Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Conversation excerpt: Discussing a job loss

Subject: Dude

From: S
Date: Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 2:08 PM
To: J
Did you get an email from the NYT and Lincoln car saying essentially, "You are a NYT addict and we'd like to offer you free access for the remainder of 2011?" I did, and it worked. YAY. It totally made my day.
How was the rest of your night?

From: J
Date: Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 2:23 PM
To: S

I read an actual real magazine made of paper.  I got a Newsweek sub from my NPR membership and I tried to cancel it but they keep sending it to me so I decided I should read it occasionally.  My Social Studies teacher during HS used to use Newsweek in class.  It's not as fluffy as I was thinking it would be.  The writing is actually pretty good.  
I am jealous of your free NYT sub.

From: S
Date: Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 2:28 PM
To: J
I just was reading the New Yorker, and I used to really love that.
I think I am going to unemployed as of May 25th.

From: J
Date: Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 2:31 PM
To: S

Why do you think that?  I like the NYorker too.

From: S
Date: Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 2:32 PM
To: J
[forwarded letter of contract cancellation inserted here] 

Summary: This subject has been discussed at length and it appears that this is a final decision. Please consider this as notice of the end of your employment... as of 25 May 2011.

From: S
Date: Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 2:32 PM
To: J

I just got it 17 min ago.

From: S
Date: Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 2:33 PM
To: J

I am having a mild panic attack.

From: J
Date: Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 2:34 PM
To: S

Ummm.  That's big news.  Let it sit for a bit. 

From: S
Date: Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 2:43 PM
To: J

I'll be fine. I'm already adapting...

From: J
Date: Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 2:55 PM
To: S

At least that spares you from having to make that particular hard choice.

From: S
Date: Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 3:10 PM
To: J

No, they are trying to retain us in a different way. I just have to see how this plays out. F!

From: J
Date: Wed, Mar 23, 2011 at 3:55 PM
To: S

Sounds more complicated than it already was.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"But sometimes it is good to be free in a pair."

8:22AM  Sunday 27 March
(If I had not left at this exact time, I would've missed this lesson.)
Rolling out of town into the German countryside. Two horses, on the road ahead.
I think, someone's out for a ride early. But when I get closer, there are no riders, just free animals. What are they doing running down the road together? One dark, one light. Breath cascading behind them like smoke from an engine as they gallop along the edge of the road, side by side. Should I pass them? I slow down, watching, entranced. The hazy air mixes with their breath, and sunlight glints off their bodies, muscles pumping and limbs flying free. Pure happiness and freedom together. I wonder where they're going. Does it matter? They're going somewhere together.
A black Fiat shows up in my rear view mirror with emergency flashers on. I pull over for them to pass. They follow the horses. We trail them down the road, through the trees. And I wonder which way they'll go once they reach the T-intersection at the bottom of the hill. But they surprise me, and suddenly veer off the road, taking to the fields, running up over a hill and disappearing. The Fiat stops. A bleached-blonde lady in a tube top and shorts gets out, running over the hill, harness in hand, followed by a balding man in jeans with a feed bucket and harness, who's limping. They run up the hill and soon turn back. The horses are not looking back; they have run off together.
I couldn't help but feel happy for them, in their freedom together. I don't know if they will return home, or if they will just go on roaming the countryside. My friend Ivana (who is Czech and English as a second language) said to me a while back, "But sometimes it is good to be free in a pair." Maybe it applies to all of us on earth, humans and animals. And we need not always follow the road that everyone else takes. Sometimes it's good to create your own path together.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sudden Life Upheaval

Two days ago I posted, "Living out of my comfort zone is the most comfortable place to be" on Facebook, not realising it would apply to me so intimately in less than 24 hours time. Did I bring this on? Was I too comfortable here in Germany? A valid question, regardless of the cascade of following events. I was comfortable, maybe too comfortable.
It was a hopeful start yesterday, waking at 5:30, rested. These days I rise earlier and earlier with the sun, and don't mind because the idea that the days are getting longer makes me so happy. I headed into town early and thought I'd stop at the gas station, but it wasn't open 'til 7:00, so instead I had an espresso and wrote in my journal. After coffee, I filled my tank, picked up some Euros, and was still running early, so I stopped at the grocery store for Pink Lady apples, and headed to post. Still early yet, (no, my body wasn't taken over by an alien form-- I know, I'm never this early, really, it's insane, but I'll go on) I washed my car before work, and decided to stop at the auto shop and see if they could do an oil change. They put me on standby and I walked to work.
I opened my inbox to more good news. "As a frequent reader of, you've demonstrated an uncommon interest in a wide variety of today's most important topics. This makes you anything but average. In fact, it can't help but make you "smarter" — just the kind of person we want to engage." And offered me a free digital subscription for the remainder of 2011. (I was suspicious of a scam, but it wasn't.) Recently the NYT decided to charge for unlimited access, and I was on the fence about signing up. It's a small thing, but I felt happy.
The morning patient load was one of the busiest yet. At lunch I went for a walk in the springtime sun.
2:27PM: Abrupt halt to previously comfortable day...
I open an email stating the US Army in Bavaria "does not require services under our contract ... Please consider this as notice of the end of your employment... 25 May 2011, your last day of employment under the contract". Mini panic attack ensues. Fortunately there were only two more patients to go since I'd turned into a saucer-eyed space cadet.
There's a number of emotions you go through when you suddenly find out that you won't be working in two months' time. Shock. Anger. Disbelief. Fear. Excitement. I've always preached the sermon of instability, uncertainty and life change, and now I was being tested in my beliefs.
After work, I stopped to pick up my car, and they were all gushing how they loved Mini Coopers, and especially mine in bright aqua. I couldn't pay attention. I wanted to say, "I lost my job!" But I smiled in my daze and drove home slowly.
Thinking the best thing (plus it was on the schedule for the day anyway) would be to run through the fields, I laced up and donned my orange t-shirt. Anytime life is confusing, running fixes a lot, or at least wears me out and lets my mind wander, sorting through things and dropping them in to place like a Connect-Four game.
By the time the run was over, I'd thought:
I can go home. My family. My friends. Portland. Portland will always be my home. It was a funny thought. I don't mean to move there. Just to visit. To drive my car up to Carrie's matching car. Wander through the neighborhoods. I can visit Molly and my new niece to be in Iowa, maybe in September! I can take some time off. I'm an astute; I'll find another job. I don't need the money. I can travel. 
So, 24 hours after the email, I don't know really what's going to happen. I've heard lots of things. Maybe I'll be flying to Macedonia come and spend the summer slowly working my way up through Eastern Europe on public transport. Maybe I'll be offered a different position in Germany. Maybe I'll move back to the states.
There's things to sort out, but if I'm patient and open, they'll fall into place. It's too early to make decisions, and not all the information is available. I agree with President Obama: "No sudden moves." 
I believe in following openings, and letting life lead the way, but I also believe in educated and calm decisions. There's a comfort, too, in adaption and change, as well as in stability.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Adventuring, agreed.

"This is what it means to be an adventurer in our day: to give up creature comforts of the mind, to realize possibilities of the imagination. Because everything around us says no you cannot do this, you cannot live without that, nothing is useful unless it is in service to money, to gain, to stability. The adventurer gives in to the tides of chaos, trusts the world to support her - and in doing so turns her back on the fear and obedience she has been taught. She rejects the indoctrination of impossibility. My adventure is a struggle for freedom."  - from Off the Map by Hib Chickena & Kika Kat 

Friday, March 18, 2011

A toast to taxes, life, and a new season!

It's spring in Germany. Drizzly skies, drooping hazily to the ground, wet and shiny. Morning light peeking through the blinds before the seven o'clock hour quietly wakes me without alarm. Thumping through the fields in my running shoes, to the beat of my breath and the music in my head. Waving to the neighbors, who've resumed their positions in the gardens. Sunshine and grey, intermittently returning. The white stuff is gone, for now.
Spring: time of the year when everything's in renewal, hope abounds, and life peaks up. I can't help but love this time of year best of all. Each time it returns, I feel a sigh of relief that I've made it through another season of darkness. The color of life brightens, and everything seems to make sense again.
I finished my taxes this morning, owing a small sum to the IRS. I almost feel I should pay more, as if it would make a difference to the budget problems, but I'll follow what the Turbotax tells me. Next year my return will be the simplest it's been since college. I've been actively paring down my life for four years now, and each responsibility shrugged feels like a weight released. Soon I will fly with lightness.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

On beauty, from The Art of Getting Lost

"Marine was a delicate tomboy, sultry and pale, with the soft perfect skin of a child and fierce dark eyes better described as long than large. I remember a furtive look she had, of a cornered animal, and how elegant she'd become that last night. People wanted to capture her, like a wild thing, and take care of her, like a child. Beauty is often spoken of as though it only stirs lust or admirations, but the most beautiful people are so in a way that makes them look like destiny or fate or meaning, the heroes of a remarkable story. Desire for them is in part a desire for a noble destiny, and beauty can seem like a door to meaning as well as to pleasure. And yet such people are often nothing extraordinary except in their effect on others. Exceptional beauty and charm are among those gifts given by the sinister fairy at the christening. They give the bearer considerable sway over others, which can keep them so busy being a sort of siren on the rocks where others shipwreck that they forget that they themselves need to figure out where they are going. Marine had this quality of living in a story one might want to live in too, but she had ability, application and boldness as well as beauty."  - Rebecca Solnit 

Monday, March 14, 2011

To the color blue

"...that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains. Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in, for the blue world."  
-From the Art of Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Was I born on the wrong continent?

In a Chicago bookstore, I came across Were you born on the wrong continent? How the European model can help you get a life by Thomas Geoghegan, an American labor lawyer. A quick perusal: intriguing writing and questions posed from a Chicagoan who’d become interested in the European model, Germany in particular. So I ordered it from my Army library.

Mr. Geoghegan points out the pros of the German government: though they pay more taxes, they receive more benefits, including more paid holidays, retirement, maternity & paternity leave, nursing home benefits, and guaranteed wages/unemployment. There are also more checks and balances in place, to prevent a recurrence of WWs I & II, which were put into place partially by the US Army.

Other points which interested me: Germany has a lower college education rate than USA, and he points out the German education system needs work. But at the same time, how many of our college grads are working beneath their degrees, as waiters or baristas or secretaries, or personal assistants. Perhaps what we need is less formal education and more life long education. German newspaper circulation is 23 million; USA is 34 million. Total populations are Germany: 82 million, USA: 310 million. 78% of Germans read the newspaper daily for at least 28 minutes. What about Americans? He argues than they have more lifelong education, and therefore are more involved in their government, and the world at large, which I think are probably true.

In Europe, I feel at peace in a way I’ve not felt before. Is it because a night out is dinner with friends for three hours? That weekends are walking in the woods? Is it that people over here watch less TV than Americans and their hours/week are decreasing while ours are increasing? Is it the leisureliness that is inherent in the European lifestyle? I don’t know. But I do know that I feel like I belong here. The values of the Europeans match mine.

On my recent trip home to the states, I felt flat towards my own country. Not distaste, but not belonging either. I was watching myself from the outside as I was there, waiting to see what I’d feel. Would I want to go home? What is home anyway? I felt home in Germany when I went through immigration speaking all German to the customs agent, hopping the trains, quiet and efficient, making jokes with the man sitting next to me, seeing my little car in the train parking lot where I’d left it free for the week, traversing the country roads through the fields, not another car in sight. Arriving home.

I don’t know if the Germany model is the answer to America’s economic woes, but it is worth a look at. As for myself, I am still investigating the European lifestyle, and hope to do so for a while longer.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wieverfastelovend - Part of Fasching festival, and a visitor from Chicago!

What is Wieverfastelovend ? It's the entry of women into Fasching. Fasching is the carnival/pre-lent week of celebrations when Germans are at their craziest, which could not be saying much, but they really do go all-out. Initally Fasching was for men only, so when women started to join in the celebration, they got the Thursday before the big weekend celebrations to themselves. On this night, all men must dress up like women to get into establishments. The women can do whatever they like. It was great fun, albeit cold.

I'd gone into Amberg for Wieverfastelovend with some people from Vilseck post, and ran into others who I knew there. Later that night, I picked up my friend, Wanda, who I met on the south island of New Zealand about two years ago (that's the last time I'd seen her). It was pretty delightful to pick her up from the train in a crazy outfit. While she was here, we laid low, as she'd just been to a lot of big Euro cities, and I was fresh off a trip to my mother country, so it worked out perfectly for both of us. Nights of cooking dinner together, sleeping in late, drinking wine and wandering small towns. All a delight. Plus matching shirts. Who can beat that?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ode To Lily

Three days in Iowa City with Molly, Josh and Lily... a delight! Molly's doing a great job raising Lily. It was super fun being an auntie for a few days. Funny: Lily has a picture book of all of her relatives, and when I arrived called out, "Caw-wie!". We'd straighten her out, but I was about half Carrie and half Sara for the visit, which was fine with me. Lily got two for the price of one-- both her aunties! Also entertaining was teaching Lily the muscle man pose, the YMCA, and how to shake hands and say, "Nice to meet you." Though it came out "Nice ju jeet ju," it was still adorable. Molly didn't want me to teach her "dummkopf," even though I tried. "Kopf" was just too hard even for my supersmart niece. Lily took a liking to the hippie magazine we brought home from the co-op, so I am hopeful that she will grow up and turn out like me. I forsee... No hairbrushes! No make-up! And trips to India in her future... it is all good.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A winter holiday in the Midwest- not for the feeble.

There's a correlation between freezing your ass off and worsening your sickness... and I have proved it to myself that this is the case. I am on week THREE of this thing, and wondered today when a person would kill themselves rather than blow their nose another time. At least I can use up the vintage kleenexes at my house.

Returning to Germany yesterday felt like coming home. It's an interesting feeling to go abroad to your motherland and feel more in the right place somewhere else. This time the culture shock of the states was less than when I'd returned from Asia and NZ after the same length of absence (about 18 mos both times). Perhaps it's the similarity of the US to Germany, or that I am working with Americans, or that nothing much shocks me anymore. 

I arrived on a Saturday into Chicago, after hopping a train to Munich. All was uneventful, though I was sick on arrival, and that prevailed. Jet lag was moderate. And the cold of Chicago was not to be ignored. 

We spent a couple days wandering around Chicago, to the Art Institute (wonderful!) and local shops, as well as a side trip up to the snowy wonderland of Milwaukee. I'm not convinced they own plows up there. I think they're just waiting for it to all melt or get mashed off the roadways by passing vehicles. But I needed to make a trip to my new coffee love's hometown. The coffee is Alterra. It's better than anything I've ever tasted. And I am a super coffee snob. No exaggerating. 

Next stop: Iowa City. The last time I was in Iowa I was about two. This time it was to visit my baby sister Molly, who moved to Iowa City last May, where her husband, Josh, is completing his medical residency in family practice. They have a 1.5 year old, Lily, who was a total ham. I learned new tricks from her, and confirmed that our family does in fact have much better looking and much smarter kids than average! It's funny to be around a kid full-time... I realise those stay-at-home moms are working way harder than me. It was lovely to have a few days together. Molly's got a cozy house, and Iowa City has a surprisingly high number of hippies, and a cute walking downtown area. Quite a surprise. 

The last two days were back in Chicago, for R&R before the flight home. The bitter cold managed to attack my sinuses, and the flight back was not a joy in any way. Being surrounded by jerky passengers only added to the fun. But fortunately, I slept most of the trip and also, those jerks don't live at my house. I can handle anything for eight hours.
In all, a good visit to the states and good to be home in Germany.