The Worm

            When I open the English half of my Pocket German Dictionary, more often than not it falls open on the page with “worm’s eye view” as the index word in the top right corner. In German, this is “Froschperspektive”. I am yet to learn much German, and the words are still delightfully strange. They give me strong associations, “Frosch” makes me think of an ice cream on a hot day, and “perspektive”, of a spiky fence.

            I spend a lot of time looking through my bright yellow dictionary. I rarely purchase new objects, but this was an exception. Anticipating my handling of it, I thought it would be interesting to see how it degraded through use, accumulating my fingerprints, dints, preferential openings. The cover, thankfully, is wipe clean plastic. I’ve already managed to grime it up, forever the kid who returns home covered in smears of dirt and chocolate, mouth orange from sucking on a texta.

            Often I feel like my life is ruled by mess and chance, and it is my job to create order. When deciding on a name for this blog, I opened the dictionary on “Froschperspektive”, and this became it. I chose it without much thought, but soon the associations started twinkling: this was the perfect name.

            In February I will be going to Berlin, to learn German at the Goethe-Institut, then in March to Leipzig, to be a writer in residence at the university there. This is an exchange program between the writing departments of UTS, where I studied, and the DLL at the University of Leipzig. Telling people about it, many have asked what a writer in residence does. Apart from my duties, classes and readings and so forth, I tell people that I am there to observe. This is where the worm comes in.

            The worm’s eye view is the perspective of the tiny thing looking up at something vast. How else will I feel, suddenly placed in Berlin’s vast streets, a city that’s shed its skin over and over, trying to take in as much as an outsider can? Whatever I know of it now is nothing compared to having lived there. There’s something in the particular everyday life of places that shapes its inhabitants, gets into their blood. The way I feel swinging around Sydney, like it’s my playground, like the city and I have a conspiracy, feels as deep and personal as a close human relationship. In Sydney, I am the bird, soaring over the grid. In other cities, I am the worm.

            The worm’s eye view is also humble, and this is how I feel learning a new language. Despite my lexical pleasure in seeking out words in the dictionary, learning the grammar is difficult, and making the small, baby sentences a beginner like me has the limited means to create, is both fun and frustrating. For so many people, these German words that I am struggling even to pronounce feel inbuilt, they come as easily as English does to me. In English I have the confidence to say whatever I want to. In my best moods, I feel like I can describe anything. With German, only have a very limited vocabulary can be a great relief, knowing that there is a limit to what I can express. At other times, the amount I still have to learn is a bottomless ocean.

            Watching insects, humans gain pleasure from their negotiations with the ‘giant’ obstacles that come across their path. Clothes pegs, blades of grass, our feet: they crawl their way over these things in what looks to be an aimless pattern. Their journeys are all about encounters. Now, suddenly learning German and preparing to go to Berlin, I feel that I have encountered one of these large, strange objects, and am crawling over it, exploring it. I will report on what I find, here.

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One Response to “The Worm”

  1. bree Says:

    oh i wish i could come hang out with you there. I’ve wanted to visit berlin for a long time now. Alas, my visa is still fucked.

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