…I mean, it’s all right, everything’s fine. It’s Saturday so I am allowed to eat anything and not work or exercise (but I miss the orderliness of working days, so I will at least go running tonight). For company I have a man taking a four-hour nap and two rats trying to fold into each other in the world’s most compact rat ball. I fill a glass with cereal (not the healthy kind, the kind with chocolate in it, but it’s whole and high in fiber anyway) and don’t notice it crunching away. I miss writing, but when I start, I miss the point. I like the font however, so I continue.
…It’s all right, we’re good, we’re on an upward trend, we’re teaching ourselves good habits. Not on Saturdays, obviously, on Saturdays we are allowed anything. Even though that makes it so much harder to make peace with the fact that on Sundays we aren’t. What Sundays are, they are penance for the excess of the weekend. There is always something unpleasant to do on a Sunday: work, chores, or bi-weekly grocery shopping where they haven’t yet restocked the vegetable aisle.
…Still, I’m managing, and even the anxiety is not that bad these days. Not that I have nothing to be anxious about or that when I don’t have anything, that I don’t invent things to be anxious about. You know how someone may accidentally hurt your feelings, then apologize, and you forgive them, but the hurt remains somewhere, like indistinct heartburn? The same happens to me when I think of money, even when there’s enough, and exercise, even when I’ve been very good.
…Is it true that when a love affair (such an old-fashioned word in this hegemony of ‘relationships’) ends, it takes something away with it? The end of my marriage took away my ability to make good Turkish coffee. So what, we have a coffee machine now. The next affair took away my ability to believe my own worth as reflected in the eyes of the other. Through no fault of anyone’s, or so I choose to believe. This current one brought that back anyway. No luck with the coffee though.
…I wish I were the kind of person that goes to botanical gardens with a sketchbook. Or the kind of person with a theatre membership. Or a limited-intelligence mall-dressing suburb-dwelling ambitionless pre-planned-life-executing kind of person. Some kind of a happier human being, the kind that doesn’t feel restless and brimming with sadness when it really is perfectly all right.
We are living through apocalyptic times. No, I am not exaggerating. The fires and boiling lava of the Gehenna have risen to swallow up the Holy City of Jerusalem. Next thing to be expected, synoptically, is for fire to rain from the skies. Perhaps we are Gomorrah 2.0. There is plenty of evidence that would support that theory.
We are mired in most of the deadly sins: greed (the prices on fans are through the roof), wrath (in this heat, you hate anyone who gets close to you), envy (just think how nice it must be for those bastards in Iceland this time of the year), and sloth (sweating through the few garments that we are forced by common decency to wear). There is little to no gluttony and lust though, because the thought of eating or being lustful in this heat causes light nausea.
For some time now, getting into the car has been a ritual where the brave driver dives inside to open all doors and start the AC, and then launches himself out again to avoid full body burns from the pure dragon’s-breath heat spewing from the vents for the first several minutes. We thought the car’s thermometer was broken when it started reporting temperatures approaching and passing 40 degrees Celsius, but alas, it is functioning well and true to the appalling reality. The fact that we feel like we are right inside the engine of a spaceship launching from the planet supports the figures on the cruel little screen.
Last night, I went jogging. Why not, I thought, it is dark outside and the heat must have subsided, right? 100 percent correct. It had subsided by almost a dozen degrees, reaching a meager 32. If I were a deranged eco-fiend, I would have brought a (recyclable, biodegradable cardboard) bucket with me to collect my own sweat, and it would have been enough for a post-run shower followed by the most disgusting cup of tea ever. As it was, I was forced to use up about a quarter of the Earth’s remaining water supply to cool off after the nightmare that is healthy exercise in this weather.
The unprecedented heatwave is driving everyone crazy. Did I say crazy? I meant insane, clinically brain-dead, totally, fully, completely batshit. Who said ‘exaggeration’ again? No, this here is scientific truth. The little Facebook groups meant for people to trade their little belongings and share valuable advice on where to buy the best lightbulbs in the city have spontaneously transformed into Hyde-parkish arenas of free speech, producing such pearls as “Speaking of extremism, how about our Mayor! You call these streets clean!? I call this a disgrace!” I call bullshit, but who ever asked me.
In short, if you haven’t gathered so yet, it is somewhat warmish in our corner of the woods, and every aspect of life is boiling. If you are a true friend, send help: a ton of Ben&Jerry’s, a ticket to Iceland, or perhaps one of those ridiculous Japanese air-conditioned jackets which look as though someone took a bicycle pump to your torso but are rumored to actually work against heat. Frankly, I no longer fear ridicule when faced with the very real possibility of my body melting like the Wicked Witch of the Mediterranean.
P.S. How funny is it that the last post on here was about the cold? Ah, cold, how unappreciated you were in your time.
So it’s winter in Jerusalem. That means that it’s chilly outside and my apartment has Gone Cold.
It’s so cold that the goosebumps have become permanent. I now have dragon skin.
It’s so cold that I can’t peel off the blanket long enough to put on more clothes.
It’s so cold that I have to add a jacket when I come in, not when I go out.
It’s so cold that for polite company I’d need two padded bras one on top of the other.
It’s so cold that I only know my toes are freezing by seeing that they’re blue, haven’t felt them in days.
It’s so cold that I begin every workout wearing layers and only take them off half an hour in.
It’s so cold that I go to bed fully dressed because the covers are too icy to the touch.
It’s so cold that I can almost see what little breath comes through my perma-stuffed nose.
It’s so cold that I take 30 minute showers because I can’t bring myself to switch off the scalding water.
It’s so cold that food is refrigerated both in and out of the fridge.
It’s so cold that fruit become less ripe if left alone for a while.
It’s so cold that my tea gets undrinkable less than halfway down the mug.
It’s so cold that my heart is turning to ice and I’m about to steal Christmas.
It’s so cold that I’m about to go outside to warm up a little bit. If I can get myself to take off the PJs, robe and blanket so as to dress. I’ve been known to leave the house wearing PJs disguised as real clothes for this precise reason. All this because we live in Such a Hot Country that built-in heating is simply unnecessary, so houses come without it. Blame it on the warm effing Mediterranean climate.
Most people know that I am sort of hyperactive when it comes to work; I tend to have multiple projects going on and enjoy it. I am normally very quick in completing assignments and good at managing myself in terms of deadlines and spreading my workload to have a healthy and varied flow that includes different activities and leaves time over for general life-living.
However, once in a while there will be periods (lasting days or weeks or even months) when I am unable to do anything. Throughout the day, I’ll just stare at the computer, intermittently falling asleep, or read if I’m lucky (not always an option for oftentimes the ability to concentrate on any written text longer than two pages is the first to go), or cry and berate myself for not focusing. I do exercise, because it’s become a reflex, and because my guilt complex also known as my self-denigration drive is stronger than a hurricane. Other than that, nothing: no learning, no socializing, no practicing music, no work, no work, no work. Being pathetic and needy is very high on my list of behaviors to avoid, yet it becomes prevalent when I turn to my loved ones begging them to find me a solution which I know doesn’t exist. Explaining to anyone who will listen what a lowlife I have become, how worthless, useless, brainless and etc.-less, is another tendency of which I am both guilty and less than proud.
How fitting then, that such a period should come on just when I started an exciting new job that demands, among other things, high levels of concentration and self-discipline working at home. There is a fair amount of hours that need to be clocked in, and punching in to stare blankly at the screen or the ceiling hardly seems like something the people responsible for bringing me up would approve of. Apparently, I fail even at being a proper layabout, one that wouldn’t hesitate to press that green button and feel that as long as rent is taken care of, producing zero results is a minor concern.
Rent, incidentally, is one of the reasons I can’t just submit to this wave of dullness and wait for it to subside, as it usually, eventually, to some degree at least, does. There is nothing to fall back on. My reputation and my enormous Egyptian pyramid of Maslowian needs rely solely on my own performance as a human being. No longer a kid or a married woman, I live alone and have to deal with these attacks alone. And it must be said that there’s very little fun in this shit.
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.
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.
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.
Life’s been pretty repetitive lately.
On the micro level of a day it seems like it’s always: force myself out of bed entirely too late feeling wretched; walk to work; do a bit of Job #1 and a lot of procrastination; then some Job #2; then either do translations by the dozen (pages), or head directly home and go into vegetable mode reading a couple novels a day (fantasy and easy reading) or watching tv-shows end to end while earning lots and lots of Neopoints playing bouncy ball games; have several gallons of tea; often some odds and ends for Job #1 crammed in between; and finally, go to bed much too late.
On the macro level of a week it’s: Yiddish Sunday, Danish Monday, lately also yoga Thursday (about to start going on Mondays as well), home early Friday, vegging out Saturday, then all over again, interspersed with thoroughly uninspiring days at work and afternoons in noisy coffee-shops with translations, when there are any. These past two weeks there haven’t been any. I’m finding it difficult to fall asleep (this whole conscious breathing affair from yoga comes in handy, though, ommm), and waking up sweaty and harried from all the running about and fatal bureaucratic obstacles going on in my dreams.
What I need is a fantasy vacation. I’m pining for the fjords. Portugal could do me no end of good. Marrakesh would revive me. I would give half my kingdom to see Nepal. What I don’t need is a group of student visitors coming into my office at an ungodly hour tomorrow expecting to be shown around. Night owls vs. early birds will be the theme of my next rant, stay tuned.
Someone said that you become an adult when you have to start working harder for your income and spend it on vital necessities, not on fun. I may add that you become even more acutely aware of adulthood when the additional income you get (by moonlighting or accepting temporary jobs) goes towards the bills and not toys and treats like before.
Also when people stop asking you what you want to do when you grow up and begin asking what you want to do next year.
Today’s strange observation — graffiti conversation in a girls’ bathroom stall at university:
– I want to go to Harvard.
– Well, I want to go to Ravenclaw, so effing what?
– I’m perfectly happy at Slytherin, it’s super!
– People, Harvard is not the same as Hogvard. (sic)
– We know it’s not, but they’re both FAR AWAY :)
– Yes, but Harvard is closer.
– No it’s not, Harvard is in the U.S., and Hogwarts is in the U.K.
So there’s that.
1. What did you do in 2008 that you’d never done before? Learn Danish, climb huge rocks, get a year ticket to the opera, travel alone for no reason.
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? I don’t remember making any last year, and I make resolutions every day anyway.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Yes! I’m now a happy aunt! (My cousin had a son a few days ago)
4. Did anyone close to you die? Unfortunately, yes.
5. What countries did you visit? Israel, Ukraine (first time), and Russia.
6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008? Patience, a hot bod, and a house in Jerusalem.
7. What dates from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? Probably the days of #3 and#4. And also the day A. gave me a very special gift.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Several months of daily workouts; shooting a vow renewal ceremony for my friend’s parents.
9. What was your biggest failure? The following several months of no workouts at all; the whole driving license fiasco.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury? No.
11. What was the best thing you bought? My Nikon D40.
12. Whose behavior merited celebration? My family members.
13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? My own?
14. Where did most of your money go? Take-out coffee and stupid stuff.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? My nephew, my camera, working out, seeing Bob Dylan and Katie Melua live.
16. What song will always remind you of 2008? Maybe February by Jesus Jones or Ghost Town by Katie Melua.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? About the same.
b) thinner or fatter? A tad thinner, I guess, but still fatter than I’d like.
c) richer or poorer? Potentially richer, if I get to work now.
18. What do you wish you’d done more of? Changing. Schoolwork.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of? Succumbing to my weaknesses, whining, and procrastinating.
20. How did you spend Christmas? A shift at the hotline and watching Grease on the eve, working the whole day Christmas day.
21. Did you fall in love in 2008? I’m married, this is obviously a trick question.
22. What was your favorite TV program? What, one? I watched and liked Scrubs, House MD, How I Met Your Mother, Whose Line Is It Anyway, Top Design, Project Runway, Californication, and Will&Grace.
23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? I don’t think so.
24. What was the best book you read? Lost in Translation by Eva Hoffman and maybe Don Quixote.
25. What was your greatest musical discovery? The Jews Brothers Band might not have been the greatest, but it’s the most recent.
26. What did you want and get? Beside various items, I got to go to Israel and the Crimea; I also made two friends in university, which I’d lost hope of doing a while ago; and I learned some Danish.
27. What did you want and not get? Myself together.
28. What was your favorite film of this year? Wall-E, Get Real and The Fall.
29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I worked all day, argued a lot, and was hungry. I turned 22.
30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? More peace with myself and the world around.
31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008? Whatever fits?
32. What kept you sane? A. and the gym.
33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Stephen Fry – always.
34. What political issue stirred you the most? Maybe the U.S. presidential elections.
35. Who did you miss? Most of my friends – they all live far away.
36. Who was the best new person you met? My friend’s boyfriend S.?
37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008. Always write down valuable lessons in case of an end-of-year quiz.
38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year. Is there a song about how I only remember the past two weeks? ‘I have been drinking heavily the whole time, lalala’?
On a house not that far from my own there is a graffiti: A.V. + J.U. 4EVER? Just like that, with a big fat question mark. It strikes me as deep and tongue-in-cheek at the same time, like someone challenging eternity with a can of spray-paint. ‘Oh yeah,’ they seem to be saying, ‘you think you’ll be together till death do you part? I bet there’s an expiration date here somewhere.’ I wonder whether the question mark was pirated on to the love note, or if it was there originally.
It’s summer break, which is weird, because there is nothing much to do, except the daily workout and the two-and-a-half hours I will spend at the hotline every so often. (My first unsupervised shift was today, and boy am I glad that there was a mix-up and I didn’t have to stay for five hours!) I am reading a book or two a day and not really sleeping or eating enough. There is only so much boredom a girl can survive, so I need to come up with somewhere to put myself quickly.
Our laptop is broken again, and no amount of soldering wires to microchips helped this time, plus we lost most of the tiny little screws, so A. took it down to the service shop, and I am browsing on borrowed time. Dad’s laptop is newer than ours and it runs Windows Vista, which is sleek but excrutiatingly stick-prone. It keeps slowing down as if it has forever. Well, a question mark would be right in place there, so please don’t rush to alert the blogging authorities if I’m absent a lot.
The words – I have none of them! Let’s try pictures.
It is decidedly spring. There are green leaves on every bush, and most trees are sprouting buds as well. This particular tree is a chestnut. With their enormous buds and beautiful candle-like blooms, they have been a joyful sign of spring for as long as I can remember.
While the trees are bringing forth their new clothes, others are shedding theirs. With a fluffy cat and a furry dog in the house, this is tiresome business. Don’t take this to mean I don’t love our pets. I just don’t love them enough to eat and breathe their hair. I still get to.
We have gotten the hang of teaching. As the group finally forms, our purpose grows clearer and ipso facto so does our message. It is rewarding to see seven people, four of whom have taught me in some way, listening attentively and trying the new skills we show them.
This is A. He is mine and I love him.
‘How do you turn this off?’ the doctor muses aloud.
‘There’s a button,’ I mutter, popping in just to press it. When I leave, the conversation resumes.
‘This is our Ollka,’ says Grandma to the doctor, ‘And that one before was our Alex. Ollka is married.’
‘Is she?’ the doctor sounds surprised, ‘She looks like a child…’ I stop listening, it’s time to change out of my sweatshirt and cords and head out.
Looking considerably more respectable, I enter Grandma’s room again: ‘Do you need anything before I go?’
‘No, thanks. I was telling the doctor about you.’
‘Really,’ I am not very enthusiastic. After all, she tells everyone.
‘Yes, my dear,’ the kind old doc pipes in seriously, ‘I think you look young. How old are you?’
‘Twenty-one, thank you,’ I smile.
‘Well, I’d have guessed less.’ She looks disapproving.
I smile again and shrug. All my life I was an old-looking teenager, and even if now I am finally a young-looking adult, inside, I am still seventeen – as per doctor’s orders.
This Saturday the Free Hugs Campaign was brought to Vilnius by Fabrice the fabulous Frenchman. The nice people over at Laimikis brought this to public attention, and they also said they could use some photos. So I grabbed a friend, and more importantly, his camera, and went out to shoot some hugs.
I took close to 300 pictures, out of which about 30 came out presentable. They are all on my Flickr page, and here are three (to make all the numbers match) I especially like:
When I asked Fabrice why he had decided to do this here in Vilnius, he said he had done it twice in Siberia, so Vilnius was bound to be easier. Which is a strange answer, but what do you expect from a guy who gave out hugs to frowning people in furs.
We walked around the two main squares of town, the eleven huggers with their signs and me with my camera, making people laugh, squirm, run away, nudge each other, and swear at us (just a couple times), and experienced the city like never before.
We hugged tourists who spoke different languages, children who looked shyly to their mothers for permission, old people whose eyes shone at being happily addressed by youngsters, salesmen who gave us small sweets and gifts for every hug…
We advertised more than Juan Mann, the inventor of Free Hugs, would probably recommend, but then we live in a much colder climate. So we followed people asking them for hugs, and said time and time again: ‘Come on, it’s absolutely free!’
At some point we stopped for some tea/milk/cake at the Milk Bar, and when we came out, it was already getting dark. So I packed the camera away and took a hug sign. Hugging a stranger is like having an epiphany – intense, and different every time.
And then, for the first time ever, a local newspaper published a photo I took that day, and I realized that it’s all about being there when it happens. This simple effort will bring me so much closer to everything I’ve ever dreamed of. You too, probably.
Thank you Laimikis, and thanks to everyone who did this. Meeting all you guys and watching the things you did was so much inspiration.
Update: my friend Mark has posted almost every picture I shot with his camera here. Check them out, if you like.
Today was the first day of term, which basically means back to normal life and back to work, because I swore to myself that I will do much better this time around. No more skipping classes, no more using other people’s notes, no more being late everywhere, no more reading in class.
So, It’s 2:49 a.m. now and I’m not going to school tomorrow. I skyped a friend and asked her to tell the teacher something if he askes after me. ‘Tell me what to say so our lies match,’ she replied calmly. I told her to say I had food poisoning. The truth simply would not do any good.
Seeing as it would sound more or less like this: I’m sitting at the kitchen table, sipping a craptastic instant cappuccino, trying to translate an endless ill-written text about anti-Semitism, due yesterday. I feel like an old bald fat man in a sweat-stained shirt, though mine is clean.
Food poisoning sounds infinitely more elegant. The greenish color of my face and the giant bags under my eyes will probably support the lie. Do you love the picture I’m painting here? Add in vertical hair: when I work, I keep ruffling it until it sticks out in every direction. Classy, eh!
– Laptop Snuffs It: Owner Inconsolable, Annoyed
– November Back In Town, Citizens Cranky
– Blogger Graduates Hotline Course, Anxious
– Teapot Googlers Reach New Low
– Blogger, 21, Found Dead Of Boredom
My main plan for this afternoon was a cup of coffee with a dear friend of mine, and I had based the day around it. That went to hell when I was walking through the door, because the dog made it out before me, and when she runs away every plan needs to be put on hold. She hadn’t run away for over a year now, but today her instinct got the better of her.
Anyway, when we were done chasing her through the new snow (kind of fun, but not with disgusting old hags yapping at Dad and me from every direction; God, people can be so bloody annoying) it was too late to go anywhere, so all that was left was put on A.’s old cords and sit down to watch movies. So I finally watched Life of Brian and The Holy Grail.
I really like Monty Python. Theirs is a kind of humour that is easy to appreciate – with a healthy dose of PG-16, but lots of wordplay and just good old tongue-in-cheek parody too. I always watch comedy with the question in mind: was this fun to do for the crew? This seems to have been a hoot, and that makes it all the more enjoyable for me as a viewer.
And there’s also the music. I actually have their album (Monty Python Sings) in my walkman, and it’s hilarious. I’d recommend it to anyone. Life of Brian has some of the funnier songs, while The Holy Grail has lots of its funny moments based on the soundtrack – like the adventures of Sir Robin, or the majestic music that follows Arthur around.
So all in all, I guess I’m trying to say that even though my perfectly thought-through plan for today went haywire, I’m kind of glad it did, because I had a good day in the end. Let’s see this as a sort of practise in looking at the bright side. *whistle whistle*