Eleven rainbows: Melbourne in Winter 2017

This is a diary of my time in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, containing musings, thoughts, notes written down in June and July 2017. Edited in August 2017 and February 2018. The number of rainbows is true and something else; everything else is as true as you need it to be. 


Day 1

A bird on a daring flight crashes from the sky, down, down, down, approaching us, this crowd waiting at these traffic lights by the library. Only right before hitting the ground right in front of us, in this very last fraction of a second, it comes to a halt, seems to pause in the air, before it rises back into the sky again. I’m in awe, I almost want to applaud the performance (even though I despise birds). I look around me to find out if anyone else has seen what I just saw there. Only one man and me noticed. His and my eyes meet and lock eye contact for a second. We both nod, knowingly, turn our heads and go our ways.

This is how it begins.

I’m overcaffeinated and underloved and most of my misery stems from distances and men. (This might as well become the title of my autobiography one day.) It’s been six and a half months since my last visit and I’ve been counting. Now, I’m back here to find out what has changed since, but much more interested in what hasn’t.

I’m so tired. Just so, so tired all the time. I stay in bed as long as I can, refusing to open the heavy brown curtains that block the overcast sky from my sight. I spend the mornings, the evenings and late nights working, because time zones are not my friend these days, and everyone I work with is so far away. In between, I face fundamental questions about the work I do, where I do it, and why. A friend talks me through a Visa processes for Australia and I’m tired.

Does Superman take superpower naps?

My dreams are mostly nightmares these days. Meanwhile, I learn that Berlin is having a few summery days, with temperatures around 35°C. Much later, I will learn that this time already came to a close after four days, and this was all of summer that Berlin got that year. And much, much later I will find out that this will be my year without a summer.

I’m so tired, and so cold. It’s cold, everywhere and always. When I’m outside, I hear the people here talk about winter like it meant something. Sometimes, when we’re out together, you’d spot dogs in the streets for me; the bouncy dogs look so happy when they’re walking. Walking by myself, I’m too tired to try. As I stroll past the library and cross paths with a seagull (we ignore each other; until today, it’s unclear whether it was polite or passive-aggressive ignorance), I watch a group of 50 blue suits collectively cross the street on the other side. All suits are the same shade of dark blue. It’s so close to #06224f. Right next to me, someone holds a phone to their ear, listening with eyes closed; they open their eyes and look straight ahead saying: “Take everything, nothing matters to me.”

A child smiles at me. I think about what matters and still wait for the traffic lights. Jaywalking is practiced on a regular basis here, even during traffic as heavy as this one right now, so it is very surprising that so many people have gathered here and stayed for so long that it allows for a glimpse into their lives, or this version of their lives that’s right here, waiting as much as I am, or even more.

I find an “I heart NYC” sticker on a lamppost. I do heart NYC as well, and I’d love to go back. It’s funny how, no matter where we are, we dream of being somewhere else. Maybe it’s this casual unfulfilled thought of escapism, the inner sticker on a lamppost, that keeps us from running wild right where we are. It’s not always the light that makes a city special; sometimes it’s only the façades that create reflections.


Day 4

The weather is bad, but at least it’s authentic. These are days for velvety coffee and dreams of the sun. I admire the dip section in the supermarket and am very happy about the opportunity to finally try French Onion dip. As I tell someone about it (very proudly), they break into laughter and tell me that this has been absolutely out since the 90s, and I tell them that it’s still absolutely en vogue in my life.

In front of the museum, there’s a white van parked close to a wall, doors slid open. There’s only one woman inside of it. She sits in the middle of three rows of passenger seats, close to the door, her chin leaning on her arms that are resting on the headrest of the seat in front of her. She looks out into a distance that’s not there.

In the first exhibition, I see: a baby donkey; a dolphin; a woman dressed in a long red skirt, forming a bridge with her body; a baby’s and a grown-up’s feet; a collection of circles and paper balls; the question of all questions. As I walk out, they’re playing my favourite Elton John song.

In the second exhibition, I see colourful paintings of unspeakable things, pieces of leather and branches, sculptures of ghosts throwing shade, and so much art that was shaped by violence, racism, abuse, and colonialism.

On my way out of the museum, a museum guard named George tells me stories of Aschaffenburg and Fiji. When I’m back on my way in the rain, it takes me a while to wrap my head around the beauty of this encounter. I cross a bridge, turn around, the sun comes out, I take a photo of the dramatic clouds and it’s only on my tiny camera display that I notice the huge, half-faded rainbow. Seconds later, it fades. Leaning on the bridge railing, I keep staring in this general direction, waiting for the rainbow to come back.

It never will.

The crows are flying towards the sunset, into a sky full of dark grey clouds set against a bright yellow and blue backdrop. I watch the sunset and I care more about the way it’s reflected in the building next door. At night, I watch other people do Karaoke. I love Karaoke, I even maintain a list of songs I’d sing during Karaoke, and I always want to sing during Karaoke (kind of). But I never do: all of the songs I enjoy singing will kill the last sign of good mood in a party crowd. So I only watch and listen. With every new 90s song that’s on, I actually listen to the lyrics for the first time in my life, and this way, with every new 90s song that’s on, another childhood memory of mine gets destroyed forever. Here’s one advantage to growing up listening to pop music while not speaking English.


Day 8

On my way out of the city, I stand under a sign saying “Hail tram here”, and I look up what “hail” means, just to be sure. And as the tram approaches, for the first time in my life, a I hail a tram. The tram stops and I get on. Inside the tram, there’s an old man carrying a lion balloon.

As I get off the tram, a child gets on the first step leading up into the tram, stops on the first step, looks back over their shoulders, says “bye bye park!” at the park behind them as if it were the best and most exciting thing in the world. And it probably is.

A palm leaf strokes my hair. I meet a woman with an incredibly fluffy dog and she tells me the dog’s name is Ewok. There’s an amusement park with a rollercoaster and a ferris wheel and I wonder why I know the word ferris wheel. I think about what the loneliness of riding a ferris wheel by oneself feels like. The palm leaves keep sizzling in the wind. It might as well be spring. It might as well be good.

There’s an ice skating area under palm trees and a sign that says LOVE right next to a fortune teller’s tent. The palm trees are wearing fairy lights, and it might as well be spring. And then I stand on the green area between two roads and for the first time in my life, I see two wild, light pink parrots sit in the grass just a few steps away from me. I keep walking down the road, and then there’s the sea, that’s so calm and quiet today under this overly shiny sky. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to walk down a beach without looking for shells and stones. I sit down on the beach and look straight ahead, narrowing my eyes because the sunlight is so sunny and light, and then I drop there, into the sand, right where I stand, in my winter coat and sweater, my boots, my tiredness, and my emotional exhaustion, and I just stay right were I am and look straight ahead. A container ship lingers on the horizon at ten o’clock. And oh, the waves.

On a tram back into the city, I sit by the window. A drunk man squeezes himself on the seat next to me, then onto me, and blows his drunk breath into my face. I say excuse me, get up and head over to a different seat on the other side of the carriage, a seat that allows me to keep an eye on him. As I sit down, I think about apologies.

I see a man sitting on a wall hug a backpack and lightly rock it as if it were the most wonderful, precious thing in the world. As the tram keeps moving, I see a tiny dog stick its head out of the backpack, and I finally understand. Someone on the tram keeps saying “last stop” over and over. We’re still very far away from the last stop of this tram, but maybe it means something different for them. Also on this tram: a woman looking at food photos on Facebook; a man making a phone call and taking a photo of a photo on his second phone. Outside: an advertisement to “earn your black belt in 18 months”; a mattress shelter under a bridge. I love trams for their ability to gently drive us past each other’s lives, while giving us this smooth transition between where we were and where we want to go.

I get off the train and suddenly find myself whistling along to a Vengaboys song that’s playing in a store I walk past. I meet a dog again that I last saw six months ago. His name is Doc. I take a picture of your window as the sun is hitting it.

My fingertips keep tracing the shape of a snail shell in my pocket. I walk past a drawing saying “Colour the dream”.


Day 13

Standing at a bus stop at a major crossroads, trucks blasting past me, I think about my life choices. But then I’m on a bus out of the city and as we drive past houses, trees, houses, I keep wondering where the city actually ends. The grass is glowing in the milky light of this day and I can sense, hear, feel your affection when we’re close; it’s so hard when we’re apart. I walk past a garden center, their slogan: Our reputation is growing.

A child walks out of an enclosed part of the park asking their parents: “why are there no snakes?” One parent responds, “because it’s too cold.” The child responds, a disapproving look on their face: “but I’m bored!”

I wonder about the plastic that’s wrapped around the trees and it’s only days later that I learn it has to do with possums. Someone walks past me looking at their phone, which has the picture of another person as a home screen. I always enjoy seeing this: it must mean this person has someone in their life who means that much to them.

There’s a girl throwing red leaves into the air; a giant walnut sculpture; a bush with leaves that smell very familiar, but I don’t know the origin of the familiarity; a child looking at a sculpture, wearing a jacket with golden dots; frames with yarn woven through them into beautiful shapes;

I’m drawn to a tree carrying tiny orange fruit and white blossoms. I pick up one of the fruit from the ground and hold it in my hands. I want to know what it is, and I want to eat it, but I don’t dare. The more I see of all this, the more I want to show you what my life was like many, many years ago.

On the other side of the park, I find a giant apple tree. I stand under it and smell the sweetness of the overripe fruit. I close my eyes and dream of falling asleep and three weeks later, I would wake up again and I would be in a different life. Time goes by much more slowly when I’m alone.

Someone writes me that they’re living vicariously through me, which is funny because, while this is so exceptional, I’m trying so very hard to find a sense of normality in all of this. And most times, I fail horribly. I fail myself, and I fail us.

It’s late and dark as I head out to go home. Out the door, right, down, half-left to open the door, left, right, down the road. I’m incredibly sad. On the next corner, the keyboarder that always plays here has set up shop again. As I approach, I hear some chords. A group of people is standing around them, all filming on phones that they’re holding up like trophies. I get closer and as I hear the first sweet bites of a melody, the rest of my gut drops right to the spot where it hurts so much, and I want to break down and cry. I keep walking, past the shops that are now closed for once but are still blasting music onto the streets, through groups of people chatting, and even as I’m way further down the street, I still hear the keyboarder play.

It’s a night for a half moon, lying on its back.


Day 17

The coffee place is still at the same place where it was back then. I enter, the brick walls are still white, the sign in the back corner is still there, I walk up to the counter, and there’s someone I know. They look up, look at me, with something in their eyes that says they recognise me. Just a little later, it turns out that it’s T., someone I met six months ago three times for very brief interactions over coffee, – they still know my name, they still remember my story; and I remember theirs. It’s so funny how sometimes people just see us, and we see them.

I walk up towards the market. There’s a parking space on the left hand side of it. The last time I was at this parking lot was last summer, the same time I met T., when it was more than 35°C hot and I sat out there in one of the few bits of shade, leaning against a red brick wall, sending WhatsApp messages back and forth, waiting for someone to go to sleep and a phone call between a Wednesday and a Tuesday on the other fucking side of the world, sixteen hours difference, finally picking up the phone and staying there for four and a half hours, only moving to follow the shade, curling up as much as I could, making myself invisible to everyone passing by. The connection kept dropping, and on the other side of the line, there was someone very far away, much too far away, and I tried to hold it all together. I couldn’t, and we ended up crying together. A day later, I was on stage to give a conference talk. Life is a funny thing, but many times, just a fucking sad thing.

A man rides past the coffee shop on a BMX bike, with a transparent glitter balloon attached to it. Somewhere in the room, hanging from the ceiling, is the question how you want to be remembered.


Day 22

There’s construction work happening outside of my building. A construction worker wearing a hard hat (I still am amazed by the beauty of the term “hard hat”) stops traffic so I can cross the road. The sign in his hand says “drive slow” on one side, and “stop” on the other side. I’d love to have this sign. (And a hard hat.)

I watch a dog run away, pet a cat, and have my portrait taken and eggs and conversations about bureaucracy. Meanwhile, there’s an outrage on the internet about something that I’ve never even heard of. In a very small tree, a very large bird is trying to sit comfortably. A young woman asks me to help her navigate. She seems nervous and insecure, she tells me that she’s from a small city on the other side of the country (which also means the other side of the fucking continent), and that it’s her first time here. I try to calm her down and we figure out directions together. I watch her walk away with her suitcase. She reminds me of myself, a long time ago.

A woman with a guitar standing at a corner singing very sad songs makes me very melancholic. (I have a soft spot for women singing sad songs.)

At a feminist theater play, one of the parts contains a fantastic bit about proposals, which contains the punchline “Let’s blow up the local Woolie’s together”, which I will heavily re-use in the weeks to follow. ”I am not sorry about the watermelon.” – ”It looked like wastelands where we thought we were building mountains.” I go back home feeling like I could achieve anything. On the way home, I stop for a bit to look over Yarra river at night and realise that I don’t care about the city if you’re not in it. A busker has a sign saying “Rock’n’Roll ain’t noise pollution”. I fall asleep over the idea of a beach.


Day 27

I have a theory of a secret net of book stores world wide which are connected through a door hidden behind the poetry section. (The theory may or may not be connected to my love of books, my admiration for good poetry, and my deep hatred towards distance.) There are at least three versions of every one of my stories, and sometimes that’s eating me from the inside.

I cross a wild road like I knew what I was doing, and I think that’s actually true. I take a walk back to where we began, and I wish I could go back there in time. I’m really starting to know my way around here. I realise that it’s because home is where you are, I can’t help but see this place as home.

Everywhere I go, I ask myself could I imagine? Could I imagine living here? At the same time, I don’t know what home is anymore. The birds are singing songs I don’t know.

For years, I’ve now been thinking in English. And I’m starting to lose vocabulary in my native language, this language that I’ve nourished and broadened and deepened with so much care and dedication. At the same time, I’m lacking words, so many words in this language that’s dominating my mind. And it’s frustrating me. I don’t have names for the things around me anymore. I only resort to categories: palm tree; christmas tree; tree; thing. Flower. Bird. I am back to painting my language with very broad brush strokes. I miss the ability to have accurate words at hand when I need them, where I need them. Instead, I have to search, look all over the place, sift through drawers in my head to find them (and, more often than not, I fail). All of a sudden, as I feel it fading, I feel much more connected to my native language and my home than I’ve felt in more than a decade.

Everything in my brain needs to be adjusted. Everything is like what I’m used to, but it’s still not the same. Everything is similar, but still off by about three to twenty-eight point seven percent. It is like when you’ve just woken up and everything looks a bit hazy, foggy, in weird colours, and you have to blink a few times and rub your eyes and it slowly adjusts. I carry this feeling with me all the time. An incomplete list of what feels off by about twenty-eight point seven percent: the birds, the trees, the rose hips, snakes in gardens, daffodils blooming in July, the intense greenness of the grass, wild orchids, the brownness of the river, the red brown of the soil, the traffic, “kiwi fruit” (you just don’t say “there are kiwis on the counter”), the backyards with their walls, the architecture, the cricket grounds, the footy, the undergrowth, the bushes, the way the forests smell.

No matter how often I rub my eyes, it’s just still off.


Day 33

On a train down the coast, I can’t stop starring out the window, admiring those great open skies over wetlands, the reflections of light, the fields, the trees.

As we arrive, a rainbow is here already. Finally, a place to start and finish a thought, and a place to take endless pictures of the sea.

The next morning, I wake up to a garden view and the sun. We walk down to the beach and I want to open my eyes as wide as I can, to capture all this beautiful light. I look at your eyes, overlooking the open water. The tide is high, and we need to run from the waves. Getting a sense of connectedness with nature has always been fundamental in my life, and I seem to have lost it. I think back to the time when I tried to photograph exactly what you can see when you look at the dunes at midday in sunlight and half-close your eyes.

There’s this one moment when the sea holds its breath.

I take too many pictures of the sea.

As I walk to our place by myself, I smile at the dogs and their people don’t smile back. The soft smell of freshly cut grass in the air. I walk up a hill that people only seem to drive up with cars, and I’m starting to get a sense of how lonely I could feel out here. The bushes look soft in the late afternoon sun.

There’s a rectangle shaped spot of light on the wall, like a second window into a sunnier world. The days go by so fast, and I realise that I only have very few nights left. I’ve known it all along, but now, the realisation sets in: you can’t stock up on anything that really matters.

I begin a thought about belonging and have to drop it, before it makes me too sad. I’m not ready to leave you, nor to get back to my life as I’ve known it so far. The promise of another summer doesn’t make the current winter less sad. I always think that it just can’t feel closer to being over. Then, another second goes by. This was a day of five rainbows.

A moon is out, shining bright over the bay. I want to go down to the beach tonight and walk straight into the sea.

The next morning, we need to head out early. The sky is blue, and a double rainbow is stretching across the sky. Our bus departs in an hour.


Epilogue (Day 34/35)

This is the time when I can’t go anywhere without thinking that it’s the last time. I had more than five weeks to prepare for this, and I didn’t. The pain hits me right as my last airplane touches the ground. And here I am, a body that has traveled maximal distance, waiting for a suitcase at luggage belt. As I open my suitcase, I take out the donut I bought. Twenty-eight hours and a lifetime ago. And this is how it ends.

We were beautiful before this went down
We were beautiful before the years came
And turned it upside down
We were beautiful before we got wise
We were beautiful with sky and blanket laying low


These and more photos are also on Flickr.

Bats

I grew up in a small village somewhere in the countryside, in an area of rivers, hills, small forests, and castles. Scattered all over the region around the small village were even smaller villages, often made up of just one, two, three farms, some of them abandoned for many years already. Many hills around the smaller villages were covered in meadow orchards full of old, gnarly trees, bearing rare varieties of fruit: ancient apple varieties in different shades of red, yellow, and green; weathered plum trees; peach trees, strong enough to stand the harsh winters, bearing small, juicy, sweet peaches in late summer; giant walnut trees, and pear variants, like the very small, firm, brown ones that smell so good and taste so sweet at first, until they suddenly numb your mouth. Some of these trees had died a long time ago and their hollow trunks were now inhabited by the bats. The bats also lived in the wood paneling of the abandoned farm houses, in the attics, the churches, the sheds. There’s something equally scary and fun about walking into a dark shed in the back yard in the early evening, and suddenly hearing the sound of what might as well be a million flapping wings right above your head.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen the bats. The nights aren’t dark enough anymore, and I’ve been gone for too long. I recently thought of the bats when I thought about how navigation works when you can’t see what’s ahead of you, and that was when I thought of you.

At the point in life where finding someone or something to miss is not more than wishful thinking, it’s very easy to suppress how fucked up missing as a concept and emotion actually is.

We’re 349,854 characters into this, and each character I type could be another step towards turning the haze of ideas into a reality that’s made up of more concrete parts than imagination. Right now, all that’s tangible are the phone screens, the keyboards and the books; routinely executed touches on plastic, in an attempt to create something to hold onto; fingertips working to build another reality made of taps and swipes; fingerprints trying to weave meaning around it.

These are the times when the vibration of a phone still means something.

The meanings are our windows into each other’s lives. The windows are never big enough, and the sun never shines through them, and if it does anyway, it breaks things. The windows are small frames for a hope that’s hard to grasp, with diagonals measuring exactly 4’’ and 13’’ and 26’’. And what we see through the windows are the server status updates, the piles of giant pixels, the red icons with numbers on them. Every single pixel that’s visible might as well disappear any second, and we already know it will. Every connection that’s stable for a minute will not last more than seconds beyond that. Everything that’s present also serves as a gentle reminder of the fragility of things. Everything that we have comes with ten things that we don’t.

This is a heart beating at the rate of a blinking cursor.

This is a head that still hasn’t understood all realities. I look at the pile of all that was, that is, that may be. I take this pile of our realities, sort them, and put them into mason jars. Lined up on a shelf in my kitchen, they look like this: There is our first reality which appeared out of the blue; the second one that is mostly made up of two kinds of wishful thinking; the third reality that starts with a wooden door and ends with a glass door; the fourth one that looks like turning around and walking away, looking at the rain falling from the sky. The fifth reality is a monologue of questions. All of these realities are very different, and between each of them and every single time, something fundamental changed. I would like to understand what they have in common except the obvious element. There have to be constants.

But like everything (and you), they’re hard to see these days.

For months, I’ve been waking up every morning with the taste of the absurdity of things in my mouth. The taste of absurdity is the taste of plastic coloured in silver and black, of wavelengths that are just about 380 nanometers long; the taste of the ones, the zeros, and the nothing in between. Absurdity has the bitter taste of crying in front of a wall, the sour notes of all the times I should’ve been there and wasn’t; it has the butteriness of subjunctive, and the smokiness of longing to listen to another person breathe and only hearing the sound of a computer fan. Absurdity tastes as salty as calendars and endless hours to count, it tastes like holding on to the memory of coming home to you, and like an idea kept alive by fibre. Absurdity is the taste of the berries that are only in season where I am.

On average, things are very normal around here.

I walk along a path from a month ago and it’s not the same and there is something touchingly disturbing about having the familiarity of a decade changed so quickly by something so intense and fleeting. On a train back home, I suddenly find myself accidentally holding a stranger’s hand very tightly; find myself surprised by its warmth, softness. I let go as soon as I notice it, but I still feel the touch on my skin hours later; it makes me think about preservation techniques. Back home, I get water colours and paint more mason jars in bright colours, and line them up next to the ones that hold our realities. No matter what their content will look like, at least they will glow when we hold them up to the light.

None of us know how this is going to work. No matter how good things looked that were there for a moment that ended too soon: there’s nothing to see beyond.

Bats sometimes crash into windows, no matter if they navigate visually or acoustically. The good news is that bats crash into windows less often when they cannot see.

Well that’s right, and that is fine.

Patches of Light: Helsinki in December

Observations, music, thoughts, musings, written down over the course of eight days in December 2016 while meandering through Helsinki, Finnland.


Preamble

Still the rush of an intense day and a stressful trip to the airport inside of me (one of those times when you don’t know if you’ll make it in time), I sit back on the plane. A few minutes after takeoff, I look at a sky so full of stars.

Let me come over, I can waste your time, I’m bored.


You are exactly where you need to be

At the airport, I see a plane that will be leaving for Lapland in one hour. I briefly consider changing my plans; but returning to Lapland will have to wait for another time. All snow is gone, what’s left are only piles of dirt-covered ice that must’ve been snow a while ago; an outdoor ice rig, a self storage called Pelikan (genius!), and giant neon signs with very long words on store fronts.

The wind today feels like it could blow me away any second, if only it wanted to. Everyone I meet in the streets is wearing a woolen hat. The soles of your shoes are all worn down, the time for sleep is now. I walk past a sign that says herkku (delicacy), but at first think it says heroku (Cloud Application Platform); I may have been working in tech for too long. I decide to get coffee.

I thought I’d moved on from being a person who takes picture of boats. Turns out, I was wrong.

Botanical gardens in December in the Northern Hemisphere are basically 50 shades of brown (with very few exceptions).

Santa Claus has a booth at the local Christmas market. Last time I saw Santa, I saw (“)the original one(“) in Lapland and refused to sit on his lap. A strong smoked salmon smell is in the air.

I follow the smell of fat and sugar and find a booth that sells fresh Munkki, a type of Finnish donuts. I get two, and this is how I find out what love is.

Munkki are my first love, and they will be my last.

Someone is selling Christmas trees. I don’t do Christmas, but think that it might be fun to get a tiny tree for my hotel room. Trees are cool.

I walk up the steps to the Cathedral and sit down on one of the benches inside to defrost and listen to an organ recital.

Here, the ground floor is no. 1 (not 0, like where I live right now). I also accidentally find out (as in: I literally run into a sign with an announcement) that the Swedish Theatre in town will soon be showing Ingvar! – en musikalisk möbelsaga (literally translates to: Ingvar! – A musical furniture saga) – a musical about capitalism and IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad (at least that’s as much as I understand).

And I learn that Skönlitteratur (literally beautiful literature) means Fiction in Swedish.

I’m longing to read poetry.

When I walk through streets, I have a habit of reading out signs, even more so when I’m in a country where I don’t speak the language. I mutter them quietly, in an attempt to get a better sense for how words work, how they’re pronounced, what the language may sound like.

On the balcony of the Historical Museum, there are two giraffes sitting and looking down onto the rest of the world.

I enter another book store (one that has a piano in it), where the owner diagnoses that I was “looking adventurous”, and takes that as a reason to recommend I take a look at the basement – and the chapel at the end of it.

I go downstairs, past a pool table, along the white walls that are covered in shelves filled with books. I go to the chapel that’s home to bibles and encyclopaedias, sit down in a huge green armchair, hear a machine quietly humming.

I hear someone sing with a very deep voice, accompanied by a guitar. I get a few books, and listen to them, while skimming through the pages. An hour later, I leave the store with five books.

For someone who is on vacation and wanted to get a break from the calendar that usually determines most of their time, I have a damn lot of appointments over the next days.

I realise I still feel like I have to do everything immediately; feel like I’m running out of chances to see, chances to do things before the Public Holidays, to do before my vacation is over; feel like I’m running out of time, out of daylight, out of chances to explore before the great darkness sets in again at 3pm. (Maybe it takes a bit of time to ease out of this habit?)

As I walk down another street, they’re playing All I want for Christmas is you in stores. My inner “All I want for Christmas is you”-Counter is up at 8 for this season. For now.

Darkness is setting in. I go out to see a Ballet, am amazed about pretend ice skaters on stage, and get very angry about gender stereotypes in the production.

There’s a busker with an accordion and a voice like Tom Waits, singing very sad Finnish songs.

There’s no visible transition between day and night and day anymore. All is blurry, just one soup of different shades of grey to black to grey. Won’t you take me to a world after the rain.

On the way back home, all I hear is someone with a Zither playing Für Elise, a train in the distance, and my heels on the cobblestone. All else is quiet. I think about how, as soon as there’s a certain distance, there’s less room for bullshit.

I walk past a sign saying You are exactly where you need to be.

And now, it’s time to leave and turn to dust.


Light like from another world, bathrobes like hugs, patterns like angry dogs

For the first time since I got here, I see the sun, and decide to follow it. Suddenly, I see a taxidermied seagull sitting in a window, and Santa Claus jaywalking.

 

The moss covering the ground in the park by the sea is so soft.

There’s a playground built onto a rock.I sit down on another rock to observe the light. There’s a big hole in the clouds and in this day.

It starts raining, I don’t have an umbrella and forgot the lens cap for my camera at home; the camera is getting wet, and it’s raining too much to keep hiding under a tree.

And suddenly, the dark grey shifts –

to the most beautiful, glowing, almost magical light I’ve ever seen. I stay right where I am for a while, hiding my camera under my coat.

It keeps raining, I keep walking and end up on a small island.

Rocks like stranded whales.

It’s one of these times when sky and sea and rocks become one.

There’s no one at the beach (which is not extremely surprising since it’s close to 0°C and end of December – on the other hand, people are always tougher than we think). But then, beams of light.

We got what it takes, we can put up a fight.

I walk past red brick buildings and take pictures of Christmas stars in windows. At a street corner, there’s a “no entry” sign that’s got the same round shape as the street corner, and I wonder if that was by design or by (literal) accident.

As I enter one of the brick buildings, I see another Santa run across the backyard. Or is it the same Santa I keep meeting here? The smell of trees. Another walking teddy bear / dog.

Patches of light, a failed attempt to cover up the holes in our days.

I walk past a sticker saying No estas sola – tienes el feminismo. Two kids singing in a small square; they have to compete against the music blasting from the café nearby. In the bookstore, I get very angry looking at the numerous books written by white men that are filling up the shelves – compared to very few books by authors that are not white men. In another book store, I find a book called Only sofas, that actually only contains photos of sofas. At checkout, I learn that there’s a buy 7, get 1 free deal. Oops.

I find this quote from the Director of the Finnish National Theatre:

Today we live in a world of grim realities, of conflict and uncertainty. In a divisive world, it is important to create a unifying force. Art provides a common language, and we must have the courage to use it. — (Mika Myllyaho)

I read an email and I literally laugh out loud (that basically never happens). Because it’s exactly the right email with exactly the right content, but it could not be a more wrong (wronger? wrongsier? wrongster? wrongstershire?) time.

This timing problem seems to manifest itself these days, like it was a tiny, very angry dog, bit me in the leg some time ago, and now just won’t let go.

After a relaxing evening spent in the bathtub with pizza and some of my newly acquired books, I hide in this giant bath robe which feels like a wearable hug. I go to bed early. The flickering lights from the TV and the smoke detectors in my room make me feel like I’m at an airport and the desk is the runway.

I can’t fall asleep. At 1:30am, I’m wide awake and pondering anxious work-related thoughts. I’m not good at this vacation thing.


The Days of the Ravens

The rain is back. In the morning, rain drops hit the lid of my coffee mug like a little drum. Almost all shops and cafés are closed, and those that aren’t will be shutting down over the next few hours. I stay in one café as long as I can, trying to write and, for a brief moment, admiring a person with very good hair from afar. The seagulls that were here over the last days are gone. These are the days of the ravens.

As I walk down the streets, I catch myself whistling a Christmas carol. I don’t even know many Christmas carols; the few I know, I learned from TV shows and commercials. I stand by the lake and wait for a duck to resurface; after 3 minutes, I give up. I’m impressed by how long it can hold its breath. Superduck.

Reflections in water, on water, about water. When there’s so little light, all shapes blur out; contours wash out, there are no more clear lines. Really too late to call, so we wait for morning.

And then there’s still the question which thoughts are even worth thinking; which ones are worth writing down; which thoughts are worth being shared. — A system of filters where the result is not necessarily a good example for survival of the fittest.

I still have a tendency to pull up my shoulders, like I still haven’t gotten used to my height. I run into another giant nesting doll. Public bins here have an extension for removing dirt from shoes. Don’t be a person who’s only around to make someone else’s dream come true.

When people ask why I’m here, I tell them because I have nowhere else to be. That’s not true, but as close to the truth as I want to get. The truth would be: I am exactly where I need to be. But I also have somewhere I want to be, somewhere I’d like to be, somewhere I’d love to be; and somewhere I can’t be.

By the lake, someone wrapped a red woolen scarf wrapped around a lantern, as if it were there to protect the lantern’s very long neck.

The cracks in the ice are gentle, cold cracks in the few things that remain.

Any kind of magic always has a bittersweet reality to it.

I meet Santa no. 4 for the week, this time knocking at someone’s door.

The rain and wind intensified; I try to determine which angle they’re coming from, and estimate we reached about 60° by now. I have less than a rough idea of where I am. The departure time displays at the terminals are empty. Everyone who is still out here now is not going anywhere anymore tonight. I have nowhere I’ll have time.

All places are reminders of other places. All surfaces are opportunities for reflections of other surfaces, including ourselves.

I sit down for the first time after 9,786 steps and pour out the stones in my shoes. I only notice now that my feet are wet. It’s Christmas eve, the time of the biggest Christmas celebrations in Finnland.


Kiitos means thank you

At the indoor market, I see giant hams, tiny apples; gingerbread, pastry, Vietnamese food, giant piles of fish, meat, huge bowls of caviar (I’ve never seen such big bowls of caviar), kebab, nuts, wine.

I don’t have a sweet tooth, but for some reason, pastry in Scandinavia always gets me (I blame it on the Cardamom and Cinnamon). I get Kardemummapulla (when I was in Malmø, I got similar pastry; it’s basically dough with cardamom (or with a cardamom filling), sprinkled with sugar).

The wind blows over the ice, and ruffles the water in the bay. In the coffee place, there’s a giant dog that looks like a huge, long-haired sheep with big black dots.

I hold the door for a woman with a stroller. She says Kiitos, I say you’re welcome. She sits down next to me on the pillow-covered bench outside and talks to her baby. In German. She starts writing Christmas cards, but as the baby seems to be very dissatisfied with the situation, at some point she says: “If nothing is good today, let’s just go home and make this a quiet day”, and strolls away with the kid. I feel like I should’ve told her that I could understand her.

There’s a lantern with a candle that the wind has blown out. I re-light it and watch the wind play with the flame.

Only hold till your coffee warms.

My body is tired and aching today. I hide under my coat as if it was a blanket. I’m afraid of birds, and yesterday, I accidentally bought a book that’s exclusively poetry about birds; not my proudest purchase. At the Christmas market, you can also buy signage for saunas. And hourglasses. There’s also a blacksmith making candle holders. It’s very quiet, as if people were only whispering.

I get a haircut at a place that’s bar and hair salon combined. I ask the hairdresser if they went for that setup so people can at least get drunk when the haircuts are bad. He doesn’t find it funny.

I see Finnish Tom Waits again, meet more very fluffy dogs, almost buy huge golden crown earrings, and a reindeer fridge magnet. Pikku Prinsi means Little Prince in Finnish.

There’s something very beautiful about the language around living through something. It makes it sound like something you go through, a tunnel or a jungle, maybe a lake or the sea. I like when language feels so close to the truth.

I’m at a choir concert, where I see 5-year-old kids who have haircuts that are hipper than mine (I’m jealous) and almost disappear entirely behind their textbooks. And, unexpectedly, the first song turns out to be a reminder of what was, what is, and what will never be. All lights turn into dots.

As I get back out, they’re disassembling the Christmas market. The All I want for Christmas is you-Counter goes up to 10.

I sit in a bar. I came here to write. Instead, I stare at a pile of zested oranges and lemons. The last time I saw a zested lemon, it was at a crossroads somewhere much further south-east. Some drinks here come with pre-folded paper planes. For a writer who needs to decipher the stuff they write at some point, I have horrible handwriting.

The great thing about sitting at the bar, all by yourself, is that there’s really no one who cares about you. I got myself a space coat. I keep the future as bright as gold. I’m drifting far away. You can stay.

For years, I’ve been wishing for things to quiet down, for my life to be calmer, less stressful, more chill. This is the year I understood why that doesn’t happen; and that not all stress is the same.

The bartender has the same dark blue shirt that I have with me, and I smell burnt rosemary leaves. One of the biggest (and most fun) challenges in writing is making sure that your facts and fiction are indistinguishable.

The night turns out much different from I thought it would. In the bathroom of the bar, I find over a dozen different feminist, anti-fascist stickers on the mirror, which look like they were put up there over the course of many, many years. Whoever put them up: I salute you.

The stickers remind me of something I need to take care of. I get out and walk home. Drink up, baby, look at the stars.


Flames, cobblestone, and something about happiness

These are the days when every bit of sunlight is an event. And today, I was just in time for it.

I walk down to the park that turns out to be a different kind of park than I thought it was, and, as I stand at a crossroads, I realise I’ve forgotten the meaning of some English words in German.

The ice in the bay makes for a perfect mirror (much less of the trees behind it). I sit down by the water and look at how clear it is.

It reminds me that it may be time to dip my into the water again.

The backlit moss on top of the graveyard walls looks like tiny, bright orange flames.

As I sit by the harbour and watch the sunlight on cobblestone and water, see the ferries come and go, I finally freeze to the core. I guess I can finally let go of all my uncertainty.

This is a place that can change in all that it is so quickly, just through a little bit of light. As I’m off to the train station, I see a purple sky and my first actual sunset here. By the way: Should anyone count, they may find out that some bigger stones at the beach are missing – I took them with me in my shoes.

Travelling by oneself is, per definition, a lonely experience — and whenever I want things to be different, I have to make an effort to change that (and, as a woman travelling by herself, I feel like I also always have to be extra cautious; which is frustrating, but that’s still the state of things).

Today is one of these days when traveling by myself is difficult. Today, it feels lonely. Today, I feel very alone. And I have zero interest or energy left inside of me to make any effort to change that. I miss the people I love, familiar faces.

Happiness comes from within, yeah yeah; but all that comes from within here at the moment is exhaustion, frustration, tiredness. (Also, screw “happiness”). No matter what I try to combat that, nothing helps. And as then, to top it all off, the handle of my travel bag tears off, I just want to curl up in fetal position on the floor between the commuters and cry.

But that’s not what happens. What actually happens is that I pull up the bag by its remaining handles and myself together, and walk on.

There are days in traveling by myself when I can’t do anything but embrace the deep, dark, soul-sucking loneliness. And hope for other, sunnier days. If all goes as I hope, they will come again very soon. And if really everything goes as I hope, I won’t have to listen to All I want for Christmas is you in a very long time.

To be continued.
[*turns up the volume*]


All photos are also on Flickr.

Ein Lebensgefühl wie Einparken

Jetzt in diesem Moment ist die Wahrheit, dass du Recht hast mit allem. Aber das hast du dir, glaube ich, schon gedacht.

Dieses Jahr fing an mit einem schwarzen Flügel in einer Hotellobby, auf dem ich nicht spielen durfte. Es ging weiter mit einem schwarzen Flügel in einem Wohnzimmer, auf dem ich ein Lied spielte, zu dem ich gerne singen wollte, aber nicht konnte. Dazwischen habe ich die Holunderblüte verpasst.

Im Weinglas in der Küche schwimmen die Fliegen. Elf Stück sind es, ich zähle sie, als ich den Wein in die Spüle schütte.

Mein Herz schlägt schneller.

Es ist noch immer heiß in der Stadt. Vorsichtig gehe ich durch die Straßen, die Füße auf dem heißen Asphalt im störrischen Gang derer, die in Wahrheit lieber zuhause in einer Ecke liegen und Vorwürfe gegen die Zimmerdecke rufen würden. Nur mehr tastende, langsame Bewegungen, nicht mehr als unbedingt notwendig, und auch diese wenigen mit ausdrücklichem Widerstreben. Als das unbedingt Notwendige getan ist, taste mich an Hauswänden entlang zurück in die Wohnung und sperre den Sommer aus.

Ich ziehe die verschwitzten Sachen aus, dusche kalt und reibe einmal mit dem Handtuch über meine Haare. Der größte, völlig klare und doch vorher kaum fassbare Unterschied nach dem Haareabschneiden war, dass da plötzlich nichts mehr war, das mir ins Gesicht fiel, beim Sex auf anderen Körpern landete, lang und rotblond auf dem Boden liegenblieb und auf den Staubsauger wartete. Nichts derart Offensichtliches mehr zurückzustreichen, wegzuhalten und beim Wohnungsputz wegzuwerfen. Und all das ist so ziemlich das Beste daran, neben der Gewissheit, immer den Wind im Nacken spüren.

Ich höre Musik von neunzehnhundertachtundneunzig und lese das Internet von zweitausendvierzehn. Ich kehre an einen Ort zurück, den ich seit sehr langer Zeit nicht mehr sah; lese alte Zeilen darin, offenbar verfasst von mir. Es kommt mir vor, als läse ich die Texte einer Fremden. Ich vergleiche es mit dem Heute und frage mich erst, was denn jetzt eigentlich wahr ist und dann, ob ich mir nicht allein schon mit dieser Frage etwas vorlüge.

Denn ich weiß, dass alles wahr war und alles wahr ist. Und wahr wird es immer sein, aber selbst im allerbesten Fall immer nur für ganz genau einen Moment. Für einen Moment, der sich nur in den seltensten Fällen wiederholt. Mehr Wahrheit ist nicht drin. Ich finde das sehr gut so.

Wenigstens ein paar Haare ausgerissen letztes Wochenende.

Brighton

So let’s talk, that’s all we’ll do, just talk.

Zuschauen und winken, wenn alle in den Urlaub fahren. Ein Piercing herausnehmen und dann versehentlich mit dem Biomüll entsorgen. Zwei Handvoll Haare abschneiden lassen von einem Kopf, auf dem doch eh fast keine Haare mehr sind. Gehärteten Klebstoff von einer Tischplatte kratzen. Einen Salbeistrauch wegschmeißen; das Käfervolk, das er eingeschleppt hat, gleich mit. Neue Piercingstecker kaufen. Das Gefühl, mehr Metall am Körper zu brauchen. (Oder doch Tinte, oder doch Sonne.) “Herzlich willkommen!” schreiben. Nägel in neuem Rot lackieren. Krass vermissen.

Nichts mehr verstehen. Acht Seiten für die Rentenversicherung ausfüllen. Belegen sollen, dass ich das kann, was ich so mache. Mir dessen Seite für Seite, Feld für Feld, selbst immer weniger sicher sein. Verträge ausdrucken und tackern. Einen Plan B suchen. Klauseln prüfen. Überlegen, hauptberuflich tagein, tagaus Seiten zu tackern. Merken, dass es dafür schon Maschinen gibt. Der Tag, an dem Automatisierung meine Karriereplanung zerstörte.

Feststellen, dass das Pathos meiner Vorträge zu einhundert Prozent davon abhängt, welche Musik ich beim Schreiben höre. Über Häuser reden. Einen See in Betracht ziehen. Das Schreiben für die Rentenversicherung in den Briefkasten werfen. An einen Bausparvertrag denken.

In allen Ecken der Wohnung schwarze Haare finden. Mit Zucker und Olivenöl die letzten Reste sonnenverbrannter Haut ablösen. Staunen, wie das so geht, mit der Haut. Aufs Fahrrad setzen und in den Wald fahren. Merken, dass alles schon wieder eine Woche her ist. Bilder machen. Eine Erinnerung wie ein hingeworfenes Strandaquarell; ein Gefühl wie Brackwasser.

Im Taxi weinen.

Einen Spiegel umhängen. Vielleicht war Manches noch nie so intensiv wie jetzt; so unglaublich gut, so halsüberkopf; und so unaufhaltsam wahnsinnig. Mit dem Wissen, dass es gegen die Wand fahren wird; die Frage ist nur noch, wo genau die Wand sich befindet.

Versuchen, den Schwindel zu ignorieren. (Wie alles andere auch.) Einatmen, ausatmen. Einatmen, ausatmen. Am Flughafen die teuerste Apfelsaftschorle aller Zeiten kaufen. In ein Flugzeug nach Westen steigen

Im Kalender eine tägliche Erinnerung an die eigene Verletzbarkeit eintragen.

Dies ist das erste Jahr, in dem die zwanzig Jahre alte Narbe unter meinem Bauchnabel nicht mehr zu sehen sein wird.

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