Sunday, December 20, 2015

Army Adventures

So, last post? Me whining about having to go to recruitment? I wennnnnnt.

Kimbra is happy for me.

(Also, in case you missed the last post and don't know why on earth I have to go to military: being a Swiss citizen between the ages of 18 and 26, I was dragged off to be recruited, it's not voluntaryfeelslikeprisonblablabla...)

Honestly, though, it was much less terrible than I was expecting. I mean, it was terrible, but in a good way. Ya know? Here's the thing: adventures are only actually adventures if you don't have any say in the matter. A Safari 'Adventure' is not actually an adventure until someone gets eaten by an elephant. Just kidding. But seriously. Adventures require unexpected turns and loss of control, otherwise they're just a thing that you decided to do and could also not do if you felt like it. I so did not decide to do this; it was ridiculously far out of my comfort zone, and I think that's why it's felt like quite an enriching experience so far.

Here's a handy list of some of the things that I remember happening during recruitment. It's all a bit blurry. Also, cameras were not allowed  basically nothing was allowed  so it's going to be words and gifs from here on out.


After a healthy breakfast of Jell-O and raw terror. . .

Just kidding, Jell-O doesn't exist in Switzerland. I did have the raw terror part, though.
Terror tartar.
Get it?
Cuz it's raw? I had to. . .
- The recruitment center was very bare and far away from everything, and we had to be there by 8AM which felt unseemly early. All of us were gathered into a huge gym and were assigned numbers at random. I got the number 101, which meant whenever we had to do something, I was the first of the recruits to get called up. So that was fun.

- You're not allowed outside the building-network during recruitment. If you leave the compound, you get arrested. The weird thing is, the recruitment center was not enclosed, so you can look out of your spartan barracks and see the lovely green Swiss fields and a barn and a farmer doing his thang, but you're not allowed to actually go out into that field or you'll be tackled by military police.

(I don't actually know if that would happen. No one dared test it. I wouldn't be surprised, though.)

- We were assigned sleeping quarters, three to a room. My roommates and I got along very nicely. Large crowds of people exhaust me and I was kind of expecting to find everyone annoying, but I really didn't and I'm happy we got along. We talked through everything, commiserated over our various test scores. You can't help but form a sense of camaraderie with the others.

After the introductions and numbering and room assignments, things got srs bzness.

- Recruitment is basically an endless string of tests. Based on your test scores you get assigned a place in the military, and the lower your scores the fewer choices you have.

- They test everrrrrryyyyyyything about you. You have to answer all the personal questions. How much alcohol you be drankin'. Are you an introvert or an extrovert. What are your feelings on authority, hnng?

The Military, testing folk.

- They also test your hearing, your heartbeat, your IQ, your memory, your speed, your upper body strength, your lower body strength, whether you have strength at all, etcetera forever.

- I got the highest score in intelligence for the day which made me all like:

- Before anyone's like "Stefan, stop bragging, you ain't all that", don't worry. I got zero points in distance jumping from a standstill, so whatever self-esteem was gained during the mental exams was instantly dashed by falling on my face in front of all the other recruits. :D

- That being said, it's interesting how little competition was going on. Everyone was very focused on themselves and how they'd do, and so despite there being hundreds of screaming-mini-Rambos running around, there was an alarming lack of meanness or pettiness.

- The food was not delicious. One time there were these shriveled green beans that looked like they had been boiling for like 8 hours.

I've subsequently been informed that they were dried green beans and are meant to look disgusting. (Also, my older brother, who is much further along in this process and a member of the Swiss special forces - which is the highest ranking group you can get into, so you go, brother - said *his* food is always great. Clearly they don't waste the good stuff on lowly recruits.)

- Communal showers are super unsanitary, s'all I'm going to say about that.

- There was a lot of waiting between tests. I read two books, both about unhappy New Yorkers.

- There was only one other kid who had a book with him. It was Frank Schätzing's The Swarm, in case you were wondering. Yes, I was annoyed he was reading a book from ten years ago, too.

- Unconnected to military recruitment, we had to do a 40 page survey administered by a very elderly gentleman who was an Official Expert of the Youths. (I'm not even joking. Who could possibly be more qualified? A: a chair, gardenias, tableclothes. . .)

- I was expecting an actual cross-section of the population here, since technically everyone has to go, but it didn't seem like one. Everyone was very fit, excited to be there, and in an apprenticeship. And I was like, "Uhhh, where are all the apathetic, desk-dwelling college students, aka me?" Was it just my group where they were non-existent? I've heard rumors that you can bribe psychologists to sign papers declaring you unstable before you even get called up for the testing, but does everyone do that?

- A thing that happened while we were filling out one of many, many forms:

Recruit next to me: "What do I write here next to "Occupation"?
Me: "Just put down what you do. Your apprenticeship or education or whatever."
Recruit: *ponders*
Recruit: *ponders some more*
Recruit: "Oh, so my JOB?"

Kimbra was happy for him, too.

Another interesting story: there was a kid in our group who was LITERALLY Will from A Drop of Night. Not many of you have read that book yet, but he was. He was like seven feet tall, spoke very quietly and only when someone spoke to him first, just kind of floated around, but was also very buff, so we were pretty sure he would get high points in sport and be able to pick his military career trajectory. Not so.

After the written psychology test, if you gave worrisome or unconventional answers, you would be asked to have an in-person conversation with a staff psychologist. He had to go. And at the end of recruitment when we were all getting our assignments, it was announced that he didn't make the cut and has to do the entire recruitment rigamarole again in two years. Which I later learned is something that only happens in cases of trauma or mental illness.

It's possible he *wanted* to get out of it that way, but then why was he trying so hard in the sport tests? I dunno, and I found it sad.

Ok, I'm going to wax philosophical here, so if you're not feeling philosophically waxy right now feel free to skip to the end. (This is totally a choose-your-own-adventure-type blog post. You have OPTIONS.)

- My siblings and I were raised with a bit of an anarchic streak. We had to respect direct authority, but governments, and politicians specifically, were always frowned upon as dorky control freaks. So I wasn't sure how I would handle this kind of totalitarian environment.

The first thing I noticed is that there's something creepily pleasant about not having to think for yourself. What to do, where to go, how to spend your day, is all taken care of for you. Where I go to school, there's a constant low-key pressure to do more, work harder, be cleverer / more outrageous, maybe don't sleep or eat if that's what it takes. Also, there's very little that's set in stone. Probably in Publishing World, too, but definitely in Music World, while there are always people more important, better-skilled, all round better than you, it still feels like we're all floundering in the same boat. NOBODY knows what's going on, nobody really knows how art actually works, and we're all trying to figure it out together, passive aggressive jabs and insecure artsy competition and e'erthing.

During recruitment all that was gone. No low-key pressure. Weird lack of competition. You just wander around behind your leader, jump when he says jump, eat when it's eating time. No one cares whether you're extra-good or just mediocre-good, and you're rewarded for fitting in rather than sticking out, and it's both disturbing and very relaxing.

It reminded me of being on a river boat in St. Petersburg ages ago and listening to three women in their 30's tell about their experiences before and after the fall of communism. I was probably around fourteen and I remember it because I think their opinions shocked my tiny, black-and-white teenage brain: all three of them said that while theoretically communism was bad, everything was easier in those days and they wished they could go back to it. There was no pressure toward upward mobility, not much downward mobility. You had your box and you stayed in it until you died, and they were ok with that.

(And maybe your government would assassinate you, but hey. . .  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

I don't think I'd be ok with that. I think it comes down to whether you prefer struggle-bussin' through nebulous concepts of freedom or the security of servitude. I definitely prefer the former, and so in the long run the military drone-y-ness would drive me crazy, but then again, what is freedom, everyone's a slave to something, blabla, so who even knows.

ANYWAY. End all that.

I got my first choice of occupation, so after boot camp I will be working in an office not too far from Zürich for a few months, and I'm fine with that. Mostly I'm just happy to have survived this weird thing. So far. :)

I hope you guys are all well, too! Bye. :)