Watching baseball in the middle of the night with a newborn in one arm and scattered thoughts running through my brain, I’m reaching for a decent explanation of why my digital scrawling is worthy of your (or even my) attention.
For the last several years I haven’t bothered sharing my life’s minutiae, as I did when social media was a shiny novelty. Periodically, I’d amble over to twitter or google+, before the latter was finally given up for dead, and like old times I’d try to mix just the right quip with an uploaded photo of my lunch. Or some attempt at a clever observation that easily washed by in the stream of my followers’ feeds.
Even ridiculous terms such as Twitter followers and the idea of my once having been mayor of Rotkreutzplatz on 4square, makes it abundantly clear to me that accusations of this all being pretentious nonsense was closer to home than I liked to face.
What changed? The easy answer is the above mentioned infant. Major life changes normally coincide with an assessment of one’s behavior, and a baby can easily be considered both a logistical as well as philosophical shift.
Somebody recently told me you don’t truly know German culture until you watch your kid go through the Teutonic educational system. As with most thing related to raising children, my first reaction is that some people take this whole parenting ordeal gravely seriously. It’s understandable, and perhaps this will finally be that life alteration which makes me grow up and approach at least one area of my existence with some maturity.
Hopefully not too much, though.
My second reaction, you ask? After I’ve let the observation settle and considered it came from someone who’s been here in Germany as long as I have, has teenage children and clearly speaks from experience.
Do I really want to know this culture better? Wouldn’t I rather continue to go off half cocked? Isn’t it easier to knowingly shake my head and mutter, ‘Damned Krauts,’ when I run into something that perplexes me?
Oh by the way, the baby’s been fed and has drifted back off to sleep. My second favorite baseball team is up a few runs in the fourth inning in Boston, and I’d like to get back to watching this game.
Relaunching this blogging lark with a whimper in the night. Anyone out there listening?
I’ve been accused of oversharing, but then I always remember my friend who shared a photo of her naughty bits on twitter to make a point. Why do I mention that? Well, I suppose I do say things online that others wouldn’t.
And when I do so, it sometimes makes the people I love cringe. That moment I’m sure they read what I’ve posted and they think to themselves: Why does he have to talk about that? Is nothing sacred? Don’t we have a private sphere anymore?
I heard a podcast earlier this year in which there were parents discussing how much they shared of their children’s lives online. What kind of photos were acceptable and essentially where each parent’s parameters lay, which made me glad I didn’t have to concern myself with such things.
I’ve got enough trouble worrying about my own online presence without having to try figuring out someone else’s. Teaching a young person how to navigate the web? Gives me night sweats just thinking about it. Uggh…
So, here goes.
Andrea (aGirlfromMontrose), who’s a friend from high school you’re going to hear me talking about more, because I love her blog, asked me a question.
I promised her an answer in blog form, so here goes.
Oh, another thing before I forget: I’ve resolved to use this site more as a tool for a few things.
Recently, WordPress asked me if I wanted to keep up with the blogging lark. Well, actually they were more crafty, which I respect. They said: Your site’s being renewed. You needn’t do anything. We’ve got it taken care of.
But being the overthinking sod that I am, I considered just pulling the plug on the whole damned thing. Starting from scratch with something more conventional.
Lahikmajoe is a terrible name for a brand. It regularly baffles people when they first see it. How’s it even pronounced? Where does it come from? Why should I read something or follow links to such a site?
So there’s that…
Let me go back to the story with Andrea, though. It’s a narrative that’s easily followed.
She saw me jet off to Kraków and take the train to Venice a few weeks later. Then I was in Spain on the Camino showing my mother my favourite spots in northern Spain, as well as exploring Madrid for the first time.
There was Easter in a big Ferienhaus (a group of us rented a whole house) up in the Austrian Alps and photos of Asians taking photos of each other (& of my dogs #EllaandLouis) while we spent a day in Hallstadt.
There was essentially some sort of trip every few weeks, and when we finally ended up on holiday in Italy this summer, Andrea had had enough.
In comments on some post, she demanded: What do you do exactly? How can you afford all this travel? I want that life. What do I need to do to get to motor round like that and see all that stuff?
Well, here comes the oversharing:
I can’t. There’s been too much outflow and not enough income. I’ve overspent on travel this year, and now it’s time to do some belt tightening and get back to fiscal basics.
The funny thing is, though, I’ve got it under control, because while my freelance work often dries up in summer, it turns out autumn is regularly quite busy.
There’ll be a period around Christmas until Epiphany, when I can’t work anyway, so I’m already planning a trip stateside. I’ve not been to Vermont since college, when a couple of Deadheads and I drove from Albany to Burlington on a whim, but there might be Yuletide in the Northeast Kingdom (a place whose name I’ve always thought was rather magical). Then if things go as planned New Year’s in New Orleans and time with my people in coastal Texas.
That bastard Hurricane Harvey, who devastated the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana last week, has made me uncharacteristically homesick, which is a feeling I nearly never experience, so pardon me if this blog becomes a bit Texas-flavoured in the coming weeks.
I promised Andrea a blogpost explaining what I do, so here it is. I overshare. I tell people online what online marketers insist you shouldn’t. I tell my readers too much and it’s both cathartic and a little daft.
Because I’ve thrown in for another year on WordPress, I’m going to get my money’s worth. I’m going to use my blog the way I used to do my teablog:
People who drink tea used to read my blog about the brown liqueur, the leafy goodness. The drink that fuels my adventures since I gave up on John Barleycorn years ago. Yet the astounding thing was how many people who didn’t even drink tea told me they loved my blog.
Just the writing. Whether they even drank it or not. Some regular readers even insisted they couldn’t stand the stuff (I never trusted those people — just seems suspect to me). For now on, there’s going to be regular content hereabouts, but this time with an editorial calendar and a better eye on my audience. Most importantly there’s also going to be a goal.
I want this place to be where people come for something whimsical. A bit of the ridiculous in an otherwise serious and grown up life. Again, that’s why even non tea drinkers read my earlier site. It was certainly about tea, but barely.
Some days it was about what was pissing me off, but most of the time it was my inspiration. Whatever caught my fancy. Whatever bliss I was tapping into, as Joseph Campbell was talking about.
The thing that made me want to leap out of bed in the morning? The thing that made me want to do it again and again? I want more of that in my life. I’m assuming you do too.
On a side note, I quit watching or reading the news while in Spain. American news, in particular, just had me anxious. I realised that the more attention I gave Trump and the whole “he said she said” nonsense of the two party system over there, the more irritable I was getting.
Walking along the trail on the Camino de Santiago in the Rioja region of Spain, I reminded myself:
None of that really matters in my day to day life. I take voting seriously, and I’ll do my civic duty when it’s time to do so.
But watch another debate like we seemed to all be doing in 2016? Life’s too short for that shit. There’s too much living going on around, as I hear Lyle Lovett’s voice singing in my memory.
You have your people. I’m sure you look around your circle of friends and say to yourself, ‘I love what they’re doing…wish I could help them out more.‘ Well, as much as you love your people, and I’m sure you do, my people just keep creating new things and I want to do what I can to let everybody know about them.
One of my people – one of the better ones, I might add – is Susanne, and she’s recently become obsessed with blogging and social media. I looked on with both amusement and pride last year, as her first blogposts started showing up on my newsfeed.
Here’s her most recent post, and I’m sure you’ll see why I find her writing so endearing: Desperado (by Susanne Plassman) Leave it to her to take a topic like suicide and make it inspiring.
I reached out to her and said, ‘Hey, I know something about the whole blogging lark, so drop me a line if you need any guidance.‘
Almost immediately, she responded with, ‘Yes, let’s talk! Am besten Gestern*!‘ That’s how she is, by the way. A theatre chick with all the positive associations in tow.
Susanne and I are conspiring to do some projects together and I’m sure I’ll be talking about them here and on social media, but in the meantime…her predicaments while getting started in blogging made me think, ‘There must be so many other locals who need some tips and pointers on this whole social media thing.‘
So, I talked to the language school Axioma, which is centrally located in the Maxvorstadt district of Munich, and we’ve decided to offer a course in social media. Here’s a link to the Social Media / Blogging von Anfang an course. Click on it, and see how much of your high school or college German you can remember.
*rough translation of ‘am besten Gestern‘: I need this yesterday!
And when I think of that soft & gentle dating app, I’m immediately making jokes playing on the word ‘tender‘. Jackson Browne singing in my ear, and I’m a preteen again. Completely unaware of tenderness. The very thought was lost on me.
Then my thoughts meander to the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel of the same name. Should reread that damned thing at some point. But then I remember that the title Fitzgerald used was actually ganked from a Keats poem.
And who wouldn’t agree that we could all use just a bit more decent poetry in our lives. Here’s Ode to a Nightingale:
Ode to a Nightingale
By John Keats
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.
Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.
I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
And mid-May’s eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.
Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
To thy high requiem become a sod.
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
‘All the way from Germany, yes. I saw you got a hamster. A hamster named Alexander, right? Let me tell you about the history of the domesticated hamster,‘ I started to mansplain to my second oldest niece.
‘Got it covered, Uncle BK. Check out one of my recent YouTube videos,‘ she chirped.
For quite some time, I’ve intended to change the tagline on this personal blog. I’m not certain how long it’s been, but it might’ve been from back when I started that if you clicked on my site, you’d see:
‘pay no attention to the man behind the curtain’
It was an allusion to the Wizard of Oz, as well as a commentary on the way in which each of us creates our persona online. Essentially, I was saying: read my thoughts here, but please don’t expend any energy looking backstage.
I’ve chosen to live in a country that takes privacy very seriously. Because of Germany’s complicated history with the government surreptitiously observing its citizens, there is a genuine desire to ensure users ability to control how much of their private lives they display. It’s easy to be cynical about such a position, and my friends who work in cyber security would quickly insist that most of what we think of as online privacy is an illusion. However, I continue to respect the lengths to which they go to keep fighting the proverbial good fight. Europeans in general and Germans in particular are earnest about this. Quite commendable, if you were to ask me.
Yet the above tagline no longer works for me. It’s no longer the message I want to get across here. Not remotely. Instead, I’ve decided to take on an entirely new position. Frequently some event will happen hereabouts and I’ll receive queries along the lines of, ‘What in the world is going on over there?’
My response is to write this blog as a meta answer to that exact question. The new tagline:
‘Missives from this corner of Old Europe’
Implied in this is my eagerness to take on whatever questions you might have. If you read something here that you’d like to know more about, say something in the comments or drop me a line via email.
Hope you enjoy the new direction, and I’m already looking forward to some lively exchanges.
Suppose I could blame the full moon. Or the pots full of tea I drank before I should’ve gone to bed. Maybe even the fistfuls of chocolate I was shoving in my gob at some point hours ago.
Yet whatever the reason, here I am up in the night not even trying to fall asleep. It’s even past the Witching Hour, whatever that is.
Friends in Australia were just waking up as I sat down and started writing earlier in the evening. They kept me company virtually as I shot off an email to a list of my regular readers, and for the most part they went about their day. A few night owls here in my timezone were up in the night with me, but I’m assuming all of them went off to dreamland long ago.
There are still plenty of my people stateside who’re still awake and have taken turns chatting away while they go about their Saturday evening. Some on the East Coast are holed up for this year’s annual Blizzard of the Century, while others strewn across other parts of the America look on smugly at how mild winter is for them…at least in comparison.
I’m staring at the moon and enjoying the sleepiness that’s finally creeping upon me. There are so many old photos saved on my hard drive that I could easily go through the archives and find plenty of visual content with having to produce anything new for a good long while.
That’s how this blogpost started, incidentally. Not that it’s such surprise, is it? Start with a photo and see where your thoughts take you. There are certainly more creative ways to come up with content. However, for this early morning with an evening of reflection already behind me – this is how it has to be.
Rarely do I want to repost something word for word in its entirety here on the old Miscellaneous Blog, but today I desperately want to do exactly that.
I’ve got tabs open on my laptop with articles I’d like to read and blogposts on which I’d like to comment. I’ve been devouring pieces about time management since the new year began, and I’m knee-deep into various Thirty Day Challenges.
It’s too much. I give up.
No, I mean it.
Here’s one of the many things that really spoke to me in my daily attempt not to get bogged down:
I know it’s from waaaay back a few months ago. That’s an eternity in the online world. Do you know how many hours of content have been uploaded to YouTube since this Opinion Piece was published in The New York Times? A lot, I tell you.
I could make a rough estimate if I looked up the data and did a bit of calculation, but what’d the point of that be? Why am I so obsessed beyond reason to know that specific piece of information? Does it benefit me or anyone?
Don’t get me wrong. If I’m making an argument and want my point to be convincing, of course I want to employ facts in said reasoning. Come on. There’s plenty of knee-jerk palaver floating around. I’d prefer not adding to the noise, I promise.
Yet I’d like to cut down on the barrage of information. Tony Schwartz the author of the above mentioned article, makes the point so well that I’ll just give you a taste of how he phrases it:
‘Endless access to new information also easily overloads our working memory. When we reach cognitive overload, our ability to transfer learning to long-term memory significantly deteriorates. It’s as if our brain has become a full cup of water and anything more poured into it starts to spill out.’
I like that simile, so I’ll just leave that with you as I move on to the next thing.
I’d like to believe all of this has cured me from my time-wasting habits. Wouldn’t that be lovely. Instead there’s just one more thing I wanted to read before I actually get something done.