Tag Archives: art

The (not) dating introvert, #2: never been kissed

24 May Longyearbyen in Norway gives much time to reflect.

You have probably seen those silly memes proclaiming that dating for over-thirty-year olds is “just like regular dating, but everything is on fire”. And you probably thought: “Haha. Silly. Next!” Or you ignored it altogether. Maybe you even tried to read some rare truth into that statement. In that case I pity you, because there is none.

Or your reaction was similar to mine: ‘what the heck are you even talking about’? How and why anyone quests for a romantic relationship depends on character attributes and personality, not on age. Almost all issues that stand between me and a happy dating experience are related to society and technology. Age plays almost no role in it. In fact, you could rewrite that same meme for age groups of 40, 50, and 80 years, and its value would not change. Dating success does not depend on age. Don’t let any random internet post tell you differently.

 

Look at me go! I haven’t even hit on the main subject yet, and already I am ranting away.

When I hear people talk about their puny relationship problems I usually roll my eyes, and move on. If you ponder questions such as ‘how many partners can I date simultaneously’, or ‘after how many dates am I allowed to kiss’, I have neither pity nor advice for you. Because I would gladly trade places with you, solve your imaginary problems by applying human decency, and live happily ever after. Seriously, if you spend any time wondering whether or not it’s okay for you to cheat on your partner, you simply don’t deserve the relationship you are in.

Because this is me: 30-something years old, never shared a kiss, never had an intimate relationship, never had a second date.

I am not desperate, needy, over-the-top socially awkward, or suffering from a lack of hygiene. For all purposes of human interaction I am a perfectly normal person. I have a positively humorous attitude, and a deep, critically thinking mind. There are several recipes I can cook and bake from scratch, and I have the mental capacity to figure out more. (Or follow the guidance of a cookbook, if it comes to that.) Singer, songwriter, academic, intellectual, photographer, blogger, feminist, sportif, enviro-nerd, blaBla … this is starting to read like a dating profile, so I’ll cap it with “well travelled man with an academic mind and artistic compassion.”

 

Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Mug shot. Seemed appropriate.

In short, if that portfolio does not get me a second date, what will?

(Actually, it’s difficult enough to get a first date, but more on that in a different post.)

Whatever it is that women expect from their suitors, I don’t have it. I tried singing, poetry, or funny conversation. It never amounted to anything useful.

I tried building my physical strength, but genetics prevent any decent progress on the matter. Even if I had the time to work out an hour every day, any muscle mass that I could build up in two months would completely vanish after just a few days of neglect.

That is not even a matter of physical slack, but purely a genetic discrepancy. I bike and run almost every day; I just don’t have time to lift weights every evening. Imagine if I did have that time. If I laboured away all summer, I would have the same amount of biceps and abs as a normal person. (Yes, that’s pretty much the limit; I tried that approach when I was in the army.) Follow that up with one day where I’m too tired from work to do anything but fall asleep, followed by one day of travel towards some random field station or conference, and I will pretty much fall back to where I started. That experiment has been tried, repeated, and the disappointing outcome recorded in personal logs of physical depression.

 

I am not a man that women want to date.

You can keep your ‘that’s not true’ kind of pity to yourself, because my conclusion results from 30-odd years of experience. There is no way you could fully comprehend my situation without walking in my shoes for a decade or two. Considering that most men can’t keep it in their pants for a week you are not likely to ever comprehend my situation. Patronising me only solidifies my overarching judgement – that regular people have not the hint of an idea what dating is like for a male introvert.

Face it: the decision on who you agree to date is first and foremost founded on physical attraction. There is some degree of variability involved in that decision, but you generally don’t go out with someone without finding their visual appeal eye-pleasing. And my counterfeit is not pleasing enough for ladies to think “I want to spend time with him”, at least not in comparison to the competition among my bearded peers. I have seen the pictures of single men on dating portals, and I certainly don’t blame women for their decisions – some of those guys are incredibly cute. (Just wait until you find out how many wifes and mistresses they have beside you. What, you thought you were the only woman who fell for that crooked smile?)

The superficial attractiveness of my face and body is something I have very little control over, and I am not willing to change my hair style every other day until I find one that provides additional 8% of traction on the market of visual allure. That is to say: I am stuck with the body I have, and the best I can do is feel comfortable in it, regardless of how others may judge it.

Open sea near Honningsvag, Norway

Dating is a mystical and nebulous paradigm to me. Like Honningsvag in the morning.

The Experience of Others

The internet is plastered with people giving advice for singles of all ages and social groups. I have found that none of their proclaimed techniques and approaches work for me. In some twisted way I am not normal enough to create attraction with words or gesture.

Forget about those ‘super awesome advices’, such as ‘pick a fun or interesting activity for your first date’. That literally never got me any recognition. Whenever I invite a lady to see a concert, or cook a meal, or throw axes at targets [the object, not the discount chain], the response is, invariably: ‘No.’ No matter how much they gloat about wanting to see that particular movie, or “love to see a live concert every week”, whenever I bring up that subject it basically kills all communication. The firmest response I ever received was: “I am socially shy around people, so I prefer something low key for first date”, followed by me inviting her for coffee any time she’s free next weekend, followed by her promising to get back to me, followed by her blocking my profile.

That disillusioning incident pretty much sums up my date life. Even when I manage to establish contact (which is already difficult enough), and remain friendly and reserved in that word exchange, I still get rejected most of the time. And at the odd chance I do score a first date (1:120; I’ll show you the math next time), there is never a second date attached to it.

That is me: 30-something, never been kissed, never been looked at twice. (At least not by a person I enjoy looking at.)

Man, that would almost be depressing, if nihilism didn’t already preach the emptiness of all things pretty. Alright, here is a cheerful picture of a cat. See you in the next blog, for some funny numbers and anecdotes. Or we meet in the comment section below, if you feel like sharing in your own experience.

natashas-cat-popo-36

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

 

21st Century Dating Problems: #1 – the male introvert

19 May The port of Reykjavik at night
Approaching the 40-year landmark, and still being single. For some people this may not constitute a situation worth acknowledging. People fall in and out of love all the time, so what’s one more piece of dead weight?

As you can tell I am still trying to justify the existence of this blog to myself. But there are a couple of topics that I want to talk about, such as ‘women’ or ‘dating’, in the 21st century. I know, for some of you that’s already setting off alarm chimes: singling out women as a blog topic – isn’t that sexist?! Yeah, kinda. By definition any unweighted discussion of one sex can be considered sexist, meaning as soon as you mention ladies having vaginas you can rank yourself among the world’s leading sexists, together with #TheDonald, and that creep who always preys on co-workers bending over at the water fountain. The borders of what constitutes sexism have become so transparent that no-one can ever be safe again from being called gender-inappropriate, just for stating that women bear children. So, in all honesty: if you read any verbal attacks on any gender into my writing, please read again, because I definitely don’t mean to offend.

OK, now that we have lost 98% of all readers to a) a trolling frenzy about sexism, or b) boredom, we might as well start on our actual conversation topic – me. Yes, I really am that selfish. There is no other person I know better than myself, so it just seems like a very obvious location to start with.

 

“Hi, my name is Goemon, and I am single.”

I really hope you just said “Hi Goemon”. Otherwise I will feel very silly and underappreciated in this virtual self-help group.

For some people being single is normal. Afterall, we are born with that condition. (Excepting twins, but they have other troubles.) Some people have wild sex adventures with random strangers every weekend. Others date one person a year, just to prove they are still capable of faking affection. Others live in a happy relationship with their (in)significant other(s). [Four groups in one sentence – feel the power of parentheses!] Those people have their own problems and will not be mentioned again. Remember: this is about me.

I am approaching the 40-year landmark. (No, I’m not telling how far.) At that age the average first-world citizen has already broken up with more people than they met in first grade, and are either happily married, or are trying to pay off that divorce lawyer. I haven’t had any of that, and I feel somewhat left out of what I consider an integral aspect of the human experience.

I never had any kind of romantic relationship, and not for the lack of trying. I tried most of the regular approaches that people use to appropriate a partner. So far, dating websites have only proved themselves a massive waste of time. And my attempts to date lady friends have only made obvious that women don’t want to be any more than friends with me. I’m actually happy with that. A good friend counts more than a failed lover. Ship-wrecked romance is not a topic you want to associate with any specific person. It makes conversations at dinner gatherings very awkward.

A sceneic view of Molde Fjord, Norway

On a good day this photo of Molde Fjord is a good approximation of myself: small islands, distant from main humanity.

The typical approach

I have not tried chatting up women in bars and clubs, even though society preaches those rooms as the number-one pick-up parlour. As an introvert I just can’t handle that type of situation. Many people still mistake this as “being shy”, and solve the equation by being “more outgoing”. Those people don’t know what they are talking about. I’m not just shy. I am introverted.

I don’t have problems asking a female songwriter for an autograph. I don’t have difficulties chatting to fellow pub visitors about the latest developments in the Spiderverse. And I love giving academic talks to dozens of people I never met before. I thrive on intellectual intercourse, and have no adversities about any kind of conversation with anyone.

Unless it involves me. That is literally the only topic I can’t handle in conversation. [You see why this blog is about me now, don’t you?]

 

I am an introvert.

I can talk to you about my political position, or the ontogenetic development of male genitalia. But if you try to talk about my personal feelings and thoughts, you will hit a brick wall. Don’t try to peak over it. Few people have ever caught a glimpse of the other side, and I am determined to keep it that way. And if you try to pry a hole in it, security will escort you off the premise, and add your name to a black-list of people who are banned from personal conversation.

Introverts don’t talk about their feelings. Not to you, or anyone else. If you think that’s a ‘problem’ that needs to be ‘solved’, I can’t help you. You can either accept me as I am, or go and play with other kids. There is no third option.

As long as I can remember I had difficulties talking to people, and I always interpreted this as shyness, while others thought I tried to be disrespectful and exclusive. None of that is true. I am a perfectly adorable humanoid, just like anyone else. (Except for Donald J.; he’s a lump of poo.) What prevents me from socialising with others is not shyness, but my inscrutable inability to present my own inner self to a public audience. It took me some thirty years to develop a work-around. It’s based on the understanding that social conversation is not about me, but about the general idea of being together, and sharing words. You don’t need to reveal yourself to be sociable. Just talk about the weather, if that befits you. That is already sociable. Be aware of your surroundings, though. Weather talk is really fun in Alberta; not so much in England’s capital.

A bar aboard the ABC RypMeOff

My work as cruise photographer involved loads of social interaction. I can do that, just as long as it does not involve me personally.

Where was I going with this? Oh, yes, the direct conversation.

No, introverts don’t usually do that, and I personally definitively don’t. I can’t talk to women if I have a personal or romantic interest in them. It’s like talking about my feelings, just in this case I am actually blocking my own attempt to communicate.

Telling a woman that she’s beautiful basically reveals that I like her. And personal feelings are something I don’t disclose to strangers. Not for fear of being rejected, but simply for the fact that I can’t talk about my feelings to a person I barely know. Thus, me telling a lady that she’s cute is equivalent to you telling the supermarket teller about the recessed growth of your anal cancer. It’s deeply personal, and therefore not done.

 

That’s really all I wanted to say. Just a brief introduction of me and my situation. I am introverted, and therefore don’t talk about my feelings, including who I do or don’t have any romantic interest in. Should your significant other try to knock any of these findings over your head, merely remember that this entire blog is about me. You don’t need to associate yourself with my problems. Unless you really want to. In that case – welcome to my world of wordy disappointment.

 

Also, here is a cool website about introverts, just in case you feel yourself alone with certain problems: https://introvertdear.com/what-is-an-introvert-definition/

Almost free of cruise jobs

4 Jul Jurassic Park - A Fallen Kingdom

Even on our very last day the managers won’t give us time to breathe between photos. Granted, with four photographers leaving the ship there is a distinctive pressure on this department. We can’t uphold regular services with one quarter of the team packing their bags. Still, security will stop offering pre-checks around midnight, so we actually need to get packing very soon, if we don’t want to spend the next day in port, waiting for two of the security lads to come around checking our bags.

Since I already booked a train ride home, I am bound to a certain schedule, so the lack of diligence displayed by Manager Ash is unnerving me. Around 21:30 o’clock he finally judges that I bugged him often enough, and with a confused look on his face he sits me down to explain the ratings in his evaluation sheet. I don’t actually care what it says, because I will never return to this company as a phototgrapher. However, in order to maintain my hiring options with other departments I have to give him the impression of being deeply involved in the process.

Cruise Photography during embarkation

Oh, how I will miss this tristesse, the daily idiocy and chaucinism of the cruise …

With great delay I am released to return to my tiny cabin, where I pack up the photo gear that still needs to be returned and catalogued. Since I am a well-organised person, I simultaneously pack up my own luggage, despite being unable to pack some of the practical gear, such as my pyjama, or any of the food supplies. Those will all have to go into my carry-on luggage, not just because I still need that stuff, but because deep frowns will crease the faces of security personnel, if they find food, and several of the other items in my suitcase. Please recall that opened food packages or even fruit are not allowed in personal possession.

Anyway, about a quarter to midnight I manage to drag my suitcase down to the security hall, where personnel opens and deep-checks every bag we bring. Apparently they have plenty of comrades ready to work on my luggage, because I am one of very few crew members left. Most of the other departments gave their crew members considerably more time to pack & check than our photo manager. But I won’t hold that against him. Just note that once again the photo department draws the shortest straws possible.

After about ten minutes of searching I am released, which means I spend until half past midnight re-packing my suitcase. (The security goofs literally peaked into the tip of every shoe.) My family load of undergarment, shoes, and uniform pieces barely fits into this case, especially with all the add-ons that I had to purchase aboard. Finally all the hours that I spent on the lavatory pay off. Playing Tetris on my old Game Boy was an excellent preparation for this task. In any case, security is somewhat happy, and tapes my suitcase shut with some of the most sticky tape imaginable. The world would be free of mosquitoes, if you applied even one role of this guff to an African village.

View from deck of the ABC RypMeOff

I thought about pulling a “civilian prank” on my last day at work, and just launge on deck with the passengers. I did not have time for it, though.

And off we go – civilian Goemon is back on track, ready to take a last sleep in his funky old cabin, dreaming of freedom, and peace in our time. The ladies that are leaving our department are off to the Crew Disco, for a last night of smoking and drinking. I for my part am happy to never again having to fake interest in that smoke-filled mouse hole that all the sleep-deprived addicts seem to be so crazy about.

The job of a Cruise Photographer

21 May The Plaza aboard the ABC RypMeOff

It’s another sea day! [Sarcastic Yay!] Once again our cruise ship wobbles across the featureless North Sea, while we poor photographers try to create revenue by selling old photos and shooting new ones. However, that’s not to say we would suffer from boredom. Not only is our department graced by the visit of the fleet supervisor, but our schedule is also designed in a way that minimises our rest time without exceeding the daily work limit of eleven hours.

Vegan breakfast for cruise crew

A hearty breakfast is a great way to start the day. Unfortunately, I rarely get one.

My day starts three hours before my first shift with a “training session” with the crew purser. He is supposed to hand me my ABC credit card, so that ABC Cruises can start paying my salary. In a slight plot twist the purser does not actually hand me the merchandise, but instead asks me to select one out of three dates on which he will host the training. A quick visit in the afternoon would have sufficed for that interaction. But at least I am awake now, so instead of wasting my morning on sleep, I can roll around on my mattress, and occasionally drowse off into a light slumber, only interrupted by my bunk mates’ snoring and episodic messaging on his phone.

Similarly, the one hour break that follows my afternoon shift does not quite suffice to achieve any feeling of rest in me. And thus, after being awake for eight hours I am nearly exhausted enough to perform at my best when we start shooting cruise guests in the restaurant. Luckily, the guests don’t like us anyway, because they want to have a quiet meal instead of posing for pictures. Thus, my general tiredness has little effect on the outcome of my shooting efforts.

Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

This is approximately the minimum photo quality that we try to achieve. It’s hard to do when you’re exhausted.

Advertisement for cruise jobs usually states that you have to be flexible and hard working to succeed in the job, and considering that I have two university degrees I would like to think that I fulfill those requirements. But after six hours of uneasy sleep and eight hours of wake time in the sterile belly of a ship, I am not able to achieve seven hours of peak performance. This would be alright, if I was tending a bar, or waitressing a restaurant table, because general service personnel only has to smile, and perform their duties. Cruise photographers, on the other hand, have to be creative, interact with the guests, and entertain the visitors while simultaneously representing company philosophies. Everyone else on this ship either has a set task to perform, or a predefined product to sell. Cruise photographers have neither; we must create our own product, together with its future consumer.

According to our training it is our job to “create memories”, a task made more difficult by the fact that we create those memories in order to sell them, and our costumers know that. After experiencing ten cruises with the same company the guests understand that the photographers are not aboard to entertain them, but to shoot their portraits, and then sell them their own face on photo paper. Surprisingly enough they don’t want that anymore. And while there are psychological arm twisters that help in convincing the guests to comply with our task, I am too tired to successfully apply that psychology after staring at empty walls, and chewing on salty bread rolls for eight hours.

The Plaza aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Even guests get tired of this view after two weeks aboard.

Yesterday was the Golden Wedding Jubilee of my parents. I didn’t even remember that circumstance before dinner, but I congratulated them just before midnight, so I am well in the time limit. My sister and I prepared a digital poster for our parents, commemorating the years since their wedding. Unfortunately, they won’t receive that gift before I return from my cruise job, because the internet connection aboard is so bad that I can’t even send a 5 MB attachment. And yes, I have been trying for over a week. It is emblematic for my issue with ABC Cruises that every individual crew member is held to high standards, while the sub-standard management is incapable of tending to individual problems. If you don’t live for your job, you have no place aboard this vessel. In other words, you either enjoy to be permanently exhausted, or you love to be underperforming.

I am fine with feeling sleepy, but I also wonder if this ship really is a good environment for that. Right now I could sit in my back yard, and munch on fresh strawberries. Instead I am forced to deal with the unrealistic expectations of a company that seems fixed on maximising my wake time. My payment better be what I was promised, or I won’t have enough reason to stay for the whole seven-month contract.

CRUISE – Irish Cobh, and facial hair

14 May Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

This morning I had a lovely chat with the human resource manager (HR) of the ABC RypMeOff. It would seem that I angered the captain once too often, and manager Mihai angrily sent me to the HR, so that perhaps he “can make [me] understand the groom”. Arguably I do understand the groom (and the groove, but that is a different story). And whenever I try to enhance Mihai’s understanding, he silences my attempted explanation. Thus, I went to HR, and chatted with him instead.

Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

This was the state of my hair when I worked as a cruise photographer.

The whole story started about a week ago, when I was standing all alone in the Plaza, waiting for unwilling passengers to not have their pictures taken. A middle-aged lad stopped some six metres away from me, and photographed me with his mobile phone. When I asked whether I could now photograph him in turn, he only replied with the word “inspector”, waving an orange-framed ID card in front of my face. Events escaladed from there.

Our photo manager received various angry phone calls from the captain, who complained about the strange figure with the obscenely long facial hair, and the way too short pants. I had the tailor fix the pants problem (once I managed to track him down), but my facial hair won’t pass as easily.

Before I agreed to take the photography job with ABC I messaged my manning agent, and inquired about the limitations of the ABC “groom policies”. I sent him one of my advertisement photos, and asked whether this appearance would meet the company standards. As it turns out the masters of ABC Cruses can be quite the sticklers when it comes to hair, even forbidding more than shoulder-long hair for female crew. In order to avoid unpleasant surprises I inquired about details, and after only two weeks I received an official reply.

According to the manning agent I needed to go through three major changes, some of them more easily met than others. 1) Cut my hair so that it would not meet my shoulders. – I opted for a 5-mm cut, because it is easy to care for. 2) A clean shave, apart from selected areas of the face. – That is already a chore, because I now have to shave every other day. But as long as it keeps people happy, I shall oblige. 3) The moustache “must not touch the upper lip”, and all “facial hair must me constrained to the plane of the face”. – This is the point where the monkey meets his banana, and realizes that it’s rotten.

Goemon5 in Calgary, via Alyssa Hanke

Around 2015 Goemon5 still had lucious hair, and paid little attention to his moustache. Photo credit: Alyssa Hanke.

In retrospect the last demand leaves considerable space for interpretation, but for the moment I felt safe enough. During my last trip to Berlin I had to visit six different shops before I found a hair gel that was thick enough to replace my dwindling supply of moustache wax. It is far from ideal, but under the given circumstances it is a good working solution. The “hair dress” keeps my moustache in line, and my goatee pointy. It comes with a commitment of about fifteen minutes for facial hair styling every day, but the visual results seem worth the effort. At the very least I can groom my beard into a two-dimensional framework that edges along the official guide lines.

However, none of this is good enough for Captain Hitler (not a name I made up), who strongly demands that my facial hair be trimmed down to meet company policies. And therefore, this very morning, when I could have been wandering through lovely Corb, I had a long discussion with HR in an attempt to diffuse the situation. I told him about the official e-mail, about my commitment to the beard, and the constant struggle with the captain. I also mentioned, not quite in passing, that I had been growing this moustache for twenty years, the goatee for six. The army didn’t get my moustache, the university didn’t get it, and ABC Cruises won’t take it from me either.

I feel that this entire conflict has grown out of proportion. But should it come to a showdown between the clean-shaven (and bold) captain, and my extravagant facial hair, the captain will not win. If I am confronted with the choice between moustache and this job, “beard” will be my preferred option.

goemon5-final-recordings-in-snow-1

The moustache always wins. Probably not the girls, but certainly the Weird Face Competition.

HR patiently listened to my reasoning, and explained that he was here to help in any way he could. And I believe him. We watched the ABC grooming video, and re-read the grooming policy. We compared those with the email, with the state of my beautiful face, and with Captain Hitler’s demands. And the beard won. Hooray! HR promised me that everything would be alright for now, and that he would deal with any future demands from the captain personally.

Today I have made one more powerful friend aboard the ABC RypMeOff, and have defended my unique facial hair against the darkness of ABC policies. It has been another victory, for all the bearded bards aboard.

Sadly, that means I won’t get disembarked any time soon, and may even have to finish this stressful contract. Well, let’s see what other trouble we can stir up. There’s gotta be a way to get me fired. In the meantime, I will enjoy a lovely walk through the scenic town of Cobh, Ireland. For some scenic photos click here.

CRUISE – Lisbon, Photographic Embarkation

27 Apr Lisbon, port view

Today I am to start my new job as cruise photographer aboard the ABC RypMeOff. Like all of life’s adventures I approach this job with an open mind, and empty pockets. Upon boarding the ship I am greeted by a lone security officer who escorts five newcomers to a cargo room under deck. We leave our baggage there, and continue our journey to the Crew Bar, an illustrious place where nearly fifty crew members fight over bottled water and sandwiches. Before I can set up my camera to film the mayhem a middle-aged Rumanian introduces himself as Robyn, and pulls me aside.

ABC RypMeOff

That bloody cruise ship I worked on.

Apparently Robyn is the Assistant Photo Manager, and identified my association with his department by the size of my photo bag. He introduces me to half a dozen other lunatics who also belong to the photo team, but since I am still focused on the food battles, I don’t actually pay attention to those poor souls. I congratulate myself on that decision when one of the other guys starts to present video and audio clips of sexual encounters. I can find my own porn; thank you very much!

Alas, all fun must end. After a long wait in front of the purser’s office I have the great pleasure of arguing in broken English over the validity of my various documents. Upon agreement that my papers might be in a state that some authorities might call valid, the purser stashes my passport, and prints me my very own cabin card. The photo on that card, taken with a web cam from the late nineties, barely resembles a human being, but considering my own state of hunger I don’t feel the urge to protest the issue.

ABC RypMeOff - crew cabin

My shared cabin aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Onward we venture, through the gray hallways of the cruise ship, until we arrive at my cabin, a shared luxury cubicle with nearly six square metres of living space. Robyn informs me that the cabin is supposed to look a bit tidier than what I see in front of me. I appreciate that sentiment, because at the moment it is filled with garbage and piles of clothes. As an artist I applaud the frivolity and boldness behind the state of the cabin, yet as someone who supposedly must rest and live in this space I have to put the intentions of the artist into question. Well, quite likely I will meet with my cabin mate Pancho later, and we may discuss the extent of his art exhibition.

Most of the rest of the day consists with me standing in the photo gallery, and trying to fake interest in everybody’s names. It looks like almost everybody in the photo department is a lunatic, so I feel quite at home already. According to Robyn I must ask many questions, and learn fast, so as to become a valued member of the photo team. An exciting outlook, considering that I have literally no idea of what is happening here, and still require the physical assistance of other crew members to even locate food and bathroom areas. We shall see how fast a learner I can be. Not that I would really stress myself out on this matter.

Lisbon, port view

A port view of Lisbon. Sights like these make most cruise troubles worthwhile.

A bit after midnight I finally meet my cabin mate in my shared cabin (and modern arts exhibition), and already his first question puts me off the journey – “Do you mind if I smoke in the bathroom?” Apparently Pancho has been an ABC photographer for over a year, so I should not have to inform him that smoking is prohibited in the cabins, and that the fire and smoke detectors are likely to take note of his unhealthy habit. To my great despair he has found a way to smoke in the bathroom without setting off the smoke detectors, and he is set on abusing that feature. Realizing that I am not a smoker he says: “OK, we try it once, and if you don’t like, we find something else.”

What a bloody great start into the contract! My cabin is a crammed exhibition of abstract art, my bathroom is a smoking parlour, and my team mates are nearly as crazy as me.

2016 Retrospective – Why death is not the end

1 Jan Fire in Calgary

“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend.” Robert Jordan is long gone from this world, but with The Wheel of Time he has left the world one of the best book series that the realm of Fantasy could ever imagine. And as the Gregorian calendar turns another full year we ask again whether anything we did will pass to legend, or if all we did was to feed the squabbling turmoil of the moment.

 

Shades of Black

To many the year 2016 will be something that they would rather forget. For instance, we saw the rise of right-winged populist politics, “the end of democracy” as left-winged populists called it. The British UKIP party celebrates itself for dragging Great Britain into political isolation. A notorical liar, despised by his own party, led the conservative Republicans to victory in the USA. And Putin’s military forces helped Assat’s band of alleged war criminals to reclaim the iron throne of Syria. Now, all of that sounds horrible to the thinking one who feels. But will we remember any of it long-term? I doubt it.

Horror is not something that people try to hold on to. It is something they try to forget. Twelve days ago a Moroccan asshole stole a truck from a Pole (Oh, the irony!), and drove it into a Christmas Market in Berlin. That guy killed about a dozen people, and is widely acclaimed to be a formidable terrorist. But who will remember him for it? Who but religious extremists will see his actions as memorable?

Christmas markets continue to exist. People continue to enjoy themselves outdoors. Except for those directly involved in the attack nothing has changed. Populist spokespersons often proclaim that “once the terror is at our door, it will be too late”. However, now that the terror has smashed our neighbour’s face in we still consider it a long distance away. We refuse to be afraid of it. Hear that ISIS; you cannot prevent the Western World from being jolly!

Not even two weeks have passed since that Islamist killed a dozen shoppers, yet most Germans don’t recall the name of the attacker, or even the specific Christmas Market that he blundered into. The terror is here, and we know it is real; still we try to forget, not to remember.

 

Fire in Calgary

Photo reporters flock around catastrophes, because they generate interest. But long-term those negative images don’t hold.

Evil never prevails

That is why terror organisations such as ISIS, UKIP, or AfD (our modern German Nazi party) are bound to fail. They pull off a few media stunts, blast a hole into our political fabric, and keep themselves in recent memory. But as the years go by they degrade to another speck on the colourful tapestry of world politics. People do not remember the destroyers. They commemorate creators.

The Maya, Inca, and ancient Egyptians all believed in something bigger, and modern man remembers them, because of the things that they created to glorify their makers. Few people recall the Mormon’s “Mountain Meadows Massacre”, despite its vileness. Yet, most North Americans know about the Mormons, because they are impressed by their huge and glorious temples that seem to pop up in everybody’s neighbourhood.

 

Goemon5 CD release poster

2016 saw the release of my first album. THAT is something I will remember.

Creators that last

That is why our children won’t remember ISIS, or UKIP, or Donald Trump. Because they have not (yet) created anything of value. They have not moved the world forward and therefore won’t stand the test against time. As soon as any of them dies their remnants will quickly be ground down and carried away by the great wind that rose in the Mountains of Mist; doomed to be forgotten as Ages come and pass.

So, which memories of our recent history do we keep alive? We will remember Malala Yousafzai for her courage; for wanting an education so badly that she faced gunshots to obtain it. We hold George Michael in memory for his work towards public acceptance of homosexuality, and for that horribly overplayed Wham! song.

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Rollerderby rules. Enough said.

So, what of 2016?

2016 is a year of personal victories. I will remember it as the year that I released my first album, and the year I created my first professional music videos, in collaboration with multi-talented Natasha Sayer. It is the year I found Rollerderby, and watched the Calgary Allstars win Silver at the Championships. Granted, it’s a year of personal memories. But this is the kind of selfish positivity that hurts no one, and is far more encouraging than mourning over all the great musicians who are no longer with us.

Thus, I encourage you to do the same. If you can’t find any global and ground-shaking occurrences that keep the year 2016 in your positive memory, rather pick some personal ones. Come on, there has to be something about this year that you liked! Keep that one in mind. Stay positive. There is always tomorrow.

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.