The Fortress of Europe

As viewed from a ferry in the Bosphorus. Built across the strait from the older Fortress of Asia. Instrumental in Mehmet II's conquest of Constantinople. I really get a kick out of the name: the Fortress of Europe.

Happy November from a person who is happy to be back on Michigan soil, after a beautiful trip to Turkey and Germany.

(More photos on Instagram, and more to come, here and there.)


Some days I write one sentence that I like, and I'm satisfied, content to read it over and over and congratulate myself.

But then, that good sentence, it needs to be followed by another good sentence. That can really freeze you up.
On Sunday I overcame the handicapping perfectionism and said fuck it, I want to see these pictures on the wall. The gap's been haunting me for months.

I hung them up, without a ruler or a level or any kind of template. I even changed up the layout halfway through.

And it's great. I look at it, over and over, and feel a twinge of happiness every time.

Emma Is Still in Ukraine*, and the Dolphins Are Exactly As Far Away From Her As They Should Be

I may be watching the sun set on Lake Michigan from a house on the bluff, but I'm also oh-so-jealous of these villas by the sea:

Emma:  meow
me:  hi
how are you?
Emma:  I spent a day and a half in a seaside dacha
me:  ooooh
Emma:  it was great
but also very headachey
me:  the people weren't creeps?
Emma:  oh no
they were goofs
a lot of them were my students though
and there was a lot of vodka and chicken marinated in mayonnaise
I think I have accepted the mayonnaise
me:  ha
Emma:  I got my own little room at the top of the house and when I woke up I could see a line of sea
and there was a porch and it was all like dilapidated white stucco
me:  oh my god
Emma:  and I went swimming and there were swans and dolphins exactly as far away from me as they should have been
Emma:  YES
me:  that's amazing
Emma:  and the water was cool and green
and rosebushes and beautiful green lizards
me:  eeeeee
Emma:  soon we're going to the dacha of one of my favorite students I guess
I'm so excited
he's so weird and fun
me:  is it seaside too?
Emma:  I think so
I just want to live in dilapidated villas by the sea
I hate my washer it always sounds like it is full of forks

*Okay, so she's on the Baltic right now, but until last week, she was in Ukraine.
(All photos stolen from Emma's Instagram, @marjoriestrees.)

Slack Summers

Because I still have no real idea, or at least no set goal, about what I want to do with my working life, I spend a lot of time thinking about it. I read about people's money philosophies, life philosophies, shitty jobs they had, dream jobs and how they got them. It seems like most of the time that I manage to post something on this blog of mine—which used to be about living in Europe, and then was a mishmash of having cats and being a person who read and wrote things occasionally—it's usually about work. Not that I ever seem to get anywhere in my career ruminations—I mainly just think in circles, trapped in the web of constant commuting, budgeting, and scheduling.

It's normal for young people to devote a lot of time to their careers. For many people my age, without families and obligations, it's what this phase of life is for.

But I also think it's silly. Part of why I have such a hard time with the career thing is that I've never felt like a job was going to define me, or knew what I should do. What mattered were my books and my plans and my friends. I miss learning. I like to read and eat and make things and see pretty places. (Not that I don't appreciate the fulfillment of a job well done. I just haven't yet found a good job that is worth doing.)

Even as I'm trying to find quiet moments of clarity for soul-searching, job-wise and life-wise, I also wish I made more time to just daydream. That's one of the things summer is for. I used to lie down on my bed and stare out the wide, open window at the sky above the houses and trees. I'd think about living—all the different things I could do once I was done with school, out of there. It was sometimes scary, but it was often a lot of fun. There wasn't so much pressure, or so many boring necessities to consider. No accountability, not like there is now.

Taisia Kitaiskaia describes it beautifully:
One moment you’re wrapped up in all manner of activities and the next you’re standing in your darkened apartment kitchen, an endless afternoon circling with the ceiling fan. The feeling is not unpleasant. It’s like slipping outside of time—societal, human time. It’s in these slack summers that I feel most immortal, as unknown and useless as a god, unseen by any mortal eye and somehow full of a vain and hopeless majesty. ("True Summer," The Hairpin)
*  *  *
Over summer vacation, as the heat got oppressive and the books ran out, as friends disappeared on family trips, grilled cheese for lunch stopped tasting good, and the days wore on, parents would forbid us from saying we were bored. We were supposed to do something about it, not complain. These days, I'm only bored when I'm chained to a place of work that is demanding very little, or even nothing, from me.

Three jobs and no definite priorities (just a lot of contingencies)—that's why I feel boring, so much of the time. Shuttling from one obligation to the next, with nothing worthwhile to report. Sometimes I read an article online that gets me thinking, but those thoughts are dulled as I return to copy-and-pasting or whatever other banal task I'm currently burdened with. Ultimately, the thoughts are forgotten in the shuffle of job after job and the neverending pursuit of responsible adulthood.

I'm aching for those real summers. You don't need to feed me, you don't need to entertain me. Let me read that stack of books, physical and imagined, that I've been building the past few years. I love the breeze through the window. I don't mind shutting down my mind when the afternoon heat gets too heavy; I am fully capable of staring at the cats and doing nothing else. Let me write angsty poetry by the light of the streetlamps outside the window like I used to. Life was real, even if I was doing nothing.

Slippery Slope

@mapooka on instagram
I'm the kind of person who can't get started on something before she knows every single step she'll need to take along the way, and preferably the outcome as well. This worked out fine in middle and high school English classes where we still had to write formulaic five-paragraph essays. Don't get me wrong, I hated doing it, but the concept of an outline of arguments and examples worked great for me. I still have a hard time understanding people like my boyfriend, who start writing a paper with the main ideas and information in mind, but won't figure out the final flow, or even the point of the whole thing, until the end. (Maybe not 'til the fourth draft, months after it's been turned in and graded.)

With things like job applications, I have to convince myself I could do the job, I could want the job, I would be able to commute to the job, and someone might consider me for the job, before I can sit down and try to convince anyone else, via the cover letter, to consider me for the job for even a moment. I don't want to hang a picture or pick out new curtains until I know all the other pictures I'm going to hang and what the new duvet cover will look like. It's all or nothing.

With the jobs I already have, this can translate to deep (and undeserved) loyalty. The better I know the job, the less likely I am to leave. Inertia is a powerful thing.

This might be the most deeply-rooted facet of my personality. Procrastination justified by a difficult requirement of certainty.
This acceptable configuration (of disparate things) did not make the cut.

Loyalty is not a bad thing. If you're my friend, I want you to be my friend forever, and I'll do what I can to make it so. If taught convincingly, a lesson is set in stone in my mind. Perfectionism, though—I've been warned against it my whole life. It's a great way to get nothing done and go nowhere. My family taught me that.

Master of Contingencies

Today I worked three jobs, which isn’t unusual. My plan: three hours at one office, three hours at the next office, then half an hour to get to the restaurant, where I would be the opening host out on the rooftop deck.

I wore my red, lightweight cropped pants with a long, lightweight, pink blouse and a belt. My fake woven-leather flats (my favorite). A navy blazer, a bike helmet. It was supposed to be hot today, hitting 80 in the afternoon, but I’m always cold in the first office, and often in the second, and the chance of rain in the evening hours was variable, hovering around 30 or 40 percent. A blazer is better than a sweater for rain, and better than a jacket for the office (and my jackets aren’t waterproof anyway). 

I stuffed my little red backpack to the brim. At the bottom, my planner and my small notebook, along with a novel to read in case I found myself stranded, unwilling to make my way home, and needed to hide in a café until a storm passed. Then my makeup bag, so at the tail end of job two I could do my face for job three. My workout clothes, in case I made it downtown and was told to go home right away, or close to it—in which case I could go to the Y, and a soggy walk wouldn’t have been completely for nothing. I tied my sneakers by the laces and hung them on the outside of the bag, from one of the straps, because they wouldn’t fit. I also had a little tupperware of apples inside my tupperware of rice and chicken for lunch, which I put off eating until after two so it would tide me over through dinnertime, or as much as it could. I wasn't going to have time for dinner, not with a 3:45 start time on the deck. My water bottle, of course. A pair of cheap Old Navy flip flops I’ve had for six years, shoved down one side in a plastic bag—they’re the most compact and least destructible change of shoes, a slippery but convenient backup in order to keep my real shoes dry in a rainy commute. In the other corner, I had slid my umbrella. On top, cell phone and sunglasses case and extra plastic bag, in case my bike seat got wet and I still wanted to ride.

The deck was closed tonight. It stormed; it threatened tornadoes. I made it to work, mostly dry, although I had to abandon my bike halfway there. I clocked three and a half hours working inside, and I am very tired. 

In the Rain

When I woke up this morning, the apartment was dark and moody, cozily and quietly separate from the rain pouring down outside. It was such a morning for staying in (says the girl who wishes she could stay home every day, I know, I know), and I would have loved to light a candle on my desk, let my fingers plod through the day on my laptop in a little sphere of candlelight, alone in the dim bedroom.

Instead, I picked a comfy dress and leggings, pulled on my tall, red galoshes and my trench coat, and walked to work in the storm. It was fairly warm out, and kind of nice.

When I turned the corner of the Modern Languages Building, I saw that the fountain, which was uncovered last week, was full of water and fully functional, sending streams of water up even as so much rain was coming down.
The fountain brought a thrill for summer, and a wistfulness for the first summer I spent here, in Ann Arbor. The summer of the Krankenhaus, when I read histories of Europe in the sun on the Diag and spent sixteen hours a week in a Spanish classroom in the MLB, eating lunch outside under the bell tower every day, dreaming of all the countries I would visit once I lived in Germany.

Now, I have three jobs and little time for lounging on the lawn, and I sometimes think that if I could go back, I would have just begged the rest of the rent money from my parents and not borrowed those few thousand dollars for intensive Spanish from the government. I haven't paid them off yet. But I would also love to have that summer schedule again. Learning a new language is a game I love to play, and summer is a time for openness, exploration, and freedom.
When I sought out a window this afternoon, I found blue skies and sun. I'm excited to walk home.

February: Scapegoat, or Menace?

I may have, as we were nearing the end of this January (the coldest January of my life), blithely remarked once or twice that February is routinely the worst month of the year. It has been an important facet of my personal belief system for quite a while. Still, I was feeling optimistic. It can't get worse than this is a sentiment I'm sure many of us have shared as we trudged through or avoided the -30 degree windchills of the polar vortex (parts one and two), oblivious to the fact that though the snow couldn't get much worse, it also wouldn't leave us for another month; instead, the mounds would steadily grow, and the slush and ice would persist, threatening our safety on the roads and sidewalks.

I escaped to Florida at the end of February's first week. When I booked those tickets at the end of October, I had no idea how well-timed the trip would be, how bitterly and persistently cold a winter Michigan would have this year. I just knew I wanted to visit my friend Rachel, and that winter was a good time to be in Florida.

It still hadn't let up when I returned from the long weekend. Now, a week later, it has snowed some more and will snow again tonight -- 100% chance.
*  *  *
And it did snow. I guess it snowed several inches last night. On my walk to work, everything was basically the same, just cleaner and fresher again, the various snow control vehicles repopulating the university campus to clear the paths I reluctantly take.

Today, like yesterday, like Friday and Thursday and Wednesday before it, I cannot bear the thought of my afternoon job. I ate breakfast, I eat lunch, I'm still hungry. My eyes, exhausted, my head, achey, I cannot bear these computer screens I have to stare at. This has to stop. Make it end. Let me go home. I know the particulars of the job are part of the problem. But I think it's really the February-ness of life right now that is to blame. I was feeling pretty good about things until I got entrenched in February, and February told me there was nothing I could do but whine.
*  *  *
At the end of January, we decided to fly to California for "spring" break. The tickets were at first so cheap that I thought (what hubris) that I could simply eat the cost, take it from my monthly budget and not pull the money out of savings, from my jealously guarded travel fund that is really only meant for a long-awaited return to Europe. The plane tickets went up, and then there were hidden fees, and still we bought them. If I continued to buy no new clothes, and didn't eat out, and put my paltry tax refund toward it, surely I could still maintain all my other money.

Nope. I'm slashing savings goals left and right. There is still a week and a half of February to go -- that's almost half this deceptively short month -- and the usually comforting knowledge that my afternoon position pays 50% more than the others can't make up for how pathetic it makes me feel. Because all that money is already spent.

February, when I say goodbye to you, I will be 30,000 feet in the air and heading west. This means I have to bear a few extra hours of February -- we get into Oakland International Airport at just about midnight, Pacific time -- but whatever. Once we've crossed the continental divide, who cares.

Successes of 2013

New camera!
I learned to make delicious chicken pocket pies. I finally replaced my rain boots. 
I took the train to St. Louis; best decision of the year. I had gooey butter cake for breakfast; favorite moment of the year?
Louis the cat is always a success.  
Lots of friend-time (not enough), lots of burgers, lots of sangria.
Tourist icons of Chicago and Milwaukee; friends from Freiburg!
German-themed fun, Cuban-themed silliness (and more burgers). Birthdays!
A successful dinner chez les parents; an unsuccessful drive to dinner in Detroit.
 The exact bookcases we wanted, found on Craigslist; a new bathing suit!
Lake Michigan from both sides.
Cactus without cats; cactus with cats.
 We stayed in; we went out.
Our apartment was warm and cheery and boiling hot, and my hair got long.
It was a good year, and a good start to life in a new home.