By Maria Gerhardt, Author & DJ
Words by Nikolaj Hansson / Illustration by Sine Jensen
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past many years, chances are that you've heard of Maria Gerhardt. Perhaps through her columns and writings in Danish media outlets such as Information or Atlas. Or maybe you've seen her perform and listened to her mixtapes as renowned DJ, Djuna Barnes. However, that's not how you'll meet her today. Two days ago, her debut novel, Der Bor Hollywoodstjerner På Vejen, was released. A novel concerning cancer, love and the state of the youth. Gerhardt invited us into her office for a discussion on Danish mediocrity, social circles and the Icelandic term for drinking while having a conversation.
You became aware of the disease around a year after you finally became a couple with your girlfriend. Did it feel like your life was about to end before it had even begun?
There was a feeling that it everything wasn't as it should be. That I wasn't allowed to have that. I already had the lump when we got together but the first year of our relationship was magical. That may also be the reason why I, to some extent, ignored it. Things had just gotten good. But there was an unpaid bill. I'm not good at going to the doctor in general. It was like a party that you didn't want to leave even though you had to get up super early the following morning.
Can serious diseases such as cancer make other things in daily life seem superfluous?
Definitely. At some point in the book, I meet a young guy at in the waiting room of the hospital. He was really sick and we started talking about first world problems. I can't stand people complaining about problems with the hotel they stayed at during an expensive trip or them not getting a table at an expensive restaurant. I'm truly grateful for being here, my relations, travels and how the lighting this. That's also why there's so much about seasons and botanics in the novel. I don't necessarily think botanics and self-sustainability is popular today but I believe it's something that'll influence the generations to come as something you do, because it's cool. I read a super annoying study on trends saying that sustainability was just a trend that soon would end while consumption on luxury goods have a revival. I don't think those two are mutually exclusives though. I love luxury items, I have a fetish for Hermés but if you truly value quality, that's what you get from growing your own vegetables. To be able to go out in the garden in the summer days and collect vegetables and fruits, that's something quite amazing, not a trend.
Do you think that we, as a result from our welfare system and social care, feel invincible?
The question is whether or not we have a good life. There's always articles in papers about "10 signs of cancer" or "10 signs of depression" in the days leading up to the holidays. I think a lot of people are suffering from mortal fear or are afraid of being sick. There's probably also a lot of men who worry about their health but still stays away from the doctor. If you look at Denmark in comparison to the rest of Scandinavia, I think we're the ones who are worst off. We don't have a vent. Sweden have their forests, Norway have their mountains, Iceland have their hot spring and Finland have lakes and saunas. We have the booze. In Reykjavik, they drink on the regular but they also sweat it out. In Iceland, they have a term for drinking while having a conversation. Trúno. It also says something about the mentality, where Danes might sit in a bar and write a song about how stupid all the others are. I'm not sure we're such a happy nation but I think we believe so. We don't have any major fluctuations, it's very flatlined in that way. I like extremes. I'm not the most stabile person. I'm either euphoric or become devastated. Even if I have to carry out the thrash, I can get into a state of armageddon because I start think about consumption, our civilization and all. Denmark is great place to live. I love that Copenhagen is small that you can talk to everyone. You meet each other everywhere. I have friends in other cities who solely stay in the same social circles. I have friends who are multimillionaires and friends who are on social welfare. Some might be in their sixties, others in their twenties. I love the biking culture here with super bike lanes as well. But I don't think we're that grateful. There's a lot of complaining.
- Der Bor Hollywoodstjerner på Vejen by Maria Gerhardt. Available in Soulland Store now.
Your novel takes place in two different periods of your life; one being your youth and the other being your sickness. Why did you chose this way rather than the chronological one?
One of the stories is told backwards and the other in its right order. Through that, I wanted to make their ends meet. That was the composition. So many years have passed since the incidents occurred, it was hard to grasp. I picked out different incidents from what I could remember or what had made an impression on me, just as they do for movies. I sorta knew the blueprint from the beginning, rather than starting from point blank. I'd never written a book before, so I learned how to navigate through it as they book came along. I also used my methodology from making mixtapes, where you need to tell a story. I used the same skeleton for the book with regards to moods, chronology and such. If there were two tracks that wouldn't work together, I just moved them to another place in the mix. It was the same way with the book.
Was the apartment in Hellerup (city on the Northern coast of Sealand) a place where you could get away from your former life in Copenhagen?
It felt like a liberation. I went to the city when I was feeling well though. During the chemotherapy, that was every third week or so. I could be anonymous out there. It was rough, being sick and walking around my old neighborhood, meeting everyone while looking terrible. It was a disruption. It was a state of nothing. I was fine with my identity being lost. I was quite fed up with it, being a DJ and people talking around the town. But it's more about not being well. Chemotherapy makes you incredibly tired. You can't comprehend anything. Imagine drinking heavily for three days and then getting a migraine on the fourth while your organs are giving up as well. You don't want to meet anyone. People could feel that I wasn't on top. They didn't know what to say. When you're sick, you know that they're thinking about death, passed relatives or stuff like that. I played an event once where a guy came over, literally while I was mixing one song with the other, and told me that his mother had just died from cancer. People do that sometimes. I'm not a magnet for cancer stories. People can't just unload their traumas on me. He also insinuated that she got well at first and then became sick again. I have to say stop sometimes. And if people have to tell me their cancer stories, can't it at least be a good one?
There's a passage in the novel, describing how the hospital porter took de-routes and told you that it was necessary in order to avoid the maternity floor, where everyone were happy and filled with joy. Are we afraid to recognize death?
Yes. In other cultures, you have beautiful, life-affirming rituals. In Denmark, the funeral ceremony is quite heavy. People are sad, everyone's dressed in black, you have a beer and go home to make a Facebook-site in remembrance of the departed. There's no celebration for a week or sending a coffin down the river. We can't relate to death. The porter just was an asshole though. He seemed a bit sadistic. It seemed like he'd done it before. It was the department of breast cancer; people are bald and are there because they've had complications. The elevator systems are the same all over the hospital and you have to go downstairs for an x-ray. He'd done it a hundred times before. He also yelled of some kids who were looking at me: "Hey, what are you looking at?!". It wasn't as if I was unaware of the kids looking. I think he rather did it to make me aware of it. Other than that, doctors and nurses are great people. I've heard that the porters in hospitals tend to have a morbid sense of humour. I posted that exact passage earlier and had a lot of people writing me with similar experiences.
- Space Me mixed by Djuna Barnes for Soulland's Space For Everyone collection.
Has the debate on classes become unimportant, since we live in one of the most equal societies on Earth?
If you read Thomas Pikkety, he'd say that inequality is in for a revival. The gap between the very wealthy and the very poor is getting bigger. I actually think the question of classes is very meaningful, especially after the crisis. Things have become more apparent. Class is not all; you can get along way with social and creative capital. However, if you can't afford to pay your rent, you become desperate. If you complain about your situation, you can lose friends. It becomes a spiral. Youth unemployment affects the generation. The cultural food chain has caused people being the some place today as they were 6-7 years ago, before the crisis. It means that a lot of younger people haven't gotten in to those 20-hour jobs that people in their twenties usually have. I have a lot of friends in their thirties who have three different jobs at once. It's the same with me. My economic horizon is around three months. Sometimes. At others, I've had to be creative with my rent. I don't know anyone who have a pension fund.
Is the youth's approach to life too lighthearted?
It has to be. It's not worth being young otherwise. But it's important to find yourself in positive areas rather than fleeing from these questions and comparing yourself to others. The twenties is where you need to figure out who you are and who you want to be. It's important not to set the bar too low. I've lived through Danish mediocrity. I was told not to raise my hand all the time in school. It was frowned upon, in some way. You can go this far but not further. I think you should simply just go for it.
Your first book is based around your own life for the past many years. What would you like to write about next?
I have two projects that I'd like to do. One is a collection of poems and the other is a psychological thriller. Not related to crime stories but rather with a psychological suspense. I'm really interested in the composition of books and being absorbed into an unknown universe. The poems are sentences that I've written over the past few years. I'm confident that I want to write more. The poem collection next year and then spend some years writing the psychological thriller.