Mama, I made it to Oxford

29.09.2018

Dear Mama,

I just had my introduction day at Oxford. I know that you would have liked to drop me off yourself, maybe you would have done so five years ago when I first went to university. Even, Papa told me, that if you had been there I would have had more of a spine and more confidence. Maybe then I would have followed my path much sooner, but who knows if this is even really my path and does that matter now?

I am 25 years old and I just finished my first creative writing class.

At the Oxford train stop, I saw a woman with a bag full of things on top of it there was a rolled woollen blanket. She was talking to a man that she had met waiting for the train. “We dropped my daughter off to the university last week, and have just realised that we forgot half of the things, so we are just heading there… I also baked all day yesterday, to drop off to her” she said. By we she meant her younger son, with whom she had come with.

I thought of you mama, I remember the first real trip that I went to in second grade, a weekend at a pony farm. I mean the whole trip itself was an exciting event for me because I had won the trip for my class at an inter-school charade game at the “Berliner Grüne Woche”. “Shepherd”

Yet, I felt even more like a star when you dropped me off. You had packed my red, orange camping backpack and out of it, the head of my Simba doll had looked out, you had tied a red bandana around his head….

 

30.09.2018

Mama this letter wasn’t written in a day. My of recent extra scattered mind has been having problems to focus on single tasks. A direct result of my mental displacement is that I missed my flight yesterday. Even though I was at the airport three hours early and I sat in front of the gate. I had been texting Chewy and had told them that capitalism lives on human isolation and loneliness. And that we make wrong financial decisions due to our loneliness, we buy coffees and chais because we want to buy away our loneliness, we are addicted to instant gratification. I remembered that I gave out less money when I wasn’t living alone and shared my budget with someone. Yet, capitalism makes it in a way impossible to have real relationships and connections. We must work long hours that keep us apart and the little time that we have left we use to de-stress or are looking for an instant gratifying service, object, event or trip we can buy. Humans are communal creatures, capitalism knows this and has built us an imaginary ladder that we should all be climbing to reach some higher version that does not exist in the present.

I missed my FLIGHT. And was sent to all corners of the airport nobody really wanted to help me. I was just  sent from one counter to the next (Kafkaesque). Luckily, after an hour of crying and self-loathing and talking to Chewy and my roommate, I found another reasonably priced flight and here I am now.

Mama so back to Oxford, I had my first class and it was sort of strange but also nice. I thought a lot about the community that I have in Berlin, the community that made it possible for me to come here. I think about the people that always have my back and that are there for me and help me without expectations. I have allowed myself to fall into their arms and it is scary to be this vulnerable but at the same time, it is this connection that has brought me this far. Without vulnerability, there is no connection and no space for growth. Vulnerability is the fertiliser that cultivates growth and rooted ties.

I am now at the airport waiting to get back home. Yes, Berlin is home. While I was on the phone last night with my roommate (while she was on the metro bus back home) and I heard the electronic voice say the bus stops my heart warmed up, that is when I knew. Berlin, in particular, Schöneberg and the area around Yorkstr (where you lived when you were in your 20s) are home. Berlin, the city I had a mother in, is the city that I call home… too.

Well, I will end for now. I promise to write you soon, to let you know about how the first night at the Barbican young poets program went. Till then keep on shining I have been seeing you twinkle really bright. Love you and thinking of you always.

Deine,

Esther

 

 

British Council Artist in Residence

This year started with a double turn of events for me. First, I took part in a writing competition that was held by the British Council and won a ticket to participate for free at the three-day literature seminar on the themes of sexuality, gender and masculinity, that the British Council was hosting here in Berlin. The second turn of events came in the form of an amazing opportunity for me as a poet and writer. I applied to become the artist in residence at the British Council for this year and *drumroll* I got the spot. Yes, I am the artist in residence at the British Council here in Berlin. https://www.britishcouncil.de/en/uk-germany-2018/artist-esther-heller

This means that I will be participating in different cultural events that the British Council will be hosting this year. By participating in these events, I will have the opportunity to meet and hear a variety of writers that are making waves in British literature today.

For instance, at the first seminar that I attended (due to winning the competition), I had the honour to speak to Bernadine Evaristo, Nick Makoha, Kate Hudson, Monique Roffey and Sabrina Mahfouz. I also had the chance to take part in a workshop that was instructed by the talented Sabrina Mahfouz on writing for the stage.

I would like to document my one year as artist in resident. And I would like to take you all with me, I am not sure what will happen but at the end of it all, but I do know that I will have learned a ton.

 

#Britlit Seminar: Sexuality, Gender and Masculinity

The themes of sexuality, gender and masculinity are currently very present in our day and age. Therefore, it was wonderful to hear different literary voices speak on these matters.

For the competition, I had written a poem that highlighted gender roles, sexuality and masculinity. This poem is untitled.

On the theme of gender Juno Dawson really captivated me the most she said so many things that just resonated with me. She brought me to question things that I had already been questioning, but she made me feel assured that I had every right to question those things. She inspired me so much that I wrote a reflective piece of poetry titled “When did I become a woman?”.

Juno mentioned the existentialist philosopher and writer Simone de Beauvoir who wrote the famous quote “one is not born a woman but rather becomes one.” At the seminar, I met another fellow competition winner Marie Theresa a graduate of creative writing and English from Brunel University, who flew in from London to attend the seminar. I asked her to respond to “when did I become a woman” by writing a poem of her own. She responded with the powerful poem titled “Mother Nature”. I was in such awe when I read the poem. It was such a coincidence that Marie Theresa’s poem gives such strong imagery of nature. I use the word coincidence because I had just sent her my poem without giving any explanation and without mentioning de Beauvoir. The coincidence part comes in because de Beauvoir gives the example in her most famous work titled the “The second sex” that a young girl can be comfortable in her body when she, for example, is out in nature and feels a deep connection between her body and nature[1]. Therefore, Marie- Theresa’s response was so compelling to me.

The second poem that was inspired through my attendance of the seminar comes from something that I noted down that one of the women speaking at the seminar had said, I sadly can not remember who of the wonderful women said it. However, the phrase that I noted was, „As a woman, there are parts of yourself that are not taken seriously in society”. Out of this phrase the poem Farina was born.

After the seminar, I did some more research on the theme of masculinity and came along some great resources. The Southbank Centre in London held the being a man festival for the fourth time last year in November. During this seminar, some men talked about the topic of masculinity. I can only recommend listening to the talks that were held at the festival, the ones that resonated with me deeply were the talks by Kevin Powell (very powerful!) and Robert Webb. I have linked the recorded podcasts of their talks at the festival at the end of this post.

To end this post, I would like to share a quote from bell hooks from her book “All about love”, which I find speaks immense volumes on the subject of masculinity;

 

 

Podcast:

 https://open.spotify.com/episode/4IanwaZWPr7MSB61zrxLm8?si=CUNfA06BToqbiOaq5BNrRA – Kevin Powell

https://open.spotify.com/episode/4CDcagHqjxw57iL5NRMGJ3?si=6-O4shKmS-iFV8arXpm9jQ – Robert Webb

https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/festivals-series/being-a-man – Southbank centre being a man festival

 

[1] Joseph, Felicity. 2008. “Becoming A Woman: Simone De Beauvoir On Female Embodiment | Issue 69 | Philosophy Now”. Philosophynow.Org. https://philosophynow.org/issues/69/Becoming_A_Woman_Simone_de_Beauvoir_on_Female_Embodiment.

Open Mic performance at Mic Drop #2

On Friday the 16th of March 2018 I performed at Mic Drop. This performance was rather spontaneous as I was going to the bar (where Mic drop was taking place) because I had been invited to a birthday. I thought that the birthday was taking place at the poetry event. Once I got there I found out that the birthday was happening in the room next door. However, I had already spoken to the lovely organiser and she asked me if I wanted to participate in the open mic session, and I said yes. I have performed at the open mic session of this event before, so this was my second time.

I didn’t realise how nervous I was till I had the mic in my hands and my hands were shaking uncontrollably. Sometimes I feel that the body feels more then the mind actually articulates. I read two pieces and had a good time as I saw a lot of people that inspire me and that make my life in Berlin warm, even when it is minus 3 degrees outside.

The event Mic Drop was born out of a podcast (with the same title) that the organiser had hosted, to highlight spokenword artists. This was the second Mic Drop event to have taken place in Berlin. I personally like that the setting of this event is very liberating, especially for black and brown bodies to speak their truth, yet it is not exclusively for black and brown bodies. Another reason why I love this event is that the vibe is not competitive, which is the case for most poetry events here in Germany. Because this is not a slam. This is a spoken-word event that is all about creating images and magic using your voice and words. I can only recommend this event for people that want to share their work and are still shy or unsure as the environment at Mic Drop is very open and encouraging.