mom at lookout 26-08-2015 1-18-34 PM

Enjoy the musings and stories below. I’d love to hear what you think, what you’re working on or what you’re reading!

Posted in Miscellany

Found Art

installation on dumpster

(click for flickr)

I was walking along Dupont Street, a formerly semi-industrial street nearby, now in process of change and unsure of its identity. It features construction companies, expensive car dealerships, a barbershop, a sandwich shop, bull-dozer rental. I came across this installation on the side of a dumpster close to a cement wall. It could only be seen if you were paying attention, looking for something interesting in a place not usually considered beautiful.

Posted in Photography

A Girl In Hitler Youth

The Shame of Survival: Working Through a Nazi ChildhoodThe Shame of Survival: Working Through a Nazi Childhood by Ursula Mahlendorf
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ursula Mahlendorf was born the same year as my mother. They were kids during WW2, teenagers by the end of it. While my mother was in a concentration camp, she was in Hitler Youth–so you can imagine the personal interest I bring to it. I found it a gripping memoir, as much for her personal story before, during and after the war as for its perspective on indoctrination and subsequent guilt.

Mahlendorf’s writing is lucid and evocative. I came to the memoir to find out more about the BDM (Bund Deutscher Mädel), the teenage girls’ branch of Hitler Youth. But ultimately what kept me riveted to the book is her personal story, and her ability to bring it to life layered with reflections of her older self.

She grew up to become a pacifist, left-leaning, pluralistic professor of literature and feminist studies at the University of California Santa Barbara. I would have liked to know more about how that change occurred. For example, she mentions that she came to know holocaust survivors personally–I’d have liked to hear how she related to them and how that affected her as well as them.

Having said all that, the memoir is gripping for what it is: the story of a determined and highly intelligent girl living through the Nazi era in a single parent household. She was neglected by a mother who drank and partied when she wasn’t consumed by the demands of survival, and Mahlendorf had little love from any quarter after her grandmother’s death. The only thing that gave her a sense of belonging was Hitler Youth until she discovered that it was based on hateful lies. And yet, despite betrayal and rage at the way she was shaped, she re-shaped herself in an image of her choosing.

It’s a book that excited me while I was reading it, that left me with the sense of having been elsewhere and elsewhen, wanting to talk it over. As soon I was done with it, I was passing it around.

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Posted in Book Review

Room Service Surprise

“Room Service!” I knocked again.
No answer. No sound from within. There was no “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door.

I checked my instructions. Nothing about leaving the service outside the door. I checked my phone. Five minutes until my shift was over. If I brought the service back to the kitchen, there would be questions and scrutiny. I might be docked pay. I might be delayed. I checked my phone again. I was meeting my girlfriend in twenty minutes. Just enough time to change out of my uniform and run to the concert hall. If I missed her performance again, she was going to break up with me this time for sure.

It’s not that I’m crazy in love, that’s not my m.o. But I do love her and I hate chaos. If she broke up with me, it would mess with my concentration, and I’d fail my bar exams. If I failed, then I’d lose my scholarship and hotel work would become my permanent employment, and as you’re about to learn, it was not my vocation.

I pulled the master key from my pocket and stuck it in the door. Green light and it opened. I walked in quietly, in case the guests were sleeping. They were not sleeping. They were wide awake, but frozen. The woman was standing, speechless, her hand shaking. In her hand there was a gun, which was also shaking. In the bed was a man and another person of uncertain gender. The upper portion didn’t match the lower portion, and it appeared that the blankets had been thrown aside to reveal this fact as if it would mollify the woman with the gun. She did appear to have been surprised, but she didn’t lower the gun or remove her finger from the trigger.

The woman was about thirty. She was tall with long, blond hair and a good body. Not my type. I prefer small brunettes like my girlfriend. (I’m not such a big guy myself, but just a hair short of average height and wiry. No complaints from my girlfriend, except in respect of my seeming disinterest in her violin, which I’m not, but I’m just learning to like classical music. It helps with studying.)

I could see that the woman with the gun would be someone else’s type. It occurred to me that she’d even make a nice change for me, an interesting comparison to what I’m used to.

I assumed she wouldn’t be used to the scenario before her, which was why the man, I suppose, had pulled back the covers, as a sort of visual explanation.

The man’s lover grabbed the covers and pulled them up, concealing the heretofore exposed nakedness and disjointed body, and began to scream. There were words, but since I didn’t understand the language or even identify it, I can’t tell you what was said.

I put the tray down. Two minutes until my shift change. I texted my girlfriend. “Nearly there.”

Posted in Fiction, Mini-Stories

Part III

stoneI’ve finished the first scene of the last section of my new novel, unless, of course, there turns out to be more. That’s the strangeness of writing the way I do. I always wanted to be the sort of writer who can sit down and plan it all out. But I’m not. Every time I’ve made an outline, it’s killed the project, or at the very least put it into a coma for years. No, my spirit requires wandering in the wilderness until I find the right piece of stone, and then adding it to the structure. Sometimes, the stone, though shiny and appearing to be just the right shape, makes everything fall down, and I have to remove it, sit, look, re-think. Sometimes it’s heavy and I don’t have the muscles to lift it. Not at first. And I get sore in the process of getting it into place. And there are times anyone would else would think the stone I’ve picked is too ugly or common, beneath notice, but I know that when it’s polished, it will be the centrepiece.

Posted in Writing Life

2016 in Abstract

On New Year’s Eve around midnight, my two girls and I stuck our heads out the window that’s missing a screen so we could watch the fireworks, and then someone had the idea of taking pictures of the city from our window.

This is my favourite. I think the curled pinkish blob is baby 2016. It also pretty much sums up what’s in my head every time I set out to write a new scene.

(click to enlarge)


And for the more traditional view of January first at 00:05 there is this:

New Year's Eve 3

(click to enlarge)

Posted in Writing Life

Cold Hard Cash

Finding a birthday present for my mother is never easy. After all, she can make anything she wants. My sister always comes up with something inventive. She’s like that. For example, on Mother’s 125th, Maggie gave her a dozen rubies that turned into roses, which threw off a fragrance of an Italian spring, and then all the petals flew up, forming Mother’s name, Alosinatiania, and disappeared in a rosy cloud pierced by a rainbow. I don’t have her gift. We’re half and half, and I got the wrong half. I am reduced to shopping for a present. There are no magic shops, contrary to what humans think. Why would there be when they, and I say they advisedly, can do it all themselves. And I am also reduced to working because when you can’t make anything, you have to buy it. As a result, I am in Walmart this morning, along with many other magicless people, in a crush of eager shoppers looking for big discounts, of which there are none, though there is plenty of junk. How can I possibly find a present for Mother here?

Face it, kid, I think, you’d better get out while you can, and I push and shove my way through the scurrilous crowd to get to the exit. From here I have to find my car in the parking lot because I am dependent on fuel burning transportation. Well, that isn’t any different from my sister, except that the fuel she burns is a steak dinner. I, on the other hand, have to be a vegetarian, because meat packs on my thighs. When I finally get out of the parking lot, having endured honking horns and thrusting fingers, I drive in a random direction, knowing that I’ll eventually come to a mall. Humans never get tired of malls.

My situation is precisely what Grandmother warned my mother about before she hooked up with Dad. He was a great guy, and I wish I could talk to him, but he’s long dead. The only legacy I have from Mother’s side of the family is longevity. I am eighty in human years, and look about thirty. Nobody knows whether my life will be somewhat foreshortened because of my paternal heritage, so I’ve always taken my life on its own terms, one day at a time. The days have mounted up, and I wish that I had taken some of them to update my medical degree. Unfortunately, I obtained it before antibiotics were discovered, and leeches are no longer a recommended treatment.

I’ve asked my family not to give me any magic gifts for my birthday or holidays. They’re beautiful, but I have material needs, and as they say, cash is the universal gift certificate. Unfortunately, my family understood that to mean flying cash or disappearing cash or cash that turns into rainbows. And when I said cold hard cash, they gave me exactly that, meaning dollars made of ice, which they thought very amusing. Maybe I’ll get Mother a nightgown on ebay, I think, and begin to head for home, a modest apartment in a modest drab suburb. I miss Dad. We had a laugh together when the stock market crashed. He even laughed when people started jumping out of buildings. He was a bit odd, my Dad was, but a handsome man. Everyone agreed on that, even Grandmother, who said that as humans went, he couldn’t be bettered on appearance.

Grandmother wasn’t angry with mother for falling in love with Dad, not even for getting pregnant, not even for having twins one of whom is, how shall I put it, not developmentally delayed (that is human speak—denying the facts, I’ll never catch up). Crippled I should say. That’s what my sister called me in her worse moments: Cripp.

Worse, now she feels sorry for me, and if I called her, she would make something from me for Mother in a flash. However I have no means to call her because she doesn’t have or know how to use a phone, landline or cell. I have to wait for her to pop in, which she does whenever she infrequently thinks of me.

When I get home, I park my car in the underground lot, and take the elevator up to the 20th floor. I do have a landline, a cell, and a laptop, which I presently boot up. How much is a used nightgown, anyway?

Posted in Fiction, Mini-Stories

What Else Can You Wish For?

It’s my birthday. I invited all my friends, but nobody came. I don’t mind. I am still having the party. A decorator came and decorated my penthouse apartment. I wish my friends had come. They would see how pretty it is. They’ve never come to see my apartment. My lawyer warned me that lots of people would pretend to be my friend now to get money from me, but I should be firm and say NO. I would say YES. But nobody answered my invitation. I sent it on Facebook and I sent it on Evite, and nobody even RSVP’d.

My sister won’t come. She didn’t even call to wish me a happy birthday. My lawyer says that’s because I got the MONEY. She didn’t get any. That’s because she is a lesbian. I don’t mind that she is a lesbian. I would give her money if she asked, but she doesn’t talk to me. I asked my lawyer if I could give her some anyway. Half, I said. That seems fair since she is my half-sister. It’s my father who was rich, and she has a poor father, well not poor, but normal. Her father doesn’t mind that she is a lesbian but he doesn’t have a lot of money and he is also alive so she can’t inherit it, at least not now. I think she would rather have her father. He is very nice, and I think he would call me and wish me a happy birthday if he was my father.

My mother did not wish me a happy birthday either. She is not a lesbian. But she divorced my father and has a divorce settlement, but that was before he died, so she did not inherit any of the money either. I asked my father to leave money to my sister. He was very sick but he had all his marbles and he said no because she is a lesbian and so she won’t have any children but I will and so I need to inherit it to pass it along to my SON. I don’t know how he knows I will have a son. But he was always a little bit psychic. He knew that my mother was going to divorce him before she told me about it, and he sent me to the boarding school so I wouldn’t be upset by our broken home.

My friends are from the boarding school. But like I said, they aren’t coming to my party, not even one of them. I didn’t go to university because my father was sick and he needed someone to watch over the nurse to make sure she didn’t KILL him. Nurses always kill their rich patients, he said. And even though she isn’t in the will, he was still worried she would kill him and steal everything from our house. Our house had 50 rooms, so it was very hard to keep track of everything in it. He was also worried about the housekeeper and the maid stealing something, and also the gardener, though I don’t think that he had much to steal, just flowers and rakes.

I didn’t do a very good job of watching over everyone, and that disappointed my father, but he forgave me because I sat beside his bed and read his favourite stories. He liked mysteries about race horses, and I was surprised how many of those there are. I spent seven years reading books about race horses and murder out loud to my father while he was dying. I didn’t realize that dying was such a long occupation. But my father always said if you are going to do something, do it thoroughly, and so he did.

I want a cat or a dog. The penthouse is very nice but the condo association told me that dogs and cats are NOT ALLOWED. If I had a dog, I could go for a walk with him and then I would have something to do. I inherited all the servants, along with the money, and they do everything. The gardener is on the balcony now, tending to my balcony garden. It’s very much smaller than the garden around our house, but after a month of rattling around that house by myself I couldn’t stand it. For seven years, I had spent all my time in my father’s room, reading aloud to him, and going to sleep in my little bedroom. It was originally my father’s dressing room, but when he was dying, I asked the housekeeper to put a cot in there and that’s where I slept while he was dying.

The penthouse has one bedroom and it’s HUGE! Everything is huge in the penthouse, but there aren’t very many rooms. At least I can roller skate from one end to the other in under five minutes. I like roller skating. I don’t think you have to go to university to be a professional roller skater, but my lawyer says you have to be TOUGH and I am not tough. I asked him how I could toughen up but he had no suggestions. I gave all the servants the day off, since no one is coming to my party. I just want to have it by myself.

The cake is a double chocolate cake, five layers, becaue I thought there would be a lot of people to eat it. I don’t want to eat it by myself. I am not very hungry at all. So I am just going to blow out the candles and make a wish. I am not sure what to wish for. For seven years I wished my father would either get well or finish dying. What else is there to wish for?

Posted in Fiction, Mini-Stories

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