This week we are featuring New York Times bestselling author of ten books and an award-winning writing professor Susan Shapiro.
Susan’s favorite drink is the Republic of Tea, Honey Ginseng tea. Are you surprised? Of course not! A wonderful beverage, served iced on a hot summer day from the author of self help books like: Lighting Up, How I Stopped Smoking, Drinking and Everything Else Except Sex (A Memoir). and co-author of Unhooked: How to Quit Anything.
Honey Ginseng Tea from The republic of Tea:
A relaxing blend combines the ancient health properties of China green tea with Panax ginseng and full blossom honey. This delicious, subtly sweet tea offers a peaceful sipping experience.
Steeping green tea is easy. Simply heat fresh, filtered water just short of boiling. Then pour water over tea and steep for 1-3 minutes (if using a tea bag) or 2-4 minutes (if using full-leaf tea.)
China green tea, linden flowers, pollen eleuthero, Panax ginseng, natural flavor.
So lets grab a pitcher of this amazing Honey Ginseng tea, some ice and learn a bit about Susan’s newest book: What’s Never Said.
It’s dangerous to search for an old flame you never got over. What if you find him-and he doesn’t remember you? In her captivating new novel, Susan Shapiro explores the perils of revisiting past passion. Lila Penn leaves Wisconsin for graduate school in the big city, where she falls for her professor Daniel Wildman. Decades after their tangled link, she arranges a tête-à-tête in downtown Manhattan. But the shocking encounter blindsides Lila, causing her to question her memory-and sanity. Switching between Greenwich Village and Tel Aviv, the saga unravels the sexual secret that’s haunted Daniel and Lila for thirty years. PRAISE FOR SUSAN SHAPIRO: “Frank, darkly funny, entertaining…” -New York Times Book Review “A promiscuously readable guilty pleasure…” -Elle Magazine “Sly, candid, disarming…” -Pam Houston “Shapiro’s voice is so passionate and honest, it’s bewitching.” -Erica Jong “Irresistible energy, winning humor… breathtakingly frank honesty.” -Philip Lopate “Unputdownable.” -Gael Greenereal
Setup: In February 1981, in Greenwich Village, Lila Lerner, an innocent graduate N.Y.U. student from a Jewish Wisconsin family, is upset when the professor she adores ignores her on Valentine’s Day. So she has dinner with a Turkish classmate, Tarik, at the Cookery on University Place.
When the wine came, Tarik took a sip and nodded for the waiter to pour
“Why did you get a bottle from ten years ago?” Lila asked, wondering if it was still good a decade later, and if you got a discount for old stuff.
“A friend and wine best when old,” he said, clicking her glass.
Lila was intrigued by his accent and the way he sometimes left out connectives.
“You prefer red or white?”
“Definitely red,” she said, not mentioning that the kind they drank at home was Manischewitz.
“After graduate degree, you move home?” Tarik asked.
“No. I’ll get a job and stay here. I love the Village.” Lila drank up. The taste was growing on her.
“Your family let you do this?” Tarik poured more.
Lila shrugged. “Why not?”
“Dangerous alone. Before you marry…”
Lila finished her glass. “I might never get married.”
“Woman writer needs husband,” he insisted.
“Tell that to Sylvia Plath.” She poured a tall one she finished quickly.
He looked confused. “She had husband and two babies young.”
“Yeah, then her husband’s affairs ruined their family,” Lila said. “She would have been better off unmarried and childless. Like Emily Dickinson. Jane Austen. Elizabeth Bishop.”
“You don’t mean.” Tarik shook his head. “Something wrong with woman who doesn’t want to be wife and mother.”
“What do you mean by wrong?”
“Broken. Damaged. Not normal. Crazy,” he listed. “How you say — disturbed.”
“Why the f— would you say something so ignorant?” she asked, emboldened by the wine.
“Speak quietly,” he said through clenched teeth. “Not attractive for ladies to swear.”
“F— you!” she said louder, standing up.
He stood up too, his eyes jumpy, horrified. “Sit down,” he whispered.
Lila did not sit down. She marched out the door. She’d never walked out on a guy at dinner before. It felt totally cool, like she was the poet version of Gloria Steinem. Until she realized that she was overdressed and alone at 9 p.m. on the Saturday night of Valentine’s Day in a city of couples on dates. How humiliating.
Lila started to cry, heading back to her dorm to hide under the covers. Instead she went to Washington Square Park. Sitting on a bench, she lit her roommate Sari’s present: a red joint. Nobody noticed Lila amid the transvestites, hippies and students gathered around the fire-eater — even in freezing cold. A scraggly regular said, “Hey pretty clothes, what ya doin’ back here?”
“Dumped my date,” she said, handing him the joint. They shared it as a guitar player sang Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris.” She hummed along, tingly, dizzy, starving.
Remembering the $20 her mother sent her for Valentine’s Day, Lila decided to take herself out to dinner at Dojo. She changed into the flats hidden in her purse and waded through the hordes of bohemians and homeless men hanging out on decrepit St. Mark’s Place. It smelled of burning incense and the hot dog truck on the corner.
Lila marveled at the seedy bodega, dive bar, graffiti-lined record shop and tattoo parlor she passed. More crazy characters strolled this jam-packed East Village intersection than she’d seen in nineteen years in her hometown of Baraboo — population 10,000. She was awed by the downtown graffiti artists and foreign women selling used blouses and coffeemakers on the sidewalk — not noticing it was twenty degrees out.
All the oddballs were decked out as if Valentine’s Day was Halloween — girls in gowns with vampire capes, men in dresses, high heels and makeup. Everybody carried bizarre objects: antique chairs, bagpipes, a boa constrictor. She felt like she was floating, escaping from prison to live in this exciting drug-filled carnival.
At her favorite bookstore, St. Mark’s Bookshop, she treated herself to a poetry collection, Louise Glück’s “Descending Figure,” on sale for $2. Crossing the street, she sat inside at Dojo and read the angry female Jewish poet’s words, craving chicken yakimeshi. Sari had turned her on to this dive and awesome $4 meal. When Lila got her paycheck, she’d treat herself to this special dish. The only thing Lila didn’t like was the sliced onions. She’d pick them out one by one, putting a pile on the side.
Right after she ordered, she had a revelation. She stopped the waitress and said, “Excuse me, miss. I have a question. Can I get my yakimeshi without onions?”
“Sure, hon. No problem,” the waitress said.
Lila was amazed. Forget all her male Svengalis trying to teach her wisdom. She’d just learned the most important lesson on her own: You could order the world without onions! Just as it came, she saw Sari walking by through the window. She was alone too. What happened to her date Lenu? Lila ran outside and called out to her. “I left Tarik at the Cookery and smoked your joint alone in the park.”
“Lenu bangs me four times last night, then blows me off Valentine’s Day. It’s a stupid motherf—ing Hallmark holiday,” Sari muttered, then started crying.
Lila held out her arms, which Sari fell into. “I’m so glad you’re here. Come hang out with me.” Lila led her inside.
Sari sat down at her table, blowing her nose with Lila’s napkin. Then she stuck her fingers in the yakimeshi, picking out chicken and some carrots, plunking them in her mouth.
“Tastes different,” Sari said.
“I special ordered it,” Lila told her. “You can just order life without the onions!”
“Nice metaphor,” Sari said.
“Right? I know!” Lila cracked up, then asked the waitress for another fork, thinking she wound up with the exact right person she loved most on Valentine’s Day after all.
That was really good! If you enjoyed what you read, we have another excerpt for you:
Scene: Lila Penn is standing in line at Barnes & Noble, nervously excited to see her old professor — and former flame — Daniel Wildman, who just a won a Pulitzer Prize. She hasn’t seen him in three decades. She knows it’s risky to be there, since they’re both married, and Lila never really got over him.
Jittery all day, Lila had left work early to get her hair done, having her highlights frosted ash blond, her original color. She’d put on the black silk dress and Prada high heels she’d bought at Bergdorf’s. As the line winding around the huge bookstore crept closer, she scanned all the college kids in jeans and sweatshirts, feeling overdressed. She should have worn Levi’s and loafers, to look like seeing Daniel again was no big deal. Handing him the envelope in her purse felt too dangerous.
Even half-obscured by a pillar, his chiseled face was regal. He was powerful before the grand audience, more self-assured than he used to be. As she reached the head of the line, the clerk, who’d been marking names on Post-Its to show the author what to sign, had disappeared. Lila stood before Daniel, separated only by the thin table. Her hand sweated as she held out his slender book, feeling elated, a grad student again, younger, completely unveiled.
“Thanks for coming.” Unlike the last time they’d been this close, he was serene and sober.
“My pleasure. You killed,” tumbled out of her mouth, as if she were still his coed.
“Thanks.” He looked up at her. “To whom should I inscribe it?”
“To me,” Lila said.
He tilted his pen on the page, glanced up sideways and asked, “Your name?”
What? He didn’t know? Her breath stuck in her throat as he stared at her blankly. He was near seventy now. Was his eyesight failing?
“Sign it to Lila Penn.” She stared at him, waiting for her name and face to jar his recollection.
“One N or two?” he asked in a monotone.
“Two N’s,” she answered, dumbfounded, pushing her hair behind her ear. He didn’t know how to spell her married name? She felt flushed and frazzled. Maybe he’d inherited what he’d called “the forgetting disease” that had afflicted his father.
“With that last name, I hope you’re not a writer,” he said, looking pleased with his quip, the same cheesy joke every other idiot made.
“No, I’m a teacher.” She inverted their connection, trying to trick him into a reaction. But it was a lie. She’d recently been asked to teach a class, but still hadn’t responded.
“Okay, thanks for buying my book,” he said by rote.
Her eyes fell on his inscription: “To Lila Penn, All the Best. Daniel Wildman.” As if she were any stranger. Her forehead was hot, her heart knotting up in her chest.
Had he seduced so many students he couldn’t even recall who she was? She must have overblown their relationship in her head. Could she be the one whose memory was addled? Lila’s best friend Sari had insisted she had a distorted self-image. The teenage girl next in line, who had a pirate tattoo on her arm and a metal ring piercing her lower left lip, hovered right behind her, staring. Lila felt ashamed, as if she were just exposed as a pathetic hanger-on, an imposter.
“My maiden name is Lerner.” Lila blinked back tears, not believing he’d erased her. The whole room blurred.
“My wife kept hers,” he said smoothly, no recognition in his eyes. Then he reached his hand out for Lip Ring’s book and opened it. “Who am I signing it to?” he asked the youthful interloper, flashing the same polite grin, finished with Lila.
“To my mother, Mary Jonas. She studied with you a million years ago.”
“I know Mary! You look like her.” He laughed aloud, the big, hearty full-bodied laugh Lila used to love. “Must have been at least two million. Do you have a name too?”
Lila caught her reflection in the framed store poster, focusing on the faint marionette lines around her mouth, mortified to suddenly realize she’d lost her youth and beauty. She usually still saw herself as attractive. Yet she was obviously no longer a head-turner, the woman Daniel had called “his luscious muse.” Had she changed that much? The older suitor who’d adored her, exalted her looks more than any other male she’d known, had no idea who she was. But Daniel, you were the one who accepted me, discovered me, drew stars in the margins of my rough drafts.
She shouldn’t have lied to her husband about coming. She slinked to the register, fumbling for her wallet, so flustered his book fell to the floor. The rule: If you drop a book, kiss it, sacred like the Torah echoed from her childhood. She crouched down and quickly scooped it up, humiliated, invisible. As she went to pay, Lila spied the envelope she brought in the pocket of her purse, but it was too late to give to him. She had clearly overestimated her effect on him, her place in his romantic lexicon.
Out of all the conflicting scenarios she’d envisioned for almost thirty years, Lila had never once imagined that Daniel Wildman wouldn’t remember.
And for the first time ever, we can also indulge a bit in the story behind the story. In an article published in New York magazine Susan Shapiro reveals a bit more:
The Line Between Professor and Predator Isn’t Always So Clear
“Are you okay?” I asked my 22-year-old smart, pretty student Debbie last spring during office hours. She often had questions about class or the ambitious book she was working on. But tonight she’d rushed over — still in a minidress, high heels, heavy eyeliner, and lipstick — upset about a bad experience she’d just had with a famous older novelist now teaching at my alma mater, whom she’d befriended on Facebook. “What happened?” I asked, worried.
She nervously combed her long, dark hair behind her ears. “He wanted me to be his date for this fancy award ceremony tonight. I was excited, got all dressed up. It was fun. But then he asked me to go home with him. Gross. I said no way.”
“What did he do?”
“Nothing. I got the hell out of there. It was creepy. There was another girl there he was flirting with.”
All the harassment, sexual-assault, roofie, and rape cases in colleges across the country were not distant news. Many of my students had shared similar sordid encounters, which scared me. I’d sent several distraught women to school authorities, to the police to report crimes, to therapists, and to editors who’d published their stories. Because I was a female professor and outspoken women’s-rights advocate who’d championed Debbie’s work, I knew she wanted me to be angry on her behalf, toe the conventional feminist line, take her side, see her as an innocent victim, and call the guy a harasser — or worse. Yet this time, I couldn’t.
“I’m confused,” I said. “Why go on a date if you weren’t attracted to him?”
“I admire his writing. And I hoped he’d blurb my book,” she admitted. “But that doesn’t mean I was going to bed with him.”
“Of course not,” I told her. “Yet his proposition — and taking no for an answer — sounds fair. We don’t have to vilify every man on the planet with a functioning libido.”
“Wow,” she said. “You’re taking this so personally.”
She was right. It wasn’t her actions that troubled me. I feared I’d done what I was accusing Debbie of doing when I was her age. She didn’t know that I’d had an affair with an older professor and tried to make him the villain. The truth turned out to be more complex.
Decades earlier, as an overeager graduate student in Manhattan, I’d dressed up for orientation, excited to introduce myself to the head of my program — a brilliant, acclaimed author.
“It’s such an honor to meet you,” I said, shaking his hand.
“Planning to finish your PhD by the end of the mixer?” he quipped. He must have seen my application and knew that I was only 20, having skipped two grades.
“Why? Are you threatened by fast women?” I’d asked, not catching my double entendre.
“Maybe I am,” he said, smiling, pulling his hand free from my grip.
He was about twice my age and academically dashing in his beige jacket and corduroys. I’d admired his dark, hilarious books, which seemed like Philip Roth put to poetry.
I was a tall, thin-skinned Michigan girl with a big mouth, a big appetite, and big feet. Although my conservative parents didn’t know what a master’s in creative writing was, they’d reluctantly let me sell my orange Cutlass to help fund three terms in the big city. The minute I got to Greenwich Village, I never wanted to leave. I dreamed of becoming a famous author with bylines in magazines and books, just like my professor.
Showing up to his every office hour, I’d hand him stacks of poems I’d been revising until four in the morning.
“Just one,” he’d say, then unleash his full, throaty laugh.
I morphed into a downtown New Yorker. I lost weight, donned thick, black eyeliner, low-cut, tight black clothes, and spiked black boots. My professor noticed, I could tell. At a holiday party at his apartment, he stood close to me, pointed to my heels, and joked, “You’re trying to tower over me.” I removed them to help clean up afterward. Then we sat on the wooden floor of his dusty one-bedroom, drinking cheap Chardonnay from paper cups, me barefoot, chattering anxiously.
“You talk too much, too loud, too quickly,” he cut me off. Noticing me blush, he said, “Don’t be nervous, we’re not having an affair or anything.”
I wondered if I wanted to. Did he ever think of me outside of class, the way I thought of him? From his work I knew he was single, straight, and lonely. I wasn’t sure if the spark I felt between us was my imagination.
“Will you look at my latest rewrite?” I begged, taking a revised poem from my purse.
He pulled out a pen and marked my page with squiggles and arrows. “You have too many words, not enough music.” I loved how honestly he critiqued me, our intellectual and erotic energy entangling.
“I think I’m falling for you,” I blurted out, avoiding his eyes.
He cracked up. Humiliated, I couldn’t hold back my tears.
“I’m sorry.” His voice grew softer. “It’s just that everybody falls for the person who fixes their work.”
“That’s not why,” I insisted.
“Listen, I would never date a student,” he said. I was crushed. Until he added, “If only I weren’t your teacher.” Hope!
After that, he invited me to book events, introducing me to his colleagues as “a talented newcomer,” elevating me socially — and creatively. Having his ear and his eyes on my work felt magical, mystical, enthralling. I was honored when he asked what I thought of his first drafts, thrilled when he took my suggestion to retitle a poem.
Before I completed my degree, he recommended me for a coveted position at The New Yorker, which I took, finishing my thesis by night. I told myself I’d landed the full-time gig because I’d aced their editorial test and hit it off with my fascinating female boss, who’d been there since World War II. But without my professor’s referral, I may have landed next to my classmate as an assistant at Soap Opera Digest.
That May, I graduated and decided to stay in New York. Released from the confines of academia, my former professor took me to dinner. At a local Chinese dive, he told me how beautiful I was. Finally we kissed. Our connection intensified. It was awkward and scary, but switching from protégée to girlfriend made me feel special. His crowd embraced me. Friends my age were a little skeptical, perhaps because I’d disappeared into his much more intellectually stimulating world. He was the oldest, wisest man I’d ever dated. He said I was the only student he’d ever touched. I believed him.
Yet the fantasy of having my professor fall for me was more exhilarating than the reality. With our feelings for each other no longer illicit, I found I was more comfortable in his classroom than his bedroom. Hearing him kvetch about his lower-back pain and receding hair was a turnoff. He didn’t like that the job he’d found me became my priority. He rolled his eyes when I exalted Gloria Steinem and analyzed different waves of feminism. I tired of him correcting my grammar and making fun of me when I read tabloids or watched TV talk shows. I nicknamed him “Henry Higgins.” He called my new short haircut “too butch.”
“You’re too controlling,” I argued. I’d once imagined us as Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. Were we closer to Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes?
I started smoking, toking, and drinking, all of which bothered him. He recommended I see a therapist. I refused, insisting he’d been on the couch so long, I got analyzed by osmosis.
Rushing home from a meeting one day, he announced that he’d been awarded a one-year fellowship in Israel and wanted me to accompany him. Although I was flattered, I couldn’t afford it, I confessed.
“I’ll pay for everything.”
“I already have a job that you got me. I can’t gallivant around as an appendage to a boyfriend.”
“We can get married,” he said.
Two female students I knew had wed their former professors. Yet I felt rushed and overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure I even wanted to get married. Or whether I was in love with him or the idea of him. Rather than take vows so young, I was yearning more for a mentor, a father figure. “I’m nowhere near ready for this,” I told him, honestly.
Wounded by my cold response, he took off, refusing to return my calls. He was mortified. While I’d put the brakes on a serious commitment, I hadn’t meant to end everything. I was confused. If he saw me in our shared neighborhood, he’d rush to cross the street. I felt guilty and grief-stricken. Yet completely ghosting me — not even returning a phone call — seemed cruel. Wasn’t he supposed to be the mature one? I’d never felt more alone or vulnerable. Breakups were bad enough, but I was afraid this split would exile me from my newfound colleagues and the literati crowd.
Indeed, when I later became a teacher, two students reported that he’d badmouthed me, telling them not to take my class, claiming I had no idea what I was talking about. I couldn’t believe he’d publicly maligned me. I felt powerless and persecuted by an angry ex who could ruin my reputation. Freaked out, I finally did call a shrink. She reassured me that nobody would take his word over mine at this point. Then she asked what had originally drawn me to my professor. I said, “He had this great apartment overstuffed with books, and brilliant writer friends, and smart editors publishing his work …”
“So you didn’t want to marry him, you wanted to be him?” she asked.
I nodded yes, awed by the distinction.
Amid debates of older men harassing, seducing, and manipulating female students and subordinates, it was tempting to see myself as the innocent prey and injured party, another young, impressionable protégée manipulated by a powerful man. Yet as easy as that narrative would be on my ego, it wouldn’t be psychologically accurate.
I realized this after my husband, a scriptwriter, spoke to my writing class about TV and film. The next day, an envelope came from one of my undergrads. Assuming she’d dropped off a late assignment, I opened it, taken aback to find her sexy headshots, body shots, and a note to my husband about how brilliant his talk had been and how she’d love to buy him a beer to discuss career options in “our biz.”
“She just wants me to help her get a job on Saturday Night Live,” he tried to reassure me.
She was sharp and talented. Yet from the vantage point of being her writing professor and his wife, it seemed to me she was blatantly flaunting her sexuality to further her career. It reminded me of the way my student Debbie had posted half-naked pictures of herself on social media, probably what had lured the acclaimed novelist. She felt I was being prudish. I thought I was being protective.
I wasn’t always so conservative, of course. We each harness whatever power we have to get ahead, whether overtly or subconsciously. I’d once been a hot 22-year-old using my looks to fuel my ambition. Yet here I was, wishing my students would own their roles in this clichéd, coquettish game while I hadn’t been honest either. I suddenly saw how I’d deceived myself years earlier. If my professor was drawn to my youth and beauty, I’d been enticed by his experience and status, which I wound up usurping. It was a trade-off I’d chosen, a barter that launched me, benefitting me most in the long-run.
Seeing him at a crowded soirée not long ago, our eyes met. I went over to say hello. He pretended not to remember who I was, turning away as I approached. I was shocked. Then I wondered if he’d intentionally shunned me because he was still angry. I was actually flattered to think I could elicit so much emotion all these years later.
Had he spoken to me that night, I would have thanked him. He had, after all, improved my life, teaching me to be an incisive reader and critic. He’d helped me land an awesome first job in the city. He’d inspired me to write books and teach, demystifying the process. I might have even apologized, not sure if I’d been immature back then or just a typically self-involved single player in my 20s.
Now, after two decades in a happy union, I’ve learned I can be a feminist who loves men and marriage. This involves not lumping all men into the enemy camp, or labeling someone “sexist” or “predatory” just because they express desire.
In retrospect, my professor was not a Svengali seducing an innocent rube — or a skirt chaser abusing his position, like other infamous men in the news. I was never victimized. He was a gentleman who’d postponed our romance until I was no longer in his class. I’d been a consenting adult who’d actually initiated the relationship. I’d wanted him, went for him, got him — and his connections. When he’d pushed for more, I set the limits I needed to, and not all that gently. Then I published a book telling my side of the story.
Ultimately, he might have been more of a victim than I was.
See the original article in NY Magazine.
Susan Shapiro, an award-winning writing professor, freelances for The New York Times, New York Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, L.A. Times, Newsweek, Elle, Esquire & Oprah.com. She’s the New York Times bestselling author of 10 books, including the acclaimed memoirs Lighting Up,Only as Good as Your Word, and Five Men Who Broke My Heart, the coauthored nonfiction booksUnhooked and The Bosnia List , and the novel What’s Never Said. She and her husband, a TV/film writer, live in Greenwich Village, where she teaches her popular “instant gratification takes too long” classes at the New School, NYU and in private workshops & seminars. You can follow her on Twitter at @susanshapironet or reach her at ProfSue123@gmail.com.