Ten Ways Living Abroad Has Changed Me (Travel Blog Series, Day 19)

BerlinFountainApril2016

  1. I no longer have a cell phone addiction. I couldn’t have seen it when I lived in the US unless someone had told me, but they couldn’t have told me because they couldn’t have seen me with their cell phones up to their faces. Now, I have a cell phone with me but I use it to listen to music or to make an important call if needed. Everywhere I’ve traveled in the US so far, from airports to train stations to restaurants and just out walking in the streets, all ages, genders, and races, have cell phones glued to their faces or ears. I even saw a 78-year-old man on Marta in Atlanta, GA with two cell phones held up to his face at once.
  2. I’m no longer too wrapped up in daily living to visit my own town. After driving around a few US cities, wasting away in traffic, watching the frantic inhabitants, counting the lulling, redundant beacons of civilization, the realization washed over me that when one becomes consumed in daily living, it does not matter where one lives. After losing too many years as a prisoner of daily living in a city I did not love, I know now that for the rest of my life, I want to live and visit the place where I live … and if I can’t, then I know that place is not for me.
  3. I no longer believe that being an artist makes me special in any way. I’m just another human cruising the rapids down the river of absurdness and uncertainty, clinging with beautiful desperation to the flotsam of meaning I have garnered for myself. When one travels to different places in the world, he spies a continuity in people, a humbling lighthouse that casts with quiet loudness: You are just another human stumbling through this unwakable dream … no better than any other, and certainly no worse.
  4. I now see change as the only human truth. I had to give away my beautiful, adorable, clever cat Cleopatra recently because of an allergic asthma scenario. In my final days with my cat, I noticed that she didn’t like change any more than I did, but she was better at it than me. She is on Cloud 9 now, with a retired woman who is doting on her and already wrapped around her cute, obstinate little paw. While I’d like to think she misses me in her own way, she is fully adapted and happy. In the wild, her forefathers are used to constant change. Why aren’t we? Humans suck at adaptation. Living and traveling in different cultures in the world and seeing how much one’s homeland changes, really makes one realize that change may be the only reliable thing and that embracing it just may be the secret to happiness.
  5. I see automobiles as necessary evils. Living without the burden of responsibility of owning an automobile feels like Prometheus being unbound, or Atlas having the world taking off of his shoulders. I feel freedom in the truest sense of the word. Riding my bike everywhere has helped me lose weight, and taking trains and buses has, on several occasions, cured my writer’s block. I now feel deep pity for many who own a car, especially if they don’t enjoy sitting in it for long periods when they could be doing something else. I have also come to love bike cities or bike-friendly cities.
  6. I speak three languages fluently now (English, German, & Spanish), but all with a nerdy English accent. When I was in Miami, FL, I went right to Little Havana to the coffee sidewalk window of the first place I ever worked (El Pub Restaurant), and started spewing Spanish at the older Cuban woman  who was tending the window. I told her how I worked there when I was 15, my first job, but it was on the other side of the street then, and about my friend Mercedes, and does she still work there, and … She stopped me and said, “I’ve only been working here for 6 months.” Then, at Woodlawn Cemetery, I asked in Spanish where my stepfather’s grave was and a young woman behind the counter said, “You can talk in English.” Later, at a jewelry store, a young Cuban woman insisted on answering me in English. The same thing happens in Germany with my German. The solution? You have to keep talking in their language and make them talk to you! But I feel multiple languages opens new doors for finding new readers and listeners.
  7. I have finally become desensitized to media. I love my homeland, the USA! For its cutting edgeness, its wealth of breathtaking land, its beautiful people (hello, family and friends!), and its daring heart … but every rose has its thorns. When one visits airports and train stations and can’t even claim his bag or get a coffee without Donald Trump breathing down his neck from some ridiculously large TV monitor, he begins to see that America is drowning in its own press. The TV news in Germany lasts for 15 minutes.
  8. I truly feel comfortable in my own skin. I think I finally found proof of this after being stared at incessantly and awfully because of my long hair. In my mother’s residential community, an older woman literally stood in front of cars about 50-feet away to make a point of scowling at me with the most absurd expression of disapprobation I have ever witnessed. Cars had to steer around her. Her state of nightmarish hypnosis was only wrangled away by me  going back inside. Does a man having long hair make him a circus freak now? Have I gone running to Supercuts? No. I absolutely do not give a rat’s ass. What is hysterical is that my hair is actually short for many men living in Germany, Spain, Italy, etc.
  9. I can no longer tolerate bad bread. I have even stopped eating bread outside of Germany now if I can help it. When I go to grocery stores, even look in the refrigerators of family and friends and see these short or round “loaves,” I almost burst out laughing. Americans trying to bake a loaf of bread is much like Germans attempting to impersonate John Wayne. Hey, guys, nothing but love for you, my splendid fellow Americans … but … please give up trying to bake real loaves of bread! It just ain’t gonna happen. Even the darkest loaf in Germany or Austria, full of countless grains and seeds and healthy things, tastes better than the most luxurious loaf of bread baked anywhere in the US.
  10. At age 49, I have finally metamorphosed into an earthling. Though I love the charming, historic, small city of Lueneburg, DE, where I live, I now have the blood of a nomad coursing through my veins. As I finish this Friday’s Blog, I look out the window from a Charleston Starbucks near the sea, at the rustic, fertile menagerie of trees, many dripping pale moss, and it dawns on me that, as long as I have my wife and my Mac Book Pro, I could really be perfectly happy staying indefinitely anywhere beautiful in the world. As well as a continuity in people, I know see a continuity in places as well … and for the first time in my life, I utterly feel like an earthling.

Yours in earthlingness,

J.G.C.

 

Advertisements

A Conversation with my Father (Back in the USA Travel Blog Series, Day 5)

ConversationWithMyFatherBlog

There is nothing new about visiting my father’s grave. After losing him at age four, I’ve been doing it since I was a little kid. I would hop on the Motorcross bike (later a ten-speed) and head off through Little Havana to Woodlawn Cemetery on Calle Ocho to sit and talk with him, running my fingers along his raised name, spelling out my own.

What was new is that I hadn’t been there for almost a decade.

I approached his grave and began to make out his name with almost frantically probing eyes, his eyes, and the flood came immediately. As is the tradition, I sat on the ledge just above his grave plate that shoulders a wall of cherished ashes, surrendering myself to the soothing cascade of tears.

Below is an approximation of much of the conversation I had, his words like a translation from a language neither alive nor dead.

“I’m sorry it’s been so long, Dad. Life has been so crazy lately … so much going on. Sometimes I don’t know if I can make sense of it all.”

Silence, but I felt his presence very strongly.

“You see,” I went on, “sometimes I just don’t know if I’m heading in the right direction. I miss you so much, Dad. I wish you were here.”

“I’m always with you wherever you are.”

Many more tears. “Thanks, Dad. But sometimes I just don’t know what I’m doing anymore.”

“Your life starts now.”

“What? Really? I’m already forty-nine years old.”

“Things are about to happen for you. You just keep your head up and continue doing what you’re doing. You’re on the right path, Son.”

Doubt turned me to lead as I sat there, running my fingers over his raised, bronzed name, like I’d done so many times before, on the iron plate cast for him when he died at only twenty-five years old. Just then, an old ice cream truck went by playing the Christmas song, “O Tannenbaum.”

In April.

In Little Havana, Miami, FL.

I half-cried and half-chuckled because my current path has me living in Germany. “Yeah,” I went on, “I’ll keep doing what I’ve always been doing … walking in your shadow.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Son. You see, you never walked in my shadow. I’ve always walked in yours.”

 

Jesse Giles Christiansen

Back in the USA: Day Minus 3 (from Hemingway’s)

BerlinFountainApril2016

It is both great and weird to be back at Hemingway’s Cafe in Lueneburg, Germany, which has, of recent, become a strange metaphor for my writer life. Hemingway’s almost burned down but was saved, and now breathes again. I have not written a word since my last novel, REVENGE OF THE SEA. Will I live and breathe again?

This will be my first travel blog journal series. While the more deeply personal items will be edited out (unless they are extraordinarily meaningful or I’m feeling insanely courageous that particular day), I do plan to try and journal all my experiences in the US. It is so exciting to write my first travel blog series! I used to journal a lot when I was in college, especially on summers when I visited my family in Kentucky and would sit for long rides on Greyhound (when they used to literally stop at every place imaginable, even malls in small towns; in fact, though they’re much better now, when taking Greyhound, one could multiply the normal drive time by 3! Also, if you smoke, you are immediately removed and have to find a way back home or relocate, whichever is easier).

GreyhoundClock

I have not been in the US for a year because I have been living and writing in Germany after marrying a wonderful German woman (my wife, Corinna). I will be starting my US trip in three days, in perfect irony, in the city where I was born: Miami, FL. Oh, Miami, where you bronzed my skin brown and my heart ocean blue. Oh, Miami, where your sunshine filled my bosom with an unabashed, indestructible, positive faith in possibility. Oh, Miami, where my mind was first opened to diversity like a gull flying around the world.

I will rent a car in Miami and drive around the old stomping grounds, including the cemetery where my father and stepfather are buried, as well as the first place I ever worked: El Pub. At El Pub I learned to speak my first Spanish words, saving enough money to buy my first car, a 1977 red Monte Carlo with a moody transmission that literally fell onto the street just before I graduated from Coral Gables High School, my little brother and I getting out and pushing the heavy old vehicle all the way home.

1977RedMonteCarlo

Well, this time, I won’t have my old Monte Carlo, but a Budget rental car. I will leave Miami and drive through the Everglades, visiting with my old friends the alligators, then up to Tampa to play a little, off to Daytona Beach to walk around, then finally up to Jax Beach where I plan to really get in some beach time (how I miss the beach!). Then, I will catch a flight to Atlanta, GA to stay with my mother. Atlanta, as usual, will be my launching point for many cool visits (e.g., Charleston, SC to see my best and oldest friend, Lousiville, KY, to see my dearest aunt, etc, etc). To end my journey, I will fly back to Miami and stay for a few days with another one of my oldest, closest friends from high school … then the long final flight back to Hamburg.

It is going to be strange going back to my homeland again after a year abroad … but I look forward to the road therapy and unique perspectives I hope to be granted as a result of the 5-week vacation, as well as visiting with close family and good old friends. I’ll also be photo journaling for a music video to a song I wrote entitled, American Highway, which I’ll be entering into three different songwriting competitions this year. Wish me luck!

Well, I have to say goodbye to Hemingways for a little while. However, I look forward to sharing my adventures with you next Friday from the roads of Florida.

Yours in travel,

J.G.C.

 

Will You Sing a Departed Author’s Song?

SueReachingForSky

One hundred percent of all profits from the sales of Susan’s final tribute song will be donated to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. To purchase her song for .99, click here. To watch the video for her song, click here. Susan McLeod is the published author of the bestselling Soul and Shadow Series.

When I first became an Imajin Books author in 2013, I was shy and unsure. Like a neighbor baking brownies for someone new in the culdesac and bringing them over to welcome him to the neighborhood, Sue was the first fellow author to reach out to me. She went to my Website and listened to my music, told me how much she enjoyed it, and bought it immediately. She also immediately followed this blog (and would eventually purchase every literary work I have written).

I was shocked.

After all, I expected other authors to be competitive, even ruthless. This was my first foray into the literary arts industry. In time, I would learn that I was right … to a large degree. However, Sue gave me hope, teaching me that there were a few supportive and collaborative authors out there and, with the brimming hope and gleaming confidence Sue birthed in me, I’ve sought them out ever since.

SueMcLeodAuthorPic

Sue was at my first book launch for Pelican Bay, the only #1 Amazon bestseller in my career so far, and every other book launch I’ve ever had, even my recent launch where she was so sick she could only stay for a few minutes.

But she came anyway.

That’s who Sue was. She gave until she had nothing left. Then she gave some more. I wish we could populate the whole world with millions of people like Susan McLeod.

But since we can’t do that, I’ll tell you what we can do. We can all come together as a literary community and purchase her song. It’s really quite simple. Not only will the total profit of each song (about .89) go to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, a charity that she faithfully supported, but every time you listen to or share her song, you are celebrating and disseminating her spirit …

… one of the most beautiful spirits I’ve encountered in my travels.

J.G.C.

 

 

 

Love Letter to Spring: Thank You for the Greatest Lesson

first crocus flowers

Dearest Spring,

I can’t remember ever needing you more than I do right now. I’m not even going to mind my words anymore the way I always did when we danced before and you complained that I was watching my feet too much. I know that deep inside you must believe that there is a beautiful dancer inside me because no matter how badly I have crushed your toes and rained on your childlike smile, you keep coming back to dance with me again and again.

I know I only have so many dances left with you. When I was young, I chuckled carelessly at Father Time. Do you remember me saying to you, “I have an endless number of dances with you … why do you keep chastising me? You are such a demanding woman!” If only I had understood what you were trying to say to me.

Tell me, dearest Spring, is it too late for me?

I am still afraid, but the illusions of Summer can no longer console me. Only you can. You must have spoken to Summer on my behalf, for he is no longer my friend. He only mocks me now with all his young, elastic, taut acquaintances who linger and dilly-dally and ridicule Father Time the way that I once did.

So be it. I don’t want Summer around anymore, and the aches of Winter are beginning to take their toll. Furthermore, sadly, Fall’s company has become too melancholy for me. I only want you, Spring … if you’ll still have me.

I want our next dance to be unforgettable. I know I’ll never dance as gracefully as you, but your estranged siblings have taught me that I was not the one winking at them as they blew through town; they were the ones winking at me. And hidden inside their winks was that very thing you’ve tried to teach me every year. Will you forgive me for taking so long to learn?

You have taught me that our dance, while beautiful, is not real, and so one has nothing to lose by springing forward rather than falling back, especially when the dance is that much the more enjoyable.

I can already feel the weather warming caused by the friction of your gorgeous white gown upbraiding the snow along the ground. I have never been more excited to see you!

This time, after you go, I’m going to dance your dance so unreservedly and unapologetically that when I smile, the world will think all the other seasons have permanently retired in shame.

Yours in springing forward,

J.G.C.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Things I’ve Learned Living in Germany

Blog010816

It’s hard to believe a year has passed since I took the leap of faith and moved to Germany to marry my wife, Corinna and to dedicate more time to my artwork. However, yesterday marked my first year living abroad (actually, today if I follow German time because I arrived a day later than I left the US).

It has been quite a year, not totally according to plan, but as Matthew McConaughey said at the end of the movie, Reign of Fire, “Life sure has a funny way of turning out different, don’t it?” As I reflect on the past year and write my top ten, I’m wondering … if life always turned out the way we wanted it, would it be life anymore? And would it be as exciting?

Okay, here’s my Top Ten …

10. Chocolate is just better over here. Please accept that everyone. In fact, when I travel to the US, I bring a nice stash of German chocolate with me (74-85% dark; hey, I have to watch my boyish figure).

9. There is American Reality, and then there is reality. Don’t get me wrong, I love my homeland as much as any other American, but I think the above observation (#9) rang true when my German dentist recently said to me, “You guys don’t really have news over there, just entertainment.”

8. The German language is beautiful but was engineered to be unlearnable, except through native processSo I’m just trying to be as fluent as I can. In my mind, I see the German language as a giant china shop with an incomprehensible maze running through it; my best hope is to try and walk around without getting lost or breaking anything expensive.

7. America is not so much a “Land of Plenty” as it is a “Land of Land.” Until an American lives abroad in Europe, I’m not sure he or she may truly appreciate this. When my wife asks me, What do you miss? My first answer, after loved ones and old friends, is the lonely, vast, American Highways. In fact, I wrote a song with just that title, and hope to record it this year.

6. Germans love Hollywood! But Hollywood loves Hollywood, too. I get a real hoot out of watching my favorite films in German every night, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised how many Hollywood films are shown. But when you live in a small city in Europe where people lose it over a good street artist, it suddenly hits you that Hollywood contributes more than it may think to its own fame. And fame to me now … just seems more like … fame.

5. People over here don’t care about what you do, or even what you wear, just how well you smile. In my time in Germany, and in my travels around Europe so far, I’ve noticed that people are so polite and smile back more. For example, in Germany, when you leave any place, even a fitness studio locker room, complete strangers yell, “Tschuess!” (roughly translated as cheers). And today, I almost accidentally ran into someone with my bike. Through the last second of braking and a desperate final evasive maneuver, the woman just kept smiling.

4. Germans and many Europeans are virtual heroes at never drinking water or going to the bathroom. It is amazing, and that’s that. Ironically, I don’t seem to miss being served water or being able to find a bathroom.

3. Many Americans probably have a doppelganger in Europe. It is downright creepy but scientifically explainable. After all, unless someone from the US is Native American, there is a good chance that his or her roots trace back to Europe. But … still … can we say, Weird? I keep seeing American actors, musicians, politicians, even old friends, and so on, everywhere I go. I was even told recently that I have a doppelganger in Lueneburg. Kind of makes me a little scared to walk around.

2. Germans REALLY know how to party! On New Year’s Eve, if I were a blind man, I would have sought cover. The reverberating explosions, like live rounds, banging and shoving unapologetically through the streets, were fascinating. And the constant, blooming, panoramic rockets … it was as if everyone bought fireworks all year round, filled up their houses with them, then launched them off simultaneously from their balconies and street corners. We turned on the TV and other cities were doing the same thing, only on a far bigger level, with more fireworks (which seemed unthinkable) and with DJs and light shows that one would have to witness to believe. What a blast!

1. Retired German men and women pass you on their bikes going uphill during a snow storm. Whenever I’m feeling lazy, I just look outside and watch them doing a pre-workout stretch in the snow … kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? I wanted to live longer to try and write that great book. I guess I moved to the right place! And one of these days I’m going to catch this old man who always passes me uphill … the one who looks like my grandfather.

One of these days …

Yours in leaps of faith,

J.G.C.

 

 

Do You Believe in Christmas Miracles?

Sue'sBlog121815

“I saw someone with no shoes on their feet, in a dirty street, walking the beat, dejected with defeat, nothing to eat, a tear river bed down their cheek, their eyes hollow and lost in a broken dream … and they smiled at me …”

A line from a poem in progress.

As we approach Christmas, a great time of giving, helping, and sharing, two ideas fall on me slowly like giant, perfect snowflakes:

  1. There are many people with far less than you have who are very happy, and,
  2. If you see someone passing by, especially someone who seems sad or distraught, wave hello and smile … because he or she could be enduring the most difficult moment of his or her life.

I wrote a song for a special author friend of mine, Sue McLeod, the talented, published author of the Soul and Shadow Series, when I learned she was fighting cancer. For the fourth time. She was there for me when I first joined Imajin Books, a stranger, an outsider, as shy as I could be. She was the first one to say hello, the first one to purchase my musical art (yes, right out of the gate), and the first one to show me that there are collaborative artists out there. She is one of the most caring, giving people I have ever known.

And I saw her smile not long ago. Despite it all.

Unfortunately, I have lost contact with her recently. The last thing she said to me was that she needed motivation to finish the last book in her Soul and Shadow Series.

The music video for Sue’s song was released briefly but ran into a technical problem. I got swamped with releasing a novel, but I have fixed the error and I am launching the video today. It is funny how life works out, for surely this is the time when she needs her song the most.

Do you believe in Christmas miracles? I might be the most naive person in the universe, or perhaps the most faithful, but I happen to believe that if we all share Sue’s song … something might happen. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Let’s give Sue such a happy Christmas that she’ll find the motivation she’s hoping for to finish the last book in her Soul and Shadow Series, and even more!

Click here to hear Sue’s song and to see her music video.

Merry Christmas,

J.G.C.