Thursday, October 17, 2013

Flying Solo

I've never lived entirely on my own before.  I kind of suck at it.  Maybe I need more practice.  Maybe I shouldn't be living alone.

My very first day in this apartment, I stood with one foot on my nightstand and the other on the railing outside my fourth floor window so I could hang a sheet over the door as a curtain and thought, "I need adult supervision."

The next day, I went out for four hours and left candles burning throughout the apartment; they were still lit when I returned home.

I didn't cook anything at all on my stove for the first week because it's a gas stove and I'm terrified of blowing up the apartment - or at least singeing my eyebrows.  (I'm mostly over it now, and it's kind of fun roasting tomatoes over the naked flame so I can peel them easily.)

I'm having bacon and French fries for dinner; it's the only meal I've eaten all day.  (Well, I did have a Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino when I woke up.)  Heeding the advice of my Belgian friend Francoise, I'll probably wash it down with a V8.  Because, you know, vitamins.

I grew up in a standard-issue family:  two parents, two kids, a variety of pets.  I went off to college on schedule and had four different roommates over the years.  I spent summers and holidays at home with the family.  After college, I lived with my parents for about a year and a half before I went off to basic military training to share a room with 53 of my closest friends.  Had a roommate for part of technical training school, then a room to myself while dating my husband-to-be, so that doesn't really count as living alone; then I got married.  Sure, I've had days to myself in hotels or temporary living quarters during TDYs and military schools, but basically, I've always lived with someone.

Sometimes I resented this fact; I've felt cheated of some movie/TV/book-stereotype of freewheeling single life.  I was looking forward to coming out here and figuring out who I really am at my core, without the influence of other people sharing my space.  I brought cookbooks and kitchenware and thought I'd cook awesome meals of the kinds of food I want to eat, without having to cater to kids and a lactose-intolerant husband.  I brought books and DVDs and my body weight in yarn.  I even brought origami paper and writing paper and a journal and a cool fountain pen.

The reality is though, that even without my family, I'm still a wife and a mom.  I might be living solo, but I am in no way single.  I can't go out on dates - obviously (and to be clear, I don't want to!), and I can't just travel at the drop of a hat to wherever, whenever.  I have a family budget to consider, not a personal one.

This week has been a bit of a revelation.  The office is closed for the entire week for the Festival of Sacrifice, a Muslim holiday, and I've got the office Blackberry, so no trips for me.  (That's a good thing, and I volunteered to take it.  I have my fitness test next week, and I can't afford to go gallivanting about, eating out every day.)  Without work and responsibilities to shape my day, I've naturally reverted to a creature of the night.  I did get up at 0630 Monday morning to go for a run, but after that, all semblance of responsible adult-type behavior has slipped away.  Even though I went to bed at a decent hour on Monday, I crawled out of bed at the crack of noon on Tuesday.  Didn't even mean to.  Didn't hear my alarm, and that's something that rarely, rarely happens.  Since then, I've watched movies and played computer games and read until the wee hours each night.  I might wake at 0700 regardless of how late I stayed up, but then I read until 1000, or 1100, or until I have to pee desperately and finally get up to take care of business and get a Frappuccino.  I've watched four movies and a season of Dexter.  I did knit one fingerless glove and am working on a pair of them.  I've swept a little, and cleared off my table with the intent of dusting, and done a load of laundry because I enjoy clean underwear.  And I wrote a blog, so there's that.  But mostly, there's nothing driving my daily actions.  No real reason to get out of bed each day except the need to pee.  I can't be bothered to cook anything for just myself (and I never have the ingredients to make what I want), I owe nothing to no one, so what's the point of doing anything? 

I feel quite disappointed in myself.  Is this all there is to me?  Without a family and dogs and work, I'm not really anything?

I know part of the problem is the job.  It's not stimulating or engaging or challenging.  It is very interesting, in a sociologist-studying-a-new-culture kind of way.  But it's nothing to take home with me, nothing to need a break from.  The other part is the family.  I've done an awesome job of raising confident, independent children, and I have an awesome husband who doesn't need my help.  We Skype once a week and Mike and I chat via Facebook, but basically, they have nothing to talk about with me.  So I am unchained, adrift without an anchor.  Curious to see where I end up, still wondering who I am.

This blog brought to you by Florence + the Machine.  Dog Days are Over at 100+ plays and counting.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Speaking in Tongues

My Dad has called me a space cadet for years.  When I was a kid, I thought it was pretty awesome:  yeah!  I’m a Space Cadet!  I’ll explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations…!  Took me years to figure out I wasn’t on the road to some cool Star Trek job, and when I understood why he was calling me a space cadet, I hotly denied it.  Now, I just own it.  I’m distracted and forgetful enough to worry whether I have warning signs of Alzheimer’s.  I carry a notebook pretty much everywhere so I can write down pretty much everything.  I did have a handle on my own shortcomings, but this assignment seems to have made my forgetfulness, my distractedness, much, much worse.  I thought it was the effects of missing the family, of culture shock, of hormonal change, and I’m sure all of that plays a role, but a big part of it is that I am too busy listening to *how* my co-workers talk to listen to what they’re actually saying.

I’ll start with the easy one first:  my British boss.  He’s an Army Colonel from Scotland.  His accent is very mild – I wouldn’t guess “Scotland” at all except for words with a double “o”, like “good” and “look”.  Honestly, hearing him say them just makes me giggle; I try not to be obvious about it.  And he says “f*(k” ALL the time, except when he says it, it’s as inoffensive as little old ladies eating cucumber sandwiches; when the Americans – and Germans – use that sort of language, they sound like a garbage disposal grinding rocks and spewing excrement.  But I think the funniest thing about his accent is that my Turkish co-workers can’t understand him.  When he leaves after talking to them, they turn to me for a translation. 
I love listening to the Italian Lieutenant Colonel in charge of our section.  His English is perfect, but he, like most of the Italians here, throws an extra syllable on the end-a of almost-a every word-a, especially when he gets excited.  So there I am, grinning like an idiot as he provides important instructions in his movie-stereotype Italian-accented English.  Fortunately, he’s an awesome guy and doesn’t seem at all put out by my lack of seriousness.
Speaking of movie stereotypes:  Croatian Guy finally arrived and his accent would make him perfect for any Russian movie baddie.  We call him Croatian Guy because we knew he was coming from Croatia, but we didn’t know his name until he showed up.  He introduced himself as Godot, and it took my brain a bit to catch up with his agile and subtle humor.  Godot, as in the play; his name isn’t really Godot.  Love talking with Croatian Guy; his dialogue is slow and heavily-accented, but his English is perfect and his mind and wit are sharp.
I can’t even figure out what distinguishes Czech Guy’s accent – although I listen intently to everything he says to try to isolate what makes a Czech accent different from Polish, or Romanian, or Belgian.  We have two Czech guys here, and their English is nearly perfect in grammar and vocabulary, but their accents really set them apart.  One of them was speaking English on the phone to someone in another country, and they each realized – by the accent – that they must be speaking to a fellow Czech, so they switched to their native language.  The best I can do is say it sounds “bubblier” than English spoken by an American.  They seem to use too many syllables, but not as obviously as the Italians.  Whatever – they’re fun to listen to, and I worry that I hurt Czech Guy's feelings by laughing at nearly everything he says. 
The Germans come in three varieties:  English accent, American accent, and German accent.  Somehow I find the Germans speaking English the least surprising – perhaps because I’ve lived in Germany, so this isn’t new to me.  Still, the Germans seem most comfortable with our language; they have a near-complete grasp of idiom as well as vocabulary and grammar. 
To help you understand why I find people speaking English marvelous and terribly distracting, try this:  imagine going about your day in a foreign language, maybe that Spanish you learned in high school.  I can speak enough Spanish to get myself in trouble in Mexico, and enough German to get along in Germany, but my co-workers are ensuring the security of our nations in ESL.
I am in continuous awe of the folks here at NATO.  Meetings here should be as boring as any other Dilbert meeting anywhere, but the most mundane subject is inspiring because it's in ENGLISH!  I look around, and I'm the only native-English-speaker in the room.  (I'm often the only woman, too, but that's a different blog entry.)  I was in a meeting last week with people from eight countries, everyone intelligently discussing budget and planning, except that one guy - there's always that one guy who doesn't track with everyone else - but he doesn't get it in ENGLISH!  In the U.S., I'd think he's an idiot.  Here, I marvel at his genius!
There's so much more to be said on this subject, but I don't want to bore you, and I do want to post this...perhaps I'll add a part 2 someday.
This post brought to you by Red Hot Chili Peppers:  Californication, Dani California, and Snow