Swedish For Immigrants – Week 5 – Part one.

Study 1 photo AThis Swedish language class is intense. Most of the Somalis seem to speak passable Swedish and the teacher lectures in Swedish. I understand about 60% of what is going on. Sometimes I ask teacher to explain in English – Engelska. I could be making that request every ten minutes. I bombed the last test, scored second lowest in my class. Teacher writes test score statistics on the white-board – no names, just the scores. Part of my problem was not understanding what she’d said the test was going to be about. I spent hours at home memorizing the wrong stuff. Wife says, “Well, it wasn’t wasted time. You’ve learned something.” She is an optimist. I am a realist, at best.

One of my classmates is from Syria, and smart. A tough, nice looking gal in her early twenties . . . been around, and friendly, helpful, very nice. She also speaks some English –  native tongue is Arabic, I think. Another student, from somewhere in Africa, speaks English, and another English speaker is from Vietnam. She’s quiet, almost never asks a question. African’s about the same, and so am I. The Syrian is not afraid to interrupt the lesson.

“Can you say that in English?” she asks. God bless her.

There was another test, week before last. I scored low on that one too, but not embarrassingly so. I have forgotten how to study . . . homework. Need to put in still more time at home. This after four straight hours of Swedish every day. I’m wondering if many of my fellow students ever had good study habits . . . certainly not Swedish books and papers. How much time they have to study? One’s a mother with a young child. Several of the men have children, more than one. They have a serious need to learn Swedish . . . to find jobs. The Swedes do not speak Arabic, but most speak English. English spoken by the other “English speaking” students in my class is difficult for me to understand. Sometimes we simply give up conversations we’ve begun. There’s not a lot of small talk.

One might describe the style of teaching in this language class as, ‘total immersion’. I doubt it was planned this way. Most of the others have been through a beginning Swedish class, and are ready to move on. It’s hard for me to catch up, or even keep up. This class has devoured my life. It has totally changed my life. I was retired! I love the late night’s quiet hours, and normally I stay up ‘til two or three a.m. Good time to write, or read in peace, or simply watch TV. The best shows always seem to come on late at night. I like to get up around ten . . . take a nap around three in the afternoon.

Now I am up at seven and in school at eight, back home a little after twelve, and studying the lessons. I enjoy my time in class. The hours pass quickly. Classmates are friendly, and interesting . . . helpful. I wish it was easier for us to talk, perhaps someday in Swedish. They are sure to have some interesting stories.

Continued . . .

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Swedish For Immigrants – Week 5 – Part two

Study Photo 2

When I was teaching in Seattle, there was an African immigrant who used to some to me for help with English class papers he was working on. Some pages I will never forget started with: “One day the biggest rocket I ever saw came over our house.” Then his road trip began, descriptions of moving from camp to camp, living in tents . . . riots and fires – thieves. I meant to make a copy of his story, but never got around to it, a significant loss. It was so well said, so simple, honest, no embellishments. “This is what happened….” An incredible sequence of events.

There are some fun moments in my Swedish class when we recite. One of the most macho Somalis told us, “My boyfriend is living with my wife.” This in Swedish of course. We all cracked up, a great, long-winded, honest, laugh-out-load. I’ve had a pretty good attitude this week, and feel okay about this Friday’s test. It was four pages, the last of which I hadn’t studied, having misunderstood previous instructions again. I was clueless, but not too bad on the first three pages.

I was in school an hour early once this week, a day when my class started late. The school has a spacious, comfortable area to hang out in, soft chairs, a couch, and tables under a high, glass ceiling. A good place to meet and talk with friends. I was reading a book to kill some time across from a long table full of Somalia girls in a wide variety of dress, some in jilbabs, their happy faces peaking out. A couple wore more western outfits, others in various states of dress born of a no-man’s land between the two cultures.

One of their friends came bounding down three steps into the lobby, giddy with delight, wearing a weird pair of colorful Bermuda style shorts, and a fancy blouse of many colors. Another Somali followed her entrance dressed in equally modern, if not so blatant attire – a skirt. The were having a wonderful time of it, dancing, twirling around and laughing. Look at me!

I’m thinking, what must that be like? To be free of that tent you’re wearing all your life? I guess they don’t wear them at home. I see paranoids on Facebook, worried European women will take up this middle eastern male’s definition of what women should wear. I don’t think so. Try to get even two European women to wear the same outfit . . . let alone thousand.

I don’t mind the jilbas. The women seem happy and at ease in them. It’s a relief not to have to scan body types as they pass by, that male Pavlovian response. I can stop looking now. I’ve seen enough and forgotten too little. I suspect these Mideast customs for female apparel will eventually morph into more European styles, if only for the freedom of movement, driving car, or office work . . . operating a computer . . . machines. But the gals are good inside those things, been in them all their lives. I guess you’d have to be. It will take years for change to happen, if it ever does. Who knows what’s next.

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Amber’s Swedish History – Chapter 9

Amber History 9


Erik XIV

Erik XIV“It is better a country laid waste, than fall to the enemy.”

Erik XIV was mistrustful of his brothers and nobility in general. A good idea if you ask me. He surrounded himself with assistants and advisers of low birth. Best known of these was Jöran Persson, known as Erik’s evil genius.
Jöan Persson had a quick mind and a sharp wit. He was ambitious and ruthless. He believed astrology guided the lives of men. Jöran was raised and educated as a protestant, but was probably agnostic. Persson was elevated into the nobility, after Erik was made king, in 1560, He served both as a prosecutor, and the King’s representative. As prosecutor, he had some control over sentencing, but no one knows how many of the 300 death sentences handed down by the court were of his doing. He was regarded by many as the nation’s foremost executioner, and became very unpopular. Most Swedes thought he was under the evil influence of his mother who was widely believed to be a witch who influenced the king’s politics with sorcery. Most witches kept a cat around the house for good luck. They were well cared for and got to watch a lot of interesting magic stuff.


King Erik went to Estonia at the request of a collapsing regime there and came into conflict with its neighboring countries. He also pushed into his brother’s territory, and conflict between the two eventually led to war. The brother was defeated. Brother John and his consort, Jagiellon, were taken to Gripsholm Castle where their friends and associates were tortured and executed.

Gripson Castle   Gripsholm Castle

Brother JohnBrother John and Jagiellon in prison.
(Doesn’t look all that bad to me, but whatever.)

Erik’s move into Estonia angered Denmark and started another war. It lasted for seven years. Erik’s battle cry was, “Burn! Plunder! Kill!” Wars were basically what was happening in those days, sort of like now. Erik was most successful in Bleking, Denmark, where he orchestrated the murder of thousands. Herman Lindqvist’s History Of Sweden sites a joyous letter written by Erik.

“An enormous murder,” he said. “The water ran red with the blood of dead bodies. Our enemies were so tame we could cut them down like a herd of wild pigs and we spared nobody, but death did to all who could have carried weapons so that in the town there were no others left than some women and children, and those were killed by the Finns.”
The war ended in 1570, and despite the above, things turned out better for Denmark than for Sweden. A peace treaty was written and it was decided that Sweden could regain a fortress it had lost by paying 150,000 riksdaler in silver. This became known as the ‘First Ålvsborg Ransom’. Swedes were taxed 10% on all of the money, cattle, metal objects and grain in Sweden. Death and taxes. After a short period of time another war was started, this time by Russia.
All of this sounds so familiar.

Next Week: Erik Gets Married.

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Contemplations -2

Contemplations – 2


Where was I? Oh, the IBM Selectric. Fabulous machine. After graduation I left Southern Illinois behind, went to Chicago, lusting for big city life: my own apartment, and all things adult. It wasn’t easy. I’d learned nothing in school about finding a job. My degree was in Conceptual Design and I had no idea know where to look for that kind of entry to the working world. At last, in desperation, I took a job as salesman for Underwood Olivetti. They made typewriters, and a huge, clunky calculator called the Divisuma . . . supposedly far ahead of its time.


I was sent to a sales school in Hartford, Connecticut for three weeks, and taught about the equipment, how to use and demonstrate it . . . sales pitches. On returning to Chicago I was assigned a territory along State Street, a shabby, run down area that sprawled dismally below the Elevated tracks. Three weeks later the IBM Selectric was introduced to the public – the ball typewriter.


Salesmen would walk into an office, run the flat of their hands across the keyboard, and the machine would go nuts spewing out immaculate letters below a carbon ribbon. Secretaries fell in love at first glance.  There was a four month wait to get one . . . couldn’t make them fast enough. IBM salesmen got rich. I got depressed.

I never sold a single Underwood machine, and finally gave it up. I joined the Army. Years later, after a barely honorable discharge, diligent saving, and self sacrifice, I was able to buy my own Selectric . . . around five hundred bucks as I remember, huge amount of money at the time, but the machine was worth it. I loved the thing. It was as good as it ever got for typewriters. Obsoleted by time, one still sees stacks of them in office closets, and school basements . . . sad.

The things used paper!

One sees pleas on Facebook. Don’t give up on paper. Buy hard copies . . . the pleasure of turning non-virtual pages. I agree. Paper is a nicer experience, familiar, and more pleasant than reading a monitor, or Ipad, cell phones . . . strain my eyes. I’m getting old, but can see the virtual advantages. Wife and I hauled better than three hundred pounds of books with us last time we moved. We have three bookcases filled with books that, for the most part, will never be read again, and any information they contain can be found easily on Google.

Twelve years ago I bought a beautiful Webster’s, 3rd New International Dictionary.

Dictionary - 2 Good

Paid almost $15o for it, weighs about ten pounds. ‘The #1 reference source for the millennium.’ it says on the cover. I’ve used it once. You can get them for $75 now, as obsolete as the Selectric. Sad . . . this beautiful book, just taking up space. What to do with it?

There’s a huge paper mill here in Borlänge, Sweden, but they’ve laid off thousands of employees. Newspapers are in trouble. I guess toilet paper’s good for the millennium, but who knows? I remember the punch line of an old design school joke: “It’s coming out in little paper packages!”

Paper money is fast becoming a thing of the past. I paid cash for a coat last week. The salesman asked me, “Don’t they use credit cards in Seattle?”
“I’m the only one left that doesn’t,” I told him. Cash feels so much better, safer, easier. I find myself impatient with shoppers fumbling with cards, and passwords at the cashregister. I recently read about a device thieves use to pick up thermal images on keypads minutes after being used by customers. I miss travelers checks, and letters of credit. I still have a copy of my last letter of credit somewhere. “We are gentlemen,” it states at the bottom of the page. Can you imagine? We are gentlemen….
People can lose their homes without ever leaving them on on-line casinos. We have e-books, 130 million of them according to Google. I have three on Amazon US, and UK. two are long, short stories. One takes place in Brazil, the other features a dementia grandma who runs away from a care facility and is adopted by a motorcycle gang.

My opus magnum features a downsized, middle age man in Seattle who can’t find work. I’ve always been good at not finding work . . . not good at selling. My books are lost in a sea of twaddle. I’m not saying my own aren’t twaddle, just that they lie relatively unknown in an e-book Sargasso sea of digital tomes.

It’s not much better for new writers published by reputable houses. They’re given a thousand bucks to use for promotions, and told, “Go out and sell.” Some writers are good at it, but most of us are introverts who find self promotion painful. A middle/working class morality sneaks its way into the picture. Bragging is rude. Don’t blow your own horn. I came across the quote below in Wallace Stegner’s, Angle of Repose.
“I am much of what my parents and especially my grandparents were – inherited stature, coloring, brains, and bones, plus transmitted prejudices, culture, scruples, likings, moralities, and moral errors that I defend as if the were personal and not familial.”

Next week: More about obsolescence, digital distractions . . . scams.

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San Francisco 60’s – The Trip


The Trip (2)Roger Corman did research by taking LSD himself. Charles B. Griffith wrote the first two drafts of the script—the first one was about the social issues of the sixties, the second one was an opera. Corman then hired Jack Nicholson to write the eventual screenplay. Corman encouraged Nicholson’s experimental writing style and gives between 80 and 90 percent credit to Nicholson for the shooting script in the director’s commentary appearing on the DVD of this film. Corman slightly modified the story to stay within budget.
Whilst most of the music actually used in the film was by Mike Bloomfield’s Electric Flag, it is interesting to note that early visuals (e.g. the band in the club at the start of the film) are of Gram Parsons and the International Submarine Band, one of the earliest country-rock bands. It had been Fonda’s original intention to use the ISB’s music on the soundtrack but, in the event, their contribution was deemed insufficiently “psychedelic” or trippy to warrant inclusion and the Bloomfield/Buddy Miles/Nick Gravenites Electric Flag is what is actually heard in the film.

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Swedish For Immigrants – Week 4 Cultural Insights


I am one! Weird . . . this strange feeling . . . But by learning Swedish, I’ll feel less a stranger. Must be so much easier for me than the Somalis, or the students who have come from Syria, and Vietnam. I hope to learn some of their stories, flights of passage to a world so different than their own. Three more have started class today. They come from Mogadishu, in Somalia, Palestine, and Syria, places we see getting blown to hell on television every night. God, what must that be like? Do they miss home? So many different customs, language, dress. At least they will not be alone. 2000 come through Sweden’s front door every month, more through the back door, via Germany. The total number’s over 50,000 now.
Things European aren’t so different from American experience, but there are differences, and I will always be, “A stranger, in a strange land.” Lao Tzu was first to use that term in his, I Ching – 550 BC.

The Wanderer – “When a man is a wanderer and stranger, he should not be gruff or over bearing. He has no large circle of acquaintance, therefore he should not give himself airs. He must be cautious and reserved; in this way he protects himself from evil. If he is obliging towards others, he wins success.”           Always good advice in the I Ching.



The Somali girls, I should say women . . . they all seem so young. We only see their faces, all the rest is covered, head to toe. Their outfits all the same, except for colored patterns, and designs, some of them stunningly beautiful . . . all wearing exactly the same dress. It’s not a dress, of course; they’re called jibabs.

Jibab 2

They cover the entire body, except for head and hands. Heads are covered by a scarf, called a shash. Men dress the same as they do here. This is a noticeably different culture. I wonder what they think of Swedish winters. Somalia’s average temperature stays in the upper eighties, not much rain, but they seem happy here, perhaps relived to have escaped their homeland. Sweden’s probably the best deal any immigrant can get. Good health care, money for housing, and extra money for each child. Average birth rate for women in Somalia is 6.17. Only 2% live past 65. A man can have four wives if he is able to support them.
Students get paid for coming to class. Those with good attendance receive a check at the end of the month. The money comes from the Swedish steel industry, with the purpose of making immigrants employable . . . as soon as possible. Four hours a day, five days a week. Intense. A classmate asked if there were holidays this morning.
“There are no holidays,” she was told. “Only homework days.”

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Contemplations – 1

Contemplations – 1


I long ago labeled this blog: Fiction, Poetry, and Contemplations, but have not posted many contemplations. Too dangerous perhaps. I Googled the word: A transitive verb, “to think about something as a possible course of action.”
Contemplation. A powerful word . . . or thing. I’ve always thought of contemplation as a sort of meditation, requiring peace and quiet. And I think that’s true. When you turn off the cell phone, and TV, and radio . . . you’re more likely to think, perhaps a bit more introspectively. But we’re always thinking, and our thoughts inevitably morph into choices. Large and small: First thought of the day: Should I get up? A question.

Questions, an essential part of contemplation. Do they always come first? The mothers of thought? A Buddhist abbot asked:
“What are the first words of wisdom?”
Correct answer: “I don’t know.”
That is a good one. I suspect some kind of question lies at the beginning of consciousness. The first primordial thought, the first thought. Of being aware of self? Perhaps asking, “Where the hell am I?” Must be something like that. I’m still asking the same question after 76 years.  Not many of us have been born with answers. Answers need to be found. Questions come on their own, without asking. Even without words, the questions come.

So . . . It seems reasonable to name these posts, Contemplations, although the word sounds a bit pretentious . . . learned. I am neither. These are only random thoughts . . . unplanned.

Enough. I get bored when people talk about what they are going to talk about.

I’ve been spotting writing tips, and insights that show up and Facebook, and on blogs. Small bits of wisdom – blurbs. One most often seen this last week has been: “First drafts are shit.”

Hemingway - Shit

These insights are quoted from successful writers: Hemingway, Huruki Marumkami . . . Natalie Goldberg. I believe these words apply to most of us, except a lucky few writers who can just sit down and knock it out. I suspect Kerouac was one of these, and Charles Bukowski . . . Whatever.
For most of us the first draft is a question that requires some thought. You crank of ten or fifteen thousand words, then read it two days later and it’s shit. It really is. How do we ever know, for certain? The artist’s dilemma. A motivational speaker told his audience, “To be successful, an artist must possess ‘dumb determination’ – an unfounded belief in self, beyond the reach of critics and naysayers.
But what if you’re wrong? Time spent, hours wasted? Maybe . . . maybe not. Writing’s become as popular as yoga was in the mid sixties. Seems like everyone is doing it, and are self published. E-books, digital productions. A few people on Linkedin described their writing as, a hobby. Nothing wrong with that, a thing to occupy time. Writing can sure do that. And it’s so much easier now . . . computers . . . spell-check. It’s no problem making changes, cuts and pastes, no ribbons! Anything you want to know is but a moment off on Google. I look at photos of old writers pounding away on Underwood uprights that imprinted on paper! The IBM Selectric was a magnificent improvement, wonderful machine – no keys, and a correction ribbon. Obsoleted by computers. I’ll say more about Selectics later, but the next installment’s subject will be paper . . . I think.

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