WELCOME TO AMERICA

In my new novel, What’s Left, her mother’s grandparents sail from Patras, Greece, to America in the years just before the First World War. In contrast, her father’s side appears to have farmed the Midwest in the oblivion of forever.

In observance of Independence Day, here are images from the Library of Congress in homage to those immigrants who arrived in that period by way of Ellis Island in New York Harbor.

Greeks board rowboats to a steamer in Patras to begin their voyage to the New World.
The faces on these women still say everything.
Imagine the anxiety of approaching the registration desk, to learn if it’s yes or no or maybe.
The view of the harbor filled with hope and the unknown.
Think of all that’s left behind, too.

 

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TWO BROTHERS/BROTHERS-IN-LAW ALONG WITH TWO SISTERS/SISTERS-IN-LAW

A large Queen Anne-style house with a distinctive witch’s hat tower something like this is the headquarters for Cassia’s extended family in my new novel, What’s Left. If only this one were pink, like hers.

Centering the story of my new novel, What’s Left, in a Greek-American family required me to consider just what each member might have undergone in the years from arriving in the New World up to her father’s introduction to her mother. (Or more accurately, before her father-to-be meets her mother-to-be.)

While creating a suitable scenario presented a fascinating challenge, I did have to start wondering just why Cassia herself – or the typical young adult reader, for that matter – would have any interest in such ancient history.

I hope a hint of scandal helps, along with a few other twists, before their curiosity kicks in.

~*~

Much of the novel revolves around Cassia’s prolonged examination of old family photos – images that might amuse younger viewers or even intrigue them. Think of looking at high school yearbooks from earlier decades. Yes, those geeky hairstyles are real. As for the dress?

Any collection of family photos is bound to include birthday parties. What’s your favorite cake for the occasion?

THE SILENCE IN BEETHOVEN

When it comes to the fine arts, we love our biographies of tortured genius, and Ludwig van Beethoven serves the storytellers admirably. Baptized December 17, 1770, in Bonn, his tempestuous and tragic life was one of failed love affairs, strained friendships, and especially the deafness that accompanied his greatest musical achievements. And yet many of us find him not only speaking for us but also extending inspiration in the quest for fullness and fidelity.

In part it’s a story of the way Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven reestablish the center of classical music, centering it in the German-speaking world far from its Italian roots and the Renaissance genius of Monteverdi and Palestrina.

As I discussed earlier this year, Beethoven’s popularity rests largely on works that he wrote in the second half of his life, past the age of Mozart’s death, the years that encompass what are known as his Middle (or Heroic) and Late periods. The years accompanied by deafness.

For much of my life, I’ve not been alone in finding that what most appealed to me were the works from the Middle period – the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth symphonies, the violin and “Emperor” piano concertos, the Rasumovsky string quartets – stirring works raging with dramatic struggle and promised victory. With all of their emotional parallels to athletic contests, these have justifiably ensured his enduring public adoration.

More recently, though, they’ve given way in my estimation as the Late period works have risen in preference. Quite simply, these have never been considered all that accessible. Many of them defiantly turn their back on the audience in a pursuit of boldly intricate, often extended, musical puzzles that plumb the depths of human despair, loneliness, resolve, as well as lofty heights. Indeed, for years the assumption has been that these are not for public consumption but are rather reserved for private investigation among the cognoscenti, should they be so honored.

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AND HAVE A GOOD DAY?

In the early days of Friends, they’d often greet each other with the question, “How does Truth prosper among you?” Not “How are you doing?” or even “Good morning.”

Strikes modern ears as puzzling, even problematic, beginning with that verb prosper, which we tend to consider along financial terms rather than thrive or even proliferate. Equally unfamiliar is the idea of Truth being active – alive – rather than static and unchanging.

To further thicken the plot, consider their linkage of Truth and Christ, so the question also asks, “How is Christ alive among you?”

How would you answer that!

~*~

For more along these lines, take a look at Religion Turned Upside Down.

 

ESPRESSO FIT FOR THE GODS

With a holiday touch.
With a holiday touch.

Vittorio’s in the North End is famed for its espresso and pastries. With Mercury as one of the coffee makers, you can see why the neighborhood is also renowned as Little Italy.

Boston is a rich and varied destination – the Hub of New England, or the Universe, as they used to say. Living a little more than an hour to the north, we’re well within its orb.

UNCOVERING THE PLACE OF STRUGGLE

In his Pendle Hill pamphlet last year, Marking the Quaker Path: Seven Key Words Plus One, Robert Griswold opens with the term “condition,” which initially seems familiar enough. Quakers often remark to a comment, “This speaks to my condition,” or even “the Friend speaks my mind,” conveying a sense of unity and affirmation.

Griswold, though, gives the concept a darker twist, noting that a meaningful spiritual journey requires seeing ourselves in our places of failure and weakness rather than a state of “being in charge,” as we so often do. Think of Anne Lamott’s “three essential prayers” — Help, Thanks, and Wow — and admit a long personal list invoking the first.

I would extend that awareness of condition not just to ourselves individually but to our families and circles of faith and then the wider society. I’d say there’s great need everywhere.

This, then, leads to the subsequent steps where we turn to the Holy One and our kindred spirits for direction and growth.

Curiously, condition is not a word I find used widely in either Scripture or early Quaker literature – not directly, that is – but it does fit the situation of many people as they set out in faith as recorded in both.

Could it be that in many of our religious circles, we’ve been running away from this very difficult but essential challenge? We go to worship looking for rest and renewal, not more turmoil and suffering.

O, Lord, give us strength!

~*~

More of my own reflections on alternative Christianity are found at Religion Turned Upside Down.

RUNNING ALONG THE WATER

Deep River, Sandy Springs, Holly Springs, Goose Creek, West Branch, Back River, Clearwater. These are a few of the names of Quaker Meetings taken from bodies of water. There’s even Gunpowder, named after a river in Maryland as it runs through a town named Sparks.

For me, Stillwater itself is a special place in the hills of southeast Ohio as well as I river we used to hike along in the western half of the state.

~*~

Stillwater 1

For my reasons and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.