What am I doing in Berlin?

I wrote this on the train ride between Cornwall and London, returning from presenting a film at the Cornwall Film Festival. I was hoping for a smooth day of travelling. Turns out I missed my return flight to Berlin and I’m stranded at the airport for a night. Not ideal, but I have wifi and am squatting a power outlet, so it’s time to publish this entry.

My transition to the old continent was incredibly tumultuous and I’ll try to paint a picture of what was happening in my life when I left and how I fell into Berlin. In a few words, I had a bad year. I don’t know, maybe I had a bad couple of years. I’d been banging my head against the Quebec arts scene, trying to get in. Film, television, theatre, indie, commercial, English, French, voice over. It wasn’t working. Even my films were tanking on the festival circuit. I tried to create little networks for myself, little creative families, nothing was sticking, perhaps I wasn’t sticking. I was working odd jobs, making ends meet, living in a beautiful studio appartment, that was starting to feel like a golden cage. I couldn’t possibly give up a bright and affordable studio in the heart of the Plateau, with a view on the mountain. Well, maybe I could. The last few months became about giving things up. Everything I didn’t need. Purging stuff, purging dreams, reducing the number of projects, reducing. In the last little while, I felt myself wilting, fading, disappearing. My skin, which I’d poured thousands of dollars into, trying to save it from rosacea, was looking worn. All my dating attempts were failing. I felt like an actress and a woman past my prime, without ever having had a prime. So I wrote a script about it. I was lucky enough to find the most brilliant, beautiful, loving team to make it happen. But in my heart, the process of making the film was heavy. Everything about me has been heavy these past few years. Ask my friends. So when I saw the Smash Berlin program announced on Facebook, I saw an opportunity to break away. Contemporary dance and performance art in Berlin. Pure creativity: a journey into the bizarre, into experimental work. It was also an excuse to be back in Europe, where I hadn’t been in 10 years. I’d dreamed of living there since my first stopover in Amsterdam when I was five years old. I remember the cobblestoned streets and I remember thinking, everything is so beautiful here. Over the years, I never changed my mind, but I had given up that dream. It was impractical, especially if I wanted to “make it” as an actor. I had to work my base, get my union credits, I couldn’t wander too far in case the right audition came around. Now I have, of course, had some beautiful opportunities in Montreal and I’m lucky to have the most supportive of agents, who understands me and understands I am not “just” an actor. She always encouraged me to feed my soul however I see fit.

But unhappiness shows doesn’t it? It shows in your face, your skin, your posture, your clothes. Unhappiness ages you, it even takes away your courage, and acting is all about courage and boldness. I know this is an extraordinary amount of self pity for someone as fortunate as I am, but it’s important to me to talk about this for some reason. When I decided to take off, it wasn’t a joyous, lighthearted affair. I gave up my apartment, packed all my stuff, figured out visas and said goodbye to everything. I had so many loose ends. I was finishing up little contracts right up until the day before my flight. I packed the day of my flight. I was literally sick for two months leading up to the trip. Very sick, incapacitated on many days. Stressed, tired, not knowing what I was doing. I spoke very little of my move and my plans. And shortly before I left, my parents decided to sell the family home. It was the right decision on their part, but it felt like the ground was taken from underneath me. The stability and continuity that I was counting on to carry me through this difficult transition were gone. I spent a week in bed. It was a blow. Even writing about it now, my chest in constricting, my neck is aching. The last few weeks before I left, I lived in this family home, watching it get emptied, repainted, looked up and down by realtors. I saw my parents’ energy being zapped more and more, them working themselves to exhaustion to get the house ready, their heartbreak over some of realtor’s comments. It was difficult, it was debilitating. I was really sick and I still had so much to do. I had decided to give a big recital, to get myself back into shape as a vocalist, to host a big party and performance in my last days. It was a wonderful idea and a huge success. People were so kind and made such generous donations that it made my trip possible in the midst of so much chaos. My mother gave me money to get me started in Berlin. If it weren’t for these generous gifts, I would already be living on credit, just a few weeks after my arrival. Someday, I’ll be able to look back on this period through a lighter more joyous lens, I know I will. Very soon.

I fell for someone right before I left. I fell hard. He was Prince Charming and I didn’t want to let go. Not when I was chaos, inside and out. This didn’t make anything easier. I relapsed the day before my flight. I travelled while extremely sick. My first night in Berlin was spent in a dingy hostel, full of lonely people. I hardly left the bed, ate from the little lunch my mother had prepared for me. I was really unwell. The next day, I took a cab to the place I would be staying. A beautiful place really. The first week, I didn’t get out of bed. This was my week to get all kinds of important things done. None of that happened. My new roommates were away most of that time. I was completely alone, sick and the sun never came out. What had I done? Then my dance workshop started, thank God. Within a few days, my health was almost back to normal and I had a routine. Of course, I am not used to working with my body all day long and it’s very emotionally demanding to be thrown into a new group of people, a new country, a new discipline all at once. My whole life, I’ve been exceedingly insecure about my lack of flexibility and relative lack of strength. As a child, I would cry when confronted with sports activities or anything remotely competitive. I never could do a cartwheel or even balance on monkey bars, never had the strength to carry my own weight. Was never very brave either. Now I’m in a room full of dancers. Thank goodness they are lovely people and the teachers are lovely people and it’s not about performance or form or anything like that. Still, I have to use my body, and I am ashamed of this body, I have been since I can remember. My German is not where I want it to be either, I’m really struggling. First couple of weeks, I cannot get myself set up with the proper cables and outlets, I can’t charge my computer, I can’t get my new SIM card to work. I’m exhausted. Also, Prince Charming very rationally explains that this can’t continue, there’s no future. I cry. Oh and I need to find a new place, as I soon must give up my room. I must get all kinds of bureaucratic things done and I don’t know where or how to start. Did I mention I’m feeling stressed? I have an upcoming trip to England for a festival, to screen a film that seems light years away from my current life. I was supposed to have my co-producer joining me. We were supposed to make a holiday of it, see the sights, discover Cornwall. Turns out I’ll be travelling alone. Again. I don’t want to go. I cry all day the day before my departure for England. I have to leave class early, too exhausted to move my body.

England was exactly what I needed, thankfully. Believe it or not, it was quite mild and sunny compared to Berlin and that felt delicious. I arrive at London Stanstead and have a two hour commute to get to my sister’s friend’s house, where I’ll be spending the night. I am tired, got up well before dawn and am a bit emotionally taxed. Boy did I arrive in the right place. She is charming, her husband is charming, her kids are adorable, the house is beautiful, I’m offered a cup of tea. After a shower and a sandwich, I’m as good as new. I go and spend the day in the city, walking around, taking pictures in the glistening sunlight, amusing myself. I take a guided tour of the reconstructed Globe Theatre. Then I get back to my host in time for dinner with her friends at the local pub. Lovely. The next day I take the train to Falmouth, in Cornwall. It’s an all day trip and the sun is still shining brightly. When I arrive, I don’t know what to expect but it doesn’t take long for me to be utterly charmed by the town. It’s supremely beautiful, with striking coastal views, a harbour full of boats big and small, bakeries, coffee shops, pubs, the friendliest of locals. I walk up the hill the the beautiful house where I’ll be staying. My hosts are a dream. Once again, I shower, settle myself into my room and refuel a bit. My hosts offer to share their homemade soup with me and a glass of wine. They are delightful. Both artists, she is a writer, he is a musician and writer. They like to pickle things. They are incredibly sweet. Then I’m off for an evening walk and I’m starting to feel better about all of this. I find the theatre where the screening will take place. It’s 15 minutes away. Everything is 15 minutes away in Falmouth. I love that. I have a beer someplace, still feeling a bit lonely.

I get up bright and early Saturday morning, the day of the screening. I put on some make-up and the nicer of the two outfits I’ve packed. This is a tiny festival in a tiny town but it’s my world premiere, I want to make the most of it. I stop somewhere for a cinnamon roll and then I’m at the theatre. It’s not a big selection of shorts but I enjoy them. First part is local Cornwall shorts and second part is the official selection. The films are quite good and meaningful overall. I’m genuinely enjoying myself. Still, I have no one to talk to. Thankfully, I run into Louise, the organizer. She introduces me to Dereck, who teaches animation at the local university, and soon we’re joined by Duncan, a handsome London filmmaker who made a fabulous sci-fi short. I am so happy to have people to socialize with. We all attend a talk on making films the market wants. It’s given by a long time distributor and sales agent with a hefty resume. It’s actually extremely interesting. I am definitely the only non-Brit in the room and she’s talking about the marketability of British films.  From this point on, all the screenings are for feature films. I catch 4 over the course of the week-end. All very good and most of them very disturbing in some way or another.

Sunday is a dream. There’s a woman named Sury who is living in the house where I’m staying. She’s in the process of moving to Falmouth from Essex and starting a new job. She’s still getting to know the place. We are both in the mood for a walk and it’s a gorgeous day. We spend the whole day together and have so much to talk about and so much in common. We have coffee by the beach (it’s about 10 degrees and people are swimming in the ocean, by the way. Also having ice-cream.) Then we set off for a walk along the coast, leaving the harbour and taking in the ocean views. I don’t need to say that it’s glorious. Then we head to the local castle, which sits way up on top of the town, on a cliff. I couldn’t have planned a more perfect day. We part ways at the theatre and I go back in and take in some more films. I see Dereck and Duncan again, oh and Sam who is a middle aged woman doing an MA in screenwriting. I like her. When the final screening ends, everyone just leaves. Wait, what? Is there no party? Is no one going out? Duncan and I end up chatting by the door with two of the volunteers, who are young local screenwriters. We go for drinks. Good, finally. I feel right in my element. We discuss the films from the festival, we discuss our films, we discuss our process, we discuss writing, the creative life, etc. It is really fun. I don’t pay for most of my drinks, the locals do. One says just about the most charming thing I’ve ever heard: “Can I buy you a drink in exchange for enjoying your film?” He says my film was his second favourite short. Duncan’s was his favourite. This guy is too much! After this long and tough couple of weeks and months, having drinks with filmmakers in a stunning coast town and getting a bit of validation for my work is worth more than anything in the world.

As I’m getting ready to return to Berlin, I feel refreshed and renewed. And dare I say a bit optimistic. Maybe this is the healing I was looking for.