I showed that text to a German friend the other day, and the response I got was: “How cute! I mean, you can tell that you’re not a native speaker, but it’s quite endearing!” Not really the critique I had hoped for, if I’m honest. I’m not the next Günter Grass? The horror. I thought I was perfect.
It seems clear that a lot more work than a brain-splitting week of cramming is needed to master anything approaching sophistication in that language. And now my head hurts a lot and German words look like soup. I’ve done it, though -- burst through whatever barrier had shamed me into hiding my shoddy German grammar from the world. Felt like the first time I recorded myself playing the flute after basically not touching it for a decade. What an amateur. Embarrassingly uncontrolled tone. And kind of how I felt when I came back to Germany after Hong Kong and struggled to string a sentence together. “This should feel like breathing for you. This is who you are,” were the words rattling in my head.
Well, who we are changes, some things come with those permutations, other things fall away. The devil that angrily flogs me and my disobedient flute-playing fingers (still too inefficiently bouncing off the keys…) has lost some of his thrall, and I’m learning to find, hold on to, stretch shamelessly at the contours of the pleasure that comes with this devotion to craft. To have this power to turn breathe into something magical. It’s a really nice thing to have. Like an old friend who always reappears to celebrate and commiserate, provided you treat them with the right level of respect and attention.
I was talking to a friend, lately, about loneliness. She’s a bit of an interloper, like me, struggles sometimes with the yoga world she’s part of. “One of the girls said something like ‘nobody has to feel lonely, you can always choose to come closer to people. Such bullshit, sometimes I just feel lonely and I can’t help it.” I commiserated. Sometimes we all feel lonely and we can’t help it. I kind of think that’s why art exists, it fills those scary spaces between us and sustains us in our fragile places. Me and Bach vibing, me digging his arpeggios, him telling me he digs my richness of tone but could I please pay closer attention to the time signatures and not make up my own. Yeah I just read that back and it does rhyme. To be honest I am not sure Bach would approve of me if we did actually get close.
What he’d think about the vegetables I forget about, left to rot in the fridge, or the fact that in most ways and about most things I’m really just winging it and my success rate is really changeable but what would drive me even more nuts is the threat of doing the same thing each ad finitum (unless it is Sonata BWV 1034, because Bach, that one’s a total banger), the fact that I probably shouldn’t enjoy trespassing and asking people uncomfortable and annoying questions as much as I do, the fact that a lot of things still scare and embarrass me much more than I want them to, the fact that there’s still this ridiculously needy child inside me that I can only really placate with compulsive scrolling of fat animal pictures. The fact that my training this month (averaging two to three hours per day sometimes) churned up too much of an edge, that I had to dial it down and let the adrenaline leave me.
See, the devil stalks my gym sessions too. Loves the point where pain alchemises itself into exhilaration. Loves the power and strength coursing through my body when I’m up in its jam like that, loves the complete abnegation of anything else mattering in that moment. Loves how swiftly those fast twitch muscles fire, that acceleration, divine coordination. Loves the nod of respect from fellow athletes when they see that you're not pissing about. Loves all these new neurological pathways formed about what this body, this mind can do when they are working in sync with one another towards goals that satisfy us both. Me and the devil. Still, give the devil all your power and a breakdown is imminent.
Strained my back on a smith machine of all things, got far too jumpy, my body taking on something of its Hong Kong charge, got far to rambunctious with my box jumps (hip extension on point, though), so have self-prescribed a deload week and taken a foot of gas on the lactic-acid inducing conditioning side of things. To fill the time I’ve been sociable. The kind of social encounters you need to have when you’ve gone so far into your own head you think you’re the only one who has problems or insecurities and find out they’re everywhere. One of my friends grows things that make you go sparkly, and had me try some. Revolutionary. At these doses your brain is like a technicolour playground of joy and creativity, but with no real loss of control over your critical faculties. Or your physiological ones. Picked my flute and wacked out my hardest piece, and guess what? Those fingers were on fire, not a single glitch (OK, so maybe my diaphragm should have been better controlled, the recording’s a little bit too bombastic for my taste, but anyway…)
Obviously I will be exploring these insights on the mat, when I’m ready, and, well, many other arenas as I play with forging new neural pathways that replace the old. If we want to carry on with our quite lazy religious metaphor: In these iterations, I am no longer the devil’s slave, I’m its master.
Leave a Reply.
A Berlin-based writer engages in the study of belonging and in-between places after years spent faraway from 'home'.