life unexamined

I can see it’s all there. all there, but nothing yet done


Marguerite Duras
I know I met people like Betty Fernandez before. I must have. dazzling and fascinating personalities and not carefully crafted and curated personas. people that didn’t give a fuck about what anyone said or thought about them, at least not outwardly, and did their thing. back in the day. in Berlin. and even after, when I had moved to London. in the beginning. every so often I met someone whose character was so irresistible that I couldn’t stay away. by now, I have a hard time remembering them. they were usually much older than me, and their age had given them permission not to care. or maybe they never had. there was Louis. I think his name was Louis. a full head of white hair, bearded, paint-smeared overalls, glasses, asking if I would want to pose for a painting. I had just turned twenty, was na├»ve and credulous and incredulous at the same time, and excited that the life that I had only read about so far seemed to really exist. fifty years older than me, he cooked spaghetti with yellow pepper sauce. we drank wine and smoked red Gauloises and talked about art. his apartment was a convoluted array of rooms and nooks and niches, full of books and paintings and sculptures and dusty smelling furniture, his studio equipped with huge skylights. like a scene of one of the many books I had read come to life. maybe that’s my problem. maybe I read too many books, live too many lives, maybe nothing real can ever live up to what life could be like. or maybe I took a wrong turn somewhere and tried, still try, to be everything to everyone, like my mother instilled in me.

my memory of men is never lit up and illuminated like my memory of women. Betty Fernandez. she was a foreigner too. as soon as I say the name there she is, walking along a Paris street, she’s short-sighted, can’t see much, screws up her eyes to recognize you, then greets you with a light handshake. hello, how are you? dead a long time ago now. thirty years, perhaps. I can remember her grace, it’s too late now for me to forget, nothing mars its perfection still, nothing ever will, not the circumstances, nor the time, nor the cold or the hunger or the defeat of Germany, nor the coming to light of the crime. she goes along the street still, above the history of such things however terrible. here too the eyes are pale. the pink dress is old, the black wide-brimmed hat dusty in the sunlight of the street. she’s slim, tall, drawn in Indian ink, an engraving. people stop and look in amazement at the elegance of this foreigner who walks along unseeing. like a queen. people never know at first where she’s from. and then they think she can only be from somewhere else, from there. because of this she’s beautiful. she’s dressed in old European clothes, scrapes of brocade, out-of-date old suits, old curtains, old oddments, old models, moth-eaten old fox furs, old otter skins, that’s her kind of beauty, tattered, chilly, plaintive and in exile, nothing suits her, everything’s too big, and yet it looks marvellous. her clothes are loose, she’s too thin, nothing fits, yet it looks marvellous. she’s made in such a way, face and body, that anything that touches her shares immediately and infallibly in her beauty.Marguerite Duras, The Lover

do people like that still exist? and this is not a case of misplace nostalgia. this is not about everything was better back when everything was worse. things change. for the better and the worse. that said, do people like that still exist?

in a recent conversation, with one of the few friends that take comments like this the right way, I mentioned that ninety-five per cent of the people I know, including my friends, bore me. it’s a horrible thing to say, I know, but it’s the truth. I love them for varying reasons, my friends, and I use the rest for equally varying reasons, but if I’m absolutely honest, I find most of them incredibly uninspiring. there you go. I said it.

we all do it. we all use people. to entertain us. to makes us feel less alone. to give us the illusion of belonging, even though we don’t even like them. in this increasingly fractured world of ours, we latch on to people that mean nothing to us more often than is healthy. and we get lost ourselves doing so.

there aren’t many people like Louise in my life at the moment. they still drift in every so often. but they never stay. the majority of people I know are teachers and nurses and bankers and accountants. all very respectable. all very noble. all incredibly boring. and the admittedly numerous creative people I know, like most everyone else, care more about their social media presence and the status of their personal branding campaigns than the creativity they allegedly love so much.

another friend who can take my ramblings the right way keeps telling me that I am the one who attracted everything I currently have in my life. it’s all me. no one else. a wrong turn then. teachers, nurses, bankers, accountants, shallow and superficial social media wannabe creative types. but I want more. always have.

there is Carola who never called herself an artist but told me to do so myself. a textile and pattern designer, self-taught, she is glad to be called an artisan. she refused to have her designs, toys for children, produced in India. she refused to go online. to have a website. a blog. giveaways. the whole spiel. and I have to admit, for a while, back then, I pitied her for her backward attitude and stubbornness. of course she didn’t make it. she survived until the economy crashed and is now working [surviving?] as an art teacher in a hip kindergarten for hip Berlin hipster children. but looking back, the many evenings spent with her, putting the world to rights over homemade ginger tea and cheap bottles of wine, stand out more than the many nights spent at carefully orchestrated gallery openings or film screenings.

there is Anja, a painter and performance artist. I don't like any of her work. don't think she is particularly talented either. but being an artist isn't a choice. I only ever toyed with the concept and opted out when it got too hard. still do. she doesn't.

teachers, nurses, bankers, accountants...

fifteen and a half. the body’s thin, undersized almost, childish breasts still, red and pale pink make-up. and then the clothes, the clothes that might make people laugh, but don’t. I can see it’s all there. all there, but nothing yet done. I can see it in the eyes, all there already in the eyes. I want to write. I’ve already told my mother: that’s what I want to do – write. no answer the first time. then she asks: write what? I say: books, novels.

I answer that what I wanted more than anything else in the world was to write, nothing else but that, nothing. jealous. she’s jealous. no answer. just a quick glance immediately averted, a slight shrug, unforgettable. I’ll be the first to leave. there are still a few years to wait before she loses me, loses this one of her children. for the sons there’s nothing to fear. but this one, she knows, one day she’ll go, she’ll manage to escape.Marguerite Duras, The Lover