Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dealing with Feeling

Vitatron 1 The support group supervisors must have been looking over my shoulder this morning; they found me today to ask why I had stopped coming to the group meetings.

I admit to feeling culturally and linguistically outside the process, but I accept the point that it sends the wrong message when a leader decides not to attend the discussions. So, despite misgivings, I'll plunge back in.

What are the concerns about the company's transition that I need to be ready to talk about in a support group meeting? Gaining acceptance that the fight for the company is over, suppressing frustration and sadness about not being able to help the people working for me, and getting past worrys about whether the support for my assignment will be abruptly terminated. I want to avoid the resulting stress, but I already know that retreat into large open spaces is restorative, helping me to get distance and perspective. It's still hard to be patient and to allow time rather than action to resolve future uncertainties, but I'm gradually finding my way to accept that course for now.

So I feel like I'm adapting and coping well.

With regard to dealing with the emotions surrounding the event, I accept and understand the feelings and I've been addressing them constructively: Outward displays of anger or grief aren't my style and don't seem necessary or helpful. I've already talked about other alternatives with people in the past couple of days. Writing is helpful, especially since I couldn't write about things in the months leading up to the event. 'Change of scenery' can be. Having the occasional opportunity to talk it through matters more than I thought it would.

And, at some point, it will be nice to have the uncertainties removed and some freedom to take positive actions again.

Okay, re-centered, off to the meetings...

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.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Turning the other cheek

e - Diekirch War Museum 00My Frommer's Guide recommended a stop at the National Museum of Military History in Diekirch, Luxembourg, dedicated to the Battle of the Bulge in the Second World War. It's hard to imagine, today, that the rolling countryside had seen such fierce fighting: the villages are timeless and unspoiled, set into deep green forests and sunny fields of bright yellow rapeseed.  The museum is tucked along the main city street, guarded by an Allied tank peeking from behind an alley, a bit incongruous against the bustling shops and restaurants up the street.

e - Diekirch War Museum 03 Inside, it first looks like the largest Army Surplus Store anywhere (I think that I actually recognized a flashlight and field shovel that had been handed down to our Boy Scout troop).  e - Diekirch War Museum 07The curators have collected up anything and everything left behind from the war and filled shelves,  display cases, and whole rooms with cascades of artifacts.  It's hard to appreciate the individual pieces, there's just so much of it.

Deeper into the museum, the displays organize into re-creations of scenes from the time, with mannequins dressed in old uniforms and surrounded by everyday things. e - Diekirch War Museum 09 One scene of three men in a foxhole was accompanied by a picture and a letter: the life-sized model recreated the photograph, and one of the veterans who was in the picture had written in the 80s to describe the experience.  It was a moving letter, and helped me to really connect to what this was all about, and to give me a way of seeing into the scenes and the times.

There are dozens of everyday scenes, e - Diekirch War Museum 12soldiers struggling to move supplies through deep snow, a communications team huddled in a ruined basement, a mortar squad hiding in a farmhouse kitchen, troops lined up for a e - Diekirch War Museum 10rare hot meal, others searching for supplies in a town.  The conditions were extreme that winter, and the abundant letters and photographs that line the walls describe the hardships of the battle and inadequacies of the food and clothing.

It seem incredible that, within decades, Europeans were able to set the experience aside and come together as allies.

In Arnhem, in Diekirch, in Normandy, and elsewhere, I've visited battlefields and museums that vividly describe the fierce battles, sacrifices, and privation of that time.  Smaller countries like the Netherlands and Luxembourg were occupied early in the war, and liberated later, so they don't enter into our history texts as clearly.  But a visit to these areas reveals the forced conscription, the raids on houses already short of food, the separation of families, and the harsh conditions that people endured for years.  The experiences must have changed people, angered them, hardened them.  Yet politically, and to a lesser extent socially, Europe seems to have been able to move past it.

I talked with some friends about why: maybe it's because the Allies ultimately won the war, or because the generation that fought it has passed.  Perhaps, as buildings are reconstructed and forests grow back, life returns.  But active memories of conflicts last generations in other parts of the world, with endless wars of redress and revenge.

I haven't found a satisfactory answer to how Europeans moved their lives past the scenes depicted in the museum.  The vibrant city life outside shows that, however they did it, they made the right choices to leave a better world to their children.  But I can't imagine how.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Change of scenery

I was feeling a bit stale, and it was showing.

I haven't been able to talk about the potential work issues over the past months, so there was a bit of backlog to clear when I finally could.  Now, most of what I had bottled is now poured.

Still, it's been an immersion, and by Saturday, I decided that it was time to air out.  I pointed the car south and didn't stop, well, until I hit Luxembourg.

'not as crazy as it sounds; I hadn't been there yet, it's a reasonable distance away (only a few hour's drive), and has reasonable size to cover in a couple of days.  The weather was absolutely gorgeous, and the hills and mountains of the Grand Duchy were breathtaking.  I wandered in from the northwest towards Clervaux, then down the center through the Ardennes to Luxembourg City.  Overnight there, then out to the Moselle valley vinyards, then back up to the Diekirch War Museum.  Finally, out east through the forests, chateaus, and mountains towards Bitburg.

I give Luxembourg high marks: wonderful natural beauty and a variety of scenery, history, and cities to visit. Above all, it was great to disconnect and to explore, even if only for a long holiday weekend.

a - Luxembourg Ardennes 122 b - Luxembourg Clervaux 2 c - Luxembourg City 26 c - Luxembourg City 52

d - Moselle Valley Vinyards 11 e - Diekirch War Museum 12

f - Beaufort Chateau 07 h - Bollendorf 5