Full Square

We all have our cycles. Our idiosyncrasies lead us to certain patterns. It is our job to learn from the ebb and flow that is inherent throughout the mortal coil. Some struggle with becoming well-rounded despite the need to adapt to the unexpected.

For me, my life does not run in a circle but more of a quadrilateral. At times it feels as though I am a remote controlled car, heading in straight lines of varying lengths and when I reach the end I keep pushing against the obstruction until inertia takes over and my course turns down another straight line. I am no stranger to hurdles whether spawned by external or internal forces.

Each line of my square relates to each other and they are all connected. Each sharp turn is another beginning but yet an extension of the previous line. There is no steady standard. I am creating a box.

This pilgrimage to crazy Berlin has been a humbling experience as well as a validating one. I have exceeded my own expectations and the iota of doubt regarding my propensity for success has dissipated. This rite of passage has been an imperative part of my emotional and artistic evolution, one that is indelibly etched into my life force.

Today I stand at an inexplicable crossroad as I succumb to ambivalence once again. It is uncharacteristic for me to rely on the urges of my id though it builds so much character for me. To relinquish oneself from the confines of societal standards is a great but dubious feat indeed. It is like climbing high without a safety net.

Despite the complications of technical details regarding my sojourn, I have managed to adapt to this leap-before-you-look lifestyle. I would be lying if I said I had little regret and that this wasn’t a maddening experience. Throughout my life I have become accustomed to walking with one foot in front of the other and now I am floating in this amorphous procedure.

I think back to the early inspirations of my urgency to create art. This fodder is a constant reminder of why it is that I do what I do. Though life is my biggest muse, I gave myself the opportunity to be stripped away from my comfort zone and experience a world anew; there have been so many benefits.

Through this ethnographic experience, I have developed even more fuel for my aesthetic arsenal. What I once thought was a Renaissance here in Berlin I now know is more of a way of life. Art is an age-old entity and creativity is part of our DNA. Those who have chosen to exploit this gift are brave and cursed, and they are a vital part of our world culture. They are abundant here and very zealously drawn to this city.

Recently I went to a cultural event called The Living Room Festival. The show took place in a flat that boasted a film screening and a live dance performance. Before the choreographer/dancer began his work in front of a highly varied audience that sat on blankets in the empty living room, he talked of that particular experience taking him back to his roots as so many of his performance pieces had their birth in his living room.

It took me back to my earliest days where dance was created in front of mirrors in my bed room and other parts of the house. I would also gather my friends in my front yard or in the playground, boom box blasting, teaching them dance steps I couldn’t bear to keep to myself for much longer. I thought of all the times I watched music videos on MTV and learned the choreography on the living room carpet. And then in high school I would treat my friends to private performances in my living room, dancing out what I thought was my own personal genius, my movement a gift to them. Then in college, with head phones on, I would compose dances for class in my small dorm room, and then when I started working on my own, again, my small apartment became my dance studio.

There are times when I am so inspired I feel like I could implode if I don’t let the dance out. While waiting for trains and buses, my feet move on autopilot, composing the next big thing. At parties, the music always cajoles my body into swinging with the beat. My artistic athleticism is always coming out of myself, even when I am sitting still. I might stretch one way or another and think of the movement structure like a dancer and this could become the motif for my next work.

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I now have the next major piece for a work in my head. There have been a lot of catalysts for this idea and part of my primary function of coming to Germany was to come up with a well-researched proposal for a dance work in order to seek funding for development.

What started as a big idea has been narrowed down. I am no stranger to larger than life ideas when it comes to my work but through conversations, writing and research, I’ve managed to come up with this abstract:

Project Title: Diaspora
Artistic investigation of the aesthetic influences caused by ethnic minority immigration in Berlin from the 1920s-1940s.

Project Description:
This dance theater project will engage in a thorough investigation of the effects of cultural integration in Berlin, Germany pre and post WWII. More specifically, the final performance work will be a modern narrative of the histories of contributions of black people to the cultural landscape of the arts in Berlin. Through examination of the many styles of dance, theater and music that have been exploited in Berlin through migration of blacks from Africa and America and the cultural contexts of its origins, the project will develop a group of dancers who will become versed in the techniques utilized in the corresponding forms. Furthermore, through the exploratory research of the styles using historiography and other methods, the training program of the dancers and the choreography will establish a new, original vocabulary melding historical styles with traditional and contemporary dance motifs.

Though much of this could use some grammatical correction, syntax adjustment, and a more clear point of view, it has been quite a beast for me to narrow it down this much. I love a challenge, and so much of what I want to explore is undocumented evidence of black European history. I am especially interested in the black victims of the holocaust whether it is those that fled Berlin during the war or that were held in concentration camps. The most compelling literature I found involves the “Rhineland Bastards” (children of white German women who were impregnated by black soldiers during the war) who were sterilized.

The other big issue is whether or not to make this a solo piece. I hate solo works, I think it is Narcissistic and masturbatory to engage in a one-man show. Also, from an audience point of view, it can be quite boring to watch the same person on stage for over an hour. Though, I keep getting this very clear image of how I want the show to start if I were to do it alone or have another dancer perform this work. The trouble is, there are so many facets of this (I will be focusing on Jazz mostly) that it would be a shame not to have big composed works with a variety of dancers in order to make a full portrait of the stories I want to tell.

I have other ideas for new works that the culture of Berlin has much blame for. These are not only dance works, but written pieces as well.

Right now I am undergoing some self-imposed scrutiny for the technical details of my trip here. It is like I threw a proverbial boomerang and I am back to square one. I hate not knowing what stands before me, though the mystery is alluring.

I have a lot of hope though I am losing my faith. It is my goal to come back home to Philly to regroup but the chore is proving to be somewhat of an impossibility. I can’t help but to be seduced by the ideas seething in my soul, but my pragmatism is starting to take over. I’ve made another sharp turn and have to start over again, not knowing how far this line will take me.

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No Home Like a Place

I have never been a fan of doing anything I’m not good at.

Up until now I didn’t believe the adage that people create their own problems. I have one of those Type A personalities that strives in adversity and loves a good challenge. I am not sure if it is wise to rock the boat during smooth sailing, but I can believe that “life’s best lessons are learned at the worst times.”

It is no wonder then that I am the happiest I have ever been or at least that I have been in a very long time. Despite what some would call abject destitution, there really is nowhere to go but up. I’m lying restlessly in the bed that I made.

The opportunities for me here in Berlin are greater than I ever thought possible. After feeling my way around a few reputable networks, I know that a good amount of tenacity and creativity could take me very far. I am becoming more adept in selling myself. What I once thought was a curse of having so many genre avenues has proved to be an auspicious part of my artistic arsenal; there is no more reason to limit myself. The best part is, with all these stories that are starting to sound the same, the struggle is part of the adventure, and ambition is rewarded well here.

Many believe in me without knowing me for very long. There are some that are now familiar with my work but they see the passion oozing out of me to do what I love and what I’m good at. I have made some great connections here and what I know will be life-long friends. Everyone knows someone I “just have to meet” and because this renaissance is so vibrant here, I am never far from another chance to find a suitable platform for my work.

I came across a tremendous opportunity to have my own dance studio here to use for classes or developing my own work. It is a ridiculously low price considering the economic climate and I’d be a fool to pass it up. It is not far from serendipity, this venture, and if I was a little less hooked on logic, I’d say that I am very “lucky”. I know that if I take this on, it has great potential and could be a solid start to establishing myself here in fair Berlin.

The biggest challenge right now is of course money. Part of me wants to return back to Philadelphia and get a grip on saving enough to start over here with ample resources now that I know the potential. The second biggest challenge is my obtaining an artist freelance work permit. With the looming expiration date of my tourist visa, this is something that is haunting me day and night. I have heard varying stories of the ways people have gone about getting their permits and it always seems to work out. Though I am fine with all the paperwork I have to produce and the procedure, it is a struggle getting help for some technical issues because there is a widespread fear of German bureaucracy here which has led to me not being able to register a valid address, the first step in the process. Because I don’t have my own rental contract, I can’t apply for my permit.

All the specifics aside, I don’t want to leave Berlin and I wouldn’t mind finding refuge somewhere else in Europe if things don’t come together here. I am still dealing with some issues back home and it would be nice if I could travel back and forth.

I miss Philly so hard. Though I am emotionally plagued by the current sociopolitical discourse in the USA, I miss those technical comforts of home i.e. health insurance, an apartment and a steady paycheck. Naturally I miss my friends even though we were pretty spread out in the first place, but being in the same country is much different than being all the way over here in Germany.

I never took Philly for granted. The local color is blinding, I miss how gritty it is. I miss the food. How I long for the smell of grease truck food and wet trash…and ass. Walking the streets of Berlin I never see dirty diapers or empty drug baggies or chicken bones or random pieces of hair weave laying on the ground. These were a few of my favorite things. The small town city aspect had its pros and cons. It was nice to go out and always run into someone you know or that you knew of. The architecture, the annoying tourists, the bike rides, the martinis, the burgers, The Special, the beards, the tattoos, the parks, the drunken dancing, the strangers telling you how they feel about everything. It really is a great place to be and I’d be hard pressed to find any regret for coming back home.

I lived on the east coast my entire life. It has been nice to make a big leap somewhere else and discover so many things about myself and a different culture. There is no rat race here, and it has its benefits and pitfalls. No matter the horror stories and the uncertainty, there is a laid back love of life here that I have not found anywhere else in the world. Without pretention, this city really welcomes its friends, and in every neighborhood there is a reason to celebrate. It is so easy and fashionable here. As much as I don’t want to leave it up to fate, I know that no matter where I end up, Berlin will have a very special place in my heart.

Poor But Sexy

There have been so many artists that have left everything behind to follow their dreams. Though much of the experience is a waking nightmare through reality, there is the necessity of a free spirit that keeps driving them to new destinations. Without a lot of foresight or planning, they uproot their lives as if they are shedding a cocoon, in search of a vast and comfortable place for their talent to flourish.

No matter the cost (that many can’t afford) they come in droves to the prestigious metropolises not suitable for the meek. All that is valuable is stored tight in their aspiring minds, with no need for the past, only the almost certainly better future. Leaving home is not about home at all really. Comfort and happiness manifests itself in other ways when ambition is your soul mate.

So many of the greats have set out on this journey, freeing themselves from the confines of desolate, bourgeois societies. It is hard not to feel trapped if you are not suffocated by aesthetics and culture, this affliction withstands the test of time. We are all the proverbial moths looking for the bright sweet heat of the flame, though it seems – many of us are sperm fighting over an egg.

It was a little over ten years ago when I first had my heart set on New York City. I was rife with young wisdom and obligatory naivete and so desperately wanted the clichéd dream. On one hand, the timing was perfect, after half finishing college and blindly seeing the world as my oyster. There was nothing holding me back. I had arranged for a cheap place to stay and I got hired to work for the most meager of wages at a thrift store, the bridge was opened. I didn’t cross it.

I can’t say if I regret my decision or not. To this day I still feel as though New York is a big challenge, primarily for the competition and the obvious monetary demands it takes to succeed there. Even with the dreaded and inevitable nails in the coffin to the resilient city, it has not lost the luster in my eyes.

Many years later, I thought again, “It’s time.” But when I was ready, I faltered and I couldn’t help but to succumb to doubt. Again, I had the opportunity to live in a reasonable place and find reasonable work, definitely a fortunate square one, but I wasn’t convinced that this was the proper way.

I have wondered how and why artists torture themselves with this ever present need to be “where it’s at”. It is no secret that in this genre of business it is 40% who you know, 20% talent and 40% who you know. Networking is key in most industries and with the newest bout of technological revolution, a keen understanding of new methods in communication is vital to survival in almost any field.

It is amazing to me that so many people just do it. They get up and go at a moment’s notice, and even if they don’t attain the hype they crave, they are still happy and most importantly, they survive.

I have never been a fan of living outside of my means which is why I am infamous for having 2 or more jobs at a time in order to fulfill my penchant for enjoying some of the finer things in life. I enjoy fine dining, having a nice apartment with nice things, the more than occasional glass of wine, and a fair amount of entertainment. Without this, I would not have the flora and fauna in my life to make art.

When I visited Berlin last year, I fell in love with the city, just as I did when I first met Manhattan. There was a cultural comfort and the way of life as told by the locals was alluring in so many ways. The manifest destiny of opportunity and affordable living catalyzed my desire to be here and after much ambivalence and arguing with id, I made the journey.

Everyone here is from somewhere else. The native Berliners are a rare and precious breed and they too have captivating stories about how they never want to leave. The stories all sound the same. Having met a plethora of artists, I am convinced and confused knowing that I made the right decision, but wondering if the historic lifestyle is fit for me.

Without income but with an unruly zeal, I have managed to survive in the most conventional definition of the term. Most everyone is living without much money and are desperately scrambling for the next gig in hopes of just maintaining the necessities to life in order to keep playing in the big pond of little fish.

I hear about the struggles and the intrigue but everyone is so happy to be here. The joie de vivre that spans across most of Europe is infectious and though many live day-to-day there is still that looming question of “What are you doing with your life?”

There are things that I miss about my American life. I will never know how I managed living the way I did, with two jobs, a healthy social life, a burgeoning artistic career and a time consuming commitment to be a slave to my writing in the background. Though there was the evolving proximity of success, there was the augmenting effects of growing up; many of my long-term friends were moving away. My support system has always revolved around them. Luckily in this day and age we have the internet. I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t stay in contact with them.

Berlin is like a time warp in a way. It seems as though everyone is here for the obvious reason and despite the concern of worldly possessions, no one has any desire to conform to the rat race life that kills the ambition of American artists at an alarming rate.

I have been fortunate enough to find a new support system here in Germany that has been most helpful to me in making arrangements for my survival. There are fair but strict rules set in place regarding the legality of residency and work here, and it is a daunting process.

Regrettably (or not) I have been spending way too much time on this film that I won’t see a return from for at least 6 months. Though I love the project and it has been a great experience, it has kept me from seeking out more sustainable means of income and professional advancement. In the past two weeks I have had several things fall through that have made my future here look almost impossible, but still, everyone has faith in me.

Perhaps it is time to move on to Paris, or maybe back home. This disposition of mine is something I am not accustomed to. Though it was a tumultuous struggle back home, having to do so much for so little but still having just enough room to keep going, I am starting to reconsider toughing it out for a few more years until I can make it to New York City.

Everyone I meet believes in me and thinks that it is great that I did this. I think about the folks back home I have met over the years while working in stuffy offices and dead-end customer service jobs. Their eyes would light up with envy and admiration for my expressive resolutions to be a consummate artist. “Don’t give up on your dreams like I did,” they would remind me. Over and over again.

There is always someone I should meet here and the networking opportunities are great. Though sometimes my days are filled with being disappointed by empty promises and harebrained suggestions, I know everyone has my best interest in mind. It has always been my way to depend on myself, so reaching out for help is not the most viable option, no matter how much I try not to alienate the kindness of others.

I have a week left of shooting and some things working in the background. It will very much be the 11th hour next week when I am scrambling to try to make this venture work. I really don’t want to leave Berlin but I don’t want to live and work like this. I am not the kind of artist that is fine with living off of bread and cheese and box wine, going to bars bumming cigarettes and beers, working on projects that I don’t really believe in…I’ve come too far to go down that path.

There is good news, though at times it is hard to realize. I am thankful for my friends here. Many of them are quite accomplished in their own right. After a stint of art openings I went to the week before last, I was inundated with an abominable depression spawned by envy. There are so many talented people here. It is inspiring.

There are all these things that we crave in life. A great career, good health, and love. Let’s not talk about love. I’m distracted enough as it is.

Ratherland

There is still a wall in Berlin.
It does not split the city in two.
Yet still a structure built for destruction.

The vast concrete partition,
Lies between the life and death –
The entity that is ambition.

So they say the sky hangs low.
And there is no cold like this cold.
Still the warmth remains.

You must look hard enough,
From inside and from outside.
Never knowing what you seek to find.

The smiles are downturned and true.
Everyone is happiest here.
And they want to know the best of you.

The music sounds louder.
The food tastes more pungent.
The life is more amorphous.

We are all from somewhere else.
There is no other place here.
As so it is in rather land.

Pushing up against the city –
The overcrowded nest.
Fall get back up again. Repeat. Repeat.