27 Jan

An American Immigrant

soccerLife is magical if you live it. If you look outside the box, move outside your comfort zone, question government, converse with people, and enjoy the beauty of the world. Through my life, I’ve always been one not to conform to the norm. Traveling was always something I enjoyed, and I’m one who embraces change. This set me apart from many people within the different circles of my life.

I’ve been given a different opportunity to live outside the box, outside the familiar, and continue to question people and things I experience. Opportunity presented itself with the simplicity of an American girl falling in love with a German boy. What is life if we don’t question or wonder? It helps us learn. Everywhere on the web, people are offended by something. Everyone wants to be heard, yet no one wants to listen.

I wrote a blog post about How to be German. It was regarding some of my experiences in Germany told with a few exaggerations. I received some backlash for it, but I’m not apologizing for it. It’s my life and my experiences. Americans are very much the same. If one questions government, or says something negative about the “American way”, one can hear the gasps followed by patriotic roars. But why shouldn’t we question or wonder? Laugh at our faults. Cheer for our successes. It’s healthy, and in no way makes us any less German, American, or any other race, religion, culture, etc. It makes us wiser.

On my blog, I will sometimes talk about my experiences living in another culture. It should be a given that my experiences don’t include all Germans or all Americans. They include my small sliver of the world in Chicago and those I meet in everyday life in Hattingen and travels. Here are a few observations and experiences as an American immigrant.

1.  When I first came to Germany, I thought it was crazy that everything closes on Sundays. All shopping malls and grocery stores are closed. The only things we’ll find open in our area are bakeries, and they close around noon. People must do their shopping by Saturday evening or they’re out of luck until Monday. This seemed outrageous to me. In America, Christmas is the only time the majority of places close. I couldn’t even imagine not having stores open.

Now I love it. Sundays are so peaceful, and you see people spending time with each other. Not that they don’t other days, but on Sundays most are taking advantage of walks or bike rides around the neighborhood or the River Ruhr. It’s awesome to see. Instead of wandering through malls or grocery shopping, people are embracing family and friends.

It wasn’t until moving here that I realized and appreciated the peacefulness, being outside with nature. Growing up in Chicago, it seemed like the pace continued to pick up as I matured. If we slow it down a bit, maybe we’ll see a reduction in stress, depression and anxiety among other things. Shut off the phones and televisions, get outside with the family, and explore new places. Instead, we’re on the go, schedules stuffed with sports activities, and the beauty of the world around us ignored.

2. While shopping or enjoying the sites of Germany, I’ve encountered a little too many pushes than I have in the United States. Someone who needs to get past just pushes me out of the way, sticks their hand in my face, or maneuvers in front when queuing up in line (I’ve been stepped on, pushed and squeezed waiting in line for Ryanair flights). More people tend to push and then say, “Entschuldigung”, whereas in the U.S., they will say, “Excuse me” first. I usually keep to myself, spend almost all of my time with my husband, so it bothers me when someone touches me without first having the courtesy to ask me to let them through. Sure, there are rude people in the States, but I’ve come across a little more in Germany who lack social graces.

This is one instance of many where manners are tossed to the wayside. My father visited in October. We were at the grocery store, and he was talking to his friend about something. Apparently, he didn’t move up enough, so a woman took her cart and kept pushing it into my dad’s back. I didn’t know this until we were outside. If I had, I would have gotten in her face and told her off in English! I might be an immigrant, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to be impolite to my family or me. In the States, I’ve treated immigrants with respect.

3. Germany has many walking and bicycle paths. They’re great. Aside from Sundays, I see many people walking into town or riding their bikes, including my husband and me. When it’s decent out, we hop on ours. We’ll see either die-hard bikers or people past their 20s and some in their 70s. It is amazing how many of the older generations are fit.

074 - Hattingen ( Bike Ride-Me)
Where I grew up, there weren’t many bike paths. I would have to drive to the forest preserves or a park. It just wasn’t convenient. There are more bikers in downtown Chicago then there are in the southern suburbs. Biking isn’t what it used to be when I was a child. Kids don’t play outside much anymore. They’re either too involved in sports activities, watching television, or playing a video game.

4. Learning a new language is difficult. I can now truly sympathize and understand how immigrants in the U.S. feel. When I moved here, it was a culture shock. I spent the first year becoming familiar with the culture and my surroundings. Over the years, I’ve signed up for German classes, sitting in a room with people from other countries. Total immersion is challenging, and it doesn’t help when you can’t ask a classmate a question.

The teachers who taught the classes spoke fast and expected us to catch on, sometimes letting us know they were pissed by yelling. I’ve come across a few Germans who commented on why I don’t know the language. One woman worked at the place where I got my German Visa. I wanted to say to her (my poor translation of German/English), “Ich lerne Deutsch aber es ist schwer. Ich verstehe kurze und langsame Sätze. Ihr Deutsch ist schlecht.” Translation: I am learning German but it is difficult. I understand short and slow sentences. Your German is bad. Of course, I didn’t say it because I get flustered and my mind seems to freeze when I have to talk German.

The thing, and something my husband (a teacher) gets aggravated about, is that Germans are required to take 6-years of English, yet many of them don’t understand the language. He’s also said that many Germans don’t speak proper German either.

My husband and I have had a few heated discussions with his parents, who have complained that I should have a better grasp of the language. This is coming from two people who have been living in Spain for the last 20 plus years, and they still have difficulties with Spanish and don’t know Catalan, which is spoken in their area.

Plus, I’ve come across a few people who assume I want them to speak English. I’ll try to figure out what they said and struggle to answer in German. When they hear my husband talking to me in English, they change to the few English words they know. I never expect or assume people in Germany should speak to me in English. I’m in their country; I need to learn the language. But if Germans want immigrants to learn the language, a little patience and help is much appreciated. Since the end of last year, I’ve been trying hard to keep up with Duolingo on a daily basis, and when I have questions, I’ll ask my husband. Right now, Duolingo shows that I’m 44% fluent in German.

Have you or do you live in a country you’re not a citizen of? Do you travel to other countries for the culture? Are your experiences positive or negative?

Cultures and Understanding,
Baer Necessities

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20 Jan

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Another day, another review. My husband and I joined a book club through meetup.com. This international site helps you meet people with similar interests. We’ve been slacking on reading,  so we thought a book club would get us back into the groove.

We had our first meeting in December where we introduced ourselves and decided on a book. I, of course, am a dork and brought a two-page list of the books I wanted to read and their descriptions. One of the books on my list, and the chosen one, was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr—the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.


Here’s a short synopsis of the book. It’s about a blind French girl and a German boy, both growing up during World War II, and then their paths cross. This meeting changes them forever. For more information about the book, head on over to Amazon.

Anthony Doerr’s descriptions are like no others. He molds landscapes, wars with words until my heart thumped from the vision he created for me. They’re unique. I’d like to share a few of the descriptions that I enjoyed.

  • Page 4
  • Page 70
  • Page 95
  • Page 218
  • Page 260
  • Page 298
“To the bombardiers, the walled city on its granite headland, drawing ever closer, looks like an unholy tooth, something black and dangerous, a final abscess to be lanced away.”
“And yet everything radiates tension, as if the city has been built upon the skin of a balloon and someone is inflating it.”
“The appetite for oxygen is such that objects heavier than housecats are dragged into the flames.”
“Drops fall like seeds from the tip of her umbrella.”
“His breath smells like crushed insects.”
“As though a weary tide stirs stones in the old woman’s lungs.”

The way he guides the reader’s vision of a place, destruction, appearance, made me wish I had a pinky size of his talent. I’m a reader who loves and underlines phrases and sentences that stand out. That I haven’t read before. Strands of words, like a string of pearls, fitted together to catapult me into another world. Who let me become friends or enemies with the characters. Some writers know how to bring me into their worlds where I get to exercise all senses and emotions.

Now I will delve into the novel with my review. There will be spoilers, so if you plan on reading this book, don’t read this review. I do want to mention that I’m not a fan of some of the classics. A reader needs patience to trudge through pages of description that tend to become repetitive. I’ve tried The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas and Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Maybe I’m just not that intelligent to appreciate and distinguish fine prose. Whatever the reason, this may give you an idea as to whether or not you want to continue reading.

That said I feel like Doerr’s novel falls into a classics category—full of description. I really wanted to love this book. It’s safe to say I wasn’t the audience he had in mind when writing it, and I’m in the minority of disliking it. As much as I adore his descriptions, I equally dislike his writing style. It’s as if he sacrificed characters for beautiful prose. The amount of descriptions, tangents, lists, and short chapters swallow up the characters. If I can’t connect with them, there’s no way I’m going to like the book. This book is roughly 530 pages long. It really should have been half its length.

Point of View

First, the book is told in third person omniscient, meaning the narrator knows all the thoughts and feelings of the characters. The narrator isn’t a character nor does the narration come from a character’s perspective. It’s some unknown person telling me all about the thoughts and feelings of the personas. I can’t recall reading a book with this POV, but I don’t like it. Eleven percent into the book, my frustration got the best of me. The POV and descriptions muddled my experience. There were passages where I couldn’t figure out if it was the character’s thoughts or feelings or the narrator’s.

  • Page 153
  • Page 109
  • Page 280
“Block out giant Frank Volkheimer with his mammoth boots and cinder-block jaw. Block out the little aristocratic professor pacing in front of the hearth and the late hour and the dogs and the shelves brimming with interesting things. There is only this.”

When reading this passage, it sounded as if Werner was talking to himself. But he couldn’t be since it’s in third person.

“Behind him, over Evreux, a wall of clouds ignites once, twice. Lightning?”

The author does this often in the book. He’ll rattle off things and then asks a question. Who is the narrator asking? The reader?

“The first policeman snaps flesh off his apple with his teeth. Are they looking at her?”

Uh, she’s blind. The narrator is telling me what the police are doing, and then jumps into Marie-Laure’s head. At first, I thought Marie-Laure was describing the policeman and then wondering if they were looking at her. This wouldn’t work either, because if she doesn’t know if they’re looking at her, she wouldn’t know what the policeman is doing.

Prose

There were images in the book where I couldn’t picture it. Maybe I’m dense, but it just didn’t sound right. This might seem nit-picky, however Doerr is praised for his prose—prose that took ten-years to write. I’ll share a few examples with you.

  • Page 76
  • Page 88
  • Page 121
  • Page 235
“…and she thinks she can smell threads of dust cascading from the ceiling.”

Two issues with this description, 1) how does one smell threads of dust? And 2) how does a girl who goes blind at the age of six ‘think’ she smells threads of dust?

“In the gloaming to the east, he can make out a gray line of traffic herded between the edges of the road.”

Gloaming? I had to look that up, which means twilight, dusk. Okay, it’s not his fault my vocabulary is limited, but it made me wonder if gloam has more power than twilight, and I concluded, “Nein”. Gloam is something I can see in a poem. Why not just say, “The twilight in the east revealed a gray line of traffic herded between the edges of the road.”?

“The eggs taste like clouds. Like spun gold.”

Huh? This is such a weird comparison. How do clouds taste, and if I’ve ever tasted them, they sure as heck wouldn’t taste like eggs. Or spun gold, which I would never eat unless someone wanted to steal it from me.

“His face has the color and polish of tropical wood.”

How does a face look like tropical wood?

Lists

Doerr’s writing also consists of lists throughout the book. I call the separate words or phrases placed one after the other lists. He’s a natural born list maker, which drove me nuts and came off as page fillers.

  • Page 86
  • Page 126
  • Page 230
  • Page 311
“Light, electricity, ether. Space, time, mass. Heinrich Hertz’s Principles of Mechanics. Heissmeyers famous schools. Code breaking, rocket propulsion, all the latest.”
“Marie-Laure wakes to church bells: two three four five.” He does this too much in the book that it lost its flair. “Wind: immediate, bright, sweet, briny, luminous.” Did he bet someone as to how many adjectives he could connect with wind?
Along with the lists, Doerr also counts. “She wakes to Madame Manec’s blocky pumps climbing to the third floor the fourth the fifth.” No punctuation, and continues the counting. “Her heart beats two four six eight.” Counting doesn’t build intrigue, so why have it?
“Static static static static static. In his functioning ear, in the radio, in the air.” GAH!!!

Tangents

Then there are tangents. Many times the narrator tells us the characters are recalling memories when Doerr should have put more time into the moment. He’ll start a chapter about a character, the character starts thinking about the past, and then the chapter ends.

Characters

Doerr spent plenty of time giving me a visualization of the places, yet he fell short of showing me the characters. Also, the abundance of small chapters create long gaps between characters. For instance, Chapter 79 talks about Von Rumple’s diagnosis, and if I’m not mistaken, the next mention of him is Chapter 92.

To top it off, in regards to Marie-Laure, the narrator tells me “she thinks” or “she feels” instead of showing me, and sometimes it being impossible. When talking about Marie-Laure, the author should have applied the senses using his beautiful prose. She’s blind so use her touch, smell, taste to understand where she is or how she came to an assumption. Instead, Doerr uses the narrator. Below are a few I’ve chosen:

  • Page 158
  • Page 181
  • Page 291
  • Page 291
  • Page 333
“At the top, she stands; she has the sense of a long slope-walled space pressed beneath the gable of the roof.”

How does she “sense” this without touch? The author describes so many things indepth and then just states how she senses it. She has needed her father to make a replica of the town, which she memorized over the years, yet she can “sense” this area.

“…and she can feel fear pumping off him, virulent, toxic; it reminds her of fumes billowing off the vats of formalin in the Department of Zoology.”

How does fear pump off you? And did I miss something? Has she been to the Department of Zoology? Why not use her sense of smell. “She can smell the sweat accumulating on his skin, toxic, bitter; it reminded her of the sharp taste of Madame Manec’s peaches when they turned bad.” 

“…but Marie-Laure is certain that when they stopped to greet a woman on the way here, Madame dropped off one envelope and picked up another.”

The girl is blind. Did she hear the rustling of paper? A handshake? “Marie-Laure heard the rustling of paper when they stopped to greet a woman on the way here, a slight snigger escaped their lips before they moved on.”

“Insects drone: wasps, hoverlies, a passing dragonfly—Etienne has taught Marie-Laure to distinguish each by its sound.”

Etienne hasn’t been out of the house in about twenty-years and Marie only goes to certain places. How is it that he taught her how to distinguish between these sounds.

“Graceful. Lean. Coordinated as she whirls, thought how she knows what dancing is, he could never guess.” Exactly what I was thinking.

These additional descriptions are issues I had with other characters.

“Your problem, Werner,” says Frederick, “is that you still believe you own your life.” This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Werner never acted as if he owned his life. Frederick did. Frederick continued to be himself. He stood up and refused to pour cold water on a prisoner. The women in town who transferred information to one another had more guts than Werner.

In the chapter, Diagnosis, the author throws in a little bit about the medical exam while the rest of the chapter is about finding jewels. Doerr has the characters reflect on other things instead of describing the moment.

There’s a passage where Werner sneaks away to see Frederick in the infirmary. He’s talking to a nurse, and then out of the blue comes, “Each time he blinks, he sees the men of his childhood, laid-off miners drifting through back alleys, men with hooks for fingers and vacuums for eyes; he sees Bastian standing over a smoking river, snow falling all around him.” Again, the author takes us into a reflection without really describing the moment. I also couldn’t make the connection between the conversation and his thoughts of the past.

Doerr also refers to the characters in strange ways, such as Marie-Laure’s father. At times, he’s referred to as her papa, and other times, the locksmith. The author also switches from Etienne to her great-uncle.

The past thoughts with the short chapters and flip-flopping from one character to another, prevented me from having an emotional connection. I didn’t care about them except for Frederick. When Werner died, I didn’t feel sorry for him or cry, which shocked me since I cry just watching a Hallmark movie.

Due to all of these issues, I gave this book a 2 star rating. While reading it, I thought of comparable books I would recommend instead of this one, such as The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. These authors have the talent to paint beautiful landscapes with their words, but also mold and grow characters I love and hate.

Reviews and Classics,
Baer Necessities

 

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13 Jan

Starlight, Starbright, The First Star is Starling

To start the author interviews for this year is Ben Starling. A boxer, an artist, a writer, Ben interweaves his talents and love of life. Please give Ben a warm welcome and enjoy getting to know him.

Describe yourself in 150 words or less.

BEN blue_headshot sq_AUG2015My passions in life (in addition to writing and art) are sports—especially boxing—and marine conservation. So of course, these had to feature prominently in my first novel! I still coach boxing and consistently choose to keep fit with sports based in or around water: Currently I’m fond of swimming and hiking along the canals in my neighborhood. I’m a freelance editor, working on business plans, articles published in specialist magazines and some fiction. After so many years of working on other people’s stories, it felt like the right time to create an original one of my own.

If you had a time machine, what decade or year would you like to travel to and why?

I’d either travel back to seven months before I was born (I was two months premature) and ask my parents, “Do you really think this is a good idea?” or forward seventy years – to see if the planet has been destroyed. If it’s still here, it would be cool to meet my great-grandchildren.

Tell us about your published works.

I have just published a short story set in the same world as my upcoming novel, Something in the Water. The novel, will be released on January 21, 2016.

SITW COVER + FRAME
Here’s the blurb for Something in the Water:

The sealed box Teal finds in the street contains more than just a mystery…

What if to be with the man of your dreams…you had to give up your life? On the verge of losing her job, side-lined journalist Teal is forced to travel to the South Pacific to profile a powerful businessman. But with her almost-but-not-quite fiancé Bear discouraging her every step of the way, she may not be able to save her career or her relationship.

When corporate criminals invade paradise, Teal teams up with a former boxer turned marine-biologist to investigate. As she discovers the true intentions behind their new canning operations, she must either accept the plum promotion that will save her career or—with Perry—defend the island with more than her life.

Something in the Water is available for preorder. Something in the Air, a short story, is available on Amazon now.

If you could pick someone to be with in a fighting ring, who would you pick?

In fact I used to spar with past Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, when we were younger. I was pretty upset when he allowed the dumping of waste in the waters off the Great Barrier Reef to enlarge a Queensland coal port. Economics before the environment, once again. But what use is economics when there’s no environment? He’s left office now but the problem remains unresolved.

Did you go the traditional route or did you DIY publish?

I have just indie released my short story and am looking forward to an indie launch of my novel, Something in the Water, as well. Independent publishing is one of the most exciting changes happening in any industry these days and is largely an online phenomenon. It’s morphing at lightning speed and no one knows what will happen next. It’s fascinating – and a fun challenge!

And one of the nicest things about online publishing is the interactive component – reading and writing have become a two-way street as readers and writers reach out to each other over the internet and around the world. Traditionally, writing was a very lonely occupation. It’s a great time to be a writer!

Favorite quote.

“When you wrap up your past, you unwrap a perfect present.” ~ Ben Starling.

Okay, I admit this one is by me (it appears in Something in the Air). The point is many of us are trapped in the past, allowing it to influence and limit our futures. We need to break free!

What is your writing process?

I suspect my writing process is heavily influenced by my belief that all things in our world are interconnected. When I write, I try to be mindful of the obvious and subtle relationships between the plot strands, the characters, the locations and the novel’s premise. When a story is woven tightly enough, if you pull away one element, the whole structure should collapse. So it’s a drawn out process of drafting, revising and trial-and-error testing. And I love every minute of it!

How, in practical terms, do I attempt to achieve this? I map my planned tendrils and plot strands, walk beside the canals near my home for inspiration between editing rounds, and let the problems unravel themselves as they take on a life of their own. Then I run the components through a spreadsheet to check timelines and that I haven’t missed anything in the Hero’s Journey…or scribble on the Post-it notes that decorate my walls (which can be moved around, as necessary).

Then it’s write, rewrite, rewrite again…until it begins to feel better. At which point I will read it aloud before passing it on to my long-suffering editor.

When you’re not writing, where can people find you hanging out in the virtual world?

www.twitter.com/benstarlingauth
www.facebook.com/authorbenstarling
www.facebook.com/ben.starling.author
www.pinterest.com/benstarlingauth

Bragging rights. This is your moment to tell us about how awesome you are. Give us your best Bragalicious Session.

I am too modest to admit that one of my superlatively attractive character traits is that I never brag. Ever. Oh, okay. When I was twelve, my school entered me for a national schoolboy sports competition—throwing the cricket ball. The rules were you had to enter two competitions so they also entered me in the javelin (I’d never thrown one in my life). I came 2nd in the cricket ball…but with my very first throw of the javelin, I won that competition! A compete fluke of course because the favorite had withdrawn the day before. I never threw the javelin again, why would I? I’d peaked.

Upon request, Ben sent me a favorite travel picture. This is what he had to say about it.

Bora BoraBora Bora: It’s a French protectorate in paradise – so it combines South Seas charm with baguettes! More importantly, it’s where I met a Polynesian fisherman who described his ancestor and death beliefs. He was a “glass is two-thirds full” kind of guy. What he believed in was hopeful, uplifting and I’ve included it as an important theme in Something in the Water.

Not only is Ben a writer, but an artist. Here’s why he drew the below picture.

Ben Starling artAs for the picture: I enjoy drawing wildlife and ocean scenes and experimenting with perspective. This was drawn by hand, not digitally. I suppose the challenge was what excited me. Only by studying the picture can you understand what is real and what is reflected in it…a bit like life. As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “There are no facts, only interpretations.”

If you enjoyed reading about Ben, please don’t hesitate to purchase his book or follow him on social media.

Original and Oxford Blue,
Baer Necessities

 

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06 Jan

Good Morning and Happy New Year Germanica!

And everyone else out there. It’s a new year and fresh starts always get me excited in a non-sexual way (I think that needed clarification). For Christmas, my husband and I decided we should each choose one gift. Amazon had a sale on Kindle Fire, so my husband jumped on it, and I got a portable stepper. So while he sits his butt in a chair reading, I’ll be on my stepper getting rid of the holiday season’s extra pound violation.

What did you get for Christmas?

Which brings me to my next item—resolutions. I’m one of those people who want to start clean at the beginning of the year, and make resolutions I most likely won’t fulfill. Since I have five email accounts, it took me two days to clean and sort through all the emails, leaving a few in the main inbox and the rest deleted or moved to folders. After that, I felt refreshed and ready to tackle life and my writings. To be clear, I am a self-diagnosed lightly seasoned OCD person who rechecks things and circulates thoughts.

Anyway, my resolutions for this year are to continue to lose weight on my fabulous stepper (along with other activities), continue eating healthy, travel more, smile more, appreciate more, and love more.

Do you make resolutions? If so, care to share?

I’m going to start my blog year with a positive and heartwarming story. It has to do with the church we attend. Now I know not everyone is religious, but it’s always good to read about something uplifting instead of depressing. So it begins.

At mass, the priest informed the congregation to bring a candle if we’d like to bring the light of Bethlehem home. The Sunday before Christmas, we went to church with a candle inside a small glass lantern. During church services, a few men from Bethlehem spoke about the light. For many years, these guides have been involved in the peace light. The peace light originally began with the Austrian Broadcasting Company, but then scouts from different countries joined in. Each year, a child retrieves a light from the Nativity Grotto in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. Then those children, with the help of guides, return to their countries and distribute the light.

wreath5I have never heard of this before, and it moved me. I wanted and needed to be a part of it. After mass, we went to the Bethlehem candle to receive our light. When we got home, we lit the candles on the advent wreath along with others in our home. It is such an inspiring thing to do, and one I am thankful for taking part in. Whether a believer or not, it’s wonderful to watch this peace light spread throughout the world. In today’s times, the world and each of us could use some peace.

For more information on the Peace Light.

New Year’s and Resolutions,
Baer Necessities

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