English housing estate. Between the former barracks, little boys watch videos. Their boss isn’t with them. Vassili watches over his territory. Not like anyone told them he was the boss. He’s still not quite sure who is more stupid: the little humans or the big ones.
Getting up is the hardest part. Because getting up also means getting started, and that is the crux. Once you’re up, you have two options:
You stay lying down while getting up. If you manage to stay lying down for more than 30 minutes and/or until after eight o’clock in the morning, the day’s a write-off and reserved for other matters.
If you manage to get up while getting up, an inevitable cappuccino ensues, after which it’s already time to start coming up with excuses. Looking for excuses is imperative for a befitting start to the workday, especially before 8 am.
When it comes to excuses, it’s actually pretty easy to find a flow. Say you take a seat at the table and realise it’s too quiet: an excellent reason to get back up and switch on the TV. It’s important to take care selecting a series you are already familiar with, but not the same one as yesterday — you want “voices like friends in the room”.
Once you’ve dealt with the first excuse and created childlike conditions — the TV is on — you’re on the right path! And so you can swiftly move on to the next excuse: e.g. the table is too cluttered. The perfect incentive to tilt (or open, or close) the window and clear the table where Vassili likes to roam around and inspect things at his leisure. And before you know it, it’s time to succumb to the culmination of the Procrastination-Symphony: vacuuming. If there were no tasks more important than this — such as this “art” everyone always talks about, or the Damocles sword of bureaucracy forever looming above our heads — then the invention of the vacuum cleaner would have fizzled out in the largely devastating history of mankind, much like that of the amphibious vehicle.
So when you sit back down at the clean table, amidst the sparkling joy of all sorted belongings and a room free of dust bunnies, there is no escaping the realisation: your friends’ voices are not enough. It is once again too quiet. Time to bring on ambient sounds, for they’re never enough, we need more thunder, more rain.
Yes, and by then you don’t really have a choice but to start working: open the document and keep staring at the same sentence, the last one. For at least two hours. We are approaching lunchtime.
VASSILI: Yummy, apple cake pops … oh right, I only eat organic! That blackbird there must be organic, she’s been bugging me for days. She hasn’t seen me yet. But then again, those clumsy bipeds don’t bother her either. Silly winged ball. Wait a second … FEEOOP … oh. Why do they always jump so far without even having proper legs? #justhow
“… and after two or three hours, I realise: I have writer’s block. At which point I just have to start writing something, like my memoirs.”
You usually end up writing something anyway. For instance, back in the day when one still had that life everyone talks about, it was poems. They were more of an output in their own right than material to work with, but they existed. In those days, however, you only ever got six hours sleep — a skill that quietly perished in comfort and the onset of adulthood, just as the poems have now been replaced by memoirs. Getting older … well, it happens.
“Sometimes I’m like: whoa, that’s so good, and it makes me want to chuck all the other stuff out straight away.”
Dangerous territory. In any case, there are three documents, sorted by topic and always open. And somewhere down the line you suddenly find yourself deeply immersed in a screenplay, e.g. by lying on the freshly vacuumed carpet (with foresight or: even a broken clock is right twice a day) with your hair splayed out, crying over the progress of a story or the anguish of a theoretical character to whom you’ve grown attached. But the voices are your friends and the worst part is that these characters on screen — TV was my romance — can’t survive without their voices, you know? Because what goes on in your head is more real than this reality everyone always talks about, especially when nothing is happening there.
At the end of the day, we spend most of our time playing something or other in comical earnestness: the grandpa in his nice kimono plays the performative-meditative act of watering flowers (a splendid display), the kids play what the boss tells them to, until they’re told to go home. Then they play obedience, just like most of us do all day long to earn money. It’s never too soon to start practicing, for it’s an uncomfortable feat. The boss plays boss and Vassili endlessly replays in his mind how he will leap from the balcony down into that corner, to be the outdoor cat currently strutting across his lawn — the audacity! But in the end, Vassili never jumps. Vivien lies on her carpet and plays through the scenes in her mind that are yet to be written, perceiving everything as it must have or will have been: an agonising process, but by the end of it, it’s as good as written.
VASSILI: Now that goddamn cat is looking at … me? Can it see me? — Quick, get down. Man, this is embarrassing. It’s roaming around down there, pissing on my territory while I’m sat here like a domesticated tiger reeking of perfume. Can it see my paws? Quick, on the stool! That’s where I was headed anyway.
Time can’t be stopped either, be it actual or perceived: sometimes you have a scene all figured out in your mind — it’s good, it makes sense and is crucial to the development of the plot. But it can only be written in a linear way, at least in Vivien’s and my world. So the scene must wait until we have managed to write our way from where we are now to wherever the story takes us. Then it can come to life. What’s also important — and this is not an excuse but rather a fundamental requirement — is to be completely alone in one’s home. No matter how many rooms and doors there are (from experience the homes of artists never have more than one or two toiletless rooms anyway), it’s not enough, because in order to write, you need to possess a level of certainty that aligns with Vassili’s fundamental view of the world: that it belongs to you alone.
A calm and quiet space (which can be filled with thunder and rain as desired) is needed to let a new world emerge in the old one, as is the case for any fragile and creative endeavour. Writing is a bit like a strange animal that must be lured, whose principles and preferences are hard to figure out. Still, there is a certain rhythm: for example, the best time to write is in the morning, whereas the evenings are for imagining things, seeing where it goes. Sometimes you spend all day sitting there, spending five to six hours envisioning everything, going through it all in your head, so that the next day you are ready to just knuckle down and put it into words. Then, at other times, you do everything right and still nothing happens; the writing, the scenes, the voices just won’t show up — much like how I still go to the green tower at night, searching for the black cat that once crossed my path there and followed me. We got along so well: I’d pet her in the middle of the road and she’d neatly place her two front paws next to each other. I’m convinced she’s mine really. But as much as I go looking for her, she doesn’t turn up anymore.
In that sense, Vassili, given his feline nature, should be able to empathise with this dilemma. But of course he doesn’t, because he never ordered anyone to write, so why would anyone even engage in such a pointless endeavour.
While there is so much more to filmmaking than just writing, it is precisely this part of the process which, once mastered, gives us a sense of relief. It lays the foundation for anything that follows and everything that lies in between: from the idea to the finished work. Vivien’s painting practice as a years-long visual experience is immanent in her films, but as a permanent practice it’s an inconvenience; especially if, like her, you hate having too much stuff, too many possessions. She also got to a point where painting no longer sufficed: there was no threshold to be crossed, nothing that provoked or provided a challenge. Moving images and sound contain much more information, making it easier to create something that resonates with the viewer or incorporate personal moments into them. One’s own history and fiction become entangled to the point that the viewer can no longer separate them — and this is the moment when the little self-protective wall between the story experienced in the film and one’s personal experience collapses, where the artificial distance from what is perceived can no longer be upheld (“My name is Meier and I am recipient”), resulting in a moment of absolute empathy. Of course this can be unpleasant, but no one was promised a wellness-experience. The more beautiful, compelling and accessible the depicted worlds are, the more likely you can address themes within them that are difficult to approach and that no one really wants to deal with.
As always, there’s critique to be had here, too:
— I can’t watch all films, says Vivien’s mother, otherwise I’d understand all people.
VASSILI: I may not be the toughest cat around, but at least I’m the prettiest. I can’t possibly jump into the hedge with this exquisite fur. My entire integrity would be gone!
So the days go by, lying on the floor and writing, “and whenever I think I want to get out of this, I always feel like I should start working at Kaufhof; I want an easy job”. And once you get one, before you know it, you slip into a state of such deep dissatisfaction that you want to go back to art — whatever that means. Or maybe it’s actually not so bad in the office or the women’s outdoor clothing department but you realise: “I have to do art because the others never quite get it right … there’s something still missing.” (*)
And even if Vivien kind of undermines the fundamental idea of my blog with this, she’s right: sometimes it’s essential to have another voice and there’s nothing wrong — especially if it’s not a white voice in the right sneakers, funded by dad, who in all seriousness has time to read Marx and rattle on about it, but hasn’t worked a single hour of their life out of necessity for money — in acknowledging that this is your own voice. This, of course, doesn’t mean that artistic work inherently has to be about making a particular statement or about our individual affectedness of social or political circumstances. However, the overall picture from one’s own viewpoint, shaped by one’s surroundings, origins, position and a bare minimum of self-reflection, is essential as a basis for this work — regardless of whether or not this is the vantage point at which one would like to see themselves.
“Obviously I’d love to only ever make nice things, but I can’t, not with the way life is” — and at the end of a day, or at least every other day, we encounter the frustrating yet liberating (and perhaps a bit romantic) realisation: “I can’t do anything other than make art”.
Vassili sits at the door to his kingdom, regal and pissed off, demanding it to be opened. Vivien searches for the leash for the disgruntled king. The bird, perched on the balcony flowers, brazenly observes its surroundings and nobody has to go home because the boss isn’t here today. All the children are outside.
* Vivien in a nutshell, always sassy: good that in the concept of the blog I articulated my romantic and somewhat cheesy thoughts about the certainty that someone will always be working when you yourself can’t, and Vivien brushes it away in a single sentence like Vassili does a fly. **
** Although, the thought that somebody somewhere is always working, writing, collecting, planning, lying on the carpet and crying their way into a story doesn’t necessarily contradict the idea that you yourself are, in a sense, the only person who can pursue your own work. Sure, the logical conclusion here is that your own work always takes top priority over money-jobs (despite dependency and existential fears) simply because it’s the only position in which you cannot be seamlessly replaced. But apart from that, it's probably just two sides of the same coin, both of them romantic. And nothing new:
We’ve already had enough practice combining feelings of inferiority with grandiosity during our studies, so a little more ambiguity-tolerance shouldn’t be a problem.
VIVIEN’S INDULGENCE TRAVEL TIPS
Excursions to perfume factories
The smell of petrol
Vivien Mohamed lives and works in Düsseldorf, but she’d rather be in Brela. A mosaic of sensations, swallowed by the ramparts, (a lightning bolt born of fire and water), an overstimulation quite like a cat’s swift recoil from a caressing hand. Well, you have to start somewhere: at the age of 9 she understood that the world isn’t her oyster, that she doesn’t belong, that she is lost.
And somewhere it has to end: to this day, she is longing for ways to pass time more quickly, more rapidly. Vivien firmly believes that the TV-Sensei taught her German.