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! 🙂

Something fresh…

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So the new laptop finally arrived!! UPS and I had some initial problems of finding some time for each other since our doorbell wasn’t working as it should (probably for the last months – which explains why we never get any parcels, but always have to fetch them at the post office), but in the end, THANKFULLY, everything worked out just fine. I’m always a bit nervous when waiting for a valuable item, especially with parcel services like UPS. It’s often hard to get a hold of the individual driver because it’s an international company, so they only offer ‘international’ customer service. ‘International’ in this context rarely means ‘professional’ but rather ‘hard to get.’ So I was really worried that something might go wrong and all my new hopes and good intentions would be crushed before I even get a chance to actively crush them myself with my distinguished lack of energy and drive.

So now I’m already writing on my new notebook, to get a feel for it (as stupid as it may sound, every keyboard is different), with all the fancy Linux stuff I don’t know shit about. I’m still in the process of getting used to Linux and the system with its various components, which is all new to me – though it’s not that difficult, still, in the beginning one is always careful, as if the device may suddenly burst into flames and cease to exist just because you entered one wrong command….who knows, there’s a first time for a lot of different things. I know I may need at least half a day to get acquainted with Scrivener, which sounds ideal to work with for my dissertation and other writing projects that need some organization. Furthermore, there’s still this huge variety of stuff that helps you (and your system) to work better, but I will need some more time to discover all of that. As you see, ‘bird person’ (my notebook’s name, because everything needs a name) and I are still getting to know each other…

I may have a new assignment which will keep me busy until the deadline in June – I will find out in the days to come if it is still on – so this is the perfect test for me working with ‘bird person’ AND with Scrivener. O course, it is also the perfect opportunity to get into the optimal regular-writing-mood I will need if I really want to give my thesis project another shot, like, finish it. I’m usually all about professional and perfectionist when it comes to paid writing/work assignments that come with a deadline. Not surprisingly, I’m also all about the perfect procrastination mode in regard to work that has no deadline in sight. So my good intentions may get some outside support from tech stuff, at least I hope so.

(FYI: You may find references to Rick and Morty and P.G. Wodehouse in this little text of mine. They are easy to detect and deliberate, so to make the repetitive elaboration regarding my incapacity to stick to my idealistic academic goals a bit more diverse and enjoyable.)

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…

Setting some priorities…I guess.

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As some may remember, I’m about to give a talk in a wonderful large European city (like, in 6 weeks, but nevertheless, again, let’s just feel stressed out already). Now, some may wonder how to prepare adequately for an occasion like that – at least I do. But obviously I am not the only one, as I got an impressive amount of results when asking auntie google “How to prepare for a talk,” “how to present at a conference,” and “lol best conference fails ever.”

So, I just finished the first draft of my talk 2 days ago and already I’m totally overwhelmed thinking about editing it – once something is done, I’m over it in some way, and I have to force myself to rework it, especially since I’m often too afraid to find too much stuff that needs editing. I prefer my tasks to be explicit and distinct, step by step, and once finished, they magically disappear and something new will materialize out of nowhere (and yes, or course I’m really looking forward to editing about 200 pages of case studies I wrote for my dissertation as first drafts, so it might get easier for me to develop a strong theoretical framework and some logic in my arguments. I finished the last of 6 case studies in January. I have not looked at one of them yet. Not even at the one I finished in January last year.).Because my mind is always on the go and I got the attention span of a 3-year-old, my life has to happen all around this very obtrusive feature of mine. Of course, this is also the perfect condition for working on a long-time project like a dissertation. But that is another topic. Today it’s about the talk, again. At least as far as I can remember.

So now that I accomplished the basic task – even though it is still too long and I already know some wordings are not appropriate, so I have to work on it at least once more before handing it to my proofreading-fairy – I move on to the next big thing for the big-city-event: what to wear for my big day (like, something comfortable and still suitable, which will be challenging to find in a closet that screams “boho skate chick” since 2003), where to go after the conference, which markets to go to, which sights to see, how to find the hotel and how to afford eating in GB. Also, I’m used to travel light, but I never before traveled for work; so this will be a new sort of ‘travel light’ since I need to bring some basic work stuff with me. Guess who is already freaking out about what she actually has to pack (I’m one of those people who bring half of their bookshelves to presentations, just so “you see what I’m talking about”…), fearing she might forget THE most important paper just so she could ‘keep it light.’

And I still don’t have a new passport.

But did you know that with the last update there are now some new cats in Neko Atsume?

No one is an island….but me!

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They say you should start a new blog by writing something about yourself and the main stuff you want to write about. Don’t ask me who “they” are, but there are plenty of smart people out there who know much more about blogging than I do. So let’s just roll with it for a while.

I read a lot. I don’t watch TV because I don’t have a TV and I’m also bored to death easily by most of the shows and movies a lot of people on average think of as “entertaining”, so I tend to read and surf the internet for hours; also, at times I binge watch some of my favourite shows (though they tend to get cancelled regularly – I really miss Bad Judge!!!!! – so I guess I’m not made for that TV-stuff in general). Furthermore, I write about what I read (you may recognize that in time) because I’m [pretending to be] a PhD-student writing about literature – yeah I know, like I’m the first one ever, but I need the thrill of being overworked and overqualified while at the same time being under-employed (like, literally).

I tend to start DIY projects which take ages to finish due to a) starting too many different projects OR b) realizing that this one project will take waaayyy longer than I initially thought so I can’t bring myself to focus on it. Also, this thesis thing, you know…

I enjoy the privilege of sharing my life with one of the greatest and most loving human beings I’ve ever encountered, wonderguy. And I have a cat.

Apart from that I am a loner. And I guess that’s all there is to say for now.

Did I mention the cat?