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“Sainte Sebastienne” 1992. (Credit: Louise Bourgeois)

I came to Berlin as a person with a complicated love relationship with cities. New York City often grips my heart so close it hurts. The relationship between the city and the survivor of sexual violence–or the survivor of any kind of violence or trauma–is a very particular one. Many stories and cultural narratives refer to the trope of “female intuition,” proposing that women have advanced capabilities to perceive underlying dynamics, know when and how to give love and care, and can even predict the future. Though I do believe that we occupy spiritually evolved forms, I don’t think this “higher plane” is biological. The ability to pick up on and mentally calibrate the unspoken truths that shape our lives lies in our conditioning and lived experiences with terror, with betrayal, with being hurt and punished and subdued. We are required to be alert and sensitive to our environments because we know that our physical and spiritual agency is at stake–our identities, our bodies. This is second and firsthand–learning from the experiences of other women; learning from living, through scar and callous. On the most basic level, hearing our parents tell us to be careful of strangers when we are young and traveling alone on the subway or tram for the first time. Seeing the violence done to our forms dragged as entertainment or exposé across pages of books and television screens. There is nothing natural or innate about it. Feeling the eyes the voices the eyes. The acquisition of psychic capabilities is a laborious process that involves more weight than is typically attached to “exceptional” qualities. It is a thorny gift: one that reminds me both of my own resilience and my experience of trauma.

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Photo by Howard Hall.

Photo by Howard Hall.

I have been thinking a lot about lists. And I have been thinking a lot about reasons. What inspires us to make the choices we make? Many weeks ago I started compiling lists of lines of poetry, not full poems themselves, but simply lists of one line each that one-day could belong to a poem. And I started to think: all my lists of lines had themes, had reasons behind them, reflected how I was feeling. It was impossible to separate the list from myself, and thus the lists became reflections of myself in the moment of their creation. With this realization I found I could experiment in making a multi-dimensional self. One that wasn’t me, and actually wasn’t anyone, but was made out of the lists of as many people as I could convince to give me their words, and by combining them I could create some sort of universal, shared, yet nonexistent person. 

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Indy Bisram (drawing by Lisa Vogel)

Indy Bisram (drawing by Lisa Vogel)

A first-year student at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, Indira “Indy” Bisram decided to spend her first semester with us in Berlin. By the time we sit down for the interview, I have already gotten to know her through the beginner Spanish class that consists only of the two of us. After class on a Monday afternoon, we find ourselves in the common room of Dorm W15, and I can’t help but notice her sparkling enthusiasm when she tells me about her family, school, and, first and foremost, her experiences in Berlin…

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