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Gomix

A few weeks ago, I started learning basic code for websites.

Which is weird, because coding doesn’t really fit into my conception of the things that I like and the things that I’m good at. Despite my father’s protestations that understanding computers *might* be important one day, I gave up high school computer science as early as I could.

What is even stranger is that I’m actually kind of enjoying the coding. It is satisfyingly creative. So far, it’s mainly formatting, it’s just that the formatting has to be expressed in a weird language that takes some getting used to. Using the language correctly makes me feel weirdly powerful. I tend to giggle maniacally when I manage to make the website do the thing that I am trying to make it do through the power of my code (it’s like magic!)

I’ve been completing quite bounded and specific tasks within the online course that I’m signed up to (available via CodeAcademy). Change the font size here, create a heading called ‘Whatever’, make a numbered list, make it this colour. That’s pretty easy, so I’ve also been branching out a little and, at the end of each exercise, when the course says, ‘Hey, now play around with what you’ve learnt!’ I’ve been trying to create websites that look like they came out of the early 2000s, with all the fonts and all of them a different, garish colour on another garish background and my text organised via lists instead of paragraphs. It’s been super fun. I’ve been writing weird, stream-of-consciousness websites, which I would like to pretend I invented, but really were inspired by a New York Times article concerning the internet art of the 90s.

Anyway, to encourage me, a friend, who is an actual, professional, paid-real-money coder, sent me a link to ‘Gomix’, which is a website that allows you to use other people’s code to do… internet things. You know, things on the internet.

Look, I’m not entirely sure I understand everything that I can do with Gomix. But, it seems like it’s goal is to take a lot of the faff out of coding. And, also, let people work together on their code (if that’s a thing that you have enough skills to do). Watch the trailer here.

So, this is my very basic understanding of how I could use it. Say you’s building a new web page and you want a heading on that page and you want it to be massive and pink and in Times New Roman. If you’re formatting in Microsoft Word (which is a program I understand), you would just choose ‘Times New Roman’, the colour pink and 300pt from the drop down menus at the top of the screen and then start typing. But, if you’re building a website, those drop down menus don’t exist. You have to write them into existence. You have to tell the internet, here’s my webpage, it’s called ‘x’, I want it to have a heading, that heading should say ‘this’, it should be this colour and this size. So, a lot of coding is just the same over and over again, because each time you start a new website, you have to start it from scratch and tell the website you want a heading, it needs font, it needs a font colour etc etc etc. Gomix allows you to get the basics straight away and then tweak them, rather than starting from scratch.

My big problem with Gomix is that my coding skills are currently very limited (as the above mangled explanation of coding should indicate to you). I think the people who tend to use the site have bigger goals for the things they want to make. There was coding for games and coding for bots on Facebook Messenger and twitter. I have made a twitter bot before (it tweeted Charlotte Bronte quotes!), but it was under direct supervision and with extremely specific instructions. I barely understand what is possible with a bot, let alone understand how to change the code to create one. So, I had to find a code template on Gomix that was something I had the skills to play around with. I had to find a plain old website.

The website template I found was still pretty complex. To be honest, I ignored 3/4 of it, because I didn’t understand what those bits were or how they worked. But I committed to seeing what I could do with the other 1/4. I tried to change the colours of some fonts. That seemed like a pretty easy thing to do. It turned out to be very difficult as the bits of font I tried to change didn’t have the names I expected them to have in the code. Then I forgot what the old colours were called, so I couldn’t change things back to how they used to be. I suddenly went from trying to change very small things to changing EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE – attacking every colour of every single piece of text I could find.

Initially, I wanted to use really specific colours (there are around 16, 000 different colours that you can indicate through a code which tells the computer how much red, blue and green to put in a colour). But, I couldn’t find the bits of texts whose colour I had changed and couldn’t figure out if that was because I wasn’t changing the right bits of code or if the colour change was too subtle. SO, then I decided to chose a super simple colour – ‘blue’ – that was very different from all the colours already used on the web page. Then I could track what changes were happening and when. It also meant I didn’t have to remember (or look up) complex colour names like rgb(66, 134, 244), every time I tried to change something. Once I started getting a handle on which bits of text were changing, I chose another super simple colour with a super simple name – ‘tomato’ – and used it to alternate and highlight certain bits of the page.

The background image also seemed to be something fairly simple that I could alter. I was ostensibly designing a website for myself/about me (because I can never think of anything else to design – I am SO self-absorbed), so I decided to find a picture of a typewriter for the main image. Seems simple, right? IT WAS NOT. Every picture I chose had super bad composition. Well, that’s not fair, they were all quite nice images on their own with perfectly reasonable composition- but as soon as you used them as a background image with text on top, the images made the text impossible to read. White text over the white paper that was being inserted into the typewriter. Title text over typewriter keys with letters on them. I tried changing the colour of the text, the size, tried to realign it, but it all looked messy and/or unreadable. Eventually, I found a picture of a typewriter that had a giant expanse of blue behind it. My text went on the giant expanse of blue and it looked… acceptable.

I also changed the actual text on the website. This was much easier, as I could see exactly what I was changing. But, even so, I learnt much – the less words the better, or it looks ugly, which is (as anyone who read my blog will know) a fairly tough ask for someone with such tendencies towards over-writing.

All these (quite small and cosmetic) changes took me several hours. It was difficult. But, it was also fun and gave me an opportunity to experiment with some of the things I’d been learning on my course. It gave me a better idea of what coding might be like (instead of having a teacher over my shoulder saying, ‘see that bit of code there? Don’t worry about all the rest! Just that tiny bit that looks exactly like this? Well, change that tiny bit in this exact way using this precise piece of code that I am giving you’). I guess it’s the difference between doing language exercises like, ‘Wo bist du?’ ‘Ich bin Jenny’ in your German course with your fellow students and then actually going out into the real world and attempting to introduce yourself to an actual German human.

Also, I’m still not entirely sure how the test website I make goes out into internet-land and is found by other people. It has to have an address, yes, but, then… how to connect the address to the website? Does one use soap? Or do you sew it together? Look, I did warn you this computer stuff has never really been my cup of tea.

peterpan

Me, attempting to attach website code to web address. Image found here.

Below you can see some screenshots of the website I tried to make.

screenshot-2016-12-27-at-18-30-57

First page of website. Sample title: WHY ARE TYPEWRITERS AND/OR CODE SO HARD?

screenshot-2016-12-27-at-18-31-18

To be honest, my favourite part of coding is creating really stupid buttons. I’d super-love it if you could download a person into your computer. Not in a weird way, just in a… yeah, ok, maybe you can’t do that in a non-weird way.

screenshot-2016-12-27-at-18-31-08

I think websites would be better if they were more honest. ‘We’ll try to do this thing for you, but, let’s be honest, things might go wrong but we do promise we’re trying as hard as we can.’

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OMG, IUD – WTF?

So, on Monday, I had an IUD inserted.

For those who don’t know, an IUD stands for Intra-Uterine Device. It looks like this:

iud

IUDs found here

Basically, they put one of those things in your uterus to stop your uterus putting a baby in there instead.

Up until recently, I didn’t know a whole lot about IUDs. I remember them as one of the contraceptive options from sex education, but they were way down the list of recommendations. I didn’t (think) I knew anyone who had one. I think, in the 90’s, IUDs were pretty much only suggested to women who had already had babies. Because the baby has kind of already… well, cleared out an easy path through it’s mother, making it easier for any medical professional who might want to put something back into the uterus.

Ahem. Anyway. I’ve been a fairly happy user of condoms and, later, the pill for most of my life. I’ve never had any scary moments, despite my, let’s face it, pretty lax approach to taking the pill at a regular time of day (look, the back of the packet says I’ve got at least a 12 hour window before it’s considered a missed day, ok?) Recently, the fact that I’ve never had any problems has started making me worried that perhaps I’m actually infertile (as I explained to my bestie over summer: ‘Well, I’ve never even been a little bit pregnant, so that must mean I can’t get pregnant.’ Forgetting that pregnancy is pretty much a black and white issue and proving fertility doesn’t involve getting a tiny bit pregnant or six-thirteenths not pregnant. You’re pregnant or you’re not).

But, as I’m not yet willing to look after a child 24/7, I am still on the contraceptives.

Moving countries does make life difficult when you’re on the pill. In 2014, I was put on the generic UK pill, which seemed perfectly fine. I had no problems, just as, previously, I had no problems with the generic Australian pill. I got a 6 month supply before moving from the UK to Germany. When that supply started running out, I went to my German doctor and asked to get a new prescription. She couldn’t get me the exact pill as I had been on in the UK, but she could get me something as similar as possible. I agreed.

Despite it being ‘as similar as possible’, this pill wrought havoc with my body. My periods never used to cause me much trouble. Sure, I needed the occasional ibuprofen, a few hours with the trusty hot water bottle. But, suddenly, on the German pill, I found myself bedridden, trying to figure out ways of fixing a hot water bottle permanently to my lower abdomen, as well as chomping down as close to the maximum daily limit of ibuprofen as I could legitimately get away with. My flow got heavier and longer. My moods went haywire. In the days before my period I was suddenly depressed, irrationally irritated and just feeling completely wrong in my own skin.

Alex kept telling me to go to the doctor and get a different pill, but as things in between my periods seemed normal and as my doctor had said this was ‘the most similar’ to what I’d had in the UK, I was reluctant to make a fuss. What further horrors could await me with a different, less similar, pill?

But, earlier this year, I noticed a strange discolouration developing over my cheeks. It looked like I was permanently tanned on the area underneath my eyes. I was convinced it was skin cancer. My step-mum, however, told me it was ‘melasma’, something that happens when you are pregnant. She said it was probably related to the pill.

I don’t know why that did it for me, but that did it for me. I hated the look of my skin. I don’t really like wearing make-up, unless it’s a special occasion, and my skin has always been fairly good, meaning that I was certainly never made to feel that I should wear make-up. But, the discolouration made me look tired and old. It made my eyes look puffy. And I started getting paranoid. What else was the pill doing to my body that I couldn’t see? I started being more receptive to people warning about the dangers of pumping your body full of hormones.

But, if not the pill, and if not hormones, then what? The diaphragm seemed unnecessarily complicated and old-fashioned, spermicides can’t be used on their own. Condoms are fine, but they’re the most unreliable contraceptive method for preventing pregnancy (expect for, perhaps, the withdrawal method or the natural planning method), they’re kind of wasteful in terms of materials and expense, and, look, I’m just going to say it, they don’t feel as good (but that is certainly not an excuse to refuse to use them if your sexual partner wants you to, Douchebags of the World). What I’m saying is, condoms are fine. I just don’t want to be using them day in, day out (ha).

So, an IUD (or, the coil, as it is more commonly known) seemed to be my best option. They appear to be coming back into fashion, as they don’t require you to take a daily pill, they’re getting smaller and you can have them hormone-free, if you so desire (which is a thing that a lot of people are desiring). Plus, they are available to all women, even if you haven’t had a baby yet.

But, I didn’t actually know many people who had used one. I also wasn’t sure how to go about finding people who had used them. My usual recourse in this situation is to post on Facebook, but, because it was about contraceptives and uteruses (uteri?), I chickened out.  I talked to my doctor, who gave me the run-down of what needed to happen if I wanted one. Some STD tests, a half-hour appointment with the doctor and nurse. A bit of pain during the procedure (though they could give me a local anaesthetic if I wanted).  A bit of spotting to be expected afterwards, longer, more painful periods, but otherwise a reasonable choice for a young woman looking for a long-term option. I did some googling, but I didn’t really know what questions I should be asking in regards to the contraption. What was it that I wanted to know? I messaged my step-mum. What did she think about the IUD? She thought the only way I would figure out if I liked it was if I just tried it. They could always take it out.

So, on Monday, I had my appointment. I really hadn’t thought it through. Sure, I kept telling people I was having ‘minor surgery’, but I didn’t take on board the full impact of that term until I was half-naked on the table with my lady bits being spread apart by a speculum (hey, it looks like the beak of a duck! What fun! Except, it’s inside you!) At this point, I was struggling to keep my nerves in check due to the unwanted contemplation of what it might mean to have my uterus perforated (something that happens in a very small number of cases). So, when the doctor offered me a local, I was like, yes. Yes, numb it all. Numb everything. I don’t want to feel anything below my bra line.

It was still possible to feel the IUD inserted, even with the local. It felt like someone had poked a stick into the bottom of my stomach, except from inside my body. It was weird. I did not like it. The doctor cleaned me up and I saw her throw out swabs soaked in blood. I did not like that either. She took out the speculum and then offered me a sanitary pad, as I should expect some spotting. I gingerly put my clothes back on and stood up. Immediately, I could feel pressure in my uterus. I felt dizzy and weird and I really did not like that. The doctor said, yes, that’s just your body trying to get rid of the IUD.

I had stupidly cycled my bike to the doctor’s surgery. No-one had told me, or at least, hadn’t told me in a way that had made any impact on me, that I should expect to be feeling unwell, in pain or uncomfortable straight after the insertion. So, I got back on my bike and cycled extremely slowly home, making sure I avoided the biggest potholes and the bumpiest parts of the road. I am lucky nothing out of the ordinary happened, as I was in no way concentrating on the traffic. Just the feeling of my uterus contracting and trying, desperately, to get rid of the foreign body that had taken up residence inside it.

That first night was hellish. I was supposed to host a writer’s group and had to cancel. There was no way I was getting back on my bike, there was no way I was moving. I couldn’t eat. I had a hot water bottle attached to my stomach and was taking the maximum dose of ibuprofen every few hours. It didn’t take the cramping away, but did make the cramping bearable, as opposed to cramping that made me cry hysterically. Usually, during a period, you can find positions that help your cramping – the foetal position, for example, or lying on your back with your knees bent. None of these positions did anything for my uterus. Every time I moved, I was certain I could feel the IUD sticking out of various parts of my body. In my mind, the IUD was now about as big and as pointy as a corkscrew. I kept expecting to see it pushing out against the skin of my abdomen.

And, spotting? Yeah, sounds adorable and non-threatening, doesn’t it? Like, that song you sang as a kid, ‘there’s a spot over there’ and you’d put a tiny little spot in the air with your tiny little finger. No, it’s more like, unexpected and terrifying gushing. Not all the time, of course (that would definitely require a trip to the doctor), but just, occasionally. When you shift in your chair. Or stand up. And, it’s just this reminder that there is something in your body that is not meant to be there and that your body DOES NOT LIKE IT and is constantly trying to flush it out. Every time it happens and I have to clean myself up, I get all weak and jittery. Which is not because of the amount of blood that I’m losing, but definitely is because losing blood unexpectedly, from that area, is scary. It doesn’t seem right. My instant reaction is… oh, god, I’m breaking. I’m breaking apart.

I’ve been hobbling around the house, not able to do anything too fast (like run) or anything too bumpy (like ride my bike, or get on a bus), first of all, because I’m worried that I’ll dislodge the IUD (unlikely) and second of all, because I still feel totally weird and weak. I keep getting worried that I have a pelvic inflammatory disease (very small chance, considering I had no STD’s) and occasionally freak out that because I am feeling weird, I must be dying. I realised yesterday that I kept attributing things that often happen to me in my normal life because of stress or, you know, anxiety (dizziness, nausea, stomach pain, overheating) to the IUD, so what with the cramping and then the extra list of anxiety-based symptoms, it really did seem like I must be desperately unwell. I also keep getting weird urges to just rip the IUD out of my body. I think it’s due to the fact that the only thing my brain can compare this to is a tampon, and there’s a time limit on those things – you have to get them out at some point or you’ll get sick. So part of my brain keeps bringing this up in regards to the IUD – oh, quick, you’ve forgotten to take it out, get it out now before you get sick.

You may be thinking that I’m building up to some kind of, ‘And then, I had enough of all this shit and insisted the doctor take the foreign body out of me before things started getting worse.’ But, no. That is not what has happened. Because, all of these side effects that I am experiencing are normal. NORMAL. They are expected. They are also (slowly) getting better. I haven’t cried due to cramping since Monday night. I’ve started talking to others who have the IUD and the stories they tell are kind of terrifying (I’m getting off easy). A colleague was bedridden for a week. She threw up immediately after the insertion and then fainted. She still has hers and loves it. Loves it! Of course,  just to keep things in perspective, I’m also reading terrifying stories from the internet like, ‘My IUD almost killed me’. Good! The doctor warned me on Monday that if I came back after a week and asked to have the IUD removed, she’d probably ask me to keep trying with it for a bit longer. Usually, doctors say you need 3 – 6 months before your body is properly used to it. That could mean, 3 – 6 MONTHS MORE OF THIS SHIT.

There are lots of questions I have now, after the insertion. Suddenly, having gone through the process, I’m quite aware of the things that I’m worried about. I’m vegetarian, what are the chances I become anaemic with all this extra bleeding? If I’m only intending to keep my IUD for about 3 years and it takes a maximum of 6 months to get used to the thing, is it actually worth it? What is the difference between cramping and the ‘lower abdomen pain’ that signals a pelvic inflammatory disease? (seriously, uterus cramping is all in the lower abdomen, that is not a good description of what to look out for) How much spotting/gushing is too much spotting/gushing?

I’m not angry. I’m not demanding that the IUD get taken out immediately, that it’s a hazard, that it’s unnatural and unhealthy (but I can certainly understand why people feel like that after having it inserted, this shit is SCARY). But I am absolutely gobsmacked about what women have to go through to reliably avoid becoming pregnant. All this, just for worry-free sex! (Believe me, after the insertion, I am in no mood for sexy times. Perhaps this is the real contraceptive benefit?) In sex ed, teachers were all, ‘you have so many options! Look at all your lovely contraceptive options!’ Whereas, in reality, every single one has some kind of down-side. And, the most reliable forms definitely involve the woman enduring some sort of invasive, uncomfortable, mind or body altering thing.

If everything works out and my symptoms improve, I’m sure I’ll get used to having something alien in my uterus. But, in the meantime, the whole thing is totally weird and completely f***ed up.

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The Tyranny of Clothing Sizes

I can’t remember how much, if anything, I’ve written about this. That is the problem with keeping a blog for 6 years that is primarily focused on your mental state. You think you have a break through and then, disturbingly, you look through your old pages and realise that you had the SAME break through at least 4 years ago and STILL NOTHING HAS CHANGED. It’s like a really long-form version of Groundhog Day.

But, I’ve done a quick scan of the related pages and can’t find anything similar, so I guess I’ll just dive on in.

So, look. I’m going to lay it out straight for you. From the age of 15 until around the age of 27, I had some pretty serious issues with food. I starved, binged, purged and choked down increasingly strange, unhealthy and quite frankly, disgusting, meals (plain carrot and celery sticks with an entire bottle of red wine, what could possibly go wrong?) in various patterns and variations for a good 12 years. My weight fluctuated up and down within a 26kg range. There were periods of stability when I would be able to buy clothes without worrying they wouldn’t fit in two months time and there were times when I was at risk of my arse breaking out of my jeans because I was too ashamed to buy a pair two sizes larger.

I don’t know really know what started it all. My justification has always been that I wanted to be an actress and actresses are skinny (yes, I should be using ‘actor’, but this is, I think, a particularly gendered problem. Not to say that men don’t get eating disorders, but the fact that I wanted to be an ‘actress’ and not an ‘actor’ is significant to me and this particular problem). And, to be honest, the times when I gave up on acting (or, at least, gave up on being a particular type of actor), were the times that I had the healthiest relationship to food over that 12 year period. But, the justification doesn’t quite hold up when I look back over the facts. I was 50kg at the age of 15, which, I knew, was the same weight as Jennifer Aniston (I used to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the weight of actresses. Oh, the wasted brain space). So, I was ostensibly the ‘perfect’ size, because Jennifer Aniston was my ideal. Not because I thought she was a great actress. But definitely because I thought she was successful and popular and we had the same name and that must mean something. In spite of this, my brain went, ‘you want to be an actress? Actresses are skinny. Actresses diet. You need to go on a diet. You should be extra skinny, just to be on the safe side. Be so skinny no one could ever call you fat. Have some skinny in reserve.’ My brain viewed losing weight in the same way that financial planners look at saving for retirement. The more the better.

financial-planner

‘See, the thing is, that if you lose weight, you’ll be skinnier. And the more weight you lose, the skinnier you’ll be! Great, right?’ found here

I didn’t know much about nutrition at that age. And, it’s hard to remember what I did or didn’t know at the time, because my brain has been stuffed to the brim with competing diet information and weight loss plans ever since. But, I think I was fairly ignorant of calories, fat, how your body reacts to hunger, how your body reacts to starvation, how much of anything you should have in one day – aside from some vague awareness of the food pyramid. I felt like it was going to be pretty easy. I would just stop eating. That was what I would do. Just, stop eating.

Of course, things weren’t actually that simple and hunger is awful and I didn’t want to argue with my Dad about not eating dinner and so what ended up happening was a starvation through the day and a binge at night. To my absolute horror, I started to put on weight. 10kgs in a year. Of course, there’s the possibility that I was going through puberty and I would have put on 10kgs even if I hadn’t screwed with my eating. But, to my mind, that year and those 10kgs were my fault. This was my (very public) shame to bear. It was my massive failure. If only I hadn’t been so stupid with my eating. If only I had stayed a size 8. If only I hadn’t done this to myself. My life would be so much better. Everything would have worked out. I’d be a successful actress. That guy I really liked would like me back. I’d be super impressive (not so clear on the details). Everyone would love me. If only, if only, if only. Surely the solution was another huge diet and to finally get back to 50kgs again.

Whenever I started talking about food or diets, one of my therapists would always say, ‘I don’t want to talk about food. I don’t want to talk about diets. What you’re feeling and the problems you’re having is nothing to do with food.’ It used to annoy me. I wanted to talk about food all the time. I wanted to talk about what a terrible person I was for eating two slices of cake instead of one (or none!) the night before. I wanted to talk about how anxious it had made me. I wanted to talk about my desire to throw it all up. I wanted to talk about my misery/triumph/anxiety that I hadn’t gotten it all out of me after I had thrown it all up. This all seemed like excellent fodder for therapy, why wouldn’t she let me talk about it? But, the point she was trying to make was that all the anxiety about being skinny was masking something else, something bigger and that was what she wanted to talk about. She didn’t want me to list calories, she wanted me to list anxieties.

A few years ago, I got pretty exhausted from being on a diet for the majority of my adult life. I happened to consider myself to be obscenely ‘large’ at the time and giving up on the dream of weight loss was less to do with giving myself a break (‘hey, you’re pretty great just the way you are’) and more to do with giving up on myself entirely (‘you’ve completely failed to achieve this one simple goal, why waste any more time on it, you’re clearly a loser’). Luckily, it has had kind of the same outcome. The diet obsession is gone and doesn’t seem to  be coming back anytime soon. I see my anxiety and self-hatred for what it is. That doesn’t mean I have much better control over it or am nicer to myself, but at least I don’t believe there’s a magic life reset button if I can just get back down to 50kgs.

magic-button-prew

If only it were that simple. Found here

But I find that my thinking still, often, goes down paths that I don’t want it to. Even though I haven’t had the desire to diet in a good 5 years, my brain retains some of the habits of the 12 years before it. Here are some of the ways I can’t seem to shake that disordered eating/thinking.

1) I’m still weirdly (and ashamedly) proud that I was anorexic

After the first year or two of disordered eating in my teen years, I went to Norway and developed fairly typical bulimia. Starving, then massive binges and then purges, sometimes two or three times in one day. And, amongst all that hideous turmoil, I was beating myself up because I was bulimic, not anorexic. I had lost the eating disorder lottery! If only I was a better person, then I would have been anorexic. I was such a second-rate human that even my eating disorder was second-rate!

I’ve since found out that is a common feeling amongst bulimics. So, you can imagine my delight when I finally hated myself enough to successfully starve myself for a good 6 – 7 months in a row. Hooray! Now I had the set!

I’m fully aware of how fucked up this thinking is and, I’m not suggesting I *should* be proud that I was anorexic. But there is still a tiny part of me that feels some kind of weird relief over the fact that I wasn’t *just* bulimic. I was anorexic too.

2) Clothes sizes are the worst

Worrying about clothing sizes was always the companion piece to worrying about food. Each size has a huge amount of emotional baggage. Of course, that’s the case for most women. It’s been pretty well established that women’s clothing sizes are fucked. Established in 1959, the Australian standard for clothes sizes was based on data from a 1926 study of women conducted by underwear manufacturer Berlei and some US Department of Commerce Standards. There were all sorts of problems with the way they got these measurements, starting with the fact that it was mainly poor, white women who were measured (potentially undersized because of starvation or poor nutrition) and that the measurements were primarily interested in bust size – they just assumed you had an hourglass shape underneath it.  So, we have a warped system to begin with and then clothing stores adjust their sizes according to how they want women to feel and how many of each size they sold in the previous year. So, if they see that more women are buying a size 12, then, hey presto! The year after, what was a size 12 is now a size 10, because women are more likely to buy a piece of clothing if they’re feeling better about themselves and what makes women feel better about themselves? That they’ve unexpectedly lost weight and a dress size. Which is fine, until you go into the next store and they have a different sizing system and suddenly you’re a size 14 and everything is terrible (please note that I’m not suggesting everything is actually terrible if you are a size 14. I’m saying this is how we’re trained to think and how the fashion industry views our bodies and I’m also saying that this lack of consistency amongst sizes is confusing and can be distressing if you’re already anxious about this kind of thing).

My relationship to clothes was almost as screwed up as my relationship to food. I would buy clothing that didn’t fit me so I would have something to aspire to – ‘if you just lose weight, you’ll be able to wear that beautiful dress that you love and have never worn’. I would keep pieces of clothing that I used to fit into (size 8s, small size 10s) and whenever I was feeling skinny (whenever I was feeling good about myself), I would take them out and try to squeeze into them and when it didn’t work I would resolve, again, to eat less and exercise more and be a better person. I would wear clothes that were too small for me for months because I could not deal with the fact that I had put on weight and besides which, I was definitely about to lose weight, as soon as this new diet/starvation routine started to work and I couldn’t bear to go into the store and buy something that actually fit me because it would have the wrong number in the label (size 14, size 12) and, besides, I’d be skinny in just a few weeks, honest, honest, and then I would have wasted all my money. I would buy clothing that was just slightly too small for me and choose to wear it even though it was uncomfortable and tell myself that the waistline already cutting into my stomach fat would remind me not to eat too much when I was out. It was a kind of exquisite torture.

My weight has slowly and naturally fell as my relationship to food has normalised. I’ve come back to a weight that seems natural to me, in that my body keeps returning to it over the years and it luckily corresponds to a clothes size I can bear. But I still have issues in clothing stores. I have to be in a pretty strong state of mind to buy a piece of clothing marked ‘Size 12’ or ‘Medium’. It doesn’t matter how much I like the piece of clothing, how comfortable it is, if I’m already feeling vulnerable that day, I will refuse to buy the clothing. I bought two pairs of jeans recently from Muji (which is what started this whole blog post in the first place). They had a sizing system that I had never seen before – inches, rather than 10, 12, 14 or Small, Medium, Large. It was the first time I was able to buy clothing based entirely on how they felt and how they looked, because I had no emotional connection to what size I wanted to be – it was so relieving. So freeing! Instead of going to the clothing racks with a feeling of rising panic and thinking, ‘Well, I should be a size 10′ and then seeing if I can squeeze into that size or not and then, if I can’t, refusing, point blank, to try the size up because if that fit, what would it possibly mean? Of course, now that I have an idea of what size I *should* be in Muji, if it ever changes… well, let’s just hope it never changes.

3) I’m supremely uninterested in your diet/weight loss/exercise/wellness routine or your anxiety around it

I’m sorry. It’s not that I don’t care about you. It’s not that I’m not happy that you’re happy that you’ve found something that works for you. It’s simple self-preservation. I’ve read about, tried, and failed enough diets to fill a hundred lifetimes. If you convince me that you’ve finally found the golden ticket – the diet that works – you’ll just be leading me back down that 12 year old, well-trodden path of thinking that if I can just, somehow, get back to 50kgs, if I can just, somehow, reset my life to 15 years old again, everything would work out differently. I cannot allow myself to be interested in diets. I cannot allow myself to be interested in calorie counting, fat watching, gluten-free, lactose-free, coconut water, high-protein, low-carb, sugar free, 3 meals a day, 6 meals a day, the 5-2 program, only choc-chip muffins on a Sunday and blueberry ones every second Friday, whatever the hell it is that you’ve discovered. It might work for you. That doesn’t mean it works for me. Telling me about the diet and encouraging me to try it is akin to saying to a recovering drug addict that they can try just a taste of their old crutch and nothing bad will happen this time, this time everything will be a-ok.

On a related note, I struggle to react correctly to the fact that you’ve put on weight, or lost weight. I’m too busy telling myself it doesn’t matter and I don’t need to get worried. I don’t like to be told that I’ve lost weight. I know that sounds like a ‘nice’ thing to do, but it will only demonstrate that people judge bodies and, more specifically, that they see my body and they judge it too (even if it doesn’t matter to you, even if you wouldn’t think I was a bad person for putting on weight, you’ve still noticed that it’s gotten bigger or smaller). This will only serve to reawaken the part of my brain that thinks weight and diet are acceptable things to worry about. You might be worried about your weight for health reasons (though there’s plenty of evidence that maybe you shouldn’t be so worried), that’s completely fine and you do you. But I cannot listen to you worry about it.

I try to think in broad generalisations. ‘I’m going to try and eat more vegetables.’ ‘I’m going to try and find better protein sources than just cheese.’ ‘I’m going to try and drink a little less alcohol and a little more water.’ ‘I’m going to make sure I don’t eat the same thing, day in, day out.’ Broad generalisations are good for me, because when I come home exhausted one night and only want to eat cheese pizza with two ciders, I don’t freak the fuck out. Diets and wellness have rules. They have absolutes. Sugar is evil. Gluten is poison. I don’t care how ‘easy’ your particular rules are to follow, I will inevitably fail at some point and then the question becomes, what do I do to make up for this failure? How do I atone? I’m a terrible black and white thinker with tendencies towards catastrophizing, it’s never just, oops, I was so hungry that I ate three slices of bread instead of two, guess I’ll do better tomorrow, no, it’s the END OF THE GODDAMN WORLD AS WE KNOW IT.

end-world-newspaper

It doesn’t start with an earthquake, it starts with Jenny EATING A BISCUIT. Found here 

4) Hunger is very confusing to me

People with eating disorders are often disconnected from their bodies. You spend most of your life trying to ignore or distort the feelings that you are having, whether or not that’s hunger, anger, sadness, anxiety, love or something else. People recovering from eating disorders tend to have real difficulty knowing what, when and how much to eat. When you take away all the rules of what you should and shouldn’t eat and just say, ‘What would you like to eat?’ a person recovering from an eating disorder may not know. They may not know what a craving for a particular food feels like. They may not remember what hunger feels like, or what being full feels like.

I’m pretty good at figuring out what I like to eat these days. But I still, very often, miss the signs of hunger. Headaches, fatigue, anger, sadness, hyperactivity, being super jittery, all of these things mask my real and actual hunger. Alex will have to point out that he thinks I’m feeling hungry. I have to rely on someone else to point out that I’m hungry! This is ridiculous. Ridiculous! Happily, I do feel that every day I am getting better at noticing. On the flip side, if I work out that I’m hungry, if I get the rumbling in the stomach, there is absolutely nothing that anyone will be able to do to stop me from focusing entirely on the horrible sensation until it has been resolved.

5) I’m super bad at sharing

When I was counting calories obsessively, it was hugely important to me that I knew exactly how much food went into my mouth on a particular day. So, if people offered me a ‘taste’ of their food because I had expressed admiration of what it looked like (‘ooh, that looks yummy’), I would refuse Every. Single. Time. I did not know how many calories were in that taste. I couldn’t calculate the calories in 4 lentils, a cashew and a piece of sweet potato. Who did they think I was?

Conversely, if I was eating something and someone expressed a desire to taste it, panic would immediately grip my stomach. These are my calories! I have carefully counted them and arranged them into my day! I can’t give them my calories! I got very good at surviving on huge quantities of low-calorie food (which is why I once turned yellow from eating too much pumpkin and too many carrots), but if I had decided to indulge in 100 calories of salt and vinegar rice crackers, then I wanted Every. Last. Calorie. There was no guarantee I’d be allowing myself food later in the day or in the days to come. I had relented and given myself food at this point, so it should all be mine, mine, mine!

While I’m way better than I was, I still slip into this mindset when I’m very, very hungry. I essentially go into starvation mode and think that I’ll never be full, ever again, oh god, how will the hunger ever end. Do not ask me for some of my food at the start of a meal when I am in this mode. Wait until I’m halfway through and have realised I’ll never finish three vegetable samosas, two naan breads, a pile of rice and two curries all on my own. Then I’ll be happy to share.

roneating

Can’t talk. Eating. Found here

On a related note, do not ask me to order two meals with you and we can share. Do not suggest we split a slice of cake for dessert. Again, while this used to be about making sure I knew exactly how many calories I had consumed, these days it’s about the opposite. I do not want to share your rocket salad. If I want cake, I’m eating the whole thing. I goddamn hate Tapas, everyone uses it as an excuse to under eat. Don’t try and limit me to the number of calories that you want to eat so you feel like you’re not missing out. Even if that’s not what it’s about, that’s how I’ll feel. I’m going to choose exactly what I want to eat and I’m going to eat it all and no-one, least of all me, is going to judge me (unless, of course, it’s a situation like above and you’ll get half my meal halfway through)

6) Large meals are a massive comfort

My stomach still kind of doesn’t trust my brain. It’s not convinced that my brain won’t, some day soon, turn around and announce that it will be starving my stomach once again, in a new and exciting way that will be certain to work this time around.

Additionally, a lot of experts and sufferers of eating disorders equate food with love. A lot of people who don’t even have disordered eating equate food with love. It’s about caring for yourself, it’s also about indulging yourself. So, every time my stomach gets to eat, and gets to eat as much as it likes, that is a happy moment. That is a moment that tells me I am still feeling healthy, that I am still looking after myself. I cannot abide snacking. Forcing yourself to eat when you’re not hungry just so you can eat a smaller meal later on sounds far too much like a controlling diet to me. I like to wait until I’m certain I’m hungry and then just eat until I can’t eat anymore. That is comforting. That makes me feel happy and looked after and loved and not judged.

 

I was talking things over with a doctor recently and she pointed out that it’s fantastic that despite the stress of the past few years, I haven’t reverted back to old habits in the form of disordered eating. And she’s right. I don’t really know how it’s happened (oddly, it seems to have happened when I wasn’t looking, when I wasn’t focusing on it), but I do seem to have overcome the worst of it.

But, I am still surprised sometimes by the weird leftover thoughts from that period of time. They are quieter. They are less powerful, less sinister. But they are still there. I hope, some day, they might be gone entirely.

 

 

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Burkinis and Bikins

Many, many people much smarter and more articulate than I have already weighed into this topic. It seems to have been universally condemned and has already been overturned by the French court.

But I did just want to write a little personal note. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Two weeks ago, I bought a swimsuit that reveals my belly. This is the first swimsuit I have ever owned in my adult life that reveals my belly. Bikinis, for me, have always come with the baggage of the ‘bikini-ready body’, an idea and a body that haunts women’s magazines for the 3 -4 months before summer and then the 3 months of summer. I didn’t know how to get rid of the pubic hair around my bikini line without my skin breaking out in horrible, itchy red bumps and going out with my pubs showing made me feel disgusting. Maybe I ‘shouldn’t’ have felt shamed by this. But, I did. Bikinis weren’t liberating or sexy or fun for me. They were shaming. And bikinis became impossible for me to wear.

So what, I guess? One-pieces are/were available. However, they were difficult to find and most stores offered very little attractive choice. Places that offered lots of one-piece swimsuits were geared towards little old ladies. I didn’t want to wear these sorts of swimsuits. They made me feel old and prudish and unattractive. Maybe I ‘shouldn’t’ have felt shamed by all this. But, I did. And being on the beach, or in the pool (unless it was just to swim laps), became almost impossible.

I feel very differently about all of this now. And a lot of women would have told me I should have felt differently about that before. Who cares if I have pubic hair showing? Who cares if I don’t have a bikini body? I agree (now), but that didn’t stop my younger self worrying about all those things. And, having those women force me into a bikini against my will and pushing me out into the middle of Bondi Beach with a wildly hairy bikini line would not have made me feel any better. It would not have made me suddenly empowered or more free.

The only time I ever felt comfortable in a ‘swimsuit’ was on a school trip to Australia’s Wonderland. I had, genuinely, forgotten my swimsuit, because I didn’t think we were going to go swimming. We were. Everyone was. So, I decided to wear my knickers (black) and a friend’s black singlet top. I loved it. I thought I looked chic. I got compliments. I looked everywhere for a swimsuit that looked just like that. Of course, nothing. But, apart from all that, if anyone had known that I was actually a teenage girl running around a public place, on a school trip, in my underwear, I’m absolutely certain someone would have told me it was inappropriate. It was provocative. Despite it covering up more of my skin than my friends’ bikinis.  Because of someone else’s classification of what that material was supposed to be and what that material was meant to mean and what my teenage skin cloaked in that material was meant to invite.

My point with all this is that it is impossible to know how an individual views a garment, how it makes them feel and the significance they attach to it. The French are saying that they ‘know’ that EVERY burkini has dangerous connotations, significance and poses a threat to their secular society. But they can’t know, just by looking at what kind of outfit a woman is wearing, how she feels about that garment, how she feels about herself, how she feels about Islam and how she feels about France. It is the most horrific form of stereotyping, generalising and racism. It takes away an person’s ability to define themselves, to express themselves and tells them how they should feel. It is saying to an entire group that to be in public life they must feel shamed and uncomfortable, or they will not be permitted at all.

 

 

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Little Johnny Howard

I did a theatre workshop over the weekend run by a writer/director friend of mine. It was exploring Brexit and the current political divide, amongst other things and we had to bring in a speech made by a politician, which we viewed as marking a turning point in politics and towards right-wing conservatism in particular. I immediately thought of the Tampa crisis and John Howard’s insistent that we would decide who came into our country and the circumstances in which they arrive. So, I brought an interview John Howard did with Mike Munro from that time. I found it on this archive that is kept of select Australian prime minister’s press releases, speeches, interviews etc. You can find it here. We had to create something new from what we had brought and I was quite pleased with my effort. The disturbing thing about it is how similar the rhetoric is from the current European refugee crisis, even though this was 15 years ago. People at the workshop were really shocked it was so old.

So, here it is:

This is a very difficult situation for everybody.

We are a humane people.

We are a generous people.

We are reaching a breaking point.

We are not obliged to accept.

We appear to be losing control.

We have an absolute right.

We have decide to take a stand.

We assert the absolute right to control our borders.

We cannot surrender our right as a sovereign country, our right to control our borders.

No country can ever give that up.

We cannot have a situation where people can come to this country when they choose.

We can’t continue sending a signal to the rest of the world that this is a nation of easy destination.

The should be returned to Indonesia.

All we’re asking is that there not be any queue jumpers.

There are a lot of people waiting in the queue.

They should go through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

They’re not in imminent fear or concern about the situation.

They try and intimidate us with our own decency.

Four of the illnesses were not as represented.

Three were very mild.

One was feigned.

We will provide medical assistance, we will provide water, we’ll provide food, I mean, we are a very generous people but you’ve got to balance that against not having that generosity played upon.

little johnny howard

Little Johnny Howard found here

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FOMO and David Bowie

Leaving Australia at the start of January was difficult. 3 weeks at my (old) home was pretty spectacular. It was sunny, I got to wear as many summer dresses as I liked, all these wonderful people that I hardly get to see were there and they are all still very nice and we had more than our fair share of avocados and life was good.

But apart from having to give all of that up, I had also decided I really, truly, hated Berlin.

Of course, that was a bit of an overstatement brought on by sun-mania, dehydration and hyper-avocado-enemia, but there is at least a little nugget of truth at the heart of it.

I’ve had a lot of problems moving to Berlin. I’m terrible about the language thing. Not necessarily that I can’t speak, but that I can’t speak PERFECTLY. That really bothers me. There are some ex-pats who live here very happily knowing no German and there are some ex-pats who live here and work hard and become fluent. I fit into neither category. I’m too lazy to learn German properly, but cripplingly embarrassed about this moral failing in a typically Anglo-Saxon middle-class way.

Plus, I’ve really struggled to find things here that I like to do. I go to work, I come home, I watch Netflix. Seriously, this is my glamorous ex-pat life. The only difference between me and people I grew up with who stayed in Australia is that I get German subtitles on my Netflix and, also, that there are some pretty awesome looking foreign films on offer (that I can’t understand because there are no English subtitles available and because of, you know, the aforementioned language problem).

You’ll be pleased to know that I am taking steps to try and rectify the situation. I’ve turned one of the doors in our apartment into a ‘Berlin To-Do List’, covered in post-it notes that can be easily removed and thrown in the bin (in a most satisfying way), once the activity has successfully been completed. I don’t actually think the To-Do List is that great. Don’t get me wrong, it’ll keep me occupied and it’s stuff I do want to get done, but it still feels like I’m kind of missing something.

Berlin is such a byword for the creative and the avant-garde, the interesting and unique and revolutionary. And yet, in direct contrast, here is my dull little existence, basically indistinguishable from my dull existence in any other city that I’ve lived in (apart from the exciting/cripplingly embarrassing language thing).

Of course, some of the things that make Berlin ‘Berlin’ are uninteresting to me anyway. Taking drugs and staying at clubs all weekend long. That’s a thing, apparently. Working as a kitchen hand and making art in all your free hours and still living comfortably. That’s also a thing, as I found out when I first moved her and stupidly asked Berlin people ‘so, what do you do?’ generating many sniffy responses, which pointedly delineated between paid work and ACTUAL work and that my lack of understanding of the difference made me fairly lacking in value. But neither of those lifestyles, for all their Peter Pan-like appeal, particularly interests me.

I guess this is the problem. Without realising it, I had some strange, perhaps pathetic expectations about how Berlin ‘should’ be and what would happen to me when I got here. A place that was meant to be inspiring and motivating for so many artists, I just kind of assumed it would just naturally inspire and motivate me too. Part of it was my state of mind when I moved here (I GIVE UP! THEATRE IS DEAD TO ME!) But I think I had a secret hope that somehow I would be motivated, inspired and full of words and writing without having to do anything about it. That hasn’t happened. There is nothing I have created here that people will be able to point to and classify my ‘Berlin oeuvre’. And, I have to admit, it’s kind of disappointing.

Certainly it’s hard to be inspired when your main connection with the culture of a place is through a shared obsession with baked goods (so many bakeries! so much fresh bread!) but I’m also at a bit of a loss as to where to find this inspiring, interesting, revolutionary Berlin culture. Is it still there? Was it ever there? Is it something you can actually pinpoint in a moment, or day-to-day, or is it something that you look back on and say, ‘ah, yes, there it was. That time there.’

I certainly haven’t met a contemporary Nabokov or Isherwood or Bowie or Iggy Pop to hang out with, or if I did, I didn’t recognise them (more fool me). Similarly, I haven’t come across an equivalent of the Rote Armee Fraktion (not that I’ve been looking, I swear, CIA). I have visited the ‘trendy’ areas where every young person wants to live and, quite frankly, to me, they seem insufferably full of tourists and ex-pats and pop-up shops selling crappy knick-knacks with moustaches on them. Certainly nothing that’s radically changed my life, or opened up my point of view. I’ve tried to go to artistic nights of poetry and music. I tried to set one up, which we just won’t talk about. I’ve attended a ‘storytelling’ night where various ex-pats told highly ‘moving’ stories of all the drugs they’d taken in countries across the world. But I just can’t find an ‘it’ to satisfy whatever early stereotypes I had formed before I got here.

I don’t want to complain that nothing here is ‘authentic’ any more and I’m certainly not claiming to be some kind of ‘authenticity’ arbiter pointing to bits of the city and declaring this part worthwhile, whilst this over here is valueless. But I just can’t seem to get excited about this place. And so many people are so excited about this place. I just feel like I’ve somehow been left out of the party for the past two years and I don’t quite know what to do about it.

Princess

 

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Balloon Border

Last weekend was pretty special for Berlin. It was the 25th anniversary of the wall coming down. To celebrate/commemorate, the city organised for over 8000 balloons to be placed along a 10 mile stretch of the old wall’s border. As night fell, the balloons were lit up from underneath, creating a beautiful and educative display.

Balloon Border by day

Balloon Border by day

Balloon Border by night

Balloon Border by night

Because A. and I are history nerds and walking nerds and (now) Berlin nerds, we decided to walk the entire 10 mile route. The balloons were up from Friday to Sunday the 9th of November (being the exact day the wall ‘came down’). We spent a good part of Saturday afternoon and evening walking from Prenzlauer Berg in the north to Freidrichshain in the (more) south-east.

The balloon route went from Bornholmer Strasse to Oberbaumbrücke

The balloon route went from Bornholmer Strasse to Oberbaumbrücke

Along the way, there were information points telling you about an aspect of the wall’s history in the surrounding area – how someone had escaped here, or how an important building had been destroyed. Large screens were set up at various points playing the same, almost wordless documentary and these constantly changing images provided a stream-of-consciousness memories of life under the wall.

I find a lot of the stories of the Berlin Wall very difficult to deal with and spent much of the early part of the walk crying in the street. Documentary footage detailing people’s desperation, their misery, their confusion at this sudden change of events was extremely distressing. For example, this old woman trying to jump out of her East Berlin apartment into the street below, which was West Berlin.

Woman escapes on Bernauer Strasse. From: www.guardian.co.uk

Woman escapes on Bernauer Strasse. From: http://www.guardian.co.uk

You can see East Berlin border guards attempting to pull her back into her apartment, and West Berliners attempting to pull her down by her legs. She is crooked and curled up in the middle, desperately trying to protect her fragile body from the onslaught from both sides (she was pulled into West Berlin and she survived, in case you were wondering).

Footage of a young West Berlin couple receiving blessings & gifts from the bride’s parents, confined to their East Berlin apartment 4 floors above them, destroys me every time.

Fairly certain this is a restaged shot - the original footage I've seen doesn't have the woman in her bridal gown and the couple looks a lot less happy. Anyway, this was all I could find. From: http://www.csimpson80.com/new_page_769.htm

Fairly certain this is a restaged shot – the original footage I’ve seen doesn’t have the woman in her bridal gown and the couple looks a lot less happy. Anyway, this was all I could find. From: http://www.csimpson80.com/new_page_769.htm

It’s not just the sad stories of the wall being built that affect me, but also the incredible footage of the wall coming down – the optimism and hope seeping out of those images always chokes me up. An East German woman kissing a border guard on the cheek before jumping up and down like an excited 5 year old and running through the border. The East Berlin men joking with the border guards in front of them, ‘Come on, let us out, we’ll all come back, we promise. Just half an hour, we just want to have a look,’ happy and confident because they know that they have the power: with hundreds of other East Berliners behind them and only a few, elderly border guards in front, the joking men can tell it’s a matter of minutes before these guards capitulate and the border will be opened. Some incredible footage (which I CANNOT find on the internet ANYWHERE) of a huge group of East Germans running towards a country border (Hungary?), their cars abandoned on the roads behind, their children gripped in the middle, bags flying, aiming for an open strip of grassland free of walls and barbed wire. The guards from the road border simply walk out slowly from their posts stand on the road and stare. They are made weak by the sheer number of people, the overwhelming force of their emotion and determination. The border guard credited with ‘opening’ the Berlin Wall, Harald Jäger, said he had never seen such euphoria before or since.

What was incredible on the day was connecting these emotions, these huge, world-changing emotions with the ordinary streets of Berlin that I have been living on for the past few months. A lot of the route I had walked before whilst just going about my everyday Berlin life- unconsciously popping across the wall here and there, going to an event, viewing an apartment, visiting a park, a museum, a landmark. Walking the route altogether made me feel like I was seeing the streets in a new way, peeling back the surface image and finding something completely different underneath. I saw many elderly Germans on the route, in wheelchairs, with walkers, being helped along by younger relatives or friends. Of course I’d passed plenty of people of this generation in the street before, but they took on new significance now – I felt an almost irresistible urge to grab each one and ask them where they were from, how did they grow up, where were they when the wall fell, how did they feel then, how did they feel now and whatever else they cared to tell me. I wanted to extend this experience of living history, of the past and present and future suddenly crashing together in front of my very eyes.

This experience becoming suddenly, bodily aware of the past in the present, incidentally, something that one becomes used to in Berlin – places that seem innocuous turn out to be hiding actual physical remnants of modern 20th century history. A. and I took a walk in Grunewald in October and climbed a hill that looked out over all of Berlin. Intrigued by the landscape (Berlin is mainly swamp – there aren’t many high points) and wanting to know more, we did some research and discovered that this was a man-made hill, built over Albert Speer’s Nazi architecture and engineering institute with all the post-WWII rubble of West Berlin. Perched on top of this mid-20th century hill is a decaying NSA listening post from the Cold War era that no-one can decided what to do with: museum? Ski resort? Apartments? Remembrance or Capitalism? Looking forwards or backwards? And if it’s forward, where exactly does 21st century Berlin go from here?

And furthermore where exactly DOES the 21st century go from here? Or, more accurately for my mindset last weekend, where does my 21st century go from the fall of the Berlin Wall? Over the course of our 10 mile walk, A. and I were given the opportunity for a lot of reflection. The triumphal celebration we were witnessing was not big on nuance. Whilst the city was peeling back it’s facade and showing us something new, in many ways what were being shown was a simple, emotional and inspiring story of tragic oppression and glorious freedom. I’m not arguing that isn’t part of the story of the wall. But the consequences of that glorious story arc for the here and now is a silencing of any alternatives to liberalism and capitalism – within this specific, Western, capitalist bubble, the fall of the Berlin Wall really was the ‘End of History’. Certainly the Left in the West has never really recovered its bite since communism failed so spectacularly. The 21st century is glorious, capitalist freedom, with no need to ask any further questions or fight any other fights and certainly no need for any more revolutions on the scale of the Fall of the Wall. With this lack of alternatives comes a coinciding loss of passion and the world-changing emotions that choked me up in the street at the start of this post. We’ve slid into a historical period with all the excitement of a middle-aged, middle-class life in suburbia. Sure, it’s super-comfortable, but, really, what’s the point? And as any film about the dark side of suburbia is keen to point out – the comfort and the contentment only hides an underbelly that no-one’s willing to talk about.

I’m not suggesting that the wall should go back up just so I can get some emotional jollies out of politics again. I’m pretty against walls, unless they’re the walls of your house and they’re keeping in the heat, keeping out the rain and keeping up your ceiling. What was interesting about the 10 mile walk, however, was that whilst I felt like I was becoming hyper-aware of the past, I was also aware of not getting a complete story. The border guard who I quoted up above? His world collapsed along with the wall – he lost his (admittedly, shitty job) and struggled to make ends meet in the new capitalist paradise before having to retire. The wall coming down wasn’t all sweetness and light, just as it wouldn’t hurt to occasionally question our slavish devotion to economic liberalism. Just because there was a wall and it was bad doesn’t mean that everything since there wasn’t a wall is automatically good.

All in all, the night was thought-provoking, educative and beautiful. I will admit that by the 5 and a half hour mark I was sick of being hyper-aware of history and only wanted to be hyper-aware of a vegetarian burger, a comfy seat and some glühwein. I spoke to a few people afterwards who said they thought it was ‘disappointing’ because the balloons weren’t lit up when they flew into the sky (after the balloons had made the border for the weekend, they were released into the sky and most people assumed they had a light attached so they could be seen far off into the distance). I couldn’t have disagreed more. For me, the event was about the coming together, the remembering and the consideration, not the spectacle.

But, hey, I suppose there’s a different side to every story, isn’t there.

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