That German Thing

Two years ago, in February of 2018, I went to a family wedding in Naples, Florida. My family is large and friendly, and any time a lot of us are in one place, we talk up a storm.    At one point during the festivities,  I was having a conversation with… well, I don’t remember who.  I think it was my aunt, and she put a fairly innocuous question to me.  Two years later, I don’t even remember what the question was.  What I remember is that my answer started with some version of, “I lived in Germany for three years, and…”  Ten seconds later, I was just cringing.

Even now, two years later, I am still wincing at what a pompous, self-important blowhard I can be.  That sentence, “I lived in Germany,” comes out of my mouth way too often.

OK, yes, I did live in Germany for three years.  I’ve been back in the US now for six years, though- twice as long as I was away.  The urge to bring up my time abroad in almost every conversation is a giant lurking, looming thing.  It’s like a pressure valve that I can’t properly close, and it threatens to spew garbage all over nearly every interaction I have with another human being.  It’s infuriating to me.  I replay conversations in my head afterward, over and over, beating myself up about things that I said when I would have been better served saying nothing at all.

My good and dear friend Charlotte wrote a post back in January of 2018 pondering whether being an expatriate was still part of her identity even after being back in her home country for more than three years.  One particular section from her post got me thinking:  “Now I’ve settled down in my life back here. I still feel years behind people my own age, and feel like this is the “this is what you could have won” section of a gameshow.

When Charlotte wrote her post, I had also been back home for about three years, and I was already feeling many of the same feelings and doubts.  Repatriation can be kind of weird and stressful.  I’ve said many times before that living abroad can be like pressing a giant pause button on your life, and it’s easy to feel like the rest of the world went on without you while you were away.  I commented on Charlotte’s blog that I had a similar post in mind and that I would write it soon.  That post is this one-  I’ve been writing it in fits and starts again and again over the last two years, without ever finishing it to my own satisfaction.*  I’ve kept a browser tab open to Charlotte’s post ever since, and I’ve re-read it many, many times, noting different parts of it on each subsequent re-reading.

The plain truth is that my time as an expatriate changed me.  How could it not have?  Packing everything I owned into eleven large boxes and moving five thousand miles to another country where I didn’t speak the language and didn’t have an apartment waiting was a huge adventure.  My brief German life is a major part of the fabric of my current identity, and it’s never far from my mind.   My time there allowed me to grow and become a better person in ways that I didn’t understand fully until I was back home.  I am absolutely not the same person I was before I left, and in some ways, I think that expressing that is a big part of why I keep harking back to my time in Germany.    That doesn’t make it sound any less pretentious when I hear myself saying those four words- I lived in Germany–  for the millionth time, though.

I saw one of those artsy motivational images recently with text that said, “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.”  It hit home because this particular worry and frustration has been living rent-free in my head since I came back to the US in late 2014.

I worry that my constant need to tie my current life back to my experiences in Germany is a personal failing.  I spiral through feelings of doubt: Have I become boring?  Am I living in the past?  Is there some deeper psychological failing that keeps me talking about that time? Why do I talk about the past so much- is my present life that uninteresting?  I suspect that I won’t know the answer to any of these questions in the very near future, so I turn my attention toward managing the symptoms instead of fixing the root cause.

In recent months, I’ve been trying to find ways to make the same points during conversations without tying it back to my time in Germany.   While talking about living in a place that is colder in winter than Florida, for example, I’ll just say that “I’ve lived in a place with real seasons,” or “I’ve lived further north than this.”  Sometimes the conversation rolls around to beer and the various types thereof.  I like to say that I became an accidental beer snob because of my time over there, but now I mostly try to just talk about the suds themselves without bringing my personal experiences into it.  This is absolutely impossible if I’m with friends in a German restaurant, though.  When I have a nice order of Sauerbraten and a cold Dunkel in front of me, my stein- and my urge to talk about Deutschland-  runneth over.

It would be better if I had no need to interject my experience into the conversation at all, though.  That’s the dream.  Keeping my stupid mouth shut and letting other people do the talking is what I aspire to do.  Now if only I could remember the question from two years ago that started this whole thing…

Do you have any topics that you can’t leave alone in casual conversation?

7/52

* – This post is still not completed entirely to my satisfaction, but finally publishing SOMETHING about this after two years will be a great relief to my Checklist Brain.   And, as a bonus, I can finally close the tab that’s been open to Charlotte’s post for the past two years.

Goodbye, Dad.

It’s been two weeks since we buried my Dad.

He passed away on Sunday, May 26th. It wasn’t a surprise to any of us- he had been sick for a long time, and his health declined noticeably over the last few years. At the end, he relied on a caretaker twenty-four hours a day- an aide cooked for him, fed him, dressed him. For the last ten months or so, he was bed-ridden, and for longer than that he was almost entirely non-verbal.

That’s not who he was, though. My father was a loud, friendly person who would strike up conversations with just about anyone.  He was a pharmacist for decades, and he had a knack for learning about his customers. This habit led to one of Dad’s customers becoming our family’s go-to automotive mechanic for years. On another occasion, Dad set me up on a totally awful blind date with one of them.  We had nothing at all in common, but it was a perfect example of my father trying to do things to make his children happy.

They say vertical stripes make you look taller. I don’t think it helped me in this outfit.

My brothers and sister and I each said a few words at the funeral. I didn’t want to at first- in fact, only my oldest brother was going to speak initially. We all talked about it the night before the funeral though, and it became apparent very quickly that we all had very different perspectives about him. My sister is nine and a half years older than me, and my brothers are five and six years older, so we each had a very different relationship with Dad.  When we realized how different each of our remarks would be, we decided that it would be good for each of us to say something.

Speaking at the funeral was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.  When I stepped up to the podium, I actually couldn’t speak for a moment.  I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to speak at all.  When I finally started,  I had to force myself to slow down.  Staring down at the paper the entire time, this is more or less what I said:

My father was always larger than life, and growing up I thought he would live forever. When I was a kid, dad was a mythic giant. I used to call him The Ogre, after a stand-up comedy bit that I liked. He didn’t much care for the nickname, because he thought it was a mean sounding word, but I meant it fondly. He was my giant.

Dad was the guy who would surprise me with a trip to Disney, just the two of us. He took me to my first concert, the first of many, even though he didn’t really like the music. He would watch movies with me, and then he would annoy me endlessly by loudly and correctly guessing the second half of the plot halfway through the film.

He taught me all sorts of things about being a man. He had opinions about everything from my schoolwork to the checklist of things you wash when you take a shower to the sorts of things a man should wear. When it was time for me to buy a real suit, he went with me to the store and explained what to look for. He helped me to pick out the suit – this suit that I’m wearing now – but then he also made me get a sport coat for some reason.

When I had the chance to go live abroad for a while, his health had already started to turn and I told him that I was worried that I would miss important dad-time if I went. He told me to go, and that I shouldn’t miss a great opportunity just because of him.

He was like that- more than anything else, Dad wanted me to be happy. He wanted all his children to be happy. Above all else, he taught us that family was important, and happiness was important.

When I was a kid, I thought he would live forever. And as I look at all the people who have gathered here to see him off, and I think about the lessons he taught us, I realize now that in some ways, he will.

For a very long time, I thought I knew almost everything there was to know about my father, but I learned things about him all the way up to the very end that I didn’t know.  I learned less than a year ago that his sister called him “Hal” when they were kids.  I learned from his childhood friend at the funeral that he grew up in an apartment above a candy store.  (That totally explains the sweet tooth that I inherited from him.)

Not every memory is a pure and happy one, of course.   My parents divorced when I was in high school, and there was a bit in the middle of my childhood where he wasn’t around very much. He tried to make up for it though, and he did his best to spend time with me.  We took quite a few trips together, including one summer in high school when Dad loaded my brothers and me into his Honda and we drove up to Washington DC and upstate New York and New York City.  We walked through Central Park more than once because we were a little bit lost, but it was still fun.

It became apparent to me as I got older that he would do anything for his children.  I can think of countless times that he went out of his way to make sure that we were healthy or happy or successful.   On balance, he was a pretty great Dad, and I feel fortunate that I had him for as long as I did.

I’m going to miss him.

[#AtoZChallenge] D is for Decamp

The A to Z challenge will not be completed by me this year.  I’m finding that my attention is split between too many other things.   I came to this conclusion after I spent forty minutes trying to come up with a D word, and I wound up somewhere between Aught and Zilch.

As I write this exit stage left, I am sitting in Orlando with Amelie, and we’re making plans for the next few days.   Today was a day for MyStuff, which mostly consisted of looking at potential places to live.  (I could have written an entire post called D is for Decision, but I already talked about that two days ago.)   Tomorrow is a day for HerStuff, which will mostly consist of going to places that might help her land an Orlando job.  Thursday is unplanned so far, except for one more apartment to view just before dinner time, and Friday after work will likely be spent at least partially on Disney property.   Saturday is a family event in nearby Kissimmee, and on Sunday we drive back to South Florida for a few days.

About halfway through next week, we come back to Orlando for another four days- Star Wars Celebration.  The following weekend, we drive back to Orlando, and then back again.

It’s like this on and off throughout April and May-  we’re flipping between South Florida and Orlando, as we try to get our respective ducks in a row, while simultaneously juggling my job, my on-call time (roughly half of every month), both of our gym work outs, and our ridiculously complicated entertainment calendars.

How’s your April going so far?

Administrative note: This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Each Monday through Saturday in the month of April, I will write a new post- one for each letter of the alphabet. If you would like to participate, it’s never too late to start. Just look over the guidelines at http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/.

Hours could seem like days.

Today’s Nanopoblano post is kind of a cheat, because I feel like I have only a few words today. (Few words and kind of a head-ache.)  Numbers, on the other hand, I have lots of.  My brain doesn’t spin down much.

this-is-fine

From today, it will be:

1 day to the Pet Shop Boys concert.

6 days to my elder brother’s 50th birthday.

7 days until I start my last week of On-call for Mr. Company.  (And another few days after that until I get a full night’s sleep again without interruption.)

9 days to Thanksgiving.   Earlier in my career, I usually had to work Thanksgiving.  That doesn’t happen any more, but I kind of miss it.    There was always a camaraderie among those who were tapped to work a holiday.  Plus the food was always provided by management.  Those mashies were delicious.

13 days until the start of the four-way Supergirl-Flash-Arrow-Legends crossover event on the CW.  I am so fricking excited to see Supergirl interact with more of the established Arrowverse characters, you have no idea.

17 days to my birthday.  I’m not super enthused about this one.  I’ve got bigger things on my mind right now than reaching 44.

18 days until Amelie and I go to see the B-52s!  That’s gonna be a fun show.

21 days until my niece turns 6.  I could swear she was a toddler about five minutes ago.  I have no idea what to get her this year-  for a little while, I could just get something related to Frozen and it would be a winner.    I think if I got her another Frozen-themed gift, her mother might lynch me.

22 days until I move out of my apartment.  At this point, my to-do lists have their own to-do lists.  I’m sure I’m forgetting stuff.

25 days until the next time Amelie and I visit a sci-fi convention.  There’s a little one here in Ft. Lauderdale, which should be fun.  The guest list for this one is not bad, including James Marsters, Summer Glau, Sam Jones, Judge Reinhold, Tim Russ, Billy Dee Williams, and Joey Fatone!  (I’m enthused about all but one of those.  Betcha can’t guess which one!)

30 days to the end of my job.  Which means I should really go to fewer concerts and whatnot.    (In reality, I am working far fewer than thirty days until the end-  it’s just thirty calendar days.)

And, as a final treat,

30+1 days until the next Star Wars movie, Rogue One, comes out.   This is the first feature film set in the Star Wars universe that isn’t about the Skywalkers and the Solos.   I’m pretty jazzed about it.

What’s the next thing you’re counting down to?  Where will you be in 31 days?

Editor’s Note:  I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers.  I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?

With apologies to Grandmaster Flash.

There are a lot of things that have been stressing me out lately.  I’m basically this puppy on the best of days:

stressedpuppy.jpg

Here’s a short list of the things that are stressing me out:

Looming unemployment:  I haven’t spoken much about this yet on the blog, but I found out a few weeks back that after more than fourteen years, my last day with Mr. Company is the 15th of December.   This is something that we’ve all known is coming since certain announcements were made during the summer of 2015.   Knowing that it’s coming at some vague future date is not the same thing as knowing precisely what your end date is, however.

I know I’ll be able to get a job, but I’m nervous about what type of job that might be.  After all, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.  Still, this is not insurmountable and I know I’ll get through this.  I just have to plan for it and take some time to process everything.

The end of my lease:  My apartment lease ends on the 9th of December.  Armed with the foreknowledge of my end of employment, and certain that I want to move out of South Florida, I chose to let the lease go.  Over the next month, I will be putting my things in storage and relocating once more to my very gracious brother’s spare bedroom.  His rent is much more reasonable than any South Florida apartment, and the company is marvelous.

Large crowds and long distance travel:  You’d never know it from all the trip reports in this blog, but I do have travel anxiety, and I definitely have problems in large crowds.  This runs contrary to that thing where I keep going to concerts at big venues in faraway cities, but that’s my personal circle to square.

My father’s health:  This is another thing I don’t talk about very much on the blog, but it’s a huge stressor for me.    Last winter, my dad fell and broke his hip.   One year previously he had broken his other hip, so his recovery went much less smoothly this time around.  His mobility has never quite recovered, and he uses a walker now.   I go to visit him when I can, but that’s never more than once every week or two.  It’s traumatic and astonishing to see my father change this way-  my dad is about to celebrate his 78th birthday next week, but it’s only in the last two or three years that he’s really ever seemed old.

The irrational fear of robbery:  I have a minor OCD tick in which I check my door lock several times before I leave for the day.  I do this every day.  Intellectually I know that the door is locked the first time.  Furthermore, there’s almost nothing in my apartment that is irreplacable-  I usually take my laptop with me to work, and most of the things that are valuable to me would be worthless to another person.

This thrice damned election:  Every time I read anything about this election, it makes my heart beat faster. I had to stop listening to Rachel Maddow for a while because it was just too much.  I have full blown election anxiety, and I’ll be really glad when it’s over.

Change:  After moving to Germany without knowing the language and having never been to Europe at any prior time, you might think that I take change in stride.  In some cases, that’s true.  I can handle small crisis with unflappable grace- a flat tire, a burned pizza, an unexpected cancellation.  Those are easy.

Now, however, I find that for the first time in literally decades, I don’t know what’s next.  I’m changing my job and my residence all at once, but I don’t know what either one will be.  I know where I’ll be as 2016 ends, but I haven’t got the foggiest idea of where 2017 will take me.  I have a vague mental image of finding a dream job and getting the hell out of South Florida with Amelie by my side, but I don’t know entirely what that looks like.  I’ve barely had time so far to process the changes that are coming, because I’m still too busy closing the books on all the things that are ending.

What stresses you out?  How do you combat your stress?

Editor’s Note:  I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers.  I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?