Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Too much Stuff

Life has taken us to Edinburgh, and I am in an international city again, on a more cultural map. There is so much stuff to do here and, I must admit, I love it! 

Now that I am over most of the stress of moving, I can see that an advantage of relocating on a regular basis is that you try yourself out against different backgrounds or worlds, and then see what happens.

If this sounds very comic bookish, then it is because I went to a talk for kids at the Edinburgh Festival by comic authors the Etherington Brothers on how to write a comic. Before I went I imagined a comic artist would concentrate on developing the character first, but they said that if you create the world first, then it is much easier to create your character. A world, then, creates a character, at least in a comic book.

The brothers showed us how to create interesting worlds by using the stuff of language. Children were asked the names of their pets, the more unusual the better and these were combined with word endings like ville, field, berg or town. We had some great worlds, like Sizzletown, where it was so hot people imploded once they went outside (so not many people survived there), or Bonsaiville, where the people are normal size but everything around them is just really really tiny, so you can take the kids to the park and show them the miniature playground at your feet and see the tiniest Frisbee ever flying somewhere just above your toenail.

In terms of worlds, though, I already know one thing for sure about Edinburgh. Judging by the mild summer temperatures it ain’t gonna be no Sizzleville. So no danger of imploding once I leave the house tomorrow, which is a relief.

Over four years ago we moved from Berlin to Bielefeld, a provincial town, which proved to be a major culture shock even though I was moving within the same country, Germany. Bielefeld is provincial and more conservative and only the size of one borough of Berlin. Originally a Londoner, I had never lived in a city that was so small. To be honest, I was afraid of losing what I value about living in the big city: a sense of anonymity (which I guess most people who prefer smaller cities hate the big city for), openness (as many come to the big city from somewhere else) and culture (lot of stuff to see and do).

In Bielefeld, then, there really wasn’t much cultural stuff going on, compared to Berlin. Where could I find inspiration or ideas to do stuff or make stuff, then?

My friend, Mario, though pointed out that to get stuff done, perhaps even creative stuff, you don’t need to live in a big exciting city. In fact, it could be detrimental to getting much stuff done at all because there is so much stuff that just distracts you. I certainly found that living in a small town forced me into being more active, joining a brass band and the Trailing spouses art group. I wasn’t overwhelmed by a million different choices of different stuff to do, which happened sometimes in Berlin.

I enjoyed my time in Bielefeld, and will miss the friends I made there, but I am also happy to be in a place again where there is just a lot more stuff going on.

So I have another chance to try myself out against a different environment/background and see what fate brings along. You are naturally forced out of your habits and confronted with new challenges as you negotiate the new city you move to. Scotland is still different enough for me to feel foreign, though I could be an expat again if they win the vote on independence next year. I have lived in Scotland before, but that was 20 years ago, and in a way, that also feels like another world because of how I have changed.

For this freedom, of course you have to give some things up. Although I can live in this world of Edinburgh, I won’t become part of the backdrop: I very probably will not be looking forward to my retirement here, do not own a home here and don’t have family living around the corner. I think I felt this more acutely in Bielefeld, where most people who live there were born there and do not move away. So maybe the attraction of living in a big city again is not so much that it has a lot of stuff going on, though I am not complaining about that, but that it feels more accommodating to people who have transient lifestyles.

Stuff, by the way, is also a word the Etherington brothers use for props, or everything that is not character or world in a comic book. Unfortunately, most of the stuff we brought from Germany doesn’t fit into our new Bonsaiville sized flat in Edinburgh.

And if you happen to be a comic illustrator yourself: Unless you want to spend inordinate hours drawing doubles of all the stuff your character will own in their new world, it is essential that you do not allow them to move to Edinburgh with all the stuff from their previous home when most rented flats in the UK are already fully furnished.

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