I do my taxes in Berlin. I declare myself as what translates to “Bookwriter”. I have no idea why. I’ve spent these five years desperately searching for writing time like a drunk tomato-sauce finger clawing the bottom of an empty Dönerbox. Every year I find nothing but scraps.
When I write too much, it’s a mistake. When I write I should be doing something else. Once I tried to make it my sole income. It felt even more desperate and impossible. I accepted the great dayjob like a kicking and screaming toddler, and found a strange kind of peace with it.
In Rachel Cusk’s Outline, a semi-fictional writer discusses how he gave himself nothing to do but finish his novel. He quit his dayjob. He gave himself six months. He spent the entire time walking his dog around in a park.
It’s hard to get what you want too.
We inhabit a world that is instantly connected, highspeed, automatic. Our artistic output is undeniably quicker and we have more readers, more places for it to end up than ever. Yet we struggle to balance our art bullshit with the rest of our pathetic little lives.
Is it impossible to do nothing but make art? Can “Bookwriter” really be a job?
Personally, I dunno. Even the mythical “author” hardly exists these days. No one makes a living from writing books alone. Hardly anyone is doing music or art full time either. There is no such thing as Steven King.
Most people still call Berlin a creative city. Before I moved here it seemed clear that it was already into the last rasps of an artistic death rattle.
Economically, the city is turning a profit for the first time in around seventy years. It’s finally stepping out and taking a seat at the breakfast table with the other major European capitals (albeit, with some slightly faded tattoos beneath the cuff).
The Berlin that disappeared is the mythical Berlin. The one of Ossis and Wessis, Christiane. F and Bowie, Hard Wax, Bar 25, the poor but sexy one.
I first visited in Berlin in 2011. It seems like a cold place with an amphetamine pulse. It was like being allowed into your friend’s older siblings room and finally able to make out what all those scribbles on the wall actually said. Back then, the story still went that living here meant a 5-hour work week, the rest of your time spent painting and fetish clubbing.
Of course, this was always sort of bullshit - as well as my little death rattle image. This city, more than anything, is a actually more like a pinata. People paste all kinds of shit all over Berlin. Whatever you want it to be, that’s what shape it will take. Once you’re done pasting your ideals over it you can spend your subsequent years smashing it to pieces again.
Even when Berghain closes the nightlife will be mostly unchanged, artists will still flock here every year and the caravan parks, squats and communes will gripping on to dear life — but we are now lock-eyed, do-si-doing with the start ups, rental mega-giants and the idea in reality this city was always destined to be a real one.
This is not a new story. In the world of art there’s a strange kind of history. One of patronized painters suckling the toes of warlords, destitutes scribbling on loose paper, playwrights inching curled manuscripts into roaring flame. Writing, art and creativity had always been hard to live off. It’s not a real job. Never was. Not really.
Some of the world’s most creative thinkers were the loneliest. The weirdest. The most vulgar. They made it work, but maybe not in a way that we would want to do it. They did it in a way they had to. Now that I’m done talking about me, I’m going to use this space to explore this kind of creative person, the one that couldn’t exist in the worlds they were thrust into - the ones that found their own alternative current. In our strange, vaster universe there is nothing but space. There must be a better way to access it without resorting to youtube con-men and (godforbid) waking up at eight in the morning.
Next week, I’ll be discussing Erik Satie and his strange and ambiguous connection to the world. However, I should note, that although maybe not transparently, I can assure you this will somehow always be about me.
Welcome to Alternative Currents.
Thomas Huntington is a writer from Melbourne, Australia. He has written for Grattan Street Press, Apocalypse Confidential, Berlinable, and Post-Human Magazine. He is the founder and indentured servant of Soyos Books. Follow him on Twitter @coward_space.