Genre of the Week: A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

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Photo taken in December 2014

When learning about American culture and literature, there is a canon of authors, whose most popular books, in the eyes of non-native speakers of English, are highly recommended to read. One of the authors mentioned in this canon is Truman Capote. When looking at his life in general, it was marred by family crises while growing up, mental illness and drugs and alcohol. All of them contributed to his downfall and untimely death in 1984. He was a sad person but one who looked for the truth in writing, no matter how painful. This was seen in his most prized work, In Cold Blood, published in 1965 and based on a true story about a family murder in Kansas, and his collaboration with his best friend, Harper Lee, who later became famous for her two major works, To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman, the latter of which was published in July 2015, seven months before her death.

Yet even though he started writing at the age of eleven, not all of his works were of doom and gloom. Many of them were based on his positive experiences and memories as a child, as well as some creative ideas based on stories of others.

While Breakfast at Tiffany’s (published in 1958) is the most popular Truman Capote story on the European side of the ocean, he wrote a Christmas memoir based on the tradition of fruitcake for family, friends and neighbors. Entitled A Christmas Memory and published in 1956 as part of the Breakfast at Tiffany’s Short Story Trilogy and NovelLa, the story focuses on a close bond between the narrator named Buddy and his cousin, both of whom are living in a house with several other relatives who don’t care much about them.

The setting is in late November in the 1930s,  when the two embark on a journey to pick nuts, dried fruit and later, whisky, flour, sugar and butter to make a total of 31 loaves of a traditional fruitcake. Getting the ingredients wasn’t easy, as they had collected barely enough money from their odd jobs just to get the basics from the store. They had a hand-me-down baby carriage to haul the dried fruit and nuts and were accompanied by the cousin’s dog, Queenie.

Despite the adversity and the lack of attention that the other relatives had towards the two cousins, whose age difference spans two generations, the main themes of this holiday classic deal with creativity and closeness. Creativity because despite their lack of resources, they found fashionable ways of creating presents with whatever nature gave them. This was seen as the two made kites for each other and they went kite-flying as they were celebrating with relatives. It also showed as the two found and trimmed the Christmas tree for the family, much to their dismay, as Capote wrote.

It also showed in Buddy’s distaste for materialistic items as he received a dress shirt, writing set and a year’s subscription of a religion magazine. The lack of taste in religion and family morals reflected Capote’s life, as drugs, alcohol, homosexuality and self-liberation were themes in his life, those that even the Pope would have disapproved of.  The cousin was a bit more content with her gift of a woolen sweater. But their gifts toward each other- the fruit cake and the kites represent the other theme in this book. While the relatives never really cared much for Buddy and his cousin, the two made sure they kept their bond to the very end. The kites served as this symbolic theme, especially in the end, when the older cousin succumbed to dementia but not before Buddy was forced to live with other relatives after that memorable Christmas. This segment runs parallel to Capote’s childhood, for his mother had two separate divorces while he grew up, and he had a close attachment to a distant relative, who ensured that he salvaged the rest of his early days before he moved on as a writer.

If there was a main idea in this book, it would be this: Christmas is not just about finding creative ways to showing love and appreciation, it’s about closeness and how you care about the other one. It matters not what you think the person should have but it matters how much love and appreciation you have towards the other one, especially when you listen to the other’s stories and wishes in life. These two traits seems to be missing in today’s world, yet when reading Capote’s book, the Files’ Genre of the Week for the holiday season, you will see why, with every tradition, ritual and creativity presented in the story. This goes well beyond the fruit cake, the kites and the Christmas tree.

Like In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, A Christmas Memory was later adapted to film several times. However the oldest one seen below is the closest to the book. Have a look at it and compare it to the book and the other films that have surpassed it over the years. What is the same? What is different?  Enjoy! 🙂

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Genre of the Week: Einstein’s Creativity

Albert Einstein. When we think of Germany, we think of this person from Ulm who immigrated to the US and was the brains behind the atomic bomb.  We also think of him as a teacher of physics and philosophy, especially after a recent Time magazine article on his stance regarding assisted suicide (Click here for details). But we also know him for his quotes, especially when it comes to our minds and creativity. This quote, discovered while teaching English for the German military most recently, comes straight from him:

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In English: Fantasy is more important than knowledge because knowledge is limited.

This quote reminds me of a book most recently published on creative intelligence, where the author argued that a person’s creativity enables him to better solve problems than those who learn by the book and are restricted in their thinking. We’re living in a society where creativity has become less valued and the importance of learning through books and other means is becoming more and more stressed; especially in America, where the education system has been based on testing and core requirements, rather than teaching children how to be creative in their talents and their lives while growing up. No matter how much knowledge we accrue in life, it does not reflect on our real abilities to find creative ways to succeed. This means having vast amounts of knowledge is useful, but is not necessary. What is necessary is how we ourselves find ways to survive using our own ideas and methods to carry them out.

So keep this quote in mind and let our minds run freely, shall we? After all, all things we do come from the heart and not just the head. 😉

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Flensburg Files‘ Tribute to Steven Jobs, Apple founder, thinker, innovator, and the source of inspiration

An Apple a Day helps keep the doctor away- this was an old saying that was used by many to encourage people to eat healthy everyday and avoid seeing the doctor for any illnesses that may come about. My grandmother used to preach this when I was growing up and it helped a great deal when it came to creativity and imagination as a teacher, columnist/writer, parent and a person in general.

That is unless you have an Apple Computer and you are using it every day, like I do. Then the anecdote should read “An Apple a day helps your creativity run away.” I was first introduced to the Apple IIe while in elementary school in 1984 and grew up with the computer, embracing one new type after another, and embracing one new word processing program after another, all the way through high school and to a certain degree, college. Every time I wanted to do something creative and artistic, I always looked to Apple as a source of guidance and inspiration.

For the founder of Apple, Steven Jobs, there was more to creativity than the products he invented over the years, going from the personal computer that covered the entire desk, to the one which fits in the palm of your hand and plays music, saves all kinds of things, and helps you organize your plans and thoughts thoroughly.  There is so much that has been mentioned about his rise to stardom and how he rivaled the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Thomas Edison, and the like that mentioning it again here in this column is like reinventing the wheel. Job was a thinker- an “iPhilosopher” as some have coined it- who encouraged society to be creative, take the risk, and invent and create something that may not be acceptable at first but will be popular in the long term. From a point of view of a political scientist and historian, I would call this the theory of innovation or Jobbesianism, implying that one’s creativity and innovation will have an impact on society and how people behave towards one another, even if it is not accepted at first. In other words, we should create, convince and capture in order to better ourselves and society in general. Jobs may not be the savior, like the Lord Jesus Christ, as he was portrayed holding the iPad in the May 2010 edition of the Economist magazine, but he was the person who made a difference in the lives of many through his philosophy. This goes beyond the company Apple, the computer industry, and science and technology, but for society in general.

Hearing the news of his passing this past Thursday, right before my first class of the day at the university, the response was speechless. While he may have succumbed to pancreatic cancer, the same deadliest form of cancer that has taken the lives of many stars, like Michael Landon (he was diagnosed in 1989 and died less than two years later), he left a legacy that will last for generations to come, a legacy that encourages us to be creative and take a risk at what we are doing so that in the end, win or lose, we can say that we were successful in our own ideas. To end this column, I decided to compile a few excerpts that he mentioned below for you to think about and encourage yourselves to make the best of society and be creative in what you do.  Mull over these comments and go out there and invent. You’ll be amazed at what you come up with in the end.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT COURTESY OF STEVEN JOBS:

“If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.”

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do,”  both quotes he mentioned to the Stanford University graduates in 2005.

“My job is not to be easy on people. My jobs is to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better.” – All About Steve Jobs

“So when a good idea comes, you know, part of my job is to move it around, just see what different people think, get people talking about it, argue with people about it, get ideas moving among that group of 100 people, get different people together to explore different aspects of it quietly, and, you know – just explore things.” – CNNMoney

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.” – Wikiquote, as quoted in The Wall Street Journal (Summer 1993).

OTHER USEFUL LINKS:

http://www.macstories.net/roundups/inspirational-steve-jobs-quotes/

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Steve_Jobs