Pipped to the Post.

It was a last minute affair: Kai had contacted me a couple of days ago, asking whether I could fill in at the Pub Quiz for two friends who were on holiday. Sure, no problem. I wasn’t aware, however, that I was quizzing with the current leaders of the local Pub Quiz League (meaning that so far, they have managed to keep another 24 teams at bay).

So whilst being crammed into the corner of the crowded Bohemé Boulette, I tried not to let the pressure get the better of me and dutifully shot out answers to the topics I was supposed to excel in (music, movies, trivia) while trying not to confuse the others too much when it came to topics I had no clue of (bird feathers, pests, African geography).

We were leading for most of the evening by about 1-2 points, but in the last round, our team suffered a bit of a blackout – we could answer some questions, but were completely stumped by others. Eventually, we lost by 0.5 points, but still managed to hold onto the top spot in the current championship. As I proved to be a valuable asset to the team (thanks to recognizing Amy Macdonald’s voice and the market value of Bastian Schweinsteiger), I was invited back for the next holiday breaks. Count me in, guys.

Sawdust.

It took me almost a year, but I finally managed to reduce my first pair of sticks to shreds. To quote Marcel (my drum instructor), “It is easy to distinguish the rock from the jazz drummer – the former looks like he has just finished his shift in a timber mill”.

Looking Beyond the Horizon.

In my Master courses and the advanced Bachelor courses, the underlying theme I torture my students with is “ethics”. When I realised a couple of years ago that our students were quite brilliant when it came to economic analyses, but often lacked the basic understanding of decent business conduct (much to my horror), I decided to make ethical practices – in research as well as in professional life – the topic of some of my courses. Students are now supposed to create a lesson based on an ethical dilemma and then pick a (sometimes unrelated) topic for their research paper. I usually leave them free reign in choosing said topic, as I believe that giving them such freedom means they go for something they are passionate about and therefore more involved in.

So over the last years, a very diverse set of research papers have been handed in; the papers were not always up to the academic standards I had hoped for, but their range in topics meant it was almost certainly an interesting read. I had the pleasure of marking, among others, the influence of James Brown on the Black Power Movement in the 1960s, the economic justifications of surrogate mothers in India, the de-manning trend on cargo ships in the European Union, the agricultural subsidies system and its consequences for German dairy farmers, the questionable trend to award major sport events to countries with a dubious human rights record, the problems of detecting plagiarism in programming assignments for IT students, the ‘greenwashing’ principles behind the latest H&M campaign, and the use of performance-enhancing substances in sports where sponsorship is only available to the top performers.

Reading those papers always reminds me that, as much as I may think I know what I am lecturing about, there are questions and perspectives which make me see things in a new light or tackle them in a different way. The value of these assignments for me is not just in the confirmation that students have understood the ethical concepts I was trying to convey, but also the realisation that concerning myself with sometimes very obscure topics helps to spark and form new ideas in my own mind.

North by Northwest.

‘Tis the season which sees me on the road again. As per usual for this time of the year, I am doing a company course for which I have to drive more kilometres in three months than I will do for the remaining nine months of the year taken together. The course also means that I have days with really long hours, starting way before dawn and coming home in the early to late evening.

However, there is one day when I actually drive home at about lunch time, and given the quite lovely winter weather we are having at the moment, it provides me with wonderful views of snow-covered trees lining the canal. And sometimes I just stop and have a quick walk along said canal, with the snow crunching below my feet, and the crisp air clearing my head from all the stress and tension these long days bring with them.

Bad Cop.

The new year started well: Fredi and Jasper came by for a 24 hour whirlwind visit. Their stay wasn’t as exhausting as I had it imagined to be; it was actually quite nice to have them around – playing with Jasper, talking to Fredi, cooking and eating together, having some glasses of Licor 43 and milk (Fredi and me, obviously).

The unexpected consequence of their visit, however, was the realisation that I might not be as motherly as I had thought: When playing a game with Fredi and Jasper, I realised that he was trying to cheat. He didn’t do it on purpose; he was just so excited that he did not wait when lifting a set of cards before we had turned ours over. This gave him an advantage in the game, so I gently told him to wait for 2 more seconds before flipping his cards. 3 minutes later, he was doing it again, so another quiet reminder from me. After 5 minutes, I told him that it was not ok to play the game that way. Fredi agreed with me, but it was too late: Jasper was visibly upset and demanded to finish the game without me, as I was “mean” to him (much to my amusement).

Jasper is generally a very kind and sensible boy, but like any child, he has his moments; Fredi usually tells him off, but she is very unassuming, almost aloof when doing so, so it takes some time before Jasper reacts. Now, I am certainly not a fan of being harsh to children, and I also believe that the quiet method works better than shouting. However, I was rather surprised at how annoyed I could get when Jasper did something I considered to be ‘unfair’ (and yes, I do realise that he is 5 years old and does not yet have a comprehensive grasp of the concept of fairness). It did not bother me that he was jumping on the sofa, running around the flat, being noisy, or overly jealous of me talking to his mum at times; but him not abiding by the ‘societal’ rules of fair play meant that Fredi and I inadvertently acted out the “good cop, bad cop” routine, with her being the calm, understanding part and me taking on the role as the spoil sport.

I actually did not mind being the strict one, even if it led to him refusing to play with me from time to time (as it left me, in turn, with more time to mark some papers). It was, however, rather interesting for me to realise that regardless of any maternal feelings I usually have towards children, I can get really persistent when somebody does not adhere to certain rules, at least when these rules try to foster just behaviour towards others. Turns out I am more of a bad cop than I thought.

Blessed Are the Hearts That Can Bend.

I often use the last day of the year to reflect on what was important in the last 12 months: What are the things I will remember? What kind of memories will bubble up when someone mentions the year 2016 to me? At the moment, only time can tell what events, feelings and people my brain deems relevant enough to tag and put on a shelf, where they will lead an inconspicuous existence, only to suddenly explode back to life at the most unlikely trigger. But I have the odd feeling that most of my memories from this year won’t be happy ones.

Looking back at 2016, I find it difficult to see many positive things; of course it was not all bad, and I have met some great people, did amazing things, felt happy and loved. And yet, the main topic of 2016 was apparently “saying goodbye”, as there are a couple of people who no longer take part in my life; some of them decided to leave or were taken, some I walked away from. I can’t really change the former, but the latter is something I have thought about for a good while this year.

I don’t really have any friendships that are older than 15 years (Robert and Neil being the sole exception). There aren’t many people out there who can claim that they have known me for 10 years or longer. I have realised this year that I seem to “shed” people after a while; in the last 20 years, there have been quite a few friendships and even family relations which crumpled after a couple of years. Occasionally there was a fallout, but mostly we were just drifting apart; things changed in a way that there was no longer some common ground to walk on. At least that’s how it felt like for me, as with the majority of these fading relationships, I was the one walking away.

Now, there is nothing unusual about people moving apart; a job change, a relocation, a new lifestyle, and suddenly you don’t have the time, the energy, or the resources to meet up with your old friends anymore. But it has dawned on me that I am “leaving” people without any of these things happening; even though my life stays (mostly) the same, I decide not to interact with them anymore. The problem is that I often do this without informing people about my decision; apparently, I am really good at ghosting (and when I say “really good”, it is not supposed to sound like an achievement): Without any further explanation, I don’t meet, call, write, or text people anymore who were really close to me.

In my defence, I should add that before my disappearing act, I had usually made it clear that there was something bothering me; I am fairly communicative, do reflect a lot on how I feel and why I feel that way, and I can express myself in a rational and calm way (or so others say). But while I like to think that I am a rather loyal person, it seems that my attachment to other people only goes so far. At some point, I just give up on them and on our relationship; the rational part of me, the one which is so great at dissecting my emotions, takes over and overrules any feelings I might still have for that person.

The weird thing is that I am actually an idealist when it comes to relationships: I do believe that love, in whatever form, can last forever, which is a bit rich coming from somebody who effectively disregards people as soon as I have reached the point of no return. I am very aware of how hypocrite my behaviour is, and I am not exactly proud of it. But when contemplating my conduct the other day, I came across a quote by Albert Camus which had me thinking: “Blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken”.

Initially, I thought that this was indeed a smart mantra to live by, but now I am not too sure if I actually want to have a “bendy” heart. My reaction to a lack of understanding and trust might not be a charming one, but it is one I have learned the hard way: For my heart was broken in the past, sometimes also thanks to my loyalty and idealism. The good news is, however, that it has also healed, and with the healing process, there was a learning curve. I still believe in love and friendship, but I know now how much my heart can take before I have to step in and protect it – by moving it out of the line of fire. If only I could learn to communicate that in a better way than by sealing myself off.

A Picture-Perfect Finish.

Juliane and I only see each other about once a year (which is a shame, as we get on so well), but when we do, it is always a cracker. She came by my place in the afternoon; I had texted her before and suggested we go for a walk, as the weather was outstandingly beautiful. Juliane replied that she had expected me to say this and already packed her gloves and a hat. Apparently, I am that predictable.

We walked around 8 km this afternoon, strolling down towards Lake Aa and then all around it. These 2.5 hours were mostly filled by Juliane bringing me up to speed with her life; when we returned to my flat, it was my turn, but not before we had ordered some Greek food. She left at about 10 pm, with me firmly promising to visit her in Mainz the next spring.

Juli and the Lake.

Walking ...

... and walking ...

... and walking ...

No filter. Seriously.