25 June 2010

Work is a four letter word

In recent history I’ve been fortunate enough to spend some time on the rolls of the unemployed. A state of being I hope to pull off for as long as humanly possible. For someone of my lazy nature, long term unemployment is a balancing act, a combination of challenges and skills. The goal? Enjoy life to the fullest while combating sloth. And as is true for all of life’s finer things, to impress those that know you.

Working on the assumption that you’ve figured out the financial tangle and are living low cost, I have a few words of advice should anyone find themselves in similar shoes.

Tasks and chores must be parceled out carefully. No sense getting them all done in one day and running the risk of feeling useless the rest of the week. If you must get a haircut, go to the post office, shop for groceries and clean the apartment - that’s four full days for you! This way you continue to feel that you are leading a busy, successful and worthy life.

Other recommended activities are on a strictly voluntary basis but the more you do the better you will feel. And the more you will have to tell people about, which is an important consideration when unemployed. Without a boss, a job or a schedule to bitch about, your friends will only want to hear positive things from you. You are the envy of them all and if you don’t play to that, then you are not only dumb, but you are killing their dream of one day being like you.

When the weather allows, get a bit of nature. Surely your city has at least one lovely park? A grassy path next to a canal? An oceanfront? Reading a book or taking a nap in the sun is high on the list of desirable ways to pass the time. Actually any time you can take advantage of parks is a good thing, just try not to sound too smug when you let your friends know how you are putting their tax dollars to work.

Explore neighborhoods! Artsy, business, gay, wealthy, ethnic…they all have something to contribute to the keen observer. Consider sidewalk cafés a gift. People watching is one of the oldest and most satisfying of pastimes.

The art of unemployment requires not only positive action but avoidance of pitfalls. Be careful not to slip into the tar pit of television.

This is not to say you can not indulge your penchant for Charmed reruns or worship at the shrine of Oprah but keep other activities in the forefront. Try watching a bit of news first thing in the morning. This will increase your knowledge of the world at large, make you feel a vital part of it and give you conversation fodder. You don’t want to meet a friend for coffee and have nothing to add to the conversation but two hours worth of Frasier episodes.

Speaking of conversation - it’s vital that you have a varied list of tasks, accomplishments and topics you can put forth. When people ask what’s new with you and you answer “Laid around all day, unwashed and in my pyjamas watching a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine marathon on the Sci-Fi channel” I can assure you the invitations will dry up fast. Always have a supply of meaningful ‘work.’

“I’ve been working on my music.” You needn’t have a shred of musical talent to make that statement work. This is a perfectly acceptable blurring of the truth. You may mean you’ve been making a lot of play lists on itunes, but worded vaguely enough it can be interpreted as actually creating something genuine. It helps if you can have a visible instrument in your apartment for others to see. A guitar is an easy enough thing to casually let lie around.

But if budget dictates, a harmonica will suffice. If you have a Mac you can always pat it and affectionately refer to it as “my personal recording studio.” If you have a voice then use it at the occasional Karaoke bar.

Similarly “working on my art” is easy and cheap enough to set up props for, though this gets a little dangerous because without any actual works, either in progress or completed, people will not buy this line for long.

“Working on my writing” might be the easiest of all. Any idiot can start a blog.

Unless you left your last place of employment screaming “Kiss my ass Mr. Walsh!!” try to stay in somewhat regular touch with your old job, especially whoever took over your responsibilities. This provides the kernel of truth to the statement you can give enquiring minds “I am doing a bit of consulting for my last employer.”

And now some practical advice that just may save you from despair. Try not to sleep all day every day.
Wake up early at least three days a week - it’s good to keep the body’s scheduling secretary guessing. Take a shower, whether you need it or not. Make sure you leave the house each day, even if only to check the mail. Whenever possible open the windows to let some fresh air in.

And finally, meet your working friends as often as possible. This will make you feel normal. Lunch dates, having coffee and happy hour are all good places to take the pulse of the working crowd, find out what’s the hot water-cooler topic. It’s also important to keep this most unpleasant reality tucked into the corner of your mind: you may need one of these folks to get you a job one day. Unless of course, you can make some money with your art.


23 June 2010

By any other name...

The roses...

...at the Volksgarten...

...across from Rathausplatz...

...on the Burgring...




...Western Hemisphere...

...planet earth...

...the solar system...

...the universe.


p.s. It's a long way from Grover's Corners

18 June 2010

Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well...

It's possible that the following violates several copyright laws but that's certainly not the spirit I post a facsimile of this dark, weird and wonderful little book. I've been a fan of Edward Gorey for years and have purchased more than my fair share of his books, both for myself and others. If I had the opportunity to buy this one right now in a local bookstore, I would. My intent is simply to share something I love and hope that it tickles you as much as it does me. With any luck, I'll have created another Gorey fan or two by the end of this post. Enjoy.


16 June 2010

Ich Spreche Deutsch

I am living in Austria nearly a year now and haven’t progressed very far learning my German. I’m not too bad at restaurants. I can order a small glass of wine, a large glass of wine, or a bottle of wine in German. So I’ve got the basics covered. I won’t DIE due to my lack of language skills, at least not right away. Though if I stay here long enough liver failure might become a problem. But surely by that time I’ll have at least mastered a few more language tricks.

Ich spreche Deutsch. Which technically is not entirely true. Ich lerne Deutsch. Slightly more true, but still a bit of a stretch. Ich lerne Deutsch langsam (I learn German slowly.) Getting closer to the truth here. Still, that sentence implies that I am adding to my German language skills bit by bit, which in turn implies I am working at it more than I am and from that you might infer I am simply too dense to absorb my lessons. Well, that last part is true anyway. I am not even sure if Ich lerne Deutsch is grammatically correct.

When I really want to impress I bring out the big guns. Entschuldigung, mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut. Which means Pardon me, my German is not very good. I say that so often that it is in the running, along with “I’d like a large glass of red wine, please” as my best German phrase.

When out and about on my own I try to do some mental exercises to hone my skills. But I usually can’t remember anything from my lessons. So I end up counting to myself in German.

Hey, it’s better than nothing.

The hitch is that I invariably end up counting out loud. And so I am the weird woman standing on the subway platform counting. I have become that unhinged lady that people shy away from; people glance at me nervously from the corners of their eyes as they edge in the opposite direction. Yeah, I have become THAT person.

The good thing about it is that almost nobody approaches and starts speaking German to me. Which is something you start to live in fear of when you are living in a foreign country and don’t speak the language. I am sure they are saying the simplest of statements like, “what time does the bus come?” Or “what lovely weather we are having!” Or “watch out for that unstable person mumbling to herself.” But when each of my inter-personal transactions is fretted over, practiced and planned for, when escape routes are navigated and pages dog-eared in my English to German dictionary…when all that is done before going out to pay my phone bill “what lovely weather we are having” is enough to send my spinning into a panic.

So now I just count out loud and sometimes even sway a little. If people assume I’m disturbed I might as well play along.

Just remember, if you pass a crazy person counting to herself at a bus stop don’t automatically assume she is deranged. She might just be learning the language.


13 June 2010

When you gotta go, you gotta go

Ladies' room, mens' room - okay, I got that one.

Handicap bathroom - yup, that's perfectly clear

Punch your baby in the stomach room?

10 June 2010

Welcome to the Arnold Inn

In the history of me not living in NY, I've had a lot of guests. And I love them all. I love the ones that arrive kids in tow (early to bed and early to rise!) giving The Hub and I the chance to show off our Aunting and Uncling skills. I also love the ones that just wanna drink and smoke cigarettes all night - appealing to my inner rock star.

I'm keen on the people that arrive with an agenda in hand and a list of sites to see and I admire the ones that aren't 100% sure what city they are visiting.

I value guests that express an explicit preference when offered a choice as much as I value the ones who trust us to show them a good time.

I adore the ones who find my current city of residence a fascinating place and want to know all the details of its history, its culture, its flora and fauna and I embrace the ones who just want to sit in the sun all day with a few crosswords, a cool drink and the promise of a decent restaurant later in the evening.

If I could be a professional hostess without investing the time or money it takes to actually be successful at it, I would in a heartbeat. I love guests. Plain and simple.

Which is good, because between me and The Hub, we invite everybody from god to his grandmother to stay with us. The nice thing is that each and every invitation is issued with the most genuine sincerity. It's true, people. To all my former and future guests - we WANT you here, honest.

And we've had all sorts. Our oldest friends, people I had never met before, family members, work colleagues, folks I had merely a passing acquaintance with....they've all come through our door. In Florida ours was always the party house. In Dublin there were so many random lacrosse related people staying at our apartment we dubbed the place a "Lacrostel."

One of my favorite things about having guests is that you get to experience your hometown anew each time; see it through fresh eyes, explore a here-to-for unexplored corner, gain a novel appreciation, build new memories atop the old ones.

The guests you don't know at all, or don't know well, can be the most interesting. I won't pretend that I haven't experienced a moment's pause now and then, a twinge of doubt as someone planned a trip and I thought "I don't really know this person."

What kind of visitor will they be? Will we get along? Do they realize we.... have three cats? don't go to church? smoke cigarettes? store lacrosse gear in our guest bedroom? and so on and so forth.

But you know what? We haven't had a visitor horror story yet - no one has ever been less than gracious and I feel gratitude to the universe for putting each and every one of them in my path, whether just for a night or for a full fledged holiday. Maybe they simply crashed on our couch, shared a morning cup of coffee with us and then did their own thing. Or maybe we played tour guides on speed and never gave them a moment's peace. It's all good.

So it was with this open mind and heart (and maybe just a little bit of that aforementioned twinge of doubt) that I looked forward to Sean & Nancy visiting. Nancy is an old high school friend of The Hub, and she and I had hung out a few times approximately one thousand years ago. Sean was a complete stranger to me, though I think Chris had met him once. At any rate, Sean & Nancy met us in Dublin for the big birthday extravaganza and then returned to Vienna with us for another week's worth of planned Euro-bliss.

Thanks to Facebook it didn't feel quite like strangers were coming to visit - but it wasn't too far from it. My inner Worrying Wanda whispered "Do they realize they'll be sleeping on a futon in the living room? Will they get tired from all the walking? Do they know Chris has to work while they are visiting? Oh god - is our weirdo toilet going to make it awkward?"

I gave Wanda a slap upside the head to shut her up and looked forward to getting to know our next visitors.

Well, people.....lemme just say....what a joy and pleasure to have confirmed what I'd already suspected through the magic of the internet. I'd be hard pressed to find another couple so thoroughly like-minded to us. They are a pair of funny, intelligent, silly-in-love, chilled out goof-balls and they made it more than easy for us to to play host.

We shared a ton of laughs and ended the week with a few catch phrases and at least two theme songs - a sure sign of good times. We nearly fell all over each other agreeing on liberal politics, parenting techniques and the beauty of a simplified life.

We exchanged ideas and agreed with each other some more about today's rampant consumerism, good beer & good wine, the sad lack of vegetables in Austrian cuisine, tattoos and the pleasures of sitting out rain storms under café canopies (with full glasses of good beer and good wine, of course.)

Sean & Nancy mixed well with others, were game for anything (Gogol Bordello!!), washed the dishes at my apartment more than once, never complained, liked sleeping in (on?) a Boatel in Bratislava and never stop cracking jokes. And if I could think of a more ringing endorsement for having this pair as guests, I'd be typing it right now.

So you crazy kids - come back anytime. You will always be welcome to visit no matter where we live (and I promise to warn you in advance if you'll be sleeping on a blow-up mattress on the floor with our nine cats and a sack of lacrosse balls as a pillow and using an outhouse to pee.)