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?
I meant to write a blog post today expressing my thanks, talking about Christmas a little bit and drawing some meaningful, poetic conclusion of the last year. I’ve been writing it in my head for days. But all I feel today is frustration, sadness and anger, and I cannot write it.
The truth is, I don’t like New Year’s Eve (or Sylvester, as we call it in Germany). There is no real significance behind it, yet everybody makes such a big thing out of it that it’s easy to feel left out. Especially if you have nothing to celebrate, or do not feel ready for a new start.
All the end-of-year lists, the summing up, the best-of lists… They make me anxious. I feel under pressure. It’s true that for the past fifteen or sixteen years, I’ve sat myself down in a quiet corner some time during the afternoon of the 31st of December and written some kind of conclusion of the year, of my year. It’s frequently helped to ground me, to focus on the big things. It’s strictly personal, however, and nobody will ever read it until I’m dead.
Two days ago I was taking a nap on the couch, more or less because I was bored and didn’t feel like doing anything else. When I woke up, in that little space between sleeping and being fully awake, I had the idea that I wanted to write down wishes for the new year. Not resolutions, because they don’t work for me, not things I ‘have to’ do, or ‘should’ do. But write wishes, things I want, things I wish for. And because I want them to have significance, I wasn’t going to write them on normal paper, but make beautiful, unique, personal cards in a rainbow of colours and pictures and write my wishes on those. So I made cards. They haven’t turned out perfect – far from it! – because I’m not good at crafts. But I like them. They are personal and they are pretty enough to satisfy me. Now it’s early afternoon and I have the cards, but I haven’t written anything yet, because I’m still in that mood of anger and frustration. I want to get rid of it. I don’t like starting new things with old things hanging on. I like clean sheets. Figuratively as well as literally.
And while I try to get into a better frame of mind, I’m listening to the song that I’m going to wear on my banner in the next year. It’s a song that holds a special place in my heart. It chides me and at the same time gives me infinite freedom. It challenges my comfort zone and never once gives me the feeling that I’m not capable of anything I set my mind to. It has such mystique and power and freedom and a deep wealth of pictures and emotions. This is the song I want with me throughout the year, the song I need at my side. This is my personal anthem for 2013.
Oh, there’s a river that winds on forever
I’m gonna see where it leads.
Oh, there’s a mountain that no man has mounted
I’m gonna stand on the peak.
Out there’s a land that time don’t command
wanna be the first to arrive.
no time for pondering why I’m a-wandering
To the ends of the earth, would you follow me?
There’s a world that was meant for us to see
To the ends of the earth would you follow me?
Oh, there’s an island where all things are silent
I’m gonna whistle a tune.
Oh, there’s a desert whose size can’t be measured
I’m gonna count all the dunes.
Out there’s a world that calls for me, girl
headin’ out into the unknown.
If there are strangers and all kinds of dangers,
don’t say I’m going alone.
To the ends of the earth, would you follow me?
There’s a world that was meant for us to see
To the ends of the earth would you follow me?
I was a-ready to die for you baby,
doesn’t mean I’m ready to stay.
What good is living a life you’ve been given
if all you do is stay in one place?
I’m on a river that winds on forever
follow ’til I get where I’m goin’.
Maybe I’m headin’ to die but I’m still gonna try
I guess I’m goin’ alone.
*I can’t make out these lines… Sorry.
To all my beautiful blog readers, friends and the whole world – I’m wishing you a wonderful and merry Christmas and may peace and joy guide your days. All my wishes go out to those who have to spent these days in need, fear or danger (I’m thinking particularly of the refugees from Syria, but everybody else will be in my thoughts tonight as well). And I’m thankful for and grateful to all the good people out there who try to do something to change things for the better in so many different ways.
I’D Miilad Said! (Arabic for those refugees)
Shubh Naya Baras! (Hindi, because my parents are in India)
I try to avoid obsessions. They’re dangerous.
There are many things I can become obsessed about – books, characters, whole story worlds, movies, causes, people in need, new ideas, adventures, injustices – sometimes even friends. Practically anything invested with any kind of emotion has the potential to turn me from this…
… to this …
– a single-minded, driven, compulsive, zombie-esque being. It’s ugly. It’s raw. It’s dangerous for anyone who gets in the way. It’s a hostile takeover. I have no say in anything concerning my life while in the grip of an obsession. Much easier to not let it happen in the first place.
It’s very inconvenient that I’ve been taken over by one just before Christmas. It’ll interfere. It already is.
Downton Abbey has arrived in German TV and they showed the whole first season on one weekend (that’s seven episodes). And because I have an imagination that runs on 500 km/h at the least encouragement, I’ve already spent one whole night dreaming about it, a whole day having imaginary talks with the characters, worrying about their future, their well-being, their happiness and being as nervous as before a date for all of today and now, after having watched the last two episodes tonight, I fear that the next night full of detailed, long and in-depth dreams is just ahead.
Shouldn’t I be writing about Christmas? Traditions, food, family, how lovely everything is and how wonderful our dog smells now that we’ve washed off all the layers of dried-on mud with camomile baby shampoo? Probably. Maybe. I guess. Whatever.
But I just really, really, REALLY *need* to know that Anna and Bates will turn out happy!!! (Don’t anybody dare tell me! No spoilers! 🙂 )
… it’s just so very exhausting, carrying a full cast of people in my mind and heart over whose fates I have no influence whatsoever…
P.S.: If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I encourage you to watch this show.
… because sometimes it’s just the twinkle of the gleaming bathroom fittings.
Yep, I’ve spent the whole day tidying up, putting things away and other things out, and dusting, vacuuming, polishing, scrubbing, … And who’d have thought that cleaning was actually so suitable for producing the proper Christmas spirit?!
I sure didn’t expect that, but it seems to work. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m looking forward to having (almost) all the pack back together. My two younger sisters are arriving home tomorrow and our brother will join us on Sunday. True, our parents are somewhere in southern India, cruising a National Park on a motorcycle or something equally cool, but it’ll be so nice to have all my siblings back together! Since there’s five of us, that rarely happens. There’s always at least one somewhere abroad for any family event throughout the year. But we usually manage to get together for Christmas!
So I’m preparing some local dishes for the two that are coming from abroad (one from the UK, the other from Berlin, which is not abroad as such, but it’s on the other side of Germany, so it counts!) for the weekend, and planning dinner for the 24th and when we’ll go to Church and what we’ll do in between… We’ll have our grandmother join us on Christmas Eve and so far, the plan is to go to Church for the afternoon service, which is weirdly early, but the later one is always so packed and it might be nice to go about it in a more leisurely way. Then we’ll have tea and gingerbread and each of us can show some photos of what they did this year – catching up, you know? Then we’ll have dinner, then do the presents – which don’t exist this year since we’re all broke and out of ideas and time, but we’ll pretend there are some – and then on to dessert and champagne! Sound good? Yeah, I think so, too.
And I can imagine how ecstatic our dog will be when they all start showing up! He almost has a heart attack from joy every time one of the pack turns up.
Have I mentioned that I’m looking forward to seeing them all again? Even if it means taking all my office/work stuff out of my sister’s room and turning it back into a bedroom – it doesn’t matter, I just want her to be happy to be home again. That’s also the reason I polished the bathroom fittings, because that’s part of coming home: clean, fresh bed linen, a glitteringly clean bathroom and local food. And a dog that is narrowly avoiding a heart attack from sheer joy of seeing you.
Remember that well-used piece of advice to “think outside the box”? It’s practically a cliché by now. I guess most people realize that there is sense in it, but don’t quite know what it’s supposed to mean or how to go about it. I can’t tell you either. I can tell you, however, that I’m starting to learn what it means for me and boy, is it different from what I thought it meant!
During the time I was living in London, about a year ago now, I was looking for work and spending most of my time martyring my brain to hit upon a solution – to my life, to finding work, to earning enough money to be independent… I felt for days at a time that the answer was just on the tip of my tongue and I couldn’t *quite* reach it, but maybe if I thought about it just a little bit harder, wrote some more in my journal, drew up some more plans, I would reach it. I was telling myself and my friends constantly that I just had to find a way to think outside the box, to not look at things in the conventional way. And nothing happened. In the end, I had to pack up my stuff and move back to my parents, with nothing achieved and nothing gained.
I’ve come to the realization that the box I was trying to think outside of, and the box I should have thought outside of, were two different ones. While I was ripping out planks of one box, the other and more important one stood untouched. And I didn’t even know it was there.
The box I was taking apart bit by bit was the one that the society, the place and the time in which I grew up put me in. I was trying to find new approaches to how to find work. I was trying to find new approaches of the kind of work I could do and wanted to do. I tried to think from different perspectives. I tried to use the (necessarily very much) free time that I had to write, but couldn’t concentrate because I was worried about where next month’s rent was going to come from and then tried to look at that problem in a different way. I was really hard on myself and tried to push through to that elusive solution and got nowhere.
Since being back with my family, in the home of my childhood, I’ve been .. well, lazy. Especially the last two months. I’m applying to work, but not excessively. I’m writing, but not very much. I walk the dog, I cook for those family members that are here, I do household chores, I drive my grandma to various doctors or to go shopping. I don’t socialize much, I don’t go out, I live a very retired life. The days go by. A while ago, a very good and wise friend told me that our society didn’t rate lethargy high enough. That being lazy was a necessary germination period. I told her that I had it up to here with lethargy and this germination period of mine had been going on for long enough, that things had to change. I want to apologize now for being slightly flippant about her theory and not accepting her words with an open mind. Because lately, they have started to make sense, and very, very slowly, things are coming together.
The change has been subtle – so very subtle that I couldn’t put my finger on it for days. Yesterday, the right words to name the process blossomed in my head: I am learning to think outside the box. Very surprised, I looked inside me to try and see where that thought was coming from and it led me back to various experiences in the past weeks and months. I suddenly understood that the box that I’m working on now, working on so very gently and fluently, is not the one constructed by society, but the one constructed by myself.
This box has enormous power over me, because most of the time, I’m not even aware of its existence, yet it’s there all the time, in the background, influencing every choice I make. This box – my box – is made up of different things. There are past experiences and there are expectations I have of myself. There are expectations that I imagine others to have of me. There is fear, and insecurity, and that nasty little voice that keeps whispering: ‘You won’t succeed anyway, so why even try?’ Worst of all: There are assumptions I have made about myself my whole life long, and that are so entwined with me that most of the time I don’t know anymore if they are fact or fiction.
An example: I’ve always assumed that I’m a chaotic person. My desk is usually covered with things – papers, pens, computer cables, letters, bills, documents, books, a used teacup, pretty stones or shells, a calender, … You get the picture. I’m not very neat and tidy. So I must be a chaotic person. Clear, right? But now I’ve begun to doubt that assumption. I’ve remembered that when I feel blue or when I feel ill with a bad cold or a flu, the first thing I do is to straighten up my room. Everything needs to be clean and tidy before I can start feeling better. I’ve also realized that in digital spaces, I’m highly organized. My music collection, my photos, my writing documents – everything is very, very organized and I need to be able to find everything at a moment’s notice. I’ve also noticed that I spend quite a bit of time thinking how to organize, group and/or categorize things, starting from craft material to books, to folders both physical and digital, and so on. So maybe this assumption that I’m a chaotic person is wrong? It almost feels like a betrayal to even think it, let alone write it out, but it’s certainly true that the facts and the fiction are not congruous.
I could give you more examples, but I think you understand already. There are two results of this assumption – I’ve put an unnecessary limit on myself and because of that, I’ve not had the achievements I hoped, waited and wished for. I blocked myself by believing something about myself that is now turning out to not be true!
I’m starting to adjust and experiment with the new bits and pieces of knowledge about myself that are slowly surfacing. The results so far are encouraging. Of course, I’m still in the beginning of this process. It’s slow and not always perceptible. It feels more like a continental drift than like an earthquake.
The really staggering thought, however, is this: What else don’t I know about myself? And who will I be when I fully let go of who I think I am?
Have you experienced this? Did you find it as frightening and liberating as I’m starting to feel? And is a year and a half of germination period really necessary to learn things about yourself?