Archive for March 2010

Sunday, March 28 2010, 7:23 p.m.

March 28, 2010

….and, when she finally met her hero, she could still feel the sweet glaze of ketchup on her fingertips…

How The Mad Man Shops

March 27, 2010

Lately I’m having a lot of thoughts about people who—by virtue of finding themselves homeless, mentally unstable, or dealing with addiction—live outside of mainstream culture—in our peripheral vision, you might say. Of course many people choose to structure their life around the edges of society, but I’m not thinking about them. It’s the people who have come to be there through the force of illness or poverty who have been on my mind.

I should clarify that the thoughts I’m having aren’t of the charitable, or hand-wringing sort typical of the dialogues that are often held around people who fall into this category.

I want to know about the boring stuff.

Because even when your life has been cut down by tragedy, and things are at their lowest ebb, chances are your days still have their share of the routine.

How does someone in this position experience the routine, though?

The other day I was sitting on the train when a man I’d wager to be mentally ill came and sat down across from me. He had several bags full of groceries and a nearly full cup of coffee, which he placed on the lid of the small bin attached below the window. I was unnerved initially by him, and then by this full cup of coffee sitting about 10 cm away from my leg as I waited for the train to start moving again. He made eye contact with me as he approached the seat and it seemed every time I looked in his direction (straight ahead, incidentally) his eyes flicked back to mine and held them with an intensity—with a sort of grip–that alone might suggest that the man sitting across from me was in fact living in another reality entirely.

With great, laboured sighs and a touch of agitation he spent the first minute or two stretching his arms and finding some higher-up rail to latch onto, as though to definitively claim his territory on the train in defiance of it’s tight little spaces and meanly sealed doors.

The more I became aware of him, the more I wanted to get a look at what was inside his grocery bags. Normally, I’m not especially curious about such things, but I became more and more intrigued by the question of what The Wild Man eats for dinner?

What kind of toilet paper does he use? Does he like juice? If so, does he drink it for health reasons, or for taste? How about beer? Would he buy frozen vegetables or fresh? If he buys frozen ones is that because those are what his mom bought? Or is it because he doesn’t really know how to prepare fresh vegetables? Maybe he just has a recipe that calls for frozen broccoli…..he could be quite a gourmand. It’s all possible; he is unknown to me.

After a few stops I became aware of the fact that, as he scanned lazily from one side to the other, he was muttering something to himself. I only wish that I spoke enough German to know what he was saying. I then began to wonder if he ever finds it strange that the people around him aren’t talking to themselves as well? Of course he may not be aware of that, or maybe he perceives his conversations with himself as being no different from another person’s conversation with someone else.

A day or so later, as I was leaving the train station, I received the attention of a group of Inebriated Unfortunates. Between the German and the effects of alcohol on a person’s ability to enunciate it was difficult to determine what, exactly they were saying to me, but it seemed to relate to the politics of my hemline. The following day as I approached the station, I kept an eye out for my style-followers so as to avoid walking too close by them. I then saw that they were sitting on a different curb than where they’d sat the day before.

There was quite a number of them—a dozen or so—which got me thinking: each day when they’re arriving at the train station to drink and sit and see their friends, who decides which curb they’ll sit on? Is it simply a matter of who shows up first? Is there an element of politics or taste around it? Like, ‘Ulrika always gets everyone to go sit on the curb that faces Max-Brauer Allee because she likes the sun exposure there, but Hans likes to set up on the low wall nearest the entrance because it’s nearer the kiosk with the cheapest beer.’ Why one curb one day and not the other? Why not always sit on the same curb? Is it variety or circumstance? What drives these little choices in an existence that seems barely to hang on?

If you spend the bulk of your day, everyday, sitting on a curb, you must develop some level of preference—some thoughts about the place. Even if you’re drunk the whole time; if you’re making it back there everyday—even if, ostensibly, it’s for the company—you must develop associations with that place and attendant preferences, and—I would think—behave in the natural human way of trying to assert your preferences over those of the people around you. Could it be that in a life so wretched as one directed by mental illness or substance abuse, a great dignity could lie in the assertion of self made in choosing a brand of milk?

I remember when I was growing up, there was a home in the neighborhood where a bunch of people with Down’s Syndrome lived with in-house ‘carers’. We used to see them walking along the sidewalk, each wearing the same jacket—my mom and I would get so pissed off. Sure, they couldn’t care sufficiently for themselves to live alone—but did their identities have to be so entirely sublimated into this Special Care Home? Did their care have to become so industrialized as to make them into standardized units? In spite of the fact that their quality of life must have been greatly improved by living in such a place, what kind of trade-off was being made by losing their agency in these, the smallest of concerns?

Is it better to be someone whose best chance at a quality of life requires him to sublimate his identity into the safety of a whole? Or better to have nowhere to go but anywhere you want?
……oh dear.

Notes On A Four-Day-Old Void

March 14, 2010

Sometimes it just seems like loneliness makes you do the most embarrassing things. Which I find especially objectionable seeing as the one-to-one relationship of you-to-your-loneliness takes enough of a toll. Bring in witnesses and it’s just kind of cruel. People shouldn’t be able to witness you in your loneliness. You should be isolated from society through these things–like cultures that sent menstruating women off to huts on the edge of town. There should be an isolation unit for the lonely. For all our sakes.

As it is, some difficult business going on at home (home, as in, The Motherland) has me feeling rather isolated. Kind of lonely and strange. But I’m not isolated enough. I’m around people here. I’m in my normal life. But everything around the core of me has been agitated. And it ripples out. What’s going on at home is the kind of thing that grows silence. It produces it—a big resounding blackness because there are no words. ‘There are no words…‘ this is what everyone says about it. The only words to say are the words ‘There are no words…‘.

Strangely, in my isolation, faced with this lack of words, I want to create words–to converse–around it. Stubbornly shovelling sand into the void in hopes of filling it up. I find myself telling friends about it. Telling them about it but the aim is to converse about it. Because to converse would be to see that hole start to fill up–to make some headway. But instead, time after time, I tell them only to hear in response that there are no words. I take this big shovel-full of sand that I can barely hold and I drop it down there and watch it disappear into the void because–ah, yes!– there are no words. Hearing this response over and over doesn’t bother me. It’s practically the only thing one can say. But still I feel this need to converse around it. To activate it because otherwise the silence can be deafening.

Which brings me to the embarrassment. Because it is my silence. Here in Germany–away from everyone else whose ears are bleeding from the lack of any sound–I am wandering around trying to process this among strangers. Many of these strangers are my friends and they offer what they can, but I am so clearly supposed to be attempting this conversation with someone else, somewhere else. So I stand with them in the desert and ask them to help me build a raft because somewhere someone is drowning. Sometimes it just feels a bit absurd. Suddenly I feel so exposed. But I’m exposing myself. I can’t help but feel like we’re probably both embarrassed after these conversations.

Raised as a Roman Catholic, my mind has an ample store of religious imagery to square the edges of life’s little odd-shaped feelings. I keep thinking of Jesus–post-crucifixion–getting Thomas to put his hand into the wound in his side. Thomas didn’t believe that it was really Jesus showing up at their undercover-apostle poker night. So finally Jesus was just like ‘You don’t believe me? Put your hand in that!’ That shut Thomas up.
Of course in my case, no one is provoking me. But I feel so provoked anyway. Just walking around, unable to concentrate; staring off into space (quite contentedly); speaking in sentence fragments. I feel the need to explain and, as I said before, the need to try to fill the void. To find a way to complete the sentence. So I show them my wound. And then as we both stand there looking at my wound I remember that they didn’t ask to see it; and now neither of us knows what to say next.

Salt Exports

March 6, 2010

Taking the banal to The Next Level, I’ve written a guest blog for Goldhahn & Sampson on, um….turkey basters! Click on the link to read me on a different wallpaper.

What’s In A Name? Two Legs Or Four….God Help You If You’ve Named Something With More Legs Than That.

March 6, 2010

Just, y’know–on the topic of Things We Could Name This Dog Of Ours, I was thinking: like what if you gave your dog one of those cute people names like ‘Arnold’ or  ‘Moritz’ and then you became romantically involved with someone of the same name?
Would all sparks of romance just be dampened from the start?

‘Hey, can I buy you a drink?’
‘Well I wouldn’t say no–sorry, what was your name again?’
‘Arnold.’
‘Well that won’t be hard to remember–my dog’s name is Arnold!’

I mean, I guess it all depends on how you see those things. Some people might just take it to mean that this person already liked the name, and wanted to bring it into the fold of loved ones. Others–others like me–would instead be far more inclined to see it as an indication that the person with whom you are flirting has associations with your name that put it on a par with ‘Digger’ or ‘Scruffles’.

Or if it went further……I mean, what if–in the throws of passion–you were to call out your lover’s name and your dog came bounding onto the scene, ready to defend you from the beefy marauder clawing away at you??
How very awkward for the dog….

Ooo! Ooo! OOOO! Or what if you started dating someone with a kid and your dog had the same name as their kid?? Then it would be totally like, an awkward life-choices comparison. And with the kids it would be a mêlée of jealousy and fur, and colouring books and chewed-up bones………

‘Lilli we were thinking we could call you ‘Li’ from now on.’
‘Why?’
‘Well honey, to be honest, now that me, and you, and Robert, and Lilli (the-dog-Lilli) all live together it gets a little confusing with two Lillis around….so Robert and I thought it might help if we started calling you by a cool nickname!’
‘Well why don’t you call Lilli (the-dog-Lilli) ‘Li’ then?’
‘Oh, honey she’d never accept it.’

So, at this point I have neither a dog, nor a love interest (let alone a prospective step-child) but I’m sure you’ll be pleased to see that I’m thinking ahead. FYI: the future looks complicated.

Reimagining Disappointment At 27: Two Weeks Of Failure

March 1, 2010

I’m drinking the tea that Tanya gave me when I saw her at Christmastime. Indian Holy Basil Tea. I’m drinking it because it’s supposed to be good for people like me; excitable people. I’m drinking Indian Holy Basil Tea because I’m excited.

Agitated would really be more like it. I’m very, very agitated. I have been, to varying degrees for the last week or so. My agitation comes with a host of accessories: chest pain, irritability, fatigue, and a general sensation that I am–emotionally–wringing my hands. Emotional hand-wringing. Heart-wringing, then? Maybe that explains the chest pain.

The sources of my agitation are varied, however the Grand Kahuna–the hawaiian high priest of my problems–is the foreigner’s office in Berlin. Last week they denied me, for the 2nd time since November, a visa on the grounds that I do not posess proper health insurance. I, however, do not posess proper health insurance because I do not posess a visa. It is far more complicated than all that, but in a nutshell, there you have it.
I have one more avenue I’m going to explore on Wednesday morning (the next time my case worker will be taking phone calls) and failing that, it will be time to hire a lawyer. A lawyer for my troubles. A lawyer to guide me by the hand like some blind child through the schoolyard of immigration. And there are many potholes in the ground. And the kids are playing ‘keep away’. And my right to be here is the baaaaaallllllllll!!!

I’m just too anal retentive. I like to cross my ‘t’s and dot my ‘i’s….as long as there’s the threat of deportation I just can’t seem to relax……

Then there’s my application with the Kunstlersozialkasse, the KSK. They’re a sort of government-run organization that acts as an employer for artists, enabling them to sign on with publicly-run health insurance providers and paying half. If you’re an artist here, it’s the way to do it. Which is not to say that they’re a club to which gaining membership is easy, simply that it’s worth a try.

My case worker at the foreigner’s office told me that I should simply call them up and ask for a faster answer to my application–one before the 10th of May, when I have my next meeting at the fo’ o’. Implied in her solution, however, are two fallacies. The first is that the KSK would be any more receptive to bending their own rules than would be the foreigner’s office (and indeed, I had asked them if there was any mechanism for speeding up the application review process, and was told that there is none). The second is the suggestion that my application will be accepted. If only I could be so sure….
A friend, who has been a great help since this whole visa-debacle began, called the KSK again last week to ask if they would speed up my application review. She was told that they needed further information from me, and that I would be receiving a form in the mail. The form arrived, and while most questions were straightforward–even things I had answered in my initial application–one question poses a problem. They want documentation from the last six months of artistic activity in Germany. Not just proof that I’ve been working in the studio, but a bill for sold work complete with a bank statement showing the money; or a contract with a gallery; or material from a show I was in.
This is a problem. There was a sale, but I was paid in cash And while there is talk here and there of a commission or a show, I have no contracts or documents of proof.
All of which makes me feel, when I look at it, like rather a deadbeat artist, a failure even. Yes, despite having worked consistently for the last 6 months, I can’t produce the least document to show that I am an artist in Germany. If a painting gets painted in Germany and nobody sees it…….
….which throws my KSK application (at least for the moment) into question, which complicates–by extension–my visa application.

At it’s worst, it feels like the country I want doesn’t want me and I’m a failure as an artist. Harsh words, I know, but I did say ‘worst.’

Add to it all the fact that my bike (The Bee) got sick and it’s going to cost 55€, and I had a slight fender-bender of the heart on Valentine’s Day, and I’d say it’s been 2 weeks of standout vexation.

Another Possible Name For A Dog

March 1, 2010

Saw a cute dog this morning. Some kind of terrier I think. White body with a reddish face, little flopsy ears; small, adorable, quiet, perfect.
Reminded me of another name I’ve been tossing around in my head:
‘Arnold’.
‘Arnold! Get out of those bushes!’;  ‘….aaand this is me at the Rock of Gibraltar, and there’s my dog, Arnie biting that american woman’s arm….’; ‘Arnie do you want steak or salmon for dinner?’

‘Arnold’……..could work.