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: