Good Advice

When I was a kid, it was customary to have a special kind of book (called “Poesiealbum”), empty at first, that was given to parents and teachers and school friends, and everyone wrote some sort of inspiration quote, small poem, or short text into it, meant as an advice for life. Is this a phenomenon specific for Germany or do other cultures have this as well?

I recently found my own Poesiealbum – apparently I got it in 1964 when I was ten. The first four pages were autographed by my parents and my grandparents (mother’s parents). Later, after some empty pages, they are followed by pages by two or three teachers and just two or three friends, but their quotes aren’t really interesting. I am surprised to what degree I can agree today with what my parents wrote, even if the whole thing seems pretentious, even kitschy to me today.


“Who relies on others will live in a shaky world. Who relies on himself, stands well”
This sentence, written (as I googled) by Paul Heyse, was actually my father’s own motto for life I think. He hated to be dependent on others. During most of his working life, he was the boss of a small print shop, and he managed to keep the family alive and fed.


“Don’t destroy your peace of mind by looking back, worrying about the past. Live in the present; enjoy the present”
This one, contributed by my mother, really surprised me – I googled it and it turned out to be by Henry David Thoreau. I don’t believe she was actually familiar with Thoreau’s work, she probably found it in some collection of dictums, but nonetheless a remarkable choice – the modern mystics such as Eckhart Tolle couldn’t have put it better (although there is far more to living in the moment than most people realize).


“Let yourself be guided – but not in your feeling and your thinking”
This one, suggested by my grandma (who had a rebellious spirit and raised her five children without religion), was originally written by Friedrich von Sallet, a German writer from the early 19th century who was critical of religion and the military. Not bad, grandma!



“Making others happy makes you happy”
Don’t remember much of my grandpa. And I don’t know who wrote this line – but the German wording can be found back into the mid-19th century, according to Google. Not sure what to think of this but I see the source of happiness somewhere else. Too bad I can’t discuss this with my grandpa! he died when I was a child.

What would I write in a boy’s Poesiealbum book? something like a motto of my life? What is that motto? I can’t seem to put it into words at the moment. The simple insight into reality can’t be put into words.

White Light


Charlotte Peters 1921 – 2012

THE UNIVERSE IS AN OCEAN OF WHITE LIGHT,
AND ON IT DANCE THE WAVES OF LIFE AND DEATH

 

It was no surprise to us that my mother left her body last Sunday – she was 91, had struggled with dementia for 10 years (since my father had died), and more and more severe health problems added to her suffering. Besides the obvious feelings of loss, we are glad that she finally made it, it must have felt like an enormous relief to her.

Sitting in the grass
on top of the hill
where I sat when my father had died.

Now both are gone
but both are inside of me,
father in the belly, mother in the heart

a quiet double presence of support
and strength and love
allowing sadness and joy to coexist.

What holds me, when I look closer,
actually extends to the horizon
and further than that.

The wind blows eternally
over the hill, bending the grass,
a few raindrops like kisses.

Yes, they are gone, and I’ll be gone
eventually, as will everyone else,
but that what is here will always be here

And always is now

1959 Pneumonia Trout

I want to have a normal cold as other people do. But my respiratory system seems to be my weak spot (everyone is said to have some weak spot or other, healthwise) so the last colds that I caught always ended up in extended periods of coughing, sweating, having to take antibiotics.

Sitting in my doctor’s waiting room, I read the Richard Brautigan book I grabbed from my bookshelves this morning: an old copy of Trout Fishing in America. I don’t know why I took this book but I didn’t want to carry the large and heavy Vernon Vinge I’m currently reading, so I needed something else and Richard Brautigan suddenly seemed like what I wanted.

I hadn’t read Brautigan for quite a while and found that I still like it although it is so sixties. Which isn’t such a bad thing. He was a tragic figure in the end but he has a very lovely sense of dry humour and a way to write that is so typically Brautigan.

I wish I could write blog entries that are like the short chapters of a Brautigan novel but without having to kill myself at the end like he did.

I finished about 2/3rds of Trout Fishing in America before my doc came to listen to my cough. He thinks pneumonia. Oh well. So it’s antibiotics, again, and an xray of my lungs next week. Actually I don’t feel bad except for the cough but I trust his expertise.

Some of the chapters in Brautigan’s book are about his childhood and youth I think, and he mentions 1959 here and there. Wow, 50 years ago. I was already alive but only five years old. Hard to believe that I was already around that long ago. Some memories from that time must be buried deep in some inaccessible parts of my brain.

In 1957, my American GI uncle took some film footage of places in Germany, and of my parents and me. When I visited him in Michigan in 1979, he gave the footage to me and I eventually had it converted to AVI. A minute of his German autobahn footage ended up on Youtube – I made a tiny Kraftwerk inspired soundtrack.

My uncle loved me dearly, and I liked him a lot – he is probably responsible for my deep seated fascination with America. There is something about America that seems deeply significant to me but I don’t really know what it is. It must have been laid down when I was very young. Every time I make it there I feel strange but somehow at home.

The way I write short sentences and paragraphs is Brautigan inspired. I notice that now.

Does anyone read Brautigan nowadays? I discovered him during the seventies when I was studying English literature and came upon the Beat generation and their poetry. Gary Snyder as one of my lifetime heroes, but many Beat inspired poets as well. Brautigan is one of a kind. I collected all of his novels and I like to read them once in a while. What is it that I like about them? I couldn’t say. If I had stayed a literature person, maybe working on some university, I’d have to be able to express that but I left that behind in another life.

Trout Fishing in America: Catching trout to eat them is about the remotest thing I can imagine. Maybe I’d have to learn it in some post-apocalyptic world where there’s no other food. Until then, they are my brothers and sisters, and they look at me, they trust me. I haven’t eaten any animals for 35 years, and that feels so good, I’m so happy that I don’t have to.

Thomas Smiatek

Finally, there was Thomas. He had been my colleague in a computer job in the early nineties, for 2 or 3 years, and I continued to meet him now and then but I hadn’t seen him for some years now. A very likeable guy who loved life. Yesterday I went behind his coffin, in a large crowd of friends. His old mother collapsed in tears. His younger brother had already died in the early nineties, and now she had lost her other son. Thomas had been 49 and he simply didn’t wake up one day.

When I look outside my window, there is a large host of blue cornflowers and pink columbines. The bees are hard at work. There are birdcalls from the trees opposite the small street. The dark clouds will bring rain this afternoon. It is quiet. Everything is simply here. I’m so happy.