorous academic writing—not quite able to pull together a large project.

Instead, I follow whim. I have been making You Tube videos—going off to a computer in the patient company of an expert in iMovie editing software, collapsing, returning, making slow steady progress as bills pile up, consistently refusing to think about the money I do not have and the energy I do not have to obtain it.

I have been reading Robert Alter’s The Book of Psalms, his introduction tracing the psalms’ origins back to the Bronze Age over 3,000 years ago, reciting his clear translation, going to the Hebrew, recalling my mother never left the house without a small Hebrew copy of Psalms in her pocketbook, dipping into David Halberstam writing about Elvis Presley, reading a paragraph here and there about architecture, engineering, virtual reality—not doing much for long, but doing and then in fatigue watching by choice vapid Netflix videos for hours.

The last part of cancer therapy

I hope to encourage others like me who are recovering to recognize our temporary limitations and persevere.

Most do not recognize the difficulties involved in recovering from cancer after the disease is gone but the energy has not returned.

[To be inserted here observations about suicide attempts by survivors. This issue I discuss in my book Learning to Live Again, My Triumph over Cancer available on this site].

While researching, I came across a footnote in a medical journal article. A young man with the most dangerous stage of Hodgkin’s disease had killed himself after being cured. The autopsy revealed no cancer was present in his body.

Surviving while still recovering can be a hard time unless one is willing to believe in the future. Henry David Thoreau should be an encouragement to those us living in situations such as the one I am now in. Thoreau wrote, “There is one consolation in being sick; and that is the possibility that you may recover to a better state than you were ever in before.”

My life seems to have been lived on the principle that best way to get from here to there is NOT to go in a straight line.

I have been watching You Tubes of Edward R. Murrow, my hero. This one caught my fancy yesterday at 2 in the morning.

This I believe

I believe:

  1. I am alive for a purpose.
  2. The attempt to achieve the purpose, which I choose to call my path in homage to Laozi, serves not only its own end but to unite all that is sacred to me; namely, my children (of course) who are adults and have lives of their own; my sister Sarah and my family, my friends who are family; my love for women (a woman were the right woman in my bed); the need to care for myself, be independent in body and mind, be a good citizen who embraces not only my country but my mother Earth, and the need to be the human being I strive to be who believes in the spirit that gives us life.
Clearly a fictitious image of Laozi. No one knows what he looked like. The story is Laozi appeared at a border crossing. The guard asked him to write a book of wisdom. Laozi wrote The Way, gave it to the guard who allowed him to cross. Laozi disappeared. This story and The Way are the only evidence of his existence.
Clearly a fictitious image of Laozi. No one knows what he looked like. The story is Laozi appeared at a border crossing. The guard asked him to write a book of wisdom. Laozi wrote The Way (The Path), gave it to the guard who allowed him to cross. Laozi disappeared. This story and The Way are the only evidence of his existence.

3. My chosen path is to help the elderly and disabled achieve their potential.

4. Along that path is the virtue of technology which makes it possible for me to go seamlessly from my bed to my kitchen out the door and into the world on scooters like the kind that my dear friend Al Thieme of Amigo Mobility invented which he refers to as Power Operated Vehicle scooters or POV scooters to distinguish them from toys. The technology mobility path includes power chairs and equipment being developed at an astonishingly rapid pace. The consequence of this technology is I do not think of myself as one whose disability prevents me from living life to the full. For individuals with hearing and visual disabilities technology has developed to the point where, for example, an individual blind from birth can drive an automobile specially equipped with laser scanning of the road;  the automobile provides the driver computer-voice simulated operated instructions.

Thank you Wired Magazine:
Thank you Wired Magazine

Totally blind drivers have passed tests on intentionally difficult driving courses. I believe in my lifetime the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will issue drivers licenses to individuals who are totally blind but who have proven their ability to drive sophisticated vehicles such as the ones already produced by the Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory.

Amigo manufactures this narrow travel scooter shown here in a tight space in a tiny motel room as I traveled nearly 1,000 miles to my daughter Amelia's college graduation.
Amigo Mobility manufactures this narrow travel scooter shown here in a tight space in a tiny motel room as I traveled nearly 1,000 miles to my daughter Amelia’s college graduation.

5. My path is focused on what the architectural, engineering, and construction community refer to as the built environment. See, for example, my biographical information and published work for e-architect:

6. To rebuild the environment, the promise of virtual reality is real. Virtual reality is a promise my 30 year-old mentor Sonali Kumar introduced to me as I worked with her as a research assistant at Penn State’s Architectural Engineering Department to complete her doctoral dissertation entitled: Experience-based design review of healthcare facilities using interactive virtual prototypes. 


Sonali apologized when she used me as the model for this avatar. “I am sorry I put so much gray in your hair. You do have a lot of gray in your hair.”

Fashion aside, one of my contributions to Sonali’s animated three-dimensional model of an independent-living-aging-in-place home was the suggestion she replace the original bathtub with a roll in shower. As a paraplegic for whom being clean is vital, I have all too often been trapped in a bathtub–on one occasion it took me 45 minutes to figure out how to get out of the tub finally using my arms to push me out, pulling my legs after me as I landed onto a dirty bathroom floor.

7. Experienced-based design is essential. Experienced-based design is one of a number of academic terms meaning the best way to design an environment is to ask the person who will use it. The example that comes most readily to mind is an article I read about a new hospital in the Philadelphia area. The article complemented the hospital administration for asking patients at the previous facility what changes they would suggest making to the design of the new building to make the hospital more patient-friendly. The patients suggested making it easier to get from bed to bathroom by making the bathroom closer to the bed. The article praised the administration for the reduction in falls as a consequence. [I know. My instant reaction to that was Daaaaaaaaaaaahh.] Asking does matter. Ask experts like me, for example, or my neighbors at Addison Court (an independent living apartment building for the elderly and disabled) whom I arranged to view Sonali’s model wearing 3-D glasses at Dr. John Messner’s Immersive Construction Lab for Construction industry. The consequence is we have the experience to instruct the design of the environment around us so that it is more efficient. The result is not merely an exercise in odd-sounding academic words such as case studies, scenarios, and activities of daily living (ADL); it is also a good idea.


8. Self reliance should be encouraged. Shown here

[Note: Think of I believe in points 8, 9, and beyond as Coming Attractions.]

9. Knowing when to ask for help.

Color coded socks at Mount Nittany Medical Center, State College, PA. These socks indicate patient is at risk of falling.
Color coded socks at Mount Nittany Medical Center, State College, PA. These socks indicate patient is at risk of falling.

To be continued.

Meanwhile, here is Edward R. Murrow  interviewing then former President of the United States Harry S Truman on what Truman believes.

President Truman is followed by a bad video of an Alan Jackson song. I like the theme. I like the song.

–Joel Solkoff

Copyright 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.


Joanna paid homage to her grandmother on her wedding day

When Joanna and Jade married, Joanna inserted into the service a remembrance of my mother, her beloved grandmother, Dr. Miriam P. Schmerler who died Monday, September 6, 2010.

My mother when she was 20.
My mother when she was 20.

The ceremony was performed by Jackie Trotter Dove and Sarah Stein. After I gave Joanna away, I sat next to her mother Diana as we had rehearsed the night before. Dianaandme


When Diana cried during the service, I handed her my handkerchief. She said, “I knew you would have one. Thank you.” Sarah Stein announced that in remembrance of Joanna’s grandmother–whom she called Nana–she would recite Aaron’s prayer in Hebrew. This is the translation [Numbers 6-24-26]:

May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make Her face shed light upon you and be gracious to you.

[The following is where my emotions went out of control] יִשָּׂא יהוה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

May the Lord turn Her face toward you

and give you peace.

Since I was five, I remember hearing the prayer in Hebrew and responding in Hebrew, “May this be God’s will.” [My sister later told me she repeated the response.]

After saying, “Kane yehey ratzon,” I wept.

I discovered Diana had returned my handkerchief placing it in my lap.


By happenstance, while looking for something else in my computer files, I discovered the following biographical sketch which I wrote the day after Mother died. I was unsatisfied with the eulogy I wrote the day before and wanted to say more.

I think of my mother as an heroic figure whose strength I will continue to make periodic attempts to describe.


Notes in remembrance of my mother

In the golden heyday of silence, they were more than mere stars. They were gods and idols, and the fabulous picture palaces of the era were cathedrals where the adoring multitudes worshiped. –from Movies of the Silent Years edited by Ann Lloyd

My mother got a raw deal when she was born on January 17, 1925 to a frightened teenage girl feeling pangs of guilt over her impulsivity. It all began two years earlier when a nearly 16 year-old Celia Schneider, my grandmother, went to the movies and fell in love (grandmother’s description was more licentious than mine) with a musician in the orchestra.

There was a uniform-wearing orchestra because those were the days of silent films and live music was routine. My grandfather, as he was to become, was Salvatore Pellecia who was born in the south of Italy and who played the clarinet and later the saxophone, then regarded as a risqué instrument. “It was the uniform I fell in love with,” my grandmother later explained.

Several times Celia and Salvatore ran off and got married. Several times my Jewish grandfather, known to me only by his Yiddish designation Zeda, tracked down Salvatore and put him in jail for running off with an underage woman. Finally, Zeda gave up trying to control his daughter whose persistence resulted in an unchallenged marriage ceremony in Elkton, Maryland. Celia’s Jewish family mourned her as if she were dead as was customary in the Jewish community at the time when a Jew married a non-Jew.

My mother was born in Lexington, Kentucky where Salvatore had a gig. The labor was long and difficult. The physician used forceps to pull the baby out from my grandmother’s womb, and the physician held the instrument too tightly causing the infant to bleed profusely. Celia took the bleeding of her baby to be a sign of her guilt, and she had to force herself to hold her child whose wound did not heal quickly. [Years later, when my mother was a stunningly beautiful woman, she talked with some frequency about going to a plastic surgeon and having the then nearly unnoticeable scar removed.]

When Mother was two and a half, the talking motion picture The Jazz Singer premiered. Talkies destroyed Salvatore’s career in a country-wide layoff of silent movie orchestra musicians. Salvatore could not find work and the young family moved in with Salvatore’s parents. Mother’s first language was Italian. Later, when she could bring herself to speak of that period, Mother would say, “If I were ever hypnotized, I probably would remember the Italian I have forgotten.”

Salvatore was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, a dramatically paralyzing illness to which Mother attributed multiple explanations for frightening behavior which caused Celia reluctantly to return to her Jewish relatives. My grandmother did not like having to say she was sorry. The Depression and the poverty it brought combined with an incident where Salvatore, unable to find work for himself, insisted he would not allow his wife to work. Celia had obtained a hard-to-find job in a candy factory.

Salvatore reportedly said that if Celia went to work, Salvatore would hurt my mother. That, my mother explained, was the catalyst for Celia’s penitent return to the Bronx where Celia’s father and mother lived and where a place was found for Celia and Muriel in the home of Celia’s sister Tanta Masha and my great great Uncle Sol, who worked in a delicatessen. Muriel was my mother’s first name as recorded on the birth certificate.

When pregnant, Celia had read a novel in which Muriel was the blind heroine. Upon returning to her Jewish family, Mother changed her first name to Miriam. In Biblical times, Miriam had been the sister of Moses; she sang a beautiful song, recorded in Exodus, after learning the Egyptian army had drown and died. According to Jewish law, Mother was Jewish because her mother was Jewish.

Her new family did not always recognize this reality. Celia’s older brother Abe, an accountant, found his sister a job in a garment factory sewing bras and girdles. (“I did uplifting work,” she later said describing the same job she held for more than three decades.) However, while Abe found his sister work, he did not talk to her for ten years as punishment for having married a non-Jew.

At Tanta Masha’s dinner table, Celia sat in perpetual penance while Tanta Masha’s two sons taunted Mother saying, You are a shiksashiksa being a disparaging Yiddish word for someone who is not Jewish. Twenty years later, Mother began a novel with the words, “You are a shiksa. You are a shiksa,” leaving the rest of the sentence and the novel uncompleted. I found her weeping in the other room after reading what she had typed. Did you read what I wrote? she asked. No, I lied.

This story does not end with my mother’s emergence with a Jewish first name and a determination to prove (as she subsequently did prove)  she could be more Jewish than anyone. This story does not end without the clear understanding, which I have yet to provide, of what Mother achieved with the life she was given, the obstacles she overcame, and the ability (yet to be discussed) she had to position herself at the forefront of society’s trends.

“I was a pioneer,” my mother said repeatedly to describe a litany of accomplishments that began with her early understanding that she must change her personality to reflect a love of self that had eluded her through childhood and adolescence. “I went to therapy before anyone around me had ever heard of therapy.” In later years she said her work in analysis served not only to help her, but to be a model for her children. “I wanted my children to know they should not be afraid to ask for help if they need it.”

It is now Tuesday, September 7th. The 2 p.m. funeral at the cemetery at Mother’s synagogue is ended. The mourners take turns with the shovel to cover her casket with dirt.

“Psychologically, the heart-rending thud of earth on the casket is enormously beneficial,” writes Maurice Lamm in The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning. “In proclaiming finality, it helps the mourner overcome the illusion that his relative still lives; it answers his disbelief that death has indeed claimed its victim; it quiets his lingering doubts that this may be only a bad dream. The earth-filling process dispels such illusions and starts the mourner on the way to recovery and reconciliation. To attempt to spare him this unpleasantness merely retards the psychological healing process.”

The scene shifts from Greensboro, NC where Rabbi Eliezer Havivi delivered the eulogy and my sister Sarah, my daughter Joanna, and my former wife Diana go across the street for lunch at the Olive Garden after eating the ritually required hard-boiled eggs Sarah has been carrying in her purse. Meanwhile, using Skype, I read the 23rd Psalm to daughter Amelia in Spain. “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want….”

At 6:30, Rabbi David Ostrich parks at Addison Court at State College where more than 10 of my friends have assembled in the social hall—enough to form the Jewish equivalent of a quorum so we can read the Mourner’s Prayer, written not in Hebrew, as you might think by looking at the letters, but in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. “Magnified and sanctified be the name of God,” Rabbis Sidney Greenberg and Jonathan D. Levine translate, “in the world created according to the Divine will.”


For a variety of technical reasons, the official mourning period known as shiva ended prematurely on Wednesday night. (“You and I still have mourning obligations for a year,” my sister noted helpfully.) Even though shiva ends, Rabbi Ostrich said, “That does not mean that you cannot feel sad.”

My mouth is dry. The tears are replaced by a feeling similar to anemia with its sense of unlimited fatigue. Sometime soon, I will reenter the world where there are bills to pay and the politics of Medicare to discuss.

I am especially angry at President Obama’s evil plan to establish competitive bidding for durable medical equipment such as oxygen and battery-powered wheel chairs. Thanks to the President, for whom I voted, poor disabled individuals will have to wait for low-cost providers to bring them air to breath; I will have to wait for batteries so my power chair can continue to take me from my bed to the bathroom.

I am not ready to return to the world. The sense of outrage at the injustices of reality continues to be subsumed by the sense, as Dylan Thomas wrote, that “death shall have no dominion.”

My hope for the future is to resume (when life’s obligations let me) to Mother’s story as a way of understanding my own.

–Joel Solkoff

Copyright 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

Today I am 66 years old


I am 66 years old today.

I was listening to a George Strait song at midnight Troubadour.

Troubadour is a song in which an older and wiser George Strait sings:

“I still feel 25 most of the time./ I still raise a little cain with the boys./ Honky Tonks and pretty women, But Lord I’m still right there with ’em / Singing above the crowd and the noise…”


Many friends do not understand that my musical passions consist both of Mozart and country music.

As if Glenn Gould playing Mozart piano sonatas and George Strait singing Troubadour does not present enough cause to question my focus…As if…


Speaking of loss of focus: I am translating Psalm 2 from the Hebrew. “Why do the nations gather?” the apocryphal David begins.

Why indeed? This is not a happy poem despite the fact that the Hebrew sounds are so beautiful.


A week ago today, I gave away my elder daughter Joanna Marie Solkoff to marry Jade Kosmos Phillips. Above is a photo of me giving her away—a photo that looks as though she is giving me away.

Joanna and Jade are on a two-week honeymoon to South Africa.

My younger daughter Amelia, maid of honor, is now back in rural Spain—having called me on Wednesday from the Chicago airport before boarding a non-stop to Madrid.


It is odd in a way I cannot explain having grown children.

Now I am back from Mebane, North Carolina, named for an American Revolution General whom I expect helped General Green become defeated at Greensboro and hence, defeated, have the city in which he lost named after him.


This photograph from right to left shows my sister Sarah Schmerler, her son Asher Simonson, and her husband and Asher’s father Robert Simonson.

In the background and foreground is a display of the sense of elegance the wedding brought in North Carolina’s Alamance County a 45 minute ride from the Raleigh/Durham airport.


The air trip of nearly 1,000 miles from small State College Airport to Delta’s hub at Detroit, to Raleigh/Durham was difficult.

I do not want to dwell on the difficulties involved in a paraplegic traveling by air from the small regional airport University Park Airport.

The reality is that through the diligent efforts of the splendid personnel at the airport under the effective leadership of James Meyer the airport made it possible for me to attend my daughter Joanna’s wedding and give her away.

I recognize the planes must be small, that the aisle chair is a necessity, and that I cannot bring with me heavy durable medical equipment, but the Amigo Travel Scooter is light enough to fly with me.

The security issues require people with disabilities such as I to present ourselves an hour earlier than everyone else because the security for disabled people in wheelchairs is significantly tighter than for able individuals.

Sadly, security issues are a federal matter. Indeed, Rep. Issa is currently looking into this.


There are many ways in which all of us can help improve University Park Airport. The term “improvement” is not meant to criticize.

James Meyer and his excellent staff are running a very user-friendly airport.

The individuals who work for the airlines went out of their way for me. I flew Delta and I could not be happier about the quality of service to me as someone who is wheel chair bound.

Our airport is excellent. We need to spend more time at the airport and learn to understand it and appreciate it. Without our airport we could not obtain many of the items State College residents so clearly want and go to restaurants etc. to obtain. There is even an Irving’s at the airport.


I am currently way behind in my work producing two academic papers. Academic writing is difficult to sustain for long periods of time and so I digress by….

Fortunately, tomorrow, Sunday Sonali and I will talk about the Bowers Project Paper and soon we will deliver it. Praise, the Lord.


My health is of less and less of concern. I am appreciative of the fact that I survived the jaws of death. There are times I think twice about my ability to recover from major surgery. I go through periods of considerable pain. Dr. Russo’s nurse and my physician both agree I am doing fine and instruct me to have patience that the recovery will arrive, but slowly.


–Joel Solkoff, State College, PA, USA

Copyright 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.



I still feel 25 most of the time.
I still raise a little cain with the boys.
Honky Tonks and pretty women,
But Lord I’m still right there with ’em
Singing above the crowd and the noise…

Sometimes I feel like Jesse James
Still tryin’ to make a name.
Knowing nothing’s gonna change what I am.
I was a young troubador
When I wrote in on a song.
And I’ll be an old troubador when I’m gone…

Well the truth about a mirror…
Is that a damn old mirror…
Don’t really tell the whole truth.
It don’t show what’s deep inside.
Or read between the lines.
And it’s really no reflextion of my youth…

Sometimes I feel like Jesse James
Still tryin’ to make a name.
Knowing nothing’s gonna change what I am.
I was a young troubador
When I wrote in on a song.
I’ll be an old troubador when I’m gone…

I was a young troubador
When I wrote in on a song.
And I’ll be an old troubador when I’m gone…
I’ll be an old troubador when I’m gone…


My motto for October 2013

“Tension gets in the way of mastery.”

Paul Katz, cellist



Wedding Toast

Horses on the horse farm Joanna and Jade will marry later this afternoon. Joanna taught horses to jump in nearby Chatham County.

Remarks prepared for delivery later today:

Good afternoon celebrants.

Before presenting a toast to Joanna, my daughter, and Jade, my freshly minted son-in-law, I will first provide context for the toast—context for the joy I feel as father of the bride; joy all of us feel for witnessing this overt commitment to love.

Kierkegaard was wrong. It is not God who requires a leap of faith. It is Love.


Anyone observing Joanna’s behavior in the past few weeks culminating in the vow Until death do us part has been astonished.

Here was my aggressive, self-possessed daughter who expresses admiration for Napoleon’s ruthless acquisition of power….

Anyway, here she was, buckling at the knees full of fear and trembling, forgetting to breathe while her mother and I separately and continually urged she take deep breaths.

Jade by comparison, whose training as a Marine had prepared him well for any kind of disaster (albeit not the threat of happiness), projected a calm exterior any perceptive poker player would have spotted as phony by the tell of his eyes frequenting rolling out of control in surprise at the fate he had brought upon himself.


My role in these proceedings has been two-fold. The first is as an atavistic participant in a chauvinistic ritual where I have just given away (as it is called) the bride. Giving away the bride is a concept that has boggled my mind.

Equally boggling was Jade calling me over a year ago from Hawaii asking Joanna’s “hand in marriage”—a hand I also did not own. Back then, in keeping with my Confucian notions of gentlemanly behavior, I blessed him. Then, I suggested he ask the person whose views on the subject actually matter.


Today’s Japanese Noh-play-like performance is in sharp contrast to reality.

Ever since I literally cut the umbilical cord at Joanna’s birth, I knew that Joanna was on loan for the precious time allotted—never one I owned or was entitled to give away.

Fortunately, Joanna’s mother graciously provided assistance by writing the response to the ceremonial question: Who gives this bride away?

The answer: “Joanna’s mother and I do.”


Having read Diana’s comments on the official wedding blog, I know that her responses to this occasion are similar to mine.

We are each delighted Joanna and Jade are marrying and wish them well.

Joanna is impulsive, brilliant, and ambitious.

Jade is steady, reassuring, and talented in ways he does not yet understand. He is Joanna’s anchor windward. She is his delight.

Their marriage today has auspicious signs and portents.


My second role in these proceedings is to actually be alive and present.

In April, a physician showed me on a laptop a video of my right kidney surrounded by a cancerous tumor.

She said if I wanted to live an additional 10 years, the expertise to save me did not exist in my hometown.

She referred me to Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

In August, I had major surgery which removed the cancer and saved my kidney. My instant reaction to the cancer diagnoses was to embrace the physician and while crying, say, “I want to be there for Joanna’s wedding.”

Being here today is not enough. Not for me and not for those of us here who know and love Joanna and Jade. We want to be here to see what happens next. Of course, I also am eager to see what happens next for my younger daughter Amelia, whom I also love dearly and who leaves for another year in Spain on Wednesday.


Now the toast. This afternoon we see the application of the Pueblo Indian expression:

We shall be one person.”

The key to your happiness is understanding.

The significance of your marriage is today we have all become one family.

No one can succeed alone; no marriage survives without help and assistance.

May you have the wisdom to continually refresh your happiness by relying on us when you need us and when you do not need us.

I toast you Joanna and Jade with these words: We are all in this together.

–Joel Solkoff, father of the bride


Copyright 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

Peacocks at Joanna’s Wedding


Mebane, North Carolina, Friday October 4, 2013, 4:45 AM, the day of Joanna’s rehearsal dinner at Merry Hill Farm where the wedding will take place with peacocks and the rest of us in attendance.

The wedding invitation says that Merry Hill Farm is located in Mebane, NC, which strictly speaking is not true. Yes, it is in Alamance County.

Merry Hill Farm is located outside city of Mebane ( its “historic downtown” has 11,000 inhabitants—a really neat place just next to the railroad tracks where its 19th Century prosperity began and where….[Not all my adventures since I arrived are relevant, fascinated though they are.]


Under the terms of an agreement reached on Tuesday with Joanna, I am permitted one toast at the wedding during the period after I give away the bride, the vows are exchanged; then we eat.

[I have to double-check the memo attached to the wedding instructions, Diana, mother of the bride, sent out in the first of two detailed emails.]

Including the toast, my remarks are not permitted to exceed five minutes. The toast, of course, is to Joanna and Jade’s happiness.

The theme of my remarks is: “We shall be one person.”

There is a Pueblo Indian saying accompanying the section on marriage in The Family of Man, Edward Steichen’s landmark photography exhibit in the 1950’s at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The book version contains a prologue by Carl Sandburg.

The Family of Man is the most influential book in my life. My father’s friend from Cornell Hyman Yudewitz gave me a copy when I was 12. The photographs have been incorporated into my consciousness consistently ever since.

Here is a photograph from the section on Love which precedes marriage (at least in the book).

England, Ralph Morse, Life, Copyright 1955 Museum of Modern Art, New York
England, Ralph Morse, Life, Copyright 1955 Museum of Modern Art, New York


In return for reducing my number of toasts from three to one and the length of my remarks from 7 minutes to “no more than five minutes,”  Joanna rules, “You can give as many toasts as you like at the Rehearsal Dinner.”


I have not yet decided whether unlimited toasts mean I can toast Good Will Industries of Greater Mebane, a short power chair ride away from the Headquarters Hotel, where I purchased for $1.75 the t-shirt:



Here is a photograph of Jade.

Jade, cool as a cucumber. I took this photo two days ago when he and Joanna picked me up at the Raleigh Durham (RDE) airport and drove me 45 minutes to my Mebane motel room.
Jade, cool as a cucumber. I took this photo two days ago after he and Joanna picked me up at the  Raleigh Durham (RDU) airport and drove me 45 minutes to my Mebane motel room. 
Sitting across from Jade is my magazine model daughter Joanna, uncharacteristically freaking out with pre-bridal jitters. Until death do us part. Until death do us part..
Sitting across from Jade is my magazine model daughter Joanna uncharacteristically freaking out with pre-bridal jitters. Until death do us part. Until death do us part.


On another occasion, I will describe my flight from State College, PA to Detroit [Detroit!] to RDU. This is the view from my seat at State College watching my fellow passengers board on the ramp on which I had just been wheeled to my seat.



Here is a photograph of the sun rising today at 7:38 taken from my motel room.


It is now time for me to participate rather than observe.


In closing:

As is the case with all motel rooms costing $85 or more, USA Today is provided to all inmates.

Today’s paper features on page one a profile of Miley Cyrus with the headline: “Miley’s showbiz plan–twerk it.” The subhead reads, “Crass or calculated, she has us all looking, listening and reading.”

I sampled the Twerk videos which are inappropriate here. I conclude with Miley Cyrus discussing her wedding plans with Ellen DeGeneres.


–Joel Solkoff


Copyright 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

“Carolina in my mind” plus Mebane: Wedding site

Of course, it is impossible to think of North Carolina without hearing James Taylor singing: “Carolina in my mind.”


When I lived in New York City, the song lyric reverberating through the skyscrapers was, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”


North Carolina, as you can see from the photography on the You Tube video (linger at the end and watch the ocean)  is not New York, the City where I was born and graduated from college.


Many bumper stickers ago, I remember one that read pithier, but in essence:

“God created North Carolina first. That is why the sky is Carolina blue.


Our family moved to North Carolina in 1990 in time to celebrate Thanksgiving in corporate-paid luxury temporary housing while Northern Telecom waited to see whether it had to abide by its agreement to purchase our historic landmark house on Capitol Hill if Diana and I were unable to sell it.

Joanna and I would drive down the road to Chatham County–where I lingered in the country store (and gas station) counting the number of chewing tobacco brands on sale.

Not far from our home, knowledgeable equestrians had relocated from New Jersey and built lavish horse farms full of exquisite horses–horses Joanna came to love and ride, train to jump, and teach others how to ride.


Amelia was an infant when we visited and moved to Durham. Amelia had been born two months prematurely. On our first visit, Amelia was still attached to a heart monitor. In the premie ward, she had simply decided to stop breathing.

We had stopped for the night in Durham as a result of a last-minute telephone call to my friend Patric Mullen (formerly a DC lobbyist for the National Sharecroppers Fund). We had been en route to elsewhere.

Patric and Trina’s next door neighbor Kathleen Atwater came over to the Mullens’ kitchen to meet us and drink wine. She was a manager of documentation at Northern Telecom, a company that controlled nearly half the telephone switches in the U.S. and was making fistfuls of money selling telephone companies software to download in their switches. [The company is now bankrupt as a consequence of stupidity and greed at its Canadian corporate headquarters.]

Kathleen promptly hired me on the spot on first meeting to work for her as a senior technical writer. I had never even been a junior technical writer.

I was then working for the U.S. Postal Service. I had been hired by the previous postmaster general who loved my work, saved the organization from imminent destruction, and left to help his brother run CBS while I had remained behind to do public relations work. [I had become obsessed with bar code technology which, to the surprise of many, was a technology where the postal service led the world.]

None the less, I was indeed going postal.

Diana’s job had lost its luster.

Each of us had lived in D.C. for 17 years.

After my second cancer and Amelia’s birth, we were desperate to leave the nation’s capital, ticking off on our fingers the problems we had to solve, which included the decline of public education in DC– total destruction would be more accurate.

Diana and I had each attended private schools.

We were committed to educating our children in public schools. After three years in DC schools, it was clear that Joanna was not learning what children must learn to get ahead. The public college in D.C. was and still is dreadful.

We arrived in North Carolina just before the school system in Durham ran into decline. Nevertheless, through constant vigilance–primarily exemplary work on Diana’s part– both Joanna and Amelia received a decent education. It helped that school board members  , for example breakfasted at our home,

Joanna and Amelia were able to graduate with honors from the splendid University of North Carolina system the astonishingly brilliant visionary former-governor and candidate for President of the U.S. Terry Sanford had created as a true center of excellence for the people.

Simultaneously, Sanford was instrumental in  creating the Research Triangle Park (RTP) concept–an astonishingly effective alternative (at least for a while) to the Silicon Valley and Boston’s high-tech corridor. I worked as a technical writer at RTP for over four years.


As I write, I can hear Joanna wondering:

When will Dad stop writing about North Carolina and  makes sure he packs his bag to get down here?

When, indeed?

Time to get my bag out of the closet.


–Joel Solkoff

Copyright 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.


Posted below is a section from the Wikipedia entry for Mebane North Carolina where Joanna will marry Jade in five days. Afterward, you may want to read the entire entry.,_North_Carolina

“Mebane /ˈmɛbən/ is a city located mostly in Alamance County, North Carolina, United States, with a part of it in Orange County,North Carolina. It is part of the Burlington and Chapel Hill North Carolina Metropolitan Statistical Area. The town was named for General Alexander Mebane, Jr., a Revolutionary War general and member of the U.S. Congress. It was incorporated as Mebanesville in 1881 and in 1883 the name was changed to Mebane. In 1987, the official name became the City of Mebane. The population as of the 2010 census was 11,393.”








What I am wearing when I give away Joanna on October 5th

State College, PA, Sunday, September 29, 2013, 4:11 p.m. 

I have just returned from Harper’s Fine Clothing and Sportswear for men in downtown State College. Johnathan Preston, one of the store’s savvy salesmen, took the following photograph of me before I left the store:


In this posting, I begin to describe what I plan to wear when I give Joanna away on Saturday.


My sartorial choices follow a dress for success perspective that dominated the thinking of Washington, D. C. power brokers during the 1970’s and 1980’s when I lived on Capitol Hill and worked as a speechwriter (and did other kinds of writing) .

I also provided advice on what to wear when going on television including make up suggestions. While ABC’s Good Morning America has a make up artist, television stations in Atlanta, Miami, and Boston did not.

Even though I was in my 30’s when I began appearing on my television to “flog my book” (as one of my colleagues put it), self-application of makeup was helpful, I learned how to apply cosmetics from the late lamented Garfinckle’s Department Store.


Let me provide a Joanna-related perspective regarding my sartorial behavior.

Diana first experienced labor pains while she was involved in trade negotiations at a conference room at the State Department late in the afternoon. The following morning Joanna was born ON HER DUE DATE in 1984. Diana speculated the labor pains were induced by the Indonesian trade officials with whom she was negotiating on behalf of the U.S. Commerce Department, where her title was International Economist.

It was not the officials themselves who were to blame but the distinctly clove-scented cigarettes they smoked at a time when smoking in government office buildings was commonplace. Diana called from a land line–cells were a distant dream.

I picked Diana up from the State Department, made her comfortable at home, received the go-ahead from our obstetrician to bring her to the hospital, showered, shaved, put on a Brooks Brothers navy blue two-piece suit, a starched blue shirt, and black penny loafers.

That is the outfit I wore under my hospital gown when Joanna was born. Her birth was immediately followed by my cutting the umbilical cord–all by myself with enthusiastic rooting by the obstetrician and the nurses.


I will not comment here on what is clearly an atavistic and anti-feminist concept; viz. giving away the bride.

Joanna especially was never mine to give.

Jade, fine fellow that he is, will not treat her as chattel as the concept implies.

That said, I am delighted to participate in a meaningless ritual everyone involved regards as meaningless since it involves putting on a Brooks Brothers suit.

What Brooks Brothers suit?

All my Brooks suits have moth holes in the pants.


This may surprise you, but there are not a lot of dress for success adherents in State College or at Penn State’s Architectural Engineering Department where I work.

Fortuitously, my dear friend Kathy Forer helped me out. Kathy’s late father David Forer, a deft and witty cartoonist and illustrator,  had superb taste in clothing. The suit shown in the photograph above and which I am currently wearing was made in Brooks’ custom shop from material David chose himself.

It is the most beautiful, best-tailored suit I have ever worn. According to Keith Houseknecht at Harper’s, the color is medium gray with thin ivory pinstripes.


One feature I regret never having been able to incorporate into my wardrobe involves suspenders–more accurately described by the British term braces.


I just took this photograph to show you one of the suit’s many suspender buttons sewn into the inside of the pants. A friend who grew up wearing Brooks clothing said the truly affected have the tailor remove the belt loops on the outside waistband so one can not wear a belt.

David Forer was not an affected dresser.

I have bad tendencies in that regard.

I have to honor the man who designed his own suit with such good taste.


More sartorial details to come here at

Joel Solkoff

Copyright 2013 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.


My thanks to Harper’s  At Harper’s, my thanks to Anna, who did an excellent job of tailoring. My thanks also to Keith, Jonathan, and Judd Williams for their impressive knowledge of the nuances of dress for success clothing, nuances little followed today but which helped pay the mortgage when Joanna was growing up.