Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Summer Trip 2016, #2 - Conferenceland

On Thursday, August 4, after stocking up on snacks at a Whole Foods (there's nothing like it for product depth and temptation near us in Germany) and buying a GPS to use in the USA, we headed out of Las Vegas on I-15. If you head northeast on I-15, you reach Salt Lake City. I used to orient myself there: Vegas or Boise. When you head southwest, you reach L.A.

We drove along the Mojave National Preserve. It's all pretty rocky and dry. Markus and Miriam slept. Somehow I had the right jet lag window to stay at the wheel for 3+ hours. Destination: Anaheim Marriott, adjacent to the Convention Center, opposite the Hilton.

Here's what it looks like when you take your American daughter out for diner breakfast after way too long in Germany:

At IHOP. Yes, that's a side of pancakes.

On Friday we began our primary missions for the Anaheim portion of our trip: Markus went to the Academy of Management conference; Miriam took Mary shopping. Technically, since I drive and carry the credit card, I take her shopping. But Miriam had already selected a nearby outlet mall for the day.

Saturday, August 6, was a peculiar time to be hanging out in southern California. It was the 12th anniversary of our son Simon's death. Almost every year, this date falls within the Academy of Management annual meeting. Sometimes we join Markus for the trip (although he's super busy with conference activities), and sometimes Miriam and I have been on our own. I've written about the anniversary on this blog before:

This year was the strangest variation yet. For the last couple of years I've offered a fall writing seminar for PhD students at GGS. Based on that, Markus invited me to submit a session with him as a Professional Development Workshop for the Academy of Management: Writing in English for German Native Speakers. We were passed over in 2015, but this year the session was accepted. We had a lively group of 34 participants. So, I spent Simon's anniversary doing something new this year, and here's what that looked like:

Academy of Management
Professional Development Workshop:
Writing in English for German Native Speakers

In the evening, Miriam and I pointed ourselves toward Newport Beach. We arrived to find parking gridlock and nudged forward in the car as the sun nudged downward. We finally got parked and went down to the water. I did one of my favorite Simon rituals: I scratched his name in the sand with my hand, near the tide line, inviting the water to wash my marks away.

Newport Beach at sunset, Aug. 6, 2016.
The "M" in SIMON is in the "dry" sand near the running boy.

Even without a guidebook, Miriam and I found The Crab Cooker, seriously grilled seafood served on paper plates with plastic forks. We had a nice evening out together.

The moon over Newport Beach,
just after sunset. SoCal.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Summer Trip 2016, #1 - Westward we go!

Six years into our time in Germany, we three travel as ex-pats when we go back to the USA, especially to places we've never called home. Often enough, our August travels follow Markus to the annual Academy of Management meeting. This year's meeting took place in Anaheim, California, where conference center and hotels accommodate 10,000 business academics in Disneyland's backyard. Anaheim is part of the eastward sprawl of Los Angeles. This AoM destination was a repeat for us: we watched the Beijing Olympics from an Anaheim hotel eight years ago (traveling from Salt Lake City) and arrived this year in time to see glimpses of the games in Río. Miriam was eight last time; now she's sixteen, going on seventeen.

Like several of Markus' colleagues from GGS, we found a decent price on a flight from Frankfurt to Las Vegas. We tend to choose non-stop itineraries that may involve a bit more ground transportation instead of connecting flights. For example, we fly non-stop from Frankfurt to Detroit and use a rental car to reach my parents near Cleveland (where nothing flies direct). Ditto for Stuttgart, which is closer than Frankfurt but has lost its useful direct flights to the USA. Stuttgart remains handy when we travel within Europe, though.

As licensed German drivers, we fall into an ex-pat category when renting a car. We need full insurance on the rental, since our own insurance covers the vehicle, not the driver. Miraculously, prices tend to be lower for foreign travelers than what we find on US rental agency websites. We had a standard SUV to get us around on our 16-day trip, waiting for us at the Vegas airport.

On the way to Frankfurt to catch our flight, this happened in our 2010 Prius:

Odometer hitting 100,000.
Hybridsystemanzeige=hybrid system display

I was driving, so I asked Markus to grab a photo. Miriam shrugged. But I was trained from a young age to defeat boredom on long drives by watching the odometer. Of course this fanfare number was preceded by a solid palindromic: 99999. You have to be alert to spot trickier ones, like 98389. The 1.75-hour Flein to Frankfurt route (longer in traffic) is one I've grown accustomed to driving for my monthly-ish meeting with the Frankfurt Writers Group. I am hugely grateful for quality podcasts from people who are masters at using words: current driving favorites are Poetry Off the Shelf, Dear Sugar Radio, and, of course, This American Life.

But back to our trip. On August 3rd, we parked our car comfortably at a friend's, took a short cab ride to the airport, and flew at a civilized time mid-afternoon (no crazy 4:00 am wake-up) on Condor to Las Vegas. All went well in flight. Here's a tip for flying Condor. The only way to get gluten-free meals for me on the plane was to pay a 15 Euro upcharge for Premium food. Guess what? The food was pleasant and inspired Markus to consider ordering Premium for himself next time.

I've decided to take this trip report as a series with short-ish posts. To be honest, the Great Poetry Disruption remains in force. My reading and writing life is a poetry life these days. I've begun to wonder if can still write prose...

Here's where we landed. Stay tuned to see where we went!

Next post in series: Summer Trip 2016, #2 - Conferenceland

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Walking in Munich with my teenage daughter

On the Friday of the four-day Christihimmelfahrt weekend, we enjoyed a sunny shopping day in downtown Munich. Christ's Ascension is a bank holiday in southern Germany, falling 39 days after Easter, always on a Thursday. The school calendar takes Friday off as a Brückentag--bridge day--to connect the holiday with the weekend. Since German shops are closed on holidays, this arrangement makes a nice combination of non-commercial time off and a couple of days with full-on commerce.

This year, all the May vacations are two weeks earlier than last year. Good thing May 1st (Tag der Arbeit, or Labor Day) fell on a Sunday this year, or we would have had even fewer days of school. As it is, the month of May reduces to one 3-day school week, one full school week, and two weeks off for Pfingstferien, or Pentecost. (The last two days in May join a holiday-free month of June. If you're counting, that's a mere ten school days this month.) In the USA, we're accustomed to getting "make-up" bank holidays when national holidays fall on a weekend day. Not the case in Germany. The days fall when they fall. Years that result in fewer paid days off are called Arbeitgeberfreundlich (employer-friendly, with the word for employer being "work giver"). Years in which the holidays fall on weekdays are called Arbeitnehmerfreundlich (employee-friendly, with a word that takes an interesting perspective: "work taker" for employee).

While walking on the cobblestone plaza with my daughter in Munich, I enjoyed one of the interesting conversations the two of us have these days (she's sixteen).

Mom: I love my flat red shoes, but they don't give me any support.

Daughter: Life is like that.

Mom: You mean, the people and things you love the most don't give you any support?

Daughter: No, I mean life is flat, and it doesn't give you any support.

Happy Mother's Day!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Spring ritual

The yellow tulips in this bouquet come from Simon's "S" and Emma's "E".

Tulips from the garden

In my grief over the death of Emma Rose Coleman (1992-2011),* I planted bulbs in my winter-empty garden. I had a basket of mystery bulbs from my mother-in-law and no plan. Then I found myself making a trough for an "S" and an "E".

December 2, 2011 (lines drawn on photo)

I watched in early spring for the green leaves to pierce the earth: orange-gold crocuses came first, followed by red and yellow tulips.

April 13, 2012

Here's a shot of the garden today. The red tulips mark the top end of Simon's "S" and the bottom curl of Emma's "E". I sure miss the company of those two people in this world. The flowers are a living hint of their beauty.

April 22, 2016

*I mentioned Emma and her mom, Rebecca, during the "18 Years Ago" series in May 2015--in the Fashion Post (photos #4 and #5).

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A published poem! (Barcelona Notebook #4)

Happy Valentine's Day! I've had a poem published in Vox Mom (Mom Egg Review) in a collection on the theme: LOVE OF IDENTITY/IDENTITY OF LOVE, curated by Sharon Dolin. If you would like to see the poem without further introduction, head right here (mine is number three).

My poem, Face card: Queen of Shadows, is a Barcelona poem from June 2015. On day eight of the workshop, we went to the Museu Picasso to see Picasso - Dalí   Dalí - Picasso, which paired works by the two artists at various stages of their careers. Sharon Dolin had sent us off with the suggestion to write a poem in a form. She offered the cinquain as a starting point. Five-line stanzas with the following syllable counts: 2, 4, 6, 8, 2. Here's a self-explanatory cinquain.

Syllable Game

first two
then double that
another pair makes six
now stretch the line way out to eight
and back

I was taken by an early Dalí portrait, paired with a somewhat earlier one by Picasso. Dalí reworked his portrait after meeting Picasso for the first time in 1926. To see the effect of Picasso on Dalí, follow this link and scroll in EXHIBITION until you find a page that looks like this:

There you will see Dalí's Portrait of My Sister (1923) on the right, as I saw it in the museum in June, paired with Picasso's neoclasical Portrait of Olga (1917).

The primary gesture of the poem "wrote itself" as I stood in the gallery, making notes and sketches. I turned it into a cinquain. My poem has four stanzas of five lines and follows the syllable pattern (with one change inspired by the portrait's shape).

Dalí's painting is owned by The Dalí Museum of St. Petersburg (Florida). Interestingly, this museum presents the painting on its website the other way around, with the "older" face on top. While the frustration of the mentee/mentor relationship between the two artists may be at the heart of the aggression I sense in the painting, it may also come from tension between the two siblings, as the St. Petersburg site suggests.

I've learned a bit more about the cinquain. The originator of the 22-syllable stanza was Adeleide Crapsey (1878-1914). Her cinquains are one stanza long and have a quality of the tanka or haiku. My poem is its own version of the cinquain, an enjoyable syllable game.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Great Poetry Disruption (Barcelona Notebook #3)

Readers of Chapter This may have stopped wondering what happened to this blog. Where did it go after an intense daily series in the month of May, scattered postings over the summer, then silence since September?

The answer (more or less) is poetry.

In June of 2015 I joined a 10-day workshop called Writing about Art in Barcelona with poet/instructor Sharon Dolin. In fact, I attempted to start an occasional series on this blog to report on the experience. I made it to Barcelona Notebook #2. I chose the workshop for two reasons. 1) I wanted to return to Barcelona, a place I had visited with my one-year-old son 17 years earlier, when he was a healthy little guy and life felt lucky. This Barcelona visit was a way to honor his memory at the time of his 18th birthday, a decade since his death. 2) I wanted to write about art and memory in Barcelona.

Jiwar reading room
June 2015
I planned to write in prose, although I knew the workshop would focus more on poetry.  During the ten days, we visited a plaça with a bomb shelter; Gaudí's Parc Güell; museums dedicated to Miró, Picasso, and contemporary art; Gaudí's Casa Batllo. We toured an artist's studio, met a Catalan poet.

Each day at the Jiwar center, we workshopped the previous day's work and discussed a new assignment. We learned about different ways to consider ekphrasis, i.e., writing from art, and Sharon's taxonomy of ekphrasis was exhaustive and inspiring: describe an artwork, write of the artwork without explicitly saying you are doing so, talk of art-making, write of museum experience, give an artist's portrait, and so on. A handy basic reference is Art and Artists: Poems, edited by Emily Fragos.

View from Parc Güell
over Barcelona

Before we left for each day's outing, Sharon also offered guidance on a particular poetic form to try. For example, when we visited the sprawling, inventively tiled Parc Güell, she suggested we write in a mosaic way. On another day, she suggested we write a poem in a strict form (a cinquain, or perhaps a villanelle). The six of us - five participants and Sharon - scribbled in our notebooks, snapped photos, and walked around with our eyes in the clouds. Sometimes my husband and daughter joined us on these excursions. (If you ask my daughter, we all looked pretty weird.)

Everyday, I produced a poem. I did not write prose. Over the 10 days, my poems progressed from idea-laden prose-like texts (with line breaks) to something freer, more playful, and somehow much less. That is, I began to see that despite the many ideas wanting to crowd their way in, I would find the heart of the poem when I left most of the "stuff" out.

It seems I've lost my head. Take a look at my posts July-September 2015. The anniversary of Simon's death and some dragonflies yanked me back to memoir/prose, but otherwise the impulse to write in verse has become powerful and, well, disruptive. I posted a few poems. I even posted about being confused about writing in verse or prose. In the "back end" of this blog, I count seven draft posts along my "old" lines over the past six months. Unfinished, unposted.

I've been busy, and, I promise, I'll be back.