Saturday, December 29, 2007

Flight and Escape

"How many houses are there on the hill?", she asked soon after her arrival, and Carlos said, "Eight. They are owned four by North Americans, two by English, one by a French, and one by Danes."

"Why have these people come here?"

"Consider this," Carlos said. And from the edge of the terrace where they stood, he embraced the landscape. Consider the sun, the pure air, and the view. Consider the tranquility. These people have abandoned their other lives. Now they have this." He lifted his hand toward scenery in general.

Morgan listened while Carlos, in these words, described flight…

Harriett Doerr, Tiger in the Grass, "The Seasons"


Locate the position of a line that separates escapism and escape,

then describe the meaning of 'flight' in each context...

Friday, December 28, 2007

Heading back to the Netherlands

'nothing deep or reflective today, just up at 5 am and packing to get ready for a noon flight back from Seattle to Amsterdam.

It's been a good visit, but full of events and short of sleep. I'm in the peculiar circumstance of living overseas while my family remained in the US: the kids are older and didn't want to leave their friends, and my wife didn't want to move when the opportunity came. There's a lot of strain between us, and we're progressively going separate ways. Time together feels wistful and sad.

My daughter graduates high school this year and has been accepted to colleges, so things are great with her. She gave me a whimsical picture of the two of us on the road looking at schools, and then came home with nostalgic stories about going down to the docks and remembering all the sailing we did when she was growing up. Time with her has been easy and fun.

My son bounced off college two years ago and has been working nights in the warehouse at UPS while he sorts things out. He wants to make a try at some classes; my wife wants him out of the house. It's hard to solve that size problem in a week, but I think we worked through to a solution for the next few months. Time with him has been a struggle and frustrating.

I try to catch up the house when I'm back: 'cleaned the garage, moved things to the attic, made a run of trash to the dump, did a lot of shopping and cleaning, worked through a lot of paperwork. We raised a family here, so it feels familiar but not so much home any more. My wife has new friends who only know me from stories (and I think that most doubted that I existed). The neighbors are always surprised to see me.

It's always an odd departure: I feel like there isn't really time to solve much, only to skim or disrupt things. I always get choked up at leaving the kids again: 'still looking for ways to get them over for a visit sometime soon. Europe is just not on their radar from Seattle. Spring, for sure...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Reverse ExPatriate-ism

Amanda published a very nice summary of the perils of Reverse Culture Shock at Vagabondish over the holiday. She writes about the types of disconnections that open between expatriates and their friends back home, and makes some good recommendations for how to adapt (and, yes, it still falls on us to do the adapting...).

It's a bit like Gauguin living in Tahiti: Gauguin - Street in Tahiti his family and friends never really understood why he moved or what he was experiencing or creating. Trips home to Denmark were invariably difficult for him.

Amanda's good advice includes:

* Don’t take it personally when people have no idea what you’ve been doing.

* Until someone asks, keep your experiences to yourself.

* Don't lose patience with everyday life.

* Don't assume that others share or want to hear your new opinions.

* Don't drop your travel tales into too many conversations.

* Anticipate that getting away to see something different became much more difficult, and a whole lot more expensive.

Taking it to dinner

I was reflecting on this advice last night when I went to dinner with some good friends at a local Italian restaurant. There is a conscious effort involved in fitting in, because I see everything through a different lens. It's tempting to pick the Montepulciano wine off the list because I've been there and know it (and can tell a little story about the town). The faux sculptures and hangings scattered around to resemble Italy have a tissue-paper feel. caprese3 I opted for Caprese for an appetizer, and was given tablespoon-sized mozzarella balls on halves of caprese2cherry tomatoes (left): not as hearty as the slices I'm used to (right). The tiramisu was, by sad consensus, terrible (but the domestic berry cobbler was excellent). Conversation focused on skiing in the Cascade mountains, the difficulties of their kids college applicaitons, and speculation on what their upcoming "empty-nest" life will be like.

These are good friends and I enjoyed our evening together thoroughly. But Amanda is right, that there are things that I have to suppress, and an effort that I have to make to engage locally. But, hey, isn't that the same rule I follow in the Netherlands?

The gaps that I've experienced:

  • The 9 hour time difference is huge. I'm never at my best when making phone calls at (their) reasonable hours. 'Nor participating in evening activities when it feels like 6 am.
  • Distances are different. Since European countries are the size of US states, it's easy to drive a few hours to Paris, Berlin, or to hop an hour's flight to England or Italy. People don't understand that Brussels is no further than Portland, and think I'm showing off if I say I drove down for the weekend.
  • My sense of navigation has changed. Living in a country with no wide open spaces and many twisted lanes, I've come to rely on the TomTom and to use a different set of navigational cues than I used to. As a result, my instincts for driving American cars across straight-line US grids has deteriorated.
  • My ear is warped by trying to speak and understand Dutch. This has three effects. First, I am used to not understanding people, so it's always a bit of a shock when I do understand what a waitress is saying. Second, I do tend to accidentally chirp "dank u wel" or "goedemorgen" without thinking. Third, I've found that I have a new role as after-dinner entertainment: when conversation lags, people can always ask me to "say something in Dutch" .
  • I pull out the wrong ID. There's nothing like a baby-girl pink driver's license to re-assure store clerks, banks, and Homeland Security that I am who I say I am.
  • I'm off the Amazing Race. If I live outside the US, I'm no longer eligible.
  • Everyday life in Europe is different. I've been conditioned to have cappuccino in the morning and espresso in the evening. I have to go the bakery and the fish store for bread and meats because they don't sell it at the Albert Heijn. I start work at 8:30 and I take vacations because everyone else is gone too. It all sounds very exotic and pretentious even when it's not.
  • I'm used to taking city breaks. But my casual weekend trip is someone's else's lifetime dream: they plan for a year for something I am lucky enough to have at my doorstep, and I agree that can raise some jealousy.
  • I'm not used to Political Provincialism. I've been told that I've abandoned my country and that I've lost the right to criticize US policies because I live in Europe. At the same time, I have experiences and perspectives that convince me that the Bush administration and his right-wing minions are destructively wrong. I see a continuing erosion of civil liberty, privacy, free speech, humanistic vision, and critical thought in the US. But it's become harder to participate in the debate because I'm not part of the society.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas (and the movie mirror...)

First, warm and happy Christmas wishes to each of you. I hope you have close and fun times with family and friends, and I hope for true peace on earth during these troubled times.

The holiday movie season is also around us, leading to today's pop question:

Kate Winslet or Keira Knightley

The_Holiday-6-Kate_Winslet Love Actually Knightley

I'm less of a fan of The Holiday than of Love Actually, their respective Christmas movies, and have to admit that I would rather share Eierpunsch by the fire with Knightley.

And that, of course, leads in to my totally idiosyncratic ranking of the holiday movies:

Four Christmas Movies I gladly rent:

  1. Love Actually An intertwined set of holiday vignettes, with Prime Minister Hugh Grant memorably facing down the US President and wooing winsome Martine McCutcheon. Great soundtrack, and wonderful comic relief from Bill Nighy.
  2. A Christmas Story I grew up in Cleveland, and this absolutely captures every aspect of it. From snowsuits to Santa at Higbee's, this really takes me back.
  3. White Christmas Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye find love and nostalgia while waiting for snow in Vermont. Vera-Ellen never looked better, and I'm a sucker for the happy ending.
  4. A Christmas Carol The 1938 classic version (or, as a guilty pleasure, the 1962 Magoo version that I grew up with.)

Three Christmas Movies that I'll watch if someone else is:

  1. The Holiday (Not bad if you ignore Jack Black)
  2. A Charlie Brown Christmas (I once played Charlie Brown in our school play of this show, even though I wanted to be Linus)
  3. Miracle on 34th Street (Doesn't wear it's age well, but its heart is in the right place)

Christmas Movies that drive me to read a good book:

  1. The Polar Express (Creepy and cloying)
  2. It's a Wonderful Life (Overrated and depressing)
  3. Home Alone (Any of the many: no wonder Macaulay turned out bad)
  4. Most Christmas comedies (eg: National Lampoon Christmas; Elf; Bad Santa )
  5. Any Christmas Movie horror show
  6. Any Christmas Movie created as a merchandising vehicle (eg: Very Merry Muppet Christmas; A SpongeBob Christmas)
  7. Any Christmas Movie with Tim Allen (eg: "Santa Clause" 1 through 1000)

(Your thoughts welcome: the web is full of opposing views. See, for example, Reel Reviews)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Disconnecting / Reconnecting

I found out last night that the company has found a new Research Manager to replace me. I had taken the interim assignment to fill a hole in the organization last summer, and have been leading the search, so this was expected.  It is a good thing: I've been holding down three full-time jobs at work and have literally been spending Research80% of my time managing the Research group, 20% on general management, and nights and weekends on my primary startup business within the business.

At the same time, I've enjoyed the assignment and the people, and I'm going to miss working with them.   Research is all about vision, entrepreneurship, networking, creativity, and change: it's a fun mix and attracts a lot of sharp people.  I think I'm a good facilitator, mentor, and communicator, and we accomplished a lot and did well for six months.

It's made me realize how hard it's going to be to move on in six months, a year, when my overall assignment here ends.  Disconnecting is not my strength: I'd have made a lousy contractor.

On the flip side, I've been reconnecting with some people from way past: I've stuck up correspondence with a few high school andMurray - Broken  Flowers college 'best friends" and a first girl-friend who surfaced through "25-year reunion" gatherings.  People's lives turn out differently, no doubt, but there has been a welcome continuity to revisiting my life's passages.  It won't devolve to "Broken Flowers" (which, together with "Lost in Translation" makes Bill Murray my archetype for "middle-age emptiness"), but it has helped me to think about how my life has been shaped by others, about the paths not taken, and to put a few demons forever to rest.

Last week, BBC's "Digital Planet" suggested that our physical lives would be displaced by our Socialnetworkingvisualisationon-line lives within 10 years.  Avatars have more room for social exploration, take less physical effort, are more controllable and less expensive ways to deal with life.  While some folks might leap to refuge or escape, I don't believe that most people's physical lives are so dull, troubled, or boring that this makes sense.  Mine certainly hasn't been, especially since breaking the envelope two years ago. (And, besides, as LJNet's Social Activity graphs suggest, right, VR networks grow just as tangled as RL.)

My remaining worries relate, instead, to the developing implications of my footloose existence.   Every year, I am finding that I have to answer two questions What do I do next?, and How do I let go of now?

Three signs that Christmas is here

The Christmas tree is decorated and lit...

...the Malley's chocolates have arrived from Cleveland...

...And there's a huge poinsettia in the living room.