As an unperfect actor on the stage Who with his fear is put besides his part, Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage, Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart. —William Shakespeare (from: Sonnet 23)
It’s been a while since I read publicly from my work. Two years to be exact — my last appearances were in November 2011 when I read the Berlin-based short story “Berlin Pastoral” to a London audience, and in Berlin in July 2012 after another story had been shortlisted in a competition. But until last night I had never been on stage alone, without other writers preceding or following my act. It was not entirely “gemütlich”: I felt awkward and nervous all day and I only figured out why shortly before the event itself. The reading took place at a lovely, cozy English bookstore, Shakespeare and Sons, located in Berlin’s trendy Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood, called “LSD Kiez” by the locals (nothing to do with drugs, just a pun on street names), a stone’s throw away from my own apartment. Though the Internet made it look like a global worldwide launch, it was actually a very neighborly event — underlined by the living room quality of the bookshop. Soft light, wooden floors, comfortable old recliners and a sofa, the smell of home baked bagels, coffee and tea, sugar dusted chocolate muffins against the November chill and the rain whipping against the window panes… Quite the opposite of the House of Usher or the Wembley Arena (two other venues that I could imagine would go well with the titular brazenness of “Thank You For Your Sperm“). The House of Usher has fallen of course, and Germans are not welcome at Wembley for the time being (it’s a football thing). The awkwardness: personal stuff in the book, personally read by me in what felt like a personal space…too much intimacy for comfort. Reviews (like this one in HTMLGIANT) have pointed out that the autobiographical quality of many of the flashes in TYFYS is palpable.
Hence, I opted for the selection of stories less personal, like “Electric Eyes”, “Men on Mars”(from the more pleasant stories), and “The Sodomized Dictator” and “Before the Bloodbath” (from the less pleasant ones). To not end on too sombre a note, I finished up with “Arachnophobia”, an unpublished piece. The section of the book titled “The Serious Writer” garnered the greatest interest — but when I responded by reading “The Serious Writer And His Hamster”, the mood went way down (it’s a sad & true story, this one) so that I had to follow up and now really close with “Freedom Ties” (originally published in Berlin’s English LitMag SAND) — one of my favorite tiny pieces, perhaps only because it contains Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. Some of these actors that I identify with a black and white age of past glory, etiquette and civilization, simply spread good vibes even when only mentioned by name.
The audience was generous with applause (in fact once they applauded after the first piece they realized that it would be rude not to applaud after every subsequent piece so that they were trapped in their own magnanimity).
Their questions delighted me also, because they caught me by surprise (despite many interviews that somehow were forgotten all at once): who are my influences? [Mentioned: Baudelaire, Kafka, Kierkegaard, Borges. Though currently I’m reading Raymond Chandler, Leon De Winter, Norman Mailer, Robert Harris…hard-boiled he-men] Did you do animation for these flashes? [No, I thought about it, but no time and no real skill but I think it’s a wonderful idea! Awkword Paper Cut has recently made a video for one of my flashes, “Reading for Writers“.] What’s my next publication? [Gizella, a novel in flashes, from Folded Word Press; writing a mystery.] I had somewhat agonized before about including flashes from “Gizella”. I decided against it and the reason came to me only after the question had been asked: the novel is not finished and its flashes are quite fragile and more poetic than my other work. This may be because the whole book is written from a female point of view, or perhaps it’s because most of those flashes have not been published online: online publishing, via literary magazines or blogs, can have a workshop effect on one’s writing. It’s almost as if the readers out there, with whom, on average, there’s more communication than, say, with the people who bought a print copy of TYFYS, help the writer finish the text. Sometimes quite literally (by commenting), but more often because when I put something online, I tend to polish and edit the heck out of it. This is simply something that the flashes from the new book have not experienced. “Whose strength’s abundance weakens his own heart“: love in abundance doesn’t mean certainty of closure…
I’m grateful for this evening, for having had such a wonderful audience and such a warm and welcoming venue to read in. Perhaps if I had lived in the US (or even in the UK) I’d have done a lot more of these readings — as it stands, this may well have been the first and the last. Even more reason to cherish the opportunity!
[Photos above: F., P. and U.G. were nice enough to shoot some pics][Also, feast your eye on the gallery of postcards that were posted all around town prior to the event, below!]