Nothing new

The fetishization of mentally ill people is nothing new. Society loves that particular vulnerability that comes with madness.

When I read Christine Pungong’s article[1] on her experience with BPD, it brought back my dealings with the financial tutor of my college. Here’s how it goes.

I sit down in his office. I sit down and tell him I don’t have long as my mum is soon to arrive, and I need to meet her outside the gate at 5 past. I maintain my face, or my façade, my placid demeanour.

Yes, things are going fine, and I am looking forward to finally sending the finance form off. I try to maintain my composure, keep upbeat, or at least together. But I don’t feel very well in this room. I begin to disassociate and feel sleepy, and familiar feelings begin to spin out of me.

I don’t want to speak to him, but he keeps asking questions. I wish that we could just stick to numbers and figures. I tell him that I find it hard to meet here in this building. He says if it’s easier we could meet at a café or the Eagle, I say outside on the grass is fine. He doesn’t seem to respond to that. I wonder when I’d ever have to meet with him again, I don’t enjoy talking to him and I’d rather not have any contact. He does not seem like a nice man. How is your counselling going? Fine, it is going fine. I am not sure exactly what comes next but he begins to talk about associations and the subconscious mind. It seems as if he has been reading up on psychology and fancies trying himself out as a bit of a counsellor. Either than or he’s just trying to be nice.

He keeps probing, though, and he asks about my counselling. Actually, it is called therapy, and I tell him that I can disassociate, which is what was happening to me there and then, although I did not mention that part. He asks about this disassociation, do I feel this way with my friends, with my peers and classmates? No, I tell him. Actually, I say, more fervently, but then with tears, it is more like a kind of psychosis (I have to use the word “kind” so that I do not collapse fully). My attempts to be bold are met with more melodrama. I try to show contempt, to have vigour, but these feelings of strength are confused and I unveil myself. Last year I thought that the whole world was in my head, I said. I saw signs telling me I was dying, everything, everywhere. I did not say that part. I am crying more now. I look at him, feeling immensely pathetic.

I’m not making you stay here, he says. The look on his face is of abject horror and revulsion. Who is this creature who just walked into my room, uninvited, and proceeds to deny me my own existence and my own playful dalliance into the realms of Freud and Jung? Why must she ruin my game for me, why did she have to cross the line? Because I did, I did cross his line. I blurted out something I did not want to share, especially not with this strange and uncomfortable man who, as my mum later remarked, upon meeting him, was the last person ever to want to talk to at a party. Thanks, mum. He looks like he’s got a rod up his arse, no emotional intelligence whatsoever, she said, comfortingly. But I still wanted to weep. I felt so violated. I left his room, mumbling something about this being why I was going to therapy, to understand what was proper and improper to say in conversation, something about needing to meet my mum, something to acknowledge the line I had just crossed. More than anything, I felt wrong, not wronged, just wrong. I felt as if I did something very, very wrong.

It turns out that after speaking about it, it may have been he who was in The Wrong. I am glad that I had the later opportunity to tell him that, with my mum supporting me. You made her feel very vulnerable, she said, or something to that affect. I can’t remember what he replied to that, but I told him in essence that he was out of line. I’m not a counsellor, he says. I wish I could have told him then to stop fucking acting like one. He left and slammed the door, childishly.

I have repeated these events in my head ever since, trying to make sense of them. How do you know when you have done something wrong – and is that even the right question to ask? What are you allowed to say? What sorts of things must be left unsaid, and am I asking for special treatment? Is this merely self-pity, or perhaps catharsis, an appropriate exercising of a trodden down voice? When you have kept silent for so long words will tumble out at top speed and to filter them may be too much to handle, and perhaps I do not want to. Why remain silent about these small things – might it be that if you do, they just get bigger?

[1] http://www.thefader.com/2017/03/03/borderline-personality-disorder-black-woman-personal-essay

Nothing new

Hidden messages: creative piece?

“Tell the same person that you think that motorway signs are giving you hidden messages about the secrets of time, and they look at you like you’ve just grown three heads or murdered a puppy.”

Mental illness exists beyond depression and anxiety. Why don’t we talk about it?

It began sometime, I don’t know when. It could have been at the time of my birth, the tumour on my spine subjecting me to a life-long trauma that may not have been felt in one way, but certainly in another. Feeling as if I were an oddity was something I carried with me throughout primary school. I remember being in the playground with my three closest friends and thinking they are all so similar; so together, so contained. I could be taken out and everything would remain the same. I did have one close friend, she invited me round to her house and I spent a lot of time there. We would watch Top of the Pops and eat onion bagels, waffles, pancakes, fruit twist things that looked like tongues with doodles on the underbelly. They said that I was a polite and kind child. I always saw change lying around and wondered what would happen if I took it.

I stole something from the British Museum once, or at least tried to. It was a small turquoise scarab, it cost fifty pence but my dad wouldn’t buy it for me so I shoved it into my front pocket and it bulged out conspicuously. I saw it as we left the shop and we stopped, he asked what it was, what have you done, I lied, I defended myself. It’s nothing. (It wasn’t nothing.) Was it the first sign that something wasn’t as it should be? There was a money-tree in my friend’s garden and I used to wonder what it would be like for a tree to sprout coins. Was it greed, or envy, or loss, I don’t know. Her house smelt of something familiar and cloying, the detergent, and I used to want it to be mine. I wanted that smell, just like I wanted to live in a house with lots of upstairs floors and a pull-out drawer filled with snacks and two cats who would curl up on my lap.

I used to think I could communicate with animals. My aunt had cats too, one of them went missing a few years before the other left, or maybe it is still there. Sometimes we went to a house on Downshire Hill where two children lived, twins in my sister’s year at school. I was a little older but I looked the same age, a little smaller in height, a little more slender. They had an Aga and a garden, chickens and small snails that we used to watch and inspect by turning then upside down. We would go inside the Wendy house and pretend to make tea and take calls. I borrowed their wellington boots. We went on the heath. But I preferred being outside, inside; inside the safety of this garden with a large tree that draped over the edges.

It is only recently that I have enjoyed being outside, outside. But even then the garden where I spent most of last year was not really outside. It was a garden, despite its grandness. On the inside of this garden there was a small enclave with some larger trees and one which I would sit underneath and read or listen to music when I was feeling melancholy. No one could see me, but sometimes a figure would pass and once someone came in. He said this is where he would go, too. I didn’t offer him a seat because I wanted to be alone. Another friend once met me there, another time. I found it exciting, because he seemed so strange and I felt so secure. This was my place, and I had invited him in, and it was on my terms. We spoke as I lifted off my headphones and proceeded to speak about how much I hated this place, wanted to leave, so did he. I didn’t because I couldn’t. I had no sanity left in me, and I was only just keeping it together. I wasn’t really.

That year was the loneliest year of my life, if I could call it that. But it was lonely in a different way. At school I felt lonely and yet I still recognised other people as real. This time was different. I don’t know why (it was drugs probably) but it came to the point where nothing was real. That might sound romantic but it was incredibly dangerous, I had no body, my parents were unreal things I had imagined in my mind. The external world around me was a fiction that I had myself created because I was the creator, only I existed. How do you find help in that kind of a situation where no one else exists? I do not know how I made it from then to now. I could not seek help, not only because no one was real, but because this was something I had to endure, and to seek help was to fail. I was awakening, spiritually.

When I first exhibited visible signs of anxiety and depression to my mother, who did not see me at school, nor in the years preceding as I left her house at fourteen after many bitter exchanges, she showed me to a website which spoke of spiritual awakenings and their symptoms or signs. To me this was what I needed to hear. There is nothing wrong with me – I could not handle yet one more blow to my sense of self – it is just that I am more special than most. Indeed this sense of uniqueness kept me going when there were too many dents made in my already buckling armour. I could not voice myself for one thing, I would spew knots, as one person recalled, of potential acuity and yet knots all the same. We need to work on you having more skin, said my therapist.

*

I reject “spirituality” wholeheartedly and yet it may have been the way in which I was saved from myself. This ambivalence fleshes out a little with my visit to Castro Urdiales, where in the summer I taught two children, Lorena and Natalia, to speak and read English. I did not know when I made contact with their mother that her husband was an energy healer. He was also a Taoist, or a Buddhist, he often used the two interchangeably, and when I arrived there I had had the second of my two “near-death experiences”. Prior to this I had been in Berlin, depressed but unsure of it, definitely sick, and took two pills in one go because I thought I could handle it, as the three boys I was with seemed to. These were pills you didn’t find in an Apoteke, but on the street, via dodgy text messages. I had found myself in situations like these regularly since I was sixteen and I always felt uneasy about it, and guilty, but would go through with it nevertheless.

This man had learnt the art of energy healing whilst in China. He could see auras as a young boy. He also told my impressionable mind that there were no such things as coincidences. I was sceptical and yet awe-stricken, and I welcomed this new way of seeing. My friend sent me an Alan Watts book for my birthday, which I received whilst staying there and I took this as a benevolent sign. Trust this man. He indeed assuaged my reflux, pain which I had been experiencing prior to that moment for two years, and not very often since. It was strange, because he presented himself as someone who also thought they were special, and ought to be treated as such, and he bought his children countless things from Primark which I thought was strange because aren’t Buddhists meant to be unattached to possessions and leaders of an ascetic life and didn’t he know about child labour? I told myself that I was reciting garbled knowledge and things I had picked up whilst at university, and that I ought to be more open minded.

Whilst staying in Castro we spoke infrequently, always in Spanish. He was an anarchist, and he loved me, just as he loved everyone. Still I was filled with hate. You have a very narrow mind, he tells me. I can open it for you. I didn’t refuse. I wanted to see more clearly. He gave me magnets and he experimented on my body in front of a friend to whom he was teaching his method. Look, he said, you just need to use the feet. The body knows it all. He taught me a meditation practise that would heal me, but ever since then I have been unable to stick to it for more than two weeks, let alone two months, which was the advised time. The problem with this encounter was that I treated this man like a god. And so when I experienced my fourth or fifth psychotic experience on the coach to the airport, where the world separated from me and my head from my body, and wouldn’t stop moving in vacant lots gathering fuel for nothing, I didn’t say anything to anyone. They might undo my mind opening. I thought that if I endured it then the fruits of my labour would be revealed to me.

This Taoist man healed my reflux and me profoundly, told me things about my family that were profoundly accurate, healed my mum’s sickness from afar, and yet ever since that time I have been more psychically and psychologically sick that I ever have been. Imagine suddenly feeling so light you might be cut in half or popped, like a balloon. Seeing your toes in the bath and wondering whose they were. Looking at your hands and marvelling their marble-like sheen, their fluorescent outline, and treating them as a work of art rather than a part of you. How can it be that my body is not me, not mine? Perhaps it begins in this very slippage; for in declaring our bodies ‘ours’ we irrevocably separate ourselves from them. What are we if not our bodies? Our mind, or perhaps our spirit.

To identify with anything might be to narrow down a conception of one’s self. Identification might be a curse, not a liberation. Incessant identification brings about a kind of merging, a seepage. An attempt at empathy gone mad. The ubiquitous screen might not be helping, for one thing my frayed nerves clasp to it with might and desperation: my body, clamouring to be made whole. To be healed in the body is radical act, and I want to resist. Yet my mind and nervous system plea to be coaxed back into familiarity and home. Home is within you, I would hear, and yet when your body is a stranger you need something more robust than just an idea to see you through, to the light.

What began to see me through was my voice. No longer spewing knots but many tears, my throat began to rebuild itself through song. For the voice is not solely the bodies domain, it is also, through language, that of the mind. (The mind and the body are not so separate after all). Whatever become of my mind, and I know that there is still further to go, I do know that my heart is a lot larger than when I began, wherever and whenever that was. And that an interest in things spiritual brought me here, but it did also bring me out… (Om namaha shivaya?)

Hidden messages: creative piece?

There is a plant on the desk next to me

There is a plant on the desk next to me: on the far right hand corner, with the longest leaf poking towards 10 o’clock. Closer to me is a jar, half brown half green, quarter leaf, leaves lifting up from underneath. They subtract the space behind. Half dead tulips above, six precisely, maybe more. The radio is off. I am drinking tea: a mix of Echinacea, acerola cherry and elderberry. My chair is underneath me and my legs in a squat-like position, it is more comfortable. I have not stretched. Before, I was sitting in half lotus. My experience of life is as follows: sensitivity, femininity – no – womanhood. I experience life as someone with moderate financial ease, illusory perhaps but that is how it seems. An object of attention. An oddity, strange, eccentricity, extra-ordinary but muted, gentle, quiet, moody, angry, frustrated, confused, fragmentary, creative. I am sitting at my screen, on pause, it blurs, there are vibrations everywhere: out of the corner of my eye I can see humming, shapes humming, moving ever so subtly, like waves, motion, on one plane. A two dimensional image has become distorted by a perception of a world beyond. I feel denial and disbelief, but meet with truth. What is my experience: sensitivity, creativity, artistry, femininity, ecology. About that: I am not Gary Snyder I was not brought up outside. I live in London out of term time, and have done so always. What is my truth? I began to connect with nature because of the book on Chakras. It was to heal – when did it happen and how? The garden became a place of solace and quietude but also panic, fear, rage, anxiety, death, and doom. My feet are cold.

There is a plant on the desk next to me

The act of waiting

The act of waiting, waiting for that thing to jolt you out of your reality, waiting for that turning point, that moment of realisation you need, there is a suspense there, a lingering that demands to be shattered. Well, that’s where panic comes in. Panic disrupts, panic lifts you up. Panic is a response to the daily OK-ness of things, the result of a demand for that craved for explosion in a narrative, that part in an interview where the interviewee said: ‘and that’s when my life changed’. That part on a timeline, in a biography, where things became different. But that part wasn’t a point it was a process.

The act of waiting

Mental Health [TM] and why we need to keep talking about it

Whilst reading this article posted by Varsity, titled ‘Majority of students suffer mental heath problems, survey finds’ my eyes started to glaze over. It was so obvious, and all the statistics just blurred into one. Of course we suffer from issues in such a pressured environment.

It’s not just the compartmentalisation in terms of “week 5 blues” either, but the restrictive limitations we put on ourselves during term time; living life in term differently from outside-term. Just as we have huge highs and perilously deep lows with our timetabling of weekly (or bi-weekly) essay-writing, so do we, too, experience severe fluctuations as we move in and out of term. We are told that during term time everything is to be work focused, and so this becomes our ‘life’ here – work, work and more work, the romanticising all-nighters in the library, plus the “release” of Turf or other shitty over-priced events that get more hype than they deserve (apart from King’s Bunker, two pound entry every other Saturday visit the page for more info).

This restriction means, for arts subjects at least, more introspection, more alone time, more inevitable thinking about ourselves while we grapple with the essay questions that demand originality and flair. If they don’t seem to at first, these are pressures we end up putting on ourselves, wanting to stand out and make an impression (e.g. ‘Is Sir Gawain a Romance?’ becomes ‘Find Out Everything You Can About The Romance Genre and the Synthesise an Argument Never Before Seen Where You Plunder the Depths of Your Soul’). We aren’t meant to hold a job (which I find also, damaging) and we value ourselves on our academic output. Everything is put on hold, including sleep, the most valuable thing of all, until term finishes, where we crash and maintain this dangerous fluctuation.

What I’ve found after dealing with a handful of issues is that treating my time at Cambridge more like ‘life’ – rather than ‘student life’ – is a lot more beneficial. This means leaving Cambridge every other week and going somewhere – home, another city, my aunt’s place in Wales (cheap tickets when you book in advance). If you can’t do this, go to Grantchester. You start going mad when you see the same thing day in day out.

Doing some tutoring, or casual bar work (like at West Road Concert Hall, or a College Bar) is also helpful. Basically being a real person who doesn’t put their life on hold for work which ultimately ends up being a consistent ego-stroking affair.

But these changes can be met with other practical guidance, too, like meditation and mindfulness: issues with mental health can be attributed to our insistent inundation with information, thoughts, objects, things, not just inside the University but also in the Real World. This ‘thinginess’ wires us so tight around external props and gives us no rest that resulting fear, anxiety, stress and depression is no surprise at all.

The university offers courses on Mindfulness and Meditation but you can research these things alone. There are books at various libraries and lots of resources online. Meditation is free, it just requires effort. As for mindfulness, it starts with eating without a screen in front of you.

At this point I falter. Did I just write that? Who is this self-interested arsehole who thinks they have a right to tell people what to do? Of course eating in front of a screen is bad for you, so is bingeing on eight episodes of Orphan Black in one evening but I do it anyway out of self-pity and also because I love it. No I am not going to gather myself up, let’s wait until tomorrow, for tomorrow is a new day. I can’t speak for anyone else and when I speak it is from my own experience. Fucking narcissism. Fucking money-making mindfulness. 

 

 

Mental Health [TM] and why we need to keep talking about it

Two visits to the Guggenheim

The last time I visited the Guggenheim was just over a year ago. I don’t actually remember the name of the artist exhibiting or much of their work for that matter, but I think that says more about how hungover I was than the artwork itself. The night before (and the first of my month long trip) I was formally introduced to Spain with a large dose or five of kalimotxo, and so my walk to the museum from the hostel felt more like the end of a week long pilgrimage rather than an introspective and intellectually rigorous morning.

But this inscrutable fogginess also afforded me a certain insight, a more detached perspective, informing my perceptions of these superbly large structures in ways that would not have been possible, I am sure, with my usual everyday clarity (in comparison, at least). In this state of childish wonder I did not read the descriptions on the placards, or even the biographical information of the artist, but instead stood mesmerised by these huge slabs of material (steel – I have just found out, from looking up online. The artist is called Richard Serra, also, and a link to the work is here.)

This state of mind could not have been more different from my feelings of pure disinterestedness when walking into the Jeff Koons exhibition at the same museum, only a few weeks ago. This was the piece that faced me, titled ‘Chainlink’:

chainlink

I am not suggesting that we must be hungover to fully appreciate art: the works of these two artists are hugely divergent, not least because of their aesthetics. Koons wanted me to work hard to understand, Serra allowed me to stand in awe and wonder.

But if Koons needed me to understand then what I needed was an audio-guide. The last and only time I had seen his work was online and embedded in a facebook cover photo which elicited a laugh and then was gone again in favour of another clickbait-y image on my newsfeed. Perhaps if I hadn’t have succumbed to facebook’s persistent attention seeking I would have been more equipped for that which confronted me.

And so I depended on this audio-guide to do some explaining, to go against all I had been taught about critically engaging in works of art, in all that I had read about there being no understanding, no “getting” it, just experiencing, letting the artwork seep into a &/higher state of consciousness/&. I wanted to understand what exactly was going on with that inflatable turtle and hippo chained to a fence. Why were they there? What did it mean? Does it have to mean anything at all?

The audio-guide first told me this:

‘Koons again invites us to reflect on breathing, which makes it possible to give the objects its volume, and also on the water on which it floats.

 Koons returns to the readymade, but creates these hybrids in which his sculptures are placed against a fence.’

 These concepts were not totally mind-stretching, not yet at least. He continued:

 ‘We don’t know whether the fence is trapping them like a web, or whether they are trying to cross over it, climbing to get to the other side. They are life preservers that keep us afloat, that save our lives, but here they are immortalised on the metal fence.’

 You can see why I began to get frustrated. Bringing words in like ‘immortalised’ only adds to the incongruity of the text with the image I had in front of me. It was peculiar.

I stopped the audio and looked back, to the image. The audio, of course, persisted, but I started it from the beginning so that I could get this all in one go. It went, of course, like this:

 ‘Koons again invites us to reflect on breathing, which makes it possible to give the objects its volume, and also on the water on which it floats. Koons returns to the readymade, but creates these hybrids in which his sculptures are placed against a fence. We don’t know whether the fence is trapping them like a web, or whether they are trying to cross over it, climbing to get to the other side. They are life preservers that keep us afloat, that save our lives, but here they are immortalised on the metal fence.

 Once again, Koon’s sends an ambiguous message. It is another way of showing us the dark side of transformation of self, of the ambiguity that any change entails.’

 Pause. Now these grand notions of “ambiguity” just feel pretentious. This is the point at which I began to scribble the audio down onto my scrap piece of paper, as quickly as I could. So I could show it to someone else and know if I was just reading into it or if it was, really, utterly ridiculous. It meant listening to the words six or seven times, the beginning more than the end. It had a strange effect on me.

What happened was that, by hearing these words again and again, I began to feel almost comfortable with them. They weren’t unfamiliar, grand statements about aesthetics; but sensible, reasonable, even interesting findings.

Read it again and see if you feel the same:

‘Koons again invites us to reflect on breathing, which makes it possible to give the objects its volume, and also on the water on which it floats. Koons returns to the readymade, but creates these hybrids in which his sculptures are placed against a fence. We don’t know whether the fence is trapping them like a web, or whether they are trying to cross over it, climbing to get to the other side. They are life preservers that keep us afloat, that save our lives, but here they are immortalised on the metal fence. Once again, Koon’s sends an ambiguous message. It is another way of showing us the dark side of transformation of self, of the ambiguity that any change entails.’

Perhaps it would work best if I split it into chunks like so, to imitate more closely what I myself heard. Keep an eye on the original image:

 ‘Koons again invites us to reflect on breathing, which makes it possible to give the objects its volume, and also on the water on which it floats.

*

 ‘Koons again invites us to reflect on breathing, which makes it possible to give the objects its volume, and also on the water on which it floats.

 Koons returns to the readymade, but creates these hybrids in which his sculptures are placed against a fence.

 *

 ‘Koons again invites us to reflect on breathing, which makes it possible to give the objects its volume, and also on the water on which it floats.

 Koons returns to the readymade, but creates these hybrids in which his sculptures are placed against a fence.

 We don’t know whether the fence is trapping them like a web, or whether they are trying to cross over it, climbing to get to the other side.

 *

 ‘Koons again invites us to reflect on breathing, which makes it possible to give the objects its volume, and also on the water on which it floats.

 Koons returns to the readymade, but creates these hybrids in which his sculptures are placed against a fence.

 We don’t know whether the fence is trapping them like a web, or whether they are trying to cross over it, climbing to get to the other side.

 They are life preservers that keep us afloat, that save our lives, but here they are immortalised on the metal fence.

 *

 ‘Koons again invites us to reflect on breathing, which makes it possible to give the objects its volume, and also on the water on which it floats.

 Koons returns to the readymade, but creates these hybrids in which his sculptures are placed against a fence.

 We don’t know whether the fence is trapping them like a web, or whether they are trying to cross over it, climbing to get to the other side.

 They are life preservers that keep us afloat, that save our lives, but here they are immortalised on the metal fence.

 Once again, Koon’s sends an ambiguous message. It is another way of showing us the dark side of transformation of self, of the ambiguity that any change entails.’

 Has your perspective changed?

If it hasn’t, it may be something to do with the difference in experience; between being there and hearing this, and looking at both side by side on a screen, scanning the words with the eyes rather than them filtering through into the ears. It’s a less sensory experience via screen, for sure (or you can go to the Guggenheim and see for yourself).

But still — when things seem to others total rubbish but to you, pure golden Truth, it is perhaps because you are surrounded by it (and things like it) to the extent that you are numbed to its ridiculousness. Like reading criticism all the time you must become desensitised to some of the bullshit wool they drag over your eyes.

Regardless of the eureka I may have felt after listening to the audio-guide, the attempt to explain away the image in front of me felt, in hindsight, almost wrong. And anyway – what if the inflatables are just about his last summer holiday in Corfu?

Two visits to the Guggenheim

When I became a true ‘Berliner’ by falling into the tram-tracks

As I was cycling home on Monday it started to rain. When I say rain I mean a downpour; no small drizzles here in Berlin. The heavens opened and I showered for the second time that day. The chugged-down wine from dinner was wearing off and I was warm and fuzzy no longer, though I did have three towels in my backpack still nestled there and slightly damp from my trip to Schlachtensee.

I blame the rain for my fall. I had taken shelter in a falafel bar mid-journey but despite the owner kindly putting on the television for me I decided to leave and brave the last five minutes, not because I wasn’t enjoying hearing Rachel from ‘Friends’ dubbed in terrible German, but as the rain weakened from torrential downpour to just downpour I decided that this was the chance I needed to take. I also needed my bed badly, sensing myself rapidly transitioning from warm and fuzzy to cold and fuzzier, a feeling of tiredness that could not be resisted, not even with the aid of the repeated auto-laugh that seemed even more sinister than normal in my 3AM daze. As I rode onto the last stretch of my street towards my temporary home, my tyres surrendered to the tram tracks and fell into the deadly crevice.

My fall to the floor was, dare I say, a moderately enjoyable experience. I am certain that there is something about falling that provides a sense of release, a feeling of freedom that cannot help but appeal. I am aware that this cannot apply to those who receive a more serious injury like a broken a leg or bike; however I’d like to put it out there to show other non-sufferers that you are not alone, and that we can speak out about this. I suspect that at the root of my enjoyment is a control issue or a general thirst for real-life drama.

As I lay there on my left side, numbed from residual amounts of alcohol, five seconds could not have passed before I heard a male voice ask me “Are you OK?”

My life at this point was panning out like a scene in a romance film, perfectly sensationalised with the right amount of surprise. There was potential in the air, and as I acknowledged this potential I admit that I played along with it, hesitating before turning my face towards this man and locking my eyes with his, becoming in this moment the idiotic damsel in distress that I quickly exchanged for another, a more preferable ‘girl who has her life in control but got caught on the slippery tram tracks after an enjoyable evening with friends’. It was a mouthful but it was necessary, a jolt back to my reality and a way to dust off my preconceptions, misled as I had been in the past with a perfect scenario that was destined for failure.

But the narrative-world persisted. The handsome German man helped me up and walked my bike over the side, checking if I was OK before seeing to my bike, and after bringing me some water we began to talk. Just a few pieces of conversation at first, but these slowly turned into more meaningful exchange with the silences aided by an understanding that I was too dazed to speak, although there is, also, a sense that at night no silences feel truly uncomfortable. Whilst we spoke, sat on a street corner underneath a closed Backhaus, I do not think that I was necessarily searching for a part to play, but there is something about meeting a person for the first time, among unexpected circumstances such as these, that makes the act of introducing yourself, and the stories that follow suit, impossibly entwined with theatricality. I could not elude the performance, or perhaps, the performance could not elude me.

We spoke about small things, larger things, what I wanted to pursue in my life, questions that could either open up new territories or take you nowhere at all. When pressed for answers I was brutally honest but there was also a part of me that lingered on the extra details, making things up as I went along. Not huge things, things I was considering, he asked me what I wanted to do after studying and it was only that day I had been considering pursuing a career in art therapy, but that became my future. When I faltered in the conversation they were measured pauses, thought out, considered and sampled for effect. Perhaps it was my daze that insisted I spoke slower and gave more emphasis to my words but I found myself not talking like myself at all.

When I spoke to my friends about the event the next day, they told me that it sounded ‘just like something out of a film’. I don’t think it is that we have seen films detailing these exact events, or even that it is films themselves (for why not books, plays, TV shows?), but that something seeming like it were out of a film comes to suggest a certain tone of occasion which necessitates drama, surprise, and of course, romance.

It was my piece of scrap metal, the bike that gave birth to this beautiful occasion by flinging me over its handlebars, that initiated this theatricality. I was caught in an identity-crisis because I was constantly being reminded that what was happening to me at that moment had the perfect combination of “drama, surprise and romance”, and as such I could not help my mind wandering down various avenues, hyper-aware of what it meant to be caught in a moment ‘like something out of a film’.

And my awareness of this moment did nothing but impede my ability to actually live it. The event was tortured by my mind flickering like a film reel onto the potentialities of the next scene. Even if I was, indeed, being ‘myself’, my mind was being flooded with the numerous possibilities of my character’s trajectory.

When I fell off my bike and looked into the eyes of the man who ‘saved’ me, my immediate response to damsel-mode was automatic and dangerous. Although this was quickly abandoned, it is true that female roles in films are notoriously two-dimensional. Perhaps, then, it was not the spectacular fall off my bike that initiated my thoughts about film, or the late night scenery, even, but the fact that it was a good-looking man that came to my aid. The romance narrative is so drilled in to my head that I could hardly escape it. And as such I was disappointed: where was my happy ending, my dramatic closure a la Hollywood necessitating elopement, or my drastic move with my ‘knight in shining armour’ to an exotic location? My mind had wandered because that’s what it had been taught to do, and I could not help but play out these scenes to the extreme.

Indeed the narratives found in film are a pervasive influence on how we perceive our lives. But for a visual thinker like myself, as I realised, they can also become influential on how we live them. Cue scary music.

When I became a true ‘Berliner’ by falling into the tram-tracks