Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Het Koffiemoment

I was tagged by AB over at My Neck of the Woods to spill six random things about myself...I've got a little salmon cooking for dinner and a bit of quiet time to think, so I'll take up her challenge. It's also a great opportunity to link to six other blogs that I enjoy (and that you should look in on too).

1. I don't understand 'fishing' as a leisure activity. I have many friends who are passionate about it: up with the dawn, sloshing off with a fly rod, one with nature for hours on end. I cast, I wait, nothing happens, I get impatient. I am deaf to "A River Runs Through It". I end up smuggling a book along in the tackle box, and make good use of the solitude rather than the river, sorry.

2. My best memory in recent years was when I graduated Cambridge and my dad, 80 years old, called to ask if he could come to my graduation. "Dad, it's in England...", I reminded him. "If you're graduating college and I didn't have to pay for it, I'll be there" he declared, and so he did. He spent three full days doing it all: we went punting, formal hall where he could talk with the Fellows, a room in the dorm and Guinness in the Clubroom, the traditional Pomp of a Senate House ceremony. I think it's something he always wanted to see and we had a great time. He's been asking ever since when I'm going back for a PhD so he can come again.

3. My favorite college activity was being a disk jockey for the campus radio station, WRVU. Every afternoon, I filled Nashville's drive-time airwaves with top-40 music, public service interviews, and banter with the newsgirls under the guise of "Dashing Dave Roberts". It was a wonderful social group, about 30 students hosting shows, producing spots, playing with the equipment, and fielding ever-more outrageous out-of-studio events to try to lure groupies. We never found one.

4. I had a huge crush on Olivia Newton-John when I was young. I saw her signing "I honestly love you" on a Christmas show one year and swooned. The eyes, the voice, the hair, the accent, the eyes...I had her picture on my bulletin board for years (when everyone else had Farrah Fawcett in a swimsuit). Eventually I got to one of her concerts live, although we weren't able to book her for an interview at the radio station. I lost track of her over the years except for the occasional news story: it seems like she had a hard life after the first years of success.

5. I have Charcot-Marie-Tooth, an inherited disorder where the nerves fail to grow a myelin coating. As a result, the conduct at about a third the velocity of normal, something that I discovered when I was building a device to measure nerve conduction velocity for my first job. No matter what I did, i couldn't get the device to give a 'normal' answer on me, even though it stubbornly did on everyone else. Fortunately, a neurologist friend resolved the mystery. No worries, the defect is not fatal, it just gives me a limp, especially when I'm tired.

6. I always thought I'd marry an artist or a dancer. I dated several, smitten by their immersive creativity, always doodling a scene or bouncing a step. Their art gave them a way to express their feelings and to interpret the world that had no parallel in my life. It seemed to flow from them joyfully and effortlessly; I still have a few of their drawings and paintings framed on my walls. I always thought it would be a great life, discovering the world together, sharing balanced and complementary insights and having a full house of bohemian friends to laugh with.

I follow about a couple of dozen blogs written by expatriate folks living in the Netherlands, and always enjoy both the perspective and the familiarity of their experiences. My thanks to all of them for posting their thoughts and stories. Picking out six tags from this group isn't easy, but, (in no particular order):

NotABlogger at Reasons Not to Blog, TH at The Ex-Pat Files, Nick at Nickhereandnow, Eric at Amsterdam Asp, Huzaifa from Justifying Insanity, and Nan at Gone Dutch.

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Here are the rules: Link to the person who tagged you. Post the rules on your blog. Write six random things about yourself. Tag six people at the end of your post linking to their blog. Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

Monday, June 2, 2008

It's Complicated....

Why does life feel like it's become so complicated?

There is more to do than hours available to do them, settled issues rebound in new ways, relationships don't feel as close or relaxed as I want. On vacation, idle thoughts reflect back to find causes: Does life inherently become more complicated with experience, circumstance, and responsibility? Or is it personal: poor planning, bad decisions, procrastination, inability to say 'no'?

One thing that I do notice, even on vacation, is that my perception of complication, and an accompanying increase in emotional stress, seems closely tied to my freedom to act.

RoadwayWith open road ahead and signs beckoning to unexplored villages, I feel happy and stress-free. Caught in stationary traffic, I am fatalistic: there's nowhere to go and I just find a good podcast and wait it out. I feel relaxed and confident either way. The stress comes when I'm on a single-lane road with a slow truck ahead, blocking the view, and an impatient car behind, flashing lights and riding my bumper. I can pass, but finding the spot and making the maneuver is full of constrained choices and risks, and I'm meanwhile missing the views and distracted from conversations.

Broads May 08 16 Similarly when sailing. An open waterway is an invitation to tack or to run, to drop anchor or to motor ahead. A full waterway is simply a time to reef and to turn on the motor, proceeding single file down the right side of the channel keeping distance ahead and behind. A stressful setting is when there are a variety of boats, not all watching where they are going, the wind shifting unpredictably, 'too many things to watch and to guess at simultaneously.

imageSo, my Theory of Stress is that life is simple with few constraints or many, but in between, life is complicated.

What lessons do I take from this? Mostly 'knowing myself' and understand how I react to circumstances. No question that I most love the times starting a project, organizing partnerships, or executing a plan with a talented and enthusiastic team. Negotiating progress reviews and process completion with backwards-looking auditors and self-important gatekeepers is frustrating and error-filled.

Without making too much of it, I think that the answer is that I am in a situation where the freedom to act, to choose my own future, is constrained by the unpredictable (and uncontrollable) actions of others. It's not avoidable, but knowing the consequences and establishing the right outlooks is probably the best alternative to simply getting stressed about it all.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Yes, there is a Schengen (Luxembourg)

'back from a few day's holiday to tour Strasbourg and the Alsace wine country: I'll share photos of the region (and the night that the forest invaded our village) as I get caught up this week.

imageOn the way down, the road leads through through the Moselle valley in southern Luxembourg on the way to France, and I was intrigued to find that we was passing near a village of Schengen. My imagination (dulled by miles of rolling hills) associated to the Schengen Treaty, which gives us borderless (and, fortunately for me, passport-less) travel in Europe. If, indeed, this were the virtual center of the Zone, it should be worth a visit.

Spontaneously, then: 'off the highway, up a hill, along a winding street and, suddenly, back into open vineyards. First observation: Schengen (pop 425) doesn't take long to see, and it certainly doesn't advertise it's connection to history.

Schengen DelegatesBacktrack, looking for plaques or monuments. Nothing to be found except a possible group of Dignitaries debating the next steps of Union in front of the town's only restaurant.

I was about to give up when I spotted a sign pointing to a European Centre down near the river. a - Schengen 06Here, at last, a small monument confirming that this is THE Schengen, explaining how the vision of Luxembourg led Europe into a united future. Beyond lay a manor house where the treaty was actually signed, some odd wire statues symbolizing Peace and Hope, and a sleepy cafeteria. It's a nice spot: 'easy to imagine the delegates strolling the gardens, sipping wine by the river, and, like modern-day Founding Fathers, finally gathering to sign the treaties.

Adjacent, there is a small conference room filled with free EU educational (promotional) materials. I picked up hard-to-find copies of "Europe in 12 Lessons", "Better Off in Europe (How the single market benefits you)", and "A Guide to Schengen Enlargement (Citizen Impacts)". Even better were the collection of posters: my wall now holds a great map of Schengen's Europe (with a hole where the Swiss should be) and a "Path to the Euro" timeline. No shirts or mugs, but there is a vine covered tower that is kind of cool to climb for pictures.

a - Schengen 10 DSC07707

a - Schengen 09

Sleepy and a bit off the path, Schengen seems like an unlikely epicenter. Maybe its better to enjoy some of the region's crisp white wine and simply reflect on Luxembourg's hopeful contribution, one that touches each of us every day.