Archive | September, 2012


30 Sep

Rhea H.Boyden

When I was a
young student at university I wrote quite a few good papers, but it
was always a trial, and I always stressed out about it, because I
never grasped the process correctly. To write a good paper, article
or essay with ease you need patience and an understanding of the
process of creativity. Why did no professor ever point this out to me
back then? It is only years later at age 37 as I write as a mature
adult, do I now appreciate with full clarity the patience that is
required when working on any creative project, and I am trying to use
this new understanding in other areas of my life beyond writing. It
only took one reading of a very short essay by a teacher of creative
writing and poetry named Natalie Goldberg for me to relax, be kind to
myself, and let the ideas unfold at their pace.

In her
perfect essay entitled ‘Composting’, Goldberg uses the simple
metaphor of the brain and subconscious being a compost heap through
which our thoughts and ideas need to decompose before becoming the
rich soil and fertile ground from which grow our stories and poems.
She talks of how she was attempting to write about her father’s
death, and she had pages upon pages of disparate notes about the
topic that she was processing, but nothing seemed to be working. But
then, all of a sudden one day, she was sitting at her favourite cafe
and a long poem on her father’s death just flowed out of her. As she
says: ‘All the things I had to say were suddenly fused with energy
and unity-a bright red tulip shot out of the compost.’

A couple
weeks before I read this essay I was in New York and I went to the
Metropolitan Museum of Art. I had a wild experience at the museum and
was particularly struck by two paintings that inspired me so
incredibly. I took some notes at the museum and then I went back to
my aunt’s apartment in Brooklyn and started to write about the
paintings. I also compared them to some other crazy electronic
gadgets I had seen in Berlin at an electronics store and then I
started talking about art and science fiction and alienation and
technology and so forth. I filled a good dozen pages of my notebook
with a whole lot of crazy disparate notes that were attempting to
become some insane essay on what I am not quite sure. I ended up
throwing the notebook aside in exasperation and making myself another
iced-coffee to quell my over-heated impatience with myself and the
New York heatwave. ‘I am such a crap writer. What the heck is it I am
trying to say here?’ I didn’t write another thing in New York.

Back in
Berlin a couple weeks later, I then looked over my notes from New
York again and it hit me like a thunderbolt. ‘This is not an essay or
an article!’ I exclaimed. ‘This is a poem!’ I sat down, turned on my
laptop and a long prose poem flowed out of me on the paintings I had
seen in New York. The science fiction and electronic gadgets were
ignored. The next day I read Natalie Goldberg’s essay on ‘Composting’
and she described EXACTLY the creative process I had just
experienced. Every essay, article or poem I have written since has
been done with great ease and patience as I consciously realise that
in the time leading up to writing, while I am researching, making,
notes and processing, that is exactly what I am doing. I am
composting my materials. Good things take the time and patience.
When I next have writer’s block I can also remind myself to be
patient with myself. Every field must lay fallow for a spell before
it can produce more beautiful plants. And not every seed that is sown
will sprout. What to do with all those other notes on science fiction
and electronic gadgets? Maybe at some point in the future when I
re-read those notes, they will grow into an article, essay or poem.
And maybe they won’t. That is ok too. Some notes, like weeds, must be
discarded and do not blossom.

Goldberg also knows very well how many poets and writers love whiskey
and wine. How that nice glass of red wine can unlock and unleash the
trapped thoughts in an artist’s head. How, when thoroughly
intoxicated, the writer loses all inhibitions and all is laid bare in
words on the page. I too, have written some of my most inspired
essays while drunk, and it was, admittedly, a wild and enjoyable
experience. Goldberg encourages us, however, to have the patience
with ourselves to get drunk and intoxicated on reading poetry without
the aid of whiskey. When completely absorbed and understood in its
essence, poetry is a drug enough and the whiskey is not necessary.
Poetry becomes the whiskey.

Since I have
quit drinking I have realised that a greater patience with myself is
demanded as I am forced to look at myself completely with sober eyes
and it takes more effort, but the rewards are evident. I feel much
better and produce more quality writing while sober too. Berlin
winters, however, can be very long and cold, and alcohol is
definitely something I used to help me survive in the sub zero
temperatures in January. Who can resist a cup of hot mulled wine that
is being served on a platform while waiting for a severely delayed
train after a long day of work? I was once reading the online
satirical magazine ‘The Onion’ and I stumbled upon a silly photograph
of a man holding a thermos coffee mug which had the words ‘I love
commuting’ written on the side. He was secretly pouring a generous
shot of Jack Daniel’s whiskey into the mug. Who can’t relate to this?
Commuting daily for years is surely one of the most mind-numbing and
soul- destroying activities of modern life and it is easy to see why
it leads people to drink. Commuting also demands a lot of patience. I
personally hate it, but a good amount of it is a requirement of my
job, so here again I try and take Natalie Goldberg’s advice. I keep
her book of short essays (which are the perfect length for reading on
a train), and a book of short poems to help make my commute more
meaningful and enjoyable.

Not only
commuting can be lethal, but also the effects of a repetitive job. I
have been teaching English for years in companies and I love it, but
it can get very repetitive and a greater amount of patience is
required to carry it out with grace. When I find myself having to
answer the same question for the 500thtime,
I find myself feeling very impatient with my students. I try and
practice patience with them too. It is only the first time this
student has asked this question of you, so do not take your
impatience out on him, I remind myself. I get impatient when a
beginning student cannot identify Australia on a map of the world, or
does not know things about the English speaking world that I, in my
wordly ways, take as general knowledge. ‘Have you ever been
anywhere?’ I ask through gritted teeth. ‘No, I have never left
Germany.’ my student responds in German. ‘I have never been anywhere,
I have two horses and I spend all my free time with them.’ she
informs me. ‘Ok, fair enough’ I respond, humbled. I sometimes forget
what a privileged and jet set life I have led and that many, many
people stay in one place. It’s good to be reminded of this. Horses
must take a lot of patience. I don’t think I would have the peaceful
composure that is required to look after them.

Another time
a student asked me what it was like at an airport. ‘Sorry, what do
you mean what is it like at an airport?’ I responded. He seemed like
a trendy young guy who I presumed had travelled and the topic in the
book was all about travelling. We were talking about baggage reclaim,
and he didn’t have any idea what I was talking about. ‘Well, your
bags come out on a moving conveyer belt after your plane lands and
you take your bag off the belt when you see it.’ I explained
patiently. ‘Don’t people steal the bags?’ he asked amazed. ‘It’s not
a good idea to try and steal a bag’. I said. ‘The owner of the bag is
likely standing there watching it too.’

Airports are
another place that can test your patience. And I have spent a good
chunk of my life both in airports and on planes. How to patiently
pass the time there? In my younger drinking years, I headed straight
to the bar. That is the most logical place to meet other bored
passengers and have a few drinks and a few laughs. I have met the
most amazing people while travelling and drinking and I could write a
whole book on that topic. These days, I try and make sure I have lots
of interesting reading material and I find the most comfortable seat
I can to sit out the tedious wait for a connecting flight and try and
use the time as best I can. But as we all know, when we are forced to
have to wait for an exended period of time, it is a challenge to just
be happy and read and enjoy yourself. Who actually enjoys waiting at
an airport and using the time productively instead of heading to the
airport bars, restaurants and shops?

In his
article on patience in the magazine ‘Psychology Today’, Alex
Lickerman talks about strategies you can use to help you actually
enjoy the times you find yourself having to wait. And in our modern
world filled with so many people, there are plenty of times when we
find our patience tried by having to wait. He encourages us to try
and immerse ourselves completely in the action we are taking. With
practice you can get very good at this. He says you can also vividly
imagine you are already enjoying the thing you are waiting for.
Anticipation of something, he says, is often far more enjoyable than
experiencing the real thing. To this I can most definitely relate.
Getting lost in fantasy about some enjoyable experience you hope to
have is warm, fuzzy and comforting and really helps speed up time
subjectively. I have had certain romantic fantasies, for example,
that never happened in real life, but the fantasy helped pass the
waiting time in a more pleasant way. I was at an airport too, and I
was hoping to see the man in the country I was flying to. He let me
down and I never saw him, but it was a most enjoyable passage of time
thinking about seeing him. On the way home again after not seeing
him, I concentrated entirely on a funny book that helped me get my
mind off of him. It was so engrossing, in fact, that I nearly missed
my flight.

The ultimate
test of patience when dealing with the passing of time can only be
how an innocent prisoner decides to deal with this. Mumia Abu-Jamal,
a black convict, who has been serving a life sentence in prison since
he was convicted of the murder of a black policeman in Philadelphia
in 1981, has become an inspiration to millions. He is widely presumed
innocent, and his books and writings have been published from Death
Row. In his book ‘Death Blossoms-Reflections from a Prisoner of
Conscience’ he talks about the erosion of caring, nurturing and
community in present day America. He says: ‘For billions of us, life
is a search, a journey of seeking for that which we found unfulfilled
in our youth. We search for love, family and community. We search for
the completion of Self in others. As we search we find that modern
life with its bursting ballons of materialism, leaves us more and
more empty inside. Things that once seemed to fill us now fail to
bridge the gaping chasms in our psyche.’ Abu-Jamal reminds us in his
brilliant and critical essays how important community is and how
terribly our community bonds have eroded in the search for the dream
of self-actualisation and individuality.

In his essay
in ‘Psychology Today’ entitled ‘The Need for Patience’, Micheal
Austin talks about how erosion of community the need for everyone to
follow his own individual path actually really has increased levels
of impatience to an unprecedented level. We have become unbelievably
impatient and its easy to see what he is talking about. If you live
alone for years you get very used to doing things as you do them and
if anyone comes into your home and does them in a different way this
immediately leads to impatience with another’s methods. When living
alone, we forget how to compromise. I love having my own flat in
Berlin and living alone, but I notice with horror at the tender age
of 37 how stuck in my ways I am becoming and it terrifies me. My dear
dj and producer friend from Ireland has been staying with me lately
while he looks for his own flat and it is forcing me to be patient
and respect his space and his wishes even though he is in my flat. I
can be a total control freak in my kitchen, but I try and just keep
my mouth shut and let him cook dinner without interfering. It’s a
good lesson for me. We are both creative people and we both need our
space to get lost in our art. Me in my writing and him in his music.
We discuss how both our artforms teach us patience with ourselves,
but how as a creator you can never truly be fulfilled. Once one
project is over, you impatiently and hungrily move onto the next one.
Can one ever be satisfied? We need our art to live meaningful lives.
Without my writing and the intoxication it provides I know I could
easily slip back to the easy intoxication that is produced by whiskey
and wine. After a long day of commuting, I try and be patient with
myself, my friends and my artform. In the words of Picasso: ‘Art
washes away from the soul, the dust of everyday life’. And so true it
is. I want to continue to get lost in reading, writing and poetry and
use them to foster patience as I have learned from Natalie Goldberg.
Good things take time. I am half way through writing my book. It will
take a lot of effort and patience to complete and its completion is a
goal I cherish. In doing it though, I do not want to become too
self-absorbed. I must also remember the community of people around me
and patiently spend time with them, whether on a crowded train at
rush hour with strangers, or with the people I care for the dearest
whose patient feedback and love I am dependent on for my success as a

Back to Online Dating

23 Sep

Rhea H. Boyden

another delightful summer of travelling, writing, socialising and
doing lots of sports draws to a close, I realise with a pang that I
face yet another long Berlin winter living alone. I choose to live
alone and that is fine, but there are moments where it gets dark and
lonely. I have, therefore, reactivated my online dating profile and
we will see where it leads. My experiences with online dating have
been pretty negative in the past, but I am trying to approach it with
a much altered attitude this time around.

am fully aware that many people have met their partners online and
have gotten happily married and started families with people they
have met on the internet. My main problem with internet dating so
far, has been the fact that it seems quite contrived on many levels,
and many people certainly lack a neccessary subtle and casual
attitude that I think is essential for a date to be a success.

have moaned in the past that I always find myself attracted to shy
and quiet guys who end up leaving me bitterly disappointed with their
silence and leave me staring into a hanging void of no words and no
response when I pour my heart out to them about my feelings and
philosophy of life. Clearly this does not work and scares the poor
men away. I should learn my lesson. I pine over these guys for weeks
when they choose to ignore me. I am left with an acute sense of
regret and pain at how I acted with them and how I could have acted
differently. I want them to reciprocate my feelings and send me long
responses back about their hopes and dreams. But, wait! Is that
really what I want?

a guy who I do not know sends me a long message about how interested
he is in me and how interesting he finds my profile, I am immediately
turned off. I then leave him staring into a void of no response. It
goes both ways. There is however a difference to what I am doing and
to what they are doing. When I pour my heart out to a guy I like, it
happens after a prolonged exchange and chat on the internet and I
want to know where I stand with him finally. I then get my response
from the man in one short message followed by nothing else which
leaves me in do doubt that he is not interested in more than chat and
friendship. This is why Facebook is more subtle than online dating,
you can just be friends, and it could lead to more, potentially and
it has for many people.

dating, however, is right in your face. People are looking for love
and sex and that is that. That is fine, we are looking for love and
sex, great, but can we not approach it in a more casual manner to
begin with? I really do not want to be hounded by men in the first
message about my life’s dreams and how lovely and sexy they find my
pictures and how they cannot believe what an amazingly high amount of
matching points we have in the dating website’s match making system,
or how the guy is longing to meet me and is dreaming of me and so on
and so forth. This is nothing short of terrifying after after one
message has been exchanged. I am sure the guy means well, but to me,
this kills all subtletly and any chance that we will meet again even
if we do have things in common. I went on a date with a guy last year
and after the date he sent me a message saying: ‘That was a really
successful date, don’t you think??’ I could not reciprocate this
sentiment simply because he forced it so badly and needed it so

be sure, it is flattering to be given all these compliments on how
lovely my photos are, and what a beautiful smile I have. Thank you,
they are professional photos taken for a magazine article I wrote,
and I am quite fond of them myself, but honestly, I am not on online
dating for an ego boost. I genuinely want to make an effort to
subtlely make connections with a man who I may, after getting to know
him slowly have something in common with, and can build a lasting
relationship. That is my goal.

live in a world increasingly ruled by macbooks, apps, iphones, blogs
and countless other ways to connect online and this is never going to
go away, but using this huge array of networks to try and find a
partner is a daunting task. I literally get dozens of messages a day
of potential matches and men I should be compatible with. It can be
quite overwhelming. We hope fate will bring us to the right person
and we will fall in love and everything will be rosy and lovely.

rcently read the following article in the Atlantic Monthly with
horror: ‘Messing with Fate- New social discovery apps try and
engineer chance encounters.Could they spoil true serendipidy?’ The
article talks all about how a new app links you to people who are
near you, say in a bar or at a conference who you may have things in
common with. It is based on whether you have similar job entries in
your linked in profile, or if you have liked enough of the same
things on Facebook. I do not necessarily have something in common
with someone just because I have liked the same things on Facebook.
Neither is a huge amount of matching points on a dating profile a
guarantee that we will be compatible. I dated a guy for 2 years here
in Berlin who I joyously met in a very serendipidous manner and I am
sure we would have had about 5 matching points on a scale of 1-100 on
a dating website, but man could you slice the air between us when we
were in the same room. Talk about chemistry! Does this mean we should
go on dates with guys who we apparently have nothing in common with
on these sites? Maybe. You never know who you might meet. Having such
overblown expectations of a date is unhealthy anyway and ultimately
leads to disappointment.

recently read a very practical article in AlterNet by a savvy woman
named Emily Hoist-Moss who proudly labels herself an online dater.
She goes on dates all the time, and instead of being overwhelmed or
upset by the many number of failed dates she has been on she tries to
not take herself so seriously and enjoy herself. She gives advice on
how to online date successfully. First she warns you that this man
you are meeting is not your soulmate. So do not even have such high
expectations as you will only end up sitting back on your couch
glumly eating a tub of ice-cream alone, depressed. She also advises
us girls to just dress comfortably and be ourselves. Why doll
yourself up and waste a whole lot of effort to go on a blind date? I
happen to agree with her on this. Most of us singles with full time
jobs and a large social network of friends don’t even have much free
time to date and meet a partner even if that is what we want. I am
sorry, but I most certainly am not going to waste a whole Saturday
night to go on a blind date. I do not want to go to a fancy
restaurant with a man I don’t know and have a long date. I am willing
to meet for a coffee or some other alcohol free beverage during my
work week with men in Berlin who also have busy work schedules. We
can meet, see if we like each other and if we don’t, politely say
goodbye and move on. You usually know within 5 minutes whether you
like someone or not, and whether you want to invest more time in
getting to know them better. This may sound harsh, but it’s realistic
for busy people with busy lives. Being honest with the person you are
with and not playing games or using online dating as some sort of ego
boost to make yourself feel better is the best policy. Treating the
other person with respect and hoping they will reciprocate it, is
plain and decent advice. It’s the best that can be hoped for. Online
dating is simply one more of the thousands of online apps that are at
our disposal today and if used wisely may lead to success and happy
adventures. I am hoping for an adventure-filled Berlin winter. I feel
hopeful and positive. We will see.

Sasha’s Sonic Waste

22 Sep


by Rhea H.Boyden

Last Christmas I found myself wandering through one of Berlin’s many Christmas markets on a Wednesday evening. The market was practically empty and I was in a sombre mood. I had some money in my pocket and wanted to buy some gifts for the people I loved, but I was feeling uninspired by what I saw. ‘There is a lot of lovely stuff here’ I thought, ‘but it’s the same junk as every year’. I strolled through the whole market and purchased nothing but a simple ceramic bowl that caught my eye.

After strolling some more, I found myself standing in front of the market’s Christmas tree. The ‘tree’ was constructed of lots of metal pipes from which were strung various pieces of junk. Old tires, smashed up radios, ancient computers and broken bikes. It was strung with a nice strand of lights, only half of which were illuminated. In front of the tree was a big sign reminding us of how much waste we humans have produced and how we really should think carefully about what we purchase before doing so especially considering we are in the middle of a recession. ‘Well’ I thought, ‘Here we are being told NOT to buy things in the middle of a market in the middle of the Christmas season which is the most important time of year for retail business to make its biggest profits and turnover’. I heeded the sign and didn’t buy another thing at that market. I did end up buying small gifts for my family and friends last year, but I spent most of my money on good food instead.

A couple weeks later, I met an interesting young man from Melbourne,  Australia named Sasha Margolis. Sasha, whose  artist’s name is ‘Automating’ creates the most interesting sounds that really make me think deeply about our material world. While listening, I read his biography of his craft and it says: ‘Sifting through the sonic waste and discarded technology left by the roadside of a world speeding too fast into the future. Field recordings, found sound, tape manipulation, noise and effects units. Currently pursuing live and studio created binaural soundscapes and archaic tape based drones.’ When I read this I immediately thought of the Christmas tree again and all the junk that has been left by the roadside that people had nicely reused to decorate a tree and make a point at the same time. Sasha, as far as I can see, is reusing sonic waste and turning it into something useful: deeply inspiring sounds. As I mature, I start to really see the value of contemporary art forms, something I simply did not understand or see any worth in when I was younger. This past summer when I was at Documenta Contemporary Art show, I found myself standing in front of a big pile of scrap metal and junk that was one of the exhibits. One then asks: ‘Is this art?’ and ‘What is the value of this?’ The value of this of course, is to make us think about how much we waste and ponder more creative and artistic ways in which we can reuse, reduce and recycle and make our planet a more sustainable place for future generations.

Sasha pic living room

Sasha Margolis

I was recently killing time flipping through  a high end women’s fashion magazine in a doctor’s waiting room. The magazine was full of advertisements for very expensive make-up, jewellry and clothing. The article that caught my eye however, was one that claimed that you do not have to be ashamed to say you are broke and unemployed in the middle of a recession. It showed you how you can creatively mix and match the clothes you already own without wasting money you don’t have on more junk you don’t need. This article impressed me as quite ironic sandwiched in between advertisements for expensive luxury products, just as the scrap and junk Christmas tree was placed in the middle of a market which is there for one reason: to make a profit.

Some mornings when I am getting dressed for work, I realise I am all nicely dressed up to greet a new client and then I swing around, look in the mirror and spot a lovely hole in my black tights. I don’t let it bother me though. I go to work anyway, and at least several better dressed people will point it out to me during the day, and I just blithely say ‘Oh really, I didn’t see that, never mind!’ If there is one thing a girl could go bankrupt on, it is constantly wasting money on new tights every time the tiniest hole appears in them. I do, of course, eventually splurge on more tights and throw the old ones to the junk heap, but not before I get the chance to wear the ones with lots of holes in them, two pairs at a time, under jeans, where no one knows the holes are there apart from me, in the depths of Berlin winter. This is just one way that I try and reuse and reduce waste. The other morning, Sasha sent me a link to his latest album and again it immediately made me think of waste reduction methods. Sasha’s sounds keep me thinking for hours about art, renewal, waste, death and the cycle of life. He samples so many different sounds from engines to sheep, to fireworks and birds. Sounds from from rural areas and from cityscapes. His sounds send me into a dream world and a trance and inspire me to write about all kinds of topics, which is interesting because his latest album ‘Somnambulist’ released under the label Wood & Wire deals partially with sleep states. Well done, Sasha!

Sasha’s music is available for purchase on Bandcamp.

To read reviews of Sasha’s music check out his reviews page.




Link to teaser of article in The Gloss Magazine

11 Sep

Link to teaser of article in The Gloss Magazine

What’s the Alternative? (Published in Gloss Magazine- Cover Story-Single Sex-Playing the Field)

11 Sep

imageYears ago, when I still believed that marriage was something I should strive for, I was told a joke by an older woman who had more experience than me. “A woman needs a man who is good in bed, is good with kids, has a good job, is cultured, is a good cook, and who is a good handyman,” she counselled. “And she must also make sure that none of these men ever meet each other.” In the sweet naiveté of youth, I failed to get the joke. I now understand it completely, as it has turned out to be my life. I was born in Ireland in the mid-1970s to free-spirited American parents who never married. By the time I was five, they were separated and my brother and I lived in Ireland with our father, visiting our mother in the various countries she lived in, including the United States, Turkey and Germany. Despite this anything-but-conventional upbringing, I still somehow became conditioned to believe that I should be in a marriage-track relationship by my mid-20s. I met a lovely man at university in the United States when I was 22 and, as many of our friends were getting married right out of college, we moved to Berlin to practise our language skills and teach English. We were very compatible, and he is the man I probably should have stayed with and married, but there was one problem. He did not feel the pull and pulse of the city as much as I did. I was yearning for adventure. As I was terminating our four-year relationship at the age of 26, he sobbed and pleaded with me. “I have a fantasy of your lovely curly hair flowing down over your pregnant belly,” he implored. My decision was made, however. I wanted out, and nothing was going to change my mind. Ten years later, he is happily married, and has beautiful twin daughters. I am single living in Berlin. My adventures in Berlin in the years following our break-up were intense, to say the least. I became well acquainted with the nightlife and culture of this fantastic city, meeting people of different ages, races and sexual orientation. I also enjoyed a very successful teaching career, and I was full of vibrant, youthful energy. But when I hit 30, I began to feel a little weary of such a whirlwind life, and it was then that I made my first attempt at engaging with what I now like to call “the pretense of security”, and I began dating a wealthy German engineer. It failed quickly, however, and as I was breaking up with him due to the lack of chemistry, he said to me by way of warning: “In ten years, you have to have found a relationship that works because, by then, all your friends will be gone.” By “gone” he meant married and leading insular lives but, while inwardly the thought unnerved me, I was unwilling to settle with him. Next, I joined an online dating website. Within a few weeks, I met wealthy German engineer number two. I made more valiant an effort to make this relationship work, but it too failed after two years. I felt strongly that he did not appreciate my true merits, and that I was just an accessory in his life. It seemed that he just wanted any pretty woman at his side to play the role of wife. I felt that my creativity and sensuality were being hindered by him. It turned out too, that we had different ideas of what constituted a healthy sex life, and once, as I was diplomatically trying to improve things with him in the bedroom, he made it clear how little it mattered to him. “Look,” he said grumpily, “sex, is just something I want to get done, and move onto the next thing.” “What, like a mundane task like changing a tyre on a car?” I retorted in horror. “Time for me to change boyfriends then.” Some of my friends and family deemed me mad to terminate such a materially rich relationship with a seemingly caring and stable man – “Think of your security,” they warned – but I took this as an insult. Did people not think I could continue to support myself as I had been doing for years? I have since learned that he found another girl on the internet to replace me a few months later and they are now married. I can’t help but wonder what sort of a relationship they have. Is it a sexless marriage? Is it one where she is happy to be an accessory and spend his money all day? Who knows – maybe they really are compatible. In recent years, finding myself back in the adventure that is dating in Berlin, I have often thought about that joke I was told years ago. I have met a lot of different men, men who have fulfilled my various needs in different ways and I have come to realise that being independent and having my freedom suits me far better than being married. My wealth of experience has shown me that you truly cannot have it all with one man. For a while, I dated a Canadian guy, with whom I could discuss literature and poetry for hours, and although we shared a bed, it was not because we were having hot sex, but rather because we shared a mutual affection and respected each other greatly. I also have a dear German male friend who comes to my aid whenever I am having a computer or a domestically themed meltdown, which happens frequently enough with me. I have a good American male friend with whom I play sports and go to the Berlin Philharmonic. He wows me with his great sense of humour and his knowledge of classical music. We occasionally end up in bed together too, because we both admit we miss the intimacy. For a spell of about two years, through no design or manipulation of my own, I actually found myself in two relationships simultaneously. They both knew of each other but never met. One of them was a Scottish musician whom I considered to be my soul mate and best friend (he cooked the best chilli con carne in the world … ). We did not have a sexual relationship, but were very close on every other level, offering each other constant moral support. We were like an old married couple, complete with arguments over how to best solve a problem. And while he was out playing music and dating other women, I was seeing an Irish entrepreneur with whom I had a lot of great sex. He had told me on our third date, however, that he had no intention of engaging emotionally with me and that he intended to spend his 30s playing the field, sleeping with me and lots of other people besides. He hurt me deeply, and drove me halfway to insanity, but it is an experience I would not have wanted to go without. The combination of these two men in my life for such an extended period of time truly provided more than I could have dreamed of in one stable relationship. They were both completely different to each other and I cared for them both dearly. But am I not worried about being all alone if I don’t settle by the time I’m 40, as my first German engineer boyfriend warned? Not really, to be honest. I am certainly less afraid of it now than I was a few years ago, because I see more and more women my age who are also remaining childless and unmarried, and I hear about the interesting ways that single, childless people are choosing to live communally as we get older. Berlin, especially, is known as a “single city” and many people are here to work on interesting art, music, language and writing projects and to enjoy the excellent nightlife and culture that the city has to offer. I recently heard about an apartment block here where single people choose to live their separate lives in individual apartments but have a communal living room where the can meet – and they are slowly buying the building together. I truly believe things are changing and we do not have to live with the fear of growing old alone. I have a wonderful family who are spread across Ireland and the United States and I usually spend a Christmas with them but, this year, I decided to stay in Berlin and host Christmas dinner myself. I love cooking and I had eight for dinner: two gay guys, four single ladies in their 30s (including me) and one married couple. I keep my online social network in place too: one of my New York-based aunts reunited with her old college boyfriend on Facebook and they have been dating the past three years, and meeting people through Facebook has been a more positive experience for me than online dating. As a single woman who lives alone, Facebook is my faithful friend: I get all my music, entertainment and news about my friends there on a daily basis. Recently I admitted what a huge amount of time I spend on Facebook to a friend who is a married mother. “Oh,” she retorted, smugly, “I cancelled my Facebook account. I think it’s a silly waste of time.” Well, I can’t live without Facebook. Yes, I would still like to meet someone to share my life with and I continue to go on dates and there are, admittedly, moments of desperation, especially as I am acutely aware that a large percentage of my still-single male peers, men that I used to consider my dating pool, are starting to set their sights on women five or six years younger than me. But what can I do about it? I am following my path and simply trying to lead an honest life that makes me happy. I have a friend who used to live in Berlin and, when she was 26, she started going out with her boss. They both worked and earned good money and then they got married and moved to LA together to earn even more money. When she was 37 she gave birth to their only child, a beautiful blonde son, who is spoilt, but lovely too. She visits Berlin every year and I meet up with her for coffee but I’m not sure whether I will bother the next time she is in town because some of the things she said last time put me off. Things like: “Are youstill not settled?” and “Why do you spend so much time out at night in Berlin, don’t you want a steady boyfriend?” And the clincher was, “Once you have a baby, all these other things you had been filling your time with seem so meaningless.” I guess she doesn’t understand my life at all. I am confident that if I remain true to myself and to the people I love, I have a pretty good chance of continuing to lead a satisfying life – with or without a stable partner. I know from experience that settling for the wrong relationship out of fear is a bad idea. And I have filled my life with people who share my opinion on these matters, so that gives me courage. Together, we discuss the possibilities of forming those communities and networks as we age and consciously decide not to marry and settle for passionless existences that stifle freedom and creativity. Single women have never had it better in all of history, and there is every reason to be optimistic for the future if we remain single, which no doubt a lot of us will.

Soulful September Sunday

2 Sep

by Rhea H. Boyden Sunday is a funny day. Sometimes I love it and sometimes I hate it. It is supposed to be a relaxing and rejuvenating day, but living alone, it can be a bit lonely. I enjoy my time alone to read and write, and this afternoon I intended to do just that. I nestled down into my couch with a cup of tea and my book. The book was one of short stories by a woman author my age named Zadie Smith. I read her novel ‘On Beauty’ a couple years ago and I loved it, so I wanted to try this book too. I started reading the first story and became frustrated fast. She was talking all about a book she had read and I couldn’t quite follow the story because I had not read the book. I then skipped to another story. It also referenced lots of books and poems I had never read. This of course made me feel intellectually inadequate, irritated and then plain lonely, as I sat on my couch pondering how to continue my Sunday. ‘Why can I not just enjoy a book of short stories on a Sunday afternoon without getting riled up that I don’t know what she is talking about?’ I grumbled to myself. ‘Must one have read everything she quotes here to get it, or am I missing the point completely?’ I tossed the book aside, exasperated, and decided to check Facebook to cheer myself up. Checking Facebook did not help. I immediately stumbled upon the Facebook page of my old Secondary School in Ireland and then got lost in looking at pictures of the school and past students. I then felt extremely nostalgic and homesick. One of the descriptions of the photos said that my old school had first opened its doors to students in September 1972. ‘Wow, that is 40 years ago this month.’ I thought. ‘Where does the time go?’ I began to think of the old days at school and a tear came to my eye. Thinking of past loves, past haunts, and past pranks. I smiled through my wistfulness, choking back the tears and then managed to laugh at a couple photos. Talk about mixed emotions. I then suddenly thought of the book of short stories I had abandoned on the couch behind me. ‘Wait, was Zadie Smith not just talking about nostalgia and soulfulness in her story?’ I logged out of Facebook and returned to my book again eagerly to re-read her bit on nostalgia and soulfulness, ignoring the fact that I had not read the book she was quoting. Most short stories, as far as I know, are meant to be enjoyed alone with no prerequisites, so I am going to do just that. Zadie Smith says to be soulful is to be nostalgic and quotes the definition of ‘Soulful’ as: ‘expressing or appearing to express deep and often sorrowful feeling.’ She then goes on to say ‘soulfulness is sorrowful feeling transformed into something beautiful, creative and self-renewing.’ I suddenly felt happier and uplifted. It suddenly did not matter to me that I had not read the book she was talking about. I sat there and pondered why I was feeling wistful anyway, and how I could turn it into something creative? One plain reason must of course be the change of season, the chill in the air. That chill that makes you feel lonely, and of course nostalgic for warmer Summer days. That rustle in the leaves as the evening air blows through them. The leaves are clinging on to Summer too just as I am, in denial of the fact that they will soon be blown away. Zadie Smith goes on to talk about soul food which she defines as ‘simple, flavoursome, hearty, unfussy and with spice.’ Of course one of the soul-saving traditions of Sunday is the delicious food you can take the time to prepare on this day of rest. I am now very much in tune with Smith’s world as I read on and she says: ‘to be soulful is to follow and fall in line with a feeling, to go where it takes you and not go against the grain.’ This is marvellous advice. Especially for writers. Loneliness and nostalgia can be wonderful tools for writers. Not to wallow, but you can write yourself out of wallowing and process the feelings a September Sunday bring. First a big plate of soul food followed by an evening of writing. This Sunday has been a success after all, and I am sure I can face the darkening days as Autumn approaches. I can even set aside some time on those dark evenings to read the poetry Smith writes of and then go back and read those stories with a fresh perspective. A new season can bring new hope and new creativity. I have lots to read and process, lots of soul food to eat, and lots of writing to do.