Thursday, July 30, 2009

Such Great Heights

Night of the insomniacs. I am flanked by two creatures who are snoring absurdly, one canine and the other human. It seems impossible to distinguish the two by audible clues. I am on Coke, the beverage not the drug, although it is atypical for me to consume either. The vile liquid that I usually avoid seems to do me good, however, since I am irretrievably lost in reverie instead of hopelessly numbed in dreamlessness. So deep into the hours of the night, I mean early into the hours of the morning, I put on my metaphorical glasses and begin. I am a geek avid for documentaries, that is what I am, and there is no point in me hiding this any longer. I emerge from the ideological closet and lock the door behind me.

A pleasant surprise I had in watching one of those marvelous documentaries that leave me positively drooling. Cold Fusion. Not a story, not an informative slap in the face. Devoid of anything political or outrageous. Unlikely to attract a substantial audience, I surmise. This is about people skiing, snowboarding and flying with Promethean passion. Scarlet-cheeked and wide-smiled zealots starved for snow, air and speed. Some people obsess about misplaced plates and unvacuumed carpets, others over “pitch” and “pipe” and “powder puff.” Microcosms versus macrocosms, both up for grabs and the choice is ours. To each his own.

Watching these gods committing suicide over and over in the most secluded places on the planet I muse over these borderline attempts by humans to tempt nature. A challenge that is either infantile or demented or terribly beautiful: kill me or embrace me. Kill me or embrace me, snow. Kill me or embrace me, gravity. Kill me or embrace me, bottomless pit. Parachute. Bungee cord. Dangerous precipice. Flysuit. Climbers cannot stay away from heights because they need – a peremptory need this is – to be closer to the heavens. And once arrived there they jump into white abyss looking right into the camera. It is not like in the movies, I suspect, where the jumper watches his life flashing before his eyes and, cowering at the last minute, makes grimaces of horror and howls like a rabid wolf. These people lay back and enjoy the ride, a 41-second fall, without gratuitous sentimental wrappers.

What is it that they are thinking? “This is it, I’m falling. Feels pretty cool. What if the parachute doesn’t open?” No, strike this last one – I am sure that they are free of such quandaries. This is what true passion is all about. Now they show a straw-haired, blue-eyed, bright-smiled prettyboy who says that he lives every day as if it were his last. A formulaic comment you offered, prettyboy, but in your case it is as true as it gets. What is more borderline than living on the very edge, the edge of your board, the edge of a cliff, the edge of the world, and to fall and glide from there, trickle down like meaningless matter until the very bottom, then climb back up and start again. I take my hat off before these birdmen who comb the Earth with their feet.

It dawned on me as I was watching this that the slopes are where people are truly honest. When they are mummified in those fluffy outfits, with shields across all their tender parts, they are more naked than ever. It is all about what you do over there, not about what you say, and all you can do is whatever comes to you in the moment, without preparation, like an impromptu speech. How truistic of me to say this. Well it is precisely because the slope inhibits organs that have worn out their welcome, like the treacherous tongue, and impel others that are primordial and more authentic, like instinct and courage, which lie behind the caution tape that society wraps around us to make us more tractable. When it is just you and the snow, all that matters is what you want and where your limits are. All the skills that society deems a well-rounded man should have are irrelevant on the slope. You could be a savage, a peasant, a king, a savant, it would not matter. The slope asks one to return to level one, when The Dream was to conquer the behemoths of nature and nothing more, to conquer not with spitefulness but with reverence. To tempt nature with such audacity is simply that – reverence.

This movie injected me a fresh dose of lust to wander. I only hope that I will not be too old by the time I learn how to do all these hallucinating snow things.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Abandoned Worlds

I am in the most beautiful place on Earth. A great silky mass of water lay before me. Flickering, winking, flirting with me. There is breeze in this great oven of summer. It picks up speed across the water and explodes in my face. Warm air, in a rush to get somewhere. But I am in no rush.

I am sitting here, as I say, on the edge of the water on a little stone bench. I am with the teacher. He is pointing his wise stony finger at me. He berates me for desecrating his oasis. His eyes, warm but shallow, want to teach me the word of the gospel. Hold on, he says, you haven’t heard what I have to say. I cut him off, the heretic that I am. Shut up, I am trying to write a blog.

My thoughts were full of poetry when I started this thing. But then something unsettling happened. The great blue heron appeared. He evaluated the situation from afar and then descended, the dinosaur, like a flying tent. The heron considered me and dismissed me quickly. I am of no interest to him, since I am neither a hunter nor am I a fish, which I suspect is his main preoccupation at the moment. He sat and waited, this creature of superhuman patience, but today is as slow for him as it is for me (unlike him, however, I just gorged myself on a gargantuan can of pineapple). Presently he is munching on algae, visibly frustrated. I seem to choose unusual places to write these entries, don’t I?

I remember starting my first blog, some six years ago when it occurred to me that I had too many things to say and knew too few people who would listen. It was on Yahoo 360, which was the coolest Beta thing around and I was mistaken for a tech pioneer for experimenting with such cutting-edge novelty. 360 never grew beyond Beta and I, the mercenary blogger that I am, moved on to Blogger.

I did not quit 360 cold-turkey, however. For a while I continued to write in Romanian on 360, where I had an established fan-base, and in English on Blogger, where I had no fan-base at all. But as it always happens when one tries to do a half-ass job in two different places, it turns out that two half-asses will never amount to more than an ass, which is to say that I was doing a mediocre job at both blogs. My jilted fan-base on 360 grew fed up with my infrequent and insubstantial posts and gradually lost interest. All was left was a pink and gray page where I announced “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.” So I put 360 in the corner, as it were.

On Blogger, however, where I wrote under my infamous sobriquet “Ceelvee,” I made some new acquaintances. Among these my future stalker, a promising young mind who eventually proved to be an absolute asshole. Jilted by yours truly according to the established formula, this miscreant took to hijacking my blog and writing (with much histrionic pathos) about his fabulous adventures with me, even though we had never met. It is difficult for me to summon any positive thoughts about this character, but I do hope that some room was found for him in a mental institution.

So here we are at blog number 3. This time I had to sever all ties with the pseudonym Ceelvee, lest the big bad wolf found me and started with his shenanigans again. Letting go of Ceelvee was much like self-sabotage, because of my imbecile propensity to become attached to things and especially to words. To relinquish “Ceelvee” was a lot like cutting a part of my finger and just leaving it there.

This new blog, which I endowed with the name of my favorite Romanian food that I knew the fool would never guess, was a travesty. I wrote it for all the wrong reasons. It is hard for me to admit to such egregious behavior, for I like to think of myself as the epitome of integrity. But I did, I sold my words for cheap artifices. The truth is, I had a 3500 word list to memorize for the SAT and I needed a place for practice. The betrayal, I realize now as I review those horrid posts, was consummate. I suffused those compositions with all the unusual words that I learned. Before I clicked “submit” I reveled in my feats. Every exotic-sounding word that I correctly placed in a sentence I considered an accomplishment. More than a collection of essays, that ersatz of a blog was like the primary school exercises that they gave us as homework when we were first learning English. Make sentences with the following words: table, chalk, cat, teacher.

Since I am very talented at digging a hole under myself, with that writing pantomime I succeeded to permanently convert my previously good writing into obscure (I wanted to write “recondite” and caught myself!) drivel. And this drivel still haunts me, still poisons me like a mindless parasite, even after two years of college in the States, where those fancy words are never used. At least I got what I wanted: I am here. I got an outrageous score in that damned SAT. But what was the price? Now I am grandiloquent, disgruntled, flabbergasted, and I find myself explaining words to American students. I think that if all I knew were “like” and “cool” I would have an easier life.

This whole reminiscence about old blogs was brought about by an e-mail I received from Yahoo saying that 360 will be closing its gates for ever, amin. They were advising me to save my crap because they are going to erase everything. So I went back, after a year of absence, to see what I had left behind. The cemetery of my inchoate writing is intact. Myriad comments from my former readers lay there as testimony of the popularity I once had and relinquished, voluntarily, in exchange for anonymousness in an adopted language. Any regrets? Decidedly, no. I cannot explain why yet.

One of my many theories is that people write blogs when they are missing something. To unhappiness there can be many rejoinders. Some people move, others kill themselves, others write blogs. All of these are portals of escape. With my blogs, each abandonment was a rupture, a schism, a new stage, a replacement of one missing thing with another. I was not one of those lucky ones who found what they were looking for and did away with their blogs leaving a reassuring message for their readers. I never did stop missing something. Hence the present attempt, the incipient blog number 4. Number 4, I wonder, out of how many?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Is that dog pee on the floor?

We have a new roommate in the holiday house. You can hear his mellifluous voice from a few blocks away. With melancholy I remember my former life sitting silently with my coffee at this table in the mornings, thinking my quixotic thoughts. Few sounds disrupted my mellow existence then. After everybody went to work it was a peaceful time for me, when I could think and write and code like the versatile genius that I am.

But now we have a dog. A dog that meows. He is the equivalent of a clingy woman: the kind that repels men with her unreasonable demand for affection. Our dog demands to know where I am at any given time. He complains audibly in his language until he is allowed inside. His goal is to follow me himself and make sure that all my activities meet with his approval. When he is excluded from my bathroom activities he is outraged. How dare I banish him from observing the intricacies of the human ways? When I come out I discover he has left me a surprise on the floor. A common form of protest for his kind, I presume. Fortunately, he does not understand the verbal manifestation of my rage. My cussing would be much too colorful for someone his age.

Bill has illusions that the dog understands what he is saying. He looks at the dog and says “Stop!” The dog responds with a dumb stare. “See? It’s working,” Bill says with delight. The same confusion occurs when he says “Sit!” and the dog, after more staring and pausing and wondering, sits down on his hind legs and waits. This is going on in Bill’s head: “I told him to sit, he sat, therefore he obeys.” This is going on in the dog’s head: “These guys are going to gibber for a while here, so I might as well have a seat.” I suppose the dog is going to sit down eventually, whatever we do. I leave it up to my wishful thinking to connect the sitting dog with the instruction “Sit!” which I yelled at him an hour ago. Who knows? Maybe the dog has really good memory...

In any case, this creature has to have a name, and it has to be “Rebel” because it sounds cool. I call him Billy Idol. He could not care less about either of those. For the time being everybody calls him “Baby,” because he is a puppy, and he thinks that that is his name. Bill, of course, is oblivious to this.

I am beginning to understand why people say that dogs are good intermediaries for meeting people. Whenever I am out with the dog people seem to fall into mawkish mode. I am beset by an avalanche of “awww” and “ohhh” and brainless adjectives like “cute,” “sweet,” “little” and the ever-present “Pu-ppyyyyy!” This whole dog business has me a little disconcerted. I have never had an animal before. Not even a fish. Because of either terrible misfortune or – let’s face it – pathetic incompetence, I have succeeded to murder all the living things that I have come in contact with. Dutch tulips, Parma violets and a cactus are among my victims.

In light of my dark past, I am concerned for the livelihood of our new pet. Perhaps I had better tie my hands together and wear a muzzle. Stay away from the cage of the deadly beast! All parents, keep your children close! But this black fog of a dog still comes to me, wagging his tail in curlicues, and licks my feet with that warm sponge tongue of his. How ingenuous.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Adagio for Sunday Afternoons

I need silence to write, I tell myself. I seek escape to a hermetic place, some haven in pristine forests. Or a piano room? Perhaps a piano room will do. The outlet, the outlet is too far away and so are my words. On the floor I lie, exasperated, all 6 feet of me, and stare at the ceiling and fall asleep with ennui. I dream of falling asleep in a piano room and being woken by the fingertips of placid suns.

I set my laptop on the piano and write away. For me the sound of keys is the sound of stories. For others it is the sound of Facebook. I like to hear loud typing because then I know that the story has passion. Or stupidity. Either of these makes interesting stories.

There is someone in the room next to me. It is unprecedented. She entered a moment ago and scared the hell out of me. I will admit that I was eating chocolate over the piano and I should not have. I realized my negligence as soon as this other being announced its presence. Out of surprise, or guilt rather, I ate the whole damn bar.

The newcomer is playing a sad song. This is half of my dream come true: to write on sunny afternoons while someone is playing piano. For the other half I would have to see the ocean out of my window. And it is Moonlight Sonata that should be played. To be honest, though, I am delighted to hear any one of those classics that are pregnant with nostalgia.

Now she is singing along to the tune. Her voice is soft and soothing, like cold water over a fresh wound. I am thinking about candy floss and evenings spent in the park, with dogs running around. There is no time frame to these memories. They are perennial. They belong to a time when I did not wear a watch. Who cares if it will be dark by the time we get home? They belong to a time when I did not care to look in the mirror. Who cares what I look like? They belong to a time when everything was beautiful.

This faceless piano player has made me gloomy with her sad songs and lovely voice. I ought to close the door. All the doors. And burn the bridges, too.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Best friends, for ever and never

Lately I have been told that I ought to have more friends. So I pondered this advice in my quiet times, when I sit under an old tree and birds relieve themselves on my hair. Those are the times when I tell myself that it can always, always be worse. I ruminated, as I say, on my recluseness and what brought me to it. From this seemingly innocuous thought a torrent of mawkish effusions poured, for I remembered with much chagrin all my unfortunate experiences with friends and loyalty and this godforsaken can of worms that we call friendship.

Best friend number 1

There was a time in my tumultuous existence when I was open to the idea of having friends. In fact I sought them with open arms. But I was also very gullible and this attracted a lot of vermin to me because, I suppose, I was good to feed on. My first best friend was somewhat of a leech. But I found her absolutely wonderful. She possessed an epic cleavage, had an unfortunate case of acne and drove boys crazy. In one word: she had everything I did not. And I, apparently, had everything she wanted.

First my laser pointer went missing. It was one of those cool gizmos with ten different replaceable heads, each giving a different shape to the beam. At night I took it outside and projected a red Playboy bunny on the building in front. It was a new building with crisp white walls that had completely obscured my view of Bucharest. It fulfilled all the requirements to be desecrated. The laser had been a present from my aunt, who had brought it from Greece. No one I knew had something like it, so for a while I actually was the cool kid on the block. It did not last long, of course. When I could no longer find the laser I blamed my misfortune on my typically scatterbrained ways.

Then my electronic planner went missing. Scatterbrained, airhead, plus some other laudatory epithets from my father. I said good bye to that too. But the day came when my best friend came to pick me up for school and I could not find my deodorant. My deodorant! She helped me look for it, but to no avail. We had to leave for school. Circumstances made it so that the professor was late and I had a desperate case of running nose. I was desperate, mind you, otherwise I would not have taken the liberty to rummage through her backpack. Had I not, I would not have discovered, between the seedy objects that she had in there, my redolent deodorant along with my Titanic t-shirt, where Jack and Rose lay on their fatal boat in a final heartbreaking embrace. The latter was a present from my grandparents, who went to Turkey and knew my weakness for saccharine and completely improbable movies.

When my friend came back my mouth was still open. Confronted with the evidence, she denied that those things were mine. People had gathered round to watch the spectacle. In the meanwhile the professor had entered the classroom and was trying futilely to assert his authority by making discordant sounds against the black board, but no one paid attention to him. We had serious issues to discuss. Although everybody knew that the objects were mine my friend stuck to her story. During the whole commotion of people coming over she had actually come up with a fabulous story about a friend who knew a friend who knew a friend who gave her the t-shirt – who, coincidentally, the friend, went to Turkey! I was incredulous as I listened. I still am, as I remember.

Best friend number 2

After this delightful experience I allowed another prey animal to feast upon my soul. This time it was the chubby-and-funny kind of girl. I had the looks, she had the jokes and I was under the impression that we made a good team together. Until we started meeting guys on the Internet. We went to the meetings together, because we were only thirteen and despite all our aspirations to womanhood we were kind of cowardly. But after a few experiences where her “dates” told her that her physique was reminiscent of Frankenstein, she decided that it was all my fault and I had to be punished. The next guy I met was a rocker-type with long black hair who was twenty-four while I was thirteen, but ah, who is counting. He thought that I was seventeen: I had him persuaded of that.

My best friend knitted a systematic sabotage. First she insisted on coming along to all our dates. Then she started talking with him regularly on the phone. She assured me that these conversations of theirs would benefit me tremendously, because she would whisper mellifluously in his ear what a good girl I am and how lucky he is to have me. But instead she whispered that I was thirteen and I was a slut. And many more flattering things like that.

But I forgave her, because I am noble. Until she did it again. She did it with a friend that we both had, on a night when the fellow expressed interest in me and I decided that I was quite infatuated with him. But I did sense her covetous look, so I took her aside and asked her whether she had any interest in him. You see, I was going to back off, relinquish my first attempt at a boyfriend, if my best friend’s feelings were at stake. She assured me that she could not care less about him.

So we had a good run, he and I, and a gruesome break-up. But while we were living our teenage love affair, this best friend of mine was so infuriated with my insensate behavior that she wrote my name and my address on all the benches in our neighborhood park. How do I know? I got a call one day from a hobo who was looking for a good time. He thought that Silvia, hot and juicy whore, sounded pretty good. She told me that she was the one who did it, but was unapologetic about it.

Best friend number 3

Before high school I was the personification of a good girl. I studied, was erudite, did not smoke, had no social life and wore maiden-like braids. Everybody liked me because I knew things, shared them and had a droll sense of humor. I find it ironic how the droll humor I have kept, but my fans I have inexorably and irretrievably lost.

So in light of my good behavior one of our teachers decided that I would be the best company for the female badass of our class. She was ignorant, intractable and somewhat of a burgeoning vamp. My role was to tame her. I did not succeed in doing that, but instead gave myself permission to canoodle with her wayward ways: stealing green peaches from the neighbor’s tree, riding the bus without a ticket, wearing belly-button-exposing minimal shirts, thinking that school is claptrap. Stuff that I had not imagined myself doing in a million years.

With time I grew disinterested in school. But I still did my homework and knew things, because that I could not help. So my dearest friend copied the homework from me, passed it on to everybody else in the class, and declared herself a philanthropist. In the end there were only a handful of us who actually bothered to do that stinky homework. But the others were clever and would not share with the masses. I remained the only pillar supporting the poor low-lives floating in the stew of indolence.

Once I put my foot down and refused to share my homework as well, I was denounced as a traitor. The voice that was most virulent was hers, my best friend’s. So my heart melted and I did give her the homework, but I made her promise that she would not disseminate it. She did, of course, and once again I was the petty miser and she was the goddess of the people; I was in disgrace and she was in exaltation. She even made me, my beloved, whisper the answers to her whenever she was asked to stand up and recite the lesson. I hid behind some tall dude and whispered away and at the end she berated me for poor volume or no diction. I’d do it all for her. My best friend, what the hell!

Best friend number 4

As a result of all this trauma, upon entering high school I nursed myself by dying my hair platinum blond and acquiring not one friend but six, an entire female gang. When this too blew over, as it was bound to happen, I made a last attempt at a best friend. She was pretty and witty, smoked and had a penchant for long-haired rockers. She was my brunette counterpart. While at school we were inseparable. I was eighteen by this time, so one could say that I knew better. But I did not.

The boys who probably slept with inflatable dolls constantly snarled belittling jokes at us both. It’s because they are not getting any, she used to say. She was probably right. She stood up for me and I stood up for her and in the end we put up a wicked fight with clever low blows and barbarous sarcasm, and those miscreants were silenced for all their embryonic testosterone and their bitter frustration. But she did have a glitch, this friend of mine: she insisted on telling me that my boyfriend was an idiot. Not stopping at that, she insisted to demonstrate it whenever he was around and, in doing so, took advantage of his good-hearted nature which detained him from retaliating as she deserved. If this had been all, I suppose that I could have put up with her idiosyncrasy or perhaps tried to train her. But there was something more serious at play, which was that in my friend’s body lived the most unreliable person on the planet.

Whenever we made plans she canceled them. Any kind of plans, any kind of outing. Anything that did not involved school, which she was required to attend for objective reasons. We were friends for more than a year and I only managed to see her outside of school once, although plans, well, we must have made hundreds of those. Her pattern became so predictable that I had come to know exactly when the cancellation message would come and what kind of an excuse she was going to make. She is leaving town, she has the flu, the dog is sick, you name it. My father and I chuckled together about this procedure, for I lay my phone on the table and stared at it and one moment later her message arrived, so accurately foreseen, with some ridiculous excuse like “I don’t have a bus ticket to come and meet you!” Father would smile in amusement and I would smile, more with bitterness than anything else.

I confronted her once and inquired about her reasons, but – a defense that reminded me of the past – she denied that she had canceled Every. Single. Meeting. We. Ever. Had. Surely I was exaggerating. Strangely enough, she did go out with other people. I knew this for sure. She was shallow, but a nice friend to have when you have no one else, and I would have liked at least to understand what happened there. I suppose I never will.

Sadly we have come to the finale of the freak-show. It is time for me to draw the curtain over the junkyard of my friendship-fiascoes, the sepulchers of camaraderie. These are my friends, ladies and gentlemen. Hats off.

So I remain here, still a hermit, still writing my blog, alone and happy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wordy Ones

It is my opinion that a writer reads in a different way than an ordinary reader. We – and I say "we" without dissimulated humility, since I consider myself a writer in spirit – drink the words, wound them on the spindles of our imagination. We taste them like one would taste a strong, flavorful liquor: in small sips, imbibing our tongues with their meaning, with their personality. We wonder if we could have said it as well. We wonder if we could have said it better. Sometimes we marvel at words well chosen. The verbal self becomes enamored with harmonious sequence, with unexpected juxtaposition. We are suckers for linguistic innovation. Reading is an experience of curiosity, covetousness and love. I have often heard people say that they are “in love” with an author, but the statement seems hyperbolized because how can you love someone you have never met? This kind of love, it is not love for a person but for words, for faceless and pregnant words. In fact it is more envy than love. It is for me, anyway. Is it not true that we seek partners that outsmart us in some way and give us the incentive to rise, a pinnacle to reach and surpass? In this sense, books are our truly permanent partners, the ones that never give us reason to fall “out of love” with.

I wrote this with something in mind, of course, and those who know me well must know that it is Steinbeck who brought the thoughts to fruition. Each time I finish a book I write down the parts that I know I will want to read again. It is usually only a couple of sentences and paragraphs. A Henry Miller is an exception, for I can never set down to select excerpts – I would be copying down the entire book. In “Travels with Charley” it came down to ten big fat paragraphs, although if I had indulged my rapacious literary appetite it would have been much more than that. This time there was no quandary about which one should go in this post, however. I knew it when I read it. As is often the case, it was as if Steinbeck had read my mind. It is frustrating how someone can give voice so simply to ideas that in your own mind are so arcane and convoluted that you are misled into thinking that they are not worth anything. It is frustrating, yes, and it fills me with envy and gremlinian spite. But it is also overpoweringly enticing.

“In Europe it is a popular sport to describe what the Americans are like. Everyone seems to know. And we are equally happy in this game. How many times have I not heard one of my fellow countrymen, after a three-week tour of Europe, describe with certainty the nature of the French, the British, the Italians, the Germans and above all the Russians? Traveling about, I early learned the difference between an American and the Americans. They are so far apart that they might be opposites. Often when a European has described the Americans with hostility and scorn he has turned to me and said ‘Of course, I don’t mean you. I am speaking of those others.’ It boils down to this: the Americans, the British, are that faceless clot you don’t know, but a Frenchman or an Italian is your acquaintance and your friend. He has none of the qualities your ignorance causes you to hate.”

John Steinbeck - Travels with Charley (p 210)