An Attack of Hives and Reflections on Global and Local Writing

Sorry for the lack of posting in the past few days, but I’ve been sick.

On Thursday afternoon, I was itching at several parts of my body and that small hives had formed in the itchy spots. At first I thought it was some kind of insect bite, except that there are few insects around to bite at subzero temperatures. Thursday evening I was at a reading (more on that later) and the itching got really nasty. Luckily, it was confined to the back of my neck, which was hidden underneath a turtleneck sweater. When I got home and took the sweater I noticed that my neck was covered in hives. Throughout the night, things got only worse. Mad itches popped up on various parts of my body, followed by a massive outbreak of hives. Even worse, the hives seemed to be travelling across my body. By that time, I realized that I was experiencing an attack of urticaria.

Now I’ve had massive urticaria once before, several years ago, also around Christmas. Because it was a holiday, I had to go not to my doctor, but to the doctor who was on call for emergency, a doctor who happened to be a pediatrician. The lady at the reception took one look at my hives and since she worked at a pediatrician’s office, she assumed I was suffering from measles and made me sit in the quarantine waiting room until the doctor could see me. Of course, it wasn’t measles but an allergic reaction, though no one knew what had caused it. At the time, the doctor suspected avocados (which I had never had any negative reaction to before) and prescribed some antihistamines.

This time around, I decided to skip the doctor. I wasn’t too keen on being quarantined with suspected measles once again and besides, the whole avocado thing was bunk anyway, because I haven’t eaten any avocado lately. Though considering that both attacks happened around Christmas, I suspect that whatever caused them must be something that is only around Christmas. No idea what it might have been, though, since I didn’t eat or drink anything that I hadn’t eaten or drunken hundreds of times before without incident.

So I limped to the pharmacy as soon as it opened (I couldn’t sleep anyway, since I was itching all over) to get some over-the-counter antihistamine. The pharmacist gave me some Cetirizine. I went home, ate a slice of bread and took a pill. The itching and the hives subsided within an hour (much quicker than during my last go-around) and didn’t come back. I took another pill the next day and that was that. Though I did continue to be tired and drowsy for another two days and had a vivid and frightening dream about fairies trying to kill me, which I suspect may have been induced by the Cetirizine.

Back to Thursday: I already mentioned above that I attended the launch reading of Kurzpassspiel: Ich stehe zu meinem Sitzplatz, a collection of football themed poems and stories by Irish German writer Ian Watson, at the Bremen central library.

Among other things, the reading reminded me of this post by Derek Sivers about local versus global focus that Jay Lake linked to a few days ago. Because Kurzpassspiel is an intensely local book, even though its author is an Irishman living in Bremen and writing in German (for this book – otherwise he writes in English). The stories and poems have a lot to say about identity and home and the immigrant experience that’s universal. But the lens through which these universal themes are viewed is that of sports fandom, specifically football* fandom and specifically Werder Bremen. A lot of the humour is lost and a lot of the texts simply don’t work if you’re not at least casually familiar with the local football club SV Werder Bremen, its fate and fortunes and its players. An intertextual poem based on Ernst Jandl’s famous univocalist poem Ottos Mops but referring instead to former Werder Bremen coach Otto Rehagel and his experiences as coach of Werder’s archrival Bayern Munich only works when you know who Otto Rehagel is and what happened after he deserted Bremen for Munich (he didn’t get along with the management and the team and the press and was fired after less than a single season). A “Song of Praise for Miroslav Klose”, followed by a blank page/long pause, only works when you know who Miroslav Klose is and why he won’t be getting any praise here in Bremen.

Now local literature is strong in Germany in general and in Bremen in particular. Every bookstore in town, from major chain store to tiny indie shop has a section called “Bremensien” a.k.a. local writing about Bremen, which includes anything from cookbooks to crime novels, and most people living here have at least one or two “Bremensien” on their bookshelf. I think we’re the only city in Germany to have a special term for our local literature – at any rate I’ve never heard of “Hamburgensien” or “Berlinensien” – but most German cities and regions have some form of local literature. Regional crime fiction, i.e. crime novels where a recognizable regional setting is as important as the actual plot, are big sellers in Germany.

Kurzpassspiel is very much a “Bremensie”. And the audience at the reading was clearly local, too. There were plenty of familiar faces from the local literary and cultural scene, local writers, people from the local radio station, people from the university, former students like myself and a few Werder Bremen officials and former players. Everybody laughed at the jokes, because everybody got them. Even those who were not explicit football fans understood the jokes, because you simply cannot live in Bremen for any amount of time without being at least vaguely aware of the fortunes of the SV Werder Bremen.

Now Derek Sivers writes in his post that the focus of his activities is mainly global and that he used to live in places without interacting with his neighbourhood and the local community at all. Now I consider myself a writer with a global focus. You cannot find my books on the “Bremensien” shelf at a local bookstore (because they aren’t available in print so far and besides, they wouldn’t fit there), but you can buy them in Brazil and Japan. Nonetheless, I cannot imagine not interacting with my local community at all. After all, my family lives here, my friends live here, my students live here. I talk to my neighbours – in fact, I would consider it very rude not to talk to them. I do most of my shopping in the local shops. I listen to the local radio. I hang around on the fringe of the local literary scene, though I don’t really fit there, and I attend readings by writer friends, even if they don’t write in the same genre or even the same language as me. And of course I follow Werder Bremen and know how the last match went, even though I’m not what you’d consider a big football fan.

And indeed, the biggest advantage of the Internet in general and indie publishing in particular for me is that I don’t have to move to some “hip” location like Berlin or Brooklyn or whatever part of London is currently fashionable, but can live where I feel at home and comfortable (I’d be dead unhappy in Berlin) and still stay connected to the wider world out there and communicate with people who read the same books and watch the same movies and TV shows as me (since hardly anybody here reads the same books or watches the same shows/films, though I did geek out with two university pals about Firefly and Red Dwarf at the reading).

So I wouldn’t say that global and local needs to be an either – or question. Most of us are both at the same time.

*We’re talking about proper football – what Americans call “soccer” – here and not about American football.

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2 Responses to An Attack of Hives and Reflections on Global and Local Writing

  1. sherwood smith says:

    Well said–I appreciate the choice to do both.

    • Cora says:

      I must say when I read the original post, I was quite stunned, because I cannot imagine how you can live in a place for any period of time and never interact with the locals at all. I’ve always interacted with the locals in every place I have lived and even in some places I only visited for a couple of days. To live in a place without knowing anybody there just strikes me as strange.

      Of course, some of the ultra-local people – the sort who join every club and association, whether it’s the football club, target shooting club, volunteer fire brigade, bowling club, etc… and never really look beyond the limits of their village or neighbourhood – freak me out as well. I grew up in the country where that sort of mindset is very common and I always found it claustrophobic. But completely ignoring your local town or neighbourhood in favour of the rest of the world is just as problematic.

      So I think doing both is the right decision.

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