Berlin

Berlin

Mittwoch, 28. Oktober 2015

Blessings!- or what else is the sublimity of my absurd existence?

"Wherever we go, there seems to be only one business at hand - that of finding workable compromises between the sublimity of our ideas and the absurdity of the fact of us." Annie Dillard in "Teaching a Stone to Talk"

There was a timed writing exercise a few weeks ago: Count your blessings. At first it seemed easy enough, since life was good. O.k., I thought, give me a second and  I just might do that.
But then, I couldn't do it and the more, I thought about why, I understood: before I count those blessings (plenty plenty) I feel, I have to do justice to pain, a feeling I never acknowledged properly. My childhood hurt, and I didn't admit it. Which has led to an entire life, that hurts at times, when it should'nt, even with all those blessings. So I guess, I have to write about the pain a little bit.

I grew up in a very small german city, it was almost a village. We lived in one big house, eleven people, all family. My aunt and uncle, their three daughters, my grandparents, my parents, my brother and me. In the surrounding houses lived other family members, more aunts and uncles and cousins. I used to play outside a lot. The meadows and orchards all belonged to my grandfather. There was a creek in the orchard (yes, I know, this all sounds like paradise and in a way it was). The creek was called shitty creek though, for obvious reasons. I used to play in it, even wash my hair in it and smelled like a shitty creek myself afterwards. My mother scolded me a lot, for this and other things, mainly I did not behave like a proper girl, but was always dirty and my clothes were torn.
She never beat me. She beat my brother though. My father beat my brother too. He was the difficult child. Apart from shitty creek and some other minor points, I was the easy child.
I don’t remember, when I noticed, that life in our house was unhappy? That it was not normal, to have a yelling mother, a drunken father and that there was a kind of love among my family members without tenderness, but mainly dressed in funny insults, harshness, no understanding for each other at all. Love never showed itself in a recognizable manner. It hid behind many different masks. This was like, it hid, because it feared to be hurt, in case it showed up too obviously.
Its funny, how you hide facts before your own consciousness. I probably knew all along, that we were an unhappy family, but I didnt know any other, so I tried to pretend, this harshness was tenderness and the fights were love and the insults were declarations of admiration. I pretended, the masks, behind which love was hidden, did not matter to me. Even today, when somebody is really mean to me, I might still think, he likes me deep down and is just too shy to show his true feelings, which he hides behind a mask. I never learned properly, to decipher feelings. Like learning a new language, it does get harder, when you get older, but it is never impossible and never too late, to start the learning process. 
My parents fought all the time. I never saw them kiss or hug, not once in my entire life. I didn't know, there was such a thing like hugging and kissing parents.
Instead I was told by my mom, what a bastard my father was and my father just never talked about my mom, he just closed his eyes, when she entered the room and left. I never saw them interact besides the fighting.
I loved my father most of all – he was my favourite person in the world. But he drank too much. And sometimes he disappeared. He was gone for days and we would look for him everywhere and each time, we thought, he had killed himself and we might find his corpse somewhere in the woods. But he always returned and pretended, nothing out of the ordinary had happened -  until the last time, when he didn’t return.
They found him far away from home. He sat in his car, dead, in a parking lot. The main feeling I remember expressed over that traumatic incident was my aunts' shame to go into the village. People would certainly talk about us. She felt embarrassed.
I also remember feeling completely unfree: I now was the daughter of the suicide, which kind of defined me and my opportunities for happiness.

My mom didn’t get along with her sister. Sometimes they would not talk to each other for days and the atmosphere would be icy and dark, it would fill the entire house. I never experienced them solving a conflict. After a few days, they would just talk again and pretend, nothing had happened. My mom is dead now, and her sister still carries this conflict within her. I can tell, because she has photos of all dead family members on her walls, some of the living ones too, but not one of her only sister. 
I don’t know how I developed selfesteem or selfrespect ( I mean, I didn’t until a while ago and it was a LOT of work to get there) because nobody ever told me I was smart, beautiful or lovable. Nobody ever said, I love you, when I was young. Nobody ever hugged me. Well, my dad did once, before I left for a vacation, and the hug was so clumsy, that he broke my glasses and my mom freaked out and I had to go to Paris with those super ugly substitute glasses, but I still have not forgotten that one hug, and it still fills my heart with tons of love for him, gratitude also.
Nobody ever was nice to anybody in that house really, not because they were bad people, they weren’t. They all were really nice in a way. They just didn’t know any better. They truly gave their best and I love them for it.  But my childhood hurt and I never admitted it. 
When I return to my home today, most people are dead, but new people have been born, it still shocks me to see, how they treat each other. Another harsh generation. Their hugs are always almost brutal, and their compliments resemble insults. They all hurt and they could never admit it. It would ruin their lives.
I would describe my family life to others, as if we were sort of the Waltons in Blue Ridge Mountain/Virginia, which was a total escape from reality (or not, when you consider, that we all shape our reality by what we think about it, so in my imagination we were the Waltons, but I was also Simone de Beauvoir writing away in her little office upstairs, in the house with 11 people but no books)  I would pick the funny things that had happened and exaggerate them, because I found my pain very embarrassing. I would hide the ugly things, the pain, pretend, they didn’t hurt, they didn’t exist. After a while I even stopped to tell people, that my father had killed himself. I did not want them to see me in such a dramatic light. I wanted them to see my humour, my intelligence, me, without my pain and my family, me, sitting at my desk, looking so much like Simone de Beauvoir.

So, before I start to count my blessings (plenty plenty), something, I will never ever been done with, I need to list the pain and feel it, to see, that the first blessing is: the pain is over, a mere memory, something that shaped me and after feeling it, I don’t even have to let go, it will let me go.Yes, I am almost there! And then I see, what blessing this family has been after all and how much love there was and is underneath the steady current of harshness and that harshness is always a very proper medium to hide fear and pain. Which makes it even more lovable, because I wanna go back in time and give everybody there a very big hug, with broken glassen and all, because super ugly substitu te glasses really do not matter, what matters is the hug and the kindness. 

© Susanne Becker

Samstag, 10. Oktober 2015

10 questions for - Annie Liontas



This is a series, I have started on my blog a few weeks ago: I ask authors 10 questions. They can vary, but are often about the habits concerning writing, because this has always been a subject, I was very interested in. My ten questions so far have appeared in German, since I presented them to german writers. But Annie Liontas is my first english speaking writer and I am very grateful to her for answering my at times nosy questions so openly. So I really hope, this will be the beginning of a series of english interviews! Hint Hint Hint!!!! If any foreign authors want to be interviewed, please let me know! 
I met Annie Liontas last year in Lisbon, where we both attended the Disquiet Literary program, which I can highly recommend, and where she read an excerpt from the mentioned novel Let me explain you, which I read and reviewed here on my blog. That excerpt was so good, that I could not wait to have the real thing in hands. And it was not disappointing either. Great book! Highly recommended!

I also love her answers. They are inspiring and make me sit down and read and write and think about, what she said. What else could you possibly want from an interview?


(c) Sara Nordstrom



1. How did you get the idea to write Let me explain you?

It kind of came in a flash.  I was at a crossroads--out of work, struggling with some health issues, not in a great place in my relationship, living with family, having no idea how I was supposed to be adulting--and I suddenly got this vision of a patriarch who believes he's going to die.  I knew he wanted to impose his worldview on his daughters, but I had very little else.  Because the concept came first, it took me a long time to get to know Stavros, to understand what drives him and how he suffers, and because he takes up so much oxygen, it took me an even longer time to give the daughters life.   But your characters teach you something when you write them, which is the greatest blessing of the craft.  

2. Where do you normally write and do you have a, say: daily or so writing routine?

I used to write at night, between the peak hours of 9PM and 2AM, when my third eye opens and I can do more exploratory, imaginative work.  That’s tough with a day-job, of course, so I’m adjusting.  Sometimes I map my work on large sheets and hang them on my walls, and sometimes I write on post-its.  Every time I think I have my process down, I realize it’s changing—perhaps as it should—and I have to try to find another way to trick myself to get the words on the page.

3. Do you have rituals, without which you can 't get started or which feed your creativity?
I need a square table or desk, a half-caff macchiato, and a song on repeat.  At the moment, it's The Weeknd's "Acquainted."

I’ve been documenting my process for a few years now, as a result, and I’ve come to realize that I’m a cyclical writer. I had grown so frustrated with myself for not writing every day, but I'm not sure that's how we work--I'm not sure, specifically, that's how women work.    

In my early twenties I sought out confirmation of writerly rituals (there's a tremendous catalogue of them noted by the writer Ralph Keyes).  I think, in part, that was to reframe my own quirks as not being simple indulgences, but I was also--without realizing--trying to understand how I work.  Like most young writers, I didn't even know there was a "way" to work, I thought inspiration just struck and you were lucky when it did.  Now I know that the rituals are part of the way you get yourself ready for the difficult and often defeating work of creation.   

4. What are you reading right now?

I'm revisiting Gabriel Garcia Marquez' Chronicle of a Death Foretold--and doing a lot of diagramming--in preparation for what *might be* my next project.  I'm too superstitious (read: scared) to say much more.

Also a biography of Marquez, a collection by Kirsten Valdez Quade, a novel by Ishiguro, some fiction by Yiyun Li, and never too far from my nightstand is Baldwin.  I was hoping to get through all of Baldwin this year, but I quickly realized that it is best to sink into him.


5.Which book are books have changed your life?

So many.  That must be every writer's answer.  I remember reading Marquez' Love in the Time of Cholera and weeping on a dock, not because it was heartbreaking but because it was like watching life being shaped from clay.  Angela Carter blew my mind in that way that you think "Somebody has been here before me and she has already done everything I was planning on doing."  Baldwin's If Beale Street Could Talk is always in my head, as is Why the Child is Cooking in the Polenta by the Romanian writer Aglaja Veteranyi.  I am indebted in many ways to Jeffrey Eugenides' MiddlesexBabel, of course, who I think about all the time but am almost afraid to return to, he is that untouchable.

6. Which person from the past, present or future would you love to meet?

Marquez.  Maybe that's because we're talking writers and Marquez to begin with.  Or maybe I am being nostalgic, since he died recently, and since he suffered from dementia.  But I love how politically engaged he was, how playful and mischievous, how passionate, and how he brought together so many worlds in his work.  


7. What is your greatest hope?

No one goes hungry.

I mean that on a literal and biological level, but I think I mean it in all its connotations, too.  You can hunger for opportunity and voice with the same intensity you might hunger for nourishment.  

8. If you were absolutely free, where would you love to live?

Oh, tough one.  I have this sense of writerly wanderlust that lives in the body--that is, I think writers (maybe all people) feel sometimes too confined to a single life, to a single human experience.  Basically, I'd love to live everywhere.  

To answer your question, though--

I could say Greece, of course.  I've been to places in Mexico that I dream of returning to.  I'd love to see Turkey.  I've never been to India other than through literature, and I might blame Salman Rushdie for this, but India probably calls to me most.  Perhaps I'd live in Jaipur for a bit, specifically.  


9. You write because....?

I have to.  

Nature made me into a pack animal, so in some ways it's antithetical to my composition to toil away at something so crumbly in isolation.  I'm a big believer in community and interdependence, but I also know that writing is how I connect to life and the world and people.  It is, for me, a visceral experience, a spiritual experience, and a way of understanding what it means to be alive and fallible.

10. What do you really like about yourself?

I try to take people on their own terms, acknowledging their limitations and the forces that have conspired to bring them to this point.  That doesn't mean they get a free pass, but it does mean I want to--and can, when I'm at my best--hear what they have to say.  

It's a good thing to apply to characters as well as people.  

-- 
Peace,
Annie

Dienstag, 6. Oktober 2015

Zehn Fragen zu Büchern - angeregt von Sätze & Schätze

Eine der klügsten und für mich persönlich interessantesten Literaturbloggerinnen, Sätze & Schätze, sandte via Facebook heute morgen einen kleinen Fragebogen herum, Zehn Fragen zu Büchern. Die Antworten darauf interessierten mich so sehr, dass ich mich, obwohl ich eigentlich anderes schreiben wollte, sofort daraun setzte, um sie heraus zu finden. 
Danke liebe Birgit, für die tolle Gelegenheit, einmal intensiver über meine Lektüre und Lektürevorlieben und - gewohnheiten nachzudenken. Was mich wirklich ein bisschen aus der Bahn geworfen hat bei dem Fragebogen ist die Tatsache, dass ich auf beinahe jede Frage mit "Nesthäckchen" von Else Ury antworten konnte. Damit hatte ich nicht gerechnet.

  1. Das erste Buch, das du bewusst gelesen hast? Das war Nesthäckchen von Else Ury, Nesthäckchen und ihre Puppen und dann die ganze Reihe, die ich, seitdem ich circa 9 Jahre alt war, immer wieder las. Ich hatte noch die alten Ausgaben meiner Mutter, die 1941 geboren wurde.
  2. Das Buch, das Deine Jugend begleitete? Das kommt darauf an, wie man Jugend definiert, aber ich habe sehr spät begonnen, ernstere Literatur für mich zu entdecken, also begleitete mich tatsächlich die Nesthäckchen-Reihe recht lange, so bis ich etwa 14 Jahre alt war ( außerdem Hanni und Nanni und Dolly), dann entdeckte ich die Bücherei und lieh mir Werke wie Vom Winde verweht und ähnliches. Wenn man Jugend ab, sagen wir 16 nimmt, lautet die Antwort sehr anders: alles von Frisch, Hesse, Dürrenmatt, Böll, Bachmann, Sartre, Camus - die wirkliche Prägung und literarische Ausrichtung begann mit diesen AutorInnen. 
  3. Das Buch, das Dich zur Leserin/zum Leser machte? Ich wurde mit meinem ersten Buch (s. Frage 1) zur Leserin. Ich habe seitdem nie wieder aufgehört, zu lesen. Allerdings wurde ich dann erst mit meinem ersten Hesse-Buch zur bewussten Leserin, die tatsächlich nach einer ganz anderen Art von Literatur geradezu süchtig wurde und ihr gesamtes Taschengeld darein investierte.
  4. Das Buch, das Du am häufigsten gelesen hast? Nesthäckchen?? Kein Witz! Da ich damals keine anderen Bücher hatte, habe ich die Nesthäckchen Bände jahrelang immer wieder von vorne gelesen und mich dabei interessanterweise nie gelangweilt.
  5. Das Buch, das Dir am wichtigsten ist? Da gibt es mehrere und wichtig bedeutet für mich am ehesten, dass sie mein Leben irgendwie so berührt haben, dass eine Veränderung oder zumindest irgendeine Form von Erschütterung stattfand. Dazu gehören: Das dreißigste Jahr von Ingeborg Bachmann, Writing down the Bones von Natalie Goldberg, Drei Essays von Jean Paul Sartre, Nicht sterben von Terézia, Mora, Extremely loud and incredibly close von Jonathan Safran Foer, aber auch noch viele viele andere, die ich jetzt nicht alle aufzählen möchte.
  6. Das Buch, vor dem Du einen riesigen Respekt bzw. Bammel hast? Wolf Hall von Hilary Mantel, liegt seit 2 Jahren an meinem Bett und ich schiebe es immer wieder nach hinten, weil ich fürchte, die Lektüre könne in einen echten Arbeitsakt ausarten
  7. Das Buch, das Deiner Meinung nach am meisten überschätzt wird? Also, ein Buch fällt mir nicht ein, aber spontan denke ich an Patrick Modiani, dessen Bücher mir nichts sagen oder geben, was mir immer so ein bisschen peinlich ist. Immerhin hat er den Nobelpreis bekommen. 
  8. Das Buch, das Du unbedingt noch lesen willst – wenn da einmal Zeit wäre? Da gibt es auch mehrere und ich habe sie bereits vor geraumer Zeit einmal hier aufgelistet. 
  9. Das Buch, das Dir am meisten Angst macht? Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf
  10. Das Buch, das Du gern selbst geschrieben hättest? Das Ungeheuer von Terézia Mora!! 
© Susanne Becker