Tag Archives: Friends

Zwiebelmarkt

Before accepting a job in Weimar, Germany, I looked it up on Wiki Travel. (I didn’t do this until after moving to Seremban, Malaysia and, well, if the only thing Wiki Travel has to say is that your town is near the airport, I wouldn’t suggest moving there.) I knew the basics of Weimar – home to the Weimar Republic, after all – and there were a variety of other mentions that caught my eye, one of which was the Onion Market. When I arrived, locals and expats alike told me, “Let’s just hope the Onion Market is on this year.”

A few changes due to Covid notwithstanding (no Queen of the Onion Festival, no pre-dawn opening, only four stages with live music instead of ten, a manageable number of visitors rather than the 250,000 that usually flock to this town of 65,000) it was!

Zwiebelmarkt was part food festival . . .

. . . and part harvest festival (I made my way to several farm stalls before it got too busy) with specific attention given to onions, which I will never see the same way again.

There were opportunities to buy onion-themed gifts and other household items (my contributions to the regional economy include a bouquet of dried flowers and a couple packs of spices) . . .

. . . and opportunities to sample onion-based foods. I can vouch for Zwiebelkuchen (onion cake) and Zwiebelsuppe (onion soup).

There were performances, too, of both the musical and circus variety, as well as a special carnival area for children, which was not too far from the medieval fair where some really fun bands played.

“Why did you choose Weimar?” a Weimar native asked as we drank beer and wine, sang along to Incubus and Radiohead covers, and used her sky app to find Jupiter and Saturn.

Many reasons. I can’t honestly say that onions were taken into consideration, but I’m glad they have become part of this experience.

Hints

I have just done a rare thing, which is why it bears mention: I have just made a second cup of coffee.

This is strange for me. My coffee drinking habits are pretty simple – a cup in the morning. Maybe a cup in the afternoon on the weekends if I’m reading or writing in a café, or if I’m meeting a friend. There were some mornings at my previous school where a coffee connoisseur department mate would offer me a cup and, depending on the status of my first cup, I might accept. He really did make delicious coffee. I’ve been on enough school trips to know that I’m just fine without it, but I so enjoy the ritual of a cup of coffee in the morning. And I just made a second.

I’m thinking.

I’m thinking about loss, about learning, and about where I might be getting things wrong even while I’m trying hard (maybe this is the problem) to do everything right.

I’m thinking about a colleague-turned-friend, and I’m wondering if that’s where I got it wrong. Maybe we remained colleagues. Maybe that’s where it ended. Maybe “keep in touch and don’t be a stranger” fell short of genuine. Or maybe not. Maybe life has gotten in the way, maybe there’s a long to-do list full of weightier priorities, maybe no one is counting weeks except me because it’s my world that has changed.

Or maybe I just can’t take a damn hint. There’s that possibility, too. Maybe I went wrong somewhere and unresponsiveness is a tap on the shoulder. I haven’t ruled that out.

This leads me to once upon a time, over four years ago now, when I was (according to me, at least) abundantly explicit about a specific set of choices. And I know someone who was clearly shocked when I proceeded to do exactly as I had said. Maybe I hadn’t been as clear as I thought, or maybe actions and words were misaligned, or maybe I was that clear. Maybe I did do the right things, and maybe the message just wasn’t received by someone who didn’t want to receive it.

The mind and heart must remain open if we’re going to understand what others have to say, even if we don’t like it.

The brain is protective. It hides us from things we don’t like, especially those that threaten our self-esteem. It makes extensive use of quick, intuitive thinking (System 1, for fans of Tversky and Kahneman) to get us through most situations. We get into trouble when a specific set of circumstances actually requires slower, more rational thought than our brains, wired for efficiency and avoidant of hard work, are willing to give it.

So I made another cup of coffee. I am trying to slow down and think. (We could address the irony of this substance – a stimulant – as a means of slowing down to think, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.)

The danger of thinking, in this case, is overthinking. Am I thinking too much when the best way to be is to just be and let life unfold? Am I thinking too much because I don’t want to get this wrong, because I don’t want to feel sad, because I don’t want to be in the position of wondering how, with the information I had, I could have understood differently? Maybe. I haven’t ruled it out.

In some ways, impulsivity has been beaten out of me. This could be an effect of age or experience, and is likely a combination of age and experience (they are, after all, positively correlated). But my sister has long cautioned me against my tendency towards over-caution and in this sense, I think she’s right. Numerous inspirational quotes spring to mind here but a simple question suffices: “What do you have to lose?”.

If being who I am raises eyebrows, I’m not going to gain anything by being someone else. If trying, with the best of intentions, to be honest about that is objectionable, at least I’ve given it a chance. It’s hard to be someone else; I’ve tried.

With the coffee almost done, I can report that I’ve concluded nothing. But I can also rest assured (at least, according to my brain that is designed to protect me) that I have acted in the best ways that I could. And if that’s not good enough, or if that’s not preferable in the given context, there is nothing else I would have honestly done. To act differently would have been a lie. It is possible I made a mistake, or two or twenty, but that happens. That is bound to happen. Mistakes come from trying and while I might not like the result, at least I have tried.

Weimar, Germany – August 2021

Just What I Needed

I threw a mini temper tantrum in the humanities office on Friday when news broke about new restrictions here in Singapore due to new Covid cases. It was not entirely unexpected, but still hugely disappointing, when a return to home-based learning was announced Sunday night. When I walked into work Monday morning, a colleague asked if I needed a hug.

Yes, I really did need a hug.

Earlier today, another colleague and I were joking about the persistent negative voices in the back of our minds, but it’s not really a joke. We have all, at some time or another, experienced lying awake at night due to thoughts that skip, hop, and jump, unbidden. Most of us have very little control over this, which I have recognized acutely through years of regular mediation practice. I find that it helps to know what’s happening in my head, even at those times when regular meditation practice is of little use.

Through my exploration of my own brain, I have also learned that I can easily occupy two minds at one time, a bit like cartoon shoulder angels having a conversation. About ten years ago, I started writing what I was grateful for at the end of my daily journal entry. Three things, every single day. This means that I try to go to bed focused on what is actually part of my world rather than dwelling on the past or living in the daydream of the future. It is not difficult for me to find the beautiful place of being fully present in the world as it is, and I cherish this very much.

Enter: The other shoulder angel.

Alongside the beauty that I seek out and always find, I also find it very easy to spiral into the dark place that is home to rather persistent demons. Nightly journalling isn’t always that helpful, and meditation doesn’t always do the trick, either. I understand why people turn to all sorts of maladaptive coping methods. It is not hard to go there, not at all.

Going through this pandemic alone, as well as trying to make arrangements for the future alone, has made me keenly aware of something I already knew: The things that upset me, upset me to my core. When I find myself in a bad place, it takes a heck of a lot of work to pull myself out of it. And there’s no one to turn to for help right now because there’s no one there.

People who love me would argue differently. They would say, likely correctly, that they are “there” at all times. But that is not the kind of “there” I mean.

This is why the hug mentioned above was so important. Sometimes, we need the physical presence of other people. And sometimes, they need us. So reach out. There are people right there who need you, even if they’ll never ask.

An admirably resilient tree – Green Corridor, Singapore – May 2021