Writing is fighting

 

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

-Ernest Hemingway

SO! Where were we…? Oh, right!

Because 2018 was an absolute nightmare, I ended the year writing from a bunker in the woods surrounding Heidelberg which, as far as New Year celebrations go, was probably the best idea I’ve ever had. But when I re-emerged into 2019, I was still licking my wounds, and feeling uncertain about the year ahead. An extra confidence boost was needed. Now, I’m not a superstitious person by nature, but my comedy wife, Mimi, is. And she’d sometimes warn me about “the evil eye” being fixed on me for being too open about my success. I know, I know…it sounds silly. Myths from the Middle-East or Middle Asia probably won’t pass the scientific method test, but science also tells us that when people have been through very traumatic life events, they try to make sense of it in non-scientific ways. Some people use religion, and I was like…

been there done that

And despite the good intentions of friends who offered to pray for me, I decided to give a hard pass to round two. So barring a charismatic cult leader, a little ancient myth and folklore seemed like a reasonable alternative. As a speculative fiction writer, one of my greatest sources of inspiration is ancient mythology, because of the stories–which, in case you didn’t know, inform everything from modern-day democracy to comic books and Hollywood Movies. Atheism is great and all, but a little boring when you consider that it leaves very little room for storytelling unless you want to talk about the exciting world of non-wilful scientific experimentation on ethnic minorities, women, and LGBT+ people. And I can’t help but feel that, in Germany, that subject might polarize a few people.

So when Mimi offered to send me a pendant and a bracelet in the mail to keep me safe from the evil eye, I was like…

bring it

In fact, why stop there? Since my birthday is in February, which is when I can expect my annual package from Shouko, I asked her to send a charm for good fortune from Japan, and she did–from the Suo Hanaoka shrine, right up the street from where I used to live.

hanaoka shrine
Once upon a time, in a Japanese prefecture far, far away…

My parcel from Australia eventually arrived–at the Zollamt in Marzahn, where I watched German custom officials who had confiscated Mimi’s gift because of her Syrian last name used gloved hands to handle a glass bracelet and pendant to determine whether or not it posed a terrorist threat to the communist housing blocks in the heart of a neighbourhood that voted for Germany’s rising Neo-Nazi party, the AfD. When I left the building I put them on immediately, and the fact that I got out of there without being accosted by a skinhead is, in my opinion, a testament to the power of protection that they were working already. And when Shouko’s parcel also arrived with not one, but TWO charms, I started leaving my flat in the mornings covered in my protective bling, ready to take on the year ahead like a super hero in her vibranium body suit.

come at me

All I wanted was a little bit of extra confidence. And whether it was the charms, the pendant, the bracelet, or just the love of two people who live on the other side of the world from two places I used to call home…it worked. Say what you will, but it worked. I started feeling stronger again.

But something else was bugging me–and it was me.

At the end of 2018–I think it was the end of 2018, anyway–I had a major cull of people I used to know when I lived in Australia from my Facebook page for being racist and awful. This was a theme that had been going on pretty much all year (and some of the year before). It got so bad that several people who I don’t know very well at all slid into my DMs out of serious concern to ask me what the fuck I was doing with my time, and what was it all worth in the end, if it turned my Facebook page into a circus of stupidity?

I gotta be honest–I don’t know what I was doing. Being stubborn? Sure. But I wasn’t doing anything that anyone else didn’t do–post articles that seem important, share experiences in moments of inspiration, and keeping it on my page–rather than seeking out arguments with other people on theirs. When I say that Germany is a racist country, the response is normally like:

well yeah

When I say that the US is a racist place, the response is like:

obviously

But when it comes to Australia, if anyone points out racism in any way, the response is:

burn the witch

It’s kinda hilarious given that all three countries have employed genocide, slavery, systemic racist policies and legislation that continue to support white supremacy there (here) today. But maybe the difference is that Australia is still bound root, leaf, and twig to its colonial identity because it still cowers in the shadow of the UK as a Commonwealth, and this has created a kind of fragility that treats any legitimate criticism as an attack on its national identity. I saw that first hand splashed all over my Facebook wall. Chances are, you did too.

One person who I did delete, let’s call him G.S. (Giant Shithead) even snuck onto my LinkedIn page to tell me to remove the work I’ve done for him from my profile since “I delete people who disagree with me.” And he used fancy legal jargon that he no doubt didn’t understand to imply he could possibly take legal action against me if I didn’t. All kinda hilarious and pathetic. But mostly because the whole concept of the silo is stupid to begin with, and conveniently weaponized by people who don’t read enough to make people listen to their ignorance so that we can all be dumbed down by association.

We–all of us–surround ourselves with people who share our views and values. That goes to the core of community building. Even cave men hung out with other cave men who were equally invested in hunting a woolly mammoth for its fur and fat, because it made surviving that whole Ice Age thing just a tad bit easier. My best friends are food-loving raging feminists, well-travelled radical progressives, comedians who get high off of that new book smell, and brooding intellectuals who are deeply invested in subverting our problematic pasts to become better people–just like me. G.S.’s best friends are small, leather-faced, closed-minded, anti-intellectual racists with multiple failed businesses and marriages–just like him.

See? We all live in silos! It’s just that some have better views than others.

see?

My friends were right. There was no point in having these discussions. But they continued to haunt me–online and off. At work, and in relationships. And for some reason, I just couldn’t walk away. I didn’t seek them out by any means, but when they came for me, I couldn’t back down. I wanted to be seen as the “good intellectual,” who could have well-reasoned debates in the hopes of enlightening people, since opponents on the right are always complaining about being “cancelled” by people on the left–another myth. But with the hysteria and name calling and insults being flung around by people who think it’s a good idea to dehumanize asylum seekers and deny rape culture, I didn’t see myself as “cancelling conservatives.” I was banishing triggered snowflakes back to their safe spaces–and that’s a language I felt they could understand.

My (new) therapist said something to me that really resonated recently. She said that compassion isn’t what we think it is. It isn’t sympathy or concern or the need to help people out of bad situations or harmful thinking. It’s the space to let people be who they really are. Not that I would call what my approach used to be “compassionate,” but it’s a conversation that applies to online arguments as well.

I know this will sound arrogant, but it’s not often that someone tells me something that I haven’t already considered. I know that I don’t know everything…like, I know that intellectually…just like I don’t know how quantum physics works, or nanotechnology, or fitted sheets, but I also know that, while everyone around me started to tear their hair out and shake their fists at the flying spaghetti monster in the sky and scream WHY WHY WHY ARE WHITE SUPREMACISTS AND CORPORATE PSYCHOPATHS AND RELIGIOUS WING NUTS RUNNING MY GOVERNMENT? I’ve been over here like…

told ya.gif

The whoooole time.

And it doesn’t just apply to politics. It applies to your ain’t shit boyfriends, your ain’t shit girlfriends, your ain’t shit gender nonconforming fuck-people who play games with your heart like it was a ping pong ball and your Instagram inbox is the blood-coated table. It applies to your insecure bosses who make all kinds of idiotic micro-aggressions like publicly announcing in a company-wide meeting that Black people don’t need to wear sunscreen and then doubling down by sending you articles when any credible dermatologist would tell her to “No, seriously, STFU right now,” and when you confront her privately in an even, calm, rehearsed voice, she begins to blame everything except her racist thinking and cry so hard that you have to get her tissues when what you really want to do is…

rupaulslap

…Not speaking from experience or anything. Just a random example.

And my approach used to be the same–for politics and personal matters all around. I tried reason. I tried to converse with people who have no interest in having a constructive dialogue, and when I stop to think about all the time and energy I’ve wasted along the way, it scares me. In my mind, I wasn’t trying to change anyone. I was trying to correct thinking that I saw as harmful and destructive on a wider scale…

But, it doesn’t work.

I know what you’re thinking.

duhh

But stupid people being stupid keeps me up at night. It’s called anxiety–and it’s not just a fancy word. I worry about the fate of the world, man! Particularly, because not enough people do…and that is THE reason as to why it’s in the state it currently is.

I don’t wanna sound like I’m some martyr, because I was fighting with people on Facebook, and there are real heroic people putting their lives and sanity on the line to do real, grassroots work every single day to change the world in which we live. I’m not one of them. I tried to be a good person by affecting change within my immediate community, but bad people are just as set in their ways as good ones, and no one ever really changes.

However self-destructive. However racist. However sexist. However transphobic or insecure, or selfish, or in complete denial of climate change. Or cruel. Or deceptive. Or! Invested in defending people who are any of the above. That’s who they are…and it shouldn’t affect who I am.

So, now, I won’t let it. And that realization legit had me like…

mind blown

This year, a lot of good things happened (we’ll get to that) that walked hand-in-hand with a number of unexpected health issues (I’m managing, mind your business). And it just became very clear: I needed to get a grip on my anxiety.

So, I wrote a list of people, or incidents, or experiences that I felt were still negatively affecting me–be it acutely or chronically. And next to each one, I wrote an action that I can do to make it better. Something that I can do from this point moving forward, unattached to other people or their responses (a lesson learned from Buddhism). Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but on paper, in black and white, I could see that there was nothing to gain from my past approaches. Then I unfriended a lot of people, unfollowed others, removed some birthdays from my calendar, and stopped responding to invitations to hang out that just weren’t appealing because I wasn’t getting anything out of those experiences. That’s something else–I can just…not respond to people. And I don’t even need a reason! I don’t need to hate them. I can just…not be interested. And the feeling was liberating, because it was relinquishing myself of the responsibility to always be “up” to dealing with people–and I honestly rarely am.

I am the world’s biggest undercover introvert, but this year–I actually allowed myself to be. I didn’t push myself to go out while sick. I didn’t trundle out of my apartment to watch other people get smashed. I didn’t “catchup for coffees” that felt like boring interrogations. And in doing so, I was able to make more room for people and experiences that are enriching, and enjoyable, and energizing!

time to be alive

My new list kind’ve reminded me of an old list I wrote in 9th grade. I wrote a list of all the boys who had hurt my girlfriends. I had not yet begun to date and was therefore lacking in any authentic experiences to warrant my own hatred. Next to their names, I wrote an applicable punishment (spoiler alert–most of it involved various forms of Medieval torture). The difference between that list and this one is what I guess some people might call “growth.” But don’t worry–I’ll disappoint you by the end of this entry, I’m quite certain.

So! What led me to this conclusion to begin with? Where have I been all year? Who have I been fucking with? What’s the frequency, Kenneth?

Thanks for your patience with the world’s longest prologue. Now we can get back into it.

tat

Heidelberg was a hoot. I wrote 1,000 words a day, went hiking, ate my weight in sausages and strudel, and drank a lot of non-alcoholic apple cider in solitude.

 

Then, at the end of the month, I had my annual birthday dinner with a rapidly expanding circle of friends at a Cuban restaurant in Schöneberg. It’s always a great moment for me to reflect on the friendships I’ve made and nurtured since moving here, and this group photo is the biggest one yet–and still missing some people who left early! I think we can all agree that my attendees embodied what I can only describe as collective big-dick energy.

3423E747-67DB-403C-BB5C-A4B65A02C2DF_1_201_a

Note, 1997 Jennifer might say the guy whose face has been smudged out should be tarred and feathered. But 2019 Jennifer hopes he gets the help he needs. #GROWTH

Then I celebrated my actual birthday in Cape Verde, my first ever expedition to sub-Saharan Africa.

It was just as magical as it looks, but with some unexpected challenges along the way. Cape Verde is a very difficult place to get to. You have to take a Portuguese airline through Lisbon that always seems to run six hours late. You have to pick an island to get to, and there are several major ones to choose from. But if you want to island hop, you have to book individual flights from one to the next, and go from there. I ended up flying from Lisbon to Sal, Sal to Mindelo, and from Mindelo, taking the ferry to Santo Antão to go hiking. All in all, very costly, and very time consuming. I spent more of my birthday commuting, than on the ground, and when I was on the ground, I was so exhausted I just wandered to the beach for the sunset and ate a plate of fish and chips with my toes soaking in the wet sand.

Another unexpected frustration were all the stares. Not mild flirtation staring. Hardcore staring right into my eyeballs like they wanted to fight me or like I had come to their country to drink all their good rum, and I was like FUCK! HERE TOO?!!?

flipped table

Et tu Africa?

crying on ground

But someone explained to me it’s because they didn’t know me. Cape Verde is a small archipelago of islands off the coast of West Africa, and each island is tiny–most can be crossed in an afternoon by car. So everyone knows everyone, but nobody knew me. So they stared at me because they thought I was one of them, but they didn’t know my name. They didn’t know my family. They didn’t know where I lived or worked. Everyone spoke to me in Portuguese Creole, and I was like:

shaking head

On the one hand, I was kinda thrilled to be treated like a local for the first time in years. In Germany, one look and people speak to me in English before German, because of my skin color. But in Cape Verde, everyone has bronze skin and high cheek bones and beautiful almond-shaped eyes. Even they needed convincing that I wasn’t from their country. A typical conversation went something like:

Cape Verdean: Are you sure you’re not Cape Verdean?

Me: Pretty sure.

Cape Verdean: *sucks teeth* What about your mother?

Me: Nope.

Cape Verdean: Eh!? What about your father?

Me: Nope.

Cape Verdean: Eh! I’m sure you’ve got it somewhere in you.

Me: Okay, but I have DNA test results that say Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal…

Cape Verdean: *cuts me off* Senegal?! Oh no no no, you’re too pretty to be Senegalese. They’re too dark. Eat more fish. Are you a model?

Me (with mouth full of fish): **incomprehensible chewing**

Yeah…colorism is a colonial off cut of racism. Thanks, Europeans.

Once I got past the staring, I was floored by the hospitality and kindness of complete strangers. People who stopped their cars and drove me into town, who drove me all around the island, who wanted me to meet their families and their children, and who wanted to show me how to cook jagacida (rice) their way. I really, really love travelling by myself because I’m more approachable this way, and end up with more authentic experiences than if I were coupled up with someone who’s more risk averse than I am. I’m not adventurous in the way that, say, my friend Shannon is. She’s ready to drop onto a billionaire’s boat and party all night at the drop of a hat. I’m ready to climb mountains and eat blowfish.

Same, same–but different.

On the most memorable of my Cape Verdean adventures, I made friends with a hiking guide, which ended up being one of my best travel memories of all time. He met me at the ferry docking gate with a sign that said my name, and when I walked up to him, pointed at the poster and said “Hi!” his response was “You’re Jennifer Neal?”

Me:

nodding

Him: “You’re…Jennifer Neal?”

Me:

nodding.gif

Him: 

if you say so

“Okay let’s go.”

Me:

WTF was that.gif

He was cold. Like, to me. Me! But…but…I’m so cute and friendly when I’m not arguing with people on Facebook!

pussnboots

And then it dawned on me…Most of the clients who go on these hiking expeditions are wealthy white Europeans, and I couldn’t help but think that me being young, single, and Black might have something to do with being treated with what felt like a little bit of disdain. I’ve seen it before. It’s normal to be hired by white people. It’s odd to be hired by another Black person–especially a Black woman hiring a Black man. There’s a lot of history to this that I won’t go into, so let’s just summarize it like this:

awkward

Even my money is considered less valuable. Y’all, I’m just over it.

Anyway, after a little while of me shucking and jiving to make him feel more comfortable, he loosened up and confessed that my suspicions had been right. And he said that, by the sound of my name, he thought I would be an old white woman.

THANKS SLAVERY!

thumbs up

So when he saw that he would, in fact, be hiking with a young, Black one, he felt awkward and didn’t know how to act around me. In my mind, I thought “The same way you’d act around anyone else who hired you as a hiking guide, I guess?” BUT THERE I GO AGAIN…regressing into my self-destructive thinking that logic will prevail…

Thankfully, my frustrations were short lived. He loosened up, and so did I, and we ended up going on an amazing hike (photos above). I saw the most beautiful parts of Cape Verde in an afternoon with someone cracking the funniest jokes, taking cute photos, and climbing rocks. In fact, it was more than a hike. We ended up having a crazy strong connection, and it was like…shit. Did I know you in a past life or something? He even managed to make me forget that I was on day ONE of my period, which–in case you didn’t know–is a scene from a horror movie. I use a menstrual cup now, and its the size usually reserved for women who have given birth vaginally–which is MEANT to hold all day, but I had to empty it in the sugar cane fields of a West African valley, because it was about to be a literal blood bath.

The point is–yes, you needed to know that. It’s my blog. Why the fuck are you here if you don’t want to know about my menstrual cycle?

well yeah

The other point is that I was so happy, the endorphins subdued the cramps that would otherwise have had me doubled over in pain in bed sucking my thumb (which is the condition from which I’m writing this blog now). My hiking buddy and I ended up hanging out more while I was there, and he took the ferry to see me on my last night in Cape Verde, where was hung out on the beach all night. It was an unexpected and wonderful conclusion to an amazing holiday…

…Until he began sliding into my DMs with dick pics.

shaking head

**le sigh**

Men are awful everywhere.

Moving on.

Not long after returning, Spring had begun to sprung. One day, my editor from The Willowherb Review called me up and told me that my piece In Search of Better Skies was nominated for The Pushcart Prize–a major American literary prize with deep roots in launching writers’ careers. This was not only a major deal for me, it was a major deal for the publication, because my essay was in their inaugural edition. I wasn’t planning on really telling anyone, but it’s kinda hard to put a lid on something that big, and people at work found out through Twitter. And my boss encouraged me to share it on the work Slack channel, and I thought “Fuck it. Why not? I am proud of this nomination. Let the bells ring!” Most people were supportive and congratulatory.

But I’ll never forget what one colleague said to me. “Do you get any money if you win?”

Me: Hmmm–I don’t know, actually! But I don’t care. It’s an honour just to be nominated.

Colleague: Probably not [getting any money].

Then she laughed and walked off.  And that ladies and gentlemen, is called aaaaaa:

hater

Seriously. Shutting the fuck up is absolutely free.

I didn’t win! But I stand by what I said before. Plus, I was able to leverage that nomination for something else even bigger (but you’ll have to keep reading to find out what it is).

In Spring, Shannon–my favourite enabler–wrote to me early one Sunday morning asking me to go to Paris with her the next weekend. She had sold one of her paintings to a Saudi Royal and needed to go to France to deliver the piece. Her exact words were “Cancel your plans and come with me!” Now, I was trying to save money at this point because, as an unmarried woman without children, I’m in Germany’s highest tax bracket (40%)…So naturally I was like…

let's go

And booked my flight.

I hadn’t been to Paris since 2001 with my high school bestie Claire, where I cried at Chopin’s grave, and fell in love with an antiques salesman, so it seemed like a good opportunity to reacquaint myself with the city of love, cheese, and stunning architecture.

 

In May, I finally did the thing I moved to Berlin to do. I finished my book. During my winter isolation, I wrote something like 40,000 words by depriving myself of the things that people do just to get through winter, like fucking and drinking. I didn’t do any of that. I just switched off my phone and wrote.

And masturbated–a lot. But! Soberly.

So…be proud of me.

I said…BE PROUD OF ME.

applause

Here’s something that I learned writing my first book: Most people won’t take you seriously until money is involved. A lot of people saw it as a hobby or an exotic curiosity that shouldn’t and can’t replace social affairs. But since I’m not wealthy, nor able to to pay my rent and bills with hopes and dreams just yet, that’s exactly what writing became. It replaced all of my weekend plans, all of my week night ventures, it muted my WhatsApp group chats, and it got used to disappointing people. We’ve internalized capitalism to such a degree that nothing matters unless it can be filtered into your bank account. As a result, some friendships just vanished altogether because some people just couldn’t wrap their heads around me wanting to dedicate so much time and energy to something that didn’t pay money–but to quote Saint Sophia–that’s fine by me.

dancing

So, from 90,000 words, whittled down to 83,000, I was ready to submit the finished manuscript to literary agents–which is a requirement of anyone who wants to achieve some modicum of commercial literary success. With the help and support of several friends who had undergone this journey before, I compiled a short list of literary agents who fancied my kind of writing (weird) and who had promoted work that I admired (legendary)…and submitted.

Then, I immediately went on tour again–this time to Norway, to hike through the fjords. My friend’s husband, Bror, is Norwegian, and he’d been telling me about the hiking trails in his homeland for ages–and I was finally able to go. It was good timing. I wanted to distract myself from waiting for agent responses, and being outside has always been good for me–especially as a distraction from spending years writing a completely bonkers manuscript that might be seen as physical evidence of my insanity.

I know I haven’t disclosed the plot here…and I won’t, so suck it.

suck it

But, just know that it’s insane. And I went over and over this idea in my mind before I sent it off to be judged by real industry professionals. Then I ran away to the Scandinavian countryside.

If I wasn’t sure before, I definitely am after Norway–I fucking love to hike. It clears my mind of all the mess, so that I can reach an almost meditative place where I’m not worrying about work, or relationships, or money–I’m just thinking about putting one sure-foot in front of the other, so that I don’t slip and fall. THAT’S what it takes to quiet an anxious mind.

I’m still learning a lot about myself the older I get, but more importantly…I’m unlearning all the things that don’t apply. A lot of people of color are wary of the outdoors, and I used to be one of them. But stereotypes are dumb, and I’m convinced that this one stems from a plot that white supremacists have hatched to colonize what’s left of the world’s untarnished beauty before it burns up completely. I don’t know how long we have left on this rock revolving around the sun, but I know that whatever quality of life I enjoy on it will be strengthened by the time I spend outside, breathing fresh air, and undoing all the damage inflicted by simply existing, or by working for people who care more about their bottom line than the people going on burnout leave.

That’s not what life is about.

Pulpit rock is a moderately difficult hike, but Kjerag has broken people. Literally. It has literally broken human beings. In fact, on the bus to the starting point, the driver announced over the intercom what to do in case of a fall: “It’s very windy today, so if you fall and break something, call XXX for a helicopter evacuation, but do it before 18:00, because that’s when emergency services go home.”

K

Pulpit Rock is a pretty well beaten path of steps made from rocks, but you still need decent hiking shoes. A lot of the steps are loose, rock can fall unexpectedly, and it’s a pretty sharp vertical ascent in some areas. Going up the cliff, I saw people in flats, flip flops, even WEDGES holding miniature Yorkies (yes, DOGS) and I thought–

“Well, someone is going to look super cute when they fucking die today.”

awww.gif

No one did, thankfully. One person did, however, fall off a cliff and break their neck. As tourists do, he got too close to the edge of the cliff face, slipped, fell, and had to be evacuated on a gurney by four men who carried him all the way down to the base of the mountain. And it’s worth pointing out, he was wearing penny-fucking-loafers. And you guys–that was the “easy” hike! Though it’s worth noting that coming down is always harder than going up…and by the time I got back to the base, my knees were literally shook.

The difficult one was Kjerag, which is a 6 hour return hike. The first pass is a near vertical ascent holding onto nothing but a chain bolted into the rock. The second part levels out into ice and snow that gives way to stairs, and then another rock vertical ascent. The only way to be evacuated is by helicopter, because a car or jeep can’t traverse granite cliffside. It’s all ice, and stone, and in some places snow. When you get to the top of the mountain, you have the option of standing on a boulder wedged between two cliffs, above what seems like 3 squillion meters of open air above a fjord just waiting to bitch slap you into oblivion. Some people get up there and pull fancy poses like yoga stances. Some people are up there base jumping into the fjord. One guy took off all his clothes and posed nude on the rock, because…

white people.gif

As my friend Mark would say, I just put some stank on those rocks instead with a dab here and there. I made it. No need to get extra. I fucking made it.

Somewhere in-between the hikes and the 50 euro fish soups and the 25 euro sticky cinnamon buns, I got my first manuscript rejection letter.

IMG_0119 copy

It didn’t say much–just that the agent couldn’t make it past the first few chapters, but that her opinion was entirely subjective. That was it.

And you know what? I didn’t care. It was from the agent at the bottom of my list, and the response told me that the rejection was better for me than it was for her. I actually posted this update in one of my writer’s groups:

“Just got my first manuscript rejection letter. I’ve never felt so alive!”

Then, I hopped on the bus from Stavanger to Bergen.

I’m not invincible to criticism by any means, but I have a lot more confidence in my creative abilities than in my ability to manage people. It happens to a lot of women who grow up insecure in their physical appearances–they find their confidence in other places. In my case, it was in everything my brain can do. It probably also helped that I was really, really enjoying my trip. Every muscle in my body ached–even my finger muscles hurt from flexing into rock day in and day out! And knowing how my mind works, I decided to get ahead of my anxiety by launching myself into an activity that would make me feel good regardless of the outcome of my query letters.

And the rejection was something I had prepared myself for. Every writer worth her salt will get at least one rejection letter to test her mettle. Working as a journalist for some years prepared me for this. I had workshopped my book in a class, held several public readings, been critiqued by a several close friends, and developed the story thoroughly.

No matter what, I knew that I had written the best book I could write on my own, and that someone else would see it…but it needed to be the right person. In a way, that’s how I knew that I was on the right (proverbial) path. I wasn’t deterred by rejection at all. I wouldn’t allow myself to be deterred by a hundred rejections. I believed in my work so much that I knew I would get the right agent eventually. And it was that pure, unfiltered self-belief that told me that I was finally, finally…on the way to becoming the person I was always meant to be.

please clap

In Bergen, the hiking is less challenging, but still quite beautiful. It’s a cute seaside town where hikers often go to decompress after vigorous physical ascents for fish soup and oysters, which, I mean…if I must!

Then I took the most epic 7 hour train ride to Oslo where I passed mountains with *literal* cascading waterfalls and lush green countryside (checkout the Norway highlight on my Instagram, if you want to see it for yourself) then landed in Oslo where I took a bunch of questionable photographs with pagan statue art, party crashed an art opening for the free food, ate reindeer, sticky buns, and pork ribs…

…and eventually–I returned to Berlin.

That’s when the letters of interest came.

One right after the other. From New York. From London. From Los Angeles. They came, and the discussions followed. Many discussions. I was overwhelmed, but also intensely guarded. Having been disappointed in TV development deals in the past, I solicited questions from one of my writer’s groups, which contains no less than 50 NYT bestselling authors about what questions to ask agents to make sure they had my best interest at heart. At their suggestion, I joined a writer’s union that offers legal representation and contract review and sent all the paperwork to them. I waited. I never wait! I’m terrible at waiting! But as my friend Musa says, “No need to feel anxious. Without you, there is no industry.”

Knowing your value doesn’t just apply to romance. And to be honest, I have a more intimate relationship with this book than I ever did with a partner. So it’s worth the extra vigilance.

And then…I found her. The one.

The agent who’s been working with me since July to take my manuscript to the next level. Milly. London. The moment she described my book as “glittering strangeness,” I knew that it was meant to be. And every meeting we have together only convinces me even further that I made the best decision of my writing career to date by signing with her.

I cannot wait for all of you to see what we’ve been working on together. Already, this partnership has changed everything. And the past 3 years and 4 months I’ve spent in Berlin will seem like the best and most significant investment of my life once I’m holding the book in my hands.

So…just wait.

In June I went to Bonn for a friend’s wedding and contemplated a move to the West side, because everyone was so friendly. I’ve been wondering about where all the nice Germans go to hide, and the answer is: Bonn.

Then blah blah blah work blah blah blah, who cares! In July, I went to Sardinia with Shannon. It was my first girl’s trip since 2007 when I went to Osaka with Brooke to get my tattoo. It was pretty much all cheese and beach and nothing else. And we’ve decided to make Italy our one-stop girl trip vacation every year.

Then I changed my flight to head to London instead of immediately returning to Berlin, to meet my agent in person. We had only had Skype chats up until then, and it’s important for me to have regular face-to-face interactions to show her that I’m equally as serious about my writing career as she is. Side note: my agent is fucking amazing. Not only does she have all the right connections and business relationships, but her ability to articulate the things that are and are not working in my writing has been such an important part of the editing process. I’m not a formally trained author. My ability to tell stories comes from a lot of reading and a lot of writing, so I’m sometimes lacking the theoretical language needed to articulate holes in plot and character development and voice–but she’s been so incredibly helpful in regards to providing editorial feedback, that I feel like I’m learning at the same time as I’m writing–and it’s only invigorated me in an editing process that most writers would find exhausting.

But can I also say…she’s fucking gorgeous. Like…in Skype, you only get a certain idea of what someone looks like. In person, she’s 6’2″ and beautiful and striking and also charming and funny and brilliant and super fucking cool. So yeah…when I said that I knew the right person would come along to represent my work, I meant.that.SHIT.

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Returning to London also meant that I was reunited with my Tiger Lesbians, who welcomed me back in style with a Pavlova for the motherfucking ages. I mean–it was for Kerry’s housewarming, not for me…technically.

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But seriously though, it was all for me.

And I came back to Berlin just in time for PRIDE, known as the Christopher Street Parade.

Did I mention I got a new hairdo?

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Anti-Evil Eye Jewellery on fleek!

But then, as things tend to do…everything kinda fell a part…for awhile. But…I’m slowly coming back around. At my own pace. To the beat of my own drum. Thanks to the German healthcare system, I’m going to be okay. And thanks to the German healthcare system, I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll never return to the United States to live because I like paying 40% in taxes to guarantee that everyone else can enjoy a decent quality of life as well.

Onward.

Katarina and her infant daughter Zora came back to Europe and I met her in Paris for a weekend.

God, where did October and November go? I don’t even know. What did I fucking do? Jesus…I don’t remember. It’s all just a blur of doctor’s appointments. Oh! I managed to start writing the outline of my second book.

And it’ll be the destroyer of whole, pure, Aryan worlds.

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Oh! Right. In October, I threw a surprise 40th birthday party for my dear friend Musa Okwonga which, with the help of Josh, Rhea, and Jonathan, I had been planning since May. It was my third time planning a successful surprise party, and my second time pulling a 40th. But one thing’s for sure. It was my last time. I retire. I’m done. Herding Berliners are like herding fucking cats, and I was reminded that I fucking hate cats. I had to book a venue, organize catering, drinks, party favors, cakes, video testimonials, and balance a whole lot of last minute cancellations and additions. Because I didn’t learn my lesson the first time. I didn’t learn my lesson the second time. But this time?

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And as for Musa’s reaction…was it worth the effort? You be the judge.

The party included live speeches, a video compilation of birthday wishes from around the world, a wall of memes dedicated to the guest of honour, and multiple birthday cakes. All in all, an amazing effort. And the memes…seriously, some of Musa’s friends are absolutely brutal. Don’t believe me? Checkout Musa’s reaction to some of them below.

In the end, I think something like 60 people showed up and partied until 3am, and I spent the rest of the following Sunday in a party planning coma. I actually woke up around 8am, because insomnia is life, made myself chilli con carne, then went back to sleep and didn’t roll out of bed util 5pm. My bones are still tired from the festivities and that was more than two months ago.

I met two of my cousins from Atlanta for the first time! Well, Joe is technically my cousin, the other is his fiance. When Kelly and I started following each other on Instagram, I saw that she was a pilot–not just any pilot–a captain (WHAT!) and instantly fan-girled out about how cool she was and told them to come visit me. Two weeks later, they were on a plane to Berlin and we were at a restaurant in Mitte eating Schnitzel.

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Here’s why that’s significant: I’m strange. I’m reeeeeeally strange, and don’t always feel accepted, even and especially among family. But I felt like I knew these guys my whole life! They actually felt like family, and we ended up talking at the restaurant for like six hours straight like we had grown up around one another, and it was wonderful! Not only that, but it was really interesting to observe Joe, being the blood relative. His laugh, his chuckle, his mannerisms…he even does a happy dance when the food comes out just like I do, and I was like, “Yep. We’re family alright.” The food happy dance is a sacred blood rite.

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Later in the month, I learned that I was accepted to the MacDowell Colony as a 2020 Fellow. This only sounds blah because I’m running out of steam with this blog, and I’m really tired. But this is a really, really, REALLY big deal. It’s been a creative workspace for Pulitzer Prize winners, Grammy Winners, Oscar winners, MacArthur Genius Grant recipients–artists of all disciplines. Notable alumni of the Colony include James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Jenna Wortham, R.O. Kwon, and pretty much any important writer from the past 50 years. The ironic part is that I’ve tried to get into another residency with much less money for the past three years, only to be waitlisted/shortlisted/rejected every time. And this one I get in on the first try?

I don’t get it…but I’m not exactly complaining either.

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I wasn’t even going to apply until my friend Veronica pushed me to (since she had run out of men at the the Christmas market to give my number to). It just seemed downright unattainable. Like a perfect SAT score, or financial security in the arts. But the difference between established residencies and new residencies, is that established residencies are willing to take more of a chance on unknown writers if they demonstrate talent and drive. So, with my Pushcart nomination, a brand new agent by my side, and a killer writing submission, I guess I demonstrated just enough to show the selection committee that I was worth the investment.

I never thought I’d be the kind of person to be admitted to such a prestigious institution, but then again–I never thought I’d be the kind of person who researches BBQ marinade for tofu…and here we are.

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So, from 1-29 April 2020 I’ll be hanging out in Peterborough, New Hampshire with all kinds of artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, and poets hammering out the concept and early days of my second novel in a remote cabin at the expense of a very, very wealthy artist endowment. And you know what?

I FUCKING DESERVE IT.

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Let’s rewind for a minute.

Remember that part where I talked about not engaging with people who are invested in being awful? Well, to that point, I decided that instead of trying to educate them, it’d be a better use of my time to reach out to people I admire to let them know how much I value the work that they’re doing…which is easier said than done. I don’t want to be a a weird super fan, after all. But I think it’s important, especially for writers who are producing work that many people will resist, to know that they’re appreciated by someone. I know this from experience. When I wrote my article about sibling abuse, even though it brought me a lot of extra abuse, I also read a lot of messages from people in support of what I had written, because it was a subject that no one else was talking about–and it mattered. And it helped.

So, somewhere, in the middle of it all, I reached out to one of my favorite writers–Ruby Hamad. Her article on the strategic weaponization of white women tears is a piece I go to every now and then as a point of meditation whenever I find myself in a situation where I’m exhausted by white fragility. It’s helped me to make sense out of a lot–horrible bosses, friendships I left behind, in-laws who are just plain terrible.

I wrote to her expressing my admiration for the work that she does. It was an ineloquent pile of word vomit. I was frustrated by a particular incident that pushed me too far one day, and her article brought me back into the realm of sanity, because it was another woman of colour acknowledging that my frustration wasn’t some fevered hallucination.

To my surprise, she wrote back. She did more than write back…she offered to send me a copy of her debut book, White Tears, Brown Scars in the mail, because it won’t be available in my part of the world for awhile. And I just…like.

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It arrived the day before Christmas with an inscription, and already I’ve gotten up from the table and walked around the room a dozen times yelling at no one “Everyone! EVERYONE! COME READ THIS PASSAGE RIGHT NOW!”

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In fact, everyone’s getting a copy of this book for their birthday next year. I don’t care how tight you think we are. I don’t care about the color of your skin. You’re getting this book. You, your mama, your step daddy and your sister. It’s perfect for Bar Mitzvah’s and weddings and divorces alike.

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What else happened?

I went to Lausanne, Switzerland with Shannon (who else?) and hiked up a snow-covered mountain (by myself).

Side note–in 2020, I am wearing out these hiking boots. There has to be a study on this somewhere, that explains why I’m so anxious on the ground. When I’m climbing or hiking, I can literally feel the anxiety leaving my body and it’s like I can see clearly that everything is actually, literally fine. Maybe it’s the breathing, or the beauty, or the muscular distraction, or some combination of the above. But–now that I know how it affects my body and my mind, I’m making it a priority. If you have the time and resources and physical strength to do so, I can’t recommend nature therapy more ardently.

Finally, we wrap up 2019 with my final editorial meeting of the year with my agent in London, which we had at the Tate Modern, where I was finally able to see this absolute gem of a masterpiece.

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Aaaaaand witness first-hand Britain’s inevitable decline as the Tories swept the latest national election with a landslide of conservative fervor. So yeah–the UK has its guy. The US has its guy. Australia has its guy. Meanwhile, in Finland…

That was my 2019 in a nutshell. All in all, I think my anti-Evil Eye jewellry and Japanese charms worked.

And, you know…my hard work and perseverance and self-awareness and blah blah blah…

Which brings me to 2020. And I’m walking into it with a few personal and observational realizations that I want to talk about, because they’re significant. And it’s my blog.

1. I don’t want children.

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I said this maybe, I dunno, every other day in my adolescence, but then went all wobbly in my twenties, because I was in a serious adult relationship for the first time and had a series of awful jobs that made marriage and pregnancy seem like appealing alternatives to working for incompetent shit heels. But in my 30s, when I began to pursue a career that made me happy and fulfilled, I began to find meaning in my professional and creative endeavours, and then it suddenly seemed like a really crazy idea to throw that all away. My body has been through a lot, and I don’t want to put it through pregnancy. I’m not too sure I’d come out on the other end any good with all of my reproductive issues anyway. Besides, I gotta be honest…I don’t really like kids. Not little ones, anyway. They cry and they scream instead of talk, and they don’t know boundaries and they’re overrun with bacterial infections and I just…I can’t fuck with anything that doesn’t know how to wipe its own ass.

But I would like to adopt a teenager one day, I think. I’m good with older kids, and  teenagers need lots of love and assurance as they transition to a merciless world as adults. I can do that. And hopefully, one day, if I have enough money, that’s what I’ll do.

To be clear, this is not a judgment on anyone else who has kids. Please keep sending me photos of your little ones, because I adore receiving them. I love my nieces and nephews. …but I’ll love them more when I can take them hiking with me.

2. I’ll transition to a plant-based diet.

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Psych! Not…completely, because brisket and pork belly is life. But 5-6 days a week seems manageable (unless I’m travelling) and since I can cook, it doesn’t feel like I’m sacrificing much. The world is burning up and if I can do more to slow it down, I will. And anyone who steps to me about how veganism can reverse climate change will get a fucking backhand to the neck, because capitalism, corporate greed, and eco-fascism are to blame for the melting ice caps and rising sea levels–not my St Louis rib addiction.

3. My body is fine.

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Get ready to see a lot more of it, because I’ve been working hard in the gym and still getting in my carbs and I won’t let anyone make me feel bad about it anymore. I’ve been doing HIIT training twice a week, Muy Thai, and Yin Yoga, and the result is a curvy delicious muscular lump of melanated PERFECTION.

4. Trump is gonna take 2020.

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…Unless Bernie is the Democratic nominee. If it’s anyone else, you’re looking at 4 more years of the pussy grabber. Even if someone beats him in 2020 (they won’t) the fact that so many of you think he’ll willingly step down from office is pretty fucking laughable. Trump is a dictator in the actual making, and he’ll do anything to retain his power–including defy the constitution. Also, to everyone celebrating his impeachment in the House, STOP. His trial in the Republican-run Senate won’t go anywhere, and where will that take us come election time? See: November 2016 for reference.

5. I really want a dog.

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My friend Jessica Lee got the cutest, scruffiest little pooch not that long ago, and I’ve been dog sitting while she’s been off on her book tour, and you guys…I’m so in love. I’ve always been a dog person, but this is just next level symbiosis. It’s not just him. Every time I’m out on the street and I see a dog, I feel like they see me too–and they know that I’m the cuddles lady. They’ll run up to me and lick me and roll over on their backs for belly pats and curl up in my lap and let me scratch them behind their ears in the subway. I just think…they know. Oh yes…they know…I am the dog whisperer. And since dog ownership in Germany is considered to be a fundamental right to a good quality of life, I think it’s time I settled down…and adopted a German shepherd puppy. I’m growing up, ya’ll. Be proud.

Onward.

Here are a bunch of selfies of me and my friends from New York, Switzerland, Japan, and everywhere else visiting each other and being happy. Thank you for making my 2019 so wonderful, fam.

Articles I’ve published this year (there aren’t many, since I’ve been working on books):

Let’s lose virginity once and for all (Clue)

Speculative Fiction and Black Feminist Thought (GAY Magazine)

The General Election Will Have a Knock On Effect Around the World (Huff Post UK)

Aaaaaaand last but not least, Australia is still a fundamentally racist country, and widespread denial of this basic reality along with a mind-boggling dedication to deny climate change even while the country is burning alive is why the country hasn’t moved forward as a global leader.

How’s that for growth, bitches?

Ending on a high note

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language 
And next year’s words await another voice.” 
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Surprise!

I’m still here. Still breathing, kicking, and shape-shifting my way through Berlin and the rest of Europe. Still buying time, and lives, unpacking the past, and anxiously stuffing it away again.  As usual, I’ve waited too long to write this, and find myself feeling overwhelmed by how much has happened since my last entry. Whenever that occurs, it’s difficult to strike a balance between what to say and what to leave out for brevity’s (and perspective’s) sake. I’ve written and re-written this introduction a number of times, but the words only begin to feel right when I start somewhere more honest, but somber: I have really struggled this year. I let myself down, been let down, and I fell way short of what I know I can do. I started off the year strong, but quickly found myself depleted by a number of conflicting responsibilities, hitting a rock hard low point over the summer. I spent nearly two months of a brutal heat wave in social isolation in the pent house sweat box that is my flat asking myself some pretty tough questions, like:

  • “Bitch…WHY?

I know that sounds cryptic. Unless you were one of the handful of people who heard me give a long, tear-fuelled, hiccupy, snotty rant over the phone this past summer, then it won’t make any sense. So let me put it to you like this: I moved to Berlin more than two years ago now. In that time, I’ve lived a thousands lives twice each. This year in particular, I died 1,999 of them. And because I’m now what some people might consider a “professional,” going into detail about any of these things on a blog that’s highly searchable is pretty much a death sentence for future editors, current employers, and potential love affairs.

Can you imagine how heartbroken I would be if, one day, when Idris leaves his model girlfriend (inevitable) and we eventually find ourselves in the same room at an after-party in Dakar, and he says something like “I totally wanted to holler at you, but then I read how you trash ain’t-shit people on your WordPress blog, and I was like…nah, son.”

Gutted.

Besides, there’s something noble about suffering in silence, because it means you’re dealing with the pain, instead of regurgitating it onto other people who may or may not have the mental space for it.

To be fair, I haven’t had a lot of mental space to talk to many people about it either. I’ve officially hit that point in my life where I’ve read just enough to now understand that my difficulties in life, how matter how painful they may be in the moment, are in no way, shape, or form unique. Everyone has had major career opportunities fall through. Everyone’s dealt with difficult family members (and if you haven’t…adopt me?). Everyone’s been through a painful break up. Everyone has lost a hero…and if we’re talking about this year in particular, then it was probably the same one that I lost.

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Somebody somewhere once said that the way you start a new year is meant to provide some insight into the way the rest of that year goes. I’ve had some pretty forgettable New Years’, and a few very memorable ones. It was one particularly miserable New Years when I decided that I was going to grab the following 12 months by the balls, hips, horns, and wig, and make it mine. That year I started doing stand-up, toured Western Europe, moved to Berlin, and started a successful career as a freelancer. I’m here now, because I was miserable then. I have to keep reminding myself of that. I have to keep reminding myself that I can make the best of a horrible situation, no matter where I am.

I also have to remind myself that it was never going to be a smooth ride, and if it were—then it wouldn’t be a story worth telling.

Last New Year’s, I was in Portugal with someone who I am no longer with. I was sick. We both were. We fought. We ate. We fought some more.  Now 2018 is nearly over, and I’m recovering from an illness again. I’ve fought a lot with people this year, and I’ve fought a lot with myself. So maybe there’s something to that thing said by that anonymous guy who should really go find a thorny tree branch with which he can go fuck himself.

But the year isn’t over yet, and nobody tells me what the fuck to donot even weird, irrational superstitions. I’ve had a number of setbacks, both in my personal life and in my creative ambitions, and not nearly enough sleep. But I’m going to do something that I struggled to do over the Summer of Sam, and that is to sing the praises I feel for the people in my life.  It can be difficult to be supportive of others when you are feeling beaten down. I felt beaten down a lot this year. I’m still not 100%. And Winter has a way of exacerbating old wounds, so even if I wereI wouldn’t know it yet. Ask me when the sun comes back how I feel. In the mean time, I’m dropping this final note then going to ground to hibernate for the rest of the year.

But before I do that, let me take a step back, zoom out, and appreciate the people who have breathed life into my 2018—not because they did anything for me (though many of them did) but because they are doing amazing things on their own, and I want you to know about them.

Greverley (Greta + Beverley): After many years of hosting and nourishing foreign vagrants like myself, my tiger lesbians decided to make it official in a gorgeous church ceremony, in front of their friends and family. I was lucky enough to attend, and witness two extraordinary, beautiful, brilliant people declare their love to each other, always. I loved the ceremony. I loved the reception. I loved how they entered the reception hall to the Baywatch theme. I love these people more than most. I also love London. In short, there’s nothing not to love about this, and if you don’t love it—then get the fuck off my page.

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Katarina becomes a mom, er, “mum”: I’m fortunate to be an auntie many times over by my loved ones, and I’d gladly do whatever needed to be done for any one of them. But there’s something kinda extra about it when the person who’s been taking care of you for several years becomes a mom for the first time, because you know first-hand about the love that kid is going to get, and you know it’s more than what most people will ever have.

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(also, Katarina named her ‘Zora’ after Zora Neale Hurston, whose middle name is super close to the spelling of my last name, and who is also from Eatonville, Florida where I got my hair done for many years so BASICALLY—yeah, Zora is named after me).

Musa (Black Santa): Every now and then, you’re forced to face certain assumptions about what one person is capable of achieving in their lifetime, and Musa continues to raise the bar. Not only did he have a New York Times column during the World Cup about the intersections between race and politics in football, but he successfully launched his band BBXO, which hit the top ten charts in Germany, is writing another book, and is now an artist in residence at Archetyp in Berlin. And he does all of this while continuing to find time to food troll me on all major social media channels, because he doesn’t want me to feel left out. Champion.

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The Sander-Taylor crew: Jessica is an absolute force of nature. Not only was she an artist in residence at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin this year, where she showed her debut film Muttererde, but she is currently getting her MFA at Goldsmiths in London, which is a life long dream finally come true. Her husband, Bror, has been having shows all over the damn place, including the Moscow Biennale earlier this year, and he was featured in Haarper’s Bazaar Japan. You have never seen two people more devoted to each other, while continuing to help those around them without asking for anything in return (except maybe more banana muffins). They are some of the most talented, intelligent, thoughtful artists on the continent. And now they have a progeny. So basically, it’s over for you hoes.

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Shannon: This woman is hand’s done the most stunning creature in the city, but everyone knows that already. What you may not know is that she’s also an incredible artist. After her insanely successful gallery opening at the Andreas Schmidt gallery in Berlin, she had one of her paintings featured on a major book on cultural critique, blackness, and queerness. Follow her on Insta, where I sometimes make guest appearances, partly because I’m hilarious, partly because she still needs me to figure out how to use hashtags and handles. It’s funny, because recently I was catching up with Bror and he said, “Every time I see you now, it’s always with Shannon,” and I said “no, I’m not!” But then I had to laugh because he was totally right. She’s also the best person to attend the ballet with, sweat in a nude German spa with, and sit down in a cozy Italian restaurant with, where you’re compelled to rap for six hours straight about books, politics, art, and trash-ass dudes. I am always with her, because she’s dope.

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Franny: A talented comedian and overall human being, this guy produced his first Edinburgh Comedy Festival room this year with the delightful Ori Halevy, where he turned up to packed room after packed room night after night, for the entire festival. Any Edinburgh alumnus can tell you this is hardcore shit. He’s way too hard on himself, which is one of the reasons why he’s such a kind-hearted, considered, compassionate, and hilarious human being. In short, he’s the best. The end.

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Jean-Michel and Shaunessy: They speak a dozen languages each, are both tirelessly committed to justice, human compassion, and education. Their hearts are as big as their aprons are matchy. When Shaunessy isn’t getting his Masters, he’s volunteering at the local prison. When Jean-Michel isn’t writing important pieces on social justice, he’s dancing flamenco shirtless and taunting the crowd with his impeccable abs. Jean-Michel boils his plantains instead of frying them, but his personality is pretty amazing otherwise. Nobody’s perfect.

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Dr. Ana Pantelić: For taking a taxi all the way to Pankow while she was in Berlin for a conference to continue her campaign against inequality, so we could finally meet after years of WhatsApp correspondence, and take this ridiculous photo. There are few people more brilliant than Ana, and I love her to bits even though it’s only a matter of time before she murders me in my sleep.

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Jonathan: A true ally, and a true friend who has been amplifying the oft-unheard voices of underdogs in sport for a long time. Not only did he fly out to Russia to cover the World Cup for Deutsche Welle, but he finished his first book (the title of which I’m not at liberty to share) which is coming out very, very soon. Bonus points for coercing all of us to get tickets to see Janelle Monae next summer, because he thought I needed some strong black female entertainment in my life (he’s not wrong). Here he is with Musa getting his soul stolen by the flash of my camera phone.

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Nine: I simply cannot effuse about this person enough. If I knew more academics like her, I would’ve gotten my PhD. Not only is she an incredibly talented artist, but her tireless dedication to social justice inspires me on a daily basis. She calls things like she sees them, she lives by what she fights for, and she grinds like no one else I’ve ever met. Her intellect is unparalleled and she is just so immensely sincere in regard to her concern for other people…but if I ever needed to throat punch a Nazi and bury the body, she’d be the person to bring the shovels.

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Shout out to all of the people here: For being just delightful company:

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Verónica: This has been an unexpected joy of my 2018, meeting this incredible human being with whom I vibe on all different levels. Not only did she successfully complete a grant with the Pulitzer Center to write about the implementation of the peace deal with the FARC in Colombia, but while she was there, she also wrote about Afro-Colombian cacao farmers, which you can read more about here. When she isn’t kicking ass overseas, you can find her giving out my number to random men at Christmas Markets around Berlin without my permission.

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Adam: Sometimes I look at his Insta and wonder how on earth we ever met while working at Bauer Media, because, clearly, he was destined for much better things. He’s gone from strength to strength as a writer, journalist, photographer, and overall boss. From the news desk at the New York Times Australia bureau, to the youngest ever editor-in-chief of a Condé Nast title, as EIC of GQ Middle-East, to say that I’m “proud” is the understatement of the century. It’s an honor to watch him shine, even from a distance, because nobody deserves an opportunity like this more. And I am truly inspired by the amazing things he’s doing every damn day.

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Jessica Lee: Sure, she’s a kind, intelligent, and thoughtful human being who writes with consideration, intent, and eloquence…but have you had her vanilla short bread cookies? NOSH. We met at a reading nearly two years ago. Not only has she published her debut novel (which you MUST read) with a second one on the way, but she just launched a literary journal for nature writers of color, The Willowherb Review, the first issue of which you can read here. And spoiler alert, I’m in it.

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Dasom: She’s a writer, and editor, who I only met last week at Jessica’s housewarming party (pictured above). But we kicked off an instant friendship when she brought in a delicious Syrian semolina dessert with pistachios and honey syrup that brought me to my knees. Now we (attempt to) ice skate together, and eat pork belly noodles instead. Sadly, I don’t have a photo of her, but here’s one she took of me last night when I unexpectedly stumbled into a sexy noodle photoshoot at Cocolo Ramen in Kreuzberg.

IMG_6040.JPG And then there was, of course, all of these other moments, with all of these people…

 

…I guess I do hangout with Shannon a lot.

And this is the best black excellence photo of 2018. Put your hands down. We’re no longer taking applications. Submissions re-open on 1 January 2019.

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Now that I look back on the photos stored in my phone, I realize it hasn’t been a useless kind of year. That’s the power of photography…capturing the good moments, despite all the bad. I’m going to hold on to the feeling I get when I look at them. All those other bad things that happened this year, they just don’t count. The people who are responsible for them don’t count either. None of it matters anymore, because I got through it.

Which brings me back to, well…me. Besides multiple panic attacks and setbacks, I’ve managed to accomplish one or two things on my own.

First, a list of published pieces:

Navigating beauty standards around the world (SBS Australia)

If you think dating’s hard, try tackling it as a black woman (SBS Australia)

Embracing my natural look (SBS Australia)

Jewish comedians changing stand-up in Berlin (explorepartsunknown)

Perfect day in Berlin (explorepartsunknown)

Cooking up a taste of home in Hungary (World Nomads)

A rap battle with snakes on Walsh’s Pyramid (World Nomads)

In search of better skies (Willowherb Review)

Second, photos from recent travels, like my press trip to Marrakech.

And Malta:

I’ve done some pretty wicked wins this year. I found a flat that is all mine, that I can live in until I die, and nobody can kick me out of—ever. In Berlin, that’s as good as winning the lottery. Starting 2019, I’ll be joining a small classical music quintet as their resident pianist.  Watch out for performance dates. I had a wonderful reading at the DADDY Magazine 2nd anniversary party last month, with other wonderful writers and poets like May-Lan Tan and Sailesh Naidu. This was my first time reading from my novel in progress, and I have to say it was more nerve-wracking than performing comedy.

In comedy, I have a bravado that takes up space on the stage, even if the only prop I have with me is a microphone. But reading a story you’ve been writing for two years is an exercise in masochism, because the response could be every bit as awful as you can imagine…I’m thankful that it wasn’t. In fact, the response was so much more than I could have ever hoped for, and I feel buoyed to finish it on schedule. Maybe it’ll even get published. Maybe you’ll even like it.  Or not…I am genuinely past the point of caring now, in case you coudn’t tell.

Here’s what nobody tells you about writing a book: First off, you save all your best writing for that project, which means you struggle to write anything else. That’s why I’ve been so quiet lately–trying to finish this beast. I don’t have the energy to write anything else. It hurts. It physically agonizes me. It’s psychologically tedious. My emails have been reduced to monosyllabic responses, and I cringe reading the compliments I’ve given my friends above, like “Jesus Christ Jennifer, how many times can you say “amazing” in one paragraph?” Even writing this blog feels like an act of betrayal, and I can *feel* my manuscript giving me side eye like…

Secondly, writing a book is an act of healthy narcissism. Because we all write what we know, even if it’s under the guise of “fiction,” you have to know your story backwards and forwards. You need to interrogate it, stress-test it, flame-throw it, and see what comes back to you in the end. Because if there’s any weakness in it whatsoever, it can all fall a part. This means it has to be authentic, and in order for a story to be authentic, the writing has to be authentic, and in order for the writing to be authentic, you have to be honest with yourself. You have to sit with your thoughts and your process, and analyze why they are developing in a particular way, until it makes sense. This story that I’m writing now, is my third attempt at writing it, and it’s nothing like the first or second drafts. Different story, different protagonist, different setting and all. I came to Berlin to write a story about this city, about these people, and this history…but now, all I can think about is my city, my people, my history. All I can think about is a place that I can never return to, and it’s been both cathartic, and confronting, to put it onto paper.

I’ve read interviews with writers like J.K. Rowling and Tomi Adeyemi, who said they cried over the characters in their books, and I remember thinking… “Pffft. Weak sauce.”

…Now?

(so…many…feelings)

So that’s the story that I’m writing, and it’s pouring out of me like water in a genre that I’ve long admired, but never felt talented enough to attempt…speculative fiction.

If it weren’t bold, it wouldn’t have been worth all this…right?

In September, I joined a writing workshop in the Autumn hosted by Tom Drury and Amy Benfer that jump-started the progress of my novel into something that is now scheduled to be finished in February. It’s been a terrifying, emotional, gut-wrenching process to pull this manuscript together…I’ve had to isolate myself from people and social events, shutting myself in my kitchen to write every Sunday, Tuesday nights, Wednesday nights, and early in the mornings before going to work.

50,000 words and counting.

And though the concept of completion still feels hazy and abstract, I can sense the story coming to an end, peeling away layers of itself to refine the voice. I can *see* the conclusion…and it’s weird, because I almost don’t want to?? Like, the journey’s been rough sure, but I’m not ready for it to end! I can change! Give me a chance! We can work through this! And my book’s like…

 

After all, once it’s finished…then what do I do? World domination?

After Christmas, I take the train to Heidelberg, where I’ll be working on it non-stop from a remote cottage-loft through the midnight chimes of the New Year. I’ll be surrounded by comfort food, trees, a warm kindle in the fireplace, and tea. I’ll be alone, and I’ll be happy,

I’m ending this year the way I wished I had started it, and I’m starting next year the way I want it to gopeacefully, happily, with a fire inside. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A very Berlin love story

“Must being in love always mean being in pain?”
― Alain de Botton, On Love

…I don’t even know where to begin…

First off, as a disclaimer, let me just say that since I successfully transitioned from miserable corporate hack to nondescript freelance creative type, that I now make a living out of arranging my thoughts into a linear, intelligent and constructive order for readers. It…is…often, but not always…exhausting. If thinking were an Olympic sport, I would have been investigated for doping at least an Armstrong number of times by now.

So around 68% of this blog is going to be erratic AS FUCK to rectify that imbalance. Let’s be clear – this isn’t clickbait. It’s just odd.

But hey, having gotten that out of the way now…RELEASE THE HOUNDS:

For the past year or so now, I’ve been writing only about only two things:

-Whatever would pay my rent

-Whatever I needed to write about in order to occasionally talk myself off of the ledge of self-destruction i.e. My book.

Occasionally, the two subjects overlapped – as was the case in my article about family estrangement, which I wrote for The Establishment.

[A more complete synopsis of my published work in 2017 can be found here].

Can I just say, it’s a little odd to write about something so personal, and for fan mail to slide into my DMs all the way from Brazil? Of course, it was moving and a little emotional. I’m certainly not complaining. But it was also…disconcerting.

“What? You mean – people are watching? Well…”

Some people wrote extended opuses of their family trauma, and I sat with each of them for awhile. Thinking on what it means to open up, and how we can feel so connected to people we have never even met. It made me realize there’s a weight to words that I didn’t believe I was capable of placing on others – and that I should be careful about how I wield that responsibility. I would love to aid in the healing of others – but some reader responses just seemed like I had helped to open up old wounds and that didn’t feel so great…

I think most of the time, I’m able to live the way I do, because I simply believe that no one is paying attention to me. That makes zero sense, right? I mean – how can I really believe that if I’m WRITING IT ON A BLOG?

But it’s the honest truth. And after working as a professional writer for awhile now, I’m slowly…very slowly…coming to the realization that people are paying attention.

So! Let me plug my latest work. This year, I’ve published the following articles this year so far:

-The art of the apology (Playboy.com) 

-Tracing Lisbon’s slave history (Atlas Obscura)

-The hidden codes of potato chips (NPR)

Mentally, I have a very clear demarcation point between how I see myself and how I allow myself to envision how others see me – I just don’t. It was stunted somewhere in early childhood development. I don’t feel like anyone should hold that against me. I try my best to be kind to others, I pay (a LOT of) taxes, I haven’t killed anyone, I’m punctual, I smell good, I’m funny, I adopted work-appropriate language that replaced outbursts like “FUCK YOU, DAVID – I WISH I COULD SKULL FUCK YOUR HEADLESS CORPSE WITH A RAW CARROT” with “Well, okay then.”

So I feel like the world has basically received its money’s worth.

Being a writer just means that now, I’m a permanent resident in my own head – So, when I, occasionally, receive messages of support (or criticism) about something I’ve written or done, it throws me off my rotation and I realize, for a brief moment, that I’m not the inconspicuous individual I thought I was, and my thoughts go like:

People ARE paying attention…????

And are kinda maybe interested in who I am??

As a person?
Maybe?

Colin-Farrell-Shrug-In-Bruges.gif

What can I say? It’s just trippy.

Moving on.

So, what’s it like being a freelancer?

Remember those “What people think I do…” memes from four years ago that showed a block of cells of how different groups of people perceive a particular occupation and that launched a social media frenzy that lasted for about 2 seconds? I think that’s probably the best place to start:

freelancer

That last image is me combing over all the unpaid invoices I have to chase because MOTHERFUCKING DAVID THINKS THAT I LIKE TA WORK FAH FREE! I could literally spend an entire calendar day, every week, doing pure admin. I am the Carrie Bradshaw of Berlin, if Carrie Bradshaw paid her bills, had savings, didn’t treat people like extensions of her shoe collection and wasn’t a basic, uninteresting Prada knockoff of every girl I hated in middle school.

Where was I? Oh, wait and there’s this meme which both captures my internalized sense of self-importance and the mind numbing bore of the reality :

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I work 7 days a week, non-stop. I’m at a German news agent 3 days a week, and the other days I’m either writing new pieces, commissioning new pieces, or interviewing people for pieces I’ve been commissioned to write – also, filling in bits and pieces of the book I’ve been threatening like a storm cloud to finish since I moved here. I started a podcast series (TBD) and am able to work more closely with Roads & Kingdoms/CNN on the upcoming season of Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain (TBD). I’m sharpening a a comedy set for my first stint at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August, working on my first art exhibition in 10 years, and guest hosting several TV spots in Berlin during the summer. Despite the constant slog, I have to admit – I’m having the time of my life. I’ve hung out with German Chancellor Merkel, conducted a Twitter interview with Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman. I’ve met some brilliant comedians, and gotten hella inspired. I can get in pretty much anywhere by saying I’m press, and I get to write about things that genuinely interest me. Food, sex, politics, travel, critical race theory and feminism. I’m my own boss and feel free to walk away from anything that isn’t working for me.

…But do I?

I have a problem with throwing in the towel, or saying ‘no’ to assignments when I’m already stretched too thin. My sleep has been all over the place, and I haven’t been able to see my friends enough. I can’t plan elaborate dinners (or attend them) or make last minute plans. I’m…always…working, or figuring out a way to spin something fun for a work assignment. ‘Comfort’ isn’t part of the description of a freelancer. Even if work is going well today, you’re constantly operating under the assumption that tomorrow might not be as fruitful, so when an assignment comes along, you need a really good reason to turn it down – even if you’re already stretched to your limit.

Some people are really supportive. I really appreciate those people.

Some people are not. What I’ve been battling with, a little bit, is the resentment I feel towards people who never seem to understand that when I say I’m unavailable, it’s because I really am unavailable. I’m not home painting my finger nails (which are in desperate need of a protein treatment). I am chasing invoices, filing papers, writing copy, taking photos, pitching ideas, engaging on social media with powerful people, trying to eat healthy, trying to maintain a gym regimen, trying to be there for other people (and often failing) trying to change the world (and failing repeatedly) and exfoliating (which is going JUST FINE, thank you very much!).

And networking. I am always, ALWAYS…networking.

Now that I’ve been doing this for well over a year, I have no idea how I ever had time to catch up for brunches and coffees that lasted all morning and afternoon. Australia, we sure had some good times, didn’t we…?

I miss those days. But I don’t miss having a job just for the sake of having a job, when what I really wanted to do was RIP OFF DAVID’S FACE WITH A RUSTY SPOON, FEED IT TO PIRANHAS AND BATHE IN HIS BLOOD.

I’m still working through a few issues…

And the taxes…GOOD LORD. If you’re thinking about coming to Germany to follow your dreams or whatever juvenile shit I should’ve done ten years ago, know this: German freelancers pay 20% income tax and, if they’re moderately successful, an additional value-added tax (VAT) of either 7 or 19%. So at the end of the day, nearly 40% of the money I make goes back into the German system. I have gotten absolutely BOSS at writing off expenses and ju-jitsuing my way to receipts before they go into the bin. The Chef and I were at a pizza restaurant recently and he was about to crumple up and toss the invoice like he wasn’t holding a mini piece of GOLD in his palm and I was like…

Earlier this week, when I visited my accountant (steuerberater) I gave him a binder of invoices, itemized by category and date, so he could make me look as impoverished as possible for the Finanzamt (Tax Office).

And I am crossing every finger, arm, leg and ovary for a favorable bill in a few weeks time so I can go on an extended beach holiday in Greece this summer.

Enough!

Winter is over. I really enjoyed my first winter in Berlin last year. Snow, glühwein, Christmas markets, and indoor comedy.  Then again, I really enjoyed going out on a date with that homicide detective – one time. After that, it was just really stressful, and ongoing stress has the ability to do very unnatural harm to the mind and body.

My second Berlin winter was like continuing to date a homicide detective. It stressed me out in very, very unnatural ways.

Around February I was beginning to think about throwing in the towel, until a friend of mine told me that she and her husband were moving out of their flat and they would like to put me forward as a suggested new main tenant. Being a Hauptmieter (main tenant) in Berlin is like being a homeowner because Germany has some of the strongest tenancy rights in the world. In London, for example, the landlord can jack up your rent whenever they want, and kick you out of the flat at a moment’s notice. In Berlin, the tenant’s rights run a mile long and an ocean deep. If the landlord sells the property, the tenant gets first rights to buy it. If something goes wrong with the flat, the tenant has the right to pay less rent until the issue is fixed. The Hausverwaltung (tenancy association) absolutely cannot kick the tenant out under any circumstances, unless they practically commit murder. And once you sign a lease, you lock in the price of that flat for eternity.

For that reason, it’s also very difficult to secure a flat. Main tenants sublease all the time (usually without the landlord’s permission, which is illegal) and jack up the price €300+ a month to turn a profit. In my first flat (the one the Nazis shooed me away from) I was paying €750 euros a month all included for a studio flat, when it was only worth maybe €350. My second flat, I was being charged €600 per month for an apartment with no floors (concrete) moldy bathroom tiles and an oven that had to be lit in the back with a BBQ lighter. That was only worth €250 tops. My current flat (that one I’m preparing to move out of) I’m paying €705 per month, when it’s worth only €550 (which I know, because the main tenant is trying to flat swap with someone else, and that’s what she advertised it as on WG-Gesucht.com – while charging me a shit load more).

I didn’t realize it, but I began to unwittingly participate in the time-honored process of gentrification – where I accept astronomically higher rent prices because it’s all I can get (and because a lot of Germans love taking advantage of doe-eyed foreigners) which, in turn, pushes middle-income locals out of the neighborhoods they’ve been living in for their entire lives. I was that yuppie prick making life difficult for everyone else. And I’m sorry.

So when my friends approached me with the idea of becoming a main tenant, I jumped at the idea. I submitted a binder worth of application materials, including copies of my invoices to clients, my schufa (credit check) and my mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung (proof of rental payment history…and the longest German word in the dictionary) and I was approved! My friends and I were all very excited, because it just seemed like such a happy ending to what had been such a deeply traumatic chapter in my Berlin story.I was smiling from ear-to-ear for the rest of the day.

The property manager asked me for a copy of my passport to make the rental contract, which I sent in…

…and then they decided to give the flat to someone else. No reason provided. No explanation given. They didn’t even tell my friends they were considering other tenants until the property manager showed up on their doorstep for the move out inspection with a German couple, completely unannounced. Clearly, it had nothing to do with how much money I make or how I make my money (freelancers have a notoriously more difficult time securing a lease because we don’t have ‘regular’ income).

So…I wonder what it was! Let’s see – something to do with my ID. Maybe it was my nationality? Hm…no, my name clearly indicates that I’m not German. Maybe it’s…hm. Let me think. It’ll come to me. Multiple the German, add the Nazis and carry the two…

I tried filing a complaint with the antidiscriminierungstelle (anti-discrimination bureau) to seek legal action. They responded by telling me that because:

-Nobody said anything explicitly racist i.e. ‘Hey Nigga! We ain’t having yo Sambo playing, jive talking, watermelon eating and Lemonade dancing monkey ass all up in THESE peaceful Caucasion streets!’

-The landlord doesn’t own more than 50 properties

-The situation would be better handled by the mietervertein (housing union)

-And they could file the complaint for me, but it would take longer than the statute of limitations allowed (two months)

I’m basically on my fucking own.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, I had a phone call with my dear friend and overall badass Musa Okwonga. I told him about what happened with the flat, how it fell through, expressed my feelings of despair and frustration and mentioned the idea of taking off. Maybe Berlin just isn’t for me. No shame there, right? I’ve been through a lot in a short period of time, and perhaps its just time I write off all post-colonial hegemonies for good. Like any good friend would, he listened and empathized. And then he asked me “Do you feel like your business in Berlin is finished?”

And I said “no.”

And he said “Then don’t leave.”

I’m just finished reading a book called The Course of Love by Alain de Botton (because as an intellectual, of course I need to problematize one of the most illogical emotions human beings are capable of feeling). And while it actually helped me to meaningfully process some of the more tumultuous romantic encounters I’ve had in my life (an exercise that actually gave me some peace) it also gave me cause to pause about my relationship with Berlin. This city and I are, after all, on a journey together too. It’s a living, breathing dynamic of give and take between myself, where I give my heart, soul and all my money, and Berlin’s takes my youth, optimism and self-belief.

In the summer of 2017, after Berlin had lured me in with her charm and wit, she confided in me about her family trauma, rabid insecurities, the massive chip on her tattooed shoulder and tendency to self-harm. She started getting really, really high – then going through my texts and picking fights with me for not receiving enough attention. By Winter of 2017, Berlin and I were officially in the “We haven’t had sex in a year and maybe we should consider seeing other people” phase of the relationship.

I daydreamed about fleeing to Portugal, Dublin, Basel…I envisioned a world where Londoners launched a ruthless coup against Castle Point, South Holland and Thurrock to reverse the Brexit decision, and then welcomed me with open arms as I trampled on the corpses of their fallen enemies in stylish red Chuck Taylors like:

But…as de Botton says in his book, love is often confused with infatuation. It doesn’t start when you initially fall for someone (or, in my case, some place) – it starts when you realize how flawed, broken and, quite frankly, monstrous they are, and work at it anyway.

Berlin is a monster. It is a deeply insecure, spiteful, unnecessarily difficult and irreversibly traumatized monster. And damnit…I love it anyway.

(…because I have to…)

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Yep.

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Loving life!

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(HELP…ME)

Despite it all (getting robbed in a smokey Neukölln bar while making out with a young economist in 2016, or getting chased out of my first flat because of Nazis, the constantly broken public transport system, the city’s filthy infatuation with smoking, the shameless real estate price gauging by opportunistic Germans, and the way that pharmacists will argue with me over ANY-FUCKING-THING including whether or not I should be taking vitamin D tablets) – Berlin has given me something that I never had before – a career.

…not a job.

If you don’t know the difference, then let Pastor Rock take you to church for a moment:

…having said that, Berlin – would it fucking kill you to be more like Dublin?

I mean, their weather is perpetually terrible and they are hands-down the friendliest people in Europe anyway. Even though I went by myself, I made friends in every restaurant I visited. The hospitality was so effortless and sincere. I smiled at people on the streets! People were pulling me into bars from off the street to sing Irish rock music and drink whiskey. The men were flirtatious and the humor was right up my alley. The burgers were fuckin’ TASTY and the pastries were golden brown. I always thought these were just stereotypes of Irish people, but they’re not! They’re accurate! They’re really like this! Go! GO! And take me back with you!

…Please?!?

Several times, when the battery in my phone had passed out from Insta-exhaustion, I had to resort to a tourist map. Several times, complete strangers stopped to ask me if I needed any help. And without making some gross comment about my ass, or trying to sleaze their way into my inbox, they just went on their merry litte way. One guy, who must have taken notice of the confused ‘Why aren’t you trying to fuck me on the sidewalk in public right now?’ facial expression and said “The Irish are just very friendly,” and then he “fiddley-fiddly-dee!”d and disappeared like a lucky charm to his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, never to be seen again.

Ya’ll…I was SHOOK.

Dublin is a small city – small relative to Berlin or Melbourne or Chicago, anyway. My hosts recommended I take the tram or bus to get from one point to another, but I actually spent my entire trip getting around by foot.

Because most of you don’t know why I up and took off like that, I’ll say it was for business purposes – I was on a very important mission to discover Dublin’s blossoming food scene. And I was not disappointed.

 

You’ll have to read more about my (tax deductible) trip in my upcoming write up.

If I had more time, I would have rented a car to explore the coast more – but I’m glad I spent a day in Howth to do the cliff walk, which was nothing short of stunning.

 

But Spring has finally sprung back in Berlin! The sun is up at 6am and down around 7pm and it’s only going to get better from here. Katarina and Seymour are visiting soon, and I CANNOT WAIT to squish them, read books with them, feed them and go fetish raving with them! They’re both very excited to meet The Chef. I’m going to have a house full of Eastern (Southern) Europeans. Watch out for photos of latex undies and gas masks!

Hm. I guess that wasn’t as random as I thought it would be. CHEERS TO ME!

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Also – Fuck you, David.

Life of Jennifer

“I accept chaos, I’m not sure whether it accepts me.”
-Bob Dylan
Preface:
Here is what you learned this year: A lot of men are trash. Like…a lot.
I didn’t learn it. I already knew it. But this is something you’re learning. Just now. At this very moment.
A lot of you are waking up to this realization for the first time, and it’s fucking up your chi’s, chakras and the Holy Ghost.
But not mine – the #metoo movement is re-aligning it – because it’s giving me the validation that I never received from the men who sang my graces to my face, while simultaneously trading in my trust for lower pay, gaslighting, invisibility, and cheap quips about my ass to their mates – a lot of men are absolute trash.
Note, I didn’t say all men – stay your twitchy hands. But I don’t feel the need to say “not all men,” because it’s a false narrative that reverses the power dynamics that the #metoo movement has begun to correct after many (far too many) years of victim blaming, slut shaming and mass femme voice silencing.
Everyone knows that not every single man is a sexual predator. But many, many are. They are people you know, people you love, people you respect and people you work with. And many others are apologists for them, enablers for them, defenders of them – and participate in the same language that encourages them, time and time again, to be horrible. Maybe you’ve never laid your hands on a woman against her will, but have you ever made filthy comments about one whose name you barely knew? Have you ever reduced her to a piece of flesh unworthy of respect or humanity and called it a compliment? Have you ever made excuses for a friend who did?
Then you too are part of the problem. And when it comes to #notallmen, you do not have the right to include yourself in that category because you helped create the movement that opposes it.
Thank you for forcing me, and every woman you know, to relive the most traumatic moments of her life for a mass social movement that demonstrates how endemic the problem of toxic masculinity (i.e. YOU) really is.
You’re probably thinking “What does this have to do with what I’m about to read?”
It’s the undercurrent to my…ha…”hysteria”…in a year punctuated by constantly having to pull through when I didn’t want to. Because I didn’t have enough to deal with (as you’ll read below) – I also had to acknowledge your sudden awareness of a problem that dictates so much of my life – the need to feel safe.
Let’s table that for now, because I haven’t blogged in a really fucking long time, and one or two things happened since. I’ve decided to go in chronological order to make sure that I don’t skip on the important events, of which there were many. Each month will be represented by a GIF – just to keep things light and fun. You’ll thank me later.
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Where was I? Right, I went to Stockholm in April. After returning from Stockholm to Berlin, in May, I was accosted by my neighbours in the middle of the night in a racist tirade that led to me calling (and subsequently getting dismissed by) the police, moving out of my flat, and living somewhere else.
Earlier that day, I went and saw James Baldwin’s I am not your negro in the theater, and I can’t help but mentally note the irony.
My Berlin crew really rallied behind me in a way I did not expect, and I received ample messages of support from near and far – which I really, really appreciate. Eventually, I wrote an article about it on Handelsblatt Global (read here). It was hailed by many, and shared widely on social media with the thanks of my friends and colleagues, including Germany’s Federal Anti-Discrimination Bureau; it was also derided on Reddit by white men who find the acronym “Person of color” unnecessary and race-baity.
Can’t please ’em all, I guess.
That was the most difficult article I’ve ever written, because I find myself sliding into a pool of disenchantment with critical race theory. It’s important, of course – vital, as my friend Musa would say – but it felt different when I actually thought I could change some hearts and minds, or help others to better understand the every day plights that PEOPLE OF MOTHERFUCKING COLOR endure at the expense of pervasive whiteness, entitlement and privilege. But now – after multiple heated arguments both online and off, with people I called “friend” or colleagues or partners or ex partners or their families or my neighbors or the fucking gardener, I’m really sick of constantly justifying my humanity.
“Here are the racist experiences I’ve had. Here is how they have affected me. Here is how they are breaking my heart and soul a part steadily, gradually, predictably.”
“Those weren’t racist. Stop talking about racism. Racism only exists because you won’t stop talking about it/move past it/work harder/assimilate the way I want you to assimilate/BE WHITE.”
And somewhere along writing that article, I realized that it’s not my job to educate these people any more, especially since they’re so hell bent on dismissing me whenever I say something that challenges their concept of the world as egalitarian and balanced. So nothing, literally nothing, I write will change their minds. Because nothing I’ve written in the past has. No matter how eloquent, thought-provoking, considered or compassionate my argument, no matter the scientific references, expert interviews or first-hand accounts of cruelty, they will never expand their thinking to include the thoughts of people subjugated by their gross entitlement.
Racists are many things – they are cruel, they are ignorant, they are myopic, and they are deeply hurtful. But above all, they are selfish. Like a lover who refuses to do his own emotional labor, they are only interested in protecting their warped sense of reality. Facing the truth would mean a catastrophic collapse of the ego, and we all know how delicate an ego can be…
They need to be incentivised to not be racist, because treating human beings equally means relinquishing some of the power they’ve enjoyed unjustly for centuries. And I have nothing to offer except for my humanity, and I am so sick of putting that on a silver platter in words they have no heart to understand.
I wrote that article. And it brought me down, because it meant pouring salt into wounds that were still fresh and oozing. Where I can normally turn something around in a day or two, this took three months. And I’m grateful for the support it garnered from my loved ones near and far, I truly am…
…but what did it change?
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This is Lavender Wolfe. Lavender traversed Berlin in the middle of the night to come to my aid at witching-Nazi-hour, when my neighbuors were banging on the walls for me to leave the country. Lavender, I seriously appreciate you – even though I don’t see you a lot. You are a unique, shining light in a dark, dark world…and your onesies are ADORABLE.
I also interviewed Lavender and many other friends for my first piece for The Establishment (read here).
Speaking of difficult pieces to write, reading back through this feels like I was on a fevered quest to exercise my demons – which was successful. My year began with emotional disarray, but somewhere along the lines of writing this piece, I found – well, peace – again. A fraction of it anyway.
I don’t think I’ve written something more important. And random messages I received from strangers in Brazil, Japan, New Zealand and beyond confirmed that.
Moving on.
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** June — LMAO**

After moving out of the flat in Neukölln, I went to Hungary.
…yeah, anyways…moving on…
Jessica and Bror got married and I took gorgeous photos of them being the happiest people in the world like this:
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Who *wouldn’t* want to get married with photos like this? Be honest – you’re thinking of getting married right now.
Hungary was great. Budapest is a ridiculously photogenic city, and Miskolc is picturesque and delightful – though I did tire quickly of being stared at everywhere I went and being compared to Angela Davis (who was apparently a sex symbol in Hungary in the ’70s) – does she know that? Can someone tell her, please. I feel like this knowledge should be passed on). My visit inspired an article for The Root. 

Let’s be honest – dating has always been terrible, but dating in 2017 is the absolute worst.
I know people say that Tinder was designed as a “hookup” app, but let’s keep it real – it was designed purely to give stand-up comedians like myself delicious fodder for their gigs, and nothing else. If you’re a mom with young children and gnarly post-partum depression, it could potentially serve as a cautionary tale to prevent them from ever leaving the house. Like, ever. For school, for church, food, for volunteering at the old folk’s home. Ever. Once you see your high-school chemistry teacher on a dating app with a photo of him in blackface, and a description that reads “I love anal,” you’ll never want to leave the house again.
…or in my case, an ex-colleague from IBM…
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The prospect of being in a long-term, healthy relationship began to look pretty bleak (and unappealing) after five years of white dudes with a black girl fetish, and black dudes who hate their moms. Or! Boys who call themselves feminists then turn around and pull some shit like messaging me the day before their wedding (more than 2 years after the fact) to say how being a jerk to me gave them the ability to be a better man to someone else…
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Like…you’re welcome…??? And cheers to making this soul-baring confession in a group chat with a friend you can use as a buffer to validate your supposed “good intentions,” because you know that trying to contact me again would get you a swift, needlepoint rebuke that you deserve for trying this shit in the first place. Why can’t some people just fade into the background, enter into an unhappy marriage and get a nasty divorce punctuated by alcoholism and adultery like respectable adults?
Wait, where was I? Right.
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 July

I moved into a run-down building in Prenzlauer Berg for two months. Prenzlauer Berg is probably the swankiest kiez (neighborhood) in Berlin, but I moved into the hoodiest part of it – just off the main street, Schönhauser Allee, with all the mainstreet villains. I was promised that the person subletting their flat would tell the Hausverwaltung (landlord) that I was living there – which is required by German law. After I transferred a deposit and first month’s rent and picked up the keys on move-in day, I was told that the Hausverwaltung would have no clue of my residency and that, if anyone asked, I was the subletter’s girlfriend.
This made my tenancy illegal – and it also meant I couldn’t ask for repairs to the flat, which it sorely needed because it didn’t have a.fucking.floor.
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I also lived beneath a DJ (“super quiet!” they said) above a drug dealer with rainbow-colored dredlocs who sold product out of his window (“super safe!” they said) and any repairs (like the mold in the bathroom, the paintless walls or the absence of FUCKING FLOORS would be entirely out of pocket – which I began, and subsequently gave up, doing, because everything is awful.
This was around the time when I started losing my mind.
My workout routine got dropkicked straight to hell. When I wasn’t working (which was always) I was trying to support the work of friends, their events, jettisoning back and forth to the chef’s place (because mine was so terribly bad) and emailing back and forth with the people who had gotten me into that nightmare situation, and painting/renovating my useless, decrepid corpse of a flat.
With assistance from the Mieterverein (housing authority) I initiated a series of firmly worded emails to end the faux-lease, I sold all the new furniture I had *just bought* (because my new-new flat was fully furnished) collected my deposit in what felt like a cash drop, and I moved…again. By the time I got to this point, however, I was completely wrecked. I hadn’t slept in weeks. I was a walking, talking bundle of nerves.
Despite all the horror, somewhere in the middle of all this – came some light. Let’s back up a minute to a moment that transpired before I moved out. After a day of picking up furniture from various locations around Berlin, a mover cancelled on me at the 9th hour, so I had to call a last minute moving service that (of course) charged twice as much. Then, I got locked out of my Prenzlauer Berg flat, so I had to leave all the furniture in the stairwell and traverse West Berlin to pick up the spare key from the people I hate, and come back in a downpour of torrential summer rain. And my new bed? Missing an allen key.
It was clearly a day when Satan said “Yes bitch – TAHDAY.”
Until…I got a message from someone I met at a smoky bar in Berlin last year – asking me if I’d be interested in doing a web series with a film crew, and Anthony Bourdain – travelling to Asia, eating noodles and cracking jokes on camera.
I remember reading that email with a towel over my shoulders, sitting on my wobbly bed trying not to scream at the DJ thumping away above me and feeling like my heart was about to burst out of my chest and jive down the street.
I’ve heard stories about this happening – the skies opening up and pouring down blessings on blessings on blessings when you least expect it, when you feel like you’ve been beaten down by life and need a hug, a taco, a bottle of vodka and a machete to wage war on the patriarchy. But I never actually believed that something like that would happen…to me. Who am I? Someone who yells at people on the internet from time to time, and eats too much, and who’s lost every single umbrella she’s ever owned.
I took the weekend to put together a series of screen tests with my Jessica/Bor (see photo above) and sent them along with some links to my stand-up.
A month later I was on a plane to Jakarta, then Singapore, filming with a bad-ass crew of LA babes.
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(Isn’t August when all the hurricanes starting popping off this year?)

As the late, great Freddy Mercury once said:
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If I’m feeling more esoteric, I can’t help but interpret this as divine intervention – fate throwing me a big, juicy bone as recompense for spending most of the year caught between a rock and a bucket of tears. On other days, I feel like it was just inevitable from constant hard work and self-exposure.
Either way you skin it, it’s pretty freaking cool, and I can’t deny the power of a lady luck.
This probably goes without saying, but I had so.much.FUN! Researching food, speaking to local food experts, watching them in action, hearing their stories and – of course – enjoying the end product, on camera, between jokes. To call it a “dream gig” would be to underestimate the capacity for dreams.
Most people go through life with no clarity as to their true life’s purpose, but now I know mine – eating on camera. It’s my, my…
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In case you missed it, you can watch those videos here:
Jakarta:
Maybe you can tell, or maybe you can’t, but I caught a monstrous lergy on the plane ride to Asia and was pretty much bedridden off camera, swallowing razor blades and feeling sorry for myself. Between takes, I was gurgling complimentary packs of honey from the hotel and sipping large quantities of what Jakartans call “garbage tea,” which was packed with cinnamon bark, honey, cloves, lemon, ginger and all the good stuff. One night, while filming a bakmi stall setup on the side of the street, I fell asleep in the van parked across the street with my face pressed against the window, drooling my regurgitated herbal tea all over the interior. I was a hot, phlegmy mess.
While trawling through the infamously packed Jakarta traffic, I happened across a crew of Nigerian men chilling on the side of the road, so I rolled down the window and shouted out in what felt like the most painfully absent voice – “HEY! Where are you from?! Can I interview you?!” They were either shocked or intrigued, but they agreed (with what I think was trepidation). So I jumped out of the moving van, with my producer right behind me, and interviewed them in my broken voice, took pictures, and wrote another article for The Root for my Blaxit series. It’s not my best, because censorship makes for limited human connection (you’ll see what I mean) but I think the stories in the piece are important to share.
Singapore:
As we flew to Singapore, the director, Kate, issued strict instructions for me not to speak. Not to say a word – not even a whisper, because my voice sounded like it had been pushed through a food processor. I inhaled medicine that I couldn’t pronounce with labels I couldn’t read and prayed it wasn’t oxy-based.
Soon after I recovered and pulled it out to consume copious amounts of shrimp heads, coconut fried chicken, black sesame chocolates and sticky hoisin-drenched noodles (maybe it was oxy-based).
Jakarta (above) and Singapore (below).
I cornered another black person (Nigerians – man – they outchea!). It was a free afternoon and I was wandering through the city trying to leach free WiFi from the buildings around me when a man stopped me outside of the university and asked me if I needed help. The conversation went something like “Um – yeah kinda, but hey – you mind if we have a chat inside a cafe please?” to which he didn’t seem opposed. We went indoors and had a couple of apple juices and I told him about my Blaxit series, interviewed him and took his picture. I really love moments like that – when I can talk to strangers without looking deranged.
Later he asked me not to use his image or his name, so Singapore Blaxit is kind’ve a bust as far as I’m concerned…for now. Also, let me say this – the city has incredible food, but it’s not very photogenic. The cityscape is modern and clean, but it’s missing character and substance. It’s basically the Dubai of SE Asia.
After wandering around for three days in search of the perfect photo-op, I just gave up and went to the Yayoi Kusama exhibit instead.
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When I came back to Berlin, I was able to spend my first real weekend in my new flat in Friedrichshain, which I pay way too much for (because Berliners really like taking advantage and doubling the price of rent in a sublease to line their pockets)  – but it’s legal, the landlord knows. It’s clean, quiet, on the top floor of the building, has wood floors, a clean bathroom not covered in mold and a large bath tub. And I’ll be here until the end of May, when I’ll be on the hunt for something more long term, which I’ll finally be eligible for, given I’ll finally have a rental history on the record.
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September….???

Bror and I began plotting to throw Jessica a surprise baby shower the day before chef and I were meant to fly out for Naples. It seemed like the perfect way to celebrate someone who’s brought an entire community of people together, given how difficult it can be for people who are first-time parents. It was the only day Bror (her now husband) and I would both be free, after going back and forth for weeks. But the plan didn’t even begin to come together until the Raffingtons, sweet baby angels that they are, offered to host the event. And from there, everything fell into place. In the end, it was a huge success. Huge! Bigly! Marquet brought painting supplies to paint onesies, Uli brought onesies to paint, Zen sent flowers, everyone brought food and drink and we played an assortment of games that put a smile on everyone’s face, especially the mom-to-be. We even had people send in videos if they couldn’t be there. You don’t know who any of these people are, of course – but trust me when I say that it was pretty damn special. They’re not just her favorite people – they’re mine too.
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…but getting 30+ Berlin transplants to show up *on time* is something I will never attempt to do again. Ever. I will literally do everything in my power to stop myself from being in that situation a second time around. I will fake an illness. I will delete my social media. I will elope. I will self-combust into a cloud of smoke and fire, disappear into the ether, and re-emerge in the next Marvel movie, reborn as a super-villain called “THE HNIC.”
“But you live in Germany! Isn’t everyone punctual there?”
No, I live in Berlin – where punctuality, showers, gourmet brunch and fast broadband access go to die.
Ya’ll…it was like…how do I put this?
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Ya’ll. Ya’ll had me feeling like…
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Checking off that list of names seconds before the mom-to-be arrived for the surprise of the year, and I was dead.set. like…
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The day after, I went to Naples to explore the history of Pompeii, marvel at old churches and lounge on the beaches of the Amalfi coast.
Naaaah – just fucking with ya! I went for PIZZA. I literally only went for pizza. History was the side dish, and an optional one at that. I planned my entire day around which pizzas I wanted to try and when, everything else was coincidental. I even created an Excel spreadsheet to determine which pizza was the best based on crust crunch, leopard print wood-fired texture beneath the crust, cheese melt, sauce consistency, acidity, flavor and balance – and several other criteria. But from the moment I landed, I became so consumed with gluttony that I tossed the thing out the proverbial window and just pranced around eating pizza, gelato and nibbling on tasty mussels instead.
…with the occasional bottle of wine (or 2) in between.
Want to see what I ate? No, you don’t. You’re on a diet, your 12th of the year. You’re fasting for the upcoming Christmas feast. You’re on self-flagellating duty post-Thanksgiving/Halloween/Summer/breakup. You’re making excuses to fit into that bikini you haven’t worn for 5 years. You’re thinking that 2018 will finally be the year of the ABS. No, it won’t. You think you need to be disciplined. Wrong again. You’re thinking that you’re jealous and spiteful – YEAH WELL YOU SHOULD BE. Look! Look at what I ATE!
Roll in that shit like the filthy animal you are then light a cigarette afterwards and call it a day, because this grade-A food porn is rated MA-17 for ADULTS, motherfucker.
When we got back from Naples, my sister came to visit. She, her husband and that lippy threenager she calls my nephew, and took LOTS of selfies. LOTS.
As lovely as it was to see the three of them together again. The last time I saw my nephew he couldn’t even talk, he was just a cuddly ball of fat and giggles. But I can’t deny it, seeing Nikki again for the first time in three years warmed my heart.
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(October)

October rolled around and I…wait, what did I do? Oh yeah. I shaved part of my head. Don’t ask me why – that’s a silly question. Was I losing my mind a little? Maybe. But my edges were jacked up and I wanted to be rid of them because I looked like I had gotten into a bar fight with a Bic razor blade, so I just shaved them all off.
Actually, this was in September now that I think about it – but September was a busy month, so I’m breaking it up a bit.
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There was a period of time when I didn’t have a solid night’s sleep for two months, and just stayed awake all night going over all the things that were going wrong. It was around the time when I was shortlisted for the New York Times travel writer gig (which I’m fairly certain I didn’t get since I assume that starts on 1 January – though it feels good to be one of the few narrowed down from a list of 10,000). Phoebe and I (pictured below) ran around Berlin filming short, digestible snippets for the second-round of application (which required two videos, a portfolio of writing, a portfolio of photography and a small questionnaire) about my fair city where we ate, drank and giggled our way into the hearts and minds of men (and annoyed Berliners who have never seen us exotic zebras before in their entire lives).
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Eh. October was pretty uneventful. I carved a jack-o-lantern. I got my period on Halloween and spent the rest of the day in complete misery, skipping out on the scary movie night Jessica had planned and sucking my thumb in bed instead.
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(November)

Wait, no – I was shortlisted for the NY Times gig in November. Yeesh…is 2017 over yet?
I published an article for The Establishment, again, on The Maternal Instinct – dedicated to my mom-friends for being such an inspiration (even though I don’t think I’ll be walking in your shoes). I started researching the piece with the idea that I might one day want to have children, but when I finished writing it, I concluded that that day would probably never come.
Funny how those things happen, innit?
After a short period of rest, getting back into the routine of exercise, minding my sleep a little bit better, and doing some incredible stand-up gigs around the city, I had to take off again – this time to New York City to celebrate the launch of the web series.
New York was great – but a very, very short run of 3 working days. A blip, really. I hardly remember it at all – I spent more time physically eating pizza in Naples than time spent with boots on the ground in New York.
In the lead up to the trip, I was fretting a little bit because I knew that there were people in the big smoke I haven’t seen since high school, and would have loved to cuddle, but there was simply no time. I had to work, and so I just tried to be focused, collect as many bags of potato chips as I could (Buffalo Bleu – I LOVE YOU) and make a promise to myself to return for a longer period of time in the near future – hopefully with chef. There simply isn’t enough time in the world to do the things you want to do when you’re just a lowly freelancer. I had to get in, get out, and get back to work.
So if you’re reading this, and you’re mad at me for not saying “hi” – I’m sorry.
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I was fortunate enough to stay with Billy and Nico whom I haven’t seen since their wedding in 2008 – thankfully, their love is still legal (for now). And I’m happy to report that they’re still the beautiful, handsome, kind-hearted, hilarious gentlemen I remember – and I love them. Nico escorted me to the launch party, and Billy and I had a lovely Greenwood Cemetery date on the morning before I flew back to Berlin, to catch up and pay homage to the late, great Jean-Michel Basquiat.
I also met Anthony Bourdain – but you knew that already, didn’t you? And yep – he’s pretty damn cool, as is the rest of the team I worked with. I sincerely, sincerely hope we get to do this again soon.
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Returning to America sporadically really messes with my sense of perspective. Every time I return to the US, things seem to have gotten bigger. The roads, the food portion sizes, and the bottles of soda. I felt overwhelmed every time I went into a grocery store – wandering up and down the aisles for ages marveling at the labels, how perfectly aligned the canned goods were, how beautifully organized the shelving units were, the incredible variety of potato chips, cereal boxes and yogurt cartons. Living in Berlin, specifically East Berlin, our selection of home goods still exist behind an invisible wall. We don’t have bottles of vanilla extract (just mere teaspoon sized packets) or large bags of chocolate chips or twenty different brands of canned tomatoes in whole, chopped, peeled, diced or pureed variety. You want chopped tomatoes? Chop ’em yourself. You want roasted nuts? Here’s the plant: water it, pick the nuts, peel the flesh back, roast them yourself. You want vanilla extract? Here’s the bean, buy a bottle, mix it with vodka – wait three months. YOU’RE WELCOME.
I remember thinking how delightful the service was – in a burger shack. Like “Wait, you brought the bill…to my table???” Yes, yes I’d like to tip you!
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I enjoyed talking to strangers on the street, and how people would help you without asking for anything back, and how smiling back at another human being could shift your mood from “funk” to “funkaaaaay.”
Don’t get me wrong – I’m still glad to be in Berlin, and I’m not leaving. I just appreciated the good things about Americans for a bit, of which there are actually many. It made me even more sad to watch the country’s continued deterioration into a orange, toupee’d cancer. There is so much to love – but last year voters chose hate instead.
Before we move on to the final month of the year:
My thoughts on Meghan Markle:
  • Fuck the monarchy
  • If she’s happy then good for her
  • If she identifies as “biracial” then she’s “biracial” end.of.story
  • The point of feminism is to reclaim agency that’s taken away from us and forces us to play roles that don’t necessarily fit who we are as individuals. By calling her “black,” when she identifies as “biracial” we are stripping her of that very agency to begin with. The “one drop” rule was invented as a tool of oppression. If she rebuffs that to claim what she sees as her true self, then she is exercising her right as an autonomous human being to self-determination. Nobody has the right to take that away from her – not the monarchy, not me, not you.
  • Fuck the monarchy
  • I’m bothered that she’s giving up her job, but those are my issues about women’s independence and have nothing to do with her. I wouldn’t give up my job. But I wouldn’t marry into an institution that once claimed Manifest Destiny over 3/4ths of the world’s black and brown people and commit to a life of being stalked by paparazzi 24/7 either.
  • Her thoughts on feminism seem a bit too “Emma Watson” for me to get excited anyway.
  • Fuck the monarchy
  • I can’t help but acknowledge that this is a historic occasion, but her turning royal won’t impact me in any way unless she gets to Buckingham Palace, raises the black power fist and starts spitting sick, woke lyrics about destroying the system from the inside out.
  • I’ll probably watch the wedding anyway, so I can report on it – and to stay in the pop-culture loop because #FOMO – even though I have so many better things to do (and so do you).
  • My chef is way hotter. Way. hotter.

 

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 (December)

And now I’m back – in Berlin. In my clean flat. Collecting sleep, workouts and peaceful moments of solitude. Enjoying Christmas markets with beautiful friends, and counting down the days (THREE!) before I’m on the road again – back to Hungary for Christmas, then on to Portugal for New Years.
I’ve written 56 articles this year – for business magazines in Australia, art magazines in Berlin, black/feminist websites in the US and serious news sites right here in Germany. With one more to go for The Root (due tomorrow – eep!)
My New Year’s Resolution this year was to get published in The Root, The Atlantic and the New York Times. One out of three ain’t bad. One out of three continuously ain’t bad either. Who knows where that will lead in the future?
I don’t want to write anymore, and I don’t want to add any more galleries even though there are several I left out. I couldn’t get through everything – and I purposefully skipped over some of the bad. Let’s just say I’m broken inside – and look forward to dropping offline for the next two weeks to lick my wounds and cry a lot of stress relief tears.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
And stop assaulting women.
I’m out.

Winter is dead.

“The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day [s]he created Spring.”

-Bernard Williams.

I’m a firm believer in super powers – namely, that everyone has at least one. Maybe it’s the ability to magically conjure up a parking spot in a crowded shopping center garage on Christmas Eve. Maybe it’s the ability to speed through commercials on your HDR and stop JUST before your show comes back on. Maybe it’s the ability to get your pancakes the perfect shade of brown…before they burn. And if you’re one-such unsung hero…

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I believe we are all superheroes in some way.

My superpowers include unwittingly picking up weirdos on public transportation, selecting the perfect, just-ripe avocados at the supermarket, and attracting the best people in the world as beloved friends and confidants.

…I also have the uncanny ability to magically end-up living in cities where the favourite past time is discussing the weather.

It’s not the most astounding superpower, mind you. Personally, I’d prefer being able to predict when the ticket inspector gets on the train or the exact moment when my period is about to come. So far, I can only ascertain that it’s the moment I put on a brand new pair of lacy underpants, and then:

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…every.single.time.

Moving on!

Floridians loved discussing the weather, but it was mostly some variation of hot and humid, whether it was “fucking hot and humid, I need a beer” “hot as balls, so I’m going to the beach” or “hot AF so I’m working on my tan…on the beach…with a beer.”

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If you lived in Tallahassee, that meant sometimes wearing a windbreaker…with flip-flops.

Chicagoans loved discussing the weather, because winter lasted for six months and so we had to come up with new and creative ways to wax lyrical about the stratosphere to keep us from killing ourselves. Some people got poetic. Others got drunk. I ate a lot, because the extra layer of subcutaneous fat protected my brain from being too active, and processing the fact that I had AGREED to live in a place where ice cubes sometimes plummet from the tops of skyscrapers to impale helpless pedestrians down below.

Melbournians too, made an art of this conversation. Known for being “4 seasons in one day” I grew used to the kinds of afternoons that started with sunshine and ended with green clouds hailing down ice cubes the size of golf balls. Or 44C-degree summer heat waves. Or freezing cold rain in the middle of summer. Or basically any day that wasn’t those magical two weeks in November where it was consistently 27 degrees and sunny.

…I miss those two weeks.

Which brings me to Berlin – what the hell are you guys complaining about?

I’ve had some brutal winters – but this one, just now receding into the memories of winters past, wasn’t one of them. Yes, there were some sub-zero days that froze the living cells in your face, making it impossible to smile. And after the snow fell, you’d have to lace up your hiking boots so that you didn’t slip on the ice, fall and split your frozen non-smiling face into beautiful broken shards all over the dog-poo-littered sidewalk. But come…ON.

Berlin does winter right.

The apartments are well-maintained with good insulation and gas heating that warms up in minutes. You can buy affordable goose-down parkas and boots at the corner shop, and the markets ensure that every man, woman and child is supplied with a copious amount of mulled wine, roasted bratwurst, sauerkraut, gingerbread cookies, glazed ham and crusty bread rolls until the first of April.

Plus the snow falls…are magical.


Snowfall in Berlin mutes the world.

It’s a welcome reprieve for someone who can’t really shut off her own thoughts.

I’ve been able to really concentrate on my prose, building my profile as a writer and getting published weekly across platforms in Australia, America and Europe.

Here’s a piece I wrote for The International Business Times, London on the dangers of living as an American, now that we have…President Trump.

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Here’s my first piece for Contemporary&, a Berlin-based art mag that explores fine art from African perspectives. It’s about Kehinde Wiley bringing fine art back to the people [where it belongs.]

My second article on Kanye West and the hyperrealism of fame will be published very soon!

Here’s my first piece for The Root, the African-American channel of The Washington Post.

Side note: I’m currently in Stockholm working on my second article for them.

And here’s a deeply personal essay I wrote on my personal journey to atheism, and my mother, written for Ravishly.com. I’ve started storytelling, and my first event was at Amelia Jane’s in January, where I read a short story about shelter in the middle of winter. Then, I read this very long, very personal narrative at a Black History Month event in February for old friends and new ones. And I was reminded of why story-telling is an incredibly powerful act of reconnecting when the rainbow is not enuf. And so I’ve committed to doing it once a month moving forward. Last month was at Amelia Jane’s event at Z Bar in Mitte. This month is as yet to be confirmed, but I post all the dates and events on my Facebook page here.

I now have a weekly opinion column for The CEO Magazine, which has kept me busy Monday nights, rain or shine – and you can peruse them all in this order below:

We need to talk about the Oscars

International Women’s Day: The debate continues

The Turkish Crisis

The handshake [not] heard around the world

When will blokey culture in Australian politics finally die?

…and then there’s the book, which has completely changed in shape, structure and format since I first moved to Berlin. From a journey of self-discovery…

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…To a series of short, politically charged stories loosely-based on my experiences and observations in Europe.

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In these trying times, I have to be honest, it’s difficult to know what the right thing to do is. My friend Musa, gifted writer, poet and chocolate cake-discoverer, spoke to me about the merits of being self-focused at a time when being loud and black is considered an act of political defiance. And while that’s definitely true, and important, I feel like I can best articulate our collective struggles by removing myself [at times only marginally] from the narrative of my writings. This method provides me with the creative expression I need to tell a variety of different stories, and demonstrate the breadth in which the choices we make now, will affect the world we live in…sorta.

And I’m suddenly reminded why it’s best not to discuss a book before it’s done. I’ll leave you with that tasty nugget then move on and never speak of it again.

So stop asking me about it.

I celebrated my birthday not too long ago. First with Berlin-based friends who illuminated the evening with so much laughter, I lost my voice – and who reminded me of why sometimes the best thing you can do when you feel lost, is take a chance and move somewhere else.

Then I flew to Basel, Switzerland where I reunited with a friend I haven’t seen in 14 years. I met her hilarious children, adorable husband and we walked at length throughout the city eating chocolate, cheese and taking cheesy photographs that I will cherish always.

Highlights include being surprised by Cassandra with a raspberry tart in the morning, being surprised by Cassandra’s whole family with a strawberry cream cake in the evening, enjoying the first raclette of my life and a day trip to Luzern with breathtaking views of the Swiss Alps in the background.


Also, side note – how attractive is this family? Seriously. Stop it.

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In the beginning of last month, I was invited to attend my friend Indrani’s art exhibit for a private walk through of her deeply personal show – about love, Tinder and the ridiculous hoops we make ourselves jump through in order to be seen by others. I was amazed then, as I often am, at the vulnerability required to be an artist, and so taken by the honesty in her work that I asked if I could photograph it – to which she kindly agreed. Thanks Indrani. ❤

Winter this year was so good that I honestly didn’t want it to end. I mean, there was that one time when my heating went out on the coldest week of the year, but then Musa helped me find space heaters, Lara let me borrow some blankets and Uli let me warm myself in her son’s colourfully decorated bed all night, and it didn’t seem so bad.  And there are worse things to wake up to besides these cuties lol…


But then walking along Tempelhof Field last week on a particularly glorious 20 degree day in Neukölln, reminded me why Spring is really God’s [or whoever’s] greatest gift.

And we should all take a moment to appreciate it, just as that elderly woman giving me side eye in that panoramic photo clearly does.


But some new challenges are on the horizon. My lease is up at the end of May, and I’ve decided to move because my building is overrun with people who just don’t want to let me sleep at night. Whether it’s my next-door neighbor who drinks herself into a stupor, does miscellaneous hardcore drugs, keys my front door at 4am in the morning [when she’s not passing out in front of it in her underwear] or my downstairs neighbor who smokes meth and blasts heavy metal so loud that it makes my bones vibrate…from two floors below.

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Some battles just aren’t worth the fight – no matter how many times I call the police or file reports. German cops have too many bodies to clean up on a regular basis to give a shit about my neighbor problems. So I’m officially on the hunt for a new place, from 1 June onwards. And no, I don’t do flat-shares. I’m only interested in living by myself in a 1-bedroom flat with my name on the door. Tell your mama, your friends, your boos, your side-dudes and the milk man.

I’ve also simplified my workflow to write more on a regular basis. This has meant freelancing, pitching, and hustling. So much so that I’m in need of new literary representation. So if you know someone who knows someone…see the above call-to-action from the previous paragraph.

So. What about Stockholm?

Well, after a winter in hibernation working on new jokes, I make my spring-time debut tonight to a room full of Swedes.

I’m reminded that it’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival time again, and I’m too far away to engage in the festivities. And while I’ve taken an absence from the stage to work, collect my thoughts and reflect on the direction I want to take my life in this year, I have been far from stagnant. But before I bring it all home to Berlin for a busy season of standup, I thought I’d test it out on the Scandinavians first.

So just in case I bomb, nobody in Berlin will know.

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But there has, of course, been room for exploration. As we all know, Sweden has a reputation for being the progressive bastion of Europe. I recently read an article that said they’ve gotten so good at recycling, that they’ve run out of garbage and have started to import trash from other countries.

I’ve seen a lot of movies about different European countries that have given me wildly different impressions than what the cities are actually like. Paris is not as clean as it looks on TV. Berlin’s trains are covered in graffiti [much of which is quite creative, actually.] But Stockholm.is.gorgeous. The buildings, the people, the pastries…it’s the holy trifecta of aesthetic beauty.

The trains are on time. The subways are immaculate. The streets are cyclist friendly from top to bottom, and the parks are maintained. There isn’t garbage on the streets, and salads are served in paper containers, not plastic ones!

I know that seems like an arbitrary add-on, but it’s such a simple, important amendment to daily life that it merits a mention.

I won’t go into too much detail, because it’ll be covered in my next article for The Root. So I’ll end with another infamous “cities be like” post:

Stockholm be like…

The happiest place on earth. Disney World be damned – the promised land is here, and it’s swimming in pastries and open-relationships.

Layers of fog that rest on the land at dusk, reminiscent of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and Let Me In.

When I’m on the train, I try to look brooding like Lisbeth Salander while playing ominous music in my head.

Scandinavians are earnest like the Germans, but without the rudeness. They’re actually very polite, and smile back on the street. Germans spit. You can count the stairs by the spittle marks on them. Here, I think if you spat on the stairs, you’d be put into a headlock.

Not a deeply affectionate place, but not cold either. Better friends than strangers – better business partners than friends. They take their money seriously, along with their devotion to family and maintaining the environment. This is not a stereotype.

Expensive. Holy moly! I took out 500 Krona to get me through the first night, until I got to my AirBnB, roughly 50 Euros. My return train ticket from Stockholm Central was 580 Krona. I instantly missed Berlin.

Rinkeby is the most diverse neighborhood I’ve seen here – with East-African migrants and many hijabs that you don’t see in as much abundance throughout the rest of the city.

I also saw a black hair shop next door to an antique shop in the heart of the city – with the shop owners outside sharing an e-cig smoking break.

Drake’s new album has some fresh beats, but I’ve decided that this dude needs to live through a tsunami or something because I’m sick to death of hearing him talk about how people are out to get him, how many assets he owns, how lonely he is, but how women are ho’s that can’t be trusted. Boy, STOP.

That has nothing to do with Stockholm, but it needed to be said.

…My other superpower  is calling out bullshit trends in music.

2016: The haka heard ’round the world

“If you end up with a boring, miserable life because you listened to your dad, your mom, your teacher, your priest or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.”

-Frank Zappa

Last year I was on Cottesloe Beach in Perth, ringing in the New Year as I watched the most spectacular sunset I had ever seen. My heart was heavy, and I was utterly confused about what to do with my life. I wrote a long, feverish rant about the need to change everything, but I had no idea how.


I knew I wanted to write, but how?

I knew I needed a challenge, but how?

I knew I wasn’t happy in Australia…but how?

My response, in typical Jennifer fashion, was a war cry, a literal war cry. I said that I would “haka” my way into 2016.

Actually, my exact words were:

“I want to cover myself in war paint, stick my tongue out and contort my face into terrifying expressions of rage and scream at the world that it can’t fuck with me or the people I love anymore. I want to gesticulate at my genitalia and flex my bulging quadriceps and beat my chest. I want to intimidate the shit out of 2016, then charge at it full speed, stab it in the heart and drink its blood.”

Hey you…Facebook…remember that? I know you do.

And now, as I sit in this beautiful B&B flat that I have all to myself, overlooking the most gorgeous Alpine mountains and eating the remnants of the biggest gingerbread cookie I’ve ever seen…I think it’s safe to say:

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Look, Facebook only gives you a certain view of life. My friends who are parents make parenting look like every fairytale I ever read as a kid, but when I talk to them, that’s when I hear about how one kid threw up all over the car seat after eating a blueberry smoothie and now the back of the car seat looks like a smurf was murdered there.

But on FACEBOOK…

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I’ve had many people reach out to me and say that they’re jealous, or that I seem so care free and easy going. And I get that whole ‘grass is greener’ thing. I’ve done it too. To be fair, I try to present a balanced view of myself. Yes, living in Berlin is a ton of fun and I’m not giving it up any time soon. But there are also many perils, threats, dangers, frustrations and challenges that I have to deal with every day. If you’ve been reading my blog regularly, this won’t come as a surprise. But the rollercoaster ride of life stops for no one, so neither can I.

This year, I took chances…after many years of living in Australia, where there were no more left to take. It started off with getting up in front of a crowd of strangers and cracking a few jokes to the pleasant tune of laughter that rang like guttural wind-chimes. They were mostly comedians, so the best response they could muster was a few belly chuckles, but it was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. I entered a comedy competition, which, for only being my 5th or 6th gig, saw me enter into the prelim finals of a nationwide manhunt for the next big thing. I made instant friends with some of the most awkward, sensitive and emotionally considerate people in Melbourne. I thought to myself “Where have you guys BEEN the past 7.5 years of my life??”

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[Caili, Nat, Diana, David McD…this one’s for you.]

I met the most spectacular human being in the world, Mimi, who confirmed yet again why soul mates don’t have to be men…and for me, anyway, rarely are.


I ate my weight in knedle with Katarina, drank herby liquor with her husband and sandwiched myself between them on the couch to watch movies with a jar of white nutella while their dog tried to hump me.

…I miss Ted.


And Katty…


And Viktoria…


And the Watson’s…


And…


And…


And of course…


Ugh! Look…

I snuggled at every opportunity with Lynda, and took immense joy in her beautiful laugh. I made injokes with Aeve. I had sandwich days with my FAVORITE client ever. 😉


I worked really, really hard at a job that drove me up the wall until I woke up in a full fledged panic attack in the early hours of an autumn morning in Melbourne, screaming so loud my downstairs neighbour came upstairs to see if I was dying.

That actually happened.

I quit my job. I quit my life in that moment and decided immediately to get a new one. I can’t tell you the number of times I cried and panicked before that critical moment. By the time I finally snapped, I was emotionally destitute, and numb.

I left Australia to travel Europe. I dug into my savings, fiscal responsibility be damned, and spent whatever I felt like spending from the job that drove me mental to bring my sanity back. My first stop was London, where Greta and Beverley brought me back to life again with their love, witty humour and food adventures. They never knew it, but I was a shell of myself by the time I hit their shores, and they filled me back up again.


I reunited with my beautiful friends from Japan, and snuggled their beautiful babies.

I performed in London, that’s how I met Daniel and Aydin, who I will kiss ferociously n equal measure upon our reunions.

I got drunk one night and approached a handsome stranger from across a bar who seemed totally unattainable…until I introduced myself. Then I remembered that feeling. I remembered what it can be like to meet someone, and feel like you’re falling into something that’s bigger than you, the stars, the planets and Nutella all at once.

What a gift.

I got stalked by a crazy woman from Detroit [is that redundant, or…?]

I performed comedy in Amsterdam. I did it in a lace onesie while telling dick jokes about Donald Trump. I performed in Berlin…I headlined…in Berlin. I fell in love with a city as dirty as it is beautiful, and then I went back to Australia, sold everything I owned and moved there. I held my friends, cried all over them, held the man who took me there to begin with, thanked him for his bottomless friendship and love and left them to start over again.

I drove myself crazy thinking about whether or not I was making a mistake.

But the moment I landed, I knew that I hadn’t. Berlin has truly been the grand finale of my year, with all the joy, anger, frustration and heartache of the past five years combined into just four months. I’ve been published in dream publications…next up, The Atlantic and The New York Times. I went into business for myself. I was robbed in a restaurant. I was intimidated by a Nazi on a train. I performed all over town. I met the most amazing crew through a high school friend who’s always had my back, even from a distance.


I was chased home by three thugs, and the police did nothing. I was followed through a park at night after a birthday party. I was followed home by a deranged meathead who wouldn’t take no for an answer. I gave up on existing in public and hid in my flat until Jessica and Bror dragged me out…and bought me pepper spray. I learned German…I’m still learning German. I will be for some time to come. I danced down the halls of government buildings with miles of paperwork to get legal status, and I fist pumped the air at every stamp of approval. I roasted a turkey in a stranger’s home whom, by the end, felt like someone I had known my entire life. I met a gorgeous, young economist who made me laugh, smile, think and who will probably change the world with his Bayesian knowledge. I went back to London to work, and to gather strength to prepare me for the onslaught of Christmas. I drank absinthe from time to time. I went to Christmas markets until a terrorist attack stopped everyone from going to them.

I volunteered in a refugee shelter on Christmas Day, and handed out chocolate santas to kids who formed small gangs amongst themselves and bartered chocolate santas for other favors…like in Oz.

I felt lonely often, and unsure of the future…but not unsure of myself. In fact, I’m sick of the need to appear demure. I’m not unsure of who I am. I know what I’m capable of. And I’m doing it.

So! Now, I now write professionally, I perform standup comedy, and I’m living in Berlin.

How? Because I made a conscious agreement with the universe, Buddha, Mohammed, Jesus and Xenu to fall flat on my face a million times to get there in the end. And that’s exactly what’s happened.

I fell down over…and over again…but I’m here.

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Or, to be more accurate, I’m here.

…in Salzburg. And I’m staying here until this witching hour of a year is over, and we can get on with the much-needed revolution of 2017. You in?

My resolutions this year are private, but they’re written down. And I’ll tick them off one by one, because I’m a fucking boss. That’s what I do.

Happy New Year to every single one of you.

At the expense of sounding like a self-help poster hanging from the ceiling that you stare at while lying flat on your back and getting a pap smear, I’m being completely serious when I say this – you only have one shot. Make it count.

Christmas in Berlin (for those of you who aren’t on Instagram)

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

-Charles Dickens-

I always get sad around Christmas, but it’s not why you think. I miss my family and friends, of course, but we didn’t really have those traditions that make the festive season anything more than…you know, *whispering suggestively* that time of the year.

If I ever have a family of my own, I’ll rectify that with all manner of sparkle.

There are a whole number of factors, and some history behind it to boot, but it probably wouldn’t be very prudent to detail it here. Being back in the northern hemisphere, I have something else to consider…lack of sunlight. We’re in the middle of Berlin winter now, and the sun goes down around four in the afternoon, and I think this is what’s at least partially responsible for this latest extended bout of insomnia.

The holidays make me panic. Quick! Find someone who I can bond with, if only temporarily, and vicariously absorb their family’s festive cheer before you resort to emptying a bag of snyder pretzel bits and watching Love Actually on your portable hard drive!

(But mostly I get caught up in a Dickens novel, glaze a ham and play something on the piano.)

But I’m doing something a little different this year. Christmas Eve I’ll spend with a fellow Aussie doing the traditional orphan’s Christmas, and Christmas Day I’ll volunteer at the refugee shelter in Mitte. I won’t go anymore into it, because I’ve never done it before so I don’t know what it entails or if it’ll be a great experience, though I’m hopeful. I just think it’s important. And people keep telling me that Christmas is about looking out for each other…so why not? After all, if it’s good enough for Dickens…

New Year’s Eve I’ll spend on the side of a mountain in Salzburg, Austria…breathing fresh air and twirling in a blue peasant dress a la…

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And while Christmas still makes me sad, and while I still miss the sun (God, how I miss it)…there is joy to be found at the Christmas markets in Berlin. After a traumatic week (being followed home by a guy from the gym and ditching him in a grocery store U-Bahn stop) and some insular time to recover yesterday, I ventured out into them this afternoon. I watched so many happy people drink mulled wine, play with their children, eat bratwurst and buy gifts for loved ones. These are memories worth keeping.

I hope you enjoy the pictures. And I wish you all a Merry Christmas.

 

 

The day the world got grabbed by the pussy

“I moved on her like a bitch. I’ll admit it…I did try to f*ck her. ”

-President-Elect Donald Trump

So what else is there left to say that hasn’t already been said? This election will be analyzed for decades to come (if we even make it that long.)

My friend Alex, philosopher, lecturer, wrote a brilliant analysis of the election results which I encourage all of you to read here.

But for those of us who don’t have time to be consumed by our unrepentant genius (and snark) let’s take a minute to really absorb what’s happening here.

“Donald Trump is the next president of the United States.” Those are the words I woke up to, after dozing off next to my laptop in bed while watching the NPR live stream of the election results.

I hoped I was still asleep. But then I saw the dozens of messages on my phone from my friends and colleagues in Australia, Japan and around Germany, each of them asking me if I was okay and/or apologizing…as if they had anything to be sorry for. Let the record state, dear friends, that it is I who owe you an apology. I’m so very fucking sorry.

Personally, I’m still waiting for an apology from the people who are the real architects of this disaster – the Democratic Party.

For years, social psychologists, philosophers and economists have been preaching about rising trends of paranoia, anti-intellectual and anti-globalization sentiment. Experts are no longer trusted. Having a set of letters at the end of your name is an automatic giveaway about your role within the “establishment”…or the illuminati. Traditional news sources with actual journalists are now competing with conspiracy blogs. People would rather take their cancer treatment advice from “wellness” bloggers over oncologists.

You can’t trust big pharma. You can’t trust little pharma. Hell, you can’t trust the pharmacist down the street who’s been treating your runny noses since you were too little to wipe it yourself. Should you buy organic or GMO? What’s the best way to rid “toxins” from the body? Monsanto is out to destroy your reproductive organs from the inside out!

As William S. Burroughs once said “paranoia is the sudden realization that everything around you is alive.”

Trump came along at the perfect time. He exploited that paranoia and made grand promises that spoke directly to the fear it created. He said everything that the rest of the right (and some of the left) was thinking, and he didn’t apologize for a word. He stoked the flames of misogyny, racism, hatred and fear with expert precision. He bloviated with simple words that people who have been left behind with no education, resources, jobs or options, could understand.

He went so far to the right, the entire political spectrum was thrown off balance, and the only way to bring it back to standard would have been by pitting him against a progressive. Not a white-passing progressive; an actual progressive.

So let me ask you…are you feeling the Bern now?

Et tu Democrats?

This is what upsets me the most. My vote was wasted. Not because I voted for third party, which I didn’t. It was wasted because it was driven by a fear of the alternative, not for a belief in my candidate. Clinton was never my candidate. She was never the candidate for people of colour, or the poor, or migrants, or the protestors in North Dakota – and for years, she wasn’t the candidate for the LGBT community. She only became that candidate when it was convenient.

And yet, so many of us, who have been underrepresented in and categorically oppressed by her policy and legislation, rallied behind her as we always do, because we feared what might happen to us if the other guy won.

As a good friend of mine who is Serbian said, “You know it’s bad when you’re cheering for the person who bombed your home country.”

…this is the best we could do?

The reason why Trump won is because Clinton didn’t present, what George Monbiot called in his (okay, no seriously) excellent post-election analysis, a competing narrative. And even though I wish she had won, with all of my heart, I cannot express the remotest sign of incredulity that she lost.

Democrats don’t want to be reminded of Bernie Sanders as we lick our wounds from an extraordinary loss, but it needs to be said. Once again, it is the people who live on the margins of society who will suffer irreparable damage because of the arrogance, entitlement and hubris of the people who sold us out to further their own myopic cause…again.

After Debbie Wasserman-Schultz sabotaged Sanders in favour of creating what she and many others saw as history, I had nothing left to say. She shut Sanders out of the party’s data files, stacked convention committees with Clinton supporters and propagated the most vile “Bernie bro” smear campaign to paint him and his millions of supporters (many of which were within the black community) as Men’s Rights Activists. And when she was caught, she didn’t double down, she didn’t apologize. She was appointed an honorary position in Clinton’s election campaign.

And President Obama, who I sincerely love and will miss dearly, gambled his entire legacy on the promise that he would leave the Oval Office to a woman as his successor. In doing so, he overlooked the needs and cries of the lower and middles classes, thinking that a symbol mattered more than actual progress. As a result, his eight years of hard-won fights will be undone by a reality TV star within 100 days.

You can’t get more Shakespearean than that.

Whenever I, and many others, attempted to debate this issue with traditional white Democrats, many of whom were women, we were shut down, told to fall in line, and quickly reminded of our place within the party…behind everyone else. We were headlocked into supporting a candidate who made deals to privatize the prison system, enforce mandatory minimums, voted to invade Iraq, criminalized being gay in the military and legislation that gutted the remaining articles of FDR’s New Deal, which contributed equally as much to the GFC of 2008 as Bush’s two wars.

So I’ll say it again…this is the best we could do???

And every time I put up these issues in a discussion, I was met with the same response: “But Jennifer, don’t you want a woman president? Isn’t it time?”

Of course it’s time. OF COURSE I do. But not her.

I watched Hillary Clinton accept her nomination as Democratic Candidate for the president of the United States, a woman who pulled every trick in the book to win it, and I asked myself why we were catering to her ego at the expense of everything else? It was like watching a child, surrounded by balloons, toys and candy, who keeps stuffing the faces of her playmates into the cake while they cry, and all the adults just smile and say “Naaw. That’s adorable.”

Bernie Sanders didn’t tear a part the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton did. And as angry as it makes me, as fearful as I am for the future, my one consolation is this – it’s about fucking time.

Michelle Alexander wrote an article earlier this year on theroot.com saying that nobody, not even Bernie Sanders, could save the Democratic Party from itself. It’s hell-bent on self-sabotage, because it can’t make up its mind about who it represents. So let’s blame Trump. Let’s blame his millions of supporters. Let’s blame his racist, sexist, bigoted ideology. But let’s also blame our deluded belief that people would just buy whatever we were selling, as long as it wasn’t that.

Americans wanted more. But white Americans, once again, had the privilege of voting their “conscience” (for better or for worse) while everyone else was consumed with voting for the option least likely to reinstate lynching as a national past time. And now, everyone…everywhere…will have to suffer the consequences.

Who else is to blame?

There’s a video by Jonathan Pie going around that inarticulate white dudes everywhere are sharing in masse. I watched the video. It’s engaging, provocative and there are some truths to it that you’ll see echoed in this post. One thing on which I vehemently disagree is the subject of political correctness. Telling racist white people not to be racist isn’t wrong. Telling sexist men not to be sexist isn’t wrong. Telling homophobes not to be homophobic ISN’T WRONG. And yes, the likelihood of you being sexist, racist or homophobic for wanting the right to “express” your thoughts freely, even if those thoughts come at the expense of someone already marginalized by the system of privilege from which you benefit directly, is extremely high.

And guess what?

Electing a man who brags about sexually assaulting women, threatens to build a wall between America and Mexico, and whose VP is a man who supports scrapping HIV research in favour of “conversion therapy” (i.e. torture) doesn’t support your argument. It supports ours.

Yes, the left lacked leadership and progressive ideas. But let us not forget, that those progressive ideas are needed not just to win elections, but to combat a plague of hatred that has threatened to consume America from the inside out since the first indigenous genocide, and subsequent denial of said first genocide, began centuries ago. Those progressive ideologies are a necessary reaction to the draconian ideology of the conservative right. It’s a response to institutional racism, rape culture and the prison industrial complex.

“Mansplaining” is real. Men do interrupt women at an infinitely higher rate because of a socially-reinforced belief that what men have to say is more important than what women have to say.  The first presidential debate is the only example you need of that. Men are socialized to feel intellectually superior, even if they’re dumb…again, see our president-elect as the canonic example. Men are paid more than women for doing the same job (often to lower standards of quality…the current president-elect just so happens to be a glaring example of the latter.) Privilege is real. You not wanting to acknowledge it because it makes you uncomfortable, even if it would make the lives of the people subjugated by your privilege better, only proves it!

And last but certainly not least, “Black lives matter” is a response to “black lives never mattered.”

If you want to stop being called out by the left for being horrible, then stop being horrible. It’s that simple.

Don’t be distracted by the 2% of Americans who voted third party. They are not to blame and never were. They wanted a better alternative, and the two-party system is underpinned by the refusal to provide one. I personally looked at voting for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson. But a doctor who doesn’t vehemently condemn the anti-vaxx movement or a former governor who’s in favour of defunding the department of education, didn’t provide better alternatives. I would like to live in a world where this is more of a possibility. It Bernie Sanders had run as a third party candidate, we might be looking at a very different America today. One run by an actual progressive, and where a third party candidate made US history.

It’s a waste of time to direct any anger at third party candidates or their supporters, when the real issue is the countless men and women who voted for Donald Trump instead.

Fuck you, pay me

So here we are. Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. His portrait will hang in airports, government buildings and embassies. He has just announced a famed white supremacist as his senior adviser. Rudy Giuliani, a man whose signature legislation known as “stop and frisk” was ruled unconstitutional for racial profiling, is in talks to become state attorney. Sarah Palin, you know…the bulldog with lipstick…is rumoured to be his next interior secretary. Trump has already announced his plan to deport three million immigrants, and he has said that he intends to overturn Roe V. Wade immediately.

That’s what we’re up against. And what’s the left’s response? Safety pins.

Get the fuck outta here.

This feel good slacktivism doesn’t cut it anymore. I understand you want to feel good about yourself for damning the rest of us to a very dark four years ahead, but while you’re crying on each other’s shoulders in a secret Facebook group, Donald Trump is plotting to subjugate the country. DO BETTER.

While millions of leftists are taking cute selfies of themselves for “solidarity,” I’m getting flooded with emails from people who are desperate to move their children out of the United Sates before “Stand your ground” is implemented nation wide.

PUT DOWN YOUR PHONES AND DO SOMETHING.

I get it. You want to pretend like everything is okay. And if you’re white, straight, Christian and born in the USA, there’s a very strong possibility that everything will be okay…for you. But to the millions of black people, brown people, LGBT people, disabled people, Muslim people and foreign people, you owe us a debt. Not just a debt of gratitude for coming out in record numbers and supporting your shady candidate, but for forcing us to do so while you couldn’t even hold up your end of the bargain.


I don’t want your safety pins. I don’t want your solidarity. I want you to pay.what you.owe.

When I was a young girl, I asked my mother what the difference was between a Republican and a Democrat. She told me “A republican believes that the government should tell the people what to do, and a Democrat believes that the people tell the government what to do.”

Simplistic? Yes. But how else do you explain to a ten year old the driving force between the nation’s two major parties? Anyone who has studied history knows that the signature ideology between the two parties we now know today wasn’t always like this. Abraham Lincoln [a great but very problematic president] signed the Emancipation Proclamation as a Republican. Eisenhower taxed the wealthy at 90% and used that money to build what is now our crumbling infrastructure. Kennedy was the beginning of a liberalism that is now a shadow of its former self (and he was only that candidate because of a growing civil rights movement that held him accountable.) Now, when looking at the two parties objectively (let me emphasize that word, ‘objectively’) the differences aren’t as clear as they should be.

That’s why we’re in this mess. But that’s also why we now have an opportunity to change everything, everything, from the ground up.

…and while we’re doing that, it might be a good time to donate to Planned Parenthood. They’re going to need it.

 

 

 

 

That one time I sat with a Nazi on a train in Berlin

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

-Mark Twain

In an act of defiant self-righteousness or supreme confidence, I slept in my Obama t-shirt last night. This t-shirt has followed me around the world for the past eight years, from Chicago to Melbourne and now to Berlin. I wore this same shirt on election night in 2008 in Grant Park where, after a day of door knocking and chewing my nails, I saw him give his nomination acceptance speech and change the course of history as the nation’s first black president.

I still have pictures from that night.

I’ll admit it. I was one of those people who genuinely believed that electing him would change everything, even though logically, I knew that was impossible.

 

I voted for Obama in 2008, despite the fact that I also had the option of Hillary Clinton. In my mind, the choice wasn’t even close. This year, I voted for Clinton because I was a 17 year old high school senior in Florida during the 2000 election, too young to vote for Al Gore. But I would have. I lived through the Bush years, and unlike a lot of other people, I haven’t forgotten what that felt like.

In 2003, I studied abroad in Spain where I was routinely refused service, pranked, vandalized and discriminated against. A lot of it was because I’m black. A lot of it was because I’m American. I live in Berlin now. And my stomach is turning over the possibility of what we could wake up to tomorrow morning – how life could be different. We talk about progress in terms of process, because humanity is a slow continuum of thought and consciousness that is meant to evolve collectively. But when it comes to stunting progress and devolving into primates who throw our poo at each other, it only takes a moment…or in this case, a day.

I wasn’t going to share this story, because I don’t want people’s comments or pity or self-righteous indignation all over my fucking Facebook wall today. I didn’t tell my friends in Oz or my parents because it would worry them to bits, but it’s important.

On Saturday, I was riding the S-Bahn from the gym between Frankfurter Allee and Hermannstraße. At Ostkreuz station, a large man sat down opposite of me. He was maybe 6’4″ or 6’5″ with light blonde hair and blue eyes. He wore a dark long-sleeved shirt and dark jeans, and his physical presence was very imposing, not just for me, but for the two people sitting next to us. The man shoved on another smaller, and visibly younger gentleman next to him, eyeing him down until he looked away.

Then he stared at me. I didn’t really know what to do, so I stared back. It’s not really in my nature to do that. I some times have trouble looking people in the eye, but it seemed important to maintain eye contact even though I was crawling out of my skin with discomfort. So we kept staring at each other, and then he made the subtlest movement. He slowly rolled up his sleeves part way, and that’s when I saw the lightening bolt tattoos on his hands.

For those of you who don’t know, lightening bolts mean “Schnutzstaffel,” or what we call “SS” and they’re common markers for people of the neo-nazi faction. Or, as a friend pointed out to me, since I’m in Germany…he was an actual nazi. Scratch the “neo” part.

The guy sitting next to him shook his head angrily and caught my peripheral eye, giving me the subltest look of encouragement and abject warning that read something like: DO…NOT…MOVE.

So, I didn’t. What could I do anyway? Moving seats seemed cowardly. Speaking up would’ve been idiotic. I grew up around very big men. There was absolutely no way that would’ve been a fair fight. Not even in my active wear.

He got off at Neukölln, and that was when I allowed myself to ask the question that had been strangling my brain during the whole train ride: All those empty seats on the train, and you sit across from me??

This is something I have tried explaining to my white friends over and over again, but their discomfort over coming face-to-face with the kind of racism they’re only used to consuming in a Hollywood blockbuster prevents them from hearing me out almost every single time. He saw me. He singled me out. He made an overt effort to make me feel physically uncomfortable in that space, and establish his dominance. For ten or so minutes, I was staring into the eyes of someone who hated me for no reason other than the colour of my skin. Can you imagine what he really wanted to do to me? Can you imagine what he’s probably done to other people who look just like me?

Has that ever happened to you? Do you know what that feels like? Don’t tell me “it’s over now.” Don’t tell me “at least he didn’t do anything [this time.]” Don’t tell me “it could’ve been worse.” Don’t use language that silences me from speaking up about how terrifying and hurtful that was to me, and how terrifying and hurtful it should be for you too. Maybe you can walk away from this story and feel good about yourself for having listened to it, but I have to live with the reality that any day, it could repeat itself.

Later that night, I went to a party hosted by my Black in Berlin friends and told them what happened. I needed to be in a safe place. They expressed equal amounts of shock and…well, not shock. What surprised me was how someone could make such a bold statement, but get off at Neukölln, a stop that lies in the heart of the kiez of the same name, where Berlin’s entire middle-eastern population lives. But then I remember that the cities in America with the biggest neo-nazi presences are the cities with the most racial and ethnic diversity – namely, Miami and South LA. They like to go where the action is…because they’re ASSHOLES.

Someone at the party mentioned that there had been a rightwing protest in the city that evening. Either he was on his way there, or on his way from.

These protests have been happening a lot since the September elections, where the AFD party [Alternativ für Deutschland] brutalized Angela Merkel’s party in the regional elections. Like most nationalist movements, they’ve disguised their rhetoric of hatred and bigotry with the narrative of “reclaiming” their country. And like many Western democracies are seeing right now, it’s working.

This is the power of elected officials. When we give political power to a party that advocates hate and bigotry, it legitimizes the hate and bigotry of the people who vote for them. They feel emboldened to step out into the world and proclaim their views openly, without fear of repercussion or shame. They brazenly incite fear, violence and aggression, because they feel represented at most senior levels of office, and they are.

So if you’re someone who is telling others that federal elections matter less than local ones, you’re an idiot. They all matter.

This is what will happen if Trump is elected as president. Except it’ll be worse because, unlike Germany, America has an arsenal of free-range guns and stopped investing in education years ago.

Even if Trump isn’t elected, and I hope to God he isn’t, his supporters aren’t going anywhere. They’re only getting started.

I won’t tell you who to vote for, because at this point in the election, I’m not arrogant enough to actually think I could change your mind. I voted for Clinton, and not third party, because my abstract principles aren’t more important than the lives that stand to suffer if Trump were to win the presidency. I voted for her because I honestly didn’t see a better option. I voted for her, because even though I don’t live in America anymore, many people I love do. I voted for her, because we stand a better chance of fighting for a new political system under her, one with serious third party candidates [not Gary Johnson] who are allowed to participate in the debates, than we do under Trump.

But if you haven’t, then you have to live with the possibility that you might have helped elect someone, even if only indirectly, who will tap dance on the soul of the country we love.

And if you think we won’t feel the impact of your decision here in Germany, a country that once voted for the guy with the loud voice, who hates minorities, threatens to imprison opponents, tramples on democracy and claims that he alone can fix everything… you’re wrong.