Identity

11 Jul

Identity 101:  The Olga Bar Book Club

We hit the Olga Bar with our books one Friday night. The boys thought I was crazy for inciting it but I explained that we were about to found the Olga Bar Book Club. They argued that you couldn’t read at the bar on a Friday night. I retorted that we might not have to.

I took Keith Richards’ Life, Mark was in the company of Helge Schneider’s Globus Dei and Hendrik laid J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye onto the table. We ordered our beers and shouted at each other in the din.

Soon, the drunks began to bother us. They targeted me, the woman in the crowd, saying they had amphetamines in the toilet. What! No thank you! But the drunks weren’t about to take no for an answer. One of them grabbed my arm and tried to pull me in what he drunkenly thought was the direction of the toilet.

I picked Keith Richards’ book up and slapped it in the drunk’s face. “YOU SEE THIS BOOK? I WROTE THIS BOOK. I’M KEITH FUCKING RICHARDS AND YOU CAN’T PLAY THE GUITAR!” This confused the drunk. Although he was standing, he somehow missed a step and tipped over.

The next drunk was trying to haggle a seat at the table, offering to tell us his trials and tribulations. I demanded, “Can you even play the guitar? I’m Keith Richards. I didn’t take shit from Brian Jones and I’m not going to take shit from you.”

Mark was liking the Olga Bar Book Club. He shook his long, curly hair free of his hat and draped it over his eyes. “I’m Kurt Cobain.” He leaned over the table in a hanging stagger and croaked mournfully: “I’m on a plain, I can’t complain…”

The drunk wasn’t taking more of this. “You guys are nuts! If this chick is Keith Richards and you’re Kurt Cobain, then I want to be Bill Murray.”

“Whatever, man. I’m Keith Richards and none of you cats can play these licks!”

Hendrik turned to Keith Richards and Kurt Cobain with wide eyes and said in a slow and sovereign manner, “I am the young David Bowie. I can remember standing by the wall.

Kurt smiled at him. “I can’t complain!”

“That’s cool, Bowie, but you can’t play the guitar like I can,” Keith said.

 

Identity 201:  The Old Lady at the Door

Our doorbell never rings before 11 am. Our friends know not to bother: we won’t be awake, and if we are, we won’t be responsive to human conversation. But on this day, the doorbell ringing urgently at 9 am made me curious. I slipped out of bed, found a shawl to wrap over my shoulders and opened the door cautiously.

An old lady stood in the landing, looking confused. She was shaking and crying. She said, “I don’t know where I am. I just don’t understand it, but I don’t know where I am!”

I ushered her into the apartment, saying soothingly, “We’ll find out, don’t you worry. Why don’t you sit down for a little bit, warm yourself with a nice cup of tea and relax? I’ll make you something delicious.”

I helped her sit down. She was terribly upset at the table: “I just don’t understand! Obviously somebody brought me here, but why would they leave me here on my own? Where am I anyways?”

I told her the address but she wanted to know the city. I told her and she exclaimed, “But I’m from Berlin! How did I get here?”

Mark joined us and calmed her with stories of his father’s life near Berlin, which cheered her up. “I find this all very confusing. How did I get here? You said we’re in Ulm? Somebody just left me here, but who would do such a thing? I don’t know anybody here! And how did I get in your apartment? You say I rang your doorbell?”

I suggested she empty her pockets, to see if there were any clues pointing to where she had come from. There was a small bottle from the pharmacy downstairs, which proved that she had been living in Ulm for at least a few months.

We asked if she had children. “O yes! I have a daughter and a son, but I can’t remember his name right now… O there’s something wrong with my mind! I never used to be this forgetful. I was once an accountant and you have to have a clear mind for that sort of profession! Ulm… Ulm-on-the-Danube… How did I get into your apartment?

Suddenly, a panicked shout filled the stairway: “MOTHER? MOTHER!” I ran out and called back, “She’s with us! She’s in our apartment.”

A large smile grew on the old lady’s face as she saw a young woman walking down the stairs towards us. “That’s my daughter! That’s my daughter!”

Our neighbor was ruffled, sleepy-eyed and still in her pajamas. She told her mother off for scaring her then turned to thank us. “I woke up, she had disappeared and the apartment door was wide open…! She has Alzheimer.”

I turned to Mark and said, “Who am I without my brain?” I’m the writer, I create worlds in my imagination and transport them onto paper. Who would be left if that is gone?

 

Identity 301:  The Artist

I was once asked: “Is it art or is it business?” I liked the question. I replied, “It goes hand in hand.”

You’re only as professional as you show yourself to be.

For example: Mark was running late for a meeting, so I walked into the office on my own, not wanting to keep these business men waiting. They showed me into their conference room and gave me a glass of water. They sat across the table in their suits, ties and wrinkled foreheads and looked at me through their glasses. I was in silver sandals and a polka dot shirt, and I felt ridiculous.

Mark and I always discuss beforehand what we’re going to say at meetings, and then he says it. I let Mark do the talking because these are his people. He knows how to say things so they are understood, gives them some good ol’ German humour and everyone goes home happy.

But he was running late and I had to get this gig on the road. I had to pull myself together. So I looked at these two men. They were watching me closely and I realised these are top cats. They’re used to looking down at people. But we’re on different ground here. I may have to impress you… but I’m an artist. You have to impress me too.

An artist. I suddenly wondered what Niki de Saint-Phalle would do.

Today everyone says, “That’s obviously a work of art, because it was done by Niki”, but I’m sure she was once as unsure as I am.

I may be young and inexperienced – but I’m a goddamn artist.

I walked out of the conference room in my silver sandals and polka dot shirt, with the two suits shaking my hand gratefully. “Thank you so much for such an enlightening meeting! We will support you in any way we can, so please let us know if you need anything.”

As a writer, I constantly forget who I am. I slip into the book I am writing and Mark doesn’t see me for days. Then the comedown, the dry work: accountancy, web management, bills, paperwork, fishing for new commissions. Balancing between such extremes, it’s no surprise we forget who we are.

Identity is a mystery. So know this: if you want to go forward, dig your toes into your heart. Feel the sand, hear the rumble of your heartbeat, and follow your gut. I’ve followed my gut all my life, and it’s taken me up some steep hills that I could have avoided, but I came down with the view in my eyes and a taste for the horizon. Following my gut instinct is who I am.

In the conference room that day, Niki de Saint-Phalle taught me this: your identity is formed by believing in yourself.

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2 Responses to “Identity”

  1. HeBu July 15, 2011 at 12:55 am #

    ‘I dig everything’, says young Davy Jones.

  2. purple harem July 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

    Our gut never misguides us, it starts with a whisper, and when we brush it off thinking in our arrogance we know better, it comes back with vengeance and humility.

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