Snapshots 2

“I can’t photocopy that book,” the man at the copy shop said, “the pages are loose and I might damage the spine.” The shop was in the corridor of his aunt’s apartment. At least, she acted as if she was his aunt, and he was the nephew who was desperately trying to make a living by illegally printing books for equally desperate students. “Please,” I begged him, “I need a copy of this book. My professor sent me.” I told him I would return the next day. 

Cluj-Napoca, 2008. My daily routine involved waking up early in the morning to go to university. One morning I peed myself because there was only one bathroom and there were four of us. When my flatmate, who was studying medicine, came to my door to ask whether I was coming with him to the bus station, I declined saying I didn’t feel that well. 

Everyone feared the Phonetics professor. Rumour had it that out of hundreds of thousands of students, only three lucky ones passed his exam, and that he was gay. Those same students mentioned names of alleged boyfriends and other such horror stories. Whenever a classmate showed the slightest interest in the topics he taught, he instantly became gay. The newspapers spoke highly of the professor’s cruelty, but there was no mention of his homosexuality. He was one mean guy. Students changed courses just to avoid him.

I ate kebabs and felt guilty about it because I always bought two and told the waiter to hold the mayonnaise in one of them. One’s for me and the other one’s for my colleague at the office. “Of course,” he said, “I’ll put an X on the one with no mayonnaise. At home, I hid in my room and ate both of them. On Saturday mornings I cleaned my room and was extremely happy when I managed to do it before ten in the morning.  

My classmates studying Norwegian spoke approvingly of one of their professors. He was tall and had curly hair and spoke various languages. One cold evening I had the opportunity to watch him closely while he was waiting for the bus. He read and made annotations under the street lamp. Every once in a while, he raised his head to look at the passers-by. The eagerness with which he did that felt somewhat uncanny as if he was waiting for someone to appear and save him from what he was doing. I thought, how odd! Can’t he wait until he gets home to read? But then I realised I wished to be as studious and diligent as him and read while waiting for the bus. I was also surprised to learn that he was gay. I mean, he had curly hair and spoke different languages, and read under a street lamp. Of course, he was gay!

I once fell in love with Gaspard Ulliel from Les Égarés (2003). I watched all of his movies and wanted him to be my best friend. Then, I came across a gay commercial on YouTube about a man who imagined being friends with every handsome guy he laid his eyes on. I thought: how odd! I’m feeling something I should be ashamed of.

My dentist recommended x-rays, so I sit in the waiting room secretly hating everyone. Why are they so slow? On TV, teachers and university professors are asking for a raise: they’re working with their brains, they say, they need more money! The President, Traian Băsescu, wants to say YES, but then the railway workers also ask for money. Then the doctors ask for cash as well. Everyone wants more money. CRISIS. My world crumbles. I also notice the president’s face is anfractuous, and he covers his bald head with the hair on the sides. It’s my turn: I rush to the door with the yellow sign that says “DO NOT ENTER X-RAYS”. The doctor places a rigid collar around my neck and tells me to stay still. Then, she goes into another room and speaks through a megaphone. STAY STILL! IT WILL ONLY TAKE A SECOND! No problem there, doctor, stillness is what I strive to become.

I receive a short message saying “meet on Thursday afternoon?” and I reply “who are you?” with the urgency of a virgin who secretly wishes to fuck and be fucked by everyone. Three days pass until I get a reply from my secret admirer: “I was just asking.” I imagine there’s a silent “Jesus” at the end of that message. Jesus, hold your horses. I call the number several times, but there’s no reply. Months pass, but there’s no reply, so I let it rest. After months and months, I am reminded of that first short message by my obsessive-compulsive desire to be desired. Call that number again! Do it now! I recognise the voice at the other end: it’s my Literary Theory professor. Oh sorry sorry sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude! Please excuse me, professor, really, I don’t know what I was thinking. “Now you know,” he says. I think of all the calls in the middle of the night, the minatory short messages I sent, and I shudder at the thought. But then I realise I’m the one who’s being stalked here! 

One of my classmates wants to talk to the Phonetics teacher, the allegedly gay one, and she stops him on the way to class. He looks at her, fuming. “Ms, LEAVE ME ALONE!” he says and walks away. “He’s such a dick,” she tells me after class, “I only wanted to ask him about the exam.” In fact, I believe she meant “he’s such a cock sucker.” Of course, he is gay, he wouldn’t be so frustrated otherwise. Years later, on Facebook, she tells me I’m so fucking full of myself. I wanted to remind her of that time when, during a literature exam, she asked me about the difference between the Philistines and the populace, but I didn’t.

I return to the copy shop and realise the guy is a good lad. He’s nice (perhaps too nice) and tall and somewhat muscular but on the chubby side. He says: “I’m really sorry, but the printer’s out of ink…

Dear Author

Dear AuthorYou live a sort of life, or this thing you call life. Others expect you to call it life. I believe that is why we have a word for it. Words become words out of necessity. The necessity of a human being. A writer’s necessity. You live a life in which you are never quite sure if you are going up or down until the very last moment, until your very last breath is spent on recovering all those moments from the past you call memories. While you do that you realize that every recovered memory is inherently an apology first to yourself, then to all those who have touched you, and then, finally, to all those who have seen you at one point. Yes, even to those. Until you become yourself a walking apology. Have you ever thought of how an apology looks like? Behold the very flesh and bones of a walking apology. The books that you write are themselves apologies. You apologize and ask for forgiveness to your characters, for giving birth to them and then leaving them to linger in a sort of fictitious limbo until you sort your things out. Problems with your girlfriend or boyfriend, your computer has a nervous breakdown, your neighbor’s kid will not shut up. All of these happen while your characters are waiting there, anxious for something to happen, anything. They are just characters, you think at one point, masks; they are supposed to do that. Yet, what if they are not supposed to do that after all? What if we are characters ourselves waiting for our author to figure things out? Then you apologize to yourself and to your own past. We all know that in books the past comes out distorted, changed, and broken. One memory comes out eyeless, faceless, earless, and with all limbs broken. Apologize to that, your sincerity shall be appreciated if you will ever be forgiven, that is. Then you apologize to everybody else because their story too came out in your book, in between the lines. Keep in mind though that you will never be forgiven. That character, still waiting in that airport for the love of his life, will never forgive you. Could you not give him what he wants? Just a few words, a few sentences and he would live happily ever after. Yet your stubbornness and the fact that you yourself lived a life tell you that this is how the story goes, and that his happiness needs to be sacrificed. How could he forgive you for that? For denying him that ending. Ultimately, it is just a matter of words is it not? How could you sacrifice that happiness for the sake of the story? Your duty ends there, you think, at the end of the story. You are the almighty author after all. Somehow, you know that asking for forgiveness is futile, but you do it anyway thinking, hoping that at least one third of the guilt will vanish, just like that, with those two words that you write at the end. You refer to it sometimes as signing a contract by which the internal mechanism of the book is set into motion. What you do not realize is that those two words are like a death sentence to your characters, their sorrows relived with every reader. How could you, dear author, ask for happiness yourself? When your own happiness will be, at one point, sacrificed for the sake of the story?

About writing

Most of the times it’s like making a deal with the devil. Or, maybe even worse, becoming a devil yourself, miming the act of creation which has already been done majestically by more brighter gods. And your work is never good, your inner editor keeps saying that. It’s like the words you use are never there, never at the center of the problem. Never the body itself, but an outline of the body, never life itself but the margins of that life. That’s where you need a deal with the devil, to help you cope with that, to help you cope with the inherent imperfection which occurs every time you give life to something through the medium of language. It’s like a devil’s doll made out of mud, it will work only for a few hours then fall back into the silence of lifeless bodies. And then there’s the urge to cut everything, to delete the life that has commenced with the first word you’ve written down. And then there’s the fight between you and the world that – once switched on – will claim it’s rightful place into existence. But the truth is, it’s not so much about using the right words, but rather about using all the wrong words, the more marginal vocabulary, the vilest and most obscure emotions, things which would make others throw up and, most importantly, think, see things, smell things, and face that life which so many things try to suppress it, eat it, digest it, making it more beautiful for the sake of the children. A man might deal more successfully with erectile dysfunctions in fiction than in reality. And it’s not about growing disgustingly long beards, and writing in the middle of the night when your neighbors are having the time of their lives while the children are sleeping, or masturbating, or throwing up while writing just because masturbating and throwing up might just add a pinch of surrealism to your writing, and, I think, it’s not about having sexual intercourse with as many ladies of the night as you can, as often as you can. Because, in writing, the effort is only yours, and everything else is just a procrastination of an ailment which sleeps undisturbed into your flesh. Writing is the indirect expression of that ailment, just like a pile of unwashed dishes is the indirect expression of a condition, namely that of (1) having to clean after doing something which is physically pleasurable, and (2) having to think about the benefits of an automatic dish washer, or of finding a partner that might just wash the dishes unconditionally. Writing is never pure body. Writing is always synthetic body and synthetic smell. That which you need in order to know that what you are is not just inert matter, but matter capable of creating desire and suffering when that desire is not satisfied.

Throb, twitch and pant

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…