Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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No one ever calls her “Mrs. Hitler”

A novel of the legacies that outlast war

“Wars don’t end when the shooting stops,” wrote author Betsy Woodman in her astute — and generous — review of The Munich Girl.

Deep in research now for her next novel, which is set in WW I, Betsy notes that, “In the fields of Belgium and Northern France, people are still being killed by accidentally unearthed bombs—from World War I.”

Eva Braun and her older sister, Ilse, with their father in his WWI uniform.

“We also continue to process World War II—in books, in movies, in the care and tending of monuments—and in our hearts,” she wrote. “Along with the more visible damage, war creates mysteries that leave people feeling uneasy and incomplete. Confusion and grief may particularly affect the war brides who leave home with their foreign soldier husbands, and curiosity about their parents’ past may nag at the children of such marriages.

Author Betsy Woodman

“In Ring’s thought-provoking The Munich Girl, Anna Dahlberg is the child of just such a war marriage. Her mother had both British and German heritage; her dad was an American soldier. We first see Anna in 1995, choked with panic in her airplane seat and clutching a handkerchief embroidered with a four-leaf clover. Mysteries abound: what earlier trauma has produced this state? Why is Anna headed for Germany? What will she unearth in her exploration of events that started over half a century ago?

“Foremost in Anna’s mind is the question, was her mother really a close friend of Adolf Hitler’s mistress (and wife for 40 hours), Eva Braun?

The Munich Girl is not always comfortable to read. Hearing Hitler referred to as “Adi” in conversation will make some readers squirm. Until they think—well, even villains have someone who loves them. In life, as in fiction, so much is a matter of point of view. The reader is invited to stretch and understand people like Eva Braun, who don’t usually arouse much sympathy.

“Ignorance of one’s past and of the people in it can leave a person feeling frustrated, baffled, and empty. Knowledge and reconnection are the cure. The Munich Girl is about healing, rediscovery, and finding one’s way out of the darkness into a bright future. Phyllis Edgerly Ring’s international perspective and deep sympathy for human beings shine through in this unorthodox and subtle tale.” ~ Betsy Woodman

Eva Braun was born 106 years ago today. “Did she really love him? How could she ever love him?” are questions I hear frequently about the woman who became “Mrs. Hitler” for the last day and a half of her short life. Ironically, even though marrying him was the greatest desire of her heart, no one ever calls her “Mrs. Hitler” now.

Anna, the book’s narrator, grew up eating family meals under her father’s war-trophy portrait of Eva Braun.

Fifty years after the war, she discovers what he never did—that her mother, Peggy, and Hitler’s mistress had a secret friendship, and a friendship filled with secrets.

The story begins to unfold for Anna with the discovery of a mysterious monogrammed handkerchief and the arrival of a man named Hannes Ritter, whose Third-Reich family history is entwined with her own.

The pathway of this novel’s story dropped many clues in front of me, two of the biggest, a handkerchief just like the one Anna finds — and the portrait of Eva Braun, which, somehow, found me, too.

Find more about The Munich Girl: A Novel of the Legacies that Outlast War here:

http://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/B01AC4FHI8

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So great a favor

 

Photo: Kathy Gilman

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

It is through the power of the soul that the mind comprehendeth, imagineth and exerteth its influence, whilst the soul is a power that is free.

The mind comprehendeth the abstract by the aid of the concrete, but the soul hath limitless manifestations of its own.

~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

I have lots of wonderful company these days, as I ponder the mysteries of inspiration and creative process while I also pursue some new writing work. The pathway of The Munich Girl was an eight-year journey of discovery that always reinforced the utter uselessness of expectations. It also revealed the surprising value of open-hearted expectancy. This newest work is doing much the same.

As I reread Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, I’m reminded that: “ … When you walk a path you love, there is something deeper calling you forward on it, like a beautiful question that can never be answered. In the hard times you may turn away from it, but a part of you knows you’ll always turn back because you can’t give up on what you love, even if you try.”

Author Toko-pa Turner, who has recently released a soul-nourishing book called Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home, has shared some wise words about creative process:

“In the end, I think the real work is not finding inspiration, but attuning to it. So when I’m not feeling inspired, I know somewhere along the line I’ve been distancing myself from life.

“This feeling of being separate from ‘something greater’ is usually brought about by numbing habits; so I’ll take myself to the forest and let my senses be reawoken and warmed back to life. I think pleasure is really the gateway to feeling connected and inspired.”

Hers is a reminder of just how abundant grace and guidance are, and how they long for us to meet them. Both nature and artistic life are a part of that worship.

Image: Judy Wright

As the words of St. Francis declare:

“Such love does the sky now pour, that whenever I stand in a field, I have to wring out the light when I get home.”

Lest I think myself unworthy to receive, especially a bestowal that is so abundant, in a book called Paris Talks, Abdu’l-Baha urges:

“Try with all your hearts to be willing channels for God’s Bounty. For I say unto you that He has chosen you to be His messengers of love throughout the world, to be His bearers of spiritual gifts to man, to be the means of spreading unity and concord on the earth. Thank God with all your hearts that such a privilege has been given unto you. For a life devoted to praise is not too long in which to thank God for such a favor.”

 

 

 


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Let’s talk – about what unites rather than divides

As The Munich Girl’s second anniversary rolled around last month, life brought me many opportunities for reflection. And some lovely surprises for an author.

It brought what never fails to astonish me, what a friend calls “living into a dream realized.”

I’m reminded of words from author Norton Juster that I first encountered in grade school when I read The Phantom Tollbooth:

“So many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.

“Expect everything, I always say, and the unexpected never happens.”

As I looked ahead toward 2018, I realized that my heart’s goal for the novel is that it serve as a tool for discussion about some of the vital issues facing us on humanity’s path. These certainly include gender equality, and how we build what unites us rather than feed the things that divide us — and demean us.

My hope for this story has always been that it can raise the sort of questions that invite reaching deeper into ourselves for the vision that sees beyond the misperceptions that veil us from the living reality of oneness in which, and for which we’ve been created

Then I heard from author Arlene Bice, who read and reviewed The Munich Girl very thoughtfully a year ago. She had decided to have a follow-up discussion about the novel with some book group friends, and was generous enough to share a blog post about it afterward so that I could “listen in.”

“We particularly discussed the many relationships in the book,” Arlene noted. “The intricacies of a friendship, even one that is only renewed every four years and holds secrets. … The discussion spread to our political situation today, with many comparisons made about what we, as Americans, are facing today.

“We talked about how the women of today have so much more power and the avenue to use it than in the ’30s and ’40s. Hopefully, more women will go into the political arena and truly change our country for the better.

“We spoke of how the brave women of today will no longer tolerate sexual coercion from powerful men and put shame on the shoulders of those who have taken advantage of their power.”

As I reviewed Arlene’s words, I realized that back in November of 2015 when this book published, I couldn’t have imagined all that would be current before us in these days, and the parallels readers would draw between that and themes in the book’s story. Certainly, it is set in a very tumultuous time for both Germany and the world, a time I’d venture to say we may not have explored quite deeply enough yet.

So let’s keep talking.

If you’d like me to join in, I’m happy to, via Facetime, or in-person if it’s geographically feasible. If you or anyone you know has interest in this, just let me know in the comments or at info@phyllisring.com. I also offer discounts on the book’s price for those who’d like to read and discuss it together (with or without my looming presence 🙂 .)

You can find Arlene’s post about the discussion here: https://purplestoneblog.com/2017/11/21/the-munich-girl-by-phyllis-edgerly-ring-revisited/

 


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Presence as prayer

Image courtesy of Tarot by Cecelia

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

Man is My mystery, and I am his mystery.

~ Bahá’u’lláh

We can trust that there is a knowing that is out of the realm of thoughts or emotions or circumstances. When we deeply trust, our minds open to discover what is true, regardless of what we are feeling.  

~ Gangaji

The single most important thing we can do is stop and get off the train of our own obsessive convictions and move into awareness of some sort of presence or the present time … and breathe again. That’s about as prayerful as life gets. That is about as faithful and spiritual as I mean. And everyone can relate to that.              ~ Anne Lamott

Let go of what you are not and be who you truly are. When you let go, you create space to receive more.

~ John Whiteman

Words from Michael Singer’s The Untethered Soul are also helpful:

Photo: Nelson Ashberger

“ … identify as the observer, not the experience; don’t let painful experience influence the present; you are not the thoughts you observe; a life of joy and love follows from a commitment made to a life of joy and love. Learn to live from your heart, not your ego. Take refuge in the Divine, not the temporary. Learn to control your mind rather than letting it control you. It’s just a mass of thoughts. It is possible never to ‘have’ a problem again.”

The journey that matters most to me requires that I review the events in my life for the wisdom and purpose they carry. This inventory brings questions like:

~ What are my true needs, and what is my inner “enough”?

~ How do I remember that strength, and every resource I require, arrives increment by increment, as I am ready?

~ How do I remember that inspiration and assistance will arrive, but need me to ask for them, acknowledge that I need them, and be willing to receive and act upon them?


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A story of many kinds of homecomings

A highlight for me as my novel, The Munich Girl, came into the world was my return to the first place in Germany where my family lived when I was a child.

On the cloudy November afternoon that the book published, I faced the Main River in the tiny village of Dorfprozelten and offered my thanks at the grave of Herr and Frau Geis, who shared their house with my family back in the early 1960s.

It was because my military family lived “on the economy” with them that my sense of myself as a citizen of the world began so early. The fact that my family established close ties with German people in post-war Europe also inevitably led me to want to understand the experience of Germans themselves during the war.

I’d never have imagined that this path would take me through Hitler’s living room as it drew me into the life of his longtime mistress, later wife, Eva Braun.

“How will you ever get readers past the fact that it’s her – that she’s such a large part of the story?” is a question I grew used to hearing.

I wouldn’t. I knew that from the start. Readers would embark on that particular journey only if they were willing to.

This story in no way seeks to exonerate or “redeem” her, Rather, she makes a good motif for looking at the ways in which many people, women in particular, suppress our own lives – or often don’t even claim those lives fully at all.

The story of The Munich Girl is about many things, including, of course, Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun, and many facets of history from the time of the war in Germany. It is also about the power of friendship, and the importance of our often ignored and overlooked inner life, without which our world careens increasingly out-of-balance, as it did in those wartime days.

Much like the book’s protagonist, Anna, I repeatedly experience what invites me to look beyond what I think I know, and have understood about life. The process of uncovering the story has helped me remember many kinds of homecomings, spiritual and material, that life brings to us.

At its heart, it’s a story about outlasting that chaos and confusion that unavoidably visit us, in both public and private wars. We seem to do that by valuing, and believing in, the stronger possibility in all of the good that we are willing to contribute to building together.

Part of our ability to do that, I’ve come to believe, rests in being able to recognize that human beings aren’t usually all good, or all bad, but a complex mix of where our experience, understanding, and choices have led us.  As one character in The Munich Girl observes: “Sometimes, we must outlast even what seems worse than we have imagined, because we believe in the things that are good. So that there can be good things again.”

Eight years ago when the process of this book began, I also couldn’t have imagined what those words might come to mean in the atmosphere of our world today. I thank every reader who’s giving the book time, and also offering thoughtful reflection that helps me to continue learning from the pathway of this story, every day.

More about The Munich Girl: https://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987


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The Munich Girl and Nazi Germany – and now

Photo montage courtesy of Patricia Mueggler.

 

As I landed back in the U.S. from a span of time in Europe, I received this kind message from writer Stephanie Villegas:

“Just wanted to let you know that my latest blog post was a list of the best WWII books (for Middle & YA readers) and your book The Munich Girl is on the list.”

I am honored that the novel has been recommended this way, and it’s in great company on that list –

http://easypeasyfiction.blogspot.com/2017/10/25-best-wwii-books-for-middle-grade-and.html

Discovering the “Girl” on a library shelf in Kendal, UK.

Stephanie’s blog is well worth visiting for some intriguing posts, too, especially one about what sort of very human lives we need to see better represented in fiction. Be sure to look for some of her own short stories while you’re there.

As I revisited the trail of The Munich Girl over these last weeks, I spent a lot of time reflecting on what my experience with writing the book revealed for me, and what I continue to discover now.

Many readers, both in their questions and their reviews, draw parallels between the historic time frame of the novel and the events and atmosphere of our own time.

Fun and new friends in Munich.

Earlier this year, I enjoyed an interview with author Elizabeth Horton-Newton, whose good questions led me to exploring some of my own reflections on this, especially as they relate to the imbalances playing themselves out (and quite intensely!) all around us:

  1. You’ve chosen a very unusual subject to write about. How did you come up with the idea for The Munich Girl?

My original intent was (and remained) to explore more about the lives of everyday Germans during WWII. When life led me to information about Eva Braun, it opened up whole new questions, particularly because she came from a background of everyday Germans – not what many would expect to be Hitler’s choice at all.

When the question: “What if you had known Eva Braun, but hadn’t known the role she played in his life?” arose, the story’s momentum became unstoppable for me. A number of people actually did have this experience with her, didn’t find out the truth of her situation until after her death, because she was required to remain an invisible secret in Hitler’s life. That way, he could sustain the adulation he received through the myth that “his bride was Germany”.

 

  1. Did you anticipate the amount of research you would need to do? How did you decide where to begin?

Because my interest had been hooked, I welcomed the research process. I stumbled into this focus because, as I sought to understand the experience of German people during the war, the very first book I read was about Eva Braun.

The author pointed out that Braun’s experience with Hitler mirrored Germany’s. First he seduced them, then abandoned them, and finally, led them into destruction.

Through further reading, I gained a more complete view of the time period in Germany, and of the world Eva Braun inhabited. I then I began to study her films and photographs more closely, since photography was such an essential part of who she was. It’s why we have such personal visual records of Hitler, and many of her images reveal a lot about the tone and circumstances of her life, too.

  1. As you did your research did your feelings about the real people, Eva Braun, Hitler, any others, change? In what way?  

As I learned more about Hitler than I’d ever want to, it was unmistakable how flawed his psyche and personality were. Textbook narcissistic personality disorder, later compounded by the erratic results of a mixture of unstable drugs.

But once you get beyond the significant inaccuracies published about Eva Braun over the years, you find a more rounded and humane personality, one whom many credible sources even admired.

She was dismissed by historians as unimportant when, in fact, as one German biographer noted, she holds the key to better understanding Hitler.

But only if we’re willing to allow that, in addition to behaving monstrously, he was also human. For some, that idea’s still something like heresy.

However, a paradox that I think could tell us a lot about our present imbalances of inequality is that the very sorts of caring, nurturing qualities that the Nazis sought to demean and suppress were exactly what Hitler came home to Eva Braun for.

One question for me is, when, and how, will we find the collective will to value and honor these qualities in both genders, and all situations?

It is the devaluing of them that has allowed, and continues to allow, atrocities like the Holocaust to happen.

You can find Elizabeth’s full interview, along with her review of the book here:

https://elizabethnnewton.com/2017/02/17/the-munich-girl-by-phyllis-edgerly-ring/


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Time for our new story

Image: Judy Wright

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

The Earth and your own soul require you to live magnificently and fiercely; it is time for a new story.

~ Mary Reynolds Thompson, author, Reclaiming the Wild Soul: How Earth Landscapes Restore Us to Wholeness

In the morning when you wake up, reflect on the day ahead and aspire to use it to keep a wide-open heart and mind.

At the end of the day, before going to sleep, think over what you’ve done.

If you fulfilled your aspiration, even once, rejoice in that.

If you went against your aspiration, rejoice that you are able to see what you did and are no longer living in ignorance.

This way you will be inspired to go forward with increasing clarity, confidence, and compassion. 

~ Pema Chödrön

Grandmother Twylah1912545_715883631833593_4178046946350743142_n

Seneca Grandmother Twylah Nitsch

One of the first things Seneca children learned was that they might create their own world, their own environment, by visualizing actions and desires in prayer.

The Senecas believed that everything that made life important came from within. Prayer assisted in developing a guideline toward discipline and self control.

~ Twylah Nitsch, Seneca

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going.

What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.

~ Thomas Merton

Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.

Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.

 ~ Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching