Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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The secret life of an ordinary Munich girl

“They called her ‘stupid cow’, though she was smart enough to capture the man she loved when everyone—he, most of all—said he’d never marry.

Considered insignificant by those around Hitler, she was one of the Third Reich’s best-kept secrets and filmed the private lives of many notorious Nazis.

Eva Braun paid a big price for the name ‘Hitler’. And in the end, it was hers only for a day, and now, no one ever calls her ‘Eva Hitler’.

Her life with the Führer mirrors Germany’s: He first seduced, then neglected and abandoned them. Finally, he led them into the jaws of destruction.”

EvaWith these words, Anna Dahlberg begins an exploration of Hitler’s infamous mistress and her friendship with Anna’s mother in my novel, The Munich Girl.

Seventy-three years ago this month, Eva Braun’s world, and life, were coming to their end as Germany succumbed to defeat and ruin. From a bunker under Berlin, she wrote her final letters, to her younger sister, Gretl, and longtime friend Herta Ostermayr Schneider.

She writes to Herta of preparing to die, and bewilderment at how things are ending, for Germany. “Greetings to all my friends. I’m dying as I have lived. It’s not difficult for me. You know that.”

On this same day, she chose an action whose significance would only be revealed later, during the war crimes trials in Nuremberg. In testimony there, a high-ranking German officer credited her with ensuring that one of Hitler’s last desperate orders had come to him, on April 22, rather than to someone who would actually carry them out.

As a result, the lives of about 35,000 Allied prisoners of war were saved. Among them were likely two relatives of mine, and a whole lot of those who were the loved ones of tens of thousands of people.

When writing fiction that includes elements of history, accuracy must always trump creative possibilities. It’s been suggested to me several times that Eva Braun’s “character” in the story might be conveyed through letters. However, her very last letter, to her younger sister, Gretl, asked that most of her correspondence be destroyed, and the remaining small amount hidden. It has yet to surface, and those who’ve tried to track it down doubt it ever will.

So, any story true to Eva Braun’s consistently private personality must reference only the handful of pieces of her correspondence that are still in existence.

And seek, as so many stories do, to find the story of a life between the lines.

Book clubs and groups who are interested in adding The Munich Girl to their schedule are welcome to inquire about discounts on book pricing.

I also love visiting with book groups via skype or, where possible, in person.

Learn more by emailing info@phyllisring.com.

More about The Munich Girl: A Novel of the Legacies That Outlast War at:

http://www.amazon.com/Munich-Girl-Novel-Legacies-Outlast/dp/0996546987/

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Time, and time again

Image: Judy Wright

It’s my pleasure to share this Guest Post — a zinging slice of flash fiction that takes an interesting temperature of these wild times we find ourselves in.

My big thanks to the writer, who’s also a wonderful sister.

 

The Blue Cupboard

by Tracey Edgerly Meloni

On my 17th birthday, while I was reveling in my Mary Quandt orange mini dress with a fifty-pound note in the pocket, Dudley disappeared into The Blue Cupboard.

Da swore years before my watch that The Blue Cupboard had transported him forward to 1967. The family in Penrith thought he was barking mad; as Uncle Willie said, “We keep mops in The Blue Cupboard, not H.G.-bloody-Wells.”

Da’s ravings about enormous protest marches, masses of hair and women burning their undergarments became ominously real in the news. I believed in him – he was all I had. Mum died having me, although I once overheard Uncle Willie stage-whisper that Da’s time-traveling lunacy was what really killed her.

Anyway, here on my 17th birthday in the real 1967, I follow Scottie Dudley into The Blue Cupboard. The door slams. All fades to black until the door opens again.

The view tells me that Da was right: just like him, I am in Washington, DC and the protest march is still going on. My outfit should fit right in.

“Dunna be so sure, Lassie.” A cartoonish, hairy Scotsman with a ridiculous brogue and awning-like eyebrows takes my arm with gloved hands, his tartan bell-bottoms and purple Edwardian coat making even me stare. Dudley?? He shrugs. “Is me tail covered?”

The Blue Cupboard took us far afield from 1967. These people must be concentration camp survivors: slashed, torn pants, ripped jackets, bald heads. Tattoos. Several have signs protesting the number of children killed in – 2018?? What the hell war is this?

Image: Judy Wright

“Groovy retro! Selfie?” says some ratty woman, throwing her arms around me and shoving a flat thing in my face. She points to a restaurant while dancing away. “Fusion – great falafel and sushi.”

Dudley and I look at each other. “Put your tongue back in your mouth,” I say. We go in. There’s a telly, telling me how spectacular sex would be if only I used the pink-and-blue gel. Then more adverts show a young woman shaving her face, an old woman flaunting her pee-pads (“Speaking of which,” says Dudley, excusing himself. . .)

Thanks to The Blue Cupboard, I’m celebrating being both 17 and 68 among strangers who’ve evidently been killing their children for half a century, while celebrating sex. I’m eating two things I hate with a Scottie dressed up like a psychedelic Dr. Who.

Da?


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The quest for breadth and depth

Photo: Liz Turner

As I dive deeper into a new writing project, I am reconnecting with the power of my relationship with my thoughts — the very narration of my days. As every one of my storyteller friends knows, narration is both a daily companion we can’t escape and a maker of meaning that we all need.

I revisited an insightful article on the topic by writer Steve Almond, which is reminding me of what’s missing in much of writing these days: an effective narrator. It reinforces for me how much I need one personally, just as my writing does.

In the cultural shifts of the last decades that turned many into viewers rather than readers, “we’ve lost our grip on the essential virtues embodied by a narrator: the capacity to make sense of the world, both around and inside us,” Almond writes.

Photo: Diane Kirkup

Narrators serve the role of portraying big things, conceptually: how individual fates collide with history. More than just awakening readers’ sympathies, they help enlarge their moral imagination as “they offer a sweeping depiction of the world that helps us clarify our role in it,” he says. The perspective that narration offers helps us make meaning of a story, and of our lives, and also find a sense of place for ourselves in the scheme of things.

In times whose only constant seems to be constant change, we need narrative more than ever, even as it’s fast disappearing. While publishing gets downright pedantic that writers “show, don’t tell,” a well-developed narrative and its vital contribution to a story, like nutrition in a diet, becomes endangered through ignorance and oversight.

Narrative is as essential in human life as purpose is. It’s the one thing that, when time is shrinking, spinning, rushing past us with ever-increasing speed, points faithfully to what is timeless. We don’t need it to spoon-feed us, naturally. But we do need its signposts.   

Almond notes that media has created increasingly passive audiences, able to absorb and react, but not to imagine. That’s a pretty low (survival-based) level of human experience. And, accordingly, the focus of a lot of current writing is on the instinctual aspects of human beings — survival or perpetuation of the species (chase scenes and preoccupation with the sexual, often voyeuristically so).

Author Nathan Rutstein predicted this more than 25 years ago. He had worked in television and other media and authored many books when he made the observation that human society was increasingly losing sight (literally, as if not seeing it) of the higher possibilities and qualities in human potential as it grew more fascinated with and gripped by materialism, both in media and in the rest of what was called culture.

Almond’s article describes the approach of most media as that of “minimizing sustained attention,” which results in a flitting, easily distracted behavior that doesn’t ever engage with any depth – becomes incapable of doing so, perhaps. That’s almost the exact opposite of what a novel (or painting or play) was designed to require and invite. Or a spiritual, contemplated life.

Reading, unlike scanning and surfing, requires involvement and commitment, both from writer and reader. The narrator, and a story’s narration, is what facilitates this, helps create a book’s world, then lends it meaning. Many books now feel as much like packaged entertainment as most commercial television, and as unsatisfying and lacking in nourishment for our inner life. Much in publishing seems to train attention on mechanics, a shock-value, attention-getting and contrived writing style and manipulative repetition of “tropes.” A  cookie-cutter approach to more of the same. So much more of the same. Preoccupation with the lower nature, particularly if a series might be wrested from it. In order to have more of the same. Where is the room for discovery, depth, mystery? Soul?

Photo: Karen Darling

Almond describes how although some current works reach for these, “still work heroically to make sense of the world,” they find themselves “on the margins of a popular culture dominated by glittering fantasies of violence and fame. On a grand scale, we’ve traded perspective for immediacy, depth for speed, emotion for sensation, the panoramic vision of a narrator for a series of bright beckoning keyholes,” he says.

We’ve bartered away the riches of our indwelling higher nature, what brings meaning and depth to life, for the indulgence and absorption of our instinctual one. In a way, that is the only aspect of human being that seems to get the attention and focus now, perhaps with a thin veneer of the intellectual applied over it, or emotion that’s dealt with mainly in sentimentality, hyper-dramatization or other superficiality.

Narrative, and the meaning it serves, can restore the breadth and depth of human experience and bring it back home whole. Ennobled.

True expression, in any form, and always, in its highest one, is incomplete without it.

Find Steve Almond’s excellent article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/magazine/once-upon-a-time-there-was-a-person-who-said-once-upon-a-time.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0


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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?