Monday, September 10, 2012

My Viennese Sketchbook

             A hectic three weeks of German intensive screeched to a halt on Friday to allow room for a much-needed 10-day break.  No classes.  No obligations.  Just show up next week relatively unscathed and then your Viennese education can continue.  Many of my classmates elected to travel around Europe – some on a school-sponsored trip to neighboring countries, and some on their own ventures.  Talking about it, exotic locations like Rome, England, and Krakow flew past my ears.   

 Ahh, the view from a very large (and famous) Farris Wheel 
in the Prater of Vienna.

            Sounds fun, but after I hucked my luggage into the most remote cabinet in my small apartment, I came to the conclusion that I am not going anywhere this week.  Nope.  I’ll travel later, I just got here!  There’s so much Vienna to explore!  So many places and things to see while it’s still beautiful!  Bike rides, museums, public parks, gardens, operas, concerts, markets.  The real Vienna.  No ‘school bubble’.  No homework.  No appointments.  I’m more interested in finding a home here than getting a broad understanding of the greater European continent, anyway.  And besides, all by myself, who knows what I’ll discover?

            Yes… well.  All by myself.  Any beginnings-of-friendships are gone.  I don’t know many Austrians.  And if I get lost, well… I’m pretty damn lost.  The street names still don’t make sense.  The place is just so… foreign.

            I’ve come to equate the general experience of studying abroad with the phrase ‘purposeful alienation’.  On one hand, you’re simply a foreigner living in another country for school.  Legally, you’re granted alien status.  On another, the word ‘alienation’ goes much deeper than just what your card reads if you get arrested.  You’re isolated in many aspects.  Language and cultural barriers the most common – everything is just so blatantly auf Deutsch.  But other barriers exist as well, all of which have been mounting against me as I force myself to put on shoes during the day and just go see something.

I find myself developing a slight case of anxiety when it comes to simply finding a place to eat.  Sometimes it even appears when I consider leaving the apartment.  There’s no ‘comfort zone’ out there.  It’s so wild and unknown.  So full of people that I can’t communicate with or who won’t communicate back.  I often pace, imagine that there’s someone else with me to bolster my confidence, but it’s sometimes so difficult.  I practice German in the mornings just so I can be more comfortable at night.  And in the end, it’s all just so tiring. 

Because of my lack of companion for the time being, I find that it helps me a lot to keep my sketchbook with me when I go out.  Since I started a sketchbook, I’ve always chosen to take it with me wherever I go, but it never seemed so important.  Now it’s essential.  When I go to a restaurant or out to a bar, it fends off the obligation to start a conversation.  It lets me work through problems, sketch out memories of places I like.  Keep pamphlets, pictures, and brochures of the places that I visit.  Draw out maps.  Practice conversations.  Keep my hands busy on the U-Bahn.  Halt the strange anxiety in its place.  It makes me… less alienated.

Even in the short time I’ve been here, I’ve become so much more proud of the things I’m now keeping in my sketchbook.  I’ve always liked having one, but now it has meaning injected into every page.  Things have a purpose, whether or not they’re aesthetically pleasing.  I’m filling it faster than I think I ever have.  And I’m proud of myself for it.

This morning, I went to the Kunsthalle Museumsquartier to check out an exhibit that they are currently running on William S. Burroughs.  If you’re not familiar, he’s the writer of Naked Lunch and is well known for being at once a woman-killing psychopath and an influential American experimental artist and writer of the 50s and 60s.  The exhibit focused on his ‘cut-up’ technique – bits of things put together at random to create something meaningful for the viewer or listener.  

 The entrance to the display.  This area is lovely.  It's a ring of museums
surrounding a park, a couple coffee shops, and some interesting 
scenery.  I want to come here more often.  I found it relaxing.The big 
walkway in the middle - Vienna fashion week is next weekend.  Might
go check that out.  I picked up a brochure at least.

Browsing through his sketchbooks, paintings, and audio works, I realized that they all had something familiar to them.  The seemingly random-yet-meaningful assortment of pictures, words, and other mixed media struck my senses in a way that I was familiar with.  So familiar, in fact, that I was already holding almost an entire book full of these concepts that I had done myself.  My own sketchbook, meaningful only because of its randomness.  Ah, sehr gut

A couple of Burrows' pieces.  I like the mixing of text and image. 

I am certainly not the first person to travel to a foreign country only to be plagued by anxiety and isolation.  But I realize now that it is an opportunity to learn and grow.  Not only about myself, but about the processes of other human beings.  I understood, through looking at the works of William S. Burroughs, that learning to cope and understand in this way will be something I will carry along with me for a very long time.  Conversing with myself through my sketchbook is helping me get through the difficulties of ‘culture shock’ (I hesitate to call it this, because it’s such a vague concept).  Things will all turn out in the end.   Purposeful isolation.  I like that.

 Some of my originals.  While they're not as text-heavy as Burrows', I feel
that many elements are similar.  Some of the pages that I didn't post here
have that feeling represented more strongly, but I didn't feel comfortable
posting them here.  (If you know me and see me, ask me about them.)

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