Friday, October 30, 2009

"I move in water, shore to shore"

Anyone who reads this or has talked to me knows that my time here thus far has been very up and down. I think it's like that for all of us. Socially, aesthetically, it's pretty good. I meet new friends every week. Moving to another country is hard, though. Moving to a country where most of the employers don't give a crap because there's so many people to replace you is harder. Being a non-EU citizen and having to deal with the heart-attack that is a work visa, harder still. I've come to the conclusion that nobody can agree on one set of rules because there isn't one. Like living in the Smith dorms, if I can survive this (or the crazies, in Smith's case), I can probably survive anything.

Sometimes I have a great week, then a terrible one. Three bad days, then an amazing one. One good hour, one bad. We'll be on the minute scale soon, I'm sure. I don't know what I want or what I should do, what I'm doing because I feel guilty and obligated and what I want to do. Most of the time this is okay, I really need to work on not taking life so seriously, but sometimes it gets to me.

This week has been hard. Job hard, communication hard, life hard. Germs hard. One of my good friends is moving away on Tuesday and that's also unfavorable. After suffering through the TEFL course together, it's like losing a comrade of sorts (and a vegan one, at that!). The downside of the whole expat thing is everyone's always in motion. Don't get too attached, they're just going to leave, you know. It's like college, but in months instead of years. I've already seen many people head off to bigger and better things and I've only been here about 3 months. And hell, I'm going to leave too. Sometime. When this is and where I'm going also changes every five minutes. I have a lot of plans and dates in my head, but I needn't speak of them until they stay there for more than a few days. We'll see. An inkling in my brain of doing the WWOOFing thing when the dead of winter is over, then making it back before graduation if the teaching thing doesn't stop stressing me out so much. I would very much like to see everyone left at Smith in one place before they all head off everywhere.

I've been reading "Animal. Vegetable. Miracle." and it's making me want to live somewhere for awhile so I can grow nut trees and asparagus. I think I could be almost content in life with just a garden, a food processor and a puppy. And maybe the internet. The addiction runs strong.

The point of this entry is that even though I've been having a stream of days that lead me to ask the ever-present questions, "Why am I here? What am I doing with my life? What will I do next? When will 'next' even be?!", today I decided to walk back from I.P. Pavlova instead of taking the tram 4 stops. As I was walking up to the park I normally cut through, I saw this tiny scraggly dog, maybe a small Yorkie, hopping around at the entrance. His owner, a man maybe in his late 30s, bent down to play with it, picked it up to his face level and presumably said lots of really cutesy things to it in Czech. He then put the dog down, who was content sniffing a bush, and started walking ahead. Upon whistling the dog immediately ran to his side, then ahead, and kept peeing on the fence every 10 or so feet while making eye contact with him in a "Daddy, look what I can do! This fence is mine now!" gesture. Eventually the dog ran up to a dirt pile near me and rubbed its butt across it. It made my day much better. It also made me decide that if I'm going to be straight I can only date boys who play with dogs.

How simple life would be if my only goals were a) sniff things and b) pee everywhere.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Shit, I got a gallery in New York"

I would like to take a moment to point out some of the (I think) more hilarious artwork in one of my lesson plans, that I am still proud of somehow. This was for my second one-to-one lesson ever, during my TEFL course in August. Can you guess what the lesson was on? (The Amish). Even better, can you guess what vocabulary words I'm trying to elicit/teach from the reading based on the pictures? Probably not. I'll help you.

The top left is to demonstrate the noun "buggy". Nevermind that the horse is twice as big as the buggy. Those Amish know how to feed 'em. The next to the right is "to tolerate". No, those aren't boobs. How do you draw a stick figure crossing its arms, anyway? Bottom left with the swords, crazy eyes and psychotic hair is "to persecute". Did you get that? Last to the right is "appliances". I'm especially proud of my electric tea kettle. It may be one of the best things I've ever drawn and will forever remind me of the Hotel Pivovar, which is where all my models resided. My appliance models, that is.

Mind you, I can only draw about three things and those are: 1) trees without leaves, 2) small birds and 3) eyes with really bad pupils. Boring high school classes were really rough for this reason: I ran out of things to doodle pretty quickly.

I'm using this lesson again tomorrow, bad artwork and all because a) my first student was absolutely entranced by the Amish and had no idea they existed and b) everyone that's ever seen these pictures has had a good laugh. Takin' one for the team!

But seriously, the Amish are pretty intriguing. Ever since I heard they were all allowed a year off from being Amish to see if that's what they really wanted I've been especially interested. When I originally wrote this lesson I procrastinated for at least an hour trying to find out if this rumor is true, but the internets failed me. Oh well. That's what I get for trying to learn about the Amish from the internet. Oxymoron?

Also, looking over my TEFL lessons again in comparison to my lessons now, a mere 2 months later, is pretty funny.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"'Cause once upon a time the line followed the river..."

Here's to our last drink of fossil fuels
Let us vow to get off of this sauce
Shoo away the swarms of commuter planes
And find that train ticket we lost
'Cause once upon a time the line followed the river
And peeked into all the backyards
And the laundry was waving
The graffiti was teasing us
From brick walls and bridges
We were rolling over ridges
Through valleys
Under stars
I dream of touring like Duke Ellington
In my own railroad car
I dream of waiting on the tall blonde wooden benches
In a grand station aglow with grace
And then standing out on the platform
And feeling the air on my face

Somehow Ani Difranco still says it best. If I had to choose one thing to describe my weekend, this would be it. It's funny that a picture of me in motion describes a moment where I actually begin to feel settled, but it seems that's often the way with me. Ah well.

Friday night was "Klit" at Friends, a gay club that holds a monthly Ladies Night. It was a good night overall, not too eventuful for me, though I must say the pillow fight theme was quite enjoyable. When else do you get to drunkenly rip pillows apart in a club, bashing them into random strangers?

Saturday my friend Gina and I took a train adventure to Kolín where my other friend Colleen lives. Yes, Colleen lives in a city pronounced exactly the same as her name, a fact which I find endlessly amusing, much, I'm sure, to her dismay. I hadn't been out of Prague since I got here, so it was nice to head out to the "country" (more like the suburbs, but pretty ones!). We walked around in the forest, climbed things and broke into a really cool looking semi-abandoned building by climbing up the brick wall into a window, then up a shaky looking ladder leading up to another mostly bricked-up window.

Another noteworthy event, I bought my cheapest beer yet in the Czech Republic (not counting 7 kč half-pints at Bukowski's on Sundays) at a little pub down the road from Colleen's flat in Kolín. Only 20 kč for a pint of Gambrinus! That's only a dollar for you Americans (approx. 18kč = $1 depending on the exchange rate). Average price for beer usually ranges between 30-45 kč for a pint in Prague. At the pub, Colleen thought up an ingenious drinking game where we had to drink every time we said "like". It was traumatizing, to say the least. I've been wanting to eliminate "like" from my speech for awhile, except for when it actually should be used for comparisons, but boy is it hard!

That's pretty much it for now. Finally getting settled, thinking up some pretty great lesson plans and such. Sunday was spent in Starbucks for a lesson planning date with my friend Jess, then to a free screening of Lolita at The Globe. I even have a lesson in the works using a section of The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. It's funny, as I was just being taught from that book in my Food, Health and Law class at Hampshire my last semester and now I'm teaching it! More for reading comprehension, conversation practice and vocabulary than for an understanding of the history of food policy in America, but still! Sometimes I don't hate teaching, though it's still really hard dragging my more awkward, shy students out of their shells sometimes for a 90 minute lesson.

Note: I stole all these photos from Gina, thanks Gina! Camera battery charger still MIA.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

From across the room

"Why I scanned the crowd looking for a familiar face as I followed the signs to baggage claim, I'm not sure. I needed to quit doing that. You don't know anybody in a new city, but suddenly everybody you set eyes on looks exactly like somebody you know or used to know, or something about his walk or her hair makes you think that person could be somebody you know. Or used to know. I felt muffled in wool, pale, out-of-it among the hordes of pretty people." -- Amanda Boyden (Pretty Little Dirty)

Often one of the first things I hear within a few minutes of speaking to a new person is, "You remind me of my friend X..." Are we grasping for some hint of familiarity or does the human brain just need to categorize people by quirks, hair and swaggar? This happens to me everytime I move somewhere. I don't know anybody, but everyone looks familiar.

New City Syndrome.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thank goodness "get off" wasn't one of them...

Who knew phrasal verbs could go so awry...

A conversation about one of my lessons today over Skype:

me: I dictated the words "make, get, put, bring, carry, be, take" and "up, off, in, into, on, out, with, off" to him and had him write them down
me: then I told him to make as many phrasal verbs as he could
me: the catch was that every time he suggested one he had to use it in a sentence for me
me: so eventually he said "put out"
me: and I started giggling
me: because I'm clearly 5 years old
friend: hahahaha
friend: Put out the trash, Nicole!
me: so he was like...uhh whaaat?
me: and then I started explaining that "put out" has two meanings
me: one is like "put your shoes outside" and the other means someone who will have sex with you
me: and then I acted out being a bro and leaning over to another bro friend asking, "do you think she puts out?" *snicker snicker*
me: hahahhaa
friend: Man
friend: You are the hippest English teacher ever
me: and explained to him that you never ask someone directly or their close female friends if they put out, you just ask other people who've slept with them
me: and then later we we were done and he asked if there were more slang ones
me: I'm just happy I didn't have to explain "get off"
me: so then I had him do an activity where he had to describe his morning routine to me using at least 5 phrasal verbs
friend: uh oh
me: so he was like "I got up at 7am and made up my bed. I went into the fridge and took out my breakfast, then I left my flat and asked my neighbor if she puts out..."
me: I died
me: It was so funny.
me: I had to try really hard not to giggle the entire lesson.
me: I'm definitely going to teach phrasal verbs all the time now.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The word I'm looking for is palimpsest.

Sometimes it hits me that I live smack dab in the center of Europe.
That this is not some Czech-speaking version of America and I am in fact an ocean away from everything I knew before August 8th.

It's the cobblestones that give it away, really.

I was walking home tonight and saw cobblestones peeking out under the blacktop of the sidewalk in Vršovice where I live. I remembered when someone told me that New York City still has all its cobblestones under that asphalt. I wonder what New York City would feel like without its black coating. Cobblestones against massive skyscrapers seems an odd union to me. It blows my mind to think of peeling the tar off, like the skin of an orange. Picking it away in one big spiral and finding all these stones, reminding us of a time when New York City looked less like New York City.

I still don't like New York City. I leave feeling overwhelmed every time.

I always have this image in my head of my feet touching the ground, the ground being connected to everything. It's hard for me to put my finger on the mostly intangible concept of a country. I feel like I understand most of everything that's going on, I just don't understand when people speak to me. How can I be somewhere else? I'm still living, breathing, sleeping, eating. One thing I've learned is how much can be gathered from body language and context. The eyes.

I think coming here when I did, after graduation, has solidified my perpetual state of motion. Where is home? Home is no longer home. I've been gone, in and out, of the house I grew up in for what feels like so long now that it's not really where I belong anymore. To be fair, I'm not sure I ever belonged there. I can still walk from the kitchen to my bedroom in complete darkness without falling over, waking anyone up. I remember that wave of nostalgia that hit me when I was 19 and afraid of growing up, moving out. Not just for the year this time. A lease with my name on it (or as it turns out, just a room). Time has made it so I'm not even nostalgic anymore. About that, anyway.

I think I spend most of my days just looking at everything. I sit in the coffee shop and look at the Czech newspaper (because I can't read it). Somehow all the nonesense, sprinkled with words I recognize here and there, is still interesting. I learn a new word everyday.

Generally I feel like I'm on one of those pirate ships you ride at the amusement park, the type that goes only in two directions: rock to the left and rock to the right. Act excited. Who would pay to be seasick? I'm never sure which direction I'm headed, whether today will be one of those pessimistic ones or the type I'll spend looking up at the detailed architecture of each building I walk by. Can you imagine a time when people were patient enough to carve angels between windows?

Mostly I'm okay with this. It depends on the day.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Gay: I Can Haz It

Last Friday, one of my good friends moved 45 minutes away to Kolín, a smaller town in the Czech Republic, to teach at a preschool. This is pretty great and somewhat ironic, as she lived further away from me on Long Island, where we grew up, and now we're 45 minutes (one stop on the train, $4) away from each other in the Czech Republic of all places. In any case, I'd been lamenting that I hadn't seen one queer person since I've been living here and that they had to be hiding somewhere. Thus, a plan was put into action to find The Gay.

Our night started at The Saints Bar, a small but cozy pub close to where I live. As there were only a few people there, the situation looked dire. Luckily, the people next to me happened to ask if I had any painkillers (in Czech) and when I sputtered something back using the little Czech I know (the ever-important "Nemluvim česky dobře" or "I don't speak Czech well"), one of them ended up speaking English and we got to talking. After we mentioned we were lesbians (well, that I'm mostly a lesbian? Who knows these days, really.), they took us around to a couple places and showed us where the lesbians reside. Our first stop was a big gay club, Valentino, where one of them worked. This place was pretty massive and had 3 floors and "dark rooms" (where the sexin' happens) a la Queer As Folk. I was mostly excited because it was the first time I heard me some pop music in a club. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy my share of techno, but sometimes I just need a little B. Spears in my life.

After Valentinos, we were clued in to where all the lesbians have been hiding this whole time, and that is Jampa Dampa. A small bar with a dance floor downstairs (very Candy Bar-esque for my readers in Brighton), this place was pop-music lesbian heaven. Finally. While I've sort of failed at being gay lately, it was a) nice to know where the lesbians are and be around other queer people again and b) amazing to get my dance on to some Rihanna, Michael Jackson, J.T., etc. All I have to really say about that night is "Mission Accomplished". Though my night would've been better if I didn't burn a cigarette hole in my new shirt. The thing about Prague is that you can smoke inside, so while I occasionally smoked when I was drunk in the States, I never really want to here because I'm basically forced to smoke everyone elses nasty-ass second-hand smoke every time I'm in a bar. Of course one of the times I'm drunk enough to partake, I decide it's a good time to deposit my hot ash onto my clothing. Fail.

I should get to the most important part of the weekend, however. And that was Peaches. A few days before my friend Jess mentioned they were coming to play in Prague, so I jumped on and reserved tickets right away. This show was kick-ass. Not only did she play all the songs I wanted to hear (Boys Wanna Be Her, Kick It, Fuck the Pain Away), she crowd-surfed (during which Colleen cupped her ass, score), she climbed up to the fucking balcony from the stage, she performed two encores of multiple songs each and was generally badass. The energy was great, the audience was great, it was Peaches first time in Prague and they seemed to be pretty impressed with their turn-out and they rocked. To put it into perspective, I ended the night with no shirt on, covered in fake blood spit out of Peaches' a mosh pit. Good night? I think so. Here are some pictures stolen from Colleen's camera (unfortunately I lost my battery charger somewhere...thanks Colleen!):

Me, Colleen (with her little beer) and Jess.

Peaches singing to a sheet with this projected on it, pretty cool.

The beginnings of the crowd-surfing.

Rockin' out (or shall we say, good hair day?)

Shirts back on, covered in blood.

Giant metro escalator on the way home.
Now for that lesson-planning...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

I am gonna make it, through this year, if it kills me.

I feel like a crazy person, mostly. It's been a rough couple weeks here for me. I've been generally silent, until lots of wine last night, when some part of me decided I should actually try to process all these thoughts, somewhat logically, instead of continually ignoring them. Every other minute I'm doubting every decision I've ever made in my life, especially the ones that led me to be here. The fact that getting a job was such a mission, and now that getting enough hours to pay rent is another curveball that's been thrown at me, is a bit overwhelming. The amount of money I'll have to pay for my visa and all of the work that goes along with that doesn't help.

These ominous tasks (and pricetags) looming find me looking up jobs on the Portland craigslist more often than not. Browsing E-Access for real jobs wherever. Thinking of other cities in which I'd be happy to grow roots for awhile in America, or maybe not America. Fuck if I know. My point is, I'm having a lot of trouble deciding whether I've made the right decision, whether I'm continuing to make the right one, spending all this money, money I've saved up since I was 17 years old, and not getting much back just yet.

Does the right decision even matter? I'm living in Europe, I'm out of my parents' house, doing cool things. I have a great opportunity, one my parents and most of my friends haven't. Everyone tells me I'm so brave, but I think I'm just really good at leaving. Having to settle somewhere and make things work for more than a year is 100% more terrifying. Once I have a schedule and am more stable in the visa and job department I can start my travels, visit all my friends in Germany, Austria, Spain, Italy, England, Ireland...

Sometimes I'm sure I hate everything about teaching, that I'm utter crap at it and am wasting everyone's time. It's definitely not my calling, sure. I probably won't continue teaching in this capacity when I get back to the States, but it's hard to tell where it all stands after that. Some days are not so bad and yes, it is a new skill I'm learning and will take some getting used to and of course some practice. The 5000 job rejections didn't quite help my self-esteem, either. I don't think I'm THAT bad of a teacher. I graduated with a Strong Pass, so there had to have been something promising in my brain.

I wrote this in my other journal, but jobs that don't have an end time at the conclusion of the day completely stress me out. I hate that I can always do more, I can always do better. Sometimes I just want the locked door of my workplace to tell me it's out of my hands. You don't get that with lesson planning, and so I am continually very anxious. I always think I'm slacking, whether I am or not doesn't really matter.

I just wish I knew when I was being homesick and when I was being reasonable. Or should I say America-sick? I don't want to go home. It was easier last time I lived abroad. I could channel all of my angst into the fact that I was in a Long Distance Relationship and that it sucked. The fact that we fought every five minutes, that I always felt stressed and guilty, also made it quite easy to displace all my homesickness into general angst, worry and anger. Sure moving to Brighton was hard for awhile, yeah I had the whole relationship thing. I spent many nights crying on the phone, yes. It took awhile to make a group of friends I really identified with or to get to know the ones I did, took awhile to not feel like the token Queer Older American in the mass of first years, to stop caring, to realize which friends weren't the right ones. No language barrier though, however hilarious British-English might be for me at times ("Did you say fairy cakes?!"). Culture not that different. Not as hard.

Now that it's fall, I've been missing a lot of things. I miss "Crazy Wednesday" $1 lattes at the Elbow Room. Parties in the Friedmans. I miss being able to find kale everywhere, the food co-op, the forest and mountains in Massachusetts, bonfires on the beach on Long Island. Triple ristretto espresso at Northampton and Amherst Coffee. The crisp scent of autumn in Massachusetts and being surrounded with intelligent, assertive, often half-naked women at Smith College. The rock-climbing wall, canoeing for free in Paradise pond. All things that are free, actually.

I don't miss the work and honestly, Northampton is one of the last places I'd want to be this year (after Long Island and other cities that are mostly conservative and plagued by large amounts of traffic jams). Sure, I'd love to visit my friends that still go to Smith, but living there would not be good for me this year and I know that.

Sometimes I also miss the progressive nature of Northampton. I miss seeing girls holding hands, feminist boys, locally grown food, bike kitchens, catching masses of people hula-hooping in the park as I'm walking back home. Prague is great, yes, and I'm sure the language barrier keeps me from understanding a lot of what's going on around me, really taking it in and understanding what the city feels like to someone who isn't a little English-speaking expat girl from America, but it's depressing sometimes to see just little inklings of progressive ideas here and there when I'm used to having it in my face everywhere I go like it was in the Pioneer Valley. True to its name, "Northampton: Where the Coffee is Strong and So Are the Women." Sure, there are a lot of ignorant rich hipster kids, a lot of sheltered girls only at Smith because they hate or are afraid of men, but it was nice always being inspired like that. Prague has a lot of potential, I've got to throw it a bone, saying that communism just ended in 1989. Welcome to the Real World, Nicole.

I think I'm just having a quarter-life crisis. Adjusting here is hard, especially with all the bureaucracy bullshit, but realizing that I actually have to figure out what I want to do with my life, that there is no more structure lining my future, is harder. This was it, the last plan. I just wish I felt more confident about the teaching thing. Having to fight so hard and spend so much money for it when I'm not even sure I'm good at it or want it is rough.

If my visa situation doesn't work out, I think my plan is to travel west through Europe and visit all my friends, fly back to NY, see East Coast friends, then drive out to the West Coast (probably Portland) and get a job, make friends, live life. I'd feel pretty upset and defeated if I spent all the money and effort here just to have my visa get rejected, but it's good to have a backup plan.

I have my entire life to live in America. I just can't decide between what I want and what I think I should do. It's a fine line, you see.