Wednesday, February 25, 2009

p.s. re what it cost

a committed and caring reader of this blog asked me why I saw fit to publicly list my expenses when I was out on the town last Friday. 

He said it wasn't clear from the post what I was thinking, which was this:

isn't it interesting that just because I'm spending the day downtown instead of home, it costs a euro to go to the bathroom and two euros to use the internet for an hour, instead of nothing?

isn't it interesting that because I'm out and about (and the weather is miserable), I have to go into a coffeeshop and spend a euro or two (and be a little humiliated) to buy a cup of tea so I have a place to sit and write some things for a little while?

and useful to note to myself that I nosed around the secondhand store for at least half an hour just because I saw it, and spent my 21 euros just because I was there and found a couple of things that seemed vaguely interesting? (I still buy things just because they appear to fit when I try on ten things and eight do not fit.)

oh, and I forgot 6 euros for a little stationery box with a wonderful magnetic lid that was supposed to cost 11.90 but it was a little scuffed, and I only wanted the box, and it had stationery in it but they didn't have any without so in a huge department store the salesman actually suggested he'd sell it to me for less, which seemed a minor miracle to me. (The box was to put the postcards in, the postcards were what I had been writing in the cafe, and the postcards, written on, and in their box, were a little souvenir from Portugal for young not-so-baby niece Fanny.)

and maybe, too, the listing of what I spent during the day was just a little organizational gimmick as a way to remember and tell about what I did on my day out, which is quite different from a day in, such as today is shaping up to be.

Elaine Showalter, why a woman can't write the great american novel

I just sent this article to my book group but I wanted to say it here too. I just read a really interesting article in Salon about a book by Elaine Showalter that is an overview of American women novelists for the last 300 years or so.

Very very interesting I thought was the observation that the difference between British and American women writers was that in British families, having a servant was something that went very far down the economic ladder, whereas in American families, even well-off ones or slaveholding ones expected women to tend to domesticity (and yes, I did have to go put the potatoes into the boiling water in the kitchen before I could finish writing this paragraph).

life at home

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

domestic day, I guess. Just came in here (light-filled living room) from the kitchen, where there the swish-swash of the dishwasher I just started, a kind of fizzing sound from the pot I put on to boil so I could start potatoes for Felix's lunch (they get fried later), and then a heroic rising "I'm here!" of the electric kettle for my tea.

I wanted to start the day working on financial aid applications for our life next year when we are parents of a person in college (I started to write "child in college" but it wasn't quite right). And was thwarted by what is supposed to make your life easier - we filled out all these forms last year and we're already in their system but you have to know / remember the user id and password from last year and I couldn't find them anywhere, and of course it won't be 8 a.m. on the East Coast for several more hours so I have to cool my heels. I called Max at his bakery (so excellent to be able to call my son at 9 a.m. and know he's been awake for hours already) to ask if he had any ideas; he just got back to me with some possibilities so I'll go work on those forms in a minute.

I want to do a quick shopping before Felix comes home from school. I could zoom out, do the shopping, and zoom back (the zooming is all done on my feet of course) and be back here in an hour at the most. I've been thinking about the difference between this and shopping in Bloomington. I also got frustrated there fitting in the shopping, but somehow it was less of a deal, even though I usually figured an hour at least there too, what with driving to Mr. D's and going all around the store, paying, and driving home. There's something about having to put on all the clothes I need for a walk out in the cold - is that what makes it feel more of a hurdle? I don't know, I just know I postpone and postpone and then I think: whoops, can't go now, it's too late and I wouldn't be back before Felix gets home from school.

And one last thing: have I mentioned the fabulous garbage/compost/recycling setup here? In Berkeley last summer we thought it was so cool that you could put our your organic garbage / compost as a separate thing. Well here there's all of that, plus a huge bin for bottles of different colors, plus a huge bin for paper, plus a huge bin for "packaging" which includes plastic and styrofoam and things like that. And then of course, there's regular left-over garbage, but it's amazing how little that ends up being when there are so many other places to put everything else.

Off to work on the financial aid if the passwords get me in. Wish me luck. Tonight is play-reading group, looking forward to it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

what it cost to be out on the town yesterday

9:42 a.m. 2 euros 10 to ride the bus into my 10 a.m. writing group, because my monthly pass only starts at 10 a.m. every day (21 euros cheaper per month; since I go early way fewer than 10 times a month it still makes sense)

10:15 a.m. 1 euro 50 for peppermint tea and a mini brownie (teeny tiny) - I think it was 1.50 - and then I put in maybe 20 cents for a tip

noon maybe 8 euros or 9 euros for soup (green beans with ham pieces or something, which I did not expect), salad (just green, with a balsamic vinaigrette), and a bottle of water (oh, and again I put something in for the tip)

twenty minutes later I can't remember, maybe a euro total, for 3 mini brownies to go

around 1:00 pharmacy, picked up some prescription stuff for a rash, but no money changed hands because I'd paid for it the day before

1:30 1 euro 50 for the peppermint tea I wrote about yesterday, and maybe again 20 or 30 cents for the tip that caused me all the extra trouble with blocking the door while I stood trying to fish out the change and my backpack jutting backwards (this whole episode was just because I wanted to write some postcards and I completely forgot to do them in coffeeshop number 1 where my writing group was, where I stayed and had lunch after the others left - it was so cold and grizzly sleety awful there was no way this could be done outside)

2:00 bought some tickets for sister-in-law and her man to go to the wonderful show hubby and I had gone to two weeks ago (or was it really just a week ago???) - I don't count that though in what it cost to be out and about

2:30-ish 21 euros at a big secondhand store for a poufy purple pair of workout pants and a button-down red skirt (tried on lots of things but only those fit) - I bumped into that store on my way to look for the internet store somebody had sent me to

3:00 1 euro to use the bathroom in the zoo train station - very fancy bathroom set up if I do say so but pricy, called McClean I believe

3:30 2 euros to use the internet at the internet cafe for an hour

4:30 bought Felix some fancy lime green shoes he has to have to wear to gym class at school (he's faked his way through it all year so far but somebody at school laid down the law) - again, I won't count this really in the cost of being downtown, I had to get those for him

5:00 walked home most of the way, talked on the phone to Sabine in the hospital post-knee operation, and briefly to Max if I remember correctly, and left phone messages for Alex and family - hopped on the 29 bus for a few stops along the way and then another ten-minute walk home but no money changed hands because my trusty bus pass worked then - tried to buy a raisin roll but no dice, they were out, so that didn't cost anything - I suppose strictly speaking the phone calls cost something but I wasn't laying out cash so I couldn't say (and come to think of it, the long one, with  Sabine, was on her nickel)

Very nice to be home at the end of the long day out! Somewhere along the way (actually, at the McClean place) I put a ten-euro bill into a wall change machine and got out lots of nice shiny 1- and 2-euro coins, which in turn had many adventures today, but we won't go into that.

Now it's time to run off and hang with the in-laws - my fath'r-in-law is in town for a few days, and I haven't seen the baby and her family for over a week - I'm going to have to stop calling her the baby soon I think she's growing all up.

more shoutouts

and Anja, how could I forget you! Hello dear Anja, my surprise reader.
and Jenny, don't know if you're still along for the ride?
Uncle John, Laurie, are we together here?

Hello all my dearies, thanks for reading. And writing.


Friday, February 20, 2009

two or three shoutouts

hello and love to dear neighbor Susan, still slowly recovering, I hope it's going well. 
hello and love to my sister, I think you read me on the weekends mostly.
hello and love to Alexandra, possibly a new reader?
dear parents, lots of love, much luck with the current challenges.
dear Cynthia and Kim, my dedicated readers and noticers, thank you for reading and commenting!

am I forgetting somebody? Ellen, are you back? Greetings to you all out there. I get confused and I know I'm still very imperfect at this form, but it's been such a help to me working things out, and I appreciate your patience. 

And Sue of course, my dear, my newish reader, I am so looking forward to messing with words with you when I return to Bloomington. 
And Amani, if you're peeking in, hello and good morning.

And to all of you about whom I don't even know you're reading, hello and I'm glad you are reading.


what that was all about in the unpleasant cafe . . .

taking up space
tininess (cafe division)
lack of tininess (me division)

when I used to weigh 250 pounds and we would come to Germany every couple of years, I got stared at, and I didn't fit into spaces, and it was a huge pain.

now I weigh about 180 or 185 pounds right now (including the 2 kilos I gained in Lisbon) and so while I'm not so huge, I'm really not tiny. But what really doesn't fit into the little spaces here is me plus my big backpack. But if I'm out and about for a day at a time, as I was yesterday, I kind of need the whole backpack to get around and have the things with me I need (I didn't even take the laptop, which is why I had to spend a big chunk of time finding the internet cafe).

but for all the weight I've lost I guess I still take up too much space and it's just not all that much fun hanging out in a place that doesn't allow for that.

in the coffeeshop I go to with my writing group, which spouse o'mine scoffs at as "too American" because they offer bagels and brownies and things like that, I feel very at home for no reason to do with what they serve but because the place is light and airy (so many cafes here are dark, dark, dark) and because there is space, space to move around, space to sit down, space to put a person's backpack. Does this make me an ugly American? 

nice lady in internet cafe

you just have to ask, I guess! I was desperately searching for a way to make the at sign appear to sign into Facebook (I could see it right there on the Q key but there was clearly something that needed doing besides pressing the caps key) and finally I asked the lady at the terminal next to me.

Hooray for friendly people. Given the tone of the previous post, just thought I should add that.

little humiliation(s) of the day

sitting in an internet cafe next to McDonald's across from the Zoo train station. German keyboard, so I may not be able to fix all the ys that come out zs and vice versa, but I'll try.

went to little cafe near sister-in-law's house to write some things. asked what the deal was after I ordered my mint tea - should I go sit down or should I wait there for the tea.

go sit down I was told so I did. When the tea came it came with a little lecture - is this your first time in this cafe? yes? OK, so you couldn't know - next time, please take your tea to the table yourself. (I'm thinking, why do I bother asking?)

So after I did mz tea drinking, finished mz writing I wanted to do, I went back up to pay, and then I wanted to go back to leave a little something on the table because I couldn't find a place to do that at the counter where I paid - a few coins. And the table I'd been at was in a tiny corner bz the door, and of course I was there with my huge backpack, and trying to pull out a few coins and find just the right one and so the lady comes up behind me and sazs, zou're standing in a particularlz inconvenient place (she said "unguenstig" which is something like not the most useful, helpful place) - and I thought thanks loads, lady, see how hard I try to pull a tip out of mz pocket next time. It just didn't make me feel that much like going back!

Then it took me many streets, many askings,many wrong turns till I found this internet cafe.

However my little writing group, started bz me and meeting each Friday morning at a different cafe, was as usual very nice this morning and it was fun and satisfying to write and read with these other women. So the day's not a total loss. Gray, yes. Sleety-rainy and slushy, yes. But still not a total loss.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Happy Birthday to my #1 niece

Amani traveler of watching ancestor families,
Amani of break steps and weight changes in four-beat measures,
miked on musical stages, Amani of libraries.
Of words, Amani, early and many, booked and spoken and accented
coming words, going words, pushing and pulling the world words.

Amani of almost-Jinja expected, of narrow Guernsey toddled,
Amani of Lutterworth speech and crayons, Lutterworth baby brother grown towering
Amani of longtime Houston and sudden sunny Addis
Amani sixteen in Austin. Pause, tap.


Amani of you can do anything, girl-child of you will dance far, bearer of ancestor
hopes, weights, pride. Kick, girl. Happy birthday!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lisbon continuing sunny and beautiful

This morning we have to fly away home from Lisbon. Home, that is, to snowy Berlin. 

I feel like being all rah-rah boosterish because it's been really fabulous, but of course there's only so much of that one can write. And it got too much for me some of the time, all the walking around on the cobblestones - but hubby and I figured out we could profitably split up for a few hours and that was nice too. 

It's good to be away from home and the constraints of home and see different things, think different thoughts. See different roofs, and different tiles on the buildings, and different old crumbly castles looking out over spreading colors of buildings tumbling up and down hills full of sunshine. Go ride a different cable car out over the sparkling waters of the Tejo river and towards the long, long, long, long Vasco da Gama bridge, which in San Francisco terms is the Dumbarton Bridge to the Golden Gate one they have further up - truly astonishingly like the Golden Gate bridge. The Vasco da Gama one has these feathery fanlike cables doing a little peacock show-off at the beginning of the bridge. 

Did I say this already? At first we would try Spanish with a smattering of Portuguese on people first (hubby laughs; I bought a phrasebook - but at least we know some numbers, colors, days of the week, all that). But most people very quickly told us, very nicely, to just go ahead and speak English already. 

So now we try English first and in the very few cases the person doesn't speak (usually very good) English we go for our Spanish with Portuguese sprinkles.

Yesterday we went out to the grounds of the old Expo 98 they had here where they have built up a new area with boardwalks, the cable car I mentioned, a huge aquarium, and various other wonderfuls. There were some bushes growing on the grounds of the Vodafone building we were walking through, and I thought it looked like baby pomegranates growing on them, which the spouse and I were both surprised at - he had never seen them growing, even growing up in Iran. So, very conveniently and helpfully, we bumped into a gardener transplanting just such things, and asked him. He kindly removed his iPhone earbuds and in amazingly good English told us that they were pomegranates (he didn't know the English word but he opened one up for us and it was an unmistakable baby pomegranate) and told us what a great job he had, gardening in the sunshine and responsible for several city blocks worth of pomegranates, other flowering plants and shrubs, and a little mini-forest of bamboos. We could see how it was pretty sweet.

So yes - time to think, and time to walk, and time to read, and time to check in with the kids every now and then and hear they are doing perfectly well without us thank you so much.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Lisbon hotel room . . .

is tiny. I did my stretching here this morning and I am not really all that long of a person in the grand scheme of things but I had a hard time fitting - it's hard to stretch when you're scrunching!

is in an ugly sixties or post-sixties slab of a building, but from our fifth-floor window (European style, so sixth-floor in my head) we do see funky semi-rounded tile roofs, old buildings with laundry hanging out the windows, the cobbled steps up the narrow street to our right and the castle way across the way on the other hill.

has a cool red rug on the floor, with little ovals tht could be psychedelic pills or just represent little humanoid body-oids, bisected by little stick-figure arm complexes. I want to take it home with me.

has wireless access, hooray.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

in Liston, thinking about freedom and lightness in Bloomington

sell the house and rent an apartment downtown

sell the car and get a moped, helmets for all, take a taxi

keep the friends, can't really live and be happy, grounded, well without them, too lonely without them, keep and embrace the friends, they are the richness and the resource and the family far from family, and while resting in their embrace also go prowling for new friends, old, young, crazy, poor, hardworking, scattered

move to Indianapolis I thought for a minute, at least it's a city, but no we can't imagine that. 

start new salons in our living room / start play-reading group / poetry-reading group / the French poetry-reading group I've always talked about

build a gazebo, put planters in the windows, start composting in the backyard, start gardening in the back yard

write songs

those last couple don't really increase freedom and lightness maybe but they increase newness and aliveness. I'm coming back to sell the car because sell the house seems a little unlikely, besides we have that salon-ready living room.

day 1 in Lisbon

up at the crack of dawn in Berlin, out of the house with the kids still fast asleep, and off in a taxi.

Changed planes in Zurich where it was snowing hard, there were rows and rows of snow plows out on the runway with blinking orange lights and we had to wait a long time to pull up to a gate; our outbound flight was then delayed quite a while before and after we boarded - we had to be de-iced before we took off.

And then Lisbon. Sunshine, beautiful tumbling streets of cobblestone and steps and graffiti and views across to the other hills, castles and painted townhouses (a little like San Francisco, only older and more Moorish and smaller). 

(Different from San Francisco, of course, that's just a starting point. But we were there for our twentieth wedding anniversary last fall and here we were in Lisbon on Valentine's Day. I'm just saying.)

Anyway, it's been glorious. We were so lucky in the weather, and we've just been walking around, with breaks for naps. I got a phrasebook and that helped a little; one place I was I spoke Spanish till my Spanish ran out and then I spoke English, and the guy said you know what, just talk English why don't you (he said it in a more Portuguese way than that, bu still). So I've decided to start with English from now and if that doesn't work we'll go to Spanish, and maybe from there to the phrasebook.

At ten p.m. the tiny cobblestone streets squeezed between the crumbling streetlong walls of townhouses were starting to fill with partying young people, and all the restaurants were full, full, full (Valentine's Day) - one place he said something that said something like "no poking? no table" but I finally realized was "no booking . . . " - we hadn't booked. Finally at 11:30 one place said we could come back in an hour and then they'd have a place. We went off to find the vegetarian restaurant close to our hotel but on the way we turned into a side street (no more or less narrow than the main tiny street we were on, and no more or less completely contained by the unbroken walls on each side) which had a restaurant in the middle of it which had tables completely covering one length of the street. So we sat down there, and stayed a long time because it turned out they'd completely lost our order when they briefly lost power, but they hadn't noticed we were sitting there foodless while everyone around us was eating supper, eating dessert, and leaving. 

If it sounds like I'm complaining, I'm not. We had a lovely time. Now we're back in our room and hubby was, when I started, watching a nature show about porpoises or walruses or something, in Portuguese, which was wonderfully soothing as background for me, but then he switched to something in English, something in Persian, and back to something in English. 

It's 3 a.m. in Berlin, 2 a.m. in Lisbon, and I think we're about done for the day. 

Friday, February 13, 2009

p.s. re facebook

p.s. my facebook life is just exploding since I wrote about it a few days ago. Now my college friends are appearing. Ask me in a few weeks what I think about all this. For now it's fun. 

Tim Fischer, glorious night out

Just got back from a night at the Bar jeder Vernunft ("bar of every reason" / "barring all reason"), a fabulous pillowy tented space in the middle of town near my sister-in-law's place, where we went to hear Tim Fischer, again. Did I write about this in the fall? In the fall he was singing Zarah Leander; tonight it was Georg Kreisler, of whom we had never heard but who wrote such timeless classics as "let's go poison the pigeons in the park".

Had a fabulous time. The man has an amazingly agile and endlessly moveable face, a wonderful way of articulating the old songs that play with German and make it fun (and he updates them as necessary).

Off to Lisbon in the morning, 'night all!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

days of friends and travels

I briefly mentioned our visitors from Switzerland, who were here a week and a half ago now. Ellen was here Friday to Sunday, Anouk and Jean-Yves just Saturday to Sunday. Friday we went to the Stasi museum, the museum of the East German secret police. I'm not a museum person. Ellen was tired too. Kids came along. We had a really hard time finding the place, finally after tacking back and forth through alleyways found the entrance through a desolate and deserted parking lot, inside the place it was depressing and, as Ellen pointed out, the decor was stuck in the fifties - given that the place was being kept up and used (sorry, I didn't point out the museum itself was in the Stasi's former headquarters) up until the country came apart in, like, 1990. It really was interesting but their technology was surprisingly retro and embarrassing, the whole scary Stasi thing wasn't that impressive looked at that way.

But it was a very good and intense visit. And then they left, and here we are. Felix has gone back to school now, Max moved out today to go live in a WG (a Wohngemeinschaft, a living community aka shared apartment), and as hubby, sitting on the couch next to me reading the next chapter of The New Rules of Marriage (I read the chapter this afternoon; wanted to order us another copy or at least bring our second copy back from Bloomington with me in March but hubby theorizes it's good practice cooperating on taking turns reading from the one book!?), points out, I am/look tired.

So, super briefly: it's been a week of more new friends. Friday morning last week I met my American/Colombian/Spanish writing buddy at a cafe and we wrote together, talked, and went to what felt like a greater level of intimacy; Friday night was our big German-English writing group and there was a charming young lady sitting next to me whom I had seen there also the previous month. Chatted with her, invited her to our Friday morning writing group, exchanged contact info, later invited her to the weekly play-reading group as well.

Saturday morning on my three-hour walk with my neighbor (it didn't start out to be a three-hour walk; her feet were bleeding by the end!) we went into boutiques to look at clothes - I would never do this on my own! Reminded me I do like to wear other things than my jeans. Didn't buy anything but have worn different things than my jeans recently. Went into a Starbucks so she could get coffee, they didn't take her bank card, we left again. Talking all the while. 

Tuesday morning I went and picked up my recently-connected-with lively and boisterous Viennese friend at her house at the S-Bahn station nearby and we took an hour-plus-long walk to Weight Watchers. Afterwards we walked home together, but not before connecting with and exchanging contact info with and having a long talk outside the building with one of the two spunky journalist women who are part of the life of the Weight Watcher party there on Tuesday mornings. So now Viennese friend and journalist lady and I are all going to do Tuesday morning walks together. And we have our contact info - that reminds me I need to write journalist lady quickly and give her mine, since everybody seems to have business cards to pass out but me.

And Tuesday night was play-reading group at my Israeli sociologist neighbor's house (the neighbor from the Saturday walk) - and young lady from writing group came! She's up for things, she's out and about, and I love her style and her harem pants and even her nose ring works for me. And then after the play-reading group I stayed and got some reassurance from my neighbor - I felt like I'd been loud and noisy and taking up too much space at our monthly poetry reading group the night before and she was very helpful about it.

So . . . this town is full of people to get to know. And lastly but not at all leastly, my choir director from Hamburg, 1985-86, with whom I would go and play cards in smoky cafes for hours after choir practice (three of us: me, him, and my buddy Kim) - anyway, I woke up yesterday morning and he had found me on Facebook. So we are connecting away via Facebook. Kim, what do you know! He didn't even know I was in Berlin, he imagined us all in California, where we lived four moves and thirteen and a half years ago. So Ruthy, I guess that answers your and my question re Facebook.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

what's with Facebook?

Another question from dear sister: "Can you explain to me in a few words what the advantage of Facebook is over writing regular e-mails to your friends (beyond the occasional person "finding" you that you might not have written to otherwise)?"

No, dear Ruthy, I cannot explain in a few words! When have you ever known me to explain anything in a few words?

But I can try to explain in a slightly larger number of words, and I will try to be as concise as I can.

1. In the beginning the whole thing seemed particularly silly to me and I couldn't understand the point of it. As you say, we could just e-mail. But people were friending me (I originally joined because dear neighbor Susan S. (Hi Susan if you are reading this!!) invited me to join, and she in turn joined because her daughter Torrey was spending a few months in France and rather than writing e-mail to individual people was going to post things on her Facebook wall), and since they were my friends friending me I figured I'd go with it.

2. What I said above about Torrey is one thing you can do on Facebook - in fact it's very much ike a blog in that way, you can publish a bunch of stuff and other people don't have to feel individually singled out that they must read it, you're putting it there and it's people's choice. Also you're not sending to a big massive e-mail list. 

3. But then there are also individual connections, and you can write little notes back-and-forth. And here I really didn't get the advantage over e-mail. But it turns out that you can be friends with people on FAcebook and not know their e-mail address! And you can write public notes to other people that their other friends can see even if they don't know you.

4. I play word games on Facebook which I adore (too much, and I am trying to cut back)

5. There are all kinds of little things and activities and ways of connecting (people "poke" each other [which is apparently a friendly thing] but they also send each other little objects and tokens, all virtual, and then there are webs of connections and keeping track of everybody's birthday - your birthday can be on your profile though our cousin John is trying to get around that, and then you can keep your own birthday calendar (and I am noticing that Cynthia's birthday is day-after-tomorrow, happy almost birthday Cynthia!!!, which I may not have otherwise been completely on top of) - and there are relative web connection applications, which some of our cousins have been asking me to connect to but I haven't seen my way clear to doing that yet).

6. People put pictures up, which is nice. I have not done this.

7. People do a "Twitter"-like feed of what they're up to. So I know about our cousin Edie shoveling snow, and playing word games, and her husband Mark getting hurt (he's all right now it sounds like); and another friend was going through a job search and her fiance was far away and so I could see about how her various interviews went and how she was keeping in touch with her fiance; and things like that. Twitter if you don't know about I am a terrible person to explain. My family here does not get it. I am trying to understand these things. I think part of the idea is that it shouldn't have to always be such a big event, the communicating, it can be the background fabric of lives that you are seeing - if we were all closer to each other we would be seeing.

So . . . I am probably the second-worst person in the world to try to explain all this (I don't know who the first-worst is but I'm sure there's somebody) but I thought I'd try. All you Facebookheads out there (yes, Deb and Ellen, this means you) want to tack on comments???

I think, Ruthy dearest, you may have to just try it. I don't mean you should try it, just that in order to get a sense of it you have to feel your way into it. On the other hand, if you don't like to hang out on the computer, and you have zero time (which I know is the case) it might not be the greatest thing. Try it some summer when you have more time???

misery versus despair

btw, I had an insight the other day about misery versus despair. I was despairing (trying so hard to write a short story by the evening critique group, exhausted from having been up since 4:30 a.m., no time or opportunity for a nap, disgusted with myself for having wasted time and for having gotten myself sleep-deprived, and back to the trying to write a short story) - I was indeed despairing.

And yet, I realized, I was not miserable! Just despairing!

Who knew these things were so very different and separable?!

the figure I cut . . .

This is nothing to do with the Berlin film festival!

My dear sister reminded me that long ago I said I was going to blog about the figure I cut when I went to the grocery store. (I had a long list of things I wanted to post about; still do but it's a different list now and I think I've become wiser by thinking maybe I shouldn't post the list this time . . . )

And she wondered the other day about that. And whether it had changed.

Well, it has, and that's why I didn't blog about it, but here, in the nutshelliest nut I can try to put it in, is the figure I used to cut:

little wallet-purse with thin long black strap over shoulder
enormous backpack with multiple canvas bags (on the way there; on the way back all the canvas bags are bulging and hanging off my hands and wrists and arms; the backpack is bulging too)
big black weight vest
multiple scarves hanging off me for decoration
some kind of funny half-length pants that I think are cute but people here don't really wear I guess
balancing on my big clunky round-soled Masai Barefoot Technology sandals
and to finish it off, trying somehow to manage reading The New Yorker as I take my walk to or from the store

How/why has it changed?

Well, I've stopped wearing the weight vest because my knee was hurting. So that's a big one.
An even bigger one is that I got myself a wheeled cart (I guess a cart has to be wheeled?) to buy the groceries with. It's red (some of them, the cheaper ones, were SOOO ugly - I paid 60 euros and there were ones for 120 but there were also ones for 30 or 40 but I decided it was worth a little more for me to like the looks). And I use it 4 to 6 times a week. A little plastic piece on the bottom broke off once when I was pulling it, fully loaded with the usual (see below) plus several crates of clementines up onto the bus, so it doesn't stand perfectly and is a little more likely to tip than it was, but it's a fabulous thing.
Here's what it can hold: 4 to 6 little cartons of milk, 2 to 6 liter bottles of mineral water and juices, 4 to 10 kilos of apples, potatoes, carrots, bananas, mangoes, leeks (I'm buying lots of leeks!), plus all sorts of big and small miscellaneouses like yogurt, large jars of Nutella (soooo much cheaper here), multiple heads of lettuce, eggs (I put them on the bottom so they sit flat and they come home perfectly), 20 at a time (they come in tens here not twelves), toilet paper and kleenexes and well, you know all the things people buy at a supermarket. I can tuck all my little ginger ends and lemons and small things like that down into the spaces.
If I remember to bring my backpack sometimes, if I buy too many large paper products or bread (VERY cheap here, I mean the really good fresh-baked stuff), then there is overflow just spacewise (not weightwise) and I put some of the larger lighter things in the backpack (actually, the backpack can take heavy stuff too - but sometimes I have lighter larger stuff in bags hanging off my hands, arms, and wrists again like old times if I buy just a little too much for the cart).

So those are the main reasons I don't cut such a figure. Also with the cold I'm not reading while I walk, nor cell phoning usually though sometimes I manage. And with the cold I'm wearing extremely boring and predictable clothes, basically black jeans every single day for the last six months it feels like except for yesterday when I wore my red tights and my little jeans skort (but with my long black Berlin-bought down coat over the whole thing I still didn't look very daring).

So that, dear sister, is what I used to look like and why I'm not particularly wild-looking anymore!

Food Inc. at the Berlinale

The Berlinale, the Berlin film festival, started Thursday, and my family has been trying to do its level best to support the thing (God knows it would shrivel up and die without us).

Thursday night the boys and their Papa went to see Ben Hur on a huge screen, it started at 8:30 and went until something like 2 in the morning (I guess there was some talking somewhere, and an intermission . . . ) - it was still Felix's vacation week so he didn't have to go to school the next day.

Saturday night we went to see a series of short films with some of our neighbors, and they were kind of cool and very mixed - anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes long. From Russia, England, Paraguay, the U.S., and I'm blanking on the other places. Hubby liked the British one best; I loved the images in the Paraguayan one, which was about a very poor old woman with unbelievably long white hair (not that essential to the plot but tremendously essential to the images) - it was from a classic Paraguayan short story and I thought it was very good. Max and hubby thought the ending was too dramatic. Poor Felix fell asleep before the last one (now I remember, it was a German one), in which a very Mr. Bean-like character celebrates his birthday at home with cigarettes and waiting for the phone to ring. (And I remember the other one too, it was Indonesian and it was about a homeless couple who look for recyclables, as far as I could tell, all day long. I liked that too.)

And Sunday morning Max went to see Baraka with a friend which he said was very good. But why I'm writing is yesterday (Sunday) afternoon, we all four went to see Food, Inc., which I guess isn't even showing in the States yet. It was very impressive and very depressing. Eric Schlosser of Fast Food Nation fame and Michael Pollan of many fames but most relevantly here The Omnivore's Dilemma, worked very much on this book and were both also present for a panel discussion afterwards. (Along with Gael Garcia Bernal, actor and director but not of this movie - I guess he's just very engaged in the subject - and some other people like the Italian founder of the Slow Food movement and the former German Health Minister who got laws passed about labeling genetically modified organisms . . . )

Anyway, the panel wasn't really the most important part, the movie was. It was impressive and depressing, with a little bit of uplift in the middle around Polyface Farms. (little plug: Read The Omnivore's Dilemma!!!) I thought the movie was very much like The Omnivore's Dilemma (essential message: our food supply is a mess and disgusting; there are alternatives and go for them, they might cost more right now but we can't afford the hidden and unhidden health, environmental, and social costs of the current system and besides it is completely unsustainable which, as so-very-smart Michael Pollan pointed out in the discussion yesterday, means that the system will implode and fail sooner or later). Anyway, very much like The Omnivore's Dilemma but what I didn't get from the book, and I don't actually think it was in the book but anyway I didn't see it, was that even if we are not eating at fast food places like McDonald's, they are such huge buyers that they have caused most production in the United States to cater to them, so almost all the supermarket food we can buy is part of the enormous, monoculture, consolidated supply chains that have been set up to serve the fast food places - along with the horrific conditions for animals AND WORKERS, the government-subsidized waste that means bad choices are made over and over . . . I can't do justice to it all which is why there is a movie.

Very depressing. Very important. Very glad I saw it.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

chaos and calm: the bookshelf

I do want to post about what books are on the shelf. Anja of Berlin wrote yesterday to ask about what I'm reading and mentioned that per this blog it looks like I'm mostly spending a lot of energy on Weight Watchers.

True. And running around. And keeping busy, and looking for my writing groups, and meeting people. And I'm glad of it and I think it has been tremendously important (I've been writing about the misery-to-happiness turnaround in the fall but there was another turning point in January when I went looking for new anchors and connections for the new year) and yet yes, there is certainly also a way in which I am running around so much I can't sit still. Except, of course, to play Scrabble and Boggle online (and starting yesterday, Pathwords with my relatives). 

Then there's the computer as a thing. We've been talking about this in the family. See: Terry Real and misery stabilizers (previous post). I think it's a fascinating topic and I was going to post about it all by itself but it's obviously creeping into the other posts. Anyway, the computer in one way is of course just a tool and so one can use it in so many plain ways, but in fact it steals our times and minds we are finding. And about three weeks ago I planned to go computerless between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. every day (it's 5:51 a.m. right now so you see I am not managing entirely). And I guess what I'm saying is it's hard to decide at any given time if I really need to not be on the computer, but I think I'm going to try to go for it again, and then I want to read some books again. 

So, that brings us to the bookshelf. Next post, or the one after that.

I got flamed in real life!

So 25 random things about me is this list you fill out on Facebook, and one friend tagged me (if you don't know, it's a little like a chain letter - you fill it out, you send it on to other people and they write up a list for themselves, etcetera). I haven't done it yet but was thinking about it, and in the meantime noticed that more and more of my (very few, 20 so far I think) friends on Facebook were doing it.

Then yesterday in the New York Times there was an article about this list and how unbelievably fast it's growing and taking over cyberspace and Facebook, and how Facebook has never had an application get added by so many people so quickly. 

And I mentioned this to some people near and dear to me and they just exploded in scorn and contempt. I ask you! Why, I wonder. I tried to say something about how I thought it could be an interesting thing, and tried to tell them what some of the reasonably thoughtful comments in the New York Times article were. (near and dear, if you're reading this, I did think the flaming was weird)

Anyway, I don't seem to have succeeded in really talking about it on my terms. I think I'll just go do the list sometime today. I'm working on my boundaries, can you tell, and not being defined by other people's responses to things. One reason I suspended my blog in the fall was a few negative responses by (completely other) near and dear ones, and I finally decided no, I really want to write this and it makes me happy and keeps me connected to some important people. (It also helped that there were other people who had positive responses and asked about it!)

So that was a funny thing. Anyone else have experience with the 25 random things about me list, or thoughts about it, or experience with people who have really, really strong reactions to things?

more on misery: Terry Real and Judy Pennington

so here's another important turning point; in fact, it may be more than a turning point, it may have been the basis for my ability to go out and find turning points:

my first couple of months here in Berlin, I was trying to be the domestic goddess and failing miserably. And lonely and resentful. (that part you knew) The only thing I was really good at in the whole domestic goddess thing was getting people up in the morning and making them breakfasts and lunches and keeping them company as they got ready to go places. So that I held onto.

But at some point I started letting go of all the rest. I was trying to make dinner for everybody if I remember rightly back into the fog that was August and September, and shopping was hard and dinnermaking was hard and of course it never works for all four of us. And feeling trapped by Felix's school schedule.

And as Judy Pennington of Bloomington Weight Watchers fame says: insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So at some point I hung onto the whole morning thing (it was working!), with an exception here and there when I asked another adult or older child to take over for me so I could sleep in (not often) or leave early to meet a neighbor for a walk or jog (more often). But I let go of a lot of the other stuff. Forget making dinner! Forget domestic goddessness! 

Amd that was what let me go out and find all the other ways to be happier and happier.

I also want to maybe talk about Terry Real and misery stabilizers in another post but it's relevant here: in the context of a marriage with unhappiness in it he talks about misery stabilizers, things we do so we can make our life tolerable and don't have to make radical changes. And I found some misery stabilizers, not necessarily for my marriage (that's another post - we're doing pretty well thank you - thanks to Terry Real again and, I think, our own shared desire to work on things and keep coming back to making them better), but for my general overall misery. Terry Real btw was our marriage counselor a hundred years ago in Cambridge and he is now our marriage counselor again, this time in book form, and that will be a blog some day soon.

So: misery stabilizers. I read some books that engrossed me. I read the New Yorker on the bus and the subway and walking around and here in the house. And I started playing online Scrabble and Boggle with a friend of a friend (thank you, Ellen, for the intro).

And I'm still doing those things. Reading books not so much right now, and that's a post too. Old local friend Anja asked me about that yesterday and I do want to post about that. But the New Yorker, absolutely, and the online games, totally. And that's a big question: how much do I just go with it because they make me very happy indeed, how much do I say no, the time spent is keeping me from other important things I want to do?

For now I'm managing by limiting.


so how come I'm not miserable anymore?

I've been thinking about this. Here I think were some turning points:

- wonderful gospel choir weekend workshop in October - first time here in Berlin that I was working with other people on a shared project, I think - a few people also made advances to me and one of them, Susanne, has become a friend - we go for walks and take turns speaking English and German, and I've gone to a couple of concerts that another choir of hers was giving which were a lot of fun, just before Christmas

- a lovely breakfast with old friends Anja and Alexander, also possibly in October? - just me and them and true conversation

- the constitution of my weekly play-reading group (also sometime in October? late October, I think) - the weekliness of it was key! the fact that I knew I would see these people every week, and that they were up for it as I was - and I forgave them the fact that they were English-speaker - and there too friendship has sprung in the conversations before, after, and around the plays we read together

- blogging, that was a big one

- jogging, that helped, but not as much as blogging

- writing my 50,000 words in November. I had a task, I worked hard, it was something I'd never done before, I learned a ton and it was thrilling and satisfying

- and I think finding my Tuesday morning Weight Watchers group, which I actually didn't just find but a few of us started going at the same time, a few of us outspoken types, and I think we created it together, and there too it's weekly, it's around a shared interest/activity/conversation, and it's an enormous amount of fun, and it's in German!

There are other new friends, new connections, and new groups. But these are the important turning points I think. Also going to see the work/life coach I went to (also October! important month . . . ) - I went to her just once but it was tremendously helpful.

I want to remember these things for the future in case misery strikes again. What have you done when you were miserable?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

what might I miss about Berlin when we leave?

Multiplicity of possible routes to take for a walk or a jog
Not bored with the same old same old places to go
New friends
play-reading group
women's poetry-writing group
Saturday afternoon writing group
riding the top of the double decker bus to wherever
zooming downtown to huge stores to go shopping for anything
walking or busing or subwaying everywhere because there is no choice
baby niece and her family
talking languages

and more, and more, another day I'll surely have another list, but oh let me not forgot this: my wonderful, boisterous, overflowing Weight Watchers group

what do I miss about Bloomington?

my body pillow
my Tuesday and Thursday morning walking friends
my neighbors
my dog
my book group
my easy familiarity with how everything works, pretty much
my waffle iron
let me say it again: MY FRIENDS
the games cupboard

I know there's more but it's not coming to me right now. Maybe the easy availability of frozen blueberries in a store I can get to easily in a car that I drive? Don't miss the car per se but it sure makes the frozen blueberries easier to get!

why no jogging?

in the fall I was writing about all my fabulous jogs and suddenly I'm not, and you my dear reader are losing sleep wondering what happened to all the jogging.

My left knee is what happened, it started hurting, in fact it had been hurting or maybe shall we say uncomfortable for a while, but then it was actually hurting, so it seemed the smartest thing to stop jogging. I went to see a doctor person who said there was nothing terribly wrong with it as far as she could see (she didn't look that hard) and I should walk a brisk hour a day till the knee was better, and I have been.

The brisk hour a day is actually very enjoyable, and I often combine it with meeting a friend or two and I see different parts of the city and it's also coinciding with my renewed Weight Watcher success - in some ways it's easier to deal with the even daily tempo of an hourlong walk every day, rather than a jog every other day and figuring out what to do with the in-between days.

I think the long runs and possibly even more than that the faster pace I was so proud of sometimes attaining took their toll. Also quite possibly the cobblestones and other very hard surfaces I spent a lot of time on. I got new shoes which helped a little but not enough.

So . . . if/when my knee lets me start again, I'll go back to my almost impossibly gentle pace and I'll look for softer surfaces. Not sure whether I'll stick with shorter jogs or find myself irresistibly seduced by the pleasure of going on and on and on . . .

Are you jogging, my friends? Cynthia? Lyn? Jenny, I know you're jogging, but are you reading this? Sarah M.?

Think of me if you do!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Watching the weight - yet again

Looks like I've lost about 4 or 5 kilos in 4 weeks. On the Weight Watchers scale today they only had me down 100 g from last week but 4 kilos from 4 weeks ago (at home I was 5 kilos down). That group continues to be lively and funny and irreverent and loud, we always go over our time, it is one of my favorite times of the week and an absolute anchor for me. I say no to all kinds of pressing things I ought to be doing or am invited to do and make that meeting inviolable.

And yesterday I met a nutrition counselor, the partner of a friend of mine here, and learned all kinds of things about food and my body. Many things went parallel to Weight Watchers; things that were new to me or were things where I might need to try a new direction included: 
- he thinks I should have a day once in a while where I eat a lot more, so my body doesn't think I'm starving.
- I knew it was a problem to skip lunch or breakfast and I do not, my morning oatmeal with bananas and blueberries is sacred to me and my lunch of salad greens with peanuts (sometimes; half an ounce) or a hard-boiled egg (sometimes) and various chopped-up vegetables and a dressing of two teaspoons of olive oil is almost as sacred. But he seemed to think skipping SUPPER was a problem. That was new to me and I'm a little skeptical but I'm thinking about it. (Cynthia, whaddya think?) 
- he muchly encouraged me to eat more bread (???) or at any rate some kinds of grains. We'll see. I'll try. 

What I'm very very happy about is that for the last four weeks I have been very successful with the weight watching without making it the centerpoint of all conversations or even of my own psyche. I've been going to writing groups, meeting people to walk, entertaining visitors, having fun, working on projects . . . this is how I want to live, doing other things and having the weight watching almost manage itself along the edges.

Wish me luck, dearies. Post a comment about any of this?! 

funny week

a funny week indeed because Felix is not in school (winter break) but we didn't go anywhere because why? well, no money; also Felix didn't seem like he was that keen to go anywhere, nor was anyone else. Hubby wants to work, I want to work and meet people and have writing groups and play-reading groups and and and . . . (yesterday morning went and met a nutrition counselor).

also because Max has begun his patisserie job, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. making wonderful French sweet confections for no money but just the experience. That means he is leaving home at 5 a.m., getting up at 4:30 a.m. Yesterday I was awake from 4:30 to 6:30 after he got up although he clearly was being as quiet as he could; today I seem to have gone almost right back to sleep after I again woke up at 4:30. (Yesterday there was an edge of anxiety in my first waking as I thought I saw a sliver of light from outside that might have indicated he'd woken up too late - but I looked at my watch and was pretty proud of him for getting himself up at that hour.)

So we all lay about. We were exhausted Sunday afternoon from our lovely 2-day visit from Ellen, Anouk, and Jean-Yves, from Switzerland. More about that in another post. We're recovering. Madre-in-law still in town, haven't managed to see her that much but tomorrow we'll all get together - sis-in-law has 3 weeks off after a big event at work, so she's chilling with her baby and her mother, and as I said we'll see them all tomorrow.

Funny week. I'm doing an interesting-ish translation, French to English - also not my usual fare. 

Sunday, February 1, 2009

blog post titles

I'm trying to read the Huffington Post Guide to Blogging but of course like everything else it gets a little truncated by real life. 

But I did read the part about having nifty cool titles to grab readers' attention. (As well as tags/labels for search engines to find.) But here's the thing: at this point although possibly a secret piece of my brain may be wanting to be discovered on the web what I really think I am doing is writing so that I can connect with my mother, my sister, my friends, people like that. So I don't need the sexy attention-grabbing titles. Right? 

Still thinking about it. Still wanting to blog about what the blog is doing. Still working on the whole thing!

food for thought at writing group

It's been a little over a week already since my last Saturday afternoon writing group but it was a fabulous meeting in a lot of ways and I did want to write about it and remember it. There were a number of important insights that I walked away with: 

1. writing is about practicing in so many ways, there are so many ways to practice, I'm doing it, I'm glad I'm doing it, and I have way more practicing to do. And this is one reason why the novel I wrote in November was very good practice but almost certainly nothing I want to work on further.

2. Writing a novel has to be fueled by a kind of passion. I'm saying this wrong I'm pretty sure but what I'm trying to say is this and it came out of the conversation: something about how you have to be trying to write about something that matters, something that is real in some way. And when I started the novel I thought it was that, and in some ways it was, but ultimately it didn't hang together like that and when I am able to pull together a whole book in a unity of passion that will be the most likely keeper. Another reason why November was good practice but not the book I'm going to keep to work on more.

3. Writing 50,000 words in the month of November is a wonderful thing to do and the more Novembers you do it the more you learn, the more you practice, the more insights you have. So I need to be patient with myself as I am a baby at this.

4. I need to pay more attention to men. I talk to women, I hang out with women, I listen to women, I have intense connections with women. Aside from my father, my husband, my two sons, one remaining uncle, some boy cousins whom I hardly ever see but can connect up again wonderfully and quickly with when I do, and some grown-up male friends that I can count without using all the fingers of one hand, I don't really talk to men. (I have three lovely nephews and they should be in there somewhere.) This list got longer when I wrote it than I thought it would be but here is the thing: even these people, I don't have the kinds of conversations with that are perfectly natural and pretty common with my woman friends. My woman friends, my glorious woman friends, I cannot even count. And there is just such a complexity and layering of knowledge and connection. So the point is this: in novels I might write there would need to be human beings of both sexes and in order to write these novels I am going to need to know something about men. This is a huge assignment.

5. And as a wonderful bonus there was the great, down-and-dirty, super-quick and wonderfully productive narrative exercise I already blogged about.

Plenty of food for thought!