Friday, May 29, 2009

children, rucksacks, and shopping trolleys all gone

by the way I went back into the woods and went back the way I'd been - nobody to be seen! no children, no shopping trolleys. No Waldkindergarten.

I'm thinking maybe, maybe, I was too early in the morning this time.

Or maybe it had something to do with the fact that there was a hellacious thunder and rainstorm the night before, maybe they really do have a rain plan that involves the children being inside?!

We'll never know. But I can report that "kindergarten" starts even earlier than I said: young curly blonde niece Fanny is starting kindergarten on August 10th, and she only turns 2 next Friday. (And the timing is only because she's a June baby and they happen to start up anew in August; she could be starting then even if she was a July or even August baby, I'm pretty sure.)

And I also wonder if anyone else was noticing the whole "woods/garden" dichotomy in the Waldkindergarten concept - i.e. the garden is planned, planted, manmade, cultivated; the woods is theoretically wild? So they take the whole kindergarten concept where you are gardening with your kinders and planting them in neat little rows and civilizing them, and then I guess they are saying no, no, we do want to civilize them but we need a little wildering in the civilizing too so we are going to put them in neat little childer rows but out in the woods thank you so much!


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My grandfather's sermons

Grandpa always said it took a lot longer to write a one-minute sermon than a thirty-minute one. (I heard this from my father, not directly from Grandpa.)

So the idea that somehow I could save time and write shorter blogs at the same time was maybe not so spot-on. Wrote the last one in a big hurry but it wasn't short.

Still. This one is short. And I didn't spend forever writing it.

Love to all you people out there. Maybe I should think more about the whole sermon-blog link.

discipline; routines; today's challenge

Today's challenge was going to be to write a very short blog post.

On the play-reading front: tonight, either Friedrich Dürrenmatt's Der Besuch der alten Dame (previously reviewed in this blog) or else Tom Stoppard's Dogg's Hamlet and/or Cahoot's Macbeth. (I considered Hamlet itself, the one by old Bill S., but the online text I found was 152 pages long, so not.)

Last week at play-reading: The Tempest. By Bill S. himself (or someone else of the same name). I was so glad to have done it!

The previous week at play-reading: The Real Thing, I think it was called, by Tom Stoppard. Levels inside levels, confusions inside confusions, mix-ups and apparent wife-swappings and who knows what else.

On the lake: ducklings growing up, me imagining myself swimming there, just across the street from where we live. Some neighbors saying yes, go for it! Some staff members saying no, you wouldn't want to put your body into that body of water!

(It's not very short anymore, is it? I must learn!)

Just so you have a feeling there is a reason to read this post from Berlin and I am not from podunk writing (which soon I will be, no Bloomington I am not trying to insult you): on the street the other day, to redeem me from sitting in my half-basement office working all the time and not riding the bus or the S-Bahn so not running into good human-interest copy: a man came up to me and said: did you just see an older man walking down the street that way? (pointing) I had seen an older man, in fact a man I knew, who is a tall, smart, nice, older man who had told me a cute story about the ducklings not long before, so I said: yes! a tall older man walking that way [in fact, I named his name] - all the time I was trying to figure out who my questioner was. He was a young, energetic, dark-skinned man - I thought he was connected with our institute. Right about the time he said no, not a tall old man, a pretty short [demonstrating with his hand held out] I was able to read his name tag - he actually works for the retirement home down the street. [I was walking between the institute's residential villa, where we reside, and the institute's main buildings, where we work, so you see why I thought he might be with us; also in Berlin there are not so many dark-skinned people but at our institute there is a larger proportion than elsewhere.] - and seconds later a woman came running down the street from the retirement home's direction, pushing an empty wheelchair in front of her, calling to my interlocutor, and gesticulating. So it was a short old man who had run away from the home, but a man who generally hung out in a wheelchair?! 

I had to go inside to my half-basement office and never did find out whether they found their missing man. I guess I hope so. 

Did I say anything about disciplines and routines? Next time, maybe. Mostly, I embrace them! They make my life SOOOOOO much easier! For instance, just opening up the dashboard makes it a whole lot easier to quickly write a post; and trying to teach myself to write shorter posts makes it a whole lot easier to quickly write a post and not have so much time go by in between; and trying to convince myself I am not competing with my son's blog, which chronicles a. a so much more exciting external life, and b. a rather more interesting internal life right now, and c. impresses me by being wonderfully well-written - as I say, trying to convince myself of all of that makes it easier too.

Soon on your friendly local blog (if I remember and manage it)
- what I've learned from my year in Berlin which is almost over
- what I've learned from blogging
- what future blogs I might be writing

(and if you've read this far the chances are extremely high you are a woman [scientific research tells me this; I'm not just saying] so I can also tell you this: I'm thinking of starting a blog called something like Me and my Female Body, just for my female friends, where I can write about things like peeing in the woods on my jog this morning and issues to do with the waistband of my pants, and the WHOLE saga of birth control this year in Berlin which so far only Cynthia and Alex know I think, and great great great detail (great in the sense of lots) about my weight watching efforts which some of the current readers of this blog don't really want to read about - you know, all that good stuff that happens in and around the body of this particular almost-48-year-old female person - would that be cool or what?) (and please, please: if you're a non-female person and you really did read this far and you mind what I wrote: let me know! we'll talk about it!)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Grounded in Work

What I said in my previous post is true: although I am started to be drownding I am also grounding, and it is satisfying. Yesterday, Sunday, was a glorious sunny day in Berlin and some neighbors were at a grand and delightful flea market, and others were at the enormous pleasure-lake of Berlin, Wannsee, where I haven't been even once this year - and some of them passed (jogged/strolled/biked) in front of the slightly-below-ground-level big glass window of my office where I was working and did that little half-teasing frown/scold of "working on this lovely day?"

What could I say? Yes, working on this lovely day. Yes, if we only worked when it wasn't gorgeous out we'd never get anything done and/or we'd all have to move to, I don't know, Fargo? Yes, I'm on page 410 out of 813 and it's all due mid-June and I have to get cracking. And yes, it's nice to have something to do. 

There have been times in his/their/our/my lives when my father has had health issues where my mother needed to help him a lot. A few years ago he had a mega hip operation with a long recovery and she had months' worth of pretty intense watching out for him. Some of her neighbors and friends worried that she had no time for herself, and I asked her about it, and she said in a very believable way: I like taking care of him. I like having something to do. It's not that my mother has nothing to do otherwise. I'm quite sure what she meant was: it's actually very nice to have something very pressing to do. Something all-engrossing, that cannot wait. (Something, actually  [to get away from my 813-page manuscript for a minute], like what I was doing on Thursday and Saturday and part of Friday while my sister-in-law and her partner finished packing and then moved to a new apartment: namely taking care of a not-quite-two-year-old! Very fun, very engrossing, very much not something you can put down and say: oh, I'll come back to this later, or in a couple of days, or sometime when I feel like it.)

So anyway, yes, I am grounded in my editorial work. It gives me something to structure my day around, and it gives me such very tangible goals (at this point, I need to get through 140 pages a week to be done in time, and last week I managed that [but only by working on sunny Sunday], but I have to keep plugging away, and sometimes ten pages takes less than an hour and sometimes it takes almost two), and once I get started on any given day I can pleasurably lose myself in it, this manuscript is interesting and we're using British spelling so that keeps me on my toes, and I'm learning about Iranian history - so yes, it is good to be grounded. And when I have to find a play for play-reading group that is available on the web or in a book I can find that is not too long and with not too many parts and interesting enough for my play-reading group, or when I have to be back at the apartment almost before I left, it seems, because school let out for Felix early again, or when I am having a gmail chat with Max in Bangalore or a Skype chat with Alex in Bloomington or worrying about hubby's upcoming 50th birthday or my writing group's upcoming all-day workshop or various things of that sort, I have to get back to the manuscript pretty quickly and ground myself all over again.

Night and Day in Berlin

I've been awake since 4 a.m., and for a long time I lay in bed listening to the birds and thinking about blog posts I have been meaning to write for a while, like one called Grounded in Work, and that was going to be all about how I really don't mean Drownded in Work but how wonderful it is to have work, pressing work, work with a deadline, even if it's also oppressive and confining and stifling and takes time which is desperately needed (wanted?) for other things.

But in fact it's starting to feel a little more like Drownded in Work than Grounded in Work since I first thought about writing that blog post, so we'll come back to that in a minute.

So this morning I was lying there in bed and there was no light coming through our dark, dark curtains but the birds were going nuts. I was in my mind trying to make a visual equivalent to what I was hearing: it was as though the birds with their chirps and cheeps and tweets and twitters were all scrambling to claw their way out of some landslide they were tumbling down together: it was really like that, the songs were all climbing on top of each other. (The spousal snoring which is otherwise sometimes [ok, often] an issue was actually reduced to insignificance by the birdly competition!)

And I thought, what will it take to get some sleep? If I close the window, which is what I tried the previous morning, then it becomes stifling in the room, and sleep is impossible because breathing tends to be necessary for sleep, I am finding. 

I did in fact lie in bed and try the fantastic anti-insomnia exercise that has been my very own since I was eleven and big sister Ruthy and I flew from Strasbourg to New York City alone together to get picked up by Aunt Peggy and her family - there was a lot of jumping up and down when we all greeted each other in my memory, and at night trying to fall asleep I would lie there and imagine our heads as bouncing balls bouncing, bouncing, bouncing . . . and then the bouncing balls got more and more abstracted and less headlike and I started bouncing them against the wall and then back against the wall again as they bounced back, and over and over . . . eventually this usually got me to sleep. I'm not sure how effective it is for me these days. Didn't do anything for me this morning.

Did I mention I'm kind of grounded/drownded in work? So of course I was also lying there worrying about things, about getting things done, and as I said also thinking about blogging, so finally I got up and did the happy-making little computer check (e-mail? yes, hooray, hubby sent me a few messages last night before he went to bed; sure they're mostly logistical, like about stuff for the taxes and people we're trying to have over, but still: I receive e-mail, therefore I am alive! / and better yet: Scrabble plays? yes! hooray, my Scrabble buddy has returned from her weekend mostly away from the internet, and played a move in each of our five games, so I got to make my moves in those games after studying the board and looking at my options [I've been trying to do a little triage on the time I spend on those and if she's way ahead not to kill myself too much, and if I'm way ahead likewise (if you're reading this, Susan, forgive me: but also read on because it's so not true), but it's hard to maintain that: anyway, if I'm way ahead she sometimes still plays a killer move and then so much for being way ahead, and if she's way ahead there's sometimes a chance - so I try to stare at the letters and the board for a while and look away and let it sink into my unconscious and hope that I can get somewhere and pull out a fabulous word and/or score without spending all day on it] - anyway, those were very nice beginnings to my oh-so-early-beginning day, and then I read the New York Times online a little while [Susan Boyle! Man pushes Suicide Waffler off Bridge in China! (oh: maybe that was the Huffington Post) - and a story about a man's younger brother who is profoundly autistic and is now 42 and his diminishing options, and for some reasons various articles in the business section] )- and now as you see I got through all those electronic things and came out the other side to write this blog, and then it's breakfast, groceries, and then I will go get grounded in work.

Actually doing the work is always better than worrying about it. Always. Actually doing anything is better than worrying about it, actually, I think, which is why I finally got out of bed at 4:45 even though I really wanted to have gotten my sleep; it wasn't coming, so I got up. Now it's 6:35 and completely light out and the birds have segued to a very different set of noises: completely quiet for moments and then only one bird or kind of bird, close by, doing an almost insectlike high-pitched cheetering, then the highway traffic a ways away, and in the far background, intermittently, a lower half-cooing.

Oh, before I let you go to your own morning, I have to tell about last night, sitting here having a very pleasant evening with Felix, reading together - all of a sudden there was a sound and it was not filtering through to my verbal brain but I was aware of it, and then I asked him to hush for a minute, and he did, and I said that was a cuckoo, and he looked at me in amazement, and he said is that a real bird? and I said yes, and he said he thought it was a cuckoo clock, and we listened again and after having been insistently rhythmic for a short time it was stopped. So now I'm wondering two things: 1. did he not know that a cuckoo was a real bird period, which is what I was first thinking he meant, or did he just mean he thought what we were hearing was a cuckoo clock? // and 2. was it maybe a cuckoo clock? 

Friday, May 22, 2009

strange sightings in the woods

I was off into the woods for a jog a few days ago, and right at the entrance to the woods I took a path that branches off to the right that I'd never taken before. Not sure why - it looked more like a road than a path at first, but very soon it had a big blockade across it, so cars couldn't go.

Anyway, I jogged in there and quickly passed a woman with two or three small kids, moving very slowly along - and I remembered that a little further in (I knew this though I had never been on this path because of triangulation: I'd been off along Dauerwaldweg, Eternal Woods Path, many times, and had a sense this path if taken long enough was going to hit that street and voila), there was a Waldkindergarten - which is just what it sounds like if you remember that Wald is woods and kindergarten, confusingly, is almost like kindergarten but is really preschool, i.e. for 2 1/2, 3, 4, and sometimes 5-year-olds. (What we call kindergarten they call Vorschule, which is literally preschool, but we're not confused yet, are we?)

ANYway, off I went jogging along, watching a woman on a bike get farther and farther ahead of me, and then I jogged past a shopping trolley parked there on the edge of the path, all by itself. This is the kind of canvas trolley that stands upright with a handle and wheels and you use it to go shopping when you have no car (I've been doing that so effectively this year except I recently completed the destruction process on my trolley, heaving it in and out of buses) - and this one was standing happily upright, all by itself. I think this one was kind of  a dark green plaid. Unusual for one of those to be out and about on its own, so I looked around - I thought maybe there was somebody doing some business off in the woods, off the path, so I tried not to be too nosy - but as far as I could see there was nobody anywhere.

Jogged past, looked ahead, and saw three little people walking along. I'm talking very little. If these three young people were older than three years old each I think I will eat my shopping trolley, broken or no. Very tiny youngsters. Very cute, very be-backpacked, and quite completely alone in the path along the woods. I looked around more seriously this time. The lady on the bike was still in view but seemed quite evidently not to belong to them. They passed, believe it or not, aNOTHer shopping trolley parked maybe 200 paces (400? hard to judge) up the path from the first one. Then I thought, OK, there is some kind of school group that is going to come this way and these are their provisions, somebody has brought the provisions ahead? Or something?

Never solved the trolley problem, actually, because I was seized by a much greater concern. Where did these truly tiny infantile children come from? Where they were going to became immediately evident - off a ways to the right I could hear and increasingly see a jolly group of kids and a few adults at picnic tables and running around, definitely the Waldkindergarten (and I daydreamed - do they really spend the entire year outside every day? I actually think they do and they have a little shelter for when it rains. Amazing.). And my little people were headed there. But I'm telling you, they were very very very far out of sight of any possible person who could have accompanied them anywhere - they had to have been walking happily along the path for a very long time indeed by themselves. They had jackets on, and sturdy shoes, and as I said serious backpacks - three-year-olds clearly equipped for their day in the woods. And as I watched and they passed well beyond mystery-parked-trolley-number-two, the two little boys of  the group branched off to dart through the woods, off the path, to the rest of the Waldkindergarten. The one little girl stayed on the path a little longer till a branch of it turned right and then she walked calmly on that way.

And I went on my merry jogging way and to this day I am boggled and puzzled by this country where tiny children go marching off, all by themselves, past unattended trolleys, to spend their days in the woods.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Serial Readers blog

Dear friends and readers,

My Facebook Scrabble buddy Susan* has recently told me about her serial readers blog. I haven't really gotten involved yet, but it seems as though maybe it started with Dickens novels that were originally written as serials anyway, and so Susan is reading them in the chunks that they were originally serialized in (Susan, if you're reading this, correct me if I'm wrong!?) - and so you join her by reading the weekly chunks which are very doable chunks (chunks - isn't that a nice, literary, mellifluous, multisyllabic word?) and then Susan blogs about the installment and you can put your own comments about it on her blog too - so it's a virtual reading group and it's weekly and ongoing. I thought it was a very cool idea and wanted to tell you my trusty friends, some of whom are in places like Hamburg or Albany (Kensington?) or who knows where else stuck without a reading group to call your own, or maybe you live in Austin and you do have a book group but you and your teenage daughter are big readers anyway and this could be another cool thing if life wasn't already so busting out of its seams . . . or you live in Bloomington, Indiana, the hub of the ladies-who-book-group universe, but you're just desperate for another connection, one more place, where you can read books and discuss them . . . . 

Here's the link. And below it, more links.

Aha, here you are, below that link, and I promised more links, but they do not look like the link above, they are verbal and conceptual links not virtual ones, because in the ever-closing loop that is life and friendships and connections, Susan my glorious Facebook Scrabble buddy* comes to me thanks to Elenabella my real-world friend and Susan's old friend, and Elenabella my real-world friend (and my link and entree to a very rich and wonderful and lifesaving group of women in Bloomington way back in the dark days of 2000) is also my mentress, muse, and inspiration for finally starting this blog because she started her own while I was dithering and on-the-fencing and OK, there is another actual virtual (oooh!) link coming, and here it is in a minute, but after that there are some more, or at least one more, verbal and conceptual link(s) if you stick with me. First, elenabella:

There, and now the conceptual and virtual link: Ellen saved my happiness and enriched my life permanently and changed my paradigm, I truly believe, inviting me in to the weekly women's group when I moved to Bloomington in 2000 where Rebecca, Jane, Catherine, Deb, Sarah, Suzanna, Sharon, Ellen, and I met every week to talk about ourselves and our friends and our stories and God. In the 7 years in which we met every week, some got divorced, some got married, some completely changed the structure of their lives, some changed their important religious affiliations, some lost 80 pounds, some fought, (and since we stopped meeting some are having a first baby and some are having a first wedding and surely they could never have done all that without having spent the 7 years with us, right?) ... Now I really can barely live without weekly groups, and women's groups, and preferably combinations. But all of that still wasn't really a new link, was it? The new link was going to be this: Ellen and I closed that circle a little when I got her into my (nonvirtual) book group I was in (odds of getting into that particular book group are often estimated at worse than the odds of getting into Swarthmore; I myself had squeezed in with great difficulty), where we both continue to happily reside. As do several other readers of this blog!

* Re Facebook Scrabble buddy Susan and me: at this point I almost certainly have more individual countable interactions daily with Susan than with anyone else in the world, since we are playing six to eight different Scrabble games together at a time [each one takes a week or two to finish, I think, since we play one to four or five moves each per day per game].

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Old Lady's Visit

Der Besuch der alten Dame - an old play by Friedrich Dürrenmatt (OK, let me be specific - first performed in January 1956 - I realize that there are lots of plays that are approximately two thousand some years older than that, but this already feels old to me) - (Oh, and to be even more specific - my further research online tells me that the actual title in English is just The Visit - and that English speakers know it well because it is studied in high-level German classes, but somehow I missed out).

I must have read about a production of this - I don't read hardly any German newspapers or magazines but every now and then one shows up under my nose and I read some, so it could have been there or was there something in the New Yorker about a production in English? Anyway, it was a rave, wherever I read it, so I went to get a copy and immediately saw that there were WAY too many characters for my play-reading group to do it and, even if we all double- and triple-teamed up, the thing is outrageously long.

So I read it myself. Reading a play is such a wonderful way to read, it's generally I find a very satisfying story with some serious plot going on, it's lively, it's quick . . .

And this play, the Old Lady's Visit, is unbelievable. Not sure how much I should tell you. OK, I'll tell you everything. Spoiler alert - if you are hoping to go see the play or read it yourself and you really want to get the full effect of the plot twists on your own, I guess you might not want to keep reading.

So there's this tiny town somewhere, in a kind of fairytale-ish not-quite-specified middle Europe, and everybody and everything there is bankrupt. And they're waiting at the train station for a visit from this unbelievably rich old lady, who's been handing out small amounts of money to people in towns all around Europe (she's back from the States on a visit it seems). And it quickly becomes clear there's one man who used to be her childhood sweetheart and everyone is counting on him playing on their old affections to get her to give their town a huge amount of money.

Well, she arrives, and she does the rich old lady thing of cutting through the baloney and pulling the emergency cord on a train that wasn't supposed to stop in their little town so she gets there when they aren't expecting her, and she doesn't really want to hear the long speeches and the children's choir, and she's happy to go for a walk and talk with her old sweetheart and ready to give the town way more money than they dreamed of and she plans to stay a while and they're thrilled and everything's great. 

And then there are just all these shocks and weirdnesses in sometimes quick, sometimes slower succession. Some of it is just absurd: she marries and divorces men ridiculously, sometimes she divorces them 15 minutes after she marries them. Some of it turns you on your head: she offers the town the unthinkable amounts of money that she does on the condition that they kill the man who was her childhood sweetheart; then it comes out that he had gotten her pregnant way back then and paid two buddies to say it wasn't him who got her pregnant, and she ended up I think a prostitute somewhere else and her life went sliding away from there.

This is the trauma at the heart of the story. She is surrounded by retainers and it slowly comes out: her butler was the judge in the trial where the buddies said the old sweetheart wasn't the father and she later hired him away to be her butler. The perjuring buddies themselves she hunted down all over the world and had them blinded and neutered (I may be getting some details down, I'm writing this from memory) and then also kept them with her as constant retainers. 

There are at least two more very interesting things that happen. It was just so surprising to me reading this play, because at first I was just reading along and it was a story like any other, and then there was the twist of her implacable search for vengeance against Monsieur childhood sweetheart and the story of the long-ago betrayal, and so I thought: wow, OK, this is a completely different kind of story than I thought. But then I thought I was done and I had seen what the deal was.

The next thing that I think is just unexpected and worthwhile is the way the town first absolutely refuses to kill the man, and then slowly you watch relationships change, loyalties change, and his own sense of his place in the world and what he can expect from people change. It is still the case that nobody is willing to kill him. But pressures rise for him to kill himself. It's much more subtly and multifacetedly done than that (you see, you do still have to read the play, sorry). 

And then, finally, there is one more twist that kind of took my breath away, albeit in a slightly slighter way than the earlier twists. It has to do with the history of the bankrupt town and its institutions, and the constriction of its options, and the reach of wealth, and I think I'll leave that one undisclosed.

If you got this far, thanks! And go read the play!

p.s. I made that up

I made up the technical term in the previous post. You read it here first. It may not be yuppies or dinks or any of those things, but someday it will be a term on everyone's lips so I'm just staking my claim right here, right now.

Longing for y'all! (And that makes me think of the song which for some reason I've been singing to myself a lot recently which goes "I'm longing to linger till dawn, dear", the last two words of which sound a tremendously lot like the first and last names of a close relative of mine whom I will not / cannot name because we are preserving a fiction of anonymity here.

Be well! Enjoy your internet connections while they last because . . . you never know!


Our internet connection is down and so I'm blogging longhand (the technical term for longhand blogging is "longing" - did you know that?) - actually, I was going to blog longhand but then my brilliant young son Felix, who also has to do some writing right now and is likewise stymied by the lack of internet access, pointed out that one could just write in Microsoft Word. So does that count as blogging longhand? It's not exactly shorthand and I'm also not online. OK. We'll call it typing.


Oh so much to write about. Here are all the posts I've wanted to write:


- about reading in German (high literature, trashy stuff, things originally in English and things originally in German, plays, a really interesting book about a woman who had a baby in the concentration camps and what happened to her there [not good, no happy ending] - each of them deserves a big long blog post and I don't know if it's going to happen!)


- about our play-reading group, and myself reading plays, lots of plays, in addition to the group - some to prepare and because I'm looking for the right plays, and some just to read because I was collecting and looking for material, and some because I figured out it wouldn't work for the group but I really wanted to read it anyway. Der Besuch der alten Dame [The old lady's visit] by Friedrich Dürrenmatt is in the overlap category - reading plays *and* reading in German - what an amazing play that was/is! I had never read it before. I was reading along, and then I got sideswiped once, and then I got sideswiped again, and then even I think possibly one or two times more. That is a truly amazing play.


- about my Weight Watchers group / about my large son going to India and blogging from there (ask me separately for his blog link if you're interested and you don't already have it) / about jogging in the woods and my 10K race on Saturday / about finishing one job and working on another and the grounding provided by work that has to be done, deadlines that keep me to it, the closeness of attention that has to be paid . . .


That kind of thing. And I take these long hiati (that is the plural of hiatus, right? looks a little bit like a short three-line Japanese poem) because I think oh, nobody's reading this blog anyway, and then I hear from one or two or three of you dear people saying that in fact you are keen to be reading it and I think oh for heaven's sake, how hard could it possibly be to write, say, fifteen minutes a day (the answer is: hard, apparently!).


Back in a sec with something, surely. Kim, Alex, Michel, and Lisa from Toronto - thank you for the encouragements! Ruthy and Amani, you too!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother of this blog

Are you the mother of my discipline? Are you
the mother of my disappearing act in books? Are
you the mother of the clothes I wear, the
body I walk around in?

I think so, yes. Are you the mother of the mirror
in the hall today, where sideways at myself I saw
for once your chin there, anchoring my face where
always before it was just Daddy's eyes and neck?

I think so, really. You are, right? the mother of
my silliness, my sleepiness, my strength? You
are, yes? the mother of my mothering, my
arms around my boys?

I know you are. I grew grown-up in bathtubs full
of water you collected, boiled in kettles; I learned
my trade at your elbow, my book-learning from
your books. My mothering from you.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Antigone and Lysistrata

Tonight we read Brecht's version of Sophocles' Antigone; we couldn't quite decide or figure out in what way it was Brecht's version - it was based on a translation by Hölderlin into German of the Greek play, but what exactly did Brecht do? That we don't know.

Still, it was fun and interesting, and we stopped to remind each other of what the story was. [Ah: husband, German literature professor, just got home and tells me his memory from high school is that in the Brecht, Creon's economic reasons for going to war are brought out much more.]

This was the first time we had read a play in German; always before it was in English. The Germans in the group have excellent English, almost to a woman. Tonight it was interesting for the shoe to be on the other foot. The other foot didn't speak German nearly as well but first of all, we could all read it pretty well thank you so much. And the story was pretty good!

Two weeks ago we read Lysistrata; I wrote to my family about it and said I was going to blog about it but you know, I haven't yet, so let me just put in here what I wrote to my family. I have to say the Lysistrata was an absolute hoot and probably, no certainly, the most fun we've had yet, so I wouldn't want to have not told you about it. Before I put that in here, though, let me just say that tonight's group was the same as for Lysistrata except that my son Max was missing (he's gone to Bangalore for two months), and Sabine's daughter Ada was present.

Here's my letter to my family about Lysistrata.

Last night at play-reading we read Lysistrata, I also want to blog
about that, but in brief it was glorious. (Lysistrata is the
Aristophanes play, 400 BC, Greek, comedy, about the women of Athens
and Sparta and other Greek cities who band together to deny sex to
their husbands till their husbands stop the war (the Peloponnesian
war, possibly?).) It was a text I found on the web, by an anonymous
translator, I think it was particularly earthy and bawdy perhaps -
anyway a very clear and vivid text and very funny - I think everyone
was pretty shocked by the frank language and we were all in stitches -
four middle-aged women and Max and Anna, our 20-ish friend who is here
taking  a year off from Harvard - the young'uns were really truly
shocked that the Greeks wrote about these things so many centuries

One of my friends from Weight Watchers also came to the group last
night - so it was Max, my son; Sabine, my old friend and roommate from
25 years ago; Meg and Anna from my writing group; and Annette from my
Weight Watchers group. Kind of fun to pull it all together like that.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Felix's birthday

Felix looked at my blog yesterday and pointed out there was no mention of his recent birthday. (fyi it's May 6th as I write; Felix's 12th birthday was May 3rd.)

He's right; there should have been. Happy birthday, gorgeous boy! I was thinking that because we did so much already in person the blogosphere didn't need it but this is a different place from our house, our yard, the neighborhoods and places where we celebrated.

First, though, a tiny wrap-up: Friday we celebrated with the larger family, and broke the German taboo against celebrating early (it's called vorfeiern, precelebrating I guess, and it ISN'T DONE, just like crossing, as a pedestrian, a street that is completely empty in every direction, at 2 a.m. any day, or 9 a.m. Sunday, or any other time for that matter, ISN'T DONE).* [see clarifying P.S. below]

We had a grand time, and almost-two-year-old Fanny sang "Happy Birthday to you" to Felix along with the rest of us (that's the song you sing at birthdays in Germany, just like in the States we sing "Feliz Navidad" [which Felix, understandably, used to think was pretty much written just for him]).

Then Saturday Felix had buddies over for a poker party and a trip to Subway and a Subway cookie platter to bring home (the Subway nearest to us here in Berlin recently closed, but there is another one in the heart of what used to be downtown and is now still our closest downtown, right at the U-Bahn Ku'damm and super-close to the twin Memorial Churches) and a showing of Zoolander and a sleepover (and singing and a cake), and his buddies stayed through midday Sunday, and Sunday afternoon the four of us celebrated (and there was singing and a cake), and later Sunday Fanny and her family had us back over a. to see their new apartment and b. to celebrate all over again (with singing! and a cake!) because, it turned out, Friday really didn't count because it was Vorfeiern, which ISN'T DONE. Oh well.

This hasn't really been about Felix that much yet, has it? If you know Felix, you know he's Mr. Resilience, Mr. Energy, Mr. Bounce and Bounce Back. I think he's also Mr. Drop-Dead Gorgeous, Mr. I Love Just Looking at You, but then I'm his mother, I'm exceedingly biased. This year, being thrown into a sixth-grade class of kids speaking German, Felix has needed all of his bounce and resilience and I believe they've served him well. He also has had a chance to explore the listening part of his personality more, much more, as he gets used to the language, and even at home where English is often spoken I think he's acquired some of what they call Sitzfleisch here, the "flesh to sit with", the ability to sit still at least a little longer than he used to be able to do.

So here we have the twelve-year-old version of my younger son. A little wiser about the world, a little leaner and longer, still bright-eyed and bouncy, very keen about soccer, money, and, increasingly, interested in the world of adult conversations about politics, philosophy, how the world works, . . . sometimes we don't even realize he's listening to the conversation and then he throws in a sharp observation or a very apt joke.

Happy birthday, my son! Thanks for reading my blog, and thank you, very much, for the enormous amounts of pleasure you bring to us with your energy, and your affection, and your curiosity. I'm looking forward to version 13.0, which started 3 days ago and is looking pretty good!

* [P.S. a couple days later - in response to a curious reader: sorry, let me clarify: you don't get to cross the street until and unless your little pedestrian green light goes on; you don't have to stand there forever, just until the light goes on. What amazes and amuses the casual or not-so-casual visitor from, say, Bloomington, Indiana, is that pedestrians seem to be considered, and consider themselves, every bit as much part of the whole traffic thing. So confronted with a red pedestrian light (there are red and green pedestrian lights at almost every crossing; maybe that is the first thing I should have pointed out) the pedestrians will stand and wait, regardless of how many kilometers in every direction there is nothing at all coming.]

transcendental apperception

Being very nearsighted, more so every passing day it seems, I couldn't see what my husband just brought to the breakfast table in a bowl from over here where I am at the laptop (I was just writing about the tiny boy on the bus).

I asked him; or rather, I stared at it until he told me what it was; I explained that I couldn't quite make sense of the shapes and colors I was seeing and figure out what it could be in the bowl (first he thought I just wanted some). He said something like "Oh, your transcendental apperception failed you." (btw, it was a cut-up greenish-yellow melon)

Me: What the [bleep] is apperception?
Him: Transcendental apperception is . . . 
Me: No, just what is apperception?
Him: That's what I'm telling you.
Me: No, you're telling me about transcendental apperception!
Him: That's the only kind of apperception there seems to be in Kant!
Me: We're not in Kant!
Him: Ah, that's where you're wrong . . . 

tiny boy upstairs on the bus

yesterday morning I went for a short ride on the double-decker bus - went upstairs as I pretty much still do whenever possible, and there in the front row at the huge flat picture windows out onto the city, on the left, was a tiny little boy, the size one generally doesn't see upstairs because they usually come with strollers which couldn't get up the winding staircase, snuggled in chatting with his mother.

So I went and sat on the right side in the front and eavesdropped.

Little boy: Where is Anton?
Mother: Oh, he's long since at nursery school. We're very late.
Mother: Look, they've filled in most of the potholes. [We're driving past a longterm pipelaying project that's been going on since we arrived last August and will go on past our departure this August.] Now you can walk along here without falling into holes. Oh, there's a hole that's still pretty big.
Little boy: What if a little kid runs into the street? 
Mother: Well, the bus driver watches out and he'll stop. And the other drivers also watch out.


Little boy: So, I could run out into the street too!
Mother [in a certain amount of alarm, but still speaking pretty calmly]: Oh, no, you don't want to do that. The bus driver might not see you after all.
Little boy: But you said they watch out!
Mother: Well, they try, but you never know if they'll see you. There are always cases, it happens periodically, that kids run out into the street . . . 

[I had to leave the bus around this time. My transcript above isn't perfect because it's layered with trying to remember it since yesterday about this time, and also translating it from German. But that was generally it. I wanted to tell the boy, and his mother: yes, your logic is perfect little boy, of course it makes sense that if all the drivers are watching out then little children can safely and happily run anywhere they want including into the street, but what you are both groping for here is the concept of redundancy, which we absolutely need because systems fail. We teach our kids not to run into the street because drivers may not watch out perfectly; we teach our drivers to watch out because children might not always be able to keep from running into the street; we lock the door in a shared bathroom so as not to get walked in on in case someone forgets to knock and we also knock before walking in in case someone forgot to lock the door; and mostly, we always try to take the position of watching out in case someone else did their part of forgetting. (Sorry, the bathroom analogy is what sprang to my mind yesterday in the bus; I said nothing but I really wanted the mother to make the redundancy point to her fantastically logical tiny boy, because otherwise it seemed so clear he was going to go on being brilliant about how right it was for himself to run into the street.)]

Saturday, May 2, 2009

friends and acquaintances

a distinction I never grew up making; it's huge in this country (Germany). 

Last night my mother-in-law was talking to my kids about this. It came up because of, again, the du vs. Sie thing, calling people the formal you or the not-formal you, which my older son is already quite fussed about. He finds it infuriating and irritating and pointless. And so his grandmother was telling him about a woman she has had breakfast with once a week for twenty years, and they still call each other "Frau G..." and "Frau C..." and say Sie to each other. Max was really uncomprehending of such a situation. And he said "so this friend of yours . . . " and his grandmother said: actually, she's not my friend, she's an acquaintance. And she went on to say she has only one friend, and to tell us about her, which I was particularly glad to hear about because I had actually never even heard about or met this person. (I've been an item with my mother-in-law's oldest child since 1981.)

So on the one hand it's this weird and alienating distinction that my children and I are so not used to making. 

In addition, though, it made me think about how I see other people. I think the labels do matter. If she looked at the people I call friends, I'm sure she would have to label a lot of them as acquaintances. But if I look at the consequences of my calling these people friends, I think it is not just blindness on my part to the distinctions, but it is also that I feel like there are possibilities of friendship with people I have just met or don't know that well, but there is a feeling, a connection, an interest, a desire for connection . . . and calling a person a friend does put things into a new category.

It's not like we don't make any distinctions. There are new friends, close friends, old friends, best friends. 

I don't feel like my world is flattened because I'm quicker to call a person a friend. 

I hope it's not seeming that I'm condemning or failing to appreciate the fact that here there is this other distinction. I can see that it could be very interesting in its own right. I'm just trying to think about whether I could go so far as to say that either I should be maintaining such a distinction too and lose something by not doing it, or whether in fact I already have such categories and just use different labels, and I do think on reflection that neither of those is true.

I should say that in my German mother-in-law's case, the fact that she lived in Iran for twenty years complicates matters; she maintains an extra level of formality even way beyond what many other Germans do. (And some of my German friends mistakenly thought for years that she and I didn't get along because I was calling her Frau C... and Sie.)

But it's really not just her. In 1995, when we'd moved from the West Coast to the East one and my marriage was temporarily imploding (except I didn't know it was temporary at the time), I hadn't met hardly anyone and the closest people I knew were a German-French couple, and when I was talking to them about my situation and their friendship they said "Well, of course, we're not your friends, we're acquaintances." I reported this to the horrible therapist I saw once or twice and he was appalled, but in fact I wasn't because I thought, this is a European thing. This is so very different.

Anyway, that's my story for tonight. Good night, dear friends.