I’ve found that the best way to paint my nails and actually let them dry is by painting them and then sitting down at my computer for a good hour. Typing keeps them upright and moving and basically unencumbered. If I don’t sit down at my computer after painting my nails, I am always trying to multitask … er, well, this is multitasking, but this is mutually beneficial … What I mean to say is, I appear to be unable not to multitask in general (okay, maybe with the exception of when I’m having sex, depending on how you think of multitasking and what kind of sex … anyway …) and so when I paint my nails I always ruin them soon after because I get too impatient and try to do some activity that will surely ruin them before they get a chance to dry … like cooking or dishwashing or showering or getting dressed or using the toilet or putting on a new CD.
Tonight I sit at my kitchen table listening to the jazz station—it’s really a very good station, the best station in Berlin next to the BBC, but I can’t listen to people reporting news while I’m trying to write. So jazz it is. I just spent about an hour singing and making myself after-dinner hot chocolate (notice the multi-tasking), trying to come up with some vocals to this beautiful music I got a hold of. I answered an advertisement placed by a composer/musician in need of a vocalist. We talked over the phone and then today we met in person and spent the morning listening to his music. It is really very beautiful, sort of tribal, Dead Can Dance-esque, but not overly cheesy. In a way I had this vision of me in some edgy girl rock band … but this will probably be more interesting vocally anyway. In any case, I’m developing a vocal track that goes with the music, and it is beautiful enough to inspire me to jam with it, you know, to just start singing over top of it without any specific direction from the composer. You know it reminds me of some of what I’ve heard at Hrair’s house, the use of some middle-eastern instruments, like the ude, for instance, or however you spell that. So I was sort of instantly transfixed this morning, listening, cause it brought me back to California—or rather, a spiritual home not necessarily in California, but in the location of hearts and people. Excuse the gushing.
So I made dinner for myself tonight, a real simple pasta, while listening to the BBC. I listen everyday; it’s interesting to hear how the rest of the world feels about the U.S. election (pretty grim). I feel fairly informed listening to the BBC, it’s better than NPR anyway, but the commentators are almost as smug. You know, incidentally, my parents and others are always asking me what kind of writing I do, or what I do in general, and I really write a lot everyday, always have, whether it be just in my notebook or on the computer, though its generally not edited and organized and packaged and product-ized, mostly rambling pieces like this one but in various formats and contexts. Anyway, if I sent everything and exposed you to everything it would overload your inbox but just let me know if you’re not interested in any of it, you know, things like this one, cause I can easily remedy that and take you off my email list and I won’t be offended. My life isn’t really any more or less interesting in San Francisco or Berlin or Iowa City, but being as Berlin is relatively so far away (though in our global post modern world is anything far away … sarcasm) it somehow seems more important to keep people informed as to what life is like, what I’m doing with myself (to legitimize why I’m so far away?? I’m not sure). Moreover, having no real friends yet, I have time to write about it and email you.
Right, well then (I learned that from the BBC). Since I last wrote a lot has happened here, though nothing big on the earning money front. I mean to say, I haven’t earned a cent. I’ve been on the prowl for something regular at a bar or restaurant, although that’s a bit sticky because of my lack of German skills. Still I feel confident that something will come my way. I do eat at home, or pack something, I’ve been good about that, or freeload off someone I meet. Okay, or spend like 1 Euro 50 on a dönner kebab. I’m trying to be a bit better about a normal writing schedule, waking up, making coffee and breakfast (hard roll and swiss cheese and ham) at home and then beginning to write, anything, distractedly, note-form, whatever, stream of consciousness. I’ve found that, like I’ve heard from so many writers, blocking out time to write and just writing actually does make the writing come. And even if it starts out disjointedly, I’ve been finding that I develop into a regular pattern by at maximum an hour. In the afternoon I bike over to Kreuzberg (an artsy, ethnically diverse district in East Berlin south of the area I live in), as of late, since I’ve been hanging out there a lot for various events or meetings with people or attempts to go to dance class.
I started hanging out with some people who run a performance space over in Kreuzberg. The first person I met was Krylon Superstar, a black drag queen dancer and performance artist who was performing at this crazy bar called White Trash located in Mitte (the “middle” district of Berlin). White Trash used to be a Chinese Restaurant but is now a bar and restaurant with rude tattooed bar tenders—all super hot women—and kitschy décor. Anyway, I started going over to Le’Space, as its called, to check out Krylon’s photography and was invited to come back the next Saturday to see this performance of a woman named Barbara Brockhouse, who was absolutely fabulous. She is a feminist performance artist who did something called the Secretary Show. It was basically about her life as a secretary, simple but complex, and it made me think of doing something similar about waitresses. Anyway, she sang, recited a script, I wouldn’t call it poetry exactly, but it rhymed, like Dylan’s Talking WWIII Blues—that’s a compliment on my part. That night, I met this woman Sylvia who is half Japanese and half German and speaks perfect American-English. Sylvia is working on a documentary about the making of a Japanese porn film here in Berlin, and the various “socio-political-feminist-identity-race” issues associated with that. I’m not trying to diminish her work or anyone else’s, I’m just trying to condense all this for you.
Sylvia is currently making a new film about three Japanese women in Berlin: one who believes in “true love,” one who is the owner of a brothel, and one who “lives sex”—the actress playing this part is the infamous performance artist living here in Berlin named Tokyo Rose (a Japanese knockout notorious for taking men out on dates, getting up on the table in the middle of the restaurant and doing a spontaneous table dance. Then eventually beginning to pee on her date). Tokyo Rose has apparently been kicked out of every club in Berlin and was banned permanently from one of the city’s most famous queer clubs, SO36. In any case, Sylvia and I started talking about the film and she asked me about whether or not I might be interested, as a writer, in helping her with the script, since writing is her weak point, and she wants the film to be, as she put it, sentient, complex. She and I got to talking about our mutual interest in gender and sexual politics and the creation of feminist art. It turns out that she has been working with an incredible professor here at the Berlin Art Institute named Katharina Sieverding, who apparently is one of the few professors there interested in gender-political art.
In any case, this Saturday I’m going to go back to Le’Space to see one of Sylvia’s films and a performance by Tokyo Rose, who I’ve heard has a very low sultry voice and I’m looking forward to meeting the legend though I’ve heard she’s settled down and lives in a nice apartment in Mitte now. Anyway, regarding Le’Space: So, the woman who runs the gallery/bar/performance space is named Ayana, and she runs it with her boyfriend Marco (both Americans who don’t speak a work of Deutsch). Ayana also attends classes with Katherina Sieverding as an honorary student. How does she do it? I asked Sylvia, since Ayana doesn’t speak any German. Well, apparently there are so many English speakers that many of the classes are just conducted in English. So I’m interested in attending one of her seminars if possible.
Meanwhile, Ayana and I began talking about the fact that she and her boyfriend are leaving the country to go work on this big artsy soap opera project. They are going to be located with the rest of their “team” to Togo … I know, don’t ask, I can’t remember all the details. But the point is, she asked if I had any interest in taking over the performance space. It is 680 Euros and month, in the heart of Kreuzberg, and she and her boyfriend live there and run the bar, show art, and host performing artists and writers three to four nights a week. She said that they are able to live and eat and pay rent off of the profits. So I said I was interested and low-and-behold the very next day the guy whose name is on the lease contacted me and we went out for coffee to talk business (this is what I mean by freeloading for food). So I sort of flipped out and thought, yea, I could do this, and actually for the past four to five days I began negotiating seriously. It didn’t look possible to do it alone until Juan said he would actually come run it with me. We talked it out over the phone in a series of expensive and crazy and static-filled conversations. So we were actually about to have this space in our name for an initial contract of three months. Then today, at the very last minute, another couple got chosen to do it who could just take over the entire lease indefinitely because they already have German citizenship, etc … They are going to run a record label out of there. So there were a few days of real excitement and hardly sleeping a wink, lots of phone calls everywhere and dropping cash like mad on all the expenses to communicate with people here in Berlin—cell phones are so not cheap here. And as I said I no longer have a landline available in my house.
In any case, the excitement is over, I sit here in gloves and a hat in my cold bohemian apartment in Prenzl.berg (the east berlin district I live in)—no matter, I only pay 75 euros on my room. And all in all, I have a great deal, and it may be just better in the long run if I take it one step at a time and make more contacts and just try to do my own performances at the places already available, which are many. In fact I’ve already talked to this woman at White Trash who organizes a performance art night there.
Since Juan and I negotiated about running Le’Space together, he started making plans to come out to Berlin, which haven’t been neglected, so he is actually going to come stay with me during the month of November. I am looking forward to this. I think he might find some interesting things to do musically in Berlin and perhaps I can convince him to come back. As for modern dance and contact improv classes, I’m still working on getting to my first class. I missed the first one I tried to go to ‘cause I got lost in Kreuzberg. Then yesterday when I tried to go again they had closed for a week break. This dance studio is called Tanzfabrik and it is actually adjacent to Victoria Park, which is the park my father used to go to as a child in Kreuzberg. It has this beautiful waterfall spilling down the hillside right at the very front of the part. Today I was over there and I hiked up to the top and it made me happy to be there knowing that my dad had so much history there.
Today I ordered coal—a half-ton of coal—to be delivered to my apartment so I can start lighting those coal fires and heating my house. I will be having a roommate soon too, so unfortunately that other super cheap room in my apartment is no longer available to YOU and I wish it were YOU and not “Paul from Dublin.” Just kidding, I’m sure he’s a great guy. That’s really all I know about him, except I think he’s a musician and/or a DJ. So no more strange photo-shoots at four in the morning in his empty room, ala the photos you just received and perhaps viewed. That painting, by the way—the orange and red one with the chains and me in the Brooklyn sweatshirt in front of it—is just here in my apartment and the placement of my body in relation to it was actually unintentional at the time. Sorry if that was too disturbing of a photo. In any case, a roommate also means no big room to dance in and I have to keep down the noise, especially as I sing along loudly to this music in the kitchen. Oh well, if I’m not bringing in any cash, this cheap rent is a saving grace.
The last three days really kicked my ass in terms of the cold, so then today I wore quadruple layers and of course it was much warmer, so I got all hot riding my bike around. I hate that. Tomorrow will apparently be even warmer; I figured out how to check the weather. I am getting smarter about things, though I don’t feel like my German is improving terribly, even though I have been studying a borrowed German Intro textbook. What else? I finally bought myself a map—I was very stubborn about not buying one—but I gave in. It has helped tremendously though now I’m finally starting to get this city, and I bike so much everyday, like 45 minutes to Kreuzberg. I would ideally like to live over there—it’s a mostly middle-eastern neighborhood but also lots of artists and crazy people over there—lots of great places to hang out, including famous old clubs like Wild at Heart and SO36, among others. But I have this place for awhile and if I can master this coal heating thing I may be okay through the winter. Though I have to say that it’s really frustrating not having any warm water in the kitchen sink to do dishes with. Thank god though I do have a hot shower and a toilet inside my apartment (unlike many others similar in price to mine).
[Brief diversion: I love jazz songs with really simple lyrics like: “I ask myself everyday … what’s the best thing for you … and I can see that the best thing for you is me.” Okay, and, I’m just putting this out there, but have you ever really listened to the lyrics from Fascinating Rhythm and do you get what Ella is talking about?]
I’m trying to cast nets in a lot of different directions artistically, mostly because I have no history here and it feels easier to try new things, or relatively new things. I’m working on a photography project called something like, Both Sides of the lens: the studied and the studier. It doesn’t really have to be titled but that gives you an idea as to the theme. As for writing, I applied for a position to be a book critic at the Ex-Berliner, which is the main English language magazine here in Berlin. Who knows if I can get that gig, but we’ll see. My big news regarding writing is that I had an epiphany about my next book, which I’ve already been writing—all these scraps of essays I’ve been starting and adding to probably for years. The epiphany was that I developed a title and a conceptual plan for the book as a whole. I’m going to write a series of essays called Sex Matters—Why Sexual Politics Should Matter to You. I want to talk about sexual language and communication, or lack there-of, and how our inability to talk about sex and treat sex has diverse effects, into issues that would seem to be wholly unrelated. I want it to be geared towards people who don’t think of themselves as feminists and/or don’t feel like feminism and sexual politics are relevant to their lives, etc … I believe that even among activists, politicized professionals, and other academics outside of gender studies, sexual and feminist politics are often viewed as secondary to issues of race and class. Definitely less important than foreign policy and the economy. I want to be able to relate sexual politics to a wide variety of issues, like immigration, to electoral politics, and to personal politics … interpersonal relations.
I started thinking about relating sexual politics to immigration specifically when I wrote an article this summer about how women have a hard time proving political asylum based on an experience with rape (rape used as a tactic of war) because they don’t have the vocabulary to describe in detail the kind of persecution—as it is referred to—that they experienced when they are attempting to articulate their asylum declaration to an immigration officer or lawyer. I got to thinking about how even women in my close circles would feel uncomfortable describing in detail a sexual experience—any sexual experience, good or bad—and if women who are from a supposedly “sexually liberated” country can’t do it, then what about women who come from countries that aren’t “sexually liberated.” And this reminded me of a story a friend told me about an advice nurse who couldn’t even use the word vagina when talking to her about a UTI … and so last night I had this big epiphany about how much I have to say on this topic. So I developed about 15 potential essays for the book, including an introduction and an element of creative nonfiction or lyrical essay. I want to try this project in sort of one big breath, writing more than editing and stopping. That will be new for me—I mean, look at me now, I’m sitting here describing it but not actually writing it—then if it’s a big bad mess I don’t much care. I realized how important and passionate I am about this subject and I want to be able to better articulate that. Oh, and then earlier today I was reading this great interview with director Simon McBurney: Rachel Weisz Talks With Simon McBurney (Zembla Magazine, Issue 5 Summer 2004)
So Rachel says: I think childhood is full of sexuality but it doesn’t know how to be sexual. Do you know what I mean? S: I do. I remember an encounter I had with a friend when we were nine or ten. He was describing to someone else how he masturbated. I didn’t know what they were talking about and he realized that, so he made fun of me. As a child I would say I was extremely uniformed. R: As you should be at ten. S: Well, I don’t know if you should or shouldn’t. My nephews and nieces know perfectly what all that means. But in terms of sexuality I can’t remember a time when I was not aware of it. I remember when I was eight or nine I found a naturist magazine. There were naked men and women and I found it absolutely fascinating the nakedness of the body. I folded it up and hid it in my shoe and I remember my mother finding it and not telling me until some time later, and laughing at me. The power of that, the shame, was enormous. In his writing, Bruno Schultz identifies specific moments in childhood that are extraordinarily powerful, that lay down the lines in permanent memory. R: I don’t know why we’re talking about sex—I suppose because of Measure for Measure. S: If you talk about love, you talk about sex. R: And who could be more sexual than a child? I would say children are the most sexual creatures. S: Yes, because there are no barriers.
S: Maybe that’s partly what I feel about love—I’m pretty much persuaded that it’s not something you find, it is something that you make, step by step. It is a construct. R: And a collaboration? A work in progress? S: It is a kind of work of art in a way.
S: That’s the great conundrum with sex. Because we know so much of love has nothing to do with sex. And yet we are constantly being invited to the idea that sex and love are the same thing. Of course they are sometimes, but mainly not.
So reading this interview I was reminded of two things: one is my essay called l-o-v-e and r-a-p-e, about the juxtaposition of (violent) sex and (true) love. I want that essay to be modified to be part of the book. The other is my childhood (and post- childhood) shame about sex … and this bizarre memory came to me. When I first started becoming aware of having sexual feelings I was terrified about the possibility that this sexuality—any sexuality—would be discovered by someone else, most specifically people who were close to me, like my parents. And the memory is of me standing at the piano singing Christmas Carols and how I was afraid that I was singing the line oh come let us adore Him too loudly, because to sing it to loudly could potentially put me at risk for exposure that I had a sexual mind. Chew on that. Hopefully not everyone had that same level of childhood shame about sexuality, but I think that many people can identify on some level.
Related to this book idea, I’m working on the fifth issue of my ‘zine, The Fabricated Love Affair Art Project. This one is going to be about the birth control pill and birth control in general, and incidentally, I’m looking for contributions. I know that there are a lot of stories out there about women’s experience with the pill, perhaps both good and bad. I want to expose more about it because I don’t think that doctors, even good female gynecologists are doing a very good job. In fact I know they’re not. So could I get some of your stories about the pill? Seriously. Please! It will only take a second, it doesn’t have to be the most polished beautiful piece of writing you’ve ever done—if you obsess over it you’ll never do it, I know how that goes. Anyway, I may just quote a section of what you write, or use a few words, or site some kind of statistic, but I want YOUR reactions to the pill—or other experience with birth control—whatever they may be, good or bad. Guys are welcome to contribute, by the way. What comes off the top of the head? I think eventually it would be important for this book as well.
The other night I finally wrote a book review of one of my most favorite books, Whores and Other Feminists as a sample book review for the Ex-Berliner. I may have shot myself in the foot but maybe I’m just what they’re looking for. In any case I thought it was important to risk it and write what I feel strongly about. The only section in the magazine, though it is politically lefty in general, that even mildly deals with gender politics is their sex column, and the columnist is a totally homophobic moron. So I would have written an angry letter in protest anyway so I decided why not try to be on the staff. Whatever.
I’m also reading, which is good. I didn’t do enough of it during the months of August and September even though I promised myself that I would. I just finished bell hooks essays called Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work. It is beautiful. I also read a short story by T.C. Boyle called “She Wasn’t Soft.” It’s about a rape and I wonder if anyone else has read it. I’m starting to read Malcolm Lowry’s, Under the Volcano. Much to do, much time, better to keep busy than not. I’m about to go dance in that big empty room, practice my turns, and do sit-ups. Then I’m going to fall asleep, I hope.
Lots of Love
katie, Kathryn, kate, kates, katesy-poo, katis, Katie M’lady, Agent q, katerinika-tika, frog