… how is it possible to miss someone you’ve never spent time with?
As I began to feel I began to swim through life. Reality was no longer a spectacle of observation, but a feat of sensation; no longer made up of air, but the fluid which binds all existence – past, present and future, faraway and immediately close – into the mesh constituting each moment’s experience. I sense, therefore I am. I take my body with me as I permit it to inform me of concepts thinking alone could never conjure.
The current age of exalted analytical reason had clouded my corporal intelligence for too long. It is no wonder we suffer from mental illness if all we inhabit, if all we are taught is worthy of inhabiting, is the realm of the mind. It is but an imbalance, a healthy part of a rounded whole turned sour in receiving undivided focus at the expense of other organs of sense. To reflect is a great gift, but our ability to feel must consciously envelop our capacity for analytical evaluation should we seek wisdom in a state where we do not abuse one another, or the greater ecological whole we are a part of.
Inhabiting our bodies carries a knowledge whose value is not undermined because it is ineffable; it merely exists in a realm that language, our analytical mind’s primary tool, cannot access. To dismiss its existence based on this failure of representation is foolish; and to access it begs dedicated practice with tools which can. The body is where I begin and as my practice deepens, I peek within my tissues to discover a sensory organ, ubiquitous and intuitive, which processes information much the way my brain does – by receiving endless stimuli and unconsciously transforming them into guidance for my being, as I swim and sway and dance lightly between past, present and future, feeling.
This excerpt is inspired by my readings of Susanne K. Langer’s work on the symbology of music, as well as a love for rhythmic, embodied and undulating movement.
Hello there, whoever you might be,
I am writing these words at a time when the world has arrived at a point of reckoning, where life feels as though it has been disrupted and many hang on the expectation of a return to normality. Worry, uncertainty and grief are some of the emotions that have reached me, mirroring what I believe is the understanding that a return to what we used to call ‘normal’ may never occur.
Before you dismiss this as fatalistic, I want to share the reason I am priming my body and mind to accept this possibility. I think we all knew, on some level, that the hyperactive organism, our society, was stressed, inflamed and at war with itself. The heat, the speed, the flux of events and information were overwhelming us as we consciously sped towards our own annihilation. I dare then ask – was that normal preferable to what we might conceive past our current inflection point?
I must admit I have embraced these times as an invitation for the transformation I and our entire world needed. Far from idealism about a perfect future of peace and prosperity, I find refuge in the understanding that crises will forever invite change. And I believe change was (and still is) a’ comin’. What shall we manifest from it? That truly is down to us, to each individual’s response and willingness to reimagine our future. Make no mistake – the image each one of us holds in our minds is a thread in the tapestry our collective intelligence ends up weaving into what we refer to as our ‘objective, occurring reality.’
Even if it may feel like this period of viral segregation offers nothing but a darkening, I invite you to consider that it is the balance of life which ensures that after a darkening comes the light. Patience is all that separates these two mutually-affirming surfaces, and the light that shall follow is but an aggregate of our individual sparks.
I plead that you take the time to consider what your spark harbours and to accept all that arises with equanimity and a readiness to support those who may struggle more than you. As a collective, we shall survive this threat, which though painful is most likely gruesome on a different scale in the parallel reality where it is not Corona, but a cousin of the Black Death which is eliminating a whole portion of our species. I am not attempting to trivialise our current state, but merely to aid digestion through perspective on the fact things can always be much, much worse. Holding each other in our mind’s eye and acting with strength, vigilance, compassion and a curiosity for the brighter future is fully within our capability. With urgency, I ask you to embrace this capacity and act out the present and future we are currently constructing with all the care and love you are capable of.
I am keenly writing on topics of interconnectivity, slowness, depth, acceptance, purpose and clarity, hoping to offer a structured account of these thoughts one day. In the meantime, I am always here to exchange notes and thoughts if this might help you in any way with the challenges, fears or grief you might be experiencing.
We remain connected, even at a distance, and our ability to embrace the signals of our reality gracefully and with as little opposition as possible is where peace and resilience lie. Dancing and shaping this reality with the boundless powers of our imagination is what shall keep our heads above the water.
On Saturday morning I woke up quite early and decided to spend some time in the sunshine. I made myself a cup of tea and took it out with me in the bamboo cup I normally use for takeaway coffee. Similarly to the day prior, it felt like spring outside – by 10:30 am the sun had already warmed the air and the light breeze that accompanied the quiet morning was fresh, though not chilly.
I set off towards Admiralsbrücke, wanting to loop over the bridge before heading down the canal in the direction of Neukölln. As I strolled slowly, I realised how rarely I get to enjoy this beautiful part of the day – the air is warm yet crisp and the restfully vibrant sense of a new day envelops everything. Filled with breath, I reached the bridge to find a very old lady selling newspapers at its southern tip. Life in Bulgaria has taught me how commonplace it can be for such activity to arise of desperate necessity, and seeing poverty afflict the elderly, particularly elderly women, always spurs a pressing desire to help.
I picked out the latest Die Zeit, which the lady folded for me with utmost care as she wiggled and played with her dentures, revealing a completely bare upper gum. I was happy to relieve the look of despair on her face at the €50 note I initially produced by collecting the necessary €5.50 in coins. I passed the metal money to her as we both took care to not brush each other’s skin. I couldn’t help but smile at the gentle simplicity of this exchange. Not only could I not remember when, if ever, I last bought a newspaper, but the entire interaction on this famous Berlin bridge felt like a surreal glimpse into a time past slowly yet decisively resurrecting into the present. The quiet morning, the lack of people on the street and the unusual vendor all felt like they do not belong to the reality of a 21st century metropolis, and yet are making a stance for the transformed world that might emerge after the pandemic. As I walked away smiling, neatly-folded newspaper under one arm and a bamboo cup full of hot Sideritis tea in the other, I noticed another woman approach the elderly newspaper vendor for her very own read of choice.
All of this filled me with joy. It felt like a sign pointing brightly to the immeasurable beauty of the simplicity that lies so close to each and every one of us. It felt like an affirmation to the idea that infinite detail lies in the most mundane and that we do not need to cross seas or own the world to find happiness in its appreciation. The beauty of a morning, whether in Berlin, Sofia or Mumbai, is gorgeous as it is. It is not its novelty that makes it so, neither the fact it is larger, faster or stronger in any one of these places. Rather, it is its natural state of morningness, in whichever form if may appear, that breathes life into the beholder. It took the slowness and sparseness imposed by a virus, alongside the grin of an elderly lady with no teeth receiving €5.50 from me, to make me feel, in my whole being, that all is complete without needing to strive for it to be so.
After he died I could never trust the void because in her depths lay the ripping pain and loss that would always overpower me. So, I held on tight, never permitting myself to let go lest I fall into her.
Now, I discover that grief is not all that lives in her murky misty depths. Serendipity, magic or coincidence, call it what you will – all of it resides within her. And as you release to her she blossoms and weaves within you.
She offers surprises enveloped in clarity, awarding the patience that always eluded me. Feeling her is knowing myself and releasing to the path that can finally take me.
‘Once, I had great sadness
buried deep inside.
I invited it to come out and play.
I wept oceans. My tear ducts ran dry.
And I found joy right there.
Right at the core of my sorrow.
It was heartbreak that taught me how to love.’
~ excerpt from Jeff Foster’s How I Became a Warrior, brought into my life by newly-found healer, teacher, shaman Liina Tael
Over the course of the past year realisations of life-altering proportions have shifted my self-perception and behaviour alike. Whether as a result of being blind to the painfully evident or deluded about the purpose I find, simple adjustments to my own definition of who I dare to be have unleashed torrents of release and the strength that stems therefrom. I have finally come to accept the artist within me and to award actionable agency to the poetry and prose I never took seriously enough. The conclusions that drove this shift in personal identification dawned on me through multiple dimensions, which I would like to share with you today.
The first conduit for such enthralling reflection lies in my current abode. In the base of the artists I am not only surrounded by opportunities to internalise varied forms of self-expression, but also find myself in the presence of individuals who have naturally adopted their creative personna as their main me. They do not, like myself, split their world between what must be done and what their internal fluctuation produces; they are and dare to be that which the rest may forsake for the vague fear of being labeled as having their heads in the clouds.
I suppose it is the variety of activities my roomies engage in that emboldened me to summon the courage I need. From Toms’ sax through Rebeka and Christian’s paintings to Charly’s audio / visual endeavors, what’s missing in this idyllic picture is a writer. But I digress – what I intended to share is that this range of creative bustle inspired me to look beyond the unimpactful formalism of academia and accept the affect of art. It drove me to perceive how the poet within me thrives in hyperbole, linguistic exaggeration and potent imagery. It lead me to understand that the output that flows most readily from me shall not be destined as a cash cow, but rather as expression through the medium of writing free in its purpose of merely existing. I now dare to liberate my creative process from the shackles of a daily occupation and render it unambiguously committed to artistic output. ‘Tis to live a cliché – I stayed in Berlin, ran away to live with the artists and in the process discovered the creative self. Perhaps the angst of the last 15 years and that unmistakable internal pressure which finds no valve can finally spill into this realisation, filling it with truth and prowess by sheer magnitude and force.
The second conduit relevant to this exploration is the space I have discovered in my solitude. I have read and read and read and have at last conceived that before one can dare to call themselves a writer, they must be a reader first and foremost. Through my literary explorations I was guided to develop the habit of journal keeping (thank you, Georgi Gospodinov) and of pragmatically ingesting formats that I may one day dream to call my own. All of this is exciting to a point of motivation far greater than the one encountered in a lacklustre attempt to make my master thesis publishable. More importantly, my newly-found habituality may represent a dim signal for the validity of my tweaked self-perception.
As a final observation I will briefly address Virginia Woolf’s conceptualisation of the artist that one encounters in a A Room of One’s Own. In her work, Woolf raises the hypothetical scenario of the existence of Shakespeare’s equally gifted sister who, like him, is drawn to theatre by her immeasurable talent. The outright mockery she encounters as a woman attempting to enter the art drives her to suicide as the unexpressed internal turmoil slowly pushes genius to insanity. Woolf appears to implicitly equate the artist to a human of grand emotional capacity which, if left inarticulate, engulfs the mind in a suffering that degenerates into surrender or abandon. In the early days of emotional exploration, I often permitted the tides of sorrow and confusion associated with my father’s passing to spill into my earliest poetry, a gate that sealed shut as teenagehood taught me the concepts of shame and capitalistic ambition. Now, over a decade down the line, I stand where I did so many years ago, observing how a room of my own and the small desk and solitude that go along with it have returned me to that same expression that not only keeps me sane, but also heals practices that bring nothing but ruin.
I must thank you, Charly, Rebeka, Christian and Toms (and might I mention Rory and Kate here, too), for illuminating the seriousness of art at its core, and for being stronger in your conviction than I ever dared to be. I continue to grow as the artist within me is finally free to write what the mind chooses to write.
Everything, everything runs too fast for common conceptions of memory to dice out what significance momentary decisions bear. One’s dialogue runs faster than the hand can keep up and the medium becomes restrictive. The mind is alive in a way that neither memory or process can reward, and thus must exist in a realm guided by principles other than the plainly physical. Art is the tool that unites the two, transforming the metaphysical impressions generated by the fluid, rapid mind into the concreteness of expression. It is, in essence, a practice permitting the self to sift unlimited outpour into focused statement, with decision and compromise guiding the flow. For long I have known that patience and peace are virtues I must yet construct; and it is in connecting the dichotomy of source and result, at that very intersection of the physical and metaphysical, that my practice must lie.
Underpinning such standpoints is an understanding that views the mind as both actor and receiver: as much a vessel consuming external stimuli as a beacon projecting and shaping the subjective reality of each being’s existence. Passivity in reception is not for me, thanks. I choose to believe I am not helpless in shaping my world, and that the effort that transforms the metaphysical source into concrete result via the creative process reflects a fundamental capacity of our conscious being to shape the nature of reality, even if only at the margin.
It brings both bewilderment and relief to discover, through the beautiful solitude which arises in the company of books, that once upon a time there worked a verbal soul that so closely mimics one’s own contemplations. A poet and writer who too failed to honor the tried and tested; who lived in hope of escaping the monotone and in his escape discovered the unlimited capacity we largely fail to engage:
That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us; to have courage for the most strange the most singular, and the most inexplicable that we may encounter … But fear of the inexplicable has not alone impoverished the existence of the individual; the relationship between one human being and another has also been cramped by it, as though it had been lifted out of the riverbed of endless possibilities and set down in a fallow spot on the bank, to which nothing happens. For it is not inertia alone that is responsible for human relationships repeating themselves from case to case, indescribably monotonous and unrenewed; it is shyness before any sort of new, unforeseeable experience with which one does not think oneself able to cope.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Fear of the Inexplicable, reading in April 2019
What for Rilke is the riverbed of endless possibilities for me is the symbol of continuity in repetition of the tried and tested:
Those are the rivulets of thought that slowly (at geological pace, perhaps) creep into the surfaces of the internal vacuum, popping out like veins in harsh exertion. Tiny, precarious gorges of unexpected thought, of the realisation that life is so much more than a tried and tested progression. From the monolithic riverbed I see the intricate network illuminate in each direction with its countless feeble paths, those ideas and aspirations conceived but unattempted.
~ myself, May 2018
Where he sees the monotone as a static wallow along the bank, I see it in motion along the uniform canyon that tradition and custom have forged into the collective consciousness; for life and time move forward even if guided along constant parameters. Where Rilke sees the riverbed as the source of possibility, for me this arrives further downstream where the surges and currents have calmed to a delta of countless interconnected rivulets that one may choose to navigate. Choosing to do so carries with it the fear of a dead end, of the unknown conclusion that may well see you trapped in shallow sand. And yet, it is only in this uncertainty that I find solace; in the indication that one may choose truth or trap, and that the choice itself embodies all that makes life more than just coincidence or replicated recurrence.
To fear not life’s unpredictabilities;
To embrace and release into its unknown;
To comprehend that all is us and we are all
And that our own solitary mind is what spawns and curbs the bloody wounds
We so readily attribute to the hands of others.
I plead that you should not read this as a conceitful attempt to equate myself in any way to the genius of Rilke. Rather, I intend to observe the lover I have found in him; one who pours into the chalice of my creativity; who mirrors my contemplations and understandings a century in the past and who shines a light on the universality of my concerns; evading time and space and echoing back through that unlimited capacity which will forever guard the humanity in us.
… that I dwell more comfortably in sorrow than I do in joy.
Happiness and positivity, those habitual mantras, are void and null without the presence of profound sorrow; it is this exquisite state that constitutes the sole reference against which joy may bounce. The way death defines life and life defines death too is part of this self-validating dance of the binary, with either outcome inextricably linked to the other’s existence.
My conscious life began with suffering. Long before infinity and mortality should have been concepts for a young mind to contemplate, my gentleness was plunged into that vacuum where tears and sleep were all that rendered emotion effectual, or bearable. I embraced the unembraceable and settled in the place where my suffering could equate to love; the place where it could fill the chasm of all the things I would have said and done with a sadness so pure it revealed to me the inherently spiritual genesis of human emotion. And so I stayed there, for a while.
Such sorrow is companion for life (I will die with it by my side), even as the episodes of complete surrender begin to abate. Once less than incessant, spiritual suffering slowly gives way to nothingness; to a flatness where down and hence up and vice versa are no longer upheld. There stands the barren wasteland of no binaries and no existence – a void where mental exertion remains the only thing that makes you human. The terrifying feeling of neither 1 or 0, yes or no and the sense that this may never change. There I stood, trapped where no emotion is present so as to manifest its opposite.
The ones who persevere shall eventually overcome the emptiness and return to those pairs locked in perpetual self-definition. Having made it through the hollow abyss I remain forever conscious that the joy I feel is borne out of my intimate companion, my sorrow; and that whilst I may have mastered the exquisite pain, in happiness I am but a fledgling. All which I feel, which may appear exaggerated or ‘uncool’ (to degrade the language to the exhausted level of millennial expression) springs from the terrifying nothingness I carried for so long. No longer empty, I shall not for a second regret that I spoke passionately of how I care for or admire you, as anything is better than naught; and I shall never shy away from that profound sadness, for joy can spring from nothing else.
… shine through the aesthetic of its entertainment.
Who are we and where are we headed?
Earlier this week I knowingly purchased a product containing palm oil for the first time in years. It was a box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates, a kind that my mother used to buy for me and my sister as young children growing up in a foreign country. I felt a craving for the sense of comfort and familiarity the taste would bring, indulging in gustatory nostalgia despite my full knowledge of the role palm oil production plays in plunging us deeper into the environmental abyss.
Later that night, I dreamt of a baby orangutan. The anthropomorphic intelligence of the animal shook me deeply, unnerved as I was at the air of comprehension and sadness I saw in its eyes. A sadness whose source was revealed to me but a moment later as the ensuing scene depicted the destruction of native forests propelled by the ‘cost-cutting’ force of palm oil and its use in almost any supermarket-bought confectionary. In what could have easily ended up on the pile of dreams I will never remember, my subconscious awareness retaliated against my conscious profligacy, a duality that encapsulates the angst of my generation – a generation crushed between instant access to gratification and the deepening sense of impending doom that new reports continue to deliver.
A generation that thinks twice about childbearing as we imagine the reality our offspring will face.
A generation in the midst of an identity crisis, where a subtle understanding of our responsibility to act clashes with the paralysing scale and complexity of the existential threats we collectively face.
A generation whose subconscious perceives the imminent disruption in food supplies, the unprecedented migratory flows and the violent conflict that shall ensue as those in possession of what is scarce defend it from the desperate.
A generation in the midst of a technological revolution, hoping with minimal conviction that it shall automatically deliver us from the void.
A generation of dubious financial means disheartened by late capitalism’s recent failures.
A generation that sees meritocracy as little more than a pretentious artifact of the historical imagination.
A generation which knows more and understands less than any previous one.
A generation that sees intellectualism and expertise scorned as the politics of sensationalism feed a myopic short-terminism.
A generation of exuberance and preoccupation with ‘seizing the moment’, afflicted by the numbing weight of epidemic depression.
Who am I?
I am a young female living in Berlin.
I dedicate considerable time to securing my material sustenance.
I escape the triviality of my day-to-day through art and conversation. Galleries, clubs and bars, along with the ample entertainment space offered by my flat’s spacious living room, are places where I engage with myself and others on those topics that tickle the intellectual fancy. Surrounded by liberal and artistic people of various walks of life, I am inclined to believe that I roam the traditional breeding grounds of revolutionaries and visionaries; of people who live passion, breathe calling and fear not the criticism of having their naive heads in the clouds; of people who think and feel and exude their essence into the world through artistic output and activism.
Berlin is a beautiful place to meet such people. Dreamers who cannot afford any other European metropolis or ones escaping political disaster in their own countries are drawn to the broken history, the accessible culture and romantic self-abandon (self-destructiveness, perhaps?) so deeply engrained in the city’s image. Young, poor, sexy, all mixing and mingling in the city’s throbbing, distributed vessel: the electronic music scene and its countless dark abodes, big and small.
What about the scene?
Electronic music dominates the clubs, fueling the city’s largest offline platform for meeting strangers and spending one’s time in a blatantly unproductive manner, for hours or days depending on stamina and budget. A dynamic force and living advertisement that draws thousands (hundreds of thousands, perhaps?) and which constitutes a phenomenon of entertainment that has gone truly global. All the cool kids are doing it and the aesthetic it brags carries deeply engrained truths about our generation’s internal state.
We enter the darkness and become one. We flaunt our individuality and sexuality in extravagant fashion, piercings, tattoos. We dispel our fears through self-prescribed anaesthetic, releasing into the numbing wrap of Ketamine and the loving acceptance of MDMA as we speed through another night that shall produce sparse memories and new friends. ‘Why not?’ we ask as we seek to banish the cognitive burden of the seemingly insurmountable challenges we collectively face. We return to tribalism, aiming to lock our minds into the present, individuals in a larger organism of others who share our skepticism of what tomorrow holds. Visionaries and activists fighting the battle of instant gratification, pushing for equality and freedom on the hyper-localised level of the dance floor. The short-term is king and ‘in the long run we are all dead’ never carried more meaning.
Arguably, this new entertainment is little but the manifestation of a sense of helplessness shared by those who ought to be working towards utopia, but instead surrender to the hypnotism of the repetitive bass-line. Though the concept of the dance club has existed for several decades, gone are the days of happy-go-lucky disco where the world is love and boogying all night carries no sense of trepidation. Today, we stand at the crossroads of dance and atonality, a development in music appearing at the beginning of the previous century. This new form of composition, arising as a strain of the expressionist revolution, took grip in an ‘Old’ continent on the brink of modernity and a world on the brink of destruction at unprecedented scale; a world about to experience the birth of a binary rivalry in political structure that would shape the entire century to come and one which could sense that something was amiss.
In the words of Théo Lessour (in Berlin Sampler, pg. 13)
In atonal music, ‘gone is the reassuring predictability of melodic modes and motifs, leaving instead a pointed reminder of uncertainty and the fundamentally incoherent nature of things.
The natural bonds of harmony being replaced with an arbitrary feeling of chaos and desolation … simple mathematical coordinates afloat in a spiritually empty vacuum;
Atonality’s recent comeback may prove to be a permanent one. Aside from impending environmental cataclysm, our generation’s sense of emotional paralysis, uncertainty and incoherency are further accentuated by the fact that, unlike people at the start of the previous century, our historical memory already carries extreme frames of reference for what excesses violence can claim. ‘There until the bitter end’ is a frequent verbalisation of the party’s ending. Or are we still talking about partying?
There is no moral to this story. Rather, it is a piece of social commentary ambitiously aiming to deconstruct the psychology reflected in the aesthetic of Berlin’s entertainment. We find ourselves at a cultural frontier that reverberates through the entire world, carrying with it a truth about an entire generation’s internal state. I know that you know that we all know, and yes, our premonition is correct. Let’s dance fearlessly, together as individuals, until the music stops.
Do not be afraid.