Strangers and Serendipity

 

‘The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time. The ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles.’ On the Road, Jack Kerouac

 

I thought about this quote the other day from a book that is very dear to me. On the Road is a classic as it is consummately American: filled with dreams, illusions, sex, drugs, and a whole load of heartache. It contains all that we seek to find in American literature: dreams punctured by reality. Pulsating to the rhythm of 1950s jazz and the emergence of counterculture, On the Road captures the exhausting richness of life: its exuberance, its melancholy, its incomprehensibility and, more importantly, it’s variety. 

It is now after spending six months away from home that I realise the gravity of Kerouac’s statement about ‘the mad ones’. It is these people that I came to know in Berlin. The people that love life and experience; the people that speak to strangers because they want to; the people who pluck conversation topics out of thin air and fuel them for hours on humour, gesture and narrative. Storytelling is what we live for. It’s what the travellers crave. 

Clear in my mind are the days that I wandered through the city, anatomising the face of every building and every person with a childlike curiosity. I began to speak to people out of desire more than necessity. Small talk gave way to conversations of unimaginable depth. I revealed sides of myself only a stranger could understand. 

Chance encounters became my source of serendipity – those uncanny moments of meeting somebody who you need or desire right in that moment. A stranger who will take care of you just for the night. Searching through underground clubs of dancing and flashing lights, where drugs and alcohol give visage to the faceless, to find my friends was just another way of making new ones. Sharing in the song of a blues guitarist in the Park was just another, more lyrical, way of speaking. Reading aloud about my life story was just another way of learning to bargain with the dangers and difficulties of words. The diversity of languages owned by the many different kinds of international people became both a bridge and a barrier to communication. Under such circumstances, you fashion new ways of understanding. 

I found that the people who said that they were travelling for fun had the most to hide. They veiled their pain under a guise of spontaneity. These were the people who were running from something, but couldn’t quite articulate what. After a few drinks, you knew why they had fled. Everyone is always looking for something. The people who say they aren’t just don’t know it yet. 

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Time can mean everything, and it can mean nothing. There are people you meet who become part of the furniture in your life. You shuffle over and prepare to make permanent room for them. These are the ones who provide a sturdy bed and a place to rest your head – the ones who will tuck you in after a bad night. And then there are the people who will pull up a chair to immerse themselves in you just for a few hours. 

Romance can exist for a night, and it doesn’t have to be marked by sex. I often tell people about my ‘one-night love stories’ in Berlin clubs. They are never what people expect. 

There’s something that seems deeply spiritual, again uncanny, about connecting to a person just for a day, or an evening. Significant events in life don’t have to be judged by their longevity. A night of looks across a room, a night of dancing and talking, a night where moments of conversation pique your interest for a lifetime, have their own importance. They say you never really forget a face. 

It’s 3am in a club that I never would have trespassed this time last year. For most, the night is only just beginning. I find my Parisian gentleman wandering around by himself, just soaking everything in – or, just clearly out of his mind on alcohol.  If there was ever a stereotype to be fitted to a Frenchman, he fit the bill entirely. This guy loved the Romance of it all: English girl with big brown eyes and a heart full of curiosity travels to another country to find herself. He filled in the part about her falling in love with the Parisian poet. 

We talked of an alternative life where I abandoned Berlin to live with him in Paris. Every morning we’d open our pearl-white kitchen windows and breakfast on the balcony on red-checked tablecloths laden with jams and croissants. Outside, our bikes would be lined up next to each other, ready to embark on our scenic trips out of the city on the weekend. We’d dine into the evening, getting as drunk on each other as on the traditional Parisian wine, and return home together, hand in hand … in the rain. You get the picture. 

Narrative is integral to human nature. It connects us to time and place, and to each other. These moments of serendipity, while short-lived, hold significance still. My Parisian love may have wandered into the distance without my phone number, but he left behind a deep impression of the novelty of the moment.

It’s possible to be happy just where you are, just for one night. The irony is that part of the romance of meeting somebody is never seeing them again. You suspend that moment in time and place, and preserve it for what it was. He was definitely one of Kerouac’s ‘mad ones.’

Looking back on my photographs of Berlin – my own visual memoir of the best six months of my life – made me think of how these are snapshots my children will look at someday. Perhaps they will know that their mother had stalked the ‘sidewalks of life’ without fear and apprehension, and had learned something along the way. 

On the Road is all about the quest for ultimate fulfilment. This is the paradox of human life. We seek to be fulfilled, but never will be so. 

In a way, I never want to know what it’s like to feel utterly fulfilled. I never want to grow old in a house at the end of a street in suburbia, sat in a chair in my perfectly ordered garden, gazing out at the trees I never climbed. My grandfather always said that looking at life with an ever-youthful, ever-curious eye was what sustained him throughout his life. The demise of curiosity is the moment you stop living. 

And here we are, back at the present moment. Today marks my six-month anniversary in Berlin. Some people I have met have stayed, others have fled, and the ‘mad ones’ have become a part of me. In Berlin, people live with a natural and purposeless freedom. To live is not just to be alive, but to experience the inexhaustible potential of people and places. The sands of time have little bearing on anything. 

‘Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.’

 

‘Put Me Back Together Again’: Florian Schulze’s Homeless Aesthetic 

Poverty exploited by the Privileged: how Berlin Fashion Week revealed the industry’s dark side

The 3rd – 7th July of this year saw Berlin’s annual Fashion Week take to the streets. Vogue voiced how ‘logomania and streetwear were alive and well’, and how ‘wild prints’ and effortless ensembles were ‘perfectly complemented by Berlin’s eclectic architecture.’1 In accordance with Berlin’s eco-spirit, sustainable fashion took to the stage. And then there was Florian Schulze’s collection, ‘Put Me Back Together Again’.

Schulze’s collection ostensibly ‘revisits romanticised ideas of homeless women dressed in shabby layers of discarded clothing.’2 Taking inspiration from the ‘bag ladies of New York City’, Schulze has created garments that reflect their ‘beauty of imperfection.’ Through his collection, the clothes of these women, drawn from ‘dumpsters’ and found in the streets, were showcased in all their glory. Using ‘detailed handwork’ and ‘precise processing’, Schulze supposedly applied intricacy to their ‘shabby’ aesthetic. His website reveals how his homeless muses received a ‘well deserved upgrade regarding their appearance’ in exchange for the inspiration they so willingly provided. Now this is just offensive.

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There is something quite incongruous, or perhaps even unsavoury, about using the clothes of the homeless to inspire a collection for a multi-billion pound industry. Simply put, this is poverty exploited by the privileged.

The ‘bag ladies’ of New York City do not carefully select their fabrics for aesthetic purpose as fashion designers do. They look this way because this is all they have. Their ‘fashion choices’ are based on accessibility, not taste. Their ‘craftmanship’ derives from necessity, not free will. Florian Schulze takes their scraps of survival wear and ‘puts [them] back together’ again for his own artistic purpose. And was their uproar on the runway? In the name of ‘Fashion’, not one critic batted an eyelid. With very little stir in the press, the incident seemed to slide under a perfectly woven rug into insignificance. This kind of exploitation is clearly nothing new in the underbelly of the fashion world.

I wonder what Schulze’s first thought was when walking the streets of New York, gazing intently at the outfits of homeless people with an artist’s eye. He looked at the homeless women of New York and saw an aesthetic worth replicating. He saw inspiration, rather than desperation. I slightly winced when I scrolled to find a comment from a friend on his instagram reading, ’I told you, you were going to be famous.’3 Amidst the showers of compliments lies a moral problem obscured from view. The homeless people of the streets of New York do not profit from their ‘shabby’ aesthetic, but fashion does.

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This is symptomatic of a wider global problem in the fashion industry. Schulze’s decision to replicate the garments of the homeless and ‘upgrade’ them using high quality materials fits into a wider framework of ‘ cultural appropriation’ – a controversy that is woven into the fibres of many designer’s work. Gucci’s Fall 2018 collection, for example, came under fire for producing looks for white models which were inspired by the turbans worn by the Sikh community. Schulze’s negative appropriation of poverty commits the same crime, placing high fashion over cultural sensitivity.

A quote on Schulze’s website reads ‘Fabrics sometimes need to be destroyed before they show their real beauty and become a part of their actual usage.’4 His artistic vision involves denigrating before creating: ‘putting things back together again.’ Whilst this is an interesting philosophy – it’s not entirely original, nor something that should be applied to real people in real circumstances.

In what perhaps began as a noble artistic pursuit to take inspiration from destruction, Schulze’s collection turned quickly into a patronising reimagining of the homeless ‘aesthetic’. Schulze used the shabby scraps worn by the people of the streets to exhibit his own artistic skill and provide a collection worthy of Fashion Week’s scrutinising eye. In doing so, he chose style over moral substance.

 

1 http://www.vogue.co.uk/gallery/berlin-street-style-spring-summer-20192 http://iamflorianschulze.com/ma-graduation-collection/
3 https://www.instagram.com/iamflorianschulze/
4 http://iamflorianschulze.com/about/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Breaking the taboo on sex-work [Part 2]

Relationships, female empowerment and placing men in the submissive role

‘I am a firm believer in paywalling men. I will not reply to somebody if they haven’t paid for the privilege of speaking to me. It’s that simple.’

What do you think of when you imagine a sex-worker? What do you imagine them to be? How do you imagine them to live their lives? 

In this part of the interview, Sarah reveals how sex-work can be an interesting exploration into the psychology of men. We discuss how playing the ‘submissive’ and asking to be financially dominated is a way for some men to unburden themselves from real-life responsibility and relinquish control. Breaking the taboo on sex-work as a career choice led by and consumed only by men, Sarah explains how the porn industry is no longer needed to represent female sex-workers. To Sarah, the sex-worker is not an object of aesthetic awe devoured by men, but a woman in charge of her own creative vision. These are not the words of a subjugated person, but an empowered woman.

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M. In our previous discussion, we talked about how the content you produce for your clients is not protected online, as it is for other artists. How do you manage this?

If I find that one of my videos has been posted on a tube site, I have no problem in messaging the site and asking for it to be removed, saying ‘this is my property, this is my website, you can see that i’m selling it. You don’t have permission to sell it.’ But ultimately, I’ve found that my customer base is quite loyal. ‘‘Part of female domination, the clips that I make, is respecting the performer by paying for the content.’’ Financial domination forms part of the fetish. If you search on Clips4sale, you’ll find that ‘financial domination’ is the biggest category.

M. To me this reveals something quite intriguing about the ideals of ‘masculinity.’ Do you think the fetishisation of ‘financial domination’ says anything about how things have been changing in society with regards to gender roles?

I think the ability to create and share content has certainly contributed to women becoming more financially empowered. In terms of masculinity ideals, I think the concept of a man asking for a woman to be in control of their money and to financially dominate them does say something about how men see themselves in society and the ways in which they are empowered. In my experience, men conflate a lot of their self worth with how much they earn. Financial domination by a woman is taking that power that some men have conflated around wealth and being the ‘provider’ and reversing it.

M. I find it interesting that these certain types of men, your clients, fetishise the concept of being placed in a submissive role. What do you think it is about being submissive that is a turn-on? Why is submission so eroticised by these men?

I can only speak from my experience, but I find that a lot of my clients are very alpha-male in regular life. Often they have a lot of responsibility that they are looking to escape from. Some men may also just be naturally submissive and have been used to experiencing humiliation, perhaps in childhood, in the form of abuse or bullying. Even something like small penis humiliation, feeling feminised or embarrassed at school, can contribute to these kind of fetishes. I feel that for some men, asking for submission is taking control. To consent to humiliation and to ask for it from a woman, [who has historically been placed in a secondary role], can help them deal with their emotional issues.

M. So to turn to the other aspect of your work. What do you think about the online relationships you construct with men? What does this kind of contact do for them?

Some men are simply looking to ‘get off’ as a one-time thing. One client came along last night, for example, and just asked for a Skype show. He said he’s not a ‘lifestyle submissive’ but he finds that sometimes life gets on top of him and he can’t express this side of him with his girlfriend. ‘He needed one night to let off some submissive steam.’ Other people are looking to build more of a long-term relationship and establish trust with someone. Sometimes it’s not just about how they can ‘get off’ sexually. It can be a lot more emotional than this.

M. So in a way, the service you provide is more than sex and instant-gratification?  You’re actually helping people deal with psychological issues and also creating a safe place for men to indulge their sexual fantasies outside of a relationship? 

Yes, I would say so. I think it can be therapeutic for a lot of men. ‘There’s a lot in society about what a man should and shouldn’t be.’ They shouldn’t be sensitive, they should be sexually dominant etc. To be able to express an alternative side to a person that is going to accept them and won’t ridicule them is quite important for some of my clients. The irony of this is that I do ridicule men, but they ask me to. It’s the consent to ridicule that is important.

M. Do you ever feel like there are any negative aspects to operating in such a patriarchal system?

It can be frustrating. Sometimes I would like to put more work into making my clips a lot more artistic, but I often feel like I won’t be rewarded for it. Men are there for me, not for the quality of my videography. Also, having men commenting on your work, your body, or proposing clips that they think you should make when they’re not a paying customer, can be really annoying. A man sent me a message last week asking whether I had ever considered growing my hair longer, and proceeded to tell me that many men prefer women with long hair…

M. How do you manage men commenting on your appearance/body?

Luckily the nature of this kind of sex-work means that we don’t necessarily have to be polite to our customers. If we don’t like somebody, or disagree with something somebody says to us online, then we don’t have to deal with that. ‘I am a firm believer in paywalling men. I will not reply to somebody if they haven’t paid for the privilege of speaking to me. It’s that simple.’ You also just learn not to take people’s comments to heart.

M. Do you ever feel subjugated by men through your work? I think that a lot of the stigma surrounding sex-work comes from women who would perhaps feel used or undermined in this particular role.

There is certainly still an argument that we are being exploited and are objectifying ourselves because we are creating content to be consumed by men. But ultimately, this is all about personal choice. I personally think that having this career is liberating. One of the things I love most about camming is the diversity of women involved. It’s not restricted to a particular group of individuals. ‘Cam girls can be anything from supermodels to your girl next door. Anyone can cam.’ It’s not like porn where there is a certain way you have to look. There’s no man telling you what you should or should look like, what part you should play, how you should behave. ‘It’s not like we are trying to fit into a specific mould for men. We are what we are.’ There are enough consumers for each performer to have their individuality. There’s a paying customer and a market for everyone.

Would you say this is empowering for you? And does this now place the woman back in control in an industry which is supposedly run by men?

Well, yes and no. Sex-work is a huge industry. In my field, I have always been able to work for myself. For a lot of fem-doms (female dominatrix’s), being in control is obviously going to be a part of what they enjoy about the work. I am in charge completely of the content that I create, how creative I want to be, clients I choose to accept or decline and when/where I want to work. ‘With the beauty of the internet, women have been able to take control of their own image and livelihoods. We don’t need porn studios to represent us anymore.’

 

Part 1 of this article can be found here:

https://findingmymuse.co.uk/2018/06/18/my-work-is-my-art-breaking-the-taboo-on-sex-work/

‘My work is my art’: Breaking the taboo on sex-work

‘My area of work is very empowering to individuals in any situation. We get to be in control of our image, our schedule, our bodies.’

Upon first meeting Sarah, I never would have guessed that she was a sex-worker. In our rather conservative society, it is not every day that subjects such as this even come up in conversation.

It was my second week in Berlin. I was attending a small meet-up at the Berlinale Film Festival, if nothing more than to temporarily enjoy an evening of human interaction with other newbies. A seemingly quiet, reserved girl said ‘Hello’ to me sweetly and sat down next to me. We chatted about trivial matters. Following the linear course that these conversations usually take, we approached the ‘What do you do?’ topic. Her response was that she was a ‘sex-worker’; that she made video clips and had relationships with men over the internet.

The term ‘sex-worker’ is heavily loaded with negative connotation. If there are any typical stereotypes to be attached to sex work, however, Sarah defied every one. After speaking to her more on this topic, a person who derived real passion and joy from her employment emerged.

It became clear to me during our discussion that sex-work provides females with agency both artistically and physically. What Sarah described to me was an artistic process of filmmaking as detailed as painting a canvas. To Sarah, her work is her art. 

Sarah represents what every feminist would define as a modern woman: she is committed to her craft and in control of her life and body. 

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Prior to interviewing Sarah, I asked her to write down an official definition for the term sex-worker. This is what she came up with:

‘A sex-worker is a consenting adult who provides a service and creates content primarily for the sexual, but also the emotional, affectionate or otherwise intimate, gratification of others.’

In this part of the interview, Sarah discusses how sex-work for females is an empowering career choice.

M. You explained in your definition that sex work is essentially a service that enables the sexual gratification of another. What kind of things can this include?

Sex-work can involve sex lines over the phone, selling nudes, live web-camming, working in a strip club or escorting.

M. And what does your particular work involve?

I am an online dominatrix who creates clips that I sell on clip stores online. I also have relationships with men online and I’m paid for the interaction. I’ve done live cam shows in the past but it requires a lot more stamina than filming clips!

M. Some people might conflate sex work with pornography and prostitution. How would you say your work differs?

I think there is a lot of stigma surrounding sex work. People think that it is exploitative of women and that it is controlled entirely by men, despite the fact that the overwhelming number of performers are female. This may be the case in other aspects of sex-work, such as porn, working in brothels, or pimping, but in my work, women have chosen to do it. We don’t have to respond to any kind of pressure from male producers. ‘‘I think it’s important to create a distinction between consensual, empowered sex work like mine and non-consensual sex work.’’

M. How did you get started with this work?

Well, live cam shows were always something I did from an age younger than I would care to admit. I was addicted to chatrooms as a teenager. I was addicted to the way it made me feel. ‘’I felt good, I felt beautiful, I felt powerful.’’ I felt like I had something that the viewer could only have if I allowed them to have it. When I was 18, I realised that doing this kind of work could be a source of income. I planned to go travelling, and was at the time applying to University to be a primary school teacher. I started doing cam shows on the side just to earn a bit of extra money. Before long, I was doing less hours at my part-time job in a shop and more hours on cam. I realised that I could earn money so much more quickly and efficiently this way.

M. You mentioned that you were at the time planning on becoming a teacher. What influenced your decision to become a full-time sex worker instead?

I realised that I had a passion for producing erotic content and I wanted to put more work into developing my image as a performer. I chose the lifestyle of a sex worker over that of a teacher because I loved the idea of being in control of my schedule and of my own life. Sex-work is incredibly versatile. I can work anywhere in the world, as long as there’s a sustainable internet connection, and can have complete creative freedom over my work.

M. So just picking up on your phrase ‘creative freedom’, would you say that this is the most appealing aspect of your work?

‘’Working for myself and having complete freedom in every aspect of it is certainly one of the things I value mostly about my job.’’ I always wanted to have a career in art and I was trying to figure myself out as an artist for years. However, I always worried that if I continued pursuing my art passion, I would end up being a struggling artist, or I would feel anxious about having to work towards somebody else’s brief or ideal. ‘’So I just make the work that I want to make now. I have complete artistic control.’’

M. So in a way, this work is a platform for you as an artist? Possibly in a way that you didn’t originally intend or imagine?

Certainly. I always thought I would be an artist, and I think what I produce now is art.

M. How would you say that creativity is channeled into your work? 

It takes creativity to think about the ideas for my clips, to construct the creative language that you use in dominating somebody, to create your outfit, to perform the part of a dominatrix, even to create a backdrop for the clips. I certainly take pride in my cam backgrounds. I put thought into the layers, textures and the colours to make a visually stimulating backdrop.

M. So what you’re essentially describing is the process of creating a work of art?

Yes. I mean, when you’re looking at a porno or a video clip, perhaps this isn’t so apparent. You’re just there for immediate gratification. You don’t think, ‘Wow this is a really beautiful work of art.’ Even porn or nudes are still art. There is still production and purpose there. Somebody has set this up, decided on the angles and the lighting. In independent performer’s work, people definitely exercise this freedom of creativity beautifully. And it’s not just nudes, it’s art. I am proud of the art I make.

M. We’ve spoken prior to this interview about issues of legality in terms of people using and exploiting your work. Is there any way in which your artistic integrity is protected?

The monetary aspect of sex-work is currently quite complex as we are not understood as artists. As it stands, we have no legal protection over our content.

M. Why do you think this is?

There’s a big culture in society of consuming art for free. People aren’t used to paying for things and they don’t understand the amount of work that goes into it. Men online will find clips from independent performers expensive and say, ‘Oh my god, $10 for ten minutes. I could get that for free on PornHub.’ The problem is that there is a lot of process that goes into making such a small clip. Setting up, getting ready, finding different angles, ensuring sound and lighting is working correctly, editing. ‘’It’s not just taking your clothes off, it’s a real job.’’

Will We Ever Switch Them off?

I’d love to see what would happen if all mobile phones went dead. 

I’m sat in a cafe contemplating this as I observe an awkward scene. People watching is one of life’s virtues, especially when hidden behind a laptop screen. One quickly learns the strategies. Leaning over and craning your neck to eavesdrop in conversation is not entirely subtle. The trick is in the eyes. Learning to quickly divert your gaze from the scene in front of you to the screen of your laptop is the first step towards successful snooping.

I’m watching a couple on a date. It’s going well. They’ve so far managed to order their coffee, and say a few words to each other. Ten minutes later, these words still hang in the air like a bad smell. No progression has been made. Hands reach to cradle their phones. One of them takes a call. The other nonchalantly drinks her coffee, gazing round the room as if to pluck a conversation topic out of the caffeine-fuelled atmosphere.

This is just painful.

Phones provide a justifiable excuse to not speak to each other, a handy tactic when on an awkward date. As young people, we are protected from having to deal with social interaction only by our common propensity to pick up our mobiles and immerse ourselves in Facebook mid-conversation. We just don’t know how to communicate anymore.

Everyone of course talks about the ‘millennial’ generation with contempt. But ultimately, our critics should just feel sorry for us. We are rude and obnoxious; ruthless in our attempts to capture the perfect photo to upload to our social media sites. ‘Likes’ feed our egos more than real-life compliments. GIFS and Memes provide humour where ours has lapsed. We are the avocado-loving, cafe-brunching, news-munching millennials who know nothing of times gone by. We exist in a vacuum, bombarded by the constant flow of information, of which we can’t escape. Armed with a step-by-step account on social media of how we fill our days, our generation are leaving behind us a technological footprint of triviality. Is this all we will have to show for our posterity?

The need to constantly document our lives, however, reveals something a lot more sinister about current social interaction.

Take the prior mentioned date as a case in point. Meeting somebody in the flesh requires a lot more cognitive effort, particularly as their choice to position themselves opposite each other makes them more exposed. In this instance, they have nowhere to hide. Queue the picking up of the mobile phone.

Interacting with a computer is entirely different. A computer does not care about your feelings. When online, one does not have to labour to understand another’s body language, or negotiate with social cues. Instead, our emotions become archetypically summarised in emojis. Virtual interaction removes feelings and emotions. We are, as the world fears, turning ourselves into beings void of the aspects that make us human.

Our self-esteem becomes based on the acquisition, essentially, of strangers who favour our content. Our ‘supposed’ selves, the ones we can perfectly package up and present to our gang of worthy followers online, somehow become more desirable than our actual selves. We come to envy others who are equally as inauthentic. While we know this, we can’t seem to shake the feeling that millions of others out there are prettier, thinner, smarter, richer or just generally more content than we are.

Like everything else in a capitalist society, our sense of self-worth becomes based on acquisition. ‘Likes’, ‘retweets’, ‘favourites’ are currency: we acquire and exchange.

A further frightening aspect of all this is that the more we reveal, the more data we contribute. Companies feed off our online presence, using information about us to tailor their advertisements to our interests, and consequently contribute to this atmosphere of acquisition. I find myself frequently screaming ‘HOW DID YOU KNOW?’ inside my head when my most recent searches on Google appear in my Instagram and Facebook feeds, as if a satellite had somehow supplanted my brain.

It is as if I am competing against a machine that seems to know me better than I know myself. My iPhone can anticipate which emojis I would like to use based on the words I have tapped into a message. It knows all the locations I’ve been in … ever. It knows my exact distance home, the temperature in my room, where I am going to be at certain dates and times and locations. Perhaps at one point it will grow a pair of arms, reach for a stethoscope and conclude after seconds of analysing my heartbeat that I am actually nearly dead prior to my morning coffee.

And yet, what this all essentially boils down to is our generation’s preoccupation with insignificance. We live in a network of spies and informants. Ads are tailored to us based on personal information. Molly from Blackpool knows you’re spending a weekend in Tenerife because of the hashtag you used. Google stalks you at every turn based on your internet searches. Every drip of news is as necessary as the blood flowing through our veins.

It would not surprise me if soon we were diagnosing technological illnesses based on our anxiety to constantly be informed. Perhaps medication will have to be administered to those of us who are addicted to our phones. All joking aside, a period of weaning ourselves off from technology is overdue.

I am actively trying to cut down my time spent on the web before my brain disintegrates. When I find myself having to force myself to read a book – something I have known and loved ever since I can remember – I remind myself of how much I have attuned my brain to autopilot. It’s high time we saved ourselves from becoming machines.

It’s that time again: re-entering the job market

Perhaps it’s a dangerous thought, but I have to ask myself daily, ‘could I be anymore content?’ I get to spend my days walking the most beautiful streets, hanging out in cafes or parks; reading, writing, contemplating. I have time to myself. Time to enjoy not rushing from one place to the next. And yet, I have the overwhelming feeling that this is the most free I will ever be. 

It’s about that time again where I have to think about the direction that my life is taking me in. In two months I will be unemployed, again. I will have to face the depressing graduate landscape, where every organisation brandishes a banner reading ‘No room at the inn.’ I will have to face those feelings of inadequacy that I’ve dispensed of since being in Berlin. Reapplying for jobs means reentering the Rat race.

Yesterday I started going over my CV again, scolding myself for the fact that I haven’t spent a year as a journalist, civil servant, lawyer-in-training, or any of these other professional careers that I used to fancy for myself. I slept last night, badly, thinking about the nine-to-five desk job calling me, its wood scratching my fingernails and splintering my skin as I resist its pull. I’m holding onto Berlin and what it has symbolised for me personally – freedom, stillness, balance – with dear life. I fear that fighting the hoards of graduates just like myself for a single job will only derail me.

Not everyone can function on a hamster-wheel. While I have often tried to imagine myself climbing up the career ladder to reach the pot of gold of success, I’ve realised that I just can’t. I don’t have the stamina. So if not nine-to-five, if not working in administration or management or business, what else is there for me? The job market in England rendered me tired and disillusioned. I felt unskilled, worthless, betrayed by a system that propagates education as the sole ticket to success. I felt like I had nothing to offer any job, creative or otherwise.

For years, I have situated my future life in London. There’s a reason why this city is one of the most desired places to visit in the world. It’s vibrant, fast-paced, full of opportunity. It attracts the young and enterprising with its strong sense of individualism. It weaves each person into a romantic narrative of advancement: ‘young entrepreneur seeking success in the big city.’ It makes you feel part of a whole – a super-charged machine at the forefront of world advancement.

But its atmosphere is also oppressive. Floods of people get on and off the tube at ridiculous hours of the day, music booming through their headphones. Melody becomes a fugue to accompany the bitter march to their desks. Coffee becomes the taste in everyone’s mouths. Exhaustion permeates through office walls. People often seem tired, sickly. We are here for one purpose and one purpose only: to work, and to stay alive.

Perhaps this sounds dramatic. Perhaps I sound work-shy. But really, I am just trying to understand how we got here.

Coming to Germany has been a valuable experience in how other countries live. While Berlin, as a thriving economic capital of business and commerce, obviously has aspects of its working environment that are similar to London, it seems a little more free. A lot of my friends work full-time, but they have contracts that offer more flexible, sociable hours. It’s more common than not that I meet people who are freelance, who work several different jobs trying to pursue creative careers, or who work part-time and are still able to cover their bills. And this is deemed ok – normal in fact. Berlin’s prices, while rising, are significantly cheaper than London. People have disposable cash to build livelihoods. Artistic jobs are as highly prized and sought after as economic, or business-related ones. Naively, I suggest that Berliners have cracked it. People know how to enjoy working-life without the blood, sweat and tears.

For the first time, I’m realising that a life like this is entirely possible, and more importantly, justifiable. I no longer want to have to explain to myself and others that I don’t want to live my life enslaved by a desk. Despite the odds, I can’t help but suggest that there must be something more than this.

It seems that modern people have emptied themselves of their dreams. People frequently snigger at my desires to become a writer, or even to work in a job that allows me to practice creativity.

In an ideal world, I will have a job that’s varied and enjoyable, that affords me structure, discipline, the option to advance, but also freedom of mind and creativity. It’s about time that I returned to the job market, not to skin myself alive and plague my thoughts with encroaching feelings of fear or inadequacy, but to challenge myself to find a life that I want to live.

It is possible. I want to believe that this is so.

Writer’s Block – The Affliction of the Creative

It’s  five am. Late. Or maybe early. I’m sat at my desk in the dry light of the approaching morn, writing. I’m a walking cliche, I know. The wannabe desperate nomad who seeks solace from the oppressive city in a battered old notepad and pen – thoughts of great poets and her own shaky verses churning in her mind.

But while I sit and stare at the page, no words come out. It’s in moments like these where one contemplates the fleeting nature of ideas. Here I am, stressed and useless, probably (definitely) tired, just thinking about how best to manufacture inspiration. Thoughts and ideas always seem to ebb and flow. Emotions, events going on in my life, a busy schedule, all feed into my ability, or indeed, my inability, to write.

Biting my pen at the end so that the ink swells into large globules on the page, I give up. I go back to bed. I remind myself that I am not the Romantic poet who wakes at dawn to hear the birdsong, the whistling wind, the chords of the Aeolian harp, nor am I the late-night genius working by candlelight to produce his next masterpiece for the court of Henry VIII. My mind races and doesn’t deliver. Especially at five am.

The next day I’m running errands around the centre of Berlin, looking at everything with an author’s zeal, inhaling intricate details of everything I pass to aid my woeful attempt at writing. I gaze at the contours of the buildings before me, some almost beautiful in their concrete majesty. I look to the sky, incandescent in the waning light of the afternoon and to the wily shapes of trees reflected in the river. Is this poetry, or just plain bullshit? I laugh at myself, clutching my books tightly as if to impress their words onto my tired hands and down the nib of my pen, and at the failure of my corny attempt to write something that matters. Darkness approaches, the streets fill up and inspiration has fled.

Writer’s block – the affliction of the creative. You berate yourself for failing. You berate yourself for trying.

Sometimes you just cannot force it. 

We’re taught in life to banish feelings of self-doubt as a hindrance to progress. Yet, here I am, yielding to self-doubt and making up words in the process. I have produced little else but a personal essay composed of self-depreciation, but I have somehow managed to string coherent sentences together.

Writing is about identity. I haven’t quite found mine yet. A personal essayist I could perhaps say, or just someone that rambles on in the direction of something vaguely meaningful. My writing is inescapably inflected by my own experiences. My thoughts and opinions seem to infiltrate my sentences at any available moment, no matter what the topic. A personal essayist, I could say, or just a plain narcissist?

In later years when I am more wizened with age, perhaps my writing will take a different form. Perhaps I will always be overthrown by too many ideas rather than too few. A good writer understands the limits of his or her understanding of the world. The most important lesson, I think, is to stay curious. This brief essay has been nothing if not a practical exercise of self doubt, but by allowing my mind to wander, I reminded myself of my motto: ‘ideas flourish at the hands of the uninhibited.’ Trusting your own process, your own curiosity, can, at times, pay off.

And on that note, in a further absence of ideas, I leave you with a friendly platitude from Sir Philip Sidney on the subject of lapsed inspiration:

‘Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:

‘Fool!’ said my muse to me, ‘look in thy heart, and write.’

– Astrophel and Stella 1. 13-14