book reviews

A review of Yes You Can! Have a Second Life After 60

This review also appears on my travel blog.

Yesterday, I mentioned that I had downloaded the book my former Peace Corps colleague, Loretta Land, published in 2019. I spent a good portion of today reading it, finally finishing it a little while ago. Loretta’s book, Yes You Can! Have a Second Life After 60, appears to have been self-published in 2019. Loretta died in January of this year, so she evidently just made it under the wire to fulfill her goal of writing a book. I remember back in 1995, when we first met as trainees for Peace Corps Armenia, Loretta told me she was going to write a book about her experience. Little did I know that after our service ended, Loretta would go on to work in Armenia, the Republic of Georgia, Uzbekistan, Ghana, and China.

Loretta’s overseas adventures began in Armenia, when she decided she wanted to be a Peace Corps Small Business Volunteer (SEAD). Originally, she’d planned to go to Fiji when she was 63 years old. This was because she figured she could do her two years, then come home eligible for Social Security. But she writes that God had other plans for her, and she, along with 31 others of us, got the chance to come to Armenia instead, two years sooner than she’d planned. As she mentions frequently in her book, God’s plans don’t always line up with ours.

Loretta Land was the eldest member of our Peace Corps group, A3. We were the third group to come to Armenia and probably the first group that didn’t run into a significant number of problems. Loretta explains that A1, the first group, had arrived in Armenia in the dead of winter and things were not quite up to speed. A lot of people in that group either quit or found jobs. A2 was a smaller group that arrived just as the first group was finishing up. Likewise, that group endured a lot of hardships. Quite a few people quit or found jobs. Our group arrived when things were still pretty tough in Armenia, even in the capital city, Yerevan, but logistics had worked out enough that things were pretty livable. We did have a few people quit and/or get medically separated, and one woman decided to marry her host brother rather than serve (she never swore in). But, by and large, our group was pretty resilient and most of us did our two years.

I didn’t get to know Loretta as well as I would have liked. We both lived in Yerevan, but she lived on the other side of town. I always had great respect for her, as she was always so kind, productive, and caring. I admired how she had decided to come to Armenia and be of service to the people there. And boy, was she of great service to the people. I was very impressed with all she managed to do while she was a Volunteer, as well as afterwards. She came back to Armenia to work on a couple of occasions, and I guess found that she preferred living abroad in developing countries rather than working in the States. She did have a three month stint working in Americorps (formerly called VISTA), but ended up resigning from that and coming back to the former Soviet Union.

Loretta’s book was fun for me to read, mainly because I knew a lot of the people in Armenia she mentioned, as well as some of the situations she writes about. However, the fact that I was in Armenia with her also presented some problems. I’m kind of a stickler about editing, and as much as I enjoyed Loretta’s book, I also think it really needed a few rounds with an editor. Because I knew a lot of the people she mentions in Armenia, I know that a number of names were misspelled, and I don’t think she did that on purpose. Any of us who were in Armenia at the time she was would know the people she mentioned.

She also got some facts incorrect. For instance, on more than one occasion, she mentions that the Soviet Union consisted of thirteen republics; it actually consisted of fifteen. I knew this, but double checked just in case. She mentions that the wife of the U.S. ambassador who served Armenia when we were there was Korean. Actually, she was Vietnamese. I double checked that fact, too. And she mentions that abortion is illegal in Armenia. This is incorrect. I actually knew several women who’d had multiple abortions, as it was the main source of birth control. I actually went to a meeting to discuss the abortion situation in Armenia. A couple of A1s who were working in Armenia had done some work on the abortion issue and we had a discussion about how rampant it was. And I also double checked that fact, too.

Large portions of Yes You Can! consist of letters and emails Loretta lovingly wrote to her children. I enjoyed reading the letters and emails, although sometimes she addressed people within them without explaining who they were. I’m sure her family members and friends know who they are, but this is a book that was being sold on Amazon and presumably read by strangers. So the lack of explanation could be a problem for those reading who didn’t actually know Loretta. She repeats herself a few times, which adds to the length of the book, which according to Kindle, is about 670 pages. An editor could have helped her pare down some redundancies and make the book shorter and easier to digest. There are lots of footnotes, too, which I sometimes found distracting and/or unnecessary. The title of the book implies that it might be a “how to” book, when it’s really a collection of stories about Loretta’s experiences overseas.

I know it sounds like I’m being very critical, and I am. But my criticisms don’t mean I didn’t like Yes You Can! I’m actually really glad I read Loretta Land’s book. She managed to accomplish so much, and she made so many lifelong friends. One thing that puzzled me, though, and I wish she were still around to explain, is why more than once, she writes “I never learned how to love.” She mentions that she went to high school at a boarding academy because she had no home to go to, although she also mentions that she was the youngest child of six. She doesn’t really explain her upbringing, nor does she explain why she says she “never learned how to love”, when it’s very obvious to me that she was a person who both loved, and was loved very much by other people.

Above all, I am just really impressed by Loretta’s bravery and her fortitude. I was in my 20s when we lived in Armenia, and I thought it was tough living there. I think Loretta’s living conditions were harsher than mine were. I didn’t have electricity much during the first year, but I did always have running water. Loretta apparently didn’t have much of either. She faced some truly frightening situations, too. At one point, early in our Peace Corps stint, Loretta was actually threatened by the Armenian Mafia. She writes of two other situations in other countries in which she was afraid for her life. I did have a couple of scary incidents myself, but none involving the Mafia!

I mentioned in yesterday’s post how grateful I am that I had the chance to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. One reason I am grateful is because I got to meet people like Loretta, who was very inspiring. I really looked up to her, and now that I’ve read about how she spent the last years of her life– serving and teaching other people– I admire her even more. She really lead a fascinating life. She mentions that one of her sons predeceased her. I’m sure the rest of her children are amazing people. I already read about her son, Andy, who is a hospice nurse and climbs mountains. A few years ago, Andy was climbing Mount Everest when there was an earthquake an an avalanche. Andy managed to survive, but not before Loretta was interviewed by the news. I later caught up with Loretta on Facebook, amazed that she looked and sounded just like I remembered her years ago.

So, despite my criticisms, I am glad I spent the money and took the time to read my former colleague’s book. It was a treat to read, but mainly because I knew her. She was a wonderful woman. I’m glad she managed to accomplish this goal she had before her time on Earth came to an end.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard
good news, history, lessons learned

My Peace Corps friend, Loretta…

Earlier this month, I took part in a Zoom meeting memorial my group of Armenia Returned Peace Corps Volunteers held for our former colleague, Matt Jensen, who was struck and killed by a speeding black Rolls Royce in Brooklyn, New York. During that meeting, I learned that another member of my group, Loretta Land, also died this year. She passed in January, having reached the age of 86 years.

I had recently been in touch with Loretta via Facebook, but she hadn’t been posting in awhile. I was afraid she might have stopped following me, as a lot of people tend to do when they don’t like my raunchy humor or outspoken posts about Trump. But, as it turned out, Loretta had simply moved on from this world. It wasn’t a total surprise, given her age, but I was a bit sad about the news.

I knew that Loretta had published a book about our time in Armenia. I decided to download it, and I’m now about halfway through it. It’s a pretty quick read, and if I’m honest, not the best edited or accurately fact-checked book I’ve ever read. And yet, I’m enjoying reading her book so much!

I always really admired Loretta, who was in her early 60s when she joined the Peace Corps. Loretta was about my dad’s age, and I think that had my dad not been married to my mom, he would have liked being in the Peace Corps himself. He was very excited when I told him I wanted to be a Peace Corps Volunteer, as my eldest sister, Betsy, had in Morocco during the mid 1980s.

For some reason, Loretta always made me think of my dad… the best parts of him, anyway. Dad and I had kind of a rocky relationship, but he had a very altruistic, adventurous, adrenaline seeking side of him that was fun. Loretta was like that too, as I’m discovering as I read her book, Yes, You Can! Have a Second Life After 60.

I remember when we arrived for staging in Washington, DC, Loretta was interviewed by a reporter for the Associated Press. A newspaper article later surfaced about Loretta’s decision to join the Peace Corps at her age. She was the oldest one in our group, but the subsequent groups I encountered also had older people serving.

Loretta served as a business volunteer, and lived on the outskirts of Yerevan, not too far from the very last metro stop heading east. I never visited Loretta, even though I also lived in Yerevan. Yerevan, in the 1990s, was like a really big village, but it’s also pretty vast, with over three million people living there. Her work was in a village about fifteen kilometers away from Yerevan called Zovk, while mine was at a Yerevan city school that, at least when I was there, served kids of all ages. Now, I believe my former school is what’s called a “basic school”, that doesn’t serve the youngest or oldest children. My students were all among the youngest and eldest at the school.

It’s been so much fun to read Loretta’s memories of our time in Armenia. There are some things in her book that I never knew about– a lot of it is about her specific work in Zovk, as well as Yerevan proper. She’s written some things that were common experiences that I don’t remember, like when our training group was asked to write letters to ourselves about what we thought our last day in Armenia would be like. I don’t remember doing that, but I’m sure we must have… because I remember the training director and his wife, and it’s exactly the kind of exercise they would have had us do. Unfortunately, someone lost the letters we turned in, although Loretta said she’d kept hers, but then decided to throw it away instead of reading it. She wrote that she was sorry she’d done that.

She’s also spilled some tea about some things that I knew nothing about… like, for instance, that a couple of Volunteers traded their kerosene for a car and a driver (which they were not supposed to do). She doesn’t mention their names, but she does mention the area where they lived… and I have a feeling I know who they are. But at least they got something truly valuable for the kerosene. I remember one lady who lived with a host family came home to find that the family had traded her kerosene for 200 kilos of potatoes!

I got a kick of reading her mentions of people we knew from our group, or people in the very small and close-knit American diaspora that existed in Armenia in the 1990s. So far, she hasn’t mentioned me. I don’t expect she will, despite my unforgettable charm. 😉 But I have seen some names of our colleagues, as well as Peace Corps staff and other Americans in the community during that time. I had forgotten just how challenging and difficult life in Armenia could be back in the 90s. Reading Loretta’s account makes me proud that I managed to survive that tough existence, even if I wasn’t as amazing and effective as a Peace Corps Volunteer as she was.

Loretta’s book is reminding me of the traditions and customs in Armenia, as well as the very warm and hospitable nature of its people. I got pretty bitter and depressed during my time there, and I think I lost sight of what an amazing opportunity it was to get to experience life in what had been the Soviet Union, just after the Soviet Union ceased to exist. When I think about it, it just blows me away that I joined the Peace Corps. It was not something I had really aspired to do until I felt the itch to do something drastic to change my life. My life didn’t change in the way that I thought it would, but it did change. If not for my time in Armenia, I’m not sure I’d be living in Germany, for instance.

I find myself oddly gratified, too, to read that, like me, Loretta experienced depression while she was in the Peace Corps. I remember, back in those days, feeling like such a loser. I felt like I couldn’t accomplish anything. By the end of my second year, I had actually done some good things, but they felt insignificant. It wasn’t until later that I realized I’d been suffering from depression, which is a medical problem. It wasn’t until many years after I had been treated for the medical problem that I realized that, in fact, I had done some things that made a lasting and good impression. One of my former students now works for Peace Corps/Armenia. I had nothing to do with him landing that job, but I do realize that at least his experiences with me didn’t turn him off of Americans. 😉 And yes, he still remembered me many years later, and now we’re friends on Facebook.

I expect to be finished reading Loretta’s book very soon, and then I will write a proper review, which I will post on this blog, and probably the travel blog, too. But for now, I just want to post that I’m glad I bought the book and am now reading it. I wish I had read it when Loretta was still alive and I could talk to her about it. She was an amazing lady and I am so honored that I got to meet her. Honestly, I met so many incredible people thanks to my experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia. It truly changed my life in so many wonderful ways… even if it didn’t always seem like it at the time.

Standard
love, memories, obits

One last toast to a man whose bright light will never really extinguish…

Last night, I sat in front of my computer with Bill and a German beer. I tuned into Zoom, an application I had only used once before last night. The first time I used Zoom, it was for a wine tasting. Last night’s Zoom meeting was for a much more sober purpose. We were there to remember our dear friend, Matt Jensen. Most of us in on the Zoom call knew Matt because he served with Peace Corps/Armenia from 1995-97. But Matt was also widely known in other circles worldwide. He was also a Peace Corps Volunteer in Senegal in the 1980s, and most recently, he was a beloved teacher at P.S. 110, an elementary school in the Greenpoint area of Brooklyn.

It was in Brooklyn where Matt lost his life just after midnight on May 18, 2021. He was just trying to cross the street– a wide boulevard well known for being dangerous to pedestrians. He had just celebrated his birthday with friends and was on his way home. He’d almost reached home when he was struck and killed by a speeding car on McGuinness Boulevard, the driver having apparently not noticed that they’d hit him and left him for dead!

Apparently, there were no witnesses or surveillance cameras to capture a photo of the person who killed this man with such a huge heart and bright spirit. Based on debris found at that the site where Matt was found, police surmise that he was hit by a black Rolls Royce. He was someone who had devoted his life to helping others– especially through teaching. He was a very gifted teacher, and I learned last night that the young children at the school where he taught practically worshiped him, even if they weren’t in his class. He knew everyone, and they all knew him. He was a very tall guy with incredible energy, so he was hard to miss, even without that vibrant personality and charisma that defined him.

Geoff, the organizer of the memorial, had asked me to sing a song. It always cracks me up that no one ever asks me to speak at memorials or weddings. I usually get asked to sing a song written by someone else. Even at my own father’s memorial, I wasn’t asked to speak. I was asked to sing– and my mom even told me which song she wanted me to perform. I was happy to do it, although my college minor in speech has gone to waste.

Just as I had for my mom when my father died, I sent Geoff a couple of recordings I had made, and he really liked my version of “Imagine”, sort of done Eva Cassidy style. I sing it in her key and with her mood, but more in the straightforward fashion that John Lennon sang it. I guess you could say it’s really “my” style, though heavily influenced by others. I was glad to have Bill with me, as he had graciously downloaded Zoom yesterday so we could figure out the technical aspects of the application. I wanted to make sure we did the music sharing part right. I’m glad to say that it went off well, except that I was very emotional and almost started crying in the middle of it.

Last night, I learned that besides Matt, our Peace Corps community has also recently lost two others– Loretta Land, who was an amazing senior Volunteer who had joined the Peace Corps at age 62– and Don Flumerfelt, who was in the group before mine. Loretta died in January of this year and Don passed in 2019. I had recently been in touch with Loretta, but she kind of dropped off of Facebook. I wondered about her. I can’t say I was surprised about the news that she’d passed, but I am so glad we did get to chat a bit last year. I wasn’t as close to Don, but I do remember spending a great afternoon in Yerevan, making business English conversation recordings for him. I also remember that he was very inventive and had built a shower for another Volunteer.

We also lost an Armenian friend, Ashot, the drummer for a local band in Vanadzor called Snack. Vanadzor was where Matt was originally assigned to work). Snack was an Armenian band, but one of the Volunteers also played with them, so they often performed at our parties. In storage, I have a cassette tape of their music, which always reminds me of so many fun times in Armenia. Ashot would have been turning 49 today, but he passed away of a heart attack in his bed on Thursday of last week. Ashot was also, for a time, married to Rose, a Vanadzor based Volunteer from my group. They shared a son. She was also in attendance last night. Some of the guys would have performed last night, but since Ashot was buried yesterday, it wasn’t possible.

At 7:00pm Germany time, I joined about 25 other people on the Zoom call. I felt so honored to be among them, even if I wasn’t close to Matt in recent years. It was great to see so many familiar faces of people I knew in the 1990s, back when I was trying to make my own mark in the world. To be honest, I left the Peace Corps as an angry person. There were many complex reasons for my anger, and some of them had absolutely nothing to do with my service. But, suffice to say, I was ready to go home in August 1997, thinking that maybe things would get better. What ended up happening for me, personally, was a bit of a nervous breakdown. Ultimately, the “breakdown” wasn’t a bad thing, because it forced me to reset my life and make some changes, to include taking voice lessons that helped me sing last night’s song. But I worried about what people in that group remembered about me, as I was a bit of a mess in the 90s. I was determined not to make an ass of myself. 😉

There were several returned Volunteers from my group, as well as the former country director, the former TEFL director, several Armenians, people who had known Matt through the American University of Armenia, and a woman who knew Matt in Brooklyn. We were also joined by Matt’s cousin, John. I had never met John before, but I immediately liked him. I could tell that losing Matt has been devastating for him. I can’t even fathom how much pain he and Matt’s friends and loved ones felt when they got the terrible news that he’d been killed. I was glad to hear that Matt’s brother is taking good care of Matt’s beloved cats, Katie and Olive.

The participants in the Zoom meeting were scattered around the world. I’m in Germany, but we also had a couple of folks from Armenia, someone in Sweden, someone in Russia, someone in Belize, and a number of folks on the East and West coasts of the United States. It’s amazing to think of how far and wide Matt’s light has spread… and there were so many loving sentiments and stories shared.

One of Matt’s former students, Hoveek, really touched my heart as he spoke about how much Matt had impressed him. When we were in Armenia, it was just a few years after the fall of the Soviet Union. It was a time when there weren’t a lot of Americans there. And Hoveek was immediately moved by this man who was not at all like the people he knew. He spoke movingly about how he observed the way Matt dressed, and how when they visited the Peace Corps office in Yerevan, Hoveek saw the magazines about America and met others. Matt helped Hoveek get a job working for the Peace Corps. I could easily see and hear how much love and gratitude this man had for Matt. It was an honor to hear what he had to say… and really, just to be a part of the large group of people who got to know Matt and were touched by his spirit.

I learned that Matt wrote letters to so many people and had connections to folks in very high places. I think, if he had lived longer, he might have even delved into politics. He loved to talk politics and wasn’t afraid to speak out… but even in death, he will make a difference. There was a huge memorial for him in New York, and some very high ranking people vowed to finally do something about McGuinness Boulevard, a dangerous street that has claimed other people’s lives over the years. If they make that boulevard safer for others, then Matt’s death will have done a great service to so many people… again, a way of sharing that light and affecting others for good.

But I think the most profound commentary I heard regarding last night’s memorial came from my own husband, Bill. Bill never had the chance to meet Matt, but he’s heard me talk about him over the years. My memories of Matt are mostly about some of the hilarious things he said, but also his wild dance skills. Matt loved to dance, and had taken lessons. I don’t dance all that well, but I do like to spin around the dance floor with men with rhythm. I learned last night that Matt would dance with anyone! I have told Bill many stories about Matt over the years, but until last night, all Bill knew about Matt came from my limited perspective.

Thanks to our Zoom meeting memorial, Bill had the chance to hear about Matt from others who knew him through different channels. So, this morning, when I asked Bill what he thought about the memorial, his comments came from a totally different perspective. This was the post I wrote for the Peace Corps Armenia Reunion Facebook group:

My husband, Bill, was sitting in the Zoom meeting with me last night. I just asked him what he thought of the memorial, and he said it was interesting to hear all about Matt from someone other than me. Not having met Matt in person, he was struck by how personal Matt was in his dealings with others. He noticed we didn’t just gush about the positive things, but we mentioned his many quirks, too. And he loved that Matt wrote letters, since letter writing is such a lost art. He said he could tell that teaching was truly Matt’s calling.

And then Bill said, “It made me wish that the person who killed Matt could be there to see and hear just how many people have been affected worldwide by his death, and the profound loss and grief caused by that one careless act. Especially among the kids he taught.”

It really drives home how much we all affect each other, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. My husband never even met Matt, and yet he has been affected by him through me, and now by all of the people who spoke so lovingly about him last night. I take some comfort in knowing that there are so many people worldwide that he taught. Every single one of them has the potential to share his vibrant light with everyone they know, too. In that way, he’ll never truly be gone from the world.

When I think about that, it makes me realize that we all have so much potential… and most of us affect people in ways we’ll never know. We’re all connected. Not to be corny, but Matt’s life was a little like the proverbial “candle in the wind”. It glowed bright and cast warmth and light to so many… and then it was suddenly snuffed out by the careless actions of someone driving a Rolls Royce. Such a bizarre way for a man like Matt to die… it was as if Kurt Vonnegut conjured it for a novel! But in the end, his death may end up saving lives, as local activists continue to demand that something is finally done about that unsafe crossing.

Every person has the potential to share something unforgettable and good. Matt Jensen shared his light generously with people far and wide, and because he cared and shared so very much, that generosity is still perpetuating through people who will never, ever forget him.

Bill never met Matt, but Matt still affected Bill. Imagine what those young students in Brooklyn will do as they grow up. Maybe one or two of them will be inspired to teach. Maybe a few will decide to join the Peace Corps. Maybe one or two will learn to dance, or become fans of ABBA, or travel the world. Or maybe they will simply tell their friends and family about this tall, blond, monarchy obsessed ABBA fan who taught them so much , helped them learn English, made them laugh… or made them a memorable meal with beets and cabbage, or a delicious pound cake!

Matt was a thoughtful, kind, and loving person to the very end, and he always thought of others. Upon hearing of Prince Philip’s death in April, Matt wrote letters of condolences to Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Anne. Princess Anne wrote back before Matt died, but I think I heard that Her Majesty the Queen also responded, but her letter arrived after Matt’s death. I like to think that Matt knows how many people loved him and will remember him, sharing his light to infinite numbers of people around the world. And I hope he’s up there in the great beyond, sharing a toast with Loretta, Don, and Ashot… and anyone else beyond the bar who was touched by Armenia and knows how much Armenians love making toasts!

I’m so grateful that I was able to share my memories with other people… and in some small way, honor Matt with one of my own gifts. Maybe I can share my light the way Matt did with whatever time I have left. The most important thing Matt taught me is that no one is promised the next minute. So I hope this post inspires you to share yourself… because I promise, you matter to someone. And you probably matter to many more people than you will ever know.

Standard
Germany, Military, racism

Repost: International collaborations…

I’m sharing this post, originally written on Blogspot on August 5, 2016, because I think it’s a really cool story that is relevant to my experience in Germany. Keep in mind that it appears here as/is, as I am certain General West has moved on from Fort Eustis. I will also share a follow up post written at the same time.

This morning, I was reading the Daily Press, which is the newspaper from my hometown community.  I noticed an article about Lieutenant General Nadja Y. West, who recently gave a speech at Fort Eustis in honor of the 596th Transportation Brigade’s Women’s Equality Day observance.  LTG West is the first black lieutenant general and the highest ranking female to ever graduate from West Point and she once commanded the hospital (now clinic) at Fort Eustis, an Army post that is near and dear to my heart because I grew up nearby.  LTG West is a medical doctor who is currently the surgeon general of the Army.  Her husband is retired COL Donald West.  I see them as quite a power couple!

A video about General Nadja West’s career. I highly recommend watching this video from 2017, which came out after I wrote this post. What a cool lady!

Anyway, as I was listening to LTG West speak on a video that was posted with the article I was reading, I realized that she appeared to be the product of a German and American partnership.  She is clearly biracial and, in fact, has the sort of willowy look of so many German women I’ve seen.  Also, her first name “Nadja” is a very German name.

I went looking to find out what her background is and learned that yes, indeed, her biological parents were a German woman and African American man who was posted to Germany with the Army.  Sadly, LTG West was left orphaned when she was a baby.  At nine months old, she was adopted by Oscar and Mabel Grammer.  Oscar Grammer was a Chief Warrant Officer who worked with the Army in Germany and Mabel Grammer was a civil rights activist and journalist.  The couple adopted twelve interracial children in Germany and arranged for the adoption of 500 more by families in the United States.  LTG West was the youngest of the twelve children adopted by the Grammers.

Some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met are biracial.  LTG West is clearly very attractive, but she’s also incredibly accomplished.  I’m sure the people who created her had no idea how far their daughter would eventually go in life. 

Having grown up in the southern United States, I’ve seen my share of racism.  Germany is not immune to racism, although it seems to be directed more toward Middle Eastern people than folks of African descent.  One is much more likely to hear a German disparage someone from Turkey or Syria than a black person.   

German women seem to really be attracted to black men.  In fact, I remember when we moved to North Carolina, one of the movers was a very friendly black guy.  When I mentioned that we’d once lived in Germany, he laughed and said with a big smile, “German women love black men!”  I have since met a number of people who were born to German and African American parents.  In fact, a lot of the people I’ve met have been affiliated with the United States military, especially the Army.  The Army sends a lot more of its people to Germany than the other service branches do.

One of the things I have enjoyed about my years as an “Army wife” is the diversity of people affiliated with the military.  Because servicemembers go all over the world, they often end up in relationships with people from other countries.  Naturally, some places are more represented than others.  For instance, there are a lot of Japanese and Korean women who have married American servicemen (and it is, more often than not, women who marry men, though there are certainly exceptions).  I do know one Dutch guy whose wife is an Air Force officer.  I’ve run into plenty of British folks, a couple of Italians and Greeks, and one or two Portuguese married to Americans, courtesy of the military.  And I have several German friends who married Americans.

Someone has probably already done this, but I think it would be interesting to see the breakdown of international love matches that occur between American servicemembers and host country nationals. Naturally, not all of these “matches” work out.  I have one friend who barely knows her father, a Puerto Rican/African American Army veteran.  She grew up in Germany not really knowing her father, though she did eventually reconcile with him to some extent. 

A lot of people who have no experience with military folks think that they are a bunch of knuckle dragging lunkheads.  What I’ve found is that the military is full of people from diverse backgrounds and many are open-minded and intelligent.  It’s true that a lot of veterans are people who come from small towns without much opportunity.  Many people join the military to escape poverty or bankroll an education.  But then they end up in faraway places where they meet and mingle with the locals.  They collaborate to create another subset of diverse people. 

The same thing happened in my Peace Corps group.  About half a dozen people who went to Armenia with me ended their service married to host country nationals.  Many people think of the Peace Corps as a very liberal group and a lot of Volunteers are pretty liberal.  However, in some ways, the Peace Corps shares some similarities with the military.  It’s very obviously a government agency.  In fact, PCVs even take the same oath military servicemembers do.  I have been surprised to find Bill working with at least one of my former Peace Corps colleagues who went on to work for USAID.

I have an Italian friend who constantly disparages the military.  He thinks it’s full of idiots who just want to destroy the world.  As someone who grew up an Air Force brat and later married an Army officer, I have found that many people with experience in the military are well-traveled and open-minded.  The ones who stay in the military tend to be pretty savvy about world affairs and they often have opinions shaped by real life experiences outside of the United States.  I know a lot of people think the US military should leave foreign postings, but I think these opportunities to live and work abroad are good for American society.  Too many people in the United States never go anywhere and see anything.  At least people in the military get the opportunity to look beyond the borders.

Hanging out on a military base can be an interesting cultural experience.  Hell, just shopping at a commissary stateside is interesting, especially when you walk down the international food aisle.   You’ll find a number of exotic products stocked for the spouses of servicemember Americans who came from somewhere else. 

I think it’s really cool that LTG Nadja West has done so well in her career.  I enjoyed learning about her and would probably find her fascinating to talk to.  She’s quite a role model all women.

ETA:  I just read the obituary for West’s mother,  Mabel Grammer, which I linked to earlier in this post.   I highly recommend reading it if you’re intrigued.  She was clearly an amazing woman.   

Standard
Bill, music, songs, videos, YouTube

Bill’s 57th year has gotten off to a tearful start.

Today is Bill’s birthday. I already gave him some of his presents on Monday and Tuesday, because they came from Amazon and I have no birthday themed wrapping paper. Monday, I presented him with a book about the art of Carl Jung. Bill loves art, and he’s fascinated by Jung, so I figured it would be perfect.

But then I noticed that Jung’s seven volume set called The Black Books were also for sale. I had already given Bill a copy of Jung’s Red Book on request about eleven years ago. The Red Book was basically a refined and condensed version of The Black Books. It’s just one large volume. He left that book in storage because it’s so big, and we had precious little room for extra stuff when we moved to Germany. Bill’s first company only gave him enough money to ship 5000 pounds. Good thing we don’t have kids.

When Bill saw the Jung books, he got all teary. He came upstairs to my office and thanked me. I turned around and he was wiping tears from his eyes, holding the funny t-shirt I also got for him. This was obviously a good gift… especially since he’s also been undergoing Jungian analysis with an American who lives in Berlin and is being trained in Switzerland.

I’ve been bugging Bill to see a therapist for years, not just because he has a lot of trauma to unpack, but because I know from personal experience that undergoing psychotherapy can be a wonderful healing process. It helped me immensely and changed me in so many positive ways. I came to view it as something I did for myself– a form of personal care– like some people get manicures, massages, or have their hair professionally coifed. I thought Bill would see it the same way. Fortunately, he does. Every week, he tells me about new things he’s discovered about himself through dream analysis and art therapy. He and the therapist have a good rapport. It really helps that Bill knows about Jung, since the therapist specializes in the Jungian approach. I’m sure a lot of the therapist’s clients are just looking for someone to talk to. He’s told Bill that he appreciates having a client who understands the Jungian approach. I think they both get a lot out of the work they’re doing.

I wish people wouldn’t think of therapy as a negative thing for “crazy” people or people who are troubled. It’s useful for anyone. Bill is a very functional person who keeps things together very well. But I know that talking to someone other than me is helpful for him. He’s gaining a lot of personal insight that I think will make him a better person… certainly a happier person. He deserves that, as most of us do. I think he appreciates the support, too. On another note, I love that Bill is so smart, and so interested in topics like Carl Jung. He teaches me so much… and every time he talks about art and Jung and other deep subjects, I thank God I married him, instead of some guy who just wants to drink cheap beer and watch football. Not that there’s anything wrong with cheap beer and football– more that a guy like Bill is more my speed.

And this hat is probably more my speed. Bill likes his women a little on the trashy side.

As a joke, I was also going to give Bill the above pictured baseball cap with Mister Rogers giving the finger. I did order it, but I think when that hat comes in, I’ll just keep it for myself. I doubt Bill would want to wear it, even though he’d think it was funny. He’s getting one more book, which is arriving tomorrow. It’s not about Jung or bartending. We’ll probably also make a cherry cheese pie or Bill’s favorite chocolate blackout cake, which I’ve made for him many times over the years. The cake is fantastic, but it takes us forever to eat it, and it’s probably better for the cooler months.

The tears continued after the gift exchange. This time, they came from someone other than Bill.

Yesterday, I was invited to an online memorial service for my old Peace Corps friend, Matt, who died in New York City in May. Some readers might remember that I wrote about Matt when he was killed. Since I live in Germany and, until yesterday, wasn’t in the club, I missed Matt’s first memorial service. Now they’re doing another one for his many friends worldwide. I was asked to sing a song at the event. That doesn’t surprise me, since I was well known for singing in the Peace Corps. I sent a couple of videos to the person who is arranging the event, asking him which song he thought would be most appropriate for the memorial.

The songs I chose were “In My Life” (in the style of Judy Collins) and “Imagine” (as done by Eva Cassidy). I started with “In My Life”, since it’s not known as an atheist anthem and is very accessible to a lot of people. I remember Matt had once told me he was raised Lutheran, but I didn’t know if the religion stuck, although I doubt it did. I also don’t know if any of his relatives are religious. But then I sent “Imagine”, since I do that one well, and it’s popular and very Peace Corps friendly. The guy arranging the event said “Imagine” made him cry, and expressed preference for that one. He says he’ll check with Matt’s cousin to see if he thinks it’s appropriate. If the cousin likes it, that’s the one I’ll probably do… and hope I don’t cry, either.

This video only has 30 hits, but it’s one of my favorite songs to sing.
This did turn out kind of pretty.

Once we started talking about it, it occurred to me that Eva Cassidy also died too young… and became famous after her death. I feel like that kind of happened to Matt, too. He was in the news after his death, because he was so beloved by his community and because the accident he suffered was so incredibly senseless and tragic. Eva also died in 1996, when we were in Armenia. Also, my sister knew Eva because they worked in a restaurant together in the early 90s. My sister waited tables and Eva played there. Or, at least that’s what my sister claims. I think it’s possible she’s telling the truth. She’s lived in the DC area for years, and often made extra money waiting tables, even though she had a regular “day job”.

And now that I think more about it, John Lennon also died much too young. He also died in New York City, as Matt also did. So while “Imagine” might seem a little too “Godless” for some people, I think it might be perfect for Matt. I don’t think he was really that into religion, although I really don’t know how he felt about God. My guess is that someone who exclaims “Christ on the cross!” in annoyance is not too worried about blasphemy. 😉 I’m not being critical about it, either, because I’m not all that religious myself. “Imagine” is a song written by a man who was a bright, shining star. He gave the world so much in his 40 years. And it was “reborn” by another bright shining star, who also gave so much before she died too young. It seems perfect for Matt, who was a shining star and inspiration to so many people– especially the many young people he taught.

Then this morning, I got an email from a complete stranger who found a video I made several years ago of the song, “On Heaven’s Bright Shore.” I couldn’t find accompaniment for that song, but I really wanted to try it. So I decided to sing it acapella. I coupled the acapella singing with pictures of clouds, mostly taken from airplanes. A lot of people have played it– or, a lot for my channel, at least. I would like to redo it with guitar, once I get better at playing. I make progress every day, but I’m still not quite ready for prime time.

I hope to redo this one someday, when my guitar playing is more advanced.

The person who emailed me wrote that his son had just died and he wanted to play an acapella version of “On Heaven’s Bright Shore” at his memorial. He said my version seemed to be the best. So he was kindly asking for permission to play my version, and wondering if I required payment. Of course I wrote back that he’s welcome to use the video, free of charge. I thanked him for asking me and expressed condolences for the loss of his son. It’s quite an honor that someone would want to play my version of that song at a memorial service, and it was so kind of the guy to ask me if I minded.

I was pretty surprised to get that email. I have some videos that have as few as four views! I don’t really promote my videos much. They’re mostly just songs I want to try. I get better recording results on YouTube than I do SingSnap, so that’s why I make the videos. But I don’t really have a rhyme or reason as to when I do the songs. I mainly just make videos when I need to for a blog post or when I’m inspired to try something. I have also done a couple by request. Not all of the videos are musical. Some are raw footage from travels– memories I want to preserve– or they’re videos featuring my dogs. I admire people who make successful YouTube channels, but I’m not very comfortable on camera, and I don’t want to deal with hostile comments. So I mostly just stick to blogging.

Bill and I were talking over breakfast and I was laughing about how I have such a raunchy sense of humor, tendency for depression, appreciation for profanity, and great love for obnoxiousness, yet somehow I wound up with this very sweet singing voice. The other day, I was practicing guitar and I asked Bill if he noticed I was getting better at barre chords. He said he didn’t know which chords I was playing, which I would not have expected. But then he said, “You were singing along, too.” And I said, “No, baby, that was Linda Ronstadt. But thank you very much for the compliment.” I’m not quite ready to sing and play at the same time. That’s like walking and chewing gum.

Anyway… I’m hoping the song goes off well. I have a feeling the memorial will be moving and fun. Matt was a special person, and I’m sure there are a lot of stories to be told, as well as songs to be sung. He had a lot of friends around the world and I think a lot of them will come together for this.

Standard