What's New: Edition 2023-11-20

Reflecting on loneliness, travel, and politics.

In this post:

I have traveled an absurd amount this year. I’ve hardly had a month in any given place, and I’ve been all over Europe, mostly for work. A lot of that travel comes on relatively short notice, and this week I found myself on the road again. But I don’t mind. It’s the consultant life. There’s a charm to it. You get used to being a foreigner.

I was talking recently with a friend about living overseas. Being an expat becomes an identity, you develop a sense of home even away from home. I find myself more comfortable sometimes in a new country where I don’t speak the language than I do in another state back in the US. Maybe it’s because expats^1 all have this same sense of shared experience, that we all have the struggles of being somewhere where we don’t really quite fit in.

I grew up in Connecticut and never really traveled much when I was younger. It made me restless and ready to leave home. I dreamed of traveling Europe, of going to California, of experiencing the big cities in all of the vibrance and violence and verve. I don’t speak a lick of Dutch, yet Amsterdam feels more familiar than Parsippany, New Jersey. I come back often to my favorite poem, Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses, but not the verse everyone knows; no. It’s the story that matters to me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

That’s still true. And hence I tap out this life update with my suitcase readied for the next trip already.

Life updates

This weekend was great because I got to have dinner with three of my favorite co-workers. We so seldom have the time to get together and when we do we can gripe about work, talk about the tech industry, and just cherish the too-few moments we get to spend together. Of course, a cost of all this travel and socializing is I ended up this weekend with a minor cold. Not COVID, nothing major. More annoying than painful, but I’ll make sure to take a mask or three along on my next trip.

What I’m reading

The Guardian had a great long-form piece this weekend about the nitrogen wars in the Netherlands. Sensible environmental controls were enacted to reduce the country’s nitrogen emissions, which were causing a chain of effects that were damaging the ecosystem around the country. Of course, the Dutch far-right seized this as an opportunity to capitalize on farmers' legitimate fears, claiming that the government wanted to create a “civil war” and mustering protests across the nation, which were celebrated by the global far right. It’s a great read and you should take the time to read it.

My travel companion will be Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. It’s a novel of manners which is precisely the kind of book I find excruciatingly boring, simply because I do not care. It all seems pointless. But then, that is the whole social commentary of the book. I’m about a quarter of the way through and Lucy, the main character, who is unmarried and without income, has just lost $300 at bridge, an equivalent today of around $10,500. I know the book will be about her downfall. I am having trouble conjuring the sympathy.

Besides that, I’m progressing steadily through both The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 1804-2012 and The Expanse: Caliban’s War.

What I’m listening to

Bear’s Den released a new album, which is actually the marriage of two EPs, First Loves & White Magnolias. The songs here are mournful; the aptly titled track “Loneliness” earned my earworm spot for the week. Andrew Davie sings of a genuine solitude, one which I understand. I’ve been a lonely person for a long time. I think it’s why I’ve made it five years in Berlin, five years away from my wife.

The thing about loneliness is that it can’t be solved by companionship. It’s a deeper sense of loss, a foundational yearning for someone to understand you, to understand how and why you see the world as you do. Loneliness can’t be cured until someone cares enough to reach into your soul and to feel the pain you feel. But it’s hard to let someone in because people inevitably fail, leaving you emptier than you were before. Loneliness isn’t the lack of love, it’s the apposition of love and the dreams of the person you could have been. Loneliness is a perpetual grief over the death of all the futures from your past.

You wanna know what it is? Love taught me what loneliness is
It taught me how to forgive what no one should make you
Ever really have to forgive, and we all fall behind from time to time
And say, “I thought that I was over all of this”

Art and culture

This weekend I got out to the Altes Museum. They’ve got a great collection of ancient Greek and Roman (as well as Mycenean and Etruscan) pottery, art, and statues, much of it in incredibly well-preserved condition. Some of it should probably be given back, but that’s later on the woke agenda.

An intricately carved sarcophagus

Speaking of woke agendas, I went with a couple friends to the gay Christmas market at Nollendorfplatz. It was small and there were very loud and obnoxious drunk older men, but beyond that it was good to see a little queering of the Weihnachtsmarkt scene. It was the christmas club music that really sealed the deal for me.

Rainbow lights under a train bridge, with Christmas market huts lining the sides and a large crowd packing the area

Travel and exploration

I spent a few days in The Hague, but not for the reasons many of my haters hoped. Now I am off again, this time for a conference. I’ll spend four days at the conference, serving as MC for one of those days, and I’ll get to visit two new-to-me countries on this trip! That will bring my new country total this year to 12. I am tired. But I cannot rest from travel.

What I’m learning

After a little bit of cheating with Duolingo by filling out my streak with the (exceptionally weak) music and math courses, I’m back to Romanian. I’m super frustrated with this course. I’ve been at this for months and have learned hardly anything. I feel like I could learn all the grammar rules that I’ve encountered so far in about 20 minutes with a proper book. But the owl lurks, ever watching…

I’m continuing my online German studies. This weekend I had a nice solo class with a teacher. We had a lovely discussion about politics, fascism, and history, all in German. My German is much more fluent when I talk about things I care about, rather than trying to contrive a sentence on the spot that uses the word “mutmaßlich” in a sentence.

What I’m playing

I’ve been playing Modern Warfare III still, but this weekend I tried to go to Saturn to get a hard drive for my PS5, which has comically small storage. But after waiting for 20 minutes for a clerk to open the case, and speaking to three separate employees, I gave up and left. I’ll order one online next week when I’m back home. That’s irritating.

My dent in the universe

I don’t know that I made the world better this week. But I am pretty sure I didn’t make it any worse. I’ll take it.

Posted: 20.11.2023

Built: 14.07.2024

Updated: 20.11.2023

Hash: 1d321af

Words: 1485

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes