Monday, November 16, 2009

My German Life: Is the Air Thinner Up Here?

I haven't been blogging much lately. I could think of a host of excuses. I've been plagued a lot with the feeling that the world has nothing new to offer me, and I certainly have nothing to give to the world any more. But mostly, I've grown tired of my own voice; I have to listen to that whiny bitch in my head all the time anyway, and listening to her rants on a computer screen is sometimes more than I can handle. So I've turned to fiction lately; I've been working on a story and still have a hard time erasing my own voice from it and creating an entirely new voice for my protagonist. Perhaps I need to try nonfiction, and so for this blog entry I will turn to history, or at least to my own musings about it.
This past week we traveled to the Bavarian Alps for a few days. We enjoyed the luxury of one of the military's premiere resorts, Edelweiss, set at the foot of the alpine mass that holds Zugspitze, Germany's highest peak. It really was breathtakingly lovely there. My husband is from Colorado and therefore believes nothing holds a candle to the Rocky Mountains. I beg to differ; the Alps are stunning because they rise up out of nowhere; we are practically at sea level in Germany, and the almost 10,000 foot peaks are a sharp contrast. There are no miles of plains, plateaus and foothills leading up to them, and so their appearance is a wonderful surprise when the viewer beholds their snow-capped splendor jutting out of green valleys where the villages lie.
We took a cable car up to the top of Zugspitze and gazed over four countries: Innsbruck, Switzerland straight ahead, Italy and Austria surrounding. It was a heady moment, I felt delirious with the beauty that no words could describe, and slightly breathless from the high altitude. It's hard to think clearly up there.
The next day we traveled to the famed Neuschwanstein Schloss, the castle that inspired Cinderella's abode at Disney World. We spent time touring the castle and learning about Ludwig II, the king who designed it. I felt a kinship with Ludwig immediately. Those who know his story will laugh, for he is often called "Mad King Ludwig." I certainly can claim my share of crazy. As many southern writers have noted, simply being born in the Deep South entitles one to claim insanity, there's always a few crazies in the bloodline. But back to Ludwig, he sort of fell into his reign at age 18 when his father passed, and he was utterly unprepared for it. He was a romantic to his very core, and he attempted reforms but since he had a parliament to wrestle with, he found his plans mostly thwarted. And so, like most of us, he just gave up. Retreated. It's so much easier to escape, and so he focused on art, poetry, opera. He had fabulous castles constructed, such as Neuschwanstein, which he had frescoed in scenes from Wagner's operas. Tristan and Isolde, Guinevere and Arthur; they haunt his halls with all their tragic passion. Ludwig seemed to be madly in love with the unattainable. He wanted his cousin, Elisabeth, but she was married to the Emperor of Austria. All of this wanting and not getting seems to have sent Ludwig into quitter's mode. He held no court, entertained no guests, was engaged to another cousin but broke it off. He began to sleep during the days and spend the nights awake wandering the countryside, engaging in sport, or gambling away the royal coffers. An eccentric recluse, he stopped caring about taking part in government or producing an heir or any of the normal offices of a king.
Life is most often a slow toiling away for us as adults. There is a lot of daily grind and very few mountaintop experiences. For some of us, this threatens to depress the hell out of us; I am one of those who'd rather just escape. This isn't an answer to any of our challenges, however. Be you Bavarian king or just a housewife, abdication really is not an option.
In the end, Ludwig was deposed from his throne on unproven charges of insanity. One day he went walking with his goverment-appointed physician and never returned. His body and that of the physician were found on the bank of Lake Starnberg. Suicide or assassination? There was never any conclusion. HIs beloved cousin Elisabeth lamented, "he was just an eccentric living in a world of dreams, they might have treated him more gently."
Sometimes the world will not treat us gently; sometimes we won't treat ourselves gently. But then there will come a moment when everything around is blinding beauty and clarity as far as the eye can see. The air will feel thinner, but the struggle to breathe will make everything feel more intense. For a moment you will be suspended, floating in that highest of clouds. Hold to that moment. A moment like that can carry you through the grind, and remind you that life is still worth living.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Through yellow eyes you watch me,
you Omen of worse things to come
knowing there's poison in this cup
but blinking your silent assent
There are worse ways to go.

You slink away through iron fences
leave me to wonder about lost spaces
all the lampglow from other windows
simple chit-chat or hearts breaking.

Tick, tick, tick sings the insect above.
I take another drag and pollute
but the wind joins me, erases me.

Yellowed leaves twist, break their necks,
and fall.

Go Home. Go. Run Home, the wind whispers.

But I can't remember where it is.

On the Other Side of Anger

I was feeling the pang of each contraction,
the muscle-clenching, grunting, hissing pain
and I couldn't stop to analyze my rage
I could only struggle, kicking the hands
supporting my knees, squeezing the fingers
I could reach, digging nails deep until I drew blood.

It wasn't cruelty, just the longing to survive
that made me fight so hard, and the need to protect
what was mine, what I had come so far for.
I felt myself drowning in the waters, something
Was twisting chord-tight and I felt frantic
reaching for him, my prize, and finding only water.

I woke up, there was no pool surrounding me,
just sweat in the small hollow between my breasts.
I saw sheets and coverlet all crumpled in a mass
and realized I had been kicking against invisible goads.
I looked for an enemy, to fear, to fight,
and found only another warm body in my bed.

I exhaled.

Inhaled at the realization: I'm not afraid anymore.

I press palms in prayer. Close my eyes.