2023.03.11. The autobiography as refuge.
Why does someone write an autobiography? Usually the writer (m/f/x) is known for something, or considers themself known enough to arouse interest in their life among readers. Vanity may be involved, some critics will shout 'narcissist!'. One may have led such an interesting life that humanity is eager to read their memoirs. It can be an act of vengeance, an admission of guilt, a legacy, or an affirmation of a life before it vanishes into oblivion. The writer maybe feels unheard, wants to express themself, and let their voice be heard for anyone who wants to read it.
What is my motivation, you as a reader of course want to know.
It is not always easy to see yourself, especially when you have been through so many difficult things, as in my case. Probably all aspects are present to some extent. I have the feeling that i am only at the very beginning, and that in the course of this project i will naturally fall into pitfalls, walk in all kinds of ditches at the same time and eventually perhaps even sink into this self-dug pit. And that then (but hopefully before that...) i become aware of the mechanisms.
I can already name one reason. Because of my condition, the total of strange symptoms and syndromes, i have become a high-risk group member, and the risk of becoming seriously ill and/or worsening my current illnesses, or also contracting LongCovid, is a game of chance that i would rather not participate in, despite the fact that a large part of society has decided, thanks to / together with the government, that none of that matters anymore. Apparently a large part of the Netherlands thinks that my life is not important, so i have withdrawn as far as possible.
I don't feel like anyone misses me. If you do miss me, let me know.
Because i had been working on Greetings from Klotestad for years, and i wanted to write more about my life, this seemed like the ultimate moment. When almost everyone has abandoned you, all you have left is yourself. And so that's what you get. Myself. Fragments of myself, of my life, a history of my life, edited here and there because I don't want to hurt anyone. Not even if i sometimes want to :-/.
It is a way of being radically candid that i aim for. You can see it as a political act, to make my voice count as a woman, as an autist, an artist, as a person with disabilities, as a person on benefits. Due to all these factors, i have relatively few resources at my disposal, and no access to mainstream media, publishers, art institutions, etc. So this is how i do it.
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2023.06.03. My memories as ratty jammers.
My memories are intrusive stories that demand to be told. Until i write them down, they gnaw at me like ratty jammers, skillfully destroying my peace of mind by storming into my thinking at all times and especially at the wrong time, throwing their noisy odors and colors over everything else, so that i am forced to pay attention.
To get rid of them, i write them here, and burden you with them. With love, by the way, i love you all, and i grant you my golden soul stirrings and would like to offer them to you on an altar encrusted with diamonds, with My Humility before it doubled over to Your Graciousness to have all this. My thanks, of course, are eternal, if i have eternal life; if not, i'll take it all with me in my pout grave. Then let my infinite silence comfort you.
I hope that i will still have many years to be able to share everything with you, for your learning and entertainment.
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2023.09.26. Radical openness.
Just read a book by Jan-Willem Anker1 about the square in Amsterdam North where he came to live, reporting on all the happenings in diary form. Hangouts especially, litter, and the municipality neglecting its duties and instead trying to force citizens to participate.
I find it a toe-curling book because it seems the author is intensely open about his sometimes rather gutsy opinions and findings. Which often made me read on with some trepidation.
Anker wrote it in 2014. For instance, was it still common back then to call white people 'blank'? I don't think so anyway, but he goes on steadily with it throughout the book. Somewhere he writes something about "all those benefit recipients who would be obliged to provide a compensation". To put it away immediately as a joke: "Je plésante." He is a French teacher-to-be, so it will make sense to lard the whole book with (untranslated) French remarks, but it is elitist and irritating. Perhaps fairly elitist and irritating?
He makes up for the 'joke' about compensating eight pages later:
"Get rid of that degrading welfare. Away with low-paid work that makes people unhappy, and away with volunteering to supposedly make you more attractive for the 'real' job market."
I mean: it seems to be evidence of growing understanding.
And this may also be how it works for everyone. First you don't know something, then you hear something and form an opinion about it (under the influence of many factors), then you think you know something. But then - if you are open to it - you suddenly hear another opinion, and you find your own opinion not quite right after all, and then you adjust your thinking.
Between YourOpinion-1 and YourOpinion-2 there can be a few days, weeks, years even. And sometimes you just stay with YourOpinion-1, or -2, for the rest of your life. Or you just change your opinion every week.
And there you are, stone-dead on the stretcher
of being right.
i wrote in a poem in 1995.
I could write additional chapters on the factors that influence your opinion, and probably many people have preceded me in this. My main concern here is the idea of radical openness.
I personally find the above example somewhat radically open, because it seems that the writer is being completely honest and forthright, also sharing his gut feelings with the reader. Is that pleasant? No, on the contrary. But because he gives insight into his thinking and changes of position, as well as being able to look at his own position with some (in my opinion somewhat questionable) distance, it takes the edge off somewhat.
Still, the Luizenmoeder (a controversial Dutch tv-show) feeling creeps up on me: laughing under a blanket of "we're not allowed to laugh at anything anymore", the kind of not wanting to be politically-correct and expressing it loudly, in order to be able to dismiss those who don't like it as being hypersensitive left-wing co-blatterers. I can't quite put my finger on it, and probably that's the intention then. It is intricately subtle, and the difference can be captured in a just slightly higher eyebrow, an otherwise small corner of the mouth, the glance that stays with you for a moment while you don't know exactly why.
In a piece on the controversy that Sophie Passmann's new book 'Pick me girl' triggered among feminists in Germany, Nynke van Verschuer writes: "Passmann presents her radical openness about her insecurities and interventions as a kind of liberating coming-out."
And that Passmann points out in her book, that the image of her as a tough, funny, confident young woman, is carefully cultivated and only true for her stage self, and:
"Coolness is not real," she writes, "if it only works for an audience." 2, 3 and 4
It reminds me of writers like Heleen van Royen and Stella Bergsma, who also show a kind of tough, sexy, open presentation of themselves in their books and social media, and Van Royen, for example, also in her exhibition at the Letterkundig Museum (2014); Wikipedia writes about this, among other things, that there were mostly nude selfies on display, and:
“Also, the tampon photo was "literary really interesting though," the museum said. The picture was later auctioned off and brought 1900 euros.”
I was still on Twitter at the time, and particularly remember the many men who were very appreciative of Van Royen's openness at the show. It may have been down to my follower bubble, but women i heard little about it, apart from the more outspoken and popular of Twitter (now X) perhaps.
I imagine, on the one hand, that this sexual openness is precisely opposed to the 'male gaze'. Surely this was Heleen's own gaze above all? At the same time, it also appeared to encourage that same male gaze in particular. Was that the intention? Perhaps not, but anyone could have guessed that would happen.
Of Bergsma in particular, i remember 1 selfie, in which she is seen naked at the back, and her buttocks in particular are clearly visible through the mirror in front of her. Beautiful, powerful, what can i say. And then again the hordes of approving men, who responded. While one need have nothing to do with the other, it does evoke it.
Or i think of the picture an acquaintance took during a high heel race. There are several high-heel races, this was one in which mostly women participated. The photo was taken quite male-gazerily from below. Sure, very photogenic and all, given the subject matter logical perhaps, and yet. There is a kind of discomfort in the ease with which it is presented.
Another one of those little subtle changes, one letter crooked perhaps, your hand just barely touching the glass, thoughts blowing over in a split second but leaving a mark, one of those you feel but can't grasp.
One volume i read of Knarl Kausgård's autobiographical book series 5, the first because i like to read and watch everything in the right order. Which immediately tells you the reason i didn't watch Starwars, because nobody knows the right order of that. I couldn't borrow the second book until much later, and i didn't get through that one. Still, i would love to try it again.
I read somewhere that those around Knausgård were not very happy with his openness, as he also wrote openly about the lives of recognisable others, such as his family and friends.
An autobiography cannot be written without describing the surrounding lives, or at least some parts of them. As a writer, you also relate to others; what do you do with that? I also find that a bit tricky, because i don't want to hurt anyone or make them a target of woes. At the same time, i do want to tell my stories.
Does radical openness also testify to radical truth? That remains to be seen.
What i present as truth may be rejected by others and marked as lies. Conversely, i can mark others' so-called truths as lies. That the truth would always lie somewhere in the middle is polder thinking, and therefore not necessarily true.
What could perhaps be a guide to 'truth' is checking what the motivations might be, or what the purpose of a lie is, and whether that purpose has been achieved... but that too is often a case of looking at the bigger picture.
And so we skim along, between stories and words, sentences drifting by and decaying on the horizon of our histories. We go left or right, through the middle, sway along the quay or quench our thirsts in a robust shelter until the sun rises. Revel in self-pity or, on the contrary, feigned compassion; drift with the flow or dip our burdened brains into philosophical musings. Fan along, fan along! Don't lose yourself in single-minded thinking. Increase your intellect and doubt.
1. Het Plein, Jan-Willem Anker, 2015 (Uitgeverij De Arbeiderspers); the Dutch book at the OBA library.
2. Dutch article: Feministisch rolmodel doet aan botox; een stuk van Nynke van Verschuer in NRC, 15 sept 2023; archived version, seen on 26 sept 2023
3. German article: Schönheits-OP und Botox: Sophie Passmann und der resignative Feminismus, a piece by Katharina Körting for Der Freitag (Ausgabe 37, 2023, seen 26 sept 2023).
4. German article of Sophie Passmann herself about her book: Wir können nicht gewinnen for Zeit Online, 1 sept 2023 (seen 26 sept 2023).
5. Karl Ove Knausgård on Wikipedia
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With this website archive thing i also hope to contribute a small part to the visibility, for example of autistic people (or people with autism, as some people prefer to say).
Growing up, i searched in vain for information about who i am, but i couldn't find it anywhere. Now we have had the internet for decades (yes, i am very old), and even with that it is still important for people to recognize themselves in something, to see that they are not the only ones with one or another 'condition'. I now know things about myself, but that took far too long and has also really hindered me from finding my way in this already complicated life.
I now see people younger than me who manage to live their own lives the way they want and need. Of course i also see their struggles, it doesn't suddenly all go away, but they are doing much better than many people before them. I'm glad they're doing well, i wish this for everyone with all my heart. Yet i also sometimes feel envious, or kick myself for not doing this or that or i don't know what. While... if you don't hear anything about how it can be done, how do you know how things are or how things work, or what possibilities there are? I have tried things, but it was never accepted, or my questions were waved away, even my requests for help were not honored. For example, i didn't receive my autism diagnosis until i was 55; and only because i happened to see a psychologist, who sent a standard questionnaire before the intake, with the first question: Do you suspect that you are autistic? I didn't know what was happening! I had been asking GPs for this for over 25 years, but i had always been dismissed as: You? Nooo! You're so sociable! You're looking at me!
It may have come as a bolt from the blue to the people around me, because you stop talking about things when no one takes you seriously. Anyway, here on my own website i decide what is talked about now :-). And i hope it helps others.
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2023.02.05. Serial writer.
[previously published in Today's Thoughts]
A little contemplation about this writing project.
At the beginning of February i wrote 'Flat: situation 1' and posted it on Mastodon. It turns out there were actually people reading it, and one person asked me how the story ended. And i understand that. I left you with a huge cliffhanger. I reassured him, but now, a day later, i think i shouldn't have done that.
This autofiction is not like a book, with a beginning, a middle and an end. Although of course it will end at some point, but that is another story (which i will not be able to tell, unfortunately). Radio Klotestad is the story of my life. And in life nothing is ever completely finished. That's one of the reasons i write so fragmentarily. A second reason is: a book is never written in 1 day. This involves months, sometimes years, of writing and deleting and rewriting. And that's pretty much what you read here: the recently written things, sometimes also things that i wrote a long time ago, in which i deleted and rewrote. And it could just be, that something i wrote yesterday will disappear tomorrow to be rewritten. As far as i'm concerned, i'd rather not, because i still have so many new things to write that i don't have time for it at all. But in principle it could be done.
It's like writing a book live, with you, the audience, watching me. I understand the questions, but i think i will refer to this explanation from now on. :-)
Maybe you should see it as a series, and then as we used to see it: an episode once a week; you didn't know what would happen next. Here the episodes are often daily, but they are often about something completely different. And so we have to wait and see when the denouement of that other episode will follow. Well, that's life. My life, at least, how it is with you? It seems to me that it works the same, but i don't know for sure.
If you would like to respond to this, your response - provided it is friendly and not forceful - is always welcome, via Mastodon or email > see email@example.com
As for the Flat part, creepy Clogsman will return in another story; i don't know when. I haven't planned anything. And that is a challenge in itself: all those memories that tumble over each other to be described first... quite tiring. Then again: as an autistic person i am somewhat used to it. It's my normal state of being, but it's perhaps even worse now, because now i'm actually doing something with it, all those stories stirring in my brain.
What will this all lead to? No idea, it's a huge and strange project. At the same time it is also interesting: what will i encounter on this unexplored road? Myself, at least, that much is clear to me. Angry acquaintances, hurt strangers, unspoken feelings that are still revealed? I especially hope for some very clear common threads, over time. Storylines that weave through everything, figures that pop up here and there. Discomfort and shame and difficulties and trying to overcome them. Insights that will hopefully also be interesting for the reader. In short, the complexity of a life that unfolds for everyone, in the form of a messy art project.
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2024.01.21. Memoirs as selfie.
On The Marginalian (Maria Popova's website) i read an article about Iris Murdoch, which is about different forms of freedom, including how that relates to love. Popova writes 'that in the twenty-first century, we have invented a third and greatest enemy of Love: selfing.' She writes how memoirs - from photography to poetry - are skyrocketing to the detriment of novels, and how their makers don't seem to realize that people only become interesting when they are interested in something other than themselves. She calls the memoir the 'selfie of literature', in a 'pandemic of selfing'.
I immediately think of the boom in selfies that 'everyone' sends into the world via social media, whether in images or in words: many toots, tweets and posts are about the creator themself. It can sometimes be extremely irritating, yet another pout or elaborately described morning ritual, but at the same time these and all other forms of selfies also function as ways of representation, recognition, self-identification and knowledge sharing. Not everyone has the same life, or the same opportunities for a 'higher' or 'richer' life, so you cannot expect disadvantaged people to use the same means as the privileged to express themselves about their lives and experiences.
Is it not too easy, and above all elitist, to dismiss the selfie or memoir as a lesser form of photography or literature?
I assume that Popova is writing here mainly from the context of Murdoch's writing about love. But why is 'selfing' the greatest enemy of love? To love, you also need self-love and self-knowledge. And for many people today, the road to self-knowledge is paved through social media, where you can read and see what life is like for others, which may horrify you, or make you wiser.
By the way, whether social media is only good for people is another story. The manipulative and uniform algorithm of most platforms is not criticized for nothing. All kinds of fascists who are working hard trying to suppress diversity and inclusivity, for example, and many people will pay a nasty price for that. Hopefully it won't get to that point, but we will have to do something about it. For example, vote as left-wing as possible, but hey, it's a bit late for that now (here in the Netherlands), with your damn fascist parties. But let me talk about that another time. In my toots for example.
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