Sunday, March 9, 2014
In the Garden of Beasts, Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin is another non-fiction book by Eric Larson, whose Devil in the White City I read at least a dozen years ago. Larson has an uncanny way of telling non-fiction in an interesting way, the facts flowing like they were never researched, like the writer knew them first-hand. He’s a good historian storyteller. I was fascinated by several things: an American Jeffersonian ambassador is appointed to go to Germany and no one in power respects them; his daughter, recently divorced from a short marriage, sleeps with Nazis, Soviets, American reporters with no discrimination and seems to have no clue how her actions affect her father and her fragile lovers; and the Hitler monster, despite all reports that he is torturing and killing people who are disloyal to him and preparing for war, somehow gets full control of the country. It’s an amazing story, and I’m glad Larson put so much effort into telling the truth. “Change came to Germany so quickly and across such a wide front that German citizens who left the country for business or travel returned to find everything around them altered, as if they were characters in a horror movie who came back to find that people who once were their friends, clients, patients, and customers have become different in ways hard to discern.” The fear came upon them so gradually, the changes so stealthily, that the people didn’t understand what was happening to them, like they were in a trance or hypnotized. “The Gestapo enhanced its dark image by keeping its operations and its sources of information secret.” Secrecy was one thing, but another thing that was happening was people divided into innocent citizens, the Gestapo, the SS, the SA, foreigners, and Nazis, all concerned with the intrigue of the others. Many thought they could control Hitler, but the man had a lot of anger and not a lot of respect for human life, and those close to him were some of the first to die. The book ends on this note: “’But history,’ wrote Dodd’s friend Claude Bowers, ambassador to Spain and later Chile, ‘will record that in a period when the forces of tyranny were mobilizing for the extermination of liberty and democracy everywhere, when a mistaken policy of ‘appeasement’ was stocking the arsenals of despotism, and when in many high social, and some political circles, fascism was a fad and democracy anathema, he stood foursquare for our democratic way of life, fought the good fight and kept the faith, and when death touched him his flat was flying still.’ And indeed one has to wonder: For Goebbels’s Der Angriff to attack Dodd as he lay prostrate in a hospital bed, was he really so ineffectual as his enemies believed? In the end, Dodd proved to be exactly what Roosevelt had wanted, a lone beacon of American freedom and hope in a land of gathering darkness.”
Sunday, March 2, 2014
If Julia Cameron got me started, Anne L
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Theodore Roethke wrote, "I learn by going where I have to go." It takes a great deal of faith to trust that where we're going is where we have to go. I waver and don't believe my heart is in the right place. My faith isn't always strong enough to believe God's up there, with a plan. Choosing the right path is sure to lead to revelations because you're doing what you were meant to do.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Toni Morrison once said, “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” She points out that a writer writes not just for others, but for herself. But yet, in writing about her struggles with life, Morrison finds ways to connect with the reader, crafting her writing in such a way that it becomes something she would want to read. She's already stated that she's writing books that she wants to read. How does one find an objectivity, while writing, to create someone you would want to read? When the words flow from within you, you're writing about something you know, something that happened to you or something you can imagine happening, something about the human condition, a universal problem to be solved. I suspect that when Morrison's got it all down on paper, she looks at what she wrote to see if it did what she intended. She becomes her own critic. But what she's really doing is telling a story that needs to be told. She's reaching out to other people. The message I get from this is how important it is to pick the right projects.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." Daffodils and Fireflies has been that way--a story that needs to get out. So has White Preacher's Kid. As we tell the stories of our lives, they become agents of change because the way we tell the stories and their significance for us morphs into a new history, a new way of seeing ourselves. We learn more about who we are. As with anything in life, we can choose a path of goodness--forgiveness and acceptance and gratitude--or one of pain--blame and resent and anger. During our story time together at Unity Church at the end of April, we'll discover what's inside needing to be told and why those stories in particular rise to the top. How do they define us? My parents' love story, our foray into the maelstrom of racial tension, finding my place in each new town in which we lived, and growing into a creative person with my own love story are at the surface, but below the place where water meets the sky is so much more. Right now, my parents' aging is teaching me how to live better.
Sunday, February 2, 2014
When We Were Orphans, by Kazuo Ishiguro, was a surprise. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting the main character to be an Englishmen who grew up playing detective games in the international section of Shanghai before the communist revolution. And then his father, followed by his mother, disappears, taken away by warlords whose livelihood was threatened by anti-opium rallying. But we’re in the head of Mr. Christopher Banks who became a famous detective, also known as Puffin by Uncle Phillip, who is not really his uncle but his mother’s liaison. We only know what he knows as a child, as a young adult, as an accomplished man. He’s whisked away, back to London, living on his aunt’s money, and he makes a name for himself in society and for his skills, and then all of a sudden he’s returning to the scene of the abduction of his parents and Shanghai is at war with Japan and he’s somehow going to save them from that situation, but it’s all tied up with finding his parents and I don’t know why Banks is going to save the world. The comment on Shanghai society’s partying in the middle of a war, with dancers and drinking and jazz quietly shocked our guy through whose eyes we were seeing the world, “the refusal of everyone here to acknowledge their drastic culpability . . . anything that could pass for honext shame. Here, in other words, at the heart of the maelstrom threatening to suck in the whole of the civilized world, is a pathetic conspiracy of denial; a denial of responsibility which has turned on itself and gone sour, manifesting itself in the sort of pompous defensiveness I have encountered so often. And here they now were, the so-called elite of Shanghai, treating with such contempt the suffering of their Chinese neighbors across the canal.” In the book, the crowd cheered when bombs fell, when shots rang out, and went back to their conversations and drinks. It’s a comment on us, our culpability while the world is starving, while the Earth is groaning. Is it real or not real, that he returns to Shanghai to save the world? Is that in his head, just like the stories he and his friend Akira played as children? And isn’t it convenient how his friend is a Japanese soldier and they meet in the war zone on their way to find the house where Puffin’s family is holed up? And what the hell is this thing where he and Sarah are going to run off together because they’ve always been in love, yet he doesn’t really know her and she marries Sir Cecil who mistreats her? The book seems to be about Christopher’s propensity for making the romantic stuff going on in his head real. The book, in the end, showed us inside a human brain, the maze of human memory. That’s not an easy thing to show. We can tell it, but to show it . . . he was brave to try. The jacket describes it as “a brilliantly realized story that illuminates the power of one’s past to determine the present.” Christopher is searching for his parents and he’s searching for understanding of what happened. He was required to sort it all out because children are “like the twine that kept the slats [of the blinds] together . . . we often failed to realize it, but it was we children who bound not only a family, but the whole world together.” At one point, Christopher thinks he must go off to save the world because his adopted daughter Jennifer will be “glad I rose to the challenge of my responsibilities.”
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Toni Morrison once said, “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” She points out that a writer writes not just for others, but for herself. But yet, in writing about her struggles with life, Morrison finds ways to connect with the reader, crafting her writing in such a way that it becomes something she would want to read. She's already stated that she's writing books that she wants to read. How does one find an objectivity, while writing, to create someone you would want to read? When the words flow from within you, you're writing about something you know, something that happened to you or something you can imagine happening, something about the human condition, a universal problem to be solved. I suspect that when Morrison's got it all down on paper, she looks at what she wrote to see if it did what she intended. She becomes her own critic. But what she's really doing is telling a story that needs to be told. She's reaching out to other people. The message I get from this is how important it is to pick the right projects. All our writing should be something that hasn't been written yet and it must be something we would want to read. If I don't like to read mysteries, why would I write a mystery? If I don't care about planes, why would I ghost write a book about planes? It comes down to the number one rule of writing--we must write what we know.
Monday, January 20, 2014
Home from Costa Rica after a relaxing vacation to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary.
Sunday, January 12, 2014
You're reading this as I'm living in the jungles of Costa Rica. I'm writing this before Paul and I leave to explore ancient paths through heavy forests and immerse ourselves in a culture that has evolved on a strip of mountainous volcanic earth between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Eight nights and nine days of living in the jungle will surely teach us something new, and I'll emerge with stories to share with friends and family. Maya Angelou write that "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” That's what drives me to write. You may tell your stories out loud and repeat the same ones over and over again, and as you do that, as you wait for the right moment to say what comes to mind at a dinner table or while walking in the woods, you are letting that untold story out into the world. What is it about human nature that makes us want to tell others what we've learned, what we feel, what we've experienced? I'm intrigued by storytelling, that desire we have to get our stories out into the world. I suspect that part of what we're doing when we tell them is wishing for a response from those to whom we tell our tales. No writer wants to write in a vacuum--even if our stories are never published, we have a sense, while writing, that someone's listening, even if it's only our muse or the God that watches over us.
Sunday, January 5, 2014
In my unpublished book White Preacher's Kid (hopefully that will come out in 2015), I try to capture what it was like for a white girl to grow up in the black ghetto. In a lot of ways, it was what followed, the move to Lorain, that was hard. We moved to the suburban area of Lorain near Amherst when I was thirteen. All the rules that one lives by were already being questioned, but how does a young girl who feels like an urban black inside accept the invitation to be part of a clique or any offer of friendship from white kids whose parents are members of a country club and have pools in their back yards? You're probably surprised by my portrayal of blue-collar, rustbelt, dilapidated Lorain, Ohio, whose population has been halved in the last forty years. But for this thirteen-year-old girl, Lorain felt very foreign and intimidating. How I spent the next five years, growing up, is being handled with kid gloves in my book because I never figured out how to fit in and the ways I chose to acclimate were self-deprecating and tragic. Lorain's sex-and-drugs tough world revealed itself and it was just the thing for me to throw myself into. I became so deeply lost to who I was that I had what amounted to a nervous breakdown my first year in college. I think a lot, but back then, it seems to me I was avoiding thought. I didn't want to know right from wrong, yet I was trying to find what my life was meant to be. But I really thought I was just being a party girl, trying to capture as much of life as I could because I knew I'd be dead by the time I was thirty. If I kept up that lifestyle, I would have been. The story is one of survival, so treating it with kid gloves is probably the wrong approach. We'll see how I find a way to tell the story without doing too much damage.
Sunday, December 29, 2013
What are the things that matter most in your life? Do you even know? My life often feels like I'm meandering along a river and wander into dead-end tributaries, all the while bringing up muck from the river's bottom. I focus on unnecessary things and am pulled in too many directions. The worst thing is that I ALLOW this to happen to me. So I spent some time looking at my life and how I spend my time and what paths I'm led down and came up with those things that are absolutely essential to me. The list was long and included the things in my life that really matter: family, nature, travel, yoga, writing, and art. It also included things that quiet the soul, those things that are more about an attitude towards living, the hazy but focused living-well reminders for everyday living like being present and living in the moment and living each day as a prayer. Those things mean different things to me than they do to you, and some of them may not be on your radar. I wrapped it all up in a neat little poster, and in the center were the words "Presence brings meaning, listening allows connection." As 2013 draws to an end and 2014 stretches out long and promising before us, I'm not making lists, because lists make life a drudgery. But I am thinking about my absolutes and living each day as if it really matters. Because it does.