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Glasgow, First Impressions

Posted on 2 min read 76 views

The young Scotsmen waiting to board their flights all have the same haircut: buzzed on the sides, cropped short to middle length on the top. It’s jarring only in its mass coordination, as if an entire demographic decided to replicate a specific footballer.

The officer working passport control is friendly and chats with me about his trips to Minneapolis.  

“Welcome to balmy Scotland,” he says, as he hands the passport back to me.

The taxi drive into Glasgow is shockingly colorless. And it’s only after I’m dropped off at my hotel and I explore on foot that I begin to get a feel for the place. All the buildings seem either old and beautiful or old and ugly. Even the modern buildings look outdated. And then grimy exteriors open into softly lit and comfortable spaces, the architectural equivalent of not judging a book by its cover. This is heightened by it being the exact opposite of my Germanic experience, in which the exteriors are meticulous and beautiful, and then open into white and sterile interiors, with cleanliness often coming at the cost of comfort.

I packed for the trip like I do every other Europe trip, only to remember once I arrived that the outlets are different from the Continent. The front desk sends me to a store called Argos, which is in a dingy and nondescript building on high street. The escalator descends into a brightly lit and perfectly laid out grid of computer screens and catalogues. I walk in circles a couple of times and then punch in “converter” into one of the screens and nothing comes up. I walk up to the checkout counter.

The woman behind the counter tells me several times that I need to order from the catalogue, and then when she realizes that either the process or her speech is giving me trouble, she asks:

“What da ya want?” she says, smiling.

“A converter?” I say. “For an electrical outlet.”

“Ah an adapter.”

She punches the purchase into a small tablet, I pay ten pounds, and then she asks me to sit under a banner and wait. Within a couple of minutes, a pack of three adapters is sitting on the counter, and I’m simultaneously impressed with how inexpensive three adapters are and confused with why they would give me three.

As I hike deeper into the city, it gets more beautiful, while the grit remains. The restaurant where I meet my business contacts is a tiny two-story former fish market. I eat haggis for the first time, which pleasantly tastes like pate, and drink malt whiskey. The whiskeys are always one finger, never more. When the glasses of wine come, they look like small fish bowls.

That night I fall asleep enjoying the city, and the conversations, and wondering how the trips in the years to come will play out.

Leaving

Posted on 1 min read 88 views

Despite my best efforts, the anxiety is still real every time I leave Germany.

The morning starts like normal: my daughter waking me up and watching Curious George on the laptop while I drift in and out of sleep for 45 minutes. And then we play and eat breakfast, and there’s nothing at that point. But as the day continues, the ache in my chest telling me there’s something wrong (even when there’s nothing wrong), slowly starts to creep in. It grows despite my best efforts to ignore it, starve it to death, so that by the time I’m dropping off my daughter at her mother’s, I’m manic and I can barely see straight. This state of disbelief usually lasts me long enough to propel me to the outskirts of Amsterdam without caffeine.

Evolution of Place

Posted on 2 min read 92 views

I like to think that the evolution of Germany for me over the past three years, is like a microcosm of my human experience. What started as an antagonistic place that I tolerated (at best) in order to be with my daughter, has become a place of recovery. It’s a strange place to get clean, but that’s what it’s become for me: I eat well, work out regularly, write, and meditate. And that’s only the time that I don’t spend with my daughter.

When I first started coming here, I would leave as a husk of a person. I was mentally and physically demolished, and it took weeks to readjust when I got home. Now, I leave feeling better than when I arrived. There are some tangible differences in the present: buying a place instead of staying in hotels, joining a gym, and reliable Wi-Fi. And then there’s an element of necessary adaptation from my side.

It doesn’t change the fact that the people are still high-strung. I’m barely able to operate on a daily basis without being told what I’m doing wrong (as if to drive this point home, within an hour of getting to Germany yesterday, my brother and I were being lectured for not properly using the plastic dividers in the supermarket checkout line). Despite the locals best attempts at making it stressful, it’s become more funny than draining.

I don’t know what Muenster will be to me in the coming years. If you total up the sprints, I’ll spend a meaningful amount of my life there. And I’m starting to see how that’s not a terrible thing.

Travel

Posted on 1 min read 137 views

You get tangled up with all the travel. You see a clock and you don’t trust it. It should be light outside and it’s not. Today I’m staying on the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation outside Phoenix (which resembles Phoenix in being one large construction site in the desert), tomorrow I’ll be in Memphis. Last week Aruba. Alien places. But it’s -28 in Minneapolis at the exact moment that I’m writing this, so whatever. 

I can’t decide if time moves fast or slow while traveling. The days are more distinct. At home, they can pass without me looking up from my desk. And yet, when traveling, a week somehow gets lost in airports and Ubers and the general friction of impermanent living. 

The only thing that seems definite is sleep. Whether home or a hotel, if I can sleep, that rising tide lifts all boats. However, it’s a challenge no matter where I am: the temperature, the light, the expanding and contracting of REM cycles. It should be easier in a familiar place like my home, but somehow it’s always unpredictable. 

Memory

Posted on 1 min read 56 views

I think only time, and begrudging acceptance (and hopefully eventual appreciation) will be the way that I can accept my relationship with memory. Even now, the anxiety I felt over my lack of control of my own memory has started to subside. It’s obvious to me now that you can’t call on it when you need it. It will return to me of a volition that is out of my control, and the context that it returns under will be fragmented, at best: scattered memories, without a before or after, just moments existing outside of time.

In some ways that’s beautiful. It is still maddeningly frustrating. But I’m beginning to understand why it has to be this way. Forgetfulness was a cost and a gift that needed to be accepted. You can’t live the way I’ve lived, running so hard from your past that you think your lungs are going to collapse, and still expect to remember things. Not looking back was one of the most necessary decisions I never actually made. I knew appreciation for forgetfulness, before I knew nostalgia, what’s to say that appreciation isn’t a cycle?

Technology is not Culture

Posted on 2 min read 60 views

In the airline seat I grow restless. I watch as the teenager next to me purchases wifi to rip through Instagram, and then Snapchat. He moves faster than I could ever consume the information. When I was younger, and people would talk about their disgust for technology, it always revolved around the speed of things: shortening attention spans, more information, less human interaction. That’s how the fear of technology was explained to me.

I always thought I would be fine, that the fear wouldn’t find me, because even if I couldn’t keep up to date, I believed that I could empathize with the desire to move faster. But as I watch him, I realize that it’s not the speed at which the photos and videos fly across the screen that weighs me down, but the sheer inanity of the content: in every one it’s a picture some has taken of themselves, or a video they’ve taken of themselves. I can’t hear what they’re saying, which usually gives me solace, but in this case strips out any of the distractions. It’s one endless stream of selfies, monologues, dancing, singing, staring at food, drinking water, faces framed in landscape, cameras being passed from duck face to pouting face, and blank stares. It’s overwhelmingly repulsive, and I realize it’s not the technology that people struggle with, but the reconciliation of a culture that leaves them feeling empty and severed. And then the sadness sets in when you realize that the culture didn’t change, you did. You could have consumed this five years ago, but now it’s at best a curiosity, and at worst a terror. Culture doesn’t change, you do.

And yet technology is not culture. But it is the most effective mechanism of delivery. And in that effectiveness lives the fear, because it accelerates the alienation. And so what do I do with my repulsion? I get out my notebook, and write about myself, the biggest hypocrite of them all.