A ‘normal’ day at Real Lives

by Sophie Beer

There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ day at Real Lives and the only fixed routine is waking, working, eating, playing and sleeping. Everything in between is flexible, so in this new series we wanted to share how we juggle the diversity of challenges and opportunities that vary from day to day.

Living Real Lives, Mark and I usually have a general idea of what needs to be done day to day, although most of the time there is no fixed schedule. We have tried more rigid planning, but understanding that failing our schedules on a daily basis creates nothing but frustration, we learned to embrace spontaneity. Starting up a cultural association, doing film production and writing a magazine requires a lot of organisation and spontaneity, at the same time. Thanks to Mark’s insight from a life of self-employment, we understand that it would be impossible to finish all the items on our to-do lists in one day. So, we choose the next steps according to their absolute priority and our gut instincts.

Usually over breakfast, in order to ensure we keep moving forward, we decide what needs to be followed through over the next eight hours. Mark’s daily question, “So, what’s the plan for the day,” still makes my sleepy brain stop for a second, reacting as if I am expected to have all the answers. After a momentary shock, I remember that it is Mark, who is asking. He is a man who always sees the big picture and the details at the same time. He just needs a little guidance from me on where to focus and is always open to discussion.

Monday nights we host a small meditation group, so the day is usually taken up with preparing the lesson, cleaning the house and some general organisation. It gives me pleasure to start the week straightening up our home/office. While I prepare a movement routine for the class, I leave last weeks energy and excitement behind. Tuesday is actually the start of our week.

Today, while waiting for confirmation of two different appointments, Mark suggested to work on film editing. The goal is to finish a 90 second trailer for “The Gunmaker”, a short documentary about an artisan, artist, spiritualist gunmaker who does not hunt. Last week, I had gone through several hours of interview material in order to mark the most important statements by our protagonist, so Mark could go on to assemble them.

I was excited to listen to our protagonist, again. Usually Mark does this part by himself, but since the interviews are in German and he needs to know the exact words, I was the right person to assist. Sitting down in front of the editing program with my headphones on, I felt like an apprentice discovering the secrets of the craft. At first, I had no idea what was happening on the big screen and tried to follow Marks every step as he moved and assembled all these grey bars. After a few minutes I gave up trying to understand the commands he entered and focused on translating the clips. Together we chose those individual statements that truly define Gerald’s character and arranged them into one story. After a couple of hours, we listened to our draft version and were quite happy with the narrative. Finally, the grey bars were compiled into one block, which made some sense to me at least aesthetically.

The moment we were done, Gerald phoned to ask if we were available at four thirty for a meeting with his contacts. Since the meeting was downstairs in his workshop, we confirmed right away. In order to prepare for the meeting, Mark and I took some reviewing what we knew about the two people we were going to encounter, which was not much: a vague description of the business. One of them owns a transport company, so presumably he has stories to tell from every corner of Europe. The other had a bus company that offered group travel. At first glance, neither was a clear match for the criteria of Real Lives and we had serious doubts. I scribbled a few questions on my old-school paper notepad that I like to bring to personal meetings.

At four thirty exactly, we heard our neighbour’s dog, Mezcal, bark ferociously. The self appointed guard, nobody messes a big black growling dog. The truth is that the worst that could happen to you is an all over face lick or a whack from his 50kilo tail. Arriving downstairs, Gerald offered us his coffee table and couch as a conference room, and kindly served us espresso while Mezcal mixed in with the introductions. Since Gerald had another client in his workshop, he left with the ever faithful dog following behind.

As we could proceed with getting acquainted, we quickly learned that the owner of the transport company was completely occupied, this month, building another new business. Therefore, we all agreed to focus our discussion on the bus travel agency. The tall, smiling man with the typical “steirisch” belly, introduced his business in a very professional way complete with the hundred page tour catalog. He insisted that he was not the usual sightseeing bus tour provider but we still had doubts.

About half an hour into his presentation as his tone warmed and our preconceptions waned, we both realized he was indeed a passionate person with a surprisingly, intriguing story. With glowing eyes, he told us how this business had been his dream and turned out to be exactly what he wanted to do with his life. We found ourselves communally agreeing on the importance of experiencing fully a vacation and the advantages of immersing in different cultures. We all despised ‘check-list tourism.’

When it became time to show him some of our work, we were overwhelmed by his reaction, repeatedly complimenting Mark’s eye for film and admiring his gift. I had not even noticed how time flew. After two and a half hours, we concluded the meeting, exchanging handshakes and big smiles. We left with an overwhelming feeling of mutual interest.

Mark and I retreated to our apartment upstairs, where we both admitted that our minds were blown. Not only did we meet potential clients, we had had a great conversation and learned something new. It had never crossed my mind that bus travel could be something I would consider; I usually associated organised trips with uncomfortably long drives, annoying groups and stressful sightseeing. This agency was something else altogether: from perfect service to the freedom of discovering new places everything had been thought out but in a warm, friendly way.

Mark, as puzzled as I was, started dreaming of the many different ways, shapes and forms the new project could take. After hours of mind blowing ideas, we realised just how worn out we were from all we had done and experienced, today. Moreover, we laughed at how the day that was almost undetermined in the morning turned out to be so full and enriching. We marvelled at the fact, that people liked the way we did things and that we had found a project that would allow us to travel to different places for work, one of our core goals.

As we finally sat down to rest, Gerald and Mezcal appeared at our doorstep reminding us that the day is not over until the day decides. We petted the dog, offered Gerald a drink and thanked him for introducing us to two amazing people. We agreed on the details of our location shoot for “The Gunmaker”, planned for Friday. We will visit the village where Gerald was born and then drive to Vienna, where we will interview the oldest gunstock maker in Austria, an old friend of Gerald’s. Mark and I have arranged to stay in Vienna over night so we can talk to potential collaborators about future projects. If lucky, we hope to film a new short profile for Real Lives: a guitar maker who uses old skateboards for the wood. At least, that is the plan.