“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?
What can I say? It’s just trippy.
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:
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 :
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.
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…)
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!
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.
Hm. I guess that wasn’t as random as I thought it would be. CHEERS TO ME!