See, I don’t get love.
Really, how does it happen? People run into each other and say: “Look, here’s a person I don’t know from Adam, s/he looks promising, let me now invest inordinate amounts of time and energy into simultaneously learning everything there is to know about him/her and impressing him/her enough that s/he will want to learn everything about me, except not everything because there are some things I’d really much rather remained private, so in the presence of this person I will pretend those things do not exist and will generally do my best to be not me but some other person, one I mathematically predict s/he will enjoy more than the real, reality-TV-watching, over-the-stove-eating, online-shopping-for-pretty-sneakers-although-I-never-really-go-running me.”
Isn’t that how it usually starts? And then once that initial stage of all-round awkwardness and frantic exchange of body fluids is over, it is time to gradually reintroduce the previously suppressed personality, because really, who can keep up the charade, what with all the being neat and helpful and kind and made-up and, brrr, cheerful all the time, not to mention never picking your nose or having an upset stomach. And you say to yourself: “Look, I’m sure that now that we’re so in love s/he will understand. S/he probably also has things I’ve yet to find out, right? I mean, we both had that bad shrimp, s/he would really need an iron stomach— Besides, I’m adorable as I am, isn’t that what s/he always says?”
Well yes, it is what s/he always says, because in his or her eyes “as you are” is the persona you’ve worked so hard to build up. And s/he will most likely be unpleasantly surprised once it turns out that in fact it is against your core beliefs to wash the dishes ever and that you actually prefer sleeping wearing your grayish-white tube socks and nothing else. You sexy beast you. Not only that, but the gradual reveal of the disgusting slob you actually are will cause a mirror reaction whereby s/he will say to him- or herself: “Look, s/he must really love me if s/he trusts me enough to let go this much in front of me. The least I can do to express my love is to do the same.” And then they let their leg hair grow out and soon you find out you’ve actually been living with a child-murdering Zionist grizzly bear who doesn’t share the remote. (Am I up to date with my examples? I have been living mostly alone for a while, but I seem to remember that remotes, toilet lids and infant-hating Zionism are key irritants in most average relationships.)
After a while, once you’ve both adjusted to each other’s “delightful quirks” and have learned that a passive-agressive note on the fridge works better than yelling, especially combined with a couple hours’ icy treatment, i.e., you’ve ironed out the creases in the relationship and are now convinced that you are deeply in love (when you speak to your friends you might proud-humbly mention how you love your Zionist bear “despite the, you know, little things which are so minor I don’t notice them anyway”) – that’s when it turns out that there had, in fact, been some sort of a resentment brewing under the surface, or that the bear feels that s/he hasn’t really found him- or herself and needs some time alone to consider it, or it’s you that one day find yourself so physically uncomfortable with that tiny minor thing you don’t even notice that you can’t really share a space with the bear anymore.
Then, you break up. It hurts like the fucking end of the universe, you feel like someone punched you in the gut, you cry and howl and throw things and eat and/or drink bad things, and you feel like you’ll die alone and wish that day would come already, for chrissakes, get it over with, what do you have to live for anyway, et cetera et cetera, until one day some person catches your eye and you know absolutely nothing about him or her and you go: “Look, here’s a person I could devote the rest of my life learning everything about.” And you go back on the diet.
See why I don’t get it?
What is it like being depressed? Nobody really asked me, but I feel like writing this down might be therapeutic (and also a nice change from staring into the screen and turning the water on the stove on and off because I can’t decide whether I want to make tomorrow’s lunch or not).
Being depressed is walking the street on a wonderful, cream-clouded, fresh and overall exhilarating Saturday afternoon, the kind of day that floods you with appreciation of its beauty— and feeling that the wave of emotion rolling in contains, alongside the expected joy and love for the city you live in, immense loneliness and a sense of devastation. For no reason. Despite the wonderful friend walking next to you and the fact that every passer-by wishes you a happy Sabbath.
It is spending almost a decade laughing, crying, learning and growing with someone you love more than anyone has ever loved even their own mother— and one day just deciding it’s over. Because you are thinking in absolutes, and if something is not working perfectly, it’s absolutely bad and not worth fighting for or working on. And once you’ve lived through that, and built a friendship with the person who used to be the air in your lungs, and found somebody new and amazing to be tentatively, but truly happy with— you wake up at night suffocating from exhausting dreams, wanting to run off to the jungle and die there, alone and promptly.
It is looking in the mirror, trying on a new hat or a cute shirt— and realizing that you are the ugliest thing you have ever seen, with an ass that leaves the room a full two minutes after you do, flab everywhere, a face that can only be fixed by a head transplant, which incidentally would also take care of your unimaginably horrible hair, and problematic teeth the likes of which you’d not wish on Hitler himself. Although he’d probably deserve them.
It is sitting at home of a night, eating instant mashed potatoes with mustard, because everything else requires cooking (not that there’s much else, because you haven’t been paying attention to supplies), and leaving the house to buy something is unthinkable— and you don’t really care about the taste that much anyway, it’s just that there seems to be a dull throb of emptiness within you, so it is perhaps a good idea to place something in it.
It is starting the day with sunshine, ice cream and general hilarity, continuing it with some healthy work and learning new things you care deeply about— and then coming home and despite all your genuine previous excitement all you can remember is nothing and grayness, and you can only cry, and even that barely. Four hours and countless old show episodes later, you haven’t moved from the spot, you’re wearing what you came home in, there’s an untouched mug of ice-cold tea next to you, you are foggy and have three hours of sleep left.
It is meeting a good old friend outside, hugging them happily, asking a hundred questions and insisting they call or come by— and then flipping the phone when the call comes in, making the sound go away while the phone just keeps on ringing. When they ask, you will of course say you didn’t see the call, because telling them you couldn’t find it in you to talk to them seems inappropriate.
It is tornado mood swings and a difference of eons between the way you are outside, among people, and the way you’re with yourself. And on a challenging day there will not be so much of a difference, because you will be among people and your camouflage will fall off and shatter on the floor, and you will not be able to conceal your desire to be away— at which point everyone in the social situation you happen to be in will be aghast and believe (with good reason) that you are a very unpleasant and sociopathic individual with whom they’d rather not deal. Or, worse, they’ll try to cheer you up.
It is catching yourself, time and time again, wishing you weren’t here, weren’t now, weren’t you or just weren’t alive. It is wanting to be alone when you’re with your loved ones and aching for their presence when it is impossible. It is the lack of motivation to do even those things that used to be the highlight of your days, and the paralyzing inability to make even the simplest choice (strawberry or vanilla? left or right? who knows? who cares?). It is continuing to live with dirt and messes despite hating everything that is not clean. It is sabotaging yourself in every way possible. It is consciously and at all times being self-deprecating and sarcastic and praying for a piano to fall from the skies and smash you every time someone tells you, sagely (always sagely), that sarcasm is bad for you and not a real solution.
It is asking, again and again, why me and how is this fair, and answering, again and again: because you are worthless and you hurt people and you deserve this and nothing but this.
‘try the new hangouts’
leave yourself hanging
all of these hangups
all of these blinding,
failing and falling and
never on purpose
never on time
never in order
and not really mine
if i’m sleepless at night
doesn’t mean i’m awake
i’m faking it faking it
dance at my wake
I should be writing and I am writing writing writing writing all the time non-stop, go go go in my head, heart racing with nowhere to get to. Repeating myself rambling gasping for air falling over falling in falling head over heels—
The speed of my thoughts has no name not the speed of light not the speed of water not the speed of a million butterflies all dying at the same time, and certainly not a speed that I can type at. It is all too sudden, too quick, too soon and too much. There is no way to write these things down, but I try because I should be writing— and not writing-erasing-writing, really writing—
What else is left to us after all after the consolation of pouring it all out, releasing the burden or burdening someone else with it (a privilege we pay dearly for and our dears do as well). Nothing will ever compare to writing because even comparing is writing, everything is writing letters dots commas dashes on a page digital or real or all in my head. It is all in my head, this is how it works, a knife pushed with an open palm that cuts everything it encounters, cuts up reality life blood vessels paper, cuts so sharp there is no bleeding at least not for a while. This is how it works or doesn’t work, works its power over me and I try to work out the work that has gone into all of this, all of me, all of you—
Creating this world, not a mean feat, not by a far cry, and nothing I have am can wish is a match to it, there is no reply, I have no answer to that immense all-encompassing question or challenge that was posed to me on the day the world was created. Nothing I can say do write live breathe or die is even a ghost of an answer and if so why say write live breathe or even die?
Sometimes life can start seeming pretty lifeless, an automated performance of an oiled and synced robotic routine. When that happens, I have no choice but to set out looking for some new life to replenish my supply. I look everywhere.
Can my life be on the bottom of a coffee cup? I drink them all thoroughly, empty them, bottoms- them -up, making sure, a drop of vanilla milk for the sweetness and scent in which life certainly can be found.
Life may be hidden in the early morning hours, when it is still dark and nobody knows yet, nobody can see, nobody is there to sap out my liveliness, just the cold, pink sunrise and the bags of vegetables and bread tied to the doorknobs of yet-unopened restaurants.
It might be in the colorful identical dresses of the more exotic museum-goers, who stand around marveling, camera hands outstretched while we all self-importantly working-ant our way around them. In fact, my own camera hand holds some life of its own, and it is important when I am searching for life to take pictures of everything as clues to examine at leisure, trying to build up a true portrait of that life that I need to find.
Or perhaps my life is stretched on the line between the sun and the shade, such lines being hard and bright and few in the scorching summer; in the winter, might it be the same line, only going the other way, trying to catch some of those warming rays? Surprisingly, there is life to be found in fog. I open my eyes and open them again (the recipe for doing magic from I don’t remember which book) and step into the refreshing unknown, feeling more hopeful for it, because surely somewhere in all this invisibility there must be an untapped source of life for me.
My search continues on paper pages, handwriting crooked, atrophied in all these clickety-type years (I type faster than I write, but with more mistakes), hand surprised, following the pen-nib like a child follows its parent or teacher. Of course, my life could be between any two book pages, so I read feverishly, rifling through page after page on the bus, at night, at work, and there may be some life in my prided ability to read walking without ever hitting a lamppost.
Music has life, naturally, but keeps it mostly in the back room: the worried scattered notes of brass tucked behind a Klezmatics record, the bass weighing down Regina Spector’s high pitch, the sound of a singer taking a breath, the sudden hush between two songs when you look up and hear birds singing or buses rushing down the street or someone’s very good answer to who knows what question. There’s more life in humming than in singing proper sometimes, or singing in a group, melting into others’ voices, unsure whether the tune that is pouring into my throat is arriving from them or from within me.
Some of my life is stored securely in language: there will never be a shortage of life in the rivulets of English vocabulary, the delicate humor of verbs nouning and nouns verbed. Syntax is full of life and even puns are rife with it, or maybe rather the satisfaction of recognizing one. Synonyms and alliteration have me resuscitated, rejuvenated, revitalized, and alive anew.
The search for life is best done alone, in the privacy of my own mind, because being with other people is fueled with this scarce and valuable resource and demands much of it. Animals, however, have plenty of life and are usually willing to share, so working or playing with them helps in the struggle to refill the ever-emptying tank.
After a few days of such searching, hunting, scavenging for life and liveliness, I am ready to continue. I know, however, that this will not last forever, not even for long, and soon it will be time to search again.
It is exactly six months since we came here. There is a document saying so. I wake up at six to go to work. The others are asleep, looking soft and vulnerable, stripped of the defense and pretense of daytime. I step out into the morning, which is slightly misty around the edges as though it, too, hasn’t exactly woken up yet.
Against all odds and previous experience, the coffee shop at the train stop is open for business. I order a small latte and receive a large one instead from the inattentive barista who is chatting with her coworkers setting up trays of cookies as the train comes in to the station and pulls away. The next one is in nine minutes, the price of a large latte is the same as a small, and I am in the final throes of Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys, so I sit down to wait without saying anything to anyone.
On the train a guy stumbles and steps on a girl’s foot, hard. Surprisingly, she hisses through her teeth, lifting her foot to peer at it, as though she suspects a visible injury, and goes on to hop and limp around, muttering, for the best part of the next stop, looking very insulted. This honest reaction is very refreshing, though not, I suppose, to the hapless perpetrator, who looks quite bewildered.
The path from the station to work is deserted save for an elderly couple walking briskly in the opposite direction. As they pass me, I hear a snippet of their conversation in Russian: “…these dolls which they put in the shop windows where there are marriageable lasses…” says the man with a content smile. A smell of pines pervades the air, and I stop to sniff one. A welcome improvement on the previous week, it is not very hot, nor too humid. So far, at least.
I unlock the caravan, switch on all the lights, set the A/C to twenty degrees, wash some grapes, put on Franz Ferdinand and settle into my chair. There is nobody here. It is very odd to be alone, something that doesn’t happen to me much these days, something unusual for these parts where everyone is rather up in everyone else’s business. I have finished the book and am now once again considering writing one of my own, but then come to my senses. At twenty-six now, it seems I am either much too old, or entirely too young to start.
To be in Paris, Venice, Vilnius, Europe Europe Europe;
To not have read the Chrestomanci books or to find something as good;
Real good cake;
A couple dozen graphic novels;
To not be gainfully employed and not be bothered;
A house with a garden and a view of the sea and a puppy;
To be pretty;
All new clothes;
Great Allen-esque movies I’ve not yet seen, with all my favorite actors;
To not be missing out;
All new gadgets;
For the house to always be clean;
To not ever feel guilt and self-loathing;
To have a certain problem solved forever;
New books to translate;
A huge decorating budget or at least a small decorating budget;
Remember the quest in My Family and Other Animals for a house with a bathtub on Corfu? Greeks didn’t seem to value baths as much as the British. Indeed, it is difficult to match the Briton’s love for baths; he even draws one up for his dishes.
In Lithuania, we are not, admittedly, such dedicated bathers. We do, for the most part, have tubs and use them one way or another, but my theory is that we’re more of a running water nation. After all, our greatest treasure are our rivers. They flow majestically through the country, fed by countless playful brooks, filling thousands of beautiful interconnected lakes, and finally pouring into the sea. Most of our towns are built on them. Coming from a city which is based on rivers in more ways than one (physically, as there are two of them, and metaphysically, as our entire mythology is steeped in riverwater), I am used to an abundance of water and a water-based geography.
In Israel, such an aquaphile as myself comes to feel like a disillusioned new bride or a Michelin-level gourmet at a McDonald’s drive-thru: “Is that all?” The country, plain and simple, does not cater for water-based indulgences. There is not enough water for that. The bathrooms are built in a very utilitarian fashion, and showers become brief and to the point, no foreplay, no cool-off; the ecological habit of turning the tap off while brushing teeth or lathering up the dishes becomes newly relevant. My favorite morning ritual of running hot water over my hands for five solid minutes while I get focused has been canceled due to technical reasons.
All this is quite natural and comes across as the way of the land, just another difference to get used to. The disappointment is exacerbated, however, by the endless rain we married into by moving here. This year is exceptionally wet. We even had snow for two straight nights, which by now has been washed off by rain from all but two places in Jerusalem: the sofa on our porch and the painstakingly built tent on the neighbors’. Having spent most of the day being doused with miserable rain water, I tend to switch back to Lithuania-mode, which dictates that I head straight for that long luxurious hot shower. Alas, no such privilege.
On days like this, I just want to hire a Spiro to drive me around this drenched yet also arid island until I find that hygienically-endowed house I dream of.
Sometimes I feel as though we’re on a ship. Where it is sailing, might never become evident, but this weather especially encourages such a line of thought. We live on the top floor of one of the taller buildings in this old neighborhood; the penultimate, our neighbor says, because he’s half a floor up from us, but if this is a ship, then his level is simply the masthead. He flies the Jolly Roger on his porch and could pass for a British pirate but for his kippa. Or Admiral Boom, blast his gizzard. The wind is howling in our skylights, and it blows in premature darkness, the grey kind, even before the pre-Sabbath siren. Somewhere close by people are singing, the tune rising up and mixing in the pouring rain, and this ship resembles Noah’s Ark, because we just might be washed away by all this, man and beast, over the waves of the red tiled roofs, together with the garbage and houseplants littering these densely inhabited sidestreets.
I am reading (finally, finally), greedily devouring words and pictures, in the safety of my bed, my blanket, my hippo-eared robe. Can’t focus entirely on the book, however, the mind flooding as it is with images swarming in from the outside. This is a land of images. Everything here is a story, cinematic, charismatic, graphic, so very visual. If only I could draw properly.
My illustrated stories would feature the two Orthodox priests in floor-length black robes and rocker ponytails, chattering in excited Greek over spatulas and baking pans at Ikea. The bride and party entering the same Ikea through the checkout stands, perhaps to film an entertaining wedding video. The black-and-white-wearing Orthodox Jew holding his wife’s purse while she slides down the handrail, instead of taking the stairs down to Bezalel street, and shouts up to him delightedly. The mist devouring the city and adding an air of mystery to the already deeply mythological views of the hills; perhaps our mist up here is somebody in the valley’s clouds, we say, as we walk on our mist-surrounded, contextless path.
Would that I could draw, I could show you how the colors of this city transform themselves and gleam with a new brightness in the endless rain, and how some of the religious men turn into pathetically touching mushrooms with cellophane baggies wrapped around their precious hats against moisture; how a young soldier with an iPod, a minute ago involved in a discussion about fuckable girls in Tel Aviv with his boorish mates now sits away from them on the train and asks every woman coming in whether she wants his seat, and how widely the cafeteria girl smiles at the sight of my dashing blond colleague.
I would portray the brilliance of Jaffa St. in the morning, the damp ground and the train rails glistening underfoot, the sun blinding so that the street seems to disappear as it goes downhill; the market, always a quest, sellers swirling around like dervishes, shouting, shouting, calling for gods know what, though seemingly just for buyers; the surreal experience of working, joking, catching colds, and sipping coffee in a place where others come in flocks to be shaken by some of the deepest emotion and most devastating sadness possible; of the countless improbable meetings and fortuitous coincidences— in short, life as it is here, and it is very different from life elsewhere.
I don’t think I can draw, however. As my experiments progress, dear diary, you will be the first to know.
Sometimes a journey can last a lifetime. Our journey to Jerusalem did. And it also lasted a year. And also six weeks. And also ten days. And also 24 hours.
We had been talking for years about moving here. On and off, we kept wondering why most of our friends are here, and we aren’t. Why we insist on inflicting the harsh Eastern European climate on ourselves. Why we live in a city where A. has nothing to entice and challenge him. Why we keep visiting here, but never stay.
A year ago exactly, at the end of January 2011, as we were riding the bus from Eilat to Jerusalem having just crossed the Egyptian border, with the intention of grabbing our things from a friend’s house and running to the airport to go home, we suddenly made a pact we would put an end to this. A year from now, we vowed, we would move here for good. We started telling everyone we knew, to make it impossible to go back on the decision. We started our preparations… no, that we didn’t do. This we put off. Instead, we traveled. Just talking about the move was enough, just prefacing most of our future tense sentences with “when we move,” or “while we’re still here”. We had a chance to secure visas here in August, then in November, but neither worked out.
Six weeks ago A. had to go to Russia. Things had become critical there, and his presence was needed. There were also the visa troubles to attend to, and that, too, pushed him to the country he was trying, almost, to denounce. It transpired that he had to stay there for an entire month. I went out there for the latter half of it to share this time, and together amid the snow, we said our thorough goodbyes to our friends, which did not bring as much pain as it could have. Soon, thought we, we would never have to see snow again. And soon enough our loved ones would come visit.
Ten days ago we were finally in Vilnius again. There was a daunting task ahead of us: we hadn’t begun our packing, and nothing was to be left in the apartment we were leasing out. Not to mention that we still had no visa. The anticipated frantic scramble led me to escalating hysteria before even the first carton was opened to pile books inside. The house I had accustomed myself to seeing as my refuge, my shelter, was now at a late stage of a decaying disease which was robbing it of its personality, its ourness. Our pictures were removed, and empty frames gaped at me from the walls with embarrassing woodenness. Every meeting with every friend or relative reeked of finality. I had my goodbye roda at capoeira class and did not tear up, though I had fully expected to. This was it. It was snowing non-stop, and I felt as if my heart’s city was cleansing itself of me, covering itself up after our prolonged amorous encounter. We took a train to freezing Minsk and after a measured amount of humiliation returned the same day with passports bearing Israeli visas.
On Wednesday, our physical journey began. We loaded all of our possessions into a minivan. The cat was trembling in his plastic confinement, driven into shock by the tribulations he sensed were ahead. A good eight hours later, we were in a dingy room on the outskirts of Minsk. I dealt with the unreal reality by immersing myself in work. After four hours of sleep we continued on the next leg of the trip, which was the scariest flight I’d ever experienced because it was obviously the scariest thing the cat had ever experienced. On the plane, I read John Green’s new novel, The Fault In Our Stars. By landing-time, the cat was screaming and foaming at the mouth, he had soiled himself and left a deep gash in my hand in his attempt to flee, and I was suddenly crying, either because of the book, his suffering, or the realization that only then began to dawn, that we had left home for good.
Ironically, Welcome Home was the motto of the afternoon. Having cleaned up the poor beast, we were carted to an old and homemade-looking absorption center, where we were cooed over, given coffee, and handed our first papers and some cash. Then followed a cab ride with fellow new Jerusalemites, one of them a slightly jaded-sounding American poet, another – a red-cheeked turtle. Finally, the journey was over. All of them were. It was suddenly clear that the journey, for me, was an end in itself. All of the emotional, physical, and financial investment had led to this point in time, and nothing else. It came as a surprise that after moving here, we also had to live here.
I am sipping hot water now, wrapped in someone’s warm poncho, wearing untied shoes, in a red armchair in the corner of a friend’s house. I spent the morning working on stylist interviews and Turkish Jewish music, while A. was out and people were playing vaguely French tunes on an accordion and the battered organ downstairs. There is work to do and our own apartment to find. There are places to go and people to meet. The cat is fine. Winter’s bleak sunshine is filling the yard. It is exceptionally cold. It is shabbat.
someone else’s pain.
i so wish it were mine, not yours.
i so wish i could wrap you up like those babies (in the netherlands long ago) who had their heads padded against the threats and bruises of the harsh world around.
you are the strongest and the gentlest one. you are a tree, but also a blade of grass in the wind.
and oh, there is a wind.
when you are hurting, the world feels out of place. why are there babies? why are there dirty jokes? or clean jokes, for that matter? why are there christmas sales and whipped cream toppings?
i wish i could take it away.
i wish i could make you whole.
i wish we could go back in time.
you will live through the pain. but i wish i could do it for you.
- download movies
– watch them
– hold the cat
– have gallons of tea
– watch Frasier
– read Twitter
– log what I’ve eaten on my phone
– listen to audiobooks
– listen to music
– learn capoeira songs
– look at Facebook (loop)
– check and answer emails
– tick off things on my daily plan
– rearrange things
– wash dishes
– do little tasks from other assignments
– this list
– look at job listings (in various cities)
– look at apartment listings (in various cities)
– call people
– burn candles and play with the wax
– browse Goodreads
– read blogs
This list is by no means exhaustive. These are all things I do simultaneously with different parts of my job. Employee of the year prize, please.
I find a closed space full of Uzbek people difficult to tolerate, as was repeatedly proven on trains and planes this week. Another startling discovery is that I am similarly averse to closed spaces full of Indians. This is because (a) I am a notoriously xenophobic European, or (b) I can’t stand it when people speak loudly and interminably to each other when they’re too close to me and I am trying to sleep. The correct answer, for those who find it difficult to follow, is (b).
This point was established by a girl and older man at Tashkent’s train station where we were spending the night on metal chairs and had unwisely left a gap between us, in which the girl unscrupulously plopped down and proceeded to chatter in what sounded like a succession of the same highly irritating syllables to her husband/father/unspecified male liaison until I raised my head groggily from my backpack-in-lap sleep arrangement, which caused her to say cheerfully “Oh sorry, miss, I must have woken you!” – then turn right back to her conversation.
The point was driven home further by the four Muslim Indians we shared a compartment with on the way to Samarkand, who kept speaking about Allah in patronizing, sermon-like voices, and one of whom was prone to talking loudly for 40 to 90-minute stretches at a time. (“Young man, are you Muslim? Christian? Tourist? There are Muslim historic sites where we’re going, I thought you might like to know,” was their only communiqué to us save for offering crisps and “Hello, miss” when we ran into them at said historic site later in the day.)
It was stamped and finalized by the man sitting behind us on the plane home, who for the entire time of boarding kept telling each and every passenger that the plane was not full, so everyone should sit anywhere free, which I took to be a technique to insure a neighbor-free flight, until someone did sit down next to him despite several hints to the effect of underbooking, which turned him round, ostensibly, and he spent the best part of the flight talking to his neighbor loudly in a grating voice while I was operating on very few hours of sleep and being kicked regularly in the small of the back by the neighbor and leaned on by the guy in front.
Not to mention the constant line-cutting and the train rides where we were subjected to televisions blaring Uzbek and Russian series at full volume. Maybe I only take these things so hard when I’m sleep-deprived and experiencing invasions of my physical and sensory personal space. However, there is no explaining away the fact that I did not find life in Uzbekistan comfortable in many ways. It became increasingly obvious that while I may not be a xenophobic European, I certainly am a pampered European who likes her streets paved and lit, and solves any and all problems via Visa cards and internet. Where neither option is available, I am flummoxed.
No amount of beautiful architecture interspersed with picturesque quarters can help me brave the old town of Bukhara at night after a day of rain, for my hipster-European sneakers are ill-suited to sliding in the mud and trying to avoid winding mid-street aryks (irrigation ditches). Food that induces cramps and constant awareness of my entire digestive tract, added to the fact that not a single man and only about a third of the local women look attractive*, plus hordes of small children who turn into beggars at the sight of foreigners, chirping “hilow” and “bonzhor”, and once even following us for two blocks begging in a droning monotone and stroking our arms in a disturbing manner, and I’m sure you’ll be asking how I managed to enjoy any of the trip.
The answer to that lies in the terrain of impressionistic prose, to which I lean when writing about the better things in life (hence, incidentally, the lack of report about Venice; perhaps when I’m there again and not so stunned by the universal beauty of it that I can find something to complain about in the beginning). Most of the things I liked, however, go back to the same: all of it being so very unusual and different.
The insular organization of the cities (slum –> expansive stone square, home to three towering madāris –> slum known as “the old mahala”, i.e. “the old quarter” –> another religious complex –> etc.) is not what I’m used to in my more frequent destinations, where narrow, inbred character and architectural polish are distributed evenly throughout most streets. Not that the slums do not encroach on the immaculate palaces. They establish themselves in the shape of souvenir stalls, punctuating the yard of every mosque and madrasah, as well as their immediate environs. Small wonder, as tourists rarely venture into the slums themselves, prefering the ancient and monumental to the living and breathing.
The life experience is also as different as can be. Twice, a friend and I wandered to a chaikhana with the rather urgent purpose of working each on our respective assignment, and found ourselves instead chugging endless cups of tea, talking and leaning back on the bench, affected by the blissful slow atmosphere of the place, the view of the pond framed by magnificent buildings, and the twang of rubābs from the speakers in the trees overhead. Countless times we bought things or stayed and admired things, or listened to stories we otherwise wouldn’t have, lured in by the Arabian Nights accents and inflections of the locals and turns of phrase like “do not go away, a present for you” after buying a dress, or “half-price for you now, the evening bazaar” (at 5 pm, because at 6 it’s dark and everything closes). In our Soviet childhoods, everything to do with Aladdin and Harun al-Rashid was spoken with the same lilt and set against the same white, sandy, and blue backdrop. I find this very hard to resist, so I listen, gaze, and buy away.
In Uzbekistan, one is constantly amazed at how much can be built from very little. This goes for the food, which, while disagreeing with me and being largely meat-based, is nonetheless varied and interesting, comprised though it is of vegetables, rice, and the ubiquitous flatbread. This goes also for the local handicrafts, most woven or embroidered, mere fabrics and thread blossoming in delicate, intricate, colorful designs which made me stare. I saw an Afghan carpet resembling Native American ones, the pattern only a sparse set of chevron stripes and arrows, but I would have paid dearly for it, such was the aesthetic impact. Luckily, it was in a museum, not a shop, and I didn’t see any knock-offs, though I did look.
The list of other things which impressed me is very long, comprising such things as the strikingly welcoming style of communication at all hours of the day and night, the matter-of-fact kindness, the homes and communal buildings and their surprising similarity, the divine fruit and nuts, the abundance of kittens, the Jewish community, which like everywhere else has merged entirely with its surroundings, adopting all the prominent traits of the local culture and becoming an interesting local blend of Uzbek-faced Jewish people called either variations of Rovshan and Alisher or something deeply archaic and Biblical, who typically consider a medieval poetry recital a wedding reception kind of entertainment on a par with singing and dancing, and night-time readings in Jewish texts led by one of the most charming, most charismatic geniuses I’ve met.
I do not, however, have enough pages left in this notebook, the plane is very shaky (I doubt I’ll be able to read my handwriting after), and the gabber behind me has (temporarily?) shut up, so that’s a sorely needed opportunity to catch up on the work I was in no mood to do in Bukhara.
P.S. When I got up to stretch my legs after writing this, I saw that the young man who’d been leaning on me the entire time was whiling away the time by drawing impeccably even patterns of arches and minarets in his notebook. The unfathomable aesthetic sense of these people! One’s only left to wonder why they dress in pleather, velour, and rhinestone-studded jersey all the time.
*Credit where credit is due: the 1/3 of the women who are beautiful, are so in a stunning, uncompromising way.
On 09/11/2001 I woke up feeling extremely worried. It was the day of the first class in a course for hotline volunteers. How terrifying that this was ten years ago. It was on the very cusp of my adult life. I was starting tenth grade, and was technically younger than the required 16, but had been accepted nonetheless, and was now facing a class in a new place with a roomful of strangers who would, in all likelihood, be older than me. A set of circumstances to cause anxiety in a fussy teen concerned with first impressions, if ever there was one.
As I was getting ready to go, something caught my eye on the TV. It was footage of a plane flying directly into a very tall building. I had no idea what the building was, but I was knowledgeable enough in aerodynamics to know that this was not supposed to be happening. The footage repeated several times, slowed down to give me a chance to study every detail of the fuzzy picture. There were clouds of dust billowing from the building. It was folding into itself. I was being late.
It transpired, however, that I was one of the first to arrive. We sat on chairs arranged in a circle in the attic that would go on to house us, with our bonding, learning, and frustrations, two nights a week, rain or shine, for over a year (and then another year for me, five years later, when I had to repeat the course, having abandoned the hotline in favor of 10th grade exams, and then returned, tired of regretting that choice). We knew none of that yet. We were feeling awkward: two, then three, four people who knew nothing about each other, sitting around waiting. The only common topic we could find was what we had all seen on TV that morning, some having watched more than others.
So we sat there for half an hour, talking about the plane crashing into the building. Some knew more about the event than I did, but I think at that time nobody knew for sure. We thought perhaps war was about to break out. We speculated on whether this had been done on purpose or not. The older members of our incomplete circle explained some things, but I, conscious of being the youngest and wishing to appear clever (my perpetual goal as a teen), did not ask many questions, choosing to pronounce important-sounding opinions instead.
What I learned only weeks later was that one of the people in that circle, a young man who went on to be a good friend of mine, a crush even, was in fact studying to be a firefighter. He was learning all the skills which did not help the men and women who perished saving lives on 09/11, and he was doing it at a school which was, as I discovered, a bus stop away from my parents’ home. He went to the U.S. later for a work and travel program, saying he was sick of fighting fires. I do not know what became of him. I am not sure why this feels important and symbolic, but it does.
The world is small. It is very small and full of coincidences and connections. There is also much evil in the world. That in itself is not frightening. It is as it should be, perhaps. What is frightening, though, is the links that run through everything and everyone, and connect the evil to the good with ties which are impossible to sever. You never know, never can know, who and what will tip the scale that final little bit for the good to pull irreparable evil after it. This is what is scariest to me about 09/11, and I understood or contemplated none of it ten years ago.
As readers go, I am rather naive. I’ve been trained in reading critically, analytically, but when it comes to reading for pleasure, my reactions are purely emotional and border on childlike. A single tweet would be enough to convey them. Like these recent reads:
“Montag just burned Beatty and I’m scared.” — Fahrenheit 451
“Intriguing. Disturbing. Intriguing. Very disturbing! Long.” — The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore
“Make Adrian live, make him live, oh no!” — Overqualified
“Jessica Wakefield is a bitch and needs to be slapped.” — Double Love (Sweet Valley High)
“There is no hope for anyone anywhere and everyone will die.” — The Fixer
“Unfair unfair unfair UNFAAAAIR!” — Vernon God Little
“Unfair unfair unfair UNFAIR RACISTS!” — Arthur and George
“Seriously? In these conditions, you found it possible to invite yourself to their house?” — The Bookseller of Kabul
“How can the author bear them not finding out?” — The Bastard of Istanbul
And so on. In a way these can be said to be the purest and most honest recommendations I can provide for these books, sharing not the product of my intellectual processing, but the actual impact they have on wherever feelings come from — my gut, probably — and can be expected to have on others.
After a combination of complaining online and driving myself up the wall again and again a hundred times like a crazed chihuahua, I did a handstand!! Six, in fact. And I’m fairly sure the next one will take fewer attempts. I’m so stoked!
The duality of its interpretations – one seeing it as the poetic story of unconditional love between a boy and his tree, and the other as the darkly faithless portrait of a selfish boy who keeps on taking from a tree that keeps on giving – illustrates some of the longest-running debates of moral philosophy: Is there such a thing as true altruism, and are human beings innately kind and selfless or innately unscrupulous and selfish? (We choose to side – and live – with the former.)
What do you think? I’m afraid I have to subscribe to the latter notion—not of humanity in general, but of this story—, although I generally believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt (and often chide A. for being prone to jumping to a pessimistic conclusion). But in this case I really cannot make a case for the boy. This kind of “user mentality” is repugnant. There is no way for me to see past the boy driving the tree further and further down with his passive-aggressive demands.
The greatest danger of reading this book as the story of a selfless tree which rejoices in giving, therefore, is that with this idea comes a justification of the boy’s behaviour, interpreting it, I guess, as gratitude and acceptance of the tree’s benevolence. This is too much of a price to pay for teaching a child that giving is necessary and enjoyable, which message is, in my view, of lesser priority than that of not abusing kindness and practising gratitude and humility.
If ever I have a child, I believe I will read this book with him, and the character I will emphasize shall not be the mono-dimensional, unequivocally good if overly submissive tree. It will be that of the manipulative ingrate who learns at an early age to emotionally bully kinder people into giving him whatever he wants at great cost to themselves. My message will be both Do Not Be That Boy and Do Not Be That Tree—never let anyone do you such an injustice.
I’ve come up with, I think, a great pearl of wisdom for a superstitious yet weirdly open-minded folk. It goes like this:
Never tell a dead person they’re dead. They may freak out and there’s no knowing what’ll happen.
Unfortunately, this is an equally great idea for one of those morbid zombie apocalypse novels which have been proliferating like particularly disgusting germs lately. Except that in such a novel the second sentence should read, “they may freak out and we know all too well what’ll happen.”
Just now while brushing my teeth I thought: it’s remarkable how many questions I ask the internet these days. There tend to be quite many questions in my life in general, and I am the sort of person who, when faced with a question, needs to find out the answer tout de suite lest I am to suffer horrible cramps of information deprivation. So why isn’t there a service which would remember Google queries, so you could pull up your day in questions?
From what I remember, I started today with several variations on the query “icons move on reboot samsung”. When my phone is rebooted or even connected to the computer and then disconnected from it, all my application icons shuffle around and destroy my carefully thought out placement. Answer: this is normal, nothing can be done except installing an outside launcher. I did and disliked it, so for now the icons are in disarray and I’m trying to tame my OCD tendencies. The next query was “wi fi error android”, because I realized the previous research was costing me lots of money on 3g, as my wi-fi was off and wouldn’t turn back on for some reason. (Yes, I go on line using my phone as soon as I open my eyes in the morning.) Answer: this is not normal but usual, nothing can be done except rebooting the phone (and having all the icons move around).
Later, already at work, I googled “djembe laffe” to see what the rhythm I’m about to learn in a three-day workshop sounded like. It appears that laffe or lafè is better known as “kurubi”. One of the results for that was this. Then I checked “she’s a boy i knew” to see whether it was a good film. I ended up seeing it, and it was very good and led me to my next query: “glamorous lesbians”, because I realized that though there are all kinds of people in the world and surely some of them are lesbians who follow the latest in fashion and wear high heels and shimmering make-up, I have never seen such a one, and even though in all probability she’d look like any other glamorous lady, I still wanted to. This was not a good idea. If any of you need a good query to find lesbian porn, this would be it.
Upon arrival home, I began googling again, first for “hula hooping tips”, then “hula hoop calories” and finally “are unweighted hula hoops useful”, because I have a new-to-me hoop and want to make sure it’s helping my cause, which is the same reason for which earlier I googled “exercise app capoeira” to see if there was any application that would calculate the benefits from my vigorous two-hour workouts if the workouts were not running or cycling (apparently not, what is this obsession with mile-based exercise?, but I discovered a 1989 video with conditioning exercises to improve capoeira technique, which may come in handy).
After clearing things up with the hoop and doing a 20-minute impression of a chicken with St. Vitus Dance, by the end of which I’d like to believe I finally learned to apply the tips yielded by all that research, I googled “שיר השירים” (Song of Songs) to find the Hebrew text for verse 1:17, because someone wants to tattoo these words on her body and doesn’t speak Hebrew, and you may think I know the Bible by heart but I don’t, and why would you assume such a thing? The answer, by the way, is: קרות בתינו ארזים רחיטנו ברותים.
Finally, I decided to write this post, and a flurry of queries ensued: “what I googled today” helped me find out that there is indeed no such application yet. “game everyone switches places” meant I was looking for a metaphor for my icons shuffling and could vaguely remember there was a children’s game like that. Although the answer, “train wreck”, is technically suitable for the occasion, I decided to forgo the metaphor. “st. vitus dance” was to check that St. Vitus is indeed spelled this way. He is. And that’s a good note to end on.
From my notebook: I ask A. whether one is allowed to chase down a burglar on Shabbat and take one’s stuff back. Take it back, probably, says A., but how you’d carry it back home, I don’t know. You could sit on it until Shabbat ends though, he adds, and I picture him perched piously on top of a pile of valuables, placidly awaiting the end of Shabbat, like a grotesque yet dignified bird.
I’m just through reading Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan. This was my first Levithan and my last Green (nothing else is available until September). It wasn’t as great as Green’s Paper Towns, but it’s hard to match what I think is his magnum opus to date. This one, however, was brilliant as well. Firstly, because the co-authors’ styles merge well (due, probably, in part to some magic editing). And secondly, because it’s a good story.
Sometimes I start a new book, and for the first few pages I just read the words, like gliding on the surface without a connection. And then all at once the surface seems to dip into a cliff, and my mind pans with it like a camera, following it into the sudden depth. I get tunnel vision, focused entirely on my reading. Lifting my eyes, I’m surprised it’s daytime, because it feels as though all light has been dimmed except for whatever is enabling me to hoover the letters off the page. Reality has little to do with me, because the story has me in a grip so strong it’s difficult to shake until the book ends.
I was reading Will Grayson Will Grayson at a very busy coffee shop today, sitting in an armchair in a corner. At some point, a group of teenagers came in, chattering noisily. They piled into my corner and took the other armchair, the sofa, the table, and even the floor next to me. All this did distract me, but only for a second. The magnetism of the story pulled me right back so powerfully, that with the girls laughing and screaming over each other and over my head, I was not even there to get annoyed or protective of my personal space.
The story of the two Will Graysons and of Tiny Cooper (who incidentally annoys the hell out of most readers, but I can’t help but like Green’s every character because they’re just too human, not perfectly good or impeccably bad) was not the best story I’ve ever read. Nor did it have the best ending. But it was one of the most gripping stories I’ve encountered lately, and though it’s true that I’m easily gripped, this is still saying something.
Etgar Keret’s Passover strip with Asaf Hanuka got me thinking: when Israel came out of Egypt, did their children continue to play Egyptian games? Was this frowned upon, like the games the adults played with Egyptian gods? Were the children, like the adults, clamoring to return to Egypt where they had devastatingly left all of their good toys?
And then I thought: what do we know about the games children played in Ancient Egypt? Surprisingly, it turns out we know a lot. There’s an entire webpage describing their games. (Probably not just one, but this is the first one I found. I derive a strange satisfaction from the fact that this is an Israeli website.) It’s a wonderful read. “Look, you have kicked me (?). My sides are tired.”
After some time, one comes to personify the seasons. This is how the Greeks came to be the way they were, no doubt. There is no other way of explaining these illogical goings-on than by ascribing to them the same level of randomness as that of people’s thinking.
It is entirely plausible that somewhere in the castle of the Season Father live his four teenage (for that is the randomest age of all) children, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring. Plausible too: these are all names that have by now surely been given to more than a few unlucky babies in the Western Hemisphere by people too rich or idealistic to know better.
And now that we’re already stereotyping, why not give the seasons characters. Summer shall be carefree, Fall bookish, Winter caustic, and Spring fickle.
Spring: Quit hogging the remote, Fall! I want to watch Desperate Housewives!
Fall: Go watch the TV in the kitchen, this documentary isn’t finished yet.
Spring: You are such a bore. FATHER! FALL ISN’T SHARING THE REMOTE!
Booming Voice from the Study: Sort it out among yourselves, children.
Spring: Why are you being such a jerk?
Winter: Because she has nothing better to do.
Spring: That’s no excuse.
Summer: Isn’t it your turn to go play with the humans, Spring?
Winter: No, it’s mine. They’ll be delighted, I’m sure.
Summer: You are delightful!
Winter: Yes, quite.
Spring: I thought this week it would be my turn already.
Fall: You went last week, didn’t you.
Fall: So you never get more than a week in the beginning.
Spring: Oh yeah? Who died and made you Father?
Summer: Don’t be horrid!
Spring: Oh shut up. I’ll be in my room, text me when Winter’s had enough.
Winter: (makes a face) Don’t get your hopes up. I adore the humans.
Spring: You jerk, if you don’t like it, why don’t you give them over?
Fall: Will you go argue somewhere else? I’m trying to watch this.
Summer: Yes, let’s go play squash!
Winter: Fine. I’ll just go make sure the humans have snow.
This perfectly credible scenario would explain the bizarre developments of late and the fact that we still can’t take our bikes out of their mothballed stall and save on those outrageously expensive trolleybus tickets.
My legs hurt. All of them. From my creaking hip joints to my knees which cry out in pain whenever I sit down on a chair or get up, to my overstrained calves, to the toe I stubbed hard on the floor yesterday. It’s all because of capoeira. Mind, this is not the post where I dramatically announce that I am giving up because it’s too hard. There’s no going back after I got those fancy new sweatpants the other day. However, it is too hard. The classes leave me battered and hurting in places I thought could only hurt if I joined the army. During class, I’m hardly ever not dizzy or gasping for air. Well, maybe during the final stretch, where I’m standing on the edge of the roda immobilized with fear of going in and actually putting what I’ve been practising to some real use.
The most important thing I have learned so far is not to push myself or to discover my limitations and learn to circumvent them. What I’ve learned is that I am very, very weak, and very, very soft, and capable of very, very little physically. And also, I have discovered anew the thing that this one woman on this one blog put so extremely well:
There are so many ways of saying it (plump, heavy, chubby, overweight, curvy, huggable, geared for childbirth even), but why bother? I feel like Fatty McLarderson, and every time I come to class I’m reminded of every single extra kilogram or centimetre that I’m lugging around on my stupid childbearing hips, because I need to lift all of it up in the air or swing it around, or do push ups with it. Even if I could only do three push ups a month ago, and can do twenty now. Even if some of those initial centimetres are gone. Even if my form in the basic movements has improved, and sometimes when the instructor comes up to us as we’re practising in pairs, it’s not me he is coming to talk to. Even if I’ve introduced strict rules of exercising every day of the week, and only break them every so often (I’ll do some of it as soon as I’m done writing, I swear). I’m still somewhere in the vicinity of square one.
I’m only writing this post, which is very much in the style of this blog two years ago, and much less appropriate now, to remind myself where I stand (incidentally, that headstand has been evading me ever since I bragged about it). To remember that I will go on, and I will practice, and I will see a doctor about those knees, and I will drag myself to the other end of town four times a week for class, but there’s a solid chance I’ll never be good at it.
There was an entire blog post in my head when I opened this window. But instead of posting it, I’d like to post this poem by Cavafy:
Waiting for the Barbarians
What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
The barbarians are due here today.
Why isn’t anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?
Because the barbarians are coming today.
What’s the point of senators making laws now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.
Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city’s main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?
Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor’s waiting to receive their leader.
He’s even got a scroll to give him,
loaded with titles, with imposing names.
Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?
Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.
Why don’t our distinguished orators turn up as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?
Because the barbarians are coming today
and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.
Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home lost in thought?
Because night has fallen and the barbarians haven’t come.
And some of our men just in from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.
Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
Those people were a kind of solution.
Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
Things like that dazzle the barbarians. Why would anyone write anything else after this has been written?
..Know my way around: art, classical music (in every sense of the word), bureaucracy.
..Know how to do: quote, play an instrument (forgot the recorder), write long, concentrate.
..Know how to get rid of: wishful thinking, comfort food, over-dramatization, knick-knacks.
..Know how to stop doing: showing off, procrastinating, obsessing/worrying, hoarding books.
..See myself doing: having kids (for now at least), working 9 to 5 (properly), wearing high heels.
..See myself ever liking: egg whites, show-offs, my looks, free jazz (too fragmented), ladylike purses.
If I were a complaints choir, I’d sing thusly:
It’s so cold that I may die, and nobody will care;
I have got no time to read and nothing good to wear;
Even if I had nice clothes, they wouldn’t fit me well;
I’ve no dog that would fetch help if I fell down a well.
Chorus: My life is very tragic
And I am full of spite
And the neighbours are too noisy
At all hours of the night.
My skin’s both dry and oily, and creams are yet to help;
And rhymes are such a problem, humpty-tumpty-kelp?
Good people are so far apart, but idiots abound;
And hardly anyone adopts those kitties from the pound;
Chorus: My life is very tragic
And I am full of spite
And the neighbours are too noisy
At all hours of the night.
My Neopets are dying because my care is poor;
Instead of putting things away, I put them on the floor;
The world has gloomy prospects, and revolutions fail;
Good bread that costs the most to buy’s the quickest to go stale.
Chorus: My life is very tragic
And I am full of spite
And the neighbours are too noisy
At all hours of the night.
I can’t afford the movies, but piracy’s a crime;
Though buses come on schedule, I rarely am on time;
Everyone hates Israel and blames things on the Jews;
I buy expensive products that I never even use.
And I am full of spite
And the neighbours are too noisy
At all hours of the night.
I get too many emails, but few of them are good;
People very rarely do what they have said they would;
This July I will, oh dear, turn twenty-five years old;
And does it really have to be so very very cold?
Chorus: My life is very tragic
And I am full of spite
And there should be a law against
Loud noises late at night.
Yeah I’m here, who said I wasn’t.
This has been a month of firsts for me. A. and I trekked to Cairo from Jerusalem. As we were shuddering through our five-hour ride in a speeding van in the dark desert, it suddenly struck us that it was not just a new city we were about to experience, and not merely a new country. In fact, it was an entire continent. The word “Africa” had always seemed so distant. Actually, it still does. And yet we were a train ride away from Chad or Niger, places hitherto synonymous with “unreachable”, and therefore “unreal”. As was the entire experience. We were sitting in the back of a van full of sleeping Egyptians, having a whispered argument about the Suez channel and whether we’d crossed it or not. Later, we found out we had.
We were there just before the current tumultuous events, by the way, and might have been among the last people to see Meseti’s beautiful wooden boat intact. The toy world found on Meseti’s sarcophagus, with the wooden models still wearing scraps of fabric for skirts as they went about their toy lives, was one of the things to leave the most profound impression on me. Funny how some things get at you. When they said there were people injured, even dead, I was, for want of a better word, concerned. But when this boat appeared in the news, broken, I cried. Suddenly, it became so very real to me that some kind of a world was crashing down.
Before that, for the first time in my life (that I can recall at least), I went to the Israel Museum. We didn’t spend too much time there, due to my embarrassingly short attention span and the sheer visual overload that the place inflicts on an unsuspecting citizen. However, we did see some awfully old and/or beautiful things. Including some sandal nails from some time B.C. Let me reiterate: funny how some things get at you. Small things. These are the nails that held someone’s shoes together, as he or she walked this land two millennia ago. These are the dried-up dates someone neglected to eat at dinner. 2,000 years ago. “Eat your dates,” said his or her mother then in a language I can speak now, “They’re healthy.”
Having returned from two weeks of intensive travel, I felt overcome by sluggishness. The snow, the early darkness, the thick clothing and clunky shoes, the freezing office were all extremely conducive to going home at 7 pm feeling like the day was over and spending five hours with the computer. So at some point I begged my brother for help and he graciously agreed to walk me by the hand to his capoeira class. The first time was last Monday. Last Wednesday I did a headstand. On my head. Using my hands for support. To support the bits of my body that weren’t supported by my head. This, obviously, was not something I’d anticipated doing. Not to worry, I’ve not been brilliant with the rest of it. Still. A month of firsts indeed.
For some reason, this post is begging for an ending that may seem a bit of a non-sequitur, but follows the rest perfectly in my head. Today I learned, or remembered, that Buddy Holly died at twenty-three. After which, I listened to “That’ll be the day” several times, thinking, I’m twenty-four. Twenty-four and a half this past January. It’s 2011. And there still are things in the world for me to do for the first time.
You should write a book, my mother says. She likes my blog. That’s the same thing. I just have to expand what I’m writing already. I make our family seem more interesting than it really is, so that means I should make it into a book. Are you writing a book, my friend asks. She thinks I should be. Because writing a book is exactly what I should be doing, and everyone knows that but me.
Expanding on my blog, I’d write a caustic novel about the family, which would be larger and funnier than life. It would represent the life of the whole clan as a series of humorous mishaps, with typical amusing character traits, language quirks, and habits. Everyone would be portrayed grotesquely Jewish, but, it would be emphasized time and time again, not religious at all. The only religious character would be A., whose commitment to God and Judaism would be blown so far out of proportion you’d think he was the next incarnation of the Baal Shem Tov or the Lubavitcher Rebbe, only hilarious. My superior position would be self-evident from each page.
My wonderful work, under its clever title with a pun referencing three different cultural notions and understandable to seven people in the world, including me and the six others I’d have the patience to explain it to, would go straight from the New Arrivals shelf to the Half Off shelf, bypassing the Top Sellers and the Staff Picks. There would be no critical acclaim, nor negative reviews, nor any professional notice at all. There would, however, be talk all over town: in my parents’ house, my grandparents’ house, and that of my close friend who has a ridiculously high esteem of everything I do. I would be proclaimed a promising young author both by my grandfather and all three of the family cats.
I’d spend several months to a year writing the thing. At the end of the year, I’d have grown to hate the entire enterprise, and would be typing with a permanent scowl and maybe a cigarette in my teeth (not that I smoke, but it would only be fitting that I should start). There would be an immovable mug of stale cold coffee installed by my side, and to complete the cliché, I’d have unkempt hair which I’d stick my fingers into every time a sentence would refuse to form – and growl.
This would be the only book I’d ever write. Disillusioned after the huge flop that the thing would have been, I’d stick to reading other people’s work, mumbling derogatory comments and imagining that I look jaded. My friends and family would own copies of my slim oeuvre in uncracked covers, proudly telling the guests browsing through their bookcases that his one was by someone they knew. When I’d die, my tombstone would read “Author of [Title]”. Or maybe, “The Grumpus”.