Tea on Torstrasse

Bio Pic, September 2014

Author Bio Pic, September 2014

I’m up this morning about to eschew having my usual cup of matcha, that massively potent Japanese blend of green tea which gets me out of the house in the mornings and off on long runs. Today I’m taking a day off from running and am headed to the cafe across the street from my apartment for a piece of cheesecake. I may even have an espresso. This is a bit of an indulgence for me but one I deserve it. I’ve run everyday this week and have just started a light program of weights.

I met with Eva on Tuesday. We went to our meditation group meeting. Enrico was there as was Sonia. There were five or six of us total. We meditated and discussed Buddhist philosophy through the lens of a book entitled: WAKING THE BUDDHA. The discussion of the book was interesting. But soon one of the group member’s personal problems took over the meeting. The meeting became all about her. I got bored. I got irritated. And then I recognized that if I had a bunch of problems (which I do) and had a group of people sitting around wanting to listen, I’d would want them to do so. The dramatic nature of her issues were extreme and obviously wouldn’t be solved in one evening. At the end of the meeting I remembered that these discussions should be based on compassion, cultivating more of it and I obviously had a long way to go. After the meeting, Eva and I went to a cafe on Torstrasse and sat and drank tea. It was dark and candlelit and cozy and our conversation leapt around. She spoke about the intensity of this past year. The year has been very charged, I agreed. She was in New York in January and was going through a long-distance relationship. It didn’t work out. Then she became pretty ill in the spring and even spent a week in hospital. She’s better now. Totally recovered. But I worried about her health for a while and that was stressful as I’m quite close to her.

Our conversation got me thinking about the beginning of the year. I was much busier then: putting in a lot of hours working at a part-time editorial position that turned out to be more full-time. I was also spending loads of time on my film treatment. I was stressed out about developing it. I was doing quite a bit of research then. I was reading WUTHERING HEIGHTS, watching documentaries on Edgar Allen Poe and researching Gothic fiction. I wanted and still want the eventual film to feel a bit like a work of Gothic fiction: slightly haunted.

Life has quieted down. I’m not doing any new writing. Eva is a seasoned, specific reader with good taste in books. She will be reading my novel this weekend. She’ll give me notes. Despite a tremendous recommendation to the president of Random House Germany, the novel wasn’t accepted for publication. Now I’m thinking about the adjustments I need to make on the book to get it re-submitted.

This fall feels quiet. Not melancholy. Just quiet. Last night out of boredom and too necessity, I decided to experiment with some new bio pictures. I really dislike the camera. The only time I can seem to get a decent picture is when I take one of myself. I’ll ultimately post one of these pictures in the ‘About’ section of this blog.

I.S.

Penelope Trunk on Feeling Lost

There was a time several years back when I read Penelope Trunk’s blog, The Brazen Careerist, religiously. I wanted to blog but was intimidated by the commitment, the process and of the potential exposure of my life via social media. I’ve obviously overcome some of those apprehensions as I’ve posted some very personal memoir pieces as of late. But I still struggle with what to post. I don’t like the over-sharing of private lives. I’ve not yet accustomed myself to the microscope of social media. In some way I hope I never will. I got rid of my Facebook account more than a year ago. My LinkedIn profile is blank for a reason. I don’t want my CV online. I’d rather someone contact me directly about consulting or I contact them. I don’t own an iphone or a tablet and have never used either. My mobile phone is ancient and frankly the idea of purchasing something on which I can take pictures and video and Skype makes me nervous. I’m a bit of a luddite. But enough of my reticence about technology and social media and back to Ms.Trunk. These days I don’t read many blogs but I still read hers. Here’s a one minute spiel she did on what to do when you’re feeling ‘lost’.

I.S.

 

Quote

Ree Drummond, Heather Armstrong and Penelope Trunk: Three Experts in Online Media You Should Know About

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The Brazen Careerist’s Penelope Trunk

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Heather Armstrong, founder of Dooce

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Ree Drummond, center (and family), millions of readers follow Drummond as she blogs about her life in rural Oklahoma

 …Blogging opens tons of doors via networking, especially, because bloggers have access to people they would not otherwise get access to. Blogging is a great way to build a career if you know what you want from your career. This doesn’t necessarily mean that blogging itself is a great career. It’s probably best as a means to create stability in one’s career by getting to the top of one’s field. I think bloggers in general are smart, dedicated, and exceptionally well-informed. Blogging takes a ton of time, so most people are blogging about career-related stuff because that’s the only area that is worth the time commitment. So it makes sense that bloggers would be great hires, and blogging, therefore, will help people to get to the top of their field. The Brazen Careerist’s Penelope Trunk

I started my blog in 2011 after reading an article on Ree Drummond in The New Yorker. For the past several years, I’ve worked as a freelance editorial consultant (last winter and earlier in the year, I served as the arts editor for a start-up and online magazine). As I actively explore new consulting possibilities, I continue to go back to the stories of three influential bloggers. Each have built businesses based on writing by linking with other brands.

Ree Drummond was a media executive living in Los Angeles when her career took a rather bizarre – and in my opinion, potentially bleak – turn after she fell in love with a rancher from Oklahoma. She moved to the middle of nowhere and began blogging about rural life. Her blog consisted of writings and photographs of her children, and meals she made, romantic pictures of the vast acres she lived on, and her daily life lived with ‘Marlboro Man’, her rugged, never-named husband. I was inspired by Drummund, not because I was interested in her rural lifestyle, but due to her massive success. At the time of the The New Yorker piece, her blog was averaging 23.3 million visitors per month. What has followed is pretty amazing: a book deal, a film starring Reese Witherspoon, an entire lifestyle brand built around her carefully crafted image.

The site cleaned up at the 2009 Bloggies, winning for Best Photography and Best-Designed Weblog, and, most notably, beating out PerezHilton.com and the Huffington Post for Weblog of the Year. It was the equivalent of an indie director winning Best Picture over Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. Drummond brought in a marketing and Web-development firm called Voce Communications (its other clients include eBay and PlayStation), which now hosts her site and manages her server.

‘…The amateur country-girl persona works as a literary device because it allows readers to imagine falling in love and ditching their frenzied lives for a calmer, more agrarian existence, without having to abandon the notion that they are sophisticated, independent women. “Ree made a life that fit into this unexpected world in which she found herself,” said Laura Ziskin, a movie producer, who, with Amy Pascal, of Sony Pictures, optioned “Black Heels to Tractor Wheels.” (Reese Witherspoon has signed on to star; Robert Harling, the author of “Steel Magnolias,” is writing the screenplay.) “When you look at the book, or you look at the cookbook,” Ziskin continued, “you think, I’d like to do that. I don’t care if there’s cow dung on the porch, it looks pretty good to me.’ ‘O Pioneer Woman!’ The New Yorker

The entire article, which I highly recommend, can be read here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/05/09/o-pioneer-woman

In 2001 Heather Armstrong, founder of Dooce was 25, with a degree in English, and a job at a start-up in L.A. ‘In those days’, she deadpans ‘when you said you had a blog, people thought you had a venereal disease.’ Armstrong’s blog has now become a bit of a media empire. But a home-grown media empire. For starters, lunch at Blurbodoocery Inc. is a family affair — Heather, her husband, Jon, 18-month-old Marlo, LaCaze, and Heather’s cousin McKenzie (who baby-sits for Marlo during the day, and for 7-year-old Leta when she is home from school), all gather around the table in the stone-and-glass kitchen.

The ability to blur home and work is one reason they bought this house when the company began to burst the seams of their smaller one. They considered just renting office space, as most start-ups do when they grow. But ‘my life is the business,’ Armstrong says. ‘It wouldn’t work without the chaos nearby, without being able to wear my workout clothes all day and nap on the bed with the dogs.

Typically, there are 100,000 visitors daily to her site, Dooce.com…She is the only blogger on the latest Forbes list of the Most Influential Women in Media, coming in at No. 26, which is 25 slots behind Oprah, but just one slot behind Tina Brown, former editor of Vanity Fair and current editor of The Daily Beast. Her site brings in an estimated $30,000 to $50,000 a month or more — and that’s not even counting the revenue from her two books, healthy speaking fees and the contracts she signed to promote Verizon and appear on HGTV. She won’t confirm her income (“We’re a privately held company and don’t reveal our financials”). But the sales rep for Federated Media, the agency that sells ads for Dooce, calls Armstrong “one of our most successful bloggers,” then notes a few beats later in our conversation that “our most successful bloggers can gross $1 million.”  ‘Heather Armstrong: Queen of the Mommy Bloggers’, The New York Times

The complete article can be found here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/magazine/27armstrong-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

And last but not least, my favorite blogger, Penelope Trunk. Trunk is an expert in the constantly evolving, new media economy. Her blog, the Brazen Careerist is a site for people attempting to re-vamp their careers. Trunk also manages to seamlessly blend her personal life with her writings about work within the technology based new economy.

‘The best careers are built on kindness. Kindness in every job, and kindness to people who don’t work with you but need you, at one point or another. You never know who will help you next, so assume all the goodness you give out will somehow come back.’  ‘New Economy Career Advice from Penelope Trunk’, Forbes magazine

For more on Penelope Trunk, see her piece in Forbes magazine:http://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2011/03/28/new-economy-career-management/

I.S.

 

 

Memoir: 2006-2014

It’s 8:30 on Wednesday morning. I woke up around 6:30 but didn’t get out of bed until 7:30. What have I been doing for the past hour? I do what I always do on the mornings I am behind on my blog, I try to unearth something to write about. I promised to write a memoir piece. I should write about my marriage. I really don’t want to write about my marriage. But I will.

My husband and I were in a relationship on and off for three years before we married. I met his family only once or twice before the marriage. But still I found them peculiar. I was never around them long enough to understand them. My husband assured this. I never questioned why. They were country-dwellers and he fancied himself cosmopolitan. He often worked abroad, was rarely in Italy full-time. It was easy to set himself apart from them.

My husband and I met one evening while I was walking down the street in Turin. My boyfriend had broken up with me the previous year, while we were living in South Africa, and I had been so devastated I didn’t date anyone for a year. I moved back to the States. I moved in with my grandparents who lived in a small city outside of Chicago. I sat in a chair in their backyard and stared into space for hours. No one could reach me. I was unreachable. I avoided calls from my ex-boyfriend. I took a medical leave from my masters program and became, quite unintentionally, very thin. My grandparents kept taking me to church. They thought it would calm me down. It had the opposite affect; it made me more agitated.

My grandparents. On hot summer days, they would put me in the back of their cornflower blue 80s-model Buick Oldsmobile and drive me to church services where people sang far too loud into cheap microphones and the minister’s brand of biblical ‘logic’ was, for the even marginally educated, unreasonable. There would be lots of music and sometimes, dancing. And I would think, my God, this is horrible. I would go home and go to sleep and basically not get up for days. In the real world there’s a term for this. It’s called ‘nervous breakdown’. I was having one. I didn’t get it at the time. After all when a person is going crazy, they’re never aware of it in process. I just thought I needed to stop taking phone calls from my ex-boyfriend, who, at least in my mind, was romancing half of Johannesburg. I thought I just needed to forget about him. I thought I just needed sleep.

A year after this debacle, fast-forward. I got back to a somewhat normal weight and stopped being dragged around to various churches. I went to Italy where my ex-boyfriend was from. I met my husband one evening in Turin. I was still very upset about my ex, whose family I had just seen that day. He was still in South Africa. They were ringing their hands, attempting to stage a boycott of the new woman he was with, hoping his new relationship, like a storm, would blow over.

That morning I received an invitation from Elisabetta, my ex-boyfriend’s older sister. Formidable and astute, very little got by Elisabetta. She was often quiet but in the most political of ways and defended the family with the instinct of a lioness. Elisabetta’s secretary called me that morning and I was summoned to her office, in a lovely seventeenth century building not far from her and her husband’s apartment, the apartment where we used to spend our Christmases, looking out over the snow-covered Alps. These were the days when my boyfriend and I were happiest. Mischief-making, holding hands under the dinner table over four course meals, me standing beside him on the balcony while he smoked and taught his nieces the rude Mandarin sayings he’d picked up in Shanghai. We laughed a lot. He traveled to China once a month for work and left me alone in the apartment with his father whom I loved like my own father. Signore. He was wonderful to me. He drove me to the seaside for weekend excursions and worried over me while his son was away. We all had lovely times together. I went to birthday parties for all of the children. How happy was I? I was ridiculously happy.

But then something happened to change everything, and there was no turning back.

By summoning me to her office, a year after the break-up, Elisabetta was attempting to regain control of a circumstance which had gone terribly awry. She sat with me for a few moments. She updated me on the social events of the family. And then she did something entirely unexpected, she picked up the phone and called her brother in Johannesburg. She spoke to him for a moment and then, getting down to business, she handed me the phone. When I left her office I was crying. I cried all day. That evening I was walking down the street and a man wearing a tailored suit walked up to me. He asked me to dinner. Two weeks later he was talking to me about marriage.

Have you ever had a feeling you are about to do something very wrong? You know it. But you don’t have the courage to stop yourself. You’re afraid of what might happen if you don’t just go along with it. You talk yourself into it. It seems, in a rational way, like the logical thing to do. I was well aware of the fact that I could not handle another soul-crushing summons from Elisabetta. I had to go on my own way. I never get headaches. But the morning after my wedding I woke up with a horrible one. The headache lasted for exactly six months. I was in constant need of pain relievers. The morning of the wedding, I actually canceled but my husband talked me into going through with it.

By the time I filed for divorce, four years had passed. The headache had morphed into all sorts of problems. I hated the small Italian city we lived in. The people there were ignorant. While I could walk the streets of Turin with ease, there I couldn’t walk to a cafe to write without being harassed by men in cars who opened their doors and tried to coerce me into them. I kept being mistaken for a Nigerian prostitute. I’ve never seen a prostitute carrying a laptop. Nor have I ever seen one wearing glasses. But from their perspectives, I guessed, there was a first time for everything.

My husband’s father refused to attend the wedding. He wouldn’t eat with me at family celebrations. I wasn’t even allowed at the dinner table. I remember the first time I saw him outside the house one night. He was walking the dog. I told him good evening in crisp, well-practiced Italian. He responded by turning to talk to the dog. It was pretty clear. The dog was worthy of a greeting. I was not. When we visited my in-laws for the holidays my husband was left out of every celebration because he had married me.

When two people marry, it is generally because they want to build a family together. I wanted this but I did not want to bring a child into a family where the child wouldn’t be accepted. The idea was, in the end, unthinkable. When one moves abroad, one can better appreciate the importance of family. Even now, sitting here in Berlin, I can appreciate those terrible church services on those hot summer afternoons with my grandparents. Because I recognize how much they loved me. They didn’t exactly know what to do for me, but they did their best.

When you become more established in life and in who you are as a person, you understand what truly feels right, and you know what doesn’t. I knew early on that I needed to make a u-turn. It took me years to do so. There are times when a u-turn isn’t easy.

My husband and I eventually left Italy. We moved to Belgium. I tried to reconcile things there too. But beyond the family who wouldn’t accept me, it wasn’t right between us. I suffered under the weight of what to do next. The suffering ended when I made up my mind to leave.

Two years later, I’m headache-free. I’m single but you know what? For the first time in a very long time, I can honestly say it: I’m happy.

I.S.

 

Moon and the Sky

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Sade.

 

MOON AND THE SKY LYRICS

I was the one
I who could
Pull in all the stars above
Lay them on your feet
And I gave you my love
You are the one that got me started
You could have let me
Love anyone but I only wanted you
So why did you make me cry
Why didn’t you come get me one last time
You’ll always know the reason why
We could have had the moon and the sky
You’ll always know the reason why this love
Reason why this love
Ain’t gonna let you go
You lay me down and left me for the lions
A long, long time ago
You left me there dying
But you’ll never let me go
You’ll always know the reason why
We could have had the moon and the sky
You’ll always know the reason why this love
Reason why this love
Ain’t gonna let you go
You’ll always know the reason why
The song you heard
Will stay on your mind
It ain’t gonna let you go, no
‘cos you were the moon
And I the endless sky
You’ll always know the reason why
We could have had the moon and the sky
You’ll always know the reason why this love
Reason why this love
Ain’t gonna let you go
Ain’t gonna let you go
You had the keys to the car
You had every star
Every one of them twinkling
Baby what were you thinking
We had the moon and the sky above
And I gave you my love

 

dee-AH-na

DSC_0021DSC_0117DSC_0107DSC_0163dee-AH-na: the original Latin pronunciation of the name Diana. Named after her maternal grandmother, Diana is also the name of the classic and lovely moon-goddess. Diana is the Latin name for the Roman goddess associated with the moon and virginity, hunting, and the protector of wild animals, represented in myth as both beautiful and chaste. Within a literary context, Dianas appear in ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL, JANE EYRE and ANNE OF GREEN GABLES.

What a delight to wake up and find these pictures in my email inbox. Mia cugina piccola: Diana Isabel Ambrosio Winbush. I’m working on a new blog – another piece of memoir. Perhaps this new writing will help to put some of my life in perspective. Memoir has a way of doing that. On a totally unrelated topic: I ran four miles yesterday after two lazy weeks of no running at all. Let’s see if I can get up to a solid six miles by the weekend. I’ve just been given the gift of Dostoevsky’s THE IDIOT which I have no time to read. I’ve had a number of pretty ‘off’ days back to back. It’s as if I want to be somewhere else. I’m experiencing a total dispersion of energies.  I hope today marks the first day of a turn-around in this recent trend.

I.S.

A Slow Week’s Update

It’s Saturday evening. This week has been slow for writing. I’m not sure what to post. For these reasons I’ll just give an update. I’ve done no new memoir or fiction and have yet to set eyes on the film treatment again. What I have done is keep meticulous journals. I’ve been in touch with my cousins in Frankfurt. They keep sending me pictures of baby Isabel who is growing fast. I spoke to my family in the States and my aunt and grandmother are each hoping I’ll come back for Christmas. I have yet to decide if I will do so. Last Christmas I had dinner in a Turkish restaurant with Billy and an artist we met from Munich. It was a non-traditional Christmas which was fine with me. Traditional Christmases are, in my opinion, best celebrated with family. It seems strange that five years ago I was celebrating Christmas in Ho Chi Minh City having dinner in a one of those tasteless glitzy Western hotels. Why I’m writing about Christmas now? It is, after all, only the first week of September.

Anyway…

I’m posting this Elisa song, ‘Rainbow’. The lyrics are below.

RAINBOW – LYRICS

You are not an enemy anymore
there’s a ray of light upon your face now
I can look into your eyes
and I never thought it could be so simple

you can hear the music with no sounds
you can heal my heart without me knowing
I can cry in front of you
’cause you’re not afraid to face my weakness

when we’ll wake up some morning rain will wash away our pain
when we’ll wake up some morning rain will wash away our pain

’cause it never began for us
It’ll never end for us
’cause it never began for us
It’ll never end for us

you are not my enemy anymore
there’s a ray of light upon your face now
It’ll be all new again
there is something else just round the corner

so when we’ll wake up some morning rain will wash away our pain
when we’ll wake up some morning rain will wash away our pain

’cause it never began for us
It’ll never end for us
no it never began for us
It’ll never end for us

I was looking for a place to stay
are you looking for a place to stay?

no it never began for us
It’ll never end for us
no it never began for us
It’ll never end for us

no it never began for us
It’ll never end for us
no it never began for us
and it’ll never end for us

 

 

Longreads’ Best of WordPress, Vol. 4

Originally posted on WordPress.com News:

It’s time for our latest edition of Longreads’ Best of WordPress: below are 10 outstanding stories from across WordPress, published over the past month.

You can find Volumes 1, 2 and 3 here — and you can follow Longreads on WordPress.com for all of our daily reading recommendations.

Publishers, writers, keep your stories coming: share links to essays and interviews (over 1,500 words) on Twitter (#longreads) and WordPress.com by tagging your posts longreads.


1. The Moral Dilemmas Of Narrative (Bill Marvel, Gangrey)

Bill Marvel on journalism and the quest for empathy in telling other people’s stories:

Compassion and sensitivity thus tell us how to approach our subjects from the outside.

Empathy, the word Lee Hancock murmured that morning, is more difficult. Because empathy requires that we approach our subjects from the inside. We try to enter into the emotions, thoughts, the very lives of those we…

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How I Got Here

The year was 2002. I was sitting in the restaurant-bar of the Hotel Atlantic in Hamburg. Across from me was a chain-smoking Swiss-German film producer. At the time I was the companion of a cult film director from Los Angeles. Cameron was hysterical. Charismatic and biting, he was the center of any room in a self-described ‘bitchy, gay way’. I’d started out working part-time as his assistant and moved up to writing a screenplay with him. He would fly me out from my snowy town in Vermont where I went to school and deposit me in his warm ocean-side apartment in Santa Monica. He would hand me scripts he didn’t have time to read and ask me to comment on them. I was good at it. I would scrawl out pages of notes and tell him what I thought was interesting and not-so-interesting and make notes on character. Cameron. He would take me to film premieres and tell me about his boyfriends. He took me into the swank homes of television actresses and dragged me along to see edgy New York City performance art which left me covering my eyes in the theaters. Los Angeles was too much for me. New York was definitely too much for me. In retrospect, Cameron was a bit much for me too. He once took me to a performance by a friend of his named Jonathan Ames which featured the writer/actor naked with the exception of an anatomically correct prosthetic vagina, which he wore in an effort to get in touch with his ‘feminine’ side. Cameron’s nickname for me was ‘country girl’. It didn’t take much to shock me. The characters which populated Cameron’s world often left me wincing. He, in turn found my puritanism oddly refreshing.

Back to the Hotel Atlantic. Back to Hamburg. Cameron had just optioned the film rights to a book about a gay love affair set during the Holocaust. The story was a true one. Were were writing it in conjunction with a historian with a doctorate from Harvard who happened to be one of my writing mentors. John, Cameron and I would spend long afternoons at Cameron’s place in Santa Monica going through the book. Cameron taught me to break a book down into sections and chapter by chapter, re-script the text into scenes. I loved working with Cameron and John. But often felt far out of my element. I was in my twenties; my mentors were close to thirty years my senior. While John frequently recommended Holocaust literature for me to read: Primo Levi’s IF THIS IS A MAN and Eli Wiesel’s NIGHT, Cameron introduced me to films like ‘Europa, Europa’, ‘Sophie’s Choice’ and ‘Schindler’s List’. The three of us collaborated for four years. After several years, Cameron and I broke off into a bit of a duo. By 2002 we were at the Berlinale. I was gobsmacked. I fell for Germany. Instantly. The moment I stepped off the plane, my universe tipped. Everything felt so very…right. Admittedly, I was provincial. My only European endeavor had consisted of 10 days in Paris. My only other ventures beyond the States had been small trips to Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Cameron and I went to the Berlinale on a search for German producers. After Berlin, we went to Hamburg to meet with a producer who was interested. Hamburg was lovely that afternoon. Charming. I knew then I would make a life for myself in Germany. I never imagined it would take more than 10 years to get here.

Cameron and I never did make our film. Our funding fell through. And then the film producer died. After five years of film hopes, I decided to get a masters degree in literature and delved into familiar territory: books. I decided I would write them. I gave up film. I moved to Poland. I met someone who totally changed my life. I fell in love and traveled around with him. I sent Cameron postcards from places like Shanghai, Cape Town and Monte Carlo. I read compulsively and taught myself to be a writer. I got married. And then got divorced. After country-hopping for too many years, I decided to settle down. One morning in Belgium my husband left for work – and I started packing.

My destination?

Berlin.

I.S.