Tonight is Rosh Hashanah, the New Year according to the Jewish calendar. Personally, this has always been my personal new year as well; much like Mrs. Miniver, “[this] was always the first, the real New Year. That laborious affair in January was nothing but a name.” And of course, as with January, I have to consider the past year. One year ago today, I got on a plane at Salt Lake City International Airport. I said goodbye to my mom, and, summoning up my best jaunty wave and smile, went through security. Then, I sniffled just a little, bought some fries, and started my adventure.
A year feels like such a long time. Those 52 weeks, 365 days, 525,600 minutes are an almost unfathomable distance, and yet it feels like it ought to be nearer. Tesseract-like, the time loops back around, and you think: this was not so long ago. You should be able to just reach out, and grab the threads of the past that’s just around the corner (gleich um die Ecke). It was only yesterday, in fact, that I moved into my dorm room, and cried with homesickness, and relearned the simplest tasks. Going to the grocery store, say, or opening a bank account.
In a lot of ways, it feels like I’m in the same place I was a year ago. I’ve moved across an ocean (again), having to adjust to a new life and make new friends. It’s been tough, not least because—much like in Vienna—I think that having lived someplace before means I know it, means I know what I’m doing, means there won’t be any struggle. And yet, every time, I get surprised by the moment where I fall on my face. Every time, I have to relearn the old lesson: there is no shortcut. Moving, and new jobs, and new homes: these things are always difficult, and will always take time. I’ll have to learn where the grocery store is, and figure out how much everything costs here, and figure out what paperwork I’m supposed to bring to which impersonal government office. I’ll have to figure out who my people are—doubly so now, when I’m not a student, and if only out of necessity must start looking outside of my own demographic for the people who are truly like me. I’ll have to figure out when to buckle down and cook and my own meals and when it’s okay to just fold and order a pizza*.
At this point, two months into one place and one year gone from another, I’m starting to find my stride. I wake up on time for work in the mornings. I have my own little routine—green smoothies and NPR and biking to the office. I talk to a lot of teenagers at work, and have to remind myself that seventeen-year-old me wasn’t always the Rory Gilmore of my imaginings. I go out less, and read more, and it all feels pretty much okay. Not perfect, but okay.
There are still times when I wish that I, like Charlie and Meg in A Wrinkle in Time, could gather up the fabric of space and time, and just step across to where I was a year ago. There are times when I think I see a friend, and remember that the person I’m thinking of lives in Vienna, and I feel foolish, or when I catch up on my friends’ news from Vienna, and I feel like everyone really is hanging out without me. Then I have to remind myself of another lesson that keeps looping around, over and over: I have what I want, but it doesn’t look the way I expected. I have a job, and my own place, and my own furniture—just in a different place than I had thought. As for next year, we’ll have to wait and see. I’m sure the changes won’t be quite so severe: less of a pendulum and more of a gentle swaying, like linens hung up to dry on a summer day.
*[As a bit of an aside, pizza toppings are one of those small, surprisingly meaningful ways in which I mark place. In Vienna, a place with some—ahem—unconventional pizza toppings, I always went with a Contadina, which is Schmeck/Canadian bacon + spicy peppers +egg. Trust me; it’s better than it sounds. Here in the States, it’s sausage + bacon + jalepenos + banana peppers + green peppers. I call it The Only Child, because that’s not the sort of pizza you share).
I recently finished up my first week of work at my first real job. I’m working in university admissions, which is…pretty different from everything I trained to do, but the university environment is definitely one I’m used to, so it’s less of a stretch.
What is a stretch? Getting out of bed, definitely. I stuck to a pretty decent sleep schedule in Vienna, but I was definitely going to bed later and getting up later than I am here, which has been an adjustment. I’ll think “I can definitely stay up to watch one more episode of Luther; it’s only ten o’clock!” And then I remember that I have to go to bed at 10:45 if I’m going to get up at 6:45, so it’s actually time to jump in the shower and power down all the electronics.
I don’t have a car yet, so right now I’m biking to work, which is pretty cool. I have not traditionally been confident on bicycles (or skates, or skis, or anything that went between my feet and the ground), so getting the hang of that has been really great. After all, the expression is “just like riding a bike” for a reason, right? So I put on my workout gear, through my nice clothes in my bike basket and peddle off, the theme to Call the Midwife playing in my head.
I’ve been surprised by the way that time feels different now. As a student, eight hours was a long time: I was in class from 9 until about 2 or 3, with a break for to grab lunch, and then it was time to play pool, chat with my friends, and read the paper (assuming no one had moved the bar’s copy of The Economist). Now, I finally understand all those planners that divvy your time out by the hour; that’s totally how my schedule works. I have this meeting to attend, and then these interviews to do, and then I’ll squeeze in some writing time before preparing for this other presentation. It flies by, and then the six hours or so I have in the evenings is filled up with making dinner, folding the laundry I did the day before, and maybe watching something on Netflix (I’d like to take this time to recommend Orange is the New Black, because it is incredibly funny).
Also, I finally understand what adults meant when they said they “had no time to read”. When most of your time outside of work is spent getting ready for work, travelling to and from work, and then taking care of things around the house, your actual leisure time is surprisingly small. I’m going to have to be really deliberate about making sure I do read, because even though I make it sound like a chore, I love it, and I need to make sure I don’t just let it slip through the cracks.
What do you guys do to make sure there’s time for the things you love? Any Netflix recommendations?
I’m in my new place. The bed has been assembled and has sheets on it, the bathroom has been cleaned to my mother’s exacting standard, and I have real food in the fridge. All I have to do is finish unpacking my things so I’m not rifling through piles of stuff on Monday morning when I’m trying to get to work.
It’s been a busy week. I flew back to the US on Tuesday, arriving in the evening, with just enough time to grab dinner before collapsing in a Raleigh hotel room. Since then, my parents and I have:
- Picked up the key for my new place
- Made up for lost time with an overdue dentist visit
- Bought ALL the things for my new place (including a day-long marathon trip to IKEA)
- Put together all the new furniture
- Wasted 3+ hours at the DMV just so I could fail the written test to get my NC license
- Got an American cell phone
- Found a sturdy bike for getting to work and
- Bought enough groceries to feed a small army/last until my first paycheck comes through
Somehow, we got it all done. It took several very long days, plus one surprisingly anxiety-inducing trip to the grocery store (reading labels and checking ingredient lists is VERY tiring) brought us to the point where I am suitably provisioned going forward.
What’s more surprising is how calm I feel about all of it. I’m used to feeling anxious before a big chance, as we’ve previously established. But this time, it’s all more or less okay. Sure, I feel pangs of regret and nostalgia every time I see an item from Vienna that got damaged in my suitcase, or when I see all of my friends there having fun without me, but it’s manageable. Besides, I am here now, surrounded by concrete things—my bed, my dresser, my massive stack of decorative pillows (the real sign, I am now convinced, of Adulthood). It certainly doesn’t hurt that this is the first time since I left my parents’ home that all my things are truly mine. They aren’t dorm furniture I’m stuck with, or towels that get changed by housekeeping, or not-very-nice things that I simply have to put up with for now because I’m a student. There’s something about simply having stuff that I find terribly comforting—and now, more of my stuff can come with me.
But however much it helps, it isn’t my stuff that is making things different. I’m different, too—different from the 10-year-old who cried during the fifth-grade overnight, and the 18-year-old who somehow ended up living in the “party dorm”, and even the 21-year-old who jetted off to Vienna. I’m not massively more together, or suddenly Mature, but I am ready, I think, to be exactly where I am. I am an employed person. I am living in a house. I am building a little nest, and a little life, for myself.
I am here.
A bunch of my colleagues at the DA will be officially receiving their MA’s tomorrow. I, however, think I deserve an MB: a Master’s in Bureaucracy.
Moving to a new place is always a pain; a new country, even more so. When I got here, I was able to manage the rigmarole of setting up a phone, getting a residence permit, applying for health insurance, and getting a semester card for the public transit. Now that I’m leaving, I’ve had to start undoing all of that.
Today, I went to the magistrate’s district office to deregister myself. You are required to do this before you leave, or else a trusted person can come and deregister you within three days of your departure. I wanted to make sure everything was taken care of, because in situations like this there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a bit of a control freak.
Unlike when I arrived, deregistration was a pretty straightforward process: no one was in line, and after showing some ID, I was in an out in under ten minutes. Believe me; no other encounter with Austrian government officials has gone this smoothly. None.
After that, I thought I should close my bank account—until it occurred to me that over the next day and a half, there were a couple of transactions where I might still want the use of my bank card. Plus, it had occurred to me that if I didn’t want to get another bill for my health insurance forwarded to the States, I should probably go deactivate that account. I knew there was some sort of center for WGKK on my way to church in the 3rd district, so I made my way over there. Surprise, surprise: I’m in the wrong place, because this is actually just a surgery. Thankfully, the receptionist decides to not treat me like I’m an incomparable idiot (she must not be from around here), and instead hands me a list of locations where I can handle my business.
Off to the correct address, and I am blown away by how well everything goes. The office within the building is clearly labeled, and I have to wait for fewer than 20 minutes before being called up to speak to someone (I would like to point out that this NEVER happened when I had to deal with the residence department). The woman I spoke to was straightforward and polite, and after filling out a quick form, I was on my way in a little under half an hour total. I’m not sure if this is because I happened to find the rare efficient offices in local government, or if I’ve just become a boss at dealing with forms and paperwork. I’d like to think it’s a bit of both. Clearly, residence permit bothers aside, not everyone in the public sector is bad at their job or resents you for asking them to do it. At the same time, it’s pleasant to realize that I’m enough of an adult/good enough at German that I can take care of these things with a minimum of fuss.
For now, I’m meeting up with the family again in the afternoon for…doing something (still have to figure out what!) and then the musical is tonight! I’ll be singing “All I Want For Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey and feeling like that girl from Love, Actually (which is a delightful movie, no matter what you say).
Because Malina and I wanted to see the Vienna we’d never seen before, we decided to take a trip on the AUSTROBUS
So begins one of Ingeborg Bachmann‘s short stories. I can’t remember which one, because I read it three years ago and Google is being surprisingly unhelpful in bringing up the reference (EDIT: My invaluable colleague tells me it’s from her story “Besichtitgung einer alten Stadt”, or “Visit to an Old City”, in English). In the story, the narrator and her partner, Malina, decide to try being tourists in their hometown. They hop on to a tour bus with a bunch of Americans, and pretend to be American academics visiting Austria. They hold conversations in their best Midwest-accented English, tour the castles and the churches, and end up by turns surprised and disappointed by the things they discover.
My sister and her husband arrived in Vienna today, which means that it truly is the beginning of the very end. Friday. It looms closer now; my days are punctuated by walks back to my little room from their hotel. We are scheduling trips to museums and markets around my inevitable administrative duties—trips to the magistrate’s office to deregister my address, closing my bank account, packing up my things and donating anything I can’t bring back to the States. In between, I am the tour guide, doing my best impersonation of Dr. Johnson, my program coordinator: “…the Karlskirche was built in the 18th century, and is unique among Vienna’s churches…”
I thought this would make things easier. I believed, as I so often do, that the busyness would save me from the waves of premature nostalgia and regret. I would have too much to do, that I couldn’t think about how terribly I’m going to miss this place, and these people, and how there just isn’t enough time to spend meaningfully with those who have given such meaning to my year. That is the worst of it—to know that I am going to have to slip away from people who are so dear to me, without much more than a quick “Hey, I hope I’ll see you soon,” casually tossed off at a party or in a hallway, because there is so much to do and so many people to say goodbye to. No time to watch that movie we always meant to, or go to that restaurant, or play that song.
In some ways, I feel like I ought to just let myself be present for this, in all its confusing grief; I ought to lean into whatever it is I’m feeling, because that is the honest way to experience the satisfaction and the loss graduating entails. But I don’t want to be honest. I want to, like Bachmann and Malina, see this city like an outsider for a while, to escape all of the meaning and difficulty that comes with living here—and leaving here.
I am still not sure which answer is right. I cannot pretend that I am a tourist here again, however much I might wish to right now. But I also cannot give myself over to grieving—it would be maudlin, and self-indulgent, and all of those things I talked about still need to get done. There simply isn’t time.
We have arrived at my last week in Austria. It isn’t even a full week; I graduate on Thursday, and board a plane on Friday. I don’t know when I’ll be back. On the one hand, this is a good thing. I’ve successfully completed my degree; I’ve spent ten months studying and meeting people and generally expanding my horizons (and playing a lot of pool).
On the other hand, I really love this place. I love having great public transportation that isn’t expensive. I love the food (oh, how I love the food). More than anything, I love how beautiful the whole place is. You just step outside your front door and you’re surrounded by gorgeous architecture—buildings, fountains, cobblestone streets. I mean, my school is housed in what used to the Hapsburg summer palace. It’s enough to make your heart hurt.
But still, needs must, and it’s time for me to go. I will pack up my things, and move back to North Carolina—which is great because I have a job lined up that I think I’ll really like, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. As we’ve previously established, though, I’m not great with change. Particularly now: I mean, coming back to Vienna was all I wanted for a really long time, and then I got it, and now it’s over.
So now what? I’ll start my job, and I think I’ll be good at it (I hope I’ll be good at it). I’ll do Foreign Service prep, depending on my test scores. I’ll save money, and start paying off my loans, and hang out with my bestie from college, who’s also moving back to town (yay!). And I will work and scheme so that hopefully, I can come back again, and next time…
Next time, I’ll live in an Altbau with original floors and window casings reasonably near a subway station. I’ll have a real job, so I can occasionally shop at the nicer grocery stores and go out to Vienna’s amazing restaurants more often. I’ll go to the opera and the orchestra and the movies. I’ll finally understand what is with the European scarf obsession (anybody have any ideas? Anyone?) And I’ll keep building the life I want.
But that comes later, much later. This week, I have to give my final presentation and do the oral section of my German certification exam. I have to pick up my sister and her husband from the airport when they come to visit, and show them around this beautiful city that I love so much. I have to graduate, and pack up all my things, and leave this town behind me.
First, don’t read the invitation e-mail carefully. Just skim it, like you normally do with e-mails, and assume that the address for the conference just isn’t written down. Do look up directions to where you assume the conference will be, though. You are trying to be conscientious.
On the day of the conference, don’t mention to anyone that you are basically just guessing about where you’re supposed to go. You’ll show up after French, and it will be fine. Repeat: IT WILL BE FINE.
Do not rush out of class to make sure you arrive on time for the second session. Don’t run over cobblestones in heels, thinking you will break either a shoe or an ankle before you arrive. Do not proceed to run up four flights of stairs at full tilt, still in heels, because the elevator is broken. If you did, though, do take a moment or two to fix your Professional Grown-Up Hairstyle before ringing to be let in.
Do not be startled by the fact that pressing the doorbell turns on a video camera. Do not proceed to awkwardly talk to said camera, flashing your almost-expired driver’s license as proof that you are not, in fact, insane.
Don’t repeat this process for twenty minutes, becoming convinced that everyone is just so enamored of the panel discussions that they have forgotten that there is a doorbell in need of answering. Do not proceed to curse everyone involved in the conference, especially since you are still in the stairwell and your voice carries down all four flights of stairs.
Do text people who are supposed to be at the same conference. Do not expect them to answer, because they are sensible adults, who have almost certainly turned their phones off so as not to disrupt the conference with texts from crazy people like you.
Do not run home to check the first e-mail, or at least don’t repeat the same mistake of not reading it carefully. Do not repeat the rest of this process, until you are back on the fourth-floor landing (barefoot this time) and feeling pretty stupid.
So, what should you do?
Do decide to call it a day. Do go to McDonald’s, and discover the miraculous “Easy Order” kiosk that lets you just insert your debit card and order via touchscreen–without having to talk to a person! Do go home and eat a burger while wearing a bathrobe, because there is not a single godly reason to wear Spanx and heels a minute longer than is strictly necessary.
And for the next day of the conference, do go with someone who actually knows what they’re doing.