Sunday, June 29, 2008

The train has left the station

I gave notice on my apartment yesterday! It's starting to sink in that I'm actually going to be moving home soon. There was a bit of last minute excitement--I had originally intended to leave at the end of October, but when I looked at my rental contract I was reminded that I have one of the "standard" Swiss contracts which allows me to vacate my apartment on only 2 days in the year (1 Oct or 1 Mar). If I wanted to leave 1 Nov, I'm still legally obliged to cover the rent till 1 Mar, and would have to find an "after-renter" (nachmieter) to take over the lease. I was really worried about finding someone--the place I have is fairly small and kind of dumpy (hasn't been renovated since the 70s--most places are renovated at least every 10 years) and also the neighborhood isn't so great (noisy, lots of immigrants, very near the red light district).

I realized on Thursday that if I want to leave the flat on 1 Oct I had to send in my notice by Saturday, so I hurriedly cleared the idea with my boss (he's fine with me working from home, whichever continent home is on), painstakingly wrote out several termination notices in German (for the flat, the cable TV, internet, health insurance, and "personal* insurance", all of which require 3 months notice).

I'm surprised at the mix of emotions I feel, although I guess it isn't really surprising. I'm excited and terrified at the same time--I was practically hyperventilating on the way to the post office yesterday, although that was also partly due to the impending conversation in German required to send registered mail...

I've been looking forward to going home for so long, what if I get there and don't like it? I'm sure that I've changed since I moved here (I have lived 10% of my life in Switzerland, as a matter of fact), and the coming-home culture shock in some ways must be harder than the going-abroad culture shock: I'm supposed to know and like how things work at home, right? And I'd sort of forgotten about all the logistics of international moves. A couple weeks before I moved here, I had a routine appointment with my therapist at which I blurted out "I think I have an anxiety disorder!" She looked at me and said, "You're moving to another country. You should have anxiety!" At least I can laugh at my anxiety this time around!

Mostly, though, I'm just really excited!

*I have no idea what "personal insurance" is either, but I was told it's virtually mandatory and since it's 80 bucks a year, I just paid up rather than risk some looming fiasco. I think it covers the in between things--if I hit someone while driving a car, my car insurance would cover that. I guess if I hit someone with my hair-trigger umbrella and they got injured, it would be covered by this insurance?


Friday, June 13, 2008

That's Dr. Elf to you!

My defense went great this morning. I am HUGELY relieved it is all over and am off to fritter away the afternoon before a celebration dinner. Yippee!!!


Thursday, June 12, 2008


I'm reading a really interesting book called Cut From Whole Cloth by Richard Franke. It's an interesting hybrid of family history, biography, and fiction. The author traces his grandparents' immigration from Germany around the turn of the century and the family experience in later generations. He takes an interesting approach, though. After doing tons of research on his family through oral histories and looking at documents, he takes the facts of their lives and blends them with some creativity and the book literally reads like a novel. It's very well written, but I find myself having trouble maintaining suspension of disbelief--I keep thinking "how could he know what they were thinking", then have to remind myself that he's trying to capture the spirit of their experience.

I'm especially interested in immigrant experiences (being a temporary emigrant myself!), so this book caught my eye. What's really captured my attention while reading it, however, is how the many children in the first generation go about their professional lives. Because I've been struggling so much with my own path and what appear, in retrospect, to be such bad choices*, I'm fascinated by how other people make choices about what to do in their work life.

[*To be fair, my choices weren't really bad in the grander scheme of being able to learn from all experiences. It is true, however, that for the past 5 years I've been in job situations that really don't suit my personality or needs on a day-to-day level.]

The family patriarch started a tailoring business which expanded into dry cleaning (then brand new!) and all the kids (about 8!) in the family eventually wound up working there. What's interesting to me is how clear each person's function seemed. Things along the lines of "Suzy is good at math, so she'll do the books" or "Hank is a whiz with machines, he'll keep the machines running". Those with people skills did customer interfacing or sales. It was all just so clear and easy. But then I have to suspect I'm adding a real patina of nostalgia onto this, and of course I'm totally ignoring the fact that there weren't a lot of options for people (especially women).

It's true that fewer options to choose from does make a decision easier, but it also can leave a person feeling trapped or permanently underemployed. I certainly don't want to return to the days of "pick your career: teacher, nurse, or secretary", but I am struck by the general notion that more is not always better. I've found personally that I enjoy occasional periods without things because it makes me appreciate them that much more when I have them. I learned that lesson about fresh fruit after wintering at the south pole. That first orange I had when the station opened up after 8 months of complete isolation--I can't even describe what that was like it was so divine. To this day, when I'm in a funk I can just look at a banana or an apple and think, "hey, at least I can enjoy this luscious fresh fruit, totally on demand" and that bit of gratitude often lifts my mood.

I guess in a general way I'm speaking to the idea of Lent, or of voluntary simplicity. While these concepts seem obvious to me in regard to stuff, I'm also finding new application in the realm of ideas, and of how I choose to spend my time.

I just ironed my shirt and pants for my defense tomorrow. My grandma would be proud. Well, she'd be proud that I ironed at all, but maybe not so proud of the results! I iron in as many creases as I remove, but things still look better since the majority of the tiny wrinkles are gone!

I've been a bit, erm, hysterical this week, going from imagining I'll win the ETH medal to rewriting my resume in my head to cover my tracks here when I fail the exam. Heh. I've finally gotten my talk to a good place (after having lost my mojo for a few days--that was scary!). I'm normally a good speaker (loud, clear, funny, and extremely enthusiastic) so I was pretty disoriented when I couldn't seem to get my talk together last week. I have just 20 minutes to present 3 years of work--luckily I'm also one of the fastest talkers I know....


Sunday, June 08, 2008

Women on the ball

Here's another interesting billboard ad:

It seems to be related to the the UEFA08 European Soccer Championship which is being hosted here in Switzerland this month. My off-the-cuff translation of "Frauen an den Ball" was "women on the ball". Coupled with the image I interpreted that as meaning something along the lines of women are only allowed to be sporty if we're also extra-feminine (to counter our transgression against gender norms), or perhaps that the only role of women in football games is as a sex object since they clearly intend the double meaning of being "on the ball(s)".

But when I actually looked closer, I realized that "an" is being used in the accusative, which (in German) implies motion or movement from one place to another rather than fixed location, so the translation is closer to "women coming to the ball". It turns out if you go to the website advertised, you can download a brochure (pdf) which includes several similar images and a several page summary of the rules of soccer ("das kleine ABC der Fussballregeln" = "the small ABCs of football rules") apparently targeted towards women to bring them up to speed on the game so they can enjoy the games too. The intro text, which I can't entirely translate, discusses surprising your man with your knowledge of football so you can talk with him (rather than avoiding the topic as in years past). It certainly seems targeted towards enhancing his pleasure of the games by having an enthusiastic female at his side (rather than a party-pooper who doesn't care about the games).

I'm submitting this image to Sociological Images: Seeing is Believing. I really enjoy that blog because it's so thought provoking. It's like getting to take a sociology class, delivered right to me! I took a couple women's and labor studies classes in college, but always wanted to take more, so I really appreciate having resources like this!


Friday, June 06, 2008

The dark side

It's finally happened--I've gone over to the dark side.... of crochet!

I've been meaning to learn to crochet for ages but I was a little bit afraid to because there are so many cute crochet animal/toy patterns out there that I was worried that once I learned to crochet, they'd find my body buried under an avalanche of little wool bunnies and so forth! Ha ha!

But the "killer app" finally turned out to be this sunhat. My eyes are pretty sensitive to sunlight, but since giving up contacts (dry eyes), I haven't found a satisfactory sunglass solution (expensive mistakes aside). I have one sunhat that works pretty well, but it's a camping kind of hat and most of my friends cringe when I wear it in the city. I've been scoping out straw hats to buy, but then got the bug to make my own, and found this pattern. So I taught myself crochet, worked up this sad little square of sc about 10 times, and then jumped in and made this hat. I had to make it up twice in total, but in the end it came out perfect:

I made it with some AllHemp6 I had lying around, and was excited to discover that I can crochet with it. I found knitting with it killed my hands, but I adore the end result, so now I'm dreaming up all these crocheted hemp projects!

I've also been working on my EZ Bog Jacket, which I'm totally thrilled with. I'm using that Evilla artyarn I'd ordered to play around with. First I tried to make it into a vest of my own design, but once I got past the armhole and realized it was totally the wrong size, I ripped it and started this. I'm particularly enamored of the "racing stripe" possibilities, such as in this example.

I know, it doesn't look like much when it's all piled up in a blob... You can see the phoney seams (where it wants to fold on itself) and that I've cast on extra stitches to make the full length sleeves--so I'm about half done with it. I had knit up a ginormous gauge swatch, and guess what. It worked! Right before I cast on the extra sleeve stitches, I put the thing on a couple of needles and laid it out flat and it was exactly 44", the intended size. I was stunned, actually. I kept gauge for 800 square inches of knitting!!!

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Monday, June 02, 2008


I'm fairly large for a woman. I'm tall (5'9") and busty and am probably best described as "solid" rather than curvy. I've never been ashamed of how I look--sure there are the odd bits that I'm not thrilled about, but all in all it's a pretty decent package. The only time I ever feel bad about my body is right after I visit a doctor, where they inevitably harp on me about my weight. It's pretty tiresome, especially when they seem to miss the forest for the trees: I walk everywhere, I eat healthy foods, I have a quick (and awesome) smile and laugh, and an eager, playful approach to what I think is a well balanced life. In the grand scheme of things, I can't believe 20 extra pounds really matters. But doctors seem to make it their special mission to humiliate overweight people, and blame as many of our ailments on our weight as possible. It's like they had a whole class in med school about bullying techniques and diverting the attention from what really matters.

I've noticed a pattern in my Alexander Technique lessons, where my instructor will have been repeating a certain phrase or action for weeks (months!) and I have no idea why, and then suddenly, it clicks. One of her longest running expressions is about me having "enough space" around me. Sadly, it's one of the few that I haven't entirely been able to understand (which is surely why I'm still going!). I suspect that my habit is to kind of withdraw my limbs and head into my body as much as possible, which is a tense way to hold and move my body.

It's a strange comment for me to hear, because, of all the flaws I might have, overdoing self restraint in limb movement has never been at the top of the list. I'm one of those eager, clumsy puppy types, arms and legs flying all over, knocking things off walls and tables, hitting strangers in the head on the street, and making shop clerks very nervous. I've always sat with my legs sprawled out, knees wide and ankles flung out, often an arm draped over the next seat if it's empty. All my friends know that when I arrive anywhere I sort of take over the place--bags and hats and coats distributed across all surfaces, inching into their space.

And yet, somehow, this other me has edged in, one who needs to be told to take up my allotted space. I think some of this may be my (possibly misguided) attempt to "grow up" and toe the party line in terms of "how adults behave". Moving to Switzerland has surely made that worse--in an attempt to fit in and not be the big loud American, I've felt myself getting more stiff, trying to control my movements and those damn limbs! My first year here I tried to dress "European" (leather shoes, blouses and slacks), and I even kept my hair all bound up in Pippi Longstocking braids. Talk about symbolic. At some point, though, an acquaintance mentioned that I even "walk like an American", at which point I realized the jig was up. There was no pretending I fit in, and I have since reverted to wearing sneakers and a lot of t-shirts, and I let my crazy hair fly loose. Even in the US I'm a bit eccentric, but it's OK to be eccentric in the US. I'm looking forward to not feeling like a freak of nature every time I step out of my house, of letting my loud voice boom away at it's natural, unrestrained volume, and letting my crazy-fun personality flourish the way I used to.

The other "space" that I have not been fully using is my contribution to groups, especially meetings at work. I've always been the type to speak up and express my opinion or ask questions, but I've really struggled with that lately. After I read Why So Slow by Virginia Valian , I realized that when it seemed like my input at meetings was repeatedly being ignored, that feeling isn't all in my head. And the wind just went out of my sails. Valian talks about how continuing to speak up in group situations and being ignored can actually be ultimately damaging to a woman for a couple of reasons: one is that all her colleagues repeatedly see her speak up and then be ignored, which harms her reptuation, and the second is that it's damaging to self esteem. And it's true--no matter how many times I tell myself it's them and not me, it still hurts when I'm ignored, and I find it ultimately less painful to just keep my mouth shut. I'm pretty disappointed about this (both that I'm in such a situation and that I don't seem to have the energy to fight this battle right now), and it's another thing I hope to work on in the future.

I've certainly consumed more than my share of adventure-space, leading a lot of people to tell me I must be really brave. I'm not sure brave is the right word--it's more like I have no idea what I'm getting into, and I perpetually think, how bad can it be? I'm pretty proud of myself for this: acting despite my fears, pursuing my life-long dreams, and biting off more than I could chew a time or two. But I've always survived, and I have a raft of great stories to tell, and I like knowing that I can try my hand at anything that takes my fancy. I hear so many women undercut themselves before even trying something new, even something small like knitting a more complicated pattern than they've ever tried before, and it's so sad. It's not like someone will die if the sweater sleeves come out the wrong size! I think my freedom from self-limiting beliefs is one of the things I treasure most about who I am because it means that anything is possible in my life.

For the June, 2008 Scientiae.

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