You need a certain tone to talk about this. Sit on a desk if you have to, in front of an imaginary sea of students, your feet swinging like those of a child licking a lollipop. You are the professor, that means you know things, you’ve spent more than fifteen hours a day reading stuff and trying to write about them, make them understandable for the unripe minds of future generations. Emphatically, you’ll raise your voice and say that empires do fall, oh, they do, oh, a most unfortunate condition for any type of societal construct, actually, a most unfortunate condition for any type of pride there is. At this point, please notice that your students stand frozen looking at you, wondering whether you’ve gone mad or it is only a transitory moment of rebellion against everything, the state especially, politics and morality, and all those boring things that make a life complicated. Some of them will rejoice because, at last, they found a leader for their youthful hipsterism. Why do they fall, professor, why do empires fall? Because some of us get creative, you’ll say after a dramatic pause, and while waiting for your students to write down this immense idea. There are norms, you’ll say, norms to which some of us won’t comply, or can’t comply. Roles that some of us shall refuse to perform. Oh, how grand you’ll sound, but only in your mind. Your students will laugh, though not in your presence, only then, when they’ll see your humble figure haunting the dark corners of an obscure public library. Later, they’ll say it was an attack against same-sex marriages that lead the world to infertility and empty wombs. Oh, look how the empire is crumbling! You’ll die in the meantime, professor, and your students will never know what you meant. What a pity, and a most unfortunate condition that is…
I didn’t get your last letter. You probably wrote a lot of interesting things in it, old things turned into new ones, marriages, deaths, lost friendships and found ones. All those things which make up a life. So, thank you, I needed all that. But, now, how could I tell you that I met nobody on the way, since our lives revolve around meeting people? And that I have no friends here, that I know nobody, and that I stay silent my entire life here. A sort of crust covers my lips in the morning, and sometimes my eyes. So this letter must sound joyful, it must have great things in it, discoveries, culture shocks, culinary adventures, and smiles, and sex with unknown boys in public bathrooms. So that life would sound grand over here, yes, you might think. It is, life is grand on the other side of the line ’cause it takes a lot of courage to cross the line and call things by their own name. Well, frankly, I can’t call things by their own names because I need to hide in order to be happy. So, yes, I do tell you I am happy, as much as a human being can be, and have lots of friends, and good-night-kisses, and a cute dog. That I have coffee at the coffee-shop in the singles’ area, and that I have a personal hairdresser who thinks I’m some sort of rock star. And that I go to read books in fancy, bohemian coffee shops with fake artists and poets, and walk the streets at night and go to obscure clubs with alternative guys who look good only when they are naked. So that you may feel jealous. That there are people who love me and because of that I feel secure. But, the truth is, I don’t. There are no such people. But you need to know that I am happy ’cause when I’m happy you’ll think that you can be happy too. That happiness is made for humans, and that it is not impossible to reach, that you can touch it. A possibility is better than nothing, don’t you think?
So I tell you that my life is great…
…except that from time to time I see saints and angels in other people, and in every smile the mysteriousness and beauty of nights spent together with love, and sweat.
I haven’t thought a lot about this though I must admit that there have been a few days since I said to myself that I should write at least something for the coming holidays. Christmas has never been magical for me although when I was little I dreamed of great things happening on Christmas. I believe Christmas is all about family and nostalgia. I know, this might sound pathetic, but Christmas is a holiday of change which produces great doses of longing for something which has already passed, be it childhood, a dead dog, or a dead cat, an absent family member etc. It is the day when all these things come back despite the fact that you have to live the rest of your life with those things, Christmas is when they are most painful. It is no wonder that suicide rates go up on this time of the year. The economic crisis is another thing that comes back on this time of the year. But what else is Christmas beside politics and consumerism, and uneven development?
Yes, right, hope. The pagans used to bring fir trees into their houses because they thought that this is the way to keep life from being killed by the coldness of snow. Always green, fir trees became to symbolize life itself. The custom was later appropriated by the Christians, and thus the fir-tree became the Christmas tree. Take that, you pagan pagans!
So, during this time of the year, the hope rates also go up. Can you feel the joy?! I don’t, but anyways, I’ll have to live with that.
And another thing. Do you remember those things that you promised yourself you would do at the end of 2009? I said I was going to lose weight, get some abs, be happy etc. Well, take a look back and think of the things that you have fulfilled during 2010. Personally, I did absolutely nothing, and here I am at the end of 2010.
The solution?! Yes, stop making plans, see how it goes. I’ll meet you at the end of 2011.
His left shoe got stuck. The humid leather refused to let go. So he sat on the rocky shore of the river and pulled the shoe with both hands until it gave in. He placed the shoe symmetrically next to the other one and looked at them with a boyish pride. Then watched as the river went like a snake between the sharp corners of a bare mountain. It was a sunless day. Still, it was a promising day, he had thought. Let yesterday die with its shameful face, he said to himself. That morning had to be a blessing. On his way to the waiting spot he met a very young fellow with a handsome face and such apparitions were rare except those people who stopped their cars and took pictures of him. This young fellow did not have a camera and was wearing a rather fancy suit. The only strange thing was that he had a little notebook and took notes. So he must have been one of those sent to test his faith or to see if he was still doing his job. He works in mysterious ways. The people with the cameras were also testing his faith. Each time they came he could barely stop himself from swearing and doing obscene gestures with his hands. But good-looking fellows were a good sign.
The greenish water shyly caressed his toes. It was cold as ice. And smelly too. But suffering is a virtue of the flesh, just like pleasure. Still, pleasure has nothing to do with it, at least not here, not now. A few meters away the mouths of three sewers opened hungrily. A guardian at the gates of an unknown hell tied together with an endless highway. People in cars coming and going.
Today is the day. The water is so cold.
He forgot his stick on the shore. He went back to get it. Then resumed his position, ankles completely submerged in the slimy water. He could see his toes from time to time. And feel the numbing sensation of cold. So he waited for somebody to come and ask for his services.
And then the day drew to an end. The next morning the young fellow came again and took notes in his little notebook. He wore a different shirt but the same fancy suit. Then another day ended and the next morning the same fancy suit took notes. And every morning the same thing. He must have been a customer.
Then he asked the fancy suit what his name was and his name was Ycnaf Tius. And what kind of name is that. It was his father’s name and the name of his son and the name of his future grandchildren. And the name of his wife was also Ycnaf Tius. And how do you call your city? Horse, Ycnaf Tius replied. And every object bears this name, horse. And how do you say ‘I go to sleep every night’? And Ycnaf Tius said ‘I go to horse every horse’. Linguists were working day and night to simplify the vocabulary and the syntax so lately everything was horse, horse, horse. ‘I go to sleep every night’ becomes ‘horse horse horse horse horse horse’. And so horse (on) and so horse (forth). Et horse (etcetera).
Would you like to be baptised? He asked Ycnaf Tius.
Horse horse horse horse horse horse. Ycnaf Tius replied.
I said would you like to be baptised into the true faith? He asked Ycnaf Tius again.
Horse horse horse! Ycnaf Tius replied and left. He never came back. Other people came instead of him and they all spoke the same language. Kids laughed at him, pointing and saying ‘horse horse horse horse horse!’ He took every horse in silence pretending not to hear. By night groups of horses attacked him, by day his vision was flooded with white doves.
People came and questioned him but he refused to answer. He kept repeating the word ‘dove’.
Dove dove dove, dove dove dove dove dove dove dove dove dove dove!
I share my bed with visions of white nights and an illusory craving for sleep. During the night the mirror is like an open hand. In the dark the mirror resembles a sweaty palm. When I look into the sweaty palm I see you and your eyes are like pores. I turn the mirror over the sheets and I can see your elbows. I see everybody’s elbows. All the people in this world have elbows and every cup of tea would be incomplete without an elbow. I could put my finger under your elbow and pull you out of the sweaty palm. I take the cup to my lips and feel the odour of boiled leaves of tea and lemon. Each time I pull you to my lips I hold you by your elbows. That is why in the morning your elbows look like the smooth white ceramic of a teacup. You smell like lavender. I’m thirsty but the cup is empty and you say I shall never have this drink because it is forbidden. By the use of malevolent hands this drink is cautiously hidden under many layers of elaborate movements and mind traps. And thoughts and islands that swim in never-ending oceans. I’m thirsty and I want to have a sip. So I go back to the mirror in my room and have a sip from it. The mirror that once reflected you. And say get off me. Nobody’s going to take care of your flowers while you are gone. This sip is forbidden. People shall look at you with a wicked eye. I cannot deny the sculpted look of this cup resembling your parted lips. I cannot say that here. The mirror has eyes and might talk. I plant olive trees every time I want to have that forbidden sip. Have a mouthful of it. I still have enough space for olive trees. So I play, play, play with this shirt of yours. I can’t find my words between its folds. You haven’t used too many words here. Just the usual stuff I guess, nice weather, really hot outside today, it is the time of the year when true beauty comes out. You throw words like crab apples. So I play, play, play with the sheets. I try to find some lost word. I look at you and try to forget about the grapes. I watch you and forget about the olive trees. None of your words is lost. I can see that. They’ve trained you well. So we stand asunder, far away from each other because this sip is forbidden. In one of the other lives we stood hand in hand. In this one we have to be apart.
Sip and stop.
And for once, when the chatter of steps is lost, you become an extension of my arms. And for once, your shoulder puts mine into place. Because they can’t see we can use pillows instead of wings. They can’t see we live by wires and lines that with time dig deeper into the skin and tell stories about us. The frontier of the skin is a collection of our lives. They can’t see because they confuse the approach of death with the occasional loss of memory and the petrified threads of grey hair forgotten in the bathroom sink.
Sip and stop. Sip and stop. And sip and stop and sip and stop and stop and sip and stop and sip and stop.
I don’t remember who I was ten years ago, even though a friend told me once that all those memories could be easily recovered through hypnosis. I don’t trust people who use hypnosis, I told him. There is a sort of perversity in the use of hypnosis. Then he told me that I don’t need to know who I was ten years ago because that information is frivolous. Yes, I was frivolous ten years ago. That information is lost in a series of sunny mornings and hot afternoons. Then there is autumn, school, winter, and summer again. Back to those sunny mornings, hot afternoons, and that ice-cream thirst. That cold pang in the middle of your forehead when you eat your ice-cream too fast. Pink girls and blue boys playing outside in the shadow of a red roof house. But what about me, I asked this friend of mine. He said that there was no ‘me’ ten years ago. Yes, I was not there ten years ago. I was not there because I was somewhere else. And that ‘somewhere else’ was not mine, it belonged to somebody else.
Even today, you belong to somebody else, my friend told me.
You may say that this friend of mine is a very intelligent creature. There were many times when I believed this to be so. Who do I belong to, I asked him. I couldn’t tell, he said.
Today, as it was ten years ago, my memories belong to somebody else.
Great things make you twitch. First, you are aware of it because a twitch makes itself visible inside absence of movement. The beginning of a song, or generally speaking, the sudden appearance of sound, makes your eardrum twitch because the first sound that touches it is different from the silence that was before. When you run your muscles twitch in order to produce movement. When you speak your speaking organs have continuous twitches in order to distinguish sounds one from the other. When you write the muscles of your fingers twitch in order to distinguish a letter from the previous and the following one. When somebody wants to frighten you it is enough to produce a strong sound preceded by a long silence or to appear suddenly into an empty space or into your visual field. Apparently, when you are not prepared you are aware only of what happens before and after the twitch. Silence and the song has already begun, rest and the run has already begun, blank and the letter has already appeared on paper. Great things happen in our absence.
I wonder what happens when you are prepared.
The first note from a musical piece opens a river of sounds, the first sentence of a novel opens an entire horizon. You open your mouth and the sounds come out as you want them to be. You caress the paper with the tip of your fountain pen and the ink starts to flow making letters and then words, sentences. You want to run and the muscles start moving as you want them to move.
When you are not prepared every throb, twitch and pant is just another throb, twitch and pant.
And what or how is the twitch that comes accompanied by a great thing? How is the twitch that comes with the beginning of a great song? I think that there is a difference between the twitch that comes in actual speech and the twitch that comes with the reciting of a poem; between running and dancing; between a shopping list and the creation of a poem or a novel. That particular throb, twitch and pant is not just another throb, twitch and pant…
What is the biggest fib that you have ever said? What is the worst thing that you have ever done? When I go to church I usually count the eyes that watch every movement I make. Of course, I always fail to reach the final number. There are a lot of eyes in the church but none is as powerful as the eye that stands inside the golden triangle. That particular eye is so big that it needs a pyramid to sit on. That particular eye likes to look inside your guts; it scans and logs every movement of your organs and it makes value judgements according to the state of decay you are in. If your stomach is feeble it means that there is something wrong in you and into your life. But the eye does nothing about it and the brightest answer it can give is always ‘an eye is made for sight, not for healing.’ Well, of course the eye can do nothing about it because it is just an eye. On the other hand, the eye heals the problems of the soul, that ghostly figure which lingers in every living body. Even dogs have it, cats also, horses, even birds.
So, what is the biggest fib that you have ever said? No, of course you didn’t touch your brother’s collection of stamps. No, you did not forget your keys; it is your father’s fault. No, you don’t secretly hate your grandparents sometimes. No, you have never wanted your best friend get hurt. Of course I have never done these things. Sometimes when I hide things I feel powerful, thinking that lies are bricks that build a wall between me and the others.
‘What is your biggest fib again?’ he asked.
‘What do you want from me?’ I asked back.
‘You can’t answer a question with another question. It is not logical. What I want is fear,’ he said.
So, lies are no longer bricks to build a wall but rather pills of fear. Every time I meet a person I have lied to I swallow another pill of fear, without the glass of water that washes the acerbic taste away. Each lie has that acerbic taste on the back of the tongue. It reminds me of how often I lie not only to the others but to myself. To lie to myself, the acuteness of that particular taste is breath-taking in a very bad way.
‘What do you want?’ he asked me.
I said I wanted the truth and he laughed.
Somebody then told me that I have to accept the untruth as well because it is an inevitable part of our existence. Why does it always have to be the truth? So I made a black lie for me in order to feel better. After all, who am I to argue? Oh, but it is I, the indestructible Ego. Then the wind blew and Ego had nothing left and he didn’t feel so indestructible anymore.
‘There is always love!’ Ego howled.
‘Can you sell love? Can you eat it?’ somebody asked Ego.
Ego thought that love is love, you can’t escape it. You feel it in your soul when it happens. The wind blew again and he couldn’t do anything about it. White lies are made to make the others feel better, black lies are made to make you feel better. Ego waited but nothing happened, not even love.
‘You still have friendship!’ Ego howled again.
No one answered this time. So he stood, famished. Nothing happened. Both love and friendship stubbornly refused to materialise.
Then, Ego committed suicide and still nothing happened. Long speeches were held at his funeral and people said he was a good man and he wanted nothing for himself. Some people said that they shall never forget him and that they shall go to his tomb every day. Once, they were too hungry to go and they left Ego alone again.
I still don’t know what your biggest fib is.
Oh, forget about love, I’m famished. We can love again after dinner.
Oh, forget about love, I’m tired. We can love again in the morning.
Oh, forget about love, I have to go to work. We can love again when I get back.
What is your fib again?
[Love is a black lie.]
People say to other people: enjoy every little thing. For these people, the reason is always the same. Life is short, love/affection is/are the most beautiful thing in the world (sic!), death is near, the list of experiences is very short, live the life etc. This reminds me of Borges’ little story about the immortals. They just stood, immoveable, birds made nests in their hair. The reason was again very clear. Life is infinite, love and affection have no purpose, death is nonexistent, the list of experiences cannot and will not be filled up, there is still time to live that life. Any type of gesture would have no purpose because it could be made again, and again, and again.
I would say that immortality is like a plague. Then, mortality is a blessing. And when mortality is a plague then immortality is a blessing. Other people would say that this is not the immortality one is actually searching for. It is the immortality beyond physical death we are searching for. In this sense, Shakespeare is immortal, Dante is immortal, Hardy is immortal, Mozart is immortal. I would say that the word is incorrectly used. It is true, Shakespeare is immortal, but only in the moment in which somebody in this universe is reading one of his works. Only in the moment is which somebody is thinking about him. This immortality exists, but it has some limits imposed by the absence of physical contact. I would call it one-way-immortality because Shakespeare could not assimilate his own immortality. Only we as readers could do that. Shakespeare is immortal for us but not for himself. The Bard of Avon is caught in that never-ending cycle in which gestures are meaningless. He stands motionless. Literary critics build nests in his hair.
A few years ago I wrote a short story about little things and the way in which they succeed in assimilating a high amount of information. I found this short story today and I’ll use it to vary my point. Again, when I try a sense of alienation the story seems pretty good but I also assume all the risks implied by my lack of literary training. Here it is:
Every morning or, in rare cases, in the afternoon, Mr. Moriendi went to take his dog Suso for a walk at the seaside. The sun and the sand did him good. The salted air combined with the soft light of the blue sky pierced his body with new energies that filled his soul with calmness and delight. His dog shared the same feelings. However, this day was one of those rare cases in which Mr. Moriendi took Suso for a walk in the afternoon and not in the morning because he was held in a “barbaric” manner at his antique’s shop in the city. The evening horizon was loaded with grim clouds of weighty rain that threatened Suso’s hair to become a heavy cloak of stench in the corridors of Moriendi’s house. The ocean was furious and the wind fiddled the waves with fine fingers of cold. Every now and then the gloomy smile of the atmosphere uttered hostile shrieks that filled the air with vibrations of fear. Far away the sounds of a crowded city faded out in the distance.
“What a terrible evening!” Mr. Moriendi thought looking at the sky. Conversely, his dog did not mind the gloomy end of the day, actually he was more attracted to a young female standing a few metres from him in the middle of the paved path that came like a snake from the harbour and the vast ocean.
“And what a strange thing,” Mr. Moriendi thought, “the wind and the ocean are furious while the sands stand still waiting for something.” The sand always kept memories for him. In his childhood he used to hide things in the sand from his brother’s insatiable eyes. Worthless things, like a toy, or other objects that would present no interests for his brother or other members of his family. One time he made a little ship out of a nutshell and after he got bored from playing with it he buried it in the sand despite the fact that his elder brother asked for it kindly. “It is a precious thing” his brother said, and so did his parents. Later on, he used to make maps to help him recollect the lost objects and to keep up his sense of adventure. In the end he produced a map for his little ship too and gave it to his brother. Now, at almost ninety years old he had no maps to help him find lost memories, or his lost brother, or his friends, or his little ship. He had only a dog, a beautiful house and the still sands of his life’s autumn. But that was fine with him.
“Good morning Mr. Moriendi!” somebody said to him.
Mr. Moriendi turned to see who saluted him and recognized Shroudclay, an old mariner of odd appearance. He had a pale face and two black as ebony eyes. Mr. Moriendi hardly knew anything about this strange figure because Shroudclay had a weird habit of appearing just at the moment when somebody was about to die. He did that when Mrs. Moriendi died. The same happened when Mr. Moriendi’s brother died of a heart attack. Besides, the man was obviously talking nonsensical matters because it was evening, but, as to play his childish game Mr. Moriendi replied:
“Good morning Mr. Shroudclay, how are you my old friend?”
“Is there anything peculiar that made you come here, at this moment, at the seaside? A profound feeling, an attraction that was impossible to resist?” Shroudclay asked rubbing his hands against each other.
“Nonsense my dear friend, I just had to take Suso for his daily walk!” Mr. Moriendi lied. It was not only Suso. It was the ocean, the salted air, the stillness of the sand that filled his soul with memories. Yes, there was a profound feeling, an attraction impossible to resist.
“Would you like to buy something for you little shop?” Shroudclay pronounced the words with a certain anxious tone in his voice as if there was no time to lose and the thing he had in his belongings was one of the biggest treasure in the universe. “It is exceptionally rare and once in a lifetime means there’s no second chance. Actually, you don’t have a choice for this once in a lifetime. It comes alone.” Shroudclay uttered rapidly. A smell of ashes struck Mr. Moriendi’s senses as if something in his nearness was burning at a snail’s pace.
“What is it? I am always interested in the peculiar things.” Mr. Moriendi asked quickly. Something from that smell of ashes summoned him like the kiss of an unknown woman. He stared at Shroudclay’s hands with thirsty eyes. With and almost invisible movement Shroudclay took out a little object from his pocket and revealed it to the other man who stood pale and cold in front of him.
A mute cry escaped through the man’s open mouth.
The little ship was the most beautiful thing in the world. It was just as he made it in his childhood. A dry nutshell with a piece of paper and a match stuck in it.
A sharp pain struck his left arm.
The smell of ashes became stronger. The very clothes that covered his body smoked dreadfully.
A sudden blur embraced his vision.
The ocean was furious. The waves hit the shore in intermittent gun shots and there was an unstoppable dog bark.
An albatross crossed the horizon screeching like a lost child.
I usually write to forget things and when I actually do that I tend to take down the things which are impossible to forget, things or sensations which are unavoidable because they continue to coexist with you. You could not forget a toothache because it is always there, on your nerves, you could not forget – at least for a while – a person that you have lost, and I do not refer to death or other unfortunate events, you cannot forget a pimple because every time you look in the mirror you shall certainly see the red dot. But you could always forget your keys, your cell phone, your glasses, a book, an umbrella. However, this latter loss is not as painful as the former. And what do mothers do when their 6 months old child is continuously throwing toys all over the place and can’t recover them? They tie the toys to the bed so that recovery is easily possible. The same strategy is applied to adults but only with a slight difference: the strings are invisible. For instance, I have one of my strings attached to my door keys because I know I can’t get out of the house without them. Another string is attached to my phone because I know I cannot survive without it out there, in the open. Another string is attached to my family, another one is attached to you. I leave bookmarks everywhere. Each time I discuss with you I leave a bookmark into your thoughts and you leave one into my thoughts and each time we meet we can easily resume our thoughts. Knowing that the orange juice is in the fridge is a bookmark or a string. At this particular moment I have a bookmark in the fridge because I have some yogurt hidden there. When I wake up in the morning one of my strings automatically attaches to the coffee machine and to the energy drink I keep in the refrigerator. But then I have to pull one of those two strings, it is always a matter of choice. You can also use strings or bookmarks for the past but this process is particularly risky because you don’t actually know when one of the strings stretches too much. Then the string snaps and the 6 months old child starts to cry. Eventually strings and bookmarks get lost and you have to use other strings and bookmarks to get to them. Then you have a sort of web. Then it gets too dark.
They say: brush your teeth! I am aware that brushing my teeth is vital but then I am also aware of the fact that eventually I am going to lose my teeth because things are not made to last forever. To lose your teeth is unavoidable, inevitable and ineluctable. They say: things which are made by man’s hands are not going to last forever! True, but not even the man is made to last forever. Then they say: you need to get at least 8 hours of sleep and 8 hours of active rest. This is the perfect recipe. Then you live happily ever after. But what happens if you can’t sleep or you don’t have 8 hours. You don’t sleep at all. Nevertheless, sleep is unavoidable, inevitable, and ineluctable. Passion is unavoidable, inevitable, and ineluctable. How can you live forever when death is unavoidable, inevitable, and ineluctable? Can you enjoy the moment when the end of it is unavoidable, inevitable, and ineluctable? Be a rebel, be a mutineer they say, be the malcontent. But when you go home you have to wash your feet because they stink and you have to go to sleep. Can you be a rebel in your sleep? You could sleep upside down, you could sleep with your socks on, you could move your feet while sleeping.
Snap, goes the string. This 6 months old baby will grow into a rebel because it won’t stop crying.