Excerpts from Toby’s writings were provided by Nick Levitin. All of the written material will be turned over to Barnard College in line with Toby’s wishes.
I am still at work on a manuscript I began more than six years ago (written 12/9/23)
I am still at work on a manuscript I began more than six years ago. It’s about my religious journey–and what I’ve learned writing it. A friend who was a professor of religion once told me that it’s impossible to write well about God. Maybe I should have listened. But most days I’m glad I didn’t. And not only because when I’m at the computer, working, nothing hurts.
My father died when I was nine (written in 2023)
My father died when I was nine
And he was forty-nine.
We were both too young.
lots of duets unsung.
How I Got to Be Me (an excerpt from Toby’s Spiritual Memoir)
I need to say some things about myself. How I began to be a person who thinks knowing beats not knowing. Even when the answer is that you have Alzheimer’s.
What I remember most vividly about my childhood is that when I asked a question, my mother always either supplied one or suggested we look it up. That apparently overstimulated my imagination because I asked more and more and more questions. Still, her responsiveness never lagged. I took that as a sign that asking questions was not only a satisfying experience but a good thing to do. This inference got me into some dicey situations later in life, but by then asking for answers was as mu
ch a part of me as my left-handedness.
My mother was tall and had completed the work for a doctorate in Russian literature at the University of Kiev before she came to America. My father was three inches shorter than she and never finished fifth grade. My mother made it plain by her attitude toward my father that it was not merely shortsighted but plain dumb to judge a person by his height or sheepskins. But there was a second outcome of my slightly tilted upbringing. Although I was skipped a lot — a temporary quirk of the New York City educational system — I did not take school or studying seriously. I think I knew I was smart enough, but I definitely did not think that was any more to my credit — or indeed significant –than my having green eyes. Indeed, when I was about eleven, I bounced in from school one day to announce that I’d taken an IQ test and had a marvelous score. My mother raised an eyebrow. If you got 160, that meant you were a genius and I got 158, I said. And just why do you think that’s marvelous? she asked. Mama, I said, it means I don’t have to be a genius!
I was certainly no genius. And I would have traded being smart for having a straight nose and perfect pitch any day of the week.
Until late last year. When, it turns out, I was smart enough to suspect that something was wrong with me — and smart enough to find out early enough to have a fighting chance to survive it.
Why I Thought I Might Have Alzheimer’s (an excerpt from Toby’s Spiritual Memoir)
I am a writer. A writer is someone who is impelled to communicate. That takes knowing how to use words clearly. It also takes a knack for paying attention. Whether writing fiction or non-fiction, a writer who doesn’t have the gift of paying close attention isn’t going to do a good job.
I never watched anyone get old. Both of my parents died young, my father at fifty-two, my mother at sixty-one. As I moved into the thick of middle age, I realized that, because I live alone, I’d better start paying closer attention to how my body and my mind were keeping up with my spirit. Mind you, I did not decide to turn keeping tabs on my health into a hobby — there are many things in the world that interest me more–but I began to keep an eye on how I was doing.
Last fall it seemed to me that I was making significant mistakes both in what I said and certain of my daily activities. I had begun to be mildly forgetful years earlier, the way people in their fifties do, but now the forgetfulness I was experiencing was in a different class. It felt as though I had been in Forgetfulness 101 for several years, and suddenly found myself in Forgetfulness 301. I wasn’t prepared for that level of forgetfulness.
A Brief Bio (date unknown but possibly written at the same time as the CV below)
My first full-time job was in advertising. I was automatically assigned to a “women’s” group. Moisturizers, face to foot–and their cousins and their aunts. I knew I would never survive in such a group, either professionally or personally. I was determined to write about something substantive. So, while doing with care every assignment I was given, I kept my ears open–and learned that the writer on the Grumman account might be leaving soon. I approached the account executive, asked to show him some of current work and, very carefully, asked for a one-shot tryout on any Grumman’s product. He was a kind man, and humored me. Three weeks and two tryouts later, he said I could take over for the outgoing writer. But there was a condition. The client must never find out that the writer on the account was a female. I agreed at once–I wanted the work.. A lot.
I attended meetings, took notes, never said a word, wrote all Grumman’s ads –for Navy magazines on the lunar module (not yet called the LEM) as well as full-page ads on the Gulfstream, the private plane every top executive wanted. Nearly a year later, a spread I’d written for Esquire on the soon-to-be available Gulfstream II won a prize. I was reintroduced to the client. And I became the writer of record on Grumman. I had found a home in advertising.
About a year later, I was hired away to be the first woman ever to work on the Ford account. The man at J. Walter Thompson who had invited me in for an interview did not ask if I drove. He did ask if I cried. Suddenly I wanted that job. I said “Not between nine and six,” and spent the next few years writing Ford ads with the particular clarity of a smart person on a steep learning curve. Because Betty Friedan had not yet gotten the capital “F” on feminism, there was no need to pretend to hate that I was the only woman on the account–among fifty-seven men.
When I left advertising, I wrote three novels. I also wrote two-nonfiction books which were genuinely helpful. Writing what I wanted to write was a terrific way to live, but as a living, it fell short.
The month I knew I wouldn’t have the rent which was due in ten days, a new career almost literally fell into my hands. It had never occurred to me to become an editor–but there I was, with a job offer on the table. It’s a good story, but I already did that in my new manuscript–about my roundabout spiritual journey.
In recent years, I’ve edited many fiction and non-fiction manuscripts. My first task as an editor, as I see it, is to point out to the author what’s good in his manuscript. That’s the foundation for the next steps: showing an author how to make what’s good, better–and bring the rest of the work to that level. Occasionally, an author asks me to write a brief, difficult section of a manuscript; training as an actress lets me do that–seamlessly–in the author’s voice. My own books sound rather a lot like me; but no book I’ve worked on sounds anything like me. Every manuscript I work on remains–truly–the author’s book. I like editing many kinds of nonfiction, but best of all, I like working on business books, which have become my editorial specialty. A well-told autobiographical business book can be fascinating as well as genuinely helpful.
For anyone interested, I have copies of books I’ve edited, as well as excellent recommendations from my clients. I’m glad to share these.
Curriculum Vitae (created 12/31/1969, last updated 9/2/2020)
High School of Performing Arts, Drama, January 1952
Barnard College, British Civilization, A.B. 1956
Columbia University, A.M. British History, 1959
Fall 1954 – Summer 1956: writing jobs through Barnard Placement Office.
Fall 1956-January 1957. Condolences Secretary, Chancellor Louis Finkelstein, Jewish Theological Seminary.
1957-1960. Editorial Assistant, Crown Publishers.
1961-1964. Copywriter, McCann-Erickson.
1964-1967 Copywriter, Grumman account. Wrote about lunar module for Navy magazines; won award for Esquire spread on not-yet-built Gulfstream II.
1967-1970 Senior Copywriter (only female in 58-person creative group), Ford Account, J. Walter Thompson.
All the Time There Is, Random House, 1977; Bantam, 1978.
Getting Together, Atheneum, 1980.
Only the Best, Arbor House, 1980; Stein & Day, 1986.
How to Appeal to a Man’s Appetites, 1962.
Getting Thin and Staying Thin, Stein & Day, 1983.
Various magazines and journals, including: Moment (my Bat Mitsvah talk), Mademoiselle, Living Text, The Reconstructionist, The Critic, Catholic World, Focus.
Guest on TV shows, including David Susskind; hour-long Jewish TV show in Chicago.
Radio: Jewish program.
Have been given the podium in various synagogues and churches.
© Toby F. Stein