Life’s Labyrinthine Chaos Course — Revisiting School in Verona


“No one knows what’s going to happen when they make a choice. And Goldilocks? Look what happened to her? BEARS.”


“Exactly. Sure, we remember the oatmeal and beds, but it was really BEARS. Whether that bed fit or not, she had to run away. Choices are a lot like that. Looks good and a few winks in, BEARS. Goethe was right.”

“As far as you’re concerned, Goethe was ALWAYS right. It’s so boringly predictable.”

“I know, I know, a little hero worship there, but you know what? I wouldn’t ever have READ Goethe if I hadn’t made a BAD choice. I probably would never have gone to Europe — and certainly not Zürich — would never have seen the little church at Gfenn that changed my life and awakened me. Good choices, bad choices, no one knows. A comfy bed is as likely to lead to BEARS and, well, what I did, might lead to LIFE.”

“So what did Goethe say?”

“It was a theme with him, the labyrinth we live in. The first time I encountered it in his work, though, was in the prologue to Faust. He wrote ‘Des Lebens labyrinthisch irren Lauf‘.”

“And that means…?”

“Life is a labyrinth of error. Life’s labyrinthine course of error. Something like that. But a labyrinth is a labyrinth because one moment we’re making a choice — this way or that — and in the next we’re reaping the consequences of that choice. We might be lost, we might not be lost, we might be lost and not know it, we might be fine and fear we’re lost. Maybe we enter the labyrinth looking for our friend or lover who’s gone on ahead. Maybe it’s a game. Maybe we just want out. But at some point, we enter that labyrinth. Choice? Biological inevitability? I don’t know that. I could CHOOSE to believe one or the other, but…”

“The labyrinth.”

“At that point, our parents chose. There we are, entering the labyrinth.”

“What’s that picture up there?”

“It’s Giardino Giusti in Verona. I took that picture. Goethe wrote about it in Italian Journey and I made the choice to go to Verona to study Italian because of Goethe. I figure if you find a competent guide through the labyrinth, you should take advantage of it.”

“You were following a dead guy?”

“Yes and no. I mean some 200 years have passed since then and I’m not Goethe, but I needed to choose a destination (turn a corner in the labyrinth) so I decided to go where he had gone. There are beautiful, old cypress trees in this garden (you can see one on the far right facing in the photo) and Goethe cut some of the branches to carry back to his apartment. He didn’t know that cypress branches were a symbol of mourning and was surprised that the people he met on his way expressed condolences. Lots of confusion in the labyrinth, that’s for sure. You just have to be fearless and humble at all times. Actually, something happened to me there that proved that.”


“My schoolmates didn’t like me much. My Italian sounded good but wasn’t. It’s badly mixed with Spanish which I’ve spoken poorly most of my life. One of the schoolmates — an Austrian woman — actually began ‘shunning’ me because, I guess, she thought my Italian was contagious. It was OK with me. I had other things to do besides hang out with a random bunch of non-Italian speaking Europeans and Japanese. I did make a friend; a woman from Manchester with whom I really enjoyed hanging out, but generally, I was ostracized. Partly, too, I think because of the US invasion of Iraq for which I was personally responsible. Ha ha.”

“And then?”

“So the Austrian girl/woman knew I loved Goethe but she didn’t believe I had read Goethe. She — as do many Europeans — believed Americans are endemically fake. So we were on a school field-trip at the Giardino Giusti and walking through this labyrinth which was more difficult than it looked. I said, ‘Des Lebens labyrinthisch irren Lauf.’ She said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘It’s a line from the prologue to Faust.’ ‘Well it’s wrong,’ she said. ‘I don’t think so,’ I said. ‘I think I’d know,’ she replied.”

“What happened then?”

“A couple days later she found me and apologized. We got to be friends after that. A characteristic of the labyrinth is that you don’t know what you’re looking at until you LOOK at it.”

“Like Goldilocks?”

“Maybe. I was always on the bears’ side in that story. After all, Goldilocks was trespassing.”


Here’s a photo I wanted to share with yesterday’s prompt, but I couldn’t find it. It deals with surrealism. It’s me in Zürich in 2005 standing beside the Cafe Voltaire — the birthplace of DADA (father of surrealism). I’m pointing here at the Navel of the World.

Me pointing at the navel of the world

Birthplace of Dada, Cafe Voltaire, Zürich

23 thoughts on “Life’s Labyrinthine Chaos Course — Revisiting School in Verona

  1. Good one! I think we are ALL lost all the time. Because all the choices are fake and we can’t see the future, so we make all our choices blind. It’s like falling down a well, realizing you can’t get out, so you set up a light and a typewriter and decide it’s not so bad.

  2. Am still waiting to be struck by Goethe. I have finished Faust in german and understood it all, but it didn’t do very much for me. I probably am not the Goethe type, but I wasn’t the Shakespeare type either. I mean Goethe had some good sayings in his stock, but I am not the poetical type. Did I get something wrong or was it really only half way through that Faust met Gretchen, move on and Gretchen’s brother is killed and they all go to heaven with the exception of Faust who joins Mephistopheles down town. Oh dear, I will have to read it again. I also have the Werther waiting in the background, but Mr. Swiss says that is better.

    • I think that Faust is cliché to us now and Werther is moreso, in my opinion. In any case, for Faust, I think the best strategy is not to look for something in it, but just to enjoy it where it’s enjoyable (lots of places). We always think with the great writers like Goethe and Shakespeare that there should be something there but there’s nothing there except some good entertainment. In Goethe’s Faust, Faust doesn’t ultimately end up with Mephistopheles (which was a huge break from the traditional story and shocked people). Goethe was making a major point that the search for knowledge might lead to darkness but ultimately… Faust Part II. My interest in Goethe isn’t in his art though generally I like it. My interest is in his thoughts about life. My favorite works are Italian Journey and Truth and Fiction About My Life (autobiography). I also really like the Wilhelm Meister books; Apprenticeship and Wanderjahre. Werther is important because it is the first time such a story was told in that way — but we’ve now heard it a million times. (Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse). To be honest, I hated it. But I was too old for it when I read it. Still, it is beautifully written. Have you seen the film, Goethe! — beautiful love story (the back story of Werther)…

  3. I would not have imagined you to be a redhead.

    But on the topic of Goethe (and I know you’ll appreciate this), have you read the new volume of his poetry that was released maybe 15-20 years back? I believe it’s called “Erotische Gedichte.”

    • Magenta, thank you. 🙂 Originally my hair was brown/red. Impossible to match so I didn’t try. It turned white in my 30s which was OK with me but it upset my mom… It was good back in the early 2000’s because this color was popular in Germany so I was able to “pass” for German during the years when Americans were most persona-non-grata. I’ve read Goethe’s erotic poetry. But most haunting of his poems is, I think, Marienbad Elegy, written after his ultimate broken heart when he was in his 70s. It’s haunting, but not my favorite. My favorite is his poem where he mocks himself at that point of life.

  4. I have seen only the Navel of Italy, in my second-favourite city. Did you visit Rieti ?
    Love the hair ! You’ve kept all yours, but I cut mine off. Couldn’t stand the constant need to look after it.
    I digress. Sorry.
    Stringer took a photo of my personal joyous discoveries in (1) Barcelona – looking at the poster of Domingo outside the Gran Teatre; (2) Rome – in the piazza where Mascagni worked; (3) outside the Hamburg Staatsoper …
    We differ, you and I. Perhaps this is why you’re a writer and I’m not ! 😀

    • No, I haven’t been that far south in Italy (yet?). I find long hair less work than short but… Yeah, I don’t know why I’m a writer — but you have written a book that was actually published by someone other than yourself! 😉

            • Writing can be discouraging — no, writing is not discouraging — sending it into the world is discouraging. Your book was published by a publisher, not by you (that’s huge for someone like me) and your readings and signing were well attended and made you happy. We would all like to make money and we need it, but ultimately, for me, is the experience of writing. I’ve written two good novels that no one wanted to publish. Because they’re self-published they’re stigmatized; it really does not matter at all how good they are since people do regard self-published books as failures with covers. For good reason. I even think so. Many people publish their shit and it’s a mess, amateurish and poorly produced. Lots of people in this world just want to write A BOOK. I think that’s idiotic and I want those people NOT to write a book, but they might pull it off anyway. I’ve been rejected — my work has been rejected — so much it’s gotten to be irrelevant to me. That actually happened back in the 70’s. I came home from an evening out with normal people. Girls who had boyfriends? I didn’t have one. I was a WRITER. I (suppose it was partly the gin and tonics) was wondering if I was going in the wrong way altogether and when I opened my mailbox there were three rejected manuscripts. I went into my apartment and had a meltdown of anger and despair. I fell asleep that night with my paintings and my stories all around me on my bed. I woke up the next day and saw perfectly clearly that the important thing was that I had painted the paintings and written the stories. I KNEW and KNOW that is the only sane attitude for anyone who wants to be — IS — a writer or an artist. You just fucking do it for its own sake. I pretty much only get discouraged from externals — people saying they’ll do something and then NOT doing it; rejections can make me feel a little off but not much; the state of the “Indie author” is annoying because it’s held in such low regard. But mostly I wake up every day absolutely thrilled that I don’t have to do anything except something that pertains to writing. I am earning $4/month right now from Martin of Gfenn as a Kindle book. It’s amusing… Periodically I make a buck or two from Savior. I KNOW I’m writing stuff that’s NOT in the public pulse, but as I don’t even KNOW what the public pulse is, how could it be any other way? So.. From where I sit, you done good.

              But, this might hit home with you:

              • I very much appreciate the time taken and generosity of spirit shown, Martha ! Let me elucidate on my silly comment …
                I don’t give a shit about becoming famous, nor about my sole writing effort’s making money. I DO give a shit about my beloved husband’s becoming known to total strangers; so that by the time I’m gone too, there’ll still be people in the world who have “met” him. I can’t bear for him to just … vanish forever.
                What hurt me about the book’s lack of success was that my publishers made no effort at all to promote it, because the Publicity/Marketing woman likes neither it nor me. (How the company doesn’t fire her is beyond me: they put money into having it printed, after all …)
                I was amazingly lucky to hit on Fremantle Press first, because to have that memoir rejected by ANY publisher would have meant instant meltdown – it’s far too much a part of me. And I am not a mature and thoughtful woman, as are you: my background is too – narrow.
                I’m NOT a writer. I just had the one story that I was desperate to tell; and I told it. Since then, nada. I wish I could find something equally rewarding to do with my quite good brain. :/

                • You never know — I thought I had only one story to tell, too. Then one day, after I realized I had to cut off contact with my brother, and went hiking to ponder the realization, my story jumped into my truck with me. Where that led? It’s truly beyond belief. It led me to my OWN family 9 hundred years ago. I never expected any of that. What I know about writing and publishing is that these days writers are expected to do the work to promote their books (so what’s so great about conventional publishing?).

                  And I also understand that second books often do better than first. You might find out you have more than one important story in your life, I don’t know. Sometimes all it takes is a deep breath and letting go.

                  I would never write my memoirs because people would feel sorry for me. I don’t want that; it would be a demonstration of their failure to understand. I get enough of that without putting my life out there.

                    • No. My story would be about having nearly died four times before I was six, of having a dad with MS and an alcoholic drug addicted mother (and brother), marrying young to a guy who kicked me between the legs after pushing me down the stairs… (and on and on and on and on). I’m sure your book has resonance especially in Australia. And people love love stories. I think you’re just up against a world of people who are not like us and there’s not much we can do about that. Maybe you’ll have to make your peace with your book as I have had to do with Martin. Some people loved it; unexpected people loved it. I love the story and I wanted the world to have it because it means something to me and, I believe, says something worth hearing. I have TWO fan letters! But both are absolute treasures! And the book sold well in one small part of a small country where people don’t even speak English. I just decided to be happy with what I got because I got to write the book. I got to be in the places and learn all I learned. I got to live the life and have the experiences that led to the story.

                      I cannot know how you feel without your husband whom you loved. I watched my mom NEVER recover from her broken heart at the loss of my dad (he was 45; she was just 50). What a study that was for me and thank god I had him long enough to learn what he had to tell me about what lay ahead for me. Thank goodness he loved the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and read it to me and talked to me about what it said; thank god he lived his life that way. I learned to accept that just because I would not have a dad ever again in my life, at least I had had one and he was spectacular. My mother was never able to be anything other than resentful, envious, paranoid and drunk. She lost her soul. 😦

                    • I see what you mean, Martha. That is indeed quite some backstory … To die from MS at 45 ! – we all thought we were badly done by to lose our father at 64 from a 10-year history of coronary problems.
                      I did NEED to write that story; but to be honest it was not because of being a writer. The only passion I ever had was for Chic; while you’re forever driven by yours. Now I wonder about my life and how it seems to be one long lack of success. Parentally instilled, that is. :/

                    • I read you right. From where I sit, your life doesn’t seem to have been a lack of success. I admire that you found love and the courage to love. That’s not nothing, in my book. That’s an incredible achievement. So now you don’t know what and who and where, I guess. The mission of the book is accomplished. Capote said that finishing a book is just like you took a child into the yard and shot it. He’s right. That’s how it felt for me when I finished Martin. Yeah, parents are a dubious blessing. My mom called me the “lowest form of human life.” We believe what they say to us even when we know better. I don’t know if a hug from another continent will help, but here is a big hug. I wish it had the power to heal a broken heart. ❤

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