When viewed from just a few steps remove, the tedium of daily experience takes on a profoundly absurd quality. It’s that absurdity which, if I let it, leaves me dazzled and disoriented. Everything, from the everyday little dramas on the one hand to the yawning abyss of the Unknown on the other—I can see the absurdity in it, can see the absurdity in myself and my emotions. And at the same time I feel everything reduced to this very specific and, at times, visceral point—I’m grieving. It’s a bodily experience, automatic, unthinking. It’s cellular. It seems to move on its own course, its own rhythm, its own progression.
Last month I made a sudden trip back to the US, my first time returning to the Bay Area since I left it three winters ago. I was responding to the quiet crisis of an elderly relative entering hospice care, and simultaneously a messier tragedy was busy unfolding with another loved-one. And none of it could be tidily resolved in the week before I had to return to Berlin. So the result was a weird sort of psychic limbo, a sense of detachment, a preoccupation with mortality, yes, but more acutely an obsession with the passage of time—not so much the running-out-of-it part, but the unrelenting and indifferent forward compulsion of one second after the next. There’s such perverse consistency in it: that despite my experience of the fractions in between, whether my perception dilating or contracting, it doesn’t matter. Time goes on. Time will leave you behind. I suppose metronomes have always freaked me out for this reason—though paradoxically, the unending 4/4 of the technoclub can fill me with such affirmation, wtf.
But I’m not alone in this thinking. It seems that as mortal creatures we have a lot of anxiety around things that remind us of the finite nature of our existence: think midlife and quarterlife crises, the tick-tick-ticking of the biological clock, the perturbative agitation of FoMO (ie. fear of missing out). There’s even a German word in this vein: Torschlusspanik, literally “gate-shut-panic”, conjuring images of the clock ticking down, the walls closing in, the winding path called Life growing narrower and the way more occluded. Can you hear the wolves howling? Meanwhile the specter of Mortality begins to insist on longer and more frequent uncomfortable eye-contact, putting a damper on hopes, ambitions, party plans. And in response we frantically share inspirational memes: Carpe diem. Life is short, do it up.
Life is short, yes. But life is also long, and time is sometimes cruel to us and those we love. Or seems to be. Or maybe it’s more comfortable to project personality characteristics onto an abstract concept because it makes it easier to wrangle things into a more personal narrative. It makes it less lonely.
*pounds fist on chest*
Time and Mortality are my adversaries, and I fight them mightily, but they are, alas, more powerful than I.
*shakes fist at sky*
Revisiting California made me realize I’ve missed the ocean, the enormity of it, the bleak profundity of it—as if I could really forget. Before moving to Berlin, my partner and I lived for a while at San Francisco’s fog-covered western edge looking out daily into the vast grey Pacific. Walking along the edge of the frigid surf always helped me put a lot of things perspective, including myself. On the beach, you can feel time passing in a tangible way, the constant erosion of wind and water, sand and sun grinding things down and polishing them smooth, smoother, until there’s nothing left. Toeing little battered fragmented things that used to be alive, or, poor dears, were still caught up in the process of dying. Thinking about Nature’s brutal indifference, and how can we, as sentient creatures, imagine ourselves as somehow exempt? I find a lot of weird serenity in those contemplations, inviting internal dialogues about identity and ego, sentiments fringing on both transcendentalism and nihilism.
Alas, Berlin has no beach, no ocean. I’m not generally prone to homesickness, but that’s one of the few things I lamented when we decided to move here, the loss of the beach. But lamentation is absurd, especially since a beach in Berlin would most certainly bear no resemblance to the one in my heart. You have to evolve with your surroundings, find other ways to rub elbows with the Eternal. And, truthfully, sometimes I do here in Berlin. Sometimes I hear it like a summons in that immutable 4/4 entombed within graffitied walls of brick and concrete. I recognize this voice: bass pressure like the familiar call of the void washing over me, rattling my core, invoking that same powerful zen of cosmic indifference as once upon a time when immersing myself in the vast roar of the Pacific.
The club and the coast: they both drown out the internal chatter, replacing it with something which is completely indifferent to my existence. I experience relief, a momentary nullification of that cumbersome ego which trips me up in the day to day.
* * *
While I was in California, I was sleeping on a little air mattress in the office. Each night I went to bed, thoughts churning. There was a clock ticking thickly in the darkness nearby—used to be when I’d come back to visit my old childhood room I’d have to take the clock down off the wall and stow it in a cabinet so as not to hear it, but this being my grandmother’s clock I felt it would be rude to move it. So instead I just listened to it ticking each night, surrendered to its cadence and to that of the distant foghorn sounding its soft trumpet call, a diffuse synaesthetic fuchsia glow against the subtler rhythm of the waves on the beach down the road.
I needed to keep this feeling and take it with me, this soundscape which encapsulated, for me, the very essence of waiting and uncertainty, of relentless progression, and of that silly but tender mortal desire to shape the course of things while knowing there is nothing to be done except simply be present. Rhythms take their own courses.
Article and photos published via Berlin Logs.