We learned Newton's Laws in School. But, what if there's more to reality than physics?
Based on the ancient esoteric teachings of Hermes, the Seven Universal Laws define how the universe works. Knowledge of the Universal Laws provides context; the wisdom in them provides insight; understanding them will change your perspective and open up new possibilities you had not dreamed of.
There's more to life than meets the eye….
In my new Seven Universal Laws course, we’ll explore ancient teachings, the latest quantum physics, sacred geometry, dream states, numerology, and more! Each week, we will learn and discuss one of the Seven Universal Laws and then apply the teaching through completing an easy, fun, sacred geometry art project.
Interested in learning more? Join me for a course introduction!
My eight-year-old daughter has a WonderWoman costume. Alas, it doesn’t fit me. But, I like to play dress-up in my mind. I imagine that I AM WonderWoman. I believe that I AM powerful. So powerful, that I can move physical things with my mind. I can manifest my reality. It’s fun to play….
The other day, I enjoyed remembering the experience of visiting a friend’s home and listening to music on their high-tech stereo with powerful speakers. The music created an intense impression. But, 25-years later, I could not remember the name of the album, the artist, nor recite a line from the lyrics. I felt frustrated. I wanted to listen to that music again—to see if it evoked the same intense impression.
In my frustration, I stated loudly (though inside my head): “Universe, I command that this artist and music come to me by 10am tomorrow morning.” I was actually a bit bossy and demanding about it! Then, I promptly forgot about it and continued actively working on other tasks.
The next morning, in the course of some spring cleaning and reorganizing, I attempted to re-install the door on a closet in our storage room, in which I had stored a large CD rack full of old CDs. Through the process (which involved some brute force), I accidentally sent a shelf of CDs flying. They scattered across the floor.
I picked the CDs up quickly—at this point, I was running late. I turned to my left to pick up the last CD and, there on the floor, all by itself, I saw it and instantly recognized it: the music that I had listened to so many years ago. I had completely forgotten about my request so it came as a complete surprise. Coincidence? I think not.
In reality, I am WonderWoman and you are SuperMan—disguised as Diana Prince and Clark Kent. But, we’ve forgotten who we truly are. Playing dress-up—allowing ourselves to experience life from a light-hearted sense of playfullness—takes off the pressure.
The very first principle stated in A Course in Miracles says:
“The first principle of miracles is that there is no order of difficulty among them. One is not ‘harder’ or ‘bigger’ than another. They are all the same.”
We know, theoretically, that “we have to believe it to see it”. Yet, in our current state, we could sometimes use a little reassurance—a little bit of “seeing it” to support our “believing it”. These small “games” build our confidence. Try it for yourself!
The WonderWoman Formula:
Clearly state the desire in words as a command.
Feel emotion associated with the request.
Include a deadline in the statement.
Release the expectation—it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t happen—think of it as simply a game.
Forget about it.
Actively engage in other pursuits.
Feel the sense of surprise and wonder when your desire manifests in the most unexpected way!
Today, my MasterMind group started our next course of study together—the classic success-thinking book Think and Grow Rich written by Napoleon Hill in 1937. In a way, this book brought me to this wonderful group of kindred spirits in the first place. In it, Napoleon Hill describes the concept of MasterMind groups.
For me, re-reading the Introduction of Think and Grow Rich felt like reuniting with an old friend—I have already studied the book closely. Although the title of the book appears to label it as a guide for accumulating money, it actually provides a formula for true prosperity—the “secret” to success—to creating a life of abundance in all things, including happiness, health, spiritual wealth and material comfort.
In the Introduction, Hill refers several times to “the secret”:
“The secret to which I refer has been mentioned no fewer than a hundred times, throughout this book. It has not been directly named, for it seems to work more successfully when it is merely uncovered and left in sight, where THOSE WHO ARE READY, and SEARCHING FOR IT, may pick it up.”
It’s the same “secret” made ever-more famous by Rhonda Byrne in the best-selling 2006 self-help book entitled The Secret. In fact, it’s a “secret” that has been passed down for thousands of years—it forms the foundation of many (perhaps all) esoteric teachings.
Napoleon Hill ends Chapter 1 of Think and Grow Rich with a reference to William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus (which is Latin for Unconquered). Do you see the secret in it?
Hill indicates that the Secret to Success requires you to:
Be ready to receive.
Know what you want.
Have a deep desire to get it.
Have the will to control your thoughts.
You are “The Master of Your Fate, the Captain of Your Soul,” Because…
When Henley wrote the prophetic lines, “I am the Master of my Fate, I am the Captain of my Soul,” he should have informed us that we are the Masters of our Fate, the Captains of our Souls, because we have the power to control our thoughts.
He should have told us that the ether in which this little earth floats, in which we move and have our being, is a form of energy moving at an inconceivably high rate of vibration, and that the ether is filled with a form of universal power which adapts itself to the nature of the thoughts we hold in our minds; and influences us, in natural ways, to transmute our thoughts into their physical equivalent.
If the poet had told us of this great truth, we would know why it is that we are the Masters of our Fate, the Captains of our Souls. He should have told us, with great emphasis, that this power makes no attempt to discriminate between destructive thoughts and constructive thoughts, that it will urge us to translate into physical reality thoughts of poverty, just as quickly as it will influence us to act upon thoughts of riches.
He should have told us, too, that our brains become magnetized with the dominating thoughts which we hold in our minds, and, by means with which no man is familiar, these “magnets” attract to us the forces, the people, the circumstances of life which harmonize with the nature of our dominating thoughts.
About Think and Grow Rich
Think and Grow Rich was written in 1937 by Napoleon Hill, promoted as a personal development and self-improvement book. … First published during the Great Depression, at the time of Hill’s death in 1970, Think and Grow Rich had sold more than 20 million copies, and by 2015 over 100 million copies had been sold worldwide.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll, I AM the master of my fate:
I AM the captain of my soul.
About the Poem Invictus
“Invictus” is a short Victorian poem by the English poet William Ernest Henley (1849–1903). It was written in 1875 and published in 1888—originally with no title—in his first volume of poems, Book of Verses, in the section Life and Death (Echoes).
I returned home from running errands to an unexpected but very welcome email:
“On behalf of Kitchener Public Library & the KW Community Foundation, I am pleased to inform you that Tasneem Jamal, prose judge has selected your entry Excerpts from the novel Life By Fire as a winner in the Dorothy Shoemaker Literary Awards Contest. You have won 1st prize in the Adult Division and publication in The Changing Image!”
I had submitted my work to the contest last November and then promptly forgot about it. So, I felt surprised and…humbled when I read and reread the message. I didn’t dance for joy. I cried a little: Someone who had never met me had read a small piece of my work and found it worthy—in fact, more worthy than many others submitted.
How do these contests add value?
They encourage writers, who may otherwise give up, to continue to write.
I admit, I’d lost faith in this work—the novel I’ve been calling “Life By Fire”. Although I definitely hadn’t given up on it completely, I had put it aside and started other projects. Writing is lonely work. Engulfing yourself in a fictitious world with fictitious characters, completely detached from the “real” world and people around you, can feel alienating. I write based on a deep desire to connect with people through words, yet the practice of it isolates me. Combine that with repeated reminders from practical, well-meaning people that “even best-selling authors don’t make any money” and “it’s almost impossible to get a publisher” and “everybody’s writing a book”…and one begins to see writing as a guilty pleasure, a “hobby” at best and, at worst, a complete waste of time—time that should be spent making a reliable, steady income like everybody else.
But, Tasneem Jamal, an experienced editor and published novelist (who did give up making a reliable, steady income to pursue her writing and publish it successfully), had read my small excerpt (only 1,500 words) and deemed it worthy of an award—1st prize, even.
I Googled Tasneem and enjoyed reading her blog, particularly the post entitled We Packed Up the Kids and Moved to Tanzania. Then Things Fell Apart, which appeared in Chatelaine magazine’s April 2015 issue. In a way, she and I are completely opposite—she writes about having taken too many risks and I lament having taken too few. But a common thread appears to connect our writing: like so many women, we have both expressed guilt associated with “not doing ‘it’ well enough”. ‘It’ being life in general, parenting specifically…and, for me anyway, pursuing my writing goals.
So, perhaps, above all, receiving this small award has reminded me that doing it badly is better than not doing it at all. I will continue to work on Life By Fire in addition to my other writing projects, I will publish them, and I will experience success.
I feel a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation—and for that, I wish to say a very heart-felt thank-you…
Tasneem, thank you for reading my work and recognizing my efforts. Also, thank you also for your words and your honesty.
Ms. Shoemaker, thank you for establishing this literary award, ensuring its continuance, and, through it, connecting with me across time to encourage me to continue to write.
Kitchener Public Library & the KW Community Foundation, thank you for your ongoing dedication to administering the awards on Ms. Shoemaker’s behalf.
And thank YOU if you read down this far.
About the Dorothy Shoemaker Literary Awards
The Dorothy Shoemaker Literary Awards began in 1967 as a Centennial project, created by Dorothy Shoemaker, Kitchener Public Library’s Chief Librarian from 1944 to 1971.
In 1996, government funding for the Literary Awards was eliminated. To ensure the Awards could continue, Dorothy Shoemaker made a significant personal donation. In 2000, Dorothy Shoemaker died at the age of 94. However, her legacy of support for aspiring writers continues today through her ongoing endowment.
2016 Contest Winners
1st Place: Growth by Candice Rubie
2nd Place: Where I’m From by Ellia Bishop
3rd Place: The Lady of Badakhshan by Farzam Karimi
Honourable Mention: The Colour Brown by Devshi Perera
1st Place: Bearborne by Dylan Siebert
2nd Place: An Incomplete List of Animals, Extinct: 1985-2015 by Graeme Ruck
3rd Place: Ancestors by Leslie Bamford
Honourable Mention: Her Name is Nurse by Jenna Hazzard
Honourable Mention: The Diner: A Sestina by Jenna Hazzard
1st Place: Vultures by Rachel Garritsen
2nd Place: How I Wish it Went by Cynthia Wekesa
3rd Place: Wolf Boy by Mackayla Werstine
1st Place: Life By Fire by Deborah Jones
2nd Place: A Gentle Flutter of Feathers by Cheryl Rosbak
3rd Place: How Do You Do? by Ryan Boggs
Honourable Mention: Between, Amongst, On Top Of by Tiffany Irwin
Honourable Mention: No Man’s Land by Jennifer Sloan Walker
I’ve quoted As a Man Thinketh before on this blog in the post As a Woman Thinketh. And I’ve referred to this “secret” of success in other posts, like Let Me Tell You a Secret. Because it is so worth reading again and again, this post provides you with the entire last chapter of James Allen’s essay, entitled “As a Man Thinketh”:
The Last Chapter of As a Man Thinketh
CALMNESS of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. It is the result of long and patient effort in self-control. Its presence is an indication of ripened experience, and of a more than ordinary knowledge of the laws and operations of thought.
A woman becomes calm in the measure that she understands herself as a thought-evolved being, for such knowledge necessitates the understanding of others as the result of thought, and as she develops a right understanding, and sees more and more clearly the internal relationships of things by the action of cause and effect, she ceases to fuss and fume and worry and grieve, and remains poised, steadfast, serene.
The calm woman, having learned how to govern herself, knows how to adapt herself to others; and they, in turn, reverence her spiritual strength, and feel that they can learn of her and rely upon her. The more tranquil a woman becomes, the greater is her success, her influence, her power for good. Even the ordinary trader will find her business prosperity increase as she develops a greater self-control and equanimity, for people will always prefer to deal with a woman whose demeanor is strongly equable.
The strong, calm woman is always loved and revered. She is like a shade-giving tree in a thirsty land, or a sheltering rock in a storm. “Who does not love a tranquil heart, a sweet-tempered, balanced life? It does not matter whether it rains or shines, or what changes come to those possessing these blessings, for they are always sweet, serene, and calm. That exquisite poise of character, which we call serenity is the last lesson of culture, the fruitage of the soul. It is precious as wisdom, more to be desired than gold—yea, than even fine gold. How insignificant mere money-seeking looks in comparison with a serene life—a life that dwells in the ocean of Truth, beneath the waves, beyond the reach of tempests, in the Eternal Calm!
How few people we meet in life who are well balanced, who have that exquisite poise which is characteristic of the finished character! Only the wise woman, only she whose thoughts are controlled and purified, makes the winds and the storms of the soul obey her.
James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh was published in Britain in 1903. The title of the essay refers to the verse from the Biblical book of Proverbs 23:7: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he“.
The essay offers the key to success and happiness: “A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.” (Or: “A woman is literally what she thinks, her character being the complete sum of all her thoughts.”)
The book ends with these words, which have formed the inspiration for this series of 4 posts:
For years, I felt completely creatively blocked. These days, ideas flow through me faster than I can harness them. Although I’ve continued to quietly work away on my novel, Life By Fire, I’ve also ventured into other works. In August, I started to write a middle-grade chapter book for kids around age 10 called Genevieve’s Worlds. The book has several purposes:
To speak to kids my eldest daughter’s age.
To give kids an appreciation of math and physics that I did not learn in school.
To teach kids how to dream big and set goals.
To provide me with a short-term project and experience publishing, before I venture into publishing Life By Fire.
Here’s a preview of Genevieve’s Worlds:
“My name is Genevieve Harris. I’m 10 years old and I’m an oddity. At least that’s what my Granny calls me pretty much everyday. Why? Well, lots of reasons really: I’m really smart (although I have trouble focusing). I love numbers (although not really what they do with them in school). And I see things that other people don’t see. I see energy (although I can’t really prove that because nobody else I know can see what I see so I try not to mention it most of the time).”
The year is 2022 and Genevieve’s life is about to change. The mine her father works for is closing. Her family is moving from a tiny satellite town way up north to the busy city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. As Genevieve approaches her 11th birthday on November 11, 2022, her ability to handle life in this new, noisy city reaches a breaking point and she collapses into a coma. What happens after that will change her life, and yours, forever.
December 10, 2082, Stockholm, Sweden
Imagine a world with free energy. Imagine a planet unblemished by mines or oil rigs and even a horizon uninterrupted by wind mills or solar panels. What if an abundant, ever-flowing source of free energy existed? Energy that did not use up the earth’s resources or the galaxy’s? How would that change the world? How would that change your life? Think about it for a moment. Or a few moments. Or maybe even for a few days. I’ve thought about it a lot.
Do you know what a Nobel Prize is? I do. Do you know how I know? I just received a Nobel Prize in Physics—a month and a day after my 72nd birthday. I received the Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering and harnessing a new form of energy—free energy. I know it will change the world for the better. Does that make me an amazing person? Maybe. Maybe everyone is an amazing person, in their own unique way.
YOU are an amazing person. You have the potential to do incredible things. Only you can find and fulfill your unique Purpose in this life. Explore new ideas. Search for new truths. Ask for help and the answers will come. They may not come the way they did for me, but they will come. I can’t wait to read your story in the history books.
Here’s my story—the story of my worlds—Genevieve’s Worlds.
This novel conglomerates and focuses several fascinations of mine:
Multi-dimensionality: Our physical lives unfold linearly through time and space (like pages in a paper book to be read from front to back). Birth, life, death. Preface, chapters, epilogue. But, our minds think in multiple dimensions (like applications on a computer or posts on a website, to be accessed at random). Present experience, past memories, future aspirations. Reality, perception, imagination. The lines blur.
Truth in the eyes of the writer and reader: All writing is biased because it is written from one individual’s perspective and read from another’s. What experiences did the writer choose to include, to omit, to spin? How did the reader choose to interpret them, based on their own experiences? Autobiographical fiction; fictional autobiography. In life, as in a work of fiction, where does reality end and the story begin?
Intertextuality: Any written work reflects and culminates every story, every word, the writer has ever read. We cannot separate our own experiences from those we have experienced through the words and images of others. Subtle references to other works of literature or popular culture add layers of meaning.
The Internet as a new multimodal compositional medium: As a compositional medium, a website enables the addition of images, music and video to enhance the reader’s experience. It also allows for the inclusion of contextual details in an ever-expanding web of information.
The novel, and this website, explores these concepts.
The sub-title of this post “To see the world…” references the poem “Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake, which speaks to multi-dimensionality. It begins:
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Several years ago, after watching a documentary about a child who believed he was a reincarnated monk and returned to monastic life, I wrote a short story called The Littlest Monk. Then I buried it with other neglected files.
Several months ago, I reincarnated the story and edited it fairly extensively with the intention to illustrate and publish it. In line with my experience as a website usability professional, I recognized the need to complete some informal usability testing to assess the success of my story with my intended user group—six-year-olds. So, I arranged with my daughter, Tessa’s, teacher to come into her classroom to read them the story and ask their feedback.
A Little Monk
Since I had not yet completed a worthy illustration, I showed the Grade 1 students a number of images I had “pinned” on Pinterest then proceeded to read them the story. Ahh, the joy of asking six-year-olds for constructive criticism…they have no hesitation giving it freely!
The story was too long. Their squirming toward the end of the story had already told me so. But, I confirmed it by asking them “was it too long or too short or just right” and receiving a chorus of enthusiastic “toooooo looonnnngggg”s in reply.
In reading the story aloud, I also noted a number of unnecessary expletives that needed to go. Upon return home, I immediately weeded the story further, including removing an entire section—a section that my gut had told me needed to go earlier, but which I hadn’t had the heart to chop until seeing it flop with the audience.
At this point, the story awaits worthy illustrations. I can see them perfectly in my mind’s eye. But, I experience acute frustration when I pick up a pencil and realize just how rusty my drawing skills have become. A few people have recommended I don’t even try to illustrate it myself but to find an experienced local illustrator to take on that task for me. But, they don’t know how stubborn I am—slow I may be, but persistent I am. I want to complete my vision myself.
So, I ask for divine assistance—to unleash my creativity…on little monks and other six-year-olds.
Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) in Bhutan.
Creative Inspiration. A Maxfield Parrish painting.
In the essay, I forecast that “The Internet promises to revolutionize document storage and access. And hypertext, the kind of text within online documents, promises to revolutionize the way we write and read them.” I envisioned entire libraries of fully searchable electronic documents existing “unobtrusively in a small server room in a university building” to be read using an electronic “slate”. The essay discussed the advent of self-publishing and serial-publishing.
This novel website (pun intended) tests my vision for the Internet as a new compositional medium in several ways:
Departure from Linearity—a web, not a Line: A book unfolds linearly from chapter to chapter, page to page; a website expands outwardly link by link, creating a web of content.
Self-Publishing—no authoritarian overseer: In traditional publishing, an authoritative publisher judges a literary work, dictates changes, and deems it worthy of publication. Self-publishing removes the overseer and depends on individual readers to judge a work worthy of their time.
Serial-Publishing—a work in progress: Most novels today are published upon completion, not in serial form as the story progresses. In this forum, quickly must the story unfold to maintain attention?
Contextuality Revealed—an archive of contextual elements: On the About the Book section of this website, I will write about the process of writing the book as I write it, including research associated with historical details, creating a web of information associated with the novel itself.
Feedback Welcome—a collaborative environment: The Comments section associated with each post or book segment empowers you, the reader, to become critic, editor, or even contributor.
Stay with me as it unfolds and please use the comments sections to let me know what you think about it!
Lance Armstrong’s Motto: Every second counts. My Motto: Every word counts.
Accuracy—choosing every word carefully and omitting unnecessary embellishment—creates good non-fiction and fiction. Today, enthrall or be deleted. Every word counts.
As part of the protocol surrounding my first full-time job offer out of university, the president of a local high-tech company interviewed me for a technical writing position. He asked me: “What is most important aspect of technical writing?” I answered: “Saying as much as possible in as few words as possible.” He replied pointedly, “No. Accuracy!” I sat silently.
In hindsight, I disagreed. In technical writing, accurate information buried deeply in too many poorly presented words helps no one. Architecting accurate information for optimal ease of use requires understanding and accommodating the user’s needs and preferences. Presentation counts too.
Can a novel, presented in short clips over time like a mini-series, on a website like a blog, in multiple dimensions like one’s thoughts, accommodate and enthrall today’s reader?
Since the writers’ website Medium.com now calculates post length based on average “reading time” rather than “word count”, Lance’s motto also applies: Every second counts.
Last summer, we cleaned out the loft of our barn and found many things, both animate and inanimate (some of the inanimate having been partially eaten by the animate). Our found treasures included a book called Cordelia and the Enchanted Forest, which I had written and illustrated as a project in high school.
My girls, ages 9 and 5, found the book suitably enchanting, leading me to consider resurrecting it. Both the story and the illustrations need work but have potential. I typed the story into my laptop to begin the editing/re-writing process. And, I pondered: how can I enter back into the habit of drawing in preparation for re-illustrating the book?… Enter Zentangle!
A short while later, I received an email from a local couple seeking my website services. They told me about their businesses. Patricia is a Zentangle instructor. What is Zentangle, you ask? Well, it is great fun! Google it and you’ll find lots of examples. As the name suggests, the practice of Zentangle acts as a form of meditation in which one gets lost in the “tangle” of an intricately patterned ink illustration.
Tonight, I attended an introductory Zentangle class! You can see my first official Zentangle square above. But, really, I think I started zentangling before it ever became Zentangle®. I also found the sketch of a bird I completed as a teenager hidden in a sketchbook. Look Zen-like? I have always reveled in fine pen and ink and intricate organic pattern. So, Zentangle just fits.
Since writing a novel and publishing it in progress isn’t quite challenging enough, I’ve added writing and illustrating a children’s book for publication to the works. So, as my Life by Fire continues to burn, expect some enchanted tangles of zen on the side.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
*Taken from “The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Fifth Edition, Volume 2”.
For me, the word “slouching” took on a more devious connotation after reading this poem. I reference the word “slouching” and the quote “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold….” in the novel section below. You can read the section by following the Related Posts link below.
The truth is this story started to form in my mind several years ago and I have been attempting to work on it in the closet. But it is dark and lonely in there. And, if I continue to progress at this rate, it will be published posthumously (maybe).
I need momentum, encouragement, accountability. And deadlines. I really need deadlines.
I commit to working on the progressive realization of this novel daily and publishing something (of the book, about the book, or about my experience with the book) on this website regularly in 2015. I hope you will hold me accountable to doing it.
The book post entitled “Phoenix Slouching” introduces the novel’s first reference to an extraordinary event, occurring in an otherwise mundane existence and places it within the genre of Magic Realism.
From Wikipedia: “Magic realism or magical realism is a genre where magical or unreal elements play a natural part in an otherwise realistic (often mundane) environment.Although it is most commonly used as a literary genre, magic realism also applies to film and the visual arts.”
I became fascinated with the genre of magic realism after living in Brazil for a year as an exchange student, in 1990-1991. In university, I completed a course in Latin American Writer’s and delved further into the intricacies of this writing style. Highly politically motivated, modern magic realism often focuses upon the marginalization of various groups, due to race, religion, or gender.
The magic realism took root in the 1940’s – 1950’s in visual arts and then literature—an era that will be explored later in the novel, Life By Fire.
Read a short story example of writing typical to the genre of magic realism in the related post below, entitled “Homecoming”.
I contemplated my life from my funeral backward: sobering. What do I aspire to accomplish before I die? My bucket list is short. At the top? Write a novel.
I value words, appreciate literature, relish a good book, revel in a beautiful poem. I want to create something from nothing, leave a legacy, inspire future generations through words after I am dead. Am I worthy of the goal? You be the judge.
I have just stepped out of the writer’s closet. I am writing a novel. And, I want you to read it. It is entitled “Life by Fire”.
Read the novel as it progresses. If you have something to say about what you have read, please leave a comment.
I lay face forward, sprawled across a pile of pillows, eyes shut, as another wave of contraction shudders through my core. My mouth opens wide into an O and I feel a deep long loud “ooooohhhhh” pass over my lips. Deep breath in, deep breath out, “ooohhhhhhmmmmm”. The compression around my middle extends downward with ever-increasing pressure. Two fists press hard into my sacrum—my husband’s or the midwives, I don’t know which. My eyes shut tight to the room around me, the dark world within my womb my only reality. I can do this. If I need to do this forever, I can do this.
Time stops. I drift into sleep and out as another contraction overtakes my body and rises, rises, rises to a crescendo of sensation. The midwife instructs me to change position, up onto my hands and knees, hips swaying. Then, a change—downward pressure. My spine lengthens, my head arches back, a guttural call escapes my throat. An urgent, primal force, drives me. I flip forward into a crunched position, legs bent outward, chest pulled over my hard, massive belly. Pushing, resting, breath in, breath out. Pushing, pushing, resting, breath in, breath out. Pushing, pushing, pushing.
An eternity spans between each exertion. The overwhelming sensation changes from pressure to burning—deep, intense. My mind leaps outward, picturing flesh tearing. No, no, no, back in, back in, eyes shut. A rose blooming. It’s just burning, just a sensation, deep heat, just heat, only heat. A full scream, unrecognizable as my own; the pain rises to a final precipice. I hear “the head is out”. One final push, the sensation of emptying, a large red gush. Euphoria replaces pain. Laying her on my chest, wide, black, eyes stare up into mine. Inspired awe.
The post “Forethought” marks the beginning of the story “Death by Water”, within the story “Life by Drowning”, to which I alluded when I called this a “multi-dimensional novel”. Although Gisa Catarina Gärtner and the Gärtner family is fictional, the setting is real and the historical details are accurate to the best of my knowledge.
Between 1865-1939, about 30,000 Austrians from the province of Tirol emigrated to Brazil. After World War I, rising unemployment and other political factors further stimulated emigration to various parts of the world, including Canada and Brazil. In 1919, Austria’s former Minister of Agriculture, Andreas Thaler, traveled to the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil, in search of land on which to establish a closed Catholic-Austrian settlement. The region’s temperate climate with four seasons and possible snow in winter, and its geography in the west of the Brazilian highlands, resembled Austria’s. He purchased 52km2 of land and returned to Austria to form a colonization plan.
In 1933, an Austrian Foreign Settlement Society was established to raise funds to build closed Austrian settlements overseas. On September 28, 1933, Andreas Thaler and 82 immigrants departed Tirol, Austria, for Santa Catarina, Brazil. On October 13, 1933, they arrived and officially founded the settlement of Dreizehnlinden (in English: Thirteen Lindens; in Portuguese: Treze Tílias). I have inserted the fictitious Gärtner family into this group of immigrants, raising the number of immigrants by 9 (Gisa, her parents, and 6 of her 7 siblings), from 82 to 91.
Today, the municipality of Treze Tílias, known for its alpine architecture, dairies and its artisans, still maintains strong cultural ties to Austria.
In the following excellent documentary, immigrants relate the hardships they encountered upon arriving in Treze Tílias. Unfortunately, I could not find an English translation.
Chapter 1: I sit in a small, cold cell, facing the door. I feel paralyzed and alone. I do not know where I am or why I am here so I am afraid. I don’t know what is on the other side of the door so I fear it too.
Chapter 2: I sit in a small, cold cell facing the door. I want to get out but I don’t know how. I ask God for help and suddenly a large metal key appears in front of me.
Chapter 3: I sit in a small, cold cell facing the door. I see the key but fear that it will not work. Instead of trying it, I search all around to my left and my right for another key but I do not find one.
Chapter 4: I sit in a small, cold cell facing the door. I finally decide to try the key in front of me in the lock. When I get up and insert the key in the keyhole, the door swings easily open before I turn it—I realize the door was never locked.
Chapter 5: I step out of the small, cold cell and turn around to close the door behind me. As I do, I see that the cell only has three sides rather than four—I realize there was never a wall behind me.
Chapter 6: As I walk away from the cell, I turn around to look at it one last time. But, it has disappeared—I realize it never actually existed in the first place.
The first time I met Giovanna Junqueira de Campos, she was thirty-nine and I was nineteen-years-old. She taught students English in her home and I was living in her small city of Catanduva, Brazil, as an exchange student. She contacted me through the family with whom I was living, asking to meet with me to practice her English.
When I arrived at her home a week later, I discovered that she, like her German-style house, was different from the other Brazilians I had met. An aura of destiny radiated from her brilliant blue eyes, as if she was willed to act by an intuition wiser than her conscious self and that following that will had brought her serenity.
I felt instantly drawn to her and we spent the afternoon talking like old friends. She invited me to spend the next weekend with her and I accepted.
When I arrived on Saturday morning she took me by the hand and led me into the conservative living room saying that she had been anticipating the pleasure of introducing me. To whom, I did not know; she had not mentioned another guest beforehand. But the man who stood and walked toward us, when we entered the room, immediately struck me as significant. She introduced him as her son.
The first thing I thought was “she must have been very young when she conceived him” and the second was “they do not resemble one another in the least”. After that, I stopped thinking, as large, thickly lashed black eyes stared into my own and I absorbed dark suntanned skin and a sensuous smile.
It was love at first sight, or so I thought then, and although I spent much time at Giovanna Junqueira de Campos’ home after that, regrettably, I spent little of it with her. In hindsight, I wish that I had not allowed my ties with Giovanna to remain aloof; perhaps then she would have told me her story herself instead of my hearing it from her son, thirty-four years later as we stood in the cemetery, under the heat of the scorching noon sun.
One day, a woman with wide black eyes and brown, wrinkled skin entered into this cemetery, under the heat of the same scorching sun. She walked through an arch engraved with the words “Fomos o que és – Serás o que somos” (“We were what you are – You shall be what we are”). She went around a maze of ornate statues and placed a wilted bunch of flowers at her husband’s grave. Then she continued to stroll between the markers, absently reading the epitaphs. Her foot slipped, her ankle turned and she slid down through the caked dirt and into an ancient grave that had opened under her weight. She died there, conveniently buried with another forgotten personage, lying close enough to her husband to feel comfortable.
That same day, the fifth day in Giovanna Junqueira de Campos’ eighteenth year, Giovanna left the house of a friend for the bus station just as night was replacing the day. She walked by the cemetery, silent as always, the gate closed now to keep the dead inside its walls. The heat of the afternoon had dissolved into tantalizing clearness, pushed along by a soft breeze scented with eucalyptus.
Past the cemetery, the outside walls of houses met the uneven sidewalk, their pastel-painted faces altered by the glow of the now-visible moon. Through the gap of the still-open metal shutters, Giovanna peered modestly into the private worlds of the families living inside the houses. Through one window, the pock-marked face of a man reflected the flickering light from a television that she could not see. The voices of two Brazilian soap opera stars stirred her senses as she passed the window within touching distance of the man. He pretended not to notice her; she looked in the opposite direction.
She passed a vacant lot, contained on three sides by the walls of other houses. A small wooden cart sat in the middle of the lot, guarded by a decrepit horse. The animal paused from nibbling at the long grass to watch her pass, disregarding the etiquette of ignoring passersby. Giovanna crossed the street.
On the other side, one house stood apart from the others. It was two-storied, German-style with geranium-filled window boxes and a small wooden balcony. Instead of a low wall, the house was separated from the street by a high fence of vertical iron bars with a latched gate. Through the bars, light escaped from an ajar wooden front door intricately carved in an ever-flowing elliptical pattern like bubbles rising to the surface of a stream.
Giovanna slowed her pace to study the house as a tiny boy in white underwear and a stained, sleeveless undershirt appeared from around the impressive door. Wide black eyes peered at her from his brown, somehow wrinkled face. She smiled hesitantly and stopped in front of the gate. A tiny hand materialized from the shadows and beckoned her to come closer. She shook her head but the child’s lips said “come, come inside”. She gingerly tested the gate and it swung open silently.
Inside the big door, the child slipped his hand into her palm and guided her through a staid living room and into a large kitchen that opened onto a covered patio.
“I am with hunger,” the child said.
She went to the refrigerator, opened the door and peered inside. There was a pot of cooked polished rice and one of stewed brown beans and a jar of palm hearts.
While the beans and rice heated on the gas stove, she wandered across the patio into the dark garden in search of ripe fruit and returned with oranges and avocados. She found plates and spoons and set the small Armorite table in the centre of the room with two place settings. The boy sat at the table contentedly. Together, they ate the beans and rice with relish and scooped out halved avocado filled with honey for dessert.
“I am with sleep,” the child said.
Giovanna followed him back through the living room and up an open stone staircase. She ran his bath in a high-clawed tub in the center of a tiled bathroom and searched for a room in which to sleep while he washed. When he was clean, they said their prayers together kneeling in front of his narrow bed. He fell asleep immediately. She bathed and went to bed.
The next morning, Giovanna awoke to the child’s whisper and they descended to get breakfast. The house felt approachable and comfortable in the morning light. She asked the child his name.
He looked up at her seriously and said “Paulinho”—little Paulo—and she smiled again.
“What shall I call you?” he asked.
“My name. Giovanna Junqueira de Campos,” she answered.
“I am without a mother and father,” the child said. “I will call you mãe,”—mother.
Then they walked out into their garden together.
I studied Paulo’s wrinkled face and wide black eyes and asked if he did not think their story exceedingly strange.
“No stranger than everyday existence,” Paulo answered.
We walked through a maze of ornate statues and placed three wilted bunches of flowers at the three graves. Then we continued to wander between the markers, absently reading the epitaphs. We left the cemetery through an arch engraved with the words “We were what you are – You shall be what we are” and strolled home to the shade of our garden.
Situated in the Magic Realism genre, I wrote this short story in 1999. It was inspired by the foreboding inscription over the entrance to a gated cemetery in Catanduva, Brazil, the town in which I lived as an exchange student in 1990-1991.
My esteemed colleagues at the marketing firm I contract with have taught me many important lessons about life, work, and the intricacies of good design and sound programming. I’d like to think I have enriched their lives and work in return. For instance, I elevated their lunch-break distractions by rescuing them from the horror of bad science fiction soap opera and into Battlestar Galactica. Despite the superior quality of the series, my colleague had some hang-ups—particularly with regard to gravity where there shouldn’t have been any. Eventually, he resigned himself to the realization that it’s not ‘Science Reality’, it’s ‘Science Fiction’.
I’ve recently experienced some of my own hang-ups, with regard to “how it really happened”. I’ve entered into the “real” story within my story, which begins in Brazil circa 1933. The Perfectionist in me demands telling it as it really happened—with accurate historical details. I’ve diligently Googled, Wikipedia-ed and YouTubed, in English, Brazilian Portuguese (which I can mostly read), and German (which I cannot read, but can translate thanks to Google Chrome’s excellent translation feature). These resources have rewarded me with general information I need to start the story. However, they lack the specific details I want to proceed. I’ve emailed officials in Treze Tílias (the town in which my story takes place, formerly called Dreizehnlinden) asking for assistance but have not yet received a response.
So, what now? Allow my current inability to check historical facts to bring my story to a screeching halt just as it was starting to pick up momentum? Or plough ahead, imaginatively filling in the gaps as best I can, with the intention of adding additional detail and editing for accuracy later? Well, the Pragmatist in me has won: I choose the latter. After all, it’s not ‘Historical Reality’, it’s ‘Historical Fiction’.
Suggested music accompaniment to this post: Eminem & Rihanna “Love the Way You Lie”
Instrumental with Hook (thanks to 2010EminemRecovery on YouTube)
Monday, February 12, 2007:
Death by fire. I dream of dying in a burst of flames. Searing heat traveling from my feet, up my legs, swirling around me. I throw my head back to see a black sky scattered with stars, extinguished by a cloud of white smoke. It’s just burning, just a sensation, deep heat, just heat, only heat. A full scream, unrecognizable as my own; the pain rises to a final precipice.
Hot, dry, release. My soul purified by fire—a quick, dramatic death, nothing left but ash. The antithesis of my life. By day, I barely tread water, barely keep afloat. Perpetually behind, perpetually overwhelmed, stuck in a whirlpool going round, round, and around. Life by drowning.
Laying in bed, startled awake by the flames, my breath shallow, my heart racing, I throw off the covers to feel cold air flow across my sweat-soaked body and stare through the darkness at shadows haunting the ceiling. My mind returns to the safety of my bedroom, my husband’s even breathing beside me, my penchant for analysis. How does one interpret dreaming of death by fire? Past life: witch.
Then, as I relax into the present, it happens: my head fills with nervous thoughts: worry. Once turned on, the engine of my brain accelerates ahead. Work. Money. Lagging tasks. Unfulfilled commitments. Inadequate excuses.
My husband stirs in his sleep, prompting me to stealthily slink from our bed and navigate my way around furniture and into my office down the hall. Closing the door quietly, I awaken my computer and sit down facing it. What to do at 3am?
There is a yearning deep inside me, stretching from my very core; an angst. I want to write. But, I don’t. Seven years of university education in English Rhetoric, twenty-five grand in student loans, countless writing assignments, but I don’t write—not what I yearn to write. I write empty words to fulfill other people’s desires: marketing materials, corporate newsletters, website copy…all submerging my will to write my own story.
The glare of the blank white screen offends my eyes. What if I just started writing and didn’t stop—surrendering to the story? I picture myself seated comfortably, long after midnight, a cat asleep beside me, my fingers effortlessly tapping out word after beautiful word onto the glowing screen. My mind fearlessly opening to the page, revealing my deepest thoughts faster than I can type them. What would I say?
I open a blank document and sit with fingers poised over the keys. I could write about my inability to write: ironic…or pathetic? How do writers lay themselves bare—covered only by words, exposing their innermost thoughts to the world? Like peeling back their skin with a can opener and revealing the bloody inner core for all to scrutinize. If the sculptor’s chisel reveals their art, how many layers must I peel away to reveal my story? Raw, naked, exposed. They say, “The truth will set you free”. Or get you into a shitload of trouble.
My baby girl cries from the next room and I’m up like a shot to her bedside. Untangling her from the covers, I tuck her back in, and head back to my own bed. Distracted again—the story of my life.
I awaken to the offensively chipper chatter of morning show hosts from the clock radio at my husband’s bedside. Pulling up my knees, I withdraw deeper into the dark, warm covers and lift them over the back of my head, relieved when he hits “snooze” and heads to the bathroom. A ten-minute reprieve.
Visions of flame and smoke creep into my consciousness. My heartbeat quickens. I writhe, throw back the covers, and sit up abruptly, shaking the memory from my mind. No rest for the wicked. My feet search out their slippers and I drag myself to standing, only to feel a burning pain in my foot. Falling back onto the bed, lifting my left foot up onto my right thigh, I find the sole of my left foot blackened and my other foot similarly smudged. Good grief, I’ve got to wash my floors. (Although, in March, my feet have been perpetually covered in layers of socks and slippers.) I examine a puffy watery pocket on the ball of my left foot before pulling a sock over it. I’m incapable of analysis before 8am. I head for the kitchen, coffee my soul focus. Phoenix limping.
The day transpires much the same as usual, one distraction to the next. After lunch, I succeed in lulling my daughter into a nap (small victory) and head to my computer. My in-box reveals a letter from the “Institute of Children’s Writing” through which I have been failing miserably at completing a basic children’s story writing course. They state: “We regret that, despite our best efforts to help you, you have been unable to complete the requested assignments. We are hereby closing your course account. Should you wish to re-initiate the course in the future, we will be happy to accommodate your request based on the fee structure provided below….” I leave my office and slouch onto the livingroom couch, the last vestiges of perseverance draining from my core. A new low.
I pick up my latest self-help book from the table beside me and randomly read: “You’re not meant to be perfect, you’re meant to be whole. So, what is there to fear?”. What is there to fear?! This is what I fear: to break open and spill into a million tiny fragments onto the floor of the universe. Frozen shards that I alone must gather up again one-by-one—the never-ending tediousness of stooping, scrounging to pick up little, gorey bits of myself and put them back together, imperfectly. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold….” But, my daughter awakens from her slumber and I pick myself up off the couch to get her. After all, life goes on; there’s only so much room for melodrama.
Then, suddenly, the clock reads five and I survey my current state through the eyes of my husband, who will soon arrive home to witness it. Me, unshowered, wearing the same sweatpants as yesterday; my daughter unbathed with lunch on her shirt; the day’s and perhaps yesterday’s dirty dishes unwashed; toys scattered. Adrenalin sets in. William Tell’s finale plays in my head as I race through the house in an attempt to accomplish the tasks of a day in twenty minutes. Phoenix galloping.
Did you notice the “typo” in this section? “Coffee my soul focus” should be “coffee my sole focus”. “Sole” referring to the sole of a foot or “only”. But, in this case, the character’s soul yearns for coffee as much as her physical body so it applies.
For me, the word “slouching” took on a more devious connotation after reading the poem “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats. In this section, the quote “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold….” is also a reference from this poem. You can read the poem by following the Related Posts link below.
This post introduces the novel’s first reference to an extraordinary event, occurring in an otherwise mundane existence. The novel belongs within the genre of Magic Realism. Find out more about the genre of Magic Realism in the related post below.
The year transpires much the same, one distraction to the next.
By day, I split myself in two—half domesticated mom, half professional businesswoman—accomplishing neither whole-heartedly. Perpetually fatigued and scattered. Between ABC’s and client brochures, I dapple in poetry and journaling. Petty narcissistic drivel; who needs critics.
By night, I burn. Every dream a new interpretation of the same theme; flames, searing heat, hot ash. Tired of scrubbing metaphysical black soot from white sheets, I invest in a luxurious charcoal-grey silk bed set, much to my husband’s dismay at the sudden splurge. I defy analysis.
On a bright summer afternoon, I take my daughter outside to chase the sunlight. We walk to the mailbox and I extract from it a single letter, the lack of usual flyers and coupons amplifying its uniqueness.
“Mine, Mommy?” my daughter asks, always eager for any gifts the mailbox may bestow upon her especially.
“No, honey, it’s for Mommy…” I reply absently as I stare down at a familiar, yet unexpected airmail envelope trimmed in yellow-and-green stripes and smattered with stamps.
“Why, Mommy?” my daughter asks as she pulls my hand downward. “Me see.”
“It’s from Brazil, I think,” I observe aloud as I relent to her tugging and I squat down to show her the brightly coloured stamps with “Brasil” down the side and typical airmail trim. “These are Brazil’s colours.”
She grabs the envelope and turns it over. “Birdie!” she exclaims, pointing to another sticker—a return address sticker with a bird illustration and red border. I read the address twice: “52 College Street, Kitchener, ON N2H 5A1”. The top of the sticker has been cut off as well as a small square from between the “52” and “College”.
“It’s…it’s a return address sticker,” I reply faintly. I know that address; I lived in an apartment there over fifteen years ago as a university student. How did an envelope sent from Brazil, addressed to me, come to have a return address sticker on the back from a place I lived almost two decades ago?
I resist opening the envelope until we have returned to our backyard and my daughter plays contentedly. Perched on a garden rock, I carefully split apart the top seam, extract a thin sheet of paper, and open it to reveal two short lines written in elegantly formed blue cursive:
Step out of your prison; it is self-imposed. Leave it to burn behind you, igniting the fires of your imagination and life will follow.
In the days that follow, I carry the mysterious letter with me everywhere, pausing often to re-read it and re-examine the envelope. My nightly dreams of fire evolve: I find myself in a maze of cedar shrubbery, with an arched door ahead. As I move toward it, the high green walls ignite, engulfing me in flame and smoke as I run blindly forward.
On Monday morning, I arrange a sitter for my daughter and drive into downtown Kitchener. My old stomping ground. I park in front of the apartment building I lived in for most of university: 52 College Street. A vibrant energy envelopes me as I step out of my car. My current country home offers peace and quiet but this neighbourhood lives and breathes interesting faces.
I stand in front of the dwellings, surveying the architecture. Two twin, three-storey brick buildings with narrow courtyards, each leading to three separate entrances. The building to the left, a chestnut-brown brick with rounded arched entry embellished with the name “Wales Apartments” in white Edwardian letters. My own building, in red brick with the name “Royal Apartments” over the archway.
I wonder, does my old landlord still keep the place? I head under the archway of my old apartment, through the entrance directly ahead and down a short flight of stairs into the basement. The office door is ajar but I find it empty. With no other plan in mind, I indulgently wander through the building despite the sensation that I’m trespassing. Returning up the stairs, I visit the door of my first student abode, a tiny 300-square-foot apartment at the back of the building.
Then, I return to the outside courtyard and enter the front section of the building through the right-hand door. After a year in the tiny back apartment, a roomier two-bedroom had opened up on the third floor facing the street and I had moved up into it. I feel the same comforting creek as the stairs bare my weight up to the door of my second apartment—the one in which I spent six studious years. The same subtle scent intensifies my nostalgia—earthy, but not dirty (despite that it is)—the smell of bricks and mortar and plaster standing stoically for the last hundred years.
I reach the top landing and pause facing my old door, tempted to knock. But, then I hear the squeak of the apartment entrance opening below and I turn tail and retreat; I’ve trespassed long enough. At the bottom of the stairs, a middle-aged female postal carrier has just opened a set of old brass mailboxes that line the wall inside the doorway with the master key and begun stuffing envelopes and flyers into the compartments.
I hesitantly approach her: “Ahem, I hope you don’t mind the interruption. I’m here trying to solve a bit of a mystery. I received this letter in the mail. But, the return address sticker uses this address.” I pull out the letter from my purse and she willingly takes it.
“It was sent from Brazil, not here,” she states the obvious.
“Yes, I figured that. But, I wondered if you have seen anyone in this building using these kind of return address stickers?”
“No, I only deal with incoming mail. I wouldn’t know if they did. Why is the name and apartment number cut out? Looks like they didn’t want you to know who it was from.”
“No, I guess not. Thanks anyway.”
I return to my car none the wiser for my sleuthing. Sherlock I’m not.
From the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs.
This American video praises Brazil for joining the Allies and declaring war against Germany, endevouring to show Brazil’s similarities to America.
Suggested music accompaniment to this post: Alicia Keys “Girl on Fire” – Instrumental with Hook (thanks to Brenton Mosley on YouTube)
Wednesday, July 22, 2009:
My curiosity over the letter’s origin turns to obsession. The postmark from Brazil, the return address sticker from my old apartment building, the eerie reference to fire and self-induced imprisonment, which I had recently described in my journal…. Who could have written such a letter and under what circumstances? The question rests on my pillow, and the letter under it, as I drift off to sleep that night.
At 3am, I awaken to a familiar sensation, heart racing, pajamas damp with sweat, images of fire and smoke still emblazoned on my eyelids. But, this time, mingled with a tingling exhilaration. I search my mind for the details of the dream…the cedar maze, fire and smoke, but then…the sensation of my body rising upward, up, over the flames, floating, swirling on cool night air, like a campfire spark joining stars in the sky.
Quietly, I leave my bedroom, dawning housecoat and slippers as I go. The cat meets me in the hallway, blinking sleepily and pausing to stretch his back legs out behind him as he follows me into my little office, where I sit down and awaken my computer.
Without hesitation, I open a blank document and begin to type…
Gisa Catarina Gertner was born at sea on October 5, 1933, halfway between the province of Tirol, Austria, and the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil….
The phrase “a campfire spark joining stars in the sky.” refers to a poem I wrote for my daughter, Tessa, who was born on July 25, 2009. You can read it by following the “related posts” below to the “Other Works” section.
Someone once said, “the devil is in the detail”. Ever wondered who? I did. Apparently, it derives from “God is in the detail”, expressing the idea that whatever one does should be done thoroughly. For me, it refers to the time I’m having gathering all the historical details I desire to proceed confidently with the next sections of my book.
A. The Devil: Distractions Not Avoided
I recently read (and reread) an alternative translation for this line, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” from the Lord’s Prayer. It states that the original Aramaic, in which Jesus would have spoken it, would translate more accurately to something like “Lead us not onto the path of distraction but deliver us from useless diversions.”
For me, distractions filled the last month, including March Break fun and stomach flu suffering. I have proclaimed April the Month of Focus!
B. The Details: Research Required
Have I made any progress on my book in the last month, you ask? Yes, despite the distractions, I have! Life By Fire will soon branch out into a couple of directions that require accurate historical details. To that end, I have been diligently Googling, emailing, calling and haunting various libraries and universities. Here are some highlights:
Life in Dreizehnlinden (aka Papuan or Treze Tílias): 1942 – 1954
I discovered a book called Dreizehnlinden: Osterreicher im Urwald on the Internet, which documents the history of the first location of my novel. I have managed to borrow a copy of the book from the University of Toronto library and have use of it until May 12th. Unfortunately, I do not speak or read German…the book is in German. So, how to most efficiently translate it?
Plan A: I have discovered one of the authors of the book on Facebook (Yup, Facebook comes through again, much to my amazement!). I am in the process of contacting him to inquire after an English translation or an electronic copy of the book, which I can paste into Google Translate to achieve a rough translation.
Plan B: Scan the entire 203 pages into a text scanner to convert the text into electronic form myself. The Kitchener Library comes through again with a text scanner in their Accessibility Centre. The question is, can I get a useable rough translation if the text scanning software cannot recognize German characters?
Life in Kitchener: 1942 – 1945
Gisa’s eldest sister did not immigrate to Brazil with the rest of her family; instead, she immigrated to Kitchener, Ontario, Canada with her husband, joining his relatives there. What was life like for a German-speaking woman living in Kitchener during World War II? I’ve spent some enjoyable hours in the Kitchener Public Library’s Grace Schmidt Room of Local History. The Local History Librarian, Ms. Karen Ball-Pyatt, has been very helpful, guiding me to the information I desire. In addition to the books I’ve shown here, my reading has included a 1973 Thesis written by a History student at the University of Waterloo, photo documentation, and various newspaper clippings.
Voyage between Santa Catarina, Brazil, and Kitchener, Ontario, Canada: February 1954
In February 1954, one of my characters will travel between Papuan, Santa Catarina, Brazil, and Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. How will/did she travel? What route will/did she take? My investigation led me to email Pier 21 in Halifax. This Canadian port has historically received the majority of immigrants to and from this country. However, Mr. Colin, the very kind and helpful Curator of the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, informed me that someone traveling from South America by sea in 1954 would likely have ported at New York and then traveled by train to Kitchener via Toronto.
At his direction, I ventured onto the New York Times online shipping pages, then ended up searching on and opening an Ancestory.com account. Through it, I gained access to passenger lists for various ships with passengers who embarked in Brazil and disembarked in the port of New York in February 1954. I now know that my character will travel/ed from Brazil to New York on a steamship named The Uruguay, a boat with a colourful history, which I will outline in a separate post.
Ship name: The Uruguay Embarked: February 1, 1954, Santos, Brazil Disembarked: February 15, 1954, New York, N.Y.
Life in Kitchener: 1954 – 1964
What was life in Kitchener, 1954, like? Where would a German-speaking person go to dinner or to dance? Where would she buy groceries or post a letter? The desire to accurately relate these details has led me into further inquires, including correspondence with the German Department at the University of Waterloo about their Oral History Project and browsing the history of the Concordia Club.
Gisa Catarina Gärtner was born at sea on October 5, 1933, halfway between the province of Tirol, Austria, and the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil, thereby becoming the youngest of 91 Catholic Austrian emigrants headed to found a new colony in the New World.
Her fellow emigrants greeted her arrival dubiously for two reasons: First, no one had been aware of her mother’s pregnancy so they assumed she had concealed it. Second, an unaccounted colonizer would require explanation and additional paperwork with the Brazilian authorities.
Her family greeted her arrival with equal dubiety. The last of eight children, tiny Gisa’s closest sibling outstripped her by 12 years; her eldest already married and settled in Canada at age 27. A large woman, her mother had only started to suspect she was with child in the final days leading to Gisa’s birth. At 49-years-old, her menses had become sporadic; when they ceased completely, she assumed her childbearing years had ended and good riddance. Totally unprepared to care for an infant on the crowded ship, Gisa’s arrival caused her family both great inconvenience and great embarrassment.
Upon arrival on Brazilian soil, the immigration authorities debated Gisa’s status. Her fellow colonizers would enjoy privileges as Brazilian citizens while retaining their Austrian rights. But, having never touched Austrian soil, Gisa had no such claim. In the end, Gisa unconsciously gained another dubious distinction: as the only non-Austrian settler present on October 13, 1933 when their Director of Colonization, Andreas Thaler, officially founded and named the new settlement Dreizehnlinden, or Thirteen Lindens, after a poem of the same name by German poet Friedrich Wilhelm Weber.
In the months that followed, harsh reality and relentless mosquitoes set upon the colonists as they endeavoured to acclimatize to the hot Brazilian sun and reversed seasons, all packed together into one rudimentary communal barracks. They worked together; they ate together; they slept together.
In those her first months, Gisa received the minimal care required to keep her quiet. Passed from one sibling to the next, she only enjoyed the warmth of her mother’s bosom when hunger spurned her to wail inconsolably and she was indulged to guzzle a quick, greedy drink before being returned unceremoniously into the hands of whoever would take her. The exhausting work required to start anew spared no able body. Sometimes, one of the children would simply forget Gisa laying somewhere and only her crying would alert someone else passing to her abandoned state. Yet, miraculously, she not only survived but she grew and developed alongside the developing settlement.
So began Gisa Catarina Gärtner’s life: an afterthought in every sense of the word.
This post marks the beginning of the story “Death by Water”, within the story “Life by Drowning”, to which I alluded when I called this a “multi-dimensional novel”. Although Gisa Catarina Gärtner and the Gärtner family is fictional, the setting is real and the historical details are accurate to the best of my knowledge. Find out more about the history of these brave immigrants in the related post And So It Began.
Names have symbolic power—personally and politically. Here are some interesting details about names as they play out in history and in the novel:
Politically, names symbolize alliance. Both Dreizehnlinden (Treze Tílias, Santa Catarina, Brazil) and Berlin (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada) suffered the ramifications of changing alliances.
Dreizehnlinden – Papuan – Treze Tílias
1933: Austrian settlement named Dreizehnlinden.
Dreizehn: 13 Linden: a kind of tree, popular in Europe, which blooms with white flowers in spring.
Upon the Austrian immigrants’ arrival in the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil, their leader, Andreas Thaler, officially named their settlement Dreizehnlinden. He chose the name based on an epic poem he found in a library in Porto Alegre on an earlier reconnaissance visit to Brazil. The poem’s author, Friedrich Wilhelm Weber (December 25, 1813 – April 5, 1894), was a German doctor, politician of the Prussian House of Deputies, and a poet.
The epic poem ends with the lines:
Help us God to find the way to our homeland,
Out of the land we came from;
Pray for the poor writer,
And thus closes the song to the thirteen linden trees.
1942: Dreizehnlinden renamed to Papuan.
In 1942, midway through WWII, Brazil aligned with the Allies and entered the war against Germany. In a show of patriotism, the Brazilian president expropriated all of the lands that had been purchased by the Austrian and German immigrants in Santa Catarina and renamed their settlements to Brazilian names. “Papuan” was a native name from a tribe in that region.
1963: Papuan renamed to Treze Tílias (meaning Dreizehnlinden in Portuguese).
Between 1959 – 1961, the German-speaking residents of Santa Catarina were finally refunded their expropriated land. In 1963, Papuan was changed back to its original name, Dreizehnlinden, but in Portuguese, making it Treze Tílias, representing a fundamental shift in identity for the people of the region from Austrian to Brazilian. The government declared the area an independent municipality.
Berlin – Kitchener
1820’s – 1833: Settlement named Berlin
From Rych Mills’ Kitchener (Berlin) 1880 – 1960: “After a reluctant beginning in the early 1800s, at a crossroads between the pioneer farmsteads of Joseph Schneider and Benjamin Eby, a tiny hamlet gradually attracted more and more newcomer through the 1820s. Harness shop, smithy, tavern, sawmill, and church—these ingredients slid into place. At some point in time, not then considered noteworthy, a name was given to the hamlet. In the mid-1820s, perhaps as late as 1833, this place was named Berlin. Local historians have long claimed, without evidence, that this was to honour the Prussian city of Berlin. However very few 1820s immigrants of Germanic origin came from northern German states, such as Prussia. At this time, Berlin, Prussia, was not a city of great importance. Recent studies offer a second possibility. Many original settlers came here from Pennsylvania, moving north for various reasons. Pennsylvania had communities named Berlin, and it is reasonable to consider that newcomers may have brought that name with them, as they had numerous others. This nebulous beginning of Berlin’s name is ironic in light of what was to happen in 1916.”
1854 – 1912: Town of Berlin
1912 – 1916: City of Berlin
1916: Berlin renamed to Kitchener
From Wikipedia, Kitchener, Ontario: “On June 9, 1912, Berlin was officially designated a city. Anti-German sentiment during the First World War led to the abandonment of much of this [its German] heritage. For example, churches switched to English-language services. In 1916, following much debate and controversy, the name of the city was changed to Kitchener; named after the late British Field Marshal The 1st Earl Kitchener. After the war, local historians and civic groups promoted a new heritage that emphasized the county’s Pennsylvania Dutch roots.”
Gisa Catarina Gärtner
My character, Gisa Catarina Gärtner, became real to me long before I chose a name for her. When the time came that I could no longer put off naming her, I struggled much as we had struggled to choose names for our children.
Gisa: I required a name that balanced strength, even harshness, with beauty. Gisa is actually the name of one of my Austrian cousins-in-law; I hope she won’t mind me using it.
Catarina: As the name of the state of Santa Catarina (Saint Catherine), Catarina seemed appropriate as a middle name for a Catholic girl-child.
Gärtner: I needed to find a suitably Austrian sir name that sounded like it could possibly have been on the list of settlers arriving in Santa Catarina, Brazil, but definitely was not on that list. I wanted to ensure that my fictional family would not be mistaken for a real family of settlers in the group that arrived in 1933. Gärtner means “gardener” in German—as a family with a farming background, this name seemed appropriate.
Life By Fire
I believe I revealed the the meaning of the title of the novel Life By Fire as it relates to the narrator at the beginning of the book. The meaning of the title to Gisa will reveal itself later in the novel. The entire story has played out already in my imagination—I just need to get it out! Stay tuned!
1933 – 1939: Dreizehnlinden, Santa Catarina, Brazil
By the time Gisa grew old enough to go to school, the rudimentary communal barracks had transformed into small neat houses and productive farms, and the settlement of Dreizehnlinden into a community complete with a church and a store, as well as a school.
As stonemasons and bricklayers, Gisa’s father and her two eldest brothers played an integral part in laying the foundations on which the community grew. In 1937, the town’s seasoned workmen completed its crowning accent, a tall red-brick residence sitting high on a hill for the settlement’s founder, Andreas Thaler. They called it Das Kleine Schloss—The Little Castle—or O Castelinho in Portuguese.
Gisa gloried in walking past the castle and stopping to gaze up into the windows in the tall round tower. She would exclaim wistfully in her small five-year-old voice, “a real castle, right here in Dreizehnlinden!” to which her sister, or whoever was with her, would reply: “Silly girl, you’ve never seen a real castle before. In Austria, there are many castles.”
“In Austria…in Austria…” A statement Gisa heard often as a child. Her family had left Austria to find a better land, a better life. Yet, their hearts remained tied to the Homeland. Their memories fixated on the mountains, the comradeship, the feasts, to the exclusion of the overcrowding, the religious discrimination, and the hunger that had driven them to leave. Nostalgia does that.
Her father, a tall wiry man with large calloused hands, called Gisa his “Little Brazilian”. Even at five, she felt the condescension. When she occasionally interjected a Portuguese word or phrase, which she picked up so naturally, into conversation, her family chided her: “Deutsch, Gisa, Deutsch.”
Outside Dreizehnlinden’s isolated community, Brazil’s political structures shifted on tenuous footings. On November 10, 1937, based on the pretext of protecting the country from a communist revolution rumoured to have support from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Brazilian President Getúlio Vargas staged a political coup. With military and popular support, he called a state of emergency, dropped the Constitution of 1934, banned all political organizations, dissolved the Congress, and proclaimed himself Dictator over this Estado Novo (New State). Under Vargas’ nationalist agenda, power shifted from the states to the central government, and from the landowners to the urban middle and lower classes. Dreizehnlinden’s inhabitants read about these changes with mild concern; constitution or no constitution, life continued.
The end of 1938 found only her youngest brother, age 20, and her sister, age 17, at home with Gisa. Her two eldest brothers—strong and self-reliant, in their late twenties—had married two sisters from within one of the Austrian colonial families and established homes of their own. Not long after, her two sisters next in line—healthy, robust girls in their early twenties—had each married as well. At home, Gisa’s youngest sister, Teresa, had taken over much of the housekeeping while their mother tended their garden and chickens. Like the rest of the men in her family, her youngest brother worked in construction.
In 1939, Gisa’s world widened to attending school. Walking to and from by herself—a tiny, wisp of a child, small for her age, and so slight in comparison to her sturdy, grown siblings, with fine blond hair tied in braids down her back. She surveyed everything around her with intense seriousness through ever-changing blue-grey-green eyes—eyes the colour of the sea she had been born on. And so she grew, apart from the rest, and only partly aware why.
My writing focus has flitted from scene to scene, era to era, based on my mood and interest at any given moment, as well as the accessibility of information required for historical accuracy. I’m currently focusing on a section that takes place in Kitchener in the spring of 1954. Here, I’ve outlined some of the legwork that has gone into defining it.
Suggested listening while reading this post: “I Need You Now” by Eddie Fisher:
For reasons that will be revealed in due course, my beloved character, Gisa, leaves her home in Santa Catarina, Brazil, in early 1954. On February 1, 1954, she embarks on a steamship called The Uruguay; on February 15, 1954, she disembarks in New York. From there, she makes her way to her eldest sister’s home on Ahrens Street, in Kitchener, Ontario.
A few months after her arrival, Gisa’s sister and brother-in-law treat her to a night out with dinner and dancing. Where did this special evening take place and what would Gisa have worn? Good questions!
For the special evening out, Gisa borrows a dress from her sister’s friend. To create a clear vision of the dress, I ventured to Auburn Vintage Clothiers in Conestogo, Ontario, and consulted vintage clothing expert Rachel Belhing. I found the perfect dress in this Lavender 1950’s Party Dress with Ruching. I did hesitate on the colour and Rachel suggested a “sea-foam green with deep turquoise underlining” for Gisa. Oooouuuuu, perfect!
Dance Hall Options
The Concordia Club at the Golden Lion Inn
Considering their German-Austrian roots, Gisa’s sister and brother-in-law may well have taken Gisa to the Concordia Club that fated Saturday evening, particularly since Gisa did not speak any English upon arrival in Canada.
From it’s beginnings in 1873, The Concordia Club congregated in a number of locations, leading up purchasing its permanent residence on 8-acres of land at 429 Ottawa Street South in Kitchener, where you can currently enjoy Germanic events, food, and camaraderie year-round.
At the outbreak of WWII, the Concordia Club terminated all activities. When the war ended, they quickly rebuilt their organization.
From the Souvenir book: Concordia Club 100 Years Centennial Issue No. 57, August, 1973, pages 91-92:
“From 1949 on, Concodia held its Saturday night dances at different locations. Not until 1951 was the club in the position to find a permanent location. “The Golden Lion”, opposite the K-W Hospital, the site of the present day CKCO Television station….
…In the early 1950’s, Concordia Club experienced unprecedented growing pains resulting fro the arrival of many new German-Canadians in Kitchener. Successive presidents…and their executive boards were overworked in their attempts to accommodate the wishes of the newly formed sub-groups such as the Tennis Club, Chess Club, Soccer Club, Choir and other groups. Concordia Club had become the focal point for the new German-Canadians who flocked there for sports, cultural and social activities….
Former President E. Bretschneider fondly reminisces about the 1952-53 period. “Besides the weekly dances we had other diversions. The club premises consisting of a large hall, a small office, and a small kitchen, were open daily to its members. Nick Schroeder had formed a chess group, which outnumbered the choir. A table tennis team under my direction consisted of 18 players and H. Kraushaar had become the manager of a successful soccer team. The usually boring Sundays were thus turned into a festive occasion for young and old alike. The membership fee of 50 cents could be afforded by all… The biggest drawback in the whole question of immigrating to Canada presented itself undoubtedly in the scarcity of eligible young ladies, who enjoyed a ratio of 8 to 1 and thus could be quite selective of the company of young men of their age. Young and old bachelors alike formed into a stag line waiting for a few turns on the dance floor. In sheer desperation, we frequently drowned our sorrows in soothing barley water.”
The Walper Terrace Hotel
Established in 1893, complete with an interior courtyard, on the corner of King and Queen Streets in in the centre of downtown Kitchener’s historic district, this Victorian hotel has hosted many famous guests, including former politician and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Lennox Lewis and Al Capone. Unfortunately, I don’t think Gisa’s sister and brother-in-law could have afforded to spend the evening there.
The Victoria Park Pavilion
The Victoria Park Pavilion would have offered another venue for dinner and dancing in 1954.
“Victoria Park is the oldest park in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.… First opened in 1896, the park was built mostly on swampy farm land. A man-made lake fed by Schneider Creek surrounds three small islands, and is crossed by multiple bridges, one dating to the creation of the park. The park also contains the Victoria Park pavilion, the Victoria Park Gallery and Archives, a bandstand, and a historic boathouse, now a pub and music venue.”
“[The Original Victoria Park Pavilion] was an attraction in Berlin, Ont., from 1902 until 1916….
…Special excursion trains on the electric railway connecting Waterloo, Berlin, Preston, Galt, Brantford and Port Dover often brought 1,000 or more people to a platform stop at the edge of Victoria Park.
In order to foil nature, the park board engaged Berlin architect Charles Knechtel to design a structure that would function as a picnic shelter and serve as a meeting hall, restaurant and dance hall….
…Like many things in Berlin, the pavilion came to an end during the troubled First World War era. On March 24, 1916, flames engulfed part of the building but Berlin’s fire department was able to save a substantial portion of the all-wood structure….
…The site stood empty for eight years until the second pavilion (now more than 90 years old) was erected to a design that honoured the original Knechtel drawings. A historical plaque is mounted on the west end of that “new” 1924 pavilion.”
My quest to learn more about the Victoria Park Pavilion led me to request this book from my local library, which I eagerly await: Let’s Dance: A Celebration of Ontario’s Dance Halls and Summer Dance Pavilions by Peter Young.
Before the dance, the group eats out at a restaurant. Which restaurant?
Since I have lived in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, the Two Goblets restaurant has been located at the corner of Weber & College Streets in Kitchener. Since Gisa resides at the corner of Ahrens and College Streets at the time, the Two Goblets would provide a great choice for this scene. Alas, my research revealed that the Two Goblets restaurant has “only” been serving their delicious Middle European food for 28 years.
Golden Lion Inn
The Concordia Club hall was located in the basement of the Golden Lion Inn so they may have eaten upstairs beforehand.
Victoria Park Pavilion Restaurant
More research will reveal if there was a restaurant at the pavilion in 1954!
In the chapter, Phoenix Rising, I describe paranormal inspiration. The character awakens from a dream and instantly starts writing without hesitation, like she had described herself doing in Phoenix Dreaming: “I picture myself seated comfortably, long after midnight, a cat asleep beside me, my fingers effortlessly tapping out word after beautiful word onto the glowing screen. My mind fearlessly opening to the page, revealing my deepest thoughts faster than I can type them.”
I have experienced this kind of inspirational writing, during which I felt more like I were channeling the story than creating it, once in my life. (I’ll save what I wrote during that experience for a different post.) The experience exhilarated, humbled, and perplexed me. It also eluded me: I have never succeeded in repeating it.
Frankly, my typical experience writing feels more like my two experiences giving birth than creative channeling: tediously prolonged, exhaustingly labourious, and intensely uncomfortable—hence the preface to my novel, Birth of a Story.
Occasionally, I half-awaken around 3am and toss-and-turn as my mind churns over creative solutions to my next chapter’s dilemma. Sometimes, the solutions still sound inspired in the morning and other times they fall flat.
For me, writing requires persistent patience and stoic determination. Will it become easier with practice? I bloody-well hope so. I’ll let you know. In the meantime, onward…one word at a time.
Aside from novel-writing, I’m obsessed with nutrition and healthy lifestyle information. I read nutrition and exercise articles almost daily. I put much of the nutritional advice I read consistently into practice; I put almostnone of the exercise advice I read consistently into practice.
I binge exercise. I cycle between short periods of dedicated, intense exercise—until I burn out, get into shape, or get bored—and long periods of doing absolutely nothing—until my body starts to atrophy and I finally declare “I must do something…drastic” and I eventually embark on another round of getting back into shape.
(Note 1: After an entire winter of doing absolutely nothing, I’m currently at the “I must do something drastic…soon” phase in the cycle.
Note 2: Okay, “dedicated, intense exercise” may be an exaggeration…it’s not that intense nor that dedicated. Moving on.)
To the point, I’ve read a great deal about the value of Interval Training in exercise and highly recommend it (despite rarely doing it). For instance, if one runs (which I don’t, if I can help it), interval training would involve alternating between short, intense, full-out sprints, and slow, steady recovery jogs in one training session. I’ve realized that the same habits that I’ve applied (or haven’t but should) to exercise also apply to writing:
In school, I practiced binge-writing as a sprinter, typically only writing when assignments required it, and sitting down at the keyboard to start writing an essay twelve-to-twenty-four hours before the deadline. Full-on sprint to submission (no time for warm-up or cool-down) and then collapse and recover until the next deadline looms. It had it’s advantages. (Otherwise, why did I do it that way through eight years of university?)
In business, I prefer a marathon approach, working on a copywriting project methodically and steadily from start to finish with as few disruptions as possible. The more times interruptions take my eyes from the screen, or other projects divert my attention, the more time required to figure out where I left off and what I need to pick up again.
In novel-writing, I’m still discovering my stride but I think I would call it “interval writing”. I complete a number of days of research—slowly, steadily accumulating the facts I need. Then, with all the required details before me, and driven by the stress of not having posted an update for several days, I pick up the pace, pounding out and posting several new sections as quickly as possible. Feeling a sense of accomplishment at having posted new content, I rest and recover (aka focus on all the other work I’ve neglected) for a few days. During that time, I tend to go back to leisurely re-read and further tweak the new sections (regardless of the fact that I’ve already posted them). Then, eventually, I realize that I haven’t yet won the race, its only just begun. Adrenalin rises and I head back to the computer for another lap around the World Wide Web.
For weeks (months, actually, if I dare to admit it), I have been contemplating a bridge for my novel. I need to write a chapter that unites the narrator with Gisa in the 1990’s. Bridges are structurally complicated—a good bridge combines elegance with strength and structural integrity. I believe I have formulated the bridge in my mind, I just need to get it onto paper.
Have you ever constructed a bridge? I constructed a popsicle stick bridge once with surprising ease and success. Grade 10 Physics class. Every year our enthusiastic physics teacher ran a bridge-building contest. The person or team who constructed the popsicle stick bridge, within the regulations, that held the most weight would win a coveted prize (I have no idea of what that prize consisted since I had no aspirations of winning it). As part of our physics class, he required us to participate.
Based on my complete lack of interest in the project, I procrastinated until the day before the deadline. Then, I very unenthusiastically collected my popsicle sticks and Elmer’s glue. As I watched TV, I sat cross-legged on our apartment’s parquet wood floor and began to lackadaisically glue together sticks with the goal of accomplishing no more than meeting the bare minimum criteria of producing a bridge…a bridge that I assumed would break when the first brick was carefully placed upon it. I didn’t care. I believed that I was “not good at physics”.
Have you ever completed a task automatically, with unconscious ease, as if on auto-pilot—as if the information is being fed to you rather than formulated by you? Without hesitation, I glued together a bridge—not a jumble of half-hazard sticks but a bridge. A flat, sturdy bridge with geometrically organized cross-crossed supports and popsicle beams. I briefly examined it and then put it aside to dry. Assignment accomplished—I put it out of my mind. Until….
Until I arrived at physics class the next day and observed a number of extraordinarily complex popsicle-stick bridges with ornate trusses and felt ashamed of my own simple, flat bridge. I anticipated embarrassment. But, as the class drew to a close and my bridge had not yet been chosen for the big test, I internally rejoiced at having postponed my shame. Until my teacher approached me and my bridge. He picked it up from the desk behind me and examined it, which was far easier with my simple contraption than most of the other bridges in the room. He looked slightly perplexed. He said, “let’s finish with this one.”
Ugh. Really? When I had almost managed to get through the entire class…. And so, he set my simple bridge across the supporting pillars and the students began carefully loading it with bricks. And bricks. And more bricks. And it didn’t break. More bricks. It didn’t break. Finally, with more bricks than any other bridges had held, it gave way—not because it snapped in half, but because I had neglected to bother to measure it to ensure it was actually long enough! As it bent slightly under the weight of the bricks, it eventually became too short for the expanse between the pillars and one end fell off.
My teacher lamented that it was too short, declaring that if it had been constructed one popsicle-stick-length longer, it would have won the contest. He asked me what I referenced to construct it. I stuttered meekly that I had just looked at a few pictures—I don’t lie well and I imagine he knew it. In reality, I hadn’t looked at a single picture. (Besides, this was pre-Internet—I would have had to go to the library for that.) I just made it. How? I don’t know. Where did that knowledge come from? I don’t know. Was I a bridge engineer in a past life? (You’d think I would have had more propensity and enthusiasm for physics if that were the case.) Had I somehow channeled the spirit of an accomplished engineer eager for the opportunity to build something physical again? Had I tapped into the universal database of knowing that we all have access to but don’t know it? I wonder.
The latest science indicates that what we think far more influences what we observe than what we observe influences what we think. I suspect that extraordinary phenomena like that I experienced building a bridge occur regularly in life but most people simply ignore or even “rewrite” those experiences in their minds in order to fit them into their preconceived notions of the world. Had I had the awareness to consciously analyze my experience and attempt to repeat it, goodness knows what I could have accomplished! But, instead, I simply ignored it, defying analysis completely and subverting the extraordinary experience entirely.
Perhaps I should try building a popsicle-stick bridge again. Perhaps I should consciously attempt to tap into that universal database of knowing on a regular basis. Who knows what’s waiting for me and all of us when we awaken to the infinite possibilities!
Have you ever experienced the sensation that information is being streamed to you through your subconscious? Tell us about it by leaving a comment!
1939 – 1942: Dreizehnlinden, Santa Catarina, Brazil
No sooner had the stalwart community of Dreizehnlinden established foundations, than political unrest and natural disaster combined to shake them to the core.
Even in the far reaches of the south of Brazil, they could not escape the turmoil that embroiled their Austrian countrymen in Europe. In March 1938, Austria’s formalized Anschluss (connection) with the German Reich, made administration of the settlement of Dreizehnlinden subject to the German Consulate General in the nearby town of Joaçaba. The Nazi Party considered the area as prime real estate for the settlement of their own emigrants—Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia. Led by Andreas Thaler, and supported by his influential connections, the families in Dreizehnlinden argued vehemently against this unwelcome invasion onto the lands they had prepared.
On June 28, 1939, more fundamental concerns temporarily overshadowed their political ones when a torrential rainstorm assaulted the community, flooding the river, damaging crops, and injuring livestock. When the rains finally abated, to their horror, they discovered Andreas Thaler drowned, assumedly in an attempt to rescue a cow from the river’s swift current. Without Thaler as representative, the town became evermore susceptible to German agendas.
On September 1, 1939, Germany turned its attention toward Poland, provoking France and the United Kingdom to retaliate. Thus began the Great War. From late 1939 to early 1941, through a series of campaigns and treaties, Germany conquered or controlled much of continental Europe, and formed the Axis alliance with Italy and Japan. The Nazi’s long reach extended further and further.
Little Gisa experienced Germany’s influence as an absence. The regular influx of bad news from abroad, and the continued interference from the German Consulate, diverted her family’s attention away from household tasks, and her care. All around her, people half functioned in a full state of distraction. Too young to understand events on a global scale, Gisa simply felt them…in her father’s cynicism, her mother’s apathy, her sister’s impatience…. She retreated into herself, only deepening her isolation. As quiet as a mouse, she received as much attention as one. And the war raged on.
1942: Dreizehnlinden / Papuan, Santa Catarina, Brazil
In the face of war abroad, Brazil’s President Vargas attempted to remain neutral. Brazil depended upon trading partnerships with both Germany and the United States, the manufacture and sale of arms to Germany making up a significant percentage of that trade. However, increasing cooperation and financial investment from the United States motivated Brazil to officially sever diplomatic relations with Germany, Japan, and Italy on January 28, 1942.
In July 1942, the press credited German U-Boats with sinking thirteen Brazilian merchant vessels in the South Atlantic. Others speculated that credit for the attacks belonged elsewhere. Regardless of the perpetrators, Vargas resisted further measures against the Axis. The Brazilian public, on the other hand, took to the streets to demand that the government retaliate with a declaration of war. In the capital of Rio de Janeiro, restless ne’er-do-wells exercised their frustration on German-owned restaurants and other businesses.
Still, the thousand-kilometre distance between Rio and Dreizehnlinden shielded Gisa, her family, and other German-speaking residents from any direct confrontation and the undercurrents of conflict continued to affect Gisa as only a vague, indescribable sense of discomfort. At age eight, she still more closely resembled a child several years younger, small and thin with too-large eyes. She quietly kept to corners and preferred to sit with her legs pulled tight to her chest and her arms around her knees, when allowed the option.
After school, Gisa tended to drop her books inside the front door and then disappear again without a sound. She would wander around Dreizehnlinden, sometimes people-watching through the open windows of the town’s stores. Often, she stopped to gaze up into the vacant windows of the tall red-brick tower of the Kleine Schloss, now devoid of its master. When encountering her fellow townspeople, whether superior or peer, she would scurry quietly away in another direction. Occasionally, she walked up into the hills to visit the cows. Her family left her to her own devises, as long as she returned in time for dinner, which she usually did, led by her appetite.
Then, in August 1942, definitive news reached the small town that a single German submarine, the U-507, had sunk five Brazilian vessels in two days, causing more than six hundred deaths. These new attacks, combined with diplomatic pressure plus economic incentives from the United States, finally led Vargas to declare war on the Axis on August 22, 1942, officially joining Brazil with the Allies. That’s when the war truly reached Dreizehnlinden, forever shifting its foundations.
In a show of pro-Brazilian nationalism and anti-German sentiment, Vargas immediately instituted a number of domestic sanctions. In one foul swoop, he banned use of the German language in public, expropriated German-speaking settlers’ lands, and demanded the renaming of Germanic place names with suitably Brazilian ones. Dreizehnlinden became Papuan. All around them, other German-speaking settlements endured the same treatment.
Wide-eyed, Gisa and her stunned schoolmates watched as Brazilian officials carted their German-language books outside to the schoolyard in a wheelbarrow, tossed them into a pile, and then set them ablaze, feeding the already greedy flames with Dreizehnlinden’s beautifully carved sign as a final offering to the Brazilian nationalist gods. Her sister, Teresa, arrived, along with other neighbours, enfolding her arms around Gisa’s trembling shoulders. The wind changed direction, assaulting Gisa’s eyes with smoke, until tears streamed down her blanched cheeks. Trial by fire.
One of the bureaucrats approached the fire with one last armful of books and stopped to the right of Teresa and Gisa. Teresa’s eyes landed on an old green leather-bound volume with gold gilding and a red crest—the original epic poem by Fredrich Wilhelm Weber, entitled “Dreizehnlinden”, after which they had named their colony. The book had been sent from Austria as a gift for the new school.
As the man lifted the text with his left hand from the stack cradled in his right arm, Teresa stepped forward and grasped it. She locked eyes with the official with a look of half-defiance, half-entreaty, the book suspended between them. He paused, considering the consequences of his next move, then let go, saying “em casa só” (at home only). Teresa turned without a word, pulling Gisa protectively to her side and hastily escorted her and the book home, successfully salvaging a small piece of Dreizehnlinden’s history.
That night, Teresa, who shared a small back bedroom with Gisa, awoke suddenly to find Gisa’s side of the bed empty and cold. She whispered Gisa’s name and scanned the room. She searched the bathroom and kitchen. No Gisa. Panicking, she awoke her parents. Her father lit a lantern and they searched the house again. He noted the still-locked door but searched the yard regardless.
In desperation, they broke the night’s deep silence and called Gisa’s name aloud inside and out. Suddenly, a small movement caught Teresa’s eye through the open door into their room. She ran to the bed and dropped to her knees, peering under it. There, wrapped in a shawl on the bare floor, lay slender Gisa, bleary-eyed and confused.
When asked why she had crawled under the bed, Gisa responded “it feels safer there”, to which her mother matter-of-factly replied that it was not safe to sleep on the floor in Brazil with the spiders and the snakes, picked her up, returned her into her bed with her sister, and then promptly retreated to bed herself without another word.
But, night after night, Gisa’s sister would find her curled up under the bed rather than upon it. Finally, Teresa acquired some straw, sewed Gisa a small tick from an old wool blanket and slid it under the bed. Still unsatisfied, she opened the chest at the end of their bed and withdrew a white cotton-covered feather blanket. Intended for her dowry, she had diligently toiled for months to save feathers from their chickens and ducks to make this blanket for her future marital bed. But, she couldn’t bear to see Gisa lying on that hard floor any longer with only a shawl for cover and there were no other unused blankets left in the house. She half-slid under the bed herself to arrange the feather blanket folded in half over the straw tick, pushing it closer to the wall so her mother would not notice it. From then on, Gisa slept comfortably, safe in her little nest.
The Brazilian government replaced the school’s worn German schoolbooks with shiny new Portuguese ones and their familiar German-speaking teachers with native Portuguese-speakers. They even erected a new flimsy sign declaring the town as Papuan for all to see. With few other choices before them, the community endeavoured to adjust into this shifted reality.
Strangely, despite the shock and angst, these changes put Gisa on a more equal footing with her family and community: now, they must all become Little Brazilians.
I found an interesting propaganda video produced by the United States about Brazil in World War II. You can see it by following the Related Post, “Brazil at War”, below.
Check out the infographic "Why Grasslands Are Important" and find out why grasslands are an important ecosystem that is essential to your health and the environment. Share it on your website using this embed code.
Check out the infographic "Why Grasslands Are Important"and find out why grasslands are an important ecosystem that is essential to your health and the environment. Share it on your website using this embed code.