April 15, 2009
My life is filled with so many, many goodbyes, because I have moved so often and, as a Gen Xer, I've changed jobs a lot relative to generations before me. Also, my friends are all people like me, who move and change jobs a lot. And while all this activity has made life exciting, never boring, it means a never-ending number of goodbyes. You would think I would be used to them by now. But I'm not. I hate goodbyes.
Most of my close friends I met here in Germany have long moved on. But what few friends I leave behind, I am going to miss terribly. I'm also going to miss not-so-close friends: the people I met at the same times every day in the morning and evenings when I walked Albi, my landlord and his wife and, ofcourse, their dog, my neighbors next door and across the street and all around our neighborhood in Sinzig, the woman who owns the photo shop downtown and is always so friendly and helpful, the Italian restaurant here, Omar and his restaurants in Bonn Altstadt, and on and on.
What I'm going to miss most? The every day experience of living in Europe, particularly Sinzig. I have loved living in Europe. I have loved taking a weekend to go see somewhere I've heard about all my life. I have loved so many countries being just a short plane ride or train ride or even a short drive away. I love the Ahr Valley. I love all of the historic buildings around me that are older than anything in the USA. I love the Roman ruins being everywhere in Europe (but what did the Romans ever do for us?). I love how easy it is to get around without a car. Onion bread. You haven't lived until you have had German onion bread. Actually, I've been warned repeatedly about how much I'm going to miss the bread, and warned that Stefan will suffer withdrawals from it. Doener - a delicious invention by a Turkish German in Berlin that apparently is quite hard to find in the USA. Villages -- real villages, which we don't have in the USA any more. Belgian chocolate, which has RUINED American chocolate for me (save your Hershey bar, I do not want).
Germany has been so wonderful to me. I love it so much. I hope that it will always be in my life; I hope Stefan and I come back regularly for the rest of our lives, not just to visit family, but to continue to explore this beautiful country and the rest of the continent.
I first came to Germany in August 2000. I was invited to a conference in Bonn. I never expected to be offered a job. But there I was, in February 2001, walking out of the customs gate with my dogs, to be greeted by a woman I had never met before -- who became one of my best friends ever. How appropriate that the last trip I took in Europe was with Alex to Rome.
Thank you to all of you who made it a point to comment on something I had written on my Germany blawgs or travelogues or my photos. Some of you were friends, and some of you were people I've never met before, who stumbled onto these accounts for one reason or another and felt moved enough by what I shared to write me. I have cherished every word you said in these eight years about something you saw or read of mine -- it meant the world to me to hear from you, friend and stranger alike. There were days I never would have gotten through in Afghanistan without you in particular.
What am I looking forward to in the USA? Getting a full-time job! Also, having lots of friends nearby. Being permitted to drive a car again. Getting a motorcycle license and a motorcycle. Having a garden for the first time in more than eight years. Not feeling like I'm trapped in the house day after day after day. Showing my husband and my dog my favorite places in the USA. Burritos. Decent Indian food. Burritos. TV in English. Burritos. Conan O'Brian. Live honky tonk music. Being able to volunteer in-person again. Seeing movies immediately when they come out instead of years later. Finding a city where we want to spend the rest of our lives. Buying our own house and that moment when we can say, "We're not moving again for the next 30 years!" Planning trips to see Canada, Alaska, more of the USA, and Central and South America. Burritos.
The hardest part about moving is that so much is up in the air. I don't know where I'll be in three months. I don't know where I'll be in six months. I don't know when I'll have a real home of my own anymore. And then there's the waiting for Stefan. When will he come here? I don't know. And that makes me want to pull my hair out. Limbo is an awful state. Avoid it if you can.
So, this is my last blog from Germany. No more. I hope you enjoyed them.
And you had better subscribe to something up there, because, again, this is my last personal blawg. You've got plenty of options (see above) for staying up-to-date with me. I hope you will use one or two of them, because I don't want to lose touch with any of you.
In addition to Stefan Dietz, I love Stefan Fry -- but for different reasons. I love Fry's "blessays" -- blogs that are much too long and complex to be considered blogs, so they are blog-essays. Blessays. I read the following in one of his entries and rolled, as I easily could have written it myself:
"When I had a crush on Donny Osmond I was convinced that if he could only get to know me he would discover that I was so different from everyone else around him that he would understand how we were meant for each other."
Yes, I've been applying for jobs, though not a lot. Just over 30 in six months. Right now, I have the luxury to be picky, to apply only for those jobs that I think, "Wow, not only can I do this, I would love to do this!! And look how awesome the pay is!" I've had one phone interview, and one place asking for more info. Ouch. Yes, times are tough. I did land a very tiny consulting job for a state office in Virginia -- so I got THAT going for me...
We would really like to end up in the North Western USA: Oregon, Washington state, even Montana. I'd certainly take somewhere like Madison, Wisconsin or another progressive, eco-friendly, livable city above the Mason-Dixon line. But I admit I've also been applying every now and again for jobs in Washington, DC. -- I love the city, but it's crazy expensive, and the heat in summer makes my brain turn to mush (and will melt my husband, no question).
I could do 50% of what I was doing in Afghanistan from home. And I would be happy to, for a quarter of my salary...
"Die Ritter der KokosnuÃŸ" -- that's a German title for a movie I bet you know well. Without looking it up, try to guess.
I spent my last night in my beloved apartment in Sinzig on the Friday before Easter, after all of our things had been packed away by an army of Stefan's firefighting friends into a container down on the street. Then we moved to Stefan's parents, to stay until I leave for the USA on April 16. Albi's done as well as I had hoped as far as coping goes. She hasn't ever been camping and or on trips with us, so we figured all of the changes might be hard for her to take than it was for Buster and Wiley. We tried to keep our regular walking and schedule while we were in Sinzig even amid all the chaos, and then to establish a normal rhythm for her immediately when we arrived in Stefan's home town: she's sleeping on her own bed here in our tiny bedroom at Stefan's parents, and has a really nice long walk every morning and evening, just like in Sinzig. And she seems fine with it all now -- she loves laying in the sun out on the patio in particular. She also likes laying downstairs in the early evening, while Stefan and I are upstairs on our computers and Stefan's parents are downstairs watching TV: she can see both the front and back door, as well as the door to the basement and, therefore, knows where everyone is at all times.
We had her sleeping in the bottom half of her crate since before Christmas, and then put the top on several weeks ago, and she's been happy to sleep in it. That way, when I put her in it for the plane ride, she's just getting into bed. It's a strategy that seemed to work well with Buster and Wiley once upon a time...
So hard to believe it was just eight years ago the three of us came over...
As you all are painfully aware, I'm a very passionate, opinionated person. By contrast, Stefan is a stoic, rarely emotional person, and has 75% less opinions than me.
But, wow, he HATES Boris Becker. Ask him about it some time. You will see a side of Stefan you rarely see.
While staying at Stefan's parents, my sister wrote with the sad news that Bob Ellis had died. Every teenager in the world, and every community, should have a Mr. Ellis, that person who pushes you, who makes you work harder than you ever wanted to, who makes you mad and, at the same time, gives you wings to soar (and a push off the cliff). For some people, it's a sports coach, or a dance teacher, or whatever. For me, it was a choral director. Mr. Ellis.
I was terrified when I auditioned for Mr. Ellis in 1981. I wasn't the favored candidate going in, and when I found out I was one of just four sophomores chosen for his mixed choir in high school, I nearly fainted. It was one of the only times my mother ever told me she was proud of me; it was a HUGE deal for her. Mr. Ellis had a very big reputation in Henderson County -- he was respected, he was feared, and he demanded absolute excellence.
What did being in Mr. Ellis' choir back in high school teach me? As clichéd as it sounds, the importance of teamwork. I had never had that experience before, not really, and what I learned about working with others has stayed with me to this day. My management approach today is based on the approach he and other performing arts directors use with their performers: We are as good as our weakest link, and we have to all soar together or crash and burn together -- and it's our choice, together, what we do. We don't have to like each other, but we do have to work together, for each other, for the entire team to benefit. For all of us to fly. And we'll go much farther, much higher, together, than we ever could alone.
I also learned the importance of hard work. And I mean HARD work, work that makes you cry, work that makes you want to throw things, work that pushes you so hard you think, FORGET IT -- but you don't forget it, you keep working, you keep trying, you keep improving. Sometimes you take two steps back instead of forward. But you push and push yourself because that little elf of a man down there believes you can do it, and even if you hate him in that moment, you don't want to disappoint him. And you laugh and cry and you fly. And once the public performance comes around, the audience is awed. Awed. You see it in their eyes, and you hear it in their voice when they stop you in a grocery store to tell you, a mere member of an ensemble, how awesome the choir's performance last weekend was.
Mr. Ellis could make even this atheist give her all while singing a folk spiritual or Haydn's Mass. He could make this left-wing cynic become a super patriot while singing The Battle hymn of the Republic. And what he did for my diction -- I learned to speak English properly because of Mr. Ellis! He's Henry Higgins!
I have so many great memories of him, like when he took the choir to the World's Fair in Knoxville in 1982. That was such an important trip for me -- it's when I got an inclining that I really loved to travel. Egypt presented artifacts from the tombs of King Tut and Ramses II, and I was awed by those items, never dreaming I'd see them again in Egypt years later.
It was also because of Mr. Ellis that I learned what real loyalty is. I can say this now without getting him into trouble: Mr. Ellis snuck me into All State choir in 1984. I had made it my sophomore and junior years, but my senior year, for some reason, I blew the audition. I crashed. I still don't know what happened. Oh, how I cried. The entire high school choir was going up for the pre-conference to perform, and on the bus as he drove us up, Mr. Ellis called me up to the front of the bus. And I thought, oh, geesh, what did I do... and he said, "Jay-nee" (he was one of the few people I allow to break my name into two syllables) "Jay-nee, do you want to stay for All State?" Ofcourse I did! I won't say how he did it, but I got in, I got to sing with the All State Choir, and I had an unbelievably great time. What a gift that was to give me. Mr. Ellis also showed up for my going away party in Henderson in 2001 -- it meant the world to me. I was one of thousands of students he'd taught over the years, and there he was, for little ole' me.
As I told my sister, I loved him even when I loathed him. And OH how I loathed him at times. We were ready to kill each other during one night rehearsal for "Oklahoma." I'm glad we didn't.
And as I wrote on the memory board of the web site that did his funeral arrangements, I cannot listen to any version of "Precious Lord" except for his preferred arrangement. Or "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" unless it's the version we sang. Or probably a dozen other songs.
So many school administrators and anti-tax-zealots want to cut arts-related classes from schools, even when there isn't a budget crisis. What a tragedy that would have been for me. I wouldn't be nearly as successful as I have been professionally without having been in Mr. Ellis's choirs (I have to use the plural -- he made me sing in his church choir for a while even after I'd renounced my faith) -- and my professional work has nothing to do with choirs or singing or the arts.
Hurrah for the Internet yet again -- I got the news almost immediately, and then got to read lots of thoughts from others, as share my own, via the web site set up by the funeral home. Mr. Ellis didn't live in Henderson any more, and through the Web, so many people were able to share their thoughts with his family even though they can't be at his funeral. Technology is good, I don't care what anyone else says.
I used to love movie previews, because they made me really want to see a film. Now, they give away the entire plot and all the best moments, and often completely misrepresent what the movie really is. Case in point: "Return to Me." I'm a huge David Duchovny fan, but almost didn't see this film back in 2000 because the previews made it look so stupid, and gave away the main plot point. But I did end up seeing it, and thought it was adorable. It was on German TV recently, and I looked it up and found I'm not the only one who liked it. It's not great, but it's sweet -- and those in charge of marketing the movie should be slapped for doing such a ridiculously bad job of preparing the movie trailers.
I so love Garfield Minus Garfield. Glad I don't have to give that up in order to move back to the USA, unlike so many other things that have been in my life in the last eight years.
Think the Koran promotes violence? Then check out these Bad Ass Bible Verses (and read the commentary for more).
Did you know that the word "Allah" is used by Arabic-speakers of all Abrahamic faiths, including Christians and Jews, in reference to "God"? The term "Allah" was also used by pagan Meccans (pre-Islamic Arabs living in what is now Mecca, Saudi Arabia) as a reference to a creator-god/deity.
Ofcourse, you already knew that Islam is an Abrahamic faith, in the same religious group as Jews and Christians, and recognizes Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and other Old Testament prophets. Right?
Gosh but you are going to miss these regular religious lectures by your favorite atheist...
Please watch even just the first five minutes of When Abortion Was Illegal: Untold Stories. This Academy Award-nominated film from the 1990s features compelling first person accounts which reveal the physical, legal, and emotional consequences during the era when abortion was a criminal act. And huge kudos to archive.org for sharing this with the world.
I'm amazed at how much free vintage audio and video is out there, via archive.org and various other sites. I've got my favorites bookmarked here.
Tchüss, Deutschland. Danke für Alles. Bis bald
Books I finished reading during this blawg:American Dreams: Lost and Found by Studs Terkel. Absolutely amazing. If you are a writer and you have writer's block, read this book. If you want to understand the diversity that is the USA, read this book. I loved it. Wow.
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