An American in Berlin
29 October, 2022
Went for my first official skate at THF last Thursday. A good start. I’m out of shape. But it was a lot of fun. Felt good just to be on skates again. But I’ve definitely lost some of my game. On a dead straightaway – hello runways! – I can still get going at a pretty good clip; although even there I can tell my balance isn’t what it should be. And turns, forget about it. Sloppy. And I don’t know where my ‘edges’ are anymore.
To that end, Thursday night I ordered some hockey gear. A stick, three balls, gloves, tape and some cones. The plan now is not only to skate for exercise; the long straightaways down the runways will give me plenty of that. But now also to set myself to some drills. At the moment, I’m thinking mostly crossovers and stickhandling through and around the cones. Well, crossovers and also sharp turns at the end of a series of cones.
I used to take such pride in my skating. Back when we were regularly playing roller hockey, I always held myself as amongst the best skaters, if not the best skater, out there. Right now, I’m a long way off from that. And it occurred to me. For the last ten years+ of my hockey playing ‘career,’ I was only playing on the ice, playing goal. So yeah, I was skating. But I was skating with those big ol’ goalie pads on. Totally different animal. So it’s even longer than I thought since I’ve been properly skating on rollerblades.
I’m also hoping that brining a hockey element to this will encourage me to do it more often; regularly in fact. Because as much fun as skating is, if all I’m doing is flying down the runways for exercise, it’s bound to get boring. But if I’m working on hockey skills, agility, stickhandling and the like, I mean, that’s a thousand times more fun. So let’s see what I can do. But I’m excited. Like, super excited.
Friday night, I walked home from Joschka’s. All the way home. Turns out it’s a solid 90m walk. Long, but doable. For reference, that’d be like walking to Chinatown or Fidi from, say 59th street or so. Like I said, eminently doable. But with considerations. If it’s been a long night of drinking – which Friday actually wasn’t – one would do well to know where the public restrooms are; or at least parks, and failing that, secluded shrubbery. One would also do well to organize the route in such a way that one will happen upon an open Späti an hour or so into the walk. Because at 90m, this is what I shall henceforth refer to as a “Two-beer walk.”
I hadn’t planned on walking all the way home. The plan was to just walk as far as Alexanderplatz and catch the subway [sorry, U-Bahn] from there. But the weather was gorgeous and anyway, I still had a solid half a beer left. So at first, I figured I’d just follow the subway route and pop downstairs when I finished my beer. But because the weather was so nice, I just kept telling myself “Hey, come on, let’s a go a bit further.” Until at some point, it became, “Who are we kidding, let’s just do this.”
I don’t know how often I’ll wind up doing this. I don’t imagine it will be much fun to walk 90m in the winter, when it’s properly cold out. But who knows, maybe once the blood gets flowing, I’ll arrive at the same mindset. I mean, with a beer and a good podcast or the right music, it’s fucking great to walk.
And you know me, I love walking in the middle of the night, when things are mostly dark and still and peaceful. That said, this walk is quite a bit different from my old walk. If you remember, that old walk was one of decay, where you sort of watch the city disappear around you. This walk is a bit more varied. After Alex, you get stretches of quiet neighborhoods, closed shops, empty streets. But these are punctuated every so often by by pockets of life and activity, light and music and people, bars and Spätis, even at the late hour of 4-5am. These pockets are generally to be found around the subway stops.
Podcast-wise, that night I opted for a bit of Chumash with Rashi. I’ve previously written that I’d been listening to a Chumash with Rashi podcast by a Chabadnik that Aunt Cookie put me on to. But having completed an entire turn through the Torah with that guy, and having found that it just repeats (i.e. he doesn’t record a new series every year), I decided to try a new one. This one is less fun but more educational. The Chabadnik was often telling jokes and parables and stories, occasionally even in Yiddish. It was indeed a lot of fun.
This new guy, though, doesn’t do that. But he gets deeper into the Rashi and adds bit from other commentators. And he’s super Yiddish about everything. Like, the Chabadnik, he delivered his lessons in an English that anybody could understand. And if he did tell a joke or story in Yiddish, he would translate it.
This guy, though, you gotta come correct. You gotta show up already knowing Yiddish and Hebrew. Because his English is barely that. He consistently subs out words, and even entire phrases, into Yiddish or Yiddish-Hebrew, such that if you don’t know these languages, you’d be hard pressed indeed to follow what the hell he’s talking about. I’ll give an example from Friday’s podcast. The words in brackets are my translation for your sake; he does not translate them. So, for example: “So HaShem [G-d] waited until Noyakh [Noah] was five hundred years old for him to have bonim [sons], that way he would only have three bonim and he wouldn’t have to build many teyvas [arks] when HaShem sent the mabel [flood]. Sogt Rashi [Rashi says]…”
So I mean, I love this shit. Hook it to my veins. If anything, I’m slightly saddened that he’s even bothering to do this in “English” at all. Like dude, you’re basically just speaking Yiddish with English words, why not just do this in actual Yiddish? One other example, not from Friday’s podcast, and this time just a phrase. “So here we learn that one must be makriv [bring] a karbon [sacrifice].” We have to be makriv a karbon? This is not English. Why are we pretending? And yet, I love it.
Staying with the subject of Torah, Akiva and I had our first Zoom Torah-learning Friday afternoon. It just happens that this week marks the beginning of the cycle, that this week’s parsha is the very first parsha. “In the beginning” and all that. So that’s what we decided to learn. And in an hour of study, all we managed to read of the actual Torah was the very first verse. That’s it. One verse. בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ. “In the beginning, G-d created the Heavens and the Earth.” An hour, and that’s the only line of Torah we read.
Why? Because we then dug into the commentaries of Rashi and Ramaban. In Hebrew. And this was the real highlight. I’ve touched on this briefly before. But these commentaries are written in a different dialect of Hebrew than is the Torah. I touched in this on account of the fact that I’ve bought a textbook with which teach myself this dialect. But I haven’t actually started with it yet. OK, so we’re looking at these commentaries, and they’re Hebrew, but a dialect I’m still unfamiliar – or, at least, uncomfortable – with. And yet, it was fantastic.
און פאַרוואָס? Well, because I got to be the student for a change, and Kivele got to be the teacher. See, I was prepared to just let him walk me through it and to just try and keep up as best I could. But that’s not what happened. No, he was all, “Why don’t you read this?” Uh, cause I don’t think I can? “Dude, come on, just give it a try.” So fuck it, why not? I gave it a try.
And sure, there was a fair bit of hand-holding. Like, I’d ask if I didn’t know a word. And he had to set me straight on the syntax in places, even when I did happen to know all the words. (The syntax is a bitch, not for nothing). But I managed it. Indeed, there were whole sentences where I’d read the Hebrew and then take a stab at translating it. “I’m not sure, but I feel like it should mean this?” And he’d be like, “Dude, that’s great, that’s exactly what it means!” I’m not gonna lie, I felt pretty darn good about myself. I mean, when I was able to do that, it was entirely on the back of my own efforts, my own self-learning.
To be clear, I couldn’t have done it alone. Even when I was getting shit right, I never would have had the confidence to believe I was getting it right. I mean, I was just making educated guesses, right? Without the experience or depth of learning to trust those judgments. But with Akiva’s help, I was getting by. And he’s a wonderful teacher. Truly. Supportive and encouraging, but also good at recognizing what I know and what I don’t. Good at giving hints rather than full-on explanations or translations, when a hint was all I needed to get over the hill. What’s more, I could tell it was fun for him. And it was fucking fun for me too, you guys. Yeah, I know. Nerd City, Population: Me.
But there was also this really nice symmetry to the experience. Let me explain what I mean. Through Akiva, I met this dude Igor, originally from Ukraine, but he grew up – and still lives – in West Germany. We’ve since become friends. Anyway, he’s just now getting started on his own journey of learning biblical Hebrew. And so we’ll usually meet once a week or so on Zoom, and for part of our meeting, I’ll just help him with his homework. You know, just try to share some of my own knowledge and experience. After all, I once did what he’s doing, and when I did it, I had to do it alone.
Anyway, after one of our Zooms, he sends me a voice message (in German, so I paraphrase), but basically saying, “Dude, thank you so much for helping me. It means so much to me. You explain things to me in a way that I can finally understand them, and you make it so clear and so easy. Thank you!” He kinda went on for a bit, but that was the gist. You know, and I’m kinda like, “Settle down, champ. First of all, you’re my friend, so obviously I’m gonna help you if I can. And anyway, it’s literally a mitzvah.”
Obviously I didn’t say that. I just said something along the lines of, “You’re very welcome and it’s my pleasure. Come at me any time with any questions you got. You don’t need to wait for the next Zoom. I’m happy to help.” Which I am. Happy to help, I mean. And it does make me happy. I mean, it’s fun for me to help him with his Hebrew. Like, yes it’s a mitzvah, yes he’s my friend. But it is, in point of fact, fun.
I wouldn’t normally have mentioned that (unless I have already. Have I?). It’s no good to boast about doing a mitzvah. HaShem knows you’ve done it and that should be enough. Or, it would be, if I believed in G-d, but that’s another story. No, the reason I bring it up, is because Friday, the roles were reversed. Friday, I was the one trying to learn (a new dialect of) Hebrew, and Akiva was the one helping me. That’s why I mean by symmetry.
But I love this so much. I love the way we take care of each other and help one another. And I love that we do it, not out of a sense of obligation – even though we are aware that it is an obligation, a mitzvah – but because it brings us joy to do so. It brings me joy to help Igor, to watch him grow and make progress. And I could tell it brought Akiva joy to hold my hand through a bit of Rashi and Ramban, and to see me succeed at it, to whatever extent I could be said to be succeeding.
What’s more, I love that this joy is centered around learning. Clearly, as an individual and having nothing to do with Judaism, learning is central to my life. But for us as a people, learning is central to our way of life.
A slight digression. One of the things I love about Judaism is that it’s not dogmatic, not in the way, for example, that I understand Catholicism to be. There is no one central authority or truth. Akiva and I were talking about this Friday. As Jews, our job is to learn as many interpretations and teachings as we can and to hold them simultaneously in our head. The goal is not to read the first line of Genesis and say, “Well, it means this. End of discussion.” The goal is be able to say, “Well, Rashi argues that it means x. But Ramban disagrees and says it means y. Meanwhile, Rambam teaches z. And of course the Vilna Gaon has a to say about it. And my understanding is now richer for having learned all of these things. And not only that, we’re now free to argue about it. More than free. We are encouraged to argue about it.” I fucking love that.
My point is, it brings me joy to help Igor learn just as it brings Akiva joy to help me learn. And I love that this is a thing we find joy in.
And it doesn’t have to be about Torah. I’m a teacher for a reason. And a student for life. When Charlotte was here, we were talking about teaching, and somehow we got on the subject of the passé composé – the standard past tense in French. And she was saying how it’s actually deceptively difficult, both to learn and to teach. On the surface, it seems like it should be straightforward, but in point of fact, it’s anything but.
Well, now you’ve got my attention, sweetheart. Tell me everything. And I mean, fucking everything. And she did. She grabbed a pen and a scrap of paper, and proceeded to walk me through the nuances of this particular verb tense, complete with example sentences to illustrate her points. And I just ate it up, you know?
But she had fun with it too. Which ain’t nothing. Because, no matter how much we might love our respective languages, no matter how much we might love teaching them, having to do this shit that you’ve done a thousand times before on your off-hours can be tedious af. Right, I mean there’s a reason I hate speaking English with German people when I’m not working. Nobody’s paying me to listen to your denglish-isms, so can we please not?
So I asked her, “Hey, you don’t mind doing this with me off the clock, do you?” And she was like, “Not at all. I’m happy to do it, if the person I’m doing it with actually gets it and wants to learn.” All to say, for people like us, Jew or Gentile, there’s great joy in learning, and it doesn’t matter what side of the desk you’re on. I fucking love that. And I love that I’ve got people in my life – good friends – who are the same way.
Saturday night was Knut’s 60th birthday. Glad I went, and it was more fun than I’d anticipated. Philippe, Brigitte and Deb were there, and it was great to just bullshit with them and drink wine. Bibi was also there, and I hadn’t seen since her before the move, so I was actually really happy to catch up with her. I’ve written plenty about all she’s done for my development as a musician. But I’m not sure I’ve written enough about how she’s also just my friend, and she very much is. So it was great to catch up with her and shoot the shit, you know?
One thing I probably haven’t written about, with respect to Bibi, is that I just love speaking German with her. I mean, she’s a ‘real’ East Berliner. I wrote not long ago about how I love Linda’s German, because it’s a very real, very gritty East Berlin kinda German. But Linda herself is a child of the 90’s. (I think? She’s twenty-five, if I’m not mistaken. Point being, she’s Post-Wall). Which is to say, while it’s authentic, it’s also a sort of ‘legacy’ East Berlinish, if you accept the term. But Bibi, she grew up in the DDR (or ‘GDR,’ I guess we say in English?).
No, you know what? I’m not proud of that analysis. It’s bullshit to value one person’s version of the language over another’s. That’s gross, not to put to fine a point on it. So gimme a sec here (I drank a lot of wine at the party [I originally wrote this after coming home from the party.]). For reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, but probably having to do with just being closer with Bibi than Linda – no, I’m still comparing. And it’s still gross. Let me try again…
I often write about how, despite my efforts to ape the Berlin dialect, and more precisely, the East version thereof, English and Yiddish exert a considerable pull. For reasons which, at present, I have no wish to examine, those influences are most suppressed when I’m talking with Bibi. I hear her German and I give back what I’m hearing. And for whatever reason, with her, I feel most confident in my German. With her is when I most feel, “Yeah, I actually do speak this language and you know what? I’m actually pretty damn good at it.”
Don’t get me wrong, I still make all manner of mistakes. I’ll still go into the occasional syntactic tailspin. Huh? What does that even mean? I forget what movie it’s in, but there’s this brilliant Marx Brothers routine, where Chico is at the piano. And he’s playing this wonderful piece of music. Until he gets to the end. And it should be the end. You can hear it. You can feel it. But it doesn’t end. He just gets stuck in this endless loop of a chord progression. And he’s like, “I don’t know how it ends!” That can happen to me in German. I’ll get to the end of a sentence, and suddenly, I’m like, “I don’t know how this ends!’ And I’ll just keep adding verbs until somebody slaps me upside the head. Usually figuratively.
Yeesh, that was a digression. All I really wanted to say was something like this. Often people back home will ask me if I’m “fluent.” And to this, I have two stock answers. Answer #1: “I don’t know what fluent means, but I’ve got plenty of friends where the only language we speak is German, so…yes?” Answer #2: “Meh. It’s a shitshow, but it get’s me from A to B.” But when I’m shooting the shit with Bibi, that’s when I most feel like, “Hey, you know what? Actually my German is just fine, thank you very much.”
To be fair, I get this with the Bavarians as well. Except the experience with them is mitigated by two factors. One, I don’t see them that often. Two, Bavarian is much closer to Yiddish. So with them, I give the Yiddish influence plenty of room, and it just works with them in a way that doesn’t quite fly up here. I feel like I’m doing a terrible job of describing this and so I think I should just shuddup already.
There was this girl there, at Knut’s birthday. Oxana. Or perhaps Oksana? I literally have no idea about the spelling conventions when it comes to Slavic languages. Anyway, she’s a Ukrainian refugee, taking [pro bono] German lessons form Knut. And I gather he hired her to work the party. Just to pour wine and hand out dishes and glasses, that sort of thing.
But I chatted with her for a bit. Partly because everybody else at the party was fucking old (Knut was turning 60, after all). And partly because, omg was she ever gorgeous. Total smoke show. But also smart. We wound up talking a bit about literature. Russian and Ukrainian lit, to be precise.
Which was fun for me, because I know fuck all about that. And what a wonderful position to be in. I sometimes worry that I can sound pretentious when I talk about my own shit. Example. After asking my students what they’d done the previous day (mostly as a way to push them into using the past tense), one of them asked me what I’d done the day before. Now, it happened that the day before I’d had my regular Zoom with George. So all I said was, “I’ve got this friend back home, and once a week, we meet on Zoom to read together. And that was yesterday.”
But of course one of them asked what we read. And I got all quiet and self-conscious and stammer-y. Like, I somehow felt that were I to say, “Ah, yes, well, we read Ancient Greek together,” I’d sound like a pretentious asshole. I’m not kidding when I say I literally froze. In the end, I did answer honestly, and explained that we’re currently working through Sophocles’ Ajax. But I was embarrassed to say that.
Which is fucking weird, right? Nevermind that it’s the truth. But I run my mouth all the time about this shit. “Hmm, yes, well of course this word derives from the Latin, and so we can see it means something like ___.” Or, “But I’m sure you have the same word in German, because it’s Greek, and the Greek words are usually the same everywhere.” Like, I don’t mind being a know-it-all when I’m teaching. But ask me about my personal life and I’m suddenly embarrassed.
Gods I’m going off on tangents tonight. My point is, I was talking to this girl, and she’s telling me about Pushkin. And suddenly, all my knowledge about Greek and Latin and French and Hebrew was out the window. It was worthless. And that was some how incredibly refreshing. Like, it was a chance for me to shut my big fucking mouth for five minutes and maybe learn something. And yeah, it didn’t hurt that while I was learning, I got to look at this gorgeous face that was talking to me.
It was nice. And it was כדי. But in the end, I don’t think there was any real connection there. It was just a nice way to pass the time at a party. A way to avoid the usual bullshit of socializing at a party. And a chance to learn. וואָס איז תמיד כדי.
But if I may indulge in a point of curiosity. This girl has two kids, צוויי בנים, 16 and 11. Which was most surprising because (and forgive me) she did not look like a woman who’s had two kids. And also, I’d bet money she was younger than me. To be clear, there is no judgment attached to any of this. Merely surprise is all. And even that may be unjust.
But my point of curiosity is this. Maybe she was – or under other circumstances could have been – interested in me. Or perhaps one look at me was enough for her to say, “Ha, as if!” All that’s the beside the point. What I find myself curious about is this. She’s a single woman (or, at least, I’m given to believe she is [upon further reflection, for all I know, she has a husband fighting in the war; it didn’t come up]), with two sons, 11 and 16. What kind of defenses must she have up, just as general practice, you know? How hard must that be?
I’m asking now not as a red-blooded male, but as a curious human. Is she always on her guard against men? Is she…well, not mistrustful, but…eminently careful? I just try to imagine how I would be, were I a single father with two kids that age. I’d be wary of letting people in for sure. Add to that the whole refugee business. That can’t be easy.
Look, I’ll probably never see her again. But I do believe that, that night, I chanced to meet an example of some of the best that the human race has to offer. A kind, thoughtful and educated person. A person who, presumably, took great risk to leave her home not just for her own sake but for that of her children. The strength that that must take. All I’m saying is, in the grand story of the adventures of my life, of all I’ve done and experienced, and all the people I’ve met along the way, somewhere in there is a footnote about how I spent part of an evening chatting with a stunningly beautiful girl who is all of the things I just mentioned. That’s a helluva footnote.
And believe it or not, those footnotes go a long way. Because there’s been a lot of “the grass is always greener” bound up with my decision to make my life over here. I’ve had conversations not only with friends, but even with my own father, where they’ll express some version of, “I envy you and what you’re doing. The freedom you have. The adventure of it all.” To which I universally respond with some version of, “Yeah, but come on, you have a family! Do you really think I’d be fucking around over here if I had a family?”
So it’s perhaps surprising that it’s not in the day-to-day where arise the justifications to do that which I have done. Because the day-to-day is exactly that. It’s a way to keep going. It’s a way of existing. And for all I do to fill it with meaning – learning, language, music, friends, cooking, whatever – there are times when I go to bed feeling hollow.
But these little moments, like chatting with this girl that night, those are special. Those are the times when I most feel like, “Hey, you know what, I just got something unique and special, something that would never happen if I’d stayed in the States.” The experience of being a bit rootless in this world and meeting someone else who’s also a bit rootless.
And it makes me feel closer to my ancestors somehow. Figure four branches of family: maternal and paternal grandparents, each with their own families and histories. And somewhere along those branches, somebody decided on the bold move of coming to America, די גאֶלדענע מדינע, ‘the golden land.’ The risk and the challenge would be great, but they saw it as the best thing for their own future and that of their children. And while I have no children of my own, that’s nevertheless what I’ve done. And I share in those challenges and those risks.
As great as it was to talk with Oksana about what it was like for her coming to Berlin and what she makes of the city, wouldn’t it be something to be able to talk with Bubbi? Not the way Uncle Rich did, not to just sit back and listen to her stories. But to actually compare notes. To trade experiences.
You know that old parlor game of, “If you could invite any three people, living or dead, to dinner, who would you invite?” (And inevitably, there’s some asshole who wants invite Jesus. Spare me). Well, I’ve got two answers to this bullshit game. One answer is just to invite my dad and my grandpa and – actually, you know what? Fuck you. Why three? I want Carol there, and I want Mike there. And I want Rich there. And Gail. And Judy, even though I never knew her. Grandma has to be there. And while we’re at it, Millie and Don. And if we’re doing this, then my mom needs to be there, and Justin and Jay and Lisa and Scott and Melissa. And it will be Thanksgiving. Because we had the best Thanksgivings. That’s the dinner I want. Three? Fuck you, three. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Deep breath. That’s one answer to the question. The other answer starts the same way, but goes in the other direction. It still starts with, “Three? Fuck you, three.” But this time, just gimme a dinner with Bubbi. I just wanna sit with her and compare notes over this whole immigrant experience משגעת. I’m not looking for, “Oh wow, you did that?” I’m looking for, “Omg, I know, right?” And we’d do it in Yiddish. None of this, “Bubbi, English please,” bullshit. Give it to me in Yiddish and I’ll do my best to keep up. And instead of her being all, “What’s the English word?” I’ll be all, “ווי זאֶגט מען אַזוי?.” I want that dinner too.
Changing gears. There are furnishings I need for the apartment. I’ve already written about the butcher block for the kitchen, and how I have it in mind to build it. Well, that inclination has grown. See, I’ve decided I want a small, single-shelf bookshelf to hang on the wall behind my desk. There I would keep the books I’m constantly reaching for. Mostly foreign language dictionaries and reference grammars.
Now, a bookshelf can be just a plank of wood, right? The problem with that is, the books fall over. So I got in in my head that what I really want is a ‘shelf’ in the shape of a square frame, such that the ‘wall’s of the frame double as bookends. Fine. So I spent way too much time over the last few days googling around for such a shelf. Only, I was either finding garbage or else nice things that I thought were too expensive.
So last week, I decided, Fuck it. I’ll build my my own damn shelf. Whereupon did I betake myself to the local Baumarkt (home improvement center; think, the German version of Home Depot). And I filled my shopping cart not just with wood for said shelf, but also with a number of hand tools: clamps, a saw, two chisels, a can of varnish and some brushes, mounting hardware, a sanding block, sandpaper, safety glasses, nails, glue, screws.
One of the nice things about these Baumãrkte is that they’ll cut the wood for you in the shop. So I took my planks to the cutting station, gave the dude my dimensions, and in five minutes I had my shelf pieces. And when I got home, I got straight to work. I framed up the shelf, glued and nailed it together and fixed it with the clamps to dry overnight. The next step is to make it look pretty. That will require the last piece of wood, a bit of chiseling and sanding and, finally, a coat of stain or varnish (I haven’t decided which yet).
But I can’t tell you how good it feels to be doing this. One thing the reader may or may not know about me is that, once upon a time, I delighted in carpentry work. And I wasn’t half bad at it. (Which also means that I was just slightly less than bad at it). But I worked doing set construction in my university theatre. Indeed, one of the reasons I chose that school was because I was so impressed with the scenery of a production we saw during my visit, and all I could think was, “I want to do that!”
My first semester, I landed a job washing dishes in the cafeteria. It sucked, but I needed the money. And I amused myself by playing ‘Moby Dick’ [wich I was then reading] with the dishes in the sink. One floating plate was the Pequod, a white floating bowl was the much sought after whale. Don’t judge.
Also during that first semester, I got myself into the ‘Stagecraft’ class. And I do mean ‘got myself into.’ More people wanted in than there were spots. I don’t remember how I finagled it, but I made it happen is the point. Anyway, at the end of every semester, the guy who ran the shop would pick a handful of promising students from the class and actually hire them to work for him. And I do mean ‘hire.’ It was a paying gig. But it was also an apprenticeship of sorts. If you already knew how to something, then he – John – would just tell you to do it. But if you hadn’t yet learned how, he’d teach you. And he was a wonderful teacher.
I learned so much from him. Sure, all the technical shit. But also, just how to run a shop, how to organize a shop. And I carry that with me to this very day. One thing is, your job’s not done until you’ve cleaned up after yourself. However long a job is gonna take, you start by factoring in the clean-up time. And to be perfectly honest, when I encounter professionals who don’t do a good job of cleaning up after themselves, I immediately lose all respect for them. Like, I don’t care if you expertly fixed the leak in my sink. You left a mess behind yourself. Do you even take pride in your work?
Interpolation: Not for nothing, Gerry – the electrician for whom I worked a year or two – was like John in this way. He was immaculate. Yes, he was a master electrician. But when he was done working, you could eat off the floor where he’d been. And for that alone, I had the utmost respect for him. End interpolation.
Anyway, the lessons I learned from John, I carry them with me in anything I do which I take seriously. I made some noise in a previous post about the kitchen being a scared space. How I need to be able to reach for any implement with my eyes closed, how everything must have its place. That comes form John. He taught me that. And while he never would have used the word ‘sacred,’ the way he taught me to keep the shop is 100% how I keep my kitchen; and my studio and my desk.
I might be a slob in my every day life. Dirty clothes strewn all over the floor. But come into my kitchen. Come into my studio. You want the slotted spatula? It’s on that hook. You want the paring knife? It’s in this drawer, in the leftmost slot of the cutlery tray. Do I think it looks cool to have my headphones hanging from the ceiling of the loft? Sure. But they’re in arms reach when I’m in my chair and I can grab them with my eyes closed. Because they will always be there. Because that’s where they live. Thank you, John Larrance.
So that was a trip down Memory Lane. But to return to the point of all this – if there ever was a point – once upon a time, I had a carpentry job in the theatre. And I loved it. I loved creating. I still do. I love writing stories and songs, I love producing other people’s music. But I loved building and creating, bringing something into the world that didn’t exist before. And the feeling of looking at your creation and thinking, “Yeah, I made that with my own two hands.”
And then I got away from carpentry. The second half of my college career, as pertains to my job in the theatre, was more focused on lighting. Still a creative endeavor, to be sure. And one which I very much enjoyed. To the point that I worked professionally as a lighting designer for a time after school. But you can’t hold a lighting scene in your hands. And it’s ephemeral. Come the next cue, the lights change and your creation is gone forever.
Ah, but carpentry. You’ve built something that lasts. Every day, you get to look at with fresh eyes and experience that feeling of, “I made this!”
And that’s where I am today. Even though it’s not done. Even though all I’ve done is to knock together the basic frame of the thing. And yet, already, I’m looking at it, I’m touching it. It’s mine. My own. My precious. (Wait, what?). No, but seriously. I feel this great sense of pride, even just in the having-begun-ness of it. And the knowing that, when it’s done, I’ll have this little bookshelf in my room, that everyday, every time I pull a book off of it, I’ll get just a touch of that feeling. “I made this.”
And it wont be perfect. Because a master carpenter I ain’t. It will have flaws. I’m sure, that when it’s done, I’ll look at it and be entirely unable to not see the imperfections. Even so, that’s preferable to looking at a shelf and thinking, “Welp, that cost me x euros.”
Another sign of what it means to be to be building my own shit. It took precedence over a nap. Did you catch that? You people know me. You know that my existence is nap-dependent. Just like, not Saturday. I mean, I had this party to go to. Under any other circumstances, I would have taken a nap to prepare myself. Just like, not Saturday. All I wanted to do was work on this shelf. And so that’s what I did. I worked until it reached a point where, if I went any further, I would be unacceptably late. (There was no way I was ever gonna show up ‘on time,’ no matter what. In the event, I was two hours late, which was fine). The point is, I didn’t just want to work, to create. I needed to. And if that cost me a nap, well, that’s the price.
I should probably wrap this up. So let me say this. Moving down to Neukölln, I feel like I’m getting back parts of myself that I’d lost. I’m skating again. I’m working with my hands again. Am I overwhelmed? Absolutely. There’s not enough time in the day, not enough days in the week, to do all that needs doing. I’m exhausted and it feels like there’s no end in sight. And yet, for all that, I feel as though I’m somehow becoming a better version of myself, somehow finding my way back to the person I want to be. Not just a dilettante amateur-hour scholar, but a person who does things, a person who creates things. I feel better about myself than I’ve felt in a long time….