Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rummaging through my mind's attic

The hot spell broke as storms rumbled through last night; morning dawned tropically humid today. Despite it's reputation for rain, Seattle never gets sticky air like this, where I can almost roll it between my fingers. It feels more like a prairie summer.

It makes for a lazy morning, perfect for clearing collected notes, jotted during the long weekend drives and bookish cafe evenings.

For the first time in my life, I am putting Place ahead of Career. I've always known people who decide where they want to be first, then find the best opportunity in that location, but I've never felt that way myself. Until now.

A commentator observed that whenever teenagers discover some new pastime, from skateboards to video games to beach parties to MySpace, society takes disapproving notice. Is it the excess of the activity, or that it always serves as a backdrop for other things people don't like about teenage behavior?

I spent some time last spring cleaning up and organizing my web presence. Why haven't I ever felt the need to do that with my "real-world presence"? And, for that matter, what is the corresponding "real-world presence"?

Expat living has brought too much corporate involvement in my life. I have only 14 boxes of personal things with me: clothes, books, kitchen supplies, personal artifacts. Otherwise, it's company car, company housing, company office, company computer. That can't be healthy.

Nonetheless, no matter what comes, I wouldn't trade away one minute of the expat experiences of the last three years.

A friend challenged me to list what I don't like about Dutch life. Surprisingly, a lot revolved around Dutch neighborhood life. There are strict social rules that are not listed and that you violate at your peril, such as where to park, when to put out garbage, and what to put into windows. Finding who to call for basic services and where common goods are located involves a lot of hunting and patience. Neighbors are quick to correct mistakes, but slow to welcome new people in. Grandmotherly women can be most unkind.

For the first time, I find that I get more pleasure from finding beauty in life than I do from finding meaning in life.

SMITH, the place of storytelling, is having a "six-word memoir" contest. Can you tell your life story in six words? "Cursed with cancer; blessed with friends", "I still make coffee for two", "Even my mirror lies to me". I'm intrigued.

I have mixed feelings about the Dutch reliance on group support in hard times. Sometimes I get distance and perspective, but other times if feels like it simply reinforces people's sadness. If I emerge from the hour feeling worse, I take walks in the country, alone or with a good friend, instead. I've stopped attending.

The hardest thing for me to do right now is to wait for what happens next. I'm not passive or reactive, and I'm not used to admitting that I have no control over whether the worst case comes to pass in the coming weeks. It's also hard to separate out what has to wait from what doesn't: should I buy a bicycle and plant my garden flowers? It feels like I should, irrespective of whether I know what I'll be doing or where I'll be living next month. Life shouldn't stop, and work problems shouldn't spatter onto non-work decisions.

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