Heading Home

Tuesday, July 22, 2014



I'm leaving Poland today! I cannot express how much I have been looking forward to this day. There's nothing wrong with Poland, but since moving to Germany, I've spent maybe seven days actually in Germany. This girl needs a routine and a double bed that isn't two single beds pushed together and food that isn't glorified bread. 

We're moving into our new temporary place when we get back (which may or may not be on the same grounds as a castle) and I can't wait to have a place to call my own again...even if only for a little while. I'm hoping that we'll be able to stay for at least a few uninterrupted weeks before Joerg is sent somewhere new. 

I did very little exploring while in Poland. We were in a remote part of the country and I don't know how to drive manual cars, so solo adventures were off the cards. And honestly? I just didn't feel like it. I felt like watching every episode of Orphan Black (please let's talk about this show if you watch it) and reading approximately one million books. 

We did go to Auschwitz. I tried to write about it, but I realized I can't. In light of the selfie that went viral, it's probably best that I don't. I will say this: suffering, more than any other human experience, will illuminate how much you just do not know. About life. About other people. About the depths of our resilience and our cruelty. 

I'm already anticipating the moment when we get close enough to Sonthofen for the mountains to come into view. I may not have a country, but I'm claiming those mountains as home. 

Privacy

Monday, July 21, 2014

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It is an odd thing to be human among many other millions of humans. On an intellectual level, I know that these other humans who look like me but not like me have rich, complex interior lives just as I do. I know that they are both cruel and kind. I know that they dream and ache and question. I know this, and yet it is hard for me to accept, so most of the time I forget to know this. Besides the few people that I know intimately, it’s as if everyone else exists as vaguely self-aware puppets, who I can move around in whichever way best fits the narrative in my head. 

I’ve been thinking about why this is. Obviously, a big part of it is that I can never experience life as anyone else. I can’t even experience life beyond my own perceptions. But I could be closer to other people; I could not view all of them as quite so other. The reason that I do is, I think, my need to protect my privacy and everyone else’s same need. 

The Secrets We Keep 

Apparently I belong to a generation of oversharers. The internet helps us broadcast our lives in a way previous generations couldn’t have imagined, and even as we publicly lament this, we also all continue to publicly share. You can’t be a blogger without being an oversharer. At least, I can’t, and it embarrasses me. Partly because I long to be a real writer and cataloguing my every thought just doesn’t count for me.  And then because protecting my privacy is integral to convincing myself that I am a special little snowflake. 

The more that I reveal, the more chances there are that someone else will confess that they have similar experiences. This is good because to be human is to also be lonely, and any chance to ease the loneliness of being a strange creature in a strange world is welcomed. But it also clashes with my (admittedly contradictory) belief that although everyone is just like me, they’re not really. They’re missing a few pieces, and I can’t be the one to just hand those pieces over! So there are things that I hide, and instead of becoming a point of pride, these things become a point of shame. First, they were secrets because I needed something that was mine, and now they’re secrets because I’m scared that I’m the only terrible person on the planet.

No One Cares but Someone Might

I was sitting on a beach in Italy recently, completely alone and completely anonymous, and I was watching the Italian families around me. There is nothing like being alone in a foreign country to convince you that other humans may have your same physical parts but there is no way they’re anything like you on the inside. First, there’s the language barrier. Then, there’s the culture. There’s also something subtle that’s harder to define. Really, it’s not even about them. It’s about me, and how I become the other in their company. 

While watching them, I wondered, “What’s the point in protecting my privacy?” 

Even if I revealed everything, all the time, there would always be more people on the planet who have no idea who I am than those that do. There’d also always be more people, who upon learning who I am, have absolutely no interest in anything I have to reveal or not reveal. But for the few people who did hear me and did care, I could show all of me, even the shameful parts, and that would be the invitation for them to do the same. 

If enough people did this, if it became commonplace to reveal instead of conceal, then maybe I could go anywhere in the world and not feel like a stranger.  

Of course, it would mean freeing my fingers from their tight hold on what it means to be an individual and instead reaching for what it means to belong. It starts to feel a little absurd that we're all so intent on protecting our privacy when every personal experience is part of a universal experience that existed long before we came to be and will exist long after we're gone. 

Is it our privacy that makes us feel most like ourselves? To have our privacy violated in any way is awful. But a lot of that is because of the feeling of exposure and also the public reaction, which is often to make the exposed person feel as if they are the only one to ever feel like that/do that thing/or, oddly, to have a body, if it's naked photos that have surfaced. That shaming reaction would be impossible if we were all more honest about what it was like to be human. 

It makes sense to me, but when people do share willingly, another public reaction is to ridicule them for their arrogance. How dare they assume that their experiences are worth sharing when there are so many of us? There are no special snowflakes here. This is my own reaction to myself. 

What an odd thing to be human among many other millions of humans who don't know how to accept each other. 

On Having No Country

Friday, July 18, 2014

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Small talk normally starts with one of two questions, 1.) "What do you do?" and 2.) "Where are you from?"

Right now, my answers are "nothing" and "nowhere." I know enough about social interactions to know that this person I just met did not sign up for that kind of conversation, so I normally say that I write and then avoid naming where I'm from by mentioning where I most recently lived.  

My life has been pretty evenly divided between South Africa (10 years), England (6 years) and America (7 years) for me to feel that I do not belong to any of them exclusively. Although America has had the greatest impact on my worldview, the fact that I don't have an American passport means that I will never claim to be an American. But then my dual citizenship with South Africa and England, and the passports to prove it, do not make me feel any more entitled to claim those as my home. 

I'm too removed from the culture. When I meet a South African, for example, I will always say that I was born there or that my parents are South African, rather than introducing myself as South African. It becomes obvious that I'm not when in the company of someone whose identity has been influenced by that culture. Similarly, I would never introduce myself as British to a British person. Probably because I was foreign when I lived there, but also because that culture has never felt like it belonged to me. 

So when does a country become your own? 

I wonder if I stay in Germany for twenty years, will I begin to claim it? The problem is that no matter how fluently I speak German, it will never be my first language, and that alone is enough to separate me from those who can call Germany home without thinking twice about it. 

When I lived in England, I dated someone who was so clearly British but insisted on calling himself a citizen of the world because he'd spent some time in Spain or Africa or somewhere. I found this obnoxious at the time, but now I understand it. When you live somewhere else for a significant amount of time, it's hard not to feel like you've sewn on bits of that culture, and you no longer fit so resolutely into wherever you came from. 

But we never stop wanting to belong. No matter how much we may want to defy convention or live outside of the box, sometimes it's nice to belong to at least some boxes, so you feel the freedom to move more freely in other areas of your life. It would be nice if a simple small talk question didn't send me into existential tailspins is what I'm saying. 

So, what do you think? Is where you're born always where you're from? Or can you choose? 

One Night in Prague

Wednesday, July 16, 2014



One night is not enough, of course, but it is more than I knew I'd get a week ago. Joerg is sent all over the world for his job, but it's very rarely to the more famous parts of a country (a wakeboard cable in the middle of Prague city center would disrupt the aesthetic a little bit) so it's my job to find an interesting place to stop on our long drives. This time, on the way to Poland, we took a two hour detour so we could stay in Prague for a night. 

Joerg has very little interest in visiting Eastern Europe, but I am not particular in my hunger for more. I'll go anywhere once. And Prague was supposed to be beautiful. 

When we first drove into the city, I did get a little worried. The buildings were more rundown, there were more billboards for porn than there were architectural wonders, and the annoying graffiti I've started to see everywhere. The graffiti that plagues the buildings in Europe depresses me in its laziness. We're not talking about Banksy here; we're not even talking about taggers aspiring to create art. We're talking about an entitled teenager armed with a spray paint can, who has to paint their name or their initials or something else ugly and uninspired on the side of hundred year old buildings as a declaration of their existence.

I have deep reverence for these buildings, which were created by the shared hand of generations of people and continue to bear witness to many more generations. For them, I wish that for once, people would stop their relentless need to broadcast their individuality above all. So many modern cities are ugly. They were created for the convenience of the humans that populate them, not to add in any way to the earth that is so beautiful in its natural state. Could we at least try to protect the buildings that took, in some cases, hundreds of years to build?

I'll step off my soapbox now. 

When we got closer the center of the city, the Prague I imagined began to reveal itself. 



We arrived in the city late, but even at close to midnight, there were hundreds of people wandering the streets.  Our first destination was the Charles bridge, which overflowed with other walkers and did not disappoint at all. It offered a beautiful view of the city (the main photo for this post was taken on the bridge, in the early morning).

But from the moment we drove into Prague, the only thing I wanted to visit was the cathedral I could see peeking over the buildings. Castles and cathedrals are just...otherworldly in a way that is completely cemented in our natural world. I read a book once about the work that goes into buildings cathedrals, the hundreds of years it takes, the immense expense, the lives that were lost and the babies that were born during construction, and I've been obsessed with them ever since.

So I dragged Joerg through winding and steep streets, as it got increasingly late and after the tallest peak of the cathedral had disappeared. And finally we arrived.







As if the St. Vitus cathedral was not enough on it's own, it's located in the middle of the Prague Castle.  I feel peace in the face of so much beauty and also pride. Look what we can make when we care! Organized religion is not my cup of tea...but I just can't help but love cathedrals. Even recently built churches are often the most architecturally interesting buildings in a city.  It speaks to what we can do when we want dedicate ourselves to something bigger than we are.





Driving out of the city the next morning, the peace from the previous night erased by too little sleep and too many hours on the road, I wondered: What was the point? Now I've seen Prague. I can cross it off some imaginary bucket list, and if it ever comes up in conversation, I can present myself as well-traveled. But I did not experience it. Not really. There wasn't enough time, and the time I did spend there was consumed with gathering evidence that I'd been there for my instagram and my fifty year old self.

Frustrated, I suggested a pilgrimage to Joerg. Not to any particular holy sites, but through entire countries. Let's take our time. Let's abandon schedules and expectations. Let's walk through France. Let's walk and walk and walk until we leave ourselves behind, until every step is holy, until we find home or come home again. 

Okay, he replied. Now that's the plan for September, so maybe one day in Prague was enough. 

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