let them eat cake

When I was in the eighth grade, our class was told that the time had come to choose a foreign language. Our high school offered German, French, and Spanish, so we would spend a third of that year studying each one. That way, our teachers explained, we could make an informed decision about which language we wanted to spend the next couple of years studying in more depth. At the end of the year I decided for German.

There were a lot of reasons involved in my decision, but the most convincing was the one reason no one ever believed when I explained it to them: for me, German had been the easiest. Sure, Spanish had a reputation for being the easiest (for English native speakers anyway) and French had a reputation for being the prettiest. But there was something very logical about the way the German language worked that appealed to me, that made it click in my brain in a way that Spanish and French did not. It didn’t hurt that I liked the German teacher the best of the three either.

Of course, more detailed study of the German language eventually revealed a number of complexities and irritants (helloooo adjective endings) that would make it seem anything but easy. But to this day I am still struck by the simplicity of the logic behind many German words, particularly the compounds that I have previously described as being a lot like playing with Legos. For those of you who aren’t familiar with German grammar stylings I will sum it up for you: you can invent a new word by pasting two words together, and many standard words are compounds whose definitions a little bit of creative luck can reveal without cracking a dictionary. I loved it then, and even now I often find myself getting excited over the new compound words I meet on German pages. Brilliant! I grin to myself. It just makes so. much. sense!

Most German compounds are completely self explanatory. German’s notorious longest word—Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitin—means just what its components mean when translated directly (a Donau steam boat captain), and this is how the majority of compounds work. But there are others, many of which I have already described, whose combination reveals something more subtle and interesting, a perspective from which (I assume) someone must have seen the world when the word first came into use.

Which brings me to my new favorite word. Being prego, I’ve been learning new vocabulary left and right. Pregnancy just isn’t a topic that gets covered in a standard German class, useful though being able to talk about it might prove to be for many. Like any new specialty subject I have suddenly found myself needing to talk about, I’ve had to start from scratch with vocabulary. At the beginning I stutter a lot, my lack of knowledge leaving big holes in conversations where those words should be. At the beginning, a lot of conversations end with the words, “Oh never mind.” But then, bit by bit I look up the words that I find myself needing the most—a quick dictionary flip before a doctor’s appointment or a chat with my midwife—and things start getting easier.

During my pregnancy-related vocab-cramming, I came across a compound that sounded kind of funny. Mutterkuchen. (Literally, mother cake.) What could that be? It sounded like the fluffiest, most delicious cake your mother ever baked. I tried to guess at the meaning, though now I can no longer remember if I got it right. (If you want to take a guess yourself, do it before continuing to the next paragraph.)

When I finally looked it up and found out Mutterkuchen means “placenta” I laughed out loud—of course “mother’s cake” would refer to the part of a women’s body that feeds a baby while in utero. This is the part of German that I love, that still can make me grin and get me excited about grammar and language in general. Mutterkuchen instantly became my favorite German word, an honor previously held by the words Schnürsenkel (shoe lace) and Schmetterling (butterfly). Do you have a favorite word, whatever the language?

This post was originally published on Young Germany.

Friday December 16th 2011, 10:30 am 9 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,expat life,germany,words, writing

new magazines for new escapologists

When I was a kid I subscribed to the magazine Ranger Rick. Though I have no more than a general recollection of the magazine’s contents (nature and animals and “saving the environment”) I can only assume that reading it every month had some effect on my environmental consciousness because when I finished each issue I would feed the pages to the dog. This, I thought, was a way to recycle paper much more satisfyingly direct than sending it off to the recycling plant. Feed the dog a page, get a pile of poop in the garden. Our dog also liked to eat paperclips and thumbtacks, but they came out the other side intact, which, perhaps, provided an even more important lesson in environmental consciousness. I once fed the same dog an entire issue of National Geographic in one sitting.

Since then I’ve dabbled in magazine readership without making any lasting connections. I’ve read my share of Rolling Stone and CMJ standing beside the racks at Borders. I have a pile of Rolling Thunder issues on my shelf that I’ve never read. I have a squeaky new subscription to Yes! Magazine because I’d like to write for them. And tragically, but predictably, as a teenager I had a subscription to Seventeen, which I read religiously and then removed from my life with equal intensity after finding myself thoroughly over pubescent acceptance mongering.

And then I found The New Escapologist. The New Escapologist! I read their blog and I ordered an issue of their magazine. That issue came in the mail, and after I read it I wanted to scream their name from the rooftops. THE NEW ESCAPOLOGIST! It’s a magazine so good that I immediately went to their website, ordered every issue they’ve ever published AND subscribed. I may not agree with every article (this month’s issue is about Bohemians, with whom I have my qualms), but every article is brilliantly written. That’s right, BRILLIANTLY. Intelligent writing, humor, and articles covering everything from beards to Bohemian escapology? Please excuse me while I retire to the powder room for a cold shower.

What is Escapology?
It’s about deftly avoiding the potential traps of modern life: debt, stress, unrewarding work, bureaucracy, marketing, noise and over-government. It’s about embracing freedom, anarchy and absurdity. It’s about overcoming miserliness, passive-aggression, mauvaise foi and submission. Escapology asks you to consider the circumstances in which you would most like to live and encourages you to find a way of engineering them.

Which is to say, these folks are Gorillas. Sure, we have our differences, but I like that. Anarchy, absurdity, and freedom? Now those are three words I can live by. Tattoo them on your chest, put them in your pipe and smoke ‘em, and visit their website immediately and order a subscription of your own.

Friday April 22nd 2011, 7:00 am 8 Comments
Filed under: books,conspiracies,words, writing

on writing

I started writing my first novel when I was nine or ten years old. It was a horror story about a child with a stuffed dog who started talking to her, plotting things with her behind her worried mother’s back. I don’t remember much about it. I do remember my father telling me that he liked it, that it was nice and creepy, and that he was very sad, years later, when I told him I destroyed the journal it had been written on in one of my journal destroying rages (a storm that hits about once every ten years).

Recent events have led me to the conclusion that it is necessary for me to begin dabbling in fiction writing again. What this will mean for the rest of my writing, well, hell, I guess we’re all going to find that out together. What I’ve already found out though, through the course of the day, is that I’m rusty, though the springs remain in working order.

When I burnt out on fiction, well, that was in college. That was when I burnt out on a lot of things: Ridilin, Aderol, mary j, academia, writing. My senior year I took a travel writing class that inspired me, that reminded me that once upon a time I had liked writing. But by the end of my thesis and that year I was dreaming of raising peanuts and llamas in South America, of teaching English in the Marshall Islands, of anything that would get me far, far away from the barbed-wire-lined towers of all that was academic.

Instead I started a job proofreading at a local publishing company two weeks after graduation and quickly drowned my desire to write in tired computer-screen eyes and the extra commas in the layouts of custom health publications. When I got home I went running, and after I went running I fell into bed to read, too exhausted for creativity. (Sidenote: I find that my level of creativity drops the more sports I do. Running I can empty my mind. Thus emptied, nothing remains for the page.)

It was in Germany that I was at long last reunited with my desire to combine pen to paper in a meaningful fashion, and since then I’ve been riding the non-fictional train to glory. And yet, in a world so complicated, I wonder if non-fiction is really the answer, if fiction isn’t the more capable medium for dealing with the reality we face every morning when we open our eyes.

Friday March 25th 2011, 7:12 am 7 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,words, writing

fun facts for grammatically neurotic dumpster divers

Did you know that the word “dumpster” is technically supposed to be capitalized? Like “Kleenex,” “Styrofoam,” and “Xerox” before them, the mighty Dumpster is actually a patented product name.

I don’t bother capitalizing it here because sometimes I care more about consistency (in proofing) than in correctness and because I kind of feel like product names don’t really deserve capitals. Too bad the irritating red underline that lurks from the center of my spell checker doesn’t agree. But shhh, it hasn’t heard about the word “Dumpster” just yet.

Thursday February 17th 2011, 7:10 am 4 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,dumpster diving,freegan,words, writing

my other life

It isn’t that I haven’t been writing lately. Though wagon/trailer/wheeled-house-ship repair has consumed most of my life, I am still out there writing for money two days a week. This is certainly better than not writing, but whether or not it is better than writing more amazing things for no money is up for debate (whatdoya think writer readers?). But I certainly can’t complain. I wanted to be a travel writer and here I am, getting paid to sleep in castles and tour underground tunnels in Berlin. Exclamation points for everyone!

So, in case you’ve been wondering where the hell I’ve been and what I’ve been doing there, here’s a map of my most recent work excursions.

There was a general ode to traveling in Germany: Your Destination Germany.

I went to Berlin, and then I wrote this: Hello, Berlin. (And someday I will remember to tell you all about how, while in Berlin, I also explored an abandoned amusement park. Oh was that creepy and amazing.)

Then I went to Bacharach, stayed in a castle-turned-youth hostel, and I wrote this.

I also convinced a few people to send me free books. There is nothing better than getting a free book, and then getting paid to read it and write about it and/or talk to the author and write about that. I get to read and write and have money for things like hemp insulation, and the authors get publicity. Everybody wins. This time it was Those Crazy Germans and Deutschland Umsonst.

In other news: I am almost finished moving into my wagon, and once the shock of that wears off, I will be here to tell you about it in excrutiating detail. Until then…

Wednesday August 11th 2010, 11:35 am Leave a Comment
Filed under: conspiracies,germany,gorilla travel,words, writing

fame, glory, etc

Yesterday there was an article about me in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung on the first page of the Rhein-Main section. Probably already available in your neighbor’s trash, should you like to take a look.

I don’t think I would like being famous very much. I can barely handle the disturbingly enormous picture of me that accompanies the article. Goodbye any very small chance at anonymity I still had left. Whoops.

Monday April 19th 2010, 9:10 am 8 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,words, writing

luxury what?

What is luxury exactly? Where does it begin and where does it end? What do I mean when I call something a luxury? Since posting luxury, ease, the topic has been ping-ponging incessantly around my head. I had to write about it again.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary says of luxury:

1 archaic : lechery, lust
2 a condition of abundance or great ease and comfort : sumptuous environment 3 a. something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary b. an indulgence in something that provides pleasure, satisfaction, or ease

Forget the archaic definition. But “not absolutely necessary”? I’d also use those words. As for “provides pleasure,” I’d argue that there are plenty of things that provide pleasure that are not luxuries. (Food. Sex. Laughter. Music.) The same goes for “satisfaction.”

So what is “absolutely necessary”? Not as defined by dictionaries, but by you and I. I would answer clean food, clean air, and clean water. (You might say we can and do get by on the poisoned stuff, but I think today’s cancer/asthma/etc rates thanks to pollution are less than “getting by.”) Shelter. Warmth for our bodies when it is cold.

But even on this basic level there are more questions. Where do you draw the line between luxury and necessity? How much food? What kind of shelter? There are shades of gray between them all. Between potato soup and a five-course catered feast. Between a lean-to structure and a villa. Between a thick blanket and central heating.

Another factor to consider is access. Does everyone in the community have equal access to the so-called luxury? A resource plentiful in one part of the world might be perceived as a luxury in an area where the same resource is scarce. Or something necessary to life might only be available to those with the money to buy it. (True of food, water, and shelter in much of the world today.)

And now another question: can ease be equated with luxury? Disposable plastic cups could be considered a luxury because they are not absolutely necessary. They also make an individual’s life momentarily easier (no dishes to wash). But I have a hard time thinking of a plastic cup as a luxury. Plastic cups are stupid. Plastic cups are ugly. In considering this I realized something about my own thought process: I don’t associate the word “luxury” with just any decadence, but specifically with an aesthetically pleasing decadence.

When I think of the word luxury out of context I start picturing gold-leafed molding, thick Persian rugs, crystal chandeliers, servants and champagne. And perhaps this is the problem—most people think of luxury this way, connecting it with kings and millionaires instead of recognizing it in the little things. What about water heated by nuclear power, coffee flown in from South America, out-of-season vegetables at the supermarket year round, and “disposable” plastics? Technically, these things fit the bill. Let’s call them what they are.

Saturday March 13th 2010, 9:00 pm 2 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,words, writing

friends, enemies, co-conspirators

You might have noticed that I don’t have a blog roll. This is because I don’t like cluttering up the sidebar with lists, and in a weird social-anxiety sort of way, I always felt like I couldn’t keep up with returning the favor to all the nice people who have blog rolled me.

But since I still want to promote all the bad-ass people writing good things on the internet, I thought I’d give you a blog roll in a post, and award my favorite bloggers with honorary gorilla-dom. Oh and, not to be forgotten, the legalese: I am not responsible for any content on any of the websites listed below, duh.

ten blogs preferred by gorillas everywhere

Ecowhore // This is my favorite blog on the whole wide internets. But! It is subscription-only, so go read her previous blog Hobo Stripper for a taste of the stripping/living in a van/living in the woods/alaska/diy/rewilding stories that you can expect from Ecowhore and then subscribe already.

Fish In the Water // Written by a delightful co-possessor of Stewart genetic material (what’s that word? nepotism?), this blog centers around food. Local food, seasonal recipes, starting your own organic farm (which she is in the throes of doing), post-vegan meat and cheese eating, and general gorilla-esque thoughts about life and how it could be lived.

Birds Before the Storm // Steam punk author (Steamy Punk, Mythmakers and Lawbreakers) Magpie writes about “airships, anarchism, etc” and is pretty much the only reason that I had any idea what is going on in the wider world of anarchism and activism. A hundred gorillas to you, Magpie!

I Am Not Afraid of Winter // Author of zines Dirt and Cheese and hunger, love isn’t afraid of winter, of riding freight trains, of hitch hiking across the US, or of writing about all of it. And as far as I know she is the lifelong holder of the infamous prize (that I have just invented): “best metaphor on the internets.”

Periodista Costilla // Katey Sleeveless, endless fountain of creativity, inspiration, and beautiful music and writing, posts occasional updates of her wanderings and doings here.

Love Luck Sabotage // Songs to get executed for. Dirty anti-civ folk. From the author of the now-defunct Rube Vigor.

Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness // Strangers on Strangers: “Strangers is a remarkably tiny collective dedicated to the gift economic practice and the encouragement of alternative culture.” They put out fabulous things like The Super Happy Anarcho-Fun Pages, and you can download lots of fine zines from their website for free.

Urban Scout // This is another rewilding/diy/down-with-empire blog that I was very excited to discover recently. So far it’s like reading things that I could imagine having written myself, except with a different perspective and style. Sweet.

Snarky Tofu // What writing! What adventures! What hilarity! Fucking fantastic travel blog, mostly focusing on Asia.

Lonely Girl Travels // Lauren on Lauren: ” Lauren Quinn is a travel-addicted freelance writer. She’s actually not that lonely, but does love traveling sola. Lauren is not a corporate escapee, reformed 9-5er or English teacher living in Asia—she’s a waitress, poet and former zine maker. Raised in Oakland on punk rock, malt liquor and Marxism-Leninism, Lauren has traveled independently (and once illegally) to over twenty countries across four continents.” Sweet travel writing, and on top of it, Lauren is incredibly kind to me and my writing. Back at you, Lauren.

So there. I hereby present you all with the Gorilla Award. Have a banana, a kiss, and a few of my readers.

Other neat things and people:
Wagendorf: News from all of Germany’s wagenplätze.
Hacked IRL: Hilarious street art.
CrimethInc: People who deserve lots of high fives.
Food Not Bombs: More people who deserve lots of high fives.
Literary Bohemian: Beautiful, beautiful writing. Wow.
Have You Seen This Girl: Another fellow gorilla.
Swift Sparrow Swallow: Yet another fellow gorilla.
Frugal Roo: An insane amount of information about living like a king on no money.
Letters Home: Ex-pat blogging from Hamburg.

Further nepotism:
BTA: Poetry, String Felons’ Tour Diaries, usw.
Soulgasm Records: Release and show (up)dates, if you happen to be in the Baltimore area.
Shattered Wig Press: Long live Normal’s Books and Records, Shattered Wigs, and the nights belonging to them.

If I haven’t managed to get yer website in it, just post it in the comments below. I am weary of copying and pasting links and code, and there is so much interesting shit going on on the internet that it almost gives me hope. Though perhaps what I hope most of all is that some of it lands on paper before the end of the world. Cheers.

Tuesday March 02nd 2010, 6:35 am 10 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,words, writing


Have you ever seen those dictionaries in the humor section of the book store titled “Woman-English, English-Woman” (or sometimes Man-Woman, Woman-Man)? On the escalator in the train station several days ago I saw a cardboard cutout advertising one of them from the window of the first-floor bookstore.

A pudgy, middle-aged cardboard man in a Cosby sweater stood holding a copy of Langenscheidt’s “Deutsch-Frau, Frau-Deutsch” dictionary. He was smiling, as if he’d finally been given the key to a lost civilization he’d always wanted to contact, but now knew how to conquer.

Maybe I would find these books mildly amusing—and I do assume that they are meant to be humorous—except for the fact that there is always an entry in them that goes something like this: “no means yes, and yes means no.” You’re supposed to laugh and think things like: “How true! Those crazy women! So passive aggressive! Never saying what they really mean!”

I doubt I need to actually point out to you why this is incredibly fucked up, but I will anyway. 1. It furthers the stereotype that woman aren’t capable of communicating what they want, thus leading to a tendency to not take them seriously, and 2. it furthers the fucked up mindsets of the kind of people who rape and/or abuse other people, because of course that “no” meant “yes!” I mean it must have, that’s what humorous books and television shows have been communicating to me my whole life, and we all know there is some truth to every stereotype!

Blech. Barf. Yack. And the dictionaries about men? They translate almost everything a man could possibly say into “I want to have sex.” Sigh. There is still so far to go, and I think we lost the map.

Friday February 26th 2010, 7:45 am Leave a Comment
Filed under: conspiracies,words, writing

elizabeth gilbert and the orm

The Orm is what Walter Moers calls the divine, possessed inspiration that comes over a writer when working on what will become a masterpiece. In this video—which I guarantee will interest any of my writer readers, and maybe a few others besides—Elizabeth Gilbert (who apparently wrote a best-selling book called Eat Pray Love, among other rather interesting things) talks about her relationship with the orm and re-assesses the way our culture understands creative genius.

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Sunday December 13th 2009, 7:04 am 1 Comment
Filed under: books,conspiracies,words, writing