Genre of the Week: 18 and Life by Skid Row


As we’re talking about gun violence and looking at ways to stopping it, we’re also looking at the causes of this rapid increase in violence which has especially hit schools the hardest. I had a chance to listen to a speech made by four survivors of the shooting at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida as well as the interviews that followed. The students that survived the bloodbath knew the killer (who is behind bars) and were very angry at how this was not stopped earlier. These four were born the same year as the infamous Columbine massacre that took place on 20 April 1999 and have grown up used to mass shootings, including those in schools.  Here’s a quick preview of the speech:

One of the key issues we’ll need to work on as we look at reforming gun control laws is also the ways to reform the mental health system and make schools and public places safe. But how can we do that if we have people running around irresponsibly waving guns around and firing aimlessly at people, killing some in the process and permanently scarring others in the process, like it happened with Columbine, Las Vegas, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook, Cold Springs and now Parkland?

One way is to look at how parenting has changed over the years. In the past 40 years, we have gone from being strict Puritans who spank and hit children in order for them to behave to being those who allow children anything and everything they want to, even if it means running over teachers, law enforcement officials and the like at the same time. Parents have struggled to find a middle ground in order to allow for controlled growth- meaning growing within their boundaries and knowing what is right and what is wrong. It means taking responsibility for their own actions and accepting the consequences for their wrongdoing. A one-day suspension from school for fighting or showing disrespect is painful but should be a lesson for the future. It’s by teaching children how to respect others and learn the Golden Rule: Do onto others as they would be done onto you. This includes stories and fables to be told regularly but also normal interaction with people and understanding their feelings.  And if parents cannot do their job, have another foster parent or relative take over for a while, someone who can foster the child’s growth and show them the values of life.

This Genre of the Week looks at a scene that is very typical in today’s society today: a teenager who has gone wild because of years of being overly controlled and abused by his father. His recklessness by using alcohol and guns led to his downfall as he lost not only his family and best friend, but his own life. And as alcohol regulations has worked in keeping people away from the booze, gun regulations can do the exact same thing and even more. But even with gun regulations (which can work), we need to look at reforming our society and investing more time and especially money to reforming our society, starting with the health system, then the school system and lastly the family. This way we don’t have any more wild ones like in this song by Skid Row entitled 18 and Life, produced in 1989.



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Skid Row was formed in 1986 featuring lead singer Sebastian Bach, guitarists Scotti Hill and David Sabo, drummer Rob Affuso and bassist Rachel Bolan. It still produces heavy metal music to this day but with ZP Theart as the lead singer. 18 and Life was produced in 1989 and made it to the Top 4 in the US and Top 12 in the UK. It even won a gold platinum that year. The band is based in New Jersey.



Genre of the Week: The Christmas I Remember Best by Eda Leshan

We all have our own interpretations of Christmas and what is important to us. Many people think that the best kind of gifts are the ones that are modern, with a lot of technical features and which we can toy around with for hours on end. There are many though that prefer something personal, or local if the loved one is away most of the time. I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of that lately as I travel to see some Christmas markets and other places and as a rule, buy something local or handmade which will never be found in any shopping mall elsewhere. 😉 However what happens if you wish for something very badly, like an exclusive doll house or baby carriage found in a Sears magazine,  only to find that upon opening the gift on Christmas Day you find a generic version, or something much different than you expected. How would you react?  Keep in mind that the reactions of the parents or loved one definitely plays a role, for they have their intentions and logic behind giving you the gift that is different. Nine times out of ten, as we will see in an article by Eda LeShan (* 1922- t 2002), the reason is simple: We don’t have the money to get you this, but we love you very much and want you to have the best Christmas ever.  🙂

LeShan was a writer, TV show host, educator and counselor who wrote several books about childhood development and psychology during her 79 years of life. An advocate of children’s rights, LeShan believed that the person’s true character is not only based on the education that is given during childhood but also based on growing up in a healthy family and in livable environmental surroundings. Her piece “The Christmas I Remember Best,” published in December 1982, takes her back to the time of the Great Depression and her parents’ desire to make Christmas the most enjoyable for her. This is despite the fact that both her parents lost their jobs because of the Great Crash of 1929, which sparked the worst crisis in American history, ending with America’s entry into World War II, 12 years later.

The one-page piece sends a clear message to all parents- there’s nothing more powerful than love and family. All other things are just that- things that are replaceable. The former, not. Here’s something to think about as you read this piece:

The work was discovered during a trip to Lanesboro in Minnesota in 2005 and I’ve used it for English classes ever since. It is very useful for discussion or for any activities pertaining to English as a Foreign Language or even Literature.

Another piece bearing the same title was discovered by accident upon research for this work. This one was written by Sherilyn Clarke Stinson in 2011 and can be found in the website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. A link to that piece is available here as well as the Files’ facebook page.



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! 🙂


Genre of the Week: A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg


Author’s Note: It’s that time of year again. The holidays are approaching and with that comes the Christmas market tour. This year’s series will focus on Christmas markets in Saxony in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) as well as some in Schleswig-Holstein. At the time of this posting, a pair of Christmas markets in “Hohen Norden” have been visited and the tour guides are being put together even as we speak. Included in this year’s series will be some true stories of love and courage, which you can see in the Files’ facebook page. And lastly, some literature and videos pertaining to the holiday seasons will be profiled here.

Including this first installment, consisting of a poem by Tom Hegg entitled A Cup of Christmas Tea.

Published in 1982, Mr. Hegg’s poem looks at reunions with loved ones and the importance of maintaining a good relationship despite many years’ absence. The main character is a father who is entangled in the conventional Christmas season, filled with shopping, credit card debts and gifts with little or no meaning. The main character receives a letter one day from his great aunt, inviting him to come and visit her. Hegg states that she had suffered from a stroke and many of his relatives were persuading him to visit.  Despite much hesitation, stemming from the fact that he lost touch with her for a long time, the main character gives in and pays her a visit. Hegg believes that this had to do with his fear of what she would look like when he saw her. These fears are subsided when he rings the doorbell and she smiles and sees him. Yet Hegg argues that it was not all that causes him to put reality to the side and embrace the past. The main character’s interpretation of his great aunt (being old, frail and unable to walk), the houses in the neighborhood (being old and dilapidated) and a bygone era that seemed to slip away in favor of progress gave way to memories of his childhood and his time with her, with the neatly decorated Christmas tree, Dresden china and the smell of Christmas tea. By catching up on old times and finding out how things went, the discussion over Christmas tea, whose ingredients Hegg doesn’t mention in the poem, makes amends between two close relatives, whose lives had been separated by a life full of obligations and modernity.

And without further ado, here is the poem in full length. Enjoy! 🙂

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In School in Germany: Talking about the Berlin Wall

November 9th 2014 will mark the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. 25 years ago on that date in 1989, after several weeks of protests, combined with the exodus of thousands of East Germans to West Germany and  changing of the guard from Erich Honecker to Egon Krenz, the announcement was made to open the gates of the Berlin Wall to allow East Germans to flee to West Berlin. At the same time, the borders separating East and West Germanys also opened for others to pass.  Tens of thousands of people who fled to the western part embraced in the western culture that was once forbidden. Many of them did not return nor decided to not talk about  life in East Germany prior to 1989.

To this day, these people still refuse to talk about it, going by the monkey mentality of “See no good of the GDR, Hear no good of the GDR and Speak no good of the GDR.” By doing so in this day and age is dangerous, for the people born in the years 1985 and up are missing out on the truth behind the Berlin Wall and the two Germanys that had existed. In the days teaching English at a university in Bavaria, no one knew about the Vita Cola, the East German version of Coca-Cola until I introduced that in one of my sessions. Very few knew about Sandman, the character that starred on East German television every night at 6:50pm, and still does to this day. Even the well acclaimed traffic lights were unknown in the eastern part and many were used to the generic traffic lights that are simply European. But by the same token, the emergence of “Ostalgia,” the mentality that East Germany was not as bad as it once was, is becoming very common thus increasing the danger glorifying the former times and degrading the western part of Germany because of  different mentalities and conflicts of interest.

During my time in the gymnasium, the topic of the Berlin Wall was brought forward to students in history, for we needed to know how good or how bad the GDR really was. The students were asked to interview their parents and grandparents to collect whatever stories they have on life in the past and compare them with their lives, in terms of childhood, culture, family and anything that would be useful for the topic. The results were surprising. The responses were short and to the point, but there were little details about the former times. If they were short, then it was the fact that the country did have some good points and that was it.  But the question is: was life in the GDR really that bad or that good to begin with?

Growing up in a large family in Minnesota, I became accustomed to storytelling, done by my grandma and her children, including my father. Many of them were detailed and enlightening and provided some morals for us to learn by. This included stories of how my grandparents survived the Great Depression and being separated because of World War II. Many of these stories I can still remember to this day. Yet the younger generations don’t seem to care much about their own history, thus putting the teachers of history, social studies and culture (including foreign languages) in a position where they have to dig up their own history and ideas to share with the students. We are facing a neglect in history, not knowing the key facts and the stories behind them, and the consequences will be fatal in 25 years time. No matter how painful or joyful, one needs a storytelling session about certain events in time from the older generations so that one understands the gravity of the events and think about them on one’s own.

And this is where we return to our subject of the Berlin Wall and how it divided Germany into two in a physical sense for 28 painful years. Nobody wanted the border but it happened. Yet life was not as bad as it seemed, as long as the Stasi did not spy on you and you faced hours of torture, examples of which can be seen in the TV series Weissensee. But nevertheless, if one wants to know more about the Wall, the divided Germany and how people came together to tear it down and bring the two countries together, one needs to find the facts. The best facts are not in the books, but through oral history.

So for all teachers talking about the Divided Germany and the Wall, challenge your students to collect facts from relatives and friends who have lived in both regions, witnessed the Wall and tried to jump it, took part in the Leipzig Demos as well as took turns with others to tear the Wall down. Interview them, ask them any questions that come across your minds- even if they are most painful. Then share them with your teachers, student colleagues and friends (here and abroad), to ensure them that the Wall was the biggest deal and despite having a decent lifestyle in both countries, it was much better with one Germany and not two. Then make sure that future generations know about it to better understand life between 1945 and 1990 and how it has shaped today’s world, in one way or another.  By doing so, we will preserve our history and better understand Germany and its role from the eyes of others.

BTW: In case you were wondering where the author was at the time of the Fall of the Wall, he was watching the coverage from home in Minnesota, writing a short summary about it for a 6th grade social studies class. Little did I realize at that time, that the Wall was one of many factors that lured me here, aside from the most obvious reason. But with the advancement of technology these days have produced recordings of the events of the Fall of the Wall. Some examples to follow soon. 🙂