Category Archives: Memoirs

Isolation with Dad, Cat, and the Fish

Isolation with Dad, Cat, and the Fish 2

It’s the end of March 2020.
A slightly ruffled, disoriented “hello” from myself and Bocelli, my dad’s ever-meowing cat who isn’t quite sure how he feels about me invading their space…

How are you all?

I haven’t written much in this blog since last December…
As stage and production manager on one of the largest cruise ships in the Caribbean, life as I knew it was put on hold. I worked non-stop, 7 days a week, 15 hours per day. I would get up early in the morning when, without fail, my phone would begin ringing… Then, after each relentless day, I would go to bed to the sound of said phone still ringing… Until I would pass out, exhausted, dreaming a fitful sleep, still working and solving backstage emergencies in my dreams. Relentless is the best word I can come up with to describe my experience managing a large, high-risk venue on an even larger ship. Other words that come to mind are growth and stamina.  And, thankfully, persevering, managing, learning, staying true to myself, and staying kind.

The absorption in our daily work onboard was complete. My colleagues and I heard about what went on in the world through word-of-mouth only. Or, sometimes, we managed to read about it when our anemic internet had one of its rare little bursts of energy and actually loaded an article or a post for us. Although we came back to sunny Florida once a week every Sunday since beginning of this year, Earth with all its viruses seemed a million miles away.

Mid-March, our ship headed for Miami, debarking the last of our passengers to cease operations in accordance with the entire fleet. Our stately vessel was then bound to sail into isolation on the open seas – with almost all crew remaining onboard.

I decided to leave. Maybe, I had seen too many disaster movies. But my instincts screamed at me to keep moving… that being locked down on a ship at close quarters with thousands of other people was far more dangerous than to grab my bag and make my way across borders and continents back to my father’s home.

I had to go. To be there for my dad, in case he needed me. And to ride this pandemic out somewhere… not alone… but together with someone for whom I profoundly matter – and who matters to me.

My trip home, from the Southern US to the South of Germany, began on 15th of March. It became a 3-day odyssey and quite the challenge…
Flights were cancelled left and right. Borders were closing all around me, faster than I could blink. My window of opportunity to make it back safely shrank before my eyes.

Most of my cruise ship colleagues decided to stay onboard. They sailed towards the Bahamas. To drop anchor close by. They sanitized, cleaned, and partied together. There was no physical distancing. They assumed to be safe. They waited for the world beyond the blue horizon to find its way back to some kind of new normalcy. Which is when they planned to dock in Miami yet again to reenter a land-based existence…

Meanwhile, I squeezed through all rapidly closing gates and borders. Yet on the way, I shared close quarters with thousands of people on airplanes and in the airports of New York, London, and Zurich. Now, with daily rising numbers of infected people worldwide, I would not dare to tackle this three-day journey anymore. Far too much risk of infection. At this point in time, it has simply become too great a hazard to travel so far.

It seems, I left just in time.

Even so, I was terrified upon my arrival in Germany. My dad’s loving hug, which usually feels so good, made me quiver inside. Had I endangered him by trying to do the right thing? After the initial closeness, I tried to distance myself physically from him as best as possible in his small apartment…
I have now been at his place for 15 days. I’ve counted the minutes, the hours. And, I was glad, yesterday, to finally get to that magical 14-day-incubation-time mark with both of us – as of yet – still healthy.

But there is the ship. My co-workers and friends. Who worked and partied with vigor during the past two weeks out at sea. And for whom safety was an illusion.

Three days ago, I heard 14 people onboard our floating palace were infected with Covid-19. Yesterday, the count had already risen to 51 people. I am terrified and worried for my colleagues and hope with all my heart that this is it… not, how I fear, just the tip of the iceberg. 1’600 crew are still onboard. I can’t stop thinking about them. Trapped on the ship. I hope they will beat the virus. I hope their immune systems haven’t been compromised too much by months of working hard with barely a pause.

Here I am now, being stared at by Bocelli, my dad’s tone-deaf-opera-singer cat. I am grateful for my little harbor of momentary safety, at the border between Germany and Switzerland, amidst green fields and forests. I am, however, well aware that, just as on the ship, safety in the face of an – as of yet – undefeated, invisible enemy is an illusion.

For now, in self-isolation like most other human beings on our planet, I have way too much time to think on my hands. I endeavor to use this gift of time wisely. I want to rest, but also be creative. I want to write. I will write. Our world has shrunk so much so fast. Yet, through our creativity, with the aid of the Internet, there still are no boundaries. We can still let our minds soar. Writers like me can send their words out to ride fiber currents…

I am thinking of my friends and family around the world. More than ever before, I know there is nothing more important than the human connections we build throughout our lifetimes. I can’t wait to be able to travel again to do what I love most: hug and squeeze the people I care about, touch base with them every so often, share experiences, ideas, and thoughts.

No matter what’s out there, and no matter what happens to each of us in the months to come… as always, friendship, love, kindness, creativity, and hope will help us overcome it all… even when we have an annoyed, territorial cat glaring at us.

A new decade, a new year

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Here we are. A new decade, a new year… 

I am finding myself surrounded by the deep blue sea once more. Amazing how life keeps bringing me back to be either on, at, in, or under water. Ultimately, it is where my soul feels the most at home. 

2019 was the worst year of my life so far. I am eternally grateful to let it go and move on. But, as always in times of major trials, 2019 was also one of my best years to date. I learned, I grew, and I was reminded of the deep well of strength, positivity, and passion within me. I was reminded of my capacity to love. And, I was reminded of the massive importance of empathy and compassion. More than ever before, I learned to believe in myself and trust myself. I am happy to be alive. 

Speaking of trust: I received so much loving support from my dear friends around the globe. No matter how much we rest in ourselves, it’s the human connections and caring for each other that make life truly worth living. I am in awe of the wonderful people in my life. Thanks for being there.

2020 is off to a good start. I am managing the beautiful aqua amphitheater on the Oasis of the Seas. I am lucky to work with a great cast and crew and am enjoying every minute we create, and laugh together. Whilst this massive cruise ship brings us from one Caribbean destination to the next, we perform our beautiful show, called Aqua80. It’s a little masterpiece we can be proud of. Driven by 80ies music, it is brimming with great performances, good energy, and soul.

As I am navigating this new challenge, I am keeping an open mind. I don’t know how long I will be here. I don’t know yet if cruise ship life is really for me. What I do know is that I love my job as stage and production manager. And I love seeing the ocean just beyond our theater… a constant reminder of how far the horizons reach. I’ll keep an open mind… about everything… and I’ll see where the universe will take me.

Nanala

2019 cargo container and blue sky

Last week, a friend of mine introduced me to a refugee from Pakistan (to protect her privacy, let’s call her Nanala). We had an unforgettable dinner together.
From the first moment onwards, Nanala struck me as a self-confident, warm-hearted woman. After a while she began sharing parts of her life journey.

Eleven years ago, soldiers had broken down the door of Nanala’s home in Pakistan. They had shot and killed her husband and two of her four children in front of her eyes.
Nanala had managed to escape with her remaining two children. She had gathered a small part of their belongings and managed to get passage on a ship bound for Europe.
Together with four other families, Nanala and her children spent almost two weeks locked inside a container. They had a small supply of dried food, fruits, and water, and some flashlights. Other than that, only a couple of small, round holes in the sides of the container brought a bit of illumination from the outside. Days began to blend into each other. The journey felt endless, the walls were closing in… but, finally, the container ship arrived in a harbor in Greece.

After months of surviving in a refugee camp on a small island, Nanala and her children were transferred to Zurich, Switzerland. There, they lived for many years in yet another refugee camp. Nanala took any job the Swiss authorities allowed her to have, to be able to provide for her family. Her children went to school and adapted well to their new Swiss home.
Nanala had never attended school. She had never learned how to study. When she asked her children to help and teach her, they said, “We are busy with our own lives, Mom. We don’t have time.”
Nanala was only ever hired on an hourly basis. Each time, she was promised that after a year she would be given a contract. She worked hard. Studied. Learned German. But each time, the promise would be broken and she would be let go.
Each time hope reared its head, it was smacked hard again with a whip. Yet, Nanala kept getting back up on her feet. She never gave up.

Nanala’s daughter graduated high school and found an apprenticeship as a dental nurse. During her studies, she began to distance herself more and more from her mother. She never helped financially. After three years, her apprenticeship was over and she found a good job. At the same time, she was given the Swiss passport. From this moment on, she became very hostile towards her mother and pushed her away ever harder. She was ashamed of her mother who had still not been given a resident permit. She didn’t want to be seen as the daughter of a refugee.
Nanala’s daughter even began influencing her younger brother against his mom. He will finish high school soon, and Nanala is afraid. What if he abandons her, too? If he does, she will lose the rest of her family. She will also lose the social housing they have been given by the government.

Nanala has been assigned a new job. She has started work for a company which makes house calls to elderly people who can’t take care of themselves anymore.
That morning, when Nanala cleaned one older lady’s apartment, a spider fell from the ceiling, landed on her face, and bit her in the cheek. A bright red bruise marked the spot.

What struck me more than anything about Nanala was her capacity to love, her emotional intelligence, her dignity, and her beautiful sense of humor. Even during our chat, she kept raising herself back up and vowed to claim her independence and freedom through further hard work and studies. For her own sake, as well as that of her children, she doesn’t want to depend on them. Or on anyone else for that matter.

Even after all that has happened to her, Nanala wasn’t self-absorbed during our dinner, but present, listening to our stories as well as telling us her own.
She cried when she remembered moments of pain and abandonment. At the same time, she was full of enthusiasm at the thought of being able to help other people in her new profession. Rarely have I seen a stronger, more compassionate human being.

Photo by Victoire Joncheray on Unsplash

Marvelling At Moments

2018 human chandelier 5

Since 1991, I’ve lived all over the world. That’s 28 years of being a nomad, an immigrant, a world citizen, an expat.

Presently, I am back in my dad’s little village in Southern Germany. It’s just for 6 weeks, but my home simply doesn’t feel like home anymore. I suspect it never will again. Nothing ever changes here. No matter how many years I stay away, when I come back to visit, people still complain about the same things, cook the same meals, and have the same exact routines and opinions. I am trying to relax and enjoy the peaceful inertia for the little time I am here. Use the time to charge my batteries.

Instead, I feel like suffocating. I miss my international life, miss constant change, miss invigorating conversations with people from all kinds of backgrounds. I miss traveling, miss being close to the deep blue (or in case of Macau deep brown) sea, miss challenges and growth, and miss sharing new experiences with like-minded souls.

Furthermore, I miss the spontaneity of expat life. The random unexpected knock on the door, bumping into people everywhere, unplanned trips, casual dinners, or catching up over a couple glasses of wine. I miss my show family, miss living with my soul mate, miss being surrounded by curiosity, questions, passion, and creativity. I miss late nights on rooftops, gazing up at the stars, and marvelling at moments spent in corners of the world I never thought I’d ever find myself in. I have 4 more weeks here in this picturesque little village before I head out again, but I might have to split that in half by finding a spot close to the ocean somewhere to dive into the unknown…

I Know Nothing

For me, personally, the most amazing thing about my memoir Paralian is that through writing it, I have come to understand better than ever that I know nothing.
Writing Paralian helped me understand my past in ways I had never been capable of understanding it before. Seeing the bigger picture helped connect some of the dots.
However, the last ten years, which I had thought were crystal clear… were really not.
Many things I believed to be true at the time of finishing my book… were not.

Let me just give you a little list of three:

  • Moving back to Zurich after writing Paralian, I thought, “Yay, I’ll finally be home again.” I remembered so well, how much I had thrived and loved living there in the past. But, I soon discovered, I had been gone too long and now felt like a stranger in a place which had once been my sanctuary. No matter how hard I tried to fit back in, I couldn’t get comfortable. I missed the unpredictability and spontaneity of my expat existence.
  • I was sure Macau was a place I’d never return to. But, when my partner was offered a job there 4 years later, I couldn’t wait to get back. Once there again, I surprised myself by actually loving it. It became clear to me that I had been burned out towards the end of my first time there. I had been overwhelmed and not been able “to see the woods for the trees” anymore, or rather, in my case, “the pool for the tanks.” Returning with a tiny bit of added maturity and calmness made all the difference. The air was clear this time around (metaphorically speaking). I felt balanced within, loved working with the locals, and was grateful to get to know them better. I also reconnected on a whole new, healthier level with a place which I now know will always remain a home – the show I used to work for: The House of Dancing Water. I experienced this entertainment entity and show family with fresh new eyes, treasured all the personal growth working there had given me in the past, and appreciated it simply for all it is, and all it is growing into.
  • When leaving Hong Kong five years ago, I was sure I had found where I belong. Romantic to a fault, I felt secure in having found something for forever. Now, I understand that even though I might have found a precious, deep, and unique connection which might last a life-time, I need to be content with the moments I was given. Just that. Without any further expectations. Everything is only temporary. How else will we ever appreciate what we have, while we have it, and learn to understand the nature of happiness? Everything grows and changes. And we are never quite as much on top of it all as we like to think we are.

Life is teaching me. Actually, this year, it feels as if it is screaming at me. I am bumbling along as best I can, hoping not to go deaf with all the ruckus, and hoping not to mess things up too much along the way.

The simple conclusion of everything: to always keep an open and grateful mind.

The surprises will keep on coming. Hindsight (The more “hind” the better, will always bring these late “Aha, now I get it” moments. Thing is, I love the intricate web of human connections I am allowed to experience. I love the strong currents, the winding roads, the steep hills, the curve balls, just as much as I love those rare moments of pure peacefulness and bliss.

2019 i know nothing

Review for Paralian

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Hello 😊 Shout-out to all of you, who have read my book ‘Paralian’. If you haven’t done so already, can you be so kind and write a little review for it? Even if it’s just one word? Like a thought shared with buddies around a camp fire, books live on and grow through word-of-mouth.
If you search for either ‘Liam Klenk’ or ‘Paralian’ on any Amazon page, you’ll find my book immediately. Scrolling down, you’ll find a link where you can add a review.
And/or you can write a review for it here on Goodreads.
The more the merrier. Cheers! Much appreciated!

Cultural Deer

2013 banff interview

In 2013, I was able to spend a couple months at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada. I’ll never forget my time there. On my daily walk up the mountain from home to the theatre, the cold, fresh air did not only clear my lungs but also my mind. Each time I stepped outside through stage door, I would bump into deer, casually sifting through the underbrush surrounding the centre. Who knows, maybe this was just the deers’ way of sneaking in to graze on a bit of culture without paying for a ticket?
Stepping back into the building, I had the privilege to observe a myriad of cultural events backstage. Entertainment professionals generously shared their experiences with me. I learned heaps about theatre management and marvelled at the strong sense of collaboration I found at the Banff Centre. Some day, I need to return there. They offer residencies for writers and I imagine finishing one of my future creations surrounded by brisk mountain air, in one of my favourite places on Earth.