Archive for the ‘life’ Category

Anxiety, my new, awkward friend

Friday, February 1st, 2019

I’d like to share something about anxiety that I have come to understand over the past months which I like to share, hoping it might be helpful to some of you.

As most graduate students I know, and indeed many fellow millennials, I often struggle with anxiety. That nagging feeling of uncertainty, stress, discomfort, that often distracts me from doing the things I set out to do and that, frankly, makes it hard to enjoy life. It is often so vague and undefined that I can be ashamed of feeling miserable about it, considering the types of “objective” hardships that many other people go through, such as oppression, hunger, disease, death. I used to think I just need to get my act together, push through, and eventually I will feel better. Long story short, I saw anxiety as something bad, something to rid myself of.

I no longer see it that way. Now, I treat my anxiety as a mentor, a partner of sorts, a good spirit, a true friend that tells me the truth even though I may not want to hear it. Don’t get me wrong, this friend is awkward and a huge party pooper. But still a valuable one.

My anxiety helps me in two important ways. First, it’s a tell-tale that I am off-track with something. I do believe that there are right things and wrong things that we could be doing with our time on earth, and too often, most of us, me included, do the wrong things. Like spending the majority of our time working a job (or preparing for such a career) to earn enough money to approach a bourgeois middle-class lifestyle (and than needing the rest of our waking hours decompressing) while forgetting to attend to the emotional and spiritual needs of ourselves and the people around us. Probably not a good thing to do and yet the trajectory of most. So my anxiety is that red flag that is hoisted when I’m off-track. Unfortunately, it really is just a red flag. It will not tell me which of the many things I am doing is the one that caused it to give me that warning, nor does it tell me what the right path would be. So I still need to do a lot of introspection (meditation, walks, conversations, counseling, fasting, etc.) to figure these things out, but my anxiety is a gentle (or sometimes not so gentle) reminder that I still have work to do in this regard. Ultimately, I see it as an act of love, though, because aligning my life with what I perceive as my purpose in life is key to my happiness, and isn’t that what we all should be striving towards?

Second, my anxieties are reminders that some things in my life are objectively shit. Some of these things are relatively evident, like some unresolved conflict with a loved one. Some are less obvious, like the profound lack of true community and solidarity in our capitalist society, imminent climate catastrophe, reemergence of fascism, a deep sitting feeling of uprootedness. The point is not to mistake the anxiety for the problem itself. Shooting the messenger will not solve the problem. So instead of blaming my anxiety, I should be blaming all these issues mentioned above, or better still, turning my energy towards working towards a solution of these things, or if that is impossible, finding other, conscious ways of coping with them. Anxiety is uncomfortable. So is fascism or deep conflict. Trying to be comfortable in the face of these issues is just plain ignorant and might even deepen these problems instead of solving them. It is time to accept discomfort and use it creatively. Becoming conscious about this type of anxiety also moves away my focus on these issues as something that is my personal problem, something that I have internalized the blame for my discomfort. No, more often that not, these things are societal issues, or at least interpersonal issues, that I might be part of, but that are also beyond my sole individual responsibility. I will no longer blame myself for feeling uncomfortable about oppression, violence, climate change, other people’s avoidance of relational problems, capitalism and what have you.

Do I need anxieties to show me these things? Probably not. A good friend that hugs me when I feel shaken up by the distressing truths they are reminding me off would probably do the same result with less pain. In an ideal world we would have lots of people around us that help us coping with this discomfort and make us feel less powerless when facing it. In fact, those people are around more often than we think but we have forgot to reach out for them and admit to our own vulnerability. But meanwhile, I appreciate my anxiety as perhaps the ultimate ally on my path towards living a more truthful and purposeful life in a world that bombards me with temptations to rather use my precious time and energy to make someone else richer and more powerful.

Now, I’m not a psychologist and there are probably instances of anxiety that are pathological, that is to say, not rooted in some actual problem that deserves our attention. Anxiety of being anxious. A self-perpetuating loop that can only be remedied by some kind of psychiatric intervention (whether medically, psychotherapeutically, or ceremonially). I also don’t mean to say that one should dwell on one’s anxieties. Going back to the party pooper analogy, you don’t want to be around that person all the time or else you are bound to feel miserable forever. Just take their advice and then move on towards what they have told you and focus on resolving that situation. Finally, it is not always the right moment to face our inner gloom. We do have to function in the real world, we have to make ends met and secure our survival. For those moments, I welcome all the anxiety-management techniques out there – meditation, sports, arts, masturbation, video-games, the odd joint, whatever helps to move on. I just need to remember that nothing of this will actually solve anything, it only gives me time until I face what I need to face, or until I break down.

This is hard stuff and I get the temptation to somehow avoid anxieties, either through denial, medication, or even excessive, that is never-ending, coping techniques. But I doubt this is feasible in the long run. Bottling up everything that makes me feel uncomfortable is just bound to burst that bottle eventually, burnout, depression, violence, addiction, suicide, or any other type of mental breakdown. But perhaps even more importantly, anxiety can help me on a path towards more happiness and peace if I start listening to it and trusting myself that I am able to cope with its messages. Anxiety, I no longer run away from you. Let’s sit down and have a tea together (but stay away from my party, FFS!).

Winnipeg and I don’t even know how that happened but I like it

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018

In what can only be described as a mad twist of serendipity, life  washed me up against the banks of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers, in the Canadian city of Winnipeg, that only a bit over a year ago I only knew through Venetian Snare’s charmingly titled song “Winnipeg is a Dogshit Dildo”. I am not sure what I was supposed to expect of a city that is likened to a, well, dogshit dildo, but those expectations have been exceeded by far.

Think of Winnipeg as the kind of place where–unless you try to hitch your way from East Coast to West Coast along the Trans-Canada Highway–people don’t end up without a purpose of doing so (in fact, most Winnipeggers don’t end up here at all, they just never left). In that respect, it is the antithesis of New York City and the Pacific Crest Trail, the obvious places where one would go who has no purpose to be anywhere else. In fact, Winnipeg is the antithesis to NYC and the PCT in many ways. These comparisons out of the way, Winnipeg is a very livable, bike-able (in the summer anyway), diverse, culturally rich, and socially complex city that seems to be the exact thing I was craving after two years in a small college town in the hills of Pennsylvania.

Part of my purpose to be here is to find out what that purpose is. Superficially Professionally speaking, I am here to pinpoint the nitty-gritty of my dissertation, that will be something around tribal sovereignty, wild rice, and ownership over land and water. Or will it? I am currently using the blank back pages of my proposal to take my fieldnotes. This is about as useful a proposal is once you actually get into the field and get your reality check. Did I mention that I have a lot of fun figuring these things out? I mean it. Driving around Manitoba, Western Ontario and Minnesota, talking to and learning from Ojibwe elders, joining their ceremonies, attending community meetings, and just being (a person) in this beautiful country is a heck more enjoyable than sketching out a dissertation from my office desk half a continent away.

But of course, there is always a deeper level to which one could take the question of purpose, and this is where the serendipity comes in and my readiness to pour out the well of my soul in the public parts of the internet drops out. So I leave it at that. Think of this post as a public service announcement, that I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada) for now. Now, what about visiting me as a purpose for you to come to this city?

catching up – life between North America and Europe

Sunday, September 4th, 2016

When months pass without me writing any blog posts, it’s usually not because nothing happened (in which case I tend to turn to political commentary). Quite the contrary, so much happened that I didn’t find time to blog. Or let’s be honest: Blogging was the least thing I thought of.

After spending about 7 months in Upstate New York to do field work for my master’s thesis, I moved back to Vienna to finish my degree. Part of that was re-designing a green roof for IKEA in Budapest (don’t think they ever actually implemented any of our plans). After fall semester, I reconnected with my hobo-self and kind of drifted back and forth between Vienna and my hometown Rostock while writing up my thesis. All this was interspersed with the odd trip to Prague, Berlin, Bremen, London, Somerset and Reykjavík. Don’t think I ever spent so much time on long-distance busses. In the meantime, I accepted an offer to pursue a PhD in Rural Sociology at Pennsylvania State University and defended my master’s thesis. Guess that makes me technically a Diplomingenieur in Landscape Planning and Landscape Architecture now.

In retrospect, I realized that my restless traveling through Europe was my way to say good bye to the continent, places I love and people that I miss already. I am now in State College, PA, two weeks in the crazy adventure of grad school. Crazy it’s been indeed so far, but more on that in entries to follow…

 

Ithaca, NY it is

Friday, April 24th, 2015

One thing I find with blogging is that things usually start seem worth to be written about a few weeks after they happened. And then it takes me another few weeks to allocate the time for writing. What I am really trying to say, is that I moved from Vienna to Ithaca, New York about 2 months ago.
Professor Philip McMichael invited me to write my Master’s thesis on peasant farming in the United States at the Department of Development Sociology at Cornell University. I don’t want to go into the actual research quite yet, apart from mentioning that I’m extremely happy to work with Rachel Bezner Kerr and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen back at BOKU as my supervisors. Working with both of them has been encouraging and empowering to the point to realize, what grad school wasn’t for me during most of my master’s as BOKU. Really, most of it were just a continuation of my Bachelor. Which wasn’t a waste of time, at all, but education can be so much more. Generally, grad school here at the department seem to be more about one’s own development and critical thought rather than just ticking some of the skill boxes on your resume. Long story short, the last 4 months (basically when I started working with Veronika) have been very intellectual challenging and exiting.

 


Ithaca itself is almost the most ideal setup of a town for my needs. Small enough so everything is easily walkable, buzzing enough so you don’t get bored but inspired and feel connected to the world (thanks to Cornell and Ithaca college) and has great outdoors within easy reach. A major drawback, however, is the seemingly endless winter. It’s late April now and yes, we had snow this morning. To be fair, it’s been in the 80ies only a week ago, but generally speaking, I’m fed up with the cold and I’m not quite decided yet, if I could stand winters like that for several years, notwithstanding the beautiful summers.
Someone asked me this morning, if I thought Ithaca is like Portland, OR. The Portland of the East so to speak. Apart from that there is Portland, ME, I don’t think this is true. Yes, it is a very liberal and progressive city, but unlike Portland, Ithaca has this slightly weird college bubble feel to it. Portland is just weird in itself. That’s at least what the Oregonians say. Also city planning. Ithaca, come on. There’s like zero bike infrastructure and most sidewalks are pretty horrible. At least they exist. But I definitely enjoy the scale of Ithaca and it’s strong ties with the surrounding farmers, which is great both for my research and, you know, every town and city should have strong ties with its surrounding farmers.

So this is the place I am going to spent my life in until late summer.

Oh, there’s another thing that happened during the last months and it’s only now I feel it’s worth mentioning: Photography. While I have always been a busy picture-taker, my artistic ambitions sort of declined over the years. Or put it another way, moving from one place to another, hitchhiking, wwoofing, exploring places, all that was some sort of artistic project in itself, so point-and-shoot along the way yielded quite a few good pictures I hold deeply to my heart (after all, geysers, waterfalls, deserts, oases…there’s not so much you can do to make pictures that aren’t pleasant to look at). Also, it was a deliberate choice to have a simple camera I could bring to all of my trips. Now that has changed a bit. I sold that most-of-the-time-with-me camera to a friend and got a DSLR instead and picked up photography wherever I left it about 10 years ago when I gave away my old, analog film camera. I’m still mostly playing around but I do find some sort of meaning in the photos I take, a way of expressing myself rather then documenting events and trips.

So here are few pictures I took during my first weeks in Ithaca.

the student in the time vortex

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

2013 is about to close and it’s time to write something clever on my blog. Oh my, half a year has passed again since I wrote my last entry. Guess I’m not much of a blogging person. Or rather, I’m in a stage of my life, where I do make progress in certain areas, namely my studies and students’ association (ÖH) activism, but unlike in music, where you have concerts and releases, there are not so many stunning events that I feel eager to write about. Or when they happen, I’m too tired and torn to be bothered. It feels like in Doctor Who’s time vortex; I chase through time and space with tunnel vision and without contemplation.

When I look back at the first months in office, there are several things I should be proud of: We (my colleagues in the chair team and several other activists of ÖH) established two new units within the students’ association, organized a number of seminars and political/informative events, organized a huge demonstration against the union of the ministry of science and the ministry of economy and, most importantly, seemed to be able to create a general sense of motivation within the student body for ÖH affairs. Also, we created a lot of confusion. Something, I’m not entirely discontent about.

As with my studies, officially I’m still in Bachelor stage but practically halfway through my masters. Which is kind of cool, ’cause it give’s me the choice of being done soon or stretch the end a bit to get some time for my own, artistic, political and/or scientific (I don’t attempt to separate these areas to much) projects. Yeah, my head is still bursting with ideas that needs watering.

tldr: wibbly wobbly timey wimey happy new year

And suddenly they called me chairperson

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Looks like it took me 6 months to write another entry on my blog.  Not like I’ve been lazy, far from it. I’ve just been caught up with tons of stuff, I didn’t even remember I had a blog. Sort of…

The single most exciting event was the election for the Student Union parliament. The election itself was exciting, but so was the preparation and aftermath. Admittedly, our green student group (bagru*GRAS*boku) was pretty much in a state of coma since the last election in 2011. We didn’t die, the heart was still beating, we were just dozing. That is to say, me and a fellow student were members of that student’s parliament and did get involved there, but other than that, it was pretty much green radio silence. Anyway, something must have struck us, as we decided to run again this year and even do some campaigning. A small group as we are, I confess it was one of the most intense campaigns I took part in. But it was great to see our group become alive again and even better, we managed to maintain our two seats in the student’s parliament. Still better, we were suddenly a much asked for coalition partner for the two bigger student’s group. Therefore, no relaxation after the election but coalition talks! I tell you, that stuff is exciting. Everything went pretty smooth, though, and now, hooray, we’re part of the executive coalition with the so-called Unabhängige Fachschaftsliste, a rather odd collection of campus activists, that came together in deadly terror of joining any party-affiliated group. Nice bunch of people, though. Long story short, I’m now part of the chairteam of our Student Union, which is not far from a full-time occupation. It’s going to be extremely intense, busy and challenging plus awesome. So I assume. It was interesting to realize, how nice and polite suddenly everyone becomes, once you’re get into some sort of exposed office. Wonder how long that will last…
Another year, another challenge.

Apart from all those political activities, I also managed to make some progress on my studies. I’m like on the finishing line of my Bachelor graduation. The most interesting part was the field research for my Bachelors thesis (more on that, once it’s proof-read, handed in and graded), which took my to the Vinschgau in South Tyrol, Italy. It was quite a relief and change to get out of Vienna for 2 weeks.

How to put things off you can’t do anything about now

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

As I am working myself  through my undergraduate programme in landscape architecture and planning, I am already thinking about which master to take. There are a couple of options I find intriguing:

Coming to a decision is only part of the problem. It’s still more than a year left until I actually have to make that decision, in fact, it won’t be before December I can apply to anything. There’s absolutely nothing I can do about it right now and yet this pondering is nagging my mind to no end, taking up way to much brain power which I rather invested on other things. So today’s big question is, how to put off something that is bothering you, but which you can not do anything about at the moment. Basically, I want to put it into a mental hold-file, erase it from my mind and follow up on it in autumn. I know how to do it with a file on my hard-drive, but my brain doesn’t work like that. Any suggestions? I might continue this article whenever I came up with a solution, which I don’t at the moment, because…which master programme should I take again?

edit, half a year later: Over the course of the last 6 month that list expanded to about 20 extremely interesting master programs I’ve been considering. However, coming back to University in fall made me realize the advantages of my current program. All those other masters, tempting, but not better suited for my overall goal to plan sustainable communities than the course I’m already taking. It’s like walking down the aisles in a department store, when all the shiny products left and right of you are grabbing your attention while their’s only one product in the whole store you’re  actually need. Ehh, I forgot how much I hate department stores…