The Waiting Game

As people in the USA get ready for Thankgiving (this Thursday) I’m waiting on my own little bird to come out of the oven. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, as I’ve reported in past posts, and so it’s ironic or perhaps special that our second baby chose Thanksgiving as her intended b’day. Since we all know that due dates on babies coming to the world are just estimates, the likelihood of her making her appearance on the actual holiday is pretty low. For that I have been thankful, hoping she might make an early debut, as I have had enough of being an incubator/kangaroo and I am ready. The thing is, now all I can do is wait. And try not to think to much… while I try to mentally prepare at the same time. No. Small. Feat.

This waiting period reminds me of a conversation I once had with a mixed martial artist. He was describing the mental control it took to walk into a space where you know that you are choosing to be physically assaulted. It doesn’t come as a surprise to a boxer or trained fighter when they are hit in the face or attacked. They have strategically prepared for that moment. But their intense training doesn’t take away the challenge, the danger, the fear of actually walking into the fire. They still have to take that step. I thought his description was interesting and realized at that time (probably 10 years ago) that while I considered myself a brave person, I certainly didn’t pursue activities that required that brand of bravery or self-control.

Fast forward 10 years. Enter motherhood. Now I know personally what he meant.

Basically as soon as you find out you are pregnant you start training for your new hobby/career as a mixed martial artist. The only difference is that the ‘fights’ or ‘battles’ don’t have a starting time and they don’t typically have a decided end point. Like a fighter you don’t know exactly what will happen in the ring but unlike a fighter you never know when the assault will begin or how long it will last.

Maybe you will be a person who doesn’t get morning (all day) sickness, but maybe you will. And maybe it will end after the first three months but maybe it will last the whole time. Maybe you will be a person who doesn’t get food aversions, but maybe you will. Maybe you’ll get this terrible thing that causes you to itch incessantly till the baby comes out. Maybe you’ll get lucky enough to get varicose veins (did you know that you can get varicose veins in your private zone?  No? Oh, well you can…) Anyway, as it turns out, all of this is just your training period.

Then the end nears.

One of the things I’m most thankful for is the total discomfort that comes in the 40th week of pregnancy. This adds to your ability to be brave– 100%.  It becomes so uncomfortable to keep this bird in the oven that you will do just about anything to get it out even if it means walking into the ring of fire for a fight that could last 30 minutes or four days. In this fight you don’t know whether the pain will come from behind you or in front. As you get exhausted the onslaught will pummel you with increased speed, waves coming closer and closer together. You will not escape without undergoing very serious pain and while some people get the gift of a baby at the end it could become complicated and you might leave the fight without your parting gift. And yet you walk in, chin up, brave face and you do it.

You mommies, you are all mixed martial artists—winners, champions. If you are reading this blog and there are kids that are connected to you in anyway–you won this fight. Whether still born, adopted, miscarried, born by C-section, or brought to the world in the usual way, you had to walk through some kind of fire to get where you are. You know overcoming fear as well as any trained fighter. And this is just the beginning because parenthood, as it turns out, is a different kind of battle, all its own.

I’m ready for ya Turkey Day, come and get me.

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Unbefristet= Unlimited

This summer I celebrated my third anniversary as an immigrant to Germany. I was first given an allowance to live here for 1 year with specific limitations, then for 2 years and now finally I have a pass that allows me to live in Germany indefinitely. The document states, “Unbefristet. ” It means “without restrictions,” but as I looked up the definition I saw that the word also means “Unlimited.”

And there it was, that inspirational, yet elusive word–“unlimited.”

The word first struck me around 2008 when I saw the broadway show “Wicked.” I heard the character singing unbelievable notes with lyrics about being “unlimited.” My mind was blown. When I heard the song, I knew that I wanted to feel “unlimited” too but at the time I felt the limits all around. Then a few years later I was drinking tea at home. The tag on the tea bag said, “You are unlimited.” I pulled it off and kept it as a reminder to try to live as if I were unlimited even when I felt the opposite. I have kept that little paper with me through at least two moves and it is now hanging on a bulletin board in my daughter’s room. Perhaps it won’t take her so long to reject the limits and achieve in life.

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What’s interesting is that the unlimited allowance to live in Germany has come in the same year as the big 4-0. 40 years on this earth, and the good new is: most days I finally feel “unlimited” in life and not only because the German government has sanctioned it.

I know now that I can do anything and when I look back I realize I could’ve always done anything. It was me who made the limits. Likely none of us need 35-40 years of limiting ourselves to finally become free. Likely we spend a lot of time in life denying ourselves success and satisfaction because we see the limits instead of seeing the path forward.

But I was talking with a friend the other day, who is in the television industry and I realized that everyone does not feel so positive about racking up the years. This discussion of age reminded me that our society so highly values youth and doesn’t necessarily encourage or reward people who have experienced life long enough to let go of their limits and share something meaningful with the world. I wondered then– what is the youth obsession really all about?

Here is what I figured out: In the case of the entertainment industry it seems the obsession with youth is mostly about appearances and potential. Those things are a real turn-on for everyone. I suppose looking at someone who has already reached their potential is not nearly as exciting as looking at someone who is just at the beginning. The seduction is always in what “could be. But it is a dangerous business valuing things purely on their potential, as every stock broker and thwarted lover knows.

Outside of that gamble, being obsessed with age and appearances is limiting for a number of obvious reasons. Only one of which is the fact that the outer beauty we are born with is the one thing over which we have very little control. Should our value on this earth be dictated purely by that and a ticking age clock?

This line of thinking took me further. I thought about actresses like Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, Maggie Smith, and Judi Dench. Do they offer less now that they are older? Not really, it seems to me they offer more.  Then I thought about Sandra Bullock–she’s 53! Of Marissa Tomei, she’s 52 now, even Reese Witherspoon is 41. Jennifer Aniston is 48, Ashley Judd and Julia Roberts are 49 and Nicole Kidman is 50. These women have done and continue to do great work. They have lived. When I see them on film I would not rather see a younger version of them. They have something so trustworthy, so awesome, so believable to offer on the screen now. They also offer a myriad of things off screen–wisdom and ideas, direction and insight. Aside from all that they have an opportunity to use their voices to enact change, revealing stories and angles we may have never seen.

That they are fighting battles to be seen, heard or appreciated in the industry is a mystery to me because what they have to offer is so obvious.

When I’m being honest, I actually feel now a lot more beautiful on the inside at 40 than I did at 25 or 30 because I know what I’m made of. I’m not waiting for someone to answer life’s questions for me. I’m not hoping someone will give me my break. My every life decision is not based on whether someone will hire me, like me or want me.

I’d love to look the way I did when I was 25 but honestly I’d never go back– unless I could take the wisdom, security and the unlimited feeling of 40 with me.

So here’s the truth that we all need to hear: No matter where you are on life’s road–know this: you are already unlimited. You might not be able to impact huge change in the world but you can make out of every situation what you will. Look around you, check to see if you are being limited by others or if you are setting limits based on your own fear. Look for the path forward and believe that you are unlimited until you really believe it …or until the German government gives you a certificate that says it.

Thanks for a great three years Germany and for the reminding me that in life, over the things we can control, we are unlimited.

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“We are diamonds, taking shape.” -Coldplay

 

 

Fasching

I’ve now lived in Germany now for three Februarys. Each February a holiday comes along that I’ve never fully understood and until this year I never participated. It’s called Fasching, (the German version of Mardi Gras or Carnevale). It’s a celebration leading up to the Tuesday before Lent. As with Mardi Gras or Carnevale the idea is that people should really party it up and indulge before they get serious about Easter. Here in Germany though, they take the idea to a whole new level.

It starts in mid-January and takes up the entire month of February. For some cities in Northern Germany, like Cologne, it’s a holiday that starts in November and goes straight through til spring.

There are parades in every town, social clubs dedicated solely to getting ready for and celebrating Fasching. Everyone dresses up in elaborate costumes; there are endless variety-type comedy shows that make fun of politicians. Best though, Fasching Time features a delightful pastry called Fasching’s Krapfen. This snack can be pretty easily  translated to jelly donut. In Northern Germany, its called a Berliner. (Thus the joke about JFK. In his defense though, a person from Berlin is also called a Berliner.)  Maybe the Krapfen are akin to the Pennsylvania Dutch Fasnachts, but I’m not sure because I’ve never eaten a Fasnacht.

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It probably comes as no surprise that my favorite part of this holiday is the Krapfen.  The traditional ones are covered in either powdered or chrystalized sugar and the ones in Franconia are filled with a Rosehip marmalade. Some very talented people make them at home but you don’t need to because every bakery has them. They are not greasy at all, you can hardly tell they are fried. The dough is light and fluffy and ever since they appeared about a month ago, I just want to eat them every day.

 

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I have fully missed why people dress up in costumes for Fasching, so I did some research. Here is what I discovered: First, for millennia Fasching has been a celebration to ward off of winter. Some people attribute the costumes to actually trying to scare the Winter away. There is evidence of parades that date back to Roman times and historically, the servants dressed up like their masters and were able to actually make fun of them for a few days. During Fasching it was typical to poke fun at the aristocracy and everything was generally turned upside down–drinking and partying were acceptable and the clowns of the society became the most respected figures. It was even a time during the year when people were able to criticize authority without getting into trouble. That part seems to have stuck, explaining all the roasts on television about the local politicians.

The photos below are from parades in nearby towns over the weekend. It’s pretty neat to see. The local farmers lend or rent their tractors and act as the drivers for the floats. Each different club has a float and the members stand on top throwing candy to everyone. The kids race around collecting as much candy as possible and every single town seems to have their own slang so I can hardly understand any of the jokes. There are bands and dancers and everyone shouts Helau! (This word seems to be related to warding off evil or welcoming spring but its actually meaning must date back pretty far–I had to look it up because no one could explain what it means.)

The whole holiday makes more sense and seems more fun now that I understand it. Little Mouse is still pretty small but I bet next year she’ll be old enough to be a interested in wearing a costume. All the local kindergartens walk in the parade, so I guess eventually she’ll get to be in it herself! She has already made her interest in Krapfen very clear- a girl after my own heart.

Helau!

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Fasching Parade Heroldsbach

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Courtesy of the Neunkirchner Carnevals Verein

 

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The Time it Takes

It’s the start of a new year and for most people it’s a time for taking stock, seeing where we are and getting started. At the end of 2016 I started a free lance writing job, my first real job here in Germany. Finally getting paid to write is a dream come true. And so it appears that with relative ease, one by one, things have simply fallen into place.

love…

marriage…

moving to Europe…

language…

baby…

job…

Just. like. that…

But in reality, it wasn’t just like that. Because up until the point at which the job opportunity presented itself, I was clueless about finding meaningful work in Germany. I just couldn’t see any possibilities. And while I can talk all day about the beautiful love story, the great adventure of moving to Europe, and the honor of being someone’s mommy–without work, a big part of myself has been missing.

Moving and finding out that we were expecting a baby happened almost simultaneously, so in between all the wonder and the love and the awesomeness, there was a kind of freaking out, a mourning over the seeming loss of my career, my homeland, my freedom, myself. Everything I’d prepared for was nothing I was doing. All my practice and education, all my areas of expertise were going unused, sitting on a shelf, while I spent my days in unfamiliar territory being challenged by the mundane.

It’s important to note I didn’t go into this blind and that I didn’t go in to it alone. When I made the decision to move to Germany, I had a partner and a family built in AND I knew what I was getting into. I had a conversation with myself and made an agreement. It was an agreement to take a break from my normal in order to pursue a new path. The relationship, marriage and subsequent move to Germany each presented an opportunity to vier from the familiar and to hopefully experience something much bigger than I could do alone. I was sure that eventually I would have the time and the possibility to pursue my career dreams and I figured until then I would be busy with other things and not really notice.

But I didn’t think about the fact that it would be hard and I didn’t even consider that it might take a long time to find my way.

The idea I had was that I would kind of cut myself in two. I would leave a part of myself behind, on hold so to speak. I would send the new me on a kind of jug-handle curve of adventure–at a much faster pace (I thought)–and eventually we would find each other. That was the idea.

And I figured it would be quick and relatively painless. I would just hurry up with the challenging parts.

I didn’t think I would miss my old self or miss feeling like an expert at something. I didn’t anticipate feeling lost.

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Now that I’m metaphorically, out of the woods, I can admit that the jug-handle curve of adventure was certainly not paved. I would go as far as saying that at points it was very dark AND that it felt like it took forever. I wasn’t looking at the map from above. I wasn’t navigating toward my ultimate goal from a bird’s eye view. No, like everyone else, I was in the trenches. And I spent more than a few moments silently screaming, This is not what I meant by adventure!

Life consisted of having so many cool opportunities and loving my new family so much juxtaposed with months of looking in the mirror and not recognizing myself. Not speaking my own language, not fitting into my old clothes, not knowing where to buy things, not having a project to work on or a career achievement to go after. And however strong I was, I missed the familiar.

I see now that in thinking I could hurry up with the challenging parts, I missed the point of the whole adventure. I thought the next phase of life was about being comfortable, experiencing love mixed with the taste of champagne while basking in the shine shine, seeing new sights and looking better than ever.

While thinking I was going to run around Europe becoming a Franconian, I missed all the other things I was going to become. Even more I had no idea that the next phase of life would be transformative. The introduction to becoming a mother included the refining fire of pregnancy and labor, so I don’t know why I thought that becoming other things was going to be any easier. The point is: becoming is hard and it’s time consuming.

I like to think of it in terms of Gandalf (The wizard from the Lord of the Rings). When the story begins, he is Gandalf the Gray. He is good and wise and funny. He is not lacking in any way. I don’t think he imagined himself ever becoming Gandalf the White. I don’t think he had his sights set on becoming a White Wizard. Who wants to die in a pit of fire with a dragon just to become a better wizard? And even the readers (or viewers) couldn’t have imagined that Gandalf’s fall was not his end. But life knows better that the endings are the real beginnings. This truth was not something out of Tolkien’s imagination. This is how it is with us as well–During the dark moments on my adventure path, I mourned the aspects of myself and my life that were lost. But I could not fathom or visualize all that I was going to gain as a result. This shedding, this becoming–no one talks about this. No one talks about the time it takes to become the next version of yourself.

And so after two and a half years, I have fallen more and more in love with Franconia and its people. I am raising a Franconian and I love a Franconian. I’m shocked to realize that I have become a whole list of things in this time — wife, mother, friend, organizer, cook, shopper, immigrant, bi-lingual person and a professional story teller but as it turns out–I have not become a Franconian. No– lucky for me I can speak German and understand the Franconian accent, but I will always be the American ballerina-turned-gardener, who met her husband on the Amazon River and moved to Germany. And isn’t that enough? Finally, I think so.

 

 

Lessons and Resolutions

As the world celebrates the dawn of a new year, so do I. January 1st is my birthday and so it’s not surprising that as the year closes and starts anew, I find myself assessing. Not a whole big question and answer session or a who am I? where are we? kind of assessment, just more of chance to take stock of what has passed and what is to come. This year was a big one. 40.

40? How is it even possible? It’s great, I’m not complaining, I just can’t believe I’ve been around so long. I think about my ballet teachers and two of them in particular who died of AIDS related cancer around the age of 40. How can I be the age that they were then? They seemed so wise, so much older at 40. Well anyway…

This year I learned something worth sharing. Something I hope will help me with my own resolutions and that will hopefully influence the people around me in a positive way. Here it is:

I learned that for the most part, perfectionism does not help you to become more perfect. More it steals moments of joy and prevents you from taking opportunities. Often aiming to be perfect slows us down and makes achieving our dreams harder, keeping successes just out of reach.

Having been a ballerina I have maintained a close relationship with perfectionism all my life. So I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive for perfection–on the contrary, we should and sometimes it’s thrilling and the results are stunning and powerful.

The perfectionism that I’m talking about is a paralyzing type of mentality that prevents us from acting because we are waiting to be perfect before we try something.

Inspirational case and point: A friend of mine decided about a year ago that she wanted to learn German, but she lives in America. Regardless, she set her mind to it. She found a tutor, she listened to German podcasts and she practiced whenever possible. After a number of months she came to Germany for a visit and at every opportunity she talked to people. People in the street, in the shops, on the train. She stayed with us and came home each evening with a new tale of some acquaintance she’d made that day. This was amazing to see and nothing like what I did when I moved to Germany.

I went to school, yes and I became bilingual eventually, but I took the long road and suffered along the way, missing out on the type of fun that my friend experienced. This is because I was scared. Fear of being imperfect prevented me from being able to experience the little joys of talking to strangers in the first months of my move. It took me forever to really enjoy the adventure of the everyday.

Watching my friend, it seems like she would have been able to make the best of it from day 1. And it isn’t because she is smarter or more fun– it’s because she wasn’t scared to try. She didn’t let fear prevent her from experiencing German culture and all its nuances to the best of her ability.

I thought perfectionism was something that I got out of my system when I retired from the stage, but I was wrong. For a person who has made a lifetime out of always becoming something new, it’s surprising how often I’ve been deterred by fear–how often I have slowed my own progress because I wasn’t perfect at the start.This business of becoming  is no joke, we don’t need any extra road blocks especially those of our own making.

So– let’s drink a little champagne and make a toast to having no fear in 2017. Happy New Year everyone!

Back at the ballet

We spent last Saturday night at the Staatsballett Nuremberg. This was our first time seeing them and our first trip to the opera house.

The tickets were given to us as a gift and ironically, this was not the first I had heard of the Staattsballett Nuremberg. When I first moved to Germany, I contacted this ballet company to see if they could recommend a good school where I might teach ballet or take a class. They replied quickly with two recommendations, but then my time got filled up with language school and pregnancy so I didn’t pursue it. As a result, since moving to Germany I’ve been more of a ballet observer…a periodic, albeit enthusiastic audience member.

But as old habits die hard, it became clear to me a few months after Little Mouse was born that I needed to get back into ballet. I searched my email for the two schools that the Staatsballett Nuremberg had recommended. It had been a year or so but finally I got up the nerve to contact them. It turned out the Tanzentrale de Region Nuremberg offered an open class for teachers and professionals on Monday mornings. I asked if I might bring four month old Little Mouse along. I figured I had nothing to lose by asking and to my great luck they said “Yes, bring her!”

I was so nervous before my first class–just getting there and finding a parking spot was a production, and then climbing four flights of stairs with the car seat and the diaper bag, but I made it. To my surprise, I was warmly and enthusiastically greeted by the director and the others in the class. At the time all my introductions to Franconians had tended to be a little more stand-offish, awkward even. When you’re a stranger, Franconians don’t usually offer a lot of smiles or conversation. It was totally different here. Right away I heard French and Japanese along with English and German. I hardly knew what language to speak. It became obvious right away that these people, for the most part, weren’t Franconian. The plan to wear Little Mouse for barre went off without a hitch and she sat quietly and watched for the rest of the class. The others ooo-ed and ahhhh-ed over her and then helped me to carry her to the car that first day. I felt welcomed into the group and whatever challenge it had been to get there, it was worth it. I have attended weekly as regularly as possible since then.

Little by very little I’ve gotten my old body back. In the meantime we’ve welcomed other pregnant ballerinas to our class and today one of the men brought his 7 month old daughter. I can’t do what I used to do as a ballerina but after these months at least I can see that it would be possible to do it again, given the time. And the music and the movement and the comradery are the absolute best way to start off the week.

So, back to Saturday night at the ballet. It was a contemporary program called Kammer Tanz, featuring three relatively small ensemble pieces.

The program opened with the artistic director, Goyo Montero’s Four quartets. It turned out to be one of the most integrated, innovative works I have ever seen in my life, featuring spoken word poetry by T. S. Eliot, a live String ensemble, interactive sets and wonderfully undulating choreography and dancers. As I watched, I always wondered where it would go next. I didn’t ever wish it was over and I didn’t get bored with it. But the best moment of the night came when the applause ended and Thorsten, who has only seen a total of two ballets in his life, whispered, “I have never seen something like that before, but I loved it.”  

For a person, who has nothing but an open mind and an appreciation of classical music, to to be so engaged and then to react with such a statement says a lot about how special this piece was. But more, it validated my entire life as a ballet dancer and teacher. This is exactly what ballet should do. Move people. Engage them and make them feel something they can’t explain. I was walking on air during the first intermission and I wasn’t even any part of this production.

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Staatsballett Nuremberg Photo Courtesy of Die Deutsche Buhne

This was an exciting occasion as well because as a result of taking the advice of whichever friendly person answered my email at the Staattsballett in Nuremberg so long ago, I started attending that ballet class each week. Now after a year or so of getting to know the others in the class, I have recently been asked to teach at a local ballet school.

It just goes to show that the strings and threads of life are attached. Nothing is ever really lost. Nothing goes unanswered. A language barrier is just that. It’s a barrier, maybe creating a delay, but it is not a delete. Things pick-up and get put down. They detach and then reattach. The ripples in the fabric of our daily lives get closer together and further apart but they never stop. In the quiet moments, the rocking reassurance of infinity and our part in it is revealed to us. Life’s rhythm finds us wherever we are.

 

The Brewer’s Star

When I first visited Germany in 2013 I noticed what I thought were Jewish Stars everywhere, especially in breweries. Below, for example, is the Star of David I saw in the bathroom at the Schlenkerla Brewery in Bamberg. I didn’t notice that the star was also hanging out in front of the brewery. I thought the fact that it was in the bathroom behind the faucet was maybe it was a “secret” way to be supportive of Jewish people or pay a tribute to the past.

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Thank goodness I asked someone about it. It turns out that it’s actually the Brewer’s Star. This star looks identical to the Star of David and it’s possible that way back in the day, the reasons for applying the symbols to both Beer brewing and the Jewish faith were related. In modern day however, they are not related in the least. I must say too– in the part of Germany where we live, while there are countless numbers of tributes and monuments and candles burning for the Jewish people, for obvious reasons, there are so few Jewish people who actually live here, that I don’t think people are even reminded of the Star of David anymore when they see the Brewer’s star.

The Brewer’s Star story, in short, is this: In the feudal times every household was allowed to brew beer. Each time the beer was ready to drink, they hung the star outside their door so that the neighbors would know it was available. This symbol represented community and Gemütlichkeit. During the Nazi era the breweries were ordered to remove the star because of its similarity to the Star of David. It seems to me, as an observer, that putting the Brewer’s stars back in front of the breweries was actually a way celebrate that the Nazi era was over. The tradition of hanging the star in front of the brewery goes back much further in the German story than the Nazi Party does. And so now they hang there again, as they always did, to remind everyone of the readiness of the community to gather together, drink beer and break bread.

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Brauerei Spezial in Bamberg-photo taken from Google images

The details of the six pointed star and what it symbolizes are worth reading. The symbol is said to have originated in the study of Alchemy. Triangles and lines are drawn in such a way to represent, the masculine, the feminine and the four elements (fire, air, water, earth). As a whole, the symbol is meant to indicate balance. Although it is interpreted in a number of different ways, most of the interpretations come down to the reconciliation of opposites or the peace between any two opposing forces. (Masculine/feminine, Fire/Water, Earth/Heaven)

Here are a few links with more details: The Museum of BrewingBeer HistoryThe German Beer Institute.