Feeling lost in a new city can have many positive outcomes.
Illustrated by Livia Fălcaru
2017 has come to an end and it’s been difficult, challenging on many levels, filled with encounters and people that have either made me feel I won’t make it out alive, or have given me the expected amount of strength to start writing, living and believing it all comes down with a reason.
I used to do a lot of Tarot readings for myself at the beginning of 2017, I grew rapidly passionate (and bored) with it. The most relevant piece of information that stuck to me was 2017 being my Tarot card year of Death. It made a lot of sense back then, but especially at this closing time, where, between the extraction of my wisdom teeth and the last flight I will board this year, I rediscover unshed emotions and divides of my personality I held at a distance for more than a decade.
It made a lot of sense to go back to Berlin in spite of a momentary urge to use the same amount of money to travel to New York, as it made a lot of sense to start writing a second novel after eight years of painstaking blurred vision of my own work.
I was going through three major life changes simultaneously when I started writing “Music for people who cannot cry”: a breakup, the relocation to a different state, and my newly acquired financial insecurity. All these because I always thought I needed to force myself out of stale situations and create growth. I took this picture the third day after I settled in my then newly rented Berlin apartment. It was the first picture I took – after carefully photographing all the small details of the house that could later serve as evidence to my landlords that “NO, I was not the one who broke the tiles” or “Yes, that stain facing east of kitchen was there since I moved in”. It was probably one of the most consistent memories of that day – the view from above the city – since I then posted this same image to Instagram with the caption “Bonne nuit”, when IN REALITY I meant: “By this time I had been working on my hobby project completely aware that will take over 1 year to produce any revenue. I have some friends here but felt like we didn’t share much interests. I have had depression and anxiety for 10 years and while trying to live with them, I have lost many things. I don’t afford a therapist yet, I am always stressed and disoriented, I have no idea what I’m doing, if I’ll make it out of this alive, sane, especially if my anxiety/PTSD will survive a new city”.
I hadn’t been away from work, my home town or my habits for so long in two years. The first time I moved here I was managing a highly read online magazine and the editorial work in itself – with an average of 300 daily emails and submissions to curate through, but also with such immediate access into people’s intimacies – made me feel like Bruce Almighty for a couple of months, at least until the working relationship became strained. By the end of it, in the summer of 2016, I had slowly spiralled into burnout, and once I cut my ties with the project, I preserved a harsh feeling of inconsistency to my life. I often said it had broken my heart, but never really wrote about how getting your heart broken in a professional setup can sometimes weigh heavier than breaking your back over a toxic romantic relationship. The spinoff was to take a similar position at a more competitive publication soon after. The agency of this decision was to reconcile with myself and make the means to move back to Germany, so for the most of it I made an effort to keep working in spite of the great dissatisfaction of being in a city I didn’t like, with people I didn’t connect with any longer, in a house I tried for too long to make feel like a home, and with constant awareness that being a workaholic and a career obsessed person was the only acceptable way to secure an exit from that situation.
Some things went into effect, others have failed subsequently or ran their course. I decided to part ways with one of the most passionate projects I’ve worked on for the past 2 years, and in May I left my managing role at Romanian Polaroid Photographers and my ties, as a whole, with the project. There was never a perfect time for this kind of transition, but now I feel it is a right time to speak about it.
RPP has been a life altering experience for me. My love for photography has tremendously grown and my life has been affected in so many positive ways that it’s hard to describe the density of its impact. Over the past 2 years, my belief that ‘nothing is impossible’ materialized in ways I will be forever grateful for. All the generous, wonderful, talented people I have met, all the places I have travelled to, all the tremendous communities that brought us together.
Unfortunately, RPP has never belonged solely to me. At this point, its co-owner and I have come to irreconcilable viewpoints regarding its future so it is a proper time for me to depart. I hope and trust that its future is as bright as what this past year has promised and that RPP continues adding value to countless artists.
Finally, that Possible Project made me understand how art has the power to create positive change within us.
Taking a break from everything was one of the strangest and most painful things I’ve done. Living alone in a different city – perhaps mostly in a social landscape like Berlin that pushes your limits extensively because it’s not competitive, and it makes it easy for you to get lost or fall apart – forces you to face and question all the layers of your agenda and personality that you’ve dispersed into things you thought mattered.
I stopped having nightmares, spending my last pennies on perfume, flowers and fur, or trying to rekindle relationships that have long ran their course. On the flip side I stopped aligning my priorities to the ones of my counterparts. I pushed hard into my limits, sometimes with the awareness that I’ll have to deal with sour consequences of physical or psychological resort, but generally with a newly found desire to stop being ashamed of myself.
Reinstalled Tinder in Madrid to remember why people look for missed connections, started a podcast with my friend and former staff writer Victoria Lucas, dated people who were off my usual radar, interest, geography or age range, mostly who didn’t speak my native language, bought more plane tickets than ever before, travelled to eight different cities in less than six months, cried in public at hours people usually take trains to get to work, danced myself to exhaustion, played terrible music for terribly dressed people at a Halloween party, stopped coloring my hair after 14 years, drank too much sometimes, slept too little most of the times, read extensively in airplanes, broke up with someone over the #metoo hashtag, created this Patreon page to keep me partially mercifully unemployed and working solely on a novel, made meaningful friendships and managed to keep my sense of humour at bay even when I lost valuable posessions in random parts of the world, dealt with feelings of nothingness and emptiness as I realized how fast people forget we exist as soon as we’re not reflecting a positively productive, envy inducing social media experience.
I said yes to everything.
When I tell people everything I do is an experiment their reactions are mixed. I tell them everything they also do is experiments with themselves, regardless if they’re conscious or not.
The most probable reaction you get from telling people, mostly men, that you’re writing a book about everything going on in your life, is the fear you’ll include them. The second most common reaction is surprise. The third is legitimate curiosity, and by the fourth and fifth category lie individuals who take an actual interest in the development of their fictitious character.
I usually name characters without difficulty – the first and top of mind choice is generally the one I go along with. For this book I often found myself however asking my writer friend Victoria to throw in some names for the figures I was indecisive about or those I was not very sure how to model.
In theory, we seldom question the source of a character, and perhaps it’s far less interesting to dissect and analyze the conjuncture behind the process of building one, but I’ve always found that process more curious than the resulting figure.
At some level, reading through lines into someone else’s life is, I suppose, similar to palmistry.
The comic aspect of placing everyone you know or meet in a book goes further than how people manage to influence each other. It’s similar to building an offline social network. Characters develop day by day, they turn into others, they meet people, they make terribly lame excuses for their actions, they obsess about miniscule details of their insignificant others, they have sex, bad sex or they don’t have sex at all.
My friend Victoria recently described my work to another writer as “she really tries to put sense into everything, and it’s so damn intense, it’s like she’s there gripping to your arm and saying Can you feel this?”
From 2014 until recently I had ingrained Estella from Great Expectations as a layer to my personality. Estella is a social construct and we see her everywhere, from the female targeted self help books and online courses that try to sell us priceless information on how to lock a man forever in the desperate dungeon of our self confidence depleted hearts, to the infinite volume of Internet documentation on how to be more attractive to the opposite sex, to the very contemporary disabling science of texting, sexting and forming relationships online with people we’ll never probably enjoy in real life. But she dates much further behind, and she’s the design model for inaccessibility, playing hard to get, hard to resist and hard to own up to, because she’s basically a fantasy describing our failure to dispose the fear of not being enough – or of being too much.
I first wrote about Estella in “Shortcomings”, in 2015, and continued to insert her as a character in “Music for people who cannot cry” – where I wrote a chapter about the women who leave.
Hollywood has romanticized Estella towards the end, painting her in such a softness that she seemed to reconcile with the fact that choosing to be chased after instead of owning up to natural feelings of guilt, shame, sadness, and revelation have concluded into the fact that she actually deserves love.
I “kill” characters when I feel they no longer serve me as a funnel into self discovery. I decided to kill Estella soon after having the realisation being less or expressing less or asking for less was not my cup of tea and actually reflected one time brutally as a persistent rash on my skin as I was trying to be too nice to someone who wasn’t being nice to me at all.
Mostly, I quit developing the character as I began to accept my Maslow had a love shortage and that had to do more with what I wanted to experience in real life, at a deeper level of immersion than I wanted to put into work and writing.
Whenever someone tells me You feel too much, I reply I only have this life.
It will consume my nerves, perhaps make me travel extensively to look further for the way people collide into each other incidentally at apparently unplanned moments of their lives, give me shortage of breath and amazing bursts of emotional/intellectual capacity – but all these seem a fair trade for collecting stories that can walk sense into other people’s lives. Nothing is unplanned, even when we think it is.
I once saw a life coach who told me You have chosen the most difficult purpose for yourself – to make people feel. I told him We program our expectations the same way we schedule Facebook posts.
To do nothing, in this day and age, when so much pointless work is produced, could be almost considered an achievement. It all compares most unfavourably with my own imaginary body of work.
Some days, the best thing you’ll hear is a familiar voice* wishing you a nice life, instead of a good night. And that’s something I’ll never take for granted.
*for my friend Ioana Niculescu
#WhatIDidntPostOnInstagram is an unfiltered collection of unedited truths made into a book and sold by friends at @thoughtcatalog @katiemather