Jay’s uniform clung to his skin, pasted there by the thick sweat teeming out of his pores and running down his body. The heavy material stretched over the flexed muscles of his arms and torso as if it would tear any second. But he was not consciously aware of it. His adrenalin rush was too high, the highest he had ever felt it, pulsating currents coursing through every part of his body, culminating at his forehead and temples, detaching him from the reality of the ground beneath him. Unconsciously, he had waited for this day. His eyes did not swerve from the man who was falling less than 5 feet in front of him. His heartbeat raced. His breath was raw and wild. But his hands were steady. He knew he was good! Ten seconds ago, he had willed those hands to tense and squeeze, and his finger to press the firing mechanism. Almost imperceptibly, he had jerked and the explosive pop had hit his ears. He had watched the bullet enter the man’s shoulder, jerking him sideways and slightly upwards. And again, the other shoulder - and again, the abdomen, and again……six times, in quick succession. Just like target practice. All other sound and motion had lost their relevance, and only the pop, the flight of the bullet, the jerking man, the pop, the bullet, the man, the pop, the bullet, the man…..mattered. Jay felt high, almost giddy as the seventh bullet was charged. This time he had aimed for the heart.
Abruptly, in that moment, everything went dark, just for a fraction of a second, as if someone has turned the sun off and then on again. The bullet had emerged less than an inch out of the barrel. He could see it there because everything was frozen……stopped, like a film projector stuck on one frame. Nothing moved, and neither did Jay. No sound, utter silence, as if something had just…..swallowed it. Before he could even formulate the question of his sanity, reality shifted again and he was on a dirt road. Every muscle in him tensed. The world slashed into white lightning, like demonic shooting stars, ripping through the space around him. Armageddon?! He always thought it would be a glorious battle of righteousness, not…..a personal nightmare! The clapping thunder crashed into his ear drums till he thought they would erupt in his head. Jay had always been afraid of thunderstorms. They were, for him, evil, bellowing giants coming down on him. This one terrified him. Jay lost his balance, falling, curled up, to his knees. Looking around in intense fear, he looked for a way to get out of the storm, but he could see nothing, nothing but the sharp bolts that flung themselves in every direction around him, hitting the ground just inches from his feet, just missing him. He could feel their heat, the currents of electricity. He shut his eyes tight and tried to close his ears to the deafening noise, but it sifted easily through his fingers. He had to escape this place! He opened his eyes again and saw to his right a way out, narrow and treacherous, but less treacherous than staying where he was. He scrambled up and ran, hoping he might avoid what felt like his imminent death. Then, he was out of the storm. But he was……someone else……
He was crying so hard he could hardly breathe. And the minute he caught his breath, the screams would come again. He looked at his hands – they were dark brown and very small. He was 4 years old, almost 5. Sitting in the back of a wagon drawn by work horses, he was jostled every which way, his arm held tight by a man he didn’t know with white skin. He didn’t know where he was or where he was going. He had heard his Mama scream his name in desperation, had seen her trying to run for him, had seen the overseer hold her back though she fought him with all the strength she had, had heard her wailing voice call him long after he could see her, until he was too far away to even hear her anymore. With every cry of his own, he called and called, sobbing, “Mama! Mama!” over and over again. His face was streamed with tears and his body wracked with panic and terror. The wagon jerked to a stop and he was pulled down off of it. Voices talked. The man who was still holding onto him yelled at him to shut up and smacked him hard across the face. The shock of pain made him cry harder until the second one came. His cheeks seared as a third one battered his face, making the world spin around him. His panic and terror escalated and he was silent, his breath caught in his chest. He didn’t want to be hit again. Barely able to stand, he started shivering. He felt so cold and all he wanted was his Mama to pick him up. The man dragged him to a small house, into a darkened room with a cot and threw him on it. Finally released, he curled up tight, lay still and closed his eyes. When the man left, he opened his eyes and whispered again and again, “Mama…Mama…..Mama”, hoping she would come, until he could no longer speak. After a long time, the shivering stopped, a numbness overtook his body, his mind squeezed shut, and he just stared out into the room, seeing nothing.
Jay was back on the road again, as suddenly as he had left it. And though the storm continued crashing around him as before, it was the visceral anguish of loneliness and utter despair that sent shivers convulsing through his body. He wished it would leave, he wished the memory would go, but it was his memory now. A way was open to the left. His will to go on was drained, but he went on, and became again…..someone else…..
His eyes fluttered open. He was very high up, almost at the crest of the hill. He could feel his life draining from him, heavily and very slowly. Almost naked, his light brown skin was burnt and cracked from exposure to the sun, wind and heat. A putrid smell of blood, pus, urine and feces emanated from his body. The searing pain in his hands and feet that had sent him to the edge of unconsciousness, waned to a dull ache after a while, but returning again if he moved. And as his body lost strength, the involuntary downward pull slammed it back. Trying to remain still, his blurred vision cleared somewhat, and he looked around at the others. There were at least sixty like him, hanging on the t-shaped gallows erected for enemies of the state. He knew these men - some closer, some more distant, some by name, some by sight, some beloved friends, some not. But he recognized them all. They were freedom fighters, like himself. Whatever differences they had, and they had had many, their objective had been the same – an end to Roman tyranny and Roman domination, the right to be a free people without obstruction or interference. As these thoughts came, the passion of them lifted him up. But he was too weak. His body sagged, and the pain returned. They had pledged to die for their cause, and now they were. The Romans were relentless, heartless and blind. He didn’t want to die. Even now, he wished to God he didn’t have to. Life…….was desirable. Involuntarily, he pulled at his hands to free them, and grunted in pain, almost fainting again. He had sworn to himself not to cry out. His vision blurred to the point that everything ran together in a jumble of shades and colors. He so desperately longed to see his wife…….and he prayed she would not come. The soldiers harassed and ridiculed the women, and sometimes worse, shoving, kicking and some even raping them. Nothing was beyond the Roman soldier. “Don’t come,” his voice, hardly more than a whisper, was harsh and cracked, dried out. “I am here!” He heard her voice, though he didn’t know if it was real or in his mind. His vision, no longer focusing, was turning to darkness. But he reveled at the sound. She spoke to him, quietly, soothingly, and a lightness came gently over him. It was almost over.
The lightning storm had lessened slightly and the thunder was not as overpowering as before. But Jay’s mind, preoccupied with the memory, with thoughts of loss and freedom, of sacrifice and love, did not notice that his fear had eased and softened. He rubbed at the palms of his hands. The way out was clearer this time, but he went with wary hesitation, wondering who he would be, and where he would find himself, and if he would live. But he knew, his only choice was to enter…..
Sunday, 6 a.m. on a subway in Hamburg. I'm sitting in a four-seater compartment reading my book on my way to the main station. Three young women in their late teens, maybe early twenties, come in and take a seat in the remaining spots next to and across from me. Judging by their tired pink faces and vapor of liquor around them, they are heading home after a night of heavy partying.
The sweet brown-haired girl sitting across from me closes her eyes and leans her head on the tall girl's shoulders, beside her. The cool girl sitting next to me leans back in her seat. She starts talking in a deep and raspy voice: „Well, what did he say?” The sweet girl gives her a sad, drunken look. „What a shame.” the cool girl says. „We all thought there was something more going on between you two.” „So did I,” the sweet girl whispers, scarcely audible. „Maybe he needs more time?” the tall one with the pink glasses suggests. „No.” the cool one shakes her head. „I texted him. He says, he's sorry. He feels really bad about hurting you. He had no idea you had feelings for him. He thought it was only physical.” The sweet girl gives her a bitter grunt and the tall one rolls her eyes in annoyance: „That's the way men are. That's how they think.“ „It was just a misunderstanding.“ the cool girl says with a shrug.
If I had a dime for every time one of my friends has said: „That's the way men are!“ ...
It is true. Whether we are single or whether we are in a long-term relationship, we love to talk boys. And we love them - as long as we’re happy in our relationship or enjoy being single … but oh, how fast the rhetoric can change.
I can’t stand it, when I get into a fight with a boyfriend, and he says: „Stop being such a girl!” Excuse me? What is that supposed to mean? I am not crying because I'm a girl, I'm crying because you hurt me! I am not yelling because I'm a girl, I'm yelling because you are making me mad! Stating that I am being „such a girl” completely undermines my individual personality and disregards the seriousness of the situation. I do not want to be thrown in a pot with the airhead girl from next door, or the bitter old lady across the street or the annoying talk show host on TV. I am more than just „a girl”! I am me! Right Ladies? Give me an Amen if you hear me! Alright!
Then how is it, that in our fight to be recognized as precious individuals, we so automatically generalize the other side?
Men only truly love technology. Men only want one thing. Men don't talk about their feelings. Men can't handle secure women. Men don't listen ...
I read an interesting article a few months ago, about why mass shooters are always men. Instead of insisting on the idea that men are simply more violent than women, the journalist said that it had a lot to do with the fact that men did not have the revolution that women had. That new discovery of oneself. That breaking free of society's views and expectations. And while I don't believe the answer to mass shootings is quite that simple, I do believe she has a point.
Yes, we had to fight for our right to vote. Yes, we are still fighting for equal pay. No, no man should decide what we do with our bodies, and no, no man should force us into doing something we don't want. Women and men should be equal. Equal. That means women should have the same rights as men. But it also means that men should have the same rights as women. I'm not talking about participation and money. I am talking about our simple, every day understanding of what it means to be a man. Because really … today … what does it mean to be a man?
I am a strong, independent and proud young woman and I would like that to be acknowledged, but don't you dare not hold the door for me or have the nerve not to pay the entire bill on our first date! I want a guy who is sensitive, but don't be a wimp! Be a man, but please don't go too crazy over soccer or football! Be nice, but not too nice! Have a masculine physique, but don't spend all your time working out! Be successful! Make money! Spend time with your kids! Cook for me! Surprise me! Be my Prince Charming, but don't spend more time in the bathroom than I do! Make me feel desirable, but don't expect me to have sex with you whenever you want me to! Have sex with me whenever I want you to! Come on, man, just be a man!!!
We want a jack of all trades device in a man – a Greek god combo, so to speak - a tall, well-read, well-built Adonis, with the talent of Pan, the romanticism of Eros and the dangerous debths of Hades, who has the temper of Hermes' harp and who like Narcissus only had eyes for himself, only has eyes for us. Is that really too much to ask?
We (rightfully) consider a man to be superficial if he says he doesn't want to be with a woman who is overweight. Yet, on the other hand, it is fully acceptable and understandable for us to say we could never be with a man who is too skinny or – god forbid – shorter than us!
We excuse ourselves for dating men who are a few years younger because – everybody knows – women are more mature than men. Men who make less money than their wives are sneered at … ain't he lucky he found himself a sugar mama?!
We all need a purpose in life. We often get that purpose through whatever role we choose to take on: the teacher, the artist, the mother, the entrepreneur. But where do we fit inside the bigger picture? Women have fought to get away from the idea of being „solely“ a housewife and mother. But have men really broken free of their strings? It's not that men don't have struggles. They might just be less visible.
I have male friends who are wonderful partners, who have patiently waited for and love their girlfriends. And I have female friends who swindle and cheat.
I have met women whose only interest is getting the best profit for themselves in any given situation, and I have met men who spend all their time fighting for the rights of others.
I know women who have been sexually abused and assaulted and I know of just as many cases where women have not only used their sexual appeal to get what they want, but have threatened to make false claims against men.
I have seen broken female hearts and broken male hearts. I have seen lonely women and lonely men. There is no plain black and white. There is a Yin in every Yang and a Yang in every Yin.
I do believe there are differences between men and women, but we need to keep in mind that the exception proves the rule and that it is okay to be different. Differences are an opportunity for growth that we can learn from, so we can help and complete each other. And we should not use these differences to diminish each other's values or feelings.
I love the women and the men in my life equally as I am sure most of us do. So let's apply that distinguished understanding we have for the men we know, to the men we don't know.
Curse that guy who dumped you, not because he's a man, but because he sucks! Hate your boss, not because he's a man, but because he's a jerk! Be angry at our politicians and CEO's, not because they are men, but because they are greedy, selfish bastards!
We can't drool over abs and arms and be mad at them for drooling over legs. So let's stop expecting more of them than we expect of ourselves. Let's stop expecting men to magically know what we want and say what we want. Let's stop picturing Prince Charming and start seeing real people. Let's stop making all men responsible for what one man does to us.
It was obvious from the way the tall girl said: „That's the way men are.“ that she had had one or two disappointments and she was projecting her own experiences on every man.
It's a lot easier to say that men are wrong than admitting to ourselves that we might be chasing the wrong men. The cool girl was right. Sometimes there are misunderstandings. Sometimes we fall in love and the other person doesn't. Sometimes a person who loved us, stops loving us. Sometimes there is no villain. Sometimes it is just life.
The state or quality of being perfect;
Miriam-Webster - Being entirely without fault or defect. Corresponding to an ideal standard or abstract concept;
Oxford – Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities or characteristics.
Collins – As good as it could possibly be.
I am not perfect!
How often have these words drifted through the script of my life – more often than I care to count and way more often than I care to admit. They’ve dripped off my tongue in apologetic tones of self-deprecation. They’ve spat from my mouth in lashing tones of self-defense. They’ve wound their way through my mind like a vile tapeworm, eating away at my self-worth.
A psychologist would say, “Take comfort, you don’t have to be perfect”. A theologian would say, “Take comfort, you are not meant to be perfect”. And were my sweet mother still here, she would take me on her lap and hold me while my anguish released itself, offering me the simple comfort of love. All of these have their momentary effects, for which I have been grateful time and again, but in the end, I am not comforted.
This amorphous blissful state is as undefined in its definitions as it is elusive in its substance. It is the limbo stick too low to the ground to slide under, or the high jump bar too far out of sight to clear. I make the attempt, I knock the bar away– already a pronounced failure - and I fall. I live in frustration that I cannot accomplish it, and in resignation that I will never accomplish it. And the antithetical realization comes over me that there is this thing I have to reach for that is unreachable, a state I should aspire to attain that is unattainable, a race I should win with a non-existent finish line.
Elementary School: 5 1/2 years old, 1st grade. I began to feel the weight of systemic judgement. Suddenly, there were right answers and wrong answers. A grading scale was implemented that measured us against an objective standard of perfection, how close to or far from that point we stood, and against each other. A well-meaning educator may explain, “These systems are implemented simply to measure your understanding of the material”, but in truth, in our young truth, we knew. An “A” was good (perfect), an “F” was bad (severely flawed), and the rest of the letters were hanging somewhere in between, from almost, but not quite, good enough to almost, but not quite, worthless. It was a filing system, and I was petrified that I might find myself in the bottom drawer. And though I did well, the expectation of not only reaching but maintaining the closest proximity to perfection as possible, cost me immeasurable emotional capital.
Junior High School: 11 years old, 7th grade. Getting off the bus to walk into a white school in a white neighborhood added another, more nebulous, divergence on this labyrinthian pathway to perfection. Something was here that we were told to strive for, that we should work to incorporate or attain, that here was some mysterious key to a more perfect life we had been missing. Something in the manner of these other adolescent children told me they knew some Thing, but nobody was talking, nobody was explaining. What very quickly did become obvious to my adolescent mind was that those others saw themselves as closer to that state of perfection than we were. Why? Was some part of the secret here, how to navigate the labyrinth? I made friends, but I discovered no answers. And if there were answers in this new situation, there was no time. The majority of the white families moved out inside of three years. They jumped, recoiled, and ran away from us, as if we were a pack of poisonous snakes from the swamp. A dim light from the distance flickered. “Look somewhere else. Here your doubts are only reaffirmed by default. This is not the place to be enlightened.”
High School: 14 years old, 9th grade. In how many categories can one fail to be perfect? By this time, the weight of responsibility fell mainly on my own shoulders, and by this time, the weight of the failure to reach this confounded state of perfection was too heavy for me. The forgiveness once received for this or that shortcoming was no longer forthcoming - child status was over. The scholastic scrutiny continued, but the other compartments of life began to demand elevated attention – social networking, romantic relationships, extra-curricular engagements, self-presentation, looking good and smelling good. A misplaced word, an unattractive cough, a grade too low, an ill-fitting piece of clothing were all reminders of that perfection that still eluded me, and the imperfection that still encompassed my life. One of my teachers told me I would be prettier if I wore makeup……Strike 1 (why don’t you look after yourself?). My composition teacher wanted the choir to sing one of the pieces I wrote. No, I don’t want to direct it and I’d rather not even be there……Strike 2 (what a useless, frightened mouse!). The boy I liked for at least 2 of those 3 years of HS never looked my way, just like in a thousand movies about teenagers. But unlike those films, he never did notice……Strike 3 - You’re Out! The pressure of high school was breathtakingly high, and……since I couldn’t breathe anyway, I held it until I graduated.
Adult Pretense and Admission
Let’s pretend this confidence I exude is real. Let’s pretend that confusion and insecurity are gone. Let’s pretend I am perfectly well-aware of what there is to do in any given moment, and that’s what I do with well-placed intentions and precise timing. Let’s pretend that I am almost always sure of a perfect outcome in almost all the things that I set out to do.
Or…… let’s not!
The secret stamp of imperfection accompanied me through my trials and travels, even as an adult. I hid from it, but it waited patiently for my inevitable reappearance. I yelled at it, but it was unperturbed by my anger. I tried to run away from it, but it always caught up.
If we are lucky, when we are grown up, we can set up our “perfect” nest, just as we wish it to be, a refuge from the throws of spontaneous change that threaten our “perfect” world. And if we are lucky, it lasts a while. But life is inconstant, and life is relentless. It seeps in through the basement floor, it crawls in through the cracks in the walls, it even enters stealthily through the front door with our children as they begin to have experiences apart from us. And we are forced once again to see ourselves against the backdrop of an outside world, to re-question our choices, and to face one more time what we believed we’d never have to face again.
I am not perfect!
If I should indeed be comforted in the knowledge that I do not have to be nor was I meant to be perfect, and yet I am in fact still in a state of discomfort, unaffected even by the beauty of unconditional love, then something in the relationship between me and the idea of perfection must change.
A long time have I taught different forms of performance and the artistic languages of expression, a domain where the idea of an objective perfection is not only out of place, but injurious to its essence and meaning. I have observed the struggles of students, young and old, rushing toward some external pinnacle of perfection, lashing out at themselves (or each other) for every transgression, holding themselves tightly in an invisible controlled casing, waiting until they have reached said pinnacle, where they will finally discover………..their freedom. And though they must run, a pressure cooker full of judgement is indelibly strapped to their bodies, as it is to their spirits, holding them back, weighing them down. And time is their enemy.
We are bred to respect competitiveness and mistrust cooperation. We are taught to revere hierarchical structures and berate communal constructions. We applaud the affluent and shame in indigent. We deify the “first” and demonize the “last”. We proclaim a passion for individualism yet admonish the ill-fitting individual.
This striving for “Perfection”, this score-taking of progress, this constant arranging on a scale from one to ten, this neurotic room-scanning to discover who is better and who is worse, has not helped us, but rather hindered us in our human development, both as individuals and as a species. This incentive of perfection has kept us infighting where collaboration would have brought us miles forward. It has made us ready to trample one another rather than lift one another up. It has created attitudes of arrogance and entitlement, and, in contrast, bitter and angry hearts. And, worst of all, it has wasted the gifts of so many beautiful souls who sang another song, sketched another design, spoke new poeticisms, who perceived new knowledge, new wisdoms, new understanding.
We will not rid ourselves of the word or the idea, it is too old and too deep. But I propose a new definition:
Perfection is not a societal judgement. It is a personal matter.
Perfection is not a rigid design. It is a shape-shifting entity that changes as we change with the seasons and tides of our lives.
Perfection is not a cold set of technical properties. It combines skills and abilities with the individual heart and soul.
Perfection is not measurable in objective terms. It is indelibly connected to an enlightened state of wisdom and understanding.
Perfection is the light that keeps us calm and the darkness that lets us rest. It is the sun and rain that feed and nourish us, the trees that shade us and the grass that softens our steps. It is listening and speaking truth. It is courtesy and awareness. It is to be found on all roads travelled through this life and on all diverging pathways through the unknown. It is what I sense in the deepest part of myself and what I discover in the unfolding of who I was meant to be.
* inspired by a trip to NYC in October 2017
A man was sitting on a bench in the middle of the platform. Despite the cloudy morning, he was wearing sunglasses with orange lenses that obscured his eyes. He was playing the guitar. Maybe “playing” is a bit exaggerated, as there were only three strings left and he kept strumming the same notes in a monotonous rhythm. I tried to divert myself from the disturbing noise and continued to search for Him amongst the many faces.
I'm a journalist for a local New York magazine and I still couldn't believe that he had agreed to this interview. This was to be a milestone for my career.
He had said to meet Him here at 74th and Broadway and I had been waiting now for half an hour. Whatever He wanted in this place was beyond me - a subway station in Jackson Heights, Queens is hardly the place you would expect to meet the Creator of all things. But my grandmother always said „the Lord works in mysterious ways!“.
I had written down a list of questions. Which was the right religion? Was Jesus really his son? How exactly did he create the world? I was about to uncover the mystery!
A wave of fast-paced New Yorkers getting on and off the train on their way to work rushed by me, when suddenly I noticed a figure moving at a moderate tempo, like a walrus in a swarm of herring.
I knew right away, that it must be Him though He wasn't at all what I had expected. He was shorter than I was, bald and wearing wide, faded jeans one might have found in the 90's with a mustard colored shirt that highlighted his round belly.
„You're late!“ I said. He winked at me and shrugged. „When you've lived as long as I have, you have a different conception of time!“
His gaze rested on the man strumming his half-stringed guitar. „Lovely“ He said with a gentle smile. I wasn't quite sure what to make of Him.
We hopped on the E Line that took us all the way down to Manhatten. We got off at 72nd street and passed Strawberry Fields on our way to the Lake in Central Park. I have been here countless times before and am still fascinated by the quiet haven of tranquillity in the middle of this bustling city.
I watched as a boat with two lovers passed us by, reminding me of a scene in the canals of Venice. „Yes, it always reminds me of that, too.“ He remarked ... I hadn't spoken my thoughts out loud.
„I have some questions.“ I began. „I expected that!“ He answered with another wink. „You can ask me whatever you like. But I can't promise that I won't answer your question - with another question.“
The two lovers turned around. I took out my list of questions, trying to decide what to ask Him first.
A kid stepped beside me and waved at the couple in the boat. They waved back. I turned to Him, but He had disappeared. I looked up and down the road and the kid next to me started giggling. It was a weird looking child. One eye was placed higher than the other on his brown face and his … or her, I couldn’t tell if it was a boy or girl ... curly hair was died blue in patches. And then I realized … He hadn't left … He had just changed appearances.
The Child took me by the hand and led the way. Still astonished by this sudden transformation, I followed.
We took the elevator up to the top of the Empire State building. The Child ran out the door and jumped up on a stool that shook dangerously. My parental instinct automatically kicked in. „Get down from there!“ … Had I just rebuked God?
The Child didn't listen but started pointing towards the buildings. The stool shook. „Careful!“
The Child jumped up in joy of finally having spotted Chrystler building and fell off the stool. It got back on Its feet and beckoned me to pick It up so It could continue looking at the Skyline.
„What is wrong with you? This is ridiculous! People down there worship you! They have been killing in your name for centuries and you're up here playing games!“
The Child tried to jump up on the chair again. „I told you not to do that!“ It climbed up. „Why aren't you listening? You just fell and you still haven't learned!“ The Child looked at me with a weird expression on Its face. As if It knew something I didn't. A woman passed us by, shaking her head: „You can teach your kids all you want! They will still do what they want!“ The Child gave me a superior smile. „What … so you're saying all those people who have bad things happen to them … it's their own fault?“ It shook Its head. It reached out Its little arms towards me. „Forget it, I'm not helping you! You got up there! You get yourself down! Not my problem“ The Child slowly lowered its arms in wordless disappointment … and I realized … „Well … how about I give you my hand, but you jump yourself?“ It gave me a broad smile and stretched out Its hand.
We walked down 7th avenue towards Lower Manhattan. The Child skipped happily at my side. We stopped to get some New York street hot dogs and The Child proudly payed for them. Dripping ketchup and mustard all over Its shirt, It led me down to the docks and we boarded a boat to Ellis Island.
We stepped on the ground that had once been people's first contact with a new beginning and walked along the beach. I glanced over to Lady Liberty rising like a sign of hope overlooking the City that never sleeps that was built on lies ... like most of them are.
„What I don't get ...“ I said, „is why you don't stop things from happening before they do. Obviously you know what's going to happen! Haven't you always sent prophets and people who can predict the future? How could an apothecary of the 16th century, for example, know what was going to happen 400 years later?“
„Mahicantuck,“ said a deep, hoarse voice next to me. The Child had vanished. A tall woman was walking by my side. She wore a long white dress and her flowing white hair shined like silver against her cracked black face.
„Mahicantuck. That's what they called this river before it became the Hudson. River that flows two ways. Fascinating isn't it? There is a duality to everything. So tell me... did the prophets predict it because it was going to happen? Or did it happen because they predicted it?“
I have always loved New York in October. The leaves are changing and the whole city glows in gold and bronze shimmers of fall. We walked along the Brooklyn Bridge and watched the sun set over the high-rises along the East River. Even though this sight usually calms all my senses, for some reason I was filled with unease.
„Okay! But what about natural catastrophes? Human behavior didn't always have an influence on earthquakes and floods!“ „That's true ...“ She gave back and looked out into the sunset. I couldn't tell if She was figuring out how to answer me or if Her mind had wandered off somewhere beyond the rooftops. „Can't you stop them?“ I asked. „Maybe“ she replied. „So you haven't even tried? No wonder the human world is so messed up! When you created us in your own image you made us just as lazy as you are!“ She shook her head. „That is just the Christian interpretation of creation.“ „But if you didn't create us as your equal … what is the point of our existence?“ She turned and looked at me.
„Sometimes there are no answers. But that doesn't mean we have to settle with the question!“
„ So you're saying, we need to keep searching for the answer?“
„I'm saying sometimes there are no answers. But that doesn't mean we have to settle with the question!“
„That makes no sense!“
„It's all a matter of perspective.“*
She was starting to get on my nerves.
„Then we need to change the question?“
„Or is the question the answer?“
„Is that the answer?“
She smiled. „Come! You look tired.“
When I was a child I had this picture in my head that God lived on a throne surrounded by golden gates on the holiest of clouds. That image of course changed through the years, but never would I have thought, that She lived in a ground floor apartment in Harlem!
We walked through the front door and wandered to the back of the building. She opened the door with the number 12 ... the paint was crumbling ...
She showed me to a bedroom at the far side of Her residence and as I lay my head on the pillow, it almost felt like I was sinking into one of the clouds I had envisioned as a child. I had hardly finished my thought about what a weird twist the day had taken before I had fallen asleep.
The first thing I noticed when I woke up the next morning was a soft sound. Music was playing on the old stereo on my cupboard and a sweet little humming-bird sat on a branch in the back yard whistling his own little melody in perfect harmony.
I went into the kitchen. There was a cup of hot tea on the table and the child who had been an old woman was now the bald man once more.
I took a look around the room. There was a picture of Maria on the wall, right next to the 99 names of God written on a piece of parchment in Arabic. I saw a statue of Shiva on a pile of books about meditation and tales of the islands. Seven candles were burning in a menorah on the table where I sipped my tea.
„Who are you really?“ I asked The Bald Man. „I am what you need me to be.“ „So you don't really exist then?“ „That ...“ He said with a wink „is for you to decide.“
We left the place with the humming-bird's soft call and dove back into the concert of horns in the streets of the big apple. We got on the red Line and changed to the E Line that took us all the way back to 74th and Broadway.
„This is where I leave you ...“ He said. At this point I had completely forgotten, that it had been me who asked Him for an interview. It would have been up to me to end it but once again He had gently taken it out of my hands and I let Him guide me.
„Is this some kind of metaphor? To end up in the same place as we started?“
„This is where we started in the first place, yes. But is it really the same as when you started?“
“Well … no.“
He nodded slightly. „Anything else, you would like to ask me?“
I thought of the questions I had written on my list. I hadn't asked a single one.
I gazed at the man on the bench in the middle of the platform. There was something soothing in the consistency of his music.
„Will the Red Sox win this season?“ He smiled at me and said: „I am just as curious as you are!“ And with a last wink, he got on the M Train and left the station where the man in the orange glasses was still beating on his 3 stringed guitar.
Mina’s mother burst through the kitchen door, agitated. „Will you keep it down! What’s the matter with you? This is neither the time nor the place...!” Mina looked at her mother. „We’ll keep it down, Mrs. Norelo,” Jarrod said appeasingly. She gave a tight nod of thanks and left the room. The five friends, Mina and Jarrod, along with Bella, Piolo and Tim sat around the table in silence waiting a while for tempers to cool. They’d been having a heated argument, and it wasn’t over yet. Jarrod, who had always been the most volatile, and the most verbal, spoke first. „Your mom’s wrong, Mina. This is exactly the time and exactly the place. If we don’t do something now, while we still maintain some level of autonomy, it may be too late! It will be too late, and you all know it.” „No, we don’t know it,“ Bella burst in. „The committee is still trying to negotiate a compromise....” „Oh, come on, Bella! These people don’t even recognize our confederation as sovereign communities.” Piolo’s voice was on the edge of rising again. „They aren’t here to negotiate or compromise. Their only purpose here is to take from us what they want...and kill us in the process if we don’t go along.“ „Piolo, please,“ Mina said quietly, as she looked toward the door. He raised his hands in acquiescence. „We have to stop them now,“ Jarrod’s quiet tone was tinged with fire. „Mayla has made that clear.“
Everyone fell silent. Mina stood up and went to the door leading to the living room, opening it part way to look through at the mourners. Though Mina wanted very much to be in there with her mother and Mayla’s mother, she knew she had to be here. Jarrod and Piolo were right. Choices had to be made now, or the final choice, the choice of their survival, would be out of their hands.
Things can change in a moment. A year ago, Mina had been content in her room, weaving her fabrics, the work she enjoyed most– meditative, solitary, quietly creative work. Her life was simple and unhurried, idyllic in many ways. After the worldwide drought 100 years before, many that survived were determined not to repeat the greedy errors of the past and turned their backs on the „technological advancements“ of the previous centuries. They’d learned to live and be happy with less, they’d learned to simplify, and they’d learned to share. From the time they could understand concepts beyond their own needs, children were taught to learn history, and learn from it.
There had been warnings before the great water catastrophy - doomsday scenarios could be found everywhere – in the books, in the films everywhere in the media archives of the time. But changes in human behavior were not timely and doomsday came and then went. Water virtually disappeared, and what there was to be found, was sullied. Billions died. Mina’s forefathers came to the north where the communities of the confederacy were established around still untouched underground springs here at the base of the hills. And in this valley, they rebuilt with their dreams.
Water was declared free from the beginning, and it was woven into the fabric of their belief system and their way of life that every human being had the right to have clean water and every person had a moral obligation to respect the rights of others to that same water. For them, this freedom stood hand in hand with the unquestionable freedom of every living soul.
The Declaration of Insolvency and Progressive Reconstruction
-Decreed by the High Court of the Collective Republic-
„ Due to its propagation of ineffectual social and political systems, its fostering of primitive economic and educational systems and its sloven approach to developmental potentiality, the current leadership of the confederacy is hereby declared invalidate. The Committee is to be replaced by representatives appointed by this court, effective immediately. Anyone who stands in violation of the sovereignty of the new governing body will be subject to prosecution.”
Mina and her friends had refused to submit to this new „governing body,” with its new system of rules and its oppressive mentality. The Collective Republic had worked quickly, almost immediately building piping systems, syphoning the water out to their own territories, rerouting the free waterways, blocking all free access to the springs and wells, demanding payment for every gallon of water consumed – all against confederation laws and all against the accepted laws of nature in the valley. They called it a progress. But the builders, in their hurry to construct, had somehow allowed sewerage to leak into what was left of the fresh water supply in the valley, and the water had been slowly contaminated. Now, cases of dysentery were more than a few and nothing was being done about it. The representatives denied responsibility and threw the blame onto certain rebellious elements. Mina and others like her did hold periodic secret raids to free the wells and newly constructed dams, but everybody knew what the actual truth was. And now, several people had died, mostly elderly people and small children, like 5-year-old Mayla.
Mina had loved little Mayla, her neighbor and her friend - only 5 years old. Often, while Mina worked at her loom, Mayla would sit on the stool at the window. Sometimes she would ask more questions than Mina thought there could be answers in the world. Sometimes Mayla would talk about bugs and butterflies, or about her friends and her „not friends” in the playgroup. Sometimes Mayla would just sit and watch her weave for long periods, and sometimes she would sit next to her on the floor and play. Every once in a while, Mina would let her sit on her lap and they would work the loom together. Her arms were not yet long enough, she was small even for her age, and not very strong. Mayla was not sickly, but she was delicate, and this delicacy had made her susceptible. Her death tore at Mina’s heart like thick claws, and she felt herself pushed over an edge she didn’t even know existed.
„Once we begin, there will be no stopping.” Tim spoke for the first time. „We don’t know what the consequence will be, not only for us, but for our families.” Bella broke in, „And are we truly prepared to face what their fate will be...losing us first, then harassment, maybe abuse, some sort of imprisonment, and maybe worse. Let’s be real, and not get caught on a hero’s merry-go-round.” „What’s real, Bella?“ Piolo stood up and moved to the window. He took her words to heart. But this was something else. “The reality is that we are dying. The reality is that we can no longer live the way we choose to live. The reality is that they will accept no less than total submission and the absorption of our world into theirs. The reality of this survival is subjugation, nothing more. Can you face that reality without a struggle?” Bella was quiet, her thoughts churning. Tim cut in, as usual, the voice of contemplation. „What about us? What do we become if we take on their methods, even for our own survival. This was not how our forefathers envisioned our reactions to be. Even if we win, will we….win?” „We will win our lives back!“ Mina was suddenly sure and she looked at Jarrod, and he knew her decision was made. „To do nothing is to self-destruct, and that cannot be the answer they envisioned. Mina moved from the door back to the kitchen table. „Something will be preserved, whether we live or die, if we are clear about what we are fighting for. I, for one, do not want to watch our lives end here, passive and waiting for salvation.”
At 3:00 am, two days later, Mina got up and moved as quietly as she could. Her parents were deep sleepers, especially her mother, but she didn’t want to take any chances. The less they knew, the better. She sat at her desk to write a note to them, saying not to worry. Of course, they would – she stopped in mid-sentence and breathed deeply – and for good reason. But all the truths that she had unconsciously lived by were now clear before her eyes, and she was prepared to do whatever she had to, to set the world right again. She would learn to disable machinery and incapacitate communications systems. Use a gun? Set an explosive? Yes, if need be. There seemed to be no end to the tunnel of sadness that she now walked through. She hoped with all her heart that out of her struggle would grow a legacy of peace and prosperity, as she had known it. But right now, a price had to be paid, and she was willing to pay it.
Mina grabbed her coat and back pack and took one last look around – at her writing table now clear of its usual piles of papers and her loom sitting quiet with a ray of moonlight cutting across it. Another hope entered her heart, that she would pick up here one day, right where she left off. Closing her door softly, she made her way through the house to the back door. She would take the forest path, still only known to her small community, and meet Jarrod and Piolo. Bella and Tim felt their work was here, preserving what they could, helping through the troubled times that were upon them. A last hope was that they would meet again.
It was 3:30 am. As Mina went through the back door and closed it, she hesitated for a few seconds, leaning against it, and prayed for guidance. What she did not see was her mother sitting in a chair in the corner. What she did not hear, was her mother whispering her good-byes. She looked up in the darkness, pulled her courage and determination forward, and headed out into the night.
I take a look at my friends and we all seem to be asking ourselves the same question. What the hell am I doing with my life?
Mary's getting married on Snapchat, Lukas is adventurously traveling the world on Instagram, Tim and Sophia are having a baby on Facebook - #mylifeisbetterthanyours – and meanwhile I'm sitting at home, eating I-feel-sorry-for-myself ice cream in my sweatpants - #mylifesucks - asking myself in every ‘Netflix-is-moving-on-to-the-next-episode’ break:
Why is the grass always greener on the other side of the screen?
We split our life into two major categories: personal and occupational. So when one goes wrong, we always have the other. Your boss may be a jerk, but you do have that hockey game to look forward to. Your boyfriend may have left you, but you just can't wait to go on that company trip.
But what if you decide to make one part of the other? Say you make your hobby your job … like athletes or - in my case - artists?
We define ourselves by what we do and spend most of our time doing our job, so naturally, we define others by their career choices. One of the first questions we ask to get to know a person is: „So what do you do for a living?“ „I'm an actress ...“ Now there are two universal reactions that follow this statement. Number one: „Can you actually live off of that?“ Or number two: „Wow, so will I see you in Hollywood?“ And when you're forced to answer "no" - to one or the other, or both - you are either met with pity or blankness.
The problem with pursuing a career in the arts is that there is no clear path. If you want to become a soldier you join the military. If you get a medical degree, you become a doctor. You might have a degree in dancing but where do you go from there? And maybe you never attended any university, but you still become a writer….which makes us ask:
What exactly is art? A single black dot on an 80x80 inch white wall? A complicated symphony? A 500-year-old story retold in a modern society context?
What is the definition of a true artist? A red carpet? Pain and suffering? Followers on twitter? Becoming famous after you've passed away?
What does it mean to be professional? Being on time and knowing your shit? Making money? Speaking truth behind those words on a page, those movements in a space or the paint on a canvas?
Art was born with humanity. From cave paintings, to ritual dances to theatrical storytelling. It has always been with us, a sibling keeping us company from the beginning, a tool with a triple purpose: to express our own emotions, to pass knowledge on to others, as well as to entertain. It reflects on and is a reflection of society and its diversity is just as vast as the human race. There is no single definition. But in our obsession to define and explain everything we have tried to pin it down - and two major ideas have emerged: the struggling, suffering artist and the successful star.
So here we are, back to our initial question. What the hell am I doing with my life? Everyone we graduated high school with is posting updates on promotions, salaries and company parties while I am still trying to figure out why I decided to do what I'm doing.
Somewhere along the road of western civilization art has changed. It has become less about sharing and more about showing off. Less about passion and more about prestige. Less about community and more about competition.
We are so blinded by the fortune and fame aspect of it, that we forget to look at content. That's why we spend the first hour of the Oscars talking about who has big enough boobs to pull off what dress and listen to wannabe pop star voices trying to out-belt each other in casting shows.
Art reflects on and is a reflection of society and we have forgotten the beauty of simplicity. Everything has to be big nowadays. The problem with that is that if you try to make things bigger than what they are, all you do is fill a void with hot air and you're left with an empty hot air balloon of art.
So instead of focusing on the nonexistent substance, you have no other choice but to look at the surface. It’s not that every piece of art out there is superficial. Naturally not. But it is striking how many famous actors' faces and bodies are redesigned in post and how much auto-tune you hear on recordings. Producers and record labels make the decisions and they often don't care about educating, they care about selling. There is a reason we call it industry.
So you try to stay away from the new market and concentrate on the good old days when art still had meaning. Well that is easier said than done, because you are entering the territory of educated snobbery. Excuse me, you can't see the difference between a Renoir and Monet? What do you mean you can't tell if it's Bach or Mozart? And you can't name the 40 authors of the Bible … well you are just in the wrong place, my friend!
Fine! You do your own thing then! Ah, but see, the thing is … what is so special about you? What makes you better than the others? Why should I fund your project if you are a no-name? Go get some followers, become a YouTube influencer and then we can talk!
Many people think being an artist is just fun and games. But if you want to survive in today’s world you are not just an artist. You are also an agent, publicist and marketing manager. You not only have to know and master your craft, but must also be able to promote and sell yourself. Hell, I didn't sign up for that! All I want to do is create.
So there we go … I give up … I get myself a day job. But not the I'm-waitressing-while-going-to-auditions-struggling-artist-day-job … a real 30- to 40-hour job. And look at that! All of a sudden, I am not considered an artist anymore. I am an accountant, teacher or technician who likes to paint, make music or act in my free time. But the worst part is that we start believing it ourselves. We start to believe that we gave up on our dream, when, in reality, we are looking for ways to make it come true.
Being an artist is an art in and of itself because you have to find your own unique way of doing it.
We often mistake perfectionism for professionalism. But by trying to make things perfect, all you do is try to please everybody else and, slowly but surely, you lose track of what it was you were actually trying to say.
If we wait for perfection in order to be something we will never be anything.
I'm a musician who can't read notes. I'm an actress who hates going to auditions (I just don't see the point of sitting in a room with 15 other women who look just like me, the only difference being that they're thinner and prettier). I'm a writer who can't spell and a dancer who can't do turns worth a damn and hardly lift her leg up to 90 degrees.
But no matter what I do, I do it with passion. I love being part of something, performing with other artists and sharing our energy with the audience. I don't care about awards and fame as long as I get the chance to say what I want to say.…. I would take the fortune, though ;-)
You want to be a musician? Be a musician! You want to be a painter? Be a painter! And don't let where your main income comes from devalue your work. We can feel happy yet still sad. We can walk while drinking coffee. We can be a Dad and a banker at the same time so why can't we be a florist and a dancer?
Coming to that conclusion I ask myself, ‘am I just writing this to convince myself that the path I have chosen, am choosing or will choose is right’? Maybe. But sometimes it's good to remind ourselves that it's okay to take and live by the advice we give others.
So, my fellow artists and stuck in “what-the-hell-am-I-doing“ friends, in the end it comes down to this:
Look at those kids, the weddings and promotions and move on, because chances are Mary, Lukas and Tim are looking at you, feeling just as envious. Let people pity and question you … those are their emotions, not yours, and they have to deal with them, not you! Don't let anyone rush you and don't rush yourself. You do not have to live every day as if it were your last! Have that ice-cream, binge-watch the Nanny and don't find excuses for doing it … just enjoy it. Do everything at your own pace, because if you walk your own path, no one can outrun you.
The only person you spend the entire span of your life with, from the time you wake up in the morning 'till you go back to bed at night, is you. You are the only one you are truly married and bound to for the sum total of your days. So you had better enjoy it … ‘cause if you don't… who will
The Man stands in front of the window looking down at the street far below. He’s been there for some time – a half hour, maybe an hour. Time is of no consequence to him……he is waiting for the hour of decision.
He watches the tiny figures moving, barely visible to the naked eye, indistinguishable from one another. Color and shape from this height are indiscernible. Again – these things are of no importance. Proximity would not soften his attitude towards those down below, but rather intensify it. Thirty stories up, or thirty inches away, they are all the same to him.
He is a psychopath, but he doesn’t know he is. He is also a maniacal manipulator of the human mind and heart, and though he accepts and celebrates his manipulative capabilities, that he is maniacal also escapes him. He observes those thousands below through his window like a child observes an anthill – comfortable and unquestioning in his ascendancy, thoughtlessly watching their comings and goings, setting up random barriers, watching how they momentarily panic, then change course, and then settle into the new direction he has randomly selected. He could watch them live and he could watch them die – no questions, no sentiments, no sorrow or remorse, and no matter. There are always enough of them to serve his purposes.
He is delusional as well, extraordinarily so, and of this he is also frighteningly unaware. In his eyes, he stands high above those miniscule creatures below, higher on the scale of human development – greater in mental capacity, with a higher degree of ingenuity and analytical adroitness. That is why he stands here, looking down. He embodies the phrases “impeccable taste”, “finesse and delicacy”, “transcendent sophistication”, or so he assesses himself. And no one, no one, contradicts him.
The sensors are activated by movement and the doors breathe a soft whizzing sound to open. A distinguished man-servant walks in silently, pushing a gold-rimmed cart with an elegant sterling silver tea and coffee service (the Meissen is never used), a carafe of whiskey, a fine honey-colored liquid that sparkles in the rays of sun, and slices of Iberian ham on a silver platter with Yubari melons and 3 Lobster Frittatas.
The Man does not turn around but acknowledges the distinguished man-servant with a comment and a question, keeping his gaze on the street below: “When I walk down there, everyone I pass has an odor of sweat and cheap spices and perfumes……”. “Yes, sir” is the man-servant’s automatic, non-committal answer. “Why don’t you smell like that?”, the Man asks. He turns to look at the man-servant. The distinguished man-servant, who has been preparing the dining table, stops for a second to answer. “I take a bath - twice a day.” He maintains his tone. The reason for this nonsensical, degrading exchange is clear to them both, though the Man, so contained is he in his delusional state, has no realization that the distinguished man-servant can read him so accurately.
The exchange is meant to establish supremacy – not of a racial classification, that would be too primitive; and not of religion, that is the game of childish minds; not of educational accomplishments, that is too….fortuitous; and certainly not in the category of desirability – he, himself, establishes the hierarchy of aesthetics in the world, manipulating opinions of beauty, creating the pictures out of the images in his mind.
No, not those irrelevant categories…..but rather a kind of superiority of species….a breed, if you will. He is of a higher order of human evolvement. He smiles at this “truth”. His self-deception is at once impressive and ludicrous in its omnitude.
The distinguished man-servant looks at the Man in questioning silence. “No, nothing else”, says the Man. He has missed the momentary shadow that passes between them, as he always does. Once again, his delusions shade his judgement and cloud his eyes.
The door breathes again as the distinguished man-servant leaves the room. The Man watches him go with a combination of disinterest and query. ‘The man-servant never seems to rush but is timely in everything he does. Some of them have valuable, useful qualities’.
The three men sit in silence, distracted and introspective. Only the scraping of forks gathering the last vestiges of the frittatas, spoons clicking the bottoms of tea cups and the distant strains of Aaron Copland, now Quiet City, discreetly piped in, can be heard - a cacophony of sounds, usually subconsciously dismissed, but now acoustically amplified as they echo through the tense air of the room. As if by magic, or by telepathic communication, the distinguished man-servant enters the room to remove the now-empty service, leaving only the whiskey. The men do not acknowledge his presence or his service, and they miss the shadow that returns, passes between them and disappears.
The door breathes open and closed, and, once alone, they begin to converse.
“A Mule….Asimov’s Foundation….an unexpected element.” “Unexpected and undesirable.” “The times are volatile.” “That serves us….if we control it. Envy, mistrust, fear, anger are high. They can’t live any other way.” “They are beginning to know.” “Know? They are sheep, no coherent direction without us. They will follow.” “The times are volatile. We need a distraction!” “War….is distracting and profitable.” “No, already over-engaged. The young ones must grow up”
Silence. They show signs of discomfort.
“Awareness is growing. This “mule” creature focuses on us.” “Who is it?” “Unknown, for now.” “We have all resources at our disposal” “Operating…..but so far without result” “We must know…soon.” “And then, our course of action? Elimination?” “May be Unwise….risk of martyrdom…..encourages solidarity” “Scandals?......usually has effective results.” “And if he or she is clean?” “None of them are clean!”
A burst of low-key, grotesque hyena-like laughter and then silence.
The distinguished man-servant has heard these conversations many times. So secure are they in their ability to make puppets of the citizenry, that they are blind to the human ability to assert its humanity. He knows, it is the money that blinds them. If “fear is the mind-killer…”*, then excessive wealth is the soul-killer. He’s seen it too much and for too long. He thinks of his granddaughter. This is for her - for her laughter, for her wit, for her curiosity, for her imagination, and for her grace. He picks up his bag holding everything that is his and turns to the door, to the hall, to the elevator, and steps in. The time has come and a decision has been made. He watches the numbers of the floors as he descends. The elevator lands on the ground floor, and serenely the distinguished man-servant steps out and leaves the building for the last time.
To be continued……….
*Dune by Frank Herbert, 1965
My dear elite,
What's up? How's it going ? How's life up there?
Oh, I'm sorry … it's been a while, I know. It's me … your old acquaintance … the lower class.
I don't mean to bother you, I know you have WAY more important things to do. I just have to get this off my cheast.
I've been thinking … you know … 'cause we've been drifting further and further apart and all.
So, let's be frank here!
You are important for society. You represent everything that our time reveres: progress, innovation, intelligence …
Me, on the other hand, I simply stand in the way, like a kind of useless proxy; and when I do my job, if I at all have one, I never quite finish it … satisfactorily.
I ask for a tip for cleaning public bathrooms, adding to an already excessive income for this kind of work. And public transportation, which you use as an environmentally aware citizen, well, I just can't seem to get it to function in a time-efficient manner. And every time you allow me to dispose of your trash, I stink up your whole, otherwise, so freshly scented, street.
It's not you, it's me! I am holding you back from fulfilling your potential!
Which is why I have made a decision.
I'm leaving you. I'm clearing the way, so you can form a new society – where only people like you will live. A world of decency and a world of class!
Just imagine … a day in the life of a man of your station, without … me.
His alarm rings at six a.m. sharp. Yawning, he wipes the sleep from his eyes, stretches with a smile on his face. A glorious new day has begun.
Time for his morning routine: Exercises, followed by a hot shower, a cup of coffee and the online morning paper. Cheerfully, he gets ready to make his way to his private practice.
Ah! Blue skies, rays of sunshine, seems like it's going to be a lovely day - so he decides to take his bike to work. Halfway there, he thanks his mind for its amazing good judgement. Had he been sitting in his car, he would have missed all the beautiful melodies of the morning - birds chirping, the winds of the east, rustling through the trees, the chorus of horns … horns? He stops short in bewilderment! Rush hour i worse than usual, obstructing doctors, lawyers and other academics on their way. The streets are packed with Mercedes' and BMWs, honking and badgering each other, each one trying to pass the other.
Half of the drivers probably used to take public transportation to work. But thank goodness, that's done with - all those Bus, Train and Subway drivers whose intellectual capacities went no further than their routes they were given to drive.
After a few minutes he reaches his office. He opens the door, greets the empty chair where his receptionist used to sit and heads straight for the treatment room. The clock has barely struck 9 a.m. when it all begins: the telephone won't stop ringing and the waiting room is drenched with people. He spends his whole morning running from the telephone, to the waiting room, to the treament room, to the computer. His patients shake their heads in disbelief. This place is very poorly organized!
Finally … lunch brake!
Completely exhausted he leans back in his chair and looks outside to the street through the milky window. Wouldn't it be wonderful to see a piece of sky? Instead, dark spots and dried stains of rain dance upon the glass. Where is the cleaning lady when you need her? Oh yeah, that's right! Never mind, she only spoke spanish anyway. He's just going to live with this filthy window … though there is the option of cleaning it himself. But really … what would that look like?
He decides to close the practice for the rest of the day, take his car, drive out to the countryside and … wait … no, that might not be such a good idea. The streets outside of the city are filled with potholes as of late and if something happens to his car he won't be able to bring it to a garage. He scratches his head, contemplating.
Of course! There are still pilots! He will book a one-hour flight and be back by the evening. He tries to call a cab with his I-phone … this number is no longer in service … alright, the bike it is! But it will take him two hours to get to the airport by bike and, by the way … do they still have security at all?
He remembers his holiday at the hotel last week. After a 3-mile hike, he finally arrived at the hotel. Wonderful! No annoying bellman, taking his luggage away and no nerv-wracking receptionist assigning him a room. He could choose whichever key he wanted! After examining the broom closet, basement and supply room, he decided to take a suite on the 11th floor. Then, after a viggorous march of stairclimbing (apparently the elevator had broken down a few weeks before), he finally stood in his gigantic room. He first made himself comfortable on the … 6-months-old bed linen, before lunging at the … empty minibar. What a trip that had been …
Okay. He will just go to a nice restaurant and read his book. He decides to walk, passes by streets flooded with garbage bags and sits down in a pretty restaurant. After waiting for half an hour and no menu or meal magically appearing in front of him, he makes himself get up and, due to his complaining stomach, go to the kitchen and order the food himself, directly. Unfortuately, not one of those potbellied-cook living souls can be found, near or far.
Dissapointed, he leaves the restaurant.
He goes into a shop. Since cashiers ceased to exist, everybody could just take what they wanted … Fabulous! … now fresh fruits are rotting in their baskets, maggots bustle in the fridges and the shelves are empty. Thank God for Online Shopping. But how will the products be delivered to his house without mail and delivery men? Oh yes of course! Drones! Hopefully they still have enough in stock!
He stuffs a few cans in his pocket and rides home.
At the door, he's greeted by an incomprehensible, croaking sound from his dement mother, mixed with screeches from his children.
Somewhat irritated due to these altered circumstances, he goes to bed. But before closing his eyes, a slight smile flashes over his face. Tomorrow, he tells himself, tomorrow everything will look different.
So, dear elite? What do you think?
I won't be asking for money at public bathrooms anymore, you will have to clean up your predecessor's excrements yourself. My public transportation will never run late again ... it won't run at all. And instead of stinking up your street every week, you will have to smell the stink of your garbage ... every day.
I know you take me for granted! I know you think I'm uneducated, lazy and unskilled. And I know you give no credit to the every day, simple things in life. But am I really that simple?
Didn't you have a saying: A chain is only as strong as its weakest link? So, what? Are you just trying to sell slogans you, in truth, do not fundamentally understand?! Or are you scared because you know very well, you live that fancy lifestyle thanks to me?! Your architects can't build their houses without my workers. Your managers can't run their businesses without my employees. Your engineers can't bring a single car on the market without my assemblymen. Even your students can't pursue their happiness without my taxpayers.
It might be time to reconsider your mindset and attitute towards me! You don't have the right to trample over me like a kid in his sandbox, just because of your select genetic lineage or privileges of birth.
I would really like to know, if you truly are society's masterpiece, why do you constantly feel the need to demonstratively flaunt your superiority … over me
For a beautiful Lady I knew many years ago
Lord, I got to talk to you today. But first, I got to get outta these shoes. My land, seems they worked me to the bone today, cleanin’ that house with all them chirlen. And my feet hurt like the devil. You know I don’t hold much with complainin’, Lord, but I been doin’ this work since I was 12-year-old, and I do wonder at how some folk don’t seem to know how to do for themselves. It’s just mighty peculiar, Lord. And, I’m tellin’ you, there’s people who still cain’t see the diff’rence between neat and messy, ‘cept when it’s me doin’ it. But them kids, they never ate so good as when its me cookin’, I can tell you that. I ain’t braggin’, Lord, but I know that’s true. Mm hmm, they askin’ me all day what I’m whippin’ up next and it sets me to smilin’. Still - it ain’t like cookin’ for your own – never was, never will be. These 50-odd years past, that ain’t changed…….ain’t nothin’ changed……leastways here. Forgive me, Lord, I’m grateful I got a job and grateful I can still work it.
But you know, I’m gettin’ old, Lord. My legs give out on me at times, my arms don’t want to lift another thing, and a pound o’ cake batter? It feels like a hundert when I’m stirrin’ it. Them sharp pains shoot through my hips, first one, then the other, then back again, and the third time climbin’ them stairs, I can hardly make it halfway. I don’t know how long you intend me for this world, but I’m gettin’ old and I’m gettin’ tired. And right now, I still gotta keep workin’ so my boys have a house when they come home. It’s all I got to give them. It’s all I got. ‘But there’s bills that got to be paid, else they comin’ to take it. You know I done the best I could with what I received on this earth. I got this house – it’s only 2 rooms and a kitchen and a little piece o’ land next to the swamp where the snakes ain’t too bothersome. But it’s mine. I tend my garden and you know how I love that – my flowers that grow so pretty and make the world seem good and my fresh vegetable patch keepin’ me and my boys healthy. And I could always find some kinda work to keep me and my boys livin’. I do thank you, Jesus. Amen.
But this ain’t about me, Lord. The biggest part of my life’s done come and gone, and I’m still makin’ it. I cain’t ask for more than that. No, Lord, it’s about my two boys. They both in jail. I guess you know that without me tellin’ you. You got to help them find the way, the way back to livin’ a decent life. It ain’t they fault, Lord, almost all these boys go to jail at sometime or other, and these jails down here ain’t never done nobody no good. They was good boys when they was little and they both good men, way down deep where it counts. I tried to raise ‚em right. I know I didn’t always do right by them though, if you’ll forgive me, Lord. When I beat’em so hard I felt the pain myself, I knew it wasn’t right, but I was afraid, afraid that if I didn’t beat the right manners into them, some white man was gonna come along and hurt’em worse. I seen it happen all my life, too many times.
I remember when they was little, Benjamin was smart as a whip, learnin’ his letters as fast as the teacher could throw ‚em out. He would talk about what he was gonna be when he growed up, what house he was gonna have and where he was gonna travel. I would laugh and say, you do just that, baby! Then he’d say, I’m takin’ you with me Mama, you know that. And I’d say, but I ain’t got no clothes to go gallivantin’ all over creation. I get you some, Mama, he’d say, and then we’d laugh like the dickens. My sweet boy. And Nat, he was a real scallywag, that boy. He love to fly out o’ the closet just to see me jump. And my baby could draw. I couldn’t buy him no paints and such, so he just grabbed a pencil and made pictures of anything and everything. I found Nat’s drawin’s all over the house and I still got’em, hangin’ up on the walls or pasted in a book. „ Do your schoolwork!” I told ‘em. „You gotta know somethin’ in this world today.” I only went to the 4th grade, and ain’t much doin’ with that.
I could feel when I was losin’ ‘em, and I couldn’t do nothin’ to set it right again – workin’ so much, 6 and 7 days a week sometime, and them doin’ nothin’, findin’ nothin’ to do, but hang around with them other boys. That ain’t no good for young’uns, too much nothin’ time. Yesterday, when I went to see him, Benjamin said, „Mama, I tried to work hard like you said, but no matter how hard I tried or how much I learned, I always felt like somebody was holdin’ tight to my suspenders, keepin’ me in the same place, no matter how hard my legs worked to go forward, just like in those dreams where you can’t move to save your soul.“ Benjamin says jail is worse than bein’ dead. And Nathaniel is so far gone down that bad road, there ain’t no bringin’ him back. Tell me that ain’t true, Lord, tell me it ain’t true.
Seems nobody round here got any hope for anything better than what is. Where’s that used-to-be-pretty little girl down the road gonna go with no teeth in her head and all them chirlen? Half the boys are sniffin’ that stuff up they nose and some o’ the girls too, but it don’t matter cause there ain’t no work ‘cept season farm work in them cotton fields and fruit orchards; or domestic work like I got; and sellin’ your body has been bringin’ in the money as far back as the Bible. But that ain’t nothin’ to look forward to, nothin’ to aim for. We was glad we was eatin’, but that just ain’t enough.
Lord, you made me strong, but not strong enough to save ma boys. And now, ma grandson, he’s gone and joined what he call “the Revolution”. He come late last night, sayin’ he had to be quiet about it. He gave me fright when I saw him through the window – black clothes, dark glasses and a black french hat. I almost called the police before I realized it was him. „What you doin’ lookin’ like that, like you was gonna burgle some house?” „Grandma, I’m leaving. I can’t live like this no more. I got to help change things, Grandma, WE got to change things. Ain’t nobody gonna do it for us. Ain’t nobody gonna give us nothin’. We have to look out for ourselves. Besides, we don’t need nobody to do for us. We just need to get the white man off our backs so we can live.” „ We need the Lord, Baby.” „Grandma, the Lord ain’t done nothin’ in a hundred years. We can’t wait no more.”
When he left, Lord, I hugged him tight enough to crush my own ribs. I know he’s wrong about you, but sometimes it does look like you forgot us. People can’t live without nothin’ forever, just wishin’ and waitin’. My great-grandma was a slave and my grandma and Mama wasn’t much better off. I got my house and my boys, but they ain’t settlin’ for no more of this. I don’t want them to hurt nobody, nor get hurt neither. So, take care o’ them, and help me hold on long as I need to, long as they need me. You seen me through a lot, Lord. See my boys. See my boys and let them see you. Amen.
Listen to the song of the stream. It soughs the secrets of life and chants your innermost melody. Every decision we make, is just another bend in the river.
If it takes the low road, rough currents and heavy rocks lie in its path.
If it takes the high road, peaceful beaches await its passing and quiet waters invite it to linger.
We can only guess which road lies beyond a river bend. But one thing is certain:
Every bend is followed by another. And sooner or later every river leads to the sea.
You will hit hard cliffs that burst your stream and shatter you into a thousand drops. But these pearls of water will always merge and continue to flow downstream.
Stream of Consciousness
Birds chirping in a rush of spring. The sun is shining, I have 10 euro in my wallet, waiting to be spent and my friends are awaiting me today.
I let the escalator catapults me to a lower level. Standing at the subway tracks. Advertisement. Four women, swinging their hips in bikinis, are walking straight at me. They represent the ideal woman of today: marble-smooth skinny legs, flat abbs, hair blowing in the breeze, sexy expression, their intelligence quotient as high as that of a cucumber slice.
I hope. It is not a given in todays world that female citizens who haven't been blessed with external beauty are endowed with a higher IQ. Great. So what do I have left? I often find beautiful women ugly … out of pure defiance. Which then again makes them smart according to the old rule. Shit. It's all Shit. I bitterly bite a piece off my butter pretzel. Awesome! I love butter pretzels. Butter pretzels taste like childhood. Butter pretzels make the world whole again. Butter pretzels are a big tabu according to my recently crafted nutrition plan. My Ex says Butterpretzels make you fat. Everything fun makes you fat. Damn this stupid western perferctionist society.
I want to treat myself to a burger with two layers of meat, four layers of cheese, fried onions, bacon and guacamole, stand infront of a glass gym and watch that idiot, his eyes wide open with envy, his tongue drooling with hard-won sweat and salivish greed, chase his own feet.
I want to feel good about my body, sense the tension rising and the adrenaline flow, as I sneeringly observe that pathetic fat loser, spill sauce on his shirt. Am I sick? Or is this simply a normal train of thought any 24 year old experiences, staring at perfectly shaped models on a billboard?
Well, a great fat grin is better than a slim thin smirk. I never smiled as a kid. I thought my teeth were too big. Nostalgia. A sigh to childhood. Chocolate, Gummibears, Mama's arms. Mom. I miss my Mom. The subway arrives and I draw back. I often draw back when the subway arrives. I often draw back in general.
I'm riding on a subway, drenched with people. I try to lose myself in the pages of my book, in order to escape the breath of cramped homo sapiens standing around me. Where does the word „homosexual“ come from? I asked my colleague a while ago if she too has the feeling that more and more men are becoming gay. I sometimes wish I were homosexual. Just to be special.
But I'm not. I'm still hung up on you.
My stomach empty, my head bloating. Vacant heart and pain in my soul. Why can't I ever stick to a decision?
I should have never sent that farewell letter to you. I should have fought for you. Maybe then you would still be here. Maybe then you would still write to me everyday. The sound of your words in my ear, your hand holding mine, your fingers strapped around my fingers. Your kiss on my lips. I don't even know what to do with all the emotional garbage you left inside me.
I want my pain to explode into music. I want to scream and wail the words of „Not over you“ by Gavin de Graw. But I can't because I'm stuck in public transportation, swarming with strangers. Have to laugh at the thought of what people might say if I opened my mouth and started singing. They'd think I was crazy! But I am crazy. Crazy about you. Crazy to want you. To want something imaginary, someone beyond reach.
Men. It always comes down to f***** men. Can't live with them and can't live without them. Stupid guys. Guy.
There's a guy sitting on the other side. Damn he's cute! Eyes, nose, beard, T-Shirt, Pants, Shoes … he's got it all! He shoots a glance at me. I look away. Oh my God! My knees feel like vanilla pudding. My heart has jumped out of my chest into my throat. I'm too afraid to look back at him. Why am I always afraid? People always say I'm pretty. Weird thing, self-perception. My self-perception sucks! Once in my life I want to look into a mirror without that little devil on my shoulder pointing out every single thing that is wrong with me, as soon as I feel a glimpse of satisfaction. But there is no mirror here. There is only other peoples perception … external perception of myself. Let's do this! Sunshine smile c'mon let's charm the guy. I look up and grin stupidly into a puffing old man's face, who eyes back at me completely confused. That's embarassing. Where'd the cute guy go? Must have waited to long - now he's gone. Stupid time, I didn't even notice how she flew by. Time. I never have time. I am always late no matter how early I hurry. I'm not being disrespectful, I lack capability of judgement. I never seem to have enough time.
I am too proud for the pain you have caused. Speaking of pain. Why don't I stop and get rid of this stupid pebble in my shoe? Is the thought of standing still to take my shoe off in public, standing on one leg to free myself from an unnerving mini-element so embarassing, that taking action becomes unthinkable? How many people around me are torturing themselves with a stone stuck in their shoe desperately trying to be invisible?
All this thinking is making me nauseous.
I want ice cream. I want you. I want you to stay away from me. Ambivalent longing in my head. Thoughts always come back to you. You always find your way back. Why do I always choose complicated men? What is my masochistic subconscious trying to prove? One side is too exhausting the other side too boring. So annoying. You annoy me. You're cruel.
Bavarian crudities. Bavarian food. Another thing I can't eat and wake up to a clear conscience instead of running through the park as if I had been bitten by a tarantula. Why are there no tarantulas in Germany? One sting, One bite, a few more minutes and … Stop!!! Stop that thought. Continue.
Bavarian specialties. I want a beer. Beer makes your belly fat, fat belly makes you unattractive, unattractiveness means less sex, less sex means even more fat belly. But you are not here anyway. And I don't desire anybody elses touch.
Have to listen to music to quiet down, to drown the voices in my head. Turning on my cell phone. Just ran into a pole trying to find the right song for my current situation. Who said women were good at multitasking? Maybe I'm just not a woman. That would explain a lot.
I have decided to treat myself to an icecream. The girl standing in front of me is not only cute, blond, thin and waiting in line with her likable boyfriend. No! On top of it all she orderes two huge scoops with whipped cream and chocolate sauce and therefore makes it impossible for me to criticize her. I hate awesome women!
Caught between my icecream and headphones I finally manage to turn on music. Which also turns out to overwhealming. I'll probably have to puke when I get home.
A stranger pulls me from my stream of thoughts by smiling at me and wishing me a pleasant evening. Where was I?
Birds chirping in a rush of spring. The sun is shining, I still have 8 euro in my wallet, waiting to be spent and I have friends waiting for me.
Beautiful world. I am back.