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Books and Music pt I

A while ago I wanted to write about all the fun books and new music I'd been enjoying. Six months later here I am telling all about it and it's like... brand new news! Books and music that came out 3 years (or more) ago! It might sound pathetic, but to me this is a lot of media, all accomplished while living with a toddler and gestating/nursing an infant. It's a small victory for me. It means my brain is not totally dead yet. Working at the library is a big incentive. It's like working at the ice cream parlor I would imagine. You just can't go home without at least a little bit of ice cream. I just can't go home without a book here and there. Ah, the library. You give me books and a paycheck! I love you, library.

The CDs are usually all gifts. I don't think I've bought a single CD in the last 3 years. I love you, amazon wishlist.

Get Lifted by John Legend

JohnLegendCover.jpg
I know this album was very popular and all over the video channels etc, but at least it was deserved this time. I am not judgemental in this area, I will listen to popular stuff if I like it. If this means I am forever uncool, so BE IT, I was never cool, I built my life on UNCOOL, so take that all of you... who don't really care one way or the other... yeah, ok.

Why I liked it: His voice really got under my skin although at first I didn't really see what all the fuss was about. I remember Lauren Hill once talking about how she liked Mary J. Blige, because her voice was not perfect. She also mentioned Ray Charles in that context, which helped me understand what she meant. The cracks in the voice now and then, the messiness... My adoration of Lauren Hill aside, I think she was right. It gives the performance texture and shows a very personal side. John Legend has that. It pulls you in. The album needs several runthroughs though until you really get into it. Not all songs are equally strong, but the vocals always are and for a while I really couldn't get enough. I listened to it in the car every time Veronika let me. Until the other day while listening to her perennial favorites she said: "I want mama's music. The brown one!" I'm telling you, you just gotta listen to it a few times and you'll get hooked, even if you're 3.

Why you should get it: If you like R&B, you'll like this album for sure. Good melodies, arrangements and most of the time, beats. It's sweet and emotional...

Why you should not get it: ... but it's also quite immature. If you absolutely cannot listen to a song that starts with "You can't say I don't love you just because I cheat on you" (Yes, you read that right.), you should pass. There are several songs on cheating - the album is sort of a progression from infatuation, betrayal, girlfriend finding out, making up etc. - and while I can ignore that for the sake of the catchy rhythm, the old married woman in me can't help shaking her head in disgust every time: "How dare you, John Legend! She should totally dump your ass."

Posted at 10:20 AM on August 22, 2006 | Comments (2)

Watching

NBC has this new show "Medium" about a psychic helping the police bring criminals to justice. Or "find" criminals or crimes or basically help with anything she has a dream or "feeling" about. I love the way the show is made because the episodes she sees are shown as they happen and the viewer is sort of stuck in the mystery the same way "the medium" is. I'm not much of a crime show watcher at all. I am not interested in CSI or Alias or whatever is all the rage now, but this show... is just so intriguing. Surprisingly though it's not just for the above described reasons, but for the relationship shown between the medium, who is a mother of a three and her husband. Inbetween the crime story episodes you see the two of them going through the daily stress of driving the kids to school, trying to remember who is picking up who, organizing birthday parties, dealing with school problems... all the while they are being really committed to each other and the family without the usual movie drama, not the excessive negative nor the excessive positive drama.

I have to admit I recognize myself in many of the scenes. I wonder who created that part of the story, because the timing and dynamics of the interaction of the spouses are just so accurate. Many times in movies, drama is created to serve the already mapped out progression of the story, but here it seems, the goal is just to recreate the reality of two people loving each other on a daily, non-eventful basis. They fight and they apologize and it's not a big deal and they can be honest and not, but there is the underlying constant of them knowing each other and things always end up right, not because they are "ah just so perfect for each other!" but because they are making a conscious effort. I like it. I'm surprised Hollywood can be so normal.

Posted at 12:04 PM on February 16, 2005 | Comments (1)

You can feel it all over

I got a bunch of CDs for Christmas, which is wonderful for me, because I never get to buy any CDs anymore. Partly due to lack of funds and partly because I don't have the time to keep up with what's out there. A good chunk of those CDs were Stevie Wonder albums - music I've had on my wishlist for a while and never really got to listen to. I'm still listening through all of it, it takes a while to digest 3 Stevie Wonder records.

"Songs in the Key of Life" is the longest one, including 2 CDs and I don't know how many tracks. A lot. That record is unbelievable. I feel a little silly saying this now, as it's been out for over 30 years and is considered a classic. So, it's a little bit like discovering hot water. I know I wasn't even born when that album came out, but still, I feel like I should've known more about it than its name. On the other hand, there are so many hits on that album, that actually everybody has heard it at some point. And that's the thing. This CD has so many good songs, it's almost too much to listen to at once. It takes you from bouncy happy awesome dance songs to beautiful ballads to some really serious social criticism. While some might think that's silly or chaotic, I think it actually has a lot of coherence. To sound really corny, that's how life is. Plus it's different to throw together a bunch of songs until it's enough for an album than combining songs illustrating the different very personal situations in one's life.

But most of all, the music, the songwriting is just amazing! I am so stunned someone could actually release an album like this! Nowadays I'm happy if a CD has 2-3 really good songs. But more than 10?! Some songs are 7 minutes or longer, yet you don't get tired of it. It's perfectly produced, it's rich, but not annoying, it's intense but not exaggerated...

Anyway, I will not attempt a serious review of "Songs in the Key of Life". I just had to let you know it's on my top-ten-list of favorite albums ever. Now don't ask me what the other 9 are because I never remember. But this one, it's really good. Go buy it.

Posted at 12:57 PM on February 08, 2005 | Comments (2)

More immigration angst

You might have noticed in the lower left corner is a new link to amazon.com. This is to give you easy access to the books I occasionally review on this site, which also means a tiny percentage for the souzek household. Yep, I'm totally making money off of you. There are no limits to my greed!

I wanted to review Hip Mama but I didn't like it (actually I loved the introduction, but that's it) and realized I don't really want to waste any time giving negative reviews. So I skipped that and am going straight to a book I got for my birthday and really loved. "Hidden Immigrants" are stories about sons and daughters of diplomats, missionaries and other ex-pats, who spent many years of their childhood in one or several different countries and describe in an interview format how it affected their lives. I was surprised how much I could relate although my situation was quite different (I wasn't really an ex-pat, because my family wasn't planning to return to their country.) Unfortunately there is no book about Croatian children, who grew up in Austria and then got married to goodlooking American men but in many ways the statements and experiences of these people are very close to mine.

The author writes about ex-pat children growing up to be in some ways "detached" from their communities because they have learned to stay on the surface: "... they are not joiners and are often most happy in their own company, they vote but are otherwise political observers, they are not blindly patriotic and in fact the notion of patriotism in any form bothers some a great deal. [...] They don't like being pinned down on that "where are you from?" question."

It was a strange feeling of relief to read that. I just didn't know that this is really that common. It feels good to get acknowledgement from a completely unbiased source. Oh that "where are you from" question! I dread it although it can't be avoided and I know I need to be asked that, because it is so much part of me, but still. With every country and every culture you build a new identity. It is a necessity to do that not only to survive in the culture but also to be able to relate to the people you are living with. Now as you move, you leave that life and those people behind and that identity stays with you, but in a sort of unused state. It usually describes an exact time of your life, of your past and you take it along but the new people you meet, your new surrounding has no knowledge of it whatsoever... so in a way you yourself are the only one, who has been around for all the changes for all new created identities. Only you are your only witness to how you were this in this place and then became that in the other and so forth. I think that's one of the big reasons why she says "they are often most happy in their own company". It is a lot of work trying to convey who you are when you have moved so much. There are so many pieces of the puzzle and although they are essential they can not be communicated. So what you do is stick to the identity that works in your current environment and the rest you might tell someone who really is ready to be a lasting friend. That gets tiring sometimes and so it's essential to stay away from people occasionally so you can be your full self without having to do much explaining.

One of the interviewed people said something that really really hit home for me:
"One of the things I've learned about myself from Global Nomads is, while the director kept trying to get me to join, I asked myself, why is it that I don't want to join? I finally realized I don't want to join anything! I don't want to join... I'm just somebody who likes to have individual relationships, but I don't like being part of groups."

Actually I thought I must have written that. All this time I thought I was just a weirdo and then I get my suspicion confirmed, that really my immigrant experience does have a lot to do with how I feel about "joining". Of course an attitude like that could be easily a character trait but in this context I think it isn't. I have never ever found a group I really wanted to be part of. Well, I did initially because it seemed such a great idea, but then very shortly afterwards I found them suffocating and unrealistic and boring and a little bit dishonest. I cannot bear the group identity. I cannot stand the pressure to conform, even if it's conforming to some really nice ideas. The idea of the group is just wrong in my eyes, even though I'm sure it's a blessing for some. In order to fit into a group there is a price to pay, you can't be one with everyone else if you aren't ready to give up a few of your idosyncracies or if you are not ready to be loyal beyond some of your personal convictions. And I can't go there. I just can't. My whole life I had to fight to nurture and maintain my own identity in changing environments. You can't ask me to give this up so that you can have your perfect homogenized group. Sorry. I'm asocial. Whatever.

One woman said: "I really believe that if you travel, your parents are your identity. They are the cohesiveness to your future and how you're going to develop. [...] The other roots - being in the same place, have the same friends all the time - just aren't there. So you have to have the same parents all the time."
That part really rang true for me too, although I would probably extend that to siblings and husbands and not just parents. I do think that a certain sense of culture is transferred more onto the close family than the surroundings and since your parents can't make the connection from their own way of life to the outside world, a lot of the characteristics of the outside world remain rather insignificant. Not insignificant as in not important but as in not permanent and therefore secondary. I think that is another reason why I have trouble with patriotism. I don't see the importance of things that to me are and have been exchangable. A particular language, lifestyle, culture - they are important yes, but they are not "values" to me on par with things like solidarity or dignity or compassion. And that brings me back to that identity issue again. If you have experienced yourself in different languages, lifestyles and cultures and you have not lost yourself on the way, then for you those take second place to other things and you simply cannot be patriotic, because it feels like every time you are you betray another part of yourself.

I highly recommend the book to those who have gone through similar things in their life or those who want to know what it's like. It's more a collection of thoughts and experiences than an analysis but because of that it gives a really good insight into what children go through as ex-pats and how it affects them later in life. I will probably reread parts of it occasionally, if for no other reason than to remind myself I'm not the only weird one.

Posted at 01:16 PM on December 10, 2004 | Comments (3)