My relationship with the German language via GIFs

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For the last five and a half years I have been sitting in German classes with this exact expression on my face. Grammar and syntax and vocab– oh my! Although I keep progressing up the official ‘levels’ of German class, I have yet to wipe this wide-eyed terror off my face. I sit in the back, certain I will soon be found out as the imposter I am, and stare at the blank sheet before me in hopes that the answers will appear before me in magic ink.

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Then I walk out of German class and go to the local bakery to buy a pastry. The interaction starts off well. I am puffed up with confidence from the last few hours surrounded by other on-native speakers, and I ask for my croissant. The lady stares at me as if I have just proposed marriage and frowns. WAS? 

I repeat my question, confidence faltering like a middle schooler at a dance. CAN I HAVE A CROISSANT? Things are rapidly deteriorating. I finally point– THAT ONE! The lady begrudgingly gets it for me and I rush out, swearing to myself I will give up bread from this moment forward, amen.

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Later that night at a party, someone in the group makes a joke. Everyone is laughing hysterically, and I follow suit out of self preservation instincts. I don’t want to look like the dud who doesn’t think their home-run joke is funny. But then they turn to me and ask a follow up question. Busted. My only options now are to admit I was faking it or run to the bathroom.

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In an attempt to broker peace after the joke catastrophe, I begin speaking in German to someone. But a few sentences in, she can no longer bear the pain of my murderous grammar in her ears, so she switches to English. I am both relieved and insulted.

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By the end of the night, I am as dead inside as Michael Scott. I crawl home and Skype someone in sweet, sweet English.

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But hey, at least there’s always copious amounts of coffee to cheer me up and energize me for another day of adventures in German.

Ps. Some people have accused me of being dramatic. No idea why.

Pps. German, don’t be upset. You know I secretly love you very, very deep down.

Nationalism vs. Localism

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I am an American. Nothing has made me more aware of this fact than living and studying abroad in Germany for an extended period of time. I am growing increasingly aware of how much my nationality matters and, conversely, how little it matters in the big picture.

In my studies, we are currently focusing on the concept of nationalism– a buzz word if ever there was one in our current media. I get asked about Trump on a daily basis (in the grocery store, in line for the bathroom, in my own home), and the topic of nationalism is never far behind. Germans are hyper aware of the dangerous sides of nationalism because of, well, history. You’d be hard pressed to find a German flag waving from a front porch, or to hear the national anthem sung in a public place. So naturally, I have begun to ask myself the questions: is nationalism always bad? Can it be good? And how does this newly emerging term localism factor into the discussion?

I read a New York Times article from columnist David Brooks that shed some light on the subject. He says:

Though we’ve moved around a lot, my family has a clear home base. If you start at East 15th Street in Lower Manhattan and walk two miles south, you will have walked by where my great-grandfather had his butcher shop, where my maternal grandfather practiced law, where my father lived during high school, where I went to elementary school and where my youngest son now attends college. That’s five generations within two miles. I feel a magical attachment to that neighborhood. The blocks and street names enchant in my mind. And yet I have to say my strongest attachment is to the nation, to the United States. You could take New York out of my identity and I’d be sort of the same. If you took America out of my identity I’d be unrecognizable to myself. What does this national attachment feel like? It feels a bit like any other kind of love — a romantic love, or a love between friends. It is not one thing that you love but the confluence of a hundred things. Yes, it is the beauty of the Rockies, but it is not just the land. It is the Declaration of Independence, but not just the creed. It’s winning World War II and Silicon Valley, but it is not just the accomplishments. It is the craziness, the diversity, our particular brand of madness.

Like Brookes, I feel a fierce attachment to and pride in my American identity. And yet, I also notice how I often distance myself from America in conversations about certain topics while abroad– “No, I don’t agree with America, I’m not like that!”

Writer Taiye Selasi proposes another approach. She speaks to “multi-local” people, who feel at home in many places. “How can I come from a country?” she asks. “How can a human being come from a concept?…my experience is where I am from. Instead of where are you from, what if we asked, where are you a local?”

This concept makes sense to me on some levels as well. I feel a deep attachment to certain places in America: the California coast with her rugged cliffs and Red Wood trees, the corn fields of Iowa where we spent holidays driving tractor and combine, the hot planes of Texas where I ate BBQ and attempted to understand the rules of football. I have no deep attachment to all fifty of the United States. I’ve haven’t spent much time on the East Coast or in the North West or the South West. I have, however, had experiences all over Germany– in Heidelberg, Frankfurt, Hildesheim, Weinheim, Münster. And yet, to say I am a local of Germany above an American still feels odd and lacking in a major way. I can study here in Germany, but my American passport and the fact that German is not my mother tongue prevent me from gaining meaningful employment after graduation. Can I really be a local of a place that prevents me from participating in that crucial part of life we call career? Sure, I have dear friends here, but the fact that I did not grow up in the German school system excludes me from understanding so much of their common experience on an intrinsic level.

I’m not sure I could ever do away with the concept of nationality completely and replace it with localism or vice versa.

Perhaps the trick to strike a meaningful balance between the two. To validate overlapping experiences that create a richer identity than any single one could on its own. To rob someone of their American identity is to rob them of shared history, culture, and collective community. But to confine someone to the label of their country– to ignore their localized experiences completely– is equally dangerous. Nationalism has been one of the great sources of joy and stability in my life, and is what allows me to move comfortably though this wide world in many ways. But too much, or a tainted strain, can prove dangerous.

I am an American. I am a local of Germany. I am many, many things. We all are.

So I ask you: Where are you a national, and where are you a local? And what do your answers to those questions reveal about you?

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A Happy List

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  1. Today I saw an old man looking at his phone with a magnifying glass.
  2. Weeping willows.
  3. Receiving snail mail.
  4. That feeling when you are in class and actually learning something new.
  5. Orange leaves on the sidewalk.
  6. When my little bro calls me just to ask about my first day of school.
  7. First days of school.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

 

Happy 60th birthday to my father! Is it too soon to say ‘my old man’? ;p Even though it is cliche, I seriously don’t know what I would do without you, Dad. There are days when I get so down on myself and think I just can’t do this anymore. And when that happens, you are always the person I turn to first to cheer me up. You have an unfailing optimism that astounds me time and time again.

You are the best example of loyalty, commitment and unconditional love in my life. I miss you and with I could be with you, but I hope you have a stellar day and don’t work too hard!

An interesting observation from the movie “Crazy Rich Asians”

CRA_FPTB_0164r.0.jpgI saw the movie “Crazy Rich Asians” the other day. Bravo! It was so powerful to see an all-asian cast for the first time on the big screen. I applaud the movie– so fun, poignant and engaging! Plus, the soundtrack was just plain awesome.

At one point near the end of the movie, Eleanor Young, the mother and matriarch of the family, says something that struck me. She is from Singapore, and she is speaking to her son’s girlfriend Rachel, a Chinese woman who was born and raised in America. She says, “All Americans think about is their own happiness. It is an illusion.”

This moment demonstrates the huge difference between the two women’s cultures. Eleanor believes one must put family above all else– career, romance, etc. Happiness is not the top priority on that list. She does not believe the young Rachel will ever be able to make those sacrifices because she was born and raised in a culture that preaches happiness above all else.

What do you think? I am reminded of this quote by Hugh MacKay:

I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that—I don’t mind people being happy—but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down three things that made you happy today before you go to sleep” and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position. It’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say, “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.
—Hugh MacKay, author of The Good Life

I don’t know about you, but my darkest days taught me more than all my happiest days combines. And while I am tempted to say I am happy right now in life, perhaps I should really say I am feeling whole right now.

I’m curious, what is your take on this topic?

P.s. Photo from here

 

So you want to be a writer

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetSo you want to be a writer, you say? Well, my first piece of advice is to try your best to be anything else. Race car driver, president, astronaut, a race-car driving astronaut, really anything else will do. Try your best at all the other subjects, even though you soon learn you can’t tell the difference between an isosceles triangle and a right triangle to save your life.

Find you neglect your other subjects in favor of spending all your time on your English essays. Your favorite theme is man’s inhumanity to man, so try to work it into every prompt. When your teacher returns your work, covered in so much red ink it probably required the sacrifice of a small animal, the words “off topic” are scrawled across the top. Sink into a dramatic depression for days, until you decide she has no idea what she’s talking about. Continue to write off topic.

In college, try to be an art major. But your favorite part is writing the descriptions beneath the paintings, so you finally change to Creative Writing despite your parents gentle pushes towards business.

In these classes no one is right and no one is wrong. Mostly you just sit in a circle asking “Does this work? Is the metaphor wind of change over done or genius?” No one ever knows. But you are growing prouder of your work. Show it to your roommate occasionally and sometimes even to her boyfriend, an athlete who asks you what the word myriad means.

Try to diversify, but somehow all your characters end up sounding like variations of you: a college girl who has no idea what to do after school. Study abroad your sophomore year and consequently write about it unceasingly until you’re classmates beg you to stop. Still, your final thesis senior years is about an american girl who goes abroad. Decide you need more life experiences.

Date a pakistani guy upon graduation to gain said experiences, and furtively write down everything he says for material. He will make a great character one day. See the breakup as only more material. Unfortunately you will continue to view people this way for approximately the rest of your life.

So write because you have to. Because when you don’t you are a worse person than when you do. And if all else fails, I hear the job of race-car-driving astronaut offers surprisingly good benefits.