6 Word Memoir

Here’s an interesting writing prompt that I came across online. It spawned from an original task given to Ernest Hemingway in which he was asked to write a 6 word novel. His response: For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

Since then people have been writing 6 word memoirs.

I thought it would be even more interesting to see the whole process of trying to find the 6 words for my own memoir; to really see the underlying thoughts while trying to capture the perfect 6 words. From first to last, here is what I came up with.

I’m Forever Caring, Not always Doing,

Cannot find the right six words.

What are the right six words?

So many questions, so few answers.

Daring to be great, living content.

Overflowing with ambition, need some direction.

Followed set path, changed course since.

Off the path, so much darkness

Trying to live my own way

Lost: If found, send to Cleveland

Good person, better friends, best family

Still looking for a passionate cause

Lost: Authenticity. If found: Please Notify

 Still looking for true authentic self

This too shall pass

One of my new year’s resolutions is to write more. While I was home for Christmas I heard from a few people that they wished I would write on this blog more, and that they enjoyed reading it. So, I will get back at it.

There are a few reasons as to why I stopped writing on this thing about a month after my move to Copenhagen. It started in the summer of 2013 to share my experiences and thoughts while backpacking abroad, something that I could go back and read in my later years to reminisce as well as for my family and friends to get a kick out of. I enjoyed the act of writing while riding trains and as I ate my morning breakfast in the hostels. But now, a few years later, I don’t really go back and read my posts like I thought I would. It’s a lot like when you hear your own voice on a recording. It kind of makes me cringe. I can remember the thinking behind why I wrote what I did, and why I re-phrased certain sentences, and it created this feeling of in-authenticity….a fakeness….a sham. I want to be is authentic in my writing…..in my life. So if I’m going to write again, it needs to be as unprocessed as possible. No polishing. No fakeness.

A second thought as for why I stopped writing on here runs hand in hand with trying to tell family and friends who ask how my move to Denmark has been. My automatic answer is its great. It’s been amazing and I’m so happy and fulfilled in everything that I do out there in Copenhagen. So similar to all the Facebook postings I see people make that are vomit inducing. Don’t get me wrong, that is somewhat of a true statement sometimes. I’m glad I’m here and I’m surviving on my own in a new country, culture, and career.  It’s just that I feel like I’m also painting this false picture because I don’t have time to go through all the ups and downs. Of course, I’m leaving out a lot of the downs because I have 5 minutes to tell you how my experience has been living in a new country over Christmas dinner. This could be just my own paranoia, but I don’t want to add to the problem where everyone makes everyone else feel worse about their conditions in life by only dispensing their highlight reel parts of their life. I felt like that was what I was doing in this blog. I was sending out the highlights of my life in Copenhagen, and it took about a month before I started to feel like I was posting fraudulent material as I wasn’t exposing the associated lows.

So in my vitamin D deficient, homesick, and alone on a holiday sort of mood, I just want to tell it like it is. Life gets tough, for everyone. I wanted to find how hard I could push myself like all the hero’s in the movies who go through trials and tribulations, only to return a triumphant, interesting, and wise being. It’s so romantic in thought, but doesn’t exist in reality. So many things don’t exist, or atleast how the mind expects them to be. Even when I do well at certain things, and get pretty far in the last year, my mind will inevitably focus on my failings. My failure to even scratch the surface of the Danish language, my failure to cultivate any kind of romantic relationship (and my failure to believe she’s out there at all), my failure to meditate, my failure to eat as healthy as I used to, my failure to have productive weekends after staying out too late, the list goes on and on. For the life of me I can’t figure out how some people can seem like they have it all together. But I guess my first reason for why I stopped writing in this blog can be referenced for that. Everyone is just faking it, and some are better than others.

So I guess if I had to summarize my various negative musings right now, I would just like to exemplify the fact that you can’t run from your demons. Moving abroad is a great experience. I would recommend doing it if someone asked. But it is volatile. It is hostile. It is lonely. It is exhilarating. It is eye opening. It is soul crushing.  Maybe some are much better at it then me, and if that’s the case, then go ask them how they do it.

I’m sorry if this is uncomfortable. It’s just the only way I can justifiably write down something of meaning that I feel can be posted and read by others. I can’t fake it. One thing I know for certain is this too shall pass.

Christiania

Christiania

Christiania

I experienced Christiania on Saturday night and was not disappointed. I had heard it is a unique place, and the rumors proved to be correct. Right in the middle of the city of Copenhagen there is a self governing hippie community. It started as a couple of squatters living in an abandoned military base in 1971, and the Danish government never kicked them out. Now, its a community made up of 850 free spirited individuals where national Danish law doesn’t apply.
The best comparison I could make to the environment in the commune is to that of Woodstock. Lots of tree houses, spray paint art, unidentified green plants in baggies, and a slight skunk smell to the air. I assume there was a dead skunk right around the corner….must’ve been hit by a bicycle.

There were two rules in this community, and they were
1) No photos
2) No running

No photos I get; Christiania has been subject to police raids from time to time and they want to keep a low profile. I think the Danish police take a don’t ask, don’t tell stance on this community, and pictures all over instagram would bring unwanted attention.

I don’t understand the second rule, but I assume running would just kill the Christiania vibe.

So anyway, it was really cool experience, and I think every major city should have a small hippie paradise in it. It gives people a place to escape their everyday lives, and for just a few hours (or days) let their freak flags fly.

Here’s to you Josh Gordon.

Just a few thoughts

Warning: This is unedited. I just wanted to get some words down since I haven’t posted anything in a while. I apologize in advance for any poor grammar.

Denmark is a great country, and Copenhagen is a beautiful city. The ocean is clean and the people are friendly. Everything is neat and orderly, and everyone follows the rules, especially the crosswalks. Even if it’s 3am and there’s nobody else on the streets….I didn’t believe it until I saw it with my own eyes.

The Danish Tax authority is an evil entity. Yes, it does provide a really nice sense of security for the Danish people, free college, free day care, and is probably why Denmark is always the happiest country in the world. But then its payday and you see a whopping 44% of your income taken away. It hurts. Even now I’m attempting to fend off the tax man from taking another 3,250 Kroner a month for some reason that is still unclear to me. The letter was completely in Danish, but my instincts hinted at a government agency trying to collect money.

So many important documents that get sent to my mailbox are in Danish. I guess that’s expected, but for some reason it still offends me. I guess that’s the biggest tell to people that I’m an American damnit!

I have an idea for the next YouTube sensation. I should just video tape myself using Google Translate to decipher important documents that are only in Danish. The emotional rollercoaster that I experience while typing each word of a Danish sentence, while trying to simultaneously comprehend Google’s questionable translation, would take the internet world by storm.

It’s always sunny…..always. You would think that would be an amazing thing. But when it’s 4am and you start to get sweaty from the sunlight piercing through your blinds on a Tuesday morning, you curse these high latitudes. Everyone tells me that I will be eating these words in the middle of January.

Brightly colored Nike’s can be worn for every occasion in Denmark. You have a navy blue suit to wear to a huge business meeting….pair it with some neon orange Nike’s and you’re in business!

If you wear a helmet while riding your bike, you’re a loser…or a tourist. I can say that because I’m not a tourist….because I pay taxes.

I have the answer for how any country can solve identity theft. Only send important information in snail mail. But don’t ever put all the important information that belongs together, in the same piece of snail mail. The key is to disperse each number, ID, activation password, code number, and username in its own letter, and send them separately. By the time the correct person gets everything they need and puts the puzzle of information together, they’ll either be kicked out of the country, or will have died from old age. No more identity theft!

But this shouldn’t turn into a roast of Denmark. One of the coolest parts of living in Europe is how small my carbon footprint has become. I ride a bike everywhere, take public transport to work, live in a smurf size apartment, can count my personal belongings on my two hands, and recycle pretty much everything. Have I become a full blown hippie you ask? I don’t think so.

The key is everything is so expensive that people can’t afford to buy lots of stuff or live in big homes. There are no Wal-Mart’s here. That means you don’t collect junk, while the things you do purchase are of really high quality. Then all of a sudden you don’t need the space to store your junk, or invest the time to clean your junk. Think about it….

The Danes are all about family. I think that’s why there are so many holidays and vacation time. The workplace reflects this attitude in that there doesn’t seem to be any corporate ladder climbers (i.e. brown-nosers) or the arms race that is number of hours logged in front of your computer at your cubicle. As a young college grad armed with a degree, ready to make a name for myself, it is a tad confusing.

Sundays are for homesickness. Maybe because that’s when everyone back home (and here) has family get-togethers, or if I just have too much free time on that day to sit and think. In all likelihood it’s probably a little bit of both.

Face timing with family, as well as receiving mail from home is amazing. I don’t know how people could move far away without either one. Every card that I’ve received is hanging on the door and I’m wearing my throwback Cleveland Browns t-shirt courtesy of Aunt Barb right now.

Not a day goes by where I don’t think of all the family and friends back at home. The farther away I find myself, the more I realize how irreplaceable they all are to me. It is mind blowing to think of how so many amazing people are in one place, all at the same time, and were/are willing enough to share their lives with me. It makes me feel like the luckiest person on Earth.

Patience is a virtue

It’s really hard to be patient. With a lot of the earlier problems ironed out like getting to and from work, doing laundry, grocery shopping, and riding my bike around the city, I have more time to think. My weekly routine is starting to assemble, but it also illuminates the fact that I now don’t have much going on. As my free time starts to accumulate, so does the nagging feeling that I need to be starting my life. I want to establish hobbies, good friends, good habits, an understanding of the Danish language, and maybe even find a nice girl. I understand that it won’t happen overnight, but I sure hope it happens sooner rather than later.

I want to be productive and valuable at work. I want to smash their expectations, and then some. I feel the urge to provide a big return on investment for a company that gave me this opportunity. Yet I’m still buried in trainings, introductory meetings, and the unavoidable new employee red tape. The lesson that gets drilled into my mind is that of patience. Patience for the insane amount of numbers, passwords, codes, and tax ID’s that I receive in the mail from the Danish government. Patience for the local bank account that holds my first paycheck, which I still don’t have access to. Most of all, patience for myself when I’m frustrated, when I mess up, and when I feel like a fish out of water in this foreign country. Prudentius was sure on to something when he proclaimed “Patience is a virtue”.

Just an update

Just an update on how it’s going over here in Copenhagen:

The Job: Going through the usual new guy training, meetings, and introductions. My project team is great, my boss is really nice, the coffee and lunches are gourmet, and I even get to go to Milan, Italy in a few days. The kind of work I will be doing seems to be really interesting and I really enjoy going to work. I’ve never experienced that before.

The Commute: I bike 5 minutes to the train, my bike and I take a 35 minute train ride, and then I bike another 12 minutes to the office. I get to watch cruise ships come and go while waiting for the train by my apartment, and the surrounding land by my office is impossibly beautiful. It makes for a really nice commute. I’m sure my feelings will change during the dark winter months.

The Apartment: Still hasn’t gotten any bigger. At 44m2 I still feel slightly claustrophobic, but I’m always grateful to come home to my own place after the day to day battles of being a non-Danish speaker in Denmark. I already have to start looking for my permanent apartment since they are so hard to come by in the city. I don’t have to move until December.

The City: Copenhagen generally just rocks. Granted it is the summer months, which are warm and sunny all the time, which I know will definitely not continue come October. The nightlife is incredibly entertaining, there are parks everywhere, you can bike anywhere, and it’s on the ocean. I really could not ask for more in a city.

The Reality: If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s when someone tries to put only their good stuff out on display, while hiding their “dirty laundry” in an effort to make themselves look good. If you are wondering what I mean, just check your Facebook news feed. I’m sure you’ll find a good example within 2.5 seconds.

The honest truth is overall I’m really happy with my current situation. I am so fortunate to have been given an opportunity to live and work abroad at a really young age. I can even see a future here. Denmark has so much going for it as a country, and the Danes as a people.

But I do feel like an outsider. I don’t speak the language, the price of anything makes me want to vomit, and it takes courage to just walk down my apartment steps and out the door to face a new set of challenges every single day; challenges that never existed in my own country. I’m not trying to paint myself as some sort of martyr, but simply as a kid in a foreign country who misses his family, best friends, and the comfortable life back at home.

There are highs, and there are lows. I would not be doing myself or anyone else any favors if I omitted the lows in this post. It is something that I truly do want to always remember. I think a great point to get across is that you could have been given a once in a lifetime opportunity to move across the world for a dream job, but the searching, wondering, and doubting never changes. Yet all of your alleged dreams just came true for you, so what do you reach for now? That’s probably the most unsettling thought of them all.

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins

For some reason this quote strikes a chord with me, but I’m not going to try to analyze it or even write about it at all.

Small Victories

I’ve been taking it slowly, one battle at a time. It’s amazing how many things you can mindlessly do in the US, that flip you on your head when attempting to do in another country. Things like shopping, laundry, using a cell phone, ordering takeout, meeting up with friends, and even changing batteries are practically like breathing when you’re a native. But when you are transplanted into a different country, you’re just another confused foreigner. Most of the time, I screw up, buy the wrong thing, take the wrong turn, or hit a language barrier, but every once in a while, I earn a small victory. These little victories are what keeps the morale up; a small break in the clouds of perpetual bewilderment.

I’ve had lots of small victories. Things like finding, buying, and changing the batteries to my bike night lights. I found out it’s illegal to cruise around on an unlit bike in the dark. I had no idea after quite a few night rides. I recently figured out the laundry machine in my apartment as well. I had to of course find, buy, and translate the laundry detergent with the help of Google translate. I then had to use it to translate, and slowly decipher all of the Danish buttons and icons on the machine. Finally, still confused as to how to properly use this detergent in powder form, I just poured in what looked like a decent amount, closed the door, and sat there staring for 30 minutes to ensure nothing exploded in suds. It didn’t. Although, I did manage to trip the electrical breaker and lose all power, but anyway, let’s stay on task.
The clothes came out smelling like a 7/10 on the freshness scale. A 4 point improvement from before they went through the wash. To me, that’s a small victory, hoorah!

Now it’s on to the next battle, making my first commute to work via bicycle and trains, all in dress clothes.

I came, I saw, I conquered…a grocery store

And just like that, the first day in Copenhagen is complete. All of my flights were on time, my luggage made it, and I’m still alive! I somehow made it to my new apartment through a combination of trains, staring at Danish street maps, and a little  lot of blind luck.  As soon as I unpacked what little stuff I brought with me, I had one lingering thought; with energy and daylight quickly draining, I had to venture to the dreaded grocery store. You would be surprised at how many hurdles this entailed.

What do they call a grocery store here? Where would one be, and how do I get there? Do you have to bring your own bags, or do they give you plastic ones like back in the states? Most importantly, I dreaded that moment during checkout when the worker would inevitably speak Danish; with me staring ahead blankly, and with the locals forming an impatient line behind me. I would attempt to use my American credit card, hoping for a miracle. If you have ever been to Europe, you’ll know they use credit cards with pin numbers on them. They don’t swipe the magnetic strips like we do. It’s more of a “stick half of it in, and wait” motion.

So after getting pumped up in my apartment and ensuring I had the code to get back in my building, I went for my first space walk. I strolled down the street, trying to act like the locals; obeying all crosswalks, with a backpack slung over my shoulder. With the weather as dismal as my hopes were at finding an actual grocery store, I happened across a building with fruit on the outside. I must’ve struck gold. I walked inside, and confirmed that it was in fact a store where people buy food. I grabbed a rather large basket, awkwardly carrying it with two hands, and strolled down the first aisle.

With a small accomplished grin on my face, I throw some familiar bananas in my basket. I saw what looked like ground beef, all descriptions in Danish, but what the heck, I’d eat it. After filling my cart with essentials like coffee, pasta noodles, eggs, and what looked like milk (økolgisk?)”. Using familiarities like the shape of the package instead of names, I felt like the man. Then I noticed everyone else was wheeling their basket around and looking at me strangely. I guess that was why it had a long collapsible handle on it. You had to be there….

After spending way too much time grabbing the few paltry items that I did, it was time to check out. I waited in line, trying not to show my nerves. I saw the checkout kid quickly scanning a person’s groceries in front of me. My motto: monkey see, monkey do. I saw the lady put her basket on this counter, throw her food on the moving belt, and put the basket away. She then payed and walked out; it was my turn. I did the same thing, even putting the divider up between mine and the other customer’s groceries. “Godaften” said the checkout kid. I mumbled something. He was scanning so fast. I saw my food piling up and didn’t see any paper bags. I just started throwing all of the food in my backpack as he scanned. Since I didn’t notice any strange looks, I assumed it was a normal thing to do.

Then that horrible time came, I had to pay. I owed 200 kr.

I slowly pulled out my credit card while studying the worker’s face to see if I was to hand it to him, or put it in the machine myself. He didn’t motion for it, so I assumed it was all on me. I quickly stick the front half of my card in the machine and pull it out. “PLEASE GOD LET THIS WORK”, I thought. After a few seconds passed, nothing happened. A look of confusion came across the checkout kid. I did something wrong…..but what? I did it again…..nothing! I thought about running, but I still had half of my groceries on the checkout belt. I also did not want to go to Danish jail on my first day, so I stood my ground. At that point a line of a few people formed behind me…..just like my nightmare. So like all good Americans, I just started speaking English so he would know that I’m a foreigner. “I don’t have a pin number on this credit card” I said. He replied in English, “leave it in there”. Without knowing what that meant, but not wanting to seem stupid, I tried my same motion to no avail. With my face turning red, the checkout kid took pity on me and got up from his seat, came around, and showed me the mysterious credit card motion. Apparently, I had to put the card in the machine, leave it in there for a few seconds, and said machine would accept the card and print a receipt. With a look of amazement on my face, I signed the receipt, grabbed whatever piece of paper he handed me, shoved the rest of the food in my backpack, and quickly got out of there.

With a backpack full of food that I knew would sustain me for at least two days, I walked back to my apartment with a spring in my step. Put the code in my building door, and made my way back to my room. As soon as I walked in my door, I couldn’t help but give a yell of triumph. Like Julius Caesar, I came, I saw, I conquered…..a grocery store.

 

groceries

The Big Move: A quest for justification

The Negative

How are you supposed to say goodbye? After 23 years how can any kind of cordial gesture sum up everything you would ideally like to say to a friend or family member before leaving for good. There were a lot of goodbyes said over the course of the last few weeks. Some were handshakes, some were extended hugs, and others were nothing less than slobber filled cry fests. Some never happened. Maybe because they are still too fresh on me, but in each one I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in myself. Each time, I could’ve said something else; I could’ve told them how much they mean to me. Each time I failed.

I guess it can either be attributed to the fact that I didn’t want to lose myself to my emotions. In my own attempt at manhood I wanted to keep it together. Or just the fact that giving in to a huge drawn out goodbye solidifies it in my mind that I may not come back. Maybe I’m in denial.

I look around and see lots of families walking around, kids and parents, grandparents, cousins and uncles, all traveling…together. I can’t help but feel guilty. I left mine behind. I wonder when I made it up in my mind that that would be okay to do. I don’t like to fancy myself someone who would put my career before my family, yet here I am, boarding a plane to fly to the other side of the world. It feels selfish. It feels self-centered.

The Positive

Who are we if not our experiences, values, and dreams? Which adds more value to your family and friends’ lives; a shell of yourself in the same room, or the best version of you far away? With things like Facebook, Facetime, Snapchat etc. it’s not hard to stay in touch from a distance. Whether it is 500 or 5000 miles away, what is the real difference?

To achieve something really great, most likely you’ll have to do something that others aren’t willing to do. That includes giving up time in your comfort zone. It sure isn’t comfortable moving to another country. It won’t be comfortable missing family holidays like Thanksgiving and Easter. But there is an end goal. I get a chance to be a pioneer. I can learn about new cultures and countries, and hopefully some of that can permeate to my family and friends. Where once they never thought about travelling, maybe they now take a trip overseas to visit? Little by little the world becomes smaller for everyone, while the possibilities become more abundant.