Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Life After Dresden (On Trafalmadore)

I came away from my visit to Dresden knowing where I came from and excited to see where I was going. I had - and still do have - the beginnings of yet ANOTHER book - but this time with characters I knew and could work with. Still do.

And then I read the copy of Slaughterhouse Five that I had picked up in a bookstore in Dresden. In English, of course, but also by a German-American (who studied the sciences before turning to writing, and who taught at Cornell University!). Yes, I DO like comparing myself to Kurt Vonnegut! Kurt, in a few terse words that always appear to be dancing around the subject matter but then somehow seem to hit it right on the head, brought out the horror of my ancestry. You have to see Dresden - or Florence or Rome - to know the splendors Kurt's American POWS saw when they first stepped off the wagon. But you can go to all too many places on earth - Hiroshima and Nagasaki spring to mind first, but also London, France and all of the former Naxi-occupied territories in Europe as well as Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan - to feel the horror they felt after the bombing.

I felt it at King Henri's fortress in northern Haiti. (He was the first of Haiti's many brutal dictators. He fought - and I believe conquered - Napoleon's army - but also delighted in power over others, at one point ordering his soldiers to march to their deaths over a cliff - just to prove they would.) I felt it at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. (Where George Washington's army froze and starved to death waiting for winter to end so that they and the Redcoats could slaughter eachother over the right to Native American lands.) I felt it at War Memorials all over France and Germany. And I feel it enough NOT to have to go and visit the former concentration camp only a few kilometers from where I sit right now.

So that this is my legacy. Not just the horrors of belonging to a race that systematically slaughtered the Jews and almost conquered most of Europe into Russia, but the reality of belonging to the human race that has committed such atrocities before and continues to commit them today. The Crusades. Christians killing Muslims. The Thirty Years War. Christians killing eachother. WWs 1 and 2. The Cold War. Killing Communism - and communists. And now back full circle to Muslims killing Christians. Except that now we're civilized enough to spread the horror worldwide. Good for us.

I don't want my story to be about this. My story is supposed to be a story about a young woman's quest for herself - or her Self. It's supposed to be an everywoman kind of story, one that everyone can see her - and him - self in. One to laugh along with and relate to, maybe cry along at the sad parts, but certainly emerge whole and strong at the end.

And - being only half German - it had always felt false, ├╝ebertrieben if you will (overkill for lack of a better English translation), to spend this amount of energy on something that happened before I - or even my father - was born. False sympathy. False guilt. Kitschig. But the more I try to avoid it the more it stays buried inside. I need to unearth it - and sorry here, write about it - before I am able to determine it's actual weight in my personal story.

Kurt says it better, but I can only say it my way.

I've got LOTS of good stuff to write about too. The days here on the farm in Iglersreuth, sunny and clear. The homeschooling in our little house, an enlightening but surprisingly enjoyable enterprise for all of us. The hiking and history, the swimming and skating. The Bauers and our revelations over the campfire. I've only got two days in which to do it too. We only have one ancient internet connection while we are here and Damon is on it constantly. Working he says. And I can't very well promise him my random musings will be picked up by Random House and immediately be made into a film by Steven Spielberg.

We leave for Australia on Wednesday, November 3. We will have no internet or phone for the first two weeks there. So that I feel a little lost. I AM writing. I have pen and paper. And I use them. But it doesn't seem like I am doing anything unless I share it here.

I DO write for myself. I have been getting more and more tense the longer I don't post. But I also write to share it. The character I am developing, the person on a quest for self-discovery, me, needs others to understand as well.

"Because he doesn't know who he is, people recognize themselves in him." (Tao Te Ching, 22)

Kurt's Tralfamadorians have a philosophy too.

''That's one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones."

I'm still not sure whether Kurt is being facetious or not. ("Um," said Billy Pilgrim.) On one hand, the Trafalmadorians see in four dimensions and know that time, as we see it, is an illusion. So that Trafalmadorians have the option of ignoring something unpleasant in one instant by knowing it is pleasant in another. Which is sounding kind of Zen, or Taoist, in a way.

Ignoring the implications of at least half my heritage hasn't been working for me though. Most likely, I have not felt WORTHY enough to embrace all of my past. Not worthy enough to even feel guilt about the horrors of being human. So that maybe Kurt means that we humans AREN'T Trafalmadorians and DON'T have the luxury of looking at our atrocities through space alien eyes.

In any case, I feel much better for having gotten that all out into cyberspace.

If the novel ever DOES get written, and published, and maybe even becomes a big hit, you can say you read it first here! And front row seats to all 18 of my loyal fans (17 really, since my sister is signed on twice! but I really need the numbers for an ego boost right now!) when the movie version premiers.

In the meantime life continues on Trafalmadore, ie Iglersreuth. We will contact Earth as soon as our spaceship lands. (Not metaphorically, that could be a while for me, rather when we land in Brisbane and get our phone and internet up and running, sometime the second week in November.)

"Poo-tee-weet?" (Read Vonnegut, the man is brilliant.)

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