I’m fighting with myself.
On the one hand, I’m making progress. On the other, a lot of things are falling through the cracks.
I’m neglecting friends – not answering e-mails in a reasonable time frame, not calling. I hardly read any fiction at all. I’m struggling to keep my blog halfway alive and to read my friends’ blogs. All this is bad, because I love my friends, I don’t ever not read and I love my blog and the connections into the real world and the world of blogging it is bringing me.
On the other hand, I have, for the first time in a long, long time (roughly two years) a kind of plan of what I’m doing. I’m organized about my writing, I have a plan, a real plan, with different steps and goals and dates when these goals need to be reached. I also have a plan for “surviving” or “becoming independent” – meaning, how to survive financially. I’m building connections and I have a goal that I’m working towards. And these things are good. I feel focused and like I know what I’m doing – which has not been the case for …. oh, such a long, long time…
So – what’s right or wrong? How to find a balance? I don’t know. I’m putting it out there. Maybe someone else has an idea of how to do this thing called life. Anyone?
I’m off for another week of working with young people. Looking forward to it very much! It’s so much fun, even if by Friday night, I’ll only be fit to be used as a wet rag. It’s exhausting, this mentoring. But so, so interesting as well. I’ve got a really tough activity planned for this week, an ethical dilemma scenario and some other nifty things.
I also wanted to say sorry that I’m such a useless blogging friend lately and not keeping up to date with all my friends. I miss your blogs and your voices and your smart observations and when I’m back from this week (no internet where we’re going to be!), I’m so looking forward to catching up. Finally.
A special shout-out goes to Zen, Anna, Julie, Monica, Gloria, Marsha, Lynne and Patricia – you are wonderful and kind and fun and great and I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you. Thank you for being my loyal friends and dropping by even when I’m semi-AWOL recently. I love you!!!
So apparently the amount of flowers one receives for a birthday is related to the number on the birthday cage, for women at least. It seems the older a woman becomes, the more flowers she receives.
That, at least, is a very nice development. I used to buy my own flowers for my birthdays, because I always wanted to have lots of them and nobody ever gave me any. On Monday, I received five beautiful bouquets, plus some gorgeous yellow tulips cut from my friends’ garden. And presents on top of that!
I do enjoy my birthdays, I really do.
If you look closely at the presents, you’ll see a DVD set of Downtown Abbey (freshly sent from the UK from my youngest sister) – to judge my reaction to that, check out my post about my brain on obsession. Then there’s a postcard from my parents, all the way from Australia. A crumple-up street map of New York from a friend. “The White Tiger” by Aravind Adiga from my uncle (who has formed the rather startling habit of pressing random hardcover books into my hands every time I see him ever since he realized that I’m serious about that whole crazy idea of writing a book). A book with one hundred really cute ideas for crochet projects that my sister gave me – I’m only able to do very simple crocheting, but maybe this’ll help me learn something new. Oh, and let’s not forget the ubiquitous alcoholic offerings – among the sparkling wines and red wine and the self-made raspberry liqueur there is an actual bottle of real Champagne.
So yeah… between the flowers, the presents, my siblings, both the two present and the two who weren’t here, the beautiful, beautiful weather and a very spontaneous BBQ with family and friends in the evening, I had a great day, as birthdays ought to be.
A friend gave me a book a while ago with the words: “You need this. Read it.” I thanked her, then put it on the window sill in my office (aka The Graveyard of Random Notes and Lists of Things to be Done), where it continued to live for the next eight or ten weeks. A couple of days ago I finally picked it up. And I must say – she was right. I needed that book and it’s coming at a perfect time as well. Thank you Ilona!
The book in question is “Wishcraft: How to get what you really want” by Barbara Sher. I was sceptical at first. I had a period in my life where I got self-help books by the dozen out of the library and usually didn’t manage to read past the first five pages before I gave up in disgust. They always seemed to be written for other people, not for me. People who cared about career, how to manage a family, how to earn a lot of money. None of which applies to my life. However, Barbara Sher had me by the first page.
Her tone is so warm, so human, so down-to-earth that I immediately felt welcomed. And when I read on and realized that this book is not someone lecturing me on what I ought to have and ought to do to be a valuable member of society, but rather a book written by someone who tells me that everybody has genius inside them and reservoirs of talent and passion, whatever that passion may be! – and then goes on giving me exercise upon exercise for finding out what my passion is and what’s keeping me for living it and how to go about dealing with the things that stand in the way… then, I think, I have found a new friend. That’s what it feels like. Someone who encourages me, shows me my strengths, believes in me.
I think that I already had a pretty good understanding of who I am and what my strengths are and in which direction my passions lie. That’s not to say the exercises weren’t useful to me – far from it, I found it very useful to really sit down with pen and paper and make lists and think things through, but what I mean, is that there hadn’t been any huge surprises (so far).
However, this morning as I was sitting in the weak spring sunshine that came through the living room window, I did get a surprise. The exercise was to list twenty things that bring me joy. No explanations, no qualifications and the only rule was to get to twenty. So I did. I wrote down things like: reading, developing characters, cuddling with the dog, hiking, swimming, sitting in the sun, taking photos, being with friends, … When I’d got to twenty, I looked into the book again and the next part of the exercise was to make a table and to note for each item the answers to questions like: When did I do this last? Is it cheap or expensive? Do I do it alone or with others? Is it indoors or outdoors? Is it intellectual, physical, spiritual? … and to add as many questions as I wanted.
I started doing it, but noticed very soon that the answers were mostly the same. The majority of things I like are cheap to free, outdoors, physical and intellectual or physical and spiritual at the same time (like hiking… for me, that’s both physical and spiritual), it’s done alone, I usually do it spontaneously and it doesn’t require a lot of planning…. and all of them I haven’t done in a quite a while.
And that brought me up short. So apparently there are all these activities that I enjoy and that make me feel good, most of which don’t cost me anything and can be done by myself without a lot of planning – and I’m not doing them??? Wow. Wait a minute. In other words, I’m forgoing a number of sources for happiness and contentment for no discernible reason except that I didn’t think about it or am too lazy to get up from my desk. What an eye-opener.
Needless to say, I’m going to make a conscious effort to include them into my present life. No use putting things off. Tomorrow morning, instead of talking the dog on our usual round, I’ll pack him into the car and drive somewhere new (up the hill on the other side of the valley, I think) and go for a really long walk. I’ll take my camera and instead of thinking of it as a necessary task that has to be performed, I’ll think of it as something that I have chosen voluntarily.
There, Barbara Sher – lesson learned, and I’m only in chapter 3.
If you want, try this exercise. Let us know what you found out. Even better, get the book and do all the other exercises. It’s fun and – who knows? – you might learn something new about yourself.
Yep. Those are flights.
(Please cover your ears while I do an inappropriate amount of squealing. You may also close your eyes during my dance moves.)
I have bought the tickets and alerted all my friends – I’m flying to the USA in the summer, travelling in the north-east for four weeks! Given my financial situation (read: the fact that I’m skint) this does not seem like an obvious choice of travel destination. The obvious choice would probably be to go camping in the garden.
However, my hand was slightly forced by the fact that one of my best friends is getting married in New York State and she and I would never forgive me if I hadn’t at least given it a serious thought. And once I had given it a serious thought or two (actually, I’ve thought about it from November till three days ago…), I found that it was possible after all. And since the plane tickets are the most expensive part, I decided to hang around and do some sightseeing.
I’m excited beyond everything and have mountains of travel literature (alright, six guide books and a couple of maps) lying in my office space so I can daydream and plan! To understand my excitement you’ll have to know that I LOVE travelling – I never feel more alive than when I explore a new place. Also, I’ll be meeting a good friend in Chicago (for the first time – how exciting in itself!) and attend my beautiful friend’s wedding, where quite a number of our mutual good friends will be as well. Plus, we (those friends and me) will do some travelling/road-tripping for a week after the wedding. PLUS, another best friend, that I asked on a sudden inspiration to accompany me, has just bought her tickets, on the same planes, in the seat next to me.
Is there any part of this that does not sound delicious, wonderful and amazing!?!?! My cup of joy is not overflowing – it’s bubbling and dancing.
Alright, over to you – I’m calling all the travel experts and those who know the area (the area being Chicago, New York and anything in between that’s accessible by public transport):
Any travel tips? Any must-see destinations? Any tips on saving money? Cheap bus lines? Good eating places, cheap places to stay (camping?)? Any hiking, exploring, nature-worshipping that I absolute cannot miss? Also: any music tips?
It’s April. How did this happen?
Time goes by so fast and so quick at the same time. On the first of April 2012, I lugged 80 kilos of baggage halfway across Europe, taking the train from London to Brussels and from there to Cologne and then a succession of smaller trains to my hometown in southern Germany and finally being stranded in the nearest bigger city with no more trains going that day and my sisters waiting to collect me and my miscellaneous belongings in the car. In short, I moved back home to my parents’ place after trying and failing to find paid employment in London.
Temporarily, of course. No way was I going to stay with my parents for longer than necessary. It’s not something that can be recommended once you’ve grown up and lived by yourself for more than ten years. I sent applications to all the corners of the world. I also applied for unemployment money, because obviously, this, also, was going to be temporary. Something to help me over until I could land one of those elusive things called ‘job’. I remember how resentful I felt about the whole situation and how my mother was so happy to have me back and so worried for me and my future at the same time. We went for a long walk, that first weekend I was back, and everything looked so spring-pretty and fresh and full of flowering trees and buzzing bees and chirping birds, and I felt so unhappy and sullen and depressed and tired.
Now it is a year later, and I find myself contemplating the time that has passed. The last year has seen my 30th birthday being celebrated quietly and unassumingly with a beer in a random pub in the old part of Heidelberg with a good friend. It has witnessed me bashing out the first and (so far) only full draft of a novel. I spent a lot of time photographing things like flowers, stones, leaves of grass and clouds. I started teaching myself Spanish and how to draw, continued practicing my guitar, learned some design principles and set up three websites without any prior knowledge of how it’s done. I bought all manner of art supplies and dabbled with acrylic paints and stamps and pictures and glues and papers, just for the fun of it. I spent a lot of time walking the dog and talking to myself. I started reading a lot of fascinating and beautiful and funny blogs and made some great connections in the blogosphere. I attended the wedding of two dear friends and explored a bit of beautiful English coastline with my youngest sister. I cleaned the house an approximate number of 5 million times, cooked countless meals, spent time with my siblings, my grandmother and my parents. I envied my parents flying off to a trip around the world lasting seven months – the envy is gone, the pride in them and the joy at their happiness remains. I’ve had about 356 sparkling new ideas – for stories, for projects both arty and written, for events and things to do with my life. Recently, this year has seen me being hired as a mentor and actually be paid for actual work that I’m actually really good at.
I think the last year can be likened to a small lake somewhere in the forest. It’s been very quiet, almost hidden and reclusive, very introspective and contemplative. A calm surface. When I zero in on the details and draw closer to watch the single drops of water, though, I can see all the microcosm of life that is pulsing away and multiplying and growing and changing underneath. I can feel the quality of the water slowly changing. It’s starting to move and I think there might soon be a little brook that will connect the lake with a river. I’m not sure where I will be in one year’s time and I’m not making any plans, but I’m hoping for this: expansion, connection, new paths where the water will flow freely.
I have been absent for a while, both from blogging myself as well as from reading your blogs and I must say that I miss it! I’m sorry if you felt or feel that I have abandoned you. I haven’t. I just couldn’t bring myself to get in touch.
There is no reasonable explanation for why this happened – maybe it just suddenly appeared too much. Or maybe I needed a bit of a time-out. I think the problem is mainly that if I follow someone, I want to read all their stuff and not miss anything, which sometimes means that unread posts pop up faster than I can keep up. Maybe I need to learn to be okay with not reading every single post.
Another problem seems to be that I feel like I have nothing to say. Now, some people might argue that I never have, but I hope that sometimes I have made you guys laugh or think or introduced you to a new song or just contributed to your pleasure and entertainment in some way. I’d really like to go on doing that, but I feel like I’m unorganized in my own mind. I want to straighten things out and make them clearer to myself.
For now, all I want to say is that I miss you – the banter, the jokes, the encouragement, the support, the community.
See you soon!
Hugs to all, wordsurfer
Oh, she moved. I think she’s waking up.
Light! It’s another day! Oh, I’m so happy! Gotta go wash her face! With my tongue! She loves it! It helps her wake up! I’m such a good dog.
Down the stairs, down the stairs, down the stairs – do you see how fast I am?! I’m the fastest dog in this house! I’m great! Open the door!
Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, there’s the other one! The one that cuddles me! Oh, there she is! There she is! Gotta jump up and try and lick her face as well! No, gotta curl up in a ball on her feet! No, I got it: throw myself on my back and present her my belly for scratching!!! Yes, what a great idea!
Oh, the other one’s in the kitchen! Food!!!
No food. She’s opened that place where they hide their human food. I never get anything from in there. Maybe if I stare into my bowl? Stare. Stare. Oh, this is boring, better go right up to her and sit down and beg. Yes, that’s it! Oh no, she’s only scratching my ears. Oh, nice spot. Yes, perfect spot! Yes, scratch harder! Right there! I’m going to help you! Watch this. Look, I can do it with my hind foot! Look at me! Look at me!
Oh my gosh, now the other one is in the kitchen as well! I’m right in the middle! I love it when the whole pack is close together like this! Maybe they’ll feed me now!!!
Oh, they’re talking about me, I heard my name! I wish they weren’t talking so fast. Something about… FOOD!!!
Oh no, someone walking past the house! Better run to the window and bark at them. Oh, now my pack is angry. How strange. My job is important! Gotta defend our territory! It’s what dogs do! Get out of that street, you! There’d be people running all over our street if I didn’t pay attention. Better bark again, just to be sure. Alright, alright, I’ll stop, if they absolutely insist, then I won’t… FOOD!!!
False alarm again. I’m so unhappy.
OH MY GOD WE’RE GOING OUT!!! Finally! Finally! She said it! We’re going for a walk!!! This is it!!! Gotta try and lick her face!!! No, come back, let me lick your face! Oh, I know! I’m gonna jump up at you! Here we go!! Yes, what a wonderful idea!!!
Alright, I’ll wait right here on the steps, okay? Can you see me? Here I am! Just waiting for you to get ready. Now she’s gotta put on extra paws and extra fur – humans are strange sometimes. I’ll best sit still and wait… wait…. OH! She’s ready! Yes, I’ll show you the door! Here it is! It’s a door! You open it and we go out! YES! You made it! It’s open! Oh, you’re so clever!!!
Wait, what’s that? Oh, that funny thing they put around my neck. It makes a strange noise when they put it on. Like a click. I don’t like the noise. Why do they do that? Oh, the LEASH!!! Oh my god, oh my god, the leash!!! I LOVE the leash!!! Oh, there it is! Yes! I’m going to carry it myself. In my mouth. So I can chew on it. Hm. Leash. I’m so HAPPY!!!
Oh, better concentrate now. Wearing the leash is a job. I gotta defend my human. It’s a big responsibility! I gotta huff at everyone who gets too close. Warn them off. Yes, that means you as well!!! Out of the way!!! Oh, now she’s taking the leash off!!! That means she doesn’t need my protection anymore – let’s run!!! Come on!!!
Sorry to all my blogging friends for my relative absence lately. This lack of sunshine is getting me down. Please accept the offering of this little winterbird as an apology. I’ll be back soon.
This song is like a drug. I’ve been listening to it all day and it fades all the small things into nothingness and connects me with the wide, wild and unspeakable mystery.
It swells my heart with a quiet but intense joy, and yet I feel like crying for the mundane and the fantastic.
It’s an epic song, a twelve-minute gem of a song, a song that treads with conscious yet light steps through time and place, through thoughts and believes, searching for what was left behind or maybe what was only a dream, and after a journey around the world it ends in failure. Beautiful failure full of dignity and the inevitability of Greek tragedy.
The pictures are so deep and yet so instantly recognizable. Every word is familiar and everything is woven together so beautifully. This is songwriting on the level of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. If you know me just a little bit, you will know that this is the highest accolade I can give.
[thank you, Adam!]
1 in 3 women in the world will be raped or beaten in her lifetime.
One billion women violated is an atrocity.
One billion women dancing is a revolution.
I’m not near to any global event, but my sister and I are going to dance and add our voices to the protests online. There are many ways in which you, too, can rise. Join us in dancing and add your voice to the global outcry!
Check out the website: OneBillionRising.org for all the information!
Follow #1billionrising on Twittter!
Check out the live blog about the worldwide events by The Guardian!
And if you don’t mind tearing up or actually crying a bit from joy and pride, check out all the videos and livestreams coming in from around the world.
People, this is it. Add your voices to end violence against women and girls. Put pressure on your government. Talk to your neighbours. Make your children aware. And above all, don’t forget to dance!
I used to be a teacher. I stopped being one for many reasons. I have never regretted the decision. But there are aspects about teaching that I used to love and that I forgot.
When I look back on my time in school, I tend to focus on the bad stuff – the pressure, the time constraints, the pupils that needed more discipline or never learned to respect others, the colleagues that were set in their ways and not open for new approaches or ideas, the parents that hovered over their kids and the parents who ignored their children. Every time one of my teaching friends or a family member that is a teacher (quite a few of those in my family…) talks about school, I’m happy I’m not involved anymore.
So far, so good.
This week, from Tuesday night to Friday noon, I was invited to sit in at a youth seminar, with the end in mind of possibly working as a mentor in future seminars. Two days before I was due to go there, I only wanted to crawl under a blanket and bawl my eyes out. I was in total panic mode. I had no idea why I’d agreed to do this. I was scared of not being able to cope, scared of the kids, scared of going out of my little box. Probably that’s what eighteen months of social inactivity and lack of structure do to one. It was totally irrational, but very, very real.
Because I have a wonderful sister and awesome friends, I finally had the courage to leave my comfort zone (and realize how very small that zone has become!) and drive down to the seminar. When I arrived, I heard from the two mentors that the group was not easy to work with, that they were difficult to motivate, that they behaved like teenagers instead of the young adults that they were. That was what I took into the group – a small dose of second-hand wariness and a big helping of fear from myself.
Tuesday night was alright, but I still felt raw. Wednesday was slightly better, but my impression of the young people was still that they kept me at distance and I didn’t feel the inclination to overcome that distance. Thursday brought an external trainer who did some fabulous work with us on body language, voice, self presentation and so on – and suddenly I started to consciously see individual faces. I’d already learned most of the names, but now I started to see individuality as well. I started to ask questions and to listen. I started to joke. I became relaxed. I stopped behaving like a wary teacher and instead saw them equals. I realized that I had myself fallen into the trap that I most hate and always most wish to avoid: I’d taken them as a homogeneous group, not as individual people. And I hadn’t seen past the us-them divide.
Tonight, the last evening, they organized a party. We played games, danced, sang. Some things worked, some things could have been better organized, some people tried to take everyone into the group dynamic, some put themselves apart… the typical group behaviour. And I enjoyed every single moment of it. It was fantastic talking music with some of the guys and exchanging opinions on songs, on sound, on dancing that were often very different from mine, but just as well thought-out and communicated. I loved dancing silly dances with the girls. I loved listening to these young people’s dreams, ideas, thoughts, opinions and I was touched when they listened to me and were interested in what I told them.
I had forgotten how much energy teenagers (and young adults) have. I had forgotten how straightforward and powerful their ideas about their future and about life often are. I had forgotten how strong they are and also how fragile and that there are so many things they still need to learn. I had forgotten that you need to show them respect and interest, and when you do, how easily they open up and how much they share about themselves.
And I had forgotten how much I love, love, LOVE working with young people. I’m not going back to being a teacher, but I won’t forget again how good it feels to be of use to these interesting, lovely, intriguing young plants that are just unfurling their leaves and starting to explore the world. I want to go back to being a mentor and help them grow.
And I want to leave my comfort zone more often. Good things happen when I do.
good things that are happening:
- I’m less tired
- I will be sitting in/participating in a youth seminar for three days next week with the possibility of working as a mentor on future seminars, which means a potential source of sporadic employment
- temperatures have risen and it feels like spring outside
- I got tired of walking the same old rounds with the dog, so we took the car and drove somewhere new and it was great – interesting new smells for him and beautiful views for me
- my brother passed his exams and is now (finally!) an architect (on paper, at least)
- I have about ten brilliant ideas of what I want to do with my life every day
bad things that are happening:
… none really, but maybe I should re-phrase…
things I’m not happy about but don’t want to call bad because that would seem like base ingratitude and major whining:
- none of the ideas I have – all of which are fine ideas, practicable, fun, something I’d be good at, something I feel good about – get past the first initial research and I don’t know why not – I loose faith, energy, focus, courage and then the idea just crumples up and goes to die on the graveyard of might-have-beens that is taking up an ever-larger part of my brain
- if I don’t get my act together very soon, I will miss the wedding of one of my best friends, because I won’t be able to afford to fly there and
- I will still be living here when my parents return from their world trip, which is really not something I think I can do
- and I just hate feeling this useless – that although I have years of education, tons of life experience, a good understanding of myself, a supportive family, fabulous friends… I still go to bed every evening and when I ask myself what I’ve done that day, I can’t think of an answer
Sorry. Sorry for being this down. And I’m not even down. I’m furious at myself and disappointed that again, I’ve let a deadline slip past – for a fun project with one of my best friends – without having got the work done in time, even though I really want this project to succeed. WHAT is stopping me? I don’t understand. Any ideas?
I’m so tired these days. It’s hard to wake up. I think I’m missing the sun. Maybe my body wants to hibernate. This sleep-walking state seems to be good for my writing though. Probably because my brain is left out of it and my subconscious has full reign of my fingers as I type.
The following is the beginning of an idea that I have carried in my heart for years. I was always afraid to work on it. This morning I woke with a song in my mind, the song that is the inspiration to that idea. And these words flowed out. If you have any comments or feedback… you know the drill.
I’m writing this to you. You know who you are. You are the one who destroyed my life.
I remember when I saw you the first time. You were standing at the edge of the crowd on the afternoon of the poetry reading in honor of the prize we’d recently won at the department. I noticed you because you were so still, standing like a statue – or no, not a statue. A statue is dead. And you were alive. The whole chattering, laughing, excited crowd seemed dead next to you as you stood there. You were the center of the world spinning around you. And your eyes… Your eyes were fixed on Norma.
I pointed you out to her. How ironic is that?
Actually, it isn’t. It’s a bad joke, that’s all.
I wonder now… If I hadn’t pointed you out, if I hadn’t bent my head to her as we sat at the side of the stage, and whispered “Hey, I think you’ve got an admirer!” and she hadn’t smiled up at me and said “Only one?” and then followed my little nod in your direction and she hadn’t met your eyes over the crowd assembled to hear the poetry of our students… Had none of that happened, would I be writing this letter now? Would she be here with me at this moment, instead of…
I hate you.
But I cannot blame you.
The blame rests with me. Or maybe not. Maybe there is noone to blame. Maybe it had to happen like this. Maybe this was always meant to be, right from the beginning.
The beginning… I don’t even know when it began. I seems there is no beginning. Was it that our grandfathers worked side by side in the factory? That they went off to fight in the same regiment and returned home badly wounded within three months of each other? That their wives had forged a close friendship in their absence and the couples bought neighboring houses? That our fathers and uncles and aunts grew up side by side? That our fathers, in turn, moved into neighboring houses when they each married? Was that the beginning?
Or was it that we were born in the same year, six months apart – the winter child and the summer child. Mike and Norma.
What is it about films with choirs? Or is it films from Scandinavia with choirs?
First, there was Oh Happy Day. And last night, my sister made me watch As It Is in Heaven. She bought the DVD as a Christmas present for herself and so far, I’d resisted watching it. Why? I knew it was going to be sad. I could tell from the title.
She assured me that yes, she’d cried upon first watching it. And yes, she’d probably cry again this time as well. Not because it was sad, but because of the beauty. After that, I was even more sure that it was going to be sad.
I don’t dislike films that are sad. My problem is that I get so very emotionally involved. I sink completely into a film, a book, a story, characters and people. And not just for the duration of watching or reading – every time this happens, a little bit of me gets changed forever. I hope for the better. It’s too painful a process to go through otherwise. Beauty can slay you.
To avoid that pain, in recent years, I’ve opted for light and forgettable, funny or serious, action, mystery – anything but emotion and depth and beauty. I was afraid of what it would do with me. (For an impression on what beauty does to me, you can have a look at some of my older posts, when I was very much engaged with the topics of beauty and stillness - here, for example, or here or here - or, for good measure, try this or this.)
I have promised myself to be courageous this year, however. So I was. And you cannot imagine how much I tried to stay in my head, watch with a detached, analytic attitude. I couldn’t hold it up past the first three minutes. Throughout the movie, I got angry, scared, experienced that choking feeling that goes with a sudden and intense romantic scene, felt wistful, afraid, joyful, thoughtful, sad, happy.
It was a wild and beautiful ride of emotions. And to say that I cried at the end would not tell you a tenth of the truth. I choked. Tears streamed down my face. I clung to my sister’s hand as she clung to mine, reassuring each other and all the time not taking our eyes off the screen, not even daring to blink as the inexpressible was expressed in pictures and sounds and filled every cell in my body until it hurt.
The aftereffects? I slept very bad. I always sleep easily and deeply. Last night I didn’t. And when I slept, I dreamed. And when I woke, this was all I could think about. And I’m still under the spell.
If you can, and if you’re up to an intense experience, watch this movie. Don’t read reviews or summaries, just take heart and watch. It’ll be worth it. I’ll leave you with one of the key scenes, which works beautifully by itself (what a song!), but is a hundred times more intense still in the context.
As befitting a year devoted to courage, I continued the process of unfurling from my self-induced state of reclusion and had a grand day out on Saturday. My youngest sister had to go the airport in the morning to fly back to England and since for unfathomable reasons it’s cheaper and quicker to go by car than by public transport, that’s what we did. I dropped her off and then navigated the car downtown, the town in question being Stuttgart (the capital of Baden-Württemberg, which is a federal state of Germany, the one right down in the south-western corner).
We’d started out from home with blue skies and a rose-and-gold sunrise, but we’d encountered the first snow on the way down already. When I’d parked the car and walked the couple minutes to the centre, I sent my middle sister this picture and text:
I’d forgotten the acute sense of being connected and at the same time gloriously alone that you get when drifting through a big city, but I recaptured it as I tried my way through some new clothes (everything sorely needed, some of it coveted, practically nothing that fit), navigated some shoe stores (same story), ate my way through a variety of international take-away food, listened to street musicians, smiled at the pigeons huddling everywhere to be away from the snow, and looked out for the small human interactions, the gestures, the words, the movements that make a city come alive.
At one point it got really cold and I bought myself a cheap pair of finger-free gloves, choosing, from the rainbow of available colours, the electric-blue ones, which went together awesomely with my choice of nail polish for the weekend, hot pink. The rest of the day, I felt like shoving my hands in front of every stranger’s face and say: “Look! Pretty, isn’t it?” I didn’t. I didn’t take the gloves off again though, not even when I was sitting in a café. I enjoyed too much the feeling of being colourful again. And since you guys are my friends and won’t call the police on me for harassment, I’m gonna shove my hand in front of your faces. Look! Pretty, isn’t it?
I’d toyed with the idea of spending part of the afternoon in one of my favourite museums (an ethnological museum that has the most interesting special exhibitions and is a mine of creative inspiration!), but they closed early, so I didn’t manage. Instead, I spent the time in the two major book shops, feeling calm and happy in a way it’s only possible to feel in the presence of large numbers of books. These are the ones I eventually chose to take home with me:
They are all in the area of contemporary fantasy, which wasn’t planned as such. I pondered the poetry and the crime section just as long and the classics even longer. I was very tempted by a new edition of On the Road, with beautiful photography and set in a clear, stark font, but eventually decided to go for new stories. Now I wonder if there’s a deeper meaning behind my choices. Maybe I long to escape into a magical world as well. (Well, I know I do, I just didn’t know it was this easily translatable into book choices).
I’d also thought about going to the theatre or the opera in the evening, but there was nothing on that particularly interested me and after a whole day of walking and strolling and standing I was pretty tired anyway. Tired, but happy.
Happy because I bought four books whose covers I adore and that I can’t wait to read. Happy because I let myself drift, which is freedom and pleasure in itself. Happy because I smiled at people in cafés and behind counters and people making music and most of them smiled back at me. And happy because I haven’t lost the knack of noticing small, easily-overlooked details in the rushing crowds that make me laugh and think.
Life’s pretty good, all in all.
How was your weekend?
I’m prone to headaches. Too much tension? Headache. Not enough fresh air? Headache. Sudden change in the weather? Headache. Perfume section in department stores? Headache. Sometimes, the headaches evolve to migraines. Luckily not that often, but when they do it’s sudden and brutal and I need to lie down immediately either in a dark room or with a scarf or similar wrapped around my head.
Yesterday I woke up with a headache and because I procrastinated on the medication, the pain suddenly skipped up the scales, whistling merrily as it went and trying to explode my head, which was my cue to lie down again and pull the blankets over my head. My youngest sister was kind enough to drop the blinds and bring me an extra blanket. (I don’t know why headaches always make me feel cold – something to do with the draining of energy? hm…)
And as I lay there, drifting somewhere between wakefulness and sleep, not thinking and not dreaming, trying to relax, words formed in my head and without any conscious effort at all, my brain dictated the whole text of the introduction to the (academic) project I’m working on at the moment to me. It’s not like I had started writing it already, or even thought about how to phrase my ideas. I’m still very much in the research phase. I have made a few mental notes on things that need to be made clear from the beginning, the emphasis on the approach I’m taking and so on. But I hadn’t written a single word of the intro, not on paper and not in my head. And yet, there it was. And it was good. It was clear, it was structured and it was to the point – but it also held passion and conveyed the importance of the issue and drew the reader right in.
Unfortunately, my brain chose to compose that text while I was prostrated and in no condition to emerge from under the blankets, so I couldn’t capture it. The same goes for dreams, by the way. I don’t always remember my dreams, but when I do, they are always long, involved, detailed, colourful and usually follow a loose storyline. I’ve dreamed the most amazing adventure stories and mysteries. I usually don’t remember them past the first two minutes after waking up though, and even while I try to write them down, they slip away so that I usually end up with mad scribblings, half of which are illegible and the other half doesn’t make sense anymore.
This morning, I tried to recapture the introduction my mind presented to me yesterday. I can’t. I use similar phrases, I try to use the same structure but it sounds forced and boring and pedantic. I’m sure I can improve it a lot, but my question is this: Why is my subconscious so much more brilliant than my conscious mind? And can somebody please remind me to take a dictaphone to bed when I have the next migraine?
Do you have amazing ideas in dreams and in a half-conscious state as well? How do you hang on to them? And do you think it’s possible to access that effortless creativity when awake?
2013 is almost a week old already. A lot of people have written about resolutions and plans. I don’t write resolutions, but I felt that I wanted to make some kind of statement to myself. So I wrote wishes on self-made cards and they are turning out to be quite motivating, spread around my desk. And pretty to look at. Amongst them are things as general and important as ‘I want to earn my own money again’, as well as those that are more personal and immediate, like ‘I want to attend Nathalie’s wedding‘. I have also chosen the beautiful song ‘Ends of the Earth’ by Lord Huron as my personal anthem for this year.
These wishes and this song will guide and accompany me. However, there was something still missing. A direction. Something to strive for, to go towards. Then I remembered that author Lynn Viehl, who blogs at Paperback Writer, sets herself themes for each year. I thought about what this could mean for me and I had two words in my head that I was experimenting with and had almost decided for one, when courage came along.
1. the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.
2. Obsolete. the heart as the source of emotion.
definition from Dictionary.com
Courage and bravery are often used synonymously, but they aren’t the same when you think about it. I’d even argue that bravery is a result of courage. So I looked it up in an etymology dictionary and got the following:
courage (n.) c.1300, from Old French corage (12c., Modern French courage) “heart, innermost feelings; temper,” from Vulgar Latin *coraticum (source of Italian coraggio, Spanish coraje), from Latin cor “heart” (see heart) which remains a common metaphor for inner strength.
In Middle English, used broadly for “what is in one’s mind or thoughts,” hence “bravery,” but also “wrath, pride, confidence, lustiness,” or any sort of inclination. Replaced Old English ellen, which also meant “zeal, strength.”
definition from the Online Etymology Dictionary
Isn’t that a wonderful word? Inner strength, heart, confidence, lustiness, pride – all part of this one concept: expressing what is in your mind or thoughts. I don’t know what triggered me to think of courage in the first place, but since I have, I see it everywhere. It pops up in blog posts, in video talks, in discussions with friends, in old diary entries. I think it’s a sign. So I’m adopting courage as my theme of the year.
And because I like to be thorough in these things, I also looked it up in a thesaurus and while some of the synonyms were a little contrived, there were a lot that I really like – amongst them words like boldness, adventurousness, audacity, daring, determination, endurance, enterprise, fortitude, intrepidity, mettle, pluck, resolution, spirit, tenacity and élan.
So 2013 will be the year of courage – a year full of intrepid enterprise, determined resolution and bold adventures. I know it will be – because I’m going to make it so!
Do you write resolutions? Or choose themes? Or maybe an anthem? Or is all of this new-year-new-beginning thing a nuisance and unnecessary anyway?