My life seems to ooze out in all directions here in St. Paul; Berlin contained us, lifted us up out of our natural habitat like a sieve, straining out all possessions and people, plunking our fivesome in an alien place that looked familiar but wasn’t quite. It was as if we’d been scooped up from the ocean and released in a kid’s dug-out pool of seawater on the beach. We swam around there for a while with wide eyes so we could report back to our friends in the big ocean what life in the pool was like, knowing, always, that the arrangement was temporary.
Coming home is like the tide came in and swept us back up into the big churning sea. The ocean is far too vast to describe; it’s too familiar, it’s all consuming, and the long and short of it is I can’t figure out how to blog in this environment. How to write in this environment, I should say, because some people might insinuate that blogging is not really writing, but that was months ago, and I think I’m over it now.
My friend Kristina recently called me a hothouse flower, rather susceptible to changes in my environment. We had been sitting on the brick bootsplatz (there is no word in English for the place where the boats are set in slings outside the boathouse before being carried to the water, so I defer to the Germans for their useful word), unscrewing the large men’s shoes from her single to replace them with shoes closer to her size, and all the while I was having a bit of a panic attack about having purchased smart phones for our family, our first ever, the cost of which I found rather staggering.
She was laughing at me, my friend was, and that’s when she told me, You’re such a hothouse flower. You’re like an orchid, she went on, to which I replied, with wide eyes, in a rather loud and alarmed voice,
Because, you see, I think there’s part of me that liked swimming in that small, contained pool, in which we had no smart phones, no commutes, no dog to walk, in which all we had to do was get through the year intact. Life is hard in this wide open sea, where jobs and schools and instruments and doctors and civic duties are crashing down all around us.
In Berlin all of that slipped through the sieve. I had time on my hands, and I could ask the universe important questions, like what the hell am I supposed to do with this blessed life of mine to make it meaningful and worthwhile, and answers would float back to me, in part because there wasn’t that much clutter and the language around me was largely gibberish anyway, making the universe’s replies that much more lucid.
Like the time when I googled “perfect job planner writer editor rower St. Paul” and do you know what came back to me, like some sort of magic Ouija board? No, not a posting for my current job. And no, not “ticket sales clerk at ValleyFair,” very funny, M.
Me. My own LinkedIn page. Which I found faintly hilarious. It brought to mind my favorite Oscar Wilde quote: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
So, to recap, I asked the universe what I should be, and the answer was me. Which was sort of gratifying to hear, until I realized it’s largely unhelpful, because I can’t sign my own paychecks.
This morning before I left for work I realized I was clutching my hand to the left side of my head, again, like I was yesterday morning, some sort of recurring headache at the onset of the work day.
“It’s A.G.E.,” said M, quoting his mother, citing the malady that is more likely to get us all than the ailments her aging friends would always complain about to her.
“No, I think it’s J.O.B.,” I said. We both chuckled. That helped a bit, but I still took some ibuprofen.
Like I said. Wilting.
On my way in to work this morning, my bike propped up against the wall of a Green Line train, a snippet of Berlin wafted in through the doors when they slid open at the 10th Street station. A trumpet player was busking nearby, unseen to me, though I looked through the windows for him, serenading the morning commuters. It was just as it should be, a budding musician claiming the stage to reach a serendipitous audience, hoping for a few coins.
His music reached me like a faint radio station in a field of static, and I realized I must listen very carefully now, because the universe continues to transmit messages to me, but its voice is much quieter now in the roar of the ocean. It would be so easy, so devastatingly easy, to stop listening for them. It will take greater effort to hear those transmissions. Let alone heed them.