Take the time

Yes tis the season when there aren’t enough hours in the day especially when the days are so short (although now they are starting to get a bit longer). And those of you who are sensible have either all the gifts bought and wrapped or have opted to go gift free this year because after all there is already so much stuff in our lives (will assume you read Marie Kondo’s book last year).54B1F83F-A90B-4435-B2CF-1584633928CB

But at this late date in the season I am compelled to suggest a book for you. I rarely suggest books because it can go so many ways. There should be some sort of questionnaire readers complete before asking a bookseller to recommend a book. Otherwise it is a completely wild guess as to what particular book might suit a person’s particular reading needs in that moment.

So a bit unusual for me to recommend a book here, but this one is well written and necessary. In these times of #MeToo and numerous sexual assault and harassment charges against individuals in all walks of life, this book captures an essential essence. The author, Chanel Miller, was the victim in a case that was tried as People v. Turner. Miller was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner. He was found guilty of three counts of felony sexual assault. He served three months in prison. Miller wrote. And wrote. She wrote a letter to the court that went viral. And now she has written the book, Know My Name.

Chanel Miller documents so many aspects of our current culture that are wrong; the alarming number of women who are assaulted, and the physical and financial trauma they face after the assault from our justice system.  The frequent harassment women experience walking down a street, going out for an evening, attending a party.  And how often this harassment is dismissed as boys being boys.

This is a hard book to read because it asks each us to be stronger, to work towards change in the laws, in the system, in our society, in ourselves.  I really want to see this book selling out at bookstores and picked up by book clubs.  Please read it and then pass it on.

 

Mixt

That time of year.  So much going on.  A few bookstore events, a note about bookstore tshirts and a bit of literary nonfiction.

November 24:  Shop Small Saturday! The bookstore sets up next to Montana Farmacy in Eureka.  Perfect location for a Textual Apothecary.  9am – 3pm

December 1: Holly Faire! The bookstore sets up at the Creative Arts Center for their holiday bazaar.  9am – 5pm.  1st Ave West in Eureka.

Bookstore tshirts People send inquiries about purchasing traveling bookstore tshirts.  As this isn’t an online business, it is a small challenge to find the ideal way to fill orders.  If you send a check with your order (size, men or women’s style, mailing address), the tshirt you want will be mailed.  $25/shirt.  St. Rita’s Traveling Bookstore  PO Box 2036  Eureka, MT 59917. But of course it is better to meet the bookstore while it is on the road and get your shirt at a discounted price as well as conversation.

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My name is Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller. My friends call me Martin. As with most of us who reach the sixth decade, many things touched our lives over the years. Many things – some tender as a delicate blossom in spring, some strong as a tank pushing through barbed wire into war. Some we barely notice like the first time I walked into Rosenstein’s store to buy a bottle of ink. One is on my body forever.

My father was a minister and my mother was a very sweet woman. They raised me in the Lutheran faith, a strict German family, quite conservative and yet I felt loved by my parents while growing up. After completing high school, I entered the Navy and eventually served on submarines and U-boats. Unfortunately or should I say fortunately depending on where you stand on such matters, Germany was in the First World War at that point. By 1918, I grew to know beyond a doubt military life and war were not for me. I considered following in my father’s footsteps, to become a minister.

But before starting down that path, I had the wonderful fortune to meet Else and we married in 1919. Who could have asked for a better woman and wife? We decided to try farming as I envisioned a bucolic life together tending the fields, raising children, sitting by the stove on snowy winter nights reading to each other. But it was difficult for us to get enough money to buy a small farm so we decided I should pursue becoming a minister. Finally I was ordained in 1924  and received my first placement as curate at Münster’s Church of the Redeemer.

We did well in those years. I was able to do what the church and congregation needed and expected of me. Eventually we moved to serve a larger church outside Berlin. With Else and my vocation, life settled into a pattern I enjoyed and appreciated. Evenings after dinner when there weren’t church events, Else and I sat in the parlor. Sometimes I would have a small glass of schnapps, smoking my pipe as I read. Else worked on her sewing. She sewed christening outfits for infants. She had a way with delicate stitches on those tiny clothes.

During quiet evenings at home we might listen to the radio. There was quite a lot going on in the early 1930s. Adolf Hitler was about to become Chancellor. I thought he had good ideas how to strengthen our country and improve the economy. Once in 1932, I actually met with the man as I represented the committee of Protestant churches. When we spoke together that afternoon, I believed he had our country’s best interests at heart. He had a vision that inspired me. He solemnly promised he would maintain the laws of the Church. There might be some restrictions against Jews but nothing serious. I saw he truly wanted our country to be strong and good. He was looking for the best way to accomplish this and I had faith in him. When I left that meeting, I nearly ran I was so excited to get home. I wanted to tell Else how fortunate we were as Germans to have this leader, to have this future for our children.

I will always remember that evening. Else and I talked of our plans for the next year, how I might apply to a larger church. We even drank a small toast together after the children were in bed. Our family was growing and with the little ones, it would be prudent for me to find a position better suited for a large family. There was such a glow that evening. There was such a glow.

But the glow didn’t last. Within the year it became evident Hitler had other plans, which were not in keeping with Church laws. His government took over churches, dictating what was allowed. It was a difficult time and I didn’t know what to do. Else looked to me for answers but what could I tell her? Members in my congregation had growing concerns. Should they be worried? Could this government be voted out?

One afternoon I struggled writing a sermon, trying to find the right words to calm people’s fears. I remember it was an early Thursday afternoon. The children were quietly resting following lunch. I needed ink for my pen and appreciated the opportunity for a short walk to the stationary shop a few blocks away. I looked forward to chatting with Mr. Rosenstein about pens and papers because we both appreciated quality in writing supplies. The afternoon weather was brisk but warm enough. The blue sky with a few random clouds put me in a better mood. Surely we would weather this government and move on to something better.

Arriving at the shop, I was surprised to find it locked. The blinds were drawn and I immediately thought something must have happened to Mr. Rosenstein or his wife. I went to the newspaper kiosk a few steps away to ask the gentleman there if he knew. He winked and told me the Rosensteins had moved. Moved? That didn’t make the least bit of sense. What about their shop? The man looked at me as though I was a dunce. “They’re Jews, for godsake! The government is finally taking them away.”

I needed to do something. But truth be told I didn’t know what to do. You might think a man of the cloth would pray and ask for guidance at a time like this. But it was as though some dark heavy wool settled not only on my country but on my faith and my mind. I met with other ministers who were also troubled by the increasing violence and propaganda. We formed a group to oppose these anti-Christian governmental policies. We asked for meetings but Hitler’s regime had no use for us by then.

We still tried. I could have tried harder, but I didn’t know then how terrible it would become. I truly didn’t know. On a hot July morning I sat with Else in the garden’s shade as the children played. There was a knock at the door. Else went to answer. How could she know it was the police there to arrest me? We were a good German family. I was a minister. Yet they took me to a prison. Eventually they sent me to Dachau.

Dachau was the first camp the Nazis built. It grew over time into what they called sub camps. There were so many prisoners being brought in they needed to continually expand the complex. Tens of thousands of Germans, Austrians, Poles, French and Czechs. And yes, there were many clergy imprisoned at Dachau along with Jews. The Nazis thought clergy whether Catholic or Protestant would persuade people to fight against the insanity of the government. So they locked us up, used us as fodder along with the others. Seven years I was at Dachau. Seven years living in a hell only humans could create.

So many deaths. So much senseless torture. So many lives torn asunder. We rarely had news from outside the walls. I tried to picture Else and the children around the table eating dinner together or out in the garden. But mostly all I managed was to survive, to do whatever I was told. And then one day, one which had dawned like so many others, life changed when US soldiers opened the gates.

Did I know what to do? No. I managed to find Else. The children, well, they were no longer children as seven years had passed. Two had died. I wanted so badly to go back to the days when I was a minister and the children were small, when life had a rhythm I understood. Now I understood nothing. My life had become something I never could have imagined. Would I ever feel love for my country again, this country which committed such atrocities?

With other German ministers, I compiled a document that testified to our guilt, admitted our shame in not doing more. But the document was a flimsy piece of paper compared to the millions of innocents lost. It meant nothing.

Recently I met a scientist who explained in detail the type of bombs the Americans dropped on Japan. Again I felt the black horror men are capable of committing. I cried as the scientist described the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the shadows etched on sidewalks where people were incinerated by those bombs. And I knew I must act. I began working for peace. I talk with anyone I can. I tell them the mistakes I made and how this time we must stand firm against the worse parts of humanity.

4 February 2017, West Point Cadets tour the Permanent Exhibition.

 

 

 

 

To je škoda

The traveling bookstore needs a new alternator.  It became evident Wednesday when it needed to be jumped twice – once going to the farmers market and then by the end of the market, it wouldn’t start again. Another jump and I drove it directly to the local mechanics.  Eureka being a small town, the part won’t be in until Monday which means cancelling two venues this weekend – the Historic Hotel Libby and Riverfront Blues Festival.  First time a mechanical problem prevented the bookstore from getting somewhere it needed to go.  The Czech saying ‘to je škoda’ came to mind.IMG_2976

So a few unscheduled days open up as the bookstore sits at the mechanics.  This morning instead of getting up early to drive to Libby, MT, I sit over coffee writing posts, writing letters, planning for the next few weeks, appreciating some time to reflect.  With summer activities, very hot weather, forest fires filling the sky with smoke, and the political state in this country, there is certainly plenty to reflect on.

Last summer also had bad forest fires. Tensions in this valley rose. Where to put the blame for the loss of timber, loss of homes, loss of tourist dollars, and loss of clear summer skies?  There were all sorts of accusations, harsh condemnations. When the weather is too hot and the sky a ghostly yellow blocking any view of the mountains, I understand people wanting to yell, wanting to find someone or something to blame.  Some sources say this weather and the amount of fires we experience will be the new norm.  How will this community adapt if tourists stop coming in August because smoke hangs heavy? How can I adapt to not being short tempered?

And then there is the political situation.  Does the word political even begin to cover the magnitude of the current times in this country?  Strong divisions, curtailing human rights, public lands used for personal profit, confrontations, mass shootings.  Locally I watch our mental health services and medical care erode.  The Congressman from Montana won the election the day after beating up a journalist.

So a day to think on these things, to write letters and to decide which actions are sensible in these times. To not let the heat or fires fuel over reactions or cause passivity. To use the time allotted in the best possible way.

 

There’s reading and there’s writing

The sun hits my face. The rude nudge wakes me. I wonder why I slept late into the morning as the sun comes through an upper window of the front door. And why did I fall asleep on the sofa? Wait. It’s not morning. It’s afternoon. I took a nap. My mind adjusts to the mayhem of time. The original waking thought of morning and coffee tumbles into late afternoon. I need to start dinner.Processed with MOLDIV

Writing is like that. A sharp awakening with ideas barely focused but a need for sentences to take shape. Then a realization it’s not what I thought. It’s suddenly something different. Don’t think about putting coffee on, because it’s dinner time.

Actually it’s more complicated than that. When you go to a doctor’s appointment with the flu, you’re asked the ridiculously basic question, how do you feel? You have no idea where to start. The list is too long. Of course there’s an idea of what the story is about or the arch of that essay. There is that first sentence, which needs to be spot on. The specific words, the pacing, the rhythm – you want readers to catch everything. Is the tone exactly right or does it sound so pathetic it conveys the writing of a fourth grader?

Is there an incantation that works with writing? Some spell uttered before putting that first word down? Or an image to hold clearly in mind that will manifest on the page? Or is it simply the advice given when asked how to get to Carnegie Hall? Practice.

Readers naively assume words adhere to the page. Each word neatly placed in an orderly fashion remains fixed forever. Words build into sentences and sentences into paragraphs exactly like a child’s Lego set.  Sharp corners, straight edges. Writers know this isn’t so. Words slip and slide between lines, sneak into another sentence. And it’s not just words that are difficult to cement correctly. There is punctuation, tricky commas and the godawful challenge of semicolons. You finally go to bed thinking you have every letter and possible dot where it needs to be, only to find under dark of night that everything shifts into a mess that needs to be tackled. Again. And again.

Corralling words is just the beginning. Even if you manage to string them into a readable structure, it’s not enough. As though you managed to put a skeleton together but still need muscles, tendons, organs, nerves, and skin. And don’t forget toenails. Eyebrow. Anyone can read a list of words but you want readers to leave with ideas they didn’t have before that first sentence. You want the flow of words to get under and lift them into unimaginable realms of towering clouds and swirling galaxies. Or pull them through a whale’s baleen to be carried into the darkest sea.

How to transform words, letter strings to draw emotions? You endeavor to use writing magic to twist hearts, release tears. You want your story to be a whisper in every reader’s dreams. Because the story came from every reader’s dream. It is a piece of the genetic code everyone had from birth, yet may not realize it is part of their life until they read your story. An important part of life across times and place, captured by a hand print in a cave, submerged with Atlantis, seen from the Apollo. The reader’s breath changes with the words, the heartbeat quickens. You want readers to sigh heavily as they turn the final page. You want the publisher to suggest having a packet of tissues in the back of each book.