“we took the u-bahn to the eastside gallery”

writing on the wallI’m thinking a lot about Berlin again for the first time since coming home from my visit last year.  Did I not tell you what happened last year?  Oh.  When I got back from spending ten days in Europe with a friend, the first thing I did was get sick.  Berlin was the last stop on our trip, so since I was still thinking about it while recovering on my couch, I ended up reading lots of Wikipedia articles about Germany.

Among other things, I read about the Reichstag fire, the rise of Nazism, Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler, Eichmann, Anne Frank, the building of the Berlin Wall, life in East Berlin, reunification, and everything I could about WWII-related monuments in Germany.  By the way, when someone calls or emails to ask how you’re doing, don’t say, “I’ve got a cold, so I’m laying on my couch reading about Hitler.”  People will worry about you.

At any rate, those topics were in fact very depressing, but I was also fascinated by the way that Germany has dealt with its own painful history.  Admirably, the country doesn’t shy away from talking about what happened, but it also doesn’t really go overboard with it either, at least not in a way that I found to be too overwrought.  The monuments and memorials I saw in Berlin seemed to be saying, “It’s not truly possible to forget or make up for things that happened, so we’ll just acknowledge it and remember.”

Of course, the fact that I’d just seen in person many of the locations I was reading about added some interest as well.

My cold went away and I went back to work and stopped reading about atrocities.* But now the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall has me thinking about it again.  Here are some great photo essays I’ve found:

The Big Picture: The Berlin Wall, 20 years gone (photos then and now)

NY Times: A Division Through Time (past/present photos taken at the same angle)

The Guardian: Then and Now (more past/present photos at the same angle)

Germany 1978-9: Berlin (old photos I found via Metafilter)

there it is, the wallSince I’ve gotten to the point where Wikipedia articles and their associated links aren’t enough information for me, I’ve asked Metafilter (asked Ask Metafilter? Anyhow) to help me find a good place to start.  Since I can count on two hands the number of real nonfiction books I’ve read,** I’m hoping for something thorough but not too dry, in-depth but not too insurmountable.

But here’s the thing. Nothing I read is going to compare to standing there in the exact spot where important events took place.  I know that’s an obvious point to make, but look: Oscar Wilde’s arrest is more interesting because I’ve seen the hotel where it happenedThe Michael Jackson baby-dangling incident is more interesting because I’ve seen the hotel where THAT happened.  I don’t know about all the interesting things that happened in Ecuador, but hey, I might have seen where they happened.

Thinking about German history has given me the travel bug again. My sister likes to travel a lot, too, and one time I heard my dad say, “Gosh, I don’t know where the two of you got such wanderlust.”

I laughed in his face. ARE YOU KIDDING ME, DAD? I said. My dad, who would bring us currency samples*** and gifts and stories every time he left the country on business; my dad and mom, who for awhile took us to a new US state every other summer; my dad and mom, who counted among their friends a couple who went abroad every single year–to Russia, Australia, Peru, Europe, you name it–and brought us gifts and slideshows and stories every time; has no idea what makes his daughters want to travel.

He and my mom also, after taking us to Astros games on Sundays and watching them on TV with me every evening in the summers, wonder why I like baseball.  Hey, I can’t help that I got parented properly.

The sad thing is that while my states-I’ve-been-to map looks like this:

states I've visited

my countries-I’ve-been-to map still looks like this:

countries I've visited

I went to three places I’ve never been in Europe last year, so next year I think I’m going to go somewhere else I’ve never been. It’d be nice to leave the country every single year, but I’m not a gazillionaire nor do I have any sponsors, so every other year will have to do.   Which is too bad, because I’m rarely as happy as when I’m traveling.

So, who wants to ride the entire length of the Trans-Siberian Railway with me??!?!?!?

*Mostly. I went through a period a few months later where I was reading lots about Ted Kaczynski and McVeigh and Jeffrey Dahmer and such.  What?

**Most notably Our Guys by Bernard Lefkowitz and William Faulkner: The Man and the Artist by Stephen B. Oates. And by real non-fiction I mean non-Sedaris, because he doesn’t count.

***I still have a little zipper bag full of 80’s money from all sorts of countries.

the end of self-flagellation?

When I first started seeing my current therapist last year, he told me that part of my problem was that I thought I was SUPPOSED TO do too many things.  There are, of course, things that one really IS supposed to do, like eat and sleep, pay the bills, feed the dog, etc.  Those items were getting accomplished, but I was also thinking about all the other SUPPOSED TO things.  When I came home from work in the evening, I was doing the same stuff other people do–eating dinner, checking the internet, reading, watching tv–but in the back of my head was this flashing, scrolling marquee that read, “I’m supposed to be writing! I’m supposed to be posting to my website! I’m supposed to be doing something productive!” Half the time I didn’t even have anything in mind for the “something productive,” but it really bothered me that I wasn’t doing it, whatever it was.

At the height of the SUPPOSED-TOs, I wasn’t enjoying anything I was doing, because whatever I did paled in comparison to some nebulous task I should have been accomplishing instead.

Last night I got home from work at 6, hot and tired from my commute. My evening plans had fallen through, so I had some ideas about other tasks–putting hooks in the bathroom for swimsuits and extra towels, moving the folding chairs to make room for the vacuum cleaner, straightening up the living room, and so forth.

But then I decided to finish watching the episode of True Blood* I’d started on Tuesday, so I got in bed with the dog and my computer** and watched it. Then I didn’t want to get up because I was comfortable, so I put on a South Park episode, and then I fell asleep.  When I woke up at 10, I took the dog out, called my boyfriend, read a little, and ate some grapes while watching another South Park. Then I fell asleep again.

And I didn’t feel guilty about it at all.  The scrolling marquee in the back of my head hasn’t disappeared, but it’s off a lot of the time these days. I can come home and watch TV and fall asleep on the bed, and when I wake up three hours later, instead of thinking “OH MY GOD I DIDN’T GET ANYTHING DONE!” I think, “Gosh, I must have needed that.”

In part I have therapy to credit for this, but I think I’ve also come to terms with what it means to suffer from chronic (albeit well-treated) depression and anxiety.  To keep myself on an even keel, I need to get enough sleep. I need to leave the house every day. I need to eat right and try to exercise. And sometimes I need to turn myself off and do absolutely nothing. If that means I get fewer things done than other people do, that’s okay. Those other people aren’t me.

And I’m getting pretty good at recognizing when I need to turn myself off.  Having my brain is pretty stressful most of the time: I overthink everything, I’m always planning and planning and worrying about worst-case scenarios, and I almost never truly relax.  A brain like that can’t keep going without a little rest, and whether that rest is sleep or just spending an evening doing nothing at all doesn’t seem to matter.

I’m off work all next week, and for awhile I thought I wanted to take a trip somewhere. Why waste my week off staying at home and doing nothing? I thought. But look at this list of places I’ve been so far this year:

Fredericksburg, TX
Houston, TX
Bryan, OH
Long Island, NY
Des Moines, IA

I’m planning a trip to New Orleans this month and a trip to Minnesota for a wedding in September and a trip to St. Louis for Christmas probably, and who knows where else I’ll go. When I thought about that, staying in Austin started to sound pretty good. I can read and sew and do stuff to my apartment, I can go swimming a LOT, I can take day trips to San Antonio and the Guadalupe.

Or if I want, I can do nothing at all.

*This show is not good. But I’m invested in the plot for the time being, so I watch it anyway.

**When I go to work in the mornings, I leave the bedroom A/C on and the living room A/C off, since the former has a thermostat and runs more efficiently.  I turn on the living-room unit when I get home, and then hang out in the bedroom until the living room cools down.  This makes for a lot of watching DVDs and such on my computer after work.

my year in cities 2008

Is it too late in 2009 to do my year in cities 2008?  I don’t care.  I’m bored, my allergies are acting up, the ill-advised wedge of fancy cheese I had for dinner isn’t sitting right, and so I’d rather think about all the places I went than where I am right now.  Star denotes places I visited more than once:

Houston, TX *
Falfurrias, TX
Dallas, TX
St. Louis, MO*
Chicago, IL
Llano, TX