Monday, 27 April 2009


Mental conversations: I suppose to some extent, everybody has them.

My mental conversations are almost omnipresent.
Sometimes to the point of getting actually too much and setting my mind on overdrive. No, I do not - at least not to my knowledge - suffer from schizophrenia.The conversations still leave me in full consciousness of the fact that they ARE mentally run, and mentally only.

Sometimes I have these conversations with just myself, reminding me of things I should really get done now, or telling me to stop being so daft.
There are other conversations, though, with people I know and speak to in real life.
Their part of the mental conversation is done in their own voice, or, the way I remember their voice (which is not always 100 % accurate - memories hardly ever are, especially not if a long time has passed since I actually spoke to the person in question).

When situations arise in either my life or the life of those dear to me, situations that require special attention, the conversations can become very intense, and the same few sentences may be repeated several times, not to make them more "believable", but because the topic is so relevant to me or them (and thus, to me again) I find it hard to focus on anything minor.

Take this past weekend, for example.
A friend of mine (and, from my point of view, a close friend at that) had reached a point where a decision was required. A decision that would affect not only my friend's way of life but also that of those around. Neither way easy, neither without their own problems.
But - I couldn't help.

Now, I am not afflicted by the infamous Helper Syndrome anymore than by schizophrenia or dandruff, but my friends do matter to me, and if I can, I help them.
Not in this case, though.

In spite of me doing lots of other things during that weekend, my friend was never far from my thoughts. The mental conversations went on almost non-stop, especially at night when there were no distractions.
Overdrive - mixing those conversations with some others that seemed to press in without being called for - made sleep hard to find, a relatively rare occurrence for me.
So far, I have not found a method to stop the conversations.
And I am not sure I actually want to.

Friday, 24 April 2009

After the Storm

(This is the continuation to my "Dolphin" story:


That was the adjective best describing her current situation, referring not only to her physical condition after a sleepless night spent in a draughty tent provided by the Red Cross, but also to everything she had known, treasured and possessed - in short, to her whole life.

The storm had started seemingly out of nowhere.
Meteorologists had probably more scientific-sounding vocabulary for it, but in the news it was called "a freak storm".
Fifteen minutes had been enough to wipe out the entire block of houses where she lived (or, rather, used to live, she mentally corrected herself) and cut a path of destruction through the small town near the Sea.

Shivering in the morning chill, she wrapped the slightly scratchy blanket given to her by a friendly nurse tighter around her shoulders and stepped out of the tent.
There it was, the flattened area that used to be "home".

Well, not entirely flat; there were heaps and piles of rubble, broken furniture and window frames, upturned dustbins and the general debris suburban civilization tends to create in a surprisingly short space of time.
Looking closer, and focusing on the details, she recognized objects that had once belonged to herself, and others she was pretty sure of having seen at one time or other in her neighbours' houses.

So far, no casualties had been reported.
But she knew better.
Something was dead, beyond the point of no return:
her old life.

Now, what to do?
Join those who were making efforts to rebuild what they once had, following the illusion that they could eventually return to their former lives?
Or make a clean cut, grab the chance the heartless, mindless and emotionless storm had created for her, and start a new life somewhere else, in time adjusting to a new place, a new route to work, new neighbours and - possibly - new friends?

Which way, that was the question she faced, and only she alone was able to find the answer to.

Her mind wandered to the dolphin.
Hopefully, he was alright.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Brewing a Caleidoscope

As of late, my mind has been resembling a whirling flurry of fragmented ideas, thoughts, memories and impressions. Did you ever own a caleidoscope? If you have, then maybe yours was like mine, filled with tiny bits and pieces, some glittery, some less so, in various shapes, sizes and colours.

When it is held up to the eye, and slowly turned, the bits and pieces fall into place, making symmetrical and pretty patterns because of their reflection being shown in the tiny mirror that is inside the caleidoscope.
Without the mirror, and when the tube is shaken, everything inside just rattles about, making no sense.

Sometimes I liken the process from the first sparks of an idea to the point where I act on that idea (or, depending on what the idea is, write about it or put it in form of a photograph) to brewing.
Just like when ingredients are added to a drink that needs brewing before it develops its full taste and other properties, some ideas need time to ripen. And occasionally, the brewing process is helped by gentle stirring, or altering the temperature, or opening and closing the lid.

Both images convey, I think, quite clearly what I mean.

What, though, is the mirror inside the caleidoscope?
Do I have a mechanism or a tool at hand (so to speak) which allows me to create patterns that make sense, not only to myself, but possibly also to others?

One of those tools is certainly writing.
Once I finally DO put pen to paper (or, rather, my fingers to the keyboard) and start on a certain subject, the bits and pieces begin to fall into place.
An ornamental or - less frequently - functional pattern emerges.

The ingredients of the brew mix and blend. Delicious scent rises from its depths. The surface looks smooth and sweet.

Fancy a sip?

Saturday, 18 April 2009

On The Bridge

There is a railway bridge I often cross during my lunch break on the way to the bakery and back.

Sometimes I stop in the middle, and look down along the rails going South. For some reason I can not really put a finger on, I hardly ever look the other way.

Northbound, the next stop is my home town. And then, further and further up North, all the way through Germany, eventually to Denmark, and beyond.
Southbound is equally well known to me; the next bigger stop being Stuttgart. After that, the rest of South Germany to where it borders Switzerland at Lake Constance.

Literally, I have travelled in both directions many times. Looking at how the rails lead away into the distance often makes me think about how I could, really, just do it - get away, give my life a different direction, change it (and change myself in the process), and leave situations, places and people behind.

What is stopping me?
And what will eventually win - my own cowardice or the excitement that travelling can bring?

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Eggs, Silicon, Whiskey & Peas

What do eggs, silicone, whisky and peas have in common?
Or why should these things (or their remainders, like an empty dozen-eggs-box, an empty silicone sealant gun, an empty whisky bottle and about 10 large empty pea pods) end up together in a small pile under a bridge?

The possibilities are almost limitless. My mind is starting to spin a thread. Or, rather, more than one thread. Pick up a bit here, look at the length and strenght of this one over there, see how that one can be knotted together with others. Which one am I going to follow through long enough to put it into writing?

The little people living in the hedges near the bridge were having a feast. Someone had "found" a dozen-eggs-box which contained two slightly cracked eggs, the contents of which had begun to leak into the empty cups. For them, this wasn't a problem; their hands were small enough to scoop up the traces of raw egg and wash them down with the whisky left over in the bottle that had been thrown away by a certain civil servant from the nearby town on his way home, making sure that his wife would not find any incriminating clues in his car after he returned from a "business trip" that involved only himself and the voluptous brunette colleague he had been courting for months until she conceded to go away for a weekend with him.

The most adventurous of the little people's group dragged along an empty silicone sealant gun which made for some fun with the egg shells that could be tested for endurance against the pressure rod on the gun. The fun lasted until the last bit of egg shell was reduced to tiny crumbs which they hid under the now empty egg box.
Originally, the sealant gun had belonged to George. He had recently moved into his own flat and at first had been dizzy with the prospect of so much freedom after a rather unpleasant childhood and youth with dominating parents. The dizziness was soon replaced by worries about the state of the flat just as much as that of his finances. Such a lot of things needed doing and repairing! And even for minor repairs, when he resolved to get just the most necessary parts from the nearest B&Q, he ended up forking out a lot more money than he had expected. The shower basin was just one point on the seemingly endless list of to-dos, and George was rather proud of himself when he finally managed to seal it properly, hoping this was going to put an end to a wet bathroom floor every time he had a shower. Maybe a bit shortsightedly (but then again, George had never been the big planner), he had thrown the empty sealant gun away, not thinking that he was ever going to need one again.

Peas are excellent when they are freshly picked, and the little people knew that. This time, they had ventured into Mrs. Braithwaite's garden that bordered the back of their hedgerow. They did not always take from the same gardens and houses; this would have seemed unfair to their little-people-codex of morale, besides being dangerous because it could make one of their "hosts" suspect something was going on and start setting up traps, and all kinds of unpleasant things could happen. But Mrs. Braithwaite was an elderly lady with rather poor eyesight and hearing, and it was highly unlikely she was even going to notice the disappearing of anything from her vegetable patch. So, the ten large pods full of deliciously sweet peas were the dessert at the feast.

When everybody's bellies were full and a very nice warm sleepiness (no doubt also due to the whisky) made itself felt among them, the little people retreated into their hedgerow homes.
An attentive listener, if one had happened to come by the place now, would have heard a faint snoring sound coming from the bushes, and would have probably put it down to the typical noise a hedgehog makes.

Next time you think you hear a hedgehog, think again.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Across The Abyss

When I was in my early teens, I was doing lots of sports, namely what in German is called Leichtathletik and consists of running (100 m sprint, 400 and 800 m mid distance), jumping (long jump and high jump) and some other disciplines that I was less good at.

At 14, I was doing reasonably well at the 800 m run as well as high and long jump.
For long jump, the result I would reach on an average day was at about 4,85 m, which is, as far as I know, very much the average for girls of that age and of my height.

I remember well how I used to mull this number over in my head, thinking about situations in which being able to jump 4,85 m far would come in handy.

One scenario I sometimes imagined was being in a threatening situation, running away from something or someone which or who was trying to "get me" (without ever specifying what or who this could be), and in the course of the chase coming upon an abyss that was about 4 m wide.
Crossing this abyss would mean I was safe, and certainly 4 m was a distance I was easily able to overcome with one single jump.

But would I recoil from the jump, knowing that what I was going to jump across was really not just the sand pit on our sports grounds, but an abyss so deep I would die if I fell down there?

Or would desperation give me enough courage to actually do it, jump across and safely land on the other side?

Of course, I never found out, because I have never really been in that situation.
But I quite like the analogy it presents to other areas in my life where there are symbolic abysses to cross which I, more often than not, sadly and stupidly lack the courage to tackle.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

To Hug a Dolphin

Close to the shore she lived, and her lonely walks along the beach had been part of her life for as long as she could remember.

Then she befriended a dolphin.

The animal sometimes swam in the water close to where she would be walking, giving her the impression of accompanying her.
Soon, she looked forward to her walks even more than usual, and they became less lonely with her newfound friend.

The dolphin's visits did not seem to follow a pattern; there were periods when he would be there daily, and at other times, there were intervals of days or even weeks between one visit and the next.

When the dolphin wasn't there, she missed him, and she worried about him, thinking of all the dangers an animal living in the wild can encounter.

There were probably many more like her, she was sure of that, dotted along the coast, who delighted in the dolphin's company.

Every now and then, she would see groups of dolphins further out in the sea, and much to her own annoyance, she would feel excluded, almost deliberately snubbed.

She knew that dolphins have complex social lives and need their own kind just as much as they need to hunt for fish and breathe air.
She also knew and accepted that they both inhabited different worlds, separated by the natural limitations of their respective species; the land was her world, the water was his.

During a particularly regular period of visits, when the dolphin swam closer to the shoreline than he had done before, she began to wonder what it would be like to hug him.

Would he simply swim away, possibly never to return? Or would he attack, punishing her for having overstepped the mark?
She had to find out.

So, one day, she left her usual path along the rim of foam and sea weed on the wet sand, and stepped into the water, towards the dolphin.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

A Piece Of News

When the train came to a halt, she opened her eyes again, half-smiled in the direction of the man opposite her and, with a visible effort, got up from the seat. Where her movements had been easy before, she now gave the impression of an old woman, or someone just very weary and exhausted.
She paused, looking up at the luggage compartment overhead, and then swiftly took the small red trolley suitcase down.
Shuffling behind the other passengers, she made her way to the steps leading off the train and climbed out.

D. and E. were there, not far from where she got off, and waved at her cheerfully.
Seeing their smiles, and how they took several welcoming steps towards her, made her heart lurch up into her throat, and she scolded herself for being such a crybaby.
Finally, they hugged and kissed, D. took her little suitcase (which clearly was not necessary - she always travelled lightly), E. linked arms with her and they walked out of the station and to the carpark.

During the short drive to their house, E. talked almost constantly. She always had so many things to say, updates about mutual friends, their jobs and families; what changes had happened in their town since her last visit; the plans for dinner tonight and would she like to take a nice hot bath before or afterwards?
She smiled and made mono-syllably comments were they were requested, not really listening to E., inwardly apologizing to her friend for her lack of attention, but at the same time enjoying the normality, the down-to-earth humour and everyday-business-manner.
As was his habit, D. talked little, focusing on the traffic, nodding and smiling at E. whenever she asked her husband to confirm something she had just said.

Once at the house, she gratefully took E. up on her offer to take a long hot bath before dinner, said a heartfelt thankyou to D. for carrying her tiny suitcase up the stairs to the guest room which was to be hers for the next few days, and closed the door silently but firmly behind him.

Now she was on her own again, but this time more so than on the train.
She could relax, and before the tears she had felt so ready to flow had a chance to well up again, she unpacked her few belongings while running a bath.

E. had put her favourite coconut-scented bath essence there for her, and she used it generously before she undressed and got into the tub.
A small old-fashioned black-and-white TV set was perched on top of the wooden chest of drawers in the bathroom, and she switched it on to keep her mind from wandering back to the various lines of thought she had followed during the train ride.

It was news time, and after the main stories with their usual depressing mixture of the catastrohpic and the banal, the presenter handed over to a middle-aged reporter somewhere in Northamptonshire who urged anyone who knew anything concerning a 45-year-old woman, married, mother of two, to come forward. The woman had disappeared from her own home on New Year's Eve at around 11 pm, in spite of the cold weather (which she did not like) and having a bad back, and nobody had heard or seen her since.
The husband appeared in front of the camera, hardly holding back the tears, pleading for help.

She was still very much conscious of the hot, coconut-scented water surrounding her naked body, but at the same time she felt suddenly more awake than she had all day.

This wife and mother-of-two, she was sure, had taken a decision. The decision she herself had so far lacked the courage to take. Silently, she congratulated the woman who had probably made her New Year's resolution come true. Of course it was heart-breaking to see the suffering husband, let alone the children (who were, in a rare act of decency from the media, not dragged in front of the camera).
But who knew what the situation at home had really been? Who ever knew what was going on behind closed doors?

The woman must have had very good reasons to leave, and it was most likely not "just like that", as her husband said into the microphone held up for him by the reporter.
She was certain that this woman had not taken the decision lightly, and that it caused her pain as well, not just relief.

Briefly she wondered whether she would ever be a piece of news.

Then the report was over, weather was on next, and she let herself sink deeper in the hot water until she felt the warmth spreading through her and the tension in the muscles on her back and shoulders eased.