Biographical Log of Michael Furstner - Page 11

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Monday February 11, 2008 (bio, Leiden University, exam, Antien, engagement)

Professor L.U. de Sitter was in the 50s and 60s the undisputed top World authority on Structural Geology, the science of the formation and movements of the earth's crust during its 4.5 billion years history. He had written a 2½ inch thick Volume on Structural Geology describing and analysing the geology of the most prominent mountain chains on all continents. Every geologist in the world knew of him and most had studied his book. To have his name in my Resume put me instantly on top of the interview list for every job I have ever applied for.

I did not go to many lectures when at Leiden University, but the ones by De Sitter I usually attended as they were always animated and interesting. He was a large imposing bony man with a dense crop of white hair, always wearing his flamboyant gold ring displaying an inch long rectangular brownish red stone on his finger. During his lecture he was usually looking at me, as I was the only student not bent down frantically writing out notes. I never wrote notes. Why should I, when every body else is doing that ? (I always borrowed some when necessary).

Exams were all aural in those days. You worked a few months on a given subject, made an appointment with the Prof in question, and when the time arrived presented yourself dressed in a dark grey suit, black shoes and socks, a white shirt and subdued tie, preferably grey. The Structural Geology exam always took a standard full 60 minutes. Plenty of time to be found wanting.
De Sitter had a reputation of teasing his students during an exam, and often scared the hell out of them right from the start. At my exam (in May 1961) he went through the usual well known routine.

He sits behind his desk, his book closed in front of him and I am in a chair on the other side.
Then, casually, with one hand, he opens the book at random, bends over to look at the page and says : "Well, what have we got here ?"   After these words he looks up at me and says slowly : "Mr. Furstner, I believe you look a bit pale, are you nervous ?"  

"Yes Professor," I reply "Indeed, I am very nervous."
Well," he responds "If you know your stuff you have nothing to worry about."
"No Professor, it is not that," I confess, "but this afternoon after my exam with you I have an appointment to see my hopefully future father in law and ask for the hand of his daughter."

Honeymoon in Braunlage

I have got him there ! Hook, line and sinker. He laughs, knows it too, and we have a pretty good time after that. Mind you, he does not let me off easy, plenty of tuff questions, but it is in a unusual almost intimate atmosphere. He shares for that hour with me (and in a way is a part of) an important episode in my personal life. I pass the exam, he shakes my hand and wishes me good luck for the "big one" later today.

Shortly after I catch the train to Zutphen. A few weeks earlier I had written an official letter to Antien's father, Mr. Garvelink, asking for an interview "to discuss a matter of the utmost importance.". His reply I receive in due course is affirmative, confirming that the suggested date and time are convenient to him.

So I meet him, still dressed in my very appropriate formal dark grey suite, at his home Acacia at 5 o'clock on a Friday afternoon. After a few general words of welcome he asks Antien to leave the lounge room and she retreats to the kitchen. I outline my prospects and future plans including a most likely move overseas. He consents and we have a few sherries and a cigar on our pact, letting Antien sweat it out a little longer in the kitchen. Soon however we ask her in for the good news.
Later that evening we cycle to Martinshof, to inform my parents and to select our engagement rings.

This is a very lucky day for me. Not only have I gained a lovely future wife, but also a hell of a great father in law.

About 7 or 8 years later I hear in Australia that Professor De Sitter has retired. He retreats to his farm in Brabant (I believe) and never spends a single word or thought on Geology ever again. Years later I am reminded of him, as I have the same attitude in 1980. Been there, done that ! What's next ?

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Tuesday February 12, 2008 (idea, this and that, bio, Holland, accorion competition)

Writing this Blog is a lot of fun. It is like making jigsaw pieces without putting them together. You have to do that yourself if you wish, but it is not strictly necessary as all pieces are like small cameos which can stand on their own.
But I have made a Chronological Table today to help you place each piece within its correct time frame.

About This and That
Success comes by being yourself. Being ruthlessly yourself. And I don't just mean material success but being successful as a unique human being.
How often do we not find ourselves in situations that we must choose between (doing or saying) this and that. This means being yourself, while that means being someone else. Being someone else is unsustainable, therefore invariably leads to failure.

Being yourself often means being truthful, daring to expose a weakness, vulnerability. But as long as you stay being yourself you can always deal with that. In fact placing yourself in a position of weakness (or apparent weakness) is exactly where you want to be, because it is the position from where you are most likely going to win !
Nine out of 10 students would (in yesterday's example) reply to the Prof that they were not nervous . This would mean telling a lie, hiding a weakness, and, as it turned out, missing the opportunity for a win.

Here is another example of how being myself and being modest placed me in a position of apparent weakness with success as a result. It was at the piano accordion competition (see Jan.18) I attended when I was 14 years old.
I had practised for this event a 5 page arrangement of American Patrol. I was a hopeless music reader and wrestled painstakingly though it 2 or 3 times before I had it memorised. Anybody who does not read music will tell you that memorising music is not that difficult. In life when you are bad at one thing you are usually good at something else to compensate for it.

I am the last one to perform in the competition. The guy before me, a good friend, has scored 98 points out of a possible 100. I climb on the stage, sit on the chair and place my music on the stand in front of me. I don't need it of course, but I don't want to show off and would feel awkward doing that. Two judges sit behind a table on the other side of the stage.

"Where is our music ?" asks one of them.
"This is the only copy I have." I reply while pointing at my score.
"We can't judge you without having a score to read. So what do we do ?", the judge again.
"Well, you can use my score then." I walk over and give it to them.
"Are you sure ? ?" The judges accept but obviously feel awkward about it.

Bingo. I have unconsciously placed myself in a position of apparent weakness. That means I can't lose.
All I have to do now is play the piece without making any mistakes. And that is a piece of cake especially as I now don't have to worry about appearing to read the music in front of me.
So yes, yes, I know this is getting very boring. Great applause at the end. I score the full 100 points out of the 100.
"This is incredible, 5 pages of music, all in his head." "Magic, that guy is a genius." I hear all around me. I am young and of course bask in the glory. But now I am still proud, because even back then I always tried be true to myself.

So there you are. Make life easy on yourself and "be yourself", always. It will not fall your way all the time, but even in those cases you can still walk away and proudly sing I did it my way !

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Wednesday February 13, 2008 (idea, introvert, personality, family, emotion, relationships, poem)

I am, like my mother, an introvert, and so are my two children, Babette and Jeroen. We act and communicate freely with the "outside world", but we really live in our mind.

The Myers-Briggs Personality Index is a useful tool, used by the more sophisticated marriage agencies to match up pairs, and by many larger companies to help determine which job or task is best suited to a particular employee.
Not a single human being can of course be typecast within one of just 16 separate "boxes", we are all very unique. But the Index can give you a ballpark indication of roughly what type of personality you are. I have found it very useful in gaining a better understanding of how I think, act and feel myself. And so, I believe, have my two children.
The Myers-Briggs Indexes are visually expressed as a rectangular Diagram divided into 16 rectangular fields. A vertical line drawn through the middle separates 8 different extrovert types ("sociable or unreserved") to the right, from 8 introvert types ("unsociable or reserved") on the left.   I am in the extreme left bottom corner field of the Diagram and so is Jeroen. You can't be more introvert than that. Babette's personality falls within an adjacent field, bordering ours.

With my Mother, 2 introverts So I live largely within my mind. I don't really observe things closely. I may look at a tree and see it but don't take in any detail unless I consciously make myself do so. I really feel the tree, not in isolation but as part of the nature scene around me. Like everybody else (I assume) I have (at regular intervals) a need to be amongst people, but I don't need to talk to them, in fact I usually much prefer not to. I just need to feel them around me.
This is why I have lunch at the Surf Club for example. Going there fulfills two important emotional needs for the day. One is the sense of moving, going somewhere, anywhere. The other is the need of feeling people around me.

I live therefore within a cell, a slightly permeable mind capsule which is gently rocked by the ebbs and flows of its surroundings. But emotions, especially emotions of the heart have a much stronger impact. They actually enter the capsule and send a sudden wave through the pond of my emotions. When faint it is only a warm gentle ripple, but at times it can be as strong and devastating as a tsunami.

3cm high Buddha Example ?
About two weeks ago I sent a "Hello" message to someone I met (only once and too briefly) 2-3 years ago. I will call her "Bud" (short for "Buddha Girl"), the girl who secretly left a tiny brass Buddha in my van during her visit.
I receive a reply. Is she opening her door slightly ? It appears so. I respond by slightly opening mine. Then silence. Does this mean "reflection" or have I misread the message ? I have no idea, but a persistent ripple is starting to move over my emotional pond like a gentle breeze over water.

Writing this Blog I find my English wanting and need a Dutch dictionary to look up a word from time to time. After lunch I decide to drive past my self storage lockup and see whether I have left my old one there. I also need to try on some warm clothing for when I go to Germany.   I don't find my dictionary and the coat I was thinking of is too tight, but I do find a box with old photos. And a quartet card set with pictures of Gorssel and its surroundings, including my school and, would you believe it the Oldenhof.

Also a large manilla envelope marked From the Past. I open it, and find some school reports from my Primary and High schools. Then a faded pink envelope. Two photos fall out, and a pale pink sheet of paper, a poem .....

written by her, in agony, 30 years ago

read by me, with equal emotion a day later when she gave it to me

I read it again now. Her hand writing (I will call her "She" after the famous song by Charles Aznavour) so firm and intelligent. It is so beautiful, so perceptive at the time and therefore so heart wrenching tragic. It was the biggest tsunami in my life, 30 years ago, which changed my destiny forever. Even today it still sends an after shock through my emotions.

"She" has thrown a stone into my emotional pond, forming circles on the surface.
But the earlier gentle ripples from "Bud" are still there, forming an interference pattern with the new event.
I look at it. What does it mean, what can I read into it ?
Is it just my imagination, an illusion, or is it perhaps my past mingling with my future ?

Emotions are so elusive, you can never read them properly.
But they are good at one thing : producing tears, of pain, of agony, of joy and of feeling that you are truly alive.

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Thursday February 14, 2008 (diary, Valentines Day)

My father and me Quiet day today, overcast and intermitted drizzle. At the Surf Club I have lunch with Marc and Noreen Villeneuve and share a glass of wine with them. It is rather full on the deck for a Thursday. "Its Valentines Day today." says Marc. I clean forgot about that. Thanks goodness I don't have to worry about that this year. (But then, if I had I probably would have remembered.) Every cloud has a silver lining.
For a moment my mind flicks back to when ? Eight years ago. (She probably thinks back now too.) An emotional and memorable Valentines Day that surely was, cost quite a few dollars too, but well spent. Seems a lifetime ago now, and the way my mind works it is.
Goodness, what about Doug, has he remembered ? I try to phone him but realise I left my mobile at home. Marc offers his phone, but I don't know the number. But he did remember, he tells me when I get home, good man.

Back home I work on the old photos I found in my lockup, re photograph them with my new Nikon and modify them on Adobe Photoshop Elements, wonderful application that is. It is great to have these early pictures of my parents and grand parents, all long gone now. Stored away somewhere in a box they remain virtually forgotten. Now I can look at them, feel close to them, both on my web site and on my computer any time I want. Modern technology is wonderful.

Doug is at the dentists and has a few teeth out. So I buy two cans of Heinz pumpkin soup for tonight which is easy to swallow. Also two more bottles of Cinzano. They still come with those cute free 250 year Anniversary glasses. I must have close to twenty of them now. We watch the News and an old movie, have a few drinks and go to bed.

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Friday February 15, 2008 (diary, Claus, younger brother syndrome)

Wivica, Claus and me Today the sun shines. Doug has greatly recovered from his dentist visit yesterday. Amazing how quickly the body can heal itself.
I drive to Nambour, get a hair cut and present myself at the Centrelink office (who deal with pensions and other social benefits) to prove I am still alive. I need to do this once a year in order to continue receiving the small Dutch Government pension I am entitled to.
I am very proud of the fact that, unlike the Australian pension which is "means tested", every Dutch citizen is entitled to a pension regardless of his income or wealth. I did get an Australian pension for a while, but after selling my home (which is not counted in the means test) a few years ago I have lost most of that entitlement. This is still reflecting the old fashioned Australian ideal that everybody should own their own home. It was good at the time but for the present young generation this has now become a financial nightmare.

As I stop my car in front of Claus's home I can see as he walks towards me that my previous week's effort has been wasted from his perspective. He has clearly spent all week dragging up to the surface all grudges from the past. The pupils of his eyes, contracted in fury into tiny pinheads, are spewing out hatred only a human being is capable of producing. "You come to offer us peace but immediately start bitterly offending us again!" What on earth is he talking about now I wonder. "You have addressed me in Dutch in front of Pat (his Australian partner) who can not understand that. It is an unforgivable slight you bring onto both of us". My brother is an absolute genius when it comes to excuses, but isn't this grasping at straws a little ?
I did switch between Dutch and English when we were talking last week. It sometimes happens at emotional moments when talking to an other Dutchman, especially to my brother Claus who's English is not that crash hot.

He hands me a plastic folder with some family photos as promised. "I also included copies of emails you have sent me. I suggest you read them again." I have not sent him an email for ages, what is he talking about ? Two emails I sent him more than three years ago. And here I am silly me thinking we were trying to put all that behind us and move on. I am mistaken of course, he has no intention of doing that. We are into the sequel of "Back to the Future". It is called Forward to the Past.

It is probably called the younger brother syndrome and I suddenly realise that he must have suffered from this for most of his life. I feel in this regard profoundly sorry for him. Perhaps if I had realised the seriousness of this earlier I could have helped him with this. We live and learn. The sad thing is that his attitude has extended to other family members like my daughter, who used to love him dearly (and, most generously, remains the hand that feeds him, for one single reason only : he is family !) and to his own former daughter Eva who has disowned him and legally changed her surname several years ago !   So I say to him while parting "I am your brother and my door will always be open to you, because I won't be a party to doing another "Eva". What you do, you better think about."

Mission accomplished. I have made the effort of reconciliation, which as older brother was my responsibility. I also left the door open to him. It is unlikely he will ever step through it, but that will be his decision. At the Sailing Club I read the two emails. Have I been to rough on him back then ? I am in fact quite pleased. I used moderate language, and what I wrote had to be said to him by someone from the family, and that was me. I would have written exactly the same thing today. I am quite amazed that after stewing over these messages for three years he still has not got it.

So that was it guys, tomorrow back to normal.

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