Tag Archives: #lifejourney

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.

Raging Waves

cozumel-back to prison

Almost three months of working on the ship now, yet I have never felt further away from the ocean. Our ship is a floating entertainment park… with no access to the true authentic beauty all around us. I long to taste the salty freshness of the big blue on my lips and all over my body. Long to feel the sensation of peacefulness, invigorating energy, and freedom I’ve always associated with the wide open seas.
That being said, working on a cruise ship is a valuable life experience I am determined to treasure. As a stage manager, I am learning an abundance of useful skills managing the onboard Aqua theater. The pressure onboard is relentless. Work never stops… to such an extent that even brushing my teeth in one go without being interrupted by phone calls becomes a challenge. Additionally, working with people from over seventy different countries tops all international experiences I’ve been exposed to thus far. As difficult as it gets sometimes to juggle a myriad of mentalities, I treasure the slowly blooming friendships with people all over this gigantic ship, as we meet each other for a few seconds in between chores. Room attendants waving and fist bumping with me as I am running to my control booth before the show. Maintenance men smiling in the hallway, forgiving me for calling them at odd hours in the middle of the day and night for technical issues in our theater. On a daily basis, life lessons keep building up in tune with the raging waves of the seas all around me. I am trying to take them in stride. Failing on some days, succeeding on others.

Don’t Wear That Hat

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 16.45.01

My latest article on TheatreArtLife. The wondrous world of theatre superstitions and how they came about. Read the article here.

My second book is still in the works as well, just in case you were wondering. I know I am painfully slow. Bear with me. It’ll be out there within the next couple years! A work of fiction this time (based on true events).

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

Freedom and Independence

2002 hat and suit session 2

Freedom and independence have always been important to me.

These past few years, I’ve been increasingly reminded of their importance because – additionally to my own constant quest – someone close to my heart has been struggling with claiming her independence after having been imprisoned by religious and societal standards for most of her life.
I remember many conversations we had during which she felt I can’t possibly understand her massive need to manage her life entirely on her own. Her need to be in control of her own destiny without having to answer to other people or institutions. To understand herself and the world around her and conquer it by her own standards.

The thing is… I understand perfectly, because even though our background is different it is also incredibly similar. Instead of being limited by an institution, I was limited by my own body. I too, had been born into an existence which wasn’t mine.

It was dictated by the shape of my biological body, dictated by my – in the truest sense of the word – surroundings. On top of my body not matching my soul, societal standards which didn’t match my soul either, ruled my life.

And even though those around me meant well, I was never free until I realized: I am who I am, not who they think I am.

It took me until I was thirty to have enough life experience and courage to claim my freedom fully, step by step. To say “no” more often to things I had not dared say “no” to before. And to say “yes” to other things I had never before imagined were possible in my life. This picture was taken then, as I was still growing into my own skin. Ever more comfortable with my own existence. But it took another ten years until the age of forty for me to really understand myself, love myself, and rest within myself. That last part is still a work in progress… but getting better all the time.

Personal freedom. Independence. Integrity.
All so very important.

All of us are growing up with a layer of rules, societal standards, opinions, assumptions, and automatisms. Some of those are great. Others are not. We need to carefully, critically examine all of them. Always.

While growing into the adults we now are, I picture us as living in a coat shop and being surrounded by enthusiastic salesmen and saleswomen. All of them want to sell us what they think is the best coat. After a while we end up wearing dozens or even hundreds of coats. We’re wearing them on top of each other and doing our best to fit into all of them. Then, at some point, we realize, “Damn, this is heavy. I can’t move and I can barely stand up straight.”
We realize somewhere along the way, underneath all those coats, we’ve forgotten who we are. We want to stop and breathe, to find the coats which make us feel at home with ourselves. Which are ours. So, inevitably, we’ll start sorting through the ones which have been given to us. And, if we find the courage, we’ll take off the ones which don’t fit. The ones which make us feel restricted and uncomfortable.

Only then can we get back to the core of who we are… re-build ourselves.
With love compassion, and kindness, for ourselves and others.
With ethical considerations as well as our own well-being and happiness in mind.

It’s all about healthy boundaries, and taking care of our own souls, our own lives.

I understand.

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

IT… is about life

2019 IT Chapter 2

I’ve heard many comments lately on how long and boring the movie IT Chapter 2 is…

Stephen King’s IT is one of the most voluminous and complex horror stories ever written. In the 80ies, with far less advanced special effects, a creative team did their best and translated the 1’116-page book into a TV mini-series.
In 2017, the movie industry gave it another go. The 1st part was 2 hours 15 min long. Now, two years later, the 2nd part is 2 hours 45 min long. The director is being respectful and truthful towards the book. Considering this, five hours for the whole story doesn’t seem drawn out at all.

I remember reading IT as a teenager. After several nights waking up screaming from nightmares, I had to stop reading after it got dark. Somehow, this tale cut so deep, my mind had troubles brushing it off as just another story.

What I see is a metaphor of life. IT is about our deepest fears. About growing up and learning to stand up for ourselves. About finding the strength to face our fears, no matter how terrifying the prospect might be. IT is about the danger of trying to run away and attempting to forget what has hurt us so deeply. Rather than trying to put time and geographical distance between our pain and us, IT shows us the wisdom of going back to where that pain is, to understand it and deal with it once and for all. To lay it to rest and live our lives without old demons creeping up on us. IT is about believing in ourselves, about taking charge of our lives, about taking responsibility, about the value of friendship, about the importance of honoring the promises we make to each other, and about holding on to those people in our lives who truly care for us.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think there is such a thing as a book which is too long. When a story is good, then it doesn’t matter how many days or even months it takes for me to read it. On the contrary, I’ll treasure every minute, and once I finish the book I’ll feel sad, empty even, as if I have just lost a good friend.

As for movies, I don’t mind them being long either. I don’t care what genre it is. If it’s a good story, then I love following the adventures of the characters. I deeply enjoy having time to get to know them better and understand their motivations.

I loved those 2 hours and 45 minutes in the cinema today. For me, IT is one of the great story-telling treasures of our time, be that as a book, or as this latest movie adaptation in two parts.

As a conclusion and parting gift, let me give you a glimpse of an altogether different, long cinematic moment. Have you ever seen the cake scene in Once Upon A Time In America, by Enio Morricone? It’s my favorite movie scene of all time.
Here is the link on YouTube in case you are interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grJ_IQwtVWw&list=PLkWR4BBKR1pTbIvHI6EdrueQ753dAp04X&index=11&t=0s

Morricone takes 3 min and 36 seconds… an eternity, considering today’s rapid cuts and scene changes… to let us remember and re-live what it means to be a child. It is a deliciously long moment of pure poetry and magic.