On Layovers, Holidays, and New Years


View from a plane.

As I write this, I am sitting in a Holiday Inn in a small town in Germany somewhere in-between Munich and the München Airport in Bavaria. I missed a connecting flight but I have free Wi-Fi, food, accommodation, and I haven’t missed seeing my family for the holidays. I think it’s what I needed to clear my head before I go home, and it’s given me a time to ready myself for the holidays, to put on some warm socks, drink a few free cappuccinos, and go for a long walk in the dark down the back roads of a country I’ve never lived in. That walk gave me some clarity and got me thinking about the last year, about the last four months and their place in my life.

I want to begin to make this point by talking about this blog. Blogging – or just writing more regularly I suppose – has been an interesting exercise for me because it’s given me the opportunity to clear my head the last several months. I like that I’ve been able to relate my thoughts to friends and family in a way they might not get otherwise, but mainly I’m doing it for myself. It’s something I’ve needed as I’ve transitioned into living in a new place, and I think more people need this kind of outlet no matter their circumstances. This is of course obvious wisdom, but wisdom that we nevertheless forget, ignore, or fail to put into practice. A lot of people write or journal or blog, and a lot of it doesn’t mean that much. But writing can reconnect you to yourself and your life and give it a continuity, so I’m glad to force myself to do that every now and then, even if I don’t publish it.

In my estimation, the point about continuity is important because it goes not only for writing but for life itself. Think about some of the best moments you’ve had. (Done?) They’re likely small, random flashes of connection that make little sense on their own, but which surprise you and make you feel connected to some sort of a larger whole. You can plan them but it’s difficult, and the chances for failure are high if you do so. Exercise. Meditation. Coffee. Good friends. Quietude. Weird moments of transcendence. Music. Hygge. (Am I Danish yet?!) These are all areas where maybe one out of ten times – if you’re lucky – you get to step outside and feel a continuity with your own life or with the universe. I had one of those moments tonight while I was walking and looking at all the Christmas lights on random German homes. And it got me thinking about the holidays and the way they make us think about our own lives.


Holidays are a great framework to understand this idea of continuity because they are rooted in historicized mythologies of our own lives. Holidays are occasions where we find stories, distill those stories into manageable chunks, and then use the luxury of retrospect to relate them to ourselves and others. In other words, we tell stories, and in doing so we tell some lies but also learn more truths. In this way, the experience or understanding of our own life becomes as important as the lived aspect of it. I relate this to the idea of continuity because it helps to define the spirituality I have, which is a spirituality of moments we feel in connection to a larger whole, even if that whole is imagined. I think we need holidays because, unlike a lot of other traditions, they force us to think of our life more in waves and see the bigger picture. (Which I have trying to do a lot of lately.)

There’s a phrase I came up with a couple weeks ago on a long bike ride in Copenhagen which seems appropriate for the idea of continuity. That is that one of the best qualities of holidays for me is their ability to make you nostalgic for a life you are not necessarily sure you have lived. We don’t think of our lives in historical terms, at least not in the day-to-day, but we should because it helps save is from going crazy. Holidays even more so than other forms of tradition force us to take a step back and think of our lives in those historical terms, providing continuity to our year. The only way we are going to do that, though, is if we purposefully or unconsciously omit details to think of life as the sum of parts rather than the experience of the parts themselves.

I think about this and the holidays as I’m traveling home because I think this holiday type of thinking and understanding is core to my understanding of who I am more than I think it is for other people. It’s how I try to think about the world in moments where I’m down on myself. In this way, I’d say my life as it now is no more defined in the lived sense than it was four months ago, but is clearer in the experienced sense. There’s so many things I’ve gotten ‘wrong’ in my life, and things that this year didn’t solve. I don’t have a girlfriend, I worry about the same things in a different country, I lapse into the same behaviors that I find annoying or problematic, I still get way too angry at people taking their time when I need to be somewhere, I’m impatient, I use sarcasm that other people don’t understand. I mean well, but living in a new place didn’t change any of that, it never does. But it’s important to remember. This year I hope to practice patience, to give myself more credit, to spend my first full year away from home and be okay with it, to save money, to take a step back and breathe, to make less judgements, to let loose more – and hopefully I’ll do even more living moment to moment than experiencing the larger whole.


Looking forward to getting real Dunks back home.

I know going home is going to make me doubt some of that, because of memories of my life so far that are both positive and uncomfortable. I can’t break the sense that leaving home hasn’t been as difficult for me as it was for some because the life I’m leaving behind isn’t as fully formed as it is for some people. But the life I’m living now after four months in a new country isn’t either, and I don’t know what that means. So, for now I’m choosing the experience of my last year and especially of the last four months over the living of it, because there seems to be a large gap between what I feel has changed and what has actually changed. But I can’t deny that I’m changing in some ways even though many will still see me as the exact same person. In other words, this year there have been a lot more flashes of continuity than years before, moments where it all made sense even though the whole doesn’t always make sense. I wish I could put into more concrete terms than that, but it’s difficult, and that’s what I’m feeling on this cold night in Germany as I wait to head home.

See you next year.*

* In more topical news, the new Star Wars movie is fantastic, I’m enjoying The Crown, I’m grateful for my new friends (any ‘Cucumbers’ reading this?), I’m still tired despite winding down for the year, I think I’ll pass my Global Business exam, I’m a little worried about money because of a shitty landlord and the American educational system, my neck really hurts, and I’m nervous about running out of things to do while I’m home.

On Thanksgiving and Life as Usual

“Thanksgiving: celebrating the day Americans fed undocumented aliens from Europe.”

Thanksgiving was never my favorite holiday – that falls to Christmas – but it is the most uniquely American one and one that I have a huge range of memories about. Memories like the time we went my grandmother’s house as a child and she made a ham instead of a turkey (blasphemy!), the time my stepmother used instant gravy that turned into silly putty in the saucepan (and God knows what in our stomachs), or the first time I cooked and carved a turkey on my own. Maybe it’s just the fact that I grew up in Massachusetts, but Thanksgiving has never been a time to bicker about politics and religion over mashed potatoes. It’s always been a time to slow down – a reminder of the good in both halves of my family – and I’m always happy to carry that tradition with me wherever I go.

My first Thanksgiving away from home was last year, when I went on exchange to Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland for the semester. Given the international nature of the house I lived in (everybody but a few were on Erasmus or exchange), it easily lent itself to a Thanksgiving. We did a traditional Thanksgiving, with all the sides and dishes that you would expect. I liked that, but this year I thought it would be fun to do something different, and instead I chose to host a sort of Thanksgiving potluck. This year the audience was friends and people from my class. While I was honestly a little worried, it turned out great. I’d never hosted a potluck, let alone one for Thanksgiving, so I was worried that either not enough people would show up or there wouldn’t be enough food to go around.

The bird.

The bird.

In the end, we had over forty people and – surprisingly enough – the majority of them brought something substantive to eat, not just chips or something like that. I encouraged people to make stuff from whatever country they came from, and while we didn’t end up with anything too crazy (with the exception of the Faroese dried fish that my sweater still smells like) there was some good diversity among the dishes. I of course made a turkey (the other American made the potatoes), and while it didn’t come out as well as the turkey I made last year – might’ve kept it in the oven for 20 minutes too long – it did come out pretty well nonetheless. I had more food than I knew what to do with, and everybody else felt the same. I was glad to be able to provide the classic American pastime of eating so much that you want to pass out, and some people seemed surprised to find out that this was actually true. (And no, no one wanted to go to a bar after like they said that they did.)

The hygge.

It was the first night in a while that got me feeling like it was actually the holidays. The night was, to borrow a Danish term, very ‘hygge’ (no direct translation, but it basically means cozy with good company and warm light) and it really did feel like it was Thanksgiving, despite my being 4000 miles away with a bunch of Europeans and none of the normal accoutrements of the holidays. I was also surprised to find out that despite the lack of a Thanksgiving tradition they still had Black Friday here in Denmark, which I happily chose not to take part in due to my disdain for the tradition (and my general lack of money). (I did replace my earbuds for quite a deal though! But I needed to do that anyway I guess…)

Since then, it has been feeling a little more like the holidays, and a lot of that has to do with the weather. While it is still cold, it’s less grey, and the wind has not been nearly as characteristically Scandinavian as it normally is. My favorite part of Christmas is the lights at night and the cold, but when it’s accompanied by Scandinavian wind and rain it’s not nearly as charming. So, needless to say, the clear weather has been a nice change of pace, and it’s given me some of that holiday feeling at night which makes me both happy to be in a new place and missing home. Some of the sadness and darkness of October and early November is finally giving way to new feelings of life.

The spread.

The spread.

Life here is continuing as usual, though. After a spell of traveling, I’m settling in for the long part of the semester. I have three weeks of school left, and then I’m home for the Christmas gap, and it couldn’t come soon enough. There’s a lot of group work now in my course, which I’m not usually a fan of but they seem to love it over here. The laid-back nature of the Danish educational system is very off-putting to me, and the idea that I’d do a semester-long group project with only the vaguest of ideas of how it will affect my final mark – or a 3000-word group report with no effect on my mark whatsoever, for that matter – is very off-putting to my American sensibilities. I’m excited to be done with the semester, not because I don’t like the course but because I’m excited to move on to other things.

School will slow down in a bit, but I do feel very busy at the moment given the fact that I just got a new job working as a research assistant for a professor at the university. I’m doing some work for a professor working on climate change issues, and it while it has been a little jumbled so far, it’s been interesting nonetheless. I am glad to be settled into a new apartment which will hopefully be more permanent, but added stress is now coming from the fact that the first apartment I lived at is no longer deciding to give me my security deposit back on the most dubious of grounds, and now I have to go through a whole formal complaint process to try and sort that out. The fact that I just started my new job means I don’t start getting paid until the beginning of January, and the added stress of financial considerations is never something I like to have to deal with as I’m rounding out the busy part of the year.

I’m glad to have the flexibility of being able to work that is completely independent and to be to do school at my own pace, but it can be pretty all-encompassing when you’re in the middle of it. Because my program is a lot more full-on than a lot graduate degrees, I have a lot of contact hours in combination with a lot of reading and studying – and now work – so the constantly being on and having something to do feeling can be pretty tiring. I’m starting to feel these days that while I can have the nights off I never really have the day off because there is always stuff to catch upon. I haven’t quite burnt out like I did during my Senior year of my undergrad, but I could get there pretty soon. I’m ready to be an employee of the world, where you can turn off when you are not at work and get paid for it. Isn’t that the life?

I’m not too worried about it though. One of the unique aspects of the program I’m doing is that we get to do field work in Africa for a couple weeks during the second semester, and that the second year is basically ours to make it how we want. I intend to do an internship for credit before doing my Master’s thesis. So while I am a little tired of school – and I certainly have my going straight-through to a Master’s to blame for that – I am glad I’m getting it done and that the stuff that’s different is hopefully soon to come.

Looking forward to the holidays (and forgetting about exams after that).