The faint smell of cigarette smoke. It pervades the whole apartment. I notice it in little pockets as I pad back and forth barefoot, alone. The floors creak slightly and I know how old the building is. I think of my mother’s Upper West Side NYC apartment in the eighties. I wonder, sometimes, if I was conceived there. What her life before me was like. Was it debaucherous and wild? I only wonder because I wasn’t born into a quiet suburban home with tall trees, white picket fences and perfectly imperfect married parents. I was born in a wild time of housing bubbles, inflation, the beginnings of a glossing over of life itself, and women’s liberation. My mother describes the zeitgeist of the time as one where women could do whatever they wanted. In NYC, and perhaps in pockets around the world, women were finding, in themselves and in society, a newfound sense of possibility. A magic of probabilities that they wouldn’t be murdered for making a choice, that safety was around the corner. The eighties in NYC, remind me of Berlin today. Berlin, war torn and destroyed, ravaged by many, many men, battling for control, battling, internally and externally, for freedom. Rising through denial, confusion and the most improbable of odds, to live and breathe for art, for a new type of unimagined freedom. What is that feeling, if not the ability to choose? I sit with curiosity. Would poverty feel freeing if wealth was not a choice?
I stand on the cusp of potentiality. Questioning and tentatively stepping. Unsure of whether I deserve or could achieve the greatness within. In a mental sense, I know it is there and it is not something to be achieved, only to be accepted. Physically though, I am lost. Not recognizing myself in pictures. Unable to see my actions and reactions. Reacting only to fear and frustration. Feeling alive, only when something is out of balance.
Over time, I, a dancer, a mover, a person whose earliest memory is flying on ice skates, safely tucked between my mother’s legs, arms outstretched; I, have found rigid unmovable pieces in myself. I sit with reminders and memories, compassion for my past. The memories float up and I begin to ask questions. She says that this memory, my arms outstretched, my smile wide, was the first time she saw the spark of passion within me, shine. I kept saying “I’m flying! I’m flying!”
What was freeing? The first flight across the ice or the safety of my mother’s legs?
Was freedom possible without safety?
It’s a question I work with, a question that has shaped my life to this point.
In pockets of the apartment, cigarette smoke sifts through the air, trying to find a place to land it’s anger, it’s odor. Perhaps it will find a couch. Like memories sorting through the brain, trying to find a place to land, in the apartment of our brains. Wandering the halls and the rooms, finding a place to live unseen, unhindered, a place where the strength of it can begin to dissipate and fade. Occasional pockets of reminders pop up as the smoke, the memories, begin to slide into their new home. Perhaps yellowing the couches or settling in a dusty corner as they go, making an imprint but sometimes getting lost, distorted, reshaped and changed, or maybe scrubbed clean away.
Then what are we left with? Freedom? Safety? Nothing? Choice?
I sense it’s a little death. A little life. A little knowledge. A sense that life is lived in the moments of crumble, the moments of rebuild, the creaks and cracks of old buildings, the rise of the budding flower pushing up out of the earth. The birth of a new art – the life and first breaths of a new type of unimagined freedom.
*This post was posted (unceremoniously) in a cemetery in East Berlin. No cigarettes were harmed in the making of this post.