Friday, October 2, 2009

My Thoughts Didn't Stop!

And they will continue to be written:

Let's see how Seattle unfolds itself before me...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Final: The Other Berlin Wall

Standing mocking their separation, it stood colorfully catastrophic. A round overcoat smoothed the divide but it wouldn’t make the truth of it any less harsh. The words of the public sprawled¬¬ about on the west side demanded its destruction while the east half remained silent. They looked at it every day, wondering what was happening on the other side, yearning to teleport if just for one moment to see what life over there was like. Some of them never spoke with loved ones again. They hugged their boyfriends goodnight but truly goodbye. No communication. Nein.

Small flirty glances and charming smiles interchanged in a world of fuzzy exchange from one questionable face to another are lost in this European city. Or else just through the mind of this foreigner. I have caught the eyes of countless Germans and have pulled my lips from the corners into a friendly smile, only to receive an uncomfortable change of focus or a continuing blank stare unaccompanied by what I consider to be kindness. It quickly became my goal to define what exactly was causing this surreal experience.

A remarkable paradox of closeness and privacy is palpable in Berlin. Berliners will share tables with strangers but don’t seem to share conversation. You will see what seems to be a lack of personal space as Germans walk through their busy streets, bumping shoulders with those they pass, no entschuldigung, for saying “excuse me” becomes a rarity. The people of Berlin also seem to despise loud noises and as part of an American group of young people, this was a difficult thing to adhere to. It’s been explained to me that the German understanding of a public place is quite actually a mixture of various private spaces thrown together. So as those within their private spaces go about their public lives, they may only attend to their own needs and pay little attention to the other private bubbles bouncing off of theirs.

However don’t allow this to misconstrue your idea of Berliners as self-involved Euro-trash with single-spaced, one-track minded lives, for I believe passionately that this is not the case. The angsty teen in fishnets, black fingerless gloves, and a multi-tiered black skirt may not smile back, not even with her thickly bordered eyes. You can pet the dog, but the owner holding his leash may not look up since he remains involved in his texting and music. Imagine a translucent bubble surrounds them and though they might have the means to break through, it is written in their culture that the concept of reaching out is unattainable. They may want it down, but the wall is up: solid and dense.

Personal interaction with strangers has always been an element of living I’ve deeply treasured. I smile unconsciously at everyone I make eye contact with, I generate conversation with multiple people during my day, and I am an avid member of Couch Surfing, “an international non-profit network that connects travelers with locals in over 230 countries and territories around the world,” as the website states. I am passionate about learning (and telling) the stories of others and thus I’m pursuing an education by way of a self-constructed major that teaches me how to do just that. In lieu of all of this, the problem I encountered immediately after stepping onto European soil was the rather grave lack of stranger-to-stranger connection.

It is true that my being an outsider made the wall even more prominent. I don’t encounter it everyday and I have never brainstormed ways to overcome it. Manuela Mangold, a graduate student at Humboldt, mentioned that “it is foremost about what you’re used to, and…experience then sets the standard for your observation.” This is entirely correct, and to me, the product of a radically loving area, Berlin seemed to be the least friendly city ever. I caught myself leaning against the wall, scratch marks leading to my fingertips, looking around desperately for anything to stand on that might aid in hoisting me over. There’s something on the other side, I was thinking, and I’ve gotta see it! But access there wasn’t. Why did this wall exist?

Before I could delve into answering such a question I needed to gain a better understanding of how thick this wall actually was. I spent some light-hearted time in Alexanderplatz immersing myself deep into the topic. I smiled relentlessly at numerous passers by, tallying the responses I witnessed. My cheeks became numb I was smiling so much – I gave simple smiles, toothy smiles, flirty smiles, uncomfortable smiles… and still my kindness was not returned over 70% of the time. While under 30% did return my smile, close to one third of those smilers were being kind for their own benefit: they were salespeople, performers, or beggars. This wall was thick. It wasn’t willing to budge. So I thought I’d join the movement. Germans like to stare. Could I beat them at their own game? This was the new experiment. No smiles aloud. Two outcomes: a smile from a stranger at a staring me or a challenging return stare, straight-faced, eye to eye. This was when it truly got intriguing. Over 90% locked the look and pursed their lips, demonstrating Berlin’s grumpy reputation. Some refused to look at me in the eye at all. I considered that maybe because Berlin is so used to art and performance, that because everything is always a show, Berliners are used to being an audience member to the lives of others. The hardest thing about it was making that serious effort to act against my honest instinct to smile, which struck me as ironic because the straight face seemed to come so naturally to everyone else.

I started to feel isolated. I needed hugs, and I needed them quickly. Free Hugs is a worldwide campaign started by Juan Mann in an Australian airport on a day when he was feeling particularly lonely. Since then, it’s grown into a worldwide movement made of people who feel Mann’s motivation that “to see someone who was once frowning, smile even for a moment, is worth it every time.” My sign read KOSTENLOSE UMARMUNG and it got me more connection in the first three minutes than I had experienced in all my days in Berlin up to that moment. Alexanderplatz to Friedrichstraße. One hour, fourteen hugs. Four men kissed me. One old Turk asked to buy me a drink. I said no. A guy asked me to make him a sign, which I did. Two people complimented me but said they didn’t want hugs. One young man tried to pay me. He was the best hugger. Carrying the clearly hand-made sign through the busy Saturday city, I braved mocking and harsh German words and reactions while I brought more smiles to the community than I could in any other way.

Why on earth was this happening? I toyed with some ignorant theories: self-involvement rules this city and reaching out is simply not considered. Berlin is a place of tourists and what I am experiencing is just a weird complex of confused people from a mass of different cultures all put together. It’s a generational pattern, leaving the largest group of people in the center, grumpy and unfriendly. But none of these could really be the reason, could they? I couldn’t speak with the actual strangers: I was bordered both by my language ignorance and my need to spare the feelings of others (would it really be right to ask, “why didn’t you smile at me back there?”). The only way I could think to approach this topic was to speak with Germans I knew. They gave me some riveting responses.

“The economic situation leaves people in higher tension,” Manuela told me. Pencil-stiff business men clutch their briefcases and loose teenagers act liquid-like as they swallow more Berliner; beer falls on Katie’s arm – she doesn’t mind, but it’s not soccer they’re looking out for. Tobi Temme, another graduate student echoes the concept, “unemployment is a major problem and I believe the major reason why so many Berliners are depressed.” They’re so busy bouncing back toward themselves that the consideration of acknowledging someone else is out of the question. Self-interest seems to prevail. In our German crash-course, we learned that the word entschuldigung stands synonymous to “excuse me,” which it does, however the phrase is only exercised to permit the user’s benefit. I need to get by. Entschuldigung! I need the waitress’ attention. Entschuldigung! It’s not about “I beg your pardon,” it’s the “hey you” complex.

Manuela told me that the kind of connection I was looking for was easier to get in Southern Germany, in smaller towns. “There are regional differences,” she said. Might it also be arguable that in these small towns, the interaction is between familiar faces and that these people may not be friends but also are likely not strangers? The mention of other areas makes me realize that research is absolutely not (and probably never will be) complete. Tobi mentioned that Berliners are well-known for being grumpy, “it is just part of the regional heritage.” I imagine people standing on maps of their cities, chosen to do so because they represent the full identity of the location. Berlin’s arms are crossed tightly across his chest and he huffs under a hat. For some reason he has a moustache. Manuela continues, “people here keep their distance to a greater extent than, let’s say, in other countries. Getting in contact with someone is far more complicated here…. I would say that there is certainly a different expectation in Germany how to approach a stranger.” So maybe I just had it all wrong: it’s true that I never assimilated to seeing the stand-off-ish-ness of this awkward grump as approachability, but maybe it’s something only a native can accomplish.

Before I arrived in Berlin I spent a month on the road, spanning the bottom of our colorful country: eighteen states, ten Couch Surfing hosts, countless friends, and no brutal chill hitting me from any of the hundreds of cities and towns I passed through. What was the huge difference? This was the main question I was interested in asking Tobi, a man educated in both German and American History—I was more than pleased with his insightful and very clear response. “The phenomenon of stranger walls is definitely rooted in the cultural history of both countries. America has always been an immigrant society, so people were more used to the fact that there are new people in the village (e.g. in frontier villages). Germany on the other hand has had a long history where people (peasants) were held in serfdom and were not allowed to move away on their own. Later German immigration laws had always tended to be quite strict. Then there [are] Germany’s problems with its national identity, being in the midst of a continent with dozens of nationalities lead to discrimination of strangers in order to preserve the national identity.” There may be no solution to a thick wall that is only understandable through the eyes of culture and history, but a history book fell open to this page and in my attempts to climb over the wall, I’ve found serious understanding as to why this wall may exist. “Also there is the North-West European ideal of reservedness, as a means of distinction [or roots in nobility]. You just don’t talk to everybody because that would make you common.”

It may be easy to say things like, real Berliners are many right-winged skinheads who hate everyone except themselves, their little house, and their pit-bull, but the circumstance is clearly not as simple and straight-forward as some radical Berliners chose to explain it to me. It was suggested that Berliners are all depressed from the wall (some its existence and some its demolishment) and therefore peruse the city dwelling in their upset state, but the advised depression was not confirmed by any other Berliners I spoke with. The truth seems to lie in the current state of the city, characterized by unemployment and the economy and in the underlying history of Germany’s regional stingy outlook toward the immigration of strangers. As they balance the line of the wall, Berliners go through their tasks within their heads, wearing blinders to the minds – no, people – no, bodies before them.

I grew up, as many children do, riding in the back seat of my parents’ car, playing Sweet and Sour with my friends. Wave at strangers driving by. If they wave back, it’s sweet. If they don’t, it’s sour. The Germans I spoke with say no stranger-to-stranger kindness game exists in German childhood. My second week in Berlin I met with a Couch Surfing member, Sophia, at a bakery in Alexanderplatz. While standing before the pastries, trying to make my decision, I heard a thud behind me: an older woman had fallen down. Her friend had run to her aid and an employee of the bakery slowly walked toward the scene, but the other thirty plus people in the small room did nothing but stare as spectators in an arena. It was as if the walls in their heads were physical ones, Plexiglas, letting them look on but not reach out. I found it ironic that this event happened while I was meeting with a Couch Surfing member since the Couch Surfing organization is so completely counter-everything I was experiencing in the city. I contacted the Berlin CS ambassador for an interview, but he never responded.

A Salem, Oregon couple was on their way to church in December of 2007 when they witnessed a head-on collision. It looked really bad. The cars spun away from each other and when they stopped, they looked like crumpled up metal. The couple stopped their car. They got out, and rushed to the scene, hugging the victims and offering any help they possibly could. They followed my family to the hospital and stayed while we awaited the verdict of my father’s cat scans and his potential death. They gave us their home phone number and their address. They offered us food and rides and their prayers. I’m stopped when thinking this might be feasible in the outskirts of Berlin.

I’m home now. I’m in Oakland, in Berkeley, in Seattle, and my world just seems open to me. It’s inviting and comforting—it seems somehow to know me even though in its density its knowledge is really only its ignorance. These three cities I call home are everything Berlin is: they’re self-involved, they’re defined by culture and by their history, but that all these things have happened in the name of, well, love makes all the difference. I appreciate so much the kindness I have received from the world around me in the past month I’ve been home and I’m reminded once again of what is truly important to me. I still wonder many things: why we are so concerned with this ‘awkward’ feeling, why eye contact seems to be the most difficult thing in the world, why having meaningful connections with strangers is never even attempted let alone considered…but for now smiles will suffice.

I’ve been pressing on this concrete for so long that it’s about time I find a door and if I can’t, I’m determined to make one. Sweat trickles down my face and my hand balls into a fist. A pound on the wall and still nothing. I’m out of hot breath and I can’t keep pushing for something that just isn’t willing to happen for me, so I gather my things and walk away. Around a corner, down some steps I bounce, the wind cooling the hot moist skin on my face. A man walks toward me and I slow down, conflicted where I should look. My shifty eyes finally greet his stare. He looks at me pleasantly as his feet pass by one another with a brisk wind. The wall is behind me but is it still between us? Closer and closer we get, his German eyes remain fixated as my eyes pass back and forth, uncomfortable and smiling. Soon a wind hits my body as he passes me, sipping up every last drop of eye contact possible before he can’t, but a smile never happens.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Assignments 2 and 4: Postcards and Everything In-Between



These students walk past my body, one foot passing sideways in front of the other; their fingers weave themselves in through the metal fence containing my under-construction works as their eyes scan the colors that plaster my once depressive veneer. One girl writes “this is the physical form of segregation” and she looks at me willing to cry. Her red hair matches the orange paint meant for my décor that fell upon her notebook and she smiles, feeling humbled and lucky each time she looks down at it. As the city’s breeze bounces off me and lands on her, I feel connected with this young woman, if only for a moment as she smiles and walks past me, onto the other side.



As my friends fall upon the others, she reaches for me. There they go: bouncing among each other as the wind taps them lightly, I see them as a dollied camera might as her light fingers bring my flat orange body to her round pink lips. It’s late, the Birthday Girl’s sleeping, she must go quickly and quietly and she asks me to cooperate and do so with as few peeps as possible. So I prepare myself and she begins to fill me up with air. My skin stretches and expands, feeling sharp and good. As she finishes, she tugs to keep the air in, ties a quick but not silent knot and drops me so that I fall bouncing among the rest.



Dust covers the surfaces their closed-toe shoes shuffle across. It feels like an exfoliating massage on my seventy year old concrete skin, crackling more with every set of visitors. It’s a service I perform: a teacher of history who’s lived it himself, my students learn from my biographies and every day is show and tell. Their sweaty faces crinkle in uncomfortable amazement and the hand of one student, red hair and wide hips, keeps rising to ask another question, the antique dirt from my walls speckling her curious fingertips, which trailed about my glow-in-the-dark paint moments before.



Her white sweaty, somewhat dry elbows throw themselves into my smooth gray concrete exterior because my dizzy construct disorients her as it’s meant to. The red and white sticker marking her locational existence sits softly on her breast, which still moves as she tries to walk straight through the gridded labyrinth of exile. She takes pictures of and with me, trying to figure out how something that looks so straight can be so cross. She tells me I make her feel drunk and as a friend, I’m not sure how I should take it, but she laughs as she falls into me and I decide that it makes me feel all right.



Comfortable feet fall upon solid-packed ground holding a condensed history of human suffering. A girl in a happy tie-dyed skirt looks at me, cocking her head with sad eyes and solid mouth, and sends me a serious question. Are you okay now? she asks me, grazing her fingers across my tarnished peeling paint, it really did happen here, didn’t it? It did. I saw it all, but I’d rather not discuss it as concentrated discussion maintains to be my entire existence. Let my brown dusty, quite serious face crack at a joke rather than at the intensity of my truth. Let’s just talk. How are you?



Every night I’m greeted by the young crew of Berlin, throbbing in their drug-induced intensities or alcoholic matrixes, seeking someone, anyone, to heighten their buzz. A group of four Americans chatter by, reading my name, and laughing hysterically at its trashy appeal. “This is the place we were told about!” one of them says, anxiously looking at me with her makeup-framed green eyes and excited smile. Their freunde join them, taking them inside, where my vibrating walls move to songs like Johnny B. Goode and Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody and they start moving their feet.



Before her pen glides across the surface of her notebook to write down something seemingly fascinating to her, like borders or identities, she grips my flimsy plastic frame with her hands and brings my orange bubbling birthday body to her lips for a bit of a sip. Her eyes get wide every time she swallows, as she places me back down on the table; I think maybe she’s shocked to be drinking something like me in the morning and in class. Maybe she thinks me to be only orange juice and is surprised by what I contain. She listens to lecture with a sweet look on her face, interested and intently noting particular remarks, but each time she does so, she eyes me with a sly remark, and we laugh between us in the secret we hold.



Mommy, that man looks funny! He’s moving his hands around all kinds of weird and who are all those people listening to him? One girl points at me laughing and says “Jungle Book on his shorts!” Mommy, what does that mean? She has red hair like sissy. I like jumping around with you and Daddy but people always look at us. I don’t care. Jumping is fun. That funny man is still talking. He’s wearing green. I like green. I think maybe next time we go outside I’ll wear every color of the rainbow. Would that be okay?



Hard plastic black little wheels roll across my shiny floors. Some are in a hurry, some take their time. A group of tired, computer-obsessive American students congregate around my American burgers (fit for a King) and my free outlets. They talk and laugh. I like when people stay for a while. One girl sits in a grey sweatshirt hunched over her bags, trying to sleep, her hood covering her face. I think she’s sick. I’m sorry for her wretched existence: she’ll have to be checked at customs…



They all paid to get in; a few did so grudgingly, not wanting to drop a worthy coin into the hands of a tired Turk in order to do their business. Few see my first two stalls and eek: there’s no toilet. It’s just a hole. Fuck, they say, until their friends point out another option. So she lifts up her dress and down her underwear and she looks around while she’s going and notices there’s no paper in sight. Fuck again. “Kelsi?” “Yeah?” “Do you want some toilet paper?” Her face lights up at her friend’s psychic question and I’m sure she would have hugged her right then and there if my walls hadn’t been in the way. She rejoices over the small things, like using the bathroom the way she wants. Here, it happens every day.



Okay… so she’s American. Isn’t she? She sure looks it. I’ll try. Hello! Well, she looked this way and smiled. She’s stunning. Great, we’re on the right track. Hi, lady! She just said “hi” back and she’s walking toward me, she’s eyeing my products. Do you like what you see? I’m hearing a “yes” and now she’s asking how much that bowl costs. Bowl… five lira… Are you a student? Fantastic, she is! For you, special student price! Fifteen lira each! She’s looking pleased and her money’s falling into my hands. Thank you! Another one! It’s sad I don’t even feel badly about it any longer.



I feel a little bit like a balloon on days like this, when Turkey’s sweaty and busy population crams itself into my moving body, pulsing at every stop as people unload and load themselves. Some seem intense and claustrophobic like this one woman in mustard-yellow with large pink lips. She is absolutely not Turkish, as she looks unhappy every time she is shoved around, but I can see that by the end of the line she’ll get the hang of it. Her hot hands have hustled help however her hostility has hindered. She’ll make it. Everyone does.



This girl sits on the steps leading up to the movies as she smiles at me, resting her up-turned chin on her airplane-scented hand. She eye-contacts every passerby and happies each and makes mental note of every car which passes over me, most likely each on their way to Kottbusser Tor. This girl seems mind-numbingly happy as she just sits, breathing Berlin air, waiting for her friend to join her, just as happy and just as content. I wonder what they’re doing and what pulls the corners of their mouths up so high as Berlin’s wind moves through their bodies. I may never know, but I’m pleased just to be watching them.



This is essentially the best job ever. I work hard one day a year and I’m unbothered for 364 days after that. Today’s my one day so you’ve caught me on a busy one. I can only say a few words. I’m heading to Berlin at the moment to grace the girl in the flowing red dress. She’s drinking mimosas and eating the breakfast her friends made for her: baking power-less pancakes. They’ve called them pandough. Today’s her day as it is with everyone I’ll visit for pay on this one day of work. I’m on my way to sprinkle joy on her and grant her clear skies and a warm day. Anything she wants. You’ll see how it works if you follow me. Let’s go!



Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I Want More

As re-writing songs is basically my favorite activity ever and since "I'm Yours" was the song of this program, I wrote a Berlin version of it and sang it with Muhammed to Joe's guitar playing then put together this slide show to surprise everyone with at the end of the presentations. It came off very well!

Well when you hug hugged me maybe you did transmit
The love you were feeling and for me you did acquit
My stressing out from the blogs
Started clearing out that fog
Circling Berlin's tower
Riding numbered 8 U-Bahn
And trying to write it down in a postcard to show Shawn
Being there here's what we learned
With what we will return

From this crazy state, I'm poor, you snore
Doners we ate, I want more

Well open up your mind and try raki
One cup water, two cups, three
On the Turkish tram you have to shove, shove, shove, shove
We can all go for dinner later maybe smoke with me
I love hookah, Turkish Tea
With Istanbul you might fall in love, love, love, love, love

So, please, Sally translate, explore, adore
Won't be too late, I'm sure
You might want to re-create
Support, report
I should restate: I want more

Well I've been spending my time being young, feeling nearer
Closer to the sentiment of seeing it clearer
It's not just what the learn in class
It may be just what makes us laugh
Remember soccer we were playing, they were starting the season
In the mosque we were praying, understanding the reasons
Why John can't order a brew
This age is our debut

So watch what we create, from that before
Here comes the date, I want more

Well the liver and your stomach might disagree
But here's your German family
After this month of travel you, you want some more
But please don't, please don't, please don't
There's no need to recreate
Because this month was short
This oh this oh this was our fate
But I want more

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Assignment 3: Four Days In Bed With Istanbul

Flowering leaves rustle as Germany’s wind moves through them, shutting doors in my apartment, pushing flying things into my kitchen, and I know Berlin has come in for a drink. He must always make an entrance, waking me up with his hard thunder or distracting my work by ringing bells outside my window, he kisses me on the neck and says things like, just an hour, baby, and I always go with him. Yellow and white windows flash by my vision as he plays with my dress, holding my hand tightly, staring down any guy who glances our way. From Heinrich-Heine Straße, we’re off to Brandenberger Tor to flaunt to the new ones, still clutched to their cameras, holding their “Sonya was here!” faces tightly in place, how much Berlin and I know each other.

One weekend as the sun was beating down on Germany, Berlin and I met. I felt ashamed of what I was wearing: then dirty jeans I had been tiring for three days and a bright blue shirt I’ve had since sophomore year that comes tight right beneath my imperfect belly. My hair was in a sweaty ponytail and my make-up, untouched for eighteen hours, was almost nonexistent. I was hardly charming, but his hand still fell upon my cheek. Allo, we said to each other, upbeat and flirtatious, I was silly with this wonder before me, half German, half Turkish, staring his blue-green eyes into me and slightly pursing his rose-colored lips (lips like those on the boy I fell in love with in the fourth grade, when I first started to understand their sensual appeal) into a thick smile. We began holding hands, his arm found its way around my often tense shoulders, a sweat barrier between his soft skin and mine: the mark of a summer romance.

Morning dew draped over rust-colored bricks and old brown architecture gave us a romantic and classically European setting. Marshmallow storybook clouds framed a summer sun whose rays couldn’t split us apart. We would sit for hours talking about everything from nothing to something, agreeing or gaining understanding from our disagreements. We both tried, but sometimes found disappointment in our cultural misunderstandings. I sat at the table, shoulders drooping against the long rainbow dress I wore for our first big date, forcing myself into a more up-beat mood as I stared at the chicken enchiladas he made me knowing I was craving a taste of home. There they lay, two helpless tortilla cylinders with grilled chicken inside, a thick dollop of nacho cheese over them as sauce. Creamy guacamole, recognizable sour cream. White fucking rice. There is white rice on my Mexican dish. A trivial thing, I know, but from then I was soured by the concept of anything serious.

It of course was not just an aim and miss dinner which prevented me from falling in love, and I do not maintain that I was not deeply in like, for I was, however Berlin showed me slowly that he did not contain the particles of happiness I require for a heart to bubble between me and the man who’s kissing me. And he did kiss me. He kissed me the way every girl wants to be kissed: his hand in the small of my back and his body lightly touching mine; he kissed me like a gentleman. He brushed the hair away from my face as his lips fell into mine, pressing tightly, but politely, against me. I was occupied, but not entertained. Where was the sex?

Not once did Berlin trail his fingers into my hair and grasp them against my head, tugging my roots, giving me no control over my own mobility. He never dug his fingertips into my skin, pressing me against a wall I knew was too thin to fathom. He never handled me like a lover, or anyone he felt fervent about. I was his delicate interest, only to be stared at harshly. This was something that was challenged when I stumbled upon a hot Turkish delight: Istanbul.

Cloudless rich blue skies fell over us as we spread ourselves giddy about the streets. He dropped honey onto my tongue, sweet with its natural, playful kick, biting at my taste buds like lovers in Paris. My stomach actually hurt as I kissed him: it was jam-packed with a swarm of anxious butterflies, flittering at my nervous excitement. Alright, so maybe I did have a fling with Istanbul while I was—mind you, casually—dating Berlin, but for these three and a half days, I was more enthralled and caught up than I ever found myself with Berlin. I felt honored to be in the presence of such immense beauty. He was passionate, loving, caring… he smiled at everyone who passed him by. I laughed so hard so many times that my cheeks went numb. His sense of humor and overwhelming kindness swept me off my feet and his undeniable beauty had me at Merhaba. His charming old soul, his excitingly open nature, his color…he’s a smoker, but I was open to living with that. We were in love.

Istanbul and I shared four beautiful nights together filled with air-like laughter and ardent embraces. He would send the wind through me, hot with his craze, and play with my hair as he sat beside me. He never seemed to shame his past and his beliefs pointed out of him like minarets, interrupting the smooth lines of Turkey’s rolling hills. His family was endearing and loving, they smiled at me even when our eyes were not locked and greeted me with life-long warmness every time I entered their house.

“You’re beautiful,” he said to me after teasing by placing the cowboy hat he was playing with for a moment on my head. The cool breeze and his cool words refreshed me. This lighthearted, loving man humbled, housed, and comforted me—his hands and my hands intertwined with meaning (I feel Istanbul must give meaning to everyone. What he felt for me is not something miraculous or special, and I’m okay with that). The tight grasp between our fingers caused me to sweat and my heart to pound with honest provoked emotion. This doesn’t happen often.

One morning as the sun was slowly filling my room, Istanbul poured himself into bed with me. He tickled my toes then pulled my hands over my head, stretching me, as if to command me into an awaken state in which we might play like we had the day before when we walked for two hours, up solid slopes, without getting tired. We were supporting each others bodies, not letting the cobblestones slip from underneath us, three mile-high hills in one day, feeling a sensual breathlessness smoothed over by a glistening August sweat, finding each others hands, laughing pathetically and falling into our lover’s support. But this morning would not be like the others when I greeted him with an anxious smile and he stuck his finger into the creases in my cheeks, gripping my hips and pulling me into him. This morning, I would not take my time tasting him, gazing into his Bosporus-blue eyes, searching like the rest of his friends for something to pull out (as I already had so much), and feeling his blustery hands around my body. This morning was bitter, but Istanbul let me go with ease, as I was the one shamefully kicking and screaming at the sight of our gradual departure.

He stayed there and waited, gleaming however not waving: he only smiled and sent me romantic thoughts. As I got further away from him, I contemplated his complexity. I thought about his blue skies and busy body, how he was always going somewhere, had a job or a purpose, but never seemed rushed. Istanbul always had time to slow down, which he often took, looking out for the playing children around him for he was very much a child himself. I thought about how I amazed him with my TeşeKurler and how though he did not bring me the tastes of home (this may be an unattainable thing), he showed me the jam-packed real estate, one home smashed right up against another, sharing walls but not apartments, scaling up the hills of this coastal gem like the stairs of San Francisco. I thought about how Istanbul brought me seagulls, a gift I find in every man I live with save for Berlin, and my instability was ignited when I considered if these somewhat sordid birds are what I need to feel alive in my residual content.

Back to Berlin I went, falling into his gentle arms, greeting him with a kiss and understanding even more the difference between the two lovers. As he kissed my cheek and brushed my hair up toward him like my mother still does, quiet and calm, I felt emotions I was not expecting to experience after spending four days in bed with Istanbul. I decided not to tell him about my weekend in detail—my adventures were accented with the words beautiful, interesting, amazing, and incredible. I kept it broad, but positive. He and I went to a movie that night in Kreuzberg and as we sat wordless outside waiting for the kino to free, I felt bothered by my negative thoughts about him in my time with Istanbul. Regretting my actions would be dishonest; I’d go back to Istanbul without blinking if the chance presented itself but for now I was with Berlin and into the grooves I suddenly fit, cozy and comfortable. Poor but sexy.

I spent that night after our date sitting in the chair in the corner of my black-and-white apartment, a silly pit in my stomach and heaviness on my chest as I struggled to define my relationship with Berlin. This unexpected attractiveness he had in my head made my thoughts of Istanbul become tangled and rigid, they almost pricked the sides of my brain as they bounced around in there. Comparisons, comparisons. No choices. I was not taking sides. Tonight Berlin had comforted me against the intensity of my time away from him. I felt in the soft, cushioned by his familiar embrace. As the movie flashed before us, Berlin surrounded me with Gernglish and honesty. He accented me with smiles and kisses, communication and understanding. Where was this before?

Boredom in an all too safe situation drove me into a wild and high-paced infatuation from which I was forced to leave, however upon returning to what was once boring I found that it was now appealing and therefore thrilling. He had taught me things, Istanbul did, or rather he had let me learn from the things he had to show me. Berlin hadn’t done that… or maybe I hadn’t let him. Maybe I hadn’t let his collection of sounds and tastes exist thoroughly in my time with him. Maybe I hadn’t been open to his undeniable intricacy or his profound diversity. I hadn’t made myself open to being his. This was the problem.

Night two back with Berlin, I let him feel free with me. I taught him, indirectly of course, how Istanbul had made me feel. How he had trailed his fingers softly down my neck, how he teased me just to keep me vigilant, and how he would make me feel like I was the first he’d ever had this type of connection with, even though his playboy demeanor made me know otherwise. Berlin made himself open to looking at things differently. He couldn’t ever be Istanbul, but our time together dictated something more profound. We suddenly knew how to please each other. We knew how to make each other feel significantly uncomfortable: a fun game we liked to play. We were artists in and of ourselves. We were dancers. We were comedians.

Pastel clouds framed a dazzling day-time star, moving around this planet filled with charming men as Berlin threw a kiss goodbye into my balcony. Sexy sun, draped with kisses and golden smiles, floated away west and out of this fourth-story apartment. I sat and watched it set with a bubbling in my body, feeling light and tactile, wrapped in his arms even after the end of our date. Deep in like, I didn’t think about Istanbul until I fell asleep and dreamed of his songs and clarity. I thanked him in my unconsciousness for the wisdom he was giving enough to share with me and for the four impassioned days he gave to me.

I am ready to part with Berlin and I have made my peace with the time we lost in our first two weeks unknowingly not knowing each other. Closing my eyes, I can feel Istanbul’s rough hands gripping my waist as he steers me and hear his handsome voice telling me, almost too believably, everything I wish to hear. I can feel the arms of both men wrap around me in my memory: one has his around my stomach and one drapes his arms over my shoulders and I feel comfortable with both. It’s good to know I have these places I can return to in my mind where I can be with both Istanbul and Berlin, and that I can find solace in not having a reigning preference (if maybe just a momentary lapse?). And when I return home, friends will want to hear everything. I will tell them about the wind and the cobblestones and the sunset. I will tell them about how much I learned from each of them but that stepping away from Berlin to be with Istanbul, though maybe not the most moral of decisions, was the smartest choice. They will pine over the details and ask me if I will keep in touch and I will say no, nein, yo. The contact I have is in my head and in these words and there (and here) it will remain.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Death and Laughter

One solid steel knife, sharpened against black seatbelt, a leather hand piece braided like Bill’s to perfection, of course, presses into your forehead as the blood trickles down the in-swoop of your brow. The pain overcomes you and you’re not sure if you’re yelling or not for your body has lost the sensation of the presence of air. You can’t maintain the status of the knife’s path however you know what he’s carving into you. You’ve been wearing it for the past fifteen years: it has become you. No, but now it really has become you. Fucking Basterds.

I genuinely felt every emotion possible while watching that movie. Tarantino has a way of doing that to me. She ran away from that Frenchman’s house, crying, splattered in the Jewish blood of her aunt and uncle, swastikas flashing red like gunfire in her head. She just ran. And she kept running. We are the Nazi killers. I expect one hundred Nazi scalps from each and every one of you. There he was, Brad Pitt with a southern accent and a moustache, doing comedy and sticking his finger into her bullet wound. I was in the front row. We swam in the blood. We lay in the dreamboat’s eye wrinkles. We read subtitles as long as the walk from Heinrich-Heine to home…and that was if we could move our heads fast enough. After it ended, I said to Sally, “That was such a great movie. I bet it was so good the way it was intended to be seen: from a distance.” Our sectionmates let out an open laugh. It was nice to have people understand me for once. I forgot what that felt like (and have probably hurt some feelings because of my I’m in a foreign country act. Dummy. To who ever you are, I’m sorry I’m such an ass).

“You can go back to eating your sauerkraut sandwiches, you wienerschnitzel finger-lickin’ prick.” The hum of mildly insulted yet altogether amused Germans fills the American-like theater. I sink into my red cushy chair, looking up at the screen, which spans triangular, like the beginning of Star Wars. Yes. I watched the entire movie like that.

Hard, genuine laughter filled the full auditorium at the hilarious portrayal of Hitler, the loss in cultural translation, and the satiric approach to the Nazi regime and its attack by this American Nazi-killing squad, eight men strong. Absurd! So funny. An interested humph filled the room as a character held up his pointer, middle, and ring fingers, requesting Drei whiskey and suddenly the Englishman’s ‘German’ cover was blown. Thumb? Nein. This was later explained, as this was an American movie. People will ask me what I thought of the film. Well, it was excellent. Fantastic. Cinematography, acting, direction, foley art, even! They were all immensely spectacular.

However. The experience of seeing a comedy about such a sensitive topic in a crowded theater (when has it been long enough?) is fascinating in and of itself, but watching an American film concentrating on Germany’s shamed history, with funnies, surrounded by Germans, was almost more appealing than the experience of viewing the movie alone.
The vibration of that room cannot be recreated with any amount of words.

I laughed so much today. Sally’s ardent ”Yes,” to Shanga during our acting workshop, met by a flaming circle of abrupt laughter, embedded in her glistening eyes and adorable red face as she looked at the dry, sparkling recipient of her three-letter word left me laughing for a solid five minutes. I never want to forget how much I laughed today and how much fun I had. I hope I was in a moment of extreme elation when he let go todaylastnight. And I hope that that place of extreme happiness is where his soul found solace after his heart stopped beating. Maybe he has the ability to visit me in Germany and see me in my height in the country that makes me think so much about him and the impressive life he led.

And if he can, I hope he can come to our showcase on Friday and watch me dance. I don’t think my grandpa has seen me dance live since I was seven. Maybe soon he’ll be watching me from heaven but I’m not entirely sure if I believe in that. I believe in love. And she sure loved him. He was her life, you put it, Mom. And maybe Nicholas Sparks knew what he was writing when he wrote love and death. His wife said, “You know, I think today’s the day.” And it was.

God, I love you so much. Dad, you told me to be happy and at peace and I’m really trying. It’s not about art any longer, though. It’s about feeling something and feeling connected. I couldn’t wait to write when I got home: my fingers felt like being busy but my body felt like sitting still because it feels heavy and almost not allowed. But tomorrow, after sleep, it will feel light. I will be able to dance and roll my feet from one point to another, feeling healthy, feeling free.

It’s about connections. He was about connections. Mom, you told me once I remind you of him the way I talk to strangers. So now I’m giving myself to Germany and I’m giving myself to dance. I’m giving myself to writing and I’m giving myself to friends. Since right now, I can’t give myself to you guys. But I miss you so much and my fingers are wrapping around yours and I’m cuddling you as I go to sleep at night. I hope you feel it.

This dance is for you, Grandpa Al. I love you.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Headached Writing

Black and white dusty faces smile at him as he lay beneath waffle-patterned blankets; there is no breeze for his moustache, still growing from loosely wrinkled skin, to waver in. I wonder if he is cold. I wonder his eyes move beneath thin crinkled eyelids as he dreams in his all-encompassing sleep. He experiences a silence that doesn’t exist as I imagine people come in and out, checking pulses, seeing if he’s awake for a meal, bed pans, phone calls, what ever else he needs. They’re not feeding him through a tube or continuing his medication.

I’m sending him thoughts but I’m not sure he’s receiving them. When I close my eyes and really concentrate, I can feel his unshaven face against my cheeks and lips as I kissed him goodbye, hugging him as he sat in his chair, his dark wooden rocker lined with powder-blue cushions. I can feel his left hand weakly pressing into my back. His voice sounded like morning cold voice, pressed through a thick screen of fading and cracking. I wonder if he’s scared. I wonder if he knew it was coming, if he felt prepared as he sat in his chair for nine months thinking about death, staring mindlessly at his silver T.V. blaring through the walls and not getting past his ninety-year-three ear hairs.

I wonder if he hears music in his head, playing from nineteen forty-four, or laughter from my mom and her sister. I wonder if he thinks about an afterlife with his first wife and his second daughter or if he thinks about the life he’s to leave with his second wife and his first daughter. “Kelsi’s so beautiful,” she told me that was one of the last things he said to her. That one made me lose it even more. A hot coughing-cry, breathless with extremity, moved through German phone lines and came out an American receiver.

She said it’ll be fine. She said they’re going up there to make the arrangements for everything so that it’s all set for when it happens. That’s how people always say it. She was so calm and I was so distraught and now we both have headaches.

That they can’t be here to be silent with me and that I can’t be there to be life for them while they are so consumed with death pains me maybe more than this inevitable truth. That I can’t bring them laughter and that I can’t pull my arms around her tiny waist while I rock her back and forth, tell her it’s okay, I’ll love you forever, that kind of thing.
So this is hard, in Berlin, death pending in the state of Oregon. The hands of program members drawing circles on my back, let it be. Love and care and tears and comfort will be right there.

Love should be able to be anagrammed from family.