Some Personal News: I wrote a very silly, very mean, and (in my humble opinion) very funny murder novel about young adult writers that I am serializing every Tuesday on substack starting today. You can read the first installment for free here.
I’ve only ever met my fellow A1 German students online. They had a handful of classes in person at the beginning of March, but I joined late, after quarantine had already settled.
Our Kursbuch follows the adventures of “Lara,” “Tim,” “Sofia,” and Sofia’s wretched little daughter “Lili” as they introduce themselves using the Possessivartikel, einkaufen in the Supermarkt (Negativartikel), tour their places of residence (Personalpronomen), give presentations in class (Modalverben). Lara lives with Sofia, for reasons that are unclear—I have decided they are lovers, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary. Tim is their hapless Canadian friend, who in the manner of well-intentioned white men around the world is forever having to have basic things explained to him, or trying to mieten an Auto without his Internationalen Führerschein, or buying Gemüse at the Supermarkt when he was supposed to get Brot.
Over the last two months these four personages have become obscurely hateful to me, as they telefonieren their doctors for after-hours consultations on sudden illnesses, as they wanderen in the Berge discussing the weather—is it bewöllkt today? no, how wonderful, the sun scheint—and blissfully purchase Äpfel und Bananen, Orangensaft, Wurst. Lili whines and malingers. Tim makes Lara look up the bus schedule for him when he is unable to rent a car due to his own incompetence. Lara obeys. (“Look, Tim! We can go to Salzburg after all!”)
For twelve hours a week I struggle through their picnics (“Don’t forget the Käse, Tim! Ha ha ha ha ha!”) and job interviews and endless shopping trips with six other students, people I have only ever seen on a screen. Together we navigate spotty wifi connections and mispronunciations and that one guy who, god bless him, has never done the homework and never knows what page we’re on. We’re all from different countries: Uganda, China, Russia, Brazil, Syria, Spain. The other students are mostly in their early twenties, in Germany for master’s programs at the university in town. When it is my turn to describe my house and my profession they all look confused, but I do not know if it is my German or my life that is unintelligible. I am, unexpectedly, grown extremely fond of them, including and perhaps especially that one guy who has never done the homework and never knows what page we’re on.
In German class we don’t talk about what things are like back home. We don’t talk about our friends or our fears. We don’t talk about how we all came here a few months ago for something entirely other than what we are living now. We literally don’t have the language for it, which is in its own way a kind of relief.
In this part of Germany no one has been diagnosed with the virus in a month. I will meet the other German students for the first time tomorrow, when class starts back up in school. My lettuces, having survived my attentions, are big enough to eat. The campingplatz reopened and is filling up with weekenders. Hallo! they shout, walking their fretful little dogs. Hallo! Hallo! A tough-looking teenage girl with bleached hair and long roots makes endless circumnavigations of the campground hand-in-hand with her pimply boyfriend; they start early in the morning and walk until dusk. I wonder if these long days are a thing she will remember later with the faint sweet fog of nostalgia or if she is only passing time until her real life begins.
My hair is getting long, longer than it’s been in years. The salons will open again soon, but I have trouble enough telling someone what to do with my hair in English when really what I want is a different face. I told M I shaved my head the summer before I met him. This is what a woman does when she needs a change, he said, the kind of pronouncement about Women I do not ordinarily tolerate. But we might as well have grown up on different planets, our lives have run such different courses, and anyway in this case he wasn’t wrong. If my hair grows down to my shoulders, if the next time I see the people I love it’s all the way to the middle of my back, doesn’t that count as a change too? Doesn’t that mean I am different, that I did something with my time away? Nobody needs to hear anything about my survivor’s guilt, but the disconnect between the place I have come to and the place I left is sometimes more than I think I can bear.
I have learned, with Tim and Lara and Sofia, the simple past tense. The future doesn’t come until German A2. Maybe by the time I am able to describe tomorrow I will have some way of knowing what happens next. No mud, no lotus, my yoga teacher says. I’ll be honest: Most of the time I am in the mud. But some days I can almost see the lotus. I hope you can too.
Fig. 3: Church.