Tuesday 23 November 2010


Festive Season - emotional times! So many expectations, hopes, and anticipation:

'It'll be the same as always, the grandmas will start fighting about who has the best recipe and spoil the Christmas dinner: I'm dreading it!'

'Hopefully this year dad and son will come to a ceasefire.'

'It'll be brilliant, the whole family is meeting for the first time in 3 years, everybody is coming.'

And then on the day, all the hell of emotions breaks loose. One has to keep the kids at bay, the family in peace, and the turkey from burning. With several generations in one house old anxieties break open all too quickly; mums are turned back into girls, and dads have to take on the role of boys again, while maintaining face towards their own children.

There is one emotion in particular that I believe is keeping us from growing up. It is preventing us from letting loose of things we can't change anyway, and achieving things we only dare dreaming of in a silent minute when nobody is around:


It is used in emotional blackmail, keeping us from doing the right things just because there are others who might point a finger if we fail. Embarrassment does not allow for fun, and it goes so far that we even bother whether or not strangers find our behaviour or flaws inappropriate. I have tried to get to the bottom of it and came up with other columns like 'What's the Worst to Happen?' and 'How Embarrassing!'. Still: What is this fear of being unpleasant to others? I might not have succeeded entirely, but I gained at least some insight: It seems that there are two levels of embarrassment.

Firstly, the one easier to deal with: Embarrassment on behalf of oneself. It is sort of a one-to-one relationship with the audience. It is the feeling one gets when having made a mistake or a fool out of oneself - the stinging feeling of somebody laughing about me, or the thought that somebody might consider me a silly cow.

This one can be negated by laughing. Start laughing before everybody else does. At the beginning it still hurts a bit, but it becomes a bit like stand-up comedy. The better one gets the more people will laugh about the joke, and not about the person anymore. Laughing frees the spirit, and one might dare doing new things, even anticipating failure and already preparing for the joke to have it ready and in place if needed.

Well, and then there is the second level. The one that isn't so easy to tackle, because it involves people one either loves or is dependant on. All of a sudden the relationship is a triangle. I'm talking about the 'Behave! You are embarrassing me!' situations. And sometimes the signs are even more subtle. We get to know the likes and the dislikes of the people around us very well, and in order to keep them happy and pleased we all to often tend to take pre-emptive action by NOT taking action. Not singing, not discussing certain issues, not asking a question, not putting our noses out there. Because all this makes us visible, and once we are visible our mistakes are as well.

As soon as there is a third party involved, nothing is easy anymore. Being told that I'm a silly cow - I can live with that! Listening in, while somebody close to me is told that I'm a silly cow and realising that this makes him/her look bad - That is hard to deal with!

Oneself is out of control, everything now depends on the other person. Situations like those display the quality of a relationship on a silver tray. The reaction - embarrassment, defence, acceptance, laughing it away, ignoring - will determine how much one will be able to rely on this person in the future. It is nipping into the essentials of social relationship: Trust!

So let us laugh a bit more then! Let us enjoy the company of others and take them as they are, it might come back to us the same way. If we all would laugh a bit more, the grandmas might even stop fighting, mums would be mums and dads would be dads, ceasefires might be possible and it might really be great if we would all come together - the only one losing out would be the turkey, though.

Thursday 11 November 2010

Live and Let Live

Or: What we can learn from cats!

When our last cat died, a little old black cat from the neighbourhood smelled the vacancy and moved in. On getting in contact with the previous owner it turned out that he was around 10 years old and with her all his life. A slash in the ear and a missing thumb were strong indicators that he knew how to stand his ground, but now that he was getting older he didn’t like the lifestyle change his lady had taken upon her. So when he stumbled over our compost pile with mice, the conservatory with the aviary, and a door with a cat flap, he quickly made up his mind. We called him Vinny.

To his dismay a short time later a stray moved in. At first we thought our Vinny was a mad eater until we saw the white hair that was clinging to the armchair. And then we saw him; a big black and white tomcat. We called him Moritz.

He was a bit pushy, but Vinny didn’t seem to mind too much… plenty of space, plenty of resources to share and every opportunity to stay out of ones way. Or so he thought!

Once Moritz had established that he owned us things got worse. He wanted it all! There must have been a huge fight between the two. Although no visible injuries, Vinny all of a sudden fell into a depression, only ate very little, slept all day, didn’t want to go out anymore and was very grumpy; only wanting to be touched occasionally, but not indicating when this occasion might be. I still have several scars from his attacks.

Cats are not as un-social as one might think. They are even known to live in big cat communities and they have an elaborate system of codes which even work between different species. But Vinny didn’t make any contact for a long time.

So I took drastic action. The house got divided: Upstairs lives Vinny, with night time access to the garden via window, while Moritz lives downstairs with day time access to the garden via cat flap. After giving Vinny a lot of attention and care he recovered and is a lovely cuddle today, although he is still horrified to see Moritz. He usually leaves the house by the front door, strolls around a bit and comes back via his window, with a weird noise that sounds like a dove. Just to tell that he is around again.

The moral of the story?

Vinny had a bad experience and is happy to be back. He enjoys his little territory and when I show him his former kingdom he gets nervous and wants to get back to his castle. So he came out of this mess a little happy cat.

Moritz could have had it all; he could have had a whole house except one tiny spot of the size of a towel where a black little cat would sleep almost all the day. And he could have had it for free, but he didn’t even try. To feel safe he needed the whole territory, and the only way he knew to get it was to fight. Now he only has half a house and the nagging feeling that he missed out on something (he tries to sneak upstairs whenever possible).

I observe the same in people. There are the ones who easily share and often get in return more than they had before. And there are the ones who defend every single bit they have; and for a while they might get away with it; until they meet their master.

It’s the way resources are fought for in companies, the environment is exploited and actually – why wars break loose.

I sometimes ask myself how one can fight the territorial bullies without becoming one. Now I learned that there is hope!

We recently got a third player into the game. He is a funny little character. I just can’t find another word for his behaviour than: Persistent ignorance. A fluffy, white and black, placid chap with a collar and a bell. We call him Bimmel (it’s the German word for Jingle). He has only one interest: Food!

He is doing everything for food, especially the brand of dry food we have; even bracing himself and opposing Moritz. At first he ran whenever he saw him, but coming back quickly to see if there were food left. Now he is not even running far anymore. As Moritz refuses dry food he only guards it without eating, and is wondering why this guy is lurking around in safe distance only hissing from time to time, but otherwise being rather bored.

Vinny knows Bimmel as he is breaking in through Vinnie’s window at night, and these two are getting along very well. And out of this constellation I observed something interesting:

Late evening, Vinny sitting on top of the stairs to be let out. Unfortunately Moritz had decided for a stroll and was in front of the door. Usually Vinny would back off instantly and hide under the bed, but this time he heard Bimmel jingling along and somehow confused the two.

Moritz, totally confused whether to charge upstairs to get Vinny, well knowing that this would mean being told off by me, and having Bimmel standing in his back, not knowing whether or not if this one would give him a beating once he moved.

Bimmel came closer and closer as he had seen me, and I’m basically the same thing as food to him. However, I couldn’t move as I was trapped between the other two. One could tell that Moritz became shorter and shorter to cover his rear. When I opened the living room door for him to get onto his home turf, he very, very slowly edged himself in, visibly relieved that Bimmel didn’t attack.

It must have been the first time in his life that he shared a space with two other cats – and nothing bad had happened. I fed him first and cuddled and praised him, and one could hear the rock falling from his heart.

Vinny: He watched stunned! The first time he saw Moritz backing off, and he definitely found that very interesting.

And Bimmel? Sweet little Bimmel! In his innocent greedy fearlessness he showed the bully where the limits are. And he showed Vinny that there are methods to keep bullies at bay without becoming one. He eventually got his well deserved food - if just this silly jingle wouldn’t wake me every night!

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Diaries and Deadlines

I am sitting here not knowing what to write, feeling generally rather tired and it all falls into the same great picture: 'I am rubbish at travelling', or 'I am rubbish at everything with a deadline' for that matter.

Since new Incredible Ladies Project with its new freedom of publishing whenever I want, I thought: 'Put yourself to the test girl, you have a Diary blog now, so do diary'. For somebody who usually can't shut up it shouldn't be too difficult to write a little snippet every day, and now I am in this weird time warp that is 'the days before a deadline' and I am becoming a wee bit brain dead, unfocused and hyper at the same time. Travel deadlines are the worst. There are so many things that need doing on top of the usual chores and for some reason the closer I get to closing the door behind me the more they multiply.

I may blame it on my grandma. She planted this thing into my head that everything has to be pristine before one leaves the house - in order to be prepared for worst case scenario. This is embarrassing, but I actually do have this recollection of being told: 'Fresh socks and briefs before you leave the house. Imagine you get into an accident and your socks stink and your briefs are dirty'. It jumps into my head like a ghost every time I go on a trip.

I'd really love to come face to face with the person who thought that this would be a great educational story. No no, dear! You only have to change briefs when you leave the house, in case you get run over by a car!

A similar story goes with that the kitchen has to be tidy and the beds needs to be done to army standards. In case of a house fire! Duh? First thing the fireman probably would see is the bread crumbs on the table and thinking: Look at those messy people, the things I see in my job, have to tell wifey, so she can teach the kids to do it right.

I however seem to have lifted this to a completely new level. I feel this weird urge of having to tidy cupboards, do the garden, polish the shoes - and not just the ones I am going to take, ... And at the same time my body seems to rebel by developing runny noses, funny aches, huge hungers and a general urge for sleep. I know that all this will go away the moment I close the door behind me. So why on earth can't I get over myself and not do all those things as if there is no 'after' the deadline?

Well, it IS nice to come back into a tidy house after a trip, the more that there are suitcases spilling out their nasty contents messing everything up. And probably I just like to moan a bit... and it gives me something to write about, it now is even enough to become a column. That's it: Enough!

Thursday 4 November 2010

My Bucket List

I never saw the movie. I didn't know that there was a movie when somebody on Twitter mentioned a bucket list. There must have been something about that one Tweet drifting in the big stream of posts on my screen. Twitter posts live and die with the rules of evolution - the dull birds don't get chosen as mates and hence won't propagate, as won't dull posts. I however still don't understand the appeal of the word bucket list. Since I didn't even know the term I eventually looked it up only to find that it is the title of a film in which a terminally ill patient creates a list of things he is supposed to do before he kicks the bucket.

Now I am wondering why, after quite a number of weeks, I cannot get this idea out of my head. It is an age old concept, so old that nobody even seems to know where it comes from. Ever heard of the saying 'A man should build a house, plant a tree, father a son and write a book before he dies'? Well, that's the oldest bucket list I know of. The English speaking part of the world makes it as old as Plato, who lived around 400 BC, whereas in the German Google world the word is put into the mouth of Martin Luther, a chap who reformed the church in Germany around the 1500s. The lazy buggers left out the book writing, though. I wonder why?

Although this is an imposed list for most of us, and apart from the fact that it is a rather ridiculous one, for the inventor of the list it surely was something very real and to strive for. So why is this idea starting to bug me now, and not 4o years ago during Sunday school when I might have come across this concept for the first time?

Maybe the older one gets, the more confident one gets as well, and actually dares doing stuff, or one knows more about the world and thus is getting more ideas of what the options are. So, without further ado, here is my list:
  • I want to give a proper speech to a big audience
  • I want to be on a stage
  • I would like to be able to dance well
  • I would like to be able to sing without being embarrassed
  • I want to have my own fashion line
  • I DO want to publish a book (the writing part is already done)
  • I would like to win a prize or an award for something I have worked for
  • I would like to have an exhibition with my own paintings and sculptures
  • I want to own my own business and
  • I want to be successful with it
Those things one should write down at the beginning of life, when one still has the time to actually make it. These days one already has to rush it a bit and might have to consider the one or the other shortcut.

Like with my last list item: I always wanted to
  • walk in the footsteps of the great Jane Goodall and do field studies with primates.
Well, one would want to have considered taking up a somewhat different education, wouldn't one? Computer Science is not exactly the right line of business, just a thought...

As a replacement I have now booked a holiday trip to Sumatra to encounter the jungle on a four day track with elephants, to learn a bit about what rangers do to survey the national parks, and maybe see Orangutans in the wild. Not entirely the same, but hopefully close enough. On one hand I am hoping for the most spectacular experience of my life, on the other I am hoping to find some flaws like insects, climate, food, lifestyle, anything that would help me to excuse my straying from the original list item. If I could truly say 'This was a fantastic experience, but I am glad that I didn't make it my 'life', then I could cross it off my list and be happy. But what if...

Maybe this list is not just about doing all those things before it is too late; maybe it is OK to do the shortcut versions just to find out whether or not I took the right choices in my life, maybe this list doesn't just have a checkbox but two columns for 'good choice', or' bad choice'.

And maybe it doesn't matter what the outcome is: All that matters is to know, and to make peace with it before it is too late!