Sie ist weg/She is gone

Als ich aufwachte war sie weg. Ich war ganz außer mir, denn ich hatte schon so lange mit ihr zusammengewohnt und sie war mir fast sympathisch geworden. Eine Gewohnheit, immer präsent, immer anwesend. Morgens war sie am Stärksten. Wenn ich das Haus verliess, um an die Arbeit zu radeln, sass sie mir im Nacken. Sie verfolgte mich in mein Büro, wo sie meine Termine verunstaltete, meine Telefonate abrupt unterbrach und meine Kaffeetasse umkippte.
In der Mittagspause ließ sie meine Hände zittern, so dass der Brokkoli runterfiel und der Tisch sich anfühlte, als passierte ein Erdbeben. Im Fitnessstudio schmiss sie mich von den Geräten und abends auf der Couch bewegte sie meine nervösen Füße.
Aber ich lernte mit ihr zu leben. Ich lernte das Zittern meiner Hände zu ignorieren, das Stottern meiner Stimme zu verstecken. Als sie dann heute Morgen plötzlich weg war, war es als ob mir etwas fehlte. Was sollte ich nur machen ohne dieses vertraute Gefühl der Angst?

When I awoke, she was gone. I was disturbed because we had been living together for such a long time and I had gotten used to her. A habit, always present. In the morning she was most intense. When I left the house to ride my bike to work, it was as if she was riding along behind me. She followed me to my office where she messed up my appointments, interrupted my calls and where she pushed my coffee cup from my desk.
During lunch she made my hands shake so much that the broccoli fell off the fork and the table rocked like in an earthquake. In the fitness center she pushed me from the machines and at night on the couch she moved my nervous feet.
But I learned to live with her. I learned to ignore the shaking of my hands and to hide my stuttering voice. Then when I woke up this morning and she was gone, it felt as if I was missing something. What should I do now without that familiar feeling of fear?

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For Lisa

Reading Sherman Alexie’s books, I have been reminiscing of my time at college with my then good friend Lisa from the Menominee Indian Reservation. We were both in our twenties, partied a lot and she introduced me to her family on the reservation. Up until I moved to the United States in 1997/1998, I had only known of Native Americans from Karl May stories, Winnetou movies and from the German Mardi Gras when I dressed up like Pocahontas.
I remember my first time visiting Lisa’s family on the reservation. We drove to Wisconsin to the 235,000-acre reservation that is governed like a separate country. There was tribal police, tribal government, tribal everything. The Menominee tribe has almost 9,000 people with their own laws and rules in the middle of the United States. I didn’t know what to expect, but found that today’s Native Americans don’t live in tents, but rather in standard American houses. Except of their different looks: the often long, black hair, the olive skin and brown eyes, nothing of their lives was different from other Americans. However, upon closer look, there was a difference: I was astonished by the poverty I discovered. I saw properties covered in garbage, kids glued to the television with the parents nowhere in sight. Drugs and alcohol were everywhere and partying at the reservation bar was scary.
But there also were the Pow Wows where everyone dressed in traditional beaded dresses. There was traditional drumming, dancing, pipe smoking and fried bread. No one here was drunk or did drugs. It was a loving community of families and friends. (I did think it funny that in the colder months it was usually held at the local gym, but the warmth of the people made it totally indifferent were the ceremonies took place.)
There are different studies out there that say Native Americans have more problems with alcoholism than white people. Others completely deconstruct these statistics such in this article by the Washington Post. There are a lot of stereotypes about Native Americans today and I found some of them echoed in Sherman Alexie’s stories. Talk of drinking, fistfights, neglect, poverty and depression was common in his books. But he also described the very special humor of the people. Lisa and her family had that humor too, and I loved it. They made me feel comfortable, like I belonged. Accepting someone with flaws wasn’t an issue here. You were taken for who you are and sometimes made fun of in a good way. They welcomed me like I was family and the strangers I met on the reservation became friends instantly. I did get scared sometimes of the roughness and out-of-control behaviors of people under the influence, but then again I wasn’t sober all the time either. No matter what happened on the reservation, it was always real.
I have been teaching 10th grade English and I decided to introduce my students to Native American culture as I know it and as Alexie describes it. Simultaneously I have been reading Dee Brown’s “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” Even though I knew some of the history of Native Americans, I am once again astonished what we white Europeans did to the indigenous people. It embarrasses me on top of my shameful German history. Perhaps I can neutralize some of this guilt and pain by raising awareness of the Native American story among young German teenagers. Perhaps I can make them laugh when I share my stories with them about the wonderful people I met on the reservation. Perhaps I can give back a little for all the good stuff I have been given by all kinds of people during my life in the U.S.

Burn, baby

It is fascinating how everything burns. Cloth turns into a gooey clump and metal turns black, rough and ugly. Photos bubble and wrinkle into a ball. Some even make a popping sound. Paper is eaten hungrily by the raging flames and makes the fire temporarily bright and big.
I sat at the edge of a lake on a warm night, killing memories — old baggage. I had made a decision in my life and in a rage decided to burn everything associated with it. I had desired the feeling of relief; just like the decision had brought on, but burning all this stuff only made me hurt. It was painful and stupid.
Yet here I sat, wrapped in a sarong after taking a swim in the lake. I listened to a deer roaring and moaning on the other side of the lake. I wondered whether the deer was calling for sex or whether the animals make these noises while humping? In any case, it felt surreal, but I wanted to finish what I had started, so I kept fueling the fire with memories, when suddenly my dog began growling. Then he barked and I saw a man in camouflage coming towards me. He carried a bucket and fishing pole and barely took notice of me, while walking straight to my little fire at the lakeshore. I had gone away from the fire to hold on to the dog, so I watched the man from above the shore.
This scene could have been great stuff for a soap opera: A woman, hurting, in need of a strong man to rescue her from the flames of despair. They see each other and their needs (the man of course had been longing for a beautiful dame he could protect), she is already half-naked, he takes off the camo suit and his beautiful tanned muscles glisten in the setting sun; she lets go of the sarong and their hot bodies unite right there next to the baggage-fire like a storm of desire.
INSTEAD the man scooped up a big bucket of water and put out my fire! Then he yelled at me in Bavarian that number one: bathing at this spot was not allowed, number two: definitely no fires and three: the dog had to be on a leash. These were three violations already and the police would fine me at least 300 Euros for my misdemeanors. This time, he said, he would let me go. “Do you understand me?” he yelled. “Yes,” I said completely intimidated. Then he stormed off, mumbling that I had no respect for nature, while waving his fishing rod into the air.
Who was this guy? He clearly wasn’t authority otherwise he wouldn’t have talked about calling the police. What gave this man the right to put out my fire? Why didn’t I confront him? Why did I not stand up for myself? In fact, that night I didn’t give a shit whether the police busted me or God himself climbed down the ladder from heaven to punish me! I did what I had to do and I wanted to be left alone! And why didn’t he tell me these things nicely? We could have had a civil talk about this like mutually respectful adults. But we didn’t.
This was a fitting ending to a disastrous attempt to rid myself of memories that perhaps I shouldn’t have gotten rid of? On the other hand, it confirmed that I am done dancing after the nose of men. I am determined to learn to stand up for myself whether it is against a tyrant who puts out my fire or anyone who doesn’t honor me. My fire is lit. It’s burning, baby!
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Freedom

“Freedom cannot be given; it must be won.”
“Those who long for freedom attain it only after experiencing release – and release is a gift.”   ~ The Spirituality of Imperfection

What does it mean to be free? I am free to do what I want. I am free to say what I want. Yet, when I know it may hurt someone what I do or say, I think twice about being so freely. Does that mean I am not free any longer? I suppose I choose not to do or say something. That’s my free will.
I choose to be a teacher, which means I go to school every day. Some mornings I don’t want to go to class. Yet, I do it anyway because I made a commitment to the kids. Am I still free then? I choose to make this commitment. That’s my free will.
A partner once asked me to give him freedom. I did. Yet, I felt I no longer could talk freely to him because suddenly the partnership was on his terms. I did not feel free, even though I made the choice to give him freedom.
Feeling free and being free seem to me two different things. I can feel free when I dance to music, when I watch a copper snake wind through the mud. I feel free when I see the sun rise above the mountains or when a double-shooting star falls from the sky. I feel free when I laugh or when my dog tries to kill his leash and I chase him across the field. I mostly feel free when I am in the here and now. In these moments I am just with myself and with what is directly in front of me. Past and future are irrelevant as is the purpose of my life or that of anyone else.
However, this doesn’t mean I don’t care about anyone or anything. While in the present moment, in the background I am still a friend to other human beings. I am committed to my friends and family and I care about their needs and wants because I love them. So, while I am in the present moment, feeling free, I am still not entirely free. Any interaction or relationship with anyone or anything limits freedom.
Going with this definition, if I wanted to be entirely free, I would only live in the present moment and I would not commit to anything or anyone.
What would be left then? Lonely me.

A Tree and a Fox

 

I walked along the edge of a forest when I noticed a pine tree very slightly moving its long arms and fingers in the air. At first I thought nothing of it, but then I realized that it was absolutely wind still. Of course the branches and needles were high up, so I gathered that wind conditions many feet above me must be different then down here on earth. Still, I looked at the neighboring trees: no movement. Are they speaking to me? What could they possibly say to me? Perhaps they were mourning their friends as lumberjacks had just recently cut down several trees nearby, leaving a mess of branches, needles, wood splinters and charred soil where they had burned the remaining and useless limbs of the future firewood, paper, house beams or furniture. I continued walking through this moonscape of death and destruction and mourned the trees myself. How odd is it that we have to cut down these living giants in order to be warm or have paper to read from or write onto? It makes me sad in the same way then when I found the small and famished fox curled up on the side of the hill. His crossed paws covered his eyes and his mouth and teeth peaked out from under them as if he had been reaching out for a last breath or a warm drop of blood to still his hunger. His fur was brown and crunchy. He was frozen dead. My dog carefully and briefly smelled the fox. An air of awe and respect surrounded this small predator. The dog looked up at me as if he understood that this carrion was not one he would roll in as he usually did. It’s part of life, I thought. It had been a cold winter and now I understood the holes in the snow cover where he had stirred up the grass and looked for mice. He had been desperately hungry. It’s a cycle of life and death. We kill the trees, so we can survive. The fox did not survive the winter. We did survive because we had heat and some of it came from these felled trees.
Survival. What would happen if we only did the things necessary for our survival? What does a human being need to survive? There is the obvious: air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat and sleep to recover, clothing, heat and shelter if there is a winter. We need company so we don’t go crazy. We need men and women to continue the human race. What else? What do you think?

 

 

 

Two Americans and one German in Europe

We begin our journey on a cloudy day in Germany. A few hours later we are eating dumplings at 2300 meters in the Italian Dolomites of South Tirol! The next day we climb down in a minor snow storm and drive to warm and sunny Verona where we see Puccini’s Turandot at the amphitheater. That night we experience a room at a creepy catholic school and drive on to Venice. There we get amazed and lost (crossing the same bridge three times) and survive the third night at a campground. Everything had been “in the flow” until we get to the Slowenian border. Two American passports without any stamps? How do I know they are not fake? Pull over here and pay the 500 euro fine! We get out of it without paying, only to experience some “backing up problems” with the car as we reach the Croatian campground that has no space left for us. Next, all accommodations in Croatia are booked up, but we swim in the sea anyway, eat a good seafood meal, while watching the sunset and then it is 8 pm with no place to sleep. No problem! We drive half way through Slovenia and check into a fancy hotel room in the capital city that I can’t spell or pronounce! After 1000 kilometers with two Americans in Europe, this trip has reached the epic category! Can’t wait to see what craziness awaits us tomorrow!

Fish Short Memoir Prize 2015 Shortlist

My short memoir “I am Made of This” has been put on the “Shortlist” for the Fish Publishing Short Memoir Prize 2015. I am one of 90 writers who made it on there. 780 writers submitted. I have no idea what all that means, but it’s kinda cool.

See the list of writers here: http://www.fishpublishing.com/2015-short-long-lists.php#mmls15
Read what the editor said about the submissions: http://www.fishpublishing.com/short-stories-news.php