Wednesday, October 31, 2007

fight-or-flight

Here´s a question for you: Do I write? The quick answer is: Yes, I certainly put a string of words together which may or may not be legible, interesting or intelligent.

The more correct answer is: No, I blog.

When I think of writers -when I imagine the kind of writer I want to be- I picture people madly conceiving characters and events. Ones which talk and live, touching readers, pulling them into their fictional lives. These writers, as I picture them in my head, usually have messy hair and poor taste in clothing. They may even have a white scarf draped casually around their neck as proof of artistic-atedliness. But whatever their fashion sense, the one thing they have is the ability to create something grand and complex and enthralling from nothing but their imagination.

This is something I do not do. In this blog I talk about me. Only me. The world´s biggest ego self-stroking, that is. But I do not invent anything, nor try and make it into an engaging, arcing plot which will drag readers along with it at break-neck speed, sucking them into a world of my envisioning, twanging on heart strings with the suaveness of a young Elvis in a beach campfire scene.

But I want to do this. I want to be crooning to all those chicks in hot pants, slinging my hips suggestively and wrapping all around my finger with a sexy curl of the lip. So I joined a writing group. And next week I am meant to present something of my own for critique.

Presenting science work is easy. Sure, you can be nervous about standing up in a room full of people, but usually my giant Leo-ego leapt in with a roar, feeding greedily on the undivided attention I received from the three people in the room not napping. The questions can be tough, and leave you with a feeling of "Fuck, I don´t know enough here", but it´s still just science. A problem is presented, experiments to answer it performed, results displayed. The answer is Yes, No, or Maybe and what it is is not dependant on you. It either exists or doesn´t and you´ve done your best to determine the reality of it. But it´s not personal. There´s nothing of your own heart and soul on the line.

This is different and my fight-or-flight response has kicked into overdrive. Adrenaline is coursing through my veins, my muscles are twitching with the need to get away. Fast. Now. RUN. My stomach is a clenched fist as I´m sifting through the words I´ve written - fragments, snippets, ideas, drabble - and cringing, discarding, worrying. This one´s crap. This one´s boring. This one´s childish. What was I THINKING doing this?

Get away. Fast. Now. RUN.

If I can swallow my panic and turn up next week with something, anything, I´ll have defeated the immediate flight response. If I can resist walking in, arms windmilling and looking to knock all unconscious before presenting my work, I´ll have defeated the fight response. If I manage to get some words on paper which make me slightly happy between now and then I´ll have defeated the defeated response. And that´s the battle I have to win if I am ever going to make for myself the life I want.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

dawn of the next dark age

The unavoidable winter has descended once again bringing with it somber skies, bitter breezes and the temporal uncertainty known as The Changing Of The Clocks.

There was a time when The Changing Of The Clocks was one of the most exciting moments of the year, ranking in just after The Time When We Get To Dress Up Like Colonials At School, although a fair way before The Time When We Had To Sing A John Farnham Tribute In The School Concert. I always wanted to be awake at 3am so that I could turn back the clock and marvel out how I was living the same hour all over again and wonder if I´d get to meet myself and if I did would I have a really interesting conversation or just check out how bad that fringe made me look. After reading through the xkcd archives, I´m trying to work out how the idea of making out with myself slipped past my juvenile imagination. Rest assured that should I meet a past or future version of myself due to any space-time continuum contortions brought on by archaic ideas of lifestyles lacking electrical lights, I shall MOST CERTAINLY be sticking my tongue down my own throat in the most passionate manner I can muster.

If that doesn´t give my future analyst something to work with then I don´t know what will.

Thesedays The Changing Of The Clocks has taken on a more somber note. I no longer notice where the saved hour of daylight appears or disappears from, or how it influences daily routine. I notice only the changes it makes to my friendships, the difficulties it puts on communicating with the other side of the world. Overnight an eight hour time difference has become a ten hour one. Where I previously could sit at my desk and chat to friends and family for an hour before they went home for the evening, now, by the time I make it out of bed, they´re all already away from computers and relaxing with loved ones.

For the next six months my friends are that much more out of reach again and the winter has another layer of darkness and cold. I can´t wait for The Next Changing Of The Clocks, bringing my friends back in my Skype-zone.

And perhaps the chance to check out what a fucking great kisser I am.

Friday, October 26, 2007

geek-gasming myself into a stupor

A couple of weeks ago I found the webcomic xkcd. Yes, so I´m a couple of years behind the times. Deal with it.

This comic speaks to my not-so-hidden-inner-nerd. The scientist in me loves the geek of it. The romantic in me just wants to find the author and give him a big cuddle, going "Awwwwwww" and patting his head. Geek guys are romantic in a cute, nerdy and highly innocent way other guys aren´t. Trust me, if you´ve never gotten any sweet, sweet geek-lovin´ now´s the time to get out there. Put on that Seven-of-Nine outfit and watch them fall at your feet.



The US certainly rules in geekdom, with the number of sci-fi, gaming and comic conventions around these days. A part of me is glad I never got sucked into it - squishing myself into Seven-of-Nine´s costume is not a visual even I want to work with here - and yet another part of me is jealous I was never able to fully explore my nerdiness. That I never found an environment where I could allow my inner geek free rein. Let loose at one of these conventions I´m sure I´d be geek-gasming all over the place.

"Oh My God! Wil Wheaton! I had such a crush on you! Oh! Oh! Oooh!.... errrr, sorry about that."
"Ummm, that´s ok. Happens all the time here."
"No, I´m... oops, there I go again."
"Great. Anyone have a towelette?"

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

PING! me baby, one more time

Last night I overindulged on a few shandies while out with Paul and a bunch of other recent expat additions to my life. I was exceedingly proud to note that us older members of the group had the most staying power; outlasting, outdrinking and outtalking the rest. Of course that may indicate more our desire to listen to our own voices- in all our advanced-age wisdom - than any real superiority in endurance. You know how old people get.

Well, yes, that was back when I was squatting in a flat....oh, I´ve got something SOOO interesting to say about virtual sex....did I mention I rode on the backs of sheep when I was a kid....listen up, cause my opinion is just going to blow you away....

I´m surprised they didn´t ask me politely to leave. Actually, I´m surprised they didn´t hold me down, hog tie me and gaffa tape my mouth closed to get me to shut up.

So the evening ended with Paul and I being kicked out at 1.30am and finding the U-bahn was locked. By the time the taxi dropped me home I had a pounding headache and my sleep last night was broken and disturbed. Of course I blamed the shandy for that. Nothing like hitting the hard stuff before bed to ruin a good night´s sleep.

But I was walking passed the bedroom before when my ear caught a tiny PING!. A sound exactly like the one Yahoo Messenger makes when I get a new message. I automatically entered the bedroom to check who was writing to me before realising I have no computer there. It was a stray PING!. A dislocated PING!. A PING! where no PING! belonged.

Mulling it over I realised that I kept waking up throughout the night with a feeling of disturbed expectation. Could this be the cause? Had I unconsciously woken up to answer the lost PING! of a non-existent message? Has the internet trained me so well to be at the beck and call of every chatty whim of my contacts that my brain will happily break it´s REM cycle for to do so? Is it perhaps time to wean myself from it´s tempting window of smiley faces and incorrect spelling?

Maybe. Maybe it´s time to let go. Close Skype, messenger, facebook. Get outside a bit more. But I shouldn´t make such a big decision too hastily. I think I´ll sleep on it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

bloody french tarts

You know the absolutely best thing about visiting France? It´s not the men, although they´re all apparently total stud-muffins in bed. Nor is it the weather, which was so shitty that we capitulated to the encroaching winter, gave up our campsite and moved into a chateau. This is the kind of surrender I like. One which comes with champagne and stuffed pheasants.

chateau gardens

you mean your chateau didn´t come with stuffed pheasant?

No, the best thing about France is the food. I´m sure you´re all going "Well, DERRR!" about now, but I´m not talking about the delicate palate of taste sensations bathed in creamy sauces and accompanied by quality wines and expensive bottled water. I´m talking about the ability to get yourself totally food-hammered for just a few Euro.

It´s happened before. I got so carried away that the French have these pre-determined menu´s for a cheaper price, that I didn´t stop to think about how much food it actually included. The aperitif. The hors doeuvres. Appetizer. Main. Dessert. Wine. Coffee. Chocolate.

You´d think that now, with the grace of a few more years wisdom, I would have learnt from my previous mistakes and kept myself under control. Scaled back a bit on the choice of courses. Held onto the memory of a swollen, painful stomach and an unsympathetic husband.

Of course I didn´t. Not only did I NOT scale down, I actively scaled up. Where all others chose the basic menu or an individual selection of courses, I allowed myself to be beguiled by the tempting offer of a dark chocolate tart for dessert. I skipped past basic and landed right in the Imperial menu, complete with a dozen oysters, pre-salted lamb and accompanying wines of choice.

By the time dessert appeared it was a frightening prospect even for those who´d kept their indulgence to a minimum. My dark chocolate tart, an hour in the making, sat on my plate teasing me with it´s chocolaty succulence. I fought for every mouth-watering mouthful, pausing only to temper its richness with a sip of Perrier and eventually succeeded. But lying in bed that night groaning I had to admit that it got the better of me. That tart totally kicked my arse.

this tart totally kicked my arse

Sunday, October 21, 2007

embracing your native english speaker

Since being in Germany- well actually ever since leaving Halle waaayyy back when I was still young and virginal and not yet converted into always removing shoes and only ever cutting potatos with a fork - since then I´ve avoided native English speakers. Sure, Hamburg put a bit of a spanner in the works with that, being as it was an organisation full of them, but I managed to even that out by finding a dog walking group which couldn´t speak English at all.

I had a few reasons for actively avoiding expats. The first is, I think, fair and obvious - I wanted to improve my German. Hanging around Irish Pubs with people whom the only thing I had in common was my native tongue was not going to help that aim. The second major reason is that after a year in Halle of basically living in the Irish Pub I HATED IRISH PUB MUSIC. Seriously.

Like, trooly rooly.

Just try and sing Whisky In The Jar around me and you´ll see how fast human movement can be. And I´m not talking about mine. I´m talking about yours. Through a window.

Yes, there is a violent streak in me. And Irish Pub music doesn´t just bring it up, it pokes with needles, bathes it in salt and surrounds it with thirteen year old girls laughing at it´s haircut.

Alright, I think you get the point. So the final reason I´ve avoided expats is that they´re a flighty bunch - myself included. I´ve lived in five cities in eight years. Nine apartments. Seven employers.

Re-establishing yourself every single time is hardwork. You invest time and effort into building relationships with people only to have you or them move away. Now that I´ve decided Berlin is (probably) permanent I have even less desire to make friends only to have them happily go home again, leaving me behind and having to start anew. Again.

However. There have been a couple of separate instances in the last few weeks where I´ve met expats and each time it´s been great to realise that I don´t have to journey all the way to Australia just to find someone who gets it when I throw a one liner in a conversation. Someone who doesn´t get confused and slightly disturbed at double entendres. Someone who isn´t afraid to laugh so hard in public that they snort beer out their nose.

I´m not going to dive into the expat community the way I did eight years ago, but I´ve decided a little won´t hurt me anymore. My German is very good, I´m well integrated into the society and this is the place I call home. I can handle it now without risk of frustration, loneliness and homesickness.

I no longer have anything to fear from freely spoken English.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

on war, and one little boy

I´ve wanted to post on the trip, but each time have backed away from it. It´s too hard - the sadness, the horror, the emotion. Not something I can approach with my normal style.

I´m sure anyone who´s done tours of battlefields, or even just tours of museums which have sections on wars, knows how emotionally draining it can be. We spent a week driving around the area, visiting cemetaries, memorials and museums. It was a lot to have to deal with and I spent most of the time battling a monstrous headache brought on by fighting down tears. There´s also truth in the idea that when it affected your family - although they were men I never met, men who died sixty years before I was born - it´s closer to home. I spent three months at the start of this year scanning, reading and cataloguing the hundreds and hundreds of letters, postcards, photos, diaries and documents of my three great uncles. One has the same initials as I do, which made me feel closer to him even as it freaked me slightly to see death notices with my name on them.

But even then the part that hit me hardest was finding a small envelope on which my grandfathers name was written in his shaky, scratchy handwriting. In it were carefully folded all the personal letters he´d recieved from his older brothers. The last he ever heard from them. Tucked away. Treasured. Only then did I realise that this preteen boy lost three of his big brothers. Over the space of two years. One after the other.

Visiting the graves of two, seeing the name of the third - buried on a roadside somewhere, grave lost - on a memorial... I had to turn off for a while. Make a few jokes, concentrate on taking some pretty pictures. Push away the image of my grandfather as a boy, reading and rereading these letters. The folds becoming worn, the envelope oft handled. Of young men in muddy, cold trenches, asking how the horses were and telling him to do his homework and be respectful of his teachers. While listening to shells explode and men die. Wondering when they´ll be sent over the top.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

using your anger

Just before I went on holidays I got embroiled in a forum debate on religion. Actually, more on evolution. It´s an argument I know is pointless when you´re up against a hardline believer, but damned if I can put it down once it´s started. This guy was also arrogant enough to try and take me on biology and, although I´m no longer an actively researching scientist, I still have over a decade of education behind me on that subject and the know-how and tools to discover and analyse the current state of whatever field you wish me to discuss.

A couple of people told me not to bother. I know why. I see I´ll never change this particular person´s mind. Hopefully though someone not so gung-ho will listen, think and learn rather than flatly, thoughtlessly deny. I live with the view that education is better than no education and that learning to see the world is better than keeping yourself blinkered. Call me naive.

So I keep getting involved in these discussions and usually manage to stay rather polite. Kinda tough, because it generally makes my blood boil. Friends and family know how livid I can get when certain topics (religion, women´s rights, Australian immigration and US politics are usually a good place to start) are reached, and usually tell me to calm down.

Today Greta Christina posted about anger and atheism, about why calming down and losing your anger is NOT a good thing. I agree with her. I´m keeping my anger. Maybe with it I can help change the world, even if only a little bit.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

how to catch up with friends

I´m feeling a little lost today and I know it´s just coming down off the busy last few weeks with one of the people I love dearly and who is now back on the other side of the planet. I really miss my friends sometimes, y´know.

Em and I kinda took the whole holiday organising thing pretty relaxed. Ok, I took it relaxed because from her end she had everything planned, drove with multiple maps and itinerary´s open on her lap and had fully background researched everything we could possibly have needed to know. All that she lacked was a compass, but I managed to fix that in the second week and now she can happily locate north and -should there be another lack-of-signage emergency- get herself out of Belgium.

So part of the whole relaxed approach included the general plan of how we were to meet, which we decided in a brief phone call a few weeks before should be in Luxembourg on the Sunday. Then they had a few hours to go through the Champagne region on the way there. Yep, that sounded good.

That was the absolute extent of the plan.

So Sunday rolled around and DrH and I are driving into Luxembourg. My mobile decides it´s not going to do international roaming today and we can´t reach Em´s. By the time we got into Luxembourg it was early evening, we had no idea where they were nor how to contact them so we parked in the city center and went and sat in the main square for a while. Figuring, of course, that they´d go there first.

By the way, cappucinos in Luxembourg suck big hairy dogs balls. Just in case you were planning on stopping by for one.

An hour later and I was getting SLIGHTLY panicky, which was an interesting twist as I´m not a normally panicky person, with the obvious exception of hearing the evil, threatening snuffle of a wild pig in the twilight. But while standing on a corner attempting to locate an internet cafe, DrH´s phone finally rang and Em was on the other end.

"We´re just driving in to Luxembourg! Where are you?"

"Umm, on a street corner in the city. Umm, near the bus stop and a statue of a big blue mutant woman."

"Hey! I see the statue. Oh! There you are! Hi!"

In the end a rather cool way to meet up, if I do say so myself.

Monday, October 08, 2007

life is too short for small ugly cars




Last weekend was the end of our journey (I´ll talk more about it soon I promise!) where we spent two days in Hannover at the 60th anniversary of the VW Bulli.

I am now much happier with the idea that my husband isn´t the only bizarrely fixated man in the world.

3500 buses, from the oldest (a 1949 T1) to all the latest T5´s.

And they were pretty.

Really, really pretty.

And now I think I´ll give the OK for the full respray.







Sunday, October 07, 2007

Where, upon spotting a Renault dealership in a small french village, DrH gets inappropriately excited

"A Renault garage. Le Renault garage. Un garage du Renault! Every little village has a Renault garage - Dans chaque village il y a un garage du Renault!"

"....."

"Sorry. I know you don´t like me fantasizing in French."

"I have no problem with you fantasizing in French. You can fantasize in French all you want. What I have a problem with is you fantasizing about cars BECAUSE I´M NOT GOING TO BE TURNING INTO ONE."

"You could soap yourself naked all over the car. That´d be almost as good."

"I could wash the windscreen with my breasts."

"YES!"

"But I´d need a footstool to reach it."

"NOT A PROBLEM."

"And a private garage because I´m not getting all naked in our street."

"WE´LL LOOK FOR ONE AS SOON AS WE´RE BACK."

"....."

"....."


"Can I blog this?"

"No."