The Finished Product

One of those days when it’s good to be me.

Markt Stories - Autumn Tomatoes

Category: This is My Life

Yeah. And that’s only half of them! Mmmm.

What are the wonderful things about Autumn? The harvest; the last really warm rays of sunshine; the apples and pears; the anticipation of brussels sprouts and snow – and the tomatoes.

If you don’t live here in the heart of Southern Germany, you might not know that of all the things you can’t plan, the one thing you can is that you can’t plan the Samstagsmarkt. And especially you can’t plan mio bello Italiano who usually, but only usually and in no way always - and really without warning, towards the end of the season sells the last tomatoes for €1/kg.

“Si, si, Signora, maybe oooonly this week. Maybeeee next week too?” The answer to my hopeful question is accompanied by an expansive Italian shrug and he smiles confessionally, “I can not tell. I do not know. You know what is tomorrow?”

Saturday was the third week this year and the Roma tomatoes are lovely but they are small. Suspiciously small. Like they may be the last ones for real this time. So, even though I have a few jars put up already it was in a measured moment of panic that I heard the words “What do two flats weigh?” fall from my mouth.

And the sun came out for just a minute to warm my neck before a blast of Northern wind blew my hair over my face and dried leaves rustled winterly. I handed over my money feeling secretive and pleased. Taking my tomatoes I find myself actually beginning to look forward to winter, to chili, to porcupines and spicy tomato soup on a Sunday afternoon.

Bucking the System

In the past, I’ve tried buying my tomatoes the American way and reserving a given weight of them “for next week” so that I could organize helpers and jars. But then, when I arrive next week I find my usually laughing, sometimes singing Italiano, arms on his nearly empty table looking desolate – a little pile of lemons, an even smaller pile of red onions, and three green peppers arranged artfully to look like more - or to look like less, I’m never sure - in front of him.

I pull up looking innocent, and I thank him generously, innocently even, for keeping my reserved tomatoes somewhere under the table.

“Ohhhhhh, sorry!” (shaking head) “I’m so sorry, Signora.” He holds his hands helplessly in the air and looks first to the left and then to the right.

Clearly another customer had already been there, some few moments earlier than I, and spying my reserved tomatoes under the otherwise empty table, must have offered him an admirable sum of gold … surely I understand? Maybe I had been detained? Maybe my reserved tomatoes would rot, unloved and unsold under the otherwise empty table. One never knows…

I am the sheriff and he the well-intentioned, bumbling bad guy. Genre: Spaghetti Western. Where’s my poncho?

Consequences of Bucking the System

Following a performance like that, I must, of course, punish mio bello Italiano (and my dinner table!) by simply ignoring him for a while. It would not do to act as though I was less than desperately disappointed, as if I hadn’t trusted him - as if there wouldn’t be nights, in the dark, freezing winter when we would wrap our paltry shawls about our shivering wheelchairs and peer into our empty pantry wishing only for una piccola spaghetti

Yes, I must play by the rules or risk my entire professional relationship with mio bello Italiano and playing by the rules means no “Good Morning”s, no gay waves on my way home, not even a coolish glance at his wares. At least not for awhile. Not until he has huge piles and crates full of sweet oranges and that won’t be until around Christmas. Then, protocol allows me to drive closer and look tempted. The next week I may deign to buy one or two delicacies from him and so on and so forth until we have patiently built our vendor/customer relationship back to normal by the end of January.

The Germans say: Die klügere gibt nach (the clever person walks away). It is their version of Discretion being the better part of Valor and let me tell you, after all that, and because I really like mio bello Italiano, it’s just feels more clever to throw my hands in the air, look left, look right and buy now! I’ll arrange help & jars later.

Coming Home Again

Category: ModPoPenn

Endless exhale – this
coming home – again
this endless relief
re-turning changed
re-discovering change
this endless change
never changes
- Nancy Carroll

What Are You Talking About, Maus?

Are You Serious? A Poetry Course?

Yes, I am, this course is the pointerto. It’s the triggerfor. The Noticer notices this endless relief. They bubbleup together from my deepest self, pointificating myself’s very own Self.

Me! Me! This Self. Over here. I am the one…

Did you really think that meditation was the only way? Maybe it’s time to try poetry.

Why Am I Still Blogging?

Category: This is My Life

Well, here is a story for you, one that you won’t find anywhere else on the whole internet. It’s only here and in the fuzzy memories of the lucky few who were present.

Setting: It’s those swingin 70’s and my baby sister, who is so chic that she was born wearing white patent leather go-go boots, is learning to express her world-view and her musical talent in ways that we been-here-awhile folks can grasp. It’s a steamy summer afternoon and we somewhat-grown-upper kids are hangin over the back seat of Mom’s blue Vista Cruiser station wagon, fourth in line at the first drive-through bank in all of Kansas City. Our armpits are sticking to the vinyl.

Little, that’s my baby sister, has crawled over the back seat and claimed the entire backend of the car for herself. Fine, it is too hot to argue and the air conditioning comes from the vents up front anyway. We are all waiting semi-patiently for Mom to do her banking so the teller-lady will put suckers for us in the cannister along with Mom’s money. (I already have dibbs on the purple one.)

And that is when Little starts singing:

Here we are
at the Pee-pls Bank –
and youuuuu — are alllll –
my Peeps!

There in the middle, at the “youuuuu” point, she spreads her arms out like a miniature Ethel Mermann. I think I never saw Mom laugh that hard on a steamy August afternoon in the city.

The end is always the beginning - and this is the end of story but the beginning of getting to the point.

I struggled for the longest time (and my capacity for struggle is immense), about what to write at my blog. I can confess this now because I think I’m getting there… These days everyone says you need a theme in order to have a successful blog. Me ‘n the mauses rumbled with that idea for awhile until they called bulls**t on it and said their theme was Mauses, thank you very much and anyway, maybe I should just get on with being the change I want to see.

Begin Middle-Point Marginalia

I miss my internet - the one where I met Jens - in 1994. (I knowit we hardly even had a <blink> tag back then!) I miss the seven hundred other people who were hanging out etherierally[1] just wanting to share what they knew about stuff they found fascinating. Nobody thought about SEO or making enough money to fill a semi-truck with twenties, or even about their popularity. We just kept our link lists and made links to other people with cool link lists and surfed around winding up in the most impossible places being introduced to stuff we didn’t even know was interesting. I never felt like I wasted time surfing back then.

That’s all gone now. The internet is surely very convenient these days, but have you noticed: it’s a consolidated trash heap of commercialism, sensationalism and their boring love-twins: sensational-commercialism and commercial-sensationalism!! Before you find something to delight your soul you have wasted the better part of two hours looking at shoes you don’t need, sucking down news about horrible happenings you can’t effect and viewing gossipy pictures of people you don’t know. And their cars.

End Marginalia

My nutcase mauses were right. Of course. I started consider: Maybe thousands of popular bloggers have already said what I want to say - and maybe, if I had gotten off my a** in the 90’s, I would be a popular blogger too … Yep, and it was just that quick that the whole thing spun off a tail of its own looking a lot like self-recrimination and how-could-you-have-wasted-a-prehistoric-chance-like-that and I was going down for the second time, waving my hands in the air and gasping for breath when I noticed those mauses all siting around with their little heads cocked at dozens of different angles (they do this to get my attention - they know I’ll laugh cause they look so funny) waiting patiently for me to drop the drama-lama so they could say:

Oh. Did you want to be a popular blogger?

Yeah. Well, no. Not necessarily. I just want to be popular with my peeps, that’s all.

So this post is to say thanks especially to my dear friend Brianne who wrote to me and told me that I am indeed succeeding. That’s really, really important to me.

[1] Etherially is Mausisch for in the ether.
More Mausisch here

How to Learn Math, Here We Go Again

Category: Unexpected Encouragement

Really, that’s what always happened to my train traveling from Chicago to Los Angeles. It left Baltimore at 4:00 pm on a Thursday and traveled South at 40 mph until it reached the Rockies. That’s Lake Rockie right there… ahem.

If you know me, you know I’m stubborn uh, persistent and that because of errr - in spite of this thoroughly excellent character trait I was a top-notch failure in math class. Well take this: I am really enjoying the Stanford University OpenEdX course How To Learn Math. It’s a cool pre-course intended for parents, teachers and others with contact to children and young people learning math.

I know. That’s not me, but (shhhhh) I’m sitting in the back and being verrry quiet.

The first set of lectures and thought-problems have centered around discouragements and math stereotypes that are deeply integrated into our society through the way we think and talk about mathematics. What’s cool is that based on the information and ideas that Professor Jo Boaler gets from this course, she will be developing a course for students who want to improve their math-learning skills. I think that is extra high class and when I was a student, I would have been relieved to know that help was on the way; that twenty thousand (mostly only slightly disturbed) ex-math students were, as we speak(!), combining their creative What-If imaginations to help me learn math better.

That would have freaked me out in the very best way possible.

The (minor) psychological tics I acquired in 9th grade Algebra are healing. Taking part in a course actively searching for ways to avoid scarring creative young minds is making me wildly happy - as if all that struggle was worth it after all - just like Dad said it would be - except that I think he meant he wanted to see something besides an “F” on my grade card.

I’m taking the philosophical out: Maybe, just maybe flunking Algebra has helped to make me an A-grade human being. Yeah.

The course is available until 27 September, 2013 and is self-directed so you can start anytime. I have to finish by the end of August though because then it is that ModPo time of the year. It needs a little jingle, in my mind it has become a season of its own and I’d no sooner miss it than I would Autumn.

A Little Link Love - KW29, 2013

Category: Love Them Links

Today I want to share some of the articles around the web that helped me to successfully procrastinate this week.

Kirsten Carlson Rocks Illustrator Saturday

Congratulations, Kirsten! Super informative and educational Illustrator Saturday! Way to go! And what a lot of great interview questions; Kirsten really shows her true colors - a dedicated artist and generous woman, Kirsten is open to trying new things - like writing and she is always chasing her goals. Best of luck in Hawaii! I’m looking forward to seeing what flows from your pen in that dreamy environment.

Disclaimer: Kirsten and I co-founded the Leonberg Writer’s Group, Birds of a Feather.

Jadi Campbell Gives Author Interview to Standoutbooks

And hooray for Jadi who gave a great author interview with UK publisher Standoutbooks.

One of the things I love most about Jadi’s writing is the way she crafts characters who are neither good or evil, likeable or hateable, they simply are who they are and sometimes you like them a lot and other times you don’t. Like a lot of real people you know. You know? One of the things that I love about Jadi as a writer is that she is always learning, always striving to improve her craft.

Here is a tidbit from Broken In the novel that Jadi is currently marketing.

Steve ran into the lake. He swam in the direction of the floating life ring, hoping the little girl had sunk somewhere in the general vicinity. When he reached what he thought was the point where she’d gone under, he began to dive.

Visibility was murky under the surface. He swam with outstretched hands and eyes searching desperately for signs of a body. Something kicked him hard in the cheek, and Steve resurfaced choking. The small child snug in his life vest simply paddled on past Steve in the water and flailed with skinny arms; he hadn’t even noticed the adult under the surface. Steve gasped in more air and dove again.

If you want to find out more about Jadi, you can read her blog or you can buy her book, Broken In, a novel in short stories.

Disclaimer: Jadi is a member of Birds of a Feather, although I believe she is talking about a more formalized group that meets in Stuttgart in her interview.

Carly’s Cafe

Carly Fleischmann lives with non-verbal autism and that doesn’t even slow the girl down. Great video, Carly. You’re opening doors…

Don’t Cage Me In

In July 1968, ethologist John B. Calhoun built a “mouse utopia,” a metal enclosure 9 feet square with unlimited food, water, and nesting material. He introduced four pairs of mice, and within a year they had multiplied to 620. But after that the society began to fall apart …

What happens next may have implications for us all…

J.K. Rowling and Literary Fame

Is JK Rowling by any other name a writer of genius? In this article is some good news for us all in the form of scientific research which suggests that cumulative advantage, that is popularity magnified through social feedback such as word-of-mouth is at play in situations where subjective experience awards the crown.

Just in case you are interested in how she was outed, its called forensic linguistics a field of scientific inquiry that works to identify an author’s linguistic “fingerprint”. An interesting article in National Geographic talks about how it was used specifically to out J.K. Rowling as John Gilbraith but also hints at other uses, among them how companies are using information gleaned from analyzing product review on the internet to adjust their advertising goals.

Save the Cat! What’s Wrong with Hollywood

This Slate article is about how a screenwriting book from the 70’s called Save the Cat!, in which the author, Blake Snyder did an exceptionally good job of analyzing story and creating a step-by-step guide to writing stories for film is affecting the quality of films we see today. It was never the author’s intent but instead a side-effect that his work has been increasingly misused by an overly cautious Hollywood to create a page-by-page minute-by-minute formula for movies that leave us film lovers wearied by the sameness and bored because in today’s film world yet another explosion is, after all, no longer a surprise.

Mail Art - a Going Away Present

Category: The Artist In Me

This piece of mail art is intended as a going-away present, wrapping memories of living in Southern Germany in watery colors and fish.

My friend, the marine portraitist is leaving, moving away from this country where the largest body of water nearby is a bathtub. She will soon be living on a tropical island making fishy art and writing children’s books. I hope that, even as she is surrounded by sky and wind and water, she will remember with affection the time she spent living just over that hill right there. The one with the tower on it.

Inside the card is a little piece of Linden bark with a frog on it, and a beer coaster with a snail and three marks in black ink. The critters are sentimental and the beer coaster with the marks, practical: we use those marks to keep track of how many drinks we have ordered…

To create the various pieces I used quite a few found bits from the newspaper, some stickers that are part of an advertising campaing at a local grocery store, business cards from some favorite restaurants, etc. I attached the cutouts with gluestick and acrylic matte medium. In an effort to protect the artwork I coated it once with matte medium.

If I had it to do over again, I would only coat the envelope with the matte medium and leave the card it’s original form. Besides the change in “feel” of the paper, the small wrinkles which appeared in the inside of the card (most especially in the lower right-hand corner) came from the additional moisture in the matte medium coating and were not there before. Bad luck - but I learned somethin. Good luck, after all!

The Choices We Make

Category: This is My Life

I was just thinking this morning about the impossible choices that are put before Americans all the time these days and how, often, to make the “right” choice ends the same as making the “wrong” one. The actuality of this post though is inspired by a commentary in The New Yorker by George Parker called The Fall of the American Worker

In the mid-nineties I, a woman in my mid-thirties with a slow-moving form of Muscular Dystrophy, met my sweet love in an online forum run by MDA. He has the same diagnosis as I do but his body’s interpretation of “slow moving” is somewhat different than mine. He is German, I am American. When we married, seventeen years ago, for reasons of his business and our health we chose to make our home in Germany.

I left my mid-western hometown with ten boxes containing mostly books, two suitcases containing not nearly enough sweaters and two-hundred pounds of dog who had to travel first to Dallas, to catch a flight on an airplane with cargo doors wide enough for his cage and the forklift he rode in on.

My family is small and we’re tight, we’re there for each other and still, after nearly twenty years, we struggle with our separation. All the technology in the world only allows the appearance of connectedness. From five-thousand miles away it is simply not possible to partake of each others every day life. To do that one must be present; present at family dinners, present at Christmas, Easter, Weihnachtsmarkt, Pferdemarkt, the fourth of July. Present for birthdays and measles, for new puppies and dying hamsters, missed buses, new jobs, for teeth coming in, teeth falling out, couples falling out and couples feeling their way back to each other again. Without physical presence and proximity, family life is but a dream, a fiction and a cherished memory.

Today I got the news that my first niece bought her first car. I haven’t seen it and there is nearly no chance that I’ll go with her for a little joyride while going for a little joyride is still filled with the beautiful, impossible innocence of new-adulthood.

This evening as the sun sets here on a simple summer day, America sits around the picnic table with burgers and beers; the kids are restless, fireworks are still hours and hours away and I am angry. No one should be forced to decide between the daily joys of family life that enrich us all and the solid long-term financial health of their tribe. For this, I feel betrayed by my country and my culture.

Thoughts on Lonliness

Category: To My Great Relief

Hello, Stephen Fry. Yes, I know exactly what you are talking about - being lonely, and yes, it is fascinating, isn’t it? After all, how can it be true that one has plenty of company and wants nothing more than to be left alone to rummage around in one’s own thoughts even though one knows perfectly well that this is a dead-end?

I suppose one can love the paradox and it is an astonishing state of affairs that I can not go alone where I wish to wind up, because alone is not where I wish to wind up. However, the only way to see the path I must follow to get where I wish to go is to look for it when I am alone.

Is this is why being alone when I am writing or creating is wonderful? Creation is the act of searching for that path. The one that goes where I want to wind up. And is this equally why being alone is so frightening and devastatingly lonely when I am not creating? Because I know that she who does not search may also not find?

It boils down to this: I want to be left alone, until I don’t want that anymore, then I want to cross paths with friends, to touch and connect before I shoot out the other end wanting to be left alone again. Come to think of it, it is not even that I must be left alone per se, but I must surely and clearly be left to my own devices.

In a typical stab at understanding, I took it into my head to mix media and to see what would happen if I were to diagram those needs along a timeline.

For each of them I took a pen - that was then two pens. I started from a point, my moment of hesitation, of indecision. I drew the my wish to be left alone and my proximity to other people as lines that lead away from one another until, no wait, now they are drawing back towards one another at a point horizontal to touch at the point of their birth. Then passing through it they move away again, before searching for companionship again they curve back.

When I finished it made me smile. It looked like the symbol of Infinity. I am off the hook. I can’t fight, understand or change Infinity, bless its heart. I can only accept and embrace it. Now I am free to go and I’m off with my journal and seven different colored pens for a gelato in the hopes this reverent act of appreciating Summer will summon warm weather.