Why Does It Feel Like 1930s Germany?

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Why Does It Feel Like 1930s Germany?

We aren’t recovering from a war; we aren’t living through a crippling inflation; while things could be better, our citizens are not experiencing widespread deprivation and suffering. So I take on this topic with some disquiet. Because, for many of us, there are unsettling similarities. We have as our president a political newcomer, one who espouses policies of nationalism, of thinly veiled racism, of hostilities toward intellectuals, and who regularly condemns those who question his philosophy or his competence. His expressions of isolationism, of “America First,” his own grandiosity, while he continues to feed the fears and resentment of his bristling base, bring an ever-deepening divide in world views of our citizens, anger festering on both sides. With no thought or action of reconciling us under a common ethos, the rhetoric of Make America Great Again calls on fantasies of a glorious past that never was, at no time shared by the majority of Americans whom he claims to represent.

With a Congress that does not appear to represent its constituents, with newly-gerrymandered voting districts that take away the power of the votes of the those who might disagree with those in power, it is tough not to be discouraged, outraged, tired. I am all three.

And then I think of Sophie Scholl. It is her picture that you see at the beginning of this post. Sophie and the story of The White Rose, a lesson in dissent, in courage, of principle, of honor.

In 1942, she and her colleagues put together a leaflet, The White Rose, at the University of Munich, calling for Germans to rise up against their tyrannical government. Everyday citizens began distributing these leaflets and they spread throughout the country.

Three leaders of the movement were arrested and charged with treason in February 1943. A trial followed within days, and all were found guilty. Sophie was executed by guillotine on February 22nd.

I do not worry that my work, my calls, my writing will have such dire consequences. This is, after all, America, where such things do not happen. This is not 1930s Germany.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

On Hearing from Readers…

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On Hearing from Readers….

This week I did three presentations about my books. Since my psyche fills with dread in anticipation, I am always relieved when I can look back and say “did,” rather than “will be doing.” And these were lovely experiences for me, filled with readers who take my work seriously (always appreciated), most of whom had actually read the books, and who were interested in the characters presented. What a joy, to have the chance to talk about these inhabitants of the page, who are certainly real to me, with those who know who they are, with those who are interested in just why they made the decisions they did, how they managed to cope with life.

I’ve also heard from a few readers, a joy, since it definitely does not happen too often. One man – always a pleasant surprise when a man reads my books – noted that one of the characters in Echoes from the Alum Chine lived on Ensor Street. He wrote that his grandmother lived on Ensor Street and wondered if, perhaps, she had known him. Now isn’t that a delight for a writer to read!  I thanked him for writing, and did not remind him that my John Abbott was fictional, and, who knows, perhaps his grandmother did know him.

Another reader wrote that she saw herself and her daughter in two of Echoes’ characters, and that it helped her understand her daughter’s feelings that her mother was always there for someone else, some worthy cause, but never there for her. I was touched when she wrote, humbled that she trusted me enough to share these deeply personal thoughts, and glad that the character could bring a sense of understanding and love into the real life of a reader.

In a week where working on the next book has been problematic, these lagniappes have strengthened a resolve to push on through. It also reminds me how comments to the author area appreciated, and I try to pass on my praise. It never hurts.

So this post is a thank you – to my readers, to my friends, to everyone who has taken my writing seriously. You mean the world to me.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

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On Schmierkase, Baltimore, and Mornings After….

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On Schmierkase, Baltimore, and Mornings After….

Last Sunday I baked a Schmierkase. Now for those of you who may not be from Baltimore, for those of you who may not be German, Schmierkase is a very special kind of cheesecake. It is first a cake, and secondarily a cake with cheese – sort of like a cheese Danish on steroids. I posted a picture on a Baltimore Facebook page (Baltimore Old Photos) and received hundreds of hits. Obviously, this is something that touched memories.

Now, I am not a good cook, and I am even less of a good baker. But something called me to research this and give it a try. I’m sure you could find a more authentic recipe, I’m sure that the bakeries that sell them present a more professional image, but I was delighted with how mine looked.

As with most endeavors, the proof is in the tasting. So, that night, we had it for dessert. Alas, a disappointment. A bit over-baked, and not-quite-sweet-enough, even for my most-things-are-too-sweet palate. Undeterred, I, now with one attempt under my belt so to speak, pledged to try again.

But the morning after – ah, how often can we savor this? – the morning after, I cut a square (for a Schmierkase is traditionally cut in a square or rectangle) to go with my cup of black coffee. And, eureka! What a difference. I don’t know if it was sitting overnight; I don’t know if it felt my disappointment with my efforts; I don’t know if a cleansed palate is what you need, but it was delicious. And what a great way to start a day. A culinary disappointment turned around.

And I thought about mornings-after, how so often they are filled with recriminations for folly. Maybe we need more folly in our lives. I intend to work on that one. And I will try another Schmierkase. (And thanks to the Facebook reader who gave me the correct spelling.)

Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it (along with my observations, of course):

Ingredients:

For the cake:

2 c flour

2 tsp baking powder

¾ c sugar

½ c canola oil

2 eggs, room temperature

Pinch of salt

For the filling:

16 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature

(I know, real Schmierkase calls for cottage cheese, but try this – and use the brick kind, not the tub spread)

12 oz. evaporated milk

¾ c sugar

1 T flour

2 tsp vanilla

3 eggs, room temperature

For sprinkling:

Cinnamon

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix all of cake ingredients together – it will look more like a dough than cake batter; press into a 13×9 baking dish, covering all the bottom and half-way up the sides.

In another bowl, mix all the filling ingredients until smooth – I used my immersion blender and this made it so much easier. The batter will be thin – pour over the cake and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Bake 60-70 minutes (when I do this again, I am taking it out at 60 minutes on the dot!) It should NOT be browned.

Cool, then cut into squares – or rectangles as the Schmierkase experts say!

Enjoy – and do let me know how it goes for you.

And if you like novels set in historic Baltimore, please visit my webpage and check out Another Sunday and Echoes from the Alum Chine.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

 

 

 

Humankind Cannot Bear Very Much Reality

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Poets today. Poets have been on my mind all week. T.S. Eliot penned the title of today’s blog. And his words resonate as we continue to face and attempt to deal with today’s reality. Some hours I put forth my overwhelming gratitude for the life that fate just happened to deliver to me — born of the “right” parents at the “right” time in the “right” place. And there are hours when my heart opens to those who are not so lucky. White tears? Perhaps, albeit sincere ones.

I”m spending my working hours now in the 1950s, thinking of those women who led the way, before feminism was even a term, and certainly not yet a term of derision. I consider the women poets of the time, that prickly group who were often their most prickly with and about one another. None garnered the fame they believed they deserved. Only Sylvia Plath’s name generates recognition today, perhaps more to do with her suicide than her body of work. But here I present a work by Muriel Rukeyser. Some things never change. Poets remind us of that.

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane.
The news would pour out of various devices
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

Another Loss of Innocence for Us

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Another Loss of Innocence for Us —

Just when we think that we have reached an age of all innocence lost, we find yet another pocket of our hearts that can be broken. We may think, hope, that there is nothing new under the sun, but the events in Charlottesville showed us, live and in living color, that there was.

Wiser heads than mine have commented on our president’s response. I will not belabor that here. So why this heart break? Has something crucial has been taken from us? Were we really surprised? Should we not have known better, expected such? And yet, even as I write these words, my heart aches.

For what, for whom? Certainly, for myself. A Trump nation is not one that I am proud of, even as I consciously surround myself with like-minded friends and acquaintances. And for others:  for people of color who have been experiencing this kind of pain for years, yet have the decency not to say to me “what took you so long, sucker?”; for those who came as immigrants in a less-welcoming time than my forebears; for all those who accept these “white tears” and do not turn away.

While we wring our hands and ask ourselves why, James Baldwin, more than fifty years ago, gave us a response: I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain. Would that I can come to that level of compassion for those with whom I disagree. I am not there yet.

Over the past weeks I’ve been reading The Presidents Club. It is a study of the lives of our recent ex-presidents after they left the White House. In it, Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy show men who are chastened and humbled by the positioned they occupied. Time has given each the perspective to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, as well as an understanding of their contribution to the problems faced by those who came after them. They show an absolute respect for the position, and the person who follows. The humanity of their footing brought me to tears more than once, as I was also brought to tears by the comparison of the current occupant of the chair.

No doubt we will survive this. But we will never be the same, no matter how beyond innocence we may profess to be. Today I remain centered with my pain and the pain of those who suffer directly as targets of this racial hatred that has seen fit to become unmasked. I am not ready to sympathize with the haters.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

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On Forgotten Bookmarks

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my heart is with Charlottesville and those who stood for justice… and this post, perhaps a moment to think of a kinder world…

On Forgotten Bookmarks…

I love to write in books; I use highlighters with abandon; I dog-ear pages that I want to come back to. I’m speaking of those I own, of course, though I get a special kind of glee when I come upon a note scribbled in a library book. A glimpse into the life, world view, of a stranger who just happened to read the same book. What a delight. It makes the reading all the juicier.

That’s one of the reasons that I haunt used book stores, though, as a writer, I do have a twinge about keeping that author from his or her well-earned, well-deserved royalty. Still, I admit that the joy of finding a note, a card, a flyer, a grocery list, and, occasionally, a pressed flower, far outweighs my guilt toward the writer.

These days I am re-reading some of my favorite works, and I must say that I smile when I find what I consider to be an especially cogent comment, made by a former me, of course. Hmmm…how smart I was then. Other times I wonder what I could have been thinking. And sometimes, when I see nearly the entire page covered with yellow highlighter, I laugh to picture myself at what must surely have been a frenzy of head-nodding agreement.

My mother used old greeting cards to mark her places, so when I pull out a volume that had been hers, I sometimes find a Mother’s Day or birthday card, sent by me, or my daughter, with a child’s scrabbled handwriting that you never forget. In those times, I get to remember her, and me, and perhaps another little one who is now remembering her own now not-so-little ones.

So, no purist, I am mounting a campaign to ask all readers to write, scribble, leave book marks and memories for those who come behind, even though they might appear via a book sale. Let’s live life lightly, but also leave those anonymous traces of who we are.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

We Are All Connected…

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We Are All Connected …

I’ve been awash with truisms, sayings, slogans these past weeks.  From Teilhard de Chardin’s divine unification, to string theory, to Martin Luther King’s hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that, to Charles Eisenstein’s Hope, Grief and A New Story. I’ve included a link to his essay at the end of this post.

All these ideas, thoughts, point me in the same direction, because, these days, I find myself full of hate, an uncomfortable state of affairs, even as I tell myself that this energy is going toward, not only a good cause, but a cause that must be taken up – for the good of our country, for the good of the world. Yes, I am fighting Trump. I dare not ask myself exactly how I am doing that. By calling my two unresponsive Senators and my Representative, the latter who is sure that his evangelical god is on his side. All three Republicans. So not only do I find myself hating the president, I also find myself hating Republicans. Now I do know that making these arrogant and rash generalizations is not sound reasoning. And I realize that in doing this I am not different from those who continue to support the president. I recently read some Facebook responses to the announcement of Hillary Clinton’s new book, What Happened. I, for one, look forward to reading it, to learning of her insights, flawed or otherwise. For, on a personal level, I support Hillary as a hero for all of us, a person who can endure spite, maliciousness from those who think they know her, who can see a personal humiliation played out in the public arena and stand with her head held high. Would that we all possess such strength. So, even if I disagreed with her politics, she would still have my admiration.

I read the comments under the article, expecting to find kindred observations. Instead, I found much viciousness and malice. Strange, I thought, since, after all, Hillary lost.

And then a thought came to me – we really are all one. We all experience, or can experience, the same feelings. In this case, the feelings were the same – the focus of the feelings was not. For I realized that those responders feel about Hillary the same way that I feel about Trump. I appreciate that my animus goes far beyond the man himself. I recognize that his person and persona touch experiences in me, perhaps in many/most women, of years of misogyny. And that is just a start….

Eisenstein, in his essay, writes of a “deficit of understanding,” that each of us fails to understand the situation of the other. “What’s it like to be you?”

So, for a brief interlude, I theoretically asked that of the snarky responders to the announcement of Clinton’s book. I worked hard to get past my own subjective interpretation, to reach the theoretical soul of that individual.

As a writer, I come to the page without any preconceptions, I meet my characters where they are. I understand and preach that. But I found this exercise to be different, difficult. I wanted to give up, to move on to something else, something easier. I wanted to return to my familiar position of “I have right on my side.” But even as I said this to myself, I knew it not to be the answer. No, I am not ready to go out and meet the “enemy.” Not yet.

So, in this space between stories, I sit with my discomfort, and my platitudes. For now, that’s the best I can do.

https://charleseisenstein.net/essays/hategriefandanewstory/

www.cynthiastrauff.com