acoustic musician, writer and teacher; dogs *and* cats; Germany based, but we spend as much time in Liguria as we can manage; writer/ghostwriter for hire and finally:
all English language needs make me smile
My friend Billy up in Berlin posted early in the day over on Instagram about a significant anniversary of the landmark case Loving v. Virginia, and I’ve posted the link above for two reasons. One is he sums it up succinctly and even provides a link if you want to read/learn more.
The other reason is that you should be following @DharmaAddict over there anyway. He’s an inspiration on a lot of levels. Truly.
I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to the Supreme Court in the U.S., so even though I know about the case and the aftermath and the fact that it was cited in the case that eventually paved the way for gay marriage in all the states, I can imagine that’s not all common knowledge.
So many stories today are about our institutions failing us, so I love to remember sometimes things turn out right. Of course that’s my perspective, and I spend a lot of time online trying to stay above the fray. Try to engage with people I don’t necessarily agree with and be an open-minded and teachable person.
All those things coming from this son of a recently-deceased rather liberal Christian mother, so you’ll forgive me if I’m also writing in her honour as I try to get these thoughts out right.
Civil Rights are a sticky and uncomfortable subject, especially these days, and love is particularly hard to talk about. I’ve been watching the news stateside and for the most part I’ve tried to wait until tempers cooled before wading into any such topic. Enough people have said anglos should just listen for a while, and I heeded the warning. I’ve listened. I’m still listening.
However, it’s no accident that a white woman and black man marrying was somehow more palatable in those tense days in the late 60s. I’m not questioning that this ruling was landbreaking, but my resolution after listening as long as I could was and is to share honestly and from my heart about racial issues.
Although I was raised in a race conscious home, like many white kids my age I’ve learned a lot by being a Spike Lee fan. I’ll go into it another time how Do the Right Thing made an impact on me, but I’d rather talk about Jungle Fever here.
A black man and a white woman being together had been lynching material for generations, and that Lee was willing to confront the topic wasn’t lost on me. I went into the cinema knowing I’d be jostled. Knowing I’d be facing some of my own prejudices.
That’s how I look at my own racism, you know? Despite how woke or evolved I might think I am, my belief is that until I face my own racism – my own personal struggle with this insidious learned white supremacy – until I see that I’m unintentionally part of the problem, then I can’t truly understand where my well-meaning brothers and sisters might be coming from.
I don’t think I can fully explore such a topic in such a blogpost, but I can say I walked out of the cinema suitably upset that Wesley Snipes’ character had been unjustly treated. I’m purposely not giving a synopsis or even a nuanced review of the rest of the film. Not my point.
My point is that the film opened my eyes to something I’d only vaguely thought about. Love, especially romantic love, is such an essential human emotion, and the film made me think about how unfair it’d be if I loved someone of a different colour, but then I couldn’t express it. Express that truth in myself. Share it with even my family or the outside world.
It was a seed. It’d been planted. I’d already been pretty open on the topic, so it’s not like I had some Saul to Paul moment. Yet this piece of art had gotten me to really feel for this man. How he had to struggle with all the conflicting emotions of a man loving a woman, but with the added burden of racial discrimination. It hurt for me to imagine it and this was on top of all the other ways I’d already sympathised with my black brothers, and now? Now my understanding was deeper.
Perhaps more nuanced. Perhaps just more authentic. Not even sure anymore.
While I was listening this week to all the noise on all sides of the political spectrum, I vowed to myself that I’d share personally. Honestly. About my own struggle. About how I’m showing up to honour my friends, who happen to be black.
Yet that truly is my privilege. I get that. I knew it, but it’s even in more starker contrast now.
It’s hard to believe there was a time when Mildred couldn’t marry her bethrothed Richard just because of the colour of their skin. My mom would point out how far we’ve come. She’d quickly say we’ve still got a long way to go. She’d be right.
I’ll say a little prayer tonight for the couple in Virginia who were finally allowed to express their love for each other openly and legally. One of gratitude that that arc of history is, in fact, bending toward equality for all.
Thank you, dear Lovings. If you see Mother Martha up there, tell her we’re sure you’d all get along. That’s if she’s not already found you herself.
This is sort of a weird situation, because I’d committed myself to start blogging again daily, and missed yesterday. Like running, or even exercise, if I don’t do it regularly, i.e. every single day, then I quickly get out of the habit.
On the one hand, I know no one’s waiting with baited breath for my Missives from Old Europe on a daily basis. Nevertheless, when I write regularly here, it’s easier for me to be creating other content for both paid work and even the extracurricular stuff I write (I realise that’s not the correct use of that word, but it’s like I still refer to weekday evenings as ‘school nights’, I’m sure you know what I mean.
What would I write about if I had no agenda, and I was just splashing my unedited thoughts onto the screen? Well, you’re about to find out. That’s exactly what this post is.
Not researched and just barely cogent, this is my theme for today.
Years ago I read or heard that people with an internal versus external locus of responsibility have happier lives. Blaming your parents or the government or aliens or whatever for your lot in life seems like a recipe for disappointment.
As an important aside, I’ve never been an African-American, so this most definitely isn’t a commentary on the protests or even the looting in the last weeks stateside. Whether you believe it or not, there is systematic racism in the western world, and in the U.S. in particular, and this is most certainly not a ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ screed.
I’m writing about myself and the way I present myself online and particularly how I choose to use social media. Years ago, my friend Nick was still on Feckbook, which he summarily deleted at some other point of maximum online outrage, and his posts were not only well written, but the comments on his posts were generally of a higher quality than those of the average bear.
Attributing it to Nick being a person of above-average intelligence and the company he kept, and I assume still keeps, I realised that if I want my little corner of the Internet (my personal pages on Feckbook and the like) to be a place for respectful and honest dialogue, then I’d have to get a better class of friends.
Just kidding, people. It’s an old joke my friend Patsy told about helping homeless people. She’d go out of her way to help out the disadvantaged, and her kindness would regularly be met with mistreatment. People stealing her stuff or not acting right. She’d joke that she just needed to go out and find a higher class of homeless people.
Hahahahaha…punching down has never been funnier these days, huh?
My friends are just fine, by the way. Some are politically or even socially conservative, and that’s truly okay. I’d rather discuss things online with people I disagree with anyway, so I welcome the disagreements and even struggle with being kind to people I feel are disingenuous or even cruel. I do my best to ignore trolls, but even they make it through my filters sometimes.
My genuine belief is that these huge tech companies benefit from us hating each other, so I just refuse to take part. My rather religious mother would’ve prayed for these yahoos, but I tend to just ignore them. Not pay them any mind, as it were.
That’s where I am today. I need to get to bed early, so I can be up before my small daughter. Early morning’s the only time I get to myself these days, so I’m always in a race to get to sleep even before she does.
Above is a photo of Ella *ahem* cleaning her brother…it was always so funny to tell Louis not to pee on his sister, because he so regularly did.
They were with me nearly fifteen years, and with my friend Larissa’s artwork of them, I still have a daily reminder of them on my wall in the new flat.
Of course, feckbook’s regular memories function allows me to share their old photos again and again. So much so that I sometimes worry it’s too much for people. When’s he gonna stop already with #EllaandLouis?
No matter how much good feedback I get for this blog or photos of those amazing dogs, I can still hear the criticism of a few misanthropes in my mind. I’m the worst critic, though. Which is what sometimes blocks me from getting my thoughts down on the page, or the screen which is more common in these digital times.
I’ve been thinking a lot about 2112, which if you didn’t grow up listening to prog rock in the 80s might not mean anything. I’ve never been much of a metal head, but I’m guilty, along with a lot of guys (and even some women) my age, of having loved the band Rush.
We even named a dog after the band at one point. Considering I’ve had a Lyle and of course Mrs. Fitzgerald and Mr. Armstrong, naming my/our dogs after a musician is about the highest personal honour I can bestow.
Their record was a dystopian fantasy in which music was outlawed. I see some parallels today and imagining a person trying to live off the grid and not under the constant watchful eye of Amazon, Google and especially the Book of Faces.
What would you be able to manage in your life today without this digital extravaganza that is the Internet? I’m doing nearly all of my teaching online these days, which is a godsend considering as many as six short months back my German clients saw working from home as a glorified sick day.
Home office or even working from home one day a week was considered such a luxury in this famously slow evolving culture. Not anymore. I’m on the edge of not taking any face to face work anymore, but then…
There’s music. You can certainly do music lessons virtually. I’ve had a few amazing lessons on Skype and even Messenger during the lockdown. I’ve continued to teach my music students virtually when a face-to-face lesson won’t do, but…
Today I met up with one of my old students. We had a ukulele/singing lesson. We laughed about old times before #Covid19, and then we made some sweet music together. It wasn’t anything like a zoom meeting.
Which is what takes me back to 2112. Outlaw face-to-face communication in the Time of Corona? No thank you.
Social distancing? Yes, please.
My friend Cay shared a post a few days ago, where they had a Brass Quintet rehearsal outside with many metres of distance between them. If I had to play in a brass ensemble, I’d want the others as far away from my poor brass playing as possible.
I can’t wait to get back to normal, but I think that normal is an illusion. We’ll see.
Upon returning home to Germany and two weeks later being released from home quarantine, I was told I’d get more used to being around other people again. I’m not so sure I want to.
I’ve been meaning to get back to the blog, and now’s as good a time as any.
Miriam’s mom passed last summer right after we had a scare and thought our 14-year-old Ella would die while we were in Italy.
The old girl couldn’t make it up the stairs and out of our little flat where Miriam had lived when we met. It’s actually a curious place that you enter by way of really steep steps, so we’ve gone back and forth on perhaps finding something more suitable for a small child.
Although we’d planned to be down there for the month of August last year, the turmoil of losing Oma Margarete and helping Opa Günter get settled into his new life meant we had to decide where we needed to be.
Alas, it wasn’t in Liguria as we’d hoped. We stayed home in Bavaria and went back and forth to Franconia as often as we could manage. Timing our trips to avoid the Stau (traffic jams) on the Autobahn towards Nuremberg, we were there for Miriam’s papa and it gave the baby lots of time to be surrounded by her remaining maternal grandparent and assorted extended family up there.
Then in October, we ultimately lost the dog. She’d been by my side pretty much constantly, aside from travel where I couldn’t take her, along with her brother, and if you know anything about me, those dogs had been a central part of my life for many seasons.
I’ve had dogs my whole life, and I’m thrilled Ella could be the progeny’s first dog. She was just the right amount of tolerant with a small child. When she’d had enough, she’d simply move away and wait for the next baby intrusion, which was bound to happen.
So there we were without Miriam’s mom and that dog I’d loved so madly. It was a rough 2019, but we were happy to have gotten through it with as much dignity as we could muster.
Back to the word shambolic. The change of year didn’t stop the life altering events, because in February we lost my mom. It certainly wasn’t unexpected, but even when you know its coming?
You never know how something’s going to affect you, and this was no different. The shambolic nature of our life just seemed to shift into a higher gear. It was almost surreal.
Now with a bit of distance from those shocking events, we’re starting to settle down again. We talk about Oma Martha all the time, and how she and the progeny’s other grandmother would love to see how this child is growing and learning.
The deeper grief starts to work its way through our systems, though. Miriam going through her mother’s winter coats a few days ago. Me packing up as much of my mom’s stuff as I could manage. It’s all just too much crap, which makes me now want to accumulate fewer things.
We grabbed what we could back in Texas, crammed it in our overweight bags and got on the plane grateful that we were allowed to go back home to Germany.
What next? Hopefully this year gets less shambolic, but the world outside and the drama surrounding how people deal with this Covid19 virus seems to have other plans.
Perhaps because I’m my mother’s son, I’m always looking for the best in difficult situations. It has been nice to stay home, work online and reassess the things that matter.
Shambolic or not, I’m hoping we keep finding the silver lining in the dark clouds swirling round us and everybody.
Here’s a photo of the progeny and one of my mom’s best friends Kaye’s cat Fred:
Hope you’re all making the best of these weird times. I’ll certainly keep writing about our adventures here. Hope to see some of you along the way. Virtually or face-to-face, whichever the case may be.
You’re sitting in your mom’s house, eating too much of her leftover food, playing with the progeny among her things, looking at photos you don’t remember ever having seen before, laughing and crying simultaneously at the proposterous nature of you and your family.
We’re all struggling in some way or other. If you deny that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
Perhaps you like being alone.
Normally the thought of having zero contact with anyone would’ve sounded amazing. You’d have taken that deal in a heartbeat.
Now look at you. How’s that ‘i hate everyone’ stance looking now, you hypocritical fool?
Perhaps you’re rarely alone in your normal daily life with work obligations and family commitments.
How’re you distracting yourself now?
Perhaps you read articles about an uptick in domestic violence during times like these and think, ‘That could never happen to me. I certainly would never do that.’
Then your husband or partner smacks his lips while he’s eating, like he’s done since right after you both got married to be honest, and you think to yourself, ‘Why isn’t there more domestic violence?’
Your partner knows how to push your buttons like nearly no-one else.
My mother was a master button pusher of mine. She knew exactly where my buttons were.
Very few people have that knowledge that she possessed.
Where my most vulnerable spots are.
At this point, it’s just my brother from the original four of us. He’s much more polite than I’ve ever managed to be, so it’s mostly me offending and then scraping and begging for forgiveness.
It’s a joy, I tell you. But I bring it on myself. If I knew how to act right most of the time, I wouldn’t struggle with people.
It just so happens that this #covid19 pandemic means for me that I have much more interaction these days with the people I least want to deal with.
They’re never easy cooped up in close quarters. What would we do these days without connection to the outside world?
To the people we normally tolerate ‘out there’?
Ask my brother Michael about Luling, Texas. We might still be traumatised by that story.
I know I am.
Stuck in a hotel room after we slid on black ice and totalled our van, we got to spend an inordinate amount of quality time together that week. It felt like a month in that godforsaken tiny hotel room.
I’ll never forget my dad accusing one of us of being passive aggressive and my response?
Dude, you’re like a year or two dry and clearly aa isn’t working for you, you old coot. Go back to your psycho babble meetings and learn about projection.
I was a joy, huh?
Want another dark family story?
Our trip driving my stuff home from Cincinnati, after finally finishing school.
Brother Michael and I were so loving toward one another that I almost walked away from the car and took a train.
Ask my wife. I’m a pleasure to live with.
Now, aside from Miriam and our kid, all of you people are here inside my phone.
Both available and not available at the weirdest most inappropriate times.
If you want some advice you didn’t ask for, I’d say shut the hell up for a change.
I assure you I’m trying to practise what I preach.
With questionable results.
Thanks to this virus, we’re all forced to live closer to someone most of us have been running from for years if not decades.
Passed a texmex restaurant called Casa Olé on our way through Brenham, Texas the other day and it got me thinking. I told my wife the story, and she said, ‘You should write about that.’
Well, I always do what my wife tells me. Right, Miriam? Yeah, ok. That’s not entirely true. I try to at least consider what she says, before I do what I wanted to begin with. Back to the story, though.
Casa Olé was an institution when I was growing up — even went to one years later in Pasadena, Texas of all places with my then girlfriend & her family, I think.
It was the same bad texmex goodness as it’d always been. We ate a lot of that stuff, if I recall correctly.
We used to joke that dad could pay our lunch money with his beer bottle deposits from the Ragin Cagun we lived near in the Gulfton ghetto.
It was no joke.
The things that pass for frivolity when your mom’s then boyfriend, soon to be 3rd husband is drinking himself into a catatonic state on a nightly basis.
People love to talk about what a great man our dad was, and I hope I’m as revered and loved as he was at the end.
The jury’s still out, but I doubt I can make the impact on people’s lives that he did once he put the plug in the proverbial jug and gave up drinking for good.
But when we were little? Me, nine, and brother Michael, seven, hanging out in the Sunny’s parking lot while Bill, mom’s aforementioned dude, was inside playing pacman and swilling Lone Stars.
Where was mom? Teaching night school at UH Downtown, which was one of three gigs she had if you counted slinging Avon.
I still despise Avon. Even the look of one of their bags makes me cringe.
Why weren’t we at home eating chefboyardee Ravioli, which ol’ Bill had become expert at plopping out of a can into our gullets.
Our incessantly growing appetites as we transformed from children toward teenagerhood.
We were mere babes at this point. Nine and seven years old, hanging out at the local convenience store while a man we barely knew got wasted on cheap Texas beer and there we were.
In his charge.
He turned into a fine man, though. That’s all that matters, right? We’re all doing the best we can with the tools we were given.
I shared something I wrote here with a friend and he asked me very nonchalantly when I was going to be getting over my pity party?
Everyone had a rough childhood in one way or another.
Just get over it.
My wife insists I’m too negative here. She asks something like, ‘This is how you process your grief? Out in the open where everyone can see it?’
I guess so.
Perhaps I should reconsider.
Here’s the thing, though. Whenever I write something truly raw, somebody thanks me and says my words somehow helped them.
I can’t ever predict how what I write is going to help somebody else. It’s a weird alchemy, if you ask me.
Read that New Yorker article about Prince and he hated that word alchemy. While I understood his point, I have no problem comparing writing to it.
You take something dirty and embarrassing. Something good people wouldn’t share openly. Or good isn’t the right word.
Thoughtful people wouldn’t do what I do here. It might be circumspect and ponderous. That’s what I’m going for, by the way.
And weirdly, whether it’s clear or not, hopeful. I’m trying to work through this stuff from my childhood, because it makes me hopeful.
That my kid doesn’t have to deal with what I did. She can have a whole ‘nother bag of issues that I’ve hopefully not made worse.
My brother, Michael Knowles, and my friend Cay (Cathryn Cummings) and her brother Scott were all disappointed with the Houston Rockets poor showing last night, and I was similarly less than impressed.
I’m reminded of when they won their first of two titles, and I was teaching at a summer clarinet workshop — actually, I was helping a guy do his workshop (can’t even remember that dude’s name).
I was dancing on cars on 59 south in front of the Summit the night before, and then there I was in Klein or Spring the next morning pretending not to be hungover
The next year? I was on my way to Chicago, but I stayed in Houston one last night to watch them lose to the Spurs and make their second title all the more unlikely.
They won — beat the Magic in four, if I remember correctly — which was ironic, because that’s who beat us last night.
The friends who took us to the game were apparently tired after a long weekend, and we could all sigh as we hugged each other goodbye and headed for our respective cars.
The brother, who I only knew as a younger more serious version of my friend when we were younger, went onto seminary and now he serves at a church called Peace down somewhere in Pearland.
My friend, who I’ve been close to since she started giving me rides home in her dad’s old Mustang, has been there with me and for me since we were mere babes. Well, high school babes, but still babes.
My brother was probably watching the game at home and likely turned it off in disgust at some point in the 2nd or 3rd quarter.
It’s hard to do that when you’re in the arena where they’re actually playing.
However, the baby was irritable and I took my cue. I looked around the Toyota Center, smiled at all of my former fellow Houstonians and happily walked outside.
I got in the car and looked up at the city’s skyline.
The one where I’d been raised, where I’d slept on people’s couches until I was no longer welcome. The one where I slept in my car until the car didn’t run anymore.
The city we returned to from Germany in the mid 70s. Where the flavour of racism was still country fried and not yet so cosmopolitan as it is now.
I remembered the city in my friend Helen’s screenplay for that 90s film Reality Bites and all the true stories that actually made it into the movie.
Finally, I remembered my mother having brought us here, rather than going back to West Texas, where we were originally from, and this being the big city that everyone elsewhere complains about.
When I lived in Cincinnati, people from anywhere in the tristate area (Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana) complained about Cinti.
Where I live now? Munich might be a tourist destination, but it’s anything but beloved by many of the citizens of neighbouring villages. And don’t even get a Berliner or Hamburger started on what a non city Munich is.
It’s a ridiculous thing about humans, by the way. City people are this way and country people are that way.
Okay, got it.
How about we try this instead:
Most people from x are like y…wait, though. You can’t qualitatively say that, can you? It’s lazy rhetoric, even.
My family came from (seemingly) nothing and amassed a bit of dosh.
It’s being squandered, as we speak.
It’s what people do.
Someone dies, people either fight about or accept the wishes of the deceased and then they move on.
Oh, but wait.
Here’s where it gets tricky.
This part could be nice, but instead people let their egos rule this next part.
Who loved mom more. Who she preferred and how she showed her love.
My brother and I are fortunate in this respect. She might’ve had an amazing bond with me, but my brother Michael and I were each loved equally best.
We were encouraged to follow our passions, while my dad quietly insisted that we went to actual schools. He didn’t want me going to the music conservatory in St. Louis (even if it did have classes at Washington University), and it turned out he was right.
The music school would coincidentally shut its doors within the year, which proved my dad right without him having to say a word.
So, here’s the rub. They often were right. They knew what was best and they tried to say it in a kind and gentle way.
They weren’t perfect, though.
My dad looked at me as I was trying to start an exercise regimen, and he visibly scoffed.
He insisted, ‘Why bother? You’re just going to trail off and never jump rope again. Why even bother getting started?’
My small daughter favours her Oma, which often confuses me in the weirdest moments. She’ll make a face that looks like her mama’s mama, but her whole demeanor and physical appearance is such a mix between my wife, Miriam, and my mother, Martha Frances.
As they say, she went to meet her maker a few weeks back, so I’m in Texas dealing with the fallout.
My brother, Michael, and his wife, Sara, and their kids have done so much that Miriam and I are at mom’s house wondering how we can be useful.
One thing I’ve decided is to organise her books. Some I want, but honestly? How many copies of ‘Liturgy for Living’ does one really need? I’ve got one now, if you’d like it. You may have it.
While I respect and honour my mother and her work, I don’t quite understand most of what her books had to do with her actual life. It’s too big a question to answer here, and to be candid even positing the question properly would take a lot of time.
Instead I’ll focus on the books I did find. She assured me while I was on the phone in Munich and she back here in Houston, that she wasn’t afraid of dying.
She insisted she had a few years left if not more. Even the second to last time we spoke, I said goodbye and had the weirdest feeling it’d be the last conversation we had.
I told her, and she responded, ‘Oh, darling. It’s nothing like that. I’ll be here much longer — I’m already feeling better and you and your brother are overreacting.’
Famous last words, eh?
So the next day, she called and the baby was already awake. As was their custom, the baby took the phone and walked away so she could get some alone time with her Oma.
They went in the other room – my mom on the screen thanks to FaceTime – and they proceeded to enjoy each other’s company. My loving and sometimes gentle mother and her namesake an ocean away. Singing and cooing and just being really adorable.
Watching them together sometimes made me think of that scene in The Godfather whereMarlon Brando’s character plays In the garden with his small grandchild.
That was it, though. The phone call. Their, and I suppose our, last conversation. And my kid hogged the phone. She’s only one year old!
I miss my mom, but as soon as I write that I realise everything that comes out of my mouth next is palaver.
Clichés, if you will.
She’s in a better place.
She’s no longer in pain.
She’s finally able to be back with her family that she had missed so much.
I suppose all of those things are true.
Yet it doesn’t stop me missing her. Wishing she could be here in person to delight in this beautiful child growing and learning.
I just want to open FaceTime and click on the little green button next to her picture I want to hear her West Texas accent answer, ‘Hello?’
Her voice gentle as I tell her one of my problems, stern if I admit Miriam and I’ve been fighting again, and hopeful when I speak of a new job or opportunity — her voice, that melodious and lovely sound.
How I wish I could just get her on the phone.
Hear her tell me again what she said nearly daily for almost fifty years. Hear her once again profess her love. Once again say it and expect me to say it back, which often annoyed me.
That manipulation. You just told me you love me and now I have to say it back? Why? Every time?
The protestations of a recalcitrant teenager, right? Right.
Say what you want, but I’ll leave this with one last thing. I’ve got few regrets in life, but now I wish I’d responded better to her love. Wish I’d seen it it for what it was.
Her very best. All she could give. All she could manage. Sometimes not up to my standard. Often not the kind or flavour of love I demanded.
Wish I could hear her in person or on the phone assure me of her love. Wish I could say it back.