These heavy boots are not made for walking – meeting Oskar Schell …

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I mentioned it before, Wonderguy gave me Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer as another part of our ongoing series “Goin’ to New York”. At first I was skeptical because I fear the child protagonist: many authors I read (Brothers Grimm, anyone?) use child characters to teach their readers a lesson, and the last thing I need right now is some elaborate lesson brought to me by 300+ pages full of moralizing undertone. But Oskar is a very special child and we got along well. Much better than I had ever expected. Apart from certain quirks that make him all the more tangible (though also at least ten years older at times) and the fact that I too (like most of us) lost someone dear to me, Oskar and I share another distinctive and at times very important feature: heavy boots. 

I read the first chapter of A Brief History of Time when Dad was still alive and I got incredibly heavy boots about how relatively insignificant life is, and how, compared to the universe and compared to time, it didn’t even matter if I existed at all.

I feel ya, Oskar. I do. I will not talk much about the book itself, because this time the connection with one character feels to strong and personal, an aspect that gets more important because of my current mental constitution. I gravitate around how reading about heavy boots makes someone with very heavy boots feel at the moment…
Oskar won over my heart and mind in one passage that describes a situation I know perfectly well, even though not necessarily in this context, due to geographical differences:

It had taken us four hours to get to her home. Two of those were because Mr. Black had to convince me to get on the Staten Island Ferry. In addition to the fact that it was an obvious potential target, there had also been a ferry accident pretty recently, and in Stuff That Happened to Me I had pictures of people who had lost their arms and legs. Also, I don’t like bodies of water. Or boats, particularly. Mr. Black asked me how I would feel in bed that night if I didn’t get on the ferry. I told him, “Heavy boots, probably.” “And how will you feel if you did it?” “Like one hundred dollars.” “So?” “So what about while I’m on the ferry?? What if it sinks? What if someone pushes me off? What if it’s hit with a shoulder-fired missile? There won’t be a tonight tonight.” He said, “In which case you won’t feel anything anyway.” I though about that. 

It’s well in the second half of the book, p. 240, that Oskar describes this inner turmoil, but this was the moment I knew I will forever love this book, and this character. Because I know heavy boots, I know exactly how heavy boots feel, and I know how hard it can be to make something feel even ten dollars, let alone a hundred dollars. Sometimes it feels impossible, way out of my league. And every now and then, this ‘sometimes” becomes ‘often,’ and ‘impossible’ becomes ‘unbearable.’ Because these boots are so heavy I can hardly move. And because I’m a grown-up, I know that I’m on my own, that in the end of the day, I’m all alone in my head, alone with my thoughts, fears, and feelings. Alone with my heavy boots, custom-made for me.
And these days my boots are very heavy. Though I’m looking forward to seeing NYC again, even look forward to presenting a paper and meeting fellow academics and people interested in my field of study, I dread the emotional and physical tour de force it will take until I get there. And I dread all these thoughts, freely floating through my head and messing with my synapses, much more than the fact that I will be awake and on the way for 20 hours. Fear, so much unfounded fear and panic: terror attacks, plane crashes, murder, death, mayhem. All that is possible – hardly anything is likely to happen exactly where I am at the time I am there. After all, this is the rather safe hemisphere of this tormented planet. I’m a rational person, I know that. But I also know panic attacks, anxiety, depression. Or, as Oskar describes it so poetic and also appropriate: heavy boots.

Oskar is actively working to counter his heavy boots, mostly by keeping busy, inventing stuff, designing jewellery and the like. This seems a good strategy though Oskar’s heavy boots and mine are two totally different things and what works for a fictional nine-year-old boy might not work as well for me. I’m not good at inventing and I’m not interested in jewellery; best case scenario is reading, worst case scenario is cleaning, decluttering, or rearranging stuff like there’s no tomorrow. Because a clean and tidy environment helps me to survive my mental chaos, so if nothing else works for me, this always does.
It doesn’t work anymore. Not now. And even though I feel like a whiny kid, I feel so stupid for not being able to get through this like all those times before, I know I reached a limit. I already had a lot going on in the last few months; this additional project, though it is a great opportunity and something I really look forward to, seems to be too much. Too much for my already hyperactive mind, my perfectionism, my aim of juggling different jobs and ventures simultaneously.

So I called my therapist today. I haven’t seen him in 6 years. It’s time for a reunion. 

 

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I sense a certain sentiment …

2017-09-09-12-32-52.jpgIn the last few days I booked a flight and my Dad found me a nice hotel in an ideal location between the university and the rest of the city I want to see and discover. Regarding the practical aspects of this little adventure everything’s already taken care of, everything’s fine. Which is wonderful and I’m so grateful that my dad, mom, and my sister, my whole family, is so supportive and helpful, even though I brought that on myself, thinking I could accomplish a conference/city trip to NYC ON MY OWN. Wonderguy too is just great, and he’s also already in the “goin’ to New York” mood (even though he is not coming with me), putting together a Spotify-playlist with songs about NY (from Sinatra’s classic to my favorite, Alicia Keys, he found some really great songs which I will listen to while out and about in NY). Furthermore, he gave me some of the novels he got that are set in New York, one being Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I will take a closer look at this book in another blog post, soon. For now let me just say that certain fears not only Oskar but other protagonists as well talk about resonate deep with(in) my own dark places… 

And it can be dark down there … Sleepless nights filled with horrifying visions triggered by too many true crime podcasts and too much war crime material keep me awake. Have you ever seen “Mayday”? I have. Oh my, yes I have …
At the opposite end of this extreme emotional spectrum lies my longing for peace, being someplace where no one knows me and no one notices me and I will be invisible. And once again being invisible would make me invincible, at least deep down in my heart. “These streets will make you feel random” – I long for that feeling. The same feeling I loved so much when walking through the streets of New York the first time I was there, four years ago. No one cares about you, but not in a bad way. Rather like we are all parts of the surrounding, belonging to this street, this street corner, this certain place, nothin’ to fuzz about, just everyone going their ways. 

I felt safe there, always. True, I wasn’t out and about at 3am in the morning all alone as a woman, and I won’t do so in December. But still, I felt safer in New York than I felt/feel in London, though I love London just as much and I’m more familiar with the city, having been there several times. And I guess that’s the crux of the matter: because I’m less familiar with NYC I feel safer there than in London – knowing a place, being familiar with it means knowing its ‘good’ and its ‘bad’ sides; just reading about the dark sides does not change a thing. I read tons of stuff about war and war crimes and the like but I would never in a million years assume I “know” war – that’s not how it works.  Never. Of course I read about places where one should not go, what one should and should not do, especially as a woman, and that might be one reason why I can’t sleep at times, but this does not change my good memories about the place. Besides, “feeling safe” in my understanding also means being able to stay in my own little thought bubble all the time because I don’t know a single person so no one will disturb my thinking, musing, and wandering. I’m not sure if this corresponds with a general understanding of “feeling safe” but I don’t strive for unifying different views. Live and let live, wander and let wander …

For now, the “goin’ to New York”-theme is huge, listening to the playlist, reading books from/about/set in New York, most of this thanks to and inspired by Wonderguy. That’s because it’s my first trip alone to one of my most favorite cities. It’s a long flight and at average an expensive stay, so it’s not like I can see NYC whenever I want to – this is something special. And even though I feel total overwhelmed and panicky at times (thanks, weird wired brain) I really look forward to “goin’ to New York”.

Besides, let us not forget: I’m there for work as well … one more reason for sleepless nights! 🙂

Chick(s) without kids

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Today, by chance I listened to the episode “Choosing to live child-free” of the What would a feminist do?-podcast (you can listen to it here); I haven’t thought about that issue for a while, but what the three women – host Jessica Valenti and her two guests, authors Meghan Daum and Danielle Henderson – talked about resonated deeply with me: I never wanted kids and therefore, at 30+, I don’t have kids.* [I will continue to talk about the conscious decision to not have children, NOT about involuntary childlessness. For obvious reasons I’m in no position to talk about the latter, nor do I want talk about something I know nothing about. So let’s continue with the less tragic part of this vast subject.]

Whilst all my female and even male friends are breeding like there’s no tomorrow, I would rather drop dead than seriously think about having a baby. Usually, I’m the sole master of my life, my time, and my priorities which is a privilege I treasure very much, even though this means I have less financial security than someone else my age who leads a ‘traditional’ life. But for me, that’s worth it. I can read a book at any given time, I can stay up and work all night, I can withdraw from the world every time I feel the need to be alone and no human being depends on me. This is exactly how I want it.

On an intellectual level, I can understand why people want children: all these myths and stories about having children as a sort of symbolic immortality, having someone to take care of, humans having a biological urge to breed – I get that.

On an emotional level: no way. Why someone would sacrifice all her time, energy, health, well-being, money and sleep for a being that will not be able to take care of itself for at least 10 to 14 years and at times will treat you like shit and still take all your energy, money, and well-being is a mystery to me. There is nothing lovely about that, it rather reminds me of leeches or tapeworms. Also,  there is nothing sweet about babies or toddlers; they smell, cannot communicate properly, and cry a lot. I can take that for a while concerning my friend’s kids – since I don’t want to lose close friends just because they choose a different path, I am indeed in regular contact with human beings who can stand tall beneath my kitchen table –, but not much more because I don’t want to. Most kids are boring and I don’t know what to say to them; like many people (and as stated in an earlier post) I’m really bad at small talk and this gets worse the younger my conversation partner is.

The most important aspect is one I mentioned before: I don’t want anyone to completely depend on me; this is a sort of responsibility I am NOT seeking. Thanks to some of my issues there are days when I’m glad I can take care of my own most basic affairs – I never felt the need to extend this experience to other human beings. As weird as it may sound, at times I really NEED to be alone because otherwise I know I might get a panic attack or fall into one of my dark holes due to the sensory overload of all the people and the world around me. I would never risk my solitude, ever. Especially not for kids.

My mom once said that when she listens to me explaining why I don’t want kids she gets the impression that having a family is like being in solitary confinement in Alcatraz; I told her that I would choose solitary confinement in Alcatraz over children at any given time.

In the end it all comes down to this: individuals deciding what to do with their lives. It’s as easy as that. But because some of those individuals are biologically female it gets out of hand; religion, society, politics, medicine, and other people want to interfere with decisions that are none of their fucking business. At which point the never-ending cycle of explaining and justifying yourself starts again, again, and again.
Still, let’s wish each other just the best, no matter how we decide to live our lives. 

 

*Yeah I know, what a statement! Groundbreaking, never heard before, and totally trivial! But also still relevant, because as a woman who consciously decides to not procreate, therefor NOT blessing the world with another set of urgently needed no-necked monsters, you do know that at certain points in your life – with your family, friends, in-laws, colleagues, acquaintances, and at times even strangers – you will have to discuss your decision again and again. And again. Because breeding is the ONLY thing that gives the existence of a female human being any sense and fulfillment AT ALL. So your refusal to do so is unacceptable and has to be challenged. [And now the rant is over, I promise.]

 

Nevermind me, overcompensating like a pro

 

2017-03-31_10.44.16.jpgWe all have certain mechanisms we like to use in times of need. What exactly  ‘times of need’ are will vary from one to another, but still: you put on your armor, get out your tools, and walk out into this world, doing your best to be brave, strong, and confident.
Or babbling bullshit nonstop. Which is what I usually do.

You see, for people who do not know me I may seem like a) a nice and funny girl who at times talks A LOT; or b) like an arrogant, smug bitch who obviously HATES being around people.
I am neither – and both.
I have huge problems interacting with people, which makes me insecure. Also, I don’t especially like people because I don’t understand most of them. 90% of the time I don’t know how to handle a “casual” social situation; if it seems like I’m all grown-up and mature, knowing what I do, that’s thanks to the fact that I try my best to imitate a certain conduct I think (and hope) is appropriate in certain situations. I like to observe and watch the world around me, and over the course of years I recognized certain behavioral patterns people commonly display in certain situations; now, repeating similar behavioural patterns is something I can work with (contrary to most emotions and erratic behavior in general). What’s more, during the three years I worked as  a bartender, I learned that you definitely do not want to be another nice little insecure chick behind a bar at 2 am, with a seemingly huge male audience waiting for your next joke/laugh/insult/mistake, hoping that you get off lightly, because: nope, fuck it, you won’t. Have the last word, be ballsy, put them in their place, otherwise you may as well get a new job and, depending on where you work and/or live, a new life.
So if you don’t want to deal with other people’s bullshit, drown them in your own. Which makes me the queen of blabla-nonsense-smalltalk in some situations and the absolute goddess of inappropriate, shitty answers and comments in tons of other situations. Because, why not.

So, as a sort of self-defence, when I feel insecure and I don’t know how to act and react appropriately, I talk like there is no tomorrow. Feeling the pressure to keep it nice and casual, I tell my vet that I wasn’t kicked out of an all girls catholic school because I am an atheist, but because I am an asshole, all while she is trying to inject my jittery cat some vitamins; I tell my new boss that while it may seem like I slept my way up to the new position because my boyfriend recommended me for the job, that is – of course – not the case, even though it would be really funny; I tell a heavily pregnant acquaintance of mine that she doesn’t need to worry about feeling fat and ugly like a whale because whales are beautiful creatures too, just like elephants or rhinos. I talk all this nonsense not to offend anyone or because I don’t like the people I talk to, I utter all this bullshit because I have no idea what people I hardly know usually want to talk about so I talk about stuff I know and think about. Only after I say things I realize that whatever I said could be offensive, inappropriate or otherwise pointless.

At times I think I want people to care. Not necessarily about me, but about the fact that one should think before talking. Because if you do, if you truly stick to the stuff you care/think/know about, there would be a lot less talk and a lot more action. The world would be a little less noisy …  And maybe, just maybe, people would pay more attention to WHAT is said and not so much to WHEN it’s their turn to say something again. 

How to organize a chaotic mind

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I’ve been working as a freelancer for years now. I started the first draft of my thesis roughly 2 years ago and there’s still much to do, as pretty much the complete theoretical framework is still missing (it’s there in my mind, at least some parts of it, but not where it should be, written down). Part of the problem is not only that I have to find a balance between work, work, and life, but also because – no, ESPECIALLY because it is very difficult for me to organize myself.

I was diagnosed with ADHD in my mid-twenties. Though I don’t like to hide behind my various issues (panic attacks, anxiety disorder, depression, extremely introverted, anyone?) this did indeed explain a lot. Most of the time I find it hard to focus on one thing; I can lose myself in hours of online research, reading about the least interesting topics ever, but I cannot sit through a two-hour-movie (or even a 50 min TV show) because it bores the shit out of me. I get some impulse for my work, jot it down and forget all about it the next minute, even forgetting WHERE I made or put the notes that could be helpful some other time. I remind myself to write another blog post only to forget it just a minute later because I there is so much going on in my head that I am overwhelmed and just give up. I often thought (and sometimes still think) that this is all about procrastination and being unorganized and chaotic, but –as my therapist liked to say – this is rather about a psychological issue and being a ‘special edition.’ Since I do not take any medication, it’s always just me and my hyperactive, multi-wired brain.

Which leads us back to the initial issue, namely how to organize myself without losing my mind?! I desperately need some planning and structure in my life, for my freelance ‘career’ and especially for my thesis. For years I’ve been looking for some way to organize myself, my tasks, my appointments, my life. I have not yet found a system that works, so I’m still waiting for a miracle…

A possible answer could be: start a bullet journal.

Wonderguy started one and told me to give it a try because it could actually work. So I googled it (of course I googled it and filled my mind with hours of bullet journal porn on Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, and other sites) and was taken aback by how much work many people – and especially girls and women – put in the (graphical) creation of a bullet journal. I’ve seen journals I would never actually use because they were too beautiful to just put some common information in it. Those journals were works of art but nothing to work with since my chaotic mind would probably be too distracted with painting another elderflower in the left corner of May 12th on page 30. Also, it seemed so structured and organized (well, what a surprise!), it frightened me. I was afraid of not being able to organize myself with this system. I AM afraid of being too chaotic and unstructured to organize myself with any system. I suppose I’m looking forward to a future filled with post-its, lost notes in the corners of my life, and looking puzzled and surprised half of the time.

So I guess I should give it a shot. It really can’t get much worse…I think. And I do have a fair number of notebooks, I can spare one to substantiate my hopes in a more organized future…

Pain, pain go away, please don’t come back another day…

Times when I have to be highly efficient are often followed by days on which I can hardly get out of my mental mess; days when I ask myself why there is so much pain and suffering in this world and why so many of us have to go through sorrow and misery, just so they exist somewhere on this planet, physically existing while being surrounded by drought, war, destruction, poverty, illness, and abuse. There is an imbalance in this world that is beyond human understanding, even though it is the result of human actions, of greed, hate, anger, and ignorance. … You see what I’m getting at? This is one version of the recurrent emotional festival known as “My Dark Days”, this is how I often think and feel during those times (like, right now). In German it can be subsumed under the term “Weltschmerz”, which in English would mean something like “world-weariness” and does by far not sound as dramatic as the German “Weltschmerz.” The Perpetuum-mobile-like questions of global imbalances and alike do not only correspond wonderfully with this Weltschmerz I bear within my heart from time to time (or should I say, which seems to break free, roam the open spaces of my heart and soul, only to withdraw until it once again wants to share its sullenness with my conscious mind) BUT are also a result of my academic work.

I’ve been working on war literature for at least a decade, though only with my diploma thesis did I decide to professionally focus on war writings in a post/neo-colonial-world (mainly wars–or ‘operations’–initiated by the US, primarily in Vietnam and Iraq). I’ve read about killing, being (nearly) killed, bodies blown apart, blown-off limbs, terror, torture, rape, abuse, destruction, and misery for 6 years now. Even though sometimes I read a “normal” book, everyday politics hardly give me a break. No matter if I want to take a step back for a few days, there is always something bringing me back to “my” work. War, terror, death, destruction.

I love research work, I love to explore the things hidden below, I love to question standards, traditions, and all that stuff certain societies “agreed on” even though it is dangerous, questionable and just plain stupid. But more often than not, especially during my dark days, I lose it all; I lose the distance to my work, this distance I desperately need, and I get angry as fuck. Angry with all sides involved in those struggles. And I get frustrated. I think back, when I was a child and everything–my world at least–seemed orderly and simple, and I was watching “The A-Team” and “MacGyver” with my gramps and the world was my playground because everything had its place. I think about that now, asking myself ‘what would the A-Team do?’ How would Hannibal, B.A. and Faceman handle all this crap? Why, exactly, was shit hitting the fan THAT intense?

In the end, on those days, dark days filled with anger, rage, and a sort of total emotional overload, it is not about one side or the other; there are only losers in this game. It is about all the pain and destruction that all this hate and fear and anger bring into the world, pretty much everywhere. This is what I mainly work on, this is what I read about and work on constantly. And I’m angry at myself for being such a wimpy whiner, crying about the stories I read and work on when there are people out there, thousands, millions of people, who have to live through this, who have to survive this in order to write about it, so a sissy Western scholar can create her own fucking drama around it while working on it. I am angry at myself for not being able to keep the distance I need to stay healthy.

I need a certain distance. We all need a distance to certain things, both professionally and personally. Losing your distance means losing a lot of time and energy cleaning up the mess your oversensitive crap made.

Pain, pain, go away…

“You? Never! Stop kiddin’ me!” – Dark hours, days & moments…

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A lot of people who don’t know me well think that I’m confident, outgoing, and funny. I can be all of this with the right people. I can pretend to be this assumed person with a) the wrong people, b) at the wrong time, c) at the wrong place, d) b) a sufficient amount of alcohol and/or e) any combination of the aforementioned factors. This happens to many of us, for various reasons. And everyone faces the challenge of handling their individual issues the best they can. I failed often, still do.

Years ago (like, about 10 years ago) I experienced a period (lasting around 5 years) of anxiety, panic attacks and depression. I got out of it thanks to therapy, pills, and the constant hope that it ‘will be over‘ some day, but of course once your demons found you, they will stay with you. They will love you, take care of you, scare the shit out of you, guide you and force you to grow. Again and again, often for the rest of your life.

Nowadays (no pills and no therapy since 2011) they only visit for a few hours, worst case scenario they are with me for two or three days. But the last time was different – they seemed to enjoy their stay and decided to hang around a little longer than their usual 3 days. Luckily, I didn’t have to work/write a lot, so I had time to celebrate mood swings, crying, feeling desperate and hopeless without neglecting my duties. My demons may have celebrated some sort of anniversary or wtf soever; it was too long, too intense and exhausting.

To distract myself from my demons’ visit, I started to sew, or, to be more precise, I started hardcore-pro-24/7-sewing. Even though I don’t actually know how to sew. But I live true to the saying “learning by doing”, which included sewing…(what a rhyme!). At times like this, I prefer manual labor since my thoughts are all over the place and I can hardly focus on even short readings, let alone ’sophisticated’ intellectual work. Over the last few years I developed some techniques for handling myself better — a little melancholy can do magic about the tidiness of my living quarters. Besides, sewing serves my need for distractions as well as my creative aspirations…

 My demons left some weeks ago. They always leave sooner or later… And every time they return, I’m afraid they won’t leave again on their own, without me getting any help, again. And that is the only thing that truly frightens me about my mind, my life, my soul and my future…my stupid, lovely, fucking, somehow educational demons. Because sometimes it’s not the right time for education….