Thoughts on the Ice Bucket Challenge

Category: Thoughts from the Void

Cropped photo from lissame via photopin cc.

So I, like all of you too probably, was talking Ice Bucket Challenge with some friends recently. It was the usual blah-blah until a woman in our group stood up and walked away saying “That just seems pointless to me. I lost my best friend to that disease and my awareness doesn’t need proving. If anyone nominates me I’ll write a check and be done with it.”

Now, normally this woman is the very best of the good sports. She is the kind of person that the German phrase “mit Ihr kannst du Pferde stehlen” (“with her you can steal horses” = she’s always up for an adventure) was written to describe. Maybe this caught her on a bad day. In any case, I was surprised by her reaction and I didn’t really know what to say. I understood her stance to be that her level of “awareness” by way of losing her best friend excuses her from playing along. Just write a check - Done!

That Got Me Thinking

For me, a bucket of ice water over my head is not about proving my awareness, it is about being uncomfortable for someone else. It’s about struggling in advance with a situation that I know is coming, a situation that I would really love to avoid.

It is about facing up to dread.

That bucket of ice water is metaphoric for the struggle with catastrophic illness. Dumping it voluntarily over my head is an act of solidarity with other humans who have a diagnosis and know, well in advance the horrifying details of their future lives and their own deaths. For them, anger, panic, fear, sadness will ensue - if not today, then next week, next month. A person can struggle all they like, they can walk around it, ignore it, walk away from it - but there IS no escape. That body IS their future.

That bucket of water in my hand acknowledges an important truth: There, but for the Grace of God, go I.

Don’t you, don’t we all know someone who’d be totally relieved to write a check if by doing so they could avoid the utter terror of being the noble reason the rest of us get together to have a few beers, laugh and challenge one another to do stupid things like dumping ice water over our heads? I think we do.

Thoughts From Beyond the Void?

My friend and fellow writer Pia Newman had this to say about the responses she received when she posted her Ice Bucket Challenge.

Did you write about the ice bucket challenge and it’s inherent challenges? Leave a comment below and I’ll put a link to your article up here.

Magic for Dogs

Category: Seeing is Believing

I know. I’m a total sucker for dogs.

After watching this about three hundred times I’m pretty sure that Dumli is my favorite. Then I found Part 2…

This is what comes of morning coffee on Google+.

Book Review: Astrid and Veronika

Category: Book Reviews

I am scribbling my notebooks full. My post about the new Domizil is still not finished although the move was complete in January and the snow never came but the crocus, daffodils and forsythia did. Now, they are gone too. It is early May. No matter. What matters is focus and to focus, I am writing what is important, and important to me right now is this sentence…

“That night, she lay in a bed where her body was an unfamiliar shape, in this house that didn’t know her yet.”

It’s from the second page of Astrid and Veronika and it is important to me because of the way I stopped and wondered if I might not have written “That night she lay in an unfamiliar bed in a house she didn’t yet know” instead.

I saw after a minute that it would have been wrong: two sentences which say the same thing must not express the same thing. This morning my thoughts wander off to the abstract idea that we living-beings are “expressions” of the, well, of God, for lack of a better word. Is this how people are like sentences? Is this what Terence McKenna meant when he said “I don’t believe the world is made of quarks, or electromagnetic waves, or stars, or planets, or any of these things. I believe the world is made of language.”

Yes, well, let us disembark from that rollercoaster and get back to my poor sentence which doesn’t hold nearly the quality of alienation, the depth of foreignness that Linda Olsson’s beautiful sentence does. In mine, we would have been watching our heroine, one of them anyway, from the inside when we belong on the outside. We do not know her - only that she is, maybe, a stranger in her own life. We feel her strangeness and we know it would be wrong, too invasive, if we, the reading population of the entire planet were already inside of her head.

This where we start our journey into the story, on the outside looking in and understanding nothing. Just like Veronika herself. Who is she and how did she come to this isolation? How did she come to be “an orphan in an orphan house”? I read along, watching, waiting. I trust an author who minds her sentences like this one does to write a novel that will unfold and satisfy me.

I settle into my sofa with a cup of tea…

Her life slowly found its own organic rhythm. After a week she had established her morning routine. … It felt as if the house had accepted her, as if they had begun their life together.

Yes, after a few pages I felt the novel had accepted me too, as if we had begun our life together.

Veronika’s neighbor, Astrid Mattson is, according to a shopkeeper in the nearby village, “the village witch”. She “doesn’t like people. Keeps to herself. Not much of a neighbor, I’m afraid.”

And indeed, it is two weeks before Veronika gets her first glimpse of her neighbor.

The old woman looked almost obscenely exposed, a hunched solitary figure in a dark heavy coat and rubber boots uncertainly navigating the icy road on her way to the village. Her house had been her protector until then, the dark windows loyal keepers of the secrets of the life inside.

In the next chapter we are introduced to Astrid - a woman of indeterminate old age. A woman with memories of the past which require all of her energy to hold at bay.

The effort was a constant, draining task, absorbing all her energy. And there were moments when it failed. When she was overcome by feelings as intense as when they were new. The trigger were unpredictable and she trod cautiously. For a long time she had drifted in still backwaters, patiently awaiting the final undertow. And now this, a slight rippling of the surface.

We watch Astrid “wake up” to the sounds of her neighbor’s car door, her music, to the view of her starting off on her morning walk with a friendly wave in the direction of Astrid’s dark windows.

She listened and she felt the world invade. Life. and she turned her face to the wall and cried.

One morning we are privy to an extraordinary scene: Astrid standing deep and nearly invisible to the outside world in her darkened kitchen. While we are watching, she absently lifts her hand to return Veronika’s wave. At this early stage in the novel, when it is so clear that the two women are deeply inside themselves, I was as surprised by the small gesture as Astrid is. In my minds eye, I looked at Astrid’s hand and wondered that it looked so much like my own.

The rest of the novel is a glorious exploration of friendship, of that surprising love that springs up between two women who have naively assumed, as any of us might, that heart’s love, once lost is forever gone. It is not a novel full of daring-do except that the courage to face our disappointments is a courage many of us turn out to be missing.

I finished reading this evening in the last warmth of the sun on my balcony, my much beloved tulip fountain working hard to produce sounds of serenity between the cityscape noises and the motorcycles. White and purple, purple and white pansys bloom in my old Christmas tree stand cum planter on the faded yellow Mexican oilcloth, a cool glass of Sauvingon Blanc at my elbow.

Astrid and Veronika is a special brand, a rainy afternoon, a sofa novel and fittingly, it came to be in my bookshelf because of a surprise friendship - also very short in physical proximity but deeply satisfying. My friend wandered through my life as Veronika does Astrid’s and tonight, nearly a year since we saw each other last, she nests securely in my heart.

Film: I Am Not Scared

Category: Books and Movies

Sometimes it’s good when films come on the TV that we’ve seen already. Especially on evenings where the television landscape has more in common with a desert than an entertainment medium.

Like last night[1].

I’m Not Scared directed by Gabriele Salvatores is truly one of my favorite films. This morning looking for something to help me convince you not to miss it, I found the slightly misleading trailer. It’s not a fast-paced action film, it is a story about right and wrong, beautifully filmed and lovingly told with plenty of deep, patient, breath[2] for your imagination and that great Italian width for your eyes.

The main characters, Michele and Filippo are two boys who come across as having vastly more courage than most of the rest of us put together, but who, on second glance are only doing what we all wish we could, still - what we all wish we could still do.

They are childish in the important ways, the ways many of us, and maybe some of our children even, have lost. They don’t already know so they are open and willing to entertain any possibility. They are curious with no interest in judging, still they know right from wrong and they struggle to act appropriately.

If that sounds like a lot to ask of ten year-olds, the film asks us adults to consider why exactly, the children get it so right while the grown-ups have it all wrong? What are those essential qualities we lost when we gave up our childish ways?

What do you think? Have you seen I’m Not Scared? Did you love it? Hate it? Let’s talk in the comments.

[1] Last night was a clear example of why my grandmother regularly referred to the-box-in-the-corner-of-the-room as either “the idiot box” or “the boob-tube” (less for the number of breasts shown on an average evening, although that was the 60’s and Americans were more anatomy-tolerant than we are now, no, she used it more in the sense of the dictionary definition

[2] Typos happen, it’s true, but in fact I meant breath not breadth. Thanks for keeping an eye on me.

Tiny Hack to the Octopress Isolate Command

Category: Creatives, Octopress, for

Firstly: Hello! to new subscriber Paul. <enthusiastic waving> Welcome!!

Nextly: Hi Reader, have you been around Octopress awhile? Know what you’re doing? I added the shortcut path just for you.


The Laughingmaus has been around since 2002 and slowly but surely my build times were raining on my parade. I’m one of those bloggers who has to try out photos and edit and read aloud and edit some more, then get a cup of coffee while my site built so I could begin all over again.

Octopress to the rescue with the isolate/integrate commands. Damned if I could get them to work though. No matter what I tried, my _stash folder remained stubbornly empty.

It took me awhile to figure out that my pain-point was the way that I daintily sort my posts into folders by year.

Solve This Problem

Have a look here: In your Rakefile search for the “isolate” function (mine started on line 169). There is that bad boy:

Dir.glob("#{source_dir}/#{posts_dir}/*.*") do |post|

You see out there just before the “do” command? The original code is asking for the isolate function to move *.* (anyfilename.anyextension). But a directory is not a file in that sense so let’s change the move specification to * which is broader and includes folders.

Dir.glob("#{source_dir}/#{posts_dir}/*") do |post|

And, in case you are curious, “#{posts_dir}/*” tells the isolate function to include everyeverything in the posts_dir folder. And, the posts_dir variable is specified towards the top of your Rakefile. The default is _posts.

Ok, now you’ll need to do this to the “integrate” function too, it’s just a few lines down from isolate in your Rakefile. The original reads:

FileUtils.mv Dir.glob("#{source_dir}/#{stash_dir}/*.*"), ...

And you are going to change yours to…?

FileUtils.mv Dir.glob("#{source_dir}/#{stash_dir}/*"), ...

You had probably already seen the pattern, hadn’t you? It’s the same as above and you’re going to change it in the same way to achieve the same effect: the moving of directories as well as files back into your posts_dir (_posts) when you are finished.

And finally, the only trick to this is that you should keep your recent posts in the _posts directory and wait to file them in the year directory until you are relatively sure you won’t be editing them anymore. The reason for this is that the command above can only move an entire folder. It doesn’t search the folder and move the file it finds out for editing.

Octopress for Creatives

Is a long ignored section of this blog. I hope to change that this summer. Please tweet me (@laughingmaus] or send me a mail if you are a creative with enough technical knowledge to think it might be interesting and fun to walk away from Wordpress and Co. Knowing that a real human being is waiting does shift priorities.

What Everybody Knows, Someone Had To Say

If you are reading about software hacks on my blog, it is not illogical for me to mention that: The * symbol is a basic regular expression and retains its meaning of “every-everything” all over the command line. So, if you’re a newbie to tech matters, and you might well be if you are still reading, I’ll add this friendly warning that back-in-the-day I was very grateful to have been given in advance: Think long and hard before using * with the rm command.

And ok, now you might be thinking that * gone wrong can rain embarrassment down on your head and you’d be right. But that’s what it’s all about, and I hope you won’t even think about slowing down over a little embarrassment. Just keep on experimenting and testing your limits and the limits of your tools and the next thing you know the moment is gone and forgotten - and you, brave reader, are permanently smarter.

Kelly Writers House TV - Brunch With TC Boyle

Category: Inspiration

It all starts with Al Filries, Kelly Professor and much more at the University of Pennsylvania, asking TC Boyle how he stays so trim.

I have the metabolism of a weasel. A weasel. That’s what does it. I have a lot of energy. I mean, I don’t know about you people, but I wake immediately and spring out of bed with the names of my enemies on my lips. Every day.

Let the fun begin. The rest of the interview overflows with all that energy. TC Boyle reads from his books, answers questions of readers, and points a generous hint-finger towards his writing processes. Al, as always, the perfect host, takes care that the audience has time for their questions (unlike the way things usually go when audience questions are saved for last). There is no lack of inspirational writing-inspiration talk. It’s worth the sixty-six minutes you’ll spend the first time around, and to be honest, I was happy to give another hundred ninety-eight minutes to watch it again and again.

The link is below, don’t miss the rest of the fun.

My Favorite Moment

“And again”, TC Boyle said “I’m repeating myself for the students, I’m sorry. I hope you’re not too bored. If you’re bored back there, you heard this yesterday, do your math homework, ok?”

“They don’t take math classes.” Al said this softly but clearly into his microphone and we all laughed, but underneath the words and their arguable truth, you can hear conviction and loyalty and staying-power. It’s Al doing what Al does: sharing always his unshakable belief that this thing we do with literature, with poetry, this, is not lesser.

Maybe it’s even better? I imagine him suggesting with a daring twinkle in his eye.

Here is the link: Kelly Writers House TV: Brunch with TC Boyle. Enjoy yourselves. If you’re looking for me, this afternoon. I’ll be writing.

There is great pleasure in making art. - TC Boyle

More about:

And Then? No Way!

The “South Park” co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone talk about storyboarding and have a nifty trick for checking that Story is moving along and not just standing around on it’s own tail. Six minutes and six seconds. You know you were gonna procrastinate another twenty anyway…

Click On, Writers!

Get More: www.mtvu.com

The Finished Product

One of those days when it’s good to be me.

Markt Stories - Autumn Tomatoes

Category: This is My Life

Yeah. And that’s only half of them! Mmmm.

What are the wonderful things about Autumn? The harvest; the last really warm rays of sunshine; the apples and pears; the anticipation of brussels sprouts and snow – and the tomatoes.

If you don’t live here in the heart of Southern Germany, you might not know that of all the things you can’t plan, the one thing you can is that you can’t plan the Samstagsmarkt. And especially you can’t plan mio bello Italiano who usually, but only usually and in no way always - and really without warning, towards the end of the season sells the last tomatoes for €1/kg.

“Si, si, Signora, maybe oooonly this week. Maybeeee next week too?” The answer to my hopeful question is accompanied by an expansive Italian shrug and he smiles confessionally, “I can not tell. I do not know. You know what is tomorrow?”

Saturday was the third week this year and the Roma tomatoes are lovely but they are small. Suspiciously small. Like they may be the last ones for real this time. So, even though I have a few jars put up already it was in a measured moment of panic that I heard the words “What do two flats weigh?” fall from my mouth.

And the sun came out for just a minute to warm my neck before a blast of Northern wind blew my hair over my face and dried leaves rustled winterly. I handed over my money feeling secretive and pleased. Taking my tomatoes I find myself actually beginning to look forward to winter, to chili, to porcupines and spicy tomato soup on a Sunday afternoon.

Bucking the System

In the past, I’ve tried buying my tomatoes the American way and reserving a given weight of them “for next week” so that I could organize helpers and jars. But then, when I arrive next week I find my usually laughing, sometimes singing Italiano, arms on his nearly empty table looking desolate – a little pile of lemons, an even smaller pile of red onions, and three green peppers arranged artfully to look like more - or to look like less, I’m never sure - in front of him.

I pull up looking innocent, and I thank him generously, innocently even, for keeping my reserved tomatoes somewhere under the table.

“Ohhhhhh, sorry!” (shaking head) “I’m so sorry, Signora.” He holds his hands helplessly in the air and looks first to the left and then to the right.

Clearly another customer had already been there, some few moments earlier than I, and spying my reserved tomatoes under the otherwise empty table, must have offered him an admirable sum of gold … surely I understand? Maybe I had been detained? Maybe my reserved tomatoes would rot, unloved and unsold under the otherwise empty table. One never knows…

I am the sheriff and he the well-intentioned, bumbling bad guy. Genre: Spaghetti Western. Where’s my poncho?

Consequences of Bucking the System

Following a performance like that, I must, of course, punish mio bello Italiano (and my dinner table!) by simply ignoring him for a while. It would not do to act as though I was less than desperately disappointed, as if I hadn’t trusted him - as if there wouldn’t be nights, in the dark, freezing winter when we would wrap our paltry shawls about our shivering wheelchairs and peer into our empty pantry wishing only for una piccola spaghetti

Yes, I must play by the rules or risk my entire professional relationship with mio bello Italiano and playing by the rules means no “Good Morning”s, no gay waves on my way home, not even a coolish glance at his wares. At least not for awhile. Not until he has huge piles and crates full of sweet oranges and that won’t be until around Christmas. Then, protocol allows me to drive closer and look tempted. The next week I may deign to buy one or two delicacies from him and so on and so forth until we have patiently built our vendor/customer relationship back to normal by the end of January.

The Germans say: Die klügere gibt nach (the clever person walks away). It is their version of Discretion being the better part of Valor and let me tell you, after all that, and because I really like mio bello Italiano, it’s just feels more clever to throw my hands in the air, look left, look right and buy now! I’ll arrange help & jars later.