Gentlemen, I Apologize!

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Yes, I know for a fact there still are many of you left out there, although you are part of what appears to be a rapidly dying breed. To all of you who still open the door for us, who still offer us flowers on special occasions and not only, who still help us with our coat or hold the chair for us in a restaurant, who plan a romantic date and don’t suddenly remember they forgot to bring their wallet, to all of you who treat us with respect, appreciation and consideration, I offer a blanket apology. To all of you able and willing to make a woman feel like a lady, I apologize for all those times your kind gestures went unappreciated or scorned, thus pushing you towards overcoming your decent nature and good manners.

It can be a trialling time of year for any man wishing to show his love and appreciation for those important ladies in his life. Having barely survived Valentine’s Day’s trials and tribulations, now that spring is finally here, many of them have to deal with Mother’s Day and/or International Woman’s Day being celebrated in many places. It’s a murky pool of rules and shifting expectations out there and much as they may try, it seems that the kindest of intentions often turn against them. It’s not as simple as having good manners or being altruistic and generous anymore. Expectations vary from one woman to another and in a world of feminist tendencies, conservative needs and a variety of trends in between intertwining (often in the same person), it’s all about timing and intuition. Does she want/need/expect him to bring her flowers or open the car door or pay for dinner… or will she feel offended if he does any of the above, considering him a Neanderthal wishing to control her, treating her as an inferior, weaker creature rather than his equal? Or is she by any chance saying one thing and expecting another, in which case he needs to carefully anticipate exactly when, how and which rules may apply? None of this can be easy for them, so those of us expecting men to be gentlemen might occasionally have to stop taking such behaviour for granted and show some appreciation and understanding.

I used to think they have an easier time once they get to know the lady well enough in order to know what to expect and what she expects… but how many times have I been told they never really know what to expect from us and no matter how close they may be to us, we keep surprising them with our behaviour (and not always in a good way)?

The flowers hadn’t arrived. It was Valentine’s Day and her flowers and chocolates hadn’t arrived, so he was a bad, bad husband! Bad, inconsiderate, detestable man! But the flowers, chocolates and card had been ordered weeks ahead, the special day hadn’t gone unnoticed or forgotten, even if he had to be away for work. A thoughtful gift and a romantic dinner were going to follow when he got back home. Irrelevant! All of that was irrelevant, as was the confirmation email forwarded to her in order to prove the veracity of his good intentions. The delivery company had made a mistake, everything would get there the following day, but that was also irrelevant and he was still and awful creature who ruined her Valentine’s Day… because she had nothing to show off that day! Obviously, flowers are beautiful, chocolates are sweet, the sentiment is nice on that day alone and nothing else matters!

In case anybody expected this to be a teenager throwing a tantrum, I must add the story above involved middle-aged people married for well over a decade. If only this were the one situation of the sort I ever got to witness… I know the bad, bad man in question and while he certainly has his flaws, just like everybody else, he didn’t deserve any of that. It got me thinking – just how many men doing their best to be real gentlemen go through such experiences with those significant ladies in their life?

As a woman, I couldn’t help feeling somewhat small and petty… I keep feeling disgruntled and unfairly criticised when my gender is labelled materialistic, selfish, petty and ungrateful by men becoming irrational hysterics around various holidays and special occasions. I generally blame it on their unwillingness to be generous and understanding or on their poor choices in women, thus leading to frustration they spread around and for which they blame all womankind. After all, there are women looking just for what these men have to offer, so why should they bother with those of us wanting something else? Obviously, the situation is a lot more complex and the truth can no longer be denied – some of those men may have very well made significant efforts to be decent gentlemen, yet we ladies may have been exactly what convinced them it was not worth it.

Last, but not least, how about reciprocity?… Before turning men and their feelings for us into mere accessories we can brag about (although we complain bitterly if they treat us that way), we might want to take a moment and wonder if we actually offer something in return, thus justifying all those stellar expectations we often have… those very same expectations we blame them for not living up to… We are all guilty of occasionally taking for granted those people who care about us and who treat us well, but turning it into a way of life is something else. And since we were on the topic, Valentine’s Day (for instance) is a two-way street, we can and we should be generous and romantic as well – they may not look as delicate as we do, but that’s not to say they have no feelings, egos or insecurities. Oh… and apparently they might also have a sweet tooth, so it was brought to my attention that they might actually appreciate it if we shared those delicious chocolates they brought us. (Hmm… couldn’t I just offer a few roses? Pretty please? Asking me to share my chocolates with anyone is almost cruel… Oh well… that might be the ladylike thing to do, though…)

Therefore, I apologize to those of you, gentlemen we have been treated unfairly! But don’t give up on us or on that kind side of your nature. Just like you, we also make mistakes and once in a while, we even try to atone for some of those mistakes.

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 20

“Careful, there might be snakes in the grass, just by the water.”

“Do you mean other than you? Are they poisonous?”

“None of us are,” he replied laughing, not at all offended by her all too familiar cynicism. “Not that I know of, anyway. But I would think twice before having an apple, Eve…”

“Why? You strike me as the kind of man who has had his fair share of apples…”

“Perhaps too many… that’s how you inevitably come across the occasionally rotten one and then you get to deal with the consequences.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t you that was the rotten one to begin with?”

“Not to begin with. But who knows, later on… Things change and people evolve to what their true nature is.”

The dialogue restored their sleeping senses, double meaning was a game that they were both good at, but more importantly they both enjoyed it tremendously. Double entendre is the entrance gate into that which finally allows for so many possibilities to materialise, it’s a plethora of opportunities to reach out and pick exactly what you want from a sea of endless interpretations; and the need for any sort of accountability fades away, as an endowed mind can shape the reality into whatever they might desire to understand it to be. Robert was finally near her, standing behind her, not close enough to touch, but close enough for Amalia to feel his breath though her hair, on the nape of her neck, to feel the warmth of his body emanating towards her almost like she had felt the heat of the ancient stones earlier. However, the sensations stirred up were not at all alike.

“How about we swap that apple in your hand for a nice cup of coffee, in an air-conditioned restaurant?”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 19

The sudden metamorphosis was striking – the cynical smile was gone and she looked real. For the first time she not only was young, but she looked young. He had not foreseen such an effect, all he wanted was to distance himself from the crowd and make Amalia notice he was somewhat different than the rest of the men who probably threw themselves at her feet. But this was something else, this was something he could relate to, she was a person he could relate to and he felt the time winding back, the same way she must have felt. There could have been no other explanation for her transfiguration. He felt an acute need to smile when he saw her gracefully jump over rocks, keeping her balance on the dusty path or on the slippery grass. An indefinite moment from his past wanted to take over him, but he shook it off immediately, finding his way to the stone wall she was leaning on now. She looked alone, having probably forgotten all about him, lost in her thoughts. What does someone like her think about anyway?

“Let’s go all the way down to the water,” she suddenly motioned back towards him and he almost had the feeling she would reach out and take his hand. Was she even thinking of doing such a thing or was it just what he would have liked to happen, in view of old memories and images from a different lifetime that seemed so intent to flood his mind this afternoon? Robert got angry with himself at the mere idea of it, that man was gone and so was that life, with all the people it had encompassed; the person he had struggled so hard to become over the years allowed for no such weakness.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 17

 

There is a certain dose of masochism in every one of us, but some are endowed with more than the usual amount. Robert knew that she was right and he hated her being right on such a topic, especially when she so stubbornly held on to her ideas. What he failed to grasp was the fact that it was a similar kind of masochism which made him feel attracted to her. It was that particular moment that he realised he wanted and he needed to have her exactly because she wasn’t just beautiful and young, but she was stubborn and with a mind of her own… and because he would never be able to control her. But he was still able to control himself and easily swallow the offensive words he felt the need to throw at her, just as he was able to put aside his latest realisation regarding his urges and carry on with what he had planned for the day. Any sudden move would scare her away, that became clear shortly after they had met, and he didn’t want to risk his newfound happiness: he wanted something and he had no idea how and when he’d get it, and that gave him a thrill of happiness, as he realised how fun it would be to get there.

They were approaching their destination for the afternoon and all the traffic signs and touristic indications started to clearly point out where they were heading. Amalia had to give him credit for the original idea and started to be restless, looking forward to get there, so she could get out of the car and wonder about freely in the scorching afternoon sun.

“Is that where we’re going?”

“It is. Are you going to throw stones at me as soon as we get out of the car?”

“Doubtfully,” she smiled. “I’ve been meaning to come see this place for a while, but it just seems there’s always something else to do first.”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 16

“The idiot is in love with you.” He didn’t know whether to get angry at her or just laugh at that guy’s stupidity – something from the past was trying to claw its way to the surface, but he instinctively pushed it back deeper, the way he had always done.

“Let’s leave this cliché for another time. He’s just in need of finding himself a new mother figure, someone who would tell him what to do, would control his every action and would relinquish all his responsibility when things go badly; because, after all, it was only her fault, as she was the only one with a say in it, and he can just relax, enjoy the ride and bask in the amount of drama him being the victim of the soulless woman would offer.”

“I almost feel sorry for the poor guy. You don’t appreciate him at all, do you?”

“Of course I do, we’re actually friends, but anything more than that is subject to certain rules. I do care about the fact that he was there when I wanted him to be there and about the fact that he’s a nice guy, but on one hand that’s not enough for me, and on the other hand, I get the feeling that by ‘appreciation’ people tend to understand changing yourself in order to fit some idea of what would please another person. And the irony is, the one I am now is what he’s obsessing over, whereas the washed-out cloth I’d become by changing to please him would hold no interest whatsoever.”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Someone’s Birthday

It’s someone’s birthday today… a very special someone… No matter how pouty or grumpy he might get on this particular occasion, I know he actually likes it when people remember and acknowledge his birthday 🙂 . So, to the man who never tried to change me, to the man I never tried to change, to the man who appreciated me for my flaws, not in spite of them, to this unique man I now wish a Happy Birthday and that special brand of contentment he and I understand so well.

Happy Birthday!

Parallel Lives – Sample fragment 13

“He’s a pair of knitted woollen socks.”

“Excuse me? What the hell does that mean?”

“Did you ever have a pair of those woollen socks that grandma knitted for you?”

“Of course, several of them, I might still have one or two in some drawer, somewhere. What does that have to do with anything?”

“They’re the kind of thing that you don’t really need, you don’t really wear, but you can’t get yourself to throw them away, because of what they are. Sure, they’re ugly and the rough wool makes them unpleasant on your skin, but the truth of the matter is that you have worn them a few times, perhaps on a really cold winter night, or when you went to the mountains and the cold was too much to bear… you wore them and they proved to be exactly what you needed at that moment, in order to achieve a certain relative amount of comfort. So you can’t bring yourself to throw them out, you might need them again someday. Plus, there’s also the emotional factor – they mean something because grandma made them, you can connect them to certain memories you aren’t ready to let go yet – and that’s how they end up being kept on the bottom of some drawer, to be taken out once in a blue moon, when the situation is critical. But you would never think of wearing them in public, with your nice, Italian leather shoes, would you? And in fact, you probably wouldn’t even miss them much if you were to finally get rid of them when you cleaned up your wardrobe more carefully…”

Robert was almost laughing at her analogy. I can’t believe how much sense her idiotic idea makes… She actually perceives another human being – one who, by all accounts, cares about her enough not to notice such obvious things – as nothing more than some sort of outdated accessory to be trotted out and tucked away only according to her needs, with no saying in it whatsoever… He didn’t know what he believed about that, he wanted to disagree with her and disapprove of such an attitude, but the truth was he admired her bluntness, he was forced to accept that he himself had treated people no better than that, perhaps even worse, more than one time. But she seemed not to see anything wrong with it because she made no effort to hide it.

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

Three Is Not Always Perfect

I coincidentally found out that she divorced him. The same way I had coincidentally found out the two of them had gotten married in the first place. The same way I found out they had a beautiful daughter.

I didn’t congratulate her on her wedding or on having the baby she was dreaming to have ever since she was a child herself and I didn’t comfort her during her divorce. She didn’t invite me to her wedding, she didn’t let me know that their little family was becoming a trio and she didn’t bare her soul to me when her dream family proved to be just that – a mere illusion. None of us did any of those things, because we were about eighteen when we last spoke, and the last time we were close friends was even a while before that.

Her marriage and pregnancy didn’t come as a surprise. The kind of man she chose to marry didn’t surprise me either. But her finding the strength to leave him did – I was impressed and I was happy for her… and for a moment I could see that stubborn little girl she once was.

We are the same age and we spent the first years of our lives playing and growing up together. Then school separated us, but only in a certain way, because we shared that kind of bond and friendship that seem indestructible at that age. We were both competitive, we were both stubborn and opinionated, we were both convinced we had all the answers, but we were completely different and we appreciated each other exactly because of it. We had constant access to each other’s world, but the older we got, the less use we wanted to make of that access.

Being different slowly became having nothing in common. I didn’t feel comfortable among her friends and she felt like a stranger among mine; so of course we both acted up and those people became the enemy. But we could even accept that about each other – it would be just the two of us when we met, sharing everything and supporting each other during those confusing, complicated and painful years. However, a time came when not even the family drama that always brought us together managed to be a strong enough link. And what a cliché the reason appeared to be – nothing else but boys.

Yet there was so much more to it than that trivial fact – we were making our choices regarding the paths we were going to follow, the kind of life we wanted, the kind of treatment we considered we deserved. I had a boyfriend who worshiped me and perceived me as the centre of his universe, while I wasn’t necessarily always kind to him. Her take on a ‘real man’ was somewhat different than mine… to say the least. Jealousy, violence and control were what she perceived as the main attributes of the guy worthy of her love. Her boyfriends became more and more questionable, until I finally had to refuse meeting one of them. High school girls all over town knew how violent he was and stories about how his family got their fortune were whispered in secretive, fearful tones. No, that was not the kind of guy whose interest you wanted to awaken. But she knew all that… and that was when I was politely informed that I had no business talking about relationships, since I had never been in a real one. After all, a real relationship was one in which the guy set me straight, not let me be myself and do whatever I wanted, the way my boyfriend did.

She firmly believed I deserved to be slapped around a little bit, just to finally understand what real life and a real guy feel like. It was our first and final fight. We still talked once in a while afterwards, mostly agreeing to disagree. But I understood it was time for the two of us to keep our distance, because there was no way the three of us (she and I.. and the dubious boyfriend she would not leave for anything in the world) could be friends. Sure… I understood the appeal when it came to bad boys, but within limits… life-threatening was not and will never be sexy in my book.

Yet.. I understood her… how could I not, when I knew her story? Nothing and nobody taught her that loving a person means so much more than owning their body and soul and disposing of them the same way one does regarding any other type of personal property. Growing up with an alcoholic, occasionally aggressive and mostly unemployed father that both she and her mother adored had taught her what a ‘real man’ should be. Without such a ‘real man’, she herself could not reach her full potential as a real woman… Her mother never left her father, no matter how badly he treated her. He was the most important person in her life; she came second and the kids came third. She worked two jobs to support the family; and when she lost those two jobs, she finally gave in and started drinking too. Once they were sharing the same vice, they became strangely happy, in spite of everything they had to deal with. But her mother never left her father…

This is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I found out she divorced her abusive husband, putting her daughter and herself above the ‘real man’ she had desired for so long. I don’t know the details, but I am glad she stopped perceiving three as being the perfect number for the family she had built in her dreams as a child. We will never be friends again; we will probably never talk again, even if we might still coincidentally find out all sorts of things about each other. But we have never been enemies either, we simply followed our own separate ways. This is why I can now say I respect her for having the power to open her eyes and understand both she and her daughter deserve more. She will never know this about me, the same way I will never know many things bout her, but it makes no difference. All that matters is that we both have the memory of what once was a beautiful friendship, belonging only to the two of us.

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: What comes in threes?

 

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 12

Amalia turned her head towards him; she couldn’t continue to admire the scenery that was unravelling outside the car window while sinking into her own thoughts on the matter, appearing to listen to him absentmindedly. She had had that conversation with other people before, including a couple of very close friends, and everybody – from the new guys she met who wanted to sleep with her, to her family – seemed intent on figuring out just that particular matter, ending up being more puzzled than they were initially.

“You really like labels: married, single, wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend… It’s really a matter of perception for me, even if some people see me as having what they might call a boyfriend, I happen to believe it takes more than tolerating a person for a few years, allowing him to be part of your life when there’s nothing else better to do and no one else better to be had. It takes more to call it a relationship and no, in my book that doesn’t mean I have a boyfriend.”

“So you do have a boyfriend.”

“I see you’re just about as unable to understand as most of the other people are.”

“I’m teasing you, really. It’s just that people are known to build life-long marriages on less than what you just described there. So what’s wrong with this boy, that you think so little of him? And why exactly does he allow you to behave that way? Come on, tell me what your story is, I want to know.”

Robert’s voice betrayed his curiosity, but there was a hint of something else behind that half smile. She ignored it though; he wanted to know, then he would know. Amalia needed to figure out up to which point she had been right in assessing him and his character, just as she needed to be accepted exactly for who she was, and narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy were not flaws that she could tolerate.

“He’s a pair of knitted woollen socks.”

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 10

“I do know some of the out of town… let’s call them attractions… Most of them I can vaguely remember since I was a child and I’d spend my summers here, my mother’s friends helped me get acquainted with such places, since she wasn’t much of a nature person herself.”

“Well, I hope you enjoy our little touristy escapade today.”

He realised it was best not to ask her whether she had inherited her mother’s dislike of the outdoors, no need to spoil the afternoon when there was still some shred of hope that his plans weren’t completely inappropriate for her. It was a shot in the dark anyway, he knew it as soon as he noticed what she was wearing, but he wasn’t ready to accept that a person who had reached maturity in the same old place where he had spent several nice years as a student would be devoid of any sense of history and would shutter at the mere idea of an afternoon away from the noise and oppression of the modern town in which they crossed paths. Her old home town still lived on the shaky mirage of history, nature and culture intertwining in a desperate attempt to take the next step into the reality of the present-day. Robert tried to ignore the obvious detail that he had mistakenly left out – she appeared to be more than pleased to have left that place for good.

“So… do you have a boyfriend?”

Not that again… But some things are unavoidable, she thought, and apparently it was a valid question when people meet other people, especially when a certain type of interest arises between two persons; and she couldn’t really blame her dislike of socially acceptable small talk on him.

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/analinden

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 5

cover2

“I apologize, that was rude of me. But I tend to be a curious person by nature and I have the feeling you might know a lot more about me from your friend than I know about you.” Game on. He decided honesty was the best choice for the time being. “Most of the people who work with me – not for me – are friends of mine and we socialize in various contexts that aren’t work-related in any way. Whether we decide to collaborate in the future or not, you strike me as an… intriguing person and I would enjoy getting to know you.”

I’m very curious, I’m sorry… I’d like to know you better… At least he didn’t say “you’re an interesting person”, which she felt was his first instinct, but he managed to overcome it just in time. She normally didn’t go for that kind of approach, but she sensed he had meant the clichés he had just uttered, he was playing his one card left after the inappropriate question – directness would score him some points. He was clearly a spoiled man, used to being blunt in his sentimental approaches, not because of a certain lack of imagination or poetry, but because he felt that such endeavours belonged to a period in one’s life that he had already passed or overgrown.

“Anyway… would you mind if I called you sometime soon, to reach a decision about the summer job?” She kept staring him in the eyes without saying a word, so he decided there was nothing more to be done or said then and there. He was slightly annoyed by her superior, know-it-all look and he wasn’t going to pursue the issue any further, the intriguing brat could make up her mind about him all on her own. “Or you can call me whenever you prefer, in case that’s more convenient to you.”

He hadn’t meant to utter the last sentence, but what’s done, is done, he thought, while he was watching her heading out. Not wanting to completely give in to her, he figured that finding a middle ground was his best option, since she was clearly not going to respond to his “hot and cold” play. Yes, summer was looking up… for sure… And as she was walking away, he felt a pang of unadulterated enthusiasm and challenge, the same way he used to feel when living in the old university town which had also been her home… like there was purpose in life and everything and anything became possible.

For more sample fragments: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample fragment 2

Amalia felt there was something of a sociopath lying dormant in both of them, as guilt was mainly a foreign concept in most of the circumstances with which life presented them, at the most mundane level possible. On a large scale, they both had a very acute sense of right and wrong that responded to their personal reasoning regarding the world, people and morals, a sense that suited their open-minded characters, their egotistic needs and their somewhat legal, more abstract rather than moral, view of correctness.

Robert was old, or at least he was old compared to her, but that was not relevant for either one of them when they initially met; just as it made absolutely no difference that he had a wife and a child at home. If anything, these aspects regarding his condition only made him more attractive and Amalia was well-aware that their relation might have ended before having a chance to begin, had he not been the man he was, leading the life he lead. It was time, she decided about five minutes after she met him, it was time to start dating a married man. Date him? Would that be the appropriate phrase for it? She felt it instantly, nothing about it would be what common souls derive from the idea of dating; after all, he was married, there was an age difference and she had no desire to change his status or to manipulate him, so that he would present her with the opportunity of a “normal” role in his life. They would have whatever kind of a relation they both felt like sharing and they would interact on a commitment-free level.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 1

The buzzing sound of the plane engines and the milky view of the clouds with the protruding mountain peaks below failed to provide her with their usual sleepy serenity. Relinquishing control of her life and relying on the mysterious laws of physics to transport her exactly where she needed to be had been replaced by frantic panic, as her fingernails were deeply embedded in the window seat from the beginning of a flight which would normally allow her to spend some of the calmest hours of her existence. She had to make use of all her self-control to complete the boarding procedures and to maintain her resolution of going through with her trip, but she felt the plane would take her nowhere this time – it had occurred to her that she was only drifting, she never really had a clear idea where any of the planes would take her, she was just spinning in a circle, in the vague hope that access to the right flight would eventually be gained, by chance or by mistake. And as she felt falling deeper and deeper, she couldn’t help wondering why she kept leaping from one flight to another, as none of them had proven to be the right one.

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Driving By A Marriage Proposal

For this week’s photo challenge, share with us a photo that expresses something fresh.

No, no, it wasn’t meant for me (good thing it wasn’t, because I would have kept driving)… 🙂

I have unwillingly intruded – together with hundreds of unsuspecting drivers – upon a somewhat unusual marriage proposal. The sun was shinning, flowers were blooming, birds were chirping and there it was, stopped on the side, in a dusty, empty parking lot – a car with a banner awkwardly tied to it’s trunk. That simple question so many girls dream of hearing, resonating deeply in their hearts, was spray-painted in black, uneven letters on said banner. A photographer was immortalizing the special moment for the happy, strikingly young couple, so I suspect the question was met with an affirmative answer 🙂 . People were slowing down, many of them even stopping to take a closer look at the unexpected, personal unfolding of the fresh start of a life together for the young couple. Will it last or will their story have peaked with that proposal on the side of a road, on a sunny, early spring day? Who can tell… I wish them well, whoever they are.

One thing’s for sure – the fresh flowers, the budding trees and the bright sun have gotten to all of us, not only to the birds and the bees 😉 . I look at many of the people around and it seems that something has melted within their souls – it’s that recurring transfiguration we witness every spring, the very one that disappears a few days later, as soon as warm days and lively colours become the norm again. But it’s fun while it lasts. 😉

Happy Valentine’s Day!

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved. ”

W. Shakespeare – Sonnet 116

There’s more to this day than cards, flowers, chocolates, heart-shaped knickknacks and all sorts of gifts that make us feel wanted and appreciated. Not that they are completely irrelevant – much like the day itself, they are a reminder that a certain feeling, a certain human emotion should be cherished and celebrated once in a while! (And hopefully there’s a little bit more to that feeling than 50 Shades of Grey 😉 ) So I hope that today you get to enjoy a few special moments with someone you love, either face to face or at least hearing their voice on the phone.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you and to the people you love!

“Village Teacher” or a Different Kind of Book

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Village Teacher was a surprisingly pleasant break from the books which generally fall into our hands these days. In fact, I could say it’s reminiscent of literature from another time and not only because the action takes place at the end of the 19th century in a politically torn, myth laden Vietnam, but due to the fact it creates an atmosphere often similar to that of an epic poem.

“The footprints never overlapped or touched one another, but there was no doubt that they were walking close together and going forward in the same general direction. They turned around once more and resumed their walk.”

The reader can guess early on how the story is going to end, but that doesn’t detract from the desire to follow the journey of those extraordinary main characters, who never betray their moral values, belief systems and feelings. Teacher Tam and Giang are the protagonists of a delicate, innocent, yet profound love story bringing together two worlds, two cultures, two completely different lifestyles. He is a poor, but erudite, honest, incorruptible village teacher, who values tradition, but keeps an open mind and is able to admit and accept progress, both when it comes to education and to mentality. She is the daughter of a highly influent, well-off, interracial family in the capital, encompassing the best traits of the two nations, French and Vietnamese. So you just know the adventure they have to survive in order to be together is going to be an interesting, entrancing one! As expected, they do manage to overcome social and political intrigues, selfishness and malevolence of their enemies. Their intelligence, selflessness and above all, their unconditional love both for each other and for others predicate their actions and lead them to a life together, in the spirit of their destiny.

Are such characters believable in the real world? Perhaps not, but I chose to see Teacher Tam and Giang as the embodiment of hope and dreams, the voices of aspiration for a better world. The task of establishing a connection with reality falls on the historical facts punctuating the love story, a task carried out in a clear, captivating fashion. Thus even a reader with few notions regarding Vietnamese history (such as I was) finds it easy to create a strong context and a cultural background, a veridical stage where the characters can perform. Some of the obstacles the protagonists face – such as prejudice, religious oppression and discrimination, gender bias – are also some of the plagues tormenting modern society, our own lives. Perhaps I’m not even too far from the truth if I say that the intertwinement of Vietnamese history and culture creates and entity to be metaphorically viewed as a third protagonist of the book, that’s  how much it affects the lives of Giang and Tam, often representing a challenging obstacle for the two young lovers from different worlds.

For me, reading a book has often been an escape from my own reality. And it is relaxing and gratifying to occasionally find escape in a world built on actual history, but populated with exceptional individuals, where the heroes eventually defeat the villains, even when they have to undergo their own personal dramas and emotional growth. Like I said, this book reminds me of another time – that of childhood and innocence, when everything was possible and the good always prevailed in every story. And the fact that the skeptical adult anchored in reality can grasp to the well-documented cultural and historical facts, thus learning something new and interesting, ads exactly the right twist to this exotic story, as far as I am concerned. So it certainly was time well spent accompanying Teacher Tam on the path to achieving his destiny.

This is where you can connect with the author, discover his world and find out more about the book:

http://neihtn.wordpress.com/category/village-teacher/

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 15

“It’s not like that, you’d understand it if you knew her.”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t, but I’m also sure you actually believe that, so you just tell yourself whatever you need to hear in order to go on.”

The silence was drowning the countryside scenery. Nice, cosy and nightmarish, she thought, but that’s not his fault, that appears to be the vastly spread idea about marriage anyway, why would they be the exception? It’s probably never different, they just end up devouring each other’s soul and character in the nicely furnished confines of a home, burying all the frustration, ignorance and dissatisfaction deep under a sea of smiles and placid lies, all under the silent approval of socially accepted behaviour, most likely under the eyes of some child that doesn’t know any better and will probably just grow up to duplicate the parents’ example.

“How about Woollen Socks? Why do you keep him around and not chase him away, so he could find somebody right for him? Or why don’t you make him into more than that, why can’t he make it to the next level?”

“We met not that long after I moved here and he immediately became somewhat obsessed with me. It was pretty obvious and perhaps I should’ve chased him away from the very beginning, because I knew myself well enough to be aware that I didn’t want anything serious with or from him. But I’m selfish and I was a bit lonely at the time too, and the way he worshiped me was quite nice for my ego. He knew that he had no chance to be more than that, the pair of socks on a cold winter night, but he accepted it, or maybe he hoped things would change, that I might change, I don’t really know and I don’t really care. There are still times when I feel lonely and that’s when he’s just a speed dial away, he knows that total availability on his behalf is what I require and he is more than willing to provide that. Because, no matter how bad you think he has it, he still enjoys it a lot more than he would any typical relationship with somebody else but me. It’s me he wants and this is who I am, so that’s what he gets; no more than that though, because he is devoid of any personality, any ambition and intelligence. He may be a nice guy, but he’s no more than that and he never will be.”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

Parallel Lives – Sample Fragment 14

“You do realise that’s a person you’re talking about, right?”

“Yes, and the person in question is completely aware of my feelings, I don’t pretend he means much to me, just as you don’t pretend not to be married. There’s a difference, however: he knows exactly how things stand between the two of us, he knows exactly who I am and what my conditions are, and he has the choice of accepting them or not. He decided he was desperate enough in order to accept anything, as long as once in a while there’s room for him in my life as well; but he is free to leave whenever he wants. Can you say the same about your wife, though? Does she know exactly who you are? Does she get the choice of accepting you or not, or does she just have to live with a nice, cosy lie about what her marriage is?”

She was right… or maybe she wasn’t… He didn’t know anymore, that kind of questions hadn’t been tormenting him for too long a time. It made sense from a logical point of view, but he knew there was more to it when it came to a relationship, especially a marriage; the make belief factor was actually the more relevant one in keeping things together.

“Marriage is different. It’s cruel to tell people things that are bound to hurt them just to fulfill some need for honesty. There’s more to it than that and relationships, especially marriages, need to be protected, sheltered from certain aspects of life; there’s more than enough pressure on them as it is.”

“Right… What you don’t know can’t hurt you. How about being at the receiving end of that sheltering strategy? What if your wife protects you – I’m sorry, your marriage – from certain aspects of life as well?”

“It’s not like that, you’d understand it if you knew her.”

For more sample fragments from Parallel Lives, see: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/396169

The Nice Guy – Holy Grail or Holy Bore?

Brand-new year, same old questions… Amidst all those champagne glasses clinking and all those people cheerfully chanting New Year’s resolutions meant to magically change their lives, some of us cannot help obsessing over what went wrong, what we could have done differently in order to have achieved better results. I’ll quit smoking… I’ll quit that shitty job… I’ll stop drinking… I’ll recycle… I won’t be such a pushover anymore… I’ll go on a diet and lose ten kilos… That’s what we hear left and right. Why the hell don’t women ever go for the guy who’s gonna be nice to them?! Well… that one you don’t hear too often when a new year is on the verge of replacing the old one and everybody is euphorically celebrating all the potential perspectives.

My oldest friend’s familiar voice made me smile; it was my turn to ask myself an age-old question – why do men think their female friends should be able to answer absolutely any question about women? No offense, guys, but what applies to one doesn’t apply to all, we’re not built to fit the same pattern. He quickly got over his conundrum about the latest object of his desire, he smiled back and wished me a Happy New Year once more, not expecting an actual answer this time. But his question followed me – it wasn’t the first time he had approached that subject and rightfully so, since there we were, yet another New Year’s party with him alone and no perceivable perspectives in sight, because he is such a nice guy. So his phone goes back in his pocket – no message from the girl with whom he went out a couple of times and who seemed genuinely interested… interested in getting back together with her worthless ex, that is, as soon as she got a taste of what going out with a nice guy might feel like. And since this particular one was not by far a remote incident, of course he utters to himself, “The hell with women…”; yet he cannot stop wondering where he went wrong and why exactly it is that so many of us prefer to be treated like doormats by various losers, rather than be worshiped and set on a pedestal by the likes of him.

Who is the nice guy? In this particular case – trying to be as unbiased as I possibly can – we’re talking about a more than decently looking man, intelligent, selfless and kind, always there for you, whose needs always come second after yours, who has a steady, although not glamorous job and who believes that a woman is meant to be respected and cherished, not abused or mistreated in any way by the guys in her life. And on a personal note, I know that nobody can ask for a better friend. In fact, this last aspect becomes so disturbingly clear immediately after you first meet him, that one might quickly decide it’s not worth risking to lose such a great friend only to try and have more, only to have some brief affair with him. Let’s be honest, men come and go, while friends are a constant for many of us.

So our guy is still alone and looking around him, he spots countless men hand in hand with pretty, successful women, in spite of these guys’ blatant inability to respect or be fateful to them, in spite of their clearly spoken out lack of desire to be at least civil to them. It was against some of them that he competed and lost the girls now standing there, half smiling and half crying because of the men they had chosen. There she is – that’s the one who begged that guy to move in with her, after promising to pay the rent herself and support him until he got a job; several years later, he still cannot be bothered to work, he drinks twice as much and she’s buried in debts, but she won’t even consider leaving him, no matter how often she has to run and cry on a friend’s shoulder. And that one – she’s the one who often locked herself in the bathroom to cry after having sex with the boyfriend, that’s how much he disgusted and humiliated her, yet even that was preferable to being with a nice guy. There’s another one – she openly preferred the man who threw a frying pan at her for burning the eggs, the same man who religiously checks her phone and email, driven by some sort of paranoid jealousy he finds to be the attribute of any self-respecting male. After all, what’s all that when the alternative implies having to perceive a nice guy in a sexual manner? No, no, no… he’s only worthy of being the sounding board you need whenever you feel like your head is exploding and your soul is breaking in smithereens as a result of yet another misfortunate amorous choice, he’s the one who has to listen to you mention how much you’d like it if men could also be anything but jerks to the women who care about them. Weary of it all, sick and tired of women and their whimsies, the nice guy decides once more that they’re probably all alike, they deserve what’s coming to them, so he won’t bother to care anymore, he’ll just become one of those guys, all the while knowing he’s neither built or able to behave that way to anyone, much less to a woman…

Yes, his girlfriend will receive much more privileged a treatment than she would have expected; in fact, she’ll suddenly find herself in the shoes of those women whose good fortune she had envied for years – or so she thought. Showered with constant affection, this woman will abruptly experience what it means to have a man who only wants to please her and knows only how to be nice to her. From happily bringing her that glass of water in the middle of the night or driving all the way to the other side of the town only to get her that cake he knows she likes so much, to helping her most distant relative or acquaintance move their furniture to their new apartment, he will always be there to fulfil any menial task she might invent. Will he cheat on her? Of course not, how could he, after having gone through all that trouble just to get in her good graces?… So the now fortunate female of the species also has all the freedom she might desire, because he is trusting by nature, hardly knowing the meaning of jealousy and possessiveness – that is, as far as his behaviour towards her is concerned, because he firmly believes she can chose to be with whomever she pleases, whenever she pleases, even leave him if she might be so inclined, no matter how much this might tear him apart.

The realisation that even if he would not cheat on you, you still have to share him with the rest of the world might be quite striking, especially for those of us who want the man they date to treat them in a considerably different fashion than he might treat any of the other people he knows. But one of the nice guy’s major flaws is that he cannot say no, to you or anybody else. His phone will ring in the middle of the night and he’ll get out of bed and go help some vague acquaintance who has car trouble or whose cat needs taken to the vet after swallowing a hairball. And if he’s late for a date, you can be sure he feels terrible about it, because what kept him was not his indifference to you, but his inability to refuse a colleague in need, who was most likely too lazy to do his job in time. That is probably also the reason why his shirt looks like it just came out of the dryer, in his frenzy to do everything and anything for everybody else, he completely forgets to take care of himself. And why should a woman take offence in the fact that he looks as though he slept in his clothes when he takes her out to a nice restaurant? After all, doing something for whoever has the common sense to take advantage of him is so much more important than looks and appearances.

Since he’s had so much bad luck with women, he does his best not to scare them away, so he’ll start off as the “as you wish” guy. Do you want to go out tonight? As you wish. Where should we go? Wherever you wish; as long as you’re happy, it’s fine with me. What should we do at the weekend? Whatever you wish. And it goes on and on, until even the calmer ones of us will lose their temper. Is it really the desire to please or an innate refusal to make decisions, so when things inevitably go wrong, he will not be the one blamed for it? Unfortunately, by the time this question might receive an answer and he might start feeling comfortable and confident enough to have an input and opinions of his own, the girl has already left. We get it, we get, he was just trying not to be dominant; but how about accepting that having an opinion or making a suggestion doesn’t mean controlling a person?

When the girl is not one for making decisions either or she’s just trying to be nice and leave him to his own devices, things tend to take a not so appealing turn. You can forget about going out, because all he really wants is to be with you, to listen to everything you have to say and invade each and every corner of your mind, so he could find out everything there might be to know about you, the most intimate and private details of who you are. And what better place to do so than at home?… Remember that really cute, sexy outfit you bought for those hot clubbing nights? You might as well forget it, because clubs are for posers and pretentious wannabes, you cannot possibly socialize properly with all that loud music and drunken people fidgeting around you. Let’s just stay home, take a nice, long bubble bath together, hold hands and snuggle… you know, really connect… Without even realizing, your mind wonders off to your ex, that arrogant, obnoxiously jealous fool you left because you thought you deserved better; and your memory will play that old, infamous trick on you, making you remember only the good, fun parts, like that last night in the club when you got to wear your appealing outfit and he was so taken by it, the two of you feeling so sexy and alive. Unfortunately, with all the current bubble baths and hand holding making you feel like you’re a hundred and five, chained to this guy for a lifetime and not only dating him for ten days, you forget that your ex was also so great at noticing how sexy the other girls’ outfits were…

In spite of everything else, you made it to your first weekend getaway with your first nice guy and you decide to reward him by letting him surprise you, since he had already mentioned something about how romantic a sunrise in the mountains might be. So you smile contented – there’s hope yet! Or so you think, until you realise that your romantic surprise getaway involves a tent and a pair of hiking boots meant to help you reach that mountain peak where he knows for a fact that nature is at its wildest, so the two of you can enjoy the most spectacular sunrise possible. There goes your dream of a nice, warm, comfortable mountain chalet, with a cosy bed and a soft duvet from under which you could sneak a peek out the window and catch a glance of the amazing sky while he’s bringing you a nice, hot cup of coffee. Did you think that you were going to spend your day souvenir hunting and your evening in some fancy restaurant or loud club? Put on your hiking boots and think again, because the nice guy often harbours a genuine love for nature and its wonders. He will carry your backpack, though… What are we, thirteen, you might almost have time to wonder, involuntarily looking down at your elegant shoes, before you metaphorically run for the hills. The truth is, he means no harm, you left the decision to him and that is what he likes. The same way you might not understand that, he will never be able to understand why you’re relaxed by an afternoon of window shopping (or real shopping) or what you can find so interesting about a hotel in a nice resort, since that’s not at all how you discover true scenic beauty. The truly heart-breaking part is that he will do whatever you like him to, he will put up with all the plans that you make and all the things you enjoy, but as he most likely finds them completely irrelevant, uninteresting and vane, he will roll his eyes and suffer through the deadly boredom you inflict on him; and since he is far from being an accomplished liar, cannot hide his aversion – besides, one is always supposed to be completely honest to the person one dates – but he will constantly ask you why you seem sad or annoyed. After all, that’s what you wanted to do, his sour face should make no difference and you should have the time of your life. In your turn, you sigh with boredom too and your thoughts wonder off to your ex; but this time you are fully aware of it.

What starts off as an unbelievable revelation often turns out to be nothing more than an acquired taste and I believe this might be the nice guy’s case as well, since not only the example in question, but also many of his peers seem to be creatures of extremes, completely unable to find balance or the proverbial middle way in their behaviour. Since things are either black or white, good or bad, there is no room for anything in between and they have formed their beliefs regarding what should generally constitute “nice” behaviour. It’s simple really, they have subjectively decided what “nice” should objectively be like for each and every woman and it is therefore logically implied that anything outside their definition should be undesirable. And they generally suffer tremendously when they see women choosing all those other men that are different from them, therefore not nice, bad. This is where it all falls apart and the dreamboat becomes something else, because niceness and goodness, much like beauty, are also in the eye of the beholder. And since a woman should be able to accept the nice guy for who he is, there can be no talk about him changing. He wouldn’t dream of asking her to change who she is in order to suit his needs. But, in fact, does he not do exactly that?

Who are these women he likes and who keep rejecting him? By some coincidence, it’s always the type of woman who would never be interested in what he likes, her life revolving around different values. Those who might indeed share some of his passions never happen to awaken any passion in him. On the contrary, they tend to fall into the “not pretty enough, not bright enough, not funny enough, not elegant enough” category, because in the end he’s only human, he has his own preferences and taste. Ironically enough, the man who decries women for being attracted to men who hurt them in various ways is also the man attracted to women who would only mistreat him.

In the end, he walks away from another party, yet again convinced that women would prefer any jerk to him, without even considering the idea that treating a woman nicely might imply offering her what she wants, not what he thinks she should want. The truth is most likely somewhere in the middle. There are indisputably self-destructive women, driven by veiled masochism and a deep need to be somebody’s victims; and many of those alpha males are indeed no more than these women’s chosen oppressors. But it is equally true that many of said alpha males become harmless and cuddly the moment they face an alpha bitch in her own element. Everything is relative. So why don’t women choose the nice guy, the one who makes for such a good friend, yet for such a difficult, antagonistic boyfriend, and always go for the bad boy? Wait… maybe, just maybe, some of us want neither a lapdog, nor a torturer for a boyfriend, but simply a well-balanced man, who in spite of his human flaws, manages to find that middle way towards a non-extremist relationship….

But all in all, how does the story end? Does the nice guy ever get the girl in real life? Or is it just not that kind of black and white affair after all?…

Parallel Lives

parallel lives variantaYoung, beautiful and independent Amalia refuses to apply traditionalist conceptions to any of her relationships with men; therefore commitment, marriage and couple routine are not part of her vision on life. Cynical and highly aware of the realities of an unromanticized modern world devoid of long lasting feelings, Amalia appears to only seek the promise of a few moments of fleeting happiness next to the men in her life. The opposite sex is often no more than a refuge from all mundane problems and deceptions, so the young woman stubbornly refuses to settle down with any of the men who try to win her affection – that would only mean the death of her soul, independence and character.
A man will treat a woman as badly as she allows him to and no man can offer a woman all she needs – these are two of her strongest beliefs; needing to be in control, she will not shy away from being at least as selfish, self-involved, manipulative and cold as men are to other women in their lives. Intense sensations are her idea of happiness and Amalia seeks someone who can make her feel and forget, but as she thrives on introspection and analysis, doubt and disappointment, together with unwanted and unexpected feelings will often overwhelm her. But above anything else, she is their confident, the one they entrust with all their fears, hopes, past, future and prosaic stories, Amalia enjoying their conversations as a means of escaping and forgetting her own issues. Infiltrating the thoughts, ideas and emotions of men who care for her becomes a guilty pleasure in which she will relish whenever she finds the power to remind herself that any drop of happiness needs to be savored.
Getting to know the various men in her life ultimately translates in a deeper understanding of herself and her needs, discovering she can still be both disappointed and amazed by the person she is. Her evolution over the years outlines the image of a woman who refuses to lie to herself and become somebody else in order to please people and fit in, often accepting loneliness as a reward and not a punishment.