A Nostalgic Review: Stasiland by Anna Funder

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I miss Germany. I miss Berlin and my family, the cobbled streets, the miserable looking people with funny accents, the cold and the damp. I miss the culture, the tainted history and the anxiety of adventure.

I first picked up a copy of Stasiland by Anna Funder when I’d just settled back into normal life at home after three months of back packing around Europe. The book was unbelievable, and I connected with it on so many levels: my admiration of Anna Funder living in East Berlin, speaking the language and tracing people’s lives; the streets and train stations I had only just been wandering through weeks before; and the shock of a history that is so close to my heart, and yet still so alien.

As a piece of creative non-fiction, the writer Anna Funder does a fantastic job of mixing the elements of story telling with a heavy-handed topic of German history, while using a deeply personal tone throughout. Every time I picked up the book, I would be transported back to the streets of Berlin, while learning the sad history that is almost never spoken about and completely unacknowledged. My family were lucky enough to be living in West Berlin when the wall came up, but they would always tell me stories of people doing all that they could, risking their lives, to go over the wall from East Berlin, over into the West. Stasiland is a grave, honest depiction of what life was like living in East Berlin before the wall came down: how there was no privacy, your lives would be tracked down to the finest tee. How even in a European culture, hundreds would be slaughtered or tortured for saying what was on their minds by the sheer dogmatism of the Stasi police, those involved who truly believed in the cause.

What makes this book so special, is how Funder manages to intersperse the lives of others and their stories, with her own personal journey of writing the book and researching into an abandoned past. On page 54, for example:

“The next day the phone calls start very early in the morning. I hadn’t thought it through – I hadn’t imagined what it would be like to have a series of military types, who had lost their power and lost their country call you up at home.” (Funder 2002. 54)

She makes the other people’s stories incredibly personal so that the reader is able to relate to the person and feel incredibly empathetic towards them. I found myself getting so caught up in the book, while also learning about a group of people, and a part of history I was ill informed about. That is a very powerful tool of creative non-fiction: to be able to tell a deeply enriching story while teaching the reader something new and important.

What I loved about the book was how much detail and honesty she allocated to each person’s story. She interviewed a range of people who lived in the Stasi state, from those who were captured for trying to escape, to those who perpetuated the ideologies of the government. I found it very brave of Funder to write about issues such as these, especially coming from a non-German perspective, as this kind of very recent history has somewhat been swept under the rug. My uncle Wolfgang once told me that Germany was in “very dark times” back then, and it still amazes me that Berlin and Germany was ever like that.

The entire time I was reading the book, I kept feeling so grateful to be living in a country where I am free to do as I please. Stasiland puts you in the heart of the Stasi state, and allows you to walk in the shoes of those under that kind of oppression. It made me speculate on how this kind of thing could happen, how easily a government will take military control over a nation of people under their misguided or warped ideals. Sarah Coleman, the associate editor of The Worldpress Review, conducted an interview with Funder in 2003. In response to a question about what moved her so much about the first story Funder uncovered – Miriam Webster, a teenage girl who was put in prison after she tried to escape, and later lost her husband to likely torture by the Stasi – Funder responded:

“I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time, but I think I can say now that I was looking for stories of courage. In a world that’s divided into Us and Them, it takes extreme courage to resist oppression—when you come across that kind of courage in a young woman like Miriam, it’s inspiring. I think I’m interested in it because I’m yellow-bellied myself—you’re always interested in what you don’t have.” (Funder, 2003)

I can confidently say that this book changed my world thinking as a writer. I was always so sure that I wanted to write about stories or issues in such a way that makes is appealing to the masses, something that people will want to read. This book made me lean more comfortably towards the path of creative non-fiction, whether I write a book of my own or continue with my blog posts and articles, I want to write something powerful and evoking. This book has made me want to write about topics that people either don’t know about, or have been forgotten, for example, those who are still struggling to savage a normal life after the horrors of the 1991 Bosnian war. As a writer, I want to give a voice to those women in Bosnia who were repeatedly raped during the war, or the children of those rape victims. I’ve recently gone through a stark shift in how I see the world, and Stasiland certainly sparked that shift. More than anything, it angers me that we don’t talk about these kinds of issues, and that’s something that I want changed in our thinking.

The atrocities of mankind can only plunder ever forward into yet more horrific realms, if we stand back and idly forget our past and do nothing. Anna Funder gave a voice to the voiceless, and has made me determined to do the same thing.

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A Short Letter to Hitch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Hitch,

Today I was reading the latest issue of Vanity Fair and I couldn’t help but notice that you were missing from the pages. Perhaps the impact of your death hasn’t hit me until now, until I realised at that moment that I was no longer going to able to read your elegant, witty words again.

You could have stuck around for another twenty years at least; you would have been in your eighties, still battling against injustice in this world with style and finesse. I would be in my forties, still struggling as a writer perhaps, or maybe I would be a mum with four kids, keeping my writing as a small hobby in between wiping poo and cooking. I can imagine that even then, as an adult, I would still be sad to hear you’ve passed. You’ve been taken from us too early. What an awful cliché, I know, but that’s how I feel.

I often wonder if you hadn’t smoked and drunk your way through your life and your prolific career, your words wouldn’t have been so brilliantly perfected. You once said that you wouldn’t change anything so much, because the drink and smokes were companions to your writing. Albeit without them, you might have stuck around a bit longer.

Everything you’ve written has always moved me. Your words have given me massive inspiration and hope for what I want to achieve in this bleak world. And I suppose I want to thank you for that. I admire you. Or should that be, I admired you?

I often ponder what you would say about everything that has changed since you died. The war, the bloodshed, the inhumanity. I don’t agree with you on everything you asserted, but you were mighty convincing. Were. It’s odd that I have to keep reminding myself to write in the past tense about you.

I resent the void you’ve left in my favourite literary magazine. I hope you know how many people you’ve affected, how many lives you’ve changed by your words. Also, how many people you’ve affected by leaving the party so soon.

I sincerely hope that when you were alive, you knew how loved and admired you were.

My imaginary-friend, Hitch. There has to be some sort of irony there.

That’s about it then.

Kind regards,

Cass

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This is a fantastic blog which I might be addicted to. I’ve learned so much about the world and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
This post is awesome too – lomography outside Instagram ooh!

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The Mr. Darcy Syndrome: Where the Fuck is My Night-In-Shining-Armour?

“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

Oh my! Doesn’t that just make your toes curl? Or rather, doesn’t that make your stomach flip, and – like me – your eyes to roll sarcastically? Okay…that was a lie. I LOVE Pride and Prejudice, but I do think that watching this movie as a love-struck teenager certainly built my expectations of love, intimacy and relationships, a little too high. These expectations only went through the roof after watching Swayze classics like Dirty Dancing and Ghost:

“I love you Molly.”

(Silent, beautiful crying) “…ditto.”

Oh!

Stepping out into a world of hungry men, I was gob-smacked to find that not only were men my age (or older for that matter) not tall dark and handsome *, but they certainly don’t wear billowing white shirts which cling to their muscular chests when they gallantly dive in a pond (because they’re so complex?), nor do they shroud you with compliments and jaw-dropping, romantic words. And hello? Why don’t men keep chocolates and flowers on them at all times?

Because that’s a load of bollocks.

If anything, I’m still disappointed that men don’t tap dance and break out into song a la Gene Kelly (and Swayze), but that is clearly an unrealistic and ridiculous expectation. What I’m not particularly happy with is the awful amount of pressure men have on them, to do or say something romantic and heart-felt…spontaneously, during a sunset, while astride a white horse. The pressure must be immense for young men to woo a girl and say the “right” thing and to not step on any toes. Surely we’re not THAT pedantic? Well…

Since I can remember, every romantic movie I’ve ever watched has had the following conventions:

1)   A couple who start out hating each other, but end up falling madly in love.

2)   The girl must be neurotic, yet mysterious – oh, and look like a sexy librarian.

3)   The guy must be resistant yet goofy, with just the right amount of stubble.

First of all: if you meet someone and you instantly don’t get along with them on first sight, chances are you’re not going to get along with them after that. There have been the odd exceptions, but ultimately why would you bother?

Secondly, women who are neurotic and shy aren’t mysterious at all, considering within the first five minutes of meeting them they’ll end up telling you intimate details of their life, and that’s not endearing but rather embarrassing as hell.

And thirdly: men who are stubborn yet goofy and playful are usually the types of guy to get stroppy if you dare to pay for your own movie ticket, all the while wearing a Pokémon t-shirt.

Sounding romantic yet? Just wait…

With the rise of skewed versions of modern love, men are now demanded to be ancient, irresistible, fucking vampires as well! Apparently it wasn’t cheesy enough in the 80s (or was it the 90s?) to have Tom Cruise stutter out his line, “You…complete…me…” nowadays the leading man has to have a transcendent, cosmic, and (gag) spiritual connection with the leading lady. Dear Twilight: thanks for fucking everything up. Not only does Twilight perpetuate unrealistic fantasies on young teens of love and relationships, but it says to young girls out there that if you so happen to find “the one” make sure you do all you can to change who you are, never see your family or friends again AND attempt suicide if he dumps you. Because that’s…love? All the while one of the main points of conflict in that god-awful series is the fact that he might bonk her to death. Wow that’s so…yeah.

I don’t see why women can’t be romantic as well. How un-feminist of me, right? Well no. Feminism was founded on striving for equality, so why can’t women be romantic too? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing something nice for someone you love, whether that’s baking cupcakes, buying flowers of giving a gobby – the whole point is in the giving.

So yes, Hollywood might have messed up my perceptions and expectations of love, but to be honest, I much prefer the reality to the fantasy.

ALSO – If you’re in the mood for a realistic romantic movie that’s very un-Hollywood, check out Weekend. Brilliant film.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1714210/

*Boyfriend is the exception.

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Twitter account!

To my darling (and few) followers,

LankyJayne now has an official Twitter account!

Pretty empty right now, but I’ll be updating daily with quotes or posts or images and general things I think are groovy.

@lankyjayne

Follow if you tweet!

LJ

P.S. Tonight I will be updating and re-vamping Lanky Jayne, so if there’s any fuck-ups (which I’m sure there will be – internet illiterate) then I’m sorry. Also apologies for any emails you receive about a new post and there isn’t anything there etc.

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Review: Snakadaktal and Alison Wonderland @ Villa Nightclub Friday 30th March

I hate clubs. Without a doubt every dirty club I’ve managed to stumble in has been overflowing with the following elements: that drunk girl sobbing her heart out on the pavement outside because he-didn’t-call-me-and-why-doesn’t-he-love-me-and-am-I-pretty? Before then throwing up onto her “friend’s” shoes who’s desperately trying to calm her down while secretly hoping he’s going to get a gobby that night. I then proceed to walk in and am bumped into by sweaty sixteen-year-old boys in basketball v-neck t-shirts, who apologise for spilling their slush-bucket-mohito drink down my dress. As I squeeze my way through the smoky dance-floor (smoky due to the tacky fog-machine and the collective stale breath of screaming eighteen-year-olds) I’m stabbed repeatedly in the feet by the torturous stilettos of a thousand booty-shaking girls. Until, finally I’ve arrived at the side stage where I’m able to stand relatively peacefully until a line of pissed blokes try to determine whether I’m a guy or not before shamelessly hitting on me.

And that’s just at Villa. After waiting a solid twenty minutes to order my vodka and tonic, I finally get to relax a little and watch a handful of genuinely trendy teenagers make some seriously beautiful music. Snakadaktal are a five-piece indie-pop band from Melbourne who were made famous by that one song played on Triple J incessantly. Last year, they won the Unearthed High competition and have since recorded an EP, made some groovy YouTube videos and have this year been touring around Australia pleasing peoples eardrums with their delightful tunes. Like 99 per cent of the crowd I had rocked up to the gig knowing only that one song , and was pleasantly surprised when they began the set with dancey-pop tunes and very mature harmonies. I noticed among the skinny, flannel-clad hipsters with who were stealthily stealing drinks (standard club move; we’ve all been there) that everyone was happily bobbing their heads along to the droning beat of synthesised pop which sounded very familiar to Foals last album.

The band themselves were having a great time dancing bare-footed and glittered on stage producing song after song of tight, well-written material. As always the drummer was having the most fun bashing awkwardly away at the drums which seemed too small for him, reminding me of the gawky boys in high school who’d shot up in year eleven and hadn’t quite gotten used to their long arms and tall frames. The crowd woo-hoo’d and yippee’d when the band finally played Air – their song made famous on Triple J, and the band clearly loved the feel of a roomful of people singing along in jumbled unison to their lyrics. At every pause and new song I was honestly surprised at how grown-up and professional these kids were, every song being perfect to the tee and producing sounds that I can confidently say I did not hate. Despite my sarcasm and genuine contempt for everything, I can’t stress enough how good this band was. You can find their delicious tunes on the Unearthed website or good ol’ fashioned Myspace.

At 1am Sydney DJ Alison Wonderland boogied her way onto the stage in her six-inch, killer heals, and immediately started producing some funky beats interspersed with the odd Daft Punk chorus and Beastie Boys tune. Despite her freakish energy, I was in no way feeling up to sticking around for another 2 hours to watch the set, but I’m guessing it was much of a muchness. My friend and I walked home after stopping off in a dirty Maccas with our ears ringing, our dresses sticky with alco-pops and the satisfaction of a good night.

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My First Vibrator a.k.a. La Petite Mort

Masturbation. I do it. You do it. We all do it. If you say that you don’t then you’re probably lying. If you genuinely don’t then I seriously wonder how you function in normal society, because that’s all it really is; it’s a normal thing that women dare not speak about. It’s accepted that men wank prolifically, sometimes even twice (or more) a day, but the sheer thought of women indulging in such a decadent practise is simply unheard of. We don’t even have a decent list of common slang used to describe the pleasure; women certainly don’t do the five-knuckle shuffle, we don’t crown the king, flog the log, slap the salami nor do we beat the stick. An inventory of terminology from craigslist.org shows that women sometimes partake in fanning the fur or nulling the void, or we can get a stinky pinky by buffing the weasel, polishing the pearl, or my personal favourite: Genital Stimulation via Phalangetic Motion – how erotic.

Let me set the record straight: women masturbate. Your tutors, your sisters and even your mum – they all do it. So why do we seem to find it so wrong and uncomfortable to talk about? My group of friends and I only ever really talk about it after a bottle or two of vino, and even then they seem aghast that I – a 21-year-old female – do not own a vibrator. There are two reasons for this: the first is that I’m poor (note: student) and the second is my irrational fear that my parents are going to find it while looking for something in my room. Even worse though, what if they hear it? What if – somehow – they hear the vibrations through the walls of my vagina then through the cemented barriers of the ceiling above my bedroom? The sheer thought is wholly terrifying. My irrationality does not, of course, stop me from doing it all together: I, like most other women in their twenties masturbate, but not as frequently or vigorously as men seem to do. Continue reading

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