Have you ever been to the Netherlands? I have been twice before, but this time was extra special. My parents picked me up in Münster and whisked me off to the tulip fields across the border. I don’t have a particularly green thumb (re: black) but I can appreciate gorgeous flowers as much as the next person. And man, these flowers inspired me to plant my own! These photos were taken at the Keukenhof garden, which is basically Disneyland for flowers. I was awe-struck and couldn’t help saying “Look at that, Mom!” around every corner. Below are a few photos if you’d like to see.Dad thoroughly enjoying the tulips…All in all, an inspiring visit! I’m off to purchase gardening supplies…
Exercise in the winter
Tell yourself you will go for a bike ride once it stops raining. Bundle up in coat, scarf, hat and mittens. Start sweating profusely ten seconds into your ride, but then freeze when you remove a layer. Peddle until your face is red and your lips have the consistency of sandpaper. Stop for a coffee. Stay for an hour. Ride home because now it’s getting dark. You have ridden one third of a mile. Repeat self-delusion for four months.
Deal with anxiety
Decide to meditate. You’ve downloaded an app for this very purpose! Light a candle, turn down the lights, make a cup of tea. Close your eyes and follow the soothing voice’s instructions to empty your mind…
did you take the laundry out? If you didn’t, it will get soggy…do you need to schedule an eye appointment for next week or should you chalk the problem up to ‘random medical weirdness’? And does your college roommate hate you because she didn’t respond to your text? Maybe. Maybe…
Turn off the app and stalk her on Facebook.
Do your assigned school reading
Get a snack. Your brain can’t function properly without fuel, after all. Stare at the PDF document. Read three paragraphs. Open Facebook real quick– post a picture of your middle school dance captioned ‘Throw Back Thursday’! Laugh at how witty you are as a way to stave off the growing guilt. Read three more paragraphs. Answer the pressing text message from your boyfriend asking how your day was (terrible), then return to screen. Decide to give up and do it later.
Have a long distance relationship
Calculate the time difference between the two of you. Nine hours. Alright. He times his lunch break so you can talk for an hour before you fall asleep. First try FaceTime– not working? Ok, switch to Facebook video chat. The connection is still fuzzy, so move closer to the router in the hallway. Wave to your apartment mates as they walk past, trying not to eavesdrop. Give up. Book a ticket home for spring break.
Overcome your Millenial-ness
Make a decision. Any decision. Try not to faint because this means saying no to all the other possible options.
Act like an adult around your parents
Ask your mom casually where your W-2 form is, and while she’s at it, could she explain briefly what exactly this form means. Tell your dad all about your new job and how professional it is (the blazers, the coffee, the copier, oh my!), then ask him if he will take your car into the shop this weekend because it’s making a funny sound.
Cover letters suck to write
Friendship takes time, be patient
January is the worst but February is shorter
Call your mom, her voice will fix it
Studying is like a job. Just sit down and do it.
Volleyball is really fun, even in German
Tell your boyfriend you love him often
P.s. Photo from Google photos. I love you, coffee.
Sitting in a cafe for hours on end, drinking coffee, talking philosophy, watching bike riders pass by with flowers in their basket, happy people with free health care strolling down sunny cobble stone streets, staring wistfully out of train windows while fitting emotional music plays in the background.
Running late for the bus, sweaty, running late for the train, sweaty, climbing four flights of stairs to my apartment, sweaty, lugging backpacks full of groceries on my bike in the snow, cold and sweaty, emptying the food leftovers from the sink to the waste bin because there’s no garbage disposal, sorting my trash into six specific bins, everyone dressed in black from head to to because we haven’t seen the sun in five months.
Funny how life has a way of surprising us, isn’t it? I am somehow who sets her expectations very high (curse you, American idealism!!), and constantly has to check them and reassess.
I complain sometimes, especially in winter, but still have a huge soft spot in my heart for you, Europe. Thanks for being a continent.
- The sun is shining. People, that is a big deal here.
- Rumor has it that Wednesday will be the first snow of the season
- The Christmas Markets start on the 26th!
- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season 4 is on Netflix. Gold.
- This article.
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?
So 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.
1. The slant of the roof in my attic apartment
2. The punctuality of the buses
3. The little cloth shopping carts the grannies pull to the supermarket every day
4. My way-too-small child’s bike that gives me a back ache but has carried me all over the place through crazy weather
5. The German way of saying good morning
6. Good espresso served at every food establishment
7. My little neighbor girls downstairs popping their heads out of the window to say hi as I walk by
8. The ultra fancy, posh McDonalds where people literally go on first dates
- How to fix the chain on my bike when it falls off
- Why the internet won’t stop talking about how good this show is
- How long to boil pasta for the perfect consistency
- How to combine two PDFs into one
- It only takes one good friend to turn your day around
P.s. Photo of Weinheim in spring 🙂
I just want to say a little something. Before this year, I had never really struggled with depression or loneliness or hopelessness. I was always the motivated, ambitious girl with a smile on her face and a certainty that her future was bright. I hate to admit it, but when I used to encounter other people with problems like depression or anxiety, I would secretly think to myself, “Can’t they just shake it off?”
Well, never again.
This year has taught me so much about empathy. Over the last few months I have often felt like I just can’t connect deeply with people. They are all around me– on the train, in the coffee shop, at work– but I felt unable to reach out in any meaningful sense. This made me lonely in a new, profound way. And this loneliness led to depression. There were many other factors (ahem, bad winter weather, I’m looking at you!), but it was heavy. Really heavy.
I lost motivation for a long time. I struggled to do even little things like cook a healthy meal or send an important email. And if I could barely do those things, how could I possibly have a bright future?! I deleted my Instagram because I didn’t know how to respond to people’s comments on my photos like “You’re living the dream! I’m so jealous!” when in reality I felt so bad. Then I would feel bad about feeling bad! It was a negative cycle.
Now that’s I’m feeling so so much better for a myriad of reasons, I just wanted to share this little piece of my story in the hopes that maybe it might help someone out there reading. I now have so much more empathy and compassion for
People who just moved to a new place
Those who are going through a breakup of any kind
People who just started a new job
Recent graduates who are disoriented
Singles who just want someone to do fun things with
People struggling with depression, anxiety, chronic stress, etc.
The list goes on! It is so cliche to say that you can’t truly understand something until you’ve gone through it yourself. But in my case, I think the cliche holds true. I am sending love, encouragement and hope to anyone out there going through something heavy today. Thank you all for reading along this year. It means a lot to me.
P.s. Photos from London, where I visited a friend 🙂