Friday, December 09, 2005

Stress and the City

Its Friday and a photoshoot we had planned just got cancelled, so I am HAPPY and feeling more relaxed than I did this morning when I first woke up.

2 kids + move + work + city noise = lots of heart-thumping anxiety for Mama Jens. So here's what I did a couple of weeks ago in response: threw my back out. I was just taking out the trash, twisted my arm a funny way, and voila! my back has been hurting since. It is getting much better, but still feels very stiff in weird places.

Anyways, I have this awesome physical therapist who does physiotherapie and heileurtythmie. I went to him a couple of years ago too when I hurt my back. He's actually much more of a psychotherapist than anything, and I always leave feeling very calm and determined to do things for myself like take long baths and go on wellness retreats. He's excellent. He also does some pushing around on my spine and massage and these sort of esoteric exercises, but the kinds of questions he asks makes me realize that the pain in my back has everything to do with my level of stress. Physiologically, there is nothing wrong...I am just wound very tightly...

There is no wonder why when you consider that just getting across Prenzlauer Allee goes something like this: First come to bike lane, stop for high-speed bicyclists, then stop again for two lanes of speeding traffic coming from the left, then stop again for tram coming from left, then stop for tram coming from right, then cross two more lanes of car traffic coming from the right, stop, look again for bikers, cross bike lane...Whew! Made it to other side. Just doing this with a child in a stroller and a child on a bike is enough to give the clearest mind the feeling that they need to check into the nuthouse.

Then there is the noise. Both of my children have grown up so far hearing the clangs and bangs and drillings of the post-wall rebuilding in East Berlin. They have both danced to the rhymical sounds of jackhammers, bouncing up and down like their little musical souls tell them too. My little one falls asleep in her stroller the minute we hit the cold, fresh air. Then we pass a construction site and I clench my teeth. Then, I hold my breath and hope the whole dang thing doesn't fall down on my head (=paranoid). When we moved to this apartment, I made the realtor swear up and down that she didn't know anything about the old building next door and any plans for renovation. She swore she didn't. Well, a few months later, those scaffolding trucks rolled in, and for the next six months, everytime I was taking a shower, I half expected to be joined by a dusty man with a drill. We seriously thought our bathroom would cave in on us. I once asked our pediatrician what he thought about city living vs countryside living with regards to allergies and eczema. He said that in the countryside there is more to be allergic to in the way of trees, but the city is much worse because of the stress from the noise level.

I think moving to a much smaller city (well, I don't think I could actually call Chapel Hill a city with a straight face) will have wonderous effects on our stress levels. There will be no busy streets to cross with all these kids, because...well, people don't cross streets, they drive. The general pace and noise level will of course be totally different. I am looking forward to ice tea and porches swings. I wonder if we will really be able to slow down there, or if we will still find a way to be totally stressed and neurotic. The physiotherapist votes for the former. He always says he doesn't know how someone with my "constitution" can survive in this city.

Have a lovely, stress-free Friday. Get a massage! Go to the sauna! Look at a white wall for 20 minutes! Avoid busy streets and traffic jams! Breathe deeply.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Flea Market Ramblings

Today I did something I've never done before: set up a stand at a flea market (Mauer Park). I can totally recommend it, if you have things you would like to get rid of among some pretty entertaining punk rock scenery. The best parts of the day were when two friends of mine stopped by to say hello and ask if I needed a coffee and when I saw a Santa Claus with an AC/DC hat walking around. But, the experience was super interesting for its psycho-economical aspects as well.

I learned a lot of really weird things about people and money. For one, people don't know how to respond at a flea market when they ask how much and you say, "Its free. Just take it." This played out over and over. The only people that didn't kind of freak out were children. They would just say, "Cool, thanks, and run off to join their parents." But in most cases, it was like, "Are you joking?" or "Can I at least give you a euro for it?" or "Okay, well, I'll pick a few other things and buy them all together." I tried really hard to unload extra things for free as little "bonus prizes" when someone bought something, but that proved challenging too.

Another interesting thing is that if its too cheap, people are immediately suspicious. They think that whatever it was, it must not work (waffle maker, scanner, mixer) or has a hole in it (blow up guitar). But, I really, really did not want to go home with the piles (of shit) I went there with. Therefore, the prices were cheap, dirt cheap.

Third, some people are totally into the flea market thing just for the bargaining process. They aren't interested in what it is or how much it costs. They just want to get you to lower your price and will do anything it takes for that to happen. Take the little basket thingy with lid I sold today. Asking price, 25 cents. The lady only wanted to give me 20 cents and that was firm. Holy flippin' cheapo. Can you imagine? And then there was the guy and the milk shake machine. I said 10, he said, 5, I said 8, he said 6, I said 7, he said no, 6, Í said no 7, and he walked away in a huff. 10 minutes later he comes back. How much? I said 7, he said 6, I said 7. He inspected it, he agonized, he took two, deep, loud breaths. Okay, he finally said. Then I gave it to him for 6. Geesh. Weirdo.

Also, the whole pricing thing is so arbitrary. It is totally a subjective question of worth. I make a price based on what the thing is worth to me, regardless of how much I paid for it. Then the buyer either just goes along with your judgement of its worth and gives you what you want for it, tries to bargain a little because they think that is what you are supposed to do, scoffs and walks away at your high prices, or, as in many cases with me, gives you more money because they think you are nuts and feel sorry for you.

And, the panning-for-gold-people were interesting too. These are the people that come to your stand and if there is a little bag full of small trinkets, they dig in there like there is no tomorrow looking for real treasures. They would come out with the totally weirdest things and I would be like, Was that in my house? What the hell is it anyways?

There were other interesting things, non psycho-economic, that I noticed about the whole flea market universe too. For example, people are totally hot on tupperware. I had a couple of pieces of what I would call tupperware, because that is what I call any plastic thing with a lid that you can save food in. But today, I learned that tupperware is a brand, not an object, and it is GOOD. I swear to you, like five people came over and asked me if I had tupperware. In all five cases, I showed them my inferior quality plastic storage boxes. They looked on the bottom, opened the lid, closed the lid, listened for some kind of snap or pop, opened the lid, closed the lid. I thought, what the hell is going on here? But no one wanted my boxes. I tried to give them away on numerous occasions, but still, no takers.

Also, you can totally predict what will interest someone when they walk up to your table. The guys went straight for the CDs. The women straight to the baby clothes. I can make more subtle stereotypes here too, but I guess I shouldn't. I won't. But they do exist. Either that or I am just psychic.

In general though, the more I stood in front of all this junk all day and watched people pick through it, the more I am aware of the burden of physical possessions. Just look at the time and energy I put into trying to get rid of it all. I feel like all I do in this life for lord's sake is move physical possessions around. In the house I pick up one thing here, put it down there. Pick up another thing there, put it down there.

What you've heard is true: One man's junk is another man's junk. The treasure part is a big old fashion illusion, I am so sorry to say. What those people are looking for in those bags is love, a tight hug, happiness. Oh lordy.