The Dress

If you’re a friend of mine on Facebook, you’ll know that A. and I recently made a pretty big life decision, one which involves at least one ring, but does not concern the fate of Middle Earth.

(As a side note, FB friends probably also know A.’s real name and realise how boring a moniker I’ve given him (you may notice it’s boringness even without being a FB friend). He’s actually demanded a new one, something along the lines of Lord-High-and-Mighty-the-Intelligent- Handsome-and-Great, but it’s too late now, I didn’t know at the time (sometime last year) how potentially important he might be in the story of this blog, and he has his boring moniker and I’m sticking to it.)

Anyways, getting back to the point, as a consequence of this major life decision, which we will refrain from naming by name (and not because we are scared of it – though we are scared of the targeted advertising, which is somehow yet to find us), I have been searching for a dress. No, wait, not just, ‘a’ dress.

THE Dress. The Dress of My Lifetime. The Dress of My Dreams. The Only Dress That Ever Was and Will Ever Be.

See, I thought I was just buying a nice dress to wear on a nice day of my life. But that is WRONG. There is a ‘Cult of The Dress’ out there, and they have RULES. RULES THAT MUST BE OBEYED. Perhaps even more disturbingly is how many of these rules I have internalised and am sub-consciously attempting to fulfil when looking for my own dress. GET OUT OF MY BRAIN, HIVE MIND!

1) THE RULE OF TEARS

When you put on ‘The Dress’ you will start to cry. Your friends and family (who you have, of course, brought along for this momentous moment) will start to cry. The sales assistants in the shop will start to cry. EVERYONE THAT CATCHES THE SMALLEST GLIMPSE OF YOU IN ‘THE DRESS’ , INCLUDING STRANGERS AND STRAY CITY PIGEONS PECKING AT LEFTOVER CHICKEN OUTSIDE THE SHOP WINDOW, MUST IMMEDIATELY START TO CRY, OR IT IS NOT ‘THE DRESS’. Look, basically, if everyone in the world isn’t being swept away on a sea of tears, brought into existence simply by the beauty of you in your dress, then you can take off the gown comfortable in the knowledge that whatever boring, everyday taffeta nightmare you just tried on was not ‘THE DRESS’. If the bridal store doesn’t look like that water scene from Alice in Wonderland, then take off the dress. It’s not for you. Maybe it’s for someone else. But not for you.

How your bridal store should look. Found at: https://happeningsonchaosranch.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/postcards-to-share/

How your bridal store should look. Less animals, possibly. Found at: https://happeningsonchaosranch.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/postcards-to-share/

2) THE RULE OF WHITE

Wedding dresses are white. Or creme. Or pearl. Or beige, biscuit, sand, mushroom, eggshell, taupe, off-white, fawn, neutral or whatever other synonym you can come up with that means ‘sort of white’. Otherwise, how does anyone know you are getting married? How do YOU know you are getting married? What if you turned up to the church/temple/mosque/town hall and SUDDENLY FORGOT what you were there for and went home again without getting married??? HOW DREADFUL WOULD THAT BE???? Best get a shade of white just to make sure everyone, most of all you, knows what is happening.

3) THE RULE OF SPECIAL

Wedding dresses are special. It’s a special day. You’ll know it’s a wedding dress because the price tag will incorporate it’s specialness. The size of the dress should also indicate it’s specialness and the bizarre shape, practical for no useful activity (such as breathing, eating or walking) should indicate it’s specialness and, of course, the number of diamantes you’ve managed to squish on the bodice will indicate it’s specialness. It should be so special that you’ll never, ever be able to wear it ever again without having interactions that start: ‘Hey, isn’t that a wedding dress? Oh, no, I’m not judging, it’s just, well…. it’s nice and all, but why exactly did you decide to wear it for a mountain bike ride?’ This dress SHOULD be the most expensive and most impractical dress you have ever, and will ever buy, and if that way of thinking ends up with you, on your special day looking like one of those dolls that sat on top of your grandmother’s toilet rolls, then SO BE IT. REVEL in your specialness! REVEL in your obscene amounts of taffeta! REVEL!

4) THE RULE OF YOU

Who are you? What would you say your personality is? Are you an introvert? Extrovert? Romantic? Modern-Woman? Girl Next Door? I’ll wait here while you go do some Buzzfeed personality quizzes, if you like. Worked it out? Great. Now, I want you to describe that personality to me AS A DRESS. Do you have a tea-length personality? Or are you more of a ‘dramatic train’ kinda gal? If you don’t know what your personality is, was, and always will be, then I can’t help you buy a dress. Don’t forget. There’s only ever ONE dress for ONE woman and if you can’t sum up your entire life history, personality, likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams into that one, single dress, then nobody is going to cry, or even really care, when you say ‘I do’. I guarantee it (don’t think you’ll get out of this question by having a reception dress as well as a ceremony dress – that’s just cheating and everyone knows you’re a weird fence-sitter and possibly sociopath who can’t make up their mind about their own personality. MAKE UP YOUR MIND)

5) THE RULE OF PHOTOS

Will it look good in the photos? Will you look thin in the photos? Will you have a nice bum in the photos? Will you have good cleavage in the photos whilst also still looking thin? Will you look both sexy and demure in the photos? Will you like the photos when you look back at them in a year’s time? 5 year’s time? 60 year’s time? WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE PHOTOS??

6) THE RULE OF THE THEME

Don’t get married out of context. If you’re getting married on a beach, you can’t ALSO have a ball gown. Like, obviously. I mean, you wear pink on Wednesdays but you can only wear track pants on Friday. Don’t confuse people! If you were wearing pink tracksuits on a Tuesday, people would be like, ‘Oh, god, wait! What day is it? What’s happening? Who am I? I seem to be in some sort of extended Mean Girls metaphor! Quick, get me out!’ That’s how people will feel at your wedding if you get married in a ball gown on the beach. The space-time continuum will collapse and life as we know it will disappear. It’s pretty simple: you work out your personality and then you work out your theme and then you work out your dress. Otherwise you’ll be like that girl I saw on the second-hand dress website who had to sell her unworn, $6000 wedding dress because it ‘no longer fit the theme of her wedding.’ Amateur.

Oh, pink! It’s Wednesday then. Phew. Now I understand. Found at: http://allmyroads.com/tag/we-wear-pink-gifs/

7) THE RULE OF PRINCESSES

All women on their special day must feel like and/or be treated like and/or be a princess. Never wanted to be a princess? Too bad. Should have thought of that before you decided to get married. Whilst this is definitely a rule, it seems a little amorphous, to be honest. Maybe I’ll understand it more after my big day. Should everyone stop referring to you by your first name and only address you as ‘Your Highness’ for the duration of the ceremony? Does everyone need to curtesy whenever they see you? Should you develop a sudden and passionate interest in polo matches and ridiculous hats just for your wedding? Perhaps you have to incorporate some kind of coronation for your mother and father during your wedding ceremony just to ensure the legalities of being a princess are all in order and up to scratch?

CONCLUSION

As I’m sure you can tell, I’m coping really well with the search for the dress and am in no way stressed or overreacting or hyperbolising. And I most definitely did not go into a Vintage Store on Monday, hide my engagement ring in my wallet, and then tell the woman in the store that I was looking for a dress to wear to my friend’s wedding just because I couldn’t handle her possibly bringing up all rules of the dress and force me out of the store wearing this:

With that facial expression, also.

Leave a comment

Filed under Berlin, Random, Wedding

Pepper Spray and Swimming with Ducks

A. and I are sometimes a boring little empire of two-dom. As I’ve mentioned before, moving to a new country as a two-some can encourage this disgustingly couple-ly behaviour. Hanging out with your other half is certainly easier than making new friends and it’s also less risky. You pretty much know they’re never going to come out and express a previously hidden admiration for Tony Abbott’s immigration policies. Whereas, new people. Well, it’s never even guaranteed that they’ll be able to speak English to you. Sheesh.

But we also get stuck in patterns of behaviour. I don’t know why it’s happening more in Berlin than in London, but it seem like every Saturday we get up late and get the same food from the same food stall at the same market as last week. And, at first it makes you feel charmingly local and eventually it makes you feel like the only thing you know about Berlin is how to buy spinach and cheese gozleme from the same salt-and-pepper Turkish man on a Saturday morning.

Again, it’s about ease. Coming up with new ideas of what to do is hard. Especially when most things are advertised in a language of which you only have a basic understanding.

Anyway, last weekend, we struck out for something new. I’m a member of a few English-language expat groups on FB and a month or two ago an Australian woman advertised a jams, pickles and chutney course she was teaching from her home. It seemed appealingly quaint and homely, so I insisted that this was something A. was interested in doing with me and we signed up.

For those of you not based in Berlin, last weekend was a scorcher. So, we were a little bit worried about how comfortable it would be to stand over a hot stove stirring stewing fruit for several hours. But it ended up being delightful. The nice thing about the altbau (old building) houses in Berlin is that they are deliciously cool. Indoors turned out to be the best place to be. Alex and I made a little cooking team and we made strawberry, apple and rosewater jam, pickled cucumbers and tomato kasundi chutney. The chutney is especially excellent because no-one in Germany believes in chilis and the food available here is spiced accordingly (we’ve since discovered that there is a little note at the bottom of some Indian restaurant menus that tells you if you would like to experience the food with traditional ‘Indian spices’, all you need to do is tell the waiter. Presumably, some of that tradition includes chili). The chutney, however, contains 8 chilis and extra chili powder, so I’ve been happily burning my mouth out all week. Ah, the strange things you miss when you move overseas.

Of course, me being me, it was not possible to have an excellent day out without me doing something idiotic. We were just winding down for the afternoon, we’d put the chutney on the simmer and had nothing else to do except sit down and relax for a bit. There were no seats in the kitchen, so we moved into the living room to relax. The other cooking team was making onion jam in there and the spiciness of the onions went straight into my eyes, making them itch. Without stopping to think, I put my fingers deep into my eye sockets and gave them both a good old rub. Of course, I had been the one who had cut up all those spicy little chilis for our chutney, and hadn’t bothered to use gloves or give my hands more than a cursory wash in the sink when I was done. My eyes immediately began to burn with the fire of a thousand suns and as much as I tried to open them up, they would quickly fill with tears and obscure everything. I ran into the bathroom and started splashing water on my face, which would help for maybe 2 seconds at a time. Of course, everyone was panicking, but trying to keep calm so that I didn’t panic more, and I was panicking, but trying to stay calm so that everyone else didn’t panic more. They attempted to manoeuvre me over the bathtub with my head back and then run water from the shower head over my eyes, but this only made me panic more because the water was going up my nose and I thought I was going to drown. Also, the water was making my eyes feel nice, but the top of my head was like ice, so I had two different burning sensations going on in different parts of my head.

After 10 minutes or so of this I had resigned myself to never being able to see again and my eyes being eaten away from the inside by tiny little red chili men (similar, in my mind to pacmen). At least, I thought, if I can’t see anymore, I won’t have to go to work on Monday. But, then, A. used is internet smarts to look up the answer on his phone. Milk was the answer, he told us. After what seemed a lifetime (apparently pain screws up your time perception, which explains why my head was screaming, ‘NOTHING WILL EVER BE NORMAL AND GOOD AGAIN. EVERYTHING IS WRONG AND IT WILL NEVER BE FIXED. OH, I HAVE FELT THIS PAIN FOR THE ENTIRETY OF MY EXISTENCE’), A. got me over the bathtub and poured the milk over my eyes. Being a liquid, the milk then went everywhere; my eyebrows, my nose, my neck, my dress, my bra (and milk-soaked clothing is precisely what you want on a 35 degree day). Almost immediately, I could open my eyes again and the burning had stopped. The milk seemed to have moved the chili oil around my face as my eyebrows and nose were now burning, but it was much more bearable than being in my eyes. A. tells me this experience is exactly like being pepper sprayed, so at least now I’ll have a first-hand experience if I ever want to write a story in which someone gets pepper sprayed. Yay, silver linings. The worst thing though is that the woman who was taking the course had mentioned, not half an hour before I rubbed my eyes with chilis, how someone from her course a week or two ago had rubbed her eyes just after chopping chilis and it was terrible. I had shook my head with a rueful smile. ‘Oh, how silly some people can be’, I said, or words/sentiments to that effect. Look, now, how the prideful have fallen.

Sunday was almost as hot, so we decided to go swimming in a lake. Swimming in lakes in Berlin is the German equivalent of going to a beach in Sydney. There are so many different lakes around, each has it’s own character and everyone has their opinion of which is the best to go to. Because we took so long getting up, we headed towards a ‘Freibad’ on a small like in Jungfernheide, Charlottenburg, under the mistaken belief that a ‘Free Bath’ (literal translation) would be free. Ah, not so, little Grasshopper. After walking many minutes through the forest, we discovered that not only was the lake bathing area full to bursting, they were asking for 5 Euro to get in. However, the pay area was only a small part of the large lake, so, we walked back through the woods to find the section of the lake where all the cheapskates were swimming and went there instead. It did worry me, I have to admit, as if swimming outside the pay area with all it’s fences, was the equivalent of swimming outside the Yellow and Red flags, or outside the shark net or something. Even though I could see that the pay area and the free area of the lake were connected (indeed, they were the same lake), something in my brain was convinced that the paid area was safe and the free area was full of sharks and jellyfish, dangerous rips, chemical dumps, or at the very least, giardia. Presumably your 5 Euro went towards building the underwater concrete wall that kept the two bodies of water separate and the pay one clean and the free one dirty.

Anywho, it was hot, so despite my misgivings, we found a spot and got in the water gingerly. I’m not sure the colour of the water did much to allay my fears, or the fact that once I was ankle deep, I could no longer see my toes, but seeing how my limbs didn’t immediately drop off or start stinging or burning, I continued to venture in. Our spot on the lake included a tree which had fallen into the water, allowing us to edge out into the middle of the lake, without ever having to put our feet onto the unknown and unknowable lake bed. And, indeed, during an hour and a half of swimming, I never once allowed my feet to touch the ground. I know it’s weird. But I just can’t help feeling that if I put my feet on the ground, I’d find that it wasn’t sand, or rocks, but a writhing carpet of slimy eels. Perhaps other people would call these slimy eels pond weed or something similar. But it wouldn’t matter. If I can’t see it and it’s slimy and seemingly moving against my legs of it’s own accord, then it’s an eel, which is practically a snake, which definitely wants to eat me from the toes up. Urgh.

The water was actually a lovely temperature, and providing I kept my mouth shut and didn’t think too hard about the fact that the charming group of ducks floating past me definitely shat in the water I was swimming in, all was well. We did a few laps of the lake, did a few elegant dive bombs into the lake from the tree, got nibbled on by some curious fish (eek! eek! eek!) and then were so starving hungry that we had to get out. It was a delightful afternoon. Also, A. took a photo of me looking like that Venus woman in the shells with the angels and things. Except, you know, standing on a fallen tree, with no angels and with pond water hair and not naked. Which, I feel is a much more accurate and un-photoshopped version of how Venus would have been birthed.

Birth of Venus

See? So much more realistic.

See? So much more realistic.

Leave a comment

Filed under Berlin

In Defence of Children

I’ve noticed something strange when I meet new people recently.

When I used to tell people I was an actor/writer, they would look reasonably interested. Despite the fact that I was unemployed, had had very little success, was depressed and/or constantly struggling with eating disorders (or maybe because of this), people seemed to find a strange glamour, or at least slight interest, to me when I described myself as an actor/writer. And this was even after assuring them I had never been on ‘Home and Away’. Not to brag, but a boy I met at an online dating site, who was gainfully (and happily) employed as a teacher decided, after 3 dates with me, to chuck it all in and audition for NIDA. There’s a power and fascination to the ‘following-your-dream’ trope, no matter how dreadfully or unsuccessfully you are following that elusive dream.

However, now when people ask me what I do for a living and I say kindergarten teacher, people’s eyes tend to glaze over. There are no follow-up questions. If I attempt to speak about something amusing, or interesting, that happened at school, I look back at my dinner companions and find them staring at their plates, the wall, the floor, the door, calculating how long exactly before they can make their excuses and get away from the Woman Who Won’t Stop Talking About (Her) Children.

A. tells me the problem is that I don’t know how to filter between interesting/funny/horrific stories that hold their own and ‘Cute Kid Did Cute Thing.’ Stories in the latter category are as if I attempted to describe to you a video in which a child makes a hilarious expression after eating a lemon. Sure, it may be hilarious, but it kind of loses something in the telling.

My problem is that I find the children all-consumingly fascinating. It’s not just because they’re adorable (though, believe me, they are freaking adorable), and it’s not just that they smell good (but, Good God they smell good – sure the poop stinks, but the tops of their heads? it’s like the poop of angels and unicorns and fairies, which is to say THERE IS NOTHING ELSE ON EARTH THAT SMELLS THAT GOOD) and it’s not just that I’m probably the teensiest, tiniest, weeniest bit clucky myself (KEEP IT ON THE DOWN LOW PEOPLE, I HAVE A REPUTATION TO UPHOLD AND AM NOT READY TO GIVE UP MY STUNTED, RESPONSIBILITY-FREE ADULTHOOD JUST YET). Those things help, as do the constant cuddles, and the enthusiastic way they great you in the morning (why don’t we all greet each other by yelping with joy and then throwing our arms around the legs of our friend and not letting them in the door because we’re JUST SO DARN PLEASED TO SEE THEM?) and the fact that they think I’m a combination of cool/hilarious/talented/highly-skilled at everything as well as all-knowing and all-seeing and all-powerful.

But aside from all of that nice, fun, gooey, cutesy, sweet stuff, I find being around the children so interesting that I can’t help running off my mouth at dinner parties, even when I can see everyone else checking their watches. I’ve tried to break it down for you.

1) At the risk of sounding like an overly proud first-time mother, watching them learn every day and make little discoveries is both funny and fascinating. I’m not trying to convince you that my kids are any more special than any other group of kids – they’re not baby geniuses and they’re just doing what they’re programmed to do. But, I think it’s almost like watching a long-form documentary called ‘The Origin of Adults’. We all had to go through this at some point. We all had to learn how to walk, to speak, to eat, to make little hand movements, to make big body movements. We all went about it in our own idiosyncratic ways, we all had our own little stories and challenges. And let me tell you, all of this was much harder than you think it is now. It’s amazing we got here at all. We should all feel a lot more impressive for being able to thread a bead on a necklace. Or, open a yoghurt container. Or cross our arm across our body in a ‘Saturday Night Fever’ dance move. You are skilled, Adult. Never forget it (even if you’ve forgotten how you ended up getting there).

2) Watching them explore the world around them is hilarious. Adults spend most of their lives trying to look like they’ve seen it all, and done it all. If they don’t know how to use a thing, they will ask a trusted someone, who is guaranteed not to laugh at them, in private, in hushed tones, whilst hiding their face in shame. Or they’ll google it, which, I guess is kind of the same thing. Kids, however, are just like, ‘What is this thing? Will I shake it? Cuddle it? Scrunch it up? Push it off the table? Should I put it in my mouth? Or my ear? My nose? Perhaps all at once? Is that possible?’ If they’ve decided something goes in their mouth, then there is no stopping them, and, what’s more, they don’t care who sees them! That towel/key/plastic strawberry/misshapen and dirty rock is GOING IN THEIR MOUTH and they’ll very happily show you the results. It means they come up with a variety of inventive new uses for toys, as well as making toys out of previously dull objects and creating much more fun for all involved.

3) Kids are basically all emotion all day long. They swing from one pendulum extreme to another with barely a breath in between. It is sometimes exhausting to be in the middle of this kind of behaviour. But, from the sidelines, it can be highly educational. Most adults have learnt to control their emotions and to shape their behaviour so that it’s socially acceptable. So, even if they are feeling like bawling their eyes out on the U-Bahn because someone yelled at them in German, and they kind of understood it, and they kind of didn’t, and that kind of made it worse ’cause then they started filling in the gaps with the worst things they could think of (for example), they don’t do it and make everyone else in the carriage feel uncomfortable, they go to the cinema, buy a ticket for the saddest movie they can find and then cry silently in the dark for 2 hours over some stale popcorn and flat, fake Diet Coke. But, kids! Oh, the sweet, joyful honesty of the expression of children’s emotions! Kid doesn’t like another kid? Unliked kid gets pushed. Kid likes another kid? Kid kisses other kid. Kid stretches favourite elastic necklace until the elastic snaps and the cheap beads explode all over the room? Kid cries in horror at surprising unfairness of the world. I have a theory that the emotions we feel as adults are no more complex or interesting than the ones the kids feel every day, it’s just we dress them up more fancy. We come up with fancier explanations for what we’re feeling, and fancier reasons for why we’re feeling that way, and often do the fanciest of fancy, self-defeating, roundabout behaviours to attempt to address said feelings in socially acceptable ways, but in the end the feelings are the same. Of course, we (usually) factor in complicated, abstract things like empathy (‘I push kid, kid is hurt, kid cries = not good’) and reason (‘I push kid, kid is hurt, kid cries, kid tells mum, kid’s mum tells my mum, I get in trouble = not good’) and modify our behaviour accordingly. I spend most of my day attempting to convince the children to deal with their emotions in different ways, for social reasons or for empathy/reason reasons but I still can’t help enjoying it when they do things the way they want to do them (as long as it doesn’t involve them killing each other). Kid wants toy train another kid is playing with. So, kid takes train. I can see the logic.

4) Their enthusiasm for very basic things is awesome. Today, a kid got excited because I cut up his potato with a spoon in front of him. The amazed sounds he made would have made you think I had cut a woman in half and then put her back together. Yes, ok, so life is new to them, and so it’s easy to get excited by banal things, and, sure it could also be seen as exhausting or boring, but, no. No, I choose ‘awesome’. It’s awesome. There’s nothing like someone getting excited by you cutting up their potato in front of them to make you think, ‘You know what? You’re right. Potatoes are awesome. Spoons are awesome. Life is ok.’ And, no, I’m not saying there aren’t terrible things happening in the world, and, no, I’m not forgetting my privilege to live in a safe, happy city, or the privilege of the kids I’m working with to have spoons and potatoes, but, still. I think we could all stand to occasionally take a moment out from all the scary stuff to acknowledge how cool it is that you can make big things smaller by using a metal implement with no sharp edges and some gently applied force. Besides, kids get excited about silly, little things that adults get excited about every day, but no-one tells the adults they’re boring or exhausting or stupid, do they? Trains, new dresses, going on holidays, bicycles, babies, cake, ice-cream, Minions… these are just a few of the things the kids got excited about over the past week and which regularly grace the status updates of my fully-grown, highly intelligent and extremely classy Facebook friends.

I think, in the end, I don’t see the children as wild animals, or as needy, greedy crying machines, or as stupid humans, I just see them as what they are. Tiny people who haven’t grown up yet. It’s a weird thing to try and explain. But I often see them playing or talking or laughing or just generally hanging out and an expression will cross their face and you’ll think, ‘Yes. Yes, I can completely see what you’ll be like in 20 years time, because you’ll be exactly the same. You’re already exactly who you are.’

Leave a comment

Filed under Berlin, kindergarten

Anxious, Anxious, Anxious

It’s been a tough couple of weeks. I’m not sure why exactly, but I’ve been very worked up for seemingly no reason at all. Looking back over what I’ve been up to for the past little while, certainly nothing warrants the amount of anxiety I have been exhibiting. Get up, have breakfast, go to work on lovely bike ride, look after children, read them stories, sing them songs, put them to bed, wake them up, read them more stories, sing them more songs, go home on even nicer bike ride, eat nice dinner, possibly go to movies or go to gym or see friends or drink nice wine or maybe all of them, go to bed. And, in case you’re wondering, no I haven’t accidentally missed out details of our daily drone attack or, you know, the recent enemy army invasion or, basically anything really that would warrant some kind of freak out and the low-level, general uneasiness and angst I have been experiencing for the last few weeks.

I’ve never been very good at noticing when I’m feeling anxious, which conversely means I’m not very good at figuring out how to make it better. I am getting better at noticing the bodily signs that indicate I’m experiencing a higher level of stress than normal. Unfortunately, by the time you’re thinking, ‘oh, shooting pains in my belly so bad I have to lie down, oh, I wonder if I’m worried about something’, or ‘huh, it’s 3:30am and I’m still not able to go to sleep, perhaps it’s something to do with the racing, mindless, repetitive self-critical thoughts I’ve been having for the past 5 hours, I wonder what to do about that’, it’s usually past the point of quick and easy answers, like, ‘just trying breathing in for 10 and out for 10 a few times’ (‘but my stomach hurts so much I think I might be sick, it’s kind of difficult to count to ten at the moment’). At 3am this morning I googled ‘insomnia’ and found out all the wonderful, useful things I should have done 9 hours previously to prevent myself from being awake at 3am, which felt good in a self-punishment kind of way, but certainly didn’t help the insomnia any.

Also, I don’t really know what to do with the anxiety, because I can’t really understand what it’s about. There is no logical reason for me to be anxious. I live in a safe city that is fun and cheap and easy to be in. I have a job that I enjoy and am good at and the people there seem to like me. I have my lovely A. and am getting more and more friends in Berlin. I can speak enough German to get by at a restaurant and it’s getting better all the time. But it doesn’t matter how many times I repeat this to myself, it doesn’t seem to make anything better.

Eh.

Maybe it’s a phase and it’ll all blow over eventually and suddenly I’ll remember how good life is and I’ll be able to sleep again. Or, maybe I’ll never sleep again and I can be one of those geniuses that only ever takes cat-naps and then, like, won the war or wrote 10 literary masterpieces and still had time to be a witty alcoholic. Or something.

Leave a comment

Filed under Berlin

A Berlin Summer Bucket List

Summer is here. It’s been here a while. Or, at least, I’ve been acting like it’s been here for a while, walking around in summer dresses and big hats and sunglasses, fanning myself with my hand and sweating and complaining about the heat all the while trying not to acknowledge that it’s really only 19 degrees. Back in May, I insisted that A. and I sit in the park with beers after work one day, because, ‘this is what people do in Berlin in summer’, which is true, except that it was also true that whilst it had been a sunny 20 degrees at work at 4pm, by 7pm in the ‘Park-of-No-Sun’, it had dipped to a chilly 14 – 16 degrees and my summer evening made my hands go purple. A. pointed out that, except the people in shorts playing football, everyone else in the park was wearing winter jackets and perhaps I should have paid more attention to them. Smug bastard.

Anywho, it genuinely is summer now (I’ve been sunburnt, really, it’s here) and I’ve been so excited about it for so long, I’m now worried that it’s going too quickly and I’m wasting it and it will be miserable winter again before I know it.

As such, I thought I would write down the most important things I want to do in Berlin in summer before the weather turns.

1) Drink beers in the park until the sun goes down at 10pm (and not get purple hands)

2) Drink beers in a beanbag and/or hammock at a bar on the Spree

3) Despite viscous rumours that there may be eels, I want to go swimming at Wannsee or Nikolasee or any of the various other Sees surrounding Berlin.

4) Go on a bike tour to the outside of Berlin and eat strawberries by the side of the road.

5) Cycle to Leipzig

6) Walk around Strausberg

7) Do all 20 Green Hikes advertised on the Berlin.de website (one completed, nineteen to go)

8) Go kayaking at Wannsee

9) Go kayaking at Treptower

10) Go rollerblading at Templehof

11) Have a proper BBQ at one of the smokey, hazy, congested Grillplatzes scattered across the parks of Berlin

12) Go to the open-air cinema

13) Spend a day reading/writing at the very tops of the giant climbing frame behind Yorckstrasse (and chasing away every single child that dares trespass on my reverie). Staying there until the stars come out.

14) Paddleboat!

15) Go to Spandau (and do some ballet?)

That’s all I can think of at the moment. Also, eating much ice-cream and laying in the sun (with sunscreen on) and generally being blissful and peaceful and stuff.

Leave a comment

Filed under Berlin

On Not Speaking the Language

Unexpected consequences of not knowing German whilst living in Germany:

1) You miss jokes. Or to understand the joke takes so much effort on your behalf that it ceases to be funny. Or you understand the meaning so broadly and with so little nuance that it just seems like someone is stating the obvious, rather than saying something witty (‘have you ever noticed that men are men and women are women?’ HA OMG LOL) Or it takes you so much time to understand the joke that everyone’s moved on by the time you’re ready to laugh. If you happen to get the joke, with the right amount of impact, at the right speed, you inevitably laugh too loudly and too hard and too desperately just to make sure everyone realises you got the joke.

2) If you happen to manage to make a joke in German everyone laughs really deliberately and encouragingly, like you’re 6 years old and you’ve just managed to tell the one about the chicken crossing the road without screwing up or peeing your pants.

3) In fact, you spend a lot of time feeling like a child, because:
a) children are generally the only people you can properly understand (and the really young ones especially. Like, the ones that talk one word at a time and most of those words are ‘dog’ or ‘mama)
b) adults talking to children are generally the only adults you can understand
c) people don’t talk to you anymore, they talk around you and about you and make decisions on your welfare and happiness without your input
d) you have to take people with you to the scary official places to talk to them on your behalf
e) things are usually confusing
f) you feel completely helpless, unable to fix or influence the world around you, because of your inability to explain yourself, your opinions, desires and beliefs with other people
g) waiters and shopkeepers and other people who want to ask you questions are terrifying (was anyone else terrified of telling the waiter what they wanted to eat when they were a child? No? Just me?)

4) Every day chores like grocery shopping or buying a post stamp become complex and intimidating, something that you can procrastinate for days over, just because you’re worried they might ask you, ‘Do you have a loyalty card?’ In a different way to what you’re used to and how on earth would you respond then? Probably by flapping your arms like a circus seal and crying, probably that’s how.

5) You find yourself rehearsing conversations with people before attempting them, repeating phrases over and over again in your head so that you don’t trip over your words or hesitate or use the wrong gender for a noun (seriously, what gender is Nutella?) or the wrong conjugation or the wrong word order when you get into the real conversation. Getting asked an unexpected question is both distressingly confusing and heart-breakingly disappointing because you’re pretence of competence and fluency has been destroyed.

6) Paranoia levels increase ten-fold. Hundred-fold. Everyone is talking about you at all time forever and all they are ever saying is bad things, because they could talk about you if they wanted, they could say all the bad things about you and you wouldn’t understand it one little bit and that’s probably what they’re also saying after they’ve said the bad things, is they’re probably saying, ha ha ha, she can’t even understand the bad things we’re saying about her, ha ha.

7) You find your own English becoming stilted and weirdly accented through a combination of hearing other people speak a differently modulated and rhythmed language all day, and from hearing them speak your own language with their accents when they speak to you.

8) You spend most of your time around people feeling guilty and apologetic for not speaking their language. When I’m not rehearsing potential German conversations in my head, I’m just saying sorry. All the time, forever.

9) When someone speaks to you socially in English, you get so ridiculously excited that you are basically this puppy:
And so you tell them all the English thoughts you’ve been having since the last time a person asked you an English question, at full speed and in a weird, high-pitched, desperate voice, thereby ensuring that nobody ever speaks to you in English ever again.

10) When people do speak to you in English it’s hard-work and awkward for them, so they look uncomfortable, or unhappy, or scared, or anxious, and then you think, ‘oh god! What have I done to make them look so uncomfortable/unhappy/scared/anxious? I bet they don’t even WANT to talk to me! I bet they don’t even LIKE me! I bet they think I’m really strange because I’m doing the weird, high-pitched fast nonsensical English talking again!’

11) You read out-loud any sign you can understand because you’re so proud you understood it. You read out-loud signs that you almost understand, hoping that by saying them out loud their meaning might become clearer. You read out-loud signs that look funny and have stupid long words, which let’s face it, is a lot of German. You spend a lot of time on public transport reading advertisements to yourself under your breath and looking like a crazy person.

12) Your brain somehow manages to alter all German conversations into German words that you already know, either ignoring words that do not make sense or making them sound like words that you do know, which only becomes awkward when you have to respond to something that someone has said and instead of helping them to go down the slide, you offer them a lollipop.

13) You realise that a lot (most) of the German you understand is only understandable through the added assistance of context, body language and facial expressions and then you feel sad.

Language learning is going swell you guys!

An acctual photo of me studying German

An acctual photo of me studying German

Leave a comment

Filed under Berlin

The Theatre Detox

In the past 8 months, I have seen a total of 3 plays. 2 of which I only went to because friends invited me (and I wanted to see the friend, not the play). 1 of which could be more accurately described as a work-in-progress physical-theatre piece, but, hey, ‘play’, is easier.

At the end of the Edinburgh Fringe last year, I was so physically, mentally and emotionally wrung out by ‘The Theatre’ (big, booming English dramatic voice), that I vowed to give up on it entirely. It was a gut reaction and it shocked me in it’s intensity and also in it’s feeling of truth. People didn’t really take me seriously. I had been saying I wanted to be an actor since I was 12 years old. I had been doing amateur theatre since I was 8. My involvement in theatre seemed to be the defining aspect of my personality. But, I said it vehemently over and over, to anyone who would listen, at any time of the day: ‘I don’t think I want to do this anymore.’ On the night after opening, I told my brother, who had, of course, agreed to perform in my show, unpaid, and give up 6 weeks of his time rehearsing and performing. I think I was wearing a towel. I could have made that up. The main point is, it was awkward.

I hated the theatre with all the passion and vindictiveness of a scorned lover. I felt physically gouged by the utter indifference I had managed to elicit from ‘The Industry’ (sarcastic, drawling American voice). I ranted about the artificiality and superficiality of ‘The Business’ and about the trumped up charlatans who ran it or succeeded in it. I lectured about an industry obsessed with youth and beauty and gimmicks and the ‘next-big-thing'; an industry that wanted shock and awe and cheap outrage at the expense of things that were beautiful or delicate or intelligent. I stored up examples of an industry that was irrelevant and so far up it’s own arse it couldn’t see how little it mattered to the rest of humanity. An industry that thought it was dissecting philosophy and religion, but was actually peddling cheap entertainment, that was no longer all that cheap and certainly not that entertaining (hey, I have Netflix now). I rolled my eyes at artists who moaned on social media about not get a living wage. I fumed at my computer and did my best conservative voter imitation and demanded that these freeloaders get a real job and then see what the hell it was like. With a few notable exceptions for some truly decent friends, I hated on absolutely anyone and everyone that had a modicum of success in the ‘Theatre Industry’ over the past 8 months. And that includes your 12 year old niece who just played Dorothy in her primary school’s abridged version of ‘The Wizard of Oz’, where Toto is played by one of the kids from the Infants School wearing a headband with two floppy socks for dog ears.

All in all, it felt safer to avoid theatre for a little while. I didn’t want to become part of a news story which included phrases like ‘unprovoked angry ranting at a mostly elderly matinee audience’, ‘escorted outside’ and ‘public disorder charge’. Besides, I had been hurt by theatre’s complete indifference to me. It felt good to prove to myself exactly how insignificant I was. It felt good to hurt myself more, the way it sometimes feels good to push a bruise and feel that old ache renew itself. I gave up, and nobody cared. Nobody even noticed. I was absolutely nothing.

Being nothing was harder than I expected. Giving up on the defining aspect of your personality (see above paragraph) turns out not to be that easy. What does one do with one’s time now that one doesn’t not need to read the latest script or see the latest director’s latest masterpiece for the good of your theatrical education? What does one think about if it’s not the crafting of your current production? What does one hope for if it’s not for the success of your next project? What does one dream about if it’s not eventually getting a fully-funded tour to actual audiences in actual venues of some kind of project that you’re somehow part of?

Old devils kept tempting me. Friends would tell me I should set something up, put on a show, apply for a thing. Being in Berlin was both a blessing and a curse. No-one in ‘The Industry’ knew me in Berlin and I didn’t know them, so it was easy to avoid everything. I went into hibernation. But, at the same time, theatre was how I made friends. Everywhere I went in the world, it was theatre where I felt most comfortable. Sitting in my lovely Berlin apartment feeling lonely I would want to do a thing with a person. But I wouldn’t know what that thing could be, if it wasn’t theatre, and I didn’t know who that person was, if it wasn’t a theatre person.

Visiting a friend in West Berlin a little while ago, I glimpsed the beautiful art deco facade of the Schaubühne Theatre, all lit up, and I felt (along side of the heavy helping of sour grapes), an older, warmer glow of excitement and anticipation. I went to the theatre’s website to see if they had plays with English subtitles. They did. I found a show about women and history, that was in German and English, not on for a couple of months. I thought I could probably calm myself down sufficiently over the course of a couple of months to see a play.

A. and I sent to see that play last week. I wish I could tell you it was a complete turn around and I’m once again a theatre convert (and OF COURSE artists should have living wages!) but, no, it’s more complicated than that. It was, in so many ways, the worst things about contemporary theatre. A hasty, cobbled together script with nothing to say; gimmicky direction hamstrung by it’s obsession with the latest theatre fad (live filming of the action on stage! Watch theatre through a screen – you’ll feel so much more comfortable!); and set and costume that completely upstaged the actors (the lead actress really did have a very nice hat on). I left the theatre shaking with rage and ranted the whole way home. Don’t feel sorry for A. – he seemed to enjoy it (the ranting, that is, not the play. Lucky for him, his opinion aligned with mine, though perhaps less vehemently).

I am left with two tentative conclusions from this so-called ‘Theatre Detox’ and it’s subsequent breaking:

1) I think I am over the blackest part of my rage at theatre ‘in general’ and am ready to save the worst of my vengeance for specific examples of heinous theatre crimes. That’s not to say I forgive theatre. No, I still find the majority of productions on offer these days boring, derivative and full of themselves. But, I seem to be able to hope again, that somewhere out there, is a production that is genuinely great and wonderful.

2) The living I earn will never be related to theatre. But, in all honesty, I don’t know if I can give it up entirely. I don’t want to do am-dram, and a person of my age doesn’t have the energy for fringe unless they’re getting at least some kind of funding, so I don’t know exactly what I am left with. Something small. The opposite of ambitious. But, I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know what the point of it is. I don’t know why I have this compulsion. I don’t like it. It feels self-obsessed and self-absorbed and attention-seeking. And, yet, I don’t seem to be able to kick the habit.

Leave a comment

Filed under Berlin, Edinburgh, Theatre