Words from Eleanor Roosevelt

Life is full of unexpected suffering. Even so, as Eleanor Roosevelt said: “If you can live through that (a difficult situation) you can live through anything. You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, `I lived through this…I can take the next thing that comes along.´ That´s exactly right. Struggling against great difficulty enables us to develop ourselves tremendously. We can call forth and manifest those abilities lying dormat within us. Difficulty can be a source of dynamic growth and positive progress.   From the book, FOR TODAY AND TOMORROW

An Excerpt from the Tao Teh Ching

Lao-Tze was a philosopher and poet of ancient China. He is best known as the reputed author of the TAO TEH CHING and the founder of the philosophy Taoism.

No other book on earth has been translated as widely and as frequently as Lao Tze´s TAO TEH CHING, and no other book has been translated as often into English. As of 1955, there were 100 different translations in print throughout the world, 90 in Western languages, 36 in English alone.  Daniel P. Reid

This morning I did something not done in years. I unearthed some texts on Taoism and began reading. I first read excerpts of the TAO TEH CHING during my freshman year in college, I was introduced by a friend who was captivated by the ancient Chinese philosophy. We would often read one another segments on rainy, lumbering afternoons. The philosophy of Taoism interests me. It predates Buddhism and there are many links between the philosophies, a deep number of foundational connections.

Below, I´m posting an excerpt from Lao Tze´s famous work.

Today was a quiet day of reading. I have much editing to undertake, the bulk of which I had to postpone while I arranged my move to Hamburg. Once fully settled in, I´ll begin the much needed work on my novel, the approach of the next agent.

AN EXCERPT FROM THE TAO TEH CHING

When he is born, man is soft and weak

In death, he becomes stiff and hard.

The ten thousand creatures and all plants and trees

Are supple and soft in life,

But brittle and dry in death.

Truly, to be stiff and hard is the way of death;

To be soft and supple is the way of life.

Therefore, the weapon that is too hard will be broken,

And the tree with the hardest wood will be cut down first.

Truly, the hard and the strong are cast down,

While the soft and weak rise to the top.

Lao Tze

Im Hamburg

The sun is shining. It is gorgeous outside. I am well settled into my new home. Very happy. This afternoon I am on a hunt for the latest edition of VANITY FAIR, priced at a startling 13.50 euro, which is close to criminal. After VF, I have promised myself I will read Jamaica Kincaid in the sun, perhaps even on the harbor.

The Stranger and the Full Moon

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This morning I woke up from a hard but fragmented sleep full of half-dreams. Groggy, I made my way to the computer and began perusing old ‘Financial Times’ ‘Lunch with’ sections to see if there was an interview I wanted to link to; I couldn’t find one. There were a variety of good ones but truth be told, I didn’t have the energy to read through a bunch of them this morning. Since I wasn’t sure what to post, I decided to script an update.

I’ve spent the last few evenings reading Camus’ THE STRANGER. My last read of it was in my graduate studies program when I spent a semester examining African post-colonial literature. This copy of THE STRANGER had been back in the States at my grandparent’s home in storage. I found it in December. The novel still had all my notes scrawled in cursive-italics inspired penmanship in the margins. I was a more diligent reader then than I am now. I’m trying to revive my literary focus. I’m trying to spend less time online. This is what inspired my return to THE STRANGER.

These days I take my novels into the bathtub, the place where I spend long hours. Since last fall I’ve been making my own bath-scrubs and body milks composed of wild honeys and bitter lemon, milky yoghurt and coarse sea salts. On dark winter evenings, I bathe in these concoctions, soaking in the warmth of the water. I’m disappointed that this won’t continue in Hamburg. My new apartment (which in actuality won’t be ready until August, in the meantime, I am subletting) only has a shower. But I have not let this deter my enthusiasm for this new life which I have quite quickly and artfully set up for myself. In fact, it’s all been so luckily arranged, I wonder how much I had to do with it. I can’t take all the credit. Nor do I wish to.

My grandfather’s funeral was on Sunday. Since it was impossible for me to return to the States, I chose to mark his passing in my own way. His funeral was a celebration of his life. Everyone in my family has a deep sense of peace, knowing he is no longer suffering.

Today marks a full moon. Full moons mark times of closure. They’re usually slightly emotional. Does this explain my current sense of melancholy? Across the centuries, many a person has uttered the phrase “There must be a full moon out there” in an attempt to explain unusual happenings. Greek philosopher Aristotle and Roman historian Pliny the Elder suggested that the brain was the “moistest” organ in the body and thereby most susceptible to the pernicious influences of the moon, which triggers the tides.

Hamburg. I’m due to leave day after tomorrow, one day earlier than expected. I hope there will be no delays. I have several more boxes to pack. I signed the rental contract last week. Three-quarters of my life and things are now in this watery city. Now I just have to get myself there. I’m already there in spirit. Perhaps this is the reason I have this sense of being slightly disembodied? I’m there but still here, suspended between two cities, worlds.

 

 

The Unlikely Pairing of Sam Taylor-Johnson and Aaron Taylor-Johnson

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The director and the star in shades of grey

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Sam Taylor-Johnson, now 47, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, 24, still bucking convention

I have a secret. I like non-traditional relationships, unusual pairings. I like couples no one expected would end up together. Maybe it’s the writer in me, always in need of observing people, trying to find out what makes them tick. I like the idea of the seeing a successful hook-up no one saw coming.

My favorite at the moment is Sam Taylor-Johnson and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Sam is an up-and-coming British director who started out as one of London’s most talked about visual artists and photographers. She began exhibiting her work in the mid-nineties and won the Illy Café Prize for Most Promising Young Artist at the 1997 Venice Biennale.

The director is currently being heavily profiled, making the rounds of international film festivals to promote her second directorial effort. Taylor-Johnson was tapped to adapt the film version of the terribly racy, smash-hit novel, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Her first film, ‘Nowhere Boy’ was a biographical portrait of the young John Lennon, starring a then 19 year old Aaron Johnson.

So, what makes a 19 year old sex symbol fall madly in love with his 42 year old director? One might argue that Johnson (who, without question, smolders) might have had his pick of young English actresses. Instead he chose the first-time director who also happened to have been a recently divorced mother of two. Taylor-Johnson had experienced her share of hard knocks. She survived cancer not once but twice. She cast Johnson believing the young upstart wanted to make a movie. He ended up making a serious move on her. They now have two young daughters, which Taylor-Johnson says were her then-boyfriend (now husband’s) idea. He had no desire to live a life falling out of London’s hippest clubs with starlets. He actually wanted to be a young father. Not long after they got together, he got his wish.

I’m posting a link to the latest news on Taylor-Johnson and her new film, to be screened at the Berlinale. The article is featured in today’s issue of ‘The Guardian’. For the article, click here: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/jan/31/fifty-shades-of-grey-film-sex-sam-taylor-Johnson

NOTE: For those who read this blog last week, when it was posted, Sam Taylor-Johnson was formerly known as Sam Taylor-Wood and Aaron Johnson was billed simply as Aaron Johnson. However, as of late, the two changed last names. Sam Taylor-Wood became Sam Taylor-Johnson and Aaron Johnson is now known as Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

‘Kolya’

 

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The French promotional poster for ‘Kolya’

 

 

‘Kolya’ is one of my favorite films from the mid-nineties. It is Czech and features a wonderful soundtrack. The following is a quote on the film from Wikipedia.

Kolya (originally Kolja) is a 1996 Czech film drama about a man whose life is reshaped in an unexpected way. The film was directed by Jan Svěrák and stars his father Zdeněk Svěrák who also wrote the script from a story by Pavel Taussig. The film won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1996.

Above is a short compilation of scenes from the film. I’d like to know more of Pavel Taussig (writer) and see more of the work of Jan Sverak. The director released a film last year entitled: ‘Tři bratři’ (Three Brothers), a children’s film, a musical fairytale written by the director’s father Zdeněk Svěrák (who stars in ‘Kolya’) and Jaroslav Uhlíř.

On a high personal note, the contents of my apartment are now in route to Hamburg. My postings over the next week or so will be relatively brief, at least until my arrival to this new city of water.

 

‘Look What You’ve Done for Me’

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Aubrey ‘Drake’ Graham and his mother, then

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Today.

Only Drake could script a tribute to his mother, uncle and grandmother like this.

LYRICS

‘Look What You’ve Done’

[Verse 1]
It’s like ’09 in your basement and I’m in love with Nebby
And I still love her but it fell through because I wasn’t ready
And your back hurt, and your neck hurt, and you smoking heavy
And I sit next to you, and I lecture you because those are deadly
And then you ash it and we argue about spending money on bullshit
And you tell me I’m just like my father, my one button, you push it
Now it’s “Fuck you, I hate you, I’ll move out in a heartbeat”
And I leave out and you call me, you tell me that you’re sorry
You love me, and I love you, and your heart hurts, mine does too
And it’s just words and they cut deep but it’s our world, it’s just us two
I see painkillers on the kitchen counter, I hate to see it all hurt so bad
But maybe I wouldn’t have worked as hard
If you were healthy and it weren’t so bad
Uh, maybe I should walk up the street, and try and get a job at the bank
Cause leave it up to me, J, and Neeks, we’re probably end up robbing a bank
Then Wayne calls on my phone, conversation wasn’t that long
Gets me a flight to Houston in the morning
Oh it’s my time, yeah, it’s on
He’s thinking of signing me, I come home
We make a mix-tape with seventeen songs
I almost get a Grammy off of that thing
They love your son man that boy gone
You get the operation you dreamed of
And I finally sent you to Rome
I get to make good on my promise
It all worked out girl, we shoulda known
Cause you deserve it

[Hook]
Is this shit real, should I pinch you?
After all the things that we been through, I got you
Look what you’ve done, look what you’ve done
Look what you’ve done for me now
You knew that I was gonna be something
We stressed out, and you need some, I got you
Look what you’ve done, look what you’ve done

[Verse 2]
It’s like ’06 in your backyard and I’m in love with Jade
And I’m still in love, cause when it’s that real, it’s when it doesn’t fade
And my father living in Memphis now he can’t come this way
Over some minor charges and child support that just wasn’t paid
Damn, boo-hoo, sad story, black American dad story
Know that I’m your sister’s kid but
That still don’t explain the love that you have for me
I remember sneaking in your pool after school dances
Damn your house feel like the Hamptons
For all of my summer romances
I never really had no one like you man this all new shit
Made the world I know bigger, changed the way that I viewed it
Had all this fighting going on at the crib
You would calm me down when I lose it
Told you I think I’m done acting, I’m more in touch with the music
You said either way I’ll be a star, I could go so far
Talked to me, you got to me
Then you tossed the keys and loaned me your car
Yeah, just a young kid in a drop-top Lexus
Hopin’ that I don’t get arrested
Just another kid that’s goin’ through life
So worried that I won’t be accepted
But I could do anything, you said that, and you meant that
You took me places, you spent that, they said no, we went back
Checks bounce but we bounce back
I put all the money in your accounts back
And I thank you, I don’t where I’d really be without that,
It worked out man, you deserve it

[Hook]
Is this shit real, should I pinch you?
After all the things that we been through, I got you
Look what you’ve done, look what you’ve done
Look what you’ve done for me now
You knew that I was gonna be something
We stressed out, and you need some, I got you
Look what you’ve done, look what you’ve done

[Drake’s Grandmother]
Hi Aubrey, I’m here sitting with my son having a little talk
And he knows how to get in touch with you now
To let you know how grateful I am for your help
In keeping me in this, in this comfortable place
All I can say, Aubrey, is I remember the good times we had together
And the times I used to look after you
And I still have wonderful feelings about that
So God bless you, and I hope I’ll see you…

 

Myths from the Last 165 Years

My grandfather's grandfather, Jake Hempstead, circa 1920

My grandfather’s grandfather, Jake Hempstead, circa 1920

I’m back from Hamburg which was sublime. An ideal city. At least for me. I’m looking forward to writing there. I’m also looking forward to improving my German which is admittedly woeful. It’s been ridiculously easy to speak English in Berlin. I admit it, I’ve been surrounded by Anglo-Saxons. Linguistically, this has not served me.

On Sunday I was on Hamburg’s scenic pier near the Fischmarkt, watching the ships come and go. The day was blustery with rain, gray but still beautiful. As I watched these gargantuan water vessels move across the River Elbe, I had a memory. Not a memory of an actual experience had by me but one brought through a family story.

My mother’s side of the family, the side of the family I know best, was a family of ‘Johns’ and ‘Charles’. There were so many ‘Johns’, so many ‘Charles’. ‘John Nathan’, ‘John Roy’, ‘John Henry’, ‘John Wesley’ and then there were the endless ‘Charles’ variations. Who knows why they were so fond of these rather inconsequential male names. The names were typically English. Flat, plain, simple, and names characteristic of the times before the 1960s segment of the American Civil Rights movement, before black Americans developed a sense of pride in heritages African and began giving their children complicated Swahili, Yoruba and Arabic names. In the times of my grandparents and prior generations, English names like ‘Charles’ and ‘John’, ‘Norman’, and then classic Greek names, like my grandfather’s, ‘Homer’, reigned. ‘John’, ‘Charles’, or even ‘Jake’, the name of my great-great grandfather, Jake Hempstead, who was born in 1850, these were the common names.

Jake: stern, proud and reportedly ill-tempered, grew up the adopted son of Captain Hempstead in Hempstead County, Arkansas. Captain Hempstead was an American of pure English extraction, a military man during the Civil War of 1861-1864, Captain Hempstead was a Confederate soldier. The captain and his wife adopted Jake, whose parents had each died by the time he reached the age of ten. Jake was the biological son of a man who was half-Welsh, half-Cherokee Indian, and a Cherokee woman, each of whom migrated from North Carolina. The Cherokee-Welsh boy, born ‘Jake Evens’, grew-up under the watchful eye of the Hempstead family nanny, a striking part-German teenager. Fair-haired and freckle-faced, with wavy blonde-tinted hair, ‘Carrie Fritz’ was a mixed-race slave girl. The age difference between the two wasn’t significant. Jake fell in love. He married her. Together Jake and Carrie had twelve children. One of whom was my grandfather’s father Barney Hempstead.

Back to Hamburg, back to the River Elbe, I’m remembering a story from close to 100 years later. We’re now on a ship in the middle of the South Seas. The period is the second World War. My uncle John Wesley, my grandmother’s older brother is on a ship. A Navy man, he’s at sea. He’s stationed in the Philippines. It’s night, and my great uncle John is sick.

A small town in Illinois. It’s 3 am. My grandmother’s sister, Beatrice awakens. She sits up and turns on the light, uneasy. She does not know why she is up so suddenly from a sound sleep, and in an agitated state but she is. She turns and looks across the room to see an oil painting, given to her mother by a woman who’d employed her as a laundress. The painting is pretty. There are rushes of cornflower blue waves and midnight-colored waters. Amidst the sea, pictured is a small boat, crashing on merciless waves. My aunt, staring hypnotically at the picture, is stunned when the painting begins to come alive. It’s midnight and cornflower waters framed by a gold-gilded frame begin to move. Sea water begins to spill over the edges of the gold frame and my aunt begins to feel violently queasy as if she herself were at sea. An intense dread overwhelms her. John, she thinks. It must be John. Moments later, she receives the call. Her brother, John Wesley is not dead. But he is close to death. The Navy authorities are calling to warn her. He’s atop an operating table in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean being tended to by a surgeon. A toxic burst appendix is in the midst of killing him.

In the end, John Wesley does not die. Neither does the story. Instead it survives as yet another family tale. John Wesley’s story and the story of Jake and Carrie. The same stories told over and over again. Isn’t this how myths are made?

Hamburg. I’m due in the flat on 6 February. It’s located in a neighborhood with a myriad of shops and cafes. The first boxes of my belongings will be delivered to my new address on the 28th. In the meantime, I’m drifting toward this pretty port city. My own Hamburg myths to be made.

The above piece is dedicated to my grandfather, Homer Hempstead, 1925-2015.

Special thanks to my mother, the most exceptional family historian, as well as a very good editor. Historical corrections: Jake and Carrie Hempstead had twelve children, not ten as originally penned – and yes, ‘atop’ should be written as one word, not two. 

‘A Song in the Front Yard’

This morning I spent time seriously considering what to post. I decided upon a Gwendolyn Brooks poem. Brooks was an American poet whose sensibilities of voice and language strongly reflect the American South. Born in Kansas, Brooks grew up in Chicago. She wrote her first poem at the age of thirteen. Not unlike Sylvia Plath, Brooks took her poetry very seriously and was a most dedicated writer. The results of this dedication began to surface early; by the time Brooks was sixteen, she had seventy-five poems published. Gwendolyn Brooks won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1950.

I’ll be updating this blog again later today. Until then, here is Gwendolyn Brooks’ ‘A Song in the Front Yard’.

I’ve stayed in the front yard all my life.
I want a peek at the back
Where it’s rough and untended and hungry weed grows.
A girl gets sick of a rose.

I want to go in the back yard now
And maybe down the alley,
To where the charity children play.
I want a good time today.

They do some wonderful things.
They have some wonderful fun.
My mother sneers, but I say it’s fine
How they don’t have to go in at quarter to nine.
My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae
Will grow up to be a bad woman.
That George’ll be taken to Jail soon or late
(On account of last winter he sold our back gate).

But I say it’s fine. Honest, I do.
And I’d like to be a bad woman, too,
And wear the brave stockings of night-black lace
And strut down the streets with paint on my face.