Why It’s Okay to Have Pie in the Sky Syndrome

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Sometimes I come down with Pie in the Sky Syndrome.

Right after I finished my Master’s degree I was, I’ll admit, just a bit full of myself.  I’d just completed a M.F.A. Creative Writing at the University of London, under the Poet Laureate of the country,  and graduated with distinction.  Tack on four years of prior middle school teaching experience on an army base in Europe and I thought I held the golden ticket to jobs.

All the jobs.

In my mind, people would be going out of their way to knock on my door and offer me employment—and not just in my field! Oh, no! There were all types of things I could be doing, now! Pies were flying all over the sky and all I had to do was reach out and pinch hold of the crust.

I started filling out applications with the lack of urgency a billionaire might feel if they decided to break up their luxury cruises with a fun side job for kicks. I wanted to stay in London; that much I knew. Beyond that, I was open to all types of professions as long as they paid me in lots and lots of pounds.

I applied for positions teaching literature at prestigious universities in England.  I applied to run the international department of these same universities (mainly because I thought it would be “cool to travel around the world and present the programs to students.”)

Looking over the employment options, I didn’t give much (if any) consideration to whether or not I was actually qualified.  It was all about what they could offer me.  I had a Master’s degree now–I was on fire! 

In a rush of hubris on the brink of insanity I applied to be—and this is no joke—the HEAD of the University of Liverpool.  Yeah.  I think in my heart I knew I didn’t have a chance.  But, I will say, after I filled out the initial application with misguided zest I sat with the dim worry that I could potentially be hired after all and expected to run the whole damn place.  What then?

We can cross that bridge when we get to it, I thought, and kept applying.

It only occurred to me to rethink reality a little when I didn’t hear back from a single one of the applications.  Actually, that’s not true—I landed an interview for one of the International Office gigs (i.e. the one where I’d be able to travel the world on a university’s dime, talking to students) but I didn’t get the job.  I guess my snazzy asexual business suit and high marks on a thesis about how Jonathan Safran Foer conveys trauma in Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud weren’t enough to convince them I knew the necessary ins and outs of international study.  Go figure.

Any semblance of worry I’d started to feel kicked in to high gear when my UK visa expired and I was suddenly back in Buffalo, New York, living with my parents and 4,000 plus miles away from the place I was sending out applications to.  It wasn’t beyond me that interviewing from there would be hard, and that’s a pretty important part of the job process.

In the next weeks I began to feel the pressure and launched a full-fledged job-hunting campaign that slowly downgraded from pies in the sky to crud in the mud.  I sent out an average of thirty applications a week.  Several months went by.  Crickets. My carefully crafted paperwork burned away in the silence.

Each application I sent out humbled me more and more.  My salary requirements changed.  The preferred demographics were compromised (I was suddenly willing to stay in the United States and forgo my expat dream, after all.)  The grandeur of a job title gave way to the necessity of earning a buck or two—forget pounds.

Eventually and gratefully I landed a job—back at the daycare center I’d worked at when I was eighteen years old.  I loved it there.  But, it was a far cry from where my sights were initially set.

For the remainder of my 30th year of life I slept in my childhood bedroom and worked my tail off earning minimum wage filling up Dixie cups with milk and changing fifteen diapers before and after naptime.

(Luckily, I did eventually land a part-time teaching job back in London, but it took a lot of grit and door pounding and one unfortunate interview where I’d just come in from an exceptionally hot day and sweat ran down over my forehead the whole time I answered questions.  It quickly became one of those awkward situations where the more you think about the fact you’re sweating, the more you sweat.)

A couple years later I leaped towards another Pie in the Sky.

I set out to write my first book.  And, of course, what I had in mind was not a modest first publication.  I planned, instead, to write the next New York Times bestseller, a real classic, one to be covered in American Lit classes circa right now.

Panera Bread was my office for the next few months and I guzzled Hazelnut coffee refills, ate the Fuji Apple Chicken Salad on a daily basis, and befriended the local retirees who spent their mornings there rehashing the news in an American version of the German Stammtisch.  I knew exactly what ‘their seats’ were, and they knew mine.  Heaven help whoever helped themselves to our respective booths.

Predictably my aspirations brought on a serious case of Writer’s Block.  When that subsided what came next was an onslaught of words—so many words!—and I felt deeply excited about every single one of them.

The project lasted several months.  I wrote six or seven chapters and each one was a messy sprawl of at least 60 pages in a style that eagerly and blindly mimicked the voices of all the other famous writers I was reading at the time.  (Let’s just say we see some David Foster Wallace footnotes and Jonathan Safran Foer experimentalism.  And maximalism. Lots of that.)

Well, my own assessment is that the book tanked.  I still go back and try to edit it from time to time, but I get seasick just looking at the thing.

And now I have a third Pie in the Sky story.

After I wrote the blog post about my attack, I decided it was time to do something I’ve been persuaded to do in the past but was too chicken-shit to try.  I decided to send my work out somewhere.  Like, to a real publication with hopes of my writing being, dare I say, shared with a wider audience.

My very first thought was Huffington Post.  I’ve been a fan of their ‘Voices’ section for a while, and I like the quality of the blogs posted there.

In my typical revved up style, I decided to send over my post in all its 2,500 word glory (forget the fact that most submissions that are accepted are pared down to 700 or 800 words.)

And—rather than the appropriate editor of the Voices section at HuffPost—I attached it as a link in an email message directed to Arianna Huffington, herself.  Because…why not? I figured there was nothing to lose by contacting the head honcho, herself.  Just like there’s nothing to lose by applying for a job that is well beyond one’s qualifications, experience, or overall intellectual ability.

(I could mention Donald Trump, here, but I’d never do that.)

Shortly after pressing ‘send’ I did some belated research and learned that Arianna Huffington actually left the Huffington Post to start a brand new company.  Oops! So, I hit myself a few times over my lack of ‘good to know’ knowledge and chalked it all up to an email lost in cyberspace.  I sent it out to a couple of other places, checked my email obsessively a few times, and moved on a month later.

But then this morning, after a very, very, very sleepless night due to a sick toddler with a hacking cough, I checked my email.  And who do you think I saw in my inbox?

Arianna Huffington.

She wrote me back.  THE Arianna Huffington.  The head honcho.  She wrote me back and thanked me for sharing my post.  She also let me know that she’d cc’d the HuffPost blog editor and that they’d be sending me a password so that I “can share my voice in a blog on the HuffPost site.”  She went on to tell me a little bit about her new company and even invited me to visit this pop-up store that will be open between now and January 15th.

All day I’ve been in a tizzy.  I’m tizzying over here.

On one hand, I’m not quite sure what this means.  Will my post be shared as a one-off on Huffington Post? Is the editor going to write me back? What’s with the password, thingy? How does that work?

I’ve done some reading, and from what I gather there is a new platform for the publication.  If you are a HuffPost blogger you get a username and password and have far more mobility/flexibility to share your work.  Is that what she’s saying? Am I being invited to the blogging platform of HuffPost?

I’m confused and elated.  It’s not a bad mix!

Either way, this is a new development here that feels awesome.  I’ll either have something I wrote posted (and I’m sure it could be the start of even more submissions to the web site seeing as I’ll have ‘established myself’ if having one thing published counts as ‘establishment.’) Or, I may be given a password of invitation to contribute more frequently.  This is an idea that gives me immediate Writer’s Block just thinking about it.

As of this morning I’m all-in about pies in the sky, again.  In fact, I’m going to keep going from here and probably embarrass myself and experience dead air and empty inboxes.

But, what this has shown me is that it’s always worth it.  Some pies are more attainable than others (like publication versus heading a university without experience, per se.)  What’s true for both is that there’s truly nothing to lose by going straight to the top, moving in range of the out of range or, to put it nicely, attempting to pick the nose of “this is beyond you.”

Sometimes you’re surprised with a response and validation.

I’m sure I’ll be updating you about my situation and we’ll see where it all leads.

In the meantime I’m off to the States tomorrow for two weeks and couldn’t be more excited. 🙂 P.S. I’d love to hear any of YOUR pie in the sky stories? Let’s talk pie!

On Being Unable to Reach the Fifth Stage of Grief

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I felt this election in my bones.

I’ll be honest–this is the first political race that I’ve ever lost sleep over, that affected my mood, that made me feel uncontrollably combative towards the ‘other side’ even when I tried very, very hard not to. I know I’m far from alone in this.

I desperately wanted to be an activist–if we were in the States, I can guarantee I would have donned my very own coordinated pantsuit and gone door-to-door, making quite the impassioned case.

Even though I once promised myself to avoid all political talk on Facebook and stick to family pictures or light updates on the state of my being, for the past month or so I just couldn’t help myself. I poured a glass of wine as soon as I got home from work and thought, no, no, stay away, stay awayno one’s mind has ever changed from a goddamn Facebook post—but was unable to help myself.

I seriously COULD NOT stop; it felt like the only way to grab people by the shoulders from afar and shake them. You’re making a huge mistake! Click, click: Look at what he said! Look at what he did! Please, consider what he’ll do!

Yesterday when Todd woke me up with coffee and the announcement that Trump was winning, I thought he was joking. And, if so, I thought it was the least funny prank, ever. Over and over I insisted it wasn’t true until I put in my contacts and checked the news for myself.

And, yet, there it was. ‘Trump Triumphs,’ I read.

Let’s just say it wasn’t a great morning.

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Putting My Zombie On Your Porch

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On Halloween we had three trick-or-treaters, which means the holiday is becoming wildly popular here in Germany! (After all, that’s three more trick-or-treaters than we’ve had other years.)

I was curious about when Halloween was introduced to German culture so I looked it up and, according to Der Spiegel, celebrations began in 1991 (reason being, Carnival was canceled due to the Gulf War.) So. it’s only taken about twenty-five years for things to get rolling in our Heidelberg suburb.

Nevertheless, Todd and I were well prepared with three jumbo-sized bags of American candy bought from the commissary on base.   After all, you never can be too prepared.

When the trick-or-treaters arrived I opened up, mixing bowl filled of goodies in hand, and the kids dutifully chanted, “Suesses, sonst gibt’s Saures!” which roughly translates to, “Give me something sweet, or else you’ll get something sour!”

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The Man Behind the Tree.

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A man was waiting for me behind a tree.

I didn’t know this, yet, as I unlocked my bike after watching a World Cup game on a big screen outdoors at Marstallhof with friends back in 2006. I had no idea what was coming as I rode along the Neckar River and followed the curve of the bike path over to Bergheimerstrasse. It was reaching 9 p.m. and it was June, so there was still some daylight refusing the hug of encroaching nighttime.

I remember that I rode fast, and even stood up on my pedals as I crossed over a bridge—like a child—so that I could rise above my handlebars and face the wind head-on. I looked to the left, over at the distant hills, and then below the bridge where the train tracks were. I saw fluorescent lights, the clean platform, a few ICE trains like long white bullets resting on the track.

There’s so many bike rides that I forget. Even now, I ride my bike home to and from work every day and often get so lost in thought that I barely remember the journey from point A to point B.

But, I’ll never forget this particular ride.

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Turtle Cancer

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Last week I went to visit my doctor (Dr. Sieben, or “Seven” as it means in English) for a preemptive cancer screening.  The week prior I’d been summoned in to have blood drawn so they could test my thyroid, and this was my sit-down with the doctor to discuss the results. (They’re all about preventative health care here, and I appreciate everything about that.)

After he called me in to his office, one of the first things he asked me (after the reassurance that my results were fine and my blood pressure, may I just boast, was “perfection”) was about cancer in my family.  In other words, who had it and what type did they have, etc.

I told him about my aunt’s breast cancer and then moved on to my uncle.

“Er hat…” I hesitated, “Schildkroete gehabt.”

Even as I said Schildkroete, I knew it wasn’t the right word.  This happens a lot when at doctor’s appointments, simply because new vocabulary (in the form of symptoms or illnesses) come up all the time.

I was searching for the German word for ‘lung’ and it only occurred to me after ‘Schildkroete’ came out of my mouth that the word meant ‘thyroid.’

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Times I Was Confused in America

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I’ve been living in Europe, now, for the better part of sixteen years.  And yet, it was only this summer that I experienced the phenomenon of realizing I was more in tune with how things work in Germany, my second culture, than I was with how it’s done in America.

This wasn’t really the case before now.  I’m wondering what it was about this summer—I mean, I hadn’t been away from America for any longer than normal.  I’m not even immersed in German language or, let’s be honest, German society as much as I could/should be?

So, is sixteen years away from where I grew up my own personal magic expat number? Is this the specific amount of time it took me to feel more integrated into one culture than the other?

Example Number One of a Time I Was Super Confused in America

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The Weekly Spazieren: Mannequins, Suggestive Foliage, and Snow White’s Dwarf on a Roof

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Last week I fell off the blogging wagon.  I’m not sure why–all I can say is that every time Laken went down for a nap and it was my usual writing time I either suffered from writer’s block or found something incredibly important to do.

But this week I’m ready to be back on track, and I have pictures to share as part of my definitely-not-regular feature called ‘The Weekly Spazieren.’ I think by weekly I meant ‘taken throughout any given week of walking’ and not ‘I promise to post this every single week, as in I’m making a definite commitment to you right here, right now.’

I’m not normally a commitment-phobe, but am becoming one as of late.

In fact, on Monday we’re leaving for the States and I’m already wondering if I’ll be able to keep up the blogging habit while we’re gone. Todd and I tend to be pretty decadent while we’re on vacation. We’re prone to eating at restaurants three times a day (I mean, it’s the States–can you blame us?) and filling in the gaps with beer breaks in the backyard.  I might be too stuffed/drunk to feel creative.  But, I’m going to try my very hardest to continue writing on a weekly basis.  After all, I love doing it.  And, at least in my world, all it takes is one little break and it becomes a lifestyle.  Story of my last six years.

So, let’s go spazieren, shall  we?

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Stickers About Refugees

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Last week I hoped to share mannequin nipples with you.  (They’re definitely a ‘thing’ over here, and I don’t recall seeing them in the States at all? Not that I look that mannequin chests all that closely? Or, perhaps I do?) I was motivated to check out grocery stores because I’ve seen some odd products and pairings here and there (think bananas and men’s shoes on the same shelf. I’ve seen that one.)

If I can figure out how to be more discreet about taking pictures of people, I’d like to show you head-to-toe matching couples, or the old women trend of pink hair, or the enigma of levitating street artists.

But, thanks to stomach flu, we didn’t do much spazieren (aka ‘walking,’ an important German pastime.) until Friday.  By then I was eager to get out and capture our little suburb in all its quirky glory.

(I do love me some quirky.)

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Puking, Practicums, Personas

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I’ve learned a few stomach-flu related German words this week. Diarrhea is ‘durchfall’ which literally means ‘to fall through.’ So logisch, this German language.   “Kotzen” is to puke. Anyway, now you’re all set in case you visit and get sick.  🙂

We’ve all taken a turn with it since Monday and since I’ve been feeling so funky, my thoughts have reached out to other things that generally make me want to vomit. Like, canned green beans.  (The fresh ones are fine.)

Another one that comes to mind is student teaching. I’ve been reflecting on that a lot, lately, and I’m not sure why.

At the time, I was twenty-four years old. Talking to a class full of students terrified me. And, you know, that’s sort of a thing you need to feel okay with if you’re in the profession.

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The Weekly Spazieren

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The German word for walking is ‘spazieren’ and they’re really into it here. I know walking is a universal pastime, but Germans get all decked out in matching Jack Wolfskin outfits and use walking sticks to navigate the suburbs.  It’s definitely on another level, let’s just put it that way.

In fact, on Monday I was waiting for my tram and a teenage girl and boy approached. They were reading an ‘Eppelheim Info’ sheet and the girl said (in German, obviously) “Look! There’s an organized walking group leaving from Cafe Creme tomorrow. Maybe we should check it out!”

I don’t know much, but for some reason I can’t imagine your typical teenager getting so hyped up to go on an organized neighborhood stroll.  But, there you have it. (And I think it’s awesome!)

Since I’m on what was supposed to be a paid maternity leave this year, I do my own fair share of ‘spazieren.’  Every day Laken and I take at least one walk around the neighborhood.  And, I’m always spying quirky things.

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