Archive | June, 2013

‘For the (Dis)connected’ (Musings on Modern Gender Relations-Part 2)

30 Jun


By Rhea H. Boyden

Last Tuesday morning I got up at 6.30, had a shower, made a strong cup of black tea and turned on my computer to perform my ritual morning online interactions and reading only to discover that my internet had been disconnected. ‘Crap.’ I grumbled. ‘How the heck did I fail to pay the bill on time?’ I had a mini panic attack but then remembered that I was also in possession of a smartphone, so this was hardly a calamity.  I was also in possession of a press pass to the Schaubühne Theatre to see German Director Falk Richter’s ‘For the Disconnected Child’ that same evening. ‘What a funny coincidence that my internet should be cut off, today of all days?’ I smiled at the irony of it. One of the main themes in Richter’s modern piece is hyper online connectivity and its effects in our modern society.

After paying my phone bill and teaching all day, I then stopped at one of my favourite cafes to have a salad. I had intended to respond to a nice message I had received from a man the day before on my online dating profile, and I discovered upon logging on that he no longer existed and his profile had been deleted. My heart sank. ‘Wow, he only sent me the message 15 hours ago, did I not jump quick enough?’ I thought. Despite my negative experiences with online dating, I still keep going on the odd date. I refuse to give up on it.

After eating my salad, I walked alone in the pouring rain to the theatre and took my seat, notebook in hand, eager to see this experimental piece which brings together for the first time actors and dancers from the Schaubühne and singers and musicians from the Staatsoper. A collaboration, an experiment and a fusion of many different styles of music, acting and song. Will this work? It could fail miserably. The music of Marianne Faithfull, Schubert and Tchaikovsky on the same stage? A chamber orchestra one minute, an electric guitar the next? It did work marvelously, and after the 2 hour and 20 minute performance there were lengthy standing ovations.

One main thread of the performance is the scene from Tchaikovsky’s ‘Eugen Onegin’ where the leading lady, Tatjana, reveals her undying love to Onegin in a letter and he rejects her. He is unwilling to commit to her (or anybody else) and does not want to give up his freedom. This then becomes the main theme in a modern context throughout the performance of why so many men refuse to commit to women in modern relationships when there is so much to choose from all the time, especially in a modern urban environment. I can completely relate to this topic, and am happy that its relevance is being broached on the Berlin stage. Urban relationships, dating demographics and single life are my favourite topics to write about.

The leading lady Tatjana, is livid after being rejected and simply does not understand why, when she can offer Onegin everything he could possibly want. She screams out loud, furious about his emotional impotence. Another male character in the show says that maybe she was too forward, or too fast, or too honest, perhaps? She should try a little more reserve in future. Reserve, as many of us modern women know, doesn’t really get us very far either. We are well aware that traditional, lengthy courtship rituals are hardly existent in modern urban dating. If a woman is too reserved and doesn’t sleep with the successful alpha male on date three at the latest, well, he will likely just go and fuck the next girl, as he is too much in demand and there aren’t enough of his kind to go around and he knows he holds this power too. I know I have harped on about this topic before, but I am going to do it again, because, well, it is an important modern topic. I live it and experience it first hand in the big city.

I will come to a section in this essay where I heartily defend men and discuss women’s flaws (and my own flaws) so hear me out. It won’t be in the next few paragraphs, so if you are male and feeling a little sensitive, I apologise in advance.

In her depressing article in Salon magazine entitled ‘A New Era of Heartbreak’ Jaime Cone interviews  professor of sociology Eva Illouz who in her book ‘Why Love Hurts’,  discusses how changing cultural norms exacerbate the stress and pain of modern romance. Illouz points out that our modern capitalist society is responsible, in large part, for men’s lack of commitment to women. In the past, men’s power and status were determined in the patriarchal system where he could assert his masculinity by displaying his power over his wife and children (and servants if he had them).

In our modern society, however, a man’s masculinity is measured more by how much power he has in an organization or corporation, how much money he earns, and how much sexual power he can have over many different women. Having a family is viewed as more of a financial burden rather than an asset, especially in the economically unstable times we live in. The large dating pool on the internet also poses a problem; with so much to choose from, many men are unwilling to settle for one woman. Again, in a capitalist system, if one has too many options, one is less likely to commit to a purchase. Men have the significantly larger dating pool to choose from on the internet too, and they have a lot more time than women to play the field and can wait until they are 50 to settle down, if they want to settle at all. Women, ultimately, are the losers in this system and there is simply too much competition for the ‘good men’. Demographics prove it.

In this case, women’s self esteem suffers greatly too. Self esteem itself is a relatively new idea. In the past, when women were rejected, they may have been hurt but their whole sense of worth was not damaged because they knew what their status in society was and they still believed in their basic worth. In her book, Illouz takes Marianne from’ Sense and Sensibility’ as an example. When she is rejected by Willoughby she is hurt to be sure, but her sense of place in society and her basic self worth is not ruined by the rejection. In our modern mixed urban society, however, it is not clear anymore at all what class someone comes from and what their real status is. We all have to fight to prove who we are, what we are good at, what we are worth and so forth, to protect our precious self-esteem(s). Why else would a dating website try and market itself by naming itself Elite Partner and charge a huge price for membership? Call me a snob, but just charging a fee for signing up to this precious expensive ‘elite’ site in no way guarantees that you are going to meet refined, sophisticated people on it. I met the biggest sleazes and players on the site and came away feeling depressed.

In ‘For the Disconnected Child’ this theme of self-esteem is explored in depth in how Tatjana goes mad in analyzing why she is not lovable. ‘This is not my body!’ she wails. ‘What part of me is it, what part is unlovable? Is it this part?’ she cries, clutching at her stomach. She then sings her song: ‘The Island of the Unneeded and Unloved Body’ which I will quote from: ‘I walked and walked and walked. I arrived on the island of the unloved body, an eternity in fog, nothing more to hear, everything is silent.’

Illouz goes on to say in the Salon interview that in the 19th century Western men were far more open about their emotions and they were the ones who chased the women who they desired. It was the woman who held the power to decide who and when to marry. These days, however, many women are driven to become neurotic wrecks as they obsess over what they are doing wrong and why the man who they are dating refuses to commit. (I have plenty of first hand experience here, believe me).

In their bestselling book ‘The Complete Book of Rules- Time-tested secrets for capturing the heart of Mr. Right’ Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider lay down all the things a woman should and should not do when dating a man if she wants to get him to commit. To be honest, the book terrifies me.  It teaches women how they should apply all these manipulative tactics in order to make a man love them. And this is supposed to ensure a happy relationship? They say things like you should stop dating him if he doesn’t buy you a gift on Valentine’s Day, and that you should never see him more than once or twice a week, and that you should never phone him and so forth. Basically the book makes the woman responsible for making the relationship work and she has to make sure she is acting correctly at every move. It sounds like too much stress to me. I think I would rather sit at home reading and writing than go to so much mental effort to ‘secure’ a man. But it does show how things have changed since the 19th century. Women are told not to pursue men, that the men should be the ones pursuing them if they truly love them, but unfortunately as we get a little older we simply do not feel as pursued any more, as many men who we once considered our dating pool start to date younger women.

‘For the Disconnected Child’ talks a lot about internet dating and how women who are a little older attempt to use it. The leading lady Tatjana, who is over 40, a single mother and a successful business woman is constantly on skype with her mother and on online dating trying to find a man. Both give her a connection to the world. In her more frenzied moments, she asks her mother if she truly loves her and when she finds a man, she asks him if he truly, truly loves her. She is very successful in her career, but totally neurotic as she keeps meeting men with whom, in her words ‘the relationship is over before it ever really begins.’ Her self-esteem suffers greatly.  We see, however, that at heart she is a good person, who just wants to be loved. She is not evil, she is just confused.

Another scene in ‘For the Disconnected Child’ shows a woman on her bed making love to her cello. This represents objectophilia, naturally, and I find it extremely amusing, but I know of course that there is a serious element to it. I remember after the attack on The World Trade Center reading an article about a single woman who got herself a set of mini twin towers that she took to bed with her every night and claimed she was in love with them. Can we laugh at this? Don’t we all display a certain tendency towards objectophilia with our coveting of our smartphones and Macbooks that keep us many urban singles connected round the clock? Without this hyperconnectivity we would likely be lonely. I live alone and I sleep with my smartphone every night, and I quite often take my laptop to bed too.

Indeed, connectivity to Facebook, Twitter, Skype and countless other sites make it possible for so many of us to happily live alone these days. More and more people are living alone, and yet there does not seem to be enough dialogue on it, and singles are still stigmatized for it. In his book ‘Going Solo-The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone’ NYU professor Eric Klinenberg discusses the reasons behind the historic rise of single living in the past decades. The rich variety of interaction made possible by the internet is one thing he notes, but he also points out some other interesting ideas. The security provided by the welfare state (especially in Scandiavian countries) and the wealth generated by economic growth have simply made it affordable for people to live alone. Mass urbanization is also responsible for this trend. Many people who live in densely populated urban environments find themselves surrounded by like minded non-conformists who mostly moved to the city to do something else apart from getting married and having a family. Increased longevity is another reason we spend more time alone. Women, especially can outlive their spouses (if they ever have one) by years, so spending more and more time alone later in life is increasingly becoming the norm.

In her article in The Daily Telegraph – ‘Being Single by Choice is Liberating’, Hannah Betts also says that living alone provides busy urban people the solitude they crave and need when dealing with the stresses of every day urban living. The large majority of urban singles in their late 30’s and early 40’s most certainly do not want to live in flat shares, and if they can afford it at all will rent or buy their own flat. And of course there are moments of loneliness, but loneliness is part of life no matter whether you are in a relationship or not. I know that since I started writing two years ago, that I really need my solitude and I feel very fortunate that I am able to afford a centrally located Berlin flat that I can withdraw to to read and write. I continue to go on the odd internet date, but honestly, I am fairly content with my single life at the moment. I rarely feel completely alone as I am constantly on Facebook, Twitter and Skype and I see my students, colleagues and friends in Berlin every day.

In Berlin, one in three people live alone and the number is rising exponentially. Almost a third of Britons now live alone and the number of British people going solo has risen by more than a million in the past 16 years. According to The British Office for National Statistics that number is expected to rise by another 2 million by 2020. People who live alone make up 28 percent of U.S. households, and today an incredible 50 percent of Americans are single. With these statistics we certainly do not need to feel alone in our aloneness. And yet, single living is considerably more expensive than being coupled and thousands of tax laws still favour married couples.  In their article in the Atlantic Monthly, Arnold and Campbell explore at length the many tax laws that overtly provide legal or financial benefits to married couples. The article was so long and so depressing I could hardly stand to read it. Of course I worry about money. I am a freelance English teacher and writing is hardly a job I do for money, but more for the passion and joy of it. Arnold and Campbell quite simply state that ‘marital privileging marginalizes the 50 percent of Americans who are single.’ Married couples save thousands by filing jointly. Will tax laws change in the future as the social structure changes and marriage and family life becomes less and less the norm?

Despite the huge advances made by women in the past half a century we still very much live in a patriarchal society. Berlin may be a haven for non-conformists, but Germany in general is still very much a patriarchy. In barely one in five households in Germany is the woman the main breadwinner and more than half of these women are single mothers. In Dax 30 registered companies (German Stock Exchange) there is a total of only 13 women board members. Enormous subsidies help cement traditional gender roles in place in Germany. German housewives are automatically given free health insurance, and the system of half day schools make it very hard for German mothers to hold down a full time job. There is also a severe lack of day care centre places for children of working mothers.

Leading the international life that I have always led,  traveling between my three homes of Ireland, Germany and the United States, I have pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I will not be getting married and having children. I have a huge family spread across these three countries and I have little desire to get myself entrenched in the German system of child raising which I view as being full of flaws. In one month, I will be 38 years old and I don’t have a man at my side and that is fine for now. I have a mother in California who is suffering from Alzheimer’s who I visit every year, family on the East Coast of the U.S. who I visit frequently too, and going to see my friends and family in Ireland at least once a year is also a priority for me. This is my life and it is the way it is. I have plenty of people around me all the time and presumably I will find another good man to date again at some point. I have been single for well over a year now. I simply do not have a ticking biological clock. I do not feel like having a child. I want to write, even if writing is a lonely pursuit at times. It is the one thing that brings me huge joy. I am fairly good at being alone. I am a very sociable person and I love being around people too, but I have gotten Berlin nightlife out of my system and quite enjoy my own company at this point. I spend most Saturday nights alone reading, writing and editing and for the moment, at least, it makes me perfectly content.

I do feel sorry, however, for the women in their mid to late thirties who still really feel that they would like to have a family and are simply not finding men to help them fulfill this wish. We are still very much encouraged in our society to believe in family values and try to have a traditional family, when this model is now increasingly unrealistic.  It is a fact that one in two children are now born to single mothers and in nearly 40 percent of all American households the woman earns more than her husband. Men only completed 40 percent of Bachelor and Master’s Degrees in 2010 in the U.S. and more than 50 percent of Ph.D candidates are women. A serious change in gender relations is happening right before our eyes, and yet mainstream culture still romanticizes the fairy tale wedding and happily-ever-after model. I am not that cynical, and I still believe in finding love, but I also have realized that I have to be completely responsible for myself and my years of day dreaming that I would find a man to be at my side are over.

In her book, ‘The End of Men’ Hanna Rosin shows us statistics and stories of how difficult men are faring in our modern economy and how women are marching ahead in their careers. She talks about the collapse of industry in the United States and the recession that started in 2008 as being responsible for the huge number of unemployed American men. The new economy jobs are far more suited for women and many women simply do not want to date unemployed or underemployed men. They are too busy with their own careers to bother with it and find having such a man a burden, as harsh as this may sound (especially if they are single mothers with full time jobs). Many of Rosin’s data and anecdotes are interesting and enlightening but my main problem with her is that she is married and has three children, so I really wonder why she thinks she has such a right to make it her topic to discuss mass male unemployment and sexually frustrated career women. I am passionate about writing about single urban life, because I am single and lead an urban life. If I were happily married and had three children, on the other hand, I would probably stop banging on about it and write about something else entirely.

Hanna Rosin managed to upset quite a few men with her book too. One man who read the book after publication said that she completely misconstrued his interview with her. He had told her that although it was challenging at times, he was quite happy to stay at home with his children while his wife held a full time job. Rosin simply said that he found it quite challenging, leaving out the bit where he said he also found it fulfilling. Another man said that yes, he found it rather demoralizing that he lost his full time job in manufacturing and that he now had to depend on his wife, but did Rosin have to use the most depressing photo of him that made him look hangdog in a New York Times article about the book? Rosin shows that she has one characteristic that clever ladies are often accused of having and that is manipulation. Rosin can have her cake and eat it too. In other words, she can be married, have three children and still bang on about how hard a time all these poor women are having finding eligible men. I seriously think a single, childless woman is a better candidate to broach this topic.

On the topic of manipulative women, there is a scene in ‘For the Disconnected Child’ where a man is going completely crazy screaming at his new girlfriend. ‘Why, oh why?’ he demands of her ‘Does your relationship status on Facebook still say single, when mine has said in a relationship for the past 2 weeks?’ He goes crazy with rage at her accusing her of wanting it all and not really loving him. As he screams at her the whole scene reaches a crescendo along to the music of the Staatsoper chamber orchestra. It seems quite incredible that traditional German classical musicians from the German Staatsoper are playing their instruments alongside a man screaming at his girl about her Facebook status. What an astoundingly modern piece of theatre this is.

Of course to be a truly modern piece, ‘For the Disconnected Child’ should have touched on homosexuality. Berlin, like most big urban centres has a large gay population. They somehow overlooked this completely in the performance. I have many gay male friends in Berlin and I would be nothing without them. Some of them are my closest friends who I have known for years. I have closer and deeper bonds to them than to any heterosexual male. A few years ago, I was dating a guy who I was quite into, and one autumn afternoon I slipped on a slimy leaf, fell flat on my face and cracked my front tooth. The guy I was dating didn’t seem to really care about it and offered me no comfort. I knew then that he did not really care about me very much. It was my gay neighbour, however, who invited me over to watch a movie and cheered me up after this incident.

A few weeks ago another dear gay friend of mine who used to live in Berlin and who now lives in Spain visited me for a long weekend. We had a marvelous time together and he took me out to a lovely restaurant and bought me a huge bunch of flowers on the morning he left. It has been an awful long time since a straight man has done the same for me.

Yet another gay friend of mine is one of my closest friends in Berlin and I meet him every week. He is a writer too and we read and edit each other’s writing constantly. We provide each other with constant mutual support and feedback and I love him dearly. Apart from these three guys, I have at least another three dear gay male friends in Berlin who rank very high on my list of important people. I would imagine it is the same for many other single urban women too.

And what of the accusation that we many singles are all incredibly self-centred, narcissistic and solipsistic? Well, what can I say to this? Sure, I am a little self-centred, I am a writer. Aren’t most writers a little egotistical? I am now on word 4,142 of this essay. It is surely self-centred of me to take up all your time and presume you will read this far, but I am very happy if you take the time to do it. In fact, singles are not as self-centred as society would assume. We are well-connected and support each other constantly. We are very busy with interesting projects to help people all the time. I am a teacher, for one thing. Patience, caring and compassion are demanded of me every day. Many singles actually find married couples to be more self-absorbed, especially those who have children. Sure, we get that raising kids is a lot of work and demands a certain amount of tunnel vision for a few years, but my other single girlfriends also complain of feeling completely forgotten by their former girlfriends who are now married or have kids. So, what can you do? Mutual tolerance and respect of each other’s lifestyles and an open dialogue is essential.

Since writing my other extremely long essay on this topic a few years ago which I entitled ‘Musings on Modern Gender Relations’ I like to think that I have matured a bit more and have come to accept more who I am. I don’t beat myself up as much as I used to, and I am fairly content with my life. To be sure, I have my ups and downs and moments of desperation and irritation like everyone, but I somehow realize that I am on my path and still just trying to lead an honest life that makes me happy. Because in the end, I am the one who has to live with me and also learn to deal with long stretches of solitude which is the result of not having secured a man and gotten married. In ‘For the Disconnected Child’ they talk all about how horrible this silence can be in your single home. ‘The silence grows ever louder, oh take away this terrible silence!’ Learning to love the silence and using it productively is surely one of the biggest challenges of modern single life and I like to think I am getting better at it as I grow more and more used to it.

Photo of Schaubühne by Doris Antony


24 Jun

woods path angels

By Rhea H. Boyden

In her memoir ‘Long Quiet Highway’, author and teacher of creative writing, Natalie Goldberg reminds us to think of our angels when we are writing. She tells us to write about our special ‘angel people’ and ‘angel places’ and think about the importance both play in shaping our lives, inspiration and creativity.

My first thought when I read this is ‘Well, I am not religious and I do not believe in angels, so what is she talking about?’ Upon further reflection, however, I realize that what she advises makes sense. The word ‘angel’ on the simplest level means ‘messenger’ and as a writer I try and stay open to all kinds of messages that might be useful in my stories and in my life in general.

So what does she mean by ‘angel places’ anyway?  Does she simply mean the places that always come back to you in your dreams or thoughts that make you feel at peace or inspire you? Perhaps. There is a path down to the river near my family’s house in Ireland that I always think about for some reason, when I write any memories of childhood. The memory of walking this path with my childhood friends in my neighbourhood brings back further happy memories of spending our summers at the river swimming. This path is one of my ‘angel places’ and I can’t quite pinpoint why I always think of it, but thoughts of walking along it always inspire me to write. I can only presume that this what Natalie Goldberg is getting at when she talks of ‘angel places’.

Now her concept of ‘angel people’ is one I find more intriguing. I definitely have my angels in my life who have guided me at very important points and not only regarding writing and creativity, but regarding much bigger and important life issues. There is one man in my life who I have always thought of as a guardian angel. He is an old family friend, and over the years he has always given me the best snippets of advice on what decision I should make at a certain juncture. His well-timed pearls of wisdom have guided and helped me and I have never quite understood why I have this connection to him necessarily. Is he some sort of ‘angel person’? He has even appeared in my dreams at times giving me extremely valuable pieces of information. There are some things that people say to you that you simply never forget.

I recently saw a humorous photo on Facebook of a marble statue of an angel with its head in its hands, full of despair. The quote under it said ‘I think my guardian angel must look like this a lot’. This made me chuckle, but I also related to it immediately. When I was partying and drinking a lot in Berlin (and acting less than angelic at times) before I finally completely quit the decadent lifestyle, I imagine that my guardian angel must have had some serious doubts and fears at times. I suppose I had a guardian angel ultimately protecting me against the demon, devil drink and I came through that episode relatively unscathed and with a great many stories to tell of Berlin nightlife.

Not to say that I did not have a few dark moments before quitting drinking where I pleaded to certain angels for guidance. There is a poem by the American poet, essayist and feminist, Adrienne Rich that I particularly relate to called ‘Gabriel’. (Gabriel being the archangel who visited Mary to foretell of the birth of Christ).  I am not sure what Rich meant, or what she was experiencing when she wrote the following lines, but they speak to me of a certain leveling with a higher guardian power that is there to warn, admonish and level with you for your own good: ‘The Angel is barely speaking to me, he isn’t giving or taking any shit, we glance miserably across the room at each other.’ Was Rich having a real conversation with an ‘angel person’ or was she speaking to a celestial being? It doesn’t really seem to matter. The whole poem appears to convey that she was given some special message by someone or something to help her work out one of life’s great challenges or turning points.

About the same time I quit drinking, another dear old family friend who makes angel necklaces, gave me one of her beautiful necklaces. It is shining silver with angel wings and has lovely glistening opals inlaid in it. Inside the box that the necklace came in is the following quote: ‘Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.’ This is a wonderfully guiding quote and has indeed proven useful. My attitude changed completely after the negative haze of alcohol induced depression lifted. I have a new found optimism in life, and things are not as dark as they once were at all, even though the daily particulars of my life have hardly changed.

I like to think of angels as being more metaphorical and poetic, but according to several polls conducted in the United States in 2009, a staggering 55% of Americans actually truly believe in angels. So according to studies, more Americans believe in angels than in climate change. A poll at the same time revealed that a mere 36% percent of Americans believed in global warming, a trend I surely hope is changing as more and more evidence comes to light as to the devastating effects of climate change. Or do these people pray to a guardian angel when a hurricane strikes or a flash flood occurs? I am not going to delve too much into climate change politics or religion because I fear the backlash that may cause. Instead I will just quote another line of poetry about angels by one of my favourite poets, William Blake: ‘I heard an angel singing, when the day was springing.’ A simple line of simple joy.

I like to think that my ‘angel people’ are the ones who come into my life and guide me at a time when I need them. In this sense, a lot of interesting and uncanny coincidences can be tied into a lot of my deepest experiences. After my fast paced partying Berlin life came to a close, I then started writing for the online magazine ‘Slow Travel Berlin’. This has turned out to be a tremendous thing for me as I have slowed things down and started to take my life and my writing more seriously. The editor of this magazine is truly one of my angels. He is an angel in the form of a mentor who believes in my work and gives me tonnes of advice, encouragement and feedback all the time. When he invited me to the magazine’s Christmas dinner party last year, I felt right at home. When I met him, his wife, and some of the other journalists, I had a strong feeling somehow that I recognized and knew these people already. This must be what Natalie Goldberg means when she talks of ‘angel people’ in your life. To close, I will quote a few more lines of Adrienne Rich’s poem ‘Gabriel’ which also speak to me as I sit in solitude in my apartment on a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon surrounded by my books, my notes and my angel people who are (as cheesy as it sounds) all around me all the time: ‘I sit in the bare apartment reading, words stream past me, poetry, twentieth century rivers, disturbed surfaces reflecting clouds, salutations in gold leaf, ribboning from his lips.’


21 Jun

Link to Listing in Slow Travel Berlin ‘For the Disconnected Child’  at the Schiller Theater


14 Jun

‘The Story of a Tiger’  at English Theatre Berlin (listing in Slow Travel Berlin)

Miss Shine and Mister Black

9 Jun

By Rhea H. Boyden

 Miss Shine was struggling with the awkward zip on her black high-heeled boot which had a tendency to stick. She knew that Mister Black would be waiting for her at the restaurant. They were both extremely punctual, this being one of the few normal, mundane traits that they shared and valued. He would have already had the waiter come over and allow him to choose which truffles they were to dine on that evening and would be pondering the wine list.

 It was a crisp evening in early autumn and the sky was azure blue. Miss Shine was finishing her gin and tonic, served with plenty of ice and lime, and was listening to her current favourite CD which she had on repeat in her obsessive manner. It was house music by an obscure Icelandic collective of djs, one of whom she had met at a late night club. He had given her two copies of the CD. She was excited about giving a copy to Mister Black hoping to turn him on to the music that she so loved.  She had one last glance in the mirror to make sure she looked her best for Mister Black and she skipped out the door and headed to the restaurant.

‘I don’t really like new music.’ Mister Black announced as he studied the CD Miss Shine had just handed to him. Miss Shine put her glass of Chilean red down and glared at him. ‘What do you mean you don’t like new music?’ she demanded of him, hurt. ‘Do you mean you don’t like modern music, or do you mean you have a full collection and don’t need any more?’  Mister Black gave her a wry smile. ‘I happen to agree with Steven Pinker who dismissed music as being evolutionarily useless, displacing demands from areas of the brain that should be used for handling more important and relevant functions like language.’  he replied coldly. ‘With all due respect, Mister Black’ she finally said after she had swallowed the bite of truffle she had been savouring, ‘Steven Pinker is wrong.  As much as I realize that he is a renowned Harvard psycholinguist, I simply cannot agree for one second with that claim.’

Miss Shine was not unused to Mister Black’s contrary manner. He contradicted and provoked her often.  She was sensitive and it hurt her immensely and he drove her half insane, but she also saw that having a good debate was surely a whole lot more exciting and invigorating than being with a man who had no opinion on anything at all. In any case, these debates were all foreplay and the truffles an aphrodisiac, as Mister Black cheekily pointed out.

‘Did you know that Ray Charles believes he was born with music inside of him?’ Miss Shine quizzed Mister Black. ‘And that convincing data have been collected showing  that while listening to music a series of tonal deviations create conflict in the brain that somehow magically create the conditions that we come to perceive as deep pleasure when listening to music we love. Simply stated, it appears that a brain confused by music seems to perceive ecstasy.’ Miss Shine stopped talking and looked at Mister Black. Their eyes locked. She felt a wave of desire well up in her. ‘Shall we go back to mine?’ Mister Black asked slyly. Miss Shine just nodded.  They may have disagreed on many things but their biochemistry was in sync to afford them many hours of luscious lovemaking. There was no music needed. Their bodies were in harmony.

Miss Shine and Mister Black did not meet often as they were both very busy with their separate lives and careers.  Miss Shine suffered because of this. She would have liked to have seen him more often but he refused. He was very secretive and allowed only that they would meet monthly. They never spoke on the phone and all their arrangements were made either by text message or the occasional email. Mister Black despised the phone. They had also had prolonged debates on which type of media was the best to communicate through given all the modern choices. Obviously they were not friends on Facebook. They had never even considered sending each other a friend request. This was an unspoken agreement.  Miss Shine was happy about this as she knew very well how Facebook only provided a portion of what was really needed to experience what had been described by psychoanalyst Barbara Friedrickson as ‘Positivity Resonance.’  Miss Shine had read all about Dr. Friedrickson’s idea that there were three main neurobiological players at work in the brain that make it possible for you to truly connect to your partner. Number one being the levels of oxytocin in the brain (a night with Mister Black sent an overwhelming flash flood of oxytocin to Miss Shine’s brain, of that she was sure) which allowed a sharing of emotions between two people. Number two was a ‘synchrony of biochemistry’ and number three was a ‘reflected motive to invest in each other’s well being that brings mutual care.’

 Online interactions can be intoxicating, and you can stare into the beautiful eyes of your fantasy online dream partner while you chat to them but a true ‘positivity resonance’ is impossible without real eye contact, physical contact, smelling the other person and hearing their voice. There is only so much all these lol’s and xxxx’s and smileys and thousands of other icons can do for you. No, Miss Shine did not, thankfully, indulge in all this intoxicating yet fantastical nonsense with Mister Black as she had in previous online interactions. He would email or text message her and they would meet at the restaurant.

But how Miss Shine pined for Mister Black. Because, despite the fact that she was happy that she was actually able to see him in the real world and taste him and lie next to him and experience every last piece of his manhood in the flesh (even if it was only once a month) she was also painfully aware that her relationship was not much more fulfilling than a Facebook infatuation. For she became, over time, more and more vexed that despite their intense physical relationship, he really did not fulfill number three of Dr. Friderickson’s theory of positivity resonance.  Yes, Miss Shine was forced to admit that ‘a reflected motive to invest in each other’s well being that brings mutual care’ was definitely not being met by Mister Black and this made her deeply unhappy. Miss Shine, in short, did not feel loved. She felt depressed, and suffered from low self-esteem. She nursed her pain in vodka and cranberry cocktails. But she still kept on reading. She knew that she thought too much about everything all the time and that this was bad, and she also knew that she obsessed and this was bad too, but that was somehow her nature and what could she do to change it? It depressed her to read  what Anais Nin had to say about positivity resonance which had now become one of her many obsessions:  ‘People who suffer from anxiety, depression, loneliness or low-self esteem perceive threats far more often than circumstances warrant. Sadly this over alert state thwarts both positivity and positivity resonance. Feeling unsafe then is the first obstacle to love.’  She much preferred to read Anais Nin’s erotic stories than be reminded of this horrible state that she too readily related too.  It did not help matters that when she berated Mister Black for his lack of real love and care for her beyond the intense physical relationship that they shared, that he would simply reply by saying ‘You worry too much’ or ‘I am not willing to engage emotionally with you, I have too much work to do.’

Miss Shine also knew that she spent too much time wallowing, thinking and over-analysing everything all the time when she might have given her brain a break. She became downright negative. She did try to perk herself up by pondering certain quotes such as one by Shakespeare who said that ‘there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ Or even Buddha who said ‘Our life is the creation of our mind.’ She tried, half-heartedly to lift herself up with these quotes and try and get herself out of the dark caverns in her mind that became increasingly obsessed with why Mister Black refused to fulfill number three of the theory of positivity resonance.

The only thing that helped Miss Shine get her mind off of Mister Black was to keep on reading. She very much loved the literature of David Foster Wallace and related to him greatly as she felt as alienated from the world as he did. There is one story by him that she loved where his character is sitting in a classroom bored out of his mind by the lecture that the teacher was currently giving. Due to this, he had divided the paneled window (that looked out onto the bleak landscape beyond the classroom) into separate frames and scenes into which he could place various elaborate fantasies and stories and back stories and ideas that raced through his skull. Trying to keep all the different stories in order (that played out in the panels of the window) was far more challenging and interesting than listening to his teacher drone on and on. Miss Shine liked this idea immensely and she drew a large square herself on a piece of paper that represented various panels and she drew her own real life and fantasy stories and back stories (and so forth) into the panels. Many of her panels were of course filled with parts of the back story of her and Mister Black. (Of course she had started reading the story to get her mind off Mister Black, but sooner or later he was the front man in her back story).

The first panel was filled with the following back story: ‘The day Miss Shine first laid eyes on Mister Black’. It had been a cold winter day and fresh, fat snowflakes were falling. She was walking with some friends through a Christmas market in the big city she lived in. Suddenly Miss Shine was overcome with a strange feeling of a powerful presence near her.  She looked up and there was Mister Black. He was greeting the friend she was with. Their eyes met and then quickly averted.  But then began the instant dance between Miss Shine and Mister Black. They chatted and enjoyed a nice evening at the market. She then went home to her bed alone. She had a boyfriend who definitely fulfilled number three of the theory of positivity resonance and she must banish all thoughts of Mister Black from her mind immediately.

The next panel in Miss Shine’s back story was filled with the following picture: ‘Miss Shine’s complete inability to stay with the man who she was with and going completely crazy and terminating the relationship.’  She did not even have Mister Black’s telephone number or know if she would ever see him again, but she did not care, the simple thought that someone as exquisite as him existed at all made it impossible to stay in her current relationship but one second longer.

The next panel in Miss Shine’s back story was filled with the following picture: ‘Miss Shine is sitting in a bar six months later, drinking a cocktail with the same friend she had been at the Christmas market with (when the fat snowflakes were falling when she first met Mister Black) and she looks up and the door to the bar opens and in walks Mister Black who walks right over to her and sits down next to her and says hello.’

Miss Shine is now trying to forget about Mister Black again and trying to concentrate on her book. She is in her mid thirties and she knows deep down that if she wants to have any semblance of a normal life with the hopes of maybe getting married and having a family then she should stop obsessing over Mister Black who will never give her more than truffles, wine, heated debates and sex. Apart from reading stories and novels she reads a lot of magazines. She is vexed by an article in a magazine that says that ‘Marriage should be the cornerstone and not the capstone of our adult life’. The article argues that getting married at 19 is a good thing. Miss Shine gets up from the couch to mix another cocktail. ‘How on earth is this article any good to women in their mid thirties?’ she moans aloud. ‘Most of the women reading this magazine are in their mid thirties and single.’ She must also concede, however, that it is, in fac,t true that when she looks around her, she sees that most of the couples who seem to have happy, long- lasting marriages did indeed settle when they were about 19 or 20 and even if these marriages failed, these people were then used to being in a relationship and, indeed, their second marriages or long term co-habitation arrangements were  working and most of these people had children too.

 She is not cynical in this moment, she is simply sad to realize that she has not found a relationship that would have lasted, but then she consoles herself with the thought that despite how much pain she feels with Mister Black she would rather stay alone for the rest of her life with her thoughts and her books than to have missed out on the experience with him. That is how much her whole body yearns for him. Another article she read simply stated that many people who had children regretted having had them, and that being a parent was not all it was cracked up to be. In short, it did not increase the joy in their lives as they had hoped. Miss Shine therefore concluded that one should really not have a child unless one really, really wanted one. She had never really felt that she wanted a child that badly and it certainly would not be with Mister Black anyway. She then recalled another story by David Foster Wallace in which a mommy accidently pours a whole pot of boiling water all over her diapered toddler who then screams and screams for days on end. Both the mommy and the daddy are just beside themselves and they both realize that by having a child and accidently inflicting this much pain on it just made parenting an absolute nightmare. Upon reading this, Miss Shine most decidedly does not want a child. She has enough self-centred pain of her own to deal with, God knows, how would she live with herself should she pour a pot of boiling water all over a child. How could one live with oneself at all if one were to allow such a horrible thing to happen?

Miss Shine likes children, oh yes, she does. She always smiles at children on the street and helps them up if they fall on the ground, and she gives them candy if their mothers allow it, loving the joy it brings to their innocent, chubby faces. She just thinks it might be better if she does not bring one of these chubby- faced beings into the world herself. She just needs to find some way to have Dr. Friedrickson’s third theory of positivity resonance be fulfilled in her life. Somehow she will succeed in this goal, she is sure of it.

Suddenly Miss Shine’s phone beeps. She jumps up and grabs it and reads the text message.  ‘ I have booked a table at the restaurant, they have some great new truffles and I have a wonderful bottle of Pinot Noir at home. 8pm?’  Miss Shine is in ecstasy. Mister Black may not be able to fulfill the third theory of positivity resonance but he sure fulfills the first two beyond her wildest dreams, and for right now that is all she can think of. She mixes herself a fresh gin and tonic to sip at as she dresses up for Mister Black. She pulls on her black high-heeled boots and struggles with the zip once again before skipping out the door to the restaurant. She wouldn’t want to keep Mister Black waiting, for every moment with him is as precious as it is torturous and there is nothing more to it than that.



7 Jun

Link to Literature Award Ceremony Listing in Slow Travel Berlin

An Evening with Photographer Elke Günzler and Excursion to Theatre O-Tonart in Schoeneberg

4 Jun

Elke pic

By Rhea H. Boyden

Berlin winters, as most people know, can be long, cold and sometimes a little lonely. One thing that always makes winter here a little more bearable is that I know, as soon as spring and summer arrive,  various friends and family from around the world will visit Berlin. It is always a surprise to see who shows up. This season, so far, has already been fabulous with reunions with dear friends and family visiting, some of whom I have not seen in years.

One interesting reunion I had in the past weeks was with a woman- a native Berliner- who only lives on the other side of the park from me. Her name is Elke Günzler and she is an old friend of my mother’s from the time she lived here. I first met Elke 20 years ago, but I had not seen her for about 6 years until she invited me over for dinner a few weeks ago. It was great to finally catch up.

During the day, Elke works as a medical technical assistant, but her true passion is portrait photography and she has travelled widely taking photographs of people. In particular she photographs people in drag. Decadent Berlin, of course, has its fair share of drag queens. ‘To focus my work on drag and transgender’ Elke says ‘ means to me the reflection of sensitivity and fragility in portraiture. I’m interested in the moment that shows a human being between gender or in opposite to gender definition through society or religion.’ And her photographs surely show her talent in capturing these moments.  Her travels with her camera in hand have led her (among other places) to New York, Las Vegas and India. In Berlin, however, her main project of the past 13 years has been house photographer for a transgender  theatre group in Berlin known as the ‘O Ton Piraten.’

After  Elke  served us a delicious dinner of pork filet with homemade pesto served with fresh pasta , we pored over her many photo albums, both of her travels and her subjects at the theatre. She then invited me to come to the current show that the group were performing at their cozy back yard theatre ‘O-Ton Art’ near Yorckstrasse in Schoeneberg which seats 74.

When we arrived, we had a drink in the bar and wandered around the very intimate and inviting theatre foyer. The entire foyer and bar are decorated with Elke’s wonderful black and white and colour photographs which she developed in her own bathroom at home.

I was a little skeptical about the performance before it began as it bore the title ‘Roman Five- The Sandal Show.’ I was pleasantly surprised, however, as it turned out to be a hugely entertaining and brilliantly choreographed performance. The group, dressed as Caesar, Cleopatra, Nero, galley slaves and then finally liberated slaves dancing in the garden of lust took us through the history of cinema in 100 minutes, every minute of which was thoroughly enjoyable.  It was a delightful way to spend a Sunday evening in May at yet another of Berlin’s many small theatres and cabarets. We are so blessed to have such an abundance of culture in this fine capital city. And even though I have lived here for 13 years, which is the same length of time that Elke has been theatre photographer for this group, I still sometimes feel that I have barely scratched the surface of Berlin theatre culture.


100 Favourite Places Berlin Guidebook

1 Jun

Book Launch Flyer

100 Favourite Places Berlin Guidebook

Here is the lovely new Berlin guidebook that I co-authored. To reserve copies follow the link.