Orlando

Reading Orlando puts me in a romantic frame of mind. Virginia Woolf’s manner of speaking tends to leak into my words so please excuse anything that sounds weepy. Incidentally, Orlando is brilliant and reading it makes me want to become a Virginia Woolf scholar. Which is funny because it’s the first novel of Woolf’s that I’ve enjoyed, though I thought both A Room of One’s Own and even more so, Three Guineas, were two of the most incredible books ever written. If you have no interest in Orlando or Virginia Woolf or photography, skip ahead to paragraph two, because though I have something funny to tell you about getting a job, I have to divert my attention for one moment to Orlando, to mention the following: Did you realize there are pictures? I mean, Virginia Woolf’s inclusion of photography and portrait paintings is fascinating to me because I have been doing so much thinking about the inclusion of photographs with a text … realizing that writing for me necessarily demands some other form of media, whether it be photography or performance and … also, been thinking about the “author” as disembodied and what happens when we disallow the disembodiment, as in, what I was attempting in the first version of my ms “Goodmorning, Senor Alfabus” where I included photographs of myself … and now that I think about it, in my work in Nicaragua I included a photographic aspect of what I was doing, along with the poem take your pictures with you…I mean to say that the inclusion of photographs is a deliberate destruction—a deliberate transgression, or a pointing out of the power dynamic that exists when one presents the body, and as in Nicaragua, the power dynamic between the photographer and the photographed … which was obvious enough in Nicaragua, the “researcher” and the “researched,” the problems with this idea in the first place, the problem with women researching each other—what does this mean? But then less obviously when the photographer and photographed and author are one and the same … These are the kinds of questions that swim around in my brain. In part the reason why it was important to include photographs of myself, my body, as opposed to any other body when writing about my body. This was not a theoretical body that would stand in place, as symbol. To get entirely tangential, or not at all, depending on how you look at it, this is why I’m putting together this photography project that I mentioned earlier—the idea of the researcher who researches, and exposes, sometimes literally, her subject, the “researched,” and the researcher who remains, in effect, unexposed. What is the value of the body in being exposed or unexposed? What does one risk in exposure and why? How has the value or devalue of the body, as sexualized, become, in some way, artificially inflated? I keep free-writing on this subject, I think I’ve written pages upon pages, trying to come to some kind of conclusion about the value of the body as exposed or unexposed and I keep thinking what is the third thing—how did Edie once put it?–the resolution, the thing that transgresses both, both exposed and unexposed … I mean, what renders the body neither exposed nor unexposed, neither valuable nor valueless? In any case, it is questions like this that brought me to notice Virginia Woolf’s inclusion of photographs and paintings in her book Orlando. I wonder what fueled her choice to put image to this “tender subject” (as she puts it) of a person living as one sex and then another. It clearly adds to the parody of the fake biography. And yet, ironically, she points out in the text that she writes specifically for readers who have no need of photographs: “For though these are not matters on which a biographer can profitably enlarge it is plain enough to those who have done a reader’s part in making up from bare hints dropped here and there the whole boundary and circumference of a living person; can hear in what we only whisper a living voice; can see, often when we say nothing about it, exactly what he looked like; know without a word to guide them precisely what he thought—and it is for readers such as these that we write—” (43). And who are these paintings and photographs of in reality? I’m sure one of you out there knows the answer to this, perhaps everyone knows and I am in ignorance of these basic Virginia Woolf facts, so please enlighten me.

Berlin at 7 am is beautiful. Coming back to my apartment in the dawn light was—I was—in a state of euphoria, what with the stress I had placed on my body, and I came up the hill slowly, my bike squeaking (the bottom bracket is loose, I don’t know why, I’m hoping it has to do with the amount I’ve been riding it and not because of the slight crash I got into with a parked car—another matter entirely, read on …) In any case, I made it up the hill slowly all the while listing to my ipod, I forgot to mention earlier that this is a significant feature in my life, I mean, an ipod full of songs in English places a different kind of significance on walking down the street in germany. Perhaps I should have left it behind, then again, its kind of beautiful, its appropriation, right? It creates the strange soundtrack to berlin life. Incidentally, I am on the U-Bahn just now—the seats are heated on the u-bahn—pleasant when its cold, unpleasant at the moment because it is remarkably warm outside, I ordered coal and a big hairy guy with an indecipherably thick berlin accent delivered it to my cellar and I haven’t needed to use it yet, which is good because my roommate still hasn’t shown up and he’s the only one of the two of us who really knows how to properly light a coal furnace. So, I am overdressed today, which is a good feeling. Warm the last three days, after the rain, which made it unfortunate that I had the flu and was confined to my little room.

This morning 7 am I got back to my apartment and noticed, for the first time really noticed, the two birch trees by the U-Bahn tracks that run at the side of my apartment complex, and a green soccer ball stuck on the tracks, the gold leaves on the birch, the houses on the other side of the tracks. I have an existential moment looking across the tracks through the chain-link fence. They do seem to serve as a divide because, I forgot to mention, at the end of my street is, oddly, a climbing wall, like one that you’d find at REI or whatever, but this one is just there, jutting out from seemingly no where, no sports complex, no REI, just there. And I’ve seen people climbing on it. Then, beyond that, as though that were the last reminder of civilization, or familiarity, and odd familiarity at that, there is this complete no man’s land. Like you look out and you see gray pedestrian bridges crossing the u-bahn tracks and beyond you say something like, ah … that’s the rest of east germany. So there it is.

I saw berlin at 7 am for the first time today. Now I’ll get to why, which is that I got called last night from wolfgang, the owner of white trash—I had asked him previously for a job and he said he had none for me. But he called me last night and said, can you come in at 9 (pm)? It was Saturday night and I was about to go somewhere else—to Wigstöckel at SO36—but I knew I would be stupid not to go and work so I said yes. So I showed up to work as a fill-in waitress at White Trash. They gave me my own section, it was Saturday night, gave me a white frilly apron, ala “white trash”—but these were new aprons, I was the only person sporting one and man it looked ridiculous, that is to say, ridiculously fabulous. The place was packed—packed until 5 am. What I didn’t realize was that my waitressing shift would be from 9pm to 7 am. Hah!

Luckily the place doesn’t have any clocks and I needed the money so I was in the perfect position to be exploited—I agreed, somewhat unwittingly, to take the “late shift”, that means to stay until the very end, and since they don’t kick anyone out, there are still people buying drinks at 6:30 in the morning. I served burgers and fries and soup and salad—yes, the question soup or salad with that, its included, lives on—until 3 am, was it? Or four? Then only fries until 5 am perhaps? Then the last two hours while the real troopers were still pulling themselves through the night. It was, needless to say, hilarious, fun, frustrating, embarrassing, horrible, lovely, all of these. I was a total dunce at the money—all the coins are the same color and I had to add up tabs in my head and then make change on the spot—that was funny. And of course that whole thing about speaking german. Well luckily I work in a place that people sort of expect to speak some English, so I kind of worked it half and half. I did understand what people said to me, but its hard to unlearn those waitressing things I say all the time in English, like how ya’ll doin’? what can I getcha? Ev’thing ok? I don’t know, maybe this Americana adds to the charm of the place, I tend to think so. In any case we walked with “good tips,” that is, by berlin standards—I got 34 Euros for the entire night, in tips. On the other hand, wolfgang paid me 10 Euros an hour—cash, right on the spot, at 7 am, for a ten hour shift. So I wasn’t exactly complaining; I paid my rent in one night and then some. Or, I paid for half a ton of coal (125 Euros), depending on how you look at it. He did so (Wolfgang paid me) saying that he normally pays people 7 euros an hour when they start out, but he was paying me the same as everyone else because I was “clearly a professional,” at which I felt this odd combination of pride and depression … being a professional waitress, and yet he was right, that those years of waitressing really did seem to cross over into this particular busy Saturday night and I survived.

It is interesting how quickly our realities become shaped by the simplest routine… As I was telling sami … I find myself choosing little routines, as a way of managing such unfamiliar territory, I guess. I think this is what we naturally do when we feel chaos or unfamiliar, we create systems to make order and sense. Even if they are not particularly orderly. But it is strange, I find myself taking a shower everyday here, even though at home in San Francisco sometimes I was just so chaotic and running around that I just wouldn’t feel like I had time for even a shower. And here, I take a shower every day and run the water in the exact same way, cause I don’t have much hot water and I can’t waste it. And I use the same towel, hung on the same hook. And I only wash my hair one day a week—and its not random, it’s Thursday. And I make coffee for myself in the morning, with the exact same spoon and I measure out 6 scoops into a brown filter in a brown cone, and I run the water in the pan while I’m counting the scoops, because the water is very very low pressure, so you have to do other things whilst waiting for it to run into the pan. I do not have a kettle, it’s just a pan. Then I light a match—first, light the match—then, I turn on the gas on the stove and light the gas, making sure that the match doesn’t go out. Then, while the water is heating, I take the milk out of the fridge and take the sugar bowl and set it on the table, which I’ve covered with a china blue saucer, and I rest the spoon on top of the saucer, so I know which spoon is the coffee spoon and I won’t have to wash it everyday—because, its important to save water, and doing dishes takes so much time since the water runs slow and thin and its cold, besides. There’s no hot water in the kitchen faucet. Then I cut bread and put it on a large china blue plate and I put cheese and jam on the table, sometimes also a piece of ham. Then my water is boiled and I pour it through the cone and the filter and into the glass pitcher—there is no other suitable container or pitcher. Then I pour my coffee, throw the filter and coffee grounds in the compost bucket, sit down. I sit down at the kitchen table—this alone is miraculous and unusual for me. Then I eat and drink and continue to listen to the BBC. When I’m done, which isn’t very much time later since I’m a compulsively fast eater, I wash the dishes immediately and wipe down the counter. Then I pour some juice into the glass pitcher (newly washed) and fill the rest with water (I like watered-down juice, or rather, juiced-up water). I pour myself some into a glass, take the pitcher with it, and then I go into my room, turn on my computer, and start to right on some topic, any topic.

Now I have to say, I really marvel at all this, because I am not like this is San Francisco. I cannot seem to get into the habit of anything at all there—and the result is sometimes total disaster! I mean I have absolutely no sense of these little sacred rituals. It is only here where I see to develop them and practice them.

And it is interesting how these little routines so quickly become adapted and part of one’s reality, for instance the BBC … has become such a staple part of my life that I’ve become acquainted with the daily programming. And I love the questions and the way they report and their accents and I often find myself parodying them afterwards, laughing aloud to myself—you talk aloud to yourself a lot when you live alone, so I’ve found whenever I’ve done it—like this morning, or this afternoon, rather, when I finally woke after falling asleep at 8 am—when the BBC lady was interviewing a Mongolian gentleman about the fact that the government has instated the requirement that all Mongolians have last names. And the commentator said something like, in a british accent which added to the humor, pardon me, but it did—“wasn’t it the communists who made you take away your surnames in the first place? (without letting him answer) … Wouldn’t you say, in effect, the communists destroyed your cultural identity?!” The questions were so leading, and there was clearly such a language barrier, that the man merely answered yes, and continued to speak about how last names were originally created out of the location of one’s house in relation to natural landmarks. And the disjunction between these two sets of realities was so clear, and funny, so the whole thing made me laugh …perhaps I haven’t explained myself well enough, but. I think it relates to what I was getting at before about researcher and researched and the projection of one reality onto another, how impossible it is and yet still we do it, attempt to “empower” by projecting our own language into some other reality.

I’ve been feeling emotional today, I’m sitting at the tiergarten (the golden gate park of berlin) writing this, since I exited the u-bahn and walked over here, to the side of the canal and sat down in the autumn air. It is so beautiful today, and so warm. So I’ve been feeling emotional today, really, crying at the littlest things. Like the fact that after lambasting the way American troops have little if no regard for Iraqi custom and manners, few skills at feeling people out with respect and silence and observation, and rather approach an unknown and scary situation with a macho and self-protective kind of a strut which actually does them more harm than good, though they do not realize this … (For example, when this reporter was riding in a tank with Americans Iraqis were shouting “protect us! Assist us! Work with us!” and yet the Americans rolled in with a self-righteous attitude, raising their rifles, acting like Rambo, with probably no one even translating what it was these people were saying, peacefully … I mean, I don’t have to be there to know the kind of attitude he’s talking about—to talk loudly, to take up space—even Americans in Germany are easily identified for this reason (and to top it off most of them are new Yorkers, excuse me new york friends) … In any case, after lambasting them, this BBC commentator had the courtesy to say, or the presence of mind, that though this may be an overall impression of American troops, “I do have to say that the fact is, however, after things had settled down, I got to talk to one young man, Mike, who didn’t fit that macho description at all, and showed me pictures of his wife and his son.” Which is the when I started to cry, being overly emotional today, and because as simplistic as it may sound, one of the things that makes this world so complicated is that I truly believe that most people believe what they do is for good, for someone’s betterment, in whatever way—that most of us love someone and show love, and have complex relationship and eagerness and a sense of adventure—I can see these young guys and girls who no doubt approach their mission with the same hope and expectation the way any of us would approach some huge new change in our lives, and that, even if they have to simply justify it to allay their own personal fears they must think, what we’re doing is right and we have these incredible bonds with our families and … yet! … this sense of goodness and righteousness can still manifest in such violence and poor decision making and moreover, I marvel that we can all disagree so wholeheartedly about what is right and what is good.

I would say, I know these people, I mean, I myself am these people, have engaged in things I thought were right but were not, was eager and curious and unknowing and later laughed at myself about it, or was ashamed. Unfortunately, no tragically, the stakes, in a war like in Iraq, are so high and people’s lives are being played with but essentially I think the human error that goes into creating these large scale disasters stem essentially from the same place.

And I think, and again it makes me cry to think, that I have the ability to sit here for hours and write and time and more than that the sheer desire to do so and that I have a little bit of euros in my pocket that I got from last night. And that for the first time of having traveled on my own, which I’ve done before for longer periods of time, I have more of a sense of the rightness of being alone and an appreciation as opposed to the question, how soon I need to get back, how soon I need to return to some place else and that the forward motion I desired to have is really there and not a myth or a fabrication in my mind. Just now I can hear the bells of the cathedral ringing, they are unusually beautiful and the tones darker than I remember cathedral bells being, I look up and realize that daylight is almost gone because I slept until 1:30 pm today and though I tried to rush out of the house I could not and there is this sense of urgency about me this afternoon that time would stand will and I could sort of … and again I want to cry thinking the line, “rage rage against the dying of the light” which are the words from Dylan Thomas that my father recited at his father’s funeral. And yet only the other day he said to me, when I said how much he had to live for and how he had at least thirty years of his life left, “katie, the last thirty years of your life are hell.” And then I think how it might finally be time, though I have always known that I would do so, to really sit down and right a good long letter to my father, and the thought of doing so makes tears come to my eyes again, because I think how many women have such damaged and complicated relationships with their fathers.

The change of schedule, sleeping during the daylight hours—makes me feel in a trancelike mood, three cups of coffee keep me writing vigorously though the strangeness of the light and the time maintains my trance as though jetlagged still. Boats pass on the canal and I think of Orlando and his strange beauty with a kind of painful yearning, like that I experienced as a child. That I believed I belonged in some other era and so yearned for it that is sometimes hurt and I remember writing this and the feeling of this autumn day like I have not experience since leaving the east coast.

Though I suppose one thing that is distinctly different about me now, katie as older, is that I no longer have the same anger towards the lack of time, or rather, the lack of reverence to time, that we spend so much time in absolute irreverence to what occurs around us, to some of the deepest things we love most, like the changing of the light … In fact I realize that I have an appreciation for irreverence. In fact I would say that I love absolute irreverence, masks, costumes and performance. Even as I still love those things that seem to lack all of those elements of artifice. To connect and then to disconnect, to be at constantly at battle between the desire to connect and to then escape those connections, this, today, does not feel at conflict but rather I have arrived at some kind of resolution about it.

Enough of the rambling.


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