29 September 2012


Though it is now more obvious than a few years ago, I (along with seemingly most of my generational peers) have spent my youth so far in a limbo, an ideological limbo in which any movement, any attempt at creation and at stuffing meaning into the more or less tactile carcasses of dress, of expression, of speech, of the use we make of our senses, seems doomed from the start to go up in smoke, as there is nothing it can adhere to, nothing it can rub against, and we twirl through the motions of spirit one failed, meaningless, utterly self-referential act after another, so postmodern it has become aware of nothing but itself, thinking that from its patch-worked bowels it can extract something, anything, of value if it only digs, squeezes, pulverises enough. But really, there is nothing, because there was nothing to begin with. We've exhausted the limited (but seemingly endless) heap of countercurrents and acts of rebellion, as well as the currents we chose to be rebellious against, so far even that we started assimilating parts of them in a desperate attempt at a new act of defiance; but the irony only got us so far, and distinguishing between what we meant and what we refused became increasingly muddy, until it became nothing at all. Now, we find ourselves stuck in a cycle of referentiality, all we are left with is the attempt to take over what has been, what used to make sense in the context of its own time, of its own place, and struggle to make it our own, to corrupt it according to our needs, and to do so while at all costs avoiding to let ourselves see that all we are doing is vulgarising it, contaminating with our own lack of meaning, of fulness, we are littering the streets and pages with empty concepts because, when ripped from their original context, their original propagators, they are nothing but shells we adorn ourselves with in an attempt to stand out in a mass that is adorned with the same shells, occasionally showing a very slight variation in shading or shape, but shells nonetheless. We all jingle the same, empty tune, and we're loving it because, hey, it's our generation's birthright to take and ruin, to colonise and misunderstand, to cut the filaments that fed the heart and dangle corpses from our ears, we are the recyclers and the conquistadores of the past, we are a band of toddlers obsessed with DIY and disgusted with history, in fact, we have no scruples about robbing signs, symbols, words of their context, we are a-contextual and the world better follow our lead, the past needs to be cut into pieces and distributed among us so that we may make use of what cannot be discarded without being recycled into an identity, so we don't let it sleep but take it with us into the future, we call it innovation, no, wait, we call it being unique.
We don't have a movement because movements are for suckers, for those whose aspirations are too linear, and, perhaps the one thing that sets us apart is this recycling of what used to be and fashion it into new identities. Our generation is circular.

26 September 2012


I'm not sure how this occurred, but on our way into town this morning, the conversation that usually accompanies our walks turned from the physical (sharks and crocodiles, and why they're aesthetically vile, on top of being nothing but stomachs with teeth) to the fantastical, namely mermaids and why they're clearly mammals. Though this is more of a debate you have late at night when you run out of ideas and less nerdily whimsical topics to discuss, I have often had to listen to people loudly (fuelled by wine) exclaim that mermaids, if they existed, would fall under the category of fish, with a reproductive system to match. This theory never appealed to me, perhaps due to a mammalian narcissism, perhaps because it seems wrong that something based so closely on human proportions would lay eggs and produce offspring counting anywhere between two and three digits, and I kept insisting that mermaids have wombs.
And today, it finally occurred to me why this was closer to making sense than I thought: it was pointed out to me that sharks move their rear fins sideways, like most fish (excluding those flat ones that dwell on the bottom of the sea like predatory pancakes), but that sea-mammals, like whales and dolphins, wag their tails up and down, fanning the water like ancient Egyptian servants as they swim.

The reason this is so, we figured (we could probably have read this up in any book on marine biology, but we didn't have one at hand, so guessing was the best we could do), is because fish have a skeleton much different to that of mammals: they do not need to accomodate a womb like we do, and their skeletons go straight through their bodies, almost as though they were on a skewer, with bones sticking up and down, which means that a sideways motion makes the most sense for them.

For mammals, however, such a motion would prove very difficult, even underwater, as their skeleton is mostly dorsal, i.e. located along their backside. Additionally, whales, as well as dolphins, don't seem to have bones in their rear fins, whereas sharks do; mammalian rear fins therefore seem to really function according to more of a fanning mechanism, used for propelling and steering, whereas those of fish, along with propelling, might serve more of a directional function, like a rutter on a boat.

But all of that pseudo-biology aside, what really matters about this is, of course, the thing whose existence is uncertain at best: the mermaid. In their traditional representation, mermaids are "seen" swimming moving their back fin (the fishtail part) up and down, like dolphins and whales, rather than sideways – and, surprisingly, this makes a lot of sense. If they are based on human anatomy, at least partly, it would make very little sense for their skeletal composition to suddenly undergo a complete change as we go from their human part to their fishtail: seeing as their human upper body is depicted as normal, with a spinal cord and ribs, their fishtail would, to make sense, have to be composed like that of a dolphin (or whale, if we're talking about a particularly heavy-set mermaid), with a dorsal spinal cord that extends further than that of humans, all the way down to the feet, which, in this case, are flattened to the state of fins. Imagine a human with two boneless legs sown together (ew) and a very long, straight spinal cord that traverses this sown-together construct, plus two human feet, flattened to they look like fins, with the bones of the feet stretched like gum until they are very thin and serve to give shape to the thin skin of the fin-feet. Or just look at a pretty mermaid.

Either way, all you need to do now is get used to the idea of a pregnant mermaid. Fortunately, it seems it would be much easier for them to regain their figure after pregnancy than for us, what with non-stop workout your abs get simply from swinging your fins up and down. 

Staunverbot - Nihil Admirari [Essay/Fiction]

These days, being called “impressionable” is considered an insult in the same right as “gullible”. The impressionable person is one who finds himself in awe when facing an object, concept or experience that is unprecedented within his own conscious universe. 

The loss of surprise and wonderment to the more and more common tradition of “unimpressedness”, especially in the academic world, is what Peter Sloterdijk remarks on in the introduction to his essay Streß und Freiheit (2011), and whom he calls “Verblüffungsresistenz” (resistance to bewilderment/astonishment). 
The essay as such deals with the conceptual contradiction between the rampant individualism of the West since the emergence of liberal cultures in the 17th century, and the insistence of social sciences to conceive of societies as “constructs”, as political groups driven by the conviction, inherent to its components, that they are somehow bound together by historical, geographical or social causes, by fate or by dedication. However, what struck me about these few opening paragraphs in which Sloterdijk reminds his readers of the increasing rarity, even scarcity, of bewilderment and wonder in the realms of philosophy and social sciences, even though they are often thought, at least in Western philosophy, to underly all contemplative activity (cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics I, 2, 982b.), is the feeling of cynicism, not on Sloterdijk’s part, but one that is very common among students of philosophy especially, and often even picked up on the way as a required personality trait, as though it were, like a Bar Mitzvah, an essential part in the ritual of becoming a fully-fledged philosophical being. 

What this leaves on the tongue as an aftertaste is the impression that, if you’re surprised, if you don’t immediately accept as part of the “game” some of the “truths” that were established within the community, you are not doing your job as a doubting entity within said community (paradoxically enough), but rather, you are wasting your time and reputation with doubting things whose existence is fundamental to the very activity of doubt within each of the undercurrents existing within philosophy.
However, it is true that, when partaking in philosophical thought (always an activity drenched in social and historical awareness, no matter how deeply hidden away in your own mind you think you’re operating) doubt and wonder are more acceptable than, say, in the example Sloterdijk pulls from the realm of social sciences, which is their complete acceptance of an established “internal standard”: the existence of “societies”, both as the abstract concept a social structure composed by an accumulation of human beings, and as the very actual, very mind-blowing realisation that, somehow, this multitude of people is composed of willed, conscious individuals who each strive towards the fulfilment of their own life-narrative whilst still managing to remain, more or less, a functioning part of said “society”. The disparateness between individualism [with its sui generis, the obsession with the own unique-snowflakiness] and the integration of the individual within a societal construct that runs on the idea of commonness, is what, in this essay, leads to Sloterdijks proposal of a “Verwunderungsübung” [an exercise in astonishment] against the stream that flows through social and political sciences. 

In philosophy, as well as outside of the womb of academia, the cynicism that we are all, to varying degrees, infused with, cuts in two opposite directions: cynicism is both the ad (a very Sartrean) nauseam doubting of all there is, to an almost crippling extent, as well as the stigmatising of those we consider to be “gullible”, based solely on the degree of cynicism we have attained ourselves. We are almost expected, on different levels, to both doubt everything, and to already know everything, a state that can, surely, only be reached through pretence. 


In the end, it inevitably boils down to cynicism. Cynicism sucks, but it compellingly knocks on your door every time something knocks you down, and after a while it seems like the only reasonable option. It just strikes you as so obvious and irresistible you almost can’t wait for the cynicism to kick in in its full-fledged form and devastate all hope and delicacy (which you associate with weakness at this point anyway) in its way. You’re still in the trial period of the cynicism package you finally succumbed and subscribed to the last time your heart got broken by something ugly. You’re not quite there yet, not bone dry and indestructible, you still occasionally shed a tear or feel your stomach crawl with flying bugs or contract with nerves or hope or love, and you’re impatient, you want to turn into the ice queen you were promised you’d be, this rewarding status you will attain once life has hit you hard enough and chipped away sufficient amounts of your soul. You just have to toughen up and wear the crown one day, you just have to. Even this is a hope, you realise, and you take it back and shut your mouth. 

And then one day this girl dies and you go to her house and you go through her things. She killed herself with something easy, pills from what you gather, and after it hit her parents that she was gone they got scared and wanted her things out of their house and out of their lives. They’re staying at a hotel until her traces are removed and her room is turned into a blank slate that can be redecorated into anything they want, anything that will keep them busy enough to forget. You and a few others volunteered to help and so you go through her drawers and you find a notebook filled with her writing, apparently dating from just before her death. You sit down and start reading until someone tells you to get up and keep working, so you slip the notebook in your back pocket, you won’t sell this yet. After a while, the room is clean and you go your separate ways; with a bench under you, you start reading the pages and you read her pain, her broken heart, her loneliness, her disbelief. You understand most of it, though her handwriting gets complex and hard to read whenever her hand starts shaking too much, and you’re pretty sure that smudge above the word “coping” is a tear. The scribblings in the little leather notebook stop abruptly after a while and you’re left feeling an emptiness in your stomach that doesn’t surprise you even though you had lunch just an hour ago because nothing surprises you much these days. You understand. Her pain was there, stronger and more all-encompassing than she was prepared for, and she felt the logical progression from being left by someone who was everything lay in leaving everything else that was left to leave. Her life, the world. Her pain was there, too much of it, and now she’s gone and for all you know the pain is too. But you’re not sure of that. The pain is right there in the little leather notebook, unused otherwise but for a few pages of Spanish vocabulary. 

Your friend has a gallery, so you photocopy the pages, you transcribe some excerpts to increase their legibility, you resize, you crop, you frame. On opening night, the spotlights are tasteful and the people shuffle through the room, bubbly wine in hand from which they sip as they read, in constant gliding motion, never coming to a full stop no matter how compelling the reading. You gave them real pain, so simple and futile in its commonness, they’re drinking it up with the bubbly wine because it’s real and it has a sad backstory to prove it. “It’s so sad, really, these kids, how seriously they take things…” says a woman. She’s tall, think, gangly, she tries so hard to stay young. You pace through the room, some people smile at you, some pat you on the back and say “very touching, very moving”. They smile and you bare all your teeth for them. You feel naked when you smile. You go into the back and adjust a spotlight that was crooked. The black ink jumps out at the room and the words on the page come to life again. “Love the concept”, says one busy voice to another as they’re rushing by. You gave them the pain they hate to feel, the pain they find ridiculous, and you provided them with an opportunity to walk away from it. Later tonight, they all will, and, after a glass of celebratory wine, so will you. 


Here are the pages you took from the notebook and hung on the wall for all to see:

Strangely enough, I never thought I’d have to get over you. I’ve thought about it, what it would be like, but whenever I did it was so abstract, almost an exercise in conjuring up feelings that I could let go as soon as reality, namely the fact that you really were there, kicked back in. Now you’re gone for good, no hope as to your return, no more sitting on my floor holding me and telling me you love me and that we’re worth the trouble… it’s as hopeless as if you were dead, but it’s worse because you’re not. Your feelings for me won’t return and stay for good, yet the million ghosts of you I’ve gathered swarm around me each of them carrying an absurd speck of hope like a disease. 
If you were dead, I’d stop hoping. If you were dead, you wouldn’t be able to go on, to forget me little by little, to fall in love with someone else, someone better, someone who will end up destroying your promise (“if it doesn’t work with you, I don’t want it to work with anyone”) once and for all. It’d be easier. I wouldn’t have to live with the knowledge that you are fine without me. That you don’t look back or miss me, when everything about me used to be saturated with you. You meant much, much more to me than I realised. And now I’m abandoned without a clue as to how to go on. 

Writing helps. Gives the whole thing  momentary abstraction. The words only stand for the pain. But at the same time, I feel how desperate the situation is. I’ll never be able to write about a broken heart in a way that feels real. And everyone has had their heart broken anyway, who cares. Everyone is alone with their pains.

The mere idea that you will be fine and I won’t, that you will get over me, that you already are, that you will fall in love with someone who means to you what you mean to me… it sickens me to a point where I feel so helpless and disgusted that I just want the world to shut down and start again at a point where things were still good. Where there still was an “us”. I keep thinking I met you too early. Or at the wrong time, anyway, under the wrong circumstances. That, had all this been right, I’d have meant to you what you mean to me, and you’d still love me with all your being. And then, I start hoping that you’ll come back, realise that you do love me and never leave me again. 
But all I can do is rid myself of this hope. You won’t come back. There is no going back from the curse of friendship, from the loss of feelings or love. I’ll never be to you what you were to me. I think it’s this unfairness that kills me. No matter how much I suffer, no matter how I feel now, you’ll be fine, better off, you’ll heal & forget me quickly, unaware and uncaring. So all I can do, really, is let myself forget about you – about the love of my life. 

Another night of despair and it keeps growing. I’m afraid I might associate my bed, my own bed, with this pain. This fear of having lost what was most precious to be. And of having lost it irrevocably because there is no merciful power that will make him love me the way I love him. And the more I think about it, the more painful this realisation becomes. I won’t ever mean to him what he means to me. Someone else will, I suppose. 
And my feelings won’t seem to fade. And how could they? Some part of me probably still treasures them. The love of my life, at 20? I so yearn to explain those feelings to him. To have him, if only for an instant, feel what I feel for him. Understand what he’s done to me and what he’s wasting, throwing away. I am angry at so much unfairness and… I’d say cruelty if I believed such a force actually has a hand in things. 
I’m afraid. Of the future. Of my coping with having lost him, of him being fine and me devastated. Of the loneliness and the dark days, of never finding anyone to bond with, of never being able to sleep again. Of destroying myself with this pining. Of wasting my youth. Of never loving like this again. Of loving like this (again). Of being hurt. I cannot think straight. I still think of him so often and with every passing hour he probably thinks less and less about me. And there’s nothing I can do to stop this decay. 

23 September 2012

Arte Metropolis – Luxembourg

Ah, Lëtzebuerg, eternally wedged between borders, though in this short documentary about the luxembourgish art scene featured on arte's programme Metropolis, these borders are temporal rather than spatial: 6:07 – 18:40 (French and German)

20 September 2012


Lately, it seems I've been obsessed with a topic that, strangely enough, is very hard for me to write about: the notion of homelands, mine in particular. Like the most basic version of a crazed Odysseus, after having been swept away from home by the hand of fate [academic convenience], I've started holding on to this ideal of the homeland, tentatively at first, then with increasing fury and obstinacy, as though my previous lack of inquiry into the concept of a native land was obviously the source of all my discomfort and awkwardness on my way through life and the world, as though the act of returning to a homeland, emotionally and intellectually at first, then possibly someday physically, would bear as fruits the precious answers and keys to questions and locks that have plagued me along with portions of humanity in its existential quests since the dawn of things. [If you were wondering, I consider the current step of the process (or obsession) to be the one dealing with the emotional or intellectual side of re-approaching and re-investigating the homeland, as well as the myth thereof.]

However, every time I embark [odyssean jokes, fuck yeah] on an attempt at writing about my own country, I have to realize that I am hitting a wall. A wall spray tagged with the following revelation: I know very little about my homeland. Though it might have contributed to it, this is not due simply to the fact that I haven't lived in it for over 6 years; looking back, it doesn't feel like I exhausted the [then more defined] limits of what is available in this country in terms of entertainment, culture, and, well, debauchery [I was a good teenager, mostly] before I left. So now, whenever I return, with this image of "how things used to be (but most likely never really were)", it is as though I've regained consciousness after a long sojourn in slumberland, or any other place filled with fog. I recognise things visually, I know where to go, which route to take, I remember street names [the few I ever bothered to learn], I'm even more or less informed as to what a handful of individuals who may or may not have frequented my old high school are now up to. Yet it feels like I can never be fully sure whether I am actually in the right country, the same country I left  a few years ago with the certainty I was ready to put an end to our relationship, I can't tell if I'm speaking the right language, making the right gestures, if I want the right things. The thing I was not expecting, no matter how facepalmingly inevitable it was, was that things would continue to change, to evolve, after I was gone.
Causing me to skip a few stages of grief, this realisation is [proverbial firecracker that I am...] immediately met with outrage: What?! How dare the fluffy womb-cocoon I left all these years ago to find myself [in the arms of a pretty drastically shape-shifting Calypso] and collect a few degrees along the way continue to evolve without me? How did it not fall into a hibernating slumber to unthaw in pristine condition only at my return, and present me with a scene and atmosphere unchanged, still fully familiar and accommodating, instead of being littered with question marks? If I were indeed the crazed Odysseus figure I claimed to be just moments ago, I would have swiftly murdered and impaled all those new suitors lined up to claim the hand of my mourning bride, but I'm not a fan of bloodstains, even less partial to prison cells [the olden days of slaughtering for dignity are over, plus I'm remarkably claustrophobic as a person], and, if "bride" is even an appropriate image in this context, this "bride" is one I share with +/- 500.000 other people anyway, if my airline's inflight magazine's sources are anything to be trusted.

So how do I write about something I've been divorced from [again with the marital analogies] for so many years that I find myself almost alienated from its general socio-cultural climate whenever I return to what I still believe to be my roots? An what do I write about when there is nothing, of the things that occur in this country, that I can review without there being someone else more immersed in it who could review it much better? How can I make remarks and claims about my home country that are somehow socio-culturally relevant when all I sense here, all that's still evident to me, is the country's atmosphere, and such things are desperately subjective and personal?
On the other hand, if I throw in the towel and step away from my claim to a place where I belong and thus give up the notion of this country as my homeland, then what do I have instead? There's always the grand tradition of purely nominal emigration to an honorary step-homeland – electing their substitute nationality of choice is something a lot of my peers are notoriously good at. 2.500 square kilometers are just not enough to hold all of us, especially with those whose life-dreams taking up the kind of space only a larger country can comfortably provide, and still, for those who choose to stay within the clog-shaped borders of this country, our ambitions only fit if we can compress them to an innocuous size, or float them above our heads on a string.
But then again, this could just be the impression I had when the air was getting thick and I was happy to leave. Maybe now, things are different, and opportunities grow plushly, and the increasing number of those who seize them thrive in this new environment that has sprung up overnight, if "overnight" can be used to refer to a time bracket of half a dozen years. Maybe that's what things are like; to my nowadays pretty untrained eye this is what it seems like. Then again, the opportunities given to others often seem more notable than one's own because... just because. Look up "facebook", the bible of feeling like everybody else has a life except you. Anyway, tangents, tangents are bad. Where was I?
For me, there doesn't seem to be the option of letting go of something that has embedded itself in my daily trains of thought as much as this homeland idea – uprooting this obsessional notion would not do much good; if anything, it would contribute to my mind [and the personality attached to it] floating around even more in want of an anchor or a set of landmarks than is already the case. Not a viable option, then. A less drastic method would involve gently channeling this obsession into a few different areas, one of them being verbal creations, in the form of, gee, I don't know, articles or fiction about whatever it is that bugs me about "belonging" and my lack of confirmation in that department. Another area the energy otherwise wasted in unhealthy obsession [as opposed to so-called healthy i.e. productive obsession] could be conducted into is working at finding a sense of fulfilment in this [seemingly inevitable] state of "homelessness" I find myself in these days – when small birds, too young to fly off on their own, fall out of the nest, or, worse, are removed by alien hands, they no longer quite fit in with the rules and regulations of the nest the sat in in perfect contentment only a few moments ago. I suppose this is the tacky analogy to attach to the feeling I'm trying to explain here: an attachment to the limbo of a conceptual no-man's-land, in my case, is the thing I need to become conscious of, not as a tragic balancing act that will inevitably end in a vertiginous inner fall, but as a freedom that allows me to find my attachments elsewhere, in an area that has nothing whatsoever to do with geography. The fact that I don't quite feel comfortable or entitled to feeling at home anywhere doesn't help, but certainly adds to the amount of energy that will be devoted to this particular internal adjustment.
Meanwhile, this distance might enlighten me as to whether there is anything of note I can formulate about the one country I should have a certain insight into, or whether this task is better left to other people who actually bother with the country's political and historic intricacies. Perhaps the geographical, purely physical distance I opted for a few years ago was not the right kind of distance; it was more of a rebellious, contemptuous attempt at ignoring everything I'd dwelled in from my birth up until that time, something pretty common in the ready-for-college age group I guess. The distance I need might be one that is focussed, not on comparing whatever place I live in right now to an idealised and [time-]warped version of my childhood and teenage impressions of "home" and thus tearing my current habitat down, but on adapting, if only in parts, to where I live, and adding to my collection of experiences and personality traits whatever the chemistry between that place and me happens to conjure up.

If you take Ulysses' word for it, being sedentary is totally overrated anyway, and adds nothing to the feeling of being "homebound"; if anything, the yearning for the native land, falls under the category of those feelings whose satisfaction is fleeting, and as soon as you've taken in what you missed, the restlessness kicks in again and it's time to set off for another arrangement of loops around the Mediterranean Seas for a while. In terms of animal analogies, I suppose a bird's eye view of the nest, as you're spiralling high above it in the air, is more fitting, and perhaps seeing it all from a certain distance makes it all so much more bearable [because so much less real. We all love our phantasy]. Or, perhaps, the frog's way with a recurring return to where ever it was you came out of your egg [added to this is the benefit of the following analogical extension: upon your return, the pond will seem much smaller than it did when you were a tadpole. You will also have a set of nice, muscular legs to go with your new, demandingly itinerant lifestyle. Just saying.] It seems that, rather than making camp somewhere with permanence in mind, the lifestyle that comes with this particular limbo is cyclical in its nature. Cyclical. You'd think, what with my gender and all, I would have figured this out sooner.

18 September 2012

Speaker's Block

There are things that are close to me, very close to me, like, blood-related, and that I still know virtually nothing about. When I say nothing, I mean very little besides the narrative threads my brain has spun between the scattered bits of information I managed to extract from fellow family members by tricking them into reminiscence. One of those things, the one I'm referring to here, in my usual non-pushy way, is my grand-mother; she died long before I was born and I have therefore never been able to meet her in person, which resulted in her creating, on my impressionable mind, an imprint that slowly degenerated into the kind of obsession elusive dead people can sometimes engender in the living. Anyway, because I've been good lately and haven't pestered my parents with questions about her as much as I used to, they probably figured I was finally mature (yah...) enough to handle a more up-close-and-personal encounter with my deceased ancestry, and gifted me with two documents that are witness to her sojourn on Earth: a correspondence article she wrote for a magazine in the sixties, and a graphological study of her temperament and emotional composition, a service she probably called upon in a hope not at all foreign to me, namely that of having someone else determine what kind of person she was – it seems easier, doesn't it, to have someone else, someone with a kind of authority in that field, look upon you and read the signs that compose you so as to tell you who you are and what you need, someone who will have a view less cluttered by the emotions and constantly melting and recomposing masks you have donned over the years of your life, less hung up on all of the different definitions you thought applied to you now and forever. There is no "me" that lasts forever. But still, we expect to always be able to read ourselves clearly, to understand what we need, and for those that are close to us to do so too. In fact, there is one social situation where we expect this kind of non-verbal understanding more than anywhere else: romantic relationships.

There is one thing, however, that relationships, the good ones as much as the bad, have all, up until this point, served to collectively teach me: instinctive trust, a kind of 'clicking' in respect to personal preferences and outlooks, is not that common, nor even necessarily required. Sure, in a good relationship there will be the occasional instinctive epiphany about the other person, but why should it be necessary for our partner to function the same way we do, or with nothing but us in mind? In fact, I've had relationships where such a close similarity of internal operation proved to be a bad thing, simply because not all of my actions and quirks make sense, even to me, and finding them mirrored in the other's behaviour made them all the more irritating. Also, after a while, the feeling settles in that there is very little about the other's independent being that has the capacity to genuinely surprise you. Where movies tell us a "boyfriend" is supposed to know, instantly and instinctively, from the gut (rippling with abs, of course), what is wrong when our smile turns to sad, or what to do when we're upset, in real life, we have to get over that ideal of someone who can, without fail, decipher our reasons for acting and feeling a certain way, often even better than we can.
We have to allow the other to be as clueless and scared as we are, though hopefully a bit less scared because one of us has to keep a clear head and a less than psychotic grasp on things once in a while. And where we feel that certain intuitions about our innermost mysteries are missing, they can always be taught, explained to each other with great care. They might not always be understood perfectly, we are different people after all, and they might not be applied as solutions every time, but it's a start.

How did I deduce all this from a graphological analysis made 50 years ago, and about someone else? It might be that the whole idea of roots as an indicator of who you are in the social, temporal, and spatial net you were born into is still sticking to me like it has for the past few months. The weird thing is, when I read the analysis, the descriptions the graphologist (for some reason I feel like it was a woman, but what do I know) gives of my grandmother's personality struck me as very similar to my own, but expressed without so many of the negative connotations and undertones I so often weave into my own evaluations of myself, and for once this didn't send me off on a tangent about how weirdly hereditary some personality traits can be. Nor did it particularly baffle me how similar I apparently am to my paternal grandmother – if graphological analyses are to be trusted; a doubt I choose to suspend for now. What it did, rather, was pierce my bubble of stubborn egocentrism and social autism for a while, so as to make me realise that perhaps the view others have on us is less cruel and less intolerant than we assume, and – this goes for some of us – maybe even less so than the judgment we make about ourselves. Of course, I won't know how accurate this reading felt to the person it set out to define – my grandmother; all I know is that the charming part of this particular way of being analysed seemed to happen without requiring an actual attempt on the part of the subject to describe herself, or her own image of who she was. When asked "What kind of person are you?", some people reply with confidence, they deliver set little verbal vignettes of "the kind of person" they are, and they don't find the question of what they want or need at a particular time particularly tormenting. Others will not know what to reply to such an enquiry and wish they could just be figured out through osmosis or something. The idea that someone could read your handwriting and understand, not just make unfair or cliché-ridden assumptions, but really understand what you are about at this moment in time, seems like such a load off one's back. Not having to constantly brief one's social relations as to the status of the perpetual investigation into what it means to be "me" that, for some of us, constitutes our life – yeah, it would be a relief. Especially as it would mean only having to "communicate" oneself when one truly feels ready. But, as not everybody is a certified graphologist or clairvoyant, or other paranormal semiotician, I suppose there are only occasional bursts of intuition we can depend on with our peers, and we can find relief in the fact that some feelings are more easily conveyed than others. And, perhaps, that some things just don't need to be expressed so as to conjure up a 1:1 scale replica of the original feeling within the other person; those things are ours to deal with and to figure out for ourselves.


I have speaker's block like one has writer's block.


When you ask me what is wrong and what I feel, you are asking me to poke around in the dark; it is as dark to me as it is to you. How should I know how I feel, when I feel so many different things at once, some good, some neutral, some upsetting, all chattering away at once inside me, how am I to know which one speaks the loudest at this particular moment in time, which one is bobbing at the surface when what it's swimming in is a loud pool of thoughts and needs? I feel as though too much is within me, too many things undealt with, unclassified impressions and moods, like I am a hoarder of sensations and none of them have their proper place, resulting in a right mess; I have accumulated them without scrutiny or afterthought for too long, much as I do with more tangible things, but unlike tactile collections they cannot be categorized later on, because I can no longer tell them apart, they are all just caught in an internal whirlpool that is heterogeneous only as far as I can deduce from the mood swings I suffer, but otherwise homogeneous because there is no way for me to discriminate between what exactly it is that grips me at any given moment, as though I was experiencing all of my moods at once.
All there is to do in terms of cleanup is to hope that, at the right moment, when they are ready to be dealt with, the thoughts will pop up and make themselves known, or just fade away with time.
That is why, when you ask me what I feel, what I need, I listen to this constant buzzing inside of me, inspect the murmurs for something that stands out, and wait for a feeling or need to make itself known, so I can at least pretend that I know myself just a little bit. At best, what I end up telling you will be a guess, at worst a lie. How should I expect you to know what I need and what worries me exactly, why should I hold you to the standards of stereotypically elementary movie romance when even I don't really see through myself all that well? What I cherish, however, is that most of the time you try. 

14 September 2012

Laura (Fiction)

It's not as though the world has won, I'm just giving it a head start.

I peel my cheek off the page and squint into the light. Afternoons get sunny in this room, I forgot. In the round mirror on my desk, I search my skin for ink stains, half expecting to find my homework imprinted on my cheek. Nothing but redness, however. I get up, shake my leg, yawn. The phone rings and I answer saying yeah. “I hate when you do that,” says the cracking voice of post-nap Laura. “Do what,” I ask. “Answer the phone like that. I could be talking to anyone for five minutes.” I rub my eye with the back of my hand until it starts making smacking sounds. “Can you hear that?” I ask the receiver. “What?” “Nothing. Want to go for a walk?” “Sure.” I hang up and pick up my clothes from the floor.

She rings the doorbell with a bike between her knees, but I don’t have one so she cycles next to me, pedalling so slowly she almost loses balance a couple of times. The only time she ever cusses is at cars. When we start going uphill, she gets off and walks holding her saddle.

Our hair colour is the same, dark auburn. In school, people used to think we were related, which inevitably put us in each other’s field of attention. We ended up close and everybody said “so, they’re cousins, right?” We did presentations together and she convinced the teacher to let us have a time slot in the afternoon each time, because our hair is at its reddest in the afternoon light. Laura realises things like that. After school, we’d go to her house and pretend to work. We’d stare at the computer screen and look up beer commercials, then make fun of how happy the people depicted were, and how wholesome the setting. “So beer makes you attractive and everybody wants you?” “Yeah, it also messes with the climate, apparently. Eternal sunshine for everyone.” “It also doesn’t make you old or fat or sad.” “Seriously,” she said, “you should see my dad.”

Laura’s father is a concert violinist. In the evenings, we hear him come in from work, and Laura goes downstairs to say hi. Peaking through the railing of the stairs, I see into the dark living room where he is watching TV, the box with his violin leaning against his armchair, his slumped figure flickering in the blue light.

Laura sits on a rock, her foot rubbing against the grass. Her bike lies behind us and I keep an eye on it because she won’t. Her left knee supporting her chin, she rolls her head toward me and closes her eyes as they’re hit by the light. “I’m going to the States after this year.” “What for?” She holds a hand over her eyebrows as if the sun had just gotten brighter. “College. I want to do physics, I’m pretty sure they’re good at it. Better than here, anyway.” “Isn’t it expensive to live there?” She scratches a bug bite on her thigh, and her skin glows pink under her nail.  “Not really. I guess the most expensive thing is getting there. You can’t exactly take a train, you know.” “Aren’t you scared your plane will crash?” I ask. Laura continues picking at her bug bite and the skin around it turns red. “No”, she says.

A few years later Laura calls me and tells me her father died. I say I’m sorry though I already knew it. I ask her where she is, she’s in town, and we agree to meet. She needs someone to talk to. We meet at a café, which is odd, which we never did before, we only ever discussed cafés to make fun of people who frequent them. We hunch over cups of steaming something and poke at them with our fingers, occasionally, and Laura doesn’t talk about her father, she talks about the States instead. Her clothes have changed, she wears shirts now, not like a schoolgirl in a uniform, she wears them with ease as though she always had. The funeral was yesterday, I had a four-hour dentist appointment and my gums are still sore which is why I drink in small sips, slurping a bit, making sure I only drink when Laura’s speech falls into a pause. Her mother fainted at the funeral; Laura doesn’t tell me this, my sister did, but maybe she’s exaggerating a bit. Laura’s eyes are red and she has highlights in her hair, she looks grown up. My lower teeth scrape the polish off my thumbnail when Laura says “It was good to see you, we should keep in touch more.” I nod and we hug and then Laura has to leave, her mother needs her. She walks fast and swings around the corner, grazing the wall with her shoulder. The sun falls into my eye and I squint the corner and Laura away.

Sometimes she laughs and says: es ist nicht so, als ob die Welt gewonnen hätte. Ich gebe ihr nur etwas Vorsprung. When she laughs, her hair jumps as if woken from a deep slumber. It is never clear whether she laughs with or at something. When asked, she replies I laugh against things, and leans back on her chair.

03 September 2012

New Dream in Town

Upon visiting “the capital of capitalism”, I must have caught some sort of virus, or maybe a new dream-production-team, because the programme offered to me for my personal nightly entertainment this summer has been weirder than usual. In the past, my dream-catalogue has consisted of biblical references, Beckettian minimalism as staged by Robert Wilson, Lynchean distortion and decadence, Film Noir dialogues in smokey alleyways (black-and-white scenery to match), classic horror chases and psychological thriller, and even the occasional sitcom’esque comedy spun directly from the thread of experiences had the very same day. But, as I said, I must’ve caught something funny on my trip because, during the past month, my nightly rapid-eye-movement picture show has added a new genre to its repertoire: musicals. I used to have dreams, of many varieties, now I have musicals. Not exclusively, of course, no producer would be so bad at their own job as to offer products of only one genre, and they know my need for diversity, but the amount of musical numbers that have been cropping up in my dreams all of a sudden is close to alarming, especially considering this is a totally new species of dreams for me. In fact, they didn’t just develop over time, with a little Sprechgesang ditty here and there to test the waters; dreams in the musical format have just suddenly shot out of the ground fully formed, fully harmonised, fully cast, and fully scripted, a complete set for the month of August (and apparently stretching into September, notorious entertainment-low of the year) with all its limbs, vocal cords and catchy beats. The stuff of nightmares. Except it’s musicals we’re talking about, and their happiness is even catchier than any virus that might have befallen me on the plane ride back from America. Even their sad, serious, thought-provoking moments are lined with happiness. This might be my Disney-ridden childhood catching up with me, which, if we’re talking musicals, is the only explanation that remotely makes sense, seeing as I only like one “grown-up” musical and vaguely tolerate two others. All I know is, a while ago, I was woken up during three chords of a very sugary upbeat song about a more or less rural teenage boy (my unchallengeable assumption, made based on the fact that cornfields kept popping up, and that they had access to a completely unprotected graveyard earlier on in the dream) and his right to be gay, complete with flashbacks demonstrating the object of said boy’s affections wearing a kilt (thanks, Adam…) to school and generally looking dreamy, whilst the teenage boy’s best female friend sang to him in the middle of a dirt road about how there are so many more important parts to him than whom he happens to fall in love with. It was very peachy and all-audiences – not what I’m used to from my dreams. And, if my producers can be influenced by the written word, I hope the next time they expose me to musical numbers of this nature, they will make sure the general atmosphere tends more towards that of, say, Chicago, with jazz-infused tunes and crooked, lying characters. Either way, I am now going to get me some industrial strength coffee to wash this dream into the sewers of my subconscious along with other, non-recurring dreams. G’day.