HuffPo: Neurosurgeons Batting for Brain Tumor Research.
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HuffPo: Neurosurgeons Batting for Brain Tumor Research.


They’re an intense bunch, these gray matter operators. Also well-intentioned. Check out my article on the Huffington Post about the Neurosurgery Charity Softball Tournament.


Last Saturday morning in Central Park, I came across a uniformed male softball team, practicing intently before a game. A grim-faced player jogged out to shag a ball.

“Excuse me,” I called, “you wouldn’t all happen to be neurosurgeons, would you?”

“Yes, we are,” the player said. His eyebrows remained firmly knit and he didn’t crack a smile — the impending game was two minutes away — but he did kindly direct us to the field where I would find my friend Dr. Joshua Bederson, who heads up the Mt. Sinai neurosurgery department. My 7 year-old daughter and I giggled at the player’s gravity as we scampered across the lawn.

En route, we encountered some blue-uniformed Mt. Sinai players. “We’re playing over there,” pointed number 7, Dr. Andy Hecht.

“What chance do you have of winning?” I asked.

“Zero point zero,” said Dr. Hecht, grimacing.

“Good odds,” I commented.

Dr. Bederson, the neurosurgeon who recently saved a New York City cop stabbed in the head, had told me about this charity softball tournament over Szechuan fare the previous night. Dinner conversation morphed into a debate about whether or not the sublime fine motor skill coordination possessed by trained neurosurgeons would translate to the gross motor skills needed to hit and catch a ball.

In fact, neurosurgeons from around the country were in New York City for the tournament. Twenty eight teams of neurosurgeons had come to raise money for pediatric brain tumor research. Pediatric tumors have surpassed leukemia as the leading cause of cancer death in children; the Neurosurgery Research and Education Foundation is committed to advancing understanding and treatment of childhood tumors through scientific investigation.

Let me tell you, when neurosurgeons commit to something, they mean business.

Mt. Sinai first played against the Columbia University neurosurgery department. “You’re keeping it in the city,” I commented.

“Columbia has been known to cheat,” teased another doctor, with a wink at the end that belied his words, and left Columbia’s sterling reputation unbesmirched.

“We usually win,” proclaimed Columbia pitcher Dr. “Goody.”

Columbia players had names emblazoned on the backs of their jerseys: “Han Solo,” “Angry Passion,” and “Deuce” among them.

My daughter asked why the Mt. Sinai players didn’t wear names. “It’s not what’s on the back that matters, it’s what’s on the front!” exclaimed young Dr. Ted Panov. “We’re Team Sinai!” Another doctor pointed out that the Yankees don’t wear their names. This befits the founding of the tournament, by a Columbia resident who went to George Steinbrenner in 2004 with an idea for an event, laden with camaraderie and fun, that would make a difference.

“Why do you drink all this Gatorade?” my daughter persisted.

“We want to feel like we’re actual athletes,” answered Dr. Panov.

I couldn’t help but notice that there were only men on Team Sinai, which surprised me. Bederson’s wife is a famed neurosurgeon in her own right–and a skier who competed at the national level.

“There used to be more women,” Bederson admitted. “It’s just become so competitive.” Indeed, watching as teams washed around the fields, I couldn’t avoid the testosterone-laden alpha-male fumes which ebbed and flowed like an insistent current. Nor have I ever witnessed a sports team playing with more extreme focus. These are men who don’t joke around when it comes to competition: they like to win.

Good thing, because they compete with death on a daily basis.

“Phoenix usually wins, they’re a very athletic department,” Bederson told me, scowling while also smiling at the Chiefy’s who waited to play the winners of the Sinai-Columbia contest. Games are four innings long and each batter starts with one ball and one strike, so the round robin turns over quickly. Bederson kept his eye on the Chiefy’s, the team from The Barrow Neurological Institute. “They’ve won the last two tournaments.”

The Chiefy’s did look professional, in their spiffy red uniforms. They’d brought dolled-up maidens to cheer them on to victory. I haven’t seen skirts so short and stacked sandals so high since an episode of Jersey Shore. The attention to detail was admirable.

I trotted over to get a quote from a Chiefy, any Chiefy. They were a tall, toned bunch. Uber alpha-males? “We’re looking to complete our three-peat,” stated Dr. Fusco, a neurosurgery resident at Barrow.

Team Sinai did themselves proud during the Columbia game, though a slide into second base by Dr. Gologorsky raised the question: was that a Shabbos-approved move? It was not resolved. But in the top of the third inning, score 0-0, Sinai was up and bases were loaded. Sinai batted in two runs. The good Dr. Bederson himself batted in another run.

Columbia joked about stage one versus stage two, a dark inside joke for neurosurgeons, though it seemed to alleviate the sting of 4-0, Team Sinai.

“Sinai dominates Columbia,” yelled Dr. Hecht. “That should be the headline of The Huffington Post tomorrow!”

Alas, gallant Team Sinai could not prevail over the illustrious Chiefy’s, who took the second game 2-0. Then Ohio State clobbered them 15-1.

But Team Sinai, along with all the other teams, was still heroic. These guys have lives full to overflowing, work days that last sixteen + hours, barely enough time for their families. Yet they’re out on a baseball diamond to help kids. It shines as an example of both generosity and professional commitment.

For more information, see


My recent post on HuffPo: What I’m learning about life from writing novels…
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My recent post on HuffPo: What I’m learning about life from writing novels…

Writing novels is at the very core of my life. It follows that I take my craft as a novelist seriously. It’s about continual improvement, about personal best. I feel fortunate that I’ve chosen a profession–an obsession, really–that offers me an opportunity to grow throughout my life, even unto the day they pry my cold, stiff fingers off the keyboard and lay me in a plain, pine box. It’s not like, say, dance, which is over sometime in your 30’s. Your brain can keep forming connections and laying down new pathways. Look at Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST, written when he was no longer young. It’s some of his best writing. The language of that play is sheer beauty.

But I also want to improve as a human being. Writing is so integral to my life that it becomes a springboard from which I launch into almost all other pursuits, endeavors, tasks, responsibilities, roles, and recreations.

Here’s my recent posting on the Huffington Post, in which I wrote:

So, what is story? I ask myself this question every time I sit down at my computer and stare with a peculiar mixture of dread and anticipation at an empty white document page. I’ve attended workshops, read books, interrogated famous authors, and even matriculated in a creative writing graduate program to figure out the answer. The pared-down statement above was taken from screenwriters, who often tackle the issue best. Some novelists seem to look down on screenwriters, but those people deal with story every day, in its palpable, unvarnished essence. They get it right, they make a movie and they eat. Otherwise, not so much. So they’re not kidding around. They have something to teach us novelists.

Indeed, all sorts of people have something useful to teach me. Condescension doesn’t behoove me — respect does. I never know who will toss me the next meaty nugget about writing, or about living.

Also, I don’t want my life to be story-like. I don’t want my life filled with conflict and obstacle, which is how a good writer toys with her characters, prevents them from fulfilling their desires, and sucks in readers. I want my life to be smooth, like the most elegantly milled vanilla ice cream. Peace nourishes my creativity; when my life calms, my mind fills with intriguing possibilities.

Read the article here.


writing novels, Fallen
My New HuffPo article: review of SKIN RULES by Debra Jaliman M.D.
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My New HuffPo article: review of SKIN RULES by Debra Jaliman M.D.

Check out my new review of the essential skin care book SKIN RULES Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist by Debra Jaliman M.D. Here’s the link.

This book is beautifully, concisely written and full of practical advice. Get the book–you’ll be glad you did!


Review of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist by Debra Jaliman M.D.

When I was in my early twenties, my beloved Aunt Judy advised me, “A good skin and a good figure, that’s what a woman needs.”

We were conversing in the kitchen, preparing dinner together, so this bit of feminine wisdom was just a casual mention. But she was in her fifties and still boasted both qualities, so I took her words to heart. They sparked a lifelong commitment to taking excellent care of my complexion and my body. That same week, I undertook a meticulous habit of using sunblock every day.

A few years later, my first pregnancy wrecked my carefully tended complexion. I was enthralled by the wondrous, delicious creature who was my new daughter. I was equally determined to repair the damage done by pregnancy hormones. I had read that a pregnant woman produces more estrogen during the nine months she’s pregnant than a non-pregnant woman does in decades. My face, stippled with pimples and depressions, showed it.

A girlfriend with lovely skin recommended Dr. Debra Jaliman, and I took myself to her office on one of those precious days I had a babysitter. I waited anxiously in the exam room, wondering if the doctor would be able to help me. The door opened and in walked a gorgeous woman wearing a white lab coat over a leather mini-skirt — and a very pregnant belly. I could only applaud her feminine confidence. I knew immediately I’d come to the right place.

My first baby is now a graduating senior from college, and I’ve been Dr. Jaliman’s patient all these years. I have remained in her care for the same reason that I use the multiplication table: because it works.

It was with pleasure, as a happy dermatology patient with a complexion I like, that I requested a review copy of Dr. Jaliman’s book Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist (St. Martin’s Press, March, 2012).

First, let me attest: almost the first order of business in Dr. Jaliman’s office is to ensure proper face-washing technique. After two decades, when I come in for an appointment, she still asks how I am washing my face, and what I am using for cleanser. So, as a long-time patient, let me assure the general reader that Skin Rules meticulously documents Dr. Jaliman’s actual advice. She practices what she preaches in this slim, smart volume.

The book itself is a pleasure to read. It’s concisely and elegantly written. There’s not a wasted word in this book, nor an infelicitous one. Every one of the 77 rules is spare, practical, and instantly understandable. The rules come with product recommendations at all price points; Dr. Jaliman does not expect that her readers are all millionaires with an endless supply of money for dermatological goodies, whether they be procedures or creams.

The tone of this book is as empathetic as it is pragmatic. Rule 42 gently advises, “Don’t Despair If You’re Over Thirty and Breaking Out — Nobody Needs to Know.” Rule 39 reminds us, “Acne Doesn’t Just Ruin Skin; It Can Ruin Self-Esteem, Too — Just Ask Any Teenager.” It’s important to remember how vulnerable people feel when they don’t look their best, how adolescents in particular suffer from that vulnerability, and how much self-esteem can be improved by simply clearing up acne. Some people would like to dismiss dermatology as purely cosmetic, but there’s a deeper level here. Our appearance is inextricably entwined with our feelings of self worth.

Sometimes a medical condition results in skin problems, and Dr. Jaliman notes that in several places. In rule 33, “Legs and Feet Need Extra Care,” she mentions having diagnosed hypothyroidism in patients by observing dry, cracked heels and referring the patients to an endocrinologist. The skin isn’t its own separate, isolated system. It’s integrated into the body as a whole, and often reflects underlying disease.

I’ve set this review within the context of my own feminine beauty regimen, but it’s a book for men, also. There’s advice on shaving, hair loss and tattoo removal.

With a title encompassing the word “secrets,” a reader hopes for the scoop on what’s hot and really works. The book doesn’t disappoint. Rule 61 “Freeze Fat, Don’t Suction It” discusses the latest cryolipolysis techniques, and the machines that really do freeze off the fat.

At the back of the book is a resource section that lists products, injectables and lasers. It’s probably worth it to buy the book just to have this well-researched list of products and procedures that actually work.

This is a gem of a book that I’ll keep handy on my book shelf — unless my second daughter, now seventeen and seeking out her own beauty tips, spirits it away so that I never see it again.

Check out my article on the HuffPo…
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Check out my article on the HuffPo…

My article on the HuffPo

Dear Readers:

Take a peek at my article on How to Look at and Enjoy Sculpture on the Huffington Post.


Traci Slatton’s ‘How To Look At And Enjoy A Piece Of Sculpture In 6 Steps’

With everyone’s inbox topping 2500+ emails, and Netflix streaming a million movies a minute, we’re losing sight of the sensual pleasure of the concrete world. It’s not that eEverything in the iWorld isn’t fun and useful, just that there’s more to life. More to think about, more to experience in tangible ways, more that can enrich our lives. Especially more beauty and wonder.

Paintings are easy to enjoy because they operate by way of immediate visual impact. We have an instant impression of light, color, line, and shape. Are there halos, gold auras, and a crucifix? Gothic praedella. Is it a blurry pastel? A great Monet. Does it bulge and heave? Van Gogh, that tormented genius! Is the spirit rotting, in a masterful scene from the Bible? Caravaggio, the murderous master. Even early cave drawings arrest us: stick figures and aurochs outlined with archetypal simplicity, speaking to our most fundamental instincts and encounters in the natural world. We’re good with easily accessible two-dimensions, and we’re rapidly becoming virtuosos with no-dimensional, virtual representation. But what about a standing human form in three dimensions?

Sculpture, especially figurative sculpture, represents a dilemma for us 21st century dwellers.

We are three-dimensional creatures whose harried lives lead us to forget our own embodiment. Sometimes we barely remember to breathe, so enrapt are we in texting.

Sculpture is here to remind us. It’s three-dimensional, as we are, and it partakes of light and gravity, as we do. It is both subject and object of our witnessing. We have to slow down and be present with a piece of sculpture in order to get it. In this way, sculpture can point the way to pausing, grounding, and feeling.

Here are six tips for how to look at — and enjoy — a piece of sculpture:

1. What is the human form doing? Is it standing, seated, crouching? At a level that barely needs words because it’s ingrained into our primitive lizard brain, the pose of a body says something. A standing figure is active. A seated one is passive. This simple differentiation goes to the heart of the human condition: are we active or passive in our lives?

2. Are the arms outstretched? Are they pleading? Or do they reach out to dominate the world? Is the face upturned to catch the sun, turned aside in grief, arrowing downward in weariness? The pose and gesture give the rudiments of the universal story the sculpture is telling. The ancient Greek sculptor Lysippos put his Hercules in a standing pose, but leaning and dragged down, to say that it’s a monumental feat to stand and perform the labors.

3. What is the body like? Is it young, mature, or old? Is it supple and curving, insinuating erotic tension? In the nineteenth century, classical sculptor Canova sculpted Pauline Bonaparte reclining on a couch, her lissome body reeking of grace and invitation. Or are the muscles thick and defined, meaty with their own power, bursting with life force energy? Look at Bernini’s Pluto for a mighty, mature man intent on possessing what he has captured in his hands. Morphology is biography, and that biography opens into the message of the piece.

4. There’s a more complex understanding of morphology. Most of us have the mistaken impression that realistic figurative sculpture is an exact copy of life. In fact, it’s highly abstracted, exhaustively designed. A sculptor looks at a life model and then creates a figure based on his or her own internal system of analysis. It’s extremely personal. If the sculptor is architectural in his system of representation, the emphasis will be on structure, on bones and muscles as geometric elements; the piece may be in motion, but there will be an underlying sense of organization, perhaps even of a grid.

If the sculptor is more narrative, more interested in the lively, dramatic aspect of sculpture, the piece will tend to move more, and to emphasize curves and surface fluidity. For example, think of Michelangelo’s heroic David, which has structured monumentality and gorgeously pluperfect anatomy. Now picture Giambologna’s Mercury (commonly known as the FTD symbol). Giambologna was a baroque sculptor whose fascination with curves led him to exaggerate them almost to the point of jokiness.

5. Pay attention to the medium, for it influences the design of the figure. Working with marble, the artist sculpts down to low points. With clay that is cast into bronze, the sculptor builds up to high points. This is a subtlety, but it informs the process all the way through to the finished piece. And whether bronze or marble, the piece will have a surface, a tactile element that evokes a feast of sensory impressions: soft lips, thick hair, smooth skin.

6. Most important, walk around the piece, seeing it from all angles, and ask yourself: Is it beautiful? What makes it beautiful? Is it pose, gesture, curves, structure, or even the spirit or energy of a piece? Look, feel, and trust your witnessing. It’s in that beauty that the viewer finds him- or herself, and is drawn back into primal, living essence. This is how sculpture is the antidote to modern life.


And if you haven’t yet voted for my dystopian romance FALLEN in the Paranormal Romance Guild Best of 2011 Reviewer’s Choice category, please send them an email mentioning FALLEN.