Tag Archives: lack of direction


January to March
The snow at the beginning of the year increasingly struck me as artificial, like it was really icing sugar, or maybe talcum powder. I went out and got drunk a lot, but I mostly abandoned weekends and saved my adventures for midweek instead. I was opportunistic, but frustrated. I frequently woke up with the hangover of the soul; it was like I was looking for something but not finding it. The previous night would come back to me in flashes and mainly it would look like a pointless exercise. I behaved badly. I was just waiting to leave. Correction: in order to leave I was waiting for term to end so I could get my money’s worth from the Polish classes that I got at a discount on account of my low income. Still, in between the many nights full of bad ideas I managed to make a couple of zines, do a couple of readings, DJ a few times.

I went to Anglesey with La Glitch for my mum’s birthday. We rented a cottage and I lit a candle in a church on the day. Hard to tell whether I’d just gotten used to her absence, or whether I hadn’t given myself sufficient time on this trip to reflect. Four and a half years, though, that was a fuck of a long time. By now it just got reduced to brief moments when I was lying in bed hungover and I’d find myself sobbing hard for five seconds and then I’d stop.

We drank in the pub next to the cottage and an old woman with Parkinson’s disease talked to us and somehow, something about her reminded me of my mother, even though the similarities were subtle. She told us about the time she took a bunch of kids to the zoo and one of them stole a penguin. I’d heard this story before, but without the excuse he provided: My mum won’t let me have a cat, he’d explained. When I got back to Edinburgh, I printed out the Snopes discussion and sent it with a card to the pub, addressed to The Nice Woman Who Drinks Whisky And Lemonade. She wrote back.

Mostly, I felt like my mind was never where I was. Penguin had been picking up on it, she said that it was like I wasn’t really there, wasn’t really focused. I didn’t mean anything bad by it, but it left me without much to say for myself.

Term ended. I got drunk one last time in the Wayside and felt mild regret that I would miss the Bon Jovi tribute band playing at the weekend. I went round to Penguin’s and we made badges together, and the next day I left Edinburgh and flew to Brussels, feeling not a whole lot other than numb.

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Turbulence and missed connections

I sat at the gate at Tegel airport listening to The Golden Hour by Firewater while I waited to board my flight to Heathrow. I think I had bags under my eyes. I was breaking my own no-flying-into-London rule because I was too distraught to care. I was eating grapes for breakfast, lunch and dinner because I’d lost interest in food. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, I just knew that I was leaving, that it was the only good option available to me.

It doesn’t really start with the break-up. It starts a year and a half ago when I joined the redundancy club. I was no longer tied to a place. I could go anywhere at any time. I registered as self-employed and earned a third of my former salary. I struggled to deal with the instability of not knowing when I’d next get a well-paid project. I traded financial security for freedom, and decided it was worth it. I started drifting, taking off places. At first it was the trip to Hong Kong, Macau and Australia, which began six days after I said goodbye to my old job, while my colleagues were busy trying to find new ones. Later it was rural Wales, to recover from punishing my liver with free alcohol throughout the film festival, and because I got a couple of free lifts. In the autumn, frustrated by my sort-of girlfriend’s failed attempts to make it to Edinburgh, I found myself a cheap flight to Barcelona and was there the next day.

But now, with this whole Berlin thing … three and a half months there, living rent-free, being generally happy, and now I felt like I’d taken a holiday from reality. What was going on, really? I left, and few people were going to care that I’d left: not that that is a measurement worth looking at. The night before I flew to Heathrow, I raided the bathroom cabinet and gathered my findings together for a game of What The Fuck Is This. Pills labelled in Czech, Danish and Spanish. I wasn’t looking to do anything drastic, I was just desperate for something to help me sleep: the prospect of going through another night like the previous one filled me with dread. I fed the brand names into a search program, used an online translator. Nothing useful. My friends in Edinburgh and Belfast authorised me to have a glass of wine. Just one; okay, maybe two. And it really did take the edge off things, it calmed me down, I stopped crying and was able to sleep for more than two hours at a time.

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Here’s what’s new: ten days ago I left Berlin suddenly, brokenhearted. I feel lost and sad. I don’t know where I want to be. I didn’t want to travel in these circumstances but travelling was the only positive thing I could think to do.

Two days ago I was on a ferry. Two elderly women sat at my table. Are you going on holiday? they asked me. I’m just sort of drifting, I said.

Sometimes it all seems so goddamn huge I feel like I can’t move. For days all I could do was cry. I had all the usual symptoms: I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I’m not the only person this shit ever happened to. It’s kind of boring. Painful and boring.

I’m at a crossroads and I get to go anywhere I want now, I guess, except I didn’t want it this way so it’s hard to get excited about it. But I’m coming round to it.

Last Thursday I visited a writer I hadn’t seen in fourteen years, a respected journalist. I’m taking you for a picnic, she said. I made a unilateral decision that you’re a vegetarian. We sat by a river and talked about travel and writing. She asked me what had happened in Berlin and I tried to explain the end of it and I realised that it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. You don’t need that, do you? she asked. And suddenly I thought that maybe I didn’t.

It didn’t make everything instantly better but something shifted that afternoon. When I woke up the following morning, I didn’t hate everything.

The elderly women on the ferry were sisters and widows. They bickered together. She’s bossy, said the younger one. I am not, said the older one. You’re assertive, I offered. Thank you, she said with a smile.

When they asked where I lived I didn’t know how to answer. But I told them the places I was considering. I sounded free and independent and interesting. If I talk like that often enough, I can believe it myself as well.

Feeling galactic

(Not) buying things
I went to a bike auction held by Deutsche Bahn last Thursday. I didn’t bid on any bikes, partly because it was hard to see properly over the assembled throng, and partly because although I know the numbers in German, I’m unconvinced that I’ll comprehend finer points such as “be warned, this thing is a death-trap and will require numerous repairs before you get on it”. The auction was, however, an entertaining experience, especially when they brought out a rubbish bike that everybody laughed at and a woman on the other side of the crowd bid €11 for it, eliciting a collective ooooh from around a hundred people as we strained to see who wanted it.

I also went to the Mauerpark flea market for the first time. The thing is, I am more than a cheapskate: I just kind of don’t buy stuff, so I wasn’t really that excited. Still though, it was a nice day and it was good to see where the market takes place, and plus I did make a couple of purchases after all: za’atar, which I haven’t found anywhere else yet, and a set of kitchen knives as a joint flatwarming present from myself and the Berlin Welcoming Committee to a couple who have finally found a home.

Purposely non-specific reference to angst
Some Stuff occurred last week that made me feel Crappy, which is sort of ongoing, although I’m aware that in the grand scheme of things it’s not really a big deal. The best thing about said Stuff is that it is Scotland-based, and being physically distant from it helps quite a bit. Besides that, however, here are my amazing techniques for dealing with Stuff:

  1. Okay, so I may be unable to grow a thicker skin. But the correct response to this is to not beat myself up for failure to grow a thicker skin.
  2. Consideration of where this fits in with regard to my swimming pool. Namely: everything else is cool except for abovementioned Stuff, which I have already acknowledged is not really a big deal.
  3. In ten years’ time, who’s going to care? This outlook has never failed me yet. In, let’s say for the sake of longevity, two months’ time, maximum, I’m probably not going to care about the Stuff of late.
  4. Identify worst case scenario and find solution to it. In this case, the worst case scenario might be that everyone in Scotland hates me. This is a brilliant worst case scenario, because it’s beyond overblown and exaggerates the hell out of the Stuff that’s caused me to angst in the first place. The solution, anyway, would be to just never bother returning to Scotland, which sounds fine to me. See? Problem solved.

Linguistic notes
I am unwilling to begin any communication with the opener Sprechen Sie Englisch? My German may be rubbish, but interpretive dance served me well in Japan and it will suffice here too if needs be. I can usually guess what’s going on by context, and I like when the man in the Spätkauf does the actions to mime “Would you like a bag?”

Also, there is a German phrasebook sitting on my desk and I’ve never yet thought to take it out with me. I love, though, that it has a whole section labelled Dating & Romance. (It ends with: I have never loved you; You’d better go now; I don’t ever want to see you again; Piss off!) It also lists ‘to make a pass at someone’ under Negative Feelings, and ‘galactic’ under Positive Feelings.

Quick rundown of other stuff
Made it out on May Day after all; hosted numerous visitors from Edinburgh; was taught (for the third time) how to cook tortilla; attended two flatwarmings on the same day; was given a free travel pass for the month of May; got drunk for the first time since moving here, which was really Sandra’s influence; spent Saturday night with the Berlin Welcoming Committee watching episodes of Press Gang on YouTube; saw the Frida Kahlo exhibition; had dinner with various lovely people; met more people who actually live here; and realised that my German is not in fact completely useless, as my visitors knew less than I do and I was able to assist to some extent.

Looking to the future
It’s kind of up in the air, and rightly so because it’s too soon for me to make any concrete decisions, but I am very much liking the prospect of not moving back to Edinburgh after the summer, whether I remain in Berlin or not. Again, I’m glad to have joined the redundancy club over a year ago, without which I would not now be living here or looking at multiple possibilities.

T- 4

The thing about Edinburgh is everybody leaves.

I’m used to it. Get a partner in crime, enjoy a bunch of adventures with them, and then eventually they’ll leave town because they fell in love or they can’t get decent work here or they’re from the wrong country and they’re not allowed to stay any longer. It is disappointing, yes. I prefer not to think about it. But when I do think about it, I bear in mind that new partners in crime inevitably turn up and the process repeats itself.

So now it’s my turn.

I can’t believe you’re leaving, says my best friend, who insists on being identified here only as Penguin. I am so over this place. Get me the fuck out of here.

I have lived here since 19fucking96, I explain. I have seen a million people come and go. I am only leaving for a while. I am TOTALLY ALLOWED.

And you’re going to Berlin, she continues, possibly wringing her hands. That is just so totally not fair.

Apart from Berlin being, you know, generally cool, her boyfriend lives there. But the fact I’ve chosen Berlin is largely coincidental: I’m flatsitting, rent-free. If you were already jealous, feel free to crank that jealousy up a notch right about now.

My departure is kind of the last straw for her. She’s moving into my flat when I leave, saving money, and then relocating to Berlin long-term in a few months’ time. On one hand, this means we will get to hang out in Berlin. On the other, when I return to Edinburgh she won’t be here, and that’s going to be weird.

I’ve always seen this city as my home, my base. Somehow even when I was thirteen I knew I would move to Edinburgh. True, it’s overwhelmingly populated by hippies and goths, who, while generally being very nice people, are not quite my type. But I can work with this place. You don’t see what you want here? You make it happen yourself.

Right now, though, the only sure thing I’ve got is that I’m going to live in Berlin for a while. Probably I’ll come back to Edinburgh after that, but technically anything could happen. I have a degree of stability in my life, but I also have a ton of uncertainty: if I don’t get a decent amount of work within the next however many months, I’m not going to be able to sustain the way I’m currently living, which is already low-budget. The flipside of this is the good thing about not being attached to a regular job: I have the freedom to take any opportunity that comes my way.

So right now I’m okay with the uncertainty: at the end of this month it’ll be a year since I joined the redundancy club, and although I’ve worried a couple times during that year, the worry has been pretty low-key, and generally I’m content to just get on with things and see what happens. Still. It’s interesting, to have no idea what comes next.

T- 10

People say to me, what are you going to do in Berlin? And I mostly say, oh, I don’t really know. Or I say, same as I’m doing here, except with less connections. They say, why are you going to Berlin? I tell them, because I can.

This is it, I’m living the dream, right? I want to turn the supposedly passive state of redundancy into an art form. I’ve survived for a year already and I still don’t have a stable or remotely substantial income, but I’m frugal and stubborn and not ready to hand over my mornings to a boss any time soon. I’m going to Berlin to write in peace without a whole bunch of clutter getting in my way. I’m going to Berlin because I like to wander anonymously round foreign cities. I’m going to Berlin for the challenge of starting somewhere new for the first time since I was eighteen. I’m going to Berlin because I’ve already gotten off with Edinburgh and it’s time for a change of scenery. I’m going to Berlin because summer is coming, slowly but it is, and there are new things to see and new people to meet and new experiences to have and I want them all.

I wonder this time whether I’ll note the changeover, that point at which things stop being new and unfamiliar, and become a part of everyday life. I can never remember exactly when that’s happened before, when I got used to Edinburgh, when I settled into a job or a relationship, when my flat became my home. Other people do this so often, they pack up and move to new places all the time. I’d always wondered if I would do it. My move is only temporary, but everyone still seems excited about it. Because, for one thing, it’s Berlin. Holy shit I’m gonna be living in Berlin.

When Cockroach Stuart moved to Australia many years ago, my friend Will just said, “Ah, he’ll be good at that.” So. I want to be good at this.

Abyssinia, Henry. I’m outta here.