The End of an Era

Merry Christmas! As some of you know, my family sent a Christmas letter and annual family photograph throughout my youth. As the kids aged, we got involved and often invoked a creative writing theme. 2008 recounted the year in numbers 1-12. 2009 presented multiple geographic moves as the Nock Family Adventures. 2010 rode the social media wave with my brother beautifully crafting a “nockbook” profile with a stream of posts. 2011 went back toward print, publishing Nock Geographic with each of us reporting on someone else. 2012 turned inward, as we each wrote about ourselves. 2013 presented a recipe for replicating our year(s).

And that was it. With all the kids graduated and living independently, Mom and Dad sent their own letter, and each kid took their own direction. I’ve continued writing and snail-mailing letters with a sampling of photographs. The past few years have also waxed my existentialist nature and I have questioned the very nature of an “annual” letter. If I believe time is structured abstractly, why do I send a letter according to a socially constructed definition of the “year”?

Update: I don’t.

I’m going rogue.

This week – tonight – marks the official end of my sabbatical. I took four and a half months off from work, with a variety of goals to focus on restoring myself and aligning my doing with my being. Truth be told, I’m still very much on the journey of self-discovery, and I think I’ll stay on this journey – though not unemployed – for the remainder of my life. I’m committed to exercising conscious awareness of how I experience the world. To the chagrin – or delight – of those around me, I can talk at length about the importance of the capital-s Self and the capital-t Truth, contemplate the motivation in human behavior, advocate for verbally communicating emotions, or teach the yogic philosophy. But I digress…

In closing the pre-determined sabbatical and entering into an undefined future, I want to reflect on what I’ve learned throughout the past months’ experiences:

  • It’s hard for me to just “be”. It’s also “new” for me to be. Hard = New, in many cases. New things are hard. I knew going into this that I hadn’t had four months to myself in… ever, ignoring my pre-kindergarten days when all my time was free. I spent years in school, with 8-10 summer weeks spotted with structured and unstructured time. From the age of fifteen, I held summer jobs and part-time jobs while in school. When I graduated, or changed jobs or cities, I started immediately, without time off in between. I didn’t know how to rest. Now I do, though it’s still challenging to my instinct. And that’s okay. I’m enough for who I am, without what I do.
  • There are a lot of people who don’t work 9-5 every day. When I sit in parks and cafes, or commute on public transport, or whenever I leave my apartment, I see other people who aren’t at work. (I also see the ones who are at work, but not in offices.) I like that it’s okay to break the mold. It’s only when people ask how I spent my week or weekend that I remember whether it was a conventional workday or not. Every day is equal for me. I am ready to start working, AND I liked detaching from the work routine.
  • The world is full of distractions. My challenge and growth are in the focus. I remember telling a friend on a run in early 2017 that if I had a superpower, it would be to slow down time. I think I have. All I aspire for is to be aware of what I experience as my life happens. The past doesn’t exist. The future doesn’t exist. I only have the present moment. I exercise constant effort to be present: to be listening to whoever I’m with; to be reading without a wandering mind; to meditate and let thoughts pass; to run, bike, or swim and be in that action. My self awareness is what makes a day fulfilling. I’ve de-activated Instagram, which instinct and data tell me consumed several hours of every week. I’ve shifted away from constantly checking my to-do list and my inbox. I am often trying to make sure that I spend every moment where I am, not guilting the mind for wandering to the past, future, or elsewhere. The first step in focusing is to be aware of distraction.
  • Living sustainably and non-materially is challenging. In these months, I became more aware of the impact of my consumer behavior and choices on human and planetary health. Sometimes, I feel that I have no responsible option. I learned about the overwhelming emissions generated from flying. I started exploring a non-meat diet almost two years ago. Now I have validated my choice after seeing shocking numbers about the inefficiency of meat as protein. Meat sucks water and nutrients out of the food chain while pumping carbon emissions higher. There are responsible ways to produce meat, but mostly we don’t, and the world has a lot of people to feed. With so much free time, I move more slowly. I don’t jump from thing to thing, place to place. I can be more aware, and I’m shocked about how much non-processable waste I produce and how difficult it is to reduce this. Some things only come packaged in plastic, and it most likely won’t – or can’t – be recycled nor reused. My main choice is to reduce, but I’m only one in eight billion.
  • Physical movement and breath form the foundation of my well-being. I am more calm, present, and alive when I take time to move my body and focus on breathing. I’ve gone deep into a yoga teacher training, then fluctuated between routine and non-routine practice. I know, from experience, that breathing and moving are the best way for me to start my day. I will continue cultivating and nurturing my physical body for the remainder of my life.
  • Internal conflict may be eternal. I’ve decided to leave Berlin, and I still feel conflicted and uncertain about where to go. In the past 19 weeks, I’ve traveled from Berlin; to Portugal; to parts of Denmark; to Stockholm, Sweden; to Amsterdam – twice; to Seville, Spain; to Rostock, Germany, on the Baltic Sea; to Boston, Nashville, Toronto, across eastern Canada, and the southern coast of Maine; and I spent many days and hours exploring pockets of Berlin’s beautiful summer. I felt varying degrees of home in all of these places. For me, home is an elusive concept. I feel stimulated, energized, and enriched when I explore new environments. Yet perhaps these are all distractions; if so, from what? I don’t know, and that’s okay. I’m being patient.
  • I think everyone is afflicted with trauma. Everyone. You. Me. Yes, you. I see it everywhere, especially in Berlin. I’ve explored what trauma could mean in my past and read literature about the varying degrees of trauma throughout society. I want to break the taboo and encourage social dialogue. Maybe I’ll formally study psychology someday? Many people exercise to relieve stress or build self confidence or purely from an addictive habit, and people pay for gym memberships or fitness classes. I will re-iterate a past hypothesis: we might live healthier, more fulfilled lives by investing in mental health (counseling, therapy, emotional awareness) before or alongside physical health. And caffeine and alcohol are drugs, as much as marijuana, cocaine, heroine, you name it. They’re just socially accepted – and maybe less severe – forms of numbing reality.

I’d planned to write this Christmas letter for weeks and to mail some copies when I was in the US last week, but I didn’t. And I’m following suit with living in the moment. And Brené Brown taught me the importance of shitty first drafts. And this is everything that’s on my mind now.

So, thanks for your support. I’m extremely grateful, despite bouts of uncertainty. And I wish you a moment – however long it may last – of deep presence with your current reality. May we all embrace whatever era we’re in.

Me, the Immigrant

As much as I try to avoid the news, I find it impossible to not know the American executive branch’s sentiment toward immigrants. Immigrants are not welcome. Immigrants should go back where they came from. Immigrants are criminals. Immigrants are taking jobs, sometimes without paying taxes. All this, except the rich, white ones.

Hi, I’m an immigrant. I’m a white male, too. Where does that fit me in the welcome/not welcome spectrum? Should I go back where I came from? Where did I come from? Am I a criminal? What was my crime? If I paid my taxes and now I’m unemployed, whose job am I taking? I’d like to meet the non-immigrants, the natives. Truth is: they’re hard to come by.

Wikipedia: Immigration is the international movement of people into a destination country of which they are not natives or where they do not possess citizenship in order to settle or reside there, especially as permanent residents or naturalized citizens, or to take up employment as a migrant worker or temporarily as a foreign worker.

I (used to) take up employment and (still) reside in Germany. I am not German. I am a foreigner.

I wanted to know what it was like to need “permission” to exist, to be second class, to be an outsider, to live with consequences of others’ decisions without any say in the democratic process. I take for granted what it means to be “free” in America. I’m not talking about the right to carry a gun, or speak my mind, or publish this blog post. I’m talking about the freedom to know that I can securely own a home, apply for a job, open a business, receive a paycheck, drive a car. I can support myself without needing individual legal checkpoints to proceed with my intended life.

In the 22 months since moving to Germany, I applied for my initial visa and work permit, then two renewals; converted my drivers license to be eligible to rent a vehicle; established credit and rented an apartment; studied the language while fumbling through everyday interactions. To what end? Am I working toward being a non-immigrant? My ancestors left France and England for North American land in the 17th and 18th centuries. Subsequent generations made their livelihoods and settled lands throughout the North Atlantic region. Did they apply for visas and work permits? Did they struggle to learn English? When do outsiders become insiders?

Now I’ve joined the queue of unemployed Germans by notifying the government that I’ll be officially unemployed by the end of August. I lined up outside locked doors at 7:45 am on a Tuesday morning to say “I need to register as unemployed,” and then get yelled at for not knowing enough German. The employment office provides unemployment services to help people find work, and I’m entitled – or obligated – to work with them to find a new position. Since I willingly left my job, I won’t receive unemployment benefits for 3 months; however, after this time, I am theoretically eligible to receive a portion of my salary and additional assistance. If I were fired, I’d be immediately eligible for assistance, under the condition that I register immediately. Even quitting, I’m obligated to report myself… and that’s a bit uncomfortable. The Arbeitsamt offers quite a safety net, but I’d honestly rather take care of myself. I think most immigrants want to take care of themselves, because immigrants are people, and people want to be self-sufficient. Ideally, I’ll have a job contract soon, but it’s not so simple.

“Are you currently and legally eligible to work in the United States?”
“Would you now or in the future require sponsorship?”
Whether part of the electronic application or asked verbally, these questions – verbatim – are mandatory for hiring processes in the United States. I used to ask them in the initial phone interview, hoping for a yes then a no. I know that it’s much harder to higher a non-US citizen. But when people ask me “is it hard to get a visa to work in Europe?,” I can’t answer, because I don’t know how to measure “hard”. I just know it takes paperwork and patience.

And now, the tables have turned. I’m on the other side. In fact, I’m not legally eligible to work in Europe until I find an employer who can sponsor me. Or I can find multiple companies who are willing to contract my services and pursue an independent freelancer/self-employment visa. Then – in either case – I have to wait, often up to 90 days, to hear whether my application has been granted. And if not? Tough luck, I guess. Keep looking.

Most recently, I’ve been researching immigration and employment law for the Netherlands, and ideally I would qualify as a “highly skilled migrant,” which could speed up the decision process to two weeks. This requires an employer who’s a recognized sponsor. Becoming a recognized sponsor also takes up to 90 days, as well as several thousand Euros in application fees.

Imagine any career – doctor, researcher, baker, project manager, you name yours – and you’re applying for a job. The resume/CV gets you the interview. Cue nerves. The interview gets you (more interviews, more nervousness, then) the job. The job offer… gets you a spot in line to wait for the government to decide whether you’re permitted to work, whether you’re highly skilled and economically secure. Landing a job as a foreigner requires more than qualifications, negotiating, and signing a job offer. This application process typically includes the employer needing to prove that there are no local (in my case, any European) candidates who are better qualified for the job. Yes, because I’m taking a job from someone! Just like all the hispanic immigrants who are working in food service and poultry processing plants… we’re all taking jobs from the natives, right?

I am an immigrant. White. Male. Of European descent. In Europe. Full of privilege. Waiting in line. Proudly. Nervously. Uncertainly. Avoiding the news.