Third Sunday in Advent
I bought myself 1Euro Christmas lights, a short strand that hangs lopsided on the French doors in my bedroom. These kinds of little things make me happy, and turning on the radio and hearing Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. I want to say a million things to you and do not know where to start. I am not sure, even, why it seems of such grave importance to relate anything at all; I know that I send out these emails like crazy and I would probably delete them myself if I had anything better. Yet I write. Where to start? This is like my life lately, so many things in the works, so many ideas, so many plans, but this kind of paralysis that strikes me…having no idea where to start, starting no where. Manically writing lists of things, of projects, of ideas. The letter I will write to Sophie Calle, after seeing her exhibit today. The performance project Juan and I envisioned after being inspired by the work of Helmut Newton. Must ask Sophie for money and or power to bring the project to a gallery. The article with Jessica. The photo project. Finish the ‘zine. No—think of none of that now—prepare for the pieces you have to perform this week. You see, you see how it goes.
I’m preparing for three different performances in the next two weeks; I’m excited, nervous, manic. I’m an insomniac. Can’t sleep until 5 am. Then I can’t wake up. But I see more daylight than I used to. I’ve been reclusive, thrifty, alone. Very alone. Screws are loose in my brain. It’s working overtime, but not creating enough. Not finishing enough that it has started.
I just visited the coal cellar—I am a procrastinator, I waited until the sun was almost entirely down because I was relating these strange words to you—in any case, and the coal had to be brought up, we were completely out. I have to explain the coal cellar. There really is no better place to store a body. This is not a fear of basements kind of thing, I mean this place is entirely freaky and I really have to keep my wits and my sense of humor about me when I go down there, mostly because I have to go down there alone and there is no two ways abut it. First of all, it is underneath an old East Berlin apartment complex, and while there is a light down there, it only illuminates one of the hallways dimly, so there are always more, deeper, darker hallways leading elsewhere that you cannot see down and you certainly don’t want to venture down. Along the hallway are a series of wooden slated storage areas, slatted doors on each, one storage closet for each apartment. The slats block you from seeing in entirely, and yet the fact that you can see some of it, some of the blackness behind it, reminds us of the existence of space and the question of what fills it. Whereas, were you not to see behind those doors, they might simply be part of the wall and not remind us of all that space behind the wall. Behind each door, something is in there. Mostly presumably coal, but when the temperature is below freezing, doesn’t it serve as a refrigerator?
I saw the Sophie Calle Exhibit today. She inspires such fiery passion in me, both inspiration and frustration. She grasps and represents something that I have been trying to represent in Goodmorning Senor and other writings … but haven’t been able to do it nearly as well as she has. There is an installation called Exquisite Pain that documents the 89? days before her lover leaves her, over the phone. These days, during which she is traveling across Asia, are the “countdown to unhappiness” as she calls it. She documents each day with a photograph or letter and has stamped each piece with a “countdown” number—but of course, only after the events transpired, only after the countdown ended. Because during the countdown the events were events in themselves and not inextricably linked to some arbitrary date in the future. This is what she represents so beautifully, so perfectly, this arbitrariness of events, of days, of time. How no time appears to be happening as we live, until we attach some significance to it, learn to read it somehow. A day’s importance is only relative to the events we have chosen to shape our lives. The incredible trip is of little or no significance relative to the extreme pain of the loss of this lover. The days countdown … In the next room, she documents the subsequent 90 days of recovery, “90 days to happiness.” Each day, practically, though not exactly (if it had been I would have suspected a complete fabrication of the emotion, a complete objective control … and it is this which I am fascinated with, this is the link to the Fabrication Love Affair Art Project), she retells the events of that relationship as she remembers it: the story of the telegram that arrived telling her of some fake “operation.” The subsequent phone call, telling her he had found someone else, the empty hotel room, the red phone … Then, back, into the past, the circumstances of their love affair, her life prior to him, bent, in the retelling of it, to the inevitable existence of him. Etcetera … each time, with each retelling, a kind of catharsis happening, and a bending of the facts, or an inclusion or exclusion of certain facts … for instance, at times a dry edge, at times anger … until it dissipates into this feeling of unworthiness … my story is not worth telling, it is the same as any other. This is exactly what I found myself doing as I wrote out Goodmorning, Senor Alfabus. How I felt, by the end, how little right I had to talk about rape, how the story of sex was more or less the same as any other woman’s story, and yet … I could not deny, despite all that, that it was more painful than anything I had ever experienced. Calle does this so well, shows this so well … by actually making an entire piece of art (a huge photograph and scroll filling much of each wall) as a monument to each day … so that there is this physicality to the distance from the day of receiving the phone call … and we come to understand, visually, the idea of obsession, the (re)creation of narrative and the passage of the stages of grief …from the dry obsessive retelling to this sarcastic anger, to the acknowledgement of the ridiculousness of that pain.
And in the end Calle silences herself, as I did—though again, I did not achieve what she has, so clearly, so succinctly. She says ENOUGH. That is her final word on the subject of her obsession. Looking at that word enough I knew, I knew, that she had not necessarily taken 90 days to get over the lover, not necessarily reached acceptance, but rather she had reached self-disgust with the obsession. Because I know that telling ourselves enough is enough is not enough to stop the brain chatter.
For Sophie’s exhibit, therefore, I am grateful and frustrated … wanting to be more, do more. Calle on the one hand makes me feel that what I am seeking to express has validity, has profundity, if I can, indeed, express it. And yet I feel entirely frustrated that she has done it, and done it so well. Most especially, I want to bring my fabricated love affair art project to life in a way that it is not thus far.
Says the brochure: She sees her work as a means of survival. She invents her own games in order to “improve her life.” It is only in a second phase of their creation that her works enter the realm of art. For the viewers they are veritable mirrors in which they can recognize familiar emotions or even the realization of their fantasies.
With such obsessive observation of her own life (Calle has, for instance, hired private detectives to follow herself), she documents her life as it is happening; this art project … that … is occurring even as it is being fabricated.
That is the point of the fabricated love affair art project … that we not only shape our pasts with narratives based on choice, but we shape our presents as well. We create art pieces out of our lives as they are happening, these monuments to our fabricated identities that we are absolutely terrified of abandoning.
Second Sunday in Advent
I breathed a sigh of relief this morning when I started bleeding, I was nearly a month late and had starting to panic. I was thinking about all of the logistical nightmares that would have presented themselves to me if I had indeed been pregnant, in Germany, without healthcare. Thinking all this at the breakfast table, while both listening to this interview on BBC with the lawyer prosecuting Milosovich—fascinating—and reading Zembla magazine, not doing any of those things particularly well—writing, reading, listening, or drinking coffee.
Now, although I shouted for joy the minute I started bleeding this morning, I was undeniably sad, in fact, that I wasn’t pregnant, again. In fact, every month I am not pregnant again. Now if you have no desire to be pregnant at all now or any time in your life maybe this makes absolutely no sense to you, but really, it doesn’t matter if it makes sense to you, this is just my little reality, where the truth is, every single month, especially those times when I’m a little late or irregular and think for a split second, oh, maybe I’m pregnant, but it turns out I’m not, I have this strange experience of being simultaneously sad and elated.
I don’t normally talk about things being primal, I’m really a believer in nurture over nature about 99% of the time, but somehow this idea of having a child gets at this “inner desire” of mine to be a mother, an “inner desire” that truly disregards all of the practical ruminations that go on in my head about the idea of actually being pregnant. No, its not even the idea of being a mother, its about the idea of carrying something growing and alive inside my body, and the fact that I have the biological gift to do so. And wow what would that be like and how beautiful that is.
If you can pardon the metaphor (I’ll try to make the link as easy as I can; such is my challenge as a writer and I recognize it in this moment), this simultaneous sadness and elation made me think about the strange conflict in my head about losing my job at White Trash. Losing my job (because I have no legal status), in the scope of things, is “insignificant.” Right? Insignificant, insignificant like having a period and not being pregnant. And in some ways, profoundly wonderful, because in the past week I’ve been writing more, reading more, and getting performance gigs—three paid gigs in the next two weeks. A similar freedom that would be taken away by being pregnant.
But I also found that losing my job was especially hard, and it brought to the forefront my ongoing conflicts with waitressing. In some ways I think it is one of the jobs I do best, seriously. I’ve discovered that after years of doing it, nothing about it really stresses me out anymore, no customer, no messed up meal, no broken glass, nothing.
The conflict is that I have a strong identity as a waitress—though I have been told, specifically and indirectly, that I should not. That it’s not a job to lust after. Yet being told that I can’t do it, that I’m not allowed to do my job, I find myself sort of depressed. I realize that I want to move “on” (that’s the practical side of me saying that waitressing is not of professional value nor particularly lucrative) and that I should find another career that in more in line with what I actually “want” to “do.” Like getting paid to freelance—right, right, isn’t that what you’d rather do??? Or work in a nonprofit Right? Right? Isn’t that what you’d rather do? Or earn a living as a writer and a performer. Yea right.
I like waitressing culture. There’s definitely a camaraderie that develops among waitresses, for obvious reasons. There is a relationship that evolves between us and them, as is true with any profession. You do this, they do that, even if you’re (trying to) work to together. Some customers feel sorry for you—that you have this or that degree and you’re only waiting tables—and you combat that by feeling sorry for them, for living the 9 to 5 life, for not being able to stay out late, for having a screaming child that must be taken out of the restaurant so as not to disturb, for not being able to go to that restaurant at all anymore, etc … And some customers seem to feel this fascination with the service industry, like this one woman told me—here in Germany working as a curator—you know I’m so jealous of you; working at white trash is so glamorous.—Glamorous? I thought, mildly inflated. There are the men and women who hit on you, and that fills the ego, there are the shy ones that are afraid to talk to you. And then there are the people who don’t pay any attention at all and treat you like shit and then you commiserate with fellow wait-staff about what uptight losers they are, etcetera.
Here’s what else I like about waitressing culture: Waitresses generally have a sense of humor. They’re crude. They can’t hold a nine to five, or don’t want to. Most of them are artists. There is the exposure, there is this performance operating at all times, this idea of serving people while you pretend to be subservient. They know the double-edged sword I’m describing, of both hating it and loving it, of the people involved who tend to resist the office job, like physical instead of mental labor, generally have the “double” career because they spend most of the rest of their days making art or creating something else, their “real” career that they “actually” want to “do” for “real.” You get me.
Many of them are women, so there is this female culture, not only in how we relate to one another, but how we relate to customers, both using and abusing the power of their bodies. Some of us, I think after one begins to see how much initial interactions are based on appearance, use our bodies in a very intentional way; whether that means flaunting it or hiding it. My boobs touch a million people a night: What happens in the touch when my boobs touch the sleeve of a man? He feels ashamed or worried, or apologetic, or happy that I’m hitting on him … and yet none of these are true for me … I just want him to get the hell out of my way. But the power exchange, the second of contact, the idea of symbolism of the body, is fascinating.
The truth is, I got scared when I was laid off not only because of money but because I had developed such a strong identity around waitressing that I couldn’t really imagine actually doing something else and not waitress at all. And yet, to not waitress at all is what I’ve always been told is my goal.
And maybe this conflict of identity speaks to a larger truth about career and what it is that we do, who we are: We create reasons for staying in our identities, in our careers, because we can’t think of leaving them; to do so would be very difficult, even if what we do is not contributing in any way to the loving sustainability of our planet.
I mean, what if all the most seemingly “evil” business executives of the world suddenly became waitresses and all the waitresses suddenly became seemingly “evil” business executives; would the necessary identity follow?
We must create a kind of self-righteousness about what we do in order to move on with ourselves each day, whatever that profession is. I mean self-righteousness in the sense that we develop very good reasons for why it’s the best of all choices currently available in the world. Otherwise we wouldn’t stay, or we would be unhappy, very unhappy. Especially if we had formed such a strong identity and our set of choices really was so limited, that we really couldn’t get out. So, this identity, this identity gets formed, I am a waitress. I am a waitress. I am a waitress. It actually gets strengthened whenever anyone tells me “you’re not a waitress, Katie, you’re a writer, you’re an artist, you’re an intellectual.” I mean, am I anymore any of those things than I am a waitress? No, I don’t think so, really. And yet, yet! I believe them, there is some part of me that says, Katie, you’ve got to “be” something else … and get paid for it.
So to have my identity taken away presents an elation, the freedom of choice, the freedom to be anything. And yet it is terribly sad, to be ripped of an identity, and I wonder, is this really what I enjoy best? This conflict is related to being not pregnant every single month.
… Which is related to something larger that I’ve been thinking about. That is, being the master of my own universe, the masters of our own universes. And by this I am not talking about that old “the world is my oyster” or the American Dream thing, where we have the power to be whatever we want by working at it, step by step, day by day, carefully and diligently.
I’m talking about a mental moment. I’m talking about deciding that something be true and then creating it so in that moment. I’m talking about fabrication of “reality.” I’m talking about what I’ve been calling the fabricated love affair art project before I even knew what I was talking about. I’m talking about the decision to become an identity. I’m talking about the decision to create a story for ourselves out of the present. For example, to become an identity one has not been before, to be powerful, to become in love, to mourn, to not mourn, to love one’s family, to find one’s life partner, to have a great idea, to be cruel, to be terrible, to be empathetic, to be powerful, to be shy. To be an activist, to be an artist, to be an intellectual, to be a waitress. I’m talking about having authority over reality. I’m talking about the decision to “be” desirable, the decision to look someone in the eye, and choose what the relationship will be. Are you scared of them? Are they scared of you? Do they want you? Do they hate you? Is it possible merely to decide what the reality is whether or not the reality is that or not? Can you override all of the first clues and simply decide what the relationship will be? Can you create fictional stories using your present life and then make them so? I think so. We do it with the past. Can you start your life over? Can you start from the beginning and create an entirely new identity in the moment. I mean, can a business executive sit down and decide in a mental moment to become a waitress, in the sense of owning that identity.
“The fact is, I always felt like an outsider in school and in my town, a person who was, well, odd. I think this was both an inner and outer reality. Because I felt it, people sensed it and treated me accordingly.”
I guess what I’m saying is that not only do we create narratives about our past, looking at past events, sewing them together in a particular order and creating a particular story about them from the events given, but that we could have equally used those same events and told a different story, or chosen different events and told a different narrative. I think that we equally have the power to narrate our future, and I mean this very seriously, or our present. I think at times things “develop” into something we never thought they would be, but we also choose what they will be, what symbol they will represent to us. We categorize unfamiliar events and people and things the minute they enter our lives. We decide.
Some of us who are writing stories, I mean literally writing stories down, writers by profession, live lives that create great stories, and we live the stories in order to tell them, some of us to more or less extent. But honestly I don’t think its just “writers”—whoever they are—who do this. I think we all do. And what happens, when we really jump, when we really decide to forget all of the perceived or real boundaries stopping us from doing something? As Jrock so eloquently put it, what happens when we stop caring if our hair matches our outfit? What does that allow us to do? What happens when we allow ourselves to believe that its okay to have a tattoo running down the back of our legs even if we do want to wear stockings with a line down the back that will undoubtedly not be parallel with the one tattooed on our skin? Irrelevant, you say? Superficial?
Okay, then, what if we decide that material possessions no longer have meaning for us. I don’t mean arrive at that conclusion, after years of study. I mean, decide. I mean, give away all of our possessions and declare voluntary poverty and then work entirely in volunteer positions. Cut out of the system entirely. Squat in an abandoned house, dumpster dive for food, and …
In a sense I am talking about disconnecting entirely from our fears. Identifying what the fear is and then intentionally jumping into it. I mean little fears, like the fear of raising your hand to be a volunteer … and larger fears, like living in a house and having a husband and children and not being a waitress. Or really big fears, for instance recognizing that we are at once worthless and worthy. What happens when, in a mental moment we jump into the exact opposite philosophical position we once had. I’m not talking about linear or Hegelian development, I’m talking about the development that has no past other than the moment of its inception.
Choosing a life. Creating a life out of the choice, whatever it be. Is this possible for us? Fabricated art projects. The art project of life. Who’s in on it with me? Each of us are involved in the fabricated love affair art project called life, the love affair being with our identities and fears that to some extent we have chosen for ourselves, that can be learned and un learned, chosen and created. The fears involved with the identities we have chosen, with the identities we have not chosen but would like to own, with the identities that we are afraid to own. All of these complexities seem to belong in our art project.
What happens when we think of life as an art project, does it suddenly get less real? Or more so? I got started thinking about this standing up in front of all those people in white trash, naked. That was an interesting exercise in breaking through my personal taboo as well as social taboo. The exposure of my body was purposeful, was fabricated, and was created in a sense for the art project, the one where my body gets recreated, (re)presented in the moment for everyone’s personal art project. And my own. Each of our bodies gets created and recreated in the moment for each other’s personal art projects we’ve got going on, even if we don’t think of them as such.
Those “projects” could be the power of being taken over, of the power of desire, of attraction, of the power that the body symbolizes for us, perhaps some identification with the past, with a “fabricated” narrative of our past, of some story we have been told about those particular types of bodies, of their relevance to our lives. What about the male body, of the dick, or of the vagina, and the sexual significance each or either carries with it; all of the people we have fucked or not; our experiences of sexuality, looming or not. There is so much in the moment of body to body, of orb to orb, of art project to art project facing one another, the various fabrications each of us have designed for ourselves, our various universes you could say, colliding, as they always do.
I want to get divorced and then married and then be celibate and then have a baby and then get pregnant and then swear off men and then be a lesbian and then be a child and then die and then become religious and then be worshipped as religious and then become a writer and write about it all. There are so many different women I want to be. My fear is that I won’t get around to being all of them.
This morning I read about a little girl who placed an advertisement in her local paper at age 14 that declared, “I’m going to become an author when I grow up.”
So I might ask, is this a strange quality belonging only to writers, that they believe they are the masters of their own universes through the mere flick of their pen or the flick of a switch inside their brains? Is it only “authors” who so strongly believe that their futures can be fabricated and they will follow; only writers who not only create stories about the past but about the future? Who are these writers? Bring them out, let me see them. Which one of you is a writer? And which one of you is not? Why?
I know, I know, perhaps this is true for some people, but not for you. Some people like the author of this rambling text. Perhaps this is true for people unlike you, people who had either no direction or too much privilege. But for you, you achieved various things in your life step by step and were forced, more or less, into certain directions and there was no choosing about it.
First Sunday in Advent
It is the first Sunday in Advent and I have been meaning to write about the word sacred; another thing still left undone. I attempt to launch into it. So here I am, waiting for my laundry to dry, and it’s true that there is something about the word sacred that struck me to begin writing, something about what I consider to be its misuse. And I started writing, trying to get to the bottom of it, this word sacred, and why it’s been misused. Or, who really cares, Katie, about misuse, its unfair to use that word, that’s just blaming. I suppose I mean that I want to reclaim the word, let me put it like that.
I stare at my writing. Stop for a moment. Then I go back to reading Cubana, Contemporary Fiction by Cuban Women and low and behold there in the text is the example I am looking for, just staring up at me as though it had been divinely planted there. “Maybe, without knowing it, I had been looking for a reader. Maritza seemed so interested, she encouraged me so much, that I couldn’t resist the temptation to show her those entries in spite of the fact that, until then, I’d considered my diary sacred and inviolable. I kept it hidden under my pillow.”
This—sacred coupled with diary and secret and hidden and inviolable—is exactly the kind of meaning of sacred I want to undo. I mean, I want to find a reader for the diary, I encourage her to do it, though she is just a fictional character and I am just a reader of this reading of the diary. There’s a myth, I think, that what is sacred shouldn’t be touched … that it should be kept “clean” and “pure” and whatever those things have come to mean as a result of the invention of soap and Puritanism and the Victorian age.
I think sacred means we should engage; that’s what sacred means to me. Love is sacred; engage with it. Engage with your lover, above all communicate. Be direct. Take risks. Love isn’t clean or even-tempered. Let yourself go to the most vulnerable place, fight it out and then make up. Sex is sacred, engage with it. Try new positions, new people, push your limits, learn about your body, masturbate, fuck your boy/girl-friend in the ass. Let them fuck you in the ass. Have sex with your friends, make love to someone of your own gender, at least once. Forget everything you thought you knew about your sexuality and laws of attraction and then start over. At least once. Fear is sacred; engage with it. Go to the scariest places … pretend to be something “you are not” and then become it. Books are sacred…engage with them. I’ve had so many people tell me they would never think of writing on my manuscript. I know they think they are being reverent, but I secretly resent that. Writing is meant to be engaged with, because it is sacred. Write in books, underline them, share them. Give them away. Tell the author what you think. What you really think. School them when they’re wrong. School me when I’m wrong—please. God is sacred, engage with God—engage with the divine. Meditate, spend time with yourself and the divine, your own divine within you. Music is sacred; engage with it. Listen to it live, fucking rage off the hook dance to it. If it takes drugs to engage, fine. But if drugs make you disengage, stay away. Be honest about it. Obsess about a song. Play it until the CD scratches, learn all the lyrics and sing them at the top of your lungs on public transportation. That’s Katie’s Spontaneous Manifesto II written at the Laundromat in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, while waiting for the clothes to dry. Engage with me. Tell me I’m wrong.