Leonard Cohen and a Trip Down Memory Lane

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R.I.P. Leonard Cohen and thanks for the music.

“My reputation as a ladies’ man was a joke that caused me to laugh bitterly through the ten thousand nights I spent alone.”
― Leonard Cohen

“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”
― Leonard Cohen

“Remember when I moved in you and the holy dove was moving too, and every breath we drew was, “Hallelujah.”
― Leonard Cohen

I associate Leonard Cohen with a rich collage of memories.

I first moved to Germany when I was twenty-two. My German boyfriend and I met at a party in Dublin. That first year we had  a long-distance relationship until he was accepted to study for a year at Trinity. After that, or before it—or both—I stayed in his flat in Karlsruhe. He had a huge collection of LP’s—we still have them.

For me, school was over and motherhood had not yet begun. I was free and happy and the world around me was new and exciting.

I call it my Pink Period. My boyfriend and his friends fixed up an old bicycle for me. I painted it pink, and because I had some paint left over, I painted my suede ankle boots too.

Getting back to Leonard Cohen. He reminds me of that whole period—candlelit rooms, dancing to Harry Belafonte at parties occasionally financed by Blutspenden (donation of blood). Shameful, I know. They sold their blood for the price of a few bottles of wine, which was very cheap. A lot of students did this. And their blood was pure, like their hearts.

You learn to be creative when you’re living on a tight budget.

It was a communal time too. We’d get together and bake Zwiebelkuchen (onion tart), or one of our flatmates would bring huge vats of Most, a most bitter apple cider in its early stages of fermentation. It wasn’t too bad after a glass or two. Roland’s family had a small farm and he’d go down there to Schwabenland (near Stuttgart) every autumn and help harvest the apples.

When I hear Leonard Cohen, I immediately unlock a trunkful of memories and old photos. For some reason, I also associate Leonard Cohen with Raymond Chandler. Since I was enjoying doing nothing much at the time, I availed of the local library services and swept the shelves clean,  devouring Steinbeck, Marlowe, Hemingway, Anais Nin and whatever books the library deemed literary enough to add to their collection. When I hear Leonard Cohen’s songs, particularly Suzanne and So Long Marianne, the memories come rushing in.

When I wasn’t out on my pink bicycle on my way to the Schlossgarten (castle garden) for a morning under the big chestnut tree with a flask of coffee and my Walkman, I was sitting in his high-ceilinged room, listening to my boyfriend’s record collection, or reading.

Turns out my boyfriend (now husband) didn’t particularly like Leonard Cohen. A lot of men don’t, it seems. Ah, but we women love him. And you know, I’m not even too sad he’s gone because he left us his music and poetry and he’s as much alive now as he was then. He lived a long and rich life and now it’s time to move on.

This cycle of birth and death is part of life. Since we’re in autumn on this side of the world and are witnessing the leaves changing colour and falling off the trees, not to mention major changes coming up on the political arena, we know we have to get through this until the next spurt of growth.

Leonard Cohen’s rich, deep voice crooned out pure poetry like no other.

His voice transports me to a different world. It warms me like a glass of good rich wine and awakened a hard-to-put-a-finger-on-longing for something, a Sehnsucht, as the Germans say. The pathos flowed from his huskiness’s throat, which I’m sure was lubricated with a fair amount of rich amber liquid.  He told stories with his poetic lyrics. He was a deeply spiritual man too and I think he had his share of heartache, at least that’s what comes across in his lyrics, and his voice.

Some people are just born like that. Melancholic, deep, soulful. Unforgettable.

Three Quotes for Three Days

Here’s my second quote:
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“Without magic, there is no art. Without art, there is no idealism. Without idealism, there is no integrity. Without integrity, there is nothing but production.”
Raymond Chandler

Thanks to Millie Slavidou for nominating me for the “Three Quotes for Three Days” challenge.
The rules of the challenge are:
Three quotes for three days.
Three nominees each day (no repetition).
Thank the person who nominated you.
Inform the nominees.

My nominees are:

Susanne Downes,

Katerina Sestakova Novotna

Susan Darlene Faw

 

 

 

Three Quotes for Three Days

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Thanks to Millie Slavidou of Glossologics for nominating me for the “Three Quotes for Three Days” challenge.
The rules of the challenge are:
Three quotes for three days.
Three nominees each day (no repetition).
Thank the person who nominated you.
Inform the nominees

Today’s quote is from Mary Kay Ash, the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics:

Aerodynamically, the bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumblebee doesn’t know that so it goes on flying anyway.

 

My nominees are:

Pam Lecky

Angelika Schwarz

Eithne Muffy O’Connor

If You Want to Write

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photo: thanks to pixabay and pablo

I’ve written this as an inspiration to others who may have been longing to write for years but who haven’t started yet. And I may continue this theme by writing about the books that have inspired me and how I went about publishing my book. 

I love to write, but so do millions of others. But could I actually write a novel? Should I? Why not?  If you can imagine it, you can do it. Then there’s the age old battle between the ego and the spirit. Should I remain humble and keep my mumblings to myself, or should I live my dream and publish a book, or two, or three?

It’s so easy and yet so hard. We must learn the rules of writing. And what better way to learn this that to give it a try. Start with a short story. But read, read the classics, read different genres. These authors make it look so easy, right?

At some stage, you’ll begin to read like a writer. You’ll find yourself thinking about the way the scene was set up, or the way the character was portrayed. How did the author do that? Where did they get their ideas from?

We might look at Picasso’s work and think ‘What the dickens was he on?’ His abstract paintings look simple. And what’s with all those distorted heads?  But his style was innovative at the time. He had learned the ropes so he could afford to do something ‘different.’ He knew all about perspective, colour and form.

A writer’s tools may be different. We have to learn how to paint pictures with words, create characters with depth and paint scenes in such a way that the reader can see them vividly. Learn the basics and go create your unique story.

What kind of book would you like to read? Do you have a theme you’d like to explore?

Anything is possible, almost.

I think that’s the secret. That’s where you should begin, by writing a story that pleases you.

While some people cannot write without an outline, others just begin and hope it will all come together at some stage. I fall somewhere in between.

It’s a good idea to keep a journal and jot down your ideas.

Even if you write on your computer, the journal writing and the plotting should be done with good old pen and paper. At least that’s what works better for me.

And you might find yourself distracted as you go about your day, wondering what your characters are up to when you’re not controlling them. They might even begin to control you.

One thing I’ve learned is that it’s impossible to please everybody. Somebody will find your plot too unrealistic, your characters too flat, your pacing too slow and your story unoriginal. That’s the risk you have to take when you finally put your book out there for the public to see and critique. Some will love it; some won’t. That’s life!

Don’t give up. Write the next one. Learn from your mistakes. Be daring.

Listen to critique, take it on board, work constantly on improving yourself, but more than anything else trust your own instincts.

Don’t write for the glory or the fame, or for the money. Do it because you love it.

Commit to writing a little every day. While writing a novel can seem like a momentous task, if you write a page a day you’ll have a book finished within a year.

If you begin without any great idea of a plot, create interesting characters and see how they interact with each other. Write one scene with these characters. Describe the setting. Play with dialogue. There are many good books on all aspects of writing. Read as many as you can but be careful not to  become paralysed by all these rules.

You’ll reach a place in your novel where you’ll need to figure out where the story is going. This is where mind-mapping or other such tools can be most useful. Plotting is tricky. I’m currently writing my second novel and am trying to work my way through a difficult plot line. I know where I want to go but am not sure how to get there yet. I don’t want to waste days of writing only to have to go back and delete all my hard work. Because it is hard work.

You can write for years, spend a small fortune on books and workshops, travel to see your favourite authors talk, and all without any promise of reward, except the feeling of having completed another novel.

Sometimes I listen to binaural beats when I’m writing. There are many on YouTube and I find them particularly useful. I cannot listen to lyrics when I’m writing, but I do need some sort of light background music. I also listen to classical music. It can be dramatic if the scene is dramatic, or light piano music if I don’t want to be distracted.

If you get stuck in one chapter, you can leave it and continue to the next scene. That’s the beauty of computers. Imagine how laborious it was to write a novel before the dawn of computers? Now, we can delete and add sections as we see fit. We can move chapters around. We can use the ‘search and find’ option, and we can format as we go along. I usually edit as I go along, but a lot of writers advise getting the story on the page first. That’ll be your first draft. Afterwards you can go back and edit.

We all have our own pace. Appoach your writing as a delicious addiction, it will bring you both pain and pleasure. It is not a race.

Keep reminding yourself that most of the writers who are applauded today collected many rejection slips on their path to success.  They never gave up.

I began posting my writing on an international writing site about ten years ago. I was nervous at first, but I started with poetry. Although I hadn’t written poetry for years, I loved playing with words and rhyme. I signed up using a pseudonym, paid the small fee and quickly wrote a couple of poems and posted them. I tried to settle my galloping heart as I ducked for cover.  Since I’d given myself a pseudonym, I felt safe and anonymous.  Imagine my delight when I checked in a few hours later. Yuhooo!  I had great feedback. I got gold stars. This was fun. A published poet became my first fan. ‘You have it in you,’ he said.  I felt a bit like a pretender.  If I was really a poet I would have been collecting and reading poetry books, wouldn’t I?  True, I had a few, but certainly not a slew. I found it easier to condense my thoughts and put them in poetry form. It didn’t take as long to write a poem as it did to write a short story either.

Ah, but that was my ultimate goal—to write short stories or novels.

And so I began writing short stories, more poems and then a novel. I’d post a chapter of my novel every week. That was doable. I could fit it in around my other duties. It was great getting feedback, and I learned a lot that way. But it was taking up a lot of my time; it was becoming an addiction. Not only was I writing, but I was also reading a lot of the other members’ work. The more work you reviewed, the more points you accrued, which in turn allowed you to post your next piece of work. There was another option, which was to pay for each piece of work you wrote. I didn’t choose that one for obvious reasons.

I began recognising names and making online writing buddies. It was a helpuful and fun community and remarkably well-run.

Since I live in Germany, I didn’t have a writing community here. Joining an online group was definitely the next best thing. In fact,  I was quite prolific during those couple of years. There were several published novelists on there and great poets too.

That was what got me started. I’m ever grateful for the advances in technology and the ability to connect with people from all over the world. I’ve met some incredibly helpful and supportive people online, particularly on Facebook. I’ve even met some of them in person. This is my motivation for sharing what I’ve learned.

But there are many challenges. Like posting pictures and removing the image of your face floating in the clouds. I’ll work on that.

Tschüss for now!

Insights from Amsterdam

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It’s always nice to get away; I usually return refreshed and invigorated.

This weekend we went to Amsterdam. We are lucky to live a three hours’ drive from that vibrant city with its canals, boats, flowers, markets, smiling happy people and bicycles.

And we were visiting good friends who we met over thirty years ago, shortly after we got married and moved to the U.S. for a few years. Carl was an assistant professor, starting at Iowa State University and Wies, his wife is Dutch. My husband and I arrived back then in Ames, Iowa, with a rucksack each and returned with our first born, Sebastian, a couple boxes of books and a wealth of experiences.

Now Carl and Wies are back from Maine, spending a year in Amsterdam and living in a fantastic apartment right on the Prinzengracht.

We shared many happy memories of our time in Ames, although we’ve been seeing each other regularly over the years. My first son was born in Ames, and Wies’s only daughter was born almost a year later. We have happy memories of taking them to the park to play, going for walks and letting them splash in the bathtub while we drank coffee and chatted. We never run out of things to talk about!

But this weekend, after hours of sitting around over leisurly breakfasts, we usually parted ways. Carl and Fr. did their thing and Wies and I strolled through the city, went to the markets, to the English Book Shop, bought flowers and cheese and herbs and jewellry, looked at antique books at the book market, had coffee and reminisced and planned for the future. Where are they going to end up? Where are we going to end up? That theme again, Where She Belongs–and here I’ll do a shameless plug for my debut novel–http://bit.ly/29Yao5z. You can click on the link if you’re interested. We talked about the refugee crisis, the U.S. elections, the Trumpet, as he is known, and everything else in between.

On the Rembrandt plein there is usually a small gathering of artists displaying their wares on Sunday mornings. I was happy to meet up again with Sara J., who hails from South Africa but now lives near Amsterdam. There’s that theme again. A city like Amsterdam is so multi-cultural; you’ll meet people from all over the world. I bought a couple of Sara J’s prints, Zebra Pleasure and Madam’s Kiss. One is an early Christmas present for my sister. Here’s a link to Sara J’s art site: http://bit.ly/29Yao5z. We were going to go to one of the museums but the weather was just too nice for that and we didn’t want to have to queue up for ages either.

The market’s are fantastic, of course, and now is the time to buy tulip bulbs for next spring. I recommed the book Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach, by the way. She’s also the author of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I love, but Tulip Fever is entirely different. My brother gave it to me years ago. It’s full of suspense and will transport you back to the time when people were going crazy speculating on tulip bulbs. It’s a gem of a book. I wrote to tell D. Moggach how much I liked her book, something I rarely do, and she answered me. Gold stars for her!

Now I’m going to post a picture I took of cheese–just because. The Dutch do love their cheese. Germans call the Dutch Käsköppe (Cheese Heads) and the Dutch call the Germans Krauts (the cabages), but that’s well known. If you go to Amsterdam you must buy some cheese.

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Yes, I know. I really need to minimize these pictures, but I don’t have the patience for that at the moment.

Adieu for now!

Barbara

 

 

 

 

 

Raw Lines from a Busy Mind

A side of me doesn’t want to avoid topics

because they disturb you, or him, or her

I know nobody who wants their peace disturbed

But there’s a lot of anger simmering in people

 

I do not believe most people want to destroy

unless they feel they have nothing to lose

unless their sense of injustice is too hard to bear

 

I brush these thoughts aside and gaze out the window

watching the tall pink flowers sway in the breeze

The white rose hides behind the tall grass

shaded by the buddlea

shy

communing with bees and butterflies

 

My mind is restored now

to a semblance of peace

I am lucky; I have a house, a garden

food on my table

nice things to think about

Yet I cannot ignore the world around me

I will not ignore it

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If the first suffragette had not protested

would we have the vote?

If Rosa Parks had not been brave and refused to budge

would our black brothers and sisters be able to sit on a bus

like the rest of us?

 

Am I the rose, hiding behind the tall grass?

watching, waiting…

Am I the pink flower, swaying in the breeze, looking lovely?

Or the buddlea, basking in the sun

The oak, perhaps, who insists on dropping seeds, willy nilly,

like unwanted opinions?

 

If I ignore it, will it go away?