Open Letter

It is an intense week, however I can safely make that claim on most weeks. This week is a bit different in that I have been busy with both family and work, neither of which I can live without. Last night I went up to my neighbour, a retired botanist who has given paleoecology (1) quite a lot of time and research attention, and she gave me a lecture on the Carbon-cycle; it was a much needed lecture. This latter preoccupation with climate change was prompted by a rather open discussion yesterday with a visiting law scholar involved in issues of climate change. Our discussions evidently pointed out to me that I was much too ignorant on the subject and that I ought to seek professional help so to say. In this case professional help meant asking all the dumb questions to somebody who actually has worked in climate change issues within disciplines that dovetail into my own knowledge bank. All I can say is that it is good to air out one’s own ignorance and talk openly about it; there is great value in asking all the dumb questions in the presence of an expert. When the expert is as knowledgeable and a talented teacher as is my neighbour, then I am in heaven!

However this morning I looked into my schedule and realized that there is no way that I will make it to the Aikido summer camp this month at the Gen Nei Kan as my schedule just cleared last week and that week of the summer camp – 18 to 24 of July – is already booked otherwise. I thought of writing Joël an open letter, however what is on my mind are two books that I am reading, one by Paul Feyerabend Against Method, and the other by Hugh G Gauch, Jr Scientific Method in Practice. It turns out that I easily get bothered by the use of the word scientific, especially when it is coming out of the mouth of sociologists, statisticians or lawyers. Of course reconciling Feyerabend and Gauch is not an easy task, however given the fact that at this point I am having a serious intellectual wrestling match with research methods, there is no way to avoid this. I do love action research!

(1)  The branch of ecology that deals with extinct and fossil plants and animals. (OED)

fremdgehen II

It has been a fantastic week. Fantastic with capital F, and with capital everything. Then there was today, one of those days that I got little accomplished of what I had wanted to get done. Still, today I went to the hairdresser, made some important calls, and…

But my research papers database crashed with the new update and all through the day I exchanged emails with support in trying to resurrect my database from the dead. I am a bit at a loss for some parts of my work without this database; the issue is not yet resolved, but both the software people and I have a good idea as to where to be looking for a solution, so I am not worried at this point although the whole thing did eat up most of the day. I also attended a seminar on intellectual property over lunch and that did me some good, or at least it reminded me of how much work there is to do in that area. Then as I was heading out of the office to go to the dojo to teach the pre-schoolers class, I bumped into a colleague and we had a wonderful exchange that somehow rounded the day. We talked about our kids and decisions, and had what was an emotional interaction. Just yesterday as I was reviewing a document and needed an authoritative reference on an item, at the library I bumped into him, and since that was an issue we had discussed previously I asked if he knew where I could look, he did, and it saved a whole lot of time for me.

We have this library where conversation is allowed. It is in the offices that conversation is not part of the etiquette, but we do have conference rooms. Even when we have phone calls, we go to the library to hold our calls. I like this system, phones are time killers, like email is a time killer, and one does need to deal with these killers in a rather loving and efficient way. Did i mention email? Forget the zero inbox principle. For me, it just does not work, but I am a fan of turning on flags, archiving, and turning off all the bells and whistles. I get bored with smart boxes and other systems and explaining my system, that too bores me.

However it was the kids at the dojo that somehow brought what has been a fantastic week to a brilliant finish. When I started teaching Aikido for pre-schoolers all that I knew was that this was a huge challenge for me. Somehow something about that challenge was too great for me to let it pass. Right now I am starting to suspect that I get more out it than anybody else, but judging by how the kids are doing and how they are developing, it looks like there is something wonderful happening on the tatami with these kids. It could also be that I am compensating for my unfulfilled desire to have had more children, and that somehow these five kids are giving me that gift. Today one of them had a gift for me. She could hardly wait to give it to me and her whole face and demeanor was pure excitement. After I had changed into my training gi and was still tying my belt, she comes to me with her hands behind her back and asks me which hand I want. Precious! She had painted a mug and was giving it to me as a gift. I asked to what I owed such honour, and she said it was because I teach them Aikido. It was a group gift, but she had been the one doing the art work. Precious was the expression on her face! Such joy!

With the Aikido kids I am learning a lot about leadership… but that is one long story. I am learning and I am teaching about leadership, and along the way they are picking up something about respect, contact, courtesy and how to fall to the floor without hurting oneself. They learn to move like elephants and to be light like the wind…


It is the last day of this Autumn’s Bernese school vacation, and of the city parliament’s recess. On November 30th there are city wide elections, and it could be that I am re-elected or it could be that I am not re-elected. I am not the campaign animal, and life is more than usual busy around here.

Last night I told Ivo at the Dojo that today I was not showing up today for the usual Friday night training which he leads, and that I was elsewhere. Given that the conversation took place in German, the word that I used was “fremdgehen” to express that I was breaking the routine. Am I being unfaithful tonight? Hardly. Am I cheating on my partner? Cheating, no! Not working out with one of my most regular Aikido partners, yes! I have been training with Ivo on a regular basis for many years.

Yesterday in a private rant over email to a friend I asked myself what was it that I am doing in this town given that my closest and dear friends are all elsewhere from Zurich and Zug through Tokyo, Paris, Rome and the family is scattered through Oman, Los Angeles and a few other corners of this world. In the moment of recalling how far my friends are, I forgot that one of my strongest ties to Berne is the Dojo. Come to think of it, my relationship to the Dojo intensified when a few years ago I made some plans about leaving it. The reasoning then was that if I was going to leave, then I wanted to take with me as much Aikido as possible. What I did not take into account then was how very slow my body is in learning this thing called Aikido. No regrets here, but… I just did not have a clue.

The word priority has been on my mind for a while now. Once, long ago, I was accused of not knowing how to set priorities right. After years of resistance to that idea, I must confess that that is true indeed. Given who accused me of such crime, this one makes for a whole story in itself. Suffice to say that that person actually stood under official protection of the government and drove around in a bullet proof car. Needless to say that I avoided riding in that car. Those are the glamour points of that personality, then there is all the other stuff about being human and extremely vulnerable beyond what a bullet proof car can protect against, and that is what makes for a great story. It is a story that I may never write.

The whole bit of being unfaithful, in which ever context you may choose, just does not compute with me. I think that it is impossible to go against one’s nature, priorities here or there. When it comes to people there are no priorities, and when it comes to work and activity, there is something called choice. Priority? Is that not just another word for choice. Choice is a bit more binary, and frankly I can not deal with anything beyond binary. Confession: I have been spending way too much time with the work of a man named John Baez, and I am starting to feel like a bit of an idiot since I tend to get lost in the beauty of his fiction. But I always get lost in the beauty of fiction, be it the one from Christoph Geiser, be it the one from John Baez!

I have also been spending a fair amount of time in research libraries and databases. I have been writing and writing, and for the most part I do not recognise myself. Something about this year being about death is coming through in my life. Some part of me has died, and that is not a bad thing. Recently somebody told me that having suddenly lost the life’s partner was like walking around with a part of the self missing. I was stunned by the words. I know that feeling. I have walked around like that for over forty years, and it is that part of me that I have let go, the missing part. The missing part is dead.

Fremdgehen. Yes! I am walking around unburdened by what was missing. I love change, truly do. And to think that the adventure just begun is truly intoxicating!