Tuesday, 30 June 2015


I love my bed. The sheets smell lightly of detergent and lightly of me, the futon has never made me wake-up with a back ache and although the bed is just a simple Ikea construction it works (for now). After two weeks of sleeping elsewhere, I love my bed even more. It was the greatest relief to come home to it and pass out, finally getting a good night's rest.

The first week was spent at a conference for PhD students on visual methodologies at Aarhus University in Denmark. About 20 students from all over and doing very different PhDs came together to discuss the manner in which we choose to study visuality, and how traditional approaches can be remixed to fit the individual topics. The course was led by three wonderful women whose insight and ways of navigating academia was inspiring and ultimately it was more than I had hoped it would be. When I came to Germany, I expected students from various backgrounds and engaged lecturers wanting to discuss canonical works, as well as debating current trends and developments. It is a course in culture, language and media, but somehow it feels as though we stagnated for 18 months and are all feeling rather over it.

The beach near my AirBnb
The week in Aarhus by contrast was exactly how I had imagined by Masters: people with diverse backgrounds, all with a desire to be there and learn from one another, coming together and exchanging worldviews, knowledge and a few beers. We were assigned specific groups, but could combine our various talents to best research the various tasks we were given (or rather, where we were given a wide framework to choose our own specific task from). It was a learning curve to see how the other students approached the research, how each used different methods and how things that I had considered frivolous and more for my own interest than as academic research could be validated (such as doodling or making subjective notes or simply taking photographs).

Before Flensburg, I thought I had found my way. Academia would be where I wanted to spend my time, where I could learn and teach, where knowledge and interaction and working together would be valued, because that is how the department I was in worked (despite administrative bickerings). But the system at this university and the lecturers' attitude of simply not giving a fuck chipped away slowly at the desire to go into the same field. What if everyone, everywhere was like this? Would I want to spend my time surrounded by people who, outwardly at least, have no passion for their jobs, no wish to talk with the students, no  desire to work with instead of against others. I am being unjust to this city, because it does have its beautiful moments and I do value the time spent, the wonderful apartment and the new friends made. And yet it took a little of an optimism that previously would not yield to mumblings of having to choose differently. Now I hear the whispers, ingest the insecurities, constantly overthink whether I can do this. Whereas I looked forward to whatever happens next, this place made me fear it.

Aarhus gave back a sliver of reassurance since I could see and talk to others who had struggled with the same thoughts. Aarhus also gave me music, a saviour in all cases.

Ginger magic Jack Garratt. 
The Northside festival was part of the field work we did, which is also why I initially signed up: a reason to rationalise the great expense of the festival ticket. Friday's line-up already made it all worth it. I stood front and centre for Jack Garratt, and hot damnnnn was it good. As a British guy behind be said: "Yeh, he's a proper lad". I caught Death Cab singing Soul Meets Body and then got into angst-ridden 20-year-old mode for Incubus. The Danes filled the hills for Mø, a Danish singer who dresses like Sporty Spice and whose songs all sounded the same to me. Our little group headed to a different stage to see FKA Twigs, but for having being rather hyped this past year she just seemed exhausted and ingenuine. She came on stage, had her back to the audience, stood there for a few minutes, then left again to come back dancing sultrily and breathing into her microphone, which was her entire performance. Northside redeemed itself through a great set by Alt-J and then the Wu Tang Clan got everyone to jam. At 1:00 in the morning Grace Jones gave the performance of the evening: I cannot remember having consciously listened to her music, but she was enigmatic. She changed costumes, had her tits out, made jokes with the audience and just seemed like a fantastic person with fascinating skeletons in her closet.
Bruschetta Burger. Fancy. 
Little tarts. Fancy #2. 
Saturday was a rainy and windy day, but it suited the set by Anthony & the Johnsons perfectly as he sang with the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra. Somehow the melancholic music and the sound of the rain falling on everyone's raincoats worked so well together that I could forget the miserable weather, the loneliness felt when not going to a festival with friends, and thinking that I shouldn't miss the bus again because walking home for an hour in the rain would suck.

Sunday I decided that just chilling with the others was enough, so we grabbed some beers, stood in a queue for an hour to get a tshirt printed, saw the marvellous man that is Ben Howard and danced a bit to the final act of the festival: the Black Keys.
'Sup Handome. 

The next two days we used our research to formulate concrete findings and suggestions before presenting these before a panel from the festival and ReThink2017, a group charged with making Aarhus a cultural capital in the coming year.

I travelled back to Flensburg, chucked my dirty clothes on the floor, packed new ones, slept a little and went off on the next adventure.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Wolf at the Door

All these people coming in these doors. They do not see me, yet I see them.
I observe their mannerisms, the unfriendliness and superiority; the ones intent on a quick chat, the ones in a hurry, the ones that know what manual labour means and the ones that don't.

On the weekends an older man comes in with a tiny felt bag that fits two plain bread rolls. He looks like rat-man Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter films when he becomes human again. The top of his head is bald whereas the white whisps of hair around the sides stand out as though he has been electrocuted. He walks slightly hunched over, shuffeling wherever he goes. His face has a gnawing look. All of this I can chalk up to old age and genetics. The thing that freaks me out though are his nails. Long, hard nails that scratch my skin when he hands me the money for the bread. Those nails. The only thing that shifts my facial expression from friendly to freaked are those nails.

Today an older gentleman walked in with his young son. I'd estimate him to be in his mid-50s and his son about 10 years of age. They just wanted to cinnamon rolls, Zimtschnecken with either chocolate or normal icing. Deliciously sweet. As the father handed me the money, his hands were shaking. Shaking constantly. What it means to not be in control of your body, this. Wondering whether he has had a stroke, an illness, or whether the shaking was never not normal to him.

An lady of advanced age comes by daily. She brings her own miniature yellow coffee pot for one. The lid is chipped, the pot stained by daily Danish coffees. We fill it up, and she goes home.

An American woman comes in ever so often. Loud, brash. What you would expect an American to be, stereotypes not being disappointed. She comes in eating sweets and buys more pastries and breads. I like her because I can speak in English but her loudness and her insistence on having a chat at times becomes an obstacle when there is a line and I can see Europeans not understanding why things aren't being done chop chop.

There is a Spanish lady as well, in her early 30s. Her husband sings at the theatre here. I have never been. She speaks in Spanish to me, asking about the day, but then switches to German when she orders.

At times, friends suddenly stand there when I look up. At other times, people I recognise from somewhere, class perhaps, but where I can't put my finger on it. All these people, waves of them, crashing into the heat of the bakery. And I, sweating, in an ill-fitting T-shirt and unwashed hair, I see them all.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Don't Panic

According to the psychologist, the one problem I have is saying 'yes' to things too often.
I kind of associated saying 'yes' to things unexpected with saying 'yes' to possible adventures and thus not be left at the end of my life thinking: sheesh, wish I had done more.
Therefore, when a friend asked if I wanted to join her and her parents on a cruise to Oslo from Kiel, I thought: this could be cool. Oslo! Why not?!

The problem arises when you realise that I am a naive idiot: I thought the point of the cruise was spending time in Oslo, and not spending time on the ship. Why would I want to spend all my time on some enormous vessel where everything is massively expensive and there is nothing really to do? Alas, apparently most people go on cruises for the ship and not for the destination.

Last Monday we drove to Kiel with this nice guy Henrik, a student doing an internship in Leipzig at the BMW plant. Then we met my friend's parents and wandered around Kiel for a bit since we were rather early and the ship wasn't leaving for a couple of  hours. Her parents are cruise-people. They had been on a cruise to Göteborg the previous days and enjoyed talking about the enormity of the vessels; they liked comparing the two ships as they were loaded in the harbour; they kept going on and on about how large the ships were. For cruise-ship people, this is certainly an important aspect of cruising. For non-cruise-ship-people like myself it is worth mentioning once, at most.

We finally boarded and found our way to our cabins, which were spacious enough with two beds and a little bathroom. Then, with a throng of other people, we headed to the upper decks to see the ship leaving the harbour, as in Titanic when everyone is waving at the people down below from an impressive height. Except that it was nothing like in Titanic: everyone crowded around the railing in their all-weather jackets, taking photographs of the firth as the ship propelled itself forward. No one was waving because no one cared whether the big white thing that left and came back daily was leaving. We weren't going to start new lives in a New World or drown in icy waters. Basically, as I gathered later, most people were there for the food.

Then the wind and cold became too much, so I passed out for a little nap as my friend explored the ship with her parents. As part of our deal we had booked the dinner and breakfast-buffet options, which meant that we basically stuffed our faces with way too much food. I think there is something in the illusion of having paid for something and then having to get as much as possible from it. Well, let me assure you, we had our fill.

Baltic Sea.
The Storebæltsbroen, a bridge linking the Danish islands. 
The next morning we finally cruised into Oslo. That, I'll admit, was the coolest part of the journey: slowly entering the harbour with a great panorama of the entire city. It reminded me of how travel must have been decades ago, of how back then there wasn't the same expectation of velocity, of getting somewhere as fast as possible. My own grandfather emigrated from Germany to SA by taking various ships down from Venice and along East Africa to finally reaching Durban.

Propelling into Oslo
We didn't get to see much of Oslo since we only had four hours there. Or rather, 3 hours, as the disembarking and reembarking takes a while. With the parents we caught a tram to Vigeland Park, a park filled with sculptures all made by the same artist. Then we went back into the city to meet Ivan, a friend who by chance had relocated to Norway. He showed us around a bit and we ended up drinking a cappuccino at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art (without going into the museum). Then we headed back to the ship, boarded, again watched as we left the harbour, again ate too much at dinner, and said our goodbyes in Kiel as I went to Berlin and my friend and her parents went back to Flensburg.

Green Oslo. 

Vigelund Park. 

Oslo City Hall, where the Nobel Peace Price ceremony is held. 

Adventuring, a little at least. 

Ivan told us about an essay by David Foster Wallace entitled A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again where Foster Wallace describes his week-long cruise from Florida to the Caribbean. Our trip was a lot shorter and less sunny, but I'd also not do it again. The point of going somewhere is to actually see the place you were going, to spend time exploring the nooks and crannies, and maybe go into a museum or two. I had looked forward to seeing Oslo, and yet there was not enough time. had we stayed a night or two, perhaps I wouldn't be so negatively inclined. Although it was a great bonding experience and lovely spending time with my friend's parents, it really is for other people. I don't even know which kind of people, really. Cruise-ship people, perhaps. People who like going crazy at buffets. People who only buy all-weather clothes. People who buy cigarettes in cartons at the Duty Free store on board. People 70+. People amazed by the size of things.

Not me though. I am not one of those people.

Oh, one bonus of the duty free store on the ship: they had The Chocolate Block wine, one of my favourites. But it cost R300, so I thought: "Rather not". 

Stormy Waters

Last week I went on a cruise from Kiel to Oslo. And forgot my diary in the cabin.
Those pages are a written testament from the moment I left SA, with all the trips, concerts, emotions and thoughts in between recorded in it. I realise full and well it is just paper, it is not the thing of most monetary worth that I could have lost. Yet it matters, because it cannot be replaced. I try to remember what I wrote down. The drawings I did of the covered Muslim ladies at Doha airport with their very fancy footwork. The questioning of whether the winter depression will ever end, whether depression can truly be linked to the darkness outside and is not simply a consequence of not being able to see the wood for the trees. Late night notes on a full moon admired from my bedroom window. Little trips to Copenhagen, Hamburg, Amsterdam. Drawn maps of places where I didn't have internet. Daily anecdotes on the long vacation back home. All these words, lost.

I've had diaries since childhood. In a box at my mother's house a dozen or more are gathering dust. Perhaps each of us has something that saves us, something that makes sense when everything else does not. For the one it may be a form of exercise, for another it may be escaping into WoW or League of Legends or some other alliterated game. It may be a person or a pet or dancing to 'Lotus Flower' when you are alone. Yet (I assume) we all need to flee our minds and our environments at times. And that is what these diaries have provided: a safe space to make sense of things. Not even to make sense so much, rather to release the jumbled mess in my brain onto the neat lines of a page. The written word, the word written in my handwriting, makes the bad and the good better.

My aunt asked me last year why I write. What is the reason to sit down, whether it be in front of a computer or a blank page or a diary or a typewriter or whichever other device you may choose, and to start pouring the words onto paper?

The answer is simple: there is nothing else. It is not about being read by others (although naturally one also wants to be read) or about creating the next great novel or changing the world. This writing is a chance to be selfish, to give all of myself to myself. It is a chance to see how I have changed over the years, how what seemed like mountains at the time could be conquered. It is a testament to the past, stemming from the fear that something might be forgotten. It is writing with my fountain pen when most things are typed these days. It is collecting tiny snippets of concert tickets and everyday conversations. It is knowing that words matter.

Quite fitting: this Scrabble ad. "There's magic in words". Indeed.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

I feel like I'm just treading water

Not Waving but Drowning


Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Do the hard times come to a screeching halt at some point? Do things start making sense and all of a sudden you know, you just know, what it is you are doing?

These are restless nights, man. And not just for me. I am not restless in isolation. All around me there is fear mongering towards a generation so unsure of ourselves that we are deer in the headlights, unable to move in any direction even when we know the fucking 18-wheeler is barreling down the highway at top speed and won't stop to spare us. From all sides come the nagging questions about what our plans are, what we intend on doing with our lives, whilst at the same time being told that there are no jobs, that by the time we retire the retirement fund will be empty, global warming will have killed off all the polar bears, China will take over and disasters upon disasters upon disasters will happen. And this is not even considering the small catastrophes that happen at 4 PM on an ordinary Wednesday, the ones where the unthinkable occurs to the ones we love. 

So I am in a constant state of panic about not being able to manage it all, about unsuccessfully multitasking, about where to come 2016. For now there is a plan, for the next 6 months there are barely hours left to breathe. But come 2016, the Fates are reinventing my wheel for what feels like the umpteenth time. 

Logic and experience tell me it will be ok. Everything will be ok. You can't plan this, you have to leave some things in the hands of whatever comes next. Logic and experience tell me I can handle all of it. But still. At times I wish I was made of lesser stuff, that I needed someone besides myself to tell me it will all be ok, that I could remain in one place for the sake of one person, that life within boundaries would be my choice. Instead, an anxiety about wanting more than walls and 9-to-5s and a daily dullness challenges the fear I have of being much too far out all my life and not waving but drowning.