A dead friend. An orphaned novel. An escape to the playground on the Spree.
The New York I left was full of business I wasn’t ready to finish.
Frank was dead. Cancer. At Columbia, he had captained an oddball ship of his own creation. He was an expert on the ancient world who helmed the Center for New Media Teaching and Learning. I was a doctoral student he let look over his shoulder. We taught classes together. We drank whiskey together. He wanted us to write a book together, a polemic on the need to wrest the classics of Greek and Roman literature away from a right wing that’s reduced a complicated, ambivalent body of work to notches on the Western Tradition’s bedpost. I studied contemporary literary magazines, and didn’t know much about the classics. This didn’t seem to trouble Frank. He liked the way I thought and the way I wrote. Part of his charm was that he refused to stay in his own lane, and that he encouraged everyone else to swerve ecstatically out of theirs.
Calling Frank my mentor feels too clinical, like I was dealt to him as part of some corporate leadership program. Better to call him my teacher and my friend. He liked quoting Terence, the Roman slave-turned-playwright: “I am human. Nothing human is alien to me.” Frank listened not only to what you said, but to how you said it and to what you didn’t say. Then, in his gregarious New Jersey honk, he’d articulate yourself back to you and flash a smile that promised that you were a creature worth sorting out.
The summer before he passed, he’d insisted on taking me for coffee down in the Village even though I lived uptown and he lived in the Bronx. Frank once flattered me by saying I was as much of a “late ‘60s guy” as he’d met since the late ‘60s, and I think he felt like spending some time in the neighborhood he used to haunt in sunglasses and a black beret. His car stank of day-old fish and he steered us the wrong way down a one-way street, but he was unfazed. Frank had trouble focusing on anything other than the conversation at hand, and that afternoon he wanted to talk about his theory that education was really the process of figuring out who you were before you even had a say in the matter, of understanding how the machinations of culture and institutions had determined the contours of your life before you arrived in the flow of history, in media res. As he saw it, education was vital, visceral, and without him serving as a counterpoint to the bloodless academic life, I felt like the university had shriveled into little more than a bureaucracy with a theoretical husk. My momentum had stalled out at a bad time. I had a dissertation to write and little will to write it. It was the kind of impasse Frank had always helped me navigate.
That wasn’t the only impasse I was standing at. I’d been cleaning up a draft of my first novel when my agent abruptly left New York and the industry. In the literary world, an agent is a prerequisite to a career. It’s almost impossible to sell a novel without one. When mine bolted, I was disappointed but not especially worried. Someone had wanted the book at a stage when I’d considered it a mess of undercooked characters and hit-or-miss jokes. By last spring, though, the pages had gelled into something that felt—to me anyway—like an actual novel. What was there to worry about? I’d persuaded someone to represent cheese, flour, and eggs. Now I had a motherfucking soufflé.
So I sent out queries, and it wasn’t long before my inbox was graced by some of the toniest domains in the literary webscape—@aragi.net, @wylieagency.com, @inkwellmanagement.com, @goldinlit.com. With polished politeness, each message outlined the defects of a project I’d spent the last four years obsessing over:
-The comedy tends toward the absurd at the expense of the book’s emotional framework.
-The dialogue could have been more believable.
-Perhaps consider more firmly conveying the central conflict of the novel.
-Why not tell the story from the girl’s point of view?
In the anxious corners of the internet where we discuss these things, writers tell each other to see these kinds of rejections as encouraging. The agent shows you the respect of explaining their decision rather than sending you a form letter or, as is infuriatingly common, never bothering to respond at all. So I tried to keep grinning as the thanks-but-no-thanks messages rolled in, but it was tough to feign confidence as Column C of my Agent Query Spreadsheet turned into a solid pillar of “PASS.” It seemed like I’d already found the only agent who was ready to advocate for me, but New York’s mania had chased her off.
As long as I had the novel to absorb me and Frank to orient me, I’d felt able to ride the New York wave. Its energy had mostly propelled me in a direction that felt like forward. I wrote, I studied, I started Blunderbuss. But now, the city was exerting a pressure that was almost scientific—too much motion in too small a space. Too many obligations, too many meetings, too many birthday parties, too many people passing through town for one weekend only, too many readings I really ought to be attending, and too many friends I need to meet for a drink so that we can still call ourselves friends. There were too many things that I felt like an asshole complaining about because it’s a blessing to know so many great people, but their concentration in once city left me feeling cooked in the vibration of a thousand rattling subway rides along the L, the G, and the ACE. I could only think of one graceful way to turn down a summer’s worth of invitations—leave the country.
I needed somewhere campus wasn’t, my friends weren’t, and nobody would ask for the latest news on my novel. I needed somewhere so cheap that my girlfriend Laura and I could cover rent and plane tickets by subletting our Brooklyn apartment. I needed somewhere distant enough to allow me to refract the pixels of my New York life into a picture that made some kind of sense. I needed somewhere that saw repose as a respectable life choice, not a symptom of wasted potential. I needed Berlin.
I landed at Tegel a week before Laura did, and that New York neuroticism trailed along with me. My first few days in the Party Capital of Europe were spent fixating on the sudden conviction that our Brooklyn landlord would someday sue us over a small scratch on our living room floor. I tried to brute-force my way into an intrepid expat mindset by reading Arthur Phillips’ Prague, but, being a book of literary fiction, its characters were just as mired in self-loathing as I was. I followed their lead by keeping close to my Neukölln flat and worrying about how Future Travis—no doubt still lacking any meaningful financial resources—would find the money to replace not only the scuffed boards, but, under some unresearched but to my mind intuitive legal mandate to ensure perfect uniformity of color and grain, the floors of the entire apartment.
A lien, I thought. Then I looked up the definition of a lien and realized that I didn’t own anything valuable enough to seize, unless my landlord—who by now prowled my imagination like some kind of gin-besotted Dickensian ogre—stripped me of my grandparents’ antique rolltop desk, forcing me to explain the disappearance of an heirloom to my heartbroken mother.
In between necessary excursions across the cobblestone to the kebab hut on Karl-Marx-Straße (“Ein döner box, bitte. Groß. Lots of weiß sauce.”), I mulled the plausibility of protecting the desk by agreeing to wage garnishments, but then, Future Travis didn’t seem like the kind of guy with legitimate wages to garnish. After dropping out of grad school and disappointing everyone who loves him, the little money he was making was likely coming in under the table—SAT tutoring, maybe, or ghostwriting college admissions essays for Horace Mann lacrosse players with chrome iPhones and Shawn Hunter haircuts.
Finally, it occurred to me. Bankruptcy. The tangle in my gut loosened. The desk would stay in the family. It was as simple as utterly devastating my credit rating.
When would we be able to do this again?
It wasn’t so much a question as a justification we used whenever anyone asked why we’d decided to spend a summer in a city where we didn’t speak the language and had only two real friends & a handful of acquaintances. That fall, Laura would be starting a master’s program that would keep us stateside the next two years, and beyond that, everything was hazy. My doctoral stipend had already dried up and my savings were running thin. At some point, I’d have to find a sustainable way to make a living, and at some point, there could be a wedding to plan.
Who knows when we’d be able to do this again, but as it turned out, we picked a very good time to do it. Summer is when Berlin shines. The temperature hovers for months at perfect tee-shirt-by-day-hoodie-by-night levels, and the eerily high latitude stretches daylight into hours that by all rights belong to the darkness. In the days surrounding the summer solstice, sunset is more relative than absolute. Even at the night’s darkest, a band of pale purple trims the northern horizon.
I’ve read somewhere that culture flourishes wherever you combine a lot of people with a lot of free time. The density leads to cross-pollination, and the time gives people the chance to put it to interesting use. This is why universities have historically been centers of social change and creative fervor—kids have to find something to do with those four years. It’s also why Berlin has developed into such a hub of bonkers creativity. You have 3.5 million people, and a cost of living that, while rising, still makes it the only European capital cheaper than the average of the country it resides in. I heard that Berlin coffeeshops have a hard time finding employees willing to work more than three days a week—that’s all it takes to get by. Where Americans might see sloth, Berliners see opportunity.
Especially during the warm months, Berlin embraces these opportunities, and when Laura arrived and distracted me from the lifetime financial consequences of a hardwood scratch, so did we. We went to dance clubs that are art installations in their own right. Some housed water features, swings, bonfires, and decommissioned buses. One outdoor club even sold lentil soup, which seemed absurd until we realized it was 40 degrees out and six hours of dancing had left us starving. We went to outdoor film screenings, where we learned that rather than insist everyone pretend it’s comfortable to sit with legs crossed and necks craned, Germans provide canvas recliners and sell beer. Beer was pretty much everywhere, at places obvious—the pondside bar where we joined a crowd of a hundred Berliners in gawking as a father spent a solid half-hour futilely trying to steer his family’s rowboat back to the dock—and, to an American, surprising—the park, the street, and, as a teacher friend of ours explained, at high school functions sponsored by the Teutonic equivalent of the PTA.
Despite Berlin tempting me with its best impression of a city-sized biergarten, I tried to make good on the promises I’d made to my professors and get some dissertation work done. Anytime I sat down at my laptop, though, I’d end up on Twitter or reading soccer coverage. Even the Blunderbuss slush pile was more enticing than starting my lit review. There was a stretch where I’d disable my internet to force myself to get to writing. The results were an essay that I pretended was helping me flesh out ideas I could fold into my dissertation and a few letters home that I pasted into Gmail as soon as I turned the wifi back on. Needless to say, I wasn’t mustering any of the bloodshot obsession PhD students are supposed to be known for. My pace could better be described as “sauntering,” or maybe “undergraduate.” At my most productive, I’d pack up a bottle of Club-Mate and some back issues of n+1, sprawl out on the grass at Körnerpark like it was a campus quad, and read until I didn’t feel like reading anymore.
It wasn’t just my lackadaisical attitude toward academics that gave our Berlin life its collegiate rhythm. Without jobs, classes, and all of our other New York obligations, Laura and I could spend as much time together as we wanted, which, like a couple of smitten 19 year olds, turned out to be pretty much all the time. For once, our time together wasn’t restricted to the day’s end, when work, teaching, or studying had left us too drained to do much besides chip away at our Netflix queue. We read things, and we talked about what we read with more enthusiasm than purpose. Then after these dorm room bull sessions, we’d eat ramen, drink cheap wine, and maybe invite ourselves over to our friends Eli & Sus’ place in Kreuzberg to watch a movie. We even had a Big Game to count down to. In the middle of July, we and the rest of Berlin watched Germany win the World Cup on the enormous screens in front of the Brandenburg Gate. The crowd belted out a heavily-accented rendition of “We are the Champions.” There were fireworks. Every intersection in the city erupted into a street party.
When would we be able to do this again? I didn’t know, but I did remember the last time that an aimless drift of days had felt more pleasant than panic-inducing, and that time was supposed to have ended at graduation. In Berlin, though, there wasn’t much shame in floating through your late twenties and beyond. A middle-aged neighbor of ours spent what seemed like all day everyday hanging out on the sidewalk and tinkering with his bike. We got the sense that this was a city where striving is unnecessary. When you’re in Berlin, you’ve already won.
After reckoning with its charnel house history, Berlin is able to play in its ruins. The longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall has been covered in street art and rechristened the East Side Gallery. Berghain—arguably the world’s most famous nightclub—is housed in a former East German power plant. Then, of course, there’s Tempelhof. The existence of Tempelhofer Park is almost unimaginable in an American context. When Berlin Tempelhof Airport closed in 2008, the city turned the field—nearly 1,000 acres of grass and runways and Nazi-era architecture—into a public space. The grounds are maintained only lightly, with the grass growing tall & brittle and signs still warning of active aircraft movement. If you pay attention, it’s not hard to spot hawks and foxes.
Even midday on a Wednesday, the park teems with twenty- and thirtysomethings. They bike. They ride around on skateboards welded to windsurfing sails. They lie on picnic blankets and talk and drink big bottles of Berliner Pilsner. Max Weber might have studied in Berlin, but the Protestant ethic carries little sway here. A German performance artist I met described life in his hometown: “It’s a lot of meeting for coffees or beers and talking about our projects.” He meant this to be self-deprecating. To me it sounded like Neverland.
I’ve seen the exodus of young Americans to Berlin written off as a kind of narcissistic millennial migration. The city is cheap, the culture is creative without being too competitive, and parties rage through the weekend. All of this, the argument goes, makes it the perfect place to shirk responsibility and nurture self-involvement. Which, well, point taken. But generational malaise is only part of the story. Tabling the age-old trend of older generations excoriating younger ones for being dangerously in love with themselves—think of the hand-wringing and pearl-clutching over acid-soaked hippies, ‘70s encounter groups, ‘80s yuppies, and Gen X slackers—the general American hostility toward people who prefer unstructured days to professional advancement speaks to a kind of manic ideology. At the turn of the 20th century, workers put their bodies on the line to limit working hours to eight hours a day. Free time was held to be so important that people were willing to get bloodied, even killed, for it. To many of these labor militants, even eight hours of work was oppressive; the Industrial Workers of the World threw their weight behind a campaign for the four-hour day. Fast forward to the present era, and Americans brag, or at least showily complain, about the 60-, 70-, even 80- or 100-hour weeks we put in, as though exchanging more time for more money is necessarily something to admire.
Germans, by way of contrast, work on average 300 fewer hours per year than Americans. That’s an extra six hours a week that they spend riding bikes, reading books, or hanging out with their friends. In Berlin, which for Germans carries a reputation similar to Austin or Portland, I’d be shocked if the difference isn’t greater than that. Berliners are in the habit of mobilizing against the attempts of capital to reach too deeply into their lives. Shortly before I arrived, the Berlin Senate proposed a plan to build apartments and offices on the edge of Tempelhofer Park. The vast majority of the park—three-quarters of it—would have remained as-is, but the public refused to hand over even a sliver of land for development. 64% of voters chose to keep the field whole, vacant, theirs. Even in a country that lacks the American enthusiasm for unbridled capitalism, the decisive victory was surprising. The conservative newspaper Die Welt groaned, “In the Prussian capital, hippie culture is state policy.”
It was a commitment to humane relaxation that I respected, but as the summer wore on, I doubted whether it was something I could honestly internalize. Whenever I thought about the unwritten dissertation or the unbought novel, I’d feel that knot in my gut tighten up, and whenever it tightened, I’d envy, even admire, the casual entitlement of the city around me. The Berliners that I observed in the parks and that I met through friends seemed not only more relaxed than anyone I knew back home, but also unashamed of how relaxed they were. And why should they be ashamed? Wasn’t the ostensible point of all the heaving and hustling of capitalism to produce things that make us happy? Then why begrudge those who manage to enjoy themselves, even if it’s by heading to Tempelhofer Park, strapping on a pair of roller blades, and using an enormous kite to pull themselves 30 feet off the ground before floating softly back onto the runway where, almost seven decades ago, American and Commonwealth C-47s landed in defiance a Soviet blockade?
This is a city where the ideologies of modernism weren’t written only in books, but in bombs, bricks, walls, fire, and flesh. Berlin endured a century of blood and paranoia at the hands of Men With Plans, schemers who were more than happy to crush bones in pursuit of their big ideas. At Tempelhofer Park, these ideologies are painted over and on top of each other like graffiti on the Berlin Wall. The massive terminal in the park’s northwest corner was built as part of Nazi architect Albert Speer’s plan to remake Berlin as the imposing world-capital of Hitler’s fascist state. After being spared the brunt of Allied bombs, Tempelhof became the sole airport in West Berlin, the site of the Berlin Airlift, and an American capitalist toehold encircled by communist East Germany. Then came reunification, the closure of the airport, and the city’s valiant campaign to keep developers from using the alchemy of the market to turn public goods into private gain. For its entire existence, Tempelhof has been ground zero for grand narratives.
Now the field has been left almost fallow. You can find an old military plane losing its battle against the weeds. In a city where wild ambition has so often led to catastrophe, people play among the literal ruins of failed ideologies. Nature has visibly returned, reinstating equilibrium and imposing itself on the grand relics of even grander, twisted dreams.
In America, we’re embarrassed by our ruins. They represent the failure of our monomaniacal upward striving, the point where our skybound frenzy of factories, high-rises, and endless profitable quarters succumbs to a force as banal as the passage of time. The ruins of the Rust Belt lay bare the fallibility of American aspirations. We say that they were done in by “market forces,” pretending that these forces are as natural as gravity, and in so doing, we dismiss any attempts to tame them as foolishness on the level of gluing Newton’s apple back onto its tree. Economies change, but we choose whether or not to do right by the people that these changes harm. America chose not to, so in Detroit or Baltimore or Gary, Indiana, the ruins aren’t playgrounds—they’re entire neighborhoods. It’s a choice that we don’t think of as a choice. It’s a choice that we haven’t recognized, let alone reckoned with or rectified.
The situation in Berlin is different. Economic arrangements are understood as mutable, and their harsh edges are therefore muted. Rather than see whole cities ravaged by the collusion of capitalism and raw nature, the ruins are tamed into parks. One can embrace the decay, can find rest in the decay. As his health broke down in the months before he died, Frank refused to politely withdraw from sight. When he was well enough to attend the course we taught together, I’d often help him walk from the classroom to his daughter’s waiting car on 114th Street. Together we would navigate the steps and the patches of ice, and he would squeeze my arm tight, unashamed of his deteriorating body, and unashamed of the help he needed and that I, and many others, were glad to give. At his behest and at their own, guests took the MetroNorth train back and forth to his home in Riverdale to talk and laugh with him. Frank presided over parties first with his cane, then from a wheelchair, and sometimes he scored them with live jazz musicians. “I want people to see me,” he told me once. “It’s healthy to see what happens when people die.”
Even in his equanimity, though, he showed flashes of that big American energy, maybe powered by the same frantic dynamo that created and devastated the Rust Belt, but benevolently directed. Beyond the point where any reasonable timeline had precluded it as a possibility, Frank still talked about the book we were going to write together. After months of missed classes, he continued to insist he was on the verge of returning to teaching. His mind wasn’t all there the last time I saw him. I visited at lunchtime, and he brought his sandwich to his mouth in fraught, jerky movements. I talked, but I wasn’t sure how much he understood. Then Frank looked suddenly stunned, as if he’d only just recognized me. “There is rage in your eyes,” he said. I apologized, confused, but he waved me off. “No. Don’t ever lose it.” By the time I’d left for Berlin, I worried that I had lost whatever passionate energy Frank had admonished me to keep close, and as I grew to covet the city’s soft inertia, I worried that maybe I didn’t even want it back.
Email was my tether to the US, and occasionally it gave me a yank to remind me that my life in Berlin wasn’t my real one. Maybe I was slightly more than a tourist, but I was definitely less than an expat, and while I’d put a lot of miles between me and my problems, they proved more than capable of growing without me there to nurture them.
More agents wrote to thank me for the opportunity to reject my novel. Some gave reasons, some didn’t, but all contributed to the growing suspicion that I’d spent years on a story that wasn’t going to be read by anyone I didn’t personally harangue into reading it. I might’ve been too close to the project to tell whether or not it was an artistic failure, but given the pattern of uninterest, it sure seemed like at least a professional one. Checking my inbox had turned into the continuing revelation that I was nothing more than a hobbyist, a guy with a model train in his basement who’d mistaken himself for a railroad tycoon.
Then a classmate emailed to tell me she’d discovered that in the next school year, we’d be on the hook for $8,000 in fees that we’d never had to pay before and that neither administrators nor faculty had thought to warn us about. It was enough to effectively wipe out my savings. My dumbass bankruptcy plan from back in June seemed suddenly relevant, except that even bankruptcy doesn’t wash away student debt.
Berlin’s bars sprawl out like old houses, with rooms rambling into one another, all of them filled with mismatched couches and chairs. Worn, affordable, comfortable, filled with relaxed young people—each distilled the allure of the city as a whole while still insisting on its own strange identity. The Black Lodge, for example, takes its name from the Twin Peaks netherworld that the bar recreates with thick red curtains hanging from the ceiling and black & white zigzags painted on the floor. Just off the main hall, a projector soundlessly spits Agent Cooper’s exploits onto the wall, at least until a polyamory discussion group takes it upon themselves to pull the plug so that everyone can focus on maximal intimacy. (True story.) Over at Roses Bar, pink plush creeps onto every surface in a way that made me think of drag glam kudzu, though not one, but two Yelp reviewers preferred to liken the space to “the womb of a muppet.” Syndikat, however, was our go-to. We liked the politics—the bar is collectively owned by a leftist cabal—and the price was right, with half-liters of wheat beer going for under 3€. Plus, the punk soundtrack was a welcome change from the ubiquitous boots-and-pants techno beat that I was never able to warm to.
That particular evening in mid-August, Laura and I sat across from each other at one of the bar’s high tables. She was probably drinking Staropramen, and I was probably drinking Hefeweizen. I was smoking cigarettes, too, something I don’t do in the States. In Berlin, though, the bars are hazy in a way that played on every Left Bank, Six Gallery, CBGB fantasy stored in the callower corners of my imagination, and nostalgically, pathetically, I lit up.
New York, with all its high-handed demands, was starting to crest over the horizon, and I was trying to mimic the apocryphal Indians who, through sheer strength of cognitive bias, managed to stay blind to Columbus’ ships as they closed in on the beach. As a story, it’s a bit of racism dressed up as a bullshit Psych 101 lesson, and as a tactic for dealing with your life, it’s just as flimsy. You can ignore what’s right in front of you, but even if you refuse to name it, you can sense it, feel the friction as it rubs up against you in spite of your pointed inattention.
After letting a few beers soften me up, I could feel tears surging toward the corners of my eyes. I shoved a fresh cigarette in my mouth, thinking that I could steal a moment of cover by using my hand to cup the flame. And if I’m being honest, I was hoping that the act of smoking would serve as a macho diversion from what was starting to leak out of my face. (“Is that guy crying?” “No way. He’s a badass who smokes cigarettes.”) The problem, though, was my lower lip. When it trembled, the cigarette ceased to be a totem of dick-swinging invulnerability, and became a flaming little metronome that let everyone in the vicinity keep the beat of my whimpering.
Laura, of course, noticed, and I explained about the money I suddenly owed to a place I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to be. She asked where it was that I did want to be. It was a frustratingly sensible question, and Here was the best answer I had. It was a Here that partially meant Berlin—a particular city that I’d developed a particular fondness for—but it also meant Not there. Back home was where things happened and where, just as distressingly, they didn’t. Back home is where plans went to shit, and hopes stayed just hopes. For us, Berlin was a summer of blissful suspended animation. We were just there together, with an ease that was at once the product of being on a different continent from our commitments and in a city where leisure is a considered a goal worth pursuing.
When would we be able to do this again? I worried that the answer was never. I worried that the adventure was over. I worried that I wasn’t a guy like Frank, and that I didn’t have the wherewithal to tap into the great electric frenzy of life without getting scorched. I worried that I’d never attain the fervent ease you see in people who have managed to build an existence that’s satisfying to them and useful to others. I worried that my worries were stupid worries, that I had no right to complain when I had a beer to drink, a girlfriend willing to talk me down from the edge of my neuroses, and the flexibility to spend a fucking summer bumming around Europe. I worried that I was a cliché—a failing artist, a failing intellectual, feeling sorry for himself in a cheap Berlin bar.
Even after I spilled out all my worries, after I regained control of my bouncing cigarette, after Laura and I finished our beers and a few beers more, and after we left the bar hand-in-hand into the perfect hoodie weather of the Berlin night—even then I worried. I didn’t have the ease or the dingy grace that this city wore so casually, or that I’d let myself project onto it. I was a bundle of nerves. I was a mess. I wasn’t at peace with the world or my place in it. I was self-loathing, self-obsessed, an angry young man desperate to prove himself. I belonged in New York.
A month after we returned home, Germany abolished tuition & fees at all of its universities, even for international students. On this side of the Atlantic, I managed to cobble together a few gigs and pay the thousands that my school demands from doctoral students even after they’re done taking classes. I’ve started writing my dissertation, too. My advisor says that I’m making good progress, and that my plan to have a draft finished by the end of the summer is ambitious but feasible. I even scoured my rejection letters for usable advice and made some edits to my book. Last month, I sent out a new batch of queries. No bites yet, but we’ll see. Either way, I’ve started plotting the novel I want to write after my dissertation is done.
Like a roller coaster cranking up a hill, my momentum is arduously returning. I’m moving forward. Maybe there’s still some rage in my eyes. To the people around me—the people who love me—this looks like a good thing. Maybe they’re right. It didn’t feel nice to be stalled out. But the idea of hurtling down the tracks, of motion for the thrill of motion, leaves me uneasy. How many times can I take the same ride, hoping that this time I’ll finally feel the surge that sustains me? Another dissertation chapter finished. Another agent pestered. Another essay written. Stillness itches, so I scratch.
When I daydream, though—when I look over the top of my laptop screen and let my mind drift, it doesn’t often settle on my next project or on some imagined accolade. Instead, I think of sitting beside Laura along a Kreuzberg canal, our feet dangling against the retaining wall. It’s 9pm, but the sun is only just now sinking below the timber-framed rooftops. A swan paddles by, followed by a train of her babies, and their necks bob only slightly as they glide along, letting the current carry them. I think of this moment of crystalline sanity, and I wish I could live inside it, static and satisfied.
Then I get back to work.
Art by Drew Lerman.