You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2011.
1. i taught an Arbeitsamt class at McLingua in Kassel until yesterday. In the true Christmas spirit i have abandoned any pretence of work, for example i spent two and a half hours talking about the German army with a student who was a MP officer. Another student was in the Bundeswehr for 4 years and had some stirring anecdotes about, e.g. “friendly fire” incidents: “The Americans are the best. No alcohol allowed on base, no shit. They are all drunken all day, hey look at my gun it is so cool, whoops now you have no head.”
Because any bad reports will not spread to Munich, i felt free to teach without restraints, e.g. with the Present Perfect:
elberry: Akhbar, has Frank ever killed anyone?
Akhbar: Frank, have you ever killed anyone?
Frank: I have never killed anyone yet.
elberry: You haven’t killed anyone yet.
Akhbar: Frank hasn’t killed anyone yet.
This later escalated as the students spontaneously asked each other: “have you ever vomited after eating fish?”, “have you found the boy of your dreams” (this to another guy), and “have you ever cheated on your wife?”
2. i feel happy, a strange & confusing emotion for an elberry of my calibre. i seem to have enough work to survive, i like my flat, i like most of my job, i even have some social contacts in Munich, and Juniper here in Kassel. The work could end at any moment, leaving me with a choice between death and a return to minimum wage data entry jobs in England; my groups will naturally come to an end and new groups might be awful; and i’ve learnt not to place any great trust in friendship. Nonetheless, at the moment all is well. This makes me feel a little wary and restless, as if something bad must surely lurk round the corner, something of unprecedented horror. It is hard to say what this could be, since most horrors have already been precedented in abundance, but i remain alert and suspicious.
i feel i need to get on with some absorbing writing/murder project, to use my superfluous mental energy. However, i usually leave my flat before 0700 and get back at 2200ish, so it’s quite difficult to find the time. i often have gaps in my day but seem unable to think at McLingua, and i certainly can’t afford to go to a cafe every day, so i just kill the time staring at the internet in McLingua, drinking their coffee and waiting for the unprecedented horror. i’m considering writing an Ablutions-style book about my office work years, in the 3rd person, to amuse myself, but it doesn’t interest me enough to do it by hand, and i hate writing at length on computers. A pity it’s apparently not possible to buy working manual typewriters anymore (i bought two on ebay, both supposedly in good condition: the first broke after a month, the second didn’t work at all), but then i could only use them in my flat and i’m hardly ever there. Circumstances conspire against me – circumstances and gnomes with poisoned garden forks.
3. i had some booze with Gordon last night. He’s an interesting and annoying quasi-Buddhist Cognitive Scientist. Like every single Buddhist/Zen hipster i’ve met, he likes to parrot the sayings of some guru or another, in his case Jack Kornfield. Again, as with all Zen hipsters he talks and thinks a lot, but likes to say “you talk [or think] too much” if i disagree with him or he can’t understand me.
Gordon: Do you often have the experience of seeing something sad, that would make normal people cry, and you don’t cry but feel that you should?
elberry: i don’t know. i don’t think so. i suppose if i feel sad, it’s not really unusual for me and i can’t be crying every day. i can feel sad but without being upset by the fact of being sad.
Gordon: Stop! You are thinking too much! Don’t think! Don’t try to analyse your emotions! Just observe them.
elberry: i usually don’t even observe them. i only really think about things if they puzzle me. So if i feel –
Gordon: Stop! Don’t think! You shouldn’t think!
elberry: You just asked me a question about my emotions. How am i supposed to answer it without thinking? And what do you mean by “think”? i just feel the emotions in a particular way, then my mouth opens and words come out. Is that “thinking”?
He then tried to palm off a Jack Kornfield book on me, telling me “you need this more than me”. It was my book in the first place and when i left Kassel i gave it to Gordon, saying i wouldn’t want to re-read it for a while, when the truth is i would probably just have thrown it away. i find these hipster Zen books uninteresting, not wrong but full of platitudes and truisms. If you need a book to tell you that it’s better not to be a total asshole, you’re probably such a total asshole that no book could ever help you.
Still, it’s all right for some people, i suppose.
4. i left Gordon’s place at 11 pm and took the tram back to Juniper, reading Pete Dexter’s (excellent) Deadwood and eating liquorice like a Viking. In the dark i lost all sense of direction and promptly headed the wrong way, wandered hopelessly about, bleating like a frightened lamb, and eventually i had to call Juniper to ask where i was. Given i lived in Kassel for 12 months, and i’ve now visited Juniper’s flat 4 or 5 times, this seems a bit much. However, it demonstrates something of the way my mind works, and of my essential character, that i can so easily get lost in a familiar city. It only takes slight changes (e.g. darkness) for a city to seem almost wholly alien to me, and i have to as it were start anew. i need to walk a route myself before i really know my way about; it’s not enough to know the layout, i seem unable to abstract from this knowledge and calculate how to get directly from A to C, if in the past i’ve only gone from A to B and B to C, etc.
Morgana said i was a physical learner type, i.e. i need to do something myself before i understand it. It’s not enough to understand a theory and then apply it, i have to actually do it, make mistakes, redo it, again & again, before i feel comfortable. This perhaps explains why Zen hipster books don’t mean anything to me; i need to think it through myself, and for this i find literature & philosophy better, as an instigator. In Emily Dickinson, you experience the failure of language before the inexpressible; to read Dickinson well is to immediately apprehend this failure, which Zen books talk about as if it were an easy lesson and can be passed from Zen master to hipster as just another piece of information. Emily Dickinson fails but there is failure and failure: bad writing doesn’t even approach the inexpressible, it fizzles out halfway and falls to earth, spent; good writing reaches almost beyond itself, it confronts the point of high failure (the mystical) and is consumed by that which it is not. So the incandescent failure of Lear or Hamlet, or Dante, when all else is stripped away and then the words turn on themselves, and blaze.
5. To my delight, i came across a picture of a very Juniper-looking woman on my travels, and she (amused, and failing to see the resemblance), gave me permission to post it. Her hair is short now but ten years ago it was long, and she looked thus:
1. In Kassel with Juniper, drunk on Hütten Geist (48% vol.). One of my students drove me up, a renegade wildman in a big black SUV, he looks like the Kurgan, smokes & drinks, owns a 200 € sword and plans to buy a wolf/dog hybrid to guard his hearth. At work he wears a Special Forces pullover (he was in the Wehrmacht for 8 years and his grandfather was a Waffen SS killer) but yesterday pulled up, in his Kurganmobile, wearing a black leather jacket highly reminiscent of the Kurgan’s NY garb. i sat in the back, his girl in the front, and occasionally saw his cold Aryan eyes in the mirror, as he was narrating some anecdote of murder and smoking, and thought, “holy shit, one of my students is the Kurgan”
He dropped his girlfriend off then we drove up together alone, talking manly talk and listening to 90s dance music (his preferred driving music). Most of it was not my cup of tea but this amused & pleased me:
i discovered that it is possible to dance while sitting down, as we both danced and sang merrily along at 200 kmph (with disgust, he told me the Kurganmobile can only easily go up to 200; his old Audi could go up to 240). Then it ended and he cursed the mechanics who had fitted his huge black Kurganmobile with cheap windscreen wipers: “These are bullshit wipers! I am so fucking angry! This is so total bullshit! I will take them off and kill everyone with them! I will go to the garage and say hey, fucker, now you die with your bullshit windscreen wipers! And I will kill them all!” Naturally i encouraged him, as after all i am his teacher and so obliged to provide moral instruction & guidance in loco parentis, loco being the operative word with the Kurgan.
He drives like the Kurgan, fast and brutal, usually smoking or eating a burger. He has a disconcerting habit of suddenly letting go of the wheel to gesticulate or grab cigarettes, usually while accelerating into a bad death curve and overtaking lesser vehicles with contempt.
When we arrived at Kassel i asked if i could contribute something to the fuel, since a train would have cost me 50 €, even with my Deutsche Bahn card. He said, puzzled, “why?” i tried to explain about how he had saved me 50 € but he didn’t seem to understand the concept of payment so i instead invited him for coffee with Juniper. He exposulated amusingly about the rich kids at his company: “one guy, this is so bullshit, the first problem he has in his whole life when he is 18, should he buy a red Porsche or a white Porsche, and this is his last problem. This is so fucking bullshit.”
i am now with Juniper and will return with with the Kurgan on the 30th Dec, or stay a few days longer and head down on 2nd Jan by train. i look forward to teaching the Kurgan at his company in January. He is the jungle VIP, an original Aryan wildman killer and expert with assault rifles and hand to hand weaponry, echt Kurgan. i seem to attract people like this, in my first life also, leaders and killers of men.
Happy hallowe’en, ladies.
A combination of too many 16-hour days, too many good books to read, and shit internet at home, has prevailed against my blog of late. Tomorrow one of my students will drive me up to Kassel to see Juniper. Alas i won’t have a real holiday as McLingua in Kassel want me to teach an Arbeitsamt class there from 27th to 30th December, but since Juniper will have to work i may as well too. We will suffer together. i will also make my class suffer.
i feel uninterested in writing anything. i do occasional, shit reviews for the Dabbler but only to get free books. The last few days i’ve been thinking about my novel and its great flaws; one day it will take perfect form but at the moment i don’t care what happens to it. i feel sick of vile public utterance. Perhaps it is to do with my job, where a great deal of my energy goes into suppressing my personality, trying NOT to speak. The necessity of a kind of secrecy – combined with apparent social engagement – is depressing and seems to generally inhibit my desire to publicly communicate. The idea of public communication is strange and highly suspect; i can understand talking or writing to one other human being; i can just about understand communicating to a group of friends & cronies & assistant murderers, but to write something so ANYONE can read it – why would anyone want to do that? Even with comments disabled i find myself wondering why i do this. It seems highly perverted.
It should be against the law.
1. Working 15 hour days 5 days a week leaves me, alas, little time for blogging or indeed anything. i’ve been using Facebook more & more and have now received two threats from FB friends in the last week (one directed at me, the other at others), hoorah. i like FB because i can receive & give comments, without worrying too much about trolls and sundry assorted people who hate and stalk me. i am having to become more careful in my FBing, as two “live” students are on my “friend” list, and others have asked how to find me (luckily, my legal name seems surprisingly common).
i don’t want comments on my blog as i seem to attract elberry-obsessed lunatics who either hate or wish to control me, in one way or another. This not even counting the drive-by comments of the “u are ovyusly gay, lol, why dont u die” variety. A considerable proportion of human beings are stupid and malign.
2. When i don’t have time or energy to blog, i quickly lose all interest. i also cease to have any ideas for posts. It seems that our tools define us to some extent, so when i write in my journal (for myself only), i write very differently to here, and have different ideas. Sometimes i think back to an intense couple of years at university, when i was 22/3 – my mind was flooded with ideas, i felt i existed in two realms, the earthly visible, and the invisible, the realm of thought. i was reading for about 5 hours a day, writing longer, more ambitious essays, and felt i had found something i was good at (little did i know i would soon become disgusted by academia and, eventually, be consigned to the trenches of minimum wage data entry). My present thoughts seem tepid in comparison. i feel i was briefly touched by a potential fire, from 1998 to 1999; and now i exist as the epilogue to myself. i am generally unperturbed by this, as i am usually too busy to reflect upon my snuffed out mental life, and i suppose i lack the brain to do so in any case.
3. i feel a total lack of interest in writing for other people. i sometimes do book reviews for the Dabbler, because then publishers send me review copies and so i don’t have to buy books, but blogging, ugh, no no no.
|geoffrey hill reading milton in english|
i feel this says something about my blog.
i now have two groups i hate, my Tuesday evening Peruvian bitch session, and one on Wednesday afternoon at a finance company. In the latter, the students all work in IT. One has a considerable speech defect and mental problems. Having to use language involves a strange writhing, constantly twisting her body about, biting her arm, whimpering in apparent pain, and burbling rapidly, mainly in German; what English i can make out is mainly IT speak, e.g.
Elberry: Kerstin, how was your week?
Kerstin [about 10 seconds of absolutely incoherent noises, just fragments of syllables and whimpering]
Elberry: i see.
Kerstin: Und, der [incoherent noises] cluster are nicht operativ aber der whole weekend muss [noises] selbst machen [noises] mainframe nicht [noises] problem mit dem [noises] so ich mache [noise] zuviel work [noises] stressig [noises for another 20 seconds, in which not a single word, German or English, may be discerned, during this period Kerstin frantically gnaws on her upper arm].
Elberry: i see. How long has it been like this?
And so on.
Another student, Cornelia, isn’t as evidently insane but seems unpleasantly puzzled by the human race, and especially by language. She is in her 50s, lives alone, and despite having taught her once a week since summer i know almost nothing about her. A typical conversation:
Elberry: How was your week?
Cornelia [looks suspiciously at me for 5 seconds]: Fine.
Elberry: How was work?
Cornelia [suspicious silence]: Fine.
Elberry: What did you do at the weekend?
Elberry: Did anything even slightly interesting or different happen this week?
Later, i gave them an article about jobs and asked each what they like or don’t like in their job, what kind of job they would do if not this one, etc. Not a single student could identify anything they liked or disliked in their job, nor did they have any interest in doing anything else. i experienced a strong desire to brutally murder the group.
Elberry: Cornelia, what do you like in your job?
Cornelia: Nothing. It is all the same.
Elberry: Really? You don’t like anything about it?
Cornelia: It is a job. I doesn’t have to like it.
Elberry: Okay. What don’t you like about it?
Cornelia [contemptuous shrug]: Nothing. It is all the same.
Elberry: So it’s just a grey fog of nothingness?
Elberry: So there’s nothing good about it, nothing at all?
Elberry: But nothing horrible either?
Cornelia: Do this job for 35 years and you don’t know what horror is.
i have tried & failed to find a single topic that will inspire these appalling geeks to use the English language. Work, hobbies, holidays, cars, education, food, it doesn’t matter, they respond to everything with “fine” and “no” and shrugs and “don’t know” . 2 hours with this group is hell as i have to improvise on the spot, firing questions at them till it’s time to go. i don’t know why they bother coming, since most of them never use English at work and attendance isn’t compulsory; another teacher suggested they come “because it’s free”. i hate them more & more with each passing week though Cornelia amuses me a little with her resolute loathing for other people, including me.
i have a group i much prefer most weekdays, an Arbeitsamt (job centre) class, mainly hot women. Yesterday i learnt that one of these babes (a Hungarian sexpot) slept with a teacher and i know another teacher seduced/was seduced by a Russian student, who then demanded, Putin-style, to live with him in his teacherly hovel.
Such tales are common, especially regarding Eastern European women. The women in my class flirt with me, out of boredom i think, as our last class (test preparation, so duller than usual) elicited higher levels of innuendo, hair stroking, and lingering smiles. i ignore it and occasionally mention my girlfriend but i believe these women regard this as a challenge and indeed a sign that, to quote The Departed, you can’t be a total loser if someone is willing to put up with you. They asked if i would come to the stammtisch (the McLingua monthly pub session, students & teachers together) but i said i hate such events and avoid them. i believe this is the easiest solution, to just never meet them outside of class. i am, in any case, quite good at repelling women.
i enjoy this class though it is not without its teacherly difficulties. For example, we were doing some bullshit email about some bitch being promoted and how “she was eventually made Senior Auditor”. It seems that in Kraut, eventuell means “maybe” or “potentially”:
Student: This says she was not the Senior Auditor.
Elberry: Uh, no, it says she became the Senior Auditor eventually – after a long time.
Student: When I read this it says me she had not this job. She left before.
Elberry: No, eventually just means “after a long time”. For example, Claudia drank glühwein all night, and eventually she fell over.
Student: But she was not Senior Auditor.
Elberry: She was. After working there for many years, she was eventually promoted.
Finally, someone broke the McLingua rule of no translations and ascertained that eventually was a false friend. Even then:
Student: I read this and it says she was not the Senior Auditor.
Elberry: No. Eventually doesn’t mean eventuell. i know it sounds the same but it has a different meaning. Please, just forget the German. It doesn’t mean the same thing. It just means “after a long time.” After a long time, she became Senior Auditor.
Student: This is confusing. I do not understand.
Later, i had to try to explain why you would say “I didn’t recognise Bob” instead of “I haven’t recognised Bob”. i usually just say, airily, “you just have to feel the difference” but decided to try for something more useful. i tried to explain that the mental state, of recognising someone, means that when this mental state changes, and you realise that this person is Bob, you recognise them NOW, so the past mental state is finished, in the past, and we should therefore use the Past Simple.
No one understood a single word.
After such classes i sometimes wish i had a job requiring few or even no human interactions, but then remember i did such jobs for 5 years in England, and hated them.
i would, however, like to beat some of my students.
1. i’m teaching so much i find it hard to find the time for blogging. When i have the time i don’t want to spend it here. i reread old blog posts and they strike me as pointless and inane. My notebook entries usually retain some power, perhaps because they are so haphazard & unprepared, perhaps because there i don’t need to worry about a potentially hostile audience. i am eager to keep them from others, to the point where i would destroy them rather than leave them to frivolous posterity.
There is something ridiculous & compromising about public utterance. My job alas consists wholly of communicating with people. It’s weirdly exhausting, having to concentrate fully for perhaps 14 hours a day: for unlike with office jobs the TEFLer can’t switch off and spend five minutes staring blankly at his socks. Most people would regard 25 €/45 minutes (my highest rate, at a large German company) as unjustifiably high. But then i have almost no work for 3 months of the year; and to teach for 8 hours a day is exhausting, thoroughly & dangerously exhausting (a surprising number of teachers abruptly burn-out after too many 14-hour days). To entertain groups and individuals; to become a repository for others’ thoughts, opinions, and secrets – this is not so easy. More than 6 hours a day leaves me weird and restless, homicidal.
2. A hard class today, with a Peruvian bitch named Janet. This is a name of ill omen. i have met two Janets and both were monstrous whores. This latest Janet is no exception. She adopts an expression of sarcastic disdain, or bored insolence. She gibbers excitedly in German at me, even though i’ve repeatedly told her i don’t really speak German and McLingua doesn’t allow me to use the Bosche. She interrupts and gives me strange orders in a mixture of German and English, all in her disgusting Peruvian accent, e.g. “egh warum you no use dies!” while jabbing her awful Peruvian finger at some worthless shit in the McLingua student book. At first, to placate the bitch, i would say, with a false smile (concealing vast reservoirs of anti-Janet hatred) “sure, we can do that.” Today i gave up and just stared at her bleakly, with the bleakness of 4500 years of pain, and then bluntly ignored her and continued teaching the other two (who are quite nice). i felt spasms of anger and the effort of restraining my true desires – to punch her repeatedly in the face then throw her out of the McLingua windows (on the 5th floor) to the street below – induced stomach cramps.
3. Still, most students are decent. Tomorrow i teach Max, the 15-year-old son of an ex-student from Kassel. Max wants to be a chef after leaving school. He goes to a Hauptschule, which is for the dregs, except in badass Bavaria this means he has passable English and has read substantial portions of German literature. He is a typically rotund, friendly, youngster, not at all intellectual but pleasingly talkative and good company. i teach him for the miserable fee of 15 €/hour but don’t mind. We meet in cafes and i eat cake and we openly stare at women.
He has read most of Buddenbrooks for school, reading 20 pages a day. He thought it very boring and i reassured him that it is quite dull and wouldn’t offer much to anyone under the age of 50. Last week he told me he has started reading Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther, for school. Bemused, he reported that at first it was dull but after 20 minutes on the s-bahn he didn’t want to stop reading it and now likes it. This struck him as very strange. i remember similar experiences in my youth, such as (age 19 or 20) starting to read the cellophane-wrapped Shakespeare in my father’s house, because i’d read all the Fantasy books in the library. At first, Hamlet took 10 minutes per page; after a couple of weeks, about 1.5 minutes.
i told Max that reading is like a virus, it alters you (Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash). He was pleasingly puzzled by his interest in Goethe, and how quickly he had found the book unputtdownable. There was something innocent and unpremeditated about this.
4. Yesterday i came across this amusing site – Stuff White People Like. It would be more accurate to call it Stuff Hipsters Like – pretentious, narcissistic poseurs, of whom i have encountered many. i like many of the same things – Wes Anderson films, coffee, whiskey, dogs, etc. – so i wondered if this makes me a White Person, or a hipster.
Perhaps the thing about the hipster (such as the hippy asshole i lived with in Kassel) is that he doesn’t really like these things, he just thinks it will be cool to like them. They are a part of his ego or CV, as my father once explained why he was forcing me to do guitar lessons: “egh well egh it is ANOTHER STRING TO THE BOW, egh???” The hipster doesn’t like coffee; he likes the idea of coffee. He doesn’t like Miles Davis; he likes to listen to Miles Davis and reflect that he is listening to Miles Davis and that he is, therefore, cool.
This afternoon, to prepare myself for teaching the Peruvian bitch, i decided to buy a new cheap shirt. Only a new shirt can save me now, i thought. i found a more expensive shirt, which was however worth the price. i tried it on but it was about an inch too long in the arms (i am a dwarf by German standards). i was tempted to buy it anyway just because it looked so good but realised it didn’t look good on me so opted intead for a H & M cheap shirt, which will probably fall apart after 6 months but at least if fits me.
When i was younger i often bought clothes because they almost-fitted and they just looked so cool. However, i rarely wore them as they were a little too big and so felt uncomfortable and made me look gayer than usual. In my tiresome old age i now only buy badass fascist clothes that fit. i could say that the hipster would buy clothes because they look cool on a manniquin; whether they fit him or not is beside the point.
5. To return to Max: unlike the hipsters he doesn’t like Goethe because it is cool to like Goethe. In his school it’s probably deeply uncool. He just likes Goethe. i would rather teach this pork pie-shaped teenager than a hipster any day of the week. The only thing i could teach a hipster is how to die.
6. i am unsure why but i feel that reading is a good thing. Why? Why do i feel that the act of reading letters is in some way valuable, more valuable than listening to an audio book, or watching the film of the book? It is just a code. The writer has certain experiences & thoughts & ideas, and puts them into words – code number 1; then he writes this code with a pen or what have you – code number 2. Why should it seem worthwhile to receive information via code 2, visually? What exactly is noble and valuable about it? This irritates me, that i cannot abandon my belief that to read a book is a good thing (even if it is a piece of shit like Dan Brown), but can think of no reason why it’s better than listening to an audio book. The latter, after all, probably uses as much (or more) energy than reading a book book. With a book book you can pause or go back without difficulty, whereas if you stop concentrating on an audio book, you will probably have little idea of what’s happening unless you pause it at exactly the point where your thoughts wander. With a book book you just stop reading automatically when you lose interest. With a CD it continues and then, hours later, you realise you were sitting staring into space day dreaming about rape instead of listening to Buddenbrooks, and now you have no idea what happened to Christian Buddenbrooks or why the family lost all their money.
Nonetheless, this feeling persists.
7. i saw some corvids acting funny the other day. i note more and more stories about the intelligence of crows but believe you me (of course you won’t), this is just the beginning. i am partly preoccupied by teaching, partly by the knowledge of how consciousness is spilling out and animals are becoming – or about to become – sentient in a roughly human fashion. i wonder what this will entail. Some animals are just retards, e.g. pigeons or sheep, but pigs, cats, dogs, horses, corvids, have always struck me as conscious, just less complicated than us human beings. How exactly will the expansion of consciousness affect them? Will they be able to use language? Can they really become conscious without language?
The future is tricky. i know weirdly about the past but the future is less amenable to the human mind. Time frames are especially vague. But i get the feeling that consciousness will spread to animals within the next few years, perhaps even the next few weeks. i can feel something strange in corvids – these are uncanny birds indeed, highly sensitive to certain matters, known to sorcerors.
i know no one will believe me now. “Oh Elberry,” you will say, “you have gone bonkers from teaching Peruvians.” But you will see i am right. Then you will say: “Elberry, you were right all along, this is incredible, let me offer you MILF and pies and Jameson’s and some tweed”. And i will just look very haughty and then perhaps laugh, so you know i am having the last laugh.
Ho ho ho ho ho ho ho.
Da stieg ein Baum. O reine Übersteigung!
O Orpheus singt! O hoher Baum im Ohr!
Und alles schwieg. Doch selbst in der Verschweigung
ging neuer Anfang, Wink und Wandlung vor.
There rose a tree. O pure transcendence!
O Orpheus singing! O tall tree in the ear!
And all was silent. Yet even in the silence
new beginning, beckoning, change began.
Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus, tr. MD Herter Norton (i altered two words)