orhcidMy 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.

13 thoughts on “Wilting

  1. Muddy River Muse

    “I asked the universe what I should be, and the answer was me.”
    This sentence is going to carry me for the rest of the day.
    I SO get that sense of being overwhelmed by messiness of daily life. I think the trick is just to keep carving out snippets of experience that allow us to step outside of it and centre ourselves. Little “Berlins.” 🙂

  2. travelgalcindy

    Jill – you probably don’t know this, but I quit my job in June (just before leaving on an almost a month vacation) because I wanted time and space to be creative. While it isn’t the same as your pool, I think I understand what you are saying. It’s amazing how many of the daily distractions just vanished, leaving me with space I never imagined existed. It’s not as radical as leaving the country, but there are some similarities.

    I’m still new to this new life and haven’t figured out what I want it to look like long-term, but am shocked by how few of the things that seemed so important a few months ago still matter at all. I can’t imagine going back. Best wishes as you figure out how to go back to life before Berlin – and how MUCH you go back! And I’m right down the street if you ever want to swing by for a drink and conversation.

    1. Jill M. Post author

      Wow, good for you, Cindy! That’s really exciting to hear. I’d love to catch up and hear more. “Space I never imagined existed” sounds amazing. Thanks for your good wishes.

  3. mercedesmoon

    The ruse is, had you stayed in Berlin long enough, the tide would have reached you here. There is a daily life that crashes at the shores here, too, if you stay long enough to let it pull the sand from beneath your toes as it rushes back to the horizon.

    An old boyfried once told me that being an expat is cheating, because it extended the time one stays in the pool. But what he, nor I at that time, did not know is that with the passage of time, (and kids, jobs, schools, bank accounts, legal disputes) the walls collapse and the tide crashes in, leaving you in the same swirl of confusion, only it is in a more complicated, if exact, language.
    So, head in the boat, slide at the ready, plant your oars and pull! The only way to master the sea is to glide over it.

    1. Jill M. Post author

      It’s great to hear your voice here, especially in reply to this post. I know you’re right, that Berlin could not be a haven forever from life’s responsibilities. They’ll catch up to you eventually. And you’re right too that sometimes the only thing to do is go row. Wish you were here. I’m launching a 1x in a half hour but would gladly make it a 2x with you.

  4. Rebecca Reumann-Moore

    Hi Jill, I can really identify with this from my own sabbatical experience. During our 10 months in England, I loved the lack of clutter (material as well as other commitments) in our lives. It was so great to only be responsible a suitcase or so of stuff each and to have weekends be such great family time instead of running in lots of different directions. Though I was happy to come home again, it was also harder than I expected and I missed parts of what we’d left behind.

    I did make some changes/additions to my life based on what I’d learned being away and that was good. I feel like it’s time for something like that again; the trick is how to achieve it without living in another country for awhile. Of course, having my youngest child leave for college this year is a big push.

    I wish you the best in your transition. I’m sure that, over time, you’ll find multiple ways to build on and integrate your year in Berlin. (Our year away is such a shared important experience for my family.) And keep on writing!

    1. Jill M. Post author

      Thanks for your note, Rebecca. It’s great to hear from you, particularly as you have perspective on sabbaticals and how they become a part of you and your family over time. Right now it’s still so fresh for us that perspective is hard to come by. I can imagine that a few years out you might want a refresher on what that whole ‘getting away’ thing was all about. Exciting times for your family with your youngest heading to college. Big changes in your household I’m sure. We’re not so far from sending our oldest out in the world. Best to you and your family.

  5. caraleuchte

    Jill, I just wanted to say that I so love your writing! It has been a highlight of my year to spend time in your year. 🙂 I am thrilled that the writing and reflecting is still happening!

  6. Bobbie

    Welcome back to the “blogging”. I have missed your writings. Good luck with your reentry and as our family mantra says….baby steps!


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