Above you’ll see me with one of my favourite people on the planet. Robert is nuts, but it’s a good nuts. George is almost as nuts as Robert and I are, but not quite. We’ve set a high bar, to be fair.
Who’s George, you ask?
Let me provide a bit of context I’ve got this friend George, who’s a gardener. He wasn’t always in such a position of autonomy and authority. He used to be a marketing specialist. Bilingual, even. Yet he was miserable and wanted to go outside and be with the birds. And think about worms.
Like a child, right? That’s one of the many things I like about George. He’s not playing by society’s rulebook. Were he to ask his family, a successful line of people if there ever was one, about his recent downshift from marketing to gardening, I doubt he’d get approving responses.
Damn them, is what I say.
But I’m a bit like the Hindu god Shiva…I like to tear things down before building them up again. Although, if I’m honest? I’m probably more like Ganesh than Shiva. I think I’m a badass, when really I’m a bit round in the middle and want to enjoy my comfort.
What might this have to do with my clients or how I get my message across? Simply put, I’m good at writing what I know. I’ve spent my career doing just that. My clients are typically quite German. Even the Italians and French people I deal with have been living here in this Teutonic reality long enough that they might as well be German.
My solutions might be okay, but my delivery is often so unorthodox that they need to try me out before they can see the method to my madness. Were I to be less chaotic, I’d lose less clients right off the bat. It’s anti-intuitive, but I’ve learned to stay the course and worry less about losing clients who don’t ‘get me’.
What’s my biggest, most successful, piece of advice? When it comes to clients? It’s so simple it almost hurts to write it:
Listen better. Ask good questions, but only after a lot of active listening. Making sure you truly understand what their whole deal is. Not what you assume their deal is. Let them tell you.
In future posts, I’ll talk more about this. Follow me for more tips on how to alienate clients. The ones who stick around might be worth the trouble. Or I might be.
I can never tell which one.
Who wants to ride another Ferris Wheel around and around and around? Wouldn’t you rather get off at some point?
My family is hurrying out of the house, so we can go see these guys dance here in our little village. If we leave RIGHT NOW, we just might make it. It’s the first time the #progeny will see them, so I’m quite excited.
Will share the experience as soon as I’ve got new footage.
Above is a photo of Ella *ahem* cleaning her brother…it was always so funny to tell Louis not to pee on his sister, because he so regularly did.
They were with me nearly fifteen years, and with my friend Larissa’s artwork of them, I still have a daily reminder of them on my wall in the new flat.
Of course, feckbook’s regular memories function allows me to share their old photos again and again. So much so that I sometimes worry it’s too much for people. When’s he gonna stop already with #EllaandLouis?
No matter how much good feedback I get for this blog or photos of those amazing dogs, I can still hear the criticism of a few misanthropes in my mind. I’m the worst critic, though. Which is what sometimes blocks me from getting my thoughts down on the page, or the screen which is more common in these digital times.
I’ve been thinking a lot about 2112, which if you didn’t grow up listening to prog rock in the 80s might not mean anything. I’ve never been much of a metal head, but I’m guilty, along with a lot of guys (and even some women) my age, of having loved the band Rush.
We even named a dog after the band at one point. Considering I’ve had a Lyle and of course Mrs. Fitzgerald and Mr. Armstrong, naming my/our dogs after a musician is about the highest personal honour I can bestow.
Their record was a dystopian fantasy in which music was outlawed. I see some parallels today and imagining a person trying to live off the grid and not under the constant watchful eye of Amazon, Google and especially the Book of Faces.
What would you be able to manage in your life today without this digital extravaganza that is the Internet? I’m doing nearly all of my teaching online these days, which is a godsend considering as many as six short months back my German clients saw working from home as a glorified sick day.
Home office or even working from home one day a week was considered such a luxury in this famously slow evolving culture. Not anymore. I’m on the edge of not taking any face to face work anymore, but then…
There’s music. You can certainly do music lessons virtually. I’ve had a few amazing lessons on Skype and even Messenger during the lockdown. I’ve continued to teach my music students virtually when a face-to-face lesson won’t do, but…
Today I met up with one of my old students. We had a ukulele/singing lesson. We laughed about old times before #Covid19, and then we made some sweet music together. It wasn’t anything like a zoom meeting.
Which is what takes me back to 2112. Outlaw face-to-face communication in the Time of Corona? No thank you.
Social distancing? Yes, please.
My friend Cay shared a post a few days ago, where they had a Brass Quintet rehearsal outside with many metres of distance between them. If I had to play in a brass ensemble, I’d want the others as far away from my poor brass playing as possible.
I can’t wait to get back to normal, but I think that normal is an illusion. We’ll see.
Upon returning home to Germany and two weeks later being released from home quarantine, I was told I’d get more used to being around other people again. I’m not so sure I want to.
You’re sitting in your mom’s house, eating too much of her leftover food, playing with the progeny among her things, looking at photos you don’t remember ever having seen before, laughing and crying simultaneously at the proposterous nature of you and your family.
We’re all struggling in some way or other. If you deny that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
Perhaps you like being alone.
Normally the thought of having zero contact with anyone would’ve sounded amazing. You’d have taken that deal in a heartbeat.
Now look at you. How’s that ‘i hate everyone’ stance looking now, you hypocritical fool?
Perhaps you’re rarely alone in your normal daily life with work obligations and family commitments.
How’re you distracting yourself now?
Perhaps you read articles about an uptick in domestic violence during times like these and think, ‘That could never happen to me. I certainly would never do that.’
Then your husband or partner smacks his lips while he’s eating, like he’s done since right after you both got married to be honest, and you think to yourself, ‘Why isn’t there more domestic violence?’
Your partner knows how to push your buttons like nearly no-one else.
My mother was a master button pusher of mine. She knew exactly where my buttons were.
Very few people have that knowledge that she possessed.
Where my most vulnerable spots are.
At this point, it’s just my brother from the original four of us. He’s much more polite than I’ve ever managed to be, so it’s mostly me offending and then scraping and begging for forgiveness.
It’s a joy, I tell you. But I bring it on myself. If I knew how to act right most of the time, I wouldn’t struggle with people.
It just so happens that this #covid19 pandemic means for me that I have much more interaction these days with the people I least want to deal with.
They’re never easy cooped up in close quarters. What would we do these days without connection to the outside world?
To the people we normally tolerate ‘out there’?
Ask my brother Michael about Luling, Texas. We might still be traumatised by that story.
I know I am.
Stuck in a hotel room after we slid on black ice and totalled our van, we got to spend an inordinate amount of quality time together that week. It felt like a month in that godforsaken tiny hotel room.
I’ll never forget my dad accusing one of us of being passive aggressive and my response?
Dude, you’re like a year or two dry and clearly aa isn’t working for you, you old coot. Go back to your psycho babble meetings and learn about projection.
I was a joy, huh?
Want another dark family story?
Our trip driving my stuff home from Cincinnati, after finally finishing school.
Brother Michael and I were so loving toward one another that I almost walked away from the car and took a train.
Ask my wife. I’m a pleasure to live with.
Now, aside from Miriam and our kid, all of you people are here inside my phone.
Both available and not available at the weirdest most inappropriate times.
If you want some advice you didn’t ask for, I’d say shut the hell up for a change.
I assure you I’m trying to practise what I preach.
With questionable results.
Thanks to this virus, we’re all forced to live closer to someone most of us have been running from for years if not decades.
Passed a texmex restaurant called Casa Olé on our way through Brenham, Texas the other day and it got me thinking. I told my wife the story, and she said, ‘You should write about that.’
Well, I always do what my wife tells me. Right, Miriam? Yeah, ok. That’s not entirely true. I try to at least consider what she says, before I do what I wanted to begin with. Back to the story, though.
Casa Olé was an institution when I was growing up — even went to one years later in Pasadena, Texas of all places with my then girlfriend & her family, I think.
It was the same bad texmex goodness as it’d always been. We ate a lot of that stuff, if I recall correctly.
We used to joke that dad could pay our lunch money with his beer bottle deposits from the Ragin Cagun we lived near in the Gulfton ghetto.
It was no joke.
The things that pass for frivolity when your mom’s then boyfriend, soon to be 3rd husband is drinking himself into a catatonic state on a nightly basis.
People love to talk about what a great man our dad was, and I hope I’m as revered and loved as he was at the end.
The jury’s still out, but I doubt I can make the impact on people’s lives that he did once he put the plug in the proverbial jug and gave up drinking for good.
But when we were little? Me, nine, and brother Michael, seven, hanging out in the Sunny’s parking lot while Bill, mom’s aforementioned dude, was inside playing pacman and swilling Lone Stars.
Where was mom? Teaching night school at UH Downtown, which was one of three gigs she had if you counted slinging Avon.
I still despise Avon. Even the look of one of their bags makes me cringe.
Why weren’t we at home eating chefboyardee Ravioli, which ol’ Bill had become expert at plopping out of a can into our gullets.
Our incessantly growing appetites as we transformed from children toward teenagerhood.
We were mere babes at this point. Nine and seven years old, hanging out at the local convenience store while a man we barely knew got wasted on cheap Texas beer and there we were.
In his charge.
He turned into a fine man, though. That’s all that matters, right? We’re all doing the best we can with the tools we were given.
I shared something I wrote here with a friend and he asked me very nonchalantly when I was going to be getting over my pity party?
Everyone had a rough childhood in one way or another.
Just get over it.
My wife insists I’m too negative here. She asks something like, ‘This is how you process your grief? Out in the open where everyone can see it?’
I guess so.
Perhaps I should reconsider.
Here’s the thing, though. Whenever I write something truly raw, somebody thanks me and says my words somehow helped them.
I can’t ever predict how what I write is going to help somebody else. It’s a weird alchemy, if you ask me.
Read that New Yorker article about Prince and he hated that word alchemy. While I understood his point, I have no problem comparing writing to it.
You take something dirty and embarrassing. Something good people wouldn’t share openly. Or good isn’t the right word.
Thoughtful people wouldn’t do what I do here. It might be circumspect and ponderous. That’s what I’m going for, by the way.
And weirdly, whether it’s clear or not, hopeful. I’m trying to work through this stuff from my childhood, because it makes me hopeful.
That my kid doesn’t have to deal with what I did. She can have a whole ‘nother bag of issues that I’ve hopefully not made worse.
My small daughter favours her Oma, which often confuses me in the weirdest moments. She’ll make a face that looks like her mama’s mama, but her whole demeanor and physical appearance is such a mix between my wife, Miriam, and my mother, Martha Frances.
As they say, she went to meet her maker a few weeks back, so I’m in Texas dealing with the fallout.
My brother, Michael, and his wife, Sara, and their kids have done so much that Miriam and I are at mom’s house wondering how we can be useful.
One thing I’ve decided is to organise her books. Some I want, but honestly? How many copies of ‘Liturgy for Living’ does one really need? I’ve got one now, if you’d like it. You may have it.
While I respect and honour my mother and her work, I don’t quite understand most of what her books had to do with her actual life. It’s too big a question to answer here, and to be candid even positing the question properly would take a lot of time.
Instead I’ll focus on the books I did find. She assured me while I was on the phone in Munich and she back here in Houston, that she wasn’t afraid of dying.
She insisted she had a few years left if not more. Even the second to last time we spoke, I said goodbye and had the weirdest feeling it’d be the last conversation we had.
I told her, and she responded, ‘Oh, darling. It’s nothing like that. I’ll be here much longer — I’m already feeling better and you and your brother are overreacting.’
Famous last words, eh?
So the next day, she called and the baby was already awake. As was their custom, the baby took the phone and walked away so she could get some alone time with her Oma.
They went in the other room – my mom on the screen thanks to FaceTime – and they proceeded to enjoy each other’s company. My loving and sometimes gentle mother and her namesake an ocean away. Singing and cooing and just being really adorable.
Watching them together sometimes made me think of that scene in The Godfather whereMarlon Brando’s character plays In the garden with his small grandchild.
That was it, though. The phone call. Their, and I suppose our, last conversation. And my kid hogged the phone. She’s only one year old!
I miss my mom, but as soon as I write that I realise everything that comes out of my mouth next is palaver.
Clichés, if you will.
She’s in a better place.
She’s no longer in pain.
She’s finally able to be back with her family that she had missed so much.
I suppose all of those things are true.
Yet it doesn’t stop me missing her. Wishing she could be here in person to delight in this beautiful child growing and learning.
I just want to open FaceTime and click on the little green button next to her picture I want to hear her West Texas accent answer, ‘Hello?’
Her voice gentle as I tell her one of my problems, stern if I admit Miriam and I’ve been fighting again, and hopeful when I speak of a new job or opportunity — her voice, that melodious and lovely sound.
How I wish I could just get her on the phone.
Hear her tell me again what she said nearly daily for almost fifty years. Hear her once again profess her love. Once again say it and expect me to say it back, which often annoyed me.
That manipulation. You just told me you love me and now I have to say it back? Why? Every time?
The protestations of a recalcitrant teenager, right? Right.
Say what you want, but I’ll leave this with one last thing. I’ve got few regrets in life, but now I wish I’d responded better to her love. Wish I’d seen it it for what it was.
Her very best. All she could give. All she could manage. Sometimes not up to my standard. Often not the kind or flavour of love I demanded.
Wish I could hear her in person or on the phone assure me of her love. Wish I could say it back.
Miriam & I have had a week — the good, the bad, & even a little ugly in a few choice moments.
The progeny, on the other hand, has done swimmingly. She’s already walking, albeit full toddle most of the time, and her talking makes sense, but only to other babies.
This time of year is really amazing, if you pay attention, because some people are ready for the holidays while others? Not so much.
Look around you while others are rushing round to & fro. Watch how people behave when they’re stressed.
If I’m candid, I’m exactly the same. I was furious at the Mahag guy (that’s our local VW dealer) today, & Miriam was there to try putting Humpty Dumpty back together again after he fell from the wall.
I went full tantrum, because they reminded us repeatedly of ‘our appointment’ via text. When I arrived, they suddenly acted as if they knew nothing of us & our new Autoschlüssel (key change). Oh well.
I tried rolling with the punches, so I just did some work while sitting next to a burbling brook of a baby playing next to me.
There was another 1/2 hour before it appeared anyone was interested in helping, but when they did? It was excellent service. Really.
Good job, Mahag. Thanks.
I got home, made lunch for all of us, as Miriam was in the office all morning & we NEEDED sustenance. After that, I announced that the new key didn’t even work.
I’d figured out on my way home that although the key itself was right, the remote control function that opens & closes/locks the car was non functioning. Huh…ok.
Turns out that I had a typical expat-related misunderstanding, where I told the guy I knew our spare key didn’t work, & he said to me that there was something wrong with the electrical system – that the new key wouldn’t work.
My German is good when I’m not stressed out. It’s also good when I’m not talking to Bavarians. Sometimes I think northern Germany would be easier speaking/comprehending-wise.
So here we are. We had an appointment for after Epiphany, but they heard me cursing & spitting in the background, so apparently we’ll be dealt with first thing Monday morning.
Ok, I was a jerk. To the Mahag guy & to my wife. I was nice to the baby, but if that’s the low bar I set? Being nice to babies.
Even Jeff Goldblum’s nice to babies, & he’s the worst person I know. Sara knows what he did.
Be nicer to people while they’re Xmas shopping – whether alongside you or if you’re a Spätshopper (late shopper) & you still need just a few more gifts.