“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” – BEAUTIFUL BOY (DARLING BOY), song text by John Lennon
August 9, 2019
Week two of my new beginning in blogging… of sorts.
Actually, I wrote my first “Blog” over 17 years ago after my son Maximilian was born: “Mama & Co.”
I had given birth to Max, my first child, just two weeks after graduating from Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs with a Master’s Degree in International Media & Communication and a regional focus on the European Union.
I hadn’t expected to be pregnant during the final year of my graduate studies at an Ivy League university in the heart of the Big Apple. In fact, I could hardly believe that I was accepted into an “Ivy League” at all – not that didn’t have the grades or experience to back it up, but rather that EVERYONE questioned my credentials and ability to get in (except my father, who always told his daughter she could do anything).
But get in I did and I studied my little heart out to prove my worthiness. Still, as singer/musician/song writer/activist John Lennon once wrote, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”
On September 11th, 2001, I was one of the many in New York when the Twin Towers were attacked by terrorists via hijacked planes and the tragic experience shaped me, as it did so many alive then, forever.
Prior to 9/11, I was busy with both grad studies and acting lessons (Columbia by day, T. Schreiber Studios by night), “burning my own candle at both ends,” as my father would say – and I had just returned from a summer in Berlin, where I completed a four-month internship in film development and international co-productions at acclaimed German auteur director Wim Wender’s film company, Road Movies GmbH.
Excited to be back in New York and push forward with my studies, looking forward to the job search season before me in the coming winter and spring when I aspired to land a plum position at a top film studio in Lost Angeles, I had no idea that my future, like many New Yorkers after the 9/11 tragedy would be much different.
Unlike many unfortunate victims who perished senselessly in the heinous, terrorist act, I was alive.
Sitting in my empty apartment in Hamburg now, the memories flood the space and leave me breathless. I literally forget to breathe when reflecting back on those times. I’m actually crying as I write this, the emotions washing over me… gratitude, loss, anger, fear, sadness… awe.
Life is a wonder. I marvel at my circumstances. And like Oprah says, “What I know for sure…” is that God had different plans for me back then.
My husband’s birthday is, coincidentally, September 14th and like many transplanted New Yorkers, I wanted to stage his birthday at the World Trade Center. No kidding. I had it all planned out meticulously several weeks in advance:
I was going to meet up with him at the end of the work day, blindfold him and take him in the elevator to the very top visitors’ deck and then, “Ta-da!!!” He would take off the blindfold and find me before him with a birthday cupcake and the most incredible panoramic views of Manhattan behind me.
It was a romantic gesture to compete with the schmalziest Nora Ephron movie.
Instead, on September 14th, I found myself heading down to volunteer at the triages of Ground Zero, desperate to be of assistance in any way. All New Yorkers – young and old— where bonded together by this singular fate and we all wanted to pitch in to rebuild our city in whatever way we could.
Thus, instead of celebrating his birthday on the top of the tallest skyscraper in New York, Niko and I ended up cherishing the day somberly at home in Bayside, Queens, grateful for the life he and I still had to appreciate.
It wasn’t until about two weeks later that I awoke one morning, not feeling so well. I won’t go into all the symptoms, but suffice it to say that one visit to the doctor and a blood test later, my universe shifted again.
“What are your daily activities since the attack? How are you taking care of yourself?” the doctor asked after performing my check-up. I told her about my volunteer work at Ground Zero.
“I wouldn’t go down there anymore,” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because it wouldn’t be good for your baby – You’re pregnant.”
One Google search on the “health effects of Ground Zero,” and we now know how unsafe and toxic the atmospheric dust surrounding Ground Zero was in the days, weeks and months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Countless firefighters, police officers, civic servants, volunteers and citizens living near that area, who breathed in the air laced with a poisonous mixture of plane fuselage and building asbestos, are literally dying of cancer still today.
So, now, with hindsight, I see that was blessed to be pregnant in more ways than one.
And though, as I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t the “best career strategy” to be in your last trimester of pregnancy at the same time that you’re finishing your final semester of graduate school – considering the circumstances, I felt more than adequately blessed.
In fact, Niko and I named our first born son “Maximilian Amadeus” to commemorate our gratitude.
Fast forward several months after graduating in May of 2002 (I was as big as a house, but still determined to wear high heels at graduation!), the birth of Max (two weeks after graduation!) and a bout of post-graduation-post-partum-post-9/11 depression, I decided to keep myself busy during the long, lonely days of solitude and… yes, loneliness… with my newborn by challenging myself to start a daily blog about my experiences, sharing anything and everything about the shifting life for a once-sharp professional twenty-something turned dazed and confused novice mom.
I kept it up for a whole year – my goal – through thick and thin, sleepless nights, caffeine-fueled days and milk-stained t-shirts. Writing my own blog made me feel as if I had at least some semblance of a professional life and connection to the creative me -- and was a literal Booby Prize for not getting that sought-after job at a big Hollywood studio in L.A.
I told myself that, at the very least, the writing would be a wonderful gift to my son one day. But perhaps, just perhaps, I could turn them into a book. (Or maybe, just maybe, a movie?)
Well, seventeen years later, and I still have those pages. All 365 or more of them. I haven’t turned them into a book as of yet and there is no movie in the works (hmmmmm?!) but I do plan to give them as a special gift to Max when he graduates from high school.
Before Maximilian Amadeus embarks on his adult life, I want him to remember how he came to be and why "life happening while you make other plans" is oftentimes the very best of things.
Friday, August 2, 2019 - 7:13 AM
A New Beginning…Of Sorts
It’s raining in Bergedorf, Hamburg; the pitter-patter of raindrop’s blanket of soothing sound intertwines with that of local church bells clanging away and bird’s morning chatter like a river over rocks and stones.
If the above words seem jumbled and out of sorts, it’s because I’m still recovering from Detroit to Hamburg jetlag.
Funny, they didn’t seem that way in my head – when I found myself at 5 a.m., wide awake, unable to silence the constant traffic of words lined up into thoughts, surfing my sanity and consciousness.
This morning at 5 a.m., those words partied in my brain and they sounded fucking historic.
Words inside of one’s head have such power – until they land flat on paper (or, in this case, a computer screen) with the knowledge that anyone outside of the mind might read them and cast them lower than their original self-importance.
Alas, here I am, not alone, sitting with these words, aching and begging to get out, to have their fun and fifteen-minutes of not-so-famous fame.
There’s something about living in a foreign country that allows – no, DEMANDS—that one finally acknowledge one’s own thoughts.
Let’s face it: When you are in your own country with others who speak the same language and you hear said language around you all of the time, it can be intimidating. Your thoughts line up with everyone else’s and form a sort of chain-gang, or – as I like to call it – call of the herd.
But when you are seemingly alone in a foreign country with a language that, even if you speak it fluently, does not curse through your veins in the same way of your native language, those thoughts of yours can begin to really stand out and get very LOUD.
My momentary stream of consciousness is that of a 40-something, who at one time thought she had achieved and experienced a lot in life, but now, in this silence, questions whether she has truly achieved and experienced anything at all.
Yesterday, I received my 20th rejection letter (if you count all the rejection letters received from A-List film festivals my first feature film received) for a writing competition designated toward Women Writers over 40.
As it stands at present, I have one ultra-low budget feature film awaiting its date for distribution, one (hopefully) higher budget feature film in development, am rewriting my first feature film (larger budget) for the eighth time, producing the last legs of post-production on a short film that my 14-year-old daughter wrote, directed and acted in, and am trying to figure out how to get to NYC for an audition invitation that I really don’t want to pass up. This week.
Next week, I’m getting a tooth implant put in to replace a very solid, healthy tooth which I lost while chomping on a Salade Nicoise in Cannes, France during the 2018 Cannes International Film Festival and Film Market.
(This is my life: I have one moment of ‘here I am world, lookie, lookie at me – I’ve got it made!’ and end up losing a major tooth from a non-pitted olive in what is, basically, a glorified garden salad with canned tuna fish).
And, at the same time, as it were, I’m moving from Bergedorf-Hamburg back to Berlin (where I lived in the 90’s in my twenties). Indeed, the universe has this wonky way of serving up life’s craziest of moments on the same plate all at once.
And the upcoming MBA fall course load for which I need to prepare….
The crowdfunding campaign for that indie in development I look to finish designing...
And the October WIFT Germany/Hamburg Panel Discussion I absolutely must finish organizing.
Whew. Woah. It’s a lot on paper (no wonder I can’t sleep).
Yet, my innermost thoughts don’t seem phased by all of the above one bit. No. Instead, they dance around unknown, unconquered territory of the white abyss.
And, ultimately, I ask myself: Am I ALONE with these experiences, or do others also go through them?
Much like one of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson, I find myself needing to write, not to stand out, but rather to find my tribe.
You can only say so much with an Instagram selfie by a castle with the hashtag: #expatlife. And so, here I am, at 7:32 a.m. on a Friday morning in the German town of Bergedorf. Writing.
As I finish these collections of words, I am cognizant of the fact that this is a privileged life of self-imposed isolation that many would give their eye tooth (the one I split on an olive in Cannes) and that I should redirect these inner thoughts toward goals of something greater than falling on a white screen just to be heard.
GET OUT THERE AND DO SOMETHING TO CHANGE YOUR WORLD FOR THE BETTER!
Maybe, just maybe, by opening up as to what I really think, I might also encourage other introverts like myself to open the doors to their thoughts as well. You can be surrounded by the most beautiful tapestries and still feel silenced… until you are heard.
Maybe this exercise in putting typeset to white space is about claiming my existence.
Yes, it’s fun to put your hat in the ring for public acknowledgement (and support) in this or that competition, but what is the point of such “encouraging” competitions when they leave you feeling crappier about yourself, your talent and accomplishments after entering than you did before?
Maybe the real magic is in the doing?
I have written many a blog and article and essay and journal in the past, but this time is different. This time is about the beginning toward the end. When you reach your post mid-40-something years (how’s that for vagueness? I won’t let you age-discriminate me! LOL), and many of your loved ones have left you for the unknown after-life, you wake up to the realization that it is your turn to leave something of a legacy for the younger generations behind you.
(They might not know it and are damned if they’ll acknowledge it, but sometime soon they will need your random words to act as a balm for their own!)
Here’s the absolute inner truth of my soul right now, at this moment, alone in my Bergedorf flat, far away from home, writing with jetlag:
I wish, more than anything, that my dearly departed father and grandparents, and uncles and aunts, and cousins, and mentors, and friends – all of those who have passed on to the next world, that “undiscovered country from which no traveler returns” (Shakespeare: Hamlet) – would have left more random thoughts and musings for me to read.
I would love to bring their thoughts into this lonely and fearful heart. I miss them. So. Terribly.
Truth is, they probably, like you and I, thought that those racing thoughts – the ones that wake us in the still of the night and would rather send us to the refrigerator than truly reveal themselves – did not matter or count. They most likely drowned those thoughts in tormented self-pity and cruel atonement, as I did this morning when I initially mused, “Who would want to read them, anyway?”
I would. I would have wanted to read their thoughts any way, any how, any where.
And that is why I write.
PS. I just read the above jumble of collected words to my husband, who, wondering what I was passionately typing like a beast on the computer, stopped on his way to work this morning to inquire and listen.
“You have such a gift. You should keep writing,” he said.
An actress, director, producer and writer, Heidi welcomes you to her Blog. Learn about her latest endeavors and garner a glimpse into her recent accomplishments, both professional and personal.