The Buzzard and the Kite: All about Me
My name, Aya, means "kite" in Hebrew. It's not the kind of kite you fly, as in "Let's go fly a kite, up to the highest height". It's the kind that's a bird of prey, as in "The buzzard and the kite have a healthy appetite." This tells you all you need to know about me. Well, maybe not everything, but it's a start.
When my mother was expecting me, my father picked out three names for potential children. They were Aya (Kite), Daya (Buzzard) and Nets (Hawk.) The first two were girls' names. The last was for a boy. I am the eldest child, and I am a girl. So I was named Aya, which means kite. When my brother was born twelve years later, he was named Nets. Since by then we were living in America, his middle name is Hawk. If we had had a younger sister, her middle name would have been Buzzard. Fortunately, that never happened. There are just the two of us.
My mother and I
My father and I
My mother, Ora, was born in Israel and grew up in an agricultural community called Beit Oved. My father was born in Poland to Zionists, and was already fluent in Hebrew when he arrived in Israel at the age of four. He had a passion for flight from an early age, but when I was born, he was a physicist at the Weizmann Institute. My mother, up until she took her maternity leave, was employed as a computer technician on the first computer in Israel, the Weizak, It took up an entire room. My mother was very good at doing mental arithmetic in hexadecimal.
Because my father was an academician, we often spent a year or two abroad, before returning home to Rehovoth. When I started first grade, we happened to be in the United States, as my father was at Argonne National Laboratory for a year. I was monolingual in Hebrew when I started to first grade in Romeoville, Illinois. I didn't speak a word of English. It was a scary experience at first, but in a few months I was completely fluent in English.
I spent first and second grade in the U.S., but third and fourth grade in Israel. Drifting from one language to the other seemed perfectly natural and required no special instruction.
My brother and I
The Role of Poetry in my Life
My mother says that I spoke my first word at six months and was completely fluent at one year. According to my father, I composed my first poem when I was around two years old. It was in Hebrew, but the gist of it was: "The porter died. They buried him in the ground. His mother cried." The real life event that prompted this composition was a lot more prosaic. We found a dead bird in the yard and buried it.
I don't actually remember any of the above. But I do remember falling down the stairs when I was two. My mother was very worried and made me lie down with a wet rag on my forehead until my father came home and said it was okay for me to get up.
Both my parents were devoted to me, and my memories of early childhood are happy ones. I suppose that is one reason I always wanted to be a mother. I dreamed of being a mother in the future, because you have to be grown up to have a baby. But I didn't dream about writing. I just did it, because writing is dreaming.
Poetry was a staple of our life. We read it. We recited it, and occasionally, in highly emotional situations, it would just materialize out of thin air.
My Family on Vacation in Britain in 1963
Modeling for Inverted-A
Canaanism, Yeshive-Bucherism and Leaving Israel and the Academy
In the late sixties, my father was active in the Canaanite movement in Israel. He wanted to see all Israelis treated equally under the law. He wanted Israel to hold all on to its possessions and to share its bounty with all those within its borders. The Canaanites dreamt of a Pax Hebraica that would enfold the Middle East.
None of this was to happen. The ruling parties wanted a small state, with special rights for special ethnic groups, enforced apartheid, and military and economic protection from the United States. When my father foresaw that Israel would not annex the Sinai but give it up in return for an empty promise of peace, he decided to leave Israel.
At the same time, he was also leaving behind his academic career. My father when we left Israel in 1970 was a tenured professor of physics at the Weizmann Institute. He gave up the security and prestige of this position in order to pursue a second career in aerospace engineering. He believed too many people were becoming academicians and teaching others to become teachers who would in turn teach more people how to teach, until in the end there would only be teachers and nobody would be left to produce anything useful. (The theory of how this was happening he called "Yeshive-Bucherism".)
It was a good theory. It's just very naive of him to volunteer to be the first one to quit the academy in the name of usefulness. Nobody else followed his example. After spending a couple of decades in industry, eventually my father returned to the academy as a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Alabama.
We never returned to Israel but often wished we could.Sometimes a decision is made and there is no turning back.
(For a short story describing the experiences of a ten year old Israeli immigrant to the US, see the link to the Punky Wunkies below.)
Link to Punky Wunkies
- The Punky Wunkies, Part One
“Talli got a little upset today,” Mrs. Truitt says when I come to pick her up from preschool. “She didn’t cry or anything, but her eyes got very big and she turned away from me and wouldn’t say...
Most of my education was acquired in the great state of Texas. My father pulled me out of junior high and educated me at home for three years from the age of thirteen to the age of sixteen, when I started off to college.
By the time I was fourteen, I had three major goals in life:
(1) I wanted to write a novel.
(2) I wanted to have a baby.
(3) I wanted to bring up a chimpanzee and teach it how to read.
My father, however, thought that in addition to doing these three fine things on my list, I should also do something useful. Which is why I got a J.D. from Baylor Law School and passed the Texas Bar Exam.
The years when I practiced law were to be the most miserable years of my life.
H: She left me, she scorned me;
She plain disobeyed.
She went without warning,
Though I bid her stay.
I could sue her, divorce her,
For conduct most cruel.
But I need her, I'll force her
To live by my rule.
W:My spirit had flown, too,
And gone was my pride.
"I love you! I love you!
"I love you!" I cried.
But I knew well enough
That it was something else.
While I cried out of love
It was lust that I felt.
And he gave me a look,
So sardonic and grim,
For my body and soul
Both lay open to him.
In elation I'd cried,
But in shame now I wailed.
My soul had been tried
And my spirit had failed.
So farewell my true love
Who wanders the streets.
We never have met and
We never shall meet.
My master, my husband,
My lord rules supreme;
He's proven me base and
I cleave now to him.
(c) 1986, 2008 Aya Katz
Inverted-A and My Law Practice
By the time I graduated from law school and had passed the bar, my father had quit his job in aerospace and started a company of his own, Inverted-A, Inc. He designed and built from scratch a low priced flight simulator. He wrote the code by hand in the machine language of the 6502 microprocessor, (no assembler for him!), he designed the layout of the printed circuit boards, and he made all the exterior details of the simulator as well. The minisimulator IIC was FAA approved, and it received favorable coverage in leading trade journals. The company had no employees, and everything was assembled in our garage from parts made by independent contractors who were paid by the batch, not by the hour.
The year after law school, I answered the phones for Inverted-A while I finished my first novel The Few Who Count. The following year I began to work for Inverted-A full time (but not for a salary), doing quality control for printed circuit boards, drafting and negotiating contracts, assembling parts in the garage, lifting crates, designing advertising and even posing for ads. No job was too big or too small for me to take part.
My father was gifted at everything except marketing. After a couple of years, my father went back to work in the aerospace industry, and I was out of a job. I couldn't get a job as a lawyer, because I had been out of law school too long, and my employment history sounded fishy. "You did what for your dad's company?"
By this time I owned a house and had mortgage payments, so in order to earn a living, I opened a law practice of my own. I was still fairly young and completely inexperienced. The people who walked in the door asking for my help were not corporate giants. They came from all walks of life, and most of them needed a divorce or had been accused of DWI or were fighting for custody of their children, or had been accused of theft or drug possession when what they were really guilty of was prostitution.
I won't go into all the details here. Professionally, I could handle their cases as well as anyone, but emotionally I was overwhelmed by the sordid details of their lives. I was especially panicked by the idea that people could really choose to live this way. I was panicked by the idea that maybe I was just like them and I was trapped, too. After all, if I wanted to, could I quit? What about the mortgage? What about my responsibilities?
If I was practicing law just to pay the bills, was I any better than someone who was staying in a loveless marriage because she was too tired to try to leave?
I stayed in that law practice for close to nine years before I finally found a way out. It was an unhappy time, but it did produce a lot of poetry.
It was toward the end of this period when I began work on my second novel, Vaccum County.
Linguistics, Rice and My Time in Taiwan
I wound down my practice and I went back to grad school, this time getting a Ph.D. in linguistics at Rice University in Houston. The grad school years were happy ones. The academic life becomes me. Linguistics may not be immediately useful to anyone, but I find it interesting, and so much less depressing than divorce and prostitution.
Besides, when I practiced law I was constantly being pitted against my colleagues. The law is inherently adversarial. While I like logical argumentation, I don't like constant games of one-up-manship. The atmosphere at Rice suited me, and I felt for a time that I was thriving. I was living at my highest potential.
Vacuum County, my second novel, was completed while I was at Rice. At the same time, I was involved in groundbreaking research in linguistics.
My dissertation was on Cyclical Grammaticalization. I showed that a copula (a `be' verb) could become a pronoun and then after a period of time that self-same pronoun could once again be reinterpreted as a copula. There are cycles in language, and the more language changes, the more it goes back to the way it was in an earlier period. This was supposed to be theoretically significant, because certain people were claiming that there is a undirectional cline in language change and that things never go back. However, it turned out that in linguistics, a single counter-example cannot be used to falsify a hypothesis. In fact, a whole mountain of counter-examples cannot falsify a theory, when its proponents are sufficiently entrenched.
Which is why, when I graduated from Rice, I ended up taking a job teaching abroad. By now I was no longer young, and if I was going to have a baby, it was now or never. My daughter Sword was born two weeks before I turned thirty-nine in the summer break between academic years, and by the time she was two months old, we were back in Taiwan. Taiwan was my home for three years, and my daughter might have grown up there here entire childhood, if not for an unexpected twist of fate.
When my daughter was just a little over a year old, my father was killed in a helicopter crash. This was to change the course of my life.
The helicopter was a one-seater, designed and built under my father's direction by his students at the University of Alabama. He was the one flying it, and he was the only one hurt. We don't know what went wrong. It was an experimental vehicle, and it was a risk that my father took upon himself. He was sixty-five years old.
My father's death was a devastating blow to our entire family. For me, he had always played a very important role. I was forty years old when he died. I did not know how I would face the future without his guidance.
My father asked that his ashes be scattered over the Land of Israel and the Sinai. My mother, my brother and I met in Israel, Sword and I flying in from Taiwan through Thailand. We hired a small plane, and we fulfilled his wishes, even though it was not legal to do so, on either the Israeli or the Egyptian side of the border. A special panel was installed that allowed us to scatter my father's ashes through the floor of the plane.
Due to the generosity of my mother and brother, I was allowed to inherit a substantial portion of my father's retirement, and it was because of this that I was able to return to the United States and start Project Bow. My dream of adopting a chimpanzee and teaching him language and literacy was about to come true!
Copyright Aya Katz
My Family on Vacation in New Hampshire 2005
Books by Aya Katz
- Bow's Development
When my daughter Sword and I first met Bow, Sword was two and a half years old, and we had been told that a baby boy was available for us to adopt. At the time, I was thinking more in terms of adopting a...
Age 3 thru 5
- Bow's Development: Age Three Through Five
When Bow was three years old, he could use his lexigrams to ask for what he wanted;he could understand what we told him; and he could even show real concern about our feelings, giving someone who was sad a...
- Bow and Literacy
For a long time I've held off on publishing the next part of the story, for many reasons. This is the place where Bow's development shatters what everyone has believed so far about the cognitive abilities of...
- Amazon.com: Israel: The Two Halves of the Nation: Amnon Katz: Books
Amazon.com: Israel: The Two Halves of the Nation: Amnon Katz: Books