Oh hey there January blues, I knew you were coming – what took you so long?
So, we’re nearing the end of January now, but I’m still in a reflective mood. Much of this month has already been spent away from home. I spent the new year back in Berlin, drinking champagne on a balcony and watching Neukölln explode, whiled away the first week there and headed off to Dublin for my birthday on January 10th. Now that the first month is almost out, I’m still not sure where this year is going. I had plans for 2014. New years resolutions. Goals. Determination. Energy. Ambition. I was going to make this year the year. The year I did it. Made it happen. The only problem was, and is, enduringly it seems, that I have absolutely no idea what it is.
Is it the perfect job I’m after? The one where I get to make the most of my talents and creativity. I would probably get to do lots of research and writing on art, business, culture, the economy, maybe take some photos, do something crafty, hone my Photoshop skills. This would be the job in the right city, the right country. The one where I am challenged to improve constantly. The one where I get to meet interesting and intelligent people who inspire me. The one where the work feels satisfying and fulfilling rather than grinding. The job I really believe in, instead of towing the company line. Is that it for this year, is that what I want?
Is it the enviable travel plans? I didn’t do too badly in 2013 after all, I made it to 4 different countries, and 2 new ones. I talked the night away in Copenhagen, swam in the lakes outside Berlin, I soaked up the culture in Vienna, the scenery in Salzburg. I took an alpine train through the breathtaking Brenner Pass on my way to Verona. I experienced a full turn of fortune’s wheel in Florence, and finally ended up in the autumn mists of Venice where my errant lover and I experienced some ill timed food poisoning. Bellissimo! I was soul searching throughout, but beyond the immediate of ‘this!’ ‘travelling!’ I still couldn’t come up with an answer for what I wanted to do with my life. So maybe that‘s it for 2014, I should do everything I can just to scrape some money for the next adventure, go further away, set more ambitious travel plans. Make that my goal.
Is it the big move to a new place? I had a go at this in 2013 as well, but surprisingly enough Berlin was a riddled mess of problems that I had no scope for before I actually got there. The catch 22 bureaucracy, the language barrier, the difficulty in meeting people who might be sticking around, the difficulty of finding somewhere to live, playing chicken with my finances, and really wondering if I was better off spending my time and money just travelling after all. Ooops. I would do it completely differently if I made the attempt again . . . but should I? And should it be Berlin again, or somewhere else? Where? These exact same problems are just waiting in the shadows of the next place I ‘move’ to, but of course the alternative of staying in England seems worse. No easy paths here my dear, so is it the difficult road abroad again in 2014, previous lessons carefully considered?
Is it progression in my own work? By this I mean writing, drawing, creating artwork etc. Now that really is a tricky one, since it’s difficult for me to establish how ‘progression’ might be measured in this sense. Could I aim to have something published in a magazine, or on a website that isn’t my own blog? Could I try to sell my crafty bits and pieces at a craft fair? Do I really need that sort of validation and feedback, or is it ok for me to just quietly get on with the things I like and take pleasure in? Last year I did the latter, and I aim to put plenty of time and effort into developing my skills this year. I can’t help but feel I could ‘exploit’ them more to my advantage somehow though. But how?
Is it time to go back to school? Being an arts graduate having a life crisis I get asked quite often if I have considered teaching. WHAT AN ORIGINAL SUGGESTION, YES I HAVE CONSIDERED TEACHING, AND NO I DON’T WANT TO DO IT AT THIS TIME, OTHERWISE I WOULD BE DOING IT. I’m not saying I won’t ever, just not right now, thanks. I have quite a few friends at various stages of becoming teachers, and it looks like mighty hard (though very rewarding) work. Something you really ought to show some love and commitment for, probably something that fits in with your life philosophy and calm, patient, child friendly temperament. Not something you do on a whim because it seems secure enough, and you don’t know what else to do.
What I’m really talking about here is becoming a student again myself. A masters is completely out of the question since I can’t afford it, but I would, perhaps, like to go to language school. This was one of the things-I-should-have-known-to-do items off my Berlin list. I can speak basic German, but a spot of intensive language school wouldn’t go amiss. Learning languages is fiendishly hard and not particularly fun in my experience, but it’s a pill I’m willing to swallow. Language school is not terribly cheap though, which brings me back to the question of . . . would I be better spending my meagre money elsewhere, like on travel? Argh. I would also like to learn a little graphic design, since I have hunch I would probably be pretty good and it would fit in nicely with my current skill set. Same financial puzzle applies.
Is it time to find the right person to settle down with? HA. Ok, I laugh even writing that since you can’t flick a switch and just make that happen. Of all the musings on my list I really believe that’s the one you can’t make a goal. Sure, I can learn InDesign and take an immersive course in German, I can save up to go to Peru or scrub floors in the alps if I’m single minded enough. But I can’t magic up a special someone. My facebook feed would suggest otherwise though. Screw you facebook feed. Babies, weddings and settling is nowhere on the agenda, but maybe a partner in crime for everything else is about to appear from the ether in 2014?
I suspect what will happen this year will be a mixture of all the things I’ve outlined here. All things considered I felt like I did achieve a lot in 2013, even if things rarely turned out at I expected . . . the trouble was that much of last year was plagued by indecision and I was constantly second guessing myself, and trying to work out what I was ‘really’ supposed to be doing. I was hoping I’d shake off that feeling, but it’s still hanging around, I’m still stuck in the same rut. I have plenty of ideas, a lot of fear, and not much money. And I’m making it up as I go along. Again. Always. WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
Switzerland is soon to vote on the possible introduction of a basic guaranteed income for all citizens; regardless of their employment status or circumstances. The amount will be 2,500 Swiss francs (about £1,750) per month. That’s right, the citizens of Switzerland may about to be guaranteed a set monthly ‘wage’ without having to do any work at all, unless they are so inclined.
Now, I had never heard of such a staggering concept before, but this article from the BBC suggests that actually the idea of a basic income for all has been around since this 16th century when Thomas Paine (I think incorrectly mentioned as Thomas More) presented it as part a utopian ideal. In ‘The Rights of Man’ Paine argues that a basic income which would provide for a child’s education and welfare as well as a comfortable state pension and funeral costs should be a considered a human right rather than charity. In a later pamphlet Paine stated:
It is wrong to say God made rich and poor. He made only male and female; and he gave them the Earth for their inheritance.
So, this brings me to the real point of this post: what would you do if your material needs were met and you were free to do whatever you wanted with your life?
Of course there is an argument that a guaranteed income will lead to laziness. Swiss economist Rudolf Strahm suggests that, “There will be no incentive for young people to learn a job or study”. I think this takes a fairly dim view of humanity. Just because people are financially comfortable it does not mean that they will drift into inherent laziness. If this were the case then no one born into wealthy families would ever be motivated to do anything, and we know that this is not the case. It is ridiculous to suggest that money is the only thing which motivates people, I like reading, drawing and blogging. None of those things pay, I’m not going to stop anytime soon because I believe they help me to develop, allow me to engage with the world and I find them interesting – but mostly because I enjoy them.
In my experience people are always in pursuit of something that will give their life purpose and meaning, whether that be raising a family, career success, a relentless pursuit of more money to add to the pile or even simply power; everyone is looking for something and financial stability will put these things within reach rather than cause them to disappear. I believe that human beings enjoy learning, being productive and developing their talents and a guaranteed income would allow them the time and financial freedom to do these things. My own personal take on this is that I would probably be in further education right now if it weren’t for the crippling debt involved.
Be an entrepreneur
A society where people have the freedom to pursue what they like and are good at can only be a good thing, could Switzerland become a nation of happy entrepreneurs? Young people are curious about the world around them and eager to learn and develop new skills, in fact, they are the driving force behind the guaranteed income in Switzerland. It would help them to study, learn a job, and be more engaged in society rather than hinder them as Strahm suggests.
Still be an employee
I often wonder if there are people out there who might be doing my dream job, but they are totally and utterly miserable and are unable to give it up because they can’t afford to. I have my suspicions that there is probably a lot of this unhappy job clinging going on at the moment, and there are a whole plethora of people waiting for the economy to recover so that opportunities might arise for jobs they might actually like. If a guaranteed income was introduced then people would have real power to choose a job that motivated them, rather than do something they hated just to pay the rent. Enno Schmidt (as quoted from the BBC article), a campaigner for basic income suggests that ‘a society in which people work only because they have to have money is “no better than slavery” ‘.
Switzerland need not worry about employees suddenly just giving up work because they don’t need the money anymore, so many people love their jobs and have spent a lot of time and effort getting good at them – they aren’t about to throw that away. Perhaps there would be more freedom of movement between jobs where you would have an opportunity to try something out for a while, with no pressure to stay if it didn’t suit you. This might sound a little bit flakey initially, but in the long term companies could be sure that their employees were there because they really were dedicated and enthusiastic, not just present under miserable duress. I really do believe that a happy workforce is a more creative and productive one. For those people in currently in wage-slave jobs who would definitely leave if they could, then perhaps mass resignations would prompt employers to reconsider working conditions.
But is it possible?
Switzerland is a very wealthy country with the fourth highest per capita income in the world at $78,881 (Wiki), so affordability is not the the central issue. Nonetheless, if Switzerland did vote for a guaranteed income then it would be a fascinating and very risky social experiment. 2,500 Swiss francs (£1,750*) per month is scarcely enough to survive on according to Mr. Schmidt, so maybe everyone will be keeping their day jobs for a while yet, although it would undoubtably make life a lot easier for the majority of people.
My two cents: UK perspective
A guaranteed liveable basic income will never be introduced in the UK, but I thought I would muse over the possible implications.
*Yeah, ok, what? £1,750 is pretty crazy amount of money from where I’m sitting here. It’s more than what I got paid at the best paying job I’ve ever had, and I think there would be plenty of adults in the UK who would be delighted with this princely sum on top of their usual wage, given the real clamp down on pay increases and level of inflation here. It certainly throws an interesting light on the notion of a living rather than a minimum wage. However, I hear through the traveller grapevine that Switzerland is a hellishly expensive place as it is a very wealthy country, and a guaranteed income is probably going to drive the prices up even further – so if you were depending on this income alone then maybe life would be possible rather than easy per se. I assume that unlike benefits in the UK the basic income would keep people above poverty levels, because otherwise this defeats the entire object. Also there is something to be said for an income which everyone is entitled to, rather than fostering a suspicious and cold society where people are criminalised because they are poor; so called ‘benefit scroungers’. It also eliminates the Dickensian idea of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor which is increasingly creeping into the UK discussion state benefits (by actually treating people like human beings, we all have a right to a certain standard of life, opportunites and education). If I was a viable adult in a career that was progressing well then I would probably hope to be earning slightly more than this in times not blighted by recession – and I would be proud to earn my own money. However, it would be nice to know that I wouldn’t fall into poverty and be branded as scum if this were not the case. So yeah, I do think the economic/personal incentive to work would still be there, just not in such an authoritative, threatening, shouty and judgemental way; all carrot and no stick – touché Switzerland.
So, a lot of LIFE has happened since my last post. I left Berlin one mockingly beautiful and serene evening on an overnight train to Vienna. In the following weeks I travelled through Austria and then Italy, sometimes thinking about what I wanted to do in my life, mostly thinking about the wonderful places I was seeing, and enjoying the hilarious, cathartic, entertaining, and sometimes stressful-but-will-make-good-stories-later situations I was getting into. I met some truly lovely people, and I also met my fair share of creepy ones and lonely ones and everything else on the spectrum. My emotions were pretty wide ranging as well; from being smug and delightedly content when a wrong bus landed me in the heavy vined vinyards outside Vienna on a burnished autumnal afternoon, to sobbing in a hostel in Florence after 24 hours of travel delays and mosquito bites. I like the immediacy of problems when you travel, chances are they will be fixed one way or another in short space of time – the wheel of fortune spins faster than usual, bedbugs and calamity in one city aren’t far from sunsets and good wine in the next. Things change fast.
I called things a day in Venice and decided to go back to the UK to regroup and attempt to make a more solid plan for the future while my account still had enough money for this to be a reasonable possibility ie. enough to be able to move somewhere if I got an enticing job, or at least a good starting fund if I decided on further travels. I also wanted to absorb all the activity from the past few months, write up my adventures, send emails, edit my photos, make drawings and think it out while hopefully topping up the funds.
Then. My dad picked me up from the airport.
My mum has cancer.
I’m still processing this so I don’t have a lot to say about it right now, but I suspect that I will and I know that writing about it will help me (especially since in terms of actual talking I can barely open my mouth at the moment).
So. In the next few weeks I will be writing about: travel, being a struggling young person – specifically some more thoughts on this post: https://beautifullittlefool89.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/10-things-i-have-learnt-since-finishing-university-in-2011/ as it got a lot of responses (keep them coming guys, I like to hear from you!) hopefully some drawings, although I might post these on my portfolio page and . . . cancer. Maybe.
The main dilemma of the past month or so has been that I have not been sure if I want to stay in Berlin or head off on further travels. It feels odd to reduce this sentiment to a single sentence, as this decision has been taking up a lot of space in my head – and has lead to a lot of unease, soul searching, general unhappiness . . . as my savings are of course finite I either need to sort things and commit OR. The mythical plan B. Which involves not going home, but probably another train or plane, and a job somewhere else. Either way – decision time has been slowly taking chunks out of me on a daily basis with the pendulum swinging according to my mood. Berlin has lost a little of the glitter it had last year, I guess things are never the same the second time around – and from the start it was missing that inherent new-city weirdness you get when you first arrive somewhere you have never been before. I wish that I’d had the money to be able to stick around last year when the enthusiasm was rolling. But its charms are nevertheless inescapable, and the thought of leaving the people I have met and abandoning the idea of living in Berlin make me feel queasy. I’m pretty much terrified either way.
On Wednesday night I went for drinks with my friend in Friedrichshain and thought that I’d pretty much cracked it. Walking over Warschauer Strasse bridge at sunset gets me every time, and it’s tempting to stick around just based on that alone. At the right time and in the right light that is my undisputed favourite view of the city. It was a quiet and happy night, I thought for better for worse I would stay – I would finally abandon travel plans for the time being and throw everything I had at Berlin.
Then I woke up on Thursday morning and decided, actually, I still wasn’t sure. I had been toying with the idea of going on a trip for a few weeks either to get it out of my system, or as a push to encourage me to maybe keep travelling. Something inside my head finally snapped and I booked flights on impulse – for that day. I have never done this before and I’m still fairly certain that it errs on the side of crazy. But anyway. I studied trains and planes out of Berlin to find cheap deals on interesting places. Vienna was top of my hitlist, but it turned out that the single train journey to Vienna cost the same price as return flights to Copenhagen.
First piece of Copenhagen travel advice would be this: Cheap flights you say? Really, really cheap flights!? Copenhagen is the third most expensive city in Europe apparently, so you might win on transport but you lose on EVERYTHING else. I ended up paying the most I have ever paid for a bed in a hostel. Although there were plenty of young people staying there, there was also a fair amount of families and a more than usual proportion of post-hostel age real adults. I should point out it was a trendy type hostel close to a lot of bars, which was definitely aimed at a younger crowd – so I’m going to put the mixed clientele down to the extortionate Copenhagen accommodation rates. I have paid the same amount for a double room in a nice guesthouse before . . . ouch.
The last minute nature of this trip meant that I had no plans at all, and virtually no idea of what interesting things there were to see and do in Copenhagen. In some ways the point of the trip was to clear my head rather than tick things off a list, so it was ok. It’s also nice to be surprised:
Nyhavn was beautifully photogenic with it’s lines of little restaurants and moored boats. I imagine this place is probably at it’s atmospheric best on a misty night, sipping whisky and listening to live music. Seems like it would be good for a sea shanty or two. Also the painted buildings remind me surprisingly of the buildings along the river in Innsbruck (the header photo of this blog) although everything was totally different of course.
I spotted the corkscrew spire of this church in the Christianshavn area and needed to get a closer look. On approach I realised that there was a staircase around the spire, and it was open to the public to climb. Now, I am not scared of heights. I have scaled the Eiffel Tower, lingered on the outdoor terrace of Heron Tower in London, been up the Empire State building; but OH GOD was the Church of Our Saviour experience terrifying. The steep, old wooden stairs on the way up should have been a good clue, but one I got outside the terrace was very exposed with the gold railings suddenly looking very unsubstantial. The floor was wooden and also ever so slightly pitched, I snapped some quick photos of the view and decided there was no way I was climbing to the top – my legs were already jelly.
As far as hollow tourist experiences go, the little mermaid statue is at the top of the list for Copenhagen. I wandered out to the docks out of a sense of duty, took photos with the rest of the hoards and left feeling slightly cheated and bemused. I have no idea why this statue is such a Big Deal, it seems like everyone has just got caught up in the Copenhagen top 10 hype. However, I will credit this statue with getting me out of the city centre to an area I might not otherwise have visited. A cruise ship had docked in the port which was a curiosity for me, and I later took a ‘shortcut’ through the Kastellet citadel/star shaped fortress near by.
The next day I went to the Tivoli Gardens, a cute little amusement park in the city. The place was filled with candyfloss scoffing kids and their grandparents, and although the chilly weather eventually prompted me (jacket-less idiot) to leave I still had a fun time. The Tivoli gardens reminded me a little bit of a British seaside town with its ferris wheel and large show pavilions, it dates from 1843 and I have a suspicion that my grandmother would have enjoyed the gardens and atmosphere here more than I did – but it was charming nonetheless.
In the evening I hit the town to see what Copenhagen had to offer. I had opted for quite drinks at the hostel and avoided going out for the few first evenings just out of sheer ennui. Berlin nightlife has really been taking it out of me, so partying wasn’t exactly top of the agenda, plus oh-my-god-the-cost-of-everything! But of course I couldn’t leave without checking out a bar or two, and my hostel companion and I discovered a few good ones.
We met some British expats extolling the virtues of living in Denmark in Charlie’s. I discovered to my absolute shock that this place sold stout brewed by Porterhouse (a small group of bars and a microwbrewery) in Dublin – one of my favourite old haunts from university times. On a tip off from the expats we then headed to a place called The Moose:
The Moose was full of moose porn murals like this one. I have absolutely no idea what was going on here, but I know this bar was awesome! We met some more expats: a guy from Dublin and a girl who had lived in Berlin for a year, and we hung out with those guys all night. This was a bit weird for me because it was my past and my present meeting – it was odd to talk to them both about beloved Dublin/Berlin places of mine – and life and local idiosyncrasies in those cities. It makes me sad in retrospect, without really being able to say why. I think maybe I’m homesick for the nostaligic idea I have of these places when I know the reality can be harsh.
Thus ends my Copenhagen adventure. I actually ended up going on a brief trip road trip across to Malmo in Sweden, which is just across the water – but it was a bit dull, so I’ll spare you the details on that one.
As for my decision on Berlin? Unsurprisingly I’m still not sure, but obviously operating on a tight deadline here. Urgh.
I recently came across a quote by travel writer Paul Theroux; ‘Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going.’ Never has this seemed more relevant to my life than it does at the moment.
On the terrace by the lake the rain pours on a Saturday afternoon. A cold glass of wine, condensation dripping down the outside. Later when the rain stops we sit by the lake at sunset, mist rising off the water. ‘It doesn’t have to be this way’. You say. But the city pulls us back on her tendrils, pulls us down into the vortex. Parties that never end, wooden floors, echoes and ghosts. Night bleeding into dawn already, but you have barely arrived.
Fleeting glances of yourself in the mirror, a reflection you hate so much. A reflection you don’t recognise, pin prick pupils or a dark pool the covers your entire eyes. Pale and shaky and cut adrift. What happened? What paths brought me here?
A reflection that you try to seduce. When you look a certain way, when you smile, lower your eyes. Change your hair. Change your dress. Try to find a combination that will make him want to fuck you. That will make people like you. That will make the city accept you. But it’s all lost when you hate what you see. Shake your head. Shake your head. Walk away.
At 4am on a U-bahn platform he tries to explain. But we’ve heard it. Before. And –
Can’t take it now.
DROWN YOUR SORROWS
Berlin is not perfect, but a different form of not-perfect to the last thing. Maybe a better form. Maybe. Nothing is ever quite perfect as our perceptions and expectations are in constant flux. Always saving for tomorrow. Accept the imperfect nature of things as they are.
But the swans and the willows by the canal on this perfect August afternoon. Happiness is as fleeting as the image of it in your head.
Smoke that blows across the grass.
A goodbye party by candle-light. Standing on the edge of the circle, skirting the fringes, the darkness at your back. All the young, and talented, and beautiful, and drunk, and drugged, and lost. And sad. Sometimes. Libations in the moonlight, but you’ve lost your tongue at dawn.
Warm sunlight non-judgemental
Walk alone by the canal
Turn the handle
High ceiling and wooden floor
Silence in the courtyard
Her sleeping back, bare and smooth
Another day. Another night.
YESTERDAY WAS DRAMATIC – TODAY IS OK
Peace in this empty Berlin altbau on an early autumn evening. Low lights and houseplants, emails and wine. Neukölln night progresses around you as the clock on the kitchen wall ticks. Away.
Crying into coffee and scrambled eggs this morning. ‘Write it out’, you said. Draw out the poison. Time melts when we are together. Seconds and eternity hard to distinguish between.
Disclaimer: This is raw from my notebook, so, yeah.