From my breakfast perch, I can see a beautiful heritage house across the street. The lovely owner runs a home-based daycare.
This morning I watched parents in various makes of cars hurl themselves to the curb, gently and with apparent attention shepherd their children inside, …then run back nearly headless to the cars that would take them to their minutely scheduled lives:
To catch the train to work in Boston?
To take the highway to work in suburban office parks?
To go to a local job?
Where were they all off to, in such a great hurry?
Of course I remembered that I used to do this myself, before I (sort of kind of involuntarily) opted out of that rat race.
Last month I had one of those very blue periods where what should be a broad horizon shrinks down to a tiny speck that feels like a dark, dark hole in the ground.
I’m happy to report that my brain managed to adjust itself and I don’t feel entirely rotten at present. But these things do come and go, as many of you know. One of my sisters calls it having “das arme Tier” (except she’ll say it not in high German, but in an exaggerated Rhineland dialect, “dat aahme Dier”): that poor dear.
You can have that damn poor dear, you see. And when you do, she’s going to make sure you feel that it’s like that. Exactly like that.
(Note for monolinguists: Tier means animal, here meant as creature. Dier is dialect: in the Rhineland, hard sounds tend to soften: t becomes d, ich becomes ish. In Berlin, on the other hand, pronunciation is harder: ich becomes the famous – infamous? – ick.)
I think it’s ironic that, just as “the poor dear” sticks with me (and to me, sometimes), I also have a special memory of another concept: the Lebenskünstler or life artist. He or she is a person who escapes constricting social norms and manages to live life on her own terms.
In a super-ramped up consumerist world, we may be forgiven if we conflate Lebenskunst (the art of living) with lifestyle and therefore as something we ought to be able to buy.
Money sure is useful (and a validation of oneself, if one is paid for what one does), but Lebenskunst is not just a lifestyle thing.
It’s mostly an attitude, a perspective, and a question of creativity.
In one sense, it’s about being able to count one’s blessings – although, again using my memories as an example, counting blessings or having an attitude of gratitude is something my tribe made fun of, often. Really often. Gratitude, schmatitude. Gratitude was for weaklings, and for optimistic fools who ended up being happy to tend their own gardens – instead of going out there and Doing Something Important. So we made fun. I’m not sure we really understood the corrosive effect on ourselves of our sarcasm. But I think we did it because we assumed that some things were basic social and human rights, and that it was ridiculous to be grateful for anything-and-everything. (People have argued about this for centuries.) I suspect, too, that sarcasm and gallows humor was also a shield – and perhaps a lance – against the poor dear. Today I’m more inclined to conclude that tending one’s own garden isn’t the worst of all possible worlds – provided you have your little plot, that is.
The Lebenskünstler is creative about gratitude, and uses it to build. She’s no hapless naif, or poor dear. He has a sense of style – and therefore a lifestyle – but isn’t a slave to consumption. She builds (creates) with what she’s given, and sometimes that’s the short end of the stick. No matter. It’s a matter of philosophy, and consolation. Most of all, Lebenskunst is about creativity and using what you’ve got.
Give her half a chance, and my poor dear tells me I’ve got nothing. I have to tell her to shut her uncreative trap. My poor dear makes fun of the Lebenskünstler swanning about, the one who’s busy making plans and creating (largely imaginary) worlds.
The poor dear doesn’t want anyone actually to create anything. At this point I have to show my poor dear the door, although she’s feisty and incredibly difficult to shove away. But push I must, because my poor dear does nothing to help me get anywhere, or even help me get started.
She is the worst rat race in the whole universe because she makes me compete against her, which is no contest at all because she’ll triumph.
The Lebenskünstler must learn to subtract. Ask any sculptor and she’ll tell you that subtraction is as valuable a creative technique as addition. It’s time once again to give the poor dear a Lebenskunst make-over.
Before going to bed last night, I posted a status update to Facebook that read, “Spent an hour or more reading about maternal haplogroup T2b, from the sublime (well, not really) to the ridiculous (yes, really).”
Then, I foolishly dug around a bit on a new online publishing platform — foolish, because it made me feel like I was missing something.
And this morning, glancing over my email while the coffee brewed, I noticed a link to a yet another new book that teaches you common household and “life” hacks, including something to do with threading needles.
With that word “needles,” bam!, a dream I’d had during the night came into focus, except it came back in that annoying way dreams will: partial, half-remembered, missing key pieces.
I was somewhere, doing something (with my hands?). I was somewhere doing something with my hands and it involved trying to repair something.
I was somewhere doing something about stitching something that had torn.
I was somewhere — oh no, it can’t have been there, surely? — trying to put something right.
I was somewhere where I had been …disturbed, hurt.
I was somewhere, on the ground, the earth, the dirt, the field, the patch, the clearing, held down in the place where I was trying to fix something that I didn’t know how to fix, and I gave up hope.
I lost the needle. (I felt, in my dream, how I lost the needle I needed to repair the fabric, but I had no words. I was little.) Someone entered the frame, but because this is a dream half-remembered, I can’t say whether it’s one or two people, nor who it is. Someone — or something — prompts me to look for the needle in the grubby leaf-littered dirt I’m sitting on.
That’s when it happens — the part of the dream I remember most vividly: I find another needle. It’s not the one I lost — it’s a different size — but it’s a needle, a tool. Then I find another one, (again a different size) and another (yet another size). I have three now, all different sizes: my found treasures are turning into a tool kit.
Then I make an amazing find: a tool for threading needles! It’s super-elegant and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. After that, nearby, a fourth needle, and a fifth. At some point in the dream I’m clutching a whole handful of needles, as well as this beautifully designed tool that looks like no other. They’re all available for me to use. It’s amazing.
I’m still trying to sort out what it means, beyond the obvious: finding not just a needle in “a haystack” (or dirt and leaf-litter covered ground), but many needles of varying size, plus a nearly magical new tool for threading them all.
In the dream I don’t have any thread, but it “felt” as though I could probably get some. I also don’t have any clear purpose in the dream: no reason for needing these needles except that I had been trying to fix something at the outset, and lost the tool for it. But I can’t remember what I was trying to fix, nor whether I should still try to fix it, or whether this bounty of needles (and that marvelous threading tool) meant that I could finally move on, like an apprentice who’s graduated from his apprentice piece and now sets out on his trade sojourn, looking for work.
Looking for work, looking for purpose, looking for a way to ply my trade: dream it six ways to Sunday and back, it remains hardened, difficult stuff.
But: I can thread any needle, any needle at all. The needles were always in me, they had fallen out of my pockets — out of my body — and into the dirt. I just have to find them again and pick them up. The threading tool, however? That was newly forged in me, it’s my super-power.
I can thread any needle, any needle at all.
…but. I’m trying, halfheartedly only since I’m feeling quite half-dead. But I just can’t seem to make it happen.
Not a happy place to be.
Maybe I can get started by defacing this blog.