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Lonesome Wolf in Austria

By Billy | April 14, 2011

In ten days I will have been in Austria for a month.  I am officially a resident of Weitra Stadt, I have a bank account and real bank card, I have and am presently wearing authentic leather pants, and I can tell the shop keepers that I’m just looking, though it may take me a second try to get the word order correct.  I have completely unpacked, I am one or two signatures away from having a visa, soon I shall buy the traditional shoes and a hat.

I feel quite at home here, though I am certain that feeling is unfounded in a number of places.  For one thing major thing, I have made no friends.  Well, my family here is great, don’t you doubt it, and there is always a constant trickle in and out of new and beautiful humans to this house — for a meal, for a beer, for some work, for a minute, for the weekend…  Many of them I recognize and they recognize me.  I have spoken, laughed, danced, sung, created, drunk, and played with many of these wonderful beings on numerous occasions.  I can’t think of a better word but friend for some of them, but in my heart there is a difference between these people and what a friend is.  I suppose Alex performs all the functions of a friend, mother, and employer for me.  I catch myself looking to her when I don’t understand someone, or looking for her when I’m standing by myself and I want to break away from that.  I want to learn to fly now, and not rely so much on the mama bird.

In previous years, a friend has been someone who accepts me no matter what.  They have stood patient as a stone while I change my life around every other day, and they have tried their best to let my soul dangle where it will.  At one time, I believed that the person who is best at being a friend is the person who doesn’t try to figure me out — or to “get me,” but to just be there with me or for me or in need of me.  Now I don’t know what makes a good friend.  I suppose I don’t have enough material to craft something out of.

In my efforts to not inhibit myself, I have been trying to cast aside hesitation and worry.  Just a moment:

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”  Luke 12:25, Matthew 6:27

“If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it.  If you can, there is no need to worry about it.  If you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry. ”  The (former?) Dalai Lama

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worry about things which are beyond the power of our will.”  Epictetus (ancient Stoic philosopher)

Bah. OK.

So.  I have been trying to cast aside worry which leads to self inhibition.  There are too many people in the world — yes, even in a Stadt of only 3,000 einwohner, such as Weitra — to worry about what people think.  If my hair or my pants or my accent or my barefootedness or my fondness of moss or my incessant picture snapping or my frequent napping or my taking things out of your garbage pile bother you, then just get out of my way.  There are, as a matter of fact, plenty of people in the world who won’t be bothered by my thoughts, actions, or looks.

BUT.  I really don’t think that my thoughts or my looks or my actions are inhibiting other people much, either.  The fact of the matter is that I just haven’t met many people of either the friendly or the aloof flavours.  I’ve met some great people at a bar that’s a bit far (to my bicycler conception of distance) from my house — at a place that Alex and I go every Friday evening.  I like the people there, but I don’t know how much of a friendship I’m forming with the few people I talk to.  The honest-to-God closest thing I have to my very own, authentic, friendship in Austria is a woman I’ve talked to twice at a bar.

So.  What do I do with that?  On the one hand, friendships wont just happen to me.  I think I’m a decent enough fellow, and I might even consider myself friendly.  Nonetheless, friends don’t just happen.  You grow them.  On the other hand, I am 10 days shy of a month living here and several months shy of comfort with the language or familiarity with the customs.  (Tangent:  I have already had one person slap me while I was wearing lederhosen)  Needless to say, it is not yet time for me to have any gripes with not connecting with people, as I’ve only been here a little bitty bit.

Then it comes to this; in any case I need to be more patient, and not worry about it.  Worrying about it won’t add a single friend, nor will it add an hour to my life, nor will it help me attain any sort of happiness.  So, while I’m cultivating patience, what do I do?  Well, for starters, I think I’m going to spend more time in the Stadtplatz.  Weitra has a nice big central place with a few good sitting places so that you can find the sun at any time of a sunny day.  It happens to be a snowy week, so I’ll bide my time, but in general, I think I’d like to take a book and a notebook out to the city square and read or draw or even nap.  If nothing else, I will be able to learn some faces of the people of Weitra and maybe a person or two can learn to recognize me.  I think you’re much more likely to have a conversation struck up with you if you’re recognizable in the world.

What else? Hm.  Well I usually take my guitar just outside of hearing range from my house, but maybe I should like to take it all the way down to the park and intentionally practice for an hour or so.  I don’t expect to make friends while I’m playing guitar, but I know at my University I met a lot of people who said, “ah! You’re the guy who plays the banjo on that hill.”  or “I wanted to meet you because you do crazy things sometimes.”  I usually wasn’t flattered by being known as the crazy things guy, but being seen facilitated forming friendships.  And in any case, as Wayne Gretzkey put it, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.  Staying inside and arguing with people about politics on Facebook is not exactly my idea of taking shots at making real life friends.

What else?  Hm.  I think I shall also look into opportunities to volunteer.  Volunteering has never been a bleeding-heart-obligation for me.  I think if you don’t want to be doing whatever volunteering you’re doing, you’re not really volunteering.  I think volunteering should be fun.  If it’s a chore, it’s not voluntary.  A lot of people perform actions claiming it is for other people’s sake, but they’re just doing it to ease guilt, make themselves feel like a good person, or because they believe it’s their duty.  You have no duty to anyone but yourself.  However, you are bigger than just your body because you’re connected to and made of everyone around you, so in actuality serving your”self” is identical to serving “others” around you.  That aside, volunteering is a fun way to make friends and lasting relationships, so I think I would like to find a way to plug myself in to Weitra by volunteering.  Maybe I’ll also go round and ask people if they need some young back muscles to help pull up unwanted plants in their gardens.  Maybe I’ll make a euro or two while doing it!

I’ve been considering getting a job in the early day time.  Alex can keep me as busy as I’d like to be in die Firma, but with jobs I perform and especially the people I meet, I always feel like I’m Alex’s au-pair, not Billy Grasmeder.  (The ‘problem’ is that I am both)  I suppose a lot of this is stemming from being a younger brother and always living in the shadow of an older, successful, smart, and well behaved brother.  Whatever the case, I want people to think of me as my own self, rather than an appendage of someone else.  I don’t think working at a flower shop or something like that will offer me the empowered feeling of independence that I’m looking for, but it is a thought that surfaces for a moment and sinks away every so often.

Whaaat else?  What did I do in Virginia to meet people?  Music playing groups and open mic nights, university clubs,  contra dancing, Our Community Place… Church!  I haven’t been to that huge church for a service yet.  I think I’ll go next time I’m home on Sunday.  Maybe I can also find a yoga class, or join the Qigong class up the street, or find a meditation group, or even just join the gym a few blocks away.  I don’t think I need to work out, and I’m actually a little opposed to using machines or weights to get in shape, but having a trainer or a fitness class would be easy ways to make friends.  JMU had an endless list of classes  you could take for free at the University Rec center, and so I made friends at the rock climbing wall, in the dance classes, in the kickboxing classes, and more.  I know it’s a small town, but they have to have some activities.  I’ll take what I can get — at least try it once.

When I blindly stepped into a small college of 3,000 people, even in a city of 200,000 I felt alone, secluded, misunderstood, and desperate.  I’ve never spent so much time thinking of ways to escape the existence I’d chosen for myself as during my two years at MU.  Furthermore, I chose to ignore that I, and nobody else, had chosen that situation for me.

This is no different, but I am different.  I have chosen to live in a community of the same size and population as my first college, but with wildly different demographics.  I feel like this is a chance to redeem myself from the “missteps” I’ve taken and learn to triumph over them.  It’s time to learn to thrive with my choices, make my situation my own, and take the reins on my life.


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