Monday, August 31, 2009


“I want to get out of here,” she says as she devours her beloved hummus. And me? I am praising my plantains. I say nothing. What is she hurrying towards, I wonder. She is going to graduate school. Her decision is made, nailed down. Today she left for an interview in Arizona. She’s a smart cookie, she’ll do well.

My superfluous encouragements notwithstanding, there is no envy here. Only a few resolutions. I know less what I want to be than what I want not to be. One of my reinforced decrees: I am boycotting grad school. I want to be one of those crazy escapists who stand against academic inflation with iron legs. We are a small crowd, I suspect. This cause is doomed to begin with, quixotic like some artistic statement. Like sympathizing with Humbert Humbert, yes, as risque as that. Do you hear me, Bill? Humbert Humbert has my vote. No – shut up. I don’t care if she was 12...

I had to write about my revolt against career patterning because today I discovered the hand-outs that Mi Amor (forgive me, your moniker is so apt that I could not find another to supersede it) has left me. A resume, a list with questions commonly asked at job interviews, another mumbojumbo sheet with what to wear, what color of folder to have and other such rigmarole. I have also been scheduled a meeting, it seems, with our career advisor, who in the past has failed to reply to my e-mails and fulfill the promises that she herself, without my request, has made. I must come up with innovative ways to elude the encounter with this fickle character, of whose helpfulness I am sincerely skeptical. How do I wedge myself in these situations where I am surrounded by people who want to help me against my will, I don’t know.

And then, how do you explain to somebody who leaves you half a pound of brochures meant to enlighten you in your professional crusade that you don’t give a crap about all that. That Corporate America is as attractive to you as fried cockroaches. That – slap me – your type is more that of the freelancer, which is the fancy word for an artist, itinerant, hippie, hobo, that sort of thing. Maybe I can afford such arrogance because I am good with computers. After all, the nerd stereotype is the Google guy in Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops who saunters in and out of angular buildings as he pleases. What a joke, no? Everybody knows that I detest flip-flops. But that Google-guy archetype is not so objectionable, I think. Not at all. To Mi Amor, I am sure, it is anathema. I will tell her tomorrow to test the reaction. I will bring a glass of water too.

Making plans, how onerous a project. Can’t I just go with the flow? If I could only find the water on this parched soil of promised land where foreigners are, suddenly, persona non grata. We have had enough fun with this full ride, it has been decided, it’s time for us to slide off the toboggan and make room for the local variety of achievement. It’s a shame that achievement is not endemic to this place where I drag my days. In any case, my days here are numbered. They are the color of anemia, of sedate boring colors, probably the color of the folder I will be carrying when I present myself in my solemn deux-pieces for an interview to be a bean-counter. In the meantime, I am going with the flow, the imaginary stream that separates the worthwhile from the pedestrian.

This Starbucks is all reggae today, Bob Marley and the Wailers, what a nice memento for sunsets with sand, waves and Shaorma. Shake it off, quickly. Better not dig up the switch for nostalgia. Presently I must leap onto my Pegasus and propel myself back to the temple. And, like much of my existence, the ride is all uphill.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

High-flown or Crest-fallen

After four hours of forced sleep I stare at myself in the mirror. Eyes bulging froggily, hair hanging like straw from my scalp. Red dots around the eyes, burst capillaries from too many headstands. Punctuation marks dead-center, the freckles I always wanted. Why do you do so many headstands, he asks, and when I tell him that he spends too much of his life vertically he laughs. “But upside down is vertical too,” the smartass. Yes, but it is inverted, my infantile friend. Like a ketchup bottle. Ketchup? Oh, that he understands well.

Nascent To Do lists germinate under my pen between bites of apple. I sit at this desk every morning and count the minutes. I make an inventory of time. How long until I go to breakfast. How long until my morning penance. You are two minutes late, my friend, and yes it makes a difference. I have exactly 78 seconds to make a sandwich and storm toward the library gobbling it up. How long is this going to take, Professor? The clock on the wall defies me with smug delay while my watch insists for accurate time, obnoxiously. How long, how long.

My hair is tangled in my watch and I materialize into the Room With Fancy Chairs holding a cup of tea, arm suspended awkwardly in the air, ridiculous even for morning scenes. Are you OK, he offers, earnestly concerned, and I smile bashfully and curse in my native tongue and take my seat between two neophytes who make me miserable.

It is the second time he calls me high-flown and for the first time I mind. I do mind, yes. I refuse to litter my speech with the word “like.” I will not be one who tells stories that sound “So I was like...” “And he was like...” “But I was like....” “And then he was like...” I just don’t want to. So I am high-flown.

At dinner I make a sandwich again, as if in a hurry. It’s because I don’t have time to spare that I leave, yeah, that’s why. I survey the premises and there is no soul that I would sidle to, no face that invites me, not really. I sit briefly to compose my layered meal and across from me there is yet another person who finds me hilarious and she has a friend with her, so I acquiesce and perform for them both as they expect, and I leave them laughing with tears. As I walk away my face is blank and there is nothing funny, nothing really. But this has nothing to do with the fact that I leave. I run because I am in a hurry. That’s why.

Back in the chambers, another To Do list to slay and carry-forward, into never-ending future tense. I develop new phobias, of the future for instance. A few weeks ago at trivia we learned that the most common phobia in America is arachnophobia. What exactly is the phobia of, is it an aversion to many-many legs? Is that because Americans don’t like to walk? What a bizarre zone I’ve landed.

The light flickers in the bathroom and it is me again, yes it is me, only with sunken cheeks this time too. Whenever did I develop such angular features. The same red dots, polka dot tegument and laserbeam eyes. Time for another headstand. As I stand inverted I make plans to delve into Walden and deny reality all claims upon my consciousness, which means not to open the door unless force majeure. But I am wrong. Presumptuous, too. I read in silence and there is no knocking, no solicitude. Tonight no one needs a thing from me.

So on this hard floor where flesh finds finally respite from pain I discover the pleasure of horizontality again. I nestle into this serendipitous ataraxia and feign, with all my heart in the theatrical performance, that I am not as lonesome as I feel.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bivouac in hell

He is dressed in pink today. He takes the laptop out of my hands without so much as an inquisitive glance. We have settled into a familiar silence around here. Broken? - Yup. It’s fixed, come get it.- Thanks. And there is always “I give up,” but that needs no words, it’s all in the air. I know, we are all overworked, Kelly said to us last week, and I remember wondering if those who dabble are as “overworked” as those who try to fix something. It depends on our unit of measurement, I suppose.

So I careen down the hall and seclude myself in the room that used to be a closet and is now a help desk. If I had been polled I would have named it helpless desk, since we are all helpless in there. Before the rigmarole and travesty we turn numb, like lifeless limbs, staring at each other and asking “So... any more problems?” A problem that is never fixed but perpetually patched is bound to surface some time, I suppose. All we can do is to become more adroit at ignoring it. Here, at least, we are doing well.

In the same manner of inertial complacence I stare at this screen and talk to it. I become one of those people who talk to computers as if they were fastidious humans. “Come on, computer. Please.” I roll my eyes and crave for a drink. My ghost in the holiday house extends a lanky claw toward the tequila bottle that I left, with unmistakable precision, under the fish tank. She gulps the anesthetic and sighs with her ethereal being. But I feel nothing. Nothing burns my esophagus and life is as bitter as ever. Eyelids open and the screen ogles me impolitely. Come on, computer. Please.

Last night while I meandered through the boisterous rooms looking for some machine to fix I came across this tiny creature who insisted that her computer hates her. You exaggerate, tiny creature, I said to her without letting her know how irksome her existence was. But she would not relent. Malevolent computer with a life of its own, full of hostility. Hates her, by god. A horse that would not let himself be tamed, is that so? Well, tiny creature, computers don’t do things unless told to. Perhaps the fault is yours for not understanding how it works. Perhaps. Do you even hear me?

Closing the door behind me I disfigure myself with a gigantic grin to shake off the irritation. And off to the next one. My computer hates me. If I hear this one. more. time.

Finally back to the temple, where I plaster up my face with pink clay and engage in my secret single behavior. Wait a minute – I don’t have that anymore. Last year I decided that the secret single behavior took too much time and too many cosmetics. It did not fit well with my future life as an itinerant. To be honest it would not sit well in my autobiography either. So I discarded it without second thoughts. Now I only do the clay. It freaks people out. It gives them something to talk about. And they need it.

It is more than fatigue that contaminates my existence these days. More even than ennui at my job as a versatile pawn. Ever since I saw that movie I do not seem to settle anywhere. Even as I am sitting the mind races, overheats, overthinks. I have not been on my bike for days. I wish that everybody could go to hell for a day so I could take off into the opposite direction. But there is no shuttle to hell. There is only one to the mall, every Friday at 6, and there was one to the Social Security Kafka novel today. Nothing else on the itinerary. So I sulk and with infinite reluctance lie on the floor to read soporific literature from ancient times. I do it stoically, mind you, only because when I am done I will have deserved to switch to my beloved Nabokov and end the day that way.

Somehow every day seems to end with a Russian.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Not all who wander are dead

Through some conspiracy of celestial scope every time I sit at this desk to write it is Sunday morning. A time tunnel of Sunday mornings. Last night I spent it with Crevecoeur and, when my patience subsided, Nabokov. The former idyllic, the latter caustic. I weed through Nabokov’s tortuous prose like a turtle in brushwood, but still obdurate despite obstacles of form. You use too many SAT words, he says, and I say, man, you should read Nabokov, a little irritated but still patient with him because he does not understand that I do not do it on purpose.

As I paraglide through the pages I realize that I hardly need a dictionary anymore, here and there for things that refer to inanimate objects, like “crucible,” but this is only to be expected since there are not many crucibles in my life. How much of all this richness of language collapses into oblivion for lack of use, it saddens me. Words must be remembered on stray pieces of paper, on post-its, on documents on the desktop. I must retain them, for words are meaningful and beautiful, even SAT words, despite what anybody says.

Atypically early I brought the pages of the book together and Ada said goodnight, settled under her own weight on the nightstand. I sent my nightly epitaph and before I fell asleep I thought about the movie I saw today. Into the Wild. It finally dawned on me why Bill asked me four times “Do you really want to watch this?” and then implied that I would have to watch it alone. And I did. The best way to watch movies, if you ask me.

But it left me hollow. Words don’t come anymore, feelings either. The garments of emotionality stand at the gates, guarded, for fear of being brutalized again. Trapped, I feel a need to read Thoreau again, which I will today probably, since all I can do is read. Read and listen to this. As I listen I think about the guitar chords to play it and somewhere beyond mechanical perception there are thoughts about all the blog entries I will write about the movie. But still, words don’t come. Feelings either. I force myself to write four paragraphs just to prove myself I still know how.

London, Thoreau, Kerouac, Steinbeck, come back.
Please, come back.

Friday, August 21, 2009


“Can I sit with you?” she asks at 7.30 in the morning.

“Sure,” and the smile I put on is not feigned but earnest. I look at her and she glows somehow, it is not the blond streaks in her hair but something within. This is worth waking up for, I can tell.

We converse over bowls of soggy grits and mushy biscuit. She made the first step, I reason, so it is my turn to be affable. As I gnaw at carbonized bacon I ask if she is a freshman. Of course she is. “I’m Kendal,” she says. Silvia, nice to meet you. “Sylvia?” she clarifies. Whenever I inform someone of my name I meet surprise. Is it such an unusual name?

People here have me labeled as antisocial, I think, because I don’t sit to eat at busy tables and I always bring a book to meals. This comes from my early training in meal etiquette, which haunts me still. Don’t talk while you eat. Don’t chew with your mouth open. Don’t drink water until you’re finished. An American, of course, cannot understand this – neither the rules, nor my commitment to them.

Maybe they think that I am not very talkative, either. Oh god, how wrong they are. Tell them, Bill, how I talk like the radio, all the way to Savannah and back. “You are quiet,” Shreeti said to Mother. “Your daughter does not take after you.”

When Kendal sits across from me I switch into verbose mode. I push the edibles aside and want to know everything. Where is she from. An hour and a half north from here, she says, and she tells me the name of a town that I forget immediately. Oh, I know where it is! I lie, and relish at the content look on her face. She is majoring in Women Studies and is considering Chemistry too. How wonderful, I hiss. Thinking about the zealot feminists in that department and the no-longer-new 13-million-dollar Science Center that is our mascot, I say: “Those are the most interesting subjects to take around here.” Another lie, I congratulate myself. Well, what are you supposed to say to a freshman? “Don’t worry, it will all be over soon”? You say this in their junior year. When they are like this, nascent and pristine, you say “You’ll get used to it.” I ask what she thinks of the cafeteria and her cute eschewal is a reply that I could have anticipated. So that is what I say: You’ll get used to it. She understands.

Pointlessly she stirs with the fork in the grits and takes minute bites. She eats awkwardly, she knows that I am watching and is averse to this silence between us. She has bright, blue-green eyes emphasized with black eyeliner. What is that, a nose ring? Did she really have one or did I forge the memory? A freckled face, this I am sure of. Her hair is short, straight, with blond streaks. A flattering haircut, I appraise. “You remind me of Rory Gilmore.” She looks at me and her brow contracts in puzzlement, how adorable. A few seconds elapse until she gets the reference. “What – Oh! I love that show!” She finds that I paid her a compliment and I am pleased that my comment reached the target.

Well, Kendal, I must leave you. The 8 o’clock class beckons. As I say her name I wonder about the spelling and all I can think of is “Kindle,” but I know that it cannot be it. Of course I don’t ask. I will look it up in the e-mail address book later. I tell her that I like the name. She smiles, Rory-like. See you later.

I remember coming here, two years ago, a novice myself. I was scared of everything, always worried that I was doing things wrong. Surely I was not smiling enough. I was being rude. What a freak. These new people seem much more at ease, presumptuous even. Is it true, or is it a veneer and underneath there is bedlam. If so, did I put up such a persuasive performance of composure back then? I wonder. In any case: “You are almost out the door.” That is what you say to a senior.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

To the hermitage, Godspeed!

I have an hour to write a post. Strange how my schedule changed so suddenly. From sedate reverie my life has transformed into demented running around. If only I were more flexible so as to adapt more comfortably to these abrupt shifts. It feels like plunging into cold water, needles and pins and my lungs lapsing into irregular suction. Breathe in, Silvia, the coach says, and he steps on my hands to make me let go and take off. So I do, I flap my flippers into blue cascades. Now let us see if I remember how to write.

Please, wait! the machine instructs me nervously and as the barrier lifts I thump the vehicle in first. I blast off and cut in front of the guy who drives parallel to me because I am a woman and he is a man and this is how things ought to be. For the same reason I park on two parking spaces, outrageously. Each time some karmic purpose brings me to the Atlanta airport I think about Bill. Bill, the perpetual vicarious traveler, always the one who waves to people who disappear along labyrinthine walkways marked “Have passport ready.” He is never the one who leaves. Never the one who arrives. It is always somebody else. Someone who waves back with gratitude and promises postcards. Bill waits until the silhouette is obscured by behemoth guardian figures and daydreams about those postcards. His little pebbles of the world. I want to go to Spain, he tells me. And to France and Sweden and Norway. And Nepal and China. And Romania and Bulgaria! And... Sure, Bill, I say, and I smile indulgently. Let me get my shoes and I’ll come with you.

As I wait, in the wrong place as usual, I build up nervousness. I snap out of it for one brief moment, as long as it takes me to realize that I am waiting in the wrong place. I storm to the South Terminal, the function of my nervousness reaches a maximum and then glides downward as soon as I catch sight of a Starbucks. Finally I am in the right place savoring a ridiculously expensive drink in large gulps and I wait. A little girl ogles me and starts to follow me around. We play hide and seek around the conveyor belt where the parade of luggage unravels. We are at the zoo of suitcases. A set of Barbie’s luggage. A hobo’s bundle. A businessman’s briefcase. All are present. I sit down on the side, next to a flight attendant. She is wearing a red uniform and smells like clean. Her luggage is the first to be spit out by the machine. She takes off to lunch in Atlanta, or maybe to sleep, maybe to another flight. The flight attendant, a perpetual half-traveler who sightsees in microcosm.

I turn my head and there she is zooming towards me, radiant and tempestuous. She is wearing new clothes and I examine them critically, as I always do. Welcome statements. Then, the luggage belt. So, which one is yours? It has a broken handle. Maybe this one? Well, that was quick. Don’t worry, I’ll carry it. Her wrist is thin in my hand, thinner than mine I think. It surprises me and I look at my hand to make sure that it is really her wrist I am holding. You’ve lost weight, I say. You think? No, mother, you are obese. Let’s go already, I don’t want to pay these people for parking. But first, take five for a smoke in front of the airport. The puff-puff corner is trashy. It is true that cigarette smoke always goes toward non-smokers. It tries to entice them, to convert them. As I inhale without intention the life of the smoldering object I think of home, of barrooms and time-wasting artifices. Sure, we can sit here and drink our coffee and make small talk, but the repertoire is not complete without the smoke, now is it? You could not understand, I suppose.

There is a traffic jam, there always is on this godforsaken interstate. In the space between two cars that travel three miles an hour my thoughts lay down on the hot asphalt to be flattened and canceled. I talk, but it is not me who is saying things. It is the trivial creature inside me, the one I am loath to live with and am planning to have killed. So, how did you travel? Was the neighbor annoying? How many times did you get up to go to the bathroom? Do you know that once I flew from Brussels without going to the bathroom once! I step out of myself and marvel at my deftness with platitudes. Finally, we are speeding up. It seems like we traveled to the other side of the planet. Macon – next three exits! she reads out loud. Yes, Mother, we are here. She reads every sign out loud. There will be no time to think this week, I tell myself. I have to write things down. Chick-fil-a! is exclaimed from the passenger seat. What was I thinking. Self-scolding is in order, I suspect. I am already having second thoughts about this. Wal-mart! is proclaimed from next to me, with a German “w” like this, “Vaalmart.” Yes, Mother. That is where we are going later. After you sleep. Aren’t you tired? How can you not be? You are sure that you don’t want to sleep? I race to the third floor to take the elevator down so it can take us up. It’s complicated, Mother, you ask too many questions. As she takes over my space, invades my nest with her cosmetics that stain my sink and the clothes that will invariably become mine, I think, god, it’s great to be alone. To be a hermit in my hermitage, how simple and wonderful. How is it that we don’t know what little things are worth until we lose them?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


It must have been at the beginning of time that someone decided we are to amble during the day and sleep during the night. What an arbitrary decision this must have been. Night is as propitious a time for work as any other. Is it the darkness that thwarts us? Come on now. There is always infra-red. I have a flash light in my car, wake up. Wake up and let’s talk. Let’s tell scary stories. Night, devoid of stifling heats and gnawing sunburns, what a discarded gemstone. I wish the day capsized, like an overturned cockroach jiggling its legs in desperation. And I want the night exalted, redeemed like a reinstated queen.

I suppose that if night and day were inverted I would switch to being up all day instead of being up all night. I like to be awake when everyone is asleep. An owl watching the comatose, reading their minds, scribbling about them, stealing their souls. Night is the time to make things happen. A time for lonely hours in the dark room, smoke and mirrors under red lights. The trays sway with fragrant chemicals and I see myself in their spume. Or is it my ghost? Flat, monochrome people reach out for me. I lay them down and smooth them out and with my own hand kill them on dry land. I watch the life pressed out of them. The photos bleed in black and white.

The drugged light of sunrise blinds me and in this infinite space where there is only me and the security guard I bump into him and gasp with surprise. “Have you been in here all night,” he asks childishly. “Oh, no... Just came by to get something from my locker.” He looks at me, bloodshot-eyed and tortured me, and believes me. He sees nothing.

Tonight is for popsicles, Coke, cold rice and strawberry jam. My addictions are benign. I am not even eccentric. Impossibly banal, that is what I am. If I did not like to stay up nights I would not even have a blog. Tonight is for Fleetwood Mac. So many nights are. I watch your videos and sift these years that passed by us. They settle like white, light, high-gluten Canadian flour. Everything has to be sifted, doesn’t it? We want things sanitized. So we keep the pure stuff and throw away the husk. Say I were to sit in the sifter and tell you to shake. If nothing would seep through, would it mean that I am all husk? Would I get thrown away?