"Friend" is a term that we use for vastly different people in our lives. Some friendships last a lifetime, other just for the time of a holiday. Some friends know all our secrets and others are fun to party with, but we would never open up about intimate topics to them.
Sometimes, I got the impression that only a long-term and intimate friendship is a “real” friendship. This led to me feeling obliged to stay in touch with everyone I had a close connection with for some time. It also made judge those friendships, which are heaps of fun, but rather superficial. I felt that these friendships don’t live up to my standards of deep discussions and soul bonding.
But then I read a quote, which changed everything:
There are friends for a reason, friends for a season and friends for a lifetime.
(author unknown to me)
Basically, the quote takes a lot of pressure from those friendships, which are not “friends for a lifetime”. Let me explain this in more detail.
Friends for a reason are those friends that change your life in one way or the other. A friend for a reason might be a person who you meet at your first Salsa class and who teaches you the first moves of the dance. You click, you have fun together, you learn from your friend. But other than Salsa, you don’t share much. Once you are a good dancer yourself, your reason to meet up with your Salsa friend is gone and you move on.
Friends for a season are those friends, who are part of our daily lives. A friend for a season might be a classmate at high school. You sit next to each other in the classroom and you hang out in the breaks. You have fun discussing the latest gossips with the friend and you help each other with home works. Despite the comforting feeling the friendship gives you, the friendship is not based on common interests, but shared environment. Once the season (high school, your undergrad, the internship,…) is over, the friendship slowly fades away.
Friends for a lifetime, in the other hand, are not necessarily present in our daily lives. These are friends we have an intimate connection with. They know our secrets and no matter for how long we have not seen them, once we start talking to them, we feel like coming home and open up about secrets, plans and dreams.
For me, these categories helped me understand why certain friendships are fine and totally fulfil their purpose, even if they are not friendships for life.
(painting: Auguste Renoir)
It’s so easy to judge people, when you’re in your own environment and in your own comfort zone.
A short while ago, my friend Govoi moved from Kenya to Germany and I was his go-to person during the days when he was settling in. It was his first trip to a Western country. One day, he wanted to come back home by train from his university. I sent him the train connections including directions on how to change from train 7 to train 18 at a station called Neumarkt. At some point, Govi called me and said that there is no train with the number 18. I checked Google maps and another transport app and told him that it MUST be somewhere at Neumarkt and that he should just look on the other side of the road. 20 minutes later, he called me back and said that he tried everything, but he still can’t find his train. I asked him to approach other people around the station and ask where the train leaves. “I don’t even speak German and people stare at me, cause I’m a foreigner”, he replied. “Ok, let me come there to pick you up then”, I replied slightly annoyed. It turned out that train number 18 is a subway train and not an over ground train like the other ones that leave at the station – and Govoi simply didn’t know about subway trains.
Now, to be honest, my first thought was that it can’t be that hard to change trains and that Govoi is clearly a very confused and weltfremde person.
But then I remembered our trips to rural areas of Kenya. I didn’t understand a word of the local languages and it was impossible for me to remember the difficult names of the different villages we were traveling to. What is more, I had no idea how to figure out where the Matatus (minibuses) are going or where to get off. It was a mystery to me how people find their way without bus schedules and roadmaps. I was lost – at least as much as Govoi was lost in Germany.
So, I thought to myself that we easily take the systems that we are used to for granted and we forget that in other parts of the world, things work in entirely different ways. We judge people, because they fail to understand our systems and we act arrogantly when we help out.
Let’s keep in mind that all foreigners – immigrants, refugees, exchange students – might be helpless in some situations, but at the same time they are more knowledgeable than us in the systems where they originally come from.
(The photo shows Govoi sorting out our transport in Kitale, Kenya)
In a previous life, when I was still doing my undergrad in International Management, I took a course in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). CSR is in the first place the compliance with any law and policy a company is operating in. But it has become fashionable for companies to claim that their CSR engagement goes beyond compliance and that they actually foster some social good such as improving workers’ rights or environmental concerns. But how much CSR is possible, if the companies goals are inherently bad for people? What if the product is harmful to consumers? Some experiences during my travels made me ask these questions.
When I traveled to places like India, Rwanda and Kenya, I understood what a global corporation is. I want to use Coke as an example, but there are a bunch of other companies that are comparable. Coke is ubiquitous. I mean, I have seen Coke simply in EVERY SINGLE PLACE that I have ever traveled to.
Even at the tiny island called Wasini in the Indian Ocean - where there’s no electricity and no running water – you will find Coke. Sure, you could say that the market regulates itself. There’s demand for the product and Coke has such a good supply chain that they can cater the demand for Coke better than electricity companies can cater the need for electricity. It’s an absurd setup, but fair enough. But there are three points that really bother me about the fact that people at Wasini island (and similar places) get to drink Coke.
Firstly, it’s the brainwash which is created through Coke advertising. Yes, also in Germany you can find Coke advertising and people here are also exposed to marketing brainwash. But whereas in Western countries the question is whether to buy Coke, Pepsi or maybe some local brand, people in places like Wasini face a different choice. In these communities, people have hardly enough money to survive and cover the basic needs such as doctors’ bills and school books. A Coke at Wasini island costs around 100 Kenyan shillings. If you earn 3,000 shillings a month, buying a Coke is an investment. You can either buy a Coke OR a school book for that money. Due to Coke’s crazy marketing activities in these regions, for many people the wish to consume Coke might be in fact as urgent as the need to cover other basic needs.
Secondly, we are talking about regions of the world where malnutrition is a real problem. In the West, we see Coke as an unhealthy sweet treat, which is an add-on to our (in most cases) sufficient diet. In many of the remote places where Coke is being sold, it is an unhealthy add-on to a totally insufficient diet. There are numerous studies on the negative effects of sugar on your body, so I don’t want to go into detail about this topic. What is more, caffeine is addictive, leading to symptoms such as headaches when you stop your usual caffeine intake.
But these financial and health concerns are not the only thing that puts me off about seeing Coke in rural areas of developing countries. The third and last point that I want to mention is garbage. Products such as Coke (and to be fair even more so products that are being sold in plastic packaging) create garbage. Again, the problem exists also in Western countries, but in most Western countries we have well established waste collection systems. These do not exist in places like Wasini island. Obviously, the lack of waste collection is not the fault of Coke and other corporations that operate in these countries. But at the same time, it is a known fact that waste collection and recycling is a serious topic there.
Going back to my initial point about corporate social responsibility, I just want to drop a few questions. Just ask yourself: is it ethical to sell an addictive, costly and unhealthy product to people who are poor and suffer from malnutrition? Should companies be allowed to sell their products in places where collection and recycling of the packaging is impossible? Personally, I don’t think so.
What can be done? According to my own observations and reports of local friends, governments in these places are often highly corrupt and change (such as the implementation of waste collection) is too slow to keep up with changes of purchasing behaviors. In addition, it’s pretty likely that governments have crude incentives to tolerate the market entry of Coke. CSR departments exist, but do they have the power to do anything? Or do they only exist to maintain the neat façade of corporations? The fact that garbage problems like the one I have described exist in most developing countries makes me doubt the effectiveness of CSR departments.
(Photo: Tanja Schomann, taken at Lamu Island, Kenya)
5.30am, I am drunk, the sun is shining purple and I’m preparing tea for this random stranger in my kitchen. „Did you paint this picture?“, he asks, pointing at the framed Picasso print in my kitchen. Obviously I haven’t, it’s a Picasso. Such a strange coincidence. He’s the third guy who asks me the same question. Do they know it’s a Picasso, but they try to be flattering? It’s a little ironic, because the other paintings in the kitchen and hallway are actually my own paintings. But if a person can’t even recognise a Picasso, there is no point in starting a discussion about art. Generally speaking, far too few of the guys who enter my kitchen are able to have a worthwhile discussion about art with me.
Like this dude. God knows why I even let him pay for my drink at the club in the first place. Well, actually I do know. It was because the cocktails at this place were totally overpriced. Still. Letting a guy pay for your drink means you’re trapped. You can’t just wander off and say “bye”. You need to stick around for some time, listen to their palaver and smile nicely. Guys talk an awful lot when they are nervous. Most guys who try to hit on a girl in a club are somewhat nervous. And if not, it can be a fun game to make them get nervous. But yeah, then you got to listen to them.
Nervous guys also tend to ask very few questions. Sometimes I wonder if that’s because they assume the woman doesn’t have anything interesting to tell or if it is because they are so scared to be intimidated by the woman and her achievements. These are the only two explanations I can come up with and both kind of suck. I want to be a feminist, so a couple of times I (without being asked) dropped that “I am a PhD student at UCL. In Art History, you know”. Awkward silence. No question back. And then they would keep on rambling about their own career and their political views and all that. Really, there is no point in emphasising that you’re an actual (and maybe even smart) person when a guy has already decided to see you as a sex object.
Back to this guy and how he ended up at my house. After he paid for my drink, I was stuck for so long with him that all my friends went home in the meantime. A few more drinks appeared out of nowhere, we danced (the only way to stop him talking) and don’t ask me how, suddenly I felt his tongue in between my lips. Slightly dizzy from the drinks (not from his kiss, it wasn’t that mind blowing) I checked my watch. Damn, 5am. No chance to get home by public transport and the taxi fare is easily 30 pounds. As if he read my mind, he asks whether he should drop me home on the way to his place. I say “yes, sure” hoping that he won’t make attempts to stay over at my house, but suspecting that he will.
I fell asleep in the cab and when I woke up, his arm was tightly laid around me and he was paying the driver. The car was in front of my house. “Get out”, he said in a somewhat featureless voice. In the crack of dawn, I looked at his face and found it even less attractive than earlier in the club. Maybe the alcohol was also losing its effects already, I don’t know. Such an embarrassing situation. Now he had paid already and I didn't feel like telling him that he can’t come up into my flat with me. I wanted to be alone, just go to bed. But how to get rid of a guy who just paid all the bills for my drinks and then even the cab back home? Such an annoyance of nights out. So I said nicely, “can I offer you a cup of tea upstairs?”. “Sure”, he replied with a smirk, touching my ass as I got off the cab. “Just a cup of tea and then I’ll firmly send him back home” I swore to myself.
So now you know how he ended up in my flat, commenting on my Picasso. I take a closer look at him. He has money, that I can tell. No idea about art and no sense of style though. What a pity. He doesn’t have a genuine interest in me as a person, all he wants is to end his night inside a warm and wet pussy. He looks at me questioningly. “Did you paint this picture?” he repeats and knocks me out of my train of thoughts. “Yes”, I say and give him a fake smile. He takes the tea cups which I had just taken from the shelf out of my hands, kisses me and presses me against the wall. “Well, now it’s too late to say no”, I think to myself. Next time, I’ll pay for my drinks myself.
(Photos: Unsplash.com, David Drebin)
Racism is bad. Nobody can possibly deny this statement. But living right next to Berlin’s renowned Görlitzer Park has taught me a few lessons about people’s - and my own - susceptibility to racism.
Let me first tell you a little about myself. I have lived for a while in Kenya and I have many Black friends. In fact, my only long-term boyfriend was a Black Kenyan. I’m not a person who would claim that “we’re all the same”. I do believe that cultural norms leave a stamp on us and make us perceive and act in the world in different ways. At the same time, my experiences abroad and friendships to people with different cultural backgrounds have taught me that there is no “right way” of living and that everybody lives in a way that makes sense to them personally.
I liked to believe that I am free from any racist sentiments.
Now I live in Berlin, right next to Görlitzer Park. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the park’s legacy: According to Yelp, the park is the top rated place to buy weed in Berlin or, as Deutsche Welle puts it, “Görlitzer Park is an open-air marijuana emporium”. But you won’t find a mixed crowd of dealers. Both news articles about the park and my own experience confirm that the vast majority are African immigrants. I can say that I have been approached easily 60-70 times within the one year that I have lived next to the park – and every single time it was a Black dealer.
And this is exactly what I want to speak about. About the experience of being approached countless times by African dealers and what it did to my emotions towards Black people around Görlitzer Park.
When I walk down Görlitzer Park, I feel uncomfortable. I would estimate that 80% of the times I enter the park, I will be approached by one of the Black guys. Sometimes they would openly ask me whether I want drugs. Most other times, they would just ask me how I am doing. Generally, there is nothing wrong with approaching another person in a park. But coming from Germany, the cultural norms that I have been conditioned with tell me to act with suspicion. German strangers just don’t randomly chat to each other whilst crossing a park. Do African strangers do so? Well, even my experiences in Kenya have shown me that they don’t. When strangers approach you, it is because they DO have some intention. Maybe not always selling drugs, maybe they are interested to hook up with me. Or they want to sell something else. God knows. But in the bottom line, my emotional reflex is to feel very uncomfortable, to look away and to keep on walking. Repeated experiences of that kind have led me to the point where I don’t even look towards Black guys when I am in reach of the park, but I stubbornly keep on walking with a fixed gaze.
And this is actually the crucial point. You can’t control your emotional reflexes. The human brain is conditioned to develop stereotypes and form groups (if you doubt it, read some scientific evidence). And my experiences have made me develop feelings that even I would describe as racist feelings: I feel uncomfortable about any Black guy who I meet around Görlitzer Park. But despite being unable to control these emotional reactions, people ARE able to rationally control their actions and further generalisations.
In my example, I reflect on my experiences and say: “Black guys who hang out in Görlitzer Park are NOT representative of Black people in general.” I have too many Black friends who prove the exact opposite. And I can make myself aware that not even all Black guys around Görlitzer Park fall into the category of annoying drug dealers. I just remind myself that my Kenyan boyfriend would have been judged the same way if he hung out in the park – and obviously I would find the judgment totally absurd and unfair.
Lastly, I remind myself of the viewpoint of the guys at Görlitzer Park. Selling drugs is a shitty job. It is dangerous. Chances are high that they would have chosen a different job if only they could. And the random approaches in the park are mainly a product of their pressure to make money.
So what is my main point? It’s basically, that on the emotional level, we can all become susceptible to racism. Experiences like mine in Görlitzer Park make it all to easy to develop negative sentiments towards ethnic groups or people of a certain nationality. But then, between the spontaneous emotion and our response, our intellect must serve as our emergency break. In my case, I easily get back to my senses when I recall all the positive experiences with Black people. But what about those people, who are only exposed to raging news articles about Black drug dealers? Or even those of my neighbours who never actually talked to a Black person apart from those drug dealers in their life? At least in Berlin, there are many initiatives that try to build bridges between immigrants and Berliners, such as welcome dinners and the huge Welcome Party at Tempelhofer Feld. It’s that kind of events that in my opinion have the potential to lead the change.
So instead of arrogantly judging those who hold racist ideas, we should understand that it stems from one-sided exposure and strong emotional reactions. In my opinion, we need even more positive exposure to break the vicious cycle of racism. Help those who experience negative emotions towards foreigners by providing as many opportunities to interact with immigrants with all kinds of backgrounds and stories.
To my young friends out there: Life can be great, but not when you can't see it. So open your eyes to life: see it in the vivid colours that God gave us as a precious gift to His children, to enjoy life to the fullest, and to make it count. Say yes to life.
(Quote: Nancy Reagan, Photos: Tanja Schomann)
Life is one long decay, no? There's a lot of beauty in it. Like the patina in an old city.
(Quote: Urs Fischer, Photos: Tanja Schomann)
Once upon a time,
I fell in love with a man
He was like the moon
His silver light calming my thoughts
Silent attraction, like a tidal force
Moving inner oceans
He was like my father
Considered and knowledgeable
He could explain the world to me
The history of foreign lands
And the origin of species
Both feet firmly on the ground
yet inspired by utopia
A rational poet,
a romantic scientist
Cultured and sophisticated
Once upon a time,
I fell I fell in love with a man
He was like the sun
His burning heat kissed my cheeks
Made me dizzy, gave me calenture
He was like my mother
Sensuous and intuitive
A creative soul,
seeing beyond the visible
Breaking down the walls of my preconceptions
His head in the clouds
yet making a change in people’s lives
A poetic fighter,
a rebellious artist,
Indomitable by societal norms
Once upon a time,
I asked “who am I?”
If I can find love
In two men with qualities so far apart,
Identify with all my heart
With such disparate worlds?
I’m a nighthawk in the moonlight
A seagull in the sunshine,
I’m my father’s daughter,
My mother’s child
Many different worlds unite in my chest
Identity is complex,
It changes, confuses
Why even try to define its boundaries,
if love can show me oneness of contraries?
(Painting by Rene Magritte)
Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, yet each one can be true.
(Sculpture: Tanja Schomann, quote: Swami Vivekananda)
Bagheera: "Birds of a feather should flock together. You wouldn't marry a panther now, would you?"
Baloo: "I don't know... Come to think of it, no panther has ever asked me."
„Shit“, Jeannie cried out as the rickshaw splashed dirty water all over her white cotton t-shirt. It was a hot and humid day in Mumbai and she was on the way home after work. Even after years she had not gotten accustomed to India’s monsoon season. The thick mud on the roads, the litter which was swimming in the puddles, the constant moisture that just wouldn’t leave her clothes… It was one of the moments that made her question those major decisions that she had taken a few years ago. A moment that made her think of Adrian.
Adrian was the crisp smell of freshly washed shirts, the soft feeling of cashmere sweaters against her cheek. Adrian was picnic on the impeccable lawns of Cambridge’s botanic gardens. He was May balls and chess games, he was philosophical walks by the river Cam. He was champagne and strawberries and Beethoven. Joie de vivre. And above all, he was her first love. They had met during orientation week at Cambridge and had never let go of each other. Until the day India called her name and she had to leave.
It had a reason why Jeannie and Adrian had gotten along so well during their times in Cambridge. Yes, they both loved exhibitions, classical music and red wine. But the crucial thing was that at the bottom of their heart, they despised those who merely consume, those who let societal chit-chat numb their spirits. Adrian and Jeannie were artist, they were makers. Their philosophical discussions sparked each other’s imagination. When they were together, Adrian’s poems became more vivid and Jeannie’s paintings more colourful. Together, they experienced what passion really is. The flourishing of two souls’ true nature, fostering creativity, fulminating ideas. Oneness, in an explosive way.
They were both living lives of inner conflict and that might have been what united them in the first place. Society and their parents had made them follow their talents of the left side of the brain – their intellect. Instead of chasing their dreams of becoming artists, they had ended up pursuing university degrees that are designed for a mainstream career. He followed applied mathematics and she had chosen biology. But despite enjoying their courses, they always remained restless.
She had moved to India almost four years ago, straight after her graduation at Cambridge. Even as a small child, she had always dreamt of India. It had started with an old coffer in the attic of her grandparents’ house. The coffer was filled with photos of elephants and men in turbans, with musky scent bottles and colourful scarves. Relicts of her grandfather’s colonial adventures. As she grew older, India had become even richer in meaning for her. She had fallen in love with Indian philosophy and she was passionate about development work. So when the day of her graduation came, she did not hesitate for a second, but booked her plane tickets to India. During the first year, she explored the entire country by bus, train and foot. Captivated by the unexpected intensity of this foreign land, its colours and smells, its buzzing streets, she was not able to return to the grey skies of England. Instead, she settled in Mumbai. Its crumbling Victorian architecture made her feel like she had found a tropical and more inspiring version of London.
Only once Jeannie had visited Adrian in London, 2 years after her escape to India. He picked her up from Heathrow airport, a red rose in his hand. A slightly aloof, but familiar smile on his lips. He had not changed much. Same style. Dapper as always. She would have not even been surprised to see him in a black tie. He was one of these people who never seem overdressed. Rather, he elevated the classiness of places around him. His eyes looked paler than she remembered though and his hair had started thinning. Wasn’t he a bit too young to look like that? She was taken aback.
“How is the City treating you, sweetheart?”, she asked as they sat in the cab to his house. “Isn’t this banker’s life boring you to hell?”. He thought for a second. “No, it’s quite a cute job, you see”. She raised an eyebrow, teasingly. “I mean it”, he emphasised. “The long working hours can sometimes be annoying, but it’s not too stressful. And I get to do what I like - mathematics. Plus, it pays well”. “Ha!”, she couldn’t hold back, “you get to do what you like? You know as well as I do that your true passion is something else!”
“There are times in life when you have other priorities”, he replied briefly. “So do you still write poetry and fiction at all?”, she asked provocatively. “No”. Silence. “And do you still paint?”, he asked her back with a firm glance into her eyes. A perplexed feeling hit her as she thought about her life in Mumbai. She lives a colourful, creative life and everyday she is surrounded by art. In the mornings, she teaches art classes for this NGO at the slum and in the afternoons, she runs an art gallery for upcoming Indian artists. But she couldn’t even remember the last time she had found time to draw, not to mention paint a canvas. “No”, she answered sheepishly.
Her visit to London passed by like the grey and dull waters of the river Thames. Dinner parties, useless chit-chat about politics, too many drinks in bars that looked all the same. Jeannie felt depressed, uninspired. Adrian’s new friends seemed all too predictable to her, so politically correct and well adapted. No creative spark in sight.
On her last night, whilst packing her luggage, she finally burst. “Look at yourself and your comfortable life! All the time discussing politics and all those issues that neither have a direct impact on you nor do you have a direct impact on them. You’re lulled by the idea that what you do matters, just because you’re in London, at the centre of the universe. Tell me, what do you really know about the world out there? All you do is sitting at your desk in your ivory tower, pitying the rest of the world whilst keeping your own hands clean. You don’t know anything about the world until you have experienced it! Until you have taken a deep breath of the rotten stench in the slums, sweat in the unforgiving heat of the deserts and held a crying refugee baby in your arms.” She took a breath, still beside herself with rage.
He kept quiet for a long while and then said calmly, “Jeannie, I know I haven’t set out to save the world like you have. I am not getting my hands dirty. But with my job, I am contributing my small part to the functioning of our economy. This might not seem much to you, but I help to keep this machine running. What is so wrong about that? And let me be a bit critical of your own life. You ran away from England to play the Samaritan in the developing world for some time. But let’s face it, you will always be the patronising English girl in India. Imposing your Western standards and ideals on people. Are you changing the world for the better? Or just running away from your own problems? Listen, get back to me once you have found your way back to where you belong. I can’t stand this do-gooder attitude that India has taught you.” He walked over to his study room and closed the door behind him. She felt disheartened, packed her bags and left without a goodbye. Tears were standing in her eyes. So who of them was seeing the world as it was and who was running away from reality? The answer had ceased to be so obvious.
Not much had changed in her life in India since she had come back from that visit to London. Another two years had passed by and she was still working in the same jobs, still unable to find the energy or time for her own creative work. Her easel was getting more and more dusty in a corner of her living room. One thing had changed though: She had lost much of her enthusiasm for India. She still loved her job, but she felt stuck in between two worlds. Adrian had been right when he said that she would always be the “English girl” in India, that she would always remain a foreigner with different ideals and views. At the same time, she couldn’t picture herself back in the UK, following the do’s and don’ts of English people’s etiquette. How would she be able to relate to people who had not seen what she had seen abroad? People who had never experienced the intensity of life in a developing country?
Lost in thoughts about the past, her t-shirt wet from the incidence with the rickshaw, she continued her walk home. Adrian… It was probably too late to return to his world. Maybe she and Adrian had never quite lived in the same world at all.
When she reached her house, she found a large letter on her doormat. It was soaked from the monsoon rain and she could hardly make out the name. Eleanor Ramsay, St John’s Square, London… Adrian’s mother… She opened the letter with trembling hands. Why would Adrian’s mother write to her after all those years of no contact?
Dear Jean Louise,
You must have heard the tragic message already from somebody else I suppose. If not, I am afraid to inform you of Adrian’s death. He passed away in January in the unfortunate event of a car accident during a holiday in the South of France. I know that you have always been dear to his heart and a big inspiration for him. Let me share with you this manuscript of the novel that he started to write after quitting his job at Goldman last year. I thought he would have wanted you to read it. It is a shame that he was not able to finish it.
With cordial regards,
Jeannie didn’t put down the manuscript of Adrian’s novel until she finished reading it entirely. Exhausted and in tears she collapsed on the rug in the hallway at 3am. The next day, she didn’t go to work. She went to her living room, set up a canvas on the easel and fully lost herself in the world of colours and shapes. For the first time since she had left Cambridge.
Claim: There are these two types of art. One that creates a mood. It can make you cry, give you goose bumps or leave you trembling. The other one which makes a point. It leaves you with some “aha” of one sort or the other. Makes you learn about yourself or the world. And this is unrelated to form. A story can make you cry. A painting can make you go “aha”. And the other way round. Some pieces of art achieve both in one go. Other pieces achieve neither. Are they still art? I don’t think so. You might want to call them decoration instead.
(Photo: Tanja Schomann)
My heart is longing for you,
Seeing you from afar,
living through all those fantasies
Of us together, happy, after all
Living in a continuum of "what if” and “when finally”
Surviving on a diet of well kept memories
Sweeter than honey, almost too sticky
When I look at photos and I see this perfect couple that we seem to be
Watch us in videos, so fond of each other
But then the reality looks different
The reality is a life on my own
A waiting state
As if I got lost in the large halls of King’s Cross station
Scared that my train has left without me long time ago
And I am just too ignorant to notice that it really has
Sweet bits of memory,
But what lies in between, really?
I’m putting myself on hold,
Preserving my precious love for the few occasional moments I spend with you
Are we even on the same page about our love?
I thought so, but then we weren't
My sweet dreams clash with how you really are,
Not just my lover, but a lover of women
Someone who doesn’t put his life on hold, just to make the memory of me more precious
But somebody who actively lives his life in between our occasional adventures
And yes, that may be a healthy thing to do
But we don’t get to choose where our heart takes us
At least I would not have chosen being stuck in a love
That feels so intense and so pointless at once
That makes my thoughts go round and round
The same drill everyday
These thoughts which are an interplay
Of burning hot and freezing cold
So intense that I sometimes scream into my pillow,
Scream so loud that my mind is muted
For a second, at least
Ups and downs,
Hate and love
Breaking free from you in one moment
And pledging my eternal loyalty to you in the next
Typing down emails full of accusations for the pain you make me feel
And never sending them
But a goodnight kiss instead
You want me to be easygoing
But see, I’m not
My morales are too high to be able to make peace with betrayal
And my intellect too sharp to ignore the flaws in your stories
The dates that don’t match, the numbers that don’t add up
I have become jealous, resentful
I have not chosen to go to this inner place
but the whirlwind of our relationship
has led me into parts of my soul that I never wanted to see
This intensity, these ups and downs,
When will they be over?
I picture you holding me in your arms, tightly
Calming me down,
saying “Now your heart is safe”
But even believing your words is not an option anymore
Too many times have they misled me
What can I do to find peace,
Tell me, what can I do?
(Photo: Tanja Schomann)
His knee gently touched hers. A second, two. He didn’t pull back. She didn’t pull back either. Now it was officially not a platonic date any longer. How the glimpse of a second, a movement that nobody else in the bar would have even noticed, could be such a game changer. Their eyes fixated on each other. Agreement. She felt a mixture of excitement and nervousness creeping up her spine. Took a sip of wine to avoid the intensity of his gaze.
She wanted him. Badly.
As they walked out of the bar, he put his arm around her. A gesture that she never knew how to return. Put her arm around him as well? No, she liked the feeling of being held by his strong arms, without giving a direct return. Their steps were out of sync. She felt self-conscious.
The subtle balance between being a flirt and being aloof. She had never been good at playing this game. “I need to turn right to go home”, she said. She didn’t want to go home, she wanted him to pull her towards her, kiss her. Say “Don’t leave yet…”. He got her wrong, gazed into her eyes, but couldn’t read her desire from them. The breeze of the approaching romance evaporated. Awkward silence. “Goodbye, get home safely!”
I am a fan of adventures. And I don’t just mean obvious adventures such as traveling to foreign countries, trying out new activities, meeting people from different cultural backgrounds… Adventures, in my opinion, can also be personal challenges such as writing a PhD or learning to design my own website.
But when I have to decide whether or not to embark on my next adventure, I often hit a point of doubt and fear. Most of the time, the new project seems a little too complex. Too many components are uncertain, new, daunting… Let me give you a few examples and share the one lesson that I’ve learned from all this.
There were two trips that were quite different, but that scared me in a similar way.
One trip was a road trip with my friend Tim through Israel and Jordan. The logical consequence of traveling through two countries is that you need to cross the border at some point – and as it was a road trip, we had to cross the border overland rather than flying in with a plane. I had never crossed a border overland up to that point (other than within Europe at least) and I could just not visualise what it would be like. Combine that with one country that has a lot of military-related media coverage (Israel) and another country which I literally didn’t know of until Tim recommended the trip (Jordan) and you might get why I was concerned. What is more, we had booked a rental car from a town close to the Jordanian border, but no other transport was pre-booked. A nightmare full of uncertainty. In the end, I decide to ignore the issue until the day of the border crossing was there. And guess what? It turned out to be the least complicated thing ever. We just had to take one step at a time. Take a bus from Jerusalem to the border town, take a taxi to the actual border, get a couple of stamps in our passport, walk across the border, get a few more stamps in the passport, take a taxi to the next town, pick up the rental car.
The other trip was initially planned as a city trip to Marrakesh. But as both my friend Lucas and I are easily bored of cities, we decided to do something else. “Let’s hike up Mount Toubkal!” was Lucas’ idea. I should add that he is probably the most adventurous person I know and keeps on rock climbing and trekking in all sorts of crazy weather conditions. So phrases such as “strenuous winter trek” and “This trip is designed for confident trekkers who have some experience of trekking on snow. Some sections can be steep and rough. It is expected that large parts of the mountainside will be covered in snow, therefore ice axe and crampons will normally be necessary on all departures” didn’t bother him too much. As I had never hiked in snow and never used crampons before, I was downright scared. But since I am quite bad at saying “no” once I get curious, we decided to go on the trip. And guess what? The same pattern as on the Israel trip applied. One step at a time. Get to the mountain, find the mountain refuge for the first night, get all those unfamiliar tools together (ice axe and crampons), start walking, put on the tools, reach the top. Whenever I needed help, there was somebody around to explain the next step to me. Even using crampons turned out to be really fun and not scary at all!
Lastly, let me tell you about my PhD. It’s a hell of a project and so many times I lose my nerves, because it looks all too complex and challenging and no end is in sight. But then I think of those travel experiences and I see the same pattern once again. One step at a time. What is the next thing that needs to be done? Break it down in chunks and just walk that one next step. And the next one. I’m still only halfway through, but whenever I feel scared, I remind myself of this simple approach.
One reason why I decided to write about this story is also, because I wanted to show how living an active life outside job / academia does help you in everyday life situations. Sure, you can say you really want to focus on your career. And I’m sure you can learn a lot of interesting facts and figures purely by sitting in the office. But a lot of life lessons can be learned so much easier and so much more obvious when you are faced with challenges and fears that have nothing to do with a computer screen. At least I am convinced that crossing the border between Israel and Jordan and ascending Mount Toubkal made me a better researcher. I have internalised my “one step at a time” approach and in my mind, it is illustrated with the most scenic pictures. That’s more than any office learning can offer ;-)