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.’

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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“Alone” in Berlin

Over the course of my life, I’ve moved countries more times than seems sane. It’s gotten to the point now, that if I’m at a party and I start to list the places I’ve lived, people move beyond interested to slightly confused and into well-meaning concern. ‘What exactly is wrong with this girl,’ they seem to think, ‘that she can’t just choose a country and stay there?’

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the commonalities and differences between these experiences. Despite the places involved, a lot of the feelings are the same. Before you move there’s the jittery excitement, which occasionally intensifies into tiny moments of absolute terror.

Once you arrive, for a little while, everything seems wonderful. Everything is beautiful because everything is new, and everything is charming because everything is different. This could last several weeks. There are moments of terror, still, when things go wrong and you’ll be made aware of how completely alone and helpless you actually are. Or feel that you are. You don’t know where to go to for help, or who to go to for help, you don’t know how much money help could cost, you don’t know what the consequences might be. Usually these terrors come from bureaucratic nonsense, but it could also be something as simple as getting on the wrong bus, or getting on the right bus going in the wrong direction, or simply not writing out detailed enough directions that could leave you lost in the dark and dry-heaving by the side of the road in an unknown neighbourhood.

Still, though, it’s several weeks of rose-tinted glasses shook up by occasional moments of terror. So, everything is still exciting. Your adventure feels like a genuine adventure. You might not even be homesick yet (though jet lag can play havoc with emotions). You’ll feel completely justified in moving so far away for such a long time. This is a ‘Big Thing’ you are doing and it is ‘Important’ and it will ‘Teach You Things’. But this perceived ‘Significance’ will blind you to what is coming next: the weeks, or months, of abject boredom and loneliness. Where things cease to be lovely and charming and new, or even terrifying and confusing and new, and gradually become ordinary and dull and expected. You won’t remember why you came. You won’t remember why you want to stay. You’ll become hyper-aware of every moment of every day, feel them slipping through your fingers, aware that they will never come back, and what good have they done you? You’ll watch a lot of TV.

The way to avoid this feeling, of course, is to go out and make friends. Join activity groups, develop a meaningful routine, or at least a routine, which through its repetition somehow becomes meaningful. I know this. I know this from countless moves. I knew it, in theory, even before the first time I left.

And yet, and yet, and yet. I’ve lived here in Berlin continuously for 5 months, and for 7 months in total, but the number of friends I have in this city can be counted on one hand. Since finishing my German course in December and failing to sign up for the next one (I’m too lazy. German is so hard. It’s dark and cold at night now and I just want to be in bed), I only have one regular fortnightly activity.

I blame A. Well, no, I blame myself, but I blame myself for relying on A. so much. The fact is I’ve never moved to another country with someone else before, and it’s made me a little bit lazy this time around. It makes the beginning easier, for certain. The terrors are not quite so terrifying, or, at least, you can dump your terrors on someone else, which somehow makes them seem less horrible, if not less terrifying. When I thought I wasn’t going to be able to get a visa before I was kicked out of Germany, A. gamely agreed to get up at 3:30am take the train to way-out West Berlin, line up until 7am and help me with my application. I might still been terrified, but it was impossible to feel alone when A. was buying me fizzy water because I felt nauseous.

As nice as it is, the absence of this feeling of loneliness has been detrimental in becoming settled in Berlin. If I’ve wanted to see something, or do something, or go somewhere, I’ve just dragged A. along. Yeah, yeah, it’s really sweet (I’m sure you’re throwing up in your teas by now) and it certainly put off the boredom and loneliness and existential worries for a few months, but I’ve now been here for half a year and I still feel like I’m living lightly on this place. Being here, but not actually being here. It became all the more obvious this past weekend, when A. returned to the UK without me and I had to fill 4 entire days (a weekend, no less), with… I don’t know… stuff. I saw a couple of people, which was lovely, but the rest of the time I just watched Miss Marple on youtube and bought a lot of second-hand clothes. It appears that, outside of A, all that is left of my life is old lady crime fighters and shopping. Sigh

It doesn’t help that I’m quite picky about the people I hang out with. Or that I can be quite awkward in new social situations. At a picnic in October, I asked a girl here, ‘so what do you do?’ and the look of confusion on her face spoke such volumes to me: this is not what you ask of people in Berlin. Berlin ex-pats are temporary people. They live here temporarily, they do jobs temporarily. The experience of being in Berlin is what you do in Berlin, and it is Great and Important. But it also made me so aware of what a terribly boring, horrible question that it is to ask anyone, anywhere – and yet I always ask it. I always, always ask it. I can’t help it. My mind goes blank. I either completely clam up, revert to clichéd questions and trot out dull stock phrases like, ‘how interesting’ and ‘I know what you mean,’ or I completely lose my head and confess all my deepest darkest secrets immediately and scare them away.

You’ll be pleased to know, however, that I am attempting to do better. I’ve even tried leaving A. at home on his own once and a while. I’ve been joining a few social groups through Meet-Up.com, like writing groups (hence a new blog post), painting groups, book clubs, walking groups, social groups etc. etc. etc. I’ve joined a few on Facebook as well. Finding social interaction via the internet does sometimes feel like standing in the middle of a crowded square and screaming desperately, ‘DOES ANYBODY WANT TO BE MY FRIEND??’ at strangers, but, hey ho, you do what you have to do, I suppose, to keep the existential paranoia at bay.

Last week was my first attempt at a social week. I attempted to go to a writing group and ended up on a street with the right name on the wrong side of Berlin (ALWAYS put the postcode into Google maps, ALWAYS, ALWAYS). I then attempted to go to a painting group and, due to my old granny ways of not checking Facebook during the day, ended up waiting outside someone’s apartment block for 15 minutes not able to get in because I didn’t know which apartment she was in.

But I will not be beaten! This week I have gotten to the writing group, and this week I will get into the apartment and paint. I don’t know if I’ll make any firm friends in any of these places, as that would require me to invite people out to drinks/dinner/my house/a museum/Potsdam and I’ve never been good at asking people out, even in the non-romantic sense.

(I used to go to the movies on my own as a teenager because 1) I didn’t think films were a social activity and I disliked anybody who thought they were – DON’T TALK THROUGH MY MOVIE 2) the anxiety of someone possibly saying no for some reason 3) the MAJOR RESPONSIBILITY of choosing a film and convincing someone to go with you and then WHAT IF THEY DIDN’T LIKE IT?? That would be ALL MY FAULT and who knows what dreadful things would be in store for a person who wasted $8-10 of their friend’s money. You would probably at least be expected to pay the $8-10 back and the friendship would be put on hold, if not ended entirely. You might also be put on some kind of friendship blacklist so everyone would know you were the kind of person who would waste $8-10 of a friend’s money. I’m not saying I still think this way entirely… but, well, old habits die hard.)

Nevertheless, getting out of the house this evening has already been remarkably refreshing. Even if I’m just sitting here, tapping away, in silence, surrounded by new people. Even this is enough to restore my enthusiasm for Berlin, at this point. As much as I love the apartment (and Miss Marple. Oh, and A., of course), seeing the same 50sq metres of Schöneberg and the same 100 sq metres of Steglitz every single day is enough to drive anyone bonkers. So, onwards, to the next 7 social months!

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10 Things Miss Marple Has Taught Me

1. Just because you didn’t get married or have children doesn’t mean you have to have a boring spinsterhood. Miss Marple is a bad-ass feminist and also, she is alive. See, falling in love usually ends in murder. DON’T GET MARRIED OR HAVE CHILDREN, ONE OF THEM WILL END UP MURDERING YOU.

2. If someone mysteriously invites you to a retreat in a mansion with a bunch of other people you don’t know, don’t go. This also goes for package tours. Inevitably, you’ll all end up being strangely and dramatically connected and one of you will end up dead or accused of murder, or both. It’s not worth it. Buy your own holidays and sleep soundly at night.

3. Don’t trust the nanny. Or the charming man. Or the prettiest woman. Definitely don’t trust the nun. DON’T TRUST THE PEOPLE YOU WANT TO TRUST, THEY’RE ALWAYS THE MURDERER.

4. Knitting is an excellent activity that stimulates ideas. It’s not boring women’s work, it’s CRIME-SOLVING work.

5. There’s nothing stopping a poor orphaned girl from becoming a success in life. All the girl need do is to spend some time as a maid in Miss Marple’s household and learn that it isn’t done to read other people’s letters or to break the china whilst dusting. Also, she must learn that one shouldn’t gossip too loudly in public about THINGS ONE KNOWS in case a murderer is listening and gets anxious. An anxious murderer is an active murderer. The girl who gossips too loudly is the one who gets her neck snapped. DON’T GOSSIP, IT WILL KILL YOU.

Miss Marple. The awesomest old lady in the whole wide world.

Miss Marple. The awesomest old lady in the whole wide world.

6. On the other hand, gossip is, confusingly, essential to solving all murder cases. As is eavesdropping. As is forcing yourself on to people that don’t really want to hang out with you.

7. Circumstantial evidence is pretty much always faked. The only satisfying ending is one that involves a full and emotional confession from the murderer in the company of everyone still lucky enough to be alive.

8. Policemen are universally doofuses. It’s because they’re men and they don’t knit. One must help them through their inconvenient idiocy, and only listen to them when they are saying the same thing as you.

9. Things might seem supernatural to begin with, but that’s just because you’re an emotional hysteric and not a clear-eyed, steady-handed logic like Miss Marple. Alive humans are ALWAYS the murderer. (Unless they’ve been killed since they committed the murder, which is usually not the case, because it would interfere with the full & emotional confession demanded by No. 7)

10. If someone’s reading/listening/watching ‘Macbeth’, someone connected to them is going to be murdered. Or, maybe has already been murdered. Also applies to other classic tragedies, such as ‘The Duchess of Malfi’. DON’T WATCH TRAGIC VERSE DRAMAS, IT LEADS TO MURDER.

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