A scar, cut deep and right through the city with people swelling up, surrounding it like antibodies breaking down a disease. It’s only a few years older than me but it’s decrepit beyond it’s face. No one kept it safe, kept it fresh. It could be a hundred years old, or a thousand for all that it’s a ruin now.
Despite being located mere steps from Old Town with its constant coat of paint, its fixes and fixers, its preservers, Linnahall sits untouched and decaying a mere few meters away. It’s somehow striking and off-putting at the same time. Its brutalist core sprawling outwards over the bay but still it lays low, stairs compounding up the sides just high enough to see forever.
There used to be a reason that this concrete behemoth was located on prime real estate but now it lays as a slumbering giant whose back you can walk along. As if frozen in place by magic. It reminds me so much of Shadow of Colossus. Buried within its chest is a theater with a full hall for concerts that happened less than a decade ago. Their beauty and decadence, their color and vibrancy I have never seen. Instead each year I see the building grow more weathered, grow more tired with graffiti, damage, and wear. As if at one time it was colorful and alive, a beast whose movements were jittery and free but now, it has been stopped, slain for unknown reasons. Drained and defeated. Except it was never alive, of course.
Like most things built for the Olympics, Linnahall has outlived its original use and unlike many of the Olympic Villages or even most Olympic Stadiums its re-purposing was short and brutal so now it sits, a monument to the waste of the games. Derelict.
I imagine it as a place where people journey now. One’s own Stonehenge, confusing and mysterious. A variable holy site erected to our former glory and might. Of past power, unity, and even of division. Maybe that’s why all the lights at its base are smashed. So it can no longer be witness to its own destruction or make attempts to take its power back.
They talk about stripping it. They talk about replacement because there’s a level of damage you don’t get to come back from. There’s damage so through, a blade of time sunk through ones heart, that leaves no hope for resurrection remaining. Such things are only for the worthy, the utterly divine but this is a cursed site. This is a blight and a scar and I think that’s why I like this place.
I see myself here. I see my reflection inside of this structure. I see myself in this ruin, as a ruin.
The people come anyway, endlessly they come to this site. Long after its purpose has been served and after its power has dwindled to none they still mark it as a point of interest on a map. They take their pictures of a shell, a grotesque and garish monument of the past now a Polaroid of how humanity used to be. Come all, they say, gawk at the folly of humanity.
They still beg at its feet. They preserve this insanity. They worship the blight.
Consuming more power, destroying more brick under their feet. Hobbling up its ancient stais which we once were taxed with protecting. We stand still inside the hurricane of concrete, finding it impossible to move. In the face of this immutable, unkillable, unwinnable past.
We worship and hate it equal measure.
I see this building as a metaphor as all buildings as metaphor, as all people are metaphor, as all metaphor are metaphors. It’s the harm that USSR did to this country, how it is so hated and so useless but it is still here. Too expensive to remove, too important to erase, and yet somehow we cannot let go of the fragments of. A damaged legacy we want to forget but cannot bare to start the work of paving over. Too expensive and too difficult. A hazard of its damaged legacy which lays blocking its own path as much as it is the brick, the fire with which to build the future.
People come to stand at its feet worshiping the scars of the past.
I’m told inside there is a house of art. A ballroom. A beauty to behold. I scarcely believe it.
If there is some beautiful land inside of this monstrosity, something holy and real, it is not because of some innate wonder. Instead I am convinced it because that beauty was consumed instead of made. A thing swallowed whole by the walls, its belly swimming, brimming with culture soup.
I know it has my weigh point heart. I give to it my organs, set to be entombed. To let them lie inside this concrete prison. Kept safe, kept waiting. Turning ever back into the rocks and water that made up the concrete poured into its walls with no foundation to be found. Crafted into a haphazard nexus of wrong matter jumbled together. Trying to assert itself into a whole.
I think this building was made to crumble into the sea. A type of obsolescence not born wholly of neglect, but not entirely unplanned. The way that all bodies, no matter how much softness they receive, or how much care is laid on top of their delicate parts – all bodies return to the sea. Our soft flesh grows ever stiffer. Times takes everything from our flesh as it takes everything from this building too.
And if a human – no – if a building finds itself without these particularly softnesses, without this care, without this worship, where would it go before its time is done?
Too young to decay on its own, too hard to melt into the ether, too scarred to heal on its own.
“Usually the people who come here are pretentious” he shrugs turning away from me. The rain pelts down on the windshield, the car shakes from the wheel well up to my teeth. As strange as all his other comments have been, this one strikes me differently because I really can’t think of anything more pretentious than the last few days.
I’d gone on this “retreat”. The perfect encapsulation of what you imagine a real writer to do: travel to a place where the population of cows on one farm is more than people in a 50 kilometer radius. Alone, in a cabin in the woods where all there is to do is hike through a barely managed forest, have a mental crisis, or start work on your next terrible novel. Since he’s the man who rented me the cabin the middle of nowhere he has to know this. But it raises more questions: what else do people rent a cabin in the middle of the woods to do? What purpose would traveling to the ends of nowhere serve? And how is it somehow more pretentious then what I was doing?
Every few months The New York Times runs an article about how we should all unplug from the world, or at least from the internet for a while to learn how to be people again. It’s some modern form asceticism and flagellation. If we just break our dependence on the internet that should lead us to better selves and cure our addiction to fast ideas and with them whatever ails us in the modern age. If this unplugging comes in the form of rolling up your busy city life and trekking out to a lone cabin like a modern day Walden, well then, all the better to get started on our cookie cutter wellness journey to tearing down our dependence on modernism.
In this way there are few things less romanticized than renting a cabin in the wood and writing the next great novel. The funny thing is that before the pandemic I might have had more of a monopoly on this reality but every weekend I see all the people around me, some for the first time in a long time, travel great distances to become one with nature as a form of social distancing. Except that I traveled alone without a car to a place people just don’t go. It’s not because I love nature. I live in a city, I’ve lived in a practically city all my life and I’ve never had a particularly desire to be anywhere other than a hub of humans. Famously I think every camping trip I’ve ever been on I have returned back to my house early where I immediately washed myself in the hottest water and with the fullest scale usage of modern indoor plumbing. But this trip wasn’t even like that.
It’s funny because in some ways the past six months have been spent in a way that weren’t so dissimilar as my time in the cabin in the woods. Even avoiding pubic transit I can reach quiet, wooded areas near my house on foot where I can spent the day unplugged from the internet with a flick of a button on my laptop or phone but I would still be in the city, I would still be reachable by other people on foot, I would still be going home to share a fairly small living space with my husband and most of all, all of the chores and responsibilities that I passively have.
So the longer the plague lasted, the more I question what travel is for but the thing is I’ve spent six month having been largely confined to my house and then when the weather got good enough, the small walk able radius around my house and I found myself yearning for a little change of scenery. A new experience.
So I rented a cabin on AirBNB, packed everything that I needed for four days in it and took the train into the middle of nowhere. The host picked me up at the nearest train station, nearly 15 minutes by car which was great because the bus ran about twice a day and there wasn’t a local cab service. The cabin itself was simply a bed and table inside of a hut, the shower and compost toilet located in another small hut across the law and an outdoor tent with kitchen equipment on the other side of the lawn.
The cabin had internet in the theoretical sense more than the practical. Fast enough that I could load a page of mostly text but I’d have to let it buffer for 10+ minutes if I wanted to watch a Netflix video at the lowest quality. But I had more regular internet on my phone at all times except for me, the purpose of this trip wasn’t really to disconnect. I don’t actually view the internet as a problem or a crux for myself. I don’t really remember the time before the internet and unlike every think piece I don’t have problems getting my work done because of it, I don’t have a shorted attention span and I’m more than capable of laying down to study or read or do activities disconnected without checking my phone every five minutes.
But the thing is, I’m almost never alone. I have lived with my partner for 12 years and I had roommates for years before that, and I lived with my mother before that. Moreover, I have always lived in cities, in areas where you couldn’t go even 2 minutes without seeing another person, and then another, and another until you can feel lonely but never be alone. Even the height of the pandemic, I saw more people out my window walking around in any given hour than I saw in all three days on the trip.
Which is why after the host dropped me off I put my things in the cabin, locked the door behind me, and very brazenly walked down the street to the right towards what I assumed was the trail. The road was dirt and gravel, no sidewalk to speak off and flanked by hay farms, patchy woods, and large areas of disused land. After passing by a particularly strange stretch of farmland where acres of green beans had been left in the field, dried into brown husks in the blazing summer sun, I finally reached a trail head.
There’s something you should know about me before reading further and it is that, while I can read a map, I have very little sense of direction. I’d like to tell you that this trip was a poetic one, where I got lost but I found myself or some other convenience of narrative but honestly, I just got lost a lot and kept walking in a vague direction because I assumed eventually I would find my way back. Maybe that’s its own beautiful narrative. Maybe not.
I eventually after nearly a half hour of walking reached what I supposed was a trailhead: it had a big map board, it had information posters, it had a footpath through tall weeds that seemed to lead over a wooden foot bridge so despite the narrowness of the trail and then, despite, my own hesitations I waded into the bush.
My goal, if walks have to have goals, was to see both towers which appeared on the map and to walk through Männikjärve bog. I spent 6 hours walking the first day and accomplished none of that. After a small success in finding a boat dock early on in the walk I somehow veered into oblivion for a full four and a half hours where I stood in a marsh area and wondered if it was just better to try to turn around instead of the new path I calculated might get me outside of the woods in a little bit over an hour.
You see, the Endla Nature Reserve is maintained in a extremely vague way. There were posted signs at the start of the trail about the “2+ 2 Coronavirus distance rules” but trails had mostly been left to grow over and actual boardwalk over the many bogs and mires was only around swimming areas and the most dense part of the bog.
The entirety of the first day I was completely and wholly convinced I was headed towards the main bog when in fact I had mostly wandered into a wet, dense middle part of the reserve and as such ended up having to wash my jeans and shoes in the sink when I eventually got back to the cabin.
The second day of walking I actually looked at a map before leaving the cabin, which did not actually seem to help me. I spent nearly 40 minutes after finding the trailhead on the other side of the reserve but not being able to go inside because it was on private land closed due to the virus but it wasn’t marked well enough. Eventually I walked along an unmarked road, found the new trailhead and about two hours later I was in the Männikjärve bog. This bog was more inline with the bogs I’ve been to before with a well maintained board system over the bog and a large viewing tower and a big loop trail. I saw exactly three people in the hours I was walking in and around the bog trail and I decided to do another smaller loop trail after I left the bog, in which, if you can believe this: I got lost again and spent nearly two hours begging the sky for a sign.
My third day I decided to take a walk towards the town of Kärde. There’s a small hut in a small park and a few abandoned buildings right outside where I was staying which I walked to within 15 minutes and then I decided to just keep walking along the road. I walked along what felt like a lone highway for nearly 2 hours. I didn’t reach town, or anything that could really be considered much of anything but I eventually decided to turn around and walk back. I wanted to say there was some grand reason for this, both for going and coming back. For the long aimless walking I was doing or the ebb and flow of fields of wheat untended in the sun but there wasn’t. I thought it would make me feel lonely, I thought it would make me feel empty and sad but instead I found that because there wasn’t anyone around I didn’t really have to feel much of anything. I know there’s a lot philosophically to say about how people are just reflections that we see of each other but it felt true. Along the long stretch of road, I was just existing.
It was harder walking along the road, to ignore that I was a part of society and the modern world. It’s easy to lose yourself in nature, in the natural world even if there’s a cut path under your feet telling you otherwise but on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere it’s somehow hard to block out that someone deliberately put this road down. That every inch of this world has been manufactured to connect humans to each other. The closer I got to the cabin the more bewildering the modern world became. In the fields besides me I could hear crickets and birds all bubbling up in noise, a whole world beyond me and yet none of that could even touch the amount of effort and difficulty and complexity it took to lay this road. How many years and ancestors and wars and plagues and joys and sadness to pave a road under the big blue sky in the middle of nowhere.
Aside from the distressing amount of walking that I did on this trip the other reason that I wanted to go to a cabin in the woods was to write. I’ve written a few bad novels in my time but I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I’d actually like to write something I’m at least proud of doing so I spent three months leading up to this working on notes and story boarding a novel that took a few failed ideas that I just couldn’t kick and rolled them into something I vaguely liked. While I got about as much writing as could be expected done if I had to do it all over again I don’t think I would have spent my focus on writing. I’m not a particularly fantastic writer and it made the entire time I was lost in the woods feel strangely irresponsible. Maybe if I’d have a longer time frame (which I would not have wanted I absolutely and desperately wanted to go home by the end of the third day) then I wouldn’t have felt such pressure but I think it was just silly of me to write while on vacation basically. I was productive while I was there but not to any notable degree and it burnt me out on writing for a few days after also.
As you can tell, not much actually happened on this trip. It probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that I mostly hiked, wrote, and laid in the cabin watching movies. That’s what it was for. I think that travel, like most modern things, has become a type of checklist that we have for status or bragging rights or whatever but in a time when we can’t travel (or at least it’s ill advised to travel the way one normally would) it makes me stop and wonder what all this was for. I can write in my house, I can experience nature in my own house, I can be alone without leaving and without the cultural experiences of travel or even the interactive part of travel – what was I doing? In the end I think the experience was kind of a failure and I’m not sure I would repeat the experience of going into the woods by myself since not having a car or any way to really get around other than walk is extremely limiting without access to…anything. I was 15+ kilometers from anything really, the nearest store was over 4 kilometers away making me anxious the entire time that something terrible would happen and I’d be unable to get home but I did like being by myself so maybe next time I’ll try traveling to a city setting.
I enjoyed my time in nature, despite getting lost constantly but in the end I’m not sure there could have been anything more pretentious than getting to live out the novelists dream and just not enjoying it enough.
I was born anxious. Or at least as far back at anyone can remember I’d been anxious. My mother often recounted to me a story of when I was in first grade wherein we had a homework assignment to make a diorama over the course of a week. In this tale, I picked over each piece of it for days on end, barely sleeping. I became unsatisfied in my unsteady hands and less than stellar creativity and would move pieces around inside the small box for hours. Finally when the end of the week came and it was time to take the creation to school I promptly burst into tears fearing that my handiwork would somehow be crushed on the bus ride to school. All the while insisting the project was not good enough to even be brought to school and that somehow, on top of all these things, I was faulty.
And the truth is, I was faulty. I was short circuiting. I was a blinking warning light with no calamity. I was a blaring fire alarm without smoke.
There’s nothing to indicate that before that age I was somehow better or carefree or without anxiety either so I have to conclude I was born that way. Simply born anxious. And that was all. I’m sure what came after didn’t help but I don’t think it made me, I think I always was. Sprang full formed out of the box going off like a siren.
A few years later was the first time anyone clued me in that there might be some letters attached to what I would have just called “an internally swirling mass of anxiety and existential dread” that I felt on a daily basis. I assumed most of my feelings were teenage angst or hormones or maybe a combination of good old fashion awkwardness coupled with moving away from everything you know one too many times but it turned out that almost no one else was experiencing what I was. That I was alone in the center of noisy panic that was my mind.
Not to be dramatic (because I rarely think of myself in a dire way) but the realization that other people don’t wake up completely full of dread and wondering if they will even see the next day is still a strange concept to me. I wake up every day experiencing feelings of failure and emptiness and anxiety before anything has even happened to invoke them. There is no routine that really stops them. There are no magic words to be said and no actions to be taken. Being alive invokes the anxiety and because of that, I make my weird compromises with it.
I would say in a way I’ve made a kind of peace with it, and that’s true to some extent, but in reality it’s not as nice and neat as it sounds. Life is just a series of compromises I am constantly making, all of them a russian roulette where I eventually draw the short straw. Anxiety is. It looms and waits. Even when I’m happy or in the middle of something I enjoy anxiety is slowly wearing me down in the background, underneath it all. It robs me of joy and sometimes of feeling anything at all. I do things despite it because we live in a symbiotic relationship together and always have and probably always will. It gets in the way of my marriage, my friendships, my jobs, my shopping, my writing, my workouts, and even in the way of my binge TV watching. I know many people have written about anxiety before and even about my flavor(s) of anxiety but I think it bears repeating. Because in the hilarity of all this, my anxiety specifically likes repeating. More than anything else repeating lives inside me with the anxiety. It lives in the rituals and routines I find myself looped into. It lives in the same thought played out thousands of times a day, the same note hummed under my breath, the same movement, the same word, the same numbers tapped on the end of my fingers. And it to let it repeat only staves off the anxiety for mere minutes or sometimes only seconds before it swallows up the rest of my brain. And then it repeats. And then it repeats.
But I have spent a lifetime managing the repeating, a lifetime managing the anxiety. CBT works sometimes, yoga works sometimes, finding a quiet place alone and screaming works sometimes, but nothing really works. Things work for an hour, for a day and then at the end of whatever ticking clock I managed to pause: it resumes as if it had never stopped at all and the anxiety returns. The anxiety returned on medicine. The anxiety returned when I did nothing. It returned when I did something. It returned so hard when I did all the somethings that I curled in to a ball and waited to starve. It didn’t wax and wane with the moon or the sun or the stars or other people or the things I could hold and the things I could not hold. Instead I live with my anxiety in the same way so many people cease to make peace with the thing that kills them. I voice my vulnerability. I cry. Sometimes I lay in bed and hope to get hit by lightning but I go on after that.
I do what needs to be done. Because my anxiety is a bargain. It’s a burden to hold but it’s just the load that I carry in exchange for being alive. Not because of deserving it or not deserving it, but simply because things are. And we do the best what we’re given.
Minds are funny though because looking back I can erase my anxiety from the memories. I can just remember how it felt to be loved or to be kissed. To hold hands, to laugh out loud. The anxiety was there in the picture with me, ruining the moment, but looking backwards it’s as if some strange entity could have erased it all along, leaving just the pure emotion. As all the creases could be simply smudged out of the picture. Like there is a me inside who could be reset and restored.
I can imagine a life without anxiety but it’s more like a creative fantasy where nothing is different except your insides don’t feel like someone is squeezing them. Nothing is different but when you smile you’re not trying to convince yourself of anything. You’re not playing a part. You’re not “faking it til you make” to the sound of yourself tick tick tick-ing down every year and counting. You’re just making it. You’re just there.
Hello welcome to my series of quick takes designed to get you ready for Eurovision 2019. Just some quick thoughts / my take on each of the 41 songs this year. The countries are in alphabetical order so without further ado: Georgia.
Country: Georgia Singer: Oto Nemsadze Song: Sul tsin iare Personal Score: 35 out of 41 My Prediction: NQ
There’s always one song every year that I just kind of…habitually forget about and this is the winner this year. I actually think some of that is the weird quality of the microphone at the beginning but this song is just not in my wheelhouse and the performer looks frankly confused on stage. I haven’t looked up the lyrics so I’m not sure what the song is about like most of the audience at home will be and I don’t really get much of…anything from the vocal or facial performance of Oto. I understand that this is basically tapped live from X Factor or whichever singing show Georgia uses to pick but that doesn’t really excuse mumbling at the beginning or the fact that the song just sort of rambles on for three minutes and then ends. I don’t know if there’s a staging on Earth that will help this song stand up against anything else in the competition and it pales in comparison with heartfelt pieces that countries like Albania and Hungary are bringing. It’s gonna be a “no” from me dog.