One of my hobbies is exploring abandoned buildings. I’m not sure if you could really call it a hobby however, because “hobby” is such a trivial word, and I fucking love abandoned buildings. I’ve been in creepy ancient school complexes, in beer factory brewing halls six stories under ground, and empty warehouses, and I have taken pictures.
Which leads me to the question, dear readers, do you like abandoned buildings? Because if you do I might start doing a segment with stories and pictures from various expeditions. Give me a “here here” or a “no, you fool!” in the comments so I can decide accordingly.
god of coffee i invoke thee!
This is my motivational speech. This is my call to battle. This is my kick in the ass.
I haven’t worked on my wagon in going on two months. I burnt out. I couldn’t stand the sight of the place. I couldn’t bear the thought of even plugging in the jigsaw. I considered just torching the fucking thing. You know you’re desperate when you’re considering burning down your own house to solve your problems. Instead I took a vacation. It’s not a lot of fun, building alone. I need help, and I do get a little in increments. Everyone has their own construction sites to work on, and I’ve never much like pestering people for help.
So today I called the muse. The muse, in the case of all physical activities and chores that you just don’t fucking feel like doing, being coffee. I ground espresso beans in the wooden hand grinder from the top shelf. I heated up the water, and I french-pressed it all together. Then I went to face the music.
I believe in setting small goals and writing detailed lists. It is better to examine one very specific part of a project at a time, so as not to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the bigger picture. (But I exaggerate. Really, I’m almost done. The picture isn’t all that big anymore. I’ve just arrived at the hardest part, that’s all.)
Sunday goal number one: Drill out the rusty screws holding the metal support thingy that runs around the wagon so that I can pull it down and get to the moldly support beam that needs replacing.
Sunday goal number two: Cut replacement beam to size on the mega circle saw. (We have a small circle saw here all the time, but it can’t handle bigger pieces of wood. We share an enormous circle saw with the other Mz wagonplatz, and it is here right now, but who knows for how long.)
Sunday goal number three: Figure out how the hell to get the piece of beam that needs to be replaced out of there. Visualize this plan becoming a reality, over and over again. Make more coffee.
I stopped drinking coffee about a month ago. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that I like it too much. A pot a day too much. I started getting awful acid reflux, I stopped drinking coffee, and the pain disappeared. Now I save it for special occasions, for days when I want to get things done but can’t stop staring listlessly into space and dragging my feet. Any second now I’m going to be jittery and active, and I’m going to go Get Things Done. You’ll see.
further dumpster nostalgia
Dumpster diving in Dresden. Now those were good days.
And this? This was my favorite dumpster at the time. Look at it there! Produce pouring out of it’s big brown mouth in broad daylight like that!
There was a bus stop across the street, which meant you had to time sliding under the dumpster-cage door just right to avoid being seen by too many people. Vegetables, fruit, apple sauce, cheese, oh this baby had it all, and en mass. What glorious days.
skip to the kitchen my darling
In England, dumpster diving is called skipping. It’s a rather indirect way to talk about trash picking, but it feels appropriate in its way. Picture two small children holding hands and skipping through the park. Picture the gleeful expressions on their faces. This is how I look when, wrapped up in multiple jackets and scarves, I rush from a beat-up red van to the house kitchen laden with not-frozen-anymore soft pretzel dough. I was euphoric. Skipping was in order.
I haven’t been dumpster diving in a car in years. Wait, I take that back. I’ve been dumpster diving in a car once in the last five years. My very first food dive was in an old Volvo station wagon, and we drove home with garbage bags full of bread and bagels. But since moving to Germany, I’ve had to limit myself to backpack-sized hauls. It never really mattered—I only had one or two people to feed back then. But now that I live with so many dumpster-food-friendly people, a backpack, even my human-sized army surplus duffel backpack, isn’t always big enough to haul home what we could put away in a week.
Rewind a few Sundays. Uncle Meat and the Highway Children play in Mainz and stay on with us for the following week. They’re poor, we’re poor, but we’re all hungry and like dumpster diving, and they have a van.
There are so many bountiful dumpsters just out of reach around here. Technically I could reach them by bike, but at 10 or 11 pm I am not usually in the mood for a 14 kilometer ride with 40 pounds of food strapped to my back.
Our first quarry was humble but interesting: cereal, several packages of oats, and a few vegetables. The second was cornucopious. We piled out of the van silently, each person taking a box and a dumpster. There were tons of vegetables, but the find of the night were the Snickers ice cream bars and the 20-something boxes of not-frozen-anymore soft pretzel dough, pretzels pre-formed and ready to bake. They had probably thawed, and the supermarket probably wasn’t legally allowed to refreeze them and sell them. We took them home and made them into calzone(ish) vegetable-and-rice filled pockets for the Wednesday vokü.
The last dumpster we visited was our usual and was filled to the brim with milk products. We ran out of boxes and van space before we’d even emptied the bin halfway.
The euphoria of a good dumpster run is intoxicating. I’ve often thought, well, this must be what it felt like back in the day of hunters and gatherers to come home from the hunt with a big juicy deer/buffalo/rabbit.
Once upon a time I put it like this: “There is something about dumpster diving that gets your blood pumping. You leave the house after dark, backpacks full of empty bags, and you pedal off to your first stop. Maybe you climb a fence, maybe you squeeze through some bushes. Maybe you find one apple and a moldy carrot, maybe you find enough to feed everyone you know for two weeks. Maybe you get chased by the cops or ambushed by a raccoon. Maybe there’s rat poison in the dumpster or maybe there are pies and boxes of macaroni and cheese. Maybe the dumpsters are locked (and maybe you have a key) or maybe you make it home with adrenaline in your veins and mischief in your eyes, and have a dumpster pie throwing contest outside of *insert local corporate enemy’s name here*.
“I like to imagine that the feeling you get dumpstering–a racing heart, tousled hair, a grin that goes all the way to your toes, high off the fact that with a little pedaling, a little climbing, and a little luck, you just got bags of delicious food for free, again—is something like the feeling people got a long, long time ago, when they used to hunt and scavenge for their food.”
Dumpster divers may be the urban hunter gatherers, but dumpster diving is really a parody of hunting and gathering, or perhaps even what Derrick Jensen has called a “toxic mimic.”
A toxic mimic is, to paraphrase the definition in his book Endgame, is a parody that “doesn’t ignore the intent [of the practice, such as dumpster diving, or marriage], but perverts and attempts to destroy it. Rape is a toxic mimic of sex. War is a toxic mimic of play. The bond between slave oen and slave is a toxic mimic of marriage. Heck, marriage is a toxic mimic of marriage, of a real partnership in which all parties help all others to be more fully themselves.”
Dumpster diving feeds me and fills me with adrenaline. To go dumpster diving I have to go hunting about the city for the most fruitful spots and the least dangerous. The hunter/gatherer comparison is easy to follow. But what’s so toxic about all that?
Literally, the toxicity can be seen as the pesticides on the vegetables and the chemicals in the packaged foods. At the end of the night a lot of the food in your cupboard was factory farmed or flown from a bajillion miles away or was maybe even genetically modified. At the end of the night you’re eating food that has become more product and less food in many ways both subtle and obvious. At the end of the night I still have no idea where most of my food actually came from, am still disgusted by how much is being tossed. The dumpsters feed me but at the end of the night I still always wish that it didn’t work like this.
On another level, dumpster diving could be called a toxic mimic in that it gives the diver the rush and the intoxication of hunting and gathering without providing any of the skills needed to actually feed oneself in this manor, oh, I don’t know, say civilization were to collapse, along with agriculture as we know it. When, one day, I find the dumpsters empty, will I know how to feed myself?
a blustery day
Sitting in the kitchen I imagine that the tree outside is attacking us, pounding its branches on the roof in rage. Fuck you industrial civilization, it pounds. There used to be forest here. Trees as tall as the cranes on the now-cleared land behind us. Now there is only metal, and dust. Now I am practically alone. The branches scratch across the metal roof. A bag of bread falls onto the floor, plastic bag crunching.
Back in the red wagon I concentrate on lighting the wood stove. I get the kindling lit, and the wind blows smoke back into the room through the chimney. Each time I think it is letting up and shut all the windows and doors another gust fills the wagon with gray smoke.
After about 45 minutes hot embers replace smoking wood, and the wind has no more smoke to blow inside. But it doesn’t matter now as fat drops of rain have in turn replaced the whirling air.
Outside the brown murk of a wet winter is starting to smirk through the bright carpet of fallen leaves. There are no more leaves on the trees, no more green. I pass the scrap metal pile on the way to the bathroom, and it looks desolate and ugly—no longer full of magic and beauty as it can be when surrounded by plants and green.
I love the short, dark days. Writing is better when it’s dark. The light reminds me of the world outside, of things I could be doing, of people I could be interacting with. The darkness erases it, leaves me along with my thoughts and the page. I build nests out of scraps of paper, lists of ideas, hastily scribbled graphs, and pencil-marked books. I wrap myself in blankets and let the crackling of the wood stove hypnotize me. It is a hibernation of sorts. I do not sleep, but I dream.
woe be you soy plant
I was hungover, but I wasn’t that hungover.
I tottered into the kitchen in search of food and coffee. There was soup, potato creme, just finished. Still steaming. I hungrily gulped down two bowls, splashed some water on my face, and went back to the wagon to read.
Laying in bed, Tropic of Cancer open in front of me, that’s when my face started to swell in large red blotches all over my chin. One eye was already red and swollen from a piece of fuzz I’d rubbed into it upon waking and that Coffee had plucked out of my eye with dirty fingers. The other rose to join it. I had noticed that the skin on my chin felt tight, dry I thought. So I put on some lotion. We don’t keep a mirror out.
I noticed first in the faces of the others who saw me. They looked horrified. I got a mirror. Red puffy blotches distorted my face. My neck was covered with the red itchy bumps that have been appearing and disappearing regularly for weeks now on my stomach and arms. I laid back down and tried not to panic. Then my throat started to tighten.
The doctor said I got there just in time. It’s the sort of thing doctors say. I’d already been in the waiting room for an hour, and my throat had felt better since I’d thrown up while someone ran to find out where the nearest doctor’s office is. Just in time for him to charge me 50 some euros for fifteen minutes of his time before closing.
He did give me some allergy pills though. Said I was obviously having an allergic reaction. Said the inside of my mouth was covered with red spots too. I don’t need to pay an expert to tell me these things. But I needed him to get to the medicine. He didn’t even ask me what it was I had eaten. The health care system doesn’t make any fucking sense.
I suspect soy (though it appears to be only certain brands of soy) and am going to try to test this theory out in the coming weeks (allergy pills on hand). I went cold turkey on soy and haven’t had a single bump since. Soy sauce and tempeh appear to have no effect. Other ingredients in the soup: potatoes, garlic, green beans, salt, pepper, lemon grass. If it comes down to suffocating or remaining alive, sure, I’ll go to the allergist. But I have some major problems with the way modern (re: mainstream) medicine is organized and implemented, and I’d rather avoid it for all but the worst cases, especially since I don’t have one of those little plastic cards that say someone else will be footing the bill.
The point of all this is to ask all you readers, in your diverse and eclectic wisdom, if any of you have any experience with allergists, soy allergies, or anything that could be remotely useful/of interest to me in figuring this one out myself (alternative medicine, herbs, etc etc). Cheers.
protest and despair
Students all over Germany are on strike. This is breaking news. But have you heard about it?
If you live in the United States, I wouldn’t expect you to have heard a peep, considering the priority (even remotely subversive) world news gets on Rupert Murdoch’s watch. But if you live in Germany you must have heard about it. Right? Right?!
Oh. You didn’t? I’m sorry. I guess it’s not getting a whole lot of front-page press. But there are 1,985,765 students in the country (stat from 2005). That’s a lot of people. If every one of those million people told a couple of people, then more than half of the country would have already heard about the protests and the squatted lecture halls. That many people on the streets, and who knows what could happen. That many people on the streets, and I might start believing in the effectiveness of demonstrations again.
But, as usual, students remain one of the most apathetic groups of human beings on the planet. In Mainz there were two or three thousand on the streets for Tuesday’s demonstration. In the occupied/squatted lecture hall I’ve seen a regular 50-100 (a raised glass to you, the persistent!). A lot of people consider this to be “good turnout.” Considering the fact that over 30,000 people study here, I’d be more inclined to call it tragic.
Every student here is directly affected by the changes (and the bits long broken) being protested. Not to mention their parents, all parents of future students, employers, etc etc. Tuition fees are going up. The German “diplom” degree program has been swapped for the almighty Bachelor’s in an effort to make transferring between schools in EU countries a snap.
What this means is that German students are spending more time in general requirement classes. They have less time to delve deeply into the subject of their choice. Some students have to work more (and therefore study less) to pay for tuition. Students without money-ied parents to support them might not be able to study at all. Every student I’ve asked about it has complained. Every student I haven’t asked about it has complained. Then again, students are excessively talented at substituting complaints for action, a talent that extends from the papers they aren’t writing to the protests they aren’t attending.
I should know. I spent four years studenting my life away. In exchange for those four years, a fucking lot of money, and most of my sanity, I got a little piece of paper that is gathering dust in a box in upstate New York. I have never had to show this piece of paper to anyone, but its mere mention is said to open doors (into office buildings, that is). At the time I didn’t question any of it. If time and circumstance were changed, I doubt that I would be living in the squatted lecture hall, or attending the protests. I doubt I would have had the time, or particularly cared. At the time, I really liked school. Hahahahaha. Now I am a bitter, critical old hag. But my eyes are open.
At the same time I am glad that somebody is doing something. And I honestly hope that something positive comes of it. So here here for you, protester students! Boo HISS for you, apathetic passersby!
Me personally? I’m just cynical and bitter. The police know all about protest tactics. The government knows all about protest tactics. Protests have become well choreographed performances where everyone is allowed to vent a little anger, the police are allowed to beat the shit out of people, and the status quo is allowed to march on. We have been doing the same shit for years, and I don’t know if you have noticed or not, but we haven’t won yet. Actually, we seem to be losing more every day, on every front.
I can’t imagine that the German education minister will feel the need to take the protesters seriously. So fifty, a hundred, two thousand people want to change the education system? Well, as it seems that the other 27,950 students are fine with the status quo let’s just take a few press shots for posterity and get it over with. Democracy, remember, is an agreement to always let the biggest bully (read: majority) win, without any sort of consolation for those who thought otherwise. Compromise? Ha! Consensus?? Oh dear, you are living in a dream world aren’t you? Poor sweet gorilla.
But don’t despair. And don’t you dare drop out. That will ruin you for the employment market. Of course, you can use this room for now. We didn’t really need it anyway. Besides, all your banners and your workshops will give people the impression that things are happening, and eventually you’ll get tired of sleeping on a hardwood floor and go home. Oh, but a word of caution: if you try to do anything that could really stir things up, we’ll call some people with armor and guns and tear gas to fuck you up. So ta-ta now, enjoy this afternoon’s workshop on nonviolent protest.
I do not say this to discourage those fighting to change things, this time, any time. I say this because I’m mad at the people who aren’t. I say this because I think that nothing significant will change (can change) in the education sector as long as Uncle Capital is at the wheel. How (and why) should school be free if teachers can’t (and won’t) work without a salary? Within the capitalist context, paying for things—even for beautiful, endlessly important things like education—makes sense. Within the EU context, standardization is logical. While we need to be hacking at the roots we are eating leaves. I don’t know yet if they’re poisonous, but they sure don’t taste very good.
Oh don’t listen to me. I’m just a bitter, cane-shaking, old woman on a rant. There is hope, and it will come from a place we do not expect. I sing to you about these feeling of impotency and hopelessness because I feel them myself. I support the protests in my way (wherever there are mouths to feed are dumpsters waiting to be emptied). I sing until the poison has left me, and I can wake to stand another day. There is hope. Even here there is hope. Look under that rock over there, in those trees, in these hands.
you grabbed my hand and we fell into it, like a fever, or a daydream
I have spent the last two days working on my book. It is ironic that writing and writers are so often romanticized. “What a fantastic life he must lead,” people think. “He’s a writer.”
But watching someone write a book is probably one of the most boring spectacles there is. And writing? Writing is sitting in front of a computer for 8 hours a day, not talking to anyone, interacting only with the glowing screen. I wouldn’t trade it for any other occupation, but I’m not going to lie to you about it either. The process of writing is really only interesting for the writer.
When I am writing, I am no longer with you in the room. I do not hear the television or the music playing in my headphones (though having the music playing at all is part of my ritual for entering the writing trance). I am in the story.
When I am excited about something, can’t wait for the day when it will finally happen, I write out the scenario as I imagine it, tens of, hundreds of times in my notebook. Because every time I write it I am there, living it.
Virtual reality and time travel were invented when the first word was written.
My manuscript is getting fat—53 pages fat to be exact. But the structure is chaotic, still a direct reflection of my garbled thoughts. I have only ever been capable of organizing my thoughts through writing. So first comes the babble, then the order. At the end of it all I find that I have finally learned how to say what I was thinking, to translate the brain babble into English.
My computer screen is too small to fix lengthy structural problems. At most I can see three paragraphs at a time. So I printed out pages one through 16 and taped them all to the bookshelf behind my desk, making large notes in the margins about what was happening in each section so I could look at the bigger picture, making notes about where to move things that were still incubating in paragraphs set off with bolded question marks.
It was then that I played “dead flag blues” (a godspeed! you black emperor song) and stared at the pages, fluttering there against all those bound volumes.
I imagined them burning, edges curling in on themselves in yellow and orange.
I have dedicated myself to sterility, to nonfiction. (It was an accident, officer, I swear!) Yet my heart beats in these lines, and the louder it gets, the closer I will be to finishing.
I hear it is national novel writing month. A little bird told me.
cockroaching around town
I scramble through piles of things you would call trash. I excavate the treasures that most of the world is blind to. The civilized world teaches its children that “trash” is disgusting and diseased: a no-go zone to be shunned, perhaps even feared.
I am standing in the middle of a heap of trash next to the train station. The pile had probably started as a neat collection of boxes, filled with unwanted old clothes, papers, and knick knacks, placed on the curb to be picked up by the Sperrmüll company. But others had already riffled through it, letting sweaters and unopened bills lay where they fell. I already had two plastic bags full of winter clothing. They could use a wash, but were otherwise in good condition.
A few days before I had been contemplating what to do about winter clothing. I needed a few more sweaters and a warm coat. Buying them was out of the question. But, I thought, with winter coming, people would probably be tossing out-of-fashion summer items and unpacking last year’s coats and sweaters into their drawers. I have fallen far outside of the consumer loop. I had forgotten that the start of winter is when stores bring out new coats. The fashion-conscious unpack their old coat, think “Oh, that is so last year” toss it in the trash and buy a new one at McH&M.
A little girl walked by clutching her mother’s hand. Her mother’s step quickened when she saw me, and she looked away. The little girl stared open-mouthed. She was old enough to have already learned the trash=bad paradigm. And yet here was someone digging through piles of it in broad daylight, next to the most highly trafficked square in the city. And the person digging through the trash didn’t even look particularly hard up or scary. She looked kind of like her babysitter.
Her eyes were wide with questions, and her mother pulled her along behind her as the little girl tried to get a better look. The question in her eyes wasn’t “Why do people throw so much perfectly good stuff away?” but, if she had thought to formulate it in this way, probably “Why would someone do something that I have been taught is bad?”
I could wish that this question would result in the speedy realization that a lot of things that your parents and teachers tell you simply isn’t true, but it is more likely that the situation would end in a filing of the people who pick through trash in the same category as the trash itself. An untouchable, disgusting person that you should avoid talking to, or even looking at. People look at you like you’re contagious. Perhaps it’s true. Everyone I’ve ever taken dumpster diving has become terribly, irreversibly addicted, and it was this addiction that finally led to the question I wished the little girl had been asking herself. Words were never enough. Action always was.
wo alte bücher träume träumen von Zeiten als sie Bäume waren
It is winter, and I have to resist the urge to go into hibernation with every cell. But with a sore throat, I give in and spend the days in bed drifting between sleeping and reading, reading and sleeping and dreaming.
Rain clicks onto the roof and on a wicker chair across the room, the Beard plays the banjo. The wood stove crackles, and I sigh. Sore throat or not, I feel perfectly content to be just where I am, in this skin, under this blanket and this roof.
Wrapped in four down blankets, propped up on pillows, tea steaming beside me, and hankies within arm’s reach, I read for hours, taking breaks to stare longingly, excitedly at the shelf of unread books above the bed, to fade into dreams of adventure stories not yet written down on any page.
In bed I forget about logging onto the computer and writing. Without any particular story to tell you, I thought I would tell you about the stories I’ve read recently, hoping a few of you might read them too, and tell me what fills your own rainy fall nights.
Should you for some reason decide to purchase any of these books, then pretty pretty please do it through the links I’ve provided at the bottom of the page. Because if you’re going to buy something anyway, amazon might as well share a bit of the profit with the click clack gorilla, right? Right. So. To the books!
Die Stadt der Träumenden Bücher—The City of Dreaming Books as it’s called in its English translation—is the kind of book that I, literary geek that I am, had fallen for before I’d even parted its pages. The cover, a horizon of books as far as the eye can see. And the first page? More books, and a lovely poem about books, dreaming of the days when they were trees, dreaming of being read. Love. At. First. Sight.
The plot follows an aspiring young author (Hildegunst von Mythenmetz) to the city of Buchhaim, the city of dreaming books, and a place where books are dangerous, poisonous, and sometimes alive. On the search for the author of an unsigned manuscript, he finds himself in catacombs beneath the city, battling fantastical creatures and, well, books.
An extra bonus for all the literature geeks out there is that all of Moers invented authors are permutations of real-world authors. And that the book was actually written by Mythenmetz himself, translated by Moers, and filled with amusing footnotes about words and concepts that, not existing in his own language, Moers had to reinvent or translate around.
Moers imagination is as delightful as J.K. Rowling’s, and, much to my approval, generally more morbid. Morbid fantasy meets adventure meets literary humor. You, and by you I really mean me, just can’t go wrong with a formula like that.
Until ten minutes ago, I didn’t know that Walter Moers—who is an extremely popular German comic- and novel-writer, had been translated in English. I may have even, as late as last night, rather snobbishly insisted that he couldn’t have possibly been translated into English because I hadn’t hear of him until recently. Not in all my years of fantasy geek-dom or book clerk-dom (oh Waldenbooks…) had I once heard his name. Then I came to Germany and he was everywhere, and so I read The Thirteen and a Half Lives of Captain Blue Bear (which I’d recommend starting with, should you decide to dip your toes into any of these fine adventures) and Rumo And His Miraculous Adventures and became immediately addicted.
Stock up for winter, dear friends, and I will cross my fingers that the English translations are just as good as the originals.