Sunday, March 29, 2015

Warrior Writers

Last Sunday, I attended a workshop at the Dietrich Theater about the Warrior Writers project. It's a grassroots effort whose mission is to "create a culture that articulates veterans' experiences, provide a creative community for artistic expression, and bear witness to the lived experiences of warriors." - from Warrior Writers website. Through "writing and art-making workshops, we provide a creative community for self-expression and reflection, while also fostering mutual understanding and peer-to-peer support." - from the introduction to the Warrior Writers 2014 collection book.

What an amazing mission it is - use of the arts as a tool for veterans to process their experiences and express them creatively and genuinely. They have offered writing and art workshops, art exhibitions, and performances with vets throughout the US since 2007 and have published several compilation books of vets' stories and poems. This organization uses the arts as tools of healing. Even among us civilians with cushy lives, who couldn't use a little healing?

The Dietrich plans to host a monthly workshop for interested vets. Each workshop will be facilitated by Jennie, a combat veteran who has been active in the Warrior Writers in the Allentown area. A co-facilitator, typically a local writer, will assist. If the project is embraced here the way it has been elsewhere, Jennie expects that local veterans will be ready to lead the workshops in about 6 months. If you or a vet you know who would like to participate, please call the Dietrich at 570-836-1022.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Father Rupert Mayer

When Katie and I visited Munich, we toured a number of beautiful churches with soaring architectural details that made grand, impressive statements - tile and copper roofs, bell towers, leaded glass, and uniquely shaped design.

So when we came across the Burgersaal Church with its relatively plain exterior, we followed the stream of tourists and entered, expecting a relatively plain interior to match. We couldn't have been more wrong. The ceiling frescoes were stunning.

Just as surprising was a display in the church detailing the life and ministry of a person I'd never heard of, Father Rupert Mayer. He was a Jesuit priest who served the Burgersaal Church between the two World Wars. His dedication to the poor and estranged of Munich earned him the nickname "The Apostle of Munich." Were he a man of lesser convictions during those times, his legacy may have ended there - a gentle priest who worked tirelessly to feed and clothe the poor.

But Father Mayer was a man of strong convictions, strong faith in his Catholic beliefs, and an insistence on the rights and dignity of each individual as a child of God. The Nazi regime with its oppression of free speech, its targeted pogroms, and its intolerance for faith-based viewpoints was unbearable for Father Mayer. He preached against the Nazis from the pulpit, in individual meetings with parishioners, and when he led small study groups.

Warned several times by the Gestapo and twice arrested for his outspoken behavior, Father Mayer might have ended up as other Christians did during the Nazi years - a martyr for his faith. But the Nazis saw the strong support Father Mayer had in mostly Catholic Munich, his leagues of dedicated parishioners and how word of his work had spread through Bavaria. They feared that killing him would only strengthen his cause. Instead, they banished him to an Abbey where he was basically a silenced prisoner for the duration of the war.

I never heard of Father Mayer before I stepped into the Burgersaal that day. Since then, I've come across his name dozens of times during the research for my two historical fiction novels set in Nazi-era Munich. Since he was so integral to the people of Munich during that time period, I'm considering including his character in my current Work In Progress.

Father Mayer was beatified in 1987 and now has the title of Blessed. His story has been made into a 2014 film starring Stacy Keach and Darryl Hannah. I hope to find it soon on Netflix or at a Film Festival near me.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Historical footage and virtual view

In the last few days, I've come across a couple really cool videos. One shows actual footage of NYC circa the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Most of the content is street scenes, but there are also shots of landmarks such as the Flatiron Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, and many others. The B&W images are jerky of course, blurred by age and poor lighting in spots.

The second video is a virtual tour of 17th century London. The computer-generated images take us down alleys, over rooftops, and into marketplaces in a grand simulation of 'what London must have looked like' at the time. The content is presented in 3-D and in color, and it's slick with detail such as shop signs and garbage cans.

Despite the obviously crisp package delivered by the virtual tour, I found it lacking. It showed no people, just an empty shell of a city once alive with their pulsing activity.
The historical NYC footage by contrast was loaded with people - folks driving cars, riding horses, marching in parades, even men engaged in a street fight. It showed real people living real lives, touching in their familiarity even in their now-archaic manner of dress. As a native New Yorker, I found myself pausing the video, trying to reconcile the NY I know with the NY of the past. Different, yes. But oh, so familiar.

What a treasure trove for researchers. And what a delight for people-watchers and city-lovers everywhere.