Moving “Home” – Farewell Calgary

26 Oct

Seven years ago I moved from Germany to Calgary, to acquire a doctorate degree in science. My academic journey has been full of interesting surprises, and my perspectives of life and career have changed dramatically from the youthful self that once embarked to join a four-year study program. Yet, every journey must end, and after fulfilling the requirements of my degree program I am now moving back to Europe, returning to my home town, family, and ultimately re-embracing my mother tongue. Seven years is a long time span, and now that I am finally sitting on the airplane to Germany I have time to reflect on the flow of feelings that engulfs my return.

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Among other things Calgary is the birthplace of my music performance.

 

Firstly, I must point out that I utilise the term “home” in quite a loose sense. If “home is where the heart is”, mine usually travels with me. Home is where I make my bed and feel safe enough to leave my belongings unattended. I can make myself at home at any place that offers shelter and comfort, which allows me to build a dwelling wherever I like. (My friend Tash’s house has been a particularly comfortable den this past summer.) Having that said, there are now two places that I can call home without elaborate preparation or philosophical debate. One is that old room on the second floor of my parent’s house; the place that holds nearly three decades worth of memories for me. The room where I grew from an ignorant boy to an ignorant boy with a Masters degree. The other home is the big Western town of Calgary, a city that is full of friends and great memories, and arguably the catalyst of the biggest change in personality and perspective that I might ever experience. In this last year I have made more friends, and have gone through greater life changes than I did over decades of living in my parents’ house. Not only did I connect to people with common interests; I also discovered and developed most of those interests in Canadas’s biggest cowtown.

 

Make da Music

Starting with a vague interest in Folk music, my involvement in Calgary’s music scene has greatly expanded the scope and quality of music that I listen to. Amy Thiessen, one of Calgary’s original gems, is in many ways the reason why I became a songwriter and musician. The first time I ever sang in public was at Amy’s open mic, in Kensington’s Oolong Tea House. She was the determining factor in my decision to learn the ways of the guitar, and remains a great inspiration for the expansion of my craft. I’m not saying there is no artistic inspiration in Germany, but within thirty years in Europe it never crossed my mind to learn to play an instrument. That is an odd thought, considering that after merely six years in Calgary I now play five different string instruments, and play the piano well enough to write songs on it. My dad learned to play piano when he was a child, but since we did not have one at home, it never occurred to me that I could do the same. Calgary’s songwriter community has provided me with the will and inspiration to play and write music, a fact that, on its own, justifies a special call to friendship.

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Amy Thiessen continues to inspire and amaze me.

 

Visual Art

Calgary has also made me a photographer, through its motives, events, and irresistible deals on lightly used camera gear. Ever since I acquired my first digital camera (a brand-less 2 Megapixel superstore find) I have been documenting parts of my life in digital imagery, and once I started shooting music events I recognised an increase in the quality of my work. For me photography is a very organic process. I never know exactly what I am doing, but my growing experience grants me the grace and vision that is required for transforming opportunities into quality pictures.

I acquired my first digital SLR camera at the end of November last year. I had just handed in my dissertation, and was awaiting trial by examination. My friend Martin asked me for advice on a camera decision that he was about to make, and due to temporary boredom I spent my morning researching and comparing SLR cameras on Calgary’s second hand website Kijiji. One week later I had invested about $2000 into a lightly used Nikon DSLR and multiple lenses for it (worth approximately $5000). one week after that I shot my first series of portraits, for the Calgary Rollerderby team Jane Deere. One month after that I released my first professional music video (in collaboration with Calgary songwriter and rollergirl Natasha Sayer), and within those two months I had become a photographer for the Calgary Roller Derby Association.

I was conceived with a certain amount of talent, and am therefore able to achieve most of the things that I put my mind to. However, when I lived in Germany my mind was mostly occupied with video games and dinosaurs. I had never learned a craft, or aspired to create any form of art. Granted, I had been taking pictures of things for about a decade, especially in my occupation as geologists, where EVERYTHING requires visual documentation. But shooting images of people, let alone sharing those pictures with them, was nothing that featured vibrantly in my daily life. Photos merely documented the passage of time. Today I point my camera at people, and get excited when they comment on the outcome. And yes, it sounds odd that such thing did not occur to me much earlier.

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Yoga Cat is just one of my many willing photo motives.

 

Sports are actually interesting

I have never been particularly interested in sports, and continue to be extremely bored by Germany’s national outdoor activity – football. My dad singed me up for practice when I was ten years old, but it only took him a few weeks to realize that it was not worth my attention. My lack of physical fitness and my unreasonable reaction time make it impossible for me to play any kind of ball game without looking like a twat. When I now ponder the massive number of ludicrously overpaid players and increasingly stupid FIFA regulations, it becomes obvious that football has not made an effort to increase its entertainment value since my youth. However, my friend Thrashin’ Tash introduced me to rollerderby, a team sport that embraces team spirit and friendship as well as athletic power and grace. And even more so a sport that nearly everyone can be part of. If you can skate, you can play; even if you don’t have the physique of a marathon runner. If you can’t skate, you can become a game official, time taker, photographer, or embrace any of the other roles that this sport creates. The instantaneous feeling of belonging and community integration that I have experienced in rollerderby continues to amaze me. Within a few months I have become personally engaged with the Calgary rollerderby league, and I was choked up and happy when I saw the photographic impressions of their great victory at the recent playoffs in Lansing. For the first time I feel personally invested and interested in a sport. Berlin has a rollerderby league as well. We’ll see how they compare …

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Rollerderby rules. Enough said.

 

Money maker

I enjoyed a pretty good education, all free of charge. I used that to the full, not actually knowing where my path would lead, but eager to get yet one more degree, just as long as it kept me away from making actual life decisions. When I started my Ph.D. program, I was relatively determined to pursue an academic career, as scientific research appeared to be a rewarding and engaging path to choose. Well, over these past few years I have come to realise how much of their time academics actually spend on writing proposals and reports, justifying their existence in multi-paged documents. I am not quite sure I want to do the same for the next three decades, so academia may not actually be the grand prize that I hoped for.

On the other hand the graduate student program forced me to become a teacher. Granted, there is a difference between teaching highschool kids about cell structure and teaching college students about the anatomy of the shark. But the mechanism remains the same – learn about a subject, and create a learning environment in which those knowledge bites are easily consumed. Teaching is a rewarding activity, and I can see myself doing that for a living.

 

Good Bye, for now

So now I am a photographer, musician, songwriter, and teacher. I gained all of those skills in Calgary, although I certainly had the associated talents before that. I just lacked the catalysts to develop them. In short: I have discovered a love for experiencing art, and a passion for making it, and Calgary’s various social communities have been the driving factor behind a spectrum of personal developments that are entangled in those various roles. It saddens me to leave Calgary, and I keep telling myself that it is not a farewell forever. But at the same time I cannot see myself returning any time soon, not for more than a state visit.

The wheel weaves as the wheel wills. What my role in its pattern might be remains to be seen.

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