Sunday, February 26, 2012

Losses and Celebrations

Despite it only having been thirteen days since my last post, a lot has happened.

I did not mention in my last blog what my plans were for Karneval, which was last weekend. I had already received word some time ago that my friend Katie, another dancer from MN, was going to be in Cologne for the weekend of the 18th of February, and I had decided to go up to Cologne and see her. It was only afterward that we both remembered that this would be Karneval, and Cologne is essentially the place to be for Karneval celebrations in Germany. We forged on ahead, and despite some complicated arrangements regarding at whose place I was staying which night (with a friend of my friend, and then a German dancer that lives in Cologne as well), I ended up going up on Sunday, hanging out with Katie and her friend Christina (who is something of a Karneval Grinch), and had a great time. We saw the film The Artist, which I highly recommend; it's an exceptionally charming film, and very well crafted. We were at one point accosted by an Afghani man who wanted to ask me (hearing that I was American) why America was still in Afghanistan, and what we were doing there. He was not aggressive precisely, but very insistent, and as such the whole encounter was a little disconcerting; you never know in what direction such a discussion will go, under the circumstances. But he parted with us in a fairly friendly manner, so it was no problem.

We saw a couple parades while we were there, and although the parades themselves were nothing spectacular (the usual fare of bands of varying levels of skill, people in costume throwing candy, and various sponsors and organizations with floats), it was the spectators that really made the experience. Almost everyone I saw was dressed up in some way, costumes ranging from just a headband or hat to elaborate and fantastical. I loved the rampant silliness in the crowd. I had no costume, but after switching hosts to my friend Sanni, we improvised one with the supplies she had, and we went out to a Karneval party, which was also pretty fun.

Of course, the first part of the title tells you all that there's more to it, and there is. I also received the news on Sunday night that my grandfather had passed away. While surprising in its timing, of course, the actual idea of his passing did not come as too much of a shock, since his health had been deteriorating for a long time. He had suffered a number of strokes about seven years ago, and had been slowly sliding downhill ever since.

The loss of a family member under such circumstances is a bizarre thing. I am saddened by his death, and I will miss seeing him, yet in many ways the man I knew as my grandpa has been gone for years, and he had not recognized me or known who I was for probably three years. How to feel, under those circumstances? In many ways, I don't think that his loss will hit me until I am home and amongst my family members again. Being alone over here creates a real sense of distance, both physical and psychological, from the grieving process. I could not attend his visitation, or funeral, though I will certainly visit his grave when I return. And although his death saddened me, I was surrounded by an environment which he would have loved: the silliness and fun of Karneval. My grandfather had always loved to dress up, and to play tricks on other people, and I felt it was fitting that I was wearing his jacket during the weekend. He especially would have liked a camera I saw which squirted water into the face of the person who was trying to take a picture. I enjoyed myself during Karneval, in part despite my grandfather's death, and in part in honor of my grandfather's life.

The circumstances of his passing brings up an interesting question, however, on saying goodbye. I have not been able to attend the funeral of either of my grandfathers, as my Grandpa Heasty passed away while I was in college, just before finals, and since I had already taken almost a full week off school to see him before he died, I needed to be back at St. Olaf in order to make sure I was keeping somewhat abreast of my school work, little as I wanted to at that time. And yet, with my Grandpa Heasty, who passed away a little less than two years ago, I was able to speak with him one last time before he slipped into a coma in his last days. In that way I was able to say goodbye to him before he died, and I was also present at his burial.

With my Grandpa Hathway, it's such a different set of circumstances. As I said, in many ways, my grandpa had already been gone, for me, for a number of years before his body finally gave way. But there was no moment in which there was a sense of him being about to go, or a moment in which I had the foreknowledge of what was to come. He just gradually slipped away, being less and less present each time I saw him. It's such a strange and tragic way to lose someone; the gradual loss of all the things that make that person who they are. But even that knowledge is tainted with the evidence that some part of them still remains, even till the end.

Grandpa Hathway, who was always a tinkerer at heart, and was very mechanically minded, and when he was in the first nursing home he stayed in (which he was not happy in, as no one there knew ASL, and therefore he couldn't speak with anyone; we eventually managed to find a home where all the staff were required to know ASL, and he was significantly happier there) he escaped relatively frequently; he would watch the nurses and caretakers when they unlocked doors, and remember the number codes, or one time picked up a caretaker's keys, examining them one by one, and later taking the same keys, having already figured out which key worked for which doors.

It's a very strange feeling, and one I'm not sure I wholly understand. Funerals and visitations are a necessity for most of us; it's a time and a place to share in our grief, to say goodbye, to gain some closure in the loss of someone close to you. Yet when we have all been mourning the loss of my grandfather a little bit each day, his death is more of a time for us to express that grief publicly, and to allow others to share in it. However, in true Hathway spirit, we also celebrate one of the most remembered and missed aspects of my grandfather's life: his humor. My grandfather was a trickster, and I feel secure in the knowledge that more than a few angels will be wondering where they misplaced their harps, or when their robes were dyed pink.

Rest in Peace, Grandpa Jack.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Doldrums

So, it's official. I've hit the doldrums, at least temporarily.

For those of you who don't know, the doldrums are an area of water (evidently near parts of the equator) where the pressure and winds and tides are exactly wrong for nautical navigation. The winds can completely disappear, leaving the water without any swell or tide, and ships can be stranded for days, even weeks. The conditions in the doldrums can also lead to more severe weather than other parts of the open sea, making it a less than ideal place for a sailing vessel.

Now, since I have not recently taken up sailing, nor am I anywhere near the equator, I'm sure you all understand that I'm speaking metaphorically.

I'm not really sure what it is in particular, though it's almost certainly a combination of multiple factors, and I imagine most of the guest teachers experienced something similar. I just feel sort of listless, puttering about with no direction.

In all honesty, I should be feeling pretty good. I paid my deposit for Herrang Swing Camp, the biggest dance event in the world, so it's certain that I'll be going there in July. I went to two parties over the weekend, and had fun at both. The first was my favorite bartender's 40th birthday, at his pub, and there was a band, and whatnot. I also met another American there, a fellow named Victor who has been living here since 1988. He was a hoot, and we got along great. That one went pretty late. The other was a housewarming party for a colleague who just moved into a new (and very nice) apartment. It was fun, as well, though the conversations were tough; most of the people spoke over top of each other, making it night impossible for me to understand anything most of the night. We did all have particular fun at one point when our hosts had to go out briefly to pick something up: we rearranged the living/dining room, so that the table and couches were in the opposite positions they had been when our hosts left. Their reactions were pretty great when they returned. I also went on a nice walk to a nearby village called Albersbach with another colleague of mine, on a really beautiful day.

So, in short, I am still having fun, and good times, but I'm also just...blah, sometimes.

One thing I know is contributing to that is that I made some rather large attendance mistakes with my 11th grade dance class, so that their report cards have to be altered, which makes rather a lot of work for the administration (unfortunately, I cannot fix that myself). So I feel like a fool, or the rookie that screws up what is arguably the easiest part of the job. So that both contributes to, and is fed by, this listlessness I've been feeling.

The main part of it, most likely, is simply the let down of "after Olaf" catching up to me. At Olaf there was so much going on, all the time, and here I'm on my own so often. I think it's more or less something of an involvement-withdrawal. I'm pretty involved here, and try to keep that up, but it's still a pretty big difference. There are things I can, and want to keep doing, but sometimes keeping my forward momentum going is tough. It's a temporary funk, and honestly, I feel better now than I did over the last four days or so, but it's still just a sort of background feeling.

As for what else is going on, I'm finishing casting my actors in Center Stage, and we will begin rehearsing our sketches (finally!) this week. I am looking forward to that, and I think it'll be a good show, all things considered. There are some interesting logistical details to be worked out, since the room we'll be playing in has four large pillars in it, but we'll figure it out.

My apologies for the long space between blogs. I will hopefully keep them more frequent from now on.

All the best.