Husband Or Cat?

1

She was quickly becoming a pain in the neck… literally. Holding the phone to my ear with my shoulder while ironing may have not been one of my brightest ideas. But conversations with her were generally long and boring. I needed some other dull task to focus on, so that they wouldn’t feel like a waste of time. After all, that’s what people do, right? They try to keep in touch, they make an effort to communicate and mind each other’s dull nonsense… that is, until you start feeling like throwing your phone out the window.

Apparently she was having a husband bashing night and I just had to be part of it…. Oh well… Sure, I could let her vent and throw in a yes, no or a wow once in a while. I knew the drill, she just needed to tare him apart and contradicting her would only anger the woman even more. But strongly agreeing with her while listing all his flaws without mentioning any redeeming qualities was also a faux pas. After all, she wanted some compassion and empathy, she didn’t want to hear that she had married the wrong person, that the two of them were not compatible, or – horror of horrors – that some of their marital problems might have also been her fault. But once she was done, she generally occasionally able to hear that perhaps he wasn’t all bad, that she might not always be a delight to live with and that all in all, they needed to work together on solving their problems.

Then there were the times when conversations took a twisted, shocking turn…

“I just can’t do it anymore… I have to do everything… he can’t even be trusted to take out the rubbish… you wouldn’t believe for how long he can leave the rubbish bag right there, by the door…”

Oh yes, the “who takes out the rubbish” conundrum… I heard that one before. Whenever she’s mad at him, you’ll always hear about the rubbish.

“I put it next to his shoes and he still claims he didn’t see it, that’s why he didn’t take it out. I swear, next time he’ll find it all over his beloved loafers. I’m not joking, you know. I told him that.”

I had to stifle a few giggles. I know how annoying such small things can be, they get to me too. But for years and years, I keep hearing all about the rubbish drama. She keeps finding amusingly creative ways to point it out and he keeps ignoring it. I wouldn’t be surprised if one morning he found potato peels in his shoes, leftover pasta in his pockets and shrivelled lettuce in his wallet.

“He’s taken it too far… I don’t know how long I can put up with this anymore. I’m all alone all day, taking care of our sick cat and what does he do?… The poor thing isn’t doing better, I’m the only one giving her the treatment and it breaks your heart seeing how she suffers…”

Goody… more cat stories now. I made a face at the phone, while picking up a pillow case from the decreasing laundry pile. I am not a cat person. She always talked about her cat the same way doting mothers talk about their babies. Much as I wanted to be open and understanding, I couldn’t help thinking there were deeper issues behind her behaviour.

“I give the cat her medicine, I try to get her to eat something, I’m the one who stays awake watching her at night…”

Why would she do that in the first place? I was pretty sure the cat wasn’t awake all night… Oh well… moving on to the next pillow case.

“… and he sleeps right through it! Then he’s at work all day, of course. And who has to take care of a sick cat every day? Not him! You know he hasn’t taken one single day off to stay home with her?”

What sane person would?

“And now, do you know where he is now? Well, do you?”

Oh, that wasn’t a rhetorical question… How am I to know?

“No…”

“I’ll tell you where he is. At the hospital, visiting his mother! Every day, after work, he goes straight to the hospital to see her. He has a sick cat at home and he goes to the hospital to see his mother every day!”

Okay… this I was not prepared for… how does one react to something like this?

“Do you know that I had to take the cat to the vet all by myself because he was too busy looking after his mommy?”

I unplugged the iron and sat down, holding the phone with one hand and massaging my neck with the other. I like animals too. I had pets too. But this was too much. This was insane. There was a woman suffering on a hospital bed. Her husband was terrified facing the possibility of losing his mother, and all she cared about was a damn cat with an ear infection.

This was a new low, and it had nothing to do with me not being a cat person or with a man too lazy to take out the rubbish. Nevertheless, I am the one labelled as uncaring and cold-hearted, because I am not moved to tears by the suffering kitty… Well, call me crazy, but I want to desperately hold on to this insane idea that people, especially the ones we choose to have in our lives, should be more important than a pet.

Ages and Stages of Watching “Dirty Dancing”

 6

I kept changing the channels, barely noticing what was on… nothing was interesting anyway… not the book I was reading, not the homework I knew I was never going to finish, not the outfit I was going to wear the following day, and certainly not my life that evening. A movie was about to start and I decided to give it a chance. And this is how I got to watch experience Dirty Dancing for the first time.

I would have been too young to understand or show the slightest interest in it in the 80s, but the 90s teenager was absolutely fascinated by the romance unfolding on TV. Of course, the fact that Patrick Swayze was absolutely yummy didn’t hurt; I also loved the dancing, but it was the passion between the characters that I envied. Their story wasn’t exactly what I would have imagined as the dream romance, yet it was subjugating nevertheless. I wanted to feel something like that, the kind of consuming, overwhelming, out of control love which gives you wings and the strength to defend the object of your affection, no matter what. Such an ecstatic experience was definitely one worth having, I decided. But the ending… it made me sad. Sure, he came back for her, he didn’t allow for anybody to put Baby in a corner, they had one last amazing, unforgettable dance, but then I was left with the feeling that the end of summer was also the end of their romance. Why couldn’t that sort of love motivate two beautifully passionate people to try and find a way to be together? The movie ended on a cheery note, but I was sure that was the end for Baby and Johnny. It couldn’t have been any other way, yet I didn’t want to look beneath the surface and acknowledge the obvious answers to my questions.

2

I had experienced that unbelievable, unexpected, overpowering passion, I had even done some dirty dancing of my own by the next time I watched the movie, in my very early twenties. Sometimes, when we get to experience the materialization of one of our dreams, the reality doesn’t meet the expectations. That wasn’t such a case. The reality was every bit as deliciously amazing as the dream. In some instances, it might have even been better, because some sensations cannot be fully understood if only imagined and not even once perceived.

Come the end of summer, came the end of romance as well – a known, anticipated and planned ending. The truth couldn’t be denied. It was exactly that pre-established ending that increased the intensity of our passion. The awareness that our infatuation wouldn’t last forever allowed us to give everything and open our hearts, souls and bodies to each other’s desires and feelings. It was the kind of passion that would haunt us for years to come. It was the kind of passion that would make us see the other person’s features everywhere. It was the kind of passion that brought tears to our eyes when hearing a certain song, knowing we wouldn’t see the other person anymore. It was the kind of passion which even when no longer felt, but only remembered, would make us pick up our phones and send the other a text, sharing a memory or an instance which triggered a feeling. We both had our own separate lives, yet those texts never went unanswered. It was the kind of passion that needed no explanation between the two persons who had once shared it.

1

I watched Dirty Dancing that second time, melancholically wondering if I would ever find that sort of passion. Experiencing it only once was never going to be enough for me, few things could compare to it, few times had I felt that alive. I had a feeling I would experience it again, just as I knew I would watch that movie over and over again. I didn’t question the ending anymore. The ending was absolutely necessary… but perhaps it could be changed in real life, under the right circumstances… or so I liked to think, even if I didn’t really believe it.

I couldn’t see past that happy ending separating the couple. Actually, I could, but I preferred not to look. I didn’t want to see a drunken, aged, frustrated Johnny, unable to cope with Baby’s successful career, incapable and unwilling to be part of her world. I didn’t want to see a sad, lonely, frustrated, prematurely aged Baby trying to make ends meet, regretting her choices, wishing she hadn’t given up her future and squandered her potential for a man she barely knew. They had made the right decision, the only smart one.

3

I watched Dirty Dancing many times since. I got to experience that passion again, more than once. I don’t know if I’m luckier than others or that kind of passion is out there, available and real for everybody, as long as we allow it and accept it for what it is. What I do know – now that I’m in my thirties – is that I could live it again, if I decided it was worth it. Knowing the inevitable ending, being able to recognize the stages deprives it of some of its magic. Watching Dirty Dancing again makes me realize I’ve become more jaded and cynical than I thought I was. I no longer feel that strong wish to live such a story, and not because I don’t think it’s worth it – it definitely remains an incredibly great mixture of emotions and surprising moments – but because I now know it’s not as unattainable as it might seem. While each and every one of these stories is special in its own way, none of them is really unique… And they all die out the same way. It’s passion able to regenerate its strength that’s truly hard to find, not consuming passion that burns out with a bright, short lived flame.

So what I wish now while watching Dirty Dancing is that I hadn’t lost all my naiveté, what I dream is to occasionally forget how jaded I am. That way, next time I am presented with a Dirty Dancing kind of passion, I wouldn’t stop and wonder, Is it worth it?… even if I’m pretty sure the answer would still be Yes.

Weighing The Now

6No, she didn’t want any desert. Yes, she was saying no to the best tiramisu in town. Her daughter raised her eyebrows in disbelief – she had never heard her say no to tiramisu. Occasionally binging on sweets was their thing. Was anything wrong? No, everything was fine, she was just trying to cut back on sweets and eat healthily. After all, her daughter was doing the same for several years, she should understand. After all, the fact that she had just made that decision wasn’t relevant to the matter. More for me, and the daughter winked at her mother as the waitress placed the desert accompanied by two spoons between the two of women.

She watched her daughter obliviously savour her tiramisu. She used to be able to indulge in such calorie bombs, but she learnt not that long ago that such luxuries don’t last for a lifetime. Halfway into her mascarpone delight, her daughter put down the spoon, that was enough. A wave of resentment was coursing through her veins. The younger woman could still enjoy her deserts without worrying… and she could also control her urges. The only way she could stop herself from devouring the whole thing was by not even tasting it.

She used to wear the same size her daughter did. She used to borrow her daughter’s clothes whenever she had a chance, pretending not to notice how much the younger woman hated to have anybody wear her things, forgetting how much she herself used to hate it when the roles were reversed and her teenage daughter borrowed her outfits. Her daughter must have been relieved now, there was no way she could do that anymore.

Her eyes involuntarily went down on the loose top she was wearing, noticing the way it was clinging on her no longer flat tummy. Swiftly she straightened her back and readjusted the frilly ornaments of her top, hiding her flabby waist. A quick peek at their reflection in the nearest window reassured her. She wasn’t really fat, she was just fatter than she used to be… fatter than her daughter, that nagging reminder of how she used to look when she was that age, of how she used to look until a few years ago.

The evening air was getting chilly. Here, have my jacket, I’m not cold, her daughter offered. Her first instinct was to grab the cute little jacket and enjoy the youthful feeling wearing her daughter’s clothes always gave her. She stopped herself just in time. That’s ok, I’m not cold. Better the cold than the shame. What happened to that red leather jacket I gave you, do you still have it? The question was harmless, yet it felt like an insult. Yes, she had it, it was her favourite jacket. But nowadays she can only wear if she doesn’t need to close it.

After spending the day going from one store to another, trying on things and debating the latest trends, the way they had always done when they met, she felt she couldn’t sink any lower. Seeing her daughter pick a pair of skinny jeans off a shelf, the smallest size they had, made her strongly wish they wouldn’t fit. Seeing her daughter try a skirt and complain it was a bit large, made her hate the young woman with a vengeance. That used to be her! Only now that it wasn’t her anymore, was she able to understand what great a part of her identity that had been.

Two sizes. That wasn’t too much, was it? But when you live your whole life effortlessly having a perfect, enviable figure and you take it for granted, two sizes might as well be ten. She had always complained that people notice her looks before they notice her intelligence; only now could she admit she loved it. She was normal, she wasn’t overweighed, but standing next to her daughter in front of the mirror, getting ready to go out, was a bitter reminder of how much better than normal she used to be.

She liked these loose clothes, she repeated in a convincing manner. She couldn’t be bothered with too much makeup or high heels anymore; after a certain age comfort is everything. That was perfectly fine, her daughter agreed, as long as it’s comfort you’re looking for, rather than an excuse to let yourself go. She hated it when her daughter was right – she had given up on herself, because if you can’t be the most beautiful woman in a room anymore, what’s the point in doing anything? At least she still looked better than most of the women her age and she kept stating it loudly whenever she remembered she couldn’t stop time. In spite of what she may have claimed, maintaining her figure hadn’t been an effortless task; once she had stopped exercising, once she refused to adjust her diet to the changes her body was undergoing, time simply caught up with her. Fast.

Walking behind her daughter, she hungrily analysed every little detail about her yet again. Then she caught her reflection in the window once more. She looked fine… for her age. People used to be surprised when they were introduced as mother and daughter. Now they don’t even blink. Time. That’s all there was. Who knows, maybe she’ll decide to fight it again. But one thing made her feel slightly better – knowing her daughter would eventually go through it as well. She wasn’t alone in this.

On The Edge

“It’s like this glass of water,” and she points to the wine glass in front of her instead. “I have this full glass and I give him half. Then I give him half of what’s left. Then I take a few sips myself, I need to drink too. And so on, until the glass is empty. And when it’s empty, I have nothing else left to give. Nothing left for him. Nothing left for me. Nothing left for anybody.” She lifts the wine glass which she stubbornly calls “water” and she drinks greedily. “And it’s still not enough, he’s not happy. He says I’m selfish and self-involved and never give anything back… when all I do is give until there’s nothing left.”

The whiny voice drowns into another sip of wine, waiting for compassionate words to wash over her. I have no such words to give.

“Did he ever ask you to share that glass of water?”

“No… But that’s what I felt I had to do.”

“Was it? Or did you simply decide that’s what he should need?”

She was quiet, trying to suppress those angry words bubbling inside her. Aren’t the two one and the same? What difference did it make, she knew better… she always knew better than anyone else.

“Did you ever stop and wonder if he wanted or needed water? Maybe he wanted a slice of bread instead, maybe he asked you for it time and time again, yet you didn’t care one bit; you had already decided he should only want water.” Because water was all you were willing to offer, even if that water was make-believe and was in fact wine…

“He should have wanted water!”

Being at the receiving end of that sort of generosity makes one feel worthless. It’s degrading to see your needs, hopes and dreams swept aside like the disgusting dirt that they are in somebody else’s eyes, only to be replaced with the “appropriate” ones. You will only want that which I am willing to offer, and you’d better be forever grateful, her actions always made it clear.

“He says that hurts him. That it hurts him to see what I’ve become.”

She was on the edge of realization. He was on the edge of collapse. Their relationship was on the edge too.

“But it’s his fault.”

She couldn’t help herself. Reality was swiftly pushed aside and she was about to yet again plunge into that imaginary world where she is always the victim and the hero.

“No, it’s not. Not everything is his fault. Take responsibility for who you are!”

Would she?

6

One Of Those Days….

1

I poured the batter into the baking tray and when I was done, I licked the spoon. It tasted good, the flavour was just right… wasn’t it? I licked the spoon once more… something was missing. I could just see her face, I could just hear her voice, “Well, even I could have baked something like that. But I appreciate the effort, darling.”

I’m a good baker… not open-my-own-bakery-undiscovered-talent good, but good by comparison to many other women my age who have a life and also like cooking/baking. I was running late and I went for my safe and fast desert, my somewhat personalized lemon sponge cake. I could prepare that with my eyes closed, one hand tied behind my back, I used to think… until today.

Baking powder! I ran all the ingredients in my head and that’s what was missing. Damn, damn, f***, f***, damn! I felt like throwing the whole thing out, baking tray and all. But then I’d have to start all over again, and judging by the way things were going, I would never finish it without blowing up the kitchen. So… after having used three more eggs than the recipe called for simply because I failed to separate the eggs properly (I must’ve been 7 or 8 when this happened to me last and I always laugh when I see others messing it up – this’ll teach me), now this. Ok… I put in the baking powder at the very last moment, I mix the whole thing right in the baking tray, hoping for the best and that’s that. I know that if it doesn’t rise properly, I’ll just throw it out and give up on preparing any desert whatsoever.

She’s a terrible cook and she can’t bake to save her life, but god forbid I make a mistake. So I triple check the temperature and timer and in the oven it goes. No time to watch it, I have so many other things to do. One restless look and I can see it’s rising nicely. Kitchen decluttered, dishes washed, I can stop for a moment and enjoy the delicious smell… and wonder why the oven timer has stopped ticking, yet it hasn’t rung. Yeap, it was back to 0 and kept quiet about it. By this point, I’m eying the unopened bottle of red and feel like saying, “the hell with it”. Instead I just pull out the baking tray, hoping it wasn’t too late. Any other day but today…

I was going to sprinkle some powdered sugar on top and serve it with a scoop of my own homemade ice cream. Instead, I carefully cleaned the slightly burnt bottom layer, and covered it the best I could with dark chocolate glazing. She won’t notice I baked the sponge for too long, that much I know. There won’t be any ice cream on the side, because my evening continued along the same lines and I gave up on preparing it.

Pointless to say, the rubbish bag broke as I was trying to pull it out of the bin, spreading all that stinky mess on the kitchen floor… Once it was all collected and safely double bagged, I threw on a decent maxi dress instead of my chocolate and flour covered ensemble and good thing I did, because several of my neighbours were standing right in front of the building, bickering about some imaginary issues. A teenage girl with perfect hair gave me a disapproving look. Just you wait, my friend… You’ll grow, up, move away and one day your mother will be paying you a visit… then you’ll know what this feels like… One mean, piercing look and she was staring at her toenails. Ha!

I was polishing the outside of my entrance door when a neighbour gave me a crocked smile, staring at my short shorts (the ones I normally only wear in the house), while insidiously wishing me a good evening. What, you don’t dust and polish your door? Neither do I – normally – and neither does my mother… but boy, will she passively aggressively criticize my not doing so. I can just hear her, “You’re so lucky you’re not married… You can clean when and if you feel like it!” Her own home is an indescribable mess these days, but that’s not the point, right?… It was time to throw in the towel and call it a night… and perhaps open that bottle and have a nice glass of red wine. But first, I need to clean the toaster too, how did I forget about that one?

There’s a special kind of hell that only a mother can inflict on you, especially when only distance can keep things civilized between the two of you. I’ve long ago given up on pleasing her, I can accept some things are simply impossible. I normally manage to distance myself and ignore her criticism and offending comments. This time, however, I don’t have the energy to argue incessantly on a daily basis… I’m trying not to give her reasons to criticize, so hopefully in return, I don’t throw back all the venom gathered over years and years of not at all motherly behaviour on her behalf.

Outside, Looking In

1

“Let’s see… I bought some new kitchen knives and they’re great, so cooking’s been fun, I’ve been slicing and dicing and chopping…”

Our conversations had been reduced to various domestic matters and not much else. But that was fine with me, I had no desire to share anything more personal. In fact, I could hardly wait for that phone call to be over.

“Finding good knives at a decent price is so hard… My only good one might need sharpening soon. I didn’t tell you how I got this one, did i?”

Who cares? I stifled another yawn.

“I don’t think so.”

Not that again… I thought they were done with it. She continued telling her story of the stolen knife in a cheerful voice, as though it was the funniest, most normal thing in the world.

We were sitting around their kitchen table, steaming coffee cups in front of us. She lit a cigarette and I started fiddling with the ice cream cup I had just been offered.

“New ice cream cups?”

The design of the spoon looked familiar, but I couldn’t place it. Not one of hers, I thought… Maybe she got new spoons too?…

“Not really… We only have a couple so far, but we’re getting there,” and she winked, giving me a crooked smile. I didn’t know what to make of that comment, so I said nothing.

Their friend’s restaurant, that was where the two “new” ice cream cups were from. She wasn’t feeling well one evening, so their friend offered her husband two cups of her favourite desert to take home and cheer her up. How nice of him, I thought. But as no good deed goes unpunished, they “forgot” to return the cute cups. That wasn’t very nice of them, I couldn’t help commenting, when in fact I wanted to say they didn’t deserve to be allowed back in that restaurant. I had just realised where I’d seen the pattern on the spoon I was holding. That couldn’t be a coincidence.

“If he ever asks us to return them, we will. He should, if he wants them back. But I think he forgot about them anyway.”

“Or he’s just avoiding the uncomfortable conversation….”

“Exactly,” and the crooked smile was back.

“Besides, did you see that new Omega on his wrist? He’s clearly doing well, he can afford it,” her husband added.

The ice cream suddenly felt a lot colder than it should have been. I discretely pulled at my left sleeve. It was no Omega, but I was wearing a new watch too. Who knows what reactions that might trigger?

It wasn’t an isolated incident. There were spoons to go with those cups, as I had already noticed. She pulled out some more knives and forks and she proudly shared their story. Some were from a pizzeria where she found the service was too slow.

“The place was full, you should’ve seen it. All the money they make and they can’t be bothered to offer decent service. That’s the least they could do to compensate me for all that waiting around when I was starving.”

You don’t like the service, you don’t tip your waiter… you don’t start stealing the cutlery! Or do you?… Some coffee spoons followed and there was no story attached, no excuse – she simply liked them, so she took them, and she couldn’t find anything wrong with it. Then there was the matter of the 20 euros… well, he might have gone a bit too far with that, somebody might have noticed, she added. Yes, somebody might have noticed him going behind the bar and taking a 20 euro bill in another friend’s little pub, a place he goes to almost daily… But that would have been the only issue with that… after all, it was really his money, hadn’t he just spent more than that there the previous day?

All their friends who didn’t seem to have obvious financial issues were probably going to miss cutlery and various small items, maybe even the occasional 20 euro bill here and there. Now there was the kitchen knife, another item they had “borrowed” from their friend, the chef and Omega watch owner… I knew the man. He had his own restaurant and worked hard to keep the business going. If he was making enough money to treat himself and his family to nice things, it was because of his relentless efforts and remarkable talent.

I knew what prompted their behaviour, but it was still unfair, so childish, so mean…

There’s a frame to every story and the more you widen that frame, the more you pull at it trying to tear it apart, the better chance you stand to find out how the story came to be. Frustration, envy and anger made their fingers so sticky. The more they couldn’t afford expensive things, the more expensive their tastes became.

She just had to have more and more beauty products, and the prices of the ones she chose was getting higher and higher. Besides, what woman can say no to the occasional designer bag or pair of shoes? She never missed a chance to subtly put down any woman who spent less on her skin, hair and general body care; and those special moments brought a big, satisfied smile to her face. He smiled a matching smile whenever he added one more piece of designer clothing to his already stuffed wardrobe.

Bills kept coming. More and more often, they were just shoved to the side without a second glance. The economy was the culprit, many people were in the same situation. Their income was just not enough to cover their expenses anymore and the economy was to be blamed – the economy, the government, the world in general, but mostly their friends who still managed to keep their financial situation under control. The 80 euros electricity bill was something to bitch about for two weeks… but at least he got to bitch about it in his new 200 euros (on sale) pair of jeans.

Desolation was framed by a myriad of pretty things and revenged by a series of petty thefts. The beautiful frame dragged those it portrayed deeper and deeper. Those who tried to pull them out were immediately written off and no longer accepted as friends.

If the homeless guy at the street corner simply took the designer jacket he is wearing or the nice bag she is holding, would they find it normal, acceptable behaviour? After all, the guy is doing much worse than they are, so according to their theory, he should just help himself to whatever he wants, as long as the one he “borrows” from is doing better… They find delight and validation in pitying their friends who have less than they do, but would that still be the case if things started to go missing after their visits?

I wanted to understand, because I know how terrible constantly sinking can be. But the truth is, I don’t agree with their approach. They’re entitled to their lifestyle choices and I, to my opinions. I can’t do anything to change either of them. All I can do is check my kitchen drawers before she leaves, next time she visits.

When You See A Guy Wearing Nothing But His Speedos In the Supermarket…

… You know it must be the height of summer season at the seaside.

There’s always one, I keep reminding myself every summer… that is, if I’m lucky, because there’s a good chance I get to see more than one. Living by the sea certainly comes with lots of perks, but there are several peculiarities one needs to learn to accept as well. If nothing else, you never get to forget that “vacation” is that magical time of year when boundaries get very blurry for most people. It may not always be fun to witness, it might often be maddening, but hey, you learn to live with it!

So there he is, our summertime, vacation loving gentleman, proudly strutting his stuff, pushing a shopping trolley down a supermarket alley. Belly elegantly spilling over his tight, three sizes too small swimsuit, worn flip-flops flipping the delicate grains of sand finally escaping the trap of his hairy ankles, he knows exactly where he needs to be.

“Mommy, mommy, is that man poor?”

The little girl he pushes over in his mad rush to reach the beer isle keeps tugging at her mother’s shirt. Giving the man an angry look, the mother tries to avert her daughter’s eyes and draw her attention away from the testosterone wonder.

“Is he homeless, mommy? Why does he have no clothes? Should we help him?”

Out of the mouths of babes… I smile to the little girl as I walk by pushing my shopping trolley and the mother and I lock eyes, exchanging a knowing look. Damn summer, damn tourists, her exhausted, angry face seems to say.

Two of the security people are rushing, almost running to catch up with the inappropriately clad shopper. I was wondering how he’d managed to get that far. Generally they are stopped at the entrance and politely asked to head back to their vehicles and put on some clothes. That polite – some would say common sense request – is rarely met with a decent, polite response, much less with an apology. Generally, rude comments regarding the fact that it’s summer and it’s a town by the sea are proffered, just like in the case of today’s tourist, who simply refuses to leave without his beer… Who would have thought supermarkets might need to impose a dress code…

How many of these people would behave the same at home, on their way to the pool, I ask myself as I stop to let a lady cross the road. She’s barefoot and all she’s wearing is her bikini and a thick layer of makeup covering her face. Granted, we’re not that far from the beach, and that’s where she seems to be heading… But after seeing another similarly dressed lady who had accessorised her outfit with a pair of flip-flops and a transparent pareo wrapped around her hips walking around in the middle of the town, nowhere near a beach, I can hardly be bothered to notice this one.

I see them every day, coming and going to the beach and I can’t help wondering how they’d react if a throng of almost naked, loud, rude, ill-mannered people invaded their home town all of the sudden. Vacation time is also a time for upside-down, Alice-in-Wonderland type of situations, you soon remember if you have the strange idea of going for a walk and then stop for a drink/meal in the afternoon, in beach adjacent venues. No matter how nice the place may be, there’s a good chance the waiters will have to shoo away some disgruntled guest parading around in their dripping wet swimsuit. You see, now you’re the odd apple, for finding those pesky clothes appropriate. After all, it’s summer, it’s hot and you’re at the seaside! What the hell, live a little!

Now that we’re approaching that moment when we’re going to melancholically look back on yet another summer, I must confess – I don’t, resent them too much… at least not this summer. Once they finally go back home, to their normal lives and normal attire, once we get rid of them after we’re finally done making fun of them, the summer will be over. And I don’t want the summer to be over just yet…

One More Cup of Coffee

6

The espresso pot was making its usual burbling noise. Coffee was almost ready. I looked outside through the large glass door. The sky was on fire yet again. I am a not a morning person. I took the pot aside, switching off the stove. I am a coffee person. I poured all the freshly brewed espresso in one of those big ugly cups that came with the apartment. For about one year they had been our cups. And that had been our apartment. Just like that had been our town.

I pushed the glass door open and stepped out on the terrace. It was still winter, but the air felt like a warm spring day was about to unfold. We don’t only say goodbye to people. We also say goodbye to the places with which we connected, which meant something to us. I didn’t instantly like the big, crowded town still snoozing behind the early morning lights. But I had spent so much time there, going back and forth, that it had become a second home for one year. Pretty soon I started to understand its language, its pace and its peculiarities and it grew on me.

I had a few minutes to spare. And we needed to say our goodbyes, the half-asleep town and I. The culture, the history, the fun, the laziness and alternating fast pace, all the discoveries that I hadn’t gotten around to make, I would miss them all. Places can surprise you… just like people. Would I ever return? Who knows… who knows when or how… We can only know for sure when we leave. But one thing I did know, it would never be in that same little corner, in that same little moment in life.

So goodbyes had to be said quietly, over that last cup of coffee, staring at the colourful view I had enjoyed so many times. Curled up on a chair, my bare feet freezing and my palms pleasantly hot around the coffee cup, I took it all in one more time. Goodbye, Madrid!

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Morning.

Love of Her Life

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The luxury car crawled by slow enough to let her notice every detail, from the tinted windows, to the impeccable paint shining in the sun, to the speckles rims. But in the congested early evening traffic it was still moving faster than most. A few more elegant manoeuvres of an experienced driver and it disappeared somewhere among the SUVs in front.

“Did you see it?”

Of course. A car like that was hard to ignore. So was the hungry, tormented look behind her sunglasses and those tiny beads of nervous sweat that had appeared on her forehead as soon as she noticed that ghost of a car on the other lane.

“Could it… Do you think it was him?”

No, his car is a different colour.

“Who knows…” She was already fidgeting in her seat, her eyes searching for the car that slid by just moments earlier.

“Can’t you catch up with him? Follow him, see where he’s going, see if it’s him?”

No way.

“Look at this traffic… there’s police everywhere, what do you want me to do?” I didn’t even try to hide the irritation in my voice, but she never noticed it. All she had eyes, ears and thoughts for was that car… was him… just like all those years ago.

“But you could try anyway,” she ordered, forgetting it was a favour she was asking for.

“No,” but the answer fell on deaf ears.

I had done more ridiculous things than try and follow a car, all in order to help with her romantic games over the years, but not this time, not for him… Even if I knew it wasn’t him in that car, she couldn’t have known. She was still chasing him, no matter what, no matter where, no matter who got in her way, no matter who got hurt. Well over a decade had passed since she hadn’t seen or talked to him, yet he was still haunting her. All it took was a glimpse of what might have been.

I tentatively moved forward, upsetting other impatient drivers, but the mystery car was nowhere to be seen, as expected. Yet now she could tell herself she had tried… and hopefully she wouldn’t have to tell me as well.

“Anyway, it couldn’t be him… I think I caught a glimpse of the driver and he looked nothing like him,” she tried to convince herself, settling down, disappointed the unexpected sighting was not going to become anything more. There was no way she could have seen the driver, but then again, she could never see clearly when it came to him.

The rest of our drive home was quiet. I knew all the memories, the regrets and the what if’s that car had triggered. While I may have despised him for the way he had treated her, while I resented her for what she had put everybody else through for the sake of their relationship, I couldn’t deny understanding at least part of her melancholy.

He had been and would always remain the love of her life. The love of her life and the passion of her life, both entwined in one selfish, arrogant, irresistible person…

Once in a while, she’d try to convince herself the man she married was the one she loved most. And once in a while, she would believe it. Yet, the more she saw herself disappearing in a marriage with a good, loving man who could never understand her, who had nothing in common with her, the more she looked back, remembering only the good times, only the passion, only the happiness. She used to have a life of her own, a career, she used to travel and be independent. She used to be alive.

Now she was somebody’s wife and nothing more. A housewife nobody minded anymore, that was all that she was, and most of the time she couldn’t even be bothered to care. She didn’t go anywhere anymore. She hardly left the house to go anywhere but the grocery store. She cooked meals, she cleaned their home, she listened to his boring work stories and once a year or so she managed to convince herself to visit me. So when one of her old, snobby, so-called friends told her how well he was doing and casually happened to mention one of the cars he was driving, she suddenly found herself canvasing the streets, hoping…

But she no longer was the strong woman she used to be. Seeing him, being rejected by him would have broken her. As one of the two persons who would then have to put Humpty Dumpty back together, I reasoned there was nothing wrong in trying to prevent Humpty from falling off the wall in the first place. Some feelings will never remain in the past, and just like she could never forget how much she loved him and how passionate their relationship had been, I would never forget how much I loathed him. She deserved a night out, I figured. She deserved some fun and she deserved to forget for a moment or two. She also deserved to be happy, but that wasn’t something I or anybody else could offer her anymore.

The luxury car drove by, obnoxiously manoeuvring through rush-hour traffic. This time, it was his car. This time she wasn’t with me. He drove the same way he lived – fast, recklessly and passionately. In his own twisted, selfish way, he had loved her too, that I knew; but he had never really cared. He would always be the love of her life. She might be his. For many of us, the greatest love of our life is one we can’t help but leave behind before it consumes our entire soul. That love remains so great in our memory also because it had no time to die on its own, to become mundane, boring and real. It existed in a dimension of its own, even when it lasted for years.

Reality is a different sort of game. She continued her life with her husband, who never started really seeing her. Once in a while, life would through a tantrum and they’d lean on each other, weathering the storm, hoping that would bring them closer. Then they’d forget it as soon as the weather was good again and they’d go on ignoring each other, living apart together, until the next storm would throw them back into each other’s arms. But one way or another, the past would always loom, breeding frustration and unhappiness. Or was that happening because the present was breeding frustration and unhappiness?

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – The Things We Leave Behind.

Bang Advice

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I don’t remember her name. But she always wore bangs, that I remember. She wore bangs when not many fashion conscious women dared even consider it. Her haircut wasn’t always the same, neither was her hair colour, but she always wore bangs… and she looked great. Looking impeccable at any moment seemed like an effortless endeavour for her, like it was an extension of her being. From all my mother’s friends, I liked her best. Beautiful, elegant and graceful, she had an extraordinary ability to combine elements and come up with the outfits that suited her perfectly. Unlike some of their friends, she was never ostentatious, she knew exactly how to discretely emphasize her features in order to look attractive without being vulgar or tacky.

But it was her bangs I was particularly interested in that summer, and I had a good reason for it. After all, I wanted to get bangs as well, yet I wasn’t allowed to. If I wanted to be pretty, I couldn’t have bangs covering my forehead or strands of hair getting into my eyes for that matter; besides, all I had to do was look around and see that no pretty girl wore bangs, I was told. I rolled my eyes, but my grandmother had deemed the conversation over.

I loved spending time with my mother’s friends. They were an endless source of interesting information and great gossip and they never filtered their conversation when I was there. I felt like one of the girls, not just a child, and being with those wonderfully independent, outspoken women was so much fun. They were nothing like my friends’ old-fashioned, boring mothers, even if some of them did have children. So in a moment of relative silence, while coffee cups were being refilled, I walked up to her and asked her, how come she always wore bangs? In my mind, I was going to put a flattering spin on my curiosity, but before I knew it, I had just blurted out my out of context question.

She stopped smiling. She stopped looking at me as though I were some adorable doll, the way she usually looked at me. All of the sudden, she was serious and I was her equal, I felt, as her eyes were staring into mine while speaking. She never wore too much makeup, I couldn’t help thinking, and her face was always fresh and natural.

“You make your own style. You don’t let fashion or people dictate how you’re supposed to look, do you understand me? You adapt fashion to your needs, to your personality, not the other way around. You…”

“Don’t depress the girl,” the one who was always the loudest and the most direct of them interrupted, giving her a friendly nudge. “She just always wears bangs, it’s her thing,” she winked at me. “Just like my thing is being a bitch,” she continued, noticing her friend’s sad, lost gaze. She caressed her hair and handed her a fresh cup of coffee.

Years later I would think of her when seeing the Samantha character in Sex and the City.

Somebody dispersed the tension by announcing she had a new lover. Everybody lit up cigarettes, sipped their coffee and loudly asked for details. I kept mulling over the serious style advice I had just received. Sure, my mother had told me the same thing, but it never hurts getting a second opinion… after all, mothers weren’t the most reliable source, were they?

On the way home, I was told the full story – I was old enough to understand and I had to know I hadn’t done anything wrong. Besides, my mother thoroughly enjoyed to have me as a gossip partner, since I could be trusted not to tell anything to my grandmother. Her friend’s haircut wasn’t a fashion statement, it was necessity. She had adapted her hair style to suit her needs after having been in an accident which had left more than emotional scars. There was also a very real, visible, long scar on her forehead, one she hid well with skilful makeup and by wearing bangs. She was self-conscious and didn’t like to be reminded of the trauma she had suffered, yet it was unavoidable, the scar taunting her from the mirror every day. I regretted having voiced my curiosity… or perhaps I didn’t really, since it had gotten me answers. Nobody was perfect, yet one could still be remarkable.

A few days later, while my grandmother was taking her afternoon nap, I was taking a pair of scissors to a chunk of my hair (what girl hasn’t done that at least once?). I contemplated the result with great satisfaction, even though I wasn’t yet sure it looked good.

As a result of my actions, I was rushed to the hairdresser’s. My grandmother couldn’t contain her outrage, while my mother couldn’t contain her amusement. I had been overly enthusiastic with the scissors and had cut a bit too much, so my amazing new bangs were too short and I looked slightly ridiculous. The hairdresser did her best to fix what she could; after that, all it took was patience over the following weeks, until my hair grew… and surprise, surprise, I discovered that I could still be pretty, even with bangs. Besides, what mattered most was that I liked my look, that I was happy with it. I was taking steps in the right direction and she had been right, I realized.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – A Piece of Advice.

Preserving Time

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Fine, fine, I admit it. I liked the Spice Girls for about five minutes, back in the ‘90s… or 20 years ago, as the annoying news lady decided to inform me the other day. That couldn’t be true… could it? But as I rushed from the kitchen to stare incredulously at the TV (as though that was going to change anything), I quickly did the math and horror of horrors, the lady was right.

Snippets of old videos followed on the screen and flashes of old memories ran through my mind. It’s been 20 years since my friends and I used to jump up and down in front of the TV, dancing to the Wannabe video, choosing our favourite Spice Girl and believing that “girl power” was a given. When the perky blonde came back on the screen, about to move on to some more depressing news, I made a face at her; in fact, I’m pretty sure I stuck my tongue out at her, a gesture strictly reserved for the most obnoxious drivers. But the perky blonde was not done with me, as her next piece of news involved a grey haired Jon Bon Jovi singing at a wedding, looking a lot older than a few years ago, when I saw him live in a concert. That’s what you get on a slow news day… although, ironically enough, lots of important things were going on in the world at the time. But clearly not important enough to push aside trivia reminding me that it’s been twenty years since then. In the ’90s sounds so much better than 20 years ago.

“You know, I told somebody you were 24 the other day.”

Ha? I paused, not knowing what one replies to that. Somebody had asked her how old her daughter was and apparently “24” was the right number for my mother.

“I see you’re not sticking with 28,” I finally recovered my voice.

She stopped counting at 28… not 29, not 30, but 28. I never lied about my age, but apparently my mother feels the need to, for several years now. I will try and preserve a little bit of mystery and won’t say for how many years I’ve been turning 28 according to her… suffice to say that she knows my age, yet she will not admit it to anyone, sometimes not even to me. And apparently, starting this year, I’m 24 again.

I can’t come up with a good reason why she chose that particular age, other than the fact that if I’m 24, she’s still in her 40s. In a way, it does make sense. She liked herself a lot more back then, so many things still seemed possible for her. I can understand why she would want to go back to those days, to somehow relive certain moments, so she could both have the chance to feel that happiness and make different decisions, take a different path. I know she chooses to often forget her own age and certain aspects of today’s reality, succumbing to the mirage of better days. Once in a while we all do that. Once in a while, when she doesn’t exaggerate, I understand her… after all, I’d rather say “in the ‘90s” than “20 years ago”… But I dread the moment she remembers how much she loved who she was in her 30s. If she keeps this up, I can see the day when I reach for my gin & tonic and she smacks my hand – soon enough, I won’t be of legal drinking age anymore.

Preserving time seems to be an obsession for all of us, trying to bottle up certain moments so we could repeatedly savour them at a later moment is not at all uncommon. Everybody has their own way of saving those instances for later use and their own reasons for occasionally sinking deep into those memories. For instance, aside from a plethora of photos, old notebooks and a variety of other things, I also have a couple of old dresses from back when I was about 18. I fear time, just like everybody else, so trying them on when I am really sad somehow makes me feel better, because I can still fit in them, and it also makes me laugh, because of how ridiculous I look. But what I don’t do when I’m sad is sink into happy moments and memories from the past, that’s just a recipe for depression. What can I say, we each fight time and preserve our sanity, our own way.

I’m not delusional about my past, I remember the bad at least as well as I remember the good. That’s why I think it might be about more than preserving time, it might actually be about preserving that person I was at a given moment – I may not have always liked my life, but I generally liked myself. That’s why the present can’t be overlooked and forgotten while we sink too deeply into the past – we need to set something aside for the future too. On that note, I think I’ll go and pour myself a glass of wine (while I still can) to go with my ice-cream and enjoy a nice summer evening, here and now… because who knows what’s to follow. Cheers! 🙂

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – For Posterity.

Opposing Moments

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“How did you do it? How did you call it again?”

The dishevelled person staring back from the mirror looks nothing like the one who used to be there on so many other occasions… or like the one who can still make an appearance sooner or later. There simply are such mornings, such days… such stages. It might have been a night of crying or a night of drinking and dancing and forgetting, it may have been days and days of exhaustion and despair that have pulled that unrecognizable creature to surface from the depth of one’s being. Those versions of the past and the potential future are simply unavoidable.

It becomes a reflex in most of the cases. Somewhere between several cups of coffee or tee, after all those smoked cigarettes, during those extra moments of applying makeup or whatever other daily rituals, one generally gets one’s face on and they’re once more ready to deal with the world… or at least to hide well enough until they are. We don’t really do it to protect others, or at least we don’t do it only for that particular reason. It’s self-preservation, the need to protect ourselves from the way others might react if they caught a glimpse of all that lurks under that socially acceptable mask. Some do it better; others find it difficult. In the end, it can even be a silent competition – who’s going to fall apart first, whose face will betray them, exposing that creature taunting them from the mirror early in the morning?

“How did you do it? How did you call it again?”

Relationships wear masks as well, not only the people they involve. Silent, sometimes unintentional, sometimes quietly, mutually agreed upon masks. When the mask breaks in two and neither one of those halves can be worn convincingly, you know. You notice the cracks even if you try to look away, so you can “call it”, as my friend put it.

I met recently met a couple I hadn’t seen in a long time. They’re not close friends, just some acquaintances, but it was still nice to see them and catch up. He is a friend of my closest friend; she is his girlfriend. What did I think about them, after all those years, my friend asked… Among many other impressions I was left with after a whole day spent together, I got the feeling their relationship was approaching its end. She would end it, I told my friend. Sure enough, about a week later she informed him she was moving out, my friend told me.

How did I always predict it, he kept asking, as though I was some sort of relationship bad omen. I tend to notice certain details and this wasn’t the first time I had “predicted” such situations. There were cracks in her mask… cracks she was trying to hide, but which were obvious whenever he kept ignoring what she wanted, replacing it with what he thought she should want or with what he needed. Small things, here and there, symptoms of something so much deeper… symptoms he stubbornly ignored. If I – a person who didn’t know her all that well – could notice them, why didn’t he, the man living with for several years? Why was he waiting for everything to fix itself, if he still wanted her to be part of his life, if he still loved her?

But I knew the answer, or at least part of it, because I knew he had behaved the same way in previous relationships. You want the girl, you make an effort and you get the girl. But once you “have” her, that’s it – that is the destination, the final point and from then on there is nothing more that needs to be done. That’s the kind of guy he is… complete with the ability of stubbornly hiding from the fact that she is unhappy. When he forcefully has to accept it, it’s generally too late to do anything to change the outcome… an outcome that breaks his heart once more…

The masks fall – his, hers, theirs – and break into countless pieces. The moment becomes the opposite of what he thought it was. The moment becomes the one she was trying to avoid. The moment no longer inhabits the destination, it becomes yet another beginning – an unwanted and no longer avoidable one.

Many times, the kindest thing you can do is look away from the cracks and allow a person to wear their mask as well as they can… hoping they will show you the same courtesy. But when you share a mask with someone else, staring at the cracks from the inside, what is the best moment to stop ignoring them and start focusing on what they reveal?

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Opposites.

Retro Gifts, New Memories

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A particular birthday present from a family friend really captured the essence of those moments… Not that it was expensive or out of the ordinary (it would certainly present no particular interest to today’s twelve year olds), not that it came from a person I so greatly admired at the time, what really mattered was the symbolism of the situation.

I had already decided that I was old enough to choose how I’d spend the big day – you’re practically a grownup when you’re twelve, aren’t you? – and not go along with the family’s dull ideas about the ideal celebration. Not surprisingly, the adults had a different take on the matter. They informed me that I was either having the party they had planned with the guests of their choice or no party at all… Naturally, I chose to be equally stubborn – if the adults were going to be unreasonable and childish about it, then I could be stubborn – and have no party. Not much of a sacrifice, considering that in our circle, kids’ birthday parties were more of an opportunity for the adults to show off and network than a chance for the young ones to enjoy themselves.

Shortly before that controversial birthday, this person I admiring from many points of view paid me a surprise visit, in order to bring a little token of her affection, a reminder that a special day is more than a good party. In her early twenties, beautiful and smart, about to graduate from a prestigious university, engaged to what I used to think should be the man of any woman’s dreams, she was my best friend, the big sister I never had. Her life was far from perfect and anything but easy, I would later find out, but that was not the reality of those days.

The nicely wrapped box contained her old photo camera, a couple of black and white film rolls and a brand new photo album. To my not so little little friend, so that she could make memories of her own, she said… I didn’t need to explain, she understood what I was going through; she always understood and she always knew the right thing to do. The days of mobile phones and digital cameras being as ubiquitous in a kid’s life as bubble gum weren’t there yet, but some of my friends were already allowed to occasionally use their parents’ photo cameras. Of course I wanted one of my own, but much to my chagrin, I was not considered old enough to be trusted with such technology…

When I saw the used, old fashioned, simplistic camera that was all of the sudden mine, I knew things were finally looking up. Memories of my own, I repeated, fiddling with the new toy. It had been a gift from her father, she was about my age when she had received it, and now it was my turn, I was the closest thing she had to a younger sister.  We wondered about all afternoon and she taught me how to use it, how to adjust all the settings and how to make the tricky machinery behave and capture all those memories for me. She was passionate about photography and she had a gift for it, but that cannot be taught, unfortunately…

I used the second roll of film on my actual birthday, for my non-party. My school friends and I decided it was a shame to waste such a beautiful day – my birthday, of all days – and time would be much better spent in a park, so we skipped school for the first time. A birthday I would spend as I pleased, starting to make memories of my own, growing up and independent from my family – she had gotten it right yet again – and the old camera played such a significant part in it, as the day turned out to be perfect in its simplicity.

The days when an old camera meant freedom and all the desired happiness and independence are gone; the kids running around the park that autumn day grew up and failed to stay in touch. The adults never found out about our little escapade; I used my savings to get the films developed and all my friends got copies of the photos. But those black and white pictures are still around, testimonies of days that sometimes may seem unreal.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Analog.

Beginnings, Beginnings…

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Adults were the enemy, no doubt about it… Yet they had all been young once, children, teenagers… So at what point did they start to mutate, when was it that they stopped understanding and started forgetting?

The 12 year old me had no answer to those daunting questions, and neither did any of my friends. But I was afraid it might happen to me eventually. No, no, never, that would never be me. Yet… what if forgetting is stronger than the human being? Not forgetting actual situations – adults seemed to remember many things, they all had childhood stories – but the feelings behind them, the implications, the reasons and the results. It wasn’t about remembering, it was about remembering it right.

There was only one thing to be done about it. I picked a nice mote book that I was saving for just such an extreme occasion and decided it would be the first of many. Everything had to be documented. There was no other way I would grow into one of those narrow minded, uncaring, depressing, oppressive people who accepted nothing but their own biased judgement and could not understand us… because they could not remember correctly how it was like to be us.

I was no exception, I soon discovered that most of the girls kept diaries… and even a few of the boys were bold enough to admit they kept “journals”. In fact, there was an absolutely hilarious afternoon when we were about 14 and we found one of these journals. One of the boys had been careless enough to bring it to school and leave it on my desk… My friends and I got our grubby little hands on it and the public reading that followed in a nearby park after classes turned out to be embarrassing to say the least. here were certain very private physical matters in there that no adolescent boy would like to have read by the girl he used to like in front of the girl he kindda likes… and all of her friends and his friends. Oh yes, we were merciless… But if you don’t want your classmates to read your diary, you don’t bring it to school, it was a known fact.

Whatever the reasons each and every one of us had, journaling was a widely spread activity. But that wasn’t writing, none of us perceived it as such… writing sounded too much like homework, that was just too tedious. Yet I was right about one thing – that first note book was followed by several others over the years. I may have denied their existence in front of my friends (that was just too girly a thing for me admit to), but the truth was that writing cleared my mind. It may have been meant for my eyes alone, but it was cathartic. It was calming whenever I could no longer control my anger; it was soothing when I felt I couldn’t control my tears; and it was comforting and motivating whenever I felt there was no hope.

I eventually came to understand my personal writing as the best way to gain some perspective. Writing then became dialogue. I would write letters to a good friend of mine who was older and had moved away. My closest friends and I had this notebook where we kept writing whatever went through our minds, everything that troubled us or that made us happy. We did start letting others in, but one thing remained the same – none of us could relate to, confide in or trust the adults in our lives, we had to rely on each other. That we did have in common, it was a fact, not mere adolescent rebellion.

Yet some adults were different. I couldn’t deny that when my middle school literature teacher came to me one day and told me I had won some prize in a writing competition. I vaguely remembered being told about that competition and I had dismissed it immediately; what did she want from me, I couldn’t be bothered with that, I didn’t write like that… She said nothing else, she just asked me to hand in another copy of a composition I had written as a school assignment. She send it in for me and apparently some people liked it… Hmm… who would have thought? She repeated the stunt whenever she got her hands on something I wrote and she liked; that’s how I won a couple more prizes in various writing contests for kids my age and that’s how I ended up accidentally writing occasional pieces for the school paper. Writing could help me if I let it, she made me understand. I didn’t have to take it too seriously, I didn’t have to make it into a career, I just had to allow it to be an outlet. That was my decision… unlike the various competitions she chose for me to enter unwillingly.

She was right, I later had to admit… everybody should have a hobby to sink into whenever they need to let go of everything. As for the life of the misunderstood teenager… well, there was more to it than I had initially imagined. Some of that lack of understanding and tolerance was not about forgetting or about not remembering it right. Some of it was nobody’s fault, neither the adults, nor the kids could be blamed for the incredibly fast paced life and for the way everything evolved beyond everybody’s perception.

I got my first taste of that bitter reality very early in my twenties, when a friend asked me to talk to his younger sister about sex… So many things had changed from social and technological points of view in less than 10 years, that nothing I had written down could have helped me with some of the scary question that perfectly average 13 year old had. I remembered it right and I remembered it all, yet the context was no longer the same. It wasn’t only about remembering, it was also about adapting what I knew to her context, if I wanted to convince the girl that she could and should be her own hero, first and foremost…

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Origin Story.

A Numbers Game

3What’s your number? There used to be a time when that was nothing but a harmless question, which was simply perceived as somebody wanting to know your phone number… does anybody still remember that? We moved on and the loaded question acquired much more controversial nuances. But all in all, it’s a numbers game from all points of view we soon got to learn it.

Just because we don’t buy a ticked, that doesn’t mean we’re not playing the lottery. Whether we like it or not, that’s what we do every second of our life and the prize varies, we’re often not even aware of what it is until it’s too late. Birthdays, anniversaries, age, addresses, time, history, biology, chemistry, genetics, health issues, income, financial and social status, living conditions, entertainment, family, friends, success and failure and so much more, life in general, it all comes down to numbers. They’re the foundation of everything we build, of all we desire and hope for, they’re also at the core of our greatest fears.

How many times, how many of us have wandered what the point of algebra was, back when we were children? Yet nowadays it often feels like 3x+4y+5z=happiness … and that’s only in the simplest of cases. Then there are those times when the equation gets blurry, endless, untouchable. So different numbers start to add up and the sum or the questions it might raise aren’t always pleasant or even bearable. How many drinks in order to relax and forget? How many pills in order to feel better, to feel nothing or to simply make it from one day to the next? How many zeros in that ideal bank account in order to feel safe? How many people in one’s life in order to feel important? How many victories against how many losses in order not to fall apart? And that’s only on a strictly personal level… There’s certainly a not at all glamorous side of this numbers game as well.

Perfection – in any subjective interpretation – also becomes a matter of numbers, be it in real life, aspirations or in art. Various numbers have defined idealised perfection over the ages, but more and more often we seem to strive for “the one”. We add all the numbers resulting from our expectations and we tend to somehow reach the one as the the only result. The one ideal person, the one perfect home, the one acceptable view on life… In case the one we find or manage to provide ourselves with turns out to be wrong, we start fiddling with all the variables in the equation, but we hardly ever accept that the solution might be something else but one. One failed “one” yields one brand new quest for a new “one”, hopefully the right “one”. Once the right “one” is found, we move on and try to get another one of those ones that we crave so badly. All too often, we believe anything that isn’t the “one” equals zero…

It’s a numbers game. It’s life. Few of those variables can be controlled, but if we manage to come up with our own numbers and set our own rules, we might even win the game once in a while. And doesn’t it feel nice when that happens, when our numbers are the winning ones…

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Numbers.

Imagining Adventure

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I drove past the sign and as the car was moving faster, I started feeling less restless. I had just stopped by the petrol station, I had a full tank and enough money in my purse to refuel once more. Things had definitely been worse for me at some point in the past, but I didn’t want to think about that. I left the town behind and I could just keep driving… But where?

Some people get antsy when spring arrives, it’s like the warm air defrosts their adventurous side; others get edgy when autumn or winter start imbuing the air with their specific fragrance. For me, it’s summer, early summer. It’s always been early summer. That’s the time of year when I become particularly restless… some might smirk and call that restlessness careless or even self-destructive. I couldn’t argue with them, it’s been known to happen…

This is the time when I feel a desperate need to shake everything up, to uproot my entire existence. This is the time when I fantasize about change, about complete change that I cause voluntarily by simply turning everything upside down and starting fresh. Am I still able to do that, I wonder? I don’t know anymore, but every early summer I feel like putting myself to that particular test. As I drive past the city limits, I can’t deny the urge to never come back. Perhaps I’ve lived here long. Perhaps I’ve gotten all there was to get out of this place. Perhaps it’s time for somewhere else, for something else. Perhaps it’s time to pull everything down so I could rebuild something entirely new.

While I’m still in town, I try to distract myself by focusing on the small things. Maybe I could focus this energy on adding something new rather than on starting new. I drive past a cyclist and I think, I could do that too, he seems to enjoy it. Yes, I could do that, but I hate cycling, I always have; that’s no fun for me. I want something else, something more adventurous, more thrilling. Mountain climbing perhaps? I’m not the mountain climbing type either. I’ve tried it many moons ago, I ticked it off the list and then got over it. I can’t say I hated it, but it didn’t suit me either. Once I proved myself I could do it, I moved on. None of those things are me, I crave some sort of adventure, not a reinvention of myself.

I know how to handle this sort of craving after all the times I’ve experienced it. I also know I’m not a pleasant person to be around when this sort of mood hits, so I try to stay away from those I care about. The truth is, the main reason why my adventure fantasies remain just that and I prevent them from materializing is the fact that nowadays I have something to lose. The truth is I don’t hate my life; I actually am aware of all the things I have to be grateful for… The truth is I also have people I care about, people I wouldn’t want to lose. Yet these restless thoughts I get every early summer make me envision and crave just that – a brand new existence, with brand new challenges, because it seems it’s in our blood to get bored, to stop appreciating, to take things and people for granted.

Driving back on a more scenic route, the way I always knew I would, I feel a bit calmer. I always know when I want to leave a place or a person for good and I generally manage to focus on the reasons I have to go back. But imagining how it might be to escape my own existence and build a new one is still something thrilling, something motivating, something I ultimately and selfishly don’t want to share with anybody else. It’s my adventure, after all.

However, there are pertinent compromise versions of it – I hear that’s what adults do… Hmmm… I know that part of my restlessness is the fact that I miss travelling. After a year of going back and forth almost on a monthly basis, after practically living in two countries at once, now I realize I miss it. In spite of all the difficulties, I grew to like it… or at least to get used to it so much and so fast, that apparently now I miss it, on top of everything else. So I know that some small travel adventure – be it locally or internationally – is a compromise I could very well live with and enjoy enough to calm down these early summer urges. There’s the adventure we dream about and then there’s the adventure we can afford to live with in real life…

I’m often told that people “my age” settle down and should be perfectly fine with living uneventful lives; and if I crave adventure, I should just spend a day on the beach without solar protection. Well, call me crazy, label me hopelessly immature, but once in a while I need more than that. And as long as I can offer myself at least a part of that which I want and need, I will do just that, regardless of the frowns it might bring on certain brows… who, I might add, have no business minding my business.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Adventure.

Forgetting What I Learnt

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The words and phrases are floating over me, trying to break free from a fog refusing to dissipate. There is a certain familiarity about the text, I should known what it’s all about. I knew it at a point… But I keep reading, pushing those feelings of disappointment and panic somewhere deep and far away in my mind.

That’s what happens when you promise to help… You’ve studied something like this at university, right? I had to say yes, I couldn’t have asked why he wanted to know before saying anything… Serves me right – live it, learnt it!

Hey, wait a moment, this isn’t the same categorization we were taught, what the hell are they talking about? Rather than going straight to the point, they just confuse everything… how’s a person who doesn’t know about it supposed to understand anything… oh wait, a few pages later they finally do it right… good thing I know what the story is, that saves a lot of time.

But that’s exactly it, I do know, I do remember! A sigh of relief… my memory is still what it used to be, it’s not failing me yet, the years haven’t changed me that much from that particular point of view. Yes, I can actually help with this, I won’t make a fool of myself, nor will I be a nuisance.

I may be able to jolt my memory, I may be able to piece together information that I’ve assimilated, but I would definitely be a lot more challenged if I had to learn it now than I used to be back then. Well, this is exactly what my friend is going through these days and I can’t say I envy him. We’re the same age and while we both got admitted to different universities after high school, life got in his way a lot worse than it did in mine, and he is only now working towards getting his degree.

We learn differently, he and I… and many of the things we had to learn, we learnt together, both when it came to academia and when it came to life and its struggles. I helped him understand algebra in middle school and I frightened him into learning the conjugation of French verbs in high school. I found it terribly annoying that many of my class mates took so long to understand what to me appeared simple things; but he could keep up with me, so making him see how easy everything was became fun.

So once again we go back to that routine, the one where we discuss the course material, because that way he remembers it a lot better. That’s how he learns. I, on the other hand, have always studied best on my own; group studying was a waste of time and it held me back. I had no problem studying efficiently while sunbathing on the beach, as long as I was left alone…

Here we are, once again… we spend a day and the better part of the night figuring out the course material I had studied too, although I attended a different university and took different courses. Sure, they labelled it differently for me, but it’s really the same dry, boring, theoretical stuff that I only managed to understand because I had a gifted professor who could create a context and challenging examples to get our attention… and apparently to help me remember something I hardly ever need to use. This might in fact be the first time I do…

That’s why I was worried when I thought I had forgotten everything… Not because I needed to remember it – I am aware of having forgotten a lot of useless things I studied and learnt mechanically – but because this had made sense at the time. I may have hated the theoretical side, but the applied part was great fun. And I always remember that which I have understood, that which has made sense, that which I could have even exemplify in an interesting way.

No, I am not good at forgetting. I have yet to learn how to do that. Just like this highlights of an irrelevant course, everything that I’ve learnt and experienced comes back to me one way or another, no matter how hard I try to not remember certain things. It’s exactly those instances I try to forget that have the bad habit of coming back to me exactly when I least expect it or want it. Good memory is an amazing asset… and it can be a tremendous liability as well. But once you’re used to having access to such a tool, no matter how challenging it might be to handle it, the mere thought of losing it is the kind of fear you still need to learn how to control.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Learning.

Jubilation in Small Pleasures

2The jasmine plant outside my window is trying to shake off heavy raindrops and my mind goes back to other jasmine imbued evenings and early summer storms. I open my windows widely because I want to breathe in the fresh air, the scent of rain and jasmine… because I want to feel the way I used to feel back then… because I wish I still liked the rain.

It was our thing, running in the rain, making a mess of ourselves and not caring about it… just laughing and running and screaming and letting go of all responsibility, fears and worries that made us so different from other adolescents. We never ran for shelter when summer storms were upon us, thunder and lightning made us feel free and invincible. If we weren’t already outside, together, leaning on each other when the rain started, then we knew we would inevitably meet in the nearest park. Everybody was running away… we were running towards… towards each other, towards the storms.

I wore high heels back then as well, I carefully did my hair and chose my outfits, but somehow it really didn’t matter what became of all those efforts. My hair was dripping wet, clothes were uncomfortably sticking to my body, rain water made my feet slip in my shoes or sandals, but none of that mattered. Torrential rain washed away all those thoughts and experiences burdening us, and although I didn’t know it back then, my friends and I were acting our age for a moment or two. That sort of underrated jubilation forges bonds able to resist time. I know that because even now I can still laugh and reminisce with one of those friends who used to run and laugh in the rain with me.

It takes something else to get that sort of happy squeal escape our lungs these days. It takes conquering new territories, discovering new places. It takes complex pleasures to trigger reactions, because we’re no longer able to allow the simple ones get to us – that would mean settling for too little, wouldn’t it?

Torrential rain means something else today. It’s getting annoyed about what it might do to my hair, to my leather jacket or to my silk dress, it’s running to my car, avoiding the puddles that might damage my cherished shoes. It’s worrying about all the dirt in the raindrops and doing my best to avoid them touching my skin. I suppose this is simply acting my age today.

But the scent of all those delicate jasmine flowers drags me to another time, to a different universe. Perhaps we’ll find the strength and courage to run out into the storm again, loving it rather than fearing it… After all, haven’t we found the strength to accomplish much more difficult tasks, to survive much more challenging situations? If I can still find reasons for jubilation in the innocent surprise of unexpected flowers, couldn’t I at least learn to tolerate the rain again?

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Jubilant.

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Apologies and Silence

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My grandmother was one of those persons who manage to transform silence into a guilt inducing, “think about what you’ve done wrong” ordeals that only a cherished adult can inflict on a child. Only later did I understand the manipulative power of such loaded silences and the fact that they were equally efficient weapons against any adult in the family, as they were not meant to keep in check only children. But this most efficient weapon backfired eventually – it was bound to happen after having been used so efficiently for a lifetime, even when it was not needed.

There are so many kinds of silence and they serve so many purposes, but it was primarily a means of attracting attention in my grandmother’s case. The punishment side of it was merely a bonus, I latter understood, after I had already given up on figuring out what I had done wrong in order to deserve the much dreaded silent treatment.

It always followed the same pattern: you got home and all of the sudden you were persona non grata, whose kind “hello” didn’t trigger a response anymore. Naturally, one tries to find out what they did to upset the dear old lady, and that was generally when one also gets the all too familiar, snappy “You know very well what you did wrong, and it’s too late to make it better now,” followed by a very disappointed, “I’m such a martyr” look.

Nobody ever knew what triggered the silence attack, because nobody ever did anything to deserve it. My grandmother was a very verbal, argumentative, bickering lady whenever a mistake had actually been perpetrated, whereas the silence was merely a way to become the centre of attention, to be consoled and cuddled, begged for unnecessary forgiveness, which she would eventually half-heartedly grant, after having had enough of somebody’s grovelling and little favours offered in exchange for her clemency.

But her strategy soon failed to produce the same results with me; logical thinking worked its magic, even if I was just a child: I hadn’t done anything wrong, I knew that for a fact, so why was I supposed to apologise and have imaginary remorse for never committed mistakes? Navigating through the tormenting guilt her unuttered words instilled in me in spite of all my logical thoughts, I discovered a completely new and precious side of silence: I could finally do my homework or read the books I liked without any interruption from my generally very curious, talkative and intrusive grandmother. Without knowing it, I had offended her silence; and I had consequently offended her, thus almost deserving my punishment.

Silence had turned against her, leaving her powerless, and that was when I learnt that the first one to talk lost the imaginary battle of wills between the two of us.Why would I have been the first to utter a word, when I was so quietly comfortable with all my books, while she was all of the sudden alone and in desperate need of a listener, of somebody with whom to share the latest gossip? So she would eventually enter my room like nothing had happened and start talking and talking and talking – we were friends again, all was forgotten.

Nevertheless, her strategy worked wonders with everybody else, including my grandfather, getting her everything she wanted, from that feeling of control and superiority to a nice leather bag, a trip to the mountains or whatever she felt entitled to receive from those around her. Yet I still cannot help wondering why they refused to see what lurked behind the silence of the old, but not often dear lady. Is it really easier to fall prey to this sort of manipulative silence than to confront it?

After all those years I became as talented at throwing silence in people’s face as my grandmother was – how else would I have defeated her, after all? Yes, I can master silence now, but I choose not to become a pitiful creature who uses it in order to get undeserved and unnecessary attention. Once you learn to be silent both in a positive and a negative way, you also learn how to break silence and transform otherwise uncomfortable moments into a source of genuine communication in this overly verbal, often unable to establish real connections era.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Apology.

A Time For Chance Encounters

The car slows down and stops next to mine. We’re listening to the same radio station, I instantly realize, as our open windows allow for the warm wind, traffic noises and the same music to intertwine. I turn my head to the left, curious to see who else feels like listening to ‘80s songs today. Equally curious, the other driver looks to his right and just for a moment, through the dark tint of our sunglasses, our eyes meet. We exchange a quick, playful smile as our attention seems to switch back to the traffic. The light turns green, but we motion forward slowly even though ours are the first cars stopped at the traffic light.

Half smiling to myself, I scrutinize discretely while feeling scrutinized myself. He’s cute, he’s driving a great car and he’s younger than me. I know I don’t show my actual age and today I feel even younger, but it’s still flattering and amusing at the same time. I speed up a bit and so does he, keeping up with me.

It’s that time of year again… summer is in the air, it’s still mainly us, locals, so we still have the town to ourselves. First weekend this year when it really feels and looks like early summer and everybody’s enjoying the moment in their own way, it seems… From angry, aggressive, frustrated drives we become flirty drivers… at least for a few brief moments, until we get used to the summer routine and fall back on our jaded cynicism.

Nobody is in a hurry on such a day and it looks like many have taken their summer toys out for a spin, thoroughly enjoying them and showing them off. It’s fun to see 80’s music lover keeping close to my car even when I challenge him with a couple of unexpected turns. He’s played the game before, I see… But I must admit, today’s lazy traffic isn’t that tricky. As he passes my car and smiles at me once more, I can hear the same music. I catch myself inadvertently smiling and I effortlessly keep up with him for a couple of minutes and then pass him again. I’m a lady, he needs to chase after me, right?

I don’t normally drive with my window down, I simply switch on the AC. But even those of us, mere mortals, having to drive through life without a convertible, like to feel the wind messing up our hair once in a while. I don’t normally listen to that radio station either, but I’m restless today, I’m bored of the predictable, repetitive rhythms of the usual one and I don’t feel like playing something in particular either. I want to be surprised… And as I can hear the same music reverberating in the car next to mine at yet another traffic light, I realize the surprise is an entertaining one.

The car on my right is slowing down, waiting for me to do the same. As I don’t, he speeds up until he’s right next to me. While waiting patiently for pedestrians to cross, he points to the right, to the parking lot belonging to a trendy pub. They’ve gotten their umbrellas out and the terrace looks so inviting. I know they don’t play ‘80s music there… He still looks at me, his head tilted to the right, smiling crookedly and inquiringly. I smile back when the last of the pedestrians is on the other side of the street and I really have no excuse to be stopped there anymore. With a quick wave of my hand, I drive straight forward while he pulls over in the parking lot to the right. I can see him wave good bye as well. Then the street bends to the left and he disappears.

Yes, it’s that time of year again… when the sun brings out the best and the worst in us in this little corner of the world. It’s that time of year when the fun begins again, when it’s acceptable to be wild and young, no matter how old you are. This time of year, in other years, I would have stopped to have a drink with a cute stranger and see what chances a chance encounter stands to become more. Yet these days I keep driving, and not because of my age, but because I choose to. There are chance encounters and chance encounters… some of them serve as innocent reminders that the person we have in our life for the time being is one we have chosen, not one we have settled for, in lack of better options.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Chance Encounter.

Down To Earth Or Up In The Clouds

As children, many of us are often told we can do anything and become whoever we want when we grow up. Then we start growing up. With every year that passes, more and more of those options are stricken off that imaginary list. We discover ourselves, we understand what doesn’t suit us, we figure out what we don’t want to or cannot do. Whether we like it or not, we learn that wanting something doesn’t necessarily mean we can find a way to get it, contrary to urban legends and positive thinking myths. Yet we keep going, we still plan ahead and we find new purposes every day, because the present and the past are not enough, we also need some sort of hope for the future we can hold on to.

The dreams may not be full of grandeur, our younger selves would have probably not even called them dreams, yet realistic expectations and the anticipation of something more, something new or at least something we have experienced, loved and want to relive is not something to ignore. But what happens if we’ve exhausted all the items on that imaginary list – either because we’ve accomplished them or because they will forever be out of reach – and we have nothing else to replace them with, what happens then?…

She really has nothing to look forward to, everything she ever hoped for is behind her now and she is not that old yet… The thought crossed my mind, while wondering how long the woman can go on about her cats. I looked at the phone once again – over half an hour since that conversation had started and it didn’t seem to come close to its end. As usual, she had no regard for other people’s needs or for their time. Had she paid as much attention to the people in her life as she did her cats, her marriage and her life in general would be so much better, I couldn’t help thinking…

Much like Icarus, she got too close to the sun. It had been a relatively quick and sweet ascent and she’s been in some sort of chaotic free-fall ever since, it dawned on me. Every time you thought she was about to hit the ground, you realized she can somehow avoid it – anything to avoid being down to earth, accepting the reality for what it was and dealing with it. Nothing could compare to that blinding, cruel, mesmerizing sun; nobody could compete with the sun. She couldn’t find a way to keep living up there, suspended above everybody else, looking down on a world inferior to her and her sun. She couldn’t duplicate the flight to perfection, that was a once in a lifetime experience. But she would not accept herself for who she was and what everyday life meant either, somehow avoiding to crash into reality at any cost.

The cost had proven to be rather high. There had been false suns and the pretence of flight, she had hope and dreams of getting back up there, above everything and superior to all, yet all those hopes and dreams inevitably dissolved into sad, hopeless, dreamless reality. She couldn’t have the sun and she couldn’t live up in the clouds, so nothing else mattered, nothing and nobody would be good enough. One by one, real, decent, accomplished people who loved her where pushed aside or torn apart because they were here, on earth, living real lives, with their amazingly nice, terribly bad and boringly neutral moments. None of them could ever offer her the height of the sky, a palace in the clouds, so they were clearly against her, a drain and a burden on her existence.

Her list was empty and she was determined to keep it empty. There was nothing she could have anymore, nothing great would happen to her again, because she didn’t consider anything or anyone real worth wanting. Her memories of the glamorous past were exaggerated and at times made up, and the beauty of sun didn’t make it less untouchable, but she wouldn’t hear of it.

I looked at the phone once more… almost an hour. Nonsensical cat stories, invalid complaints and constant self-pity left no room for any interest in others and their sad, happy or average existences. She may lead a sad life, but that doesn’t mean I have to do the same, even if I do try to make it better for her. So with one semi-transparent excuse, I’m back down to earth, breathing a sigh of relief. I know she’s pouting, but I also know this would not be our last conversation… because I am one of the very, very few people she’s got left. What can I say, it’s cloudy up there…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Earth.

I’m Not One For Idols

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There was a time every year when those dreaded words had to be uttered… I knew it, yet they always snuck up on me. Some teachers have a twisted, malefic sense of humour, I thought to myself, contemplating again the necessity of writing yet another composition about the person I admired most / the person I wanted to be like when I grew up. Not only was having such an idol (sure, call it role model and that will make it so much better) mandatory in my school, but apparently it was highly necessary to write said person’s praises on regular basis.

What was wrong with figuring out who and what I became step by step, rather than set a pattern for myself and try to mould my personality accordingly, I wondered… What was so terrible about simply becoming myself, rather than endeavour to be somebody else? I was able to notice and focus on, maybe even obsess about people’s flaws from a very early age; wanting to be like somebody else meant voluntarily taking on those flaws which were often unacceptable, not only reproducing their admirable qualities. If you add the fact it was generally expected of girls to write about their mothers (grandmothers, aunts, older sisters were also acceptable options in a pinch) and for boys to choose their fathers as role models, the banal homework assignment became a veritable ordeal.

Hmmm… I certainly didn’t wish to grow up to become my mother (talk about one’s worse nightmare…), other female relatives were even less desirable options so I was left with imaginary characters and a vast variety of people I had never met, yet I was supposed to get a clear enough idea about who they were and want to emulate all their qualities and flaws. So a fictional character it would be – at least you knew what you were working with in that case.

I remember Scarlett O’Hara was one of my early choices. I had yet to read the book, but I had watched Gone With The Wind and I liked what I saw. I honestly think I could notice my teacher’s jaw drop as I was reading. I wasn’t even 10 and acting out that way was absolutely unacceptable, she informed me in an angry tone. I normally wrote so well, what had happened to me? I rather liked my composition and I had trouble understanding why slightly incoherent girls got better grades. “I love my mom a lot” was the only reason they had for wanting to be like their mothers; the truly profound ones also mentioned mommy being a very accomplished cook or having pretty hair.

The importance of saying what a person wants to hear, not what you really believe was one of the main things I learnt in school; therefore I instinctively learnt how to rebel against this tendency. I generally got very good grades, so I could afford to splurge once in a while and speak my mind in glorious, hilarious, at times even offensive ways. As for the “idol” composition, I remember a masterpiece detailing what I admired about a stray dog that bit me; there also was that piece about my mother, a “how not to” account…

As we go older, it became acceptable for movie stars, singers and public figures of all sorts to be what we aspired to become, but it didn’t make it any easier as far as I was concerned, so that particular assignment remained an opportunity for mockery and entertainment. Of course I preferred certain singers, I had favourite authors, I liked certain well-known people better than others, but the truth was I didn’t like to dig into their personal life, nor did I enjoy learning everything there was to know about them, the way it was presented and fed to the public. I generally separated the person from the artist – I may have enjoyed the art, but that didn’t mean I would also appreciate the artist that created it. So school presented me with another ordeal, the task of looking into authors’ (or any other relevant persons’ we studied about) background.

The dry list of years and events connected to various individuals bored me to death… until I understood there were more comprehensive and fun ways to learn about them. If you perceived them as characters, you could simply read their story and if you were lucky enough, you managed to find all sorts of juicy details that were not included in the boring synopsis provided by teachers. There was also a positive side to this not so amusing endeavour. Those titans became a lot less intimidating, they were in fact people just like us, with flaws and shortcomings, and their brilliant minds didn’t necessarily guarantee their happiness; even success and recognition were often out of reach during their lifetime. So there was hope for all of us… Unfortunately, once you got to learn more about the person, it became more difficult to respect the work.

I did admire people for various reasons, even if I didn’t necessarily like them entirely and I learnt to take bits and pieces from them, to value those features that made them great, to appreciate what they offered directly and indirectly. It was sometimes as simple as enjoying somebody’s music (of course, it didn’t hurt if the way they looked made your teenage hormones wild and your knees weak with emotion). Alas, I was not allowed to put up posters, damaging the paint was a big no-no, one set in stone by my grandmother. So one day she came home to find the furniture in my room and the door covered in posters of singers and bands I liked, adored or even barely tolerated.

She had only mentioned the walls, after all… and it had become a battle of wills. It had all started from the one poster I wanted to have and since she didn’t allow it, it became crucial for me to display all the posters I could get my hands on. I found the loophole in her rule and there was nothing to do but look mortified. She appealed to a higher court, but since my grandfather couldn’t care less about what I did with my room as long as nothing got broken, I won. A few weeks after having made my point, I took most of them down, careful not to damage the furniture, and only left the one I initially wanted. Jon Bon Jovi showed off his toned body to all my visitors. Unfortunately one afternoon I quietly entered my room to find my grandmother ogling the image with a certain indiscrete, hungry look you really don’t want to see in your grandmother’s eyes…

Years later I saw him live in a concert and the experience brought up so many mixed memories and feelings… It was amazing, that much I can say, a child’s dream that the adult made possible. I may have been fascinated by the man on the stage and by his voice, yet call me a narcissist, but I was also my own “idol” for a moment there as well…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Admiration.

Driving Through The Fog

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The grey early evening seemed sticky and was threatening to liquefy in a matter of seconds. Yet somehow it felt like ashes would start pouring down instead of rain. A couple more minutes and I’d be home and cosy, closing the curtains on this depressing, dreary weather. Some good food, a nice cup of tea… oh, let’s be honest, a nice glass of wine is more like it.

My car slowed down and then stopped, together with all the other ones, before I became aware of the reason or even of the fact that it was happening. Instinct, force of habit, muscle memory, all of them combined and more, it’s what keeps us safe when driving while completely immersed in different thoughts. Well, not all of us… the line of red lights from stopped cars was leading to a set of different lights, blinking ones, piercing through the heavy fog. Not that again… now it’ll take forever…

I would normally see my building from where I was stopped, but on that fog I could barely distinguish those distorted lights blinking ahead. Nothing new, that bend in the road is yet again the scene of some incident. The visibility is terrible and even if they moved the crossing further down the road, that doesn’t stop people from using that exact place in order to get on the other side… of the street, of course. Many have lived in the area for a long time and changes of that sort are simply something they cannot accept – nothing can determine them to walk a few extra metres, even if that distance could be what separates life from death. If you live or work around here or if you simply have to drive down that street often enough, then you know better and you slow down, just in case someone decides to plunge right in front of your car without looking or thinking twice about it; but if you don’t, then you’d better have really good breaks… Nothing special really, there are so many spots of the sort in any big town, that you hardly think about it anymore.

Damn it, I should have stopped by that little pastry shop… an assortment of their delicious treats would be just right for the evening… after all, if this isn’t the weather for that kind of splurge, then what is? But we’re barely moving, it’s rather late already, by the time I manage to get back there, they’d be closed. Now I’m not going to be able to stop thinking about their chocolate cake all evening… and those éclairs, their so delicious and the choux is so light… I’d make it back there in time, but for this stupid traffic jam… Damn it, damn it, damn it!

Oh look… that must be the car… and that must be the person who tried to get on the other side of the street… Some people would normally get out of their cars for a better view of mundane drama. But nobody wants to be out in this weather, not even the few pedestrians can be bothered to slow down and take a closer look. Everybody’s in a hurry to get to whatever sheltered destination they’re heading to, so the paramedics can do their job undisturbed.

But maybe… let’s see… I close my eyes for a moment and review the contents of my kitchen cupboard. Yes, that’s it! I could make brownies tonight… the good ones, the really chocolaty ones. Do I have all the ingredients, do I have enough of everything? Maybe I’ve got the recipe on my phone as well, I can’t remember the exact quantities… I know I have it on the computer… no, no, it’s not on my phone… why would it be on my phone anyway? Oh well, I’ll see what’s what when I get home.

The old lady seems fine, she’s standing and chatting with the paramedics. She’ll probably get away with a few bruises and a good scare. Maybe she’ll cross the street somewhere safe from now on… Or maybe not – I know a few persons who have been through similar experiences, yet they haven’t learnt anything. Somehow it always comes down to blaming others for your own carelessness.

There’s the driver as well, leaning against her small car. I get the feeling that’s the only thing that prevents her from collapsing, that’s how terrified she looks. She’s about twenty and judging by the license plates on her car, she’s from another part of the country.

There’s really nothing to see. Slowly, one by one, the cars drive by the accident scene without paying too much attention. We’re jaded. We’re resilient. But above everything, we’re used to it. We live in a big town and such accidents are all too common. We’ve all seen much worse than this, most of us have witnessed car crashes and/or people being run over by cars at least once in our lives. See this sort of thing often enough and you’ll become immune; you have no other choice, if you don’t want to go insane.

The girl’s terrified face somehow got to me through the fog. The pedestrian wasn’t badly injured, the little car had no visible dent or broken bits, so she must have been driving slowly, carefully… I know the general tendency is to blame the driver, yet who was really to blame, who was the reckless one?… I remember how much I used to hate driving through that kind of weather. But after having done it enough times, I got used to it; I can’t say I particularly enjoy it, but I don’t mind it either. That’s just the way things are. I do remember how afraid I was, though… the same way I remember how I was afraid of running somebody over when I was learning how to drive. Each time I avoid hitting somebody who suddenly decides to run in the middle of the street for no apparent reason, right after that instant the danger has passed and my heart can start beating again, I remember that fear.

Some feelings and sensations are difficult to outgrow… so how come we’ve managed to outgrow our own instincts, our survival instincts? I’ve seen stray dogs looking left and right before crossing, or waiting at a traffic light for people to start walking first and only then would they also start crossing, convinced they were safe. Yet judging by the way some humans tend to simply throw themselves in front of moving vehicles without taking the slightest precaution, I can’t help but wonder why we imagine we’re such intelligent creatures.

They’re the ones driving, they can stop. They should be careful. I’ve heard this kind of statements more times than I can count or remember. I dug my nails deep into my mother’s arm once, preventing her from stepping in front of a car just because some unknown revelation made her believe the other side of the street would was better place to be. Very displeased with my actions, she noted that I bruised her arm by doing that – anyway, what was I trying to prove? The heap of metal driving her way would have hurt a lot worse, I thought. Well, they should have stopped, they should pay attention when driving and protect pedestrians. But what if they didn’t stop, what if they couldn’t have avoided you? Obviously it’s their fault – you’re not trying to blame me for crossing the street where I wasn’t allowed to, are you? – they are the ones driving. Would it hurt any less just because they were driving? Would you enjoy being an invalid better just because they were driving? Would rotting in a grave be more satisfying just because they were driving? I hated her that instant – she used to drive too, she knew what a difference a second can make and how difficult it is to avoid certain situations. If you care that little about your life and wellbeing, why do you expect anybody else to care more?

I decided not to go straight home – the brownies could wait a little bit longer. I drove through the fog for a while. We learn to bend our survival instincts to suit the risks we need to take on a daily basis. We also accept the metamorphosis of these instincts, the walls we need to build to protect our mind and soul in order to thrive. Metaphorically speaking, we are both road kill and daring drivers, sometimes both at the same time; we are aware of it and supposedly we know how far we can push the boundaries. So what’s the point when we decide we’re invincible on all plains? When and why do we decide it’s other people’s duty to protect us more than we are willing to protect ourselves? Somewhere, somehow, we decided it was acceptable to relinquish even that responsibility to ourselves, that it was acceptable to burden other people’s conscience with our own self-destruction.

I got back home none the wiser. I enjoyed the chocolaty brownies and life went on, the way it always does. I didn’t expect to find answers in the fog, but it was a good reminder to ask the questions – as long as I still ask myself certain questions, I feel grounded in reality.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Risk.

Dinner and Drinks

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I like to be spoiled once in a while… who doesn’t? It takes a lot to spoil a woman, many tend to believe… yet so many times it actually takes so little. When his idea of a long walk is going all the way from the door to that uncomfortable spot at the far end of the parking lot, but he suggests an afternoon walk in my favourite park, I know he’s only doing it for me. We walk a lot because I like it and I know he doesn’t mind it too badly if I’m there with him. Hours later we can collapse on comfy chairs on a terrace and spend some quality time with delicious cold drinks. That’s for both of us, just like all our late dinners.

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Food is one of the many joys of travelling and discovering local restaurants can be a small adventure in itself. From infuriating to enlightening, from disastrous to delicious, it’s rarely what you’d expect it to be, that much I’ve learnt. But after a long day of walking up and down a place you don’t know too well, after taking in as much as you can – museums, shops, shows – nice, cold drinks are just what a girl needs.

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Yes, small things can make a great difference, when you get the feeling someone has been listening and paying attention. What we tend to forget is that we can and need to be that ‘someone’ for ourselves and for the special persons in our life.

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We can treat ourselves to something delicious, even if that might be something as insignificant as homemade bread. As for the walk in the park… hmm… that might entail having to put up with another James Bond movie in return… Oh well, the things a girl will do for a man who spoils her 🙂 …

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Dinnertime.

Names and Identity

name

A word gains magical depths when connected to an individual, to a personality – that’s the moment it becomes a name, it can open or close doors and it can shape destinies within the blink of an eye. In spite of all the instinctive prejudice and socially awkward situations certain names might trigger, we tend to make peace with these words, accepting them as part of who we are, but not necessarily as the best description of our identity. Ultimately representing notions we’ve imbued with traits of our character as adults, names will still occasionally haunt us with some of their hidden memories and undesired associations.

Paradoxically, it’s often not the given names that exert the greatest amount of pressure on a young person in search of their identity. It’s all the other words gaining name-like valences and all their implications which are often the most difficult to bear, especially for those still struggling to discover who they are and where they belong.

Years ago, on the first day of high school, I made an unexpected friend – we knew each other since kindergarten, we lived in the same area, but it was only that day that we bonded instantly, in spite of not having anything in common.We never became best friends, but an inertial type of connection kept us close throughout those four years.

Like so many teenagers, this friend of mine – let’s call her D – was terribly insecure and had various self-image issues, constantly lashing out against what she believed to be a world conspiring to hate and destroy her. I remember all her notebooks had her name on their cover and first page, except for one – and this was the one that I and another friend of ours started to dread. Whenever she had a bad day, we would receive the nameless notebook with the explicit request for us to write her something, preferably what we thought she was feeling (because she wasn’t able to express it, she’d occasionally mention).

She didn’t like reading books, but she loved it when we wrote her various quotations from authors she hadn’t heard of, especially if we added personal interpretations, which she would later assume as her own. She didn’t like to be told what to do, but she wanted us to write her what we thought her behaviour should be like, pointing out real or imaginary flaws, often becoming hysterical if we didn’t agree with her self-deprecating attitude. Other times she simply needed us to write whatever thoughts were going through our heads at a particular moment. She would read everything over and over again, her joy perceptible whenever she could find some similarity between our thoughts and her own – that meant she was on the right track, she could say she was just like us, and for a moment all her identity issues were solved. Her only contribution to the big book of teenage thoughts was the colourful scribbling of our names around the written fragments. Her name was absent.

She eventually found herself an identity, but to this day I wonder whether it was a real one or simply an assumed version meant to help her fit in a group. I was there when it happened. All it took was one rock concert and perhaps it was the music, perhaps it was the drinks we all had such easy access to, perhaps it was the surreal atmosphere, but by the end of the night D was no longer D, she was a convinced rocker. The following week brought a change in wardrobe and makeup aiming at expressing her newfound identity, the one described so much better by a word entailing her musical interest rather than her own name.

It didn’t take long for the other kinds to start referring to her as the rocker, rather than D, especially since there was another girl with the same name in the class. ‘Which D?’ was a question answered without too much thought or regard to personal feelings – there was ‘the cute one’, ‘the nice one’, ‘the hot one’ and there also was ‘the rocker’, ‘the crazy one’, ‘the bitch’… So many other words can become names without us even noticing it…

In her turn, D had no problem relinquishing her own interests in favour of those generally accepted as defining the social group she had joined. She still wanted us to be friends, in spite of my eclectic taste in music (much as I liked rock music, I enjoyed other genres as well, which disturbed her quite a bit), but all her future friends would be chosen strictly according to their musical preferences. She would still ask us to write various things in the big book of thoughts; but new names – those of her favourite rock bands – found their way in the nameless notebook as well, together with lyrics from their songs, which D would write from memory over and over again.

As time went by, those names and lyrics started to invade all her notebooks and textbooks, her desk, they were on the shirts she wore, on her backpack, on her jeans and often on her skin. She clearly didn’t pay that much attention to her own name and thoughts, but she needed those of others in order to define herself. She used to get upset when people referred to her by means of descriptive nouns, even when they weren’t offensive, but she saw nothing wrong in labelling everybody else with a series of rude, derogatory terms. The big notebook of other people’s thoughts started spreading over several volumes, but it never contained any personal expression of D’s own ideas.

After graduation, the feeble connection broke as suddenly as it had appeared. Other names got between us, names of people, names of universities, perhaps even some choice words she had addressed to me instead of my actual name. D continued her desperate search for herself in the names the abusive man she married calls her every day… and it makes me think that some of the saddest situations derive from those cases when names are merely a façade for despair and insecurity, when there is no real personal identity behind them.

In response to WordPress Discover Challenge – Identity.

Giving the Past a Future

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“Can you tell where the cracks were?”

Yes, I could. He had a keen eye for detail and unfortunately, so did I… But I knew there was only one right answer to his question. The piece of furniture had been beautifully restored, yet at a very close glance, you could tell what some of the most damaged spots had been. I knew he could tell, I knew he knew I could tell as well, so why was it so important to him for me to ignore the previous flaws? After all, he had done such a great job reconditioning the old nightstand… But I knew why, just as I knew I could work my way around that answer, if I wanted to be kind and compassionate to him.

“Not in this light… it looks great,” and that wasn’t a lie – it did look great.

We initially bonded over a somewhat shared interest for fixing things and an entirely shared love for shoes. No matter how badly we disagreed with each other or how great the gap between us would become over the years, those shared passions would always be our safe space, our common ground.

The first times he asked me that question I answered without hesitation and promptly proceeded to point out each and every little fixed problem I could spot. I thought he would appreciate my attention and interest in his work; instead he seemed angry and cold. He pointed out a few more marks I hadn’t gotten around to noticing and then he moved on to some impersonal topic. Every time, the same reaction… well, if you can’t handle an honest answer, why bother asking the question in the first place? Why such a childish cry for validation from a man his age? But then I got to know him…

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Furniture restoration was his hobby, I had been told. In fact, it was so much more than that… He was truly talented and for a while, he really enjoyed doing it for a living (if you ask me, he would be a much happier person today if he hadn’t given it up; but nobody asked me, so…). But that had been in a rather distant past; the future of that past transformed the results of his talent into a hobby and a slightly touchy subject.

A great part of their furniture has been rescued and then patiently refurbished by him. The older, more deteriorated a piece of furniture was, the more stubbornly he would insist on saving it and restoring its past glory. Friends would bring him old pieces they no longer needed or wanted and he would carefully and patiently turn them into beautiful objects again. An antique mirror frame was the first item we ever discussed, my smug remarks igniting his anger. As I later learned, it had been broken into more bits than I was able to count on the restored version and a friend of his was taking it to the bin when he got his hands on it. To everybody else, it was a heap of rubbish; to him it had the potential of becoming beautiful again. It took him a long time, but he eventually devised ways of putting all the bits back into place and holding them together. It had a brand new life ahead.

He liked to show me how he went about fixing all the flaws, the small ones and those that appeared to be beyond repair alike. I had fun learning some simple techniques that I would later try myself. He wasn’t trying to hide the damage caused by time and by intentional or unintentional human error. It was important for him to know that the final result, the present version was appreciated for what it is and not judged for the sad state it had been in for a certain period of time. Once he was convinced of it, he had no problem talking about all the damage he had fixed, no matter who was pointing it out during the conversation.

He was like his furniture, I slowly discovered. Was he aware of it? Will he ever be aware of it? I doubt the future is able to bring any more answers than the past did concerning these questions. He put himself together and repaired his damaged being with the same patience he had when restoring sad, beyond repair furniture. He disclosed his past and his healed scars the same way he always talked about putting together broken bits of wood and covering the cracks – with a mixture of pride and shame, sometimes with anger referring to stupid mistakes, other times with sadness, thinking about unavoidable incidents.

I knew there was only one right answer in that case, because he deserved a caring answer, in spite of everything else. Once we finished going through all the details of the repair work the broken nightstand had required, he could pack it carefully and take it back to his mother’s place. For better or worse, he had managed to fix the damage caused by the past and instil future life in that piece of furniture. But who can tell how long it will take until it – until he – will fall apart again?…

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Future – This week, share an image that represents the potential of things to come.

The Typewriter

 

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The computer is resting casually on my knees – ubiquitous part of a calm, quiet afternoon at home; but once in a while my glance wonders off to the old typewriter… Oddly enough, the object belonging to such different times doesn’t make for a strange anachronism.

I wanted to take it apart as a child, even before I could read, that’s the first memory I have of the typewriter which had to be stored out of my reach, on the top shelf or in a hidden corner. Even if the characters it produced made no sense to me at that time, once I understood what it was used for, I immediately concluded it held the mystery of all the books I pestered my grandmother to read to me. She was the keeper of that great skill that allowed her to magically transform the gibberish on the page into words, into mesmerizing stories, but she didn’t feel like sharing this gift with me as much as I would have liked her to. So it only made sense that once I solved the puzzle of the typewriter – by taking it apart, of course – everything else would fall into place and I would learn all the secretes of those books my grandmother refused to read.

What can I say, the oddest of things can make sense to a child… My grandfather was the one to put an end to my destructive impulses, showing me that the typewriter is the source of new mysteries and in no way the solution to understanding the already existing ones, enclosed between book covers. Once in a while he’d write lectures, speeches or even some fairy-tales he had made up for me and those were the moments when I sat on his knees, while he typed and uttered the words out loud, so I’d know what the mystery maker was compiling. My grandmother rolled her eyes disapprovingly at what she considered to be a boring, useless activity, but I was fascinated by the eloquent discourse and the clicking of the keys.

It was a time auspicious for fast, radical changes and much like the typewriter, my grandfather became obsolete, lost and irrelevant after his retirement, losing his identity in the blink of an eye. The old and noisy typewriter would make itself heard occasionally, as it was trotted out for him to relive the glory of long forgotten days. But much like him, the mystery maker had lost its power and nobody would ever listen to the somewhat nonsensical words filling the pages that my grandmother would immediately deposit in the bin, muttering about wasted time and noisy typing devices.

But the old man would never accept that his trusty companion was no longer of use to anybody, having become the laughingstock of the contemporary world. He was dead set on reaffirming the relevance of the old device which had survived decades of changes, happiness and misery. So it became a habit for him to type invitations to all sorts of family events, invitations which my grandmother would surreptitiously throw out, telling him she had mailed them. It worked out fine, until one day when he decided to mail the invitations himself, thus offending his wife’s sensibilities. The infamous typewriter was immediately stored away in some obscure corner of the house – much like when I was child – and he was told it had suffered a bad fall and was no longer functional. The old man muttered for days. Much like everything else that accompanied him along his sinuous path to success, defining who he had once been, the typewriter had been suddenly taken away from him, without any possibility to be redeemed, because he no longer had the energy to fight for it.

I wasn’t quite sure why, but when I left for university I felt that the old typewriter had to go with me. Several years passed before it saw the light of day again, I had actually forgotten I had it. But it was such a pleasant surprise to eventually rediscover this childhood relic! From that moment on, it could finally live its retirement days in peace, in its own corner amongst old books and photo albums, receiving the appreciation and respect it always deserved.

“It gathers dust, but it looks very cute,” my mother very pragmatically noticed when she saw it. That may be the case, but the retired typewriter is so much more! It lives as a constant reminder that there still are instances when dreams come true and some persons can shape and control their destiny, reaching the peaks of success and achieving the goals they set for themselves. Yet life has a perverted sense of balance – or perhaps a sense of humour – pushing the same persons into the abyss without any warning. And there are cases when no amount of caution can save them. All we can do is enjoy our personal moments of glory and do our best to type a happier sequel to our sad stories of despair.

In response to WordPress Weekly Discover Challenge – Memory.

Poetry of Spring

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“Could you tell me how to get my poems published?”

The guttural, insecure voice made us all turn our heads. Had he really asked that? We stopped staring at the clear spring sky through large, unwashed windows, we stopped wishing we could be somewhere outside, taking in all that warmth and freshness.

She was taken aback as well. She paused, holding a book and some papers with handwritten notes up in the air, halfway from her bag to the massive desk. Had she not been one of our favourite professors, most of us would have taken advantage of one of the first beautiful spring days instead of being there, in that stuffy room, counting the many, many minutes… That woman was never at a loss for words. She had written several books, she had read more then all of us together and we had yet to find a question about art, culture, politics, travel or education that she couldn’t answer. On top of everything, she was in her early thirties, attractive, had a great sense of humour, an amazing fashion style and a career most of her peers envied, having taught in a variety of universities abroad. What can I say, those of us who didn’t want to be her, wanted to be with her… Yet she was silenced for a second by his unexpected question.

“Do you write poetry?”

That was the question on our lips too, but she was the one to voice it. He grunted some kind of affirmative answer. Most of us were already jaded; shocking situations didn’t always shock us, but somehow the thought that he could and would write poetry was unimaginable. The kid who could hardly express himself coherently was writing poetry? The kid who often stopped our professors in the middle of their discourse to ask them what this or that rather common word meant or how to spell them, was writing poetry? The same professors who strived to allow us our creativity and freedom of expression, thus overlooking occasional mistakes, had their patience tested whenever he was the one speaking. But this was the guy writing poetry… By that time we were aware of each other’s intellectual ability and we often wondered how and why he was a student. He failed to understand simple facts and assignments, he lacked creativity and he only managed not to fail all his exams because he studied like a maniac all these things that made no sense to him. But now he was informing us that he wanted to be a published poet…

Envisioning him as a poet made us cringe. Weird didn’t begin to describe him – in fact, we were all somewhat weird in our own way, so weird was the norm. He was something else. He wasn’t simply different, he was “naked under the trench coat, exposing himself to girls on the street” strange. In truth, after getting to know him a little bit, we learnt to stay away. It wasn’t just that we didn’t like him. The girls feared him; the boys were tired to listen to his obscene stories of how he had been with all the girls, when everybody could tell they were just all too detailed accounts of porn he had been watching. He had amazing, non-discriminative stalking capabilities. As a girl, if you were at all nice to him – and by that I mean answer his Hello – you were bound to find him loitering on your street for no good reason, until someone else took your place in his heart. As a guy, he would obsessively try to convince you to include him in a “guys’ night”. On top of everything, his poor personal hygiene certainly didn’t do him any favours… But he was writing poetry…

Our professor provided him with names and addresses of several literary magazines where he could submit his poems. She praised anyone who had the courage to write poetry or fiction in general and subject their work to the public eye, as she didn’t believe she could bear the unavoidable negative critic. (None of her books were works of fiction; but she was an astute literary critic, who knew exactly how a writer is judged.) No, she was sorry, but she couldn’t read his poems; however, she could recommend some reading circles, if he was interested. But she was the one we felt sorry for – he relentlessly followed her around the university until the end of the semester and she soon became the protagonist of his disturbingly pornographic accounts.

As he ran after her to ask who knows what, we couldn’t help ourselves… we had to take a look and find out what sort of poetry he wrote. It didn’t improve our opinion of him – he was delusional, just like in so many other respects…

But he thought himself a poet and that’s all that mattered. After all, who can really tell what person hides behind a poem? In a way, we wanted to find that his poetry was something we could appreciate. In a way, we hoped his poetry could change the way we perceived him. In a way, we wished he had something that prevented him from turning into the monster we feared he might become…

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:–
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

William Wordsworth – Lines Written in Early Spring

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Half Light – Share a photo inspired by a poem, verse, song lyric or story. 

One Love… Or More?

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“Forever desiring, forever weary of his conquests like the great trickster of Seville, he always subjected himself to just a single woman, only to liberate himself from her through his works.”

Brassaï about Picasso

So many ways types of love and so many occasions to experience them, if only we allow feelings to flourish… Each of us perceives love (in all its shapes and sizes) in their own personal way and it’s certainly too subjective a matter in order to be boxed in or limited by fixed, blind rules. But one general assumption might just be true for all of us: no two loves are the same, regardless of whether we refer to romance, family, friends, people we may not even have met, or to things, jobs, pleasurable activities that embellish our lives in various ways.

It might not last forever, but each and every love we have experienced leaves a mark, it changes us, it becomes a part of who we are. It is a growing and a learning experience at the same time, even in those (many) cases when the dénouement is anything but positive or when it has proven to be painful rather than pleasant. It might leave us broken, but as long as we manage to put together the pieces, we often emerge stronger, with a clearer view of who we are and what we need. And it’s in those situations when we reach out to those other kinds of love that we hopefully have in our lives, relying on them for support we may not even know we need.

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There are certainly more than one love related myths out there and aside from allowing us to hope and dream, they also set us up for disappointment, fostering unreachable standards and expectations, often blocking our perception of reality and true value. It’s funny how something that’s supposed to make us so happy actually frustrates us and makes us miserable because it doesn’t fit the pre-set pattern. Apparently we sometimes are so desperate to make ourselves feel inadequate by comparison to those untouchable ideals, that the already existing myths are not enough, we constantly come up with new examples of how love (any kind of love) should be in a perfect dimension… we even idealize examples from the animal kingdom…

Let’s be honest, even that generally considered a romantic symbol of monogamous, perfect couple is just that: an image, not reality. Yes, apparently sometimes not even swans mate for life, nor do they have a perfect couple life. They occasionally ‘divorce’ an unsuitable partner, they sometimes cheat on their significant other and they do look for a new mate in case the first one dies. Fun fact – it seems the black Australian swans are the friskiest of them all, on average one out of seven eggs is the result of an ‘extramarital’ affair. Sure, they have good reasons to behave this way; yet even when their couple life is successful, it’s not so much because of love or great romance, but because they’re practical creatures – they’re stronger together and they stand a much better chance to survive and thrive. Hmm… that sounds somewhat familiar…. 🙂

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So why not make love a personal experience, one that suits who we are, what we believe and what we need? That could prove to be so much more constructive than judging and labelling ourselves and those around…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: One Love.

International Women’s Day

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Are you enjoying your day, ladies? I hope you are, it is our day, after all… 🙂

I called my mother to wish her all the best on this occasion and she reminded me I should treat myself to something nice today. She wasn’t wrong about that, we deserve to spoil ourselves once in a while, whatever that might mean to each and every one of us – a good book, our favourite perfume, perhaps that gorgeous pair of shoes, a night out or a good bottle of wine at home to complete a quiet, relaxing evening… whatever we may feel like! Have some fun and celebrate your lives! And let’s not allow the day to pass without reminding those special women in our lives that they are important and appreciated. 🙂

Happy Women’s Day, Ladies! 🙂

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.

Picture (Im)Perfect

I still feel sorry for the photographer who used to take my picture once every couple of years or so when I was a child. God forbid my mother framed anything but a picture of professional perfection… of me. You know how some children hate the dentist’s and parents have to drag them there under false pretext… well, once in a while, I’d get to wear my best and most uncomfortable dress, awfully oversized bows, shiny patent leather shoes and I would be tricked into having my picture taken. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind being photographed, I simply never liked posing. That’s why I still feel sorry for the poor man, he certainly had his work cut out for him.

As usual, getting me to look natural while sitting on the ugly, uncomfortable chair, staring at the camera was a demanding, time consuming, frustrating experience. I had offered my own suggestions, but they had been blatantly disregarded, so he had to deal with my attitude as well. But somehow he managed to get a decent shot, all the people waiting outside (whose appointments had been pushed back because of me) were only mildly angry, so everybody was happy. Almost everybody… Clearly, I was not going to be the only child in the room that day.

We were ready to leave, my mother announced. Sure, why not just leave? After all, the child is all everybody cares about these days… She doesn’t mean anything to anybody anymore… nobody wants to photograph her…. nobody wants to frame her picture… Yes, my grandmother was throwing a tantrum, as she had her heart set on having her picture taken as well (I would have gladly traded places). So that’s what the new hairdo and the elegant outfit were all about.

One more picture, my mother pleaded with the photographer… just one… pretty please… pretty please with a seductive smile on top… Well… ok, but just the one, he was pressed for time. In the blink of an eye, my grandmother put a doting arm around my shoulder, the photographer adjusted everything, I heard the snap and that was it!

My grandmother got her picture… and I got mine! I looked adorable, she looked respectable, elegant and loving… and the little ugly doll I managed to sneak out of my pocket and hold up right in the centre of the photo looked hilariously horrendous. Rage, outrage and pouting for several days followed, the picture was deemed unworthy of being framed, but I swear, it was all worth it… especially considering that the punishment I received was, ‘No more professional photos for you, missy!” Had I only known that was all it took…

You look so happy here… that must have been such a great trip/birthday/holiday.. Yet I knew what he reality behind those picture perfect moments was, the same I knew there was nothing honest about them. I remember looking at those pictures – they were pretty, I looked nice, everybody looked happy, but somehow, I felt I didn’t recognize the faces. They may not have had social media and online personae those days, but certain pictures were nevertheless taken simply to keep up appearances and/or to trigger other people’s envy. How else were they to know you were so much better and lived such a fulfilling life? Not much has changed, after all…

Later on, as a teenager, I discovered I loved candid pictures of myself and my friends. They may not have been considered acceptable by certain relatives, but the more ridiculous and funny they were, the more I appreciated them. I hated and still hate ‘staged’ photos. Fine, fine, call it ‘composition’ if you must, but that’s not for me. I’m not a photographer, I just take photos for fun, for myself, so I would remember as many moments and details as possible. But when I look at the pictures I’ve taken – decent, awful and mediocre ones alike – I remember exactly how I felt. There are those I’ve taken because I needed to make myself feel better; there are those that I’ve taken to remind myself that some nice moments existed even during the worst of times; and there are those meant to remind me of how I used to perceive certain things. There are also those photos in which I look terrible, exhausted, but I know what a great time I was having exploring, being alive and enjoying it. In fact, some of my favourite pictures are the imperfect, damaged ones. What determined them, what those moments lead to, that’s what holds value and creates a memory for me, not an impeccable image of a perfect smile.

On that note, I’m focusing on seeing past the grey clouds and the dreary scenery while waiting for more and more flowers to bloom. After all, although it may not look like it, winter is officially over. Have a wonderful spring, everyone! 🙂

Fake Seasons

4The plane took off, leaving behind a land still somewhat sleepy under the very warm spring morning’s sunlight. A few hours later, a frozen, 300 C colder, snow covered town was welcoming us as we were landing. Just looking at the white immensity we were approaching was giving me cold shivers. A couple of hours later, I was driving down my street, on what seemed very much like a rainy, murky autumn evening. Great! Three seasons in the one January day… two of them in the same country, no less… I really didn’t want to be home. On top of everything, I barely got to stop the car before noticing a murder of crows had taken residence in the tree above my parking space while I had been away. They did mind their manners, I must admit – they did allow me to walk away with my luggage before turning my car into a very popular, highly sought after bird toilet. Somehow, that felt fitting – nothing discrete or symbolic about it, my car looked the way I felt. No, I was not too pleased to be back.

A couple of weeks later, I got my wish, I was flying back… and then I was flying back home again. And yet again, winter was playing tricks on me, oscillating between autumn and spring. And yet again, I must say, fitting! The season’s instability suits my current mood, it suits more aspects of my life then I would like it to. But the truth is, I just want spring… real spring, not this winter in spring’s clothing situation we’ve got going on right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the 20 something degrees and sunny weather (although -200 C would be a lot less shocking this time of year). I fully enjoyed the splendid weather welcoming me home this time, but there is something sad about it too, it feels fake. You can still see winter’s sharp teeth through the sunrays shining over still barren trees; you can just feel it won’t be long before winter shows its true nature again. It’s become a fickle season, by the looks of it – is winter attempting a makeover, a rebranding even? Is it perhaps multitasking, trying to offer us as many meteorological experiences as possible over a few months? Have there been too many complaints, so the season’s PR department is trying to shed a new light and warmth on winter?

It might not be just winter… the more I think of it, the more obvious it becomes the other seasons seem to follow this trend. Have we perhaps reached the point where we managed to push a season into changing so it would reflect our contemporary lifestyle – fast, unreliable, out of control, jumping from one extreme to another, utterly insane? Well… it looks like even seasons need to wear masks these days… 😉

Life… Art… Everyone’s a Critic

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I was old enough to remember, but I can’t remember exactly how old I was… maybe 5… But I do remember exactly what I wore, what I looked like, but most importantly what they looked like. I was mesmerized. The surreal creatures populating that unimaginably graceful, perfection-infused world couldn’t have been the same people I knew… the same people I had seen drinking coffee, smoking, talking and laughing, just like everybody else… the same people I had seen at birthday parties, or cooking dinner, or simply sitting around and doing nothing, just like normal, ordinary humans. I would never look at them the same after that performance.

Swan Lake was the first ballet I had ever seen and most of the divine creatures that had fascinated me that evening were our family friends. I was still struggling to understand and appreciate the experience when everything took an equally extraordinary turn. I somehow managed to take a massive bouquet of flowers to the couple everybody was applauding, in whose home I had spent so much time as a child, that I wasn’t quite sure they weren’t family. But now they seemed strangers and I kept looking at them, wanting to make sure they were the same people. They were and they were not. I couldn’t quite figure it out at that specific moment. All I knew was that a great honour was being bestowed on me when the two didn’t let me return to my seat and instead took me with them backstage.

The two large dressing rooms were swarming with dancers whose graceful movements had transposed the audience in a dimension of dream, beauty and perfection. I could hear familiar voices again… yes, I loved the ballet… yes, I loved them all for being so beautiful… did I want to become a ballerina when I grew up? Funny… in spite of all those overwhelming sensations, ‘no’ was the word that instinctively came to my lips. But I was still under the spell of that mystifying display, so I felt such an answer would hurt those delicate, yet superior creatures (I still wasn’t quite sure they were the same people I had known forever, even if I already noticed my mother heading towards us – she looked like herself among her surreal looking friends, so everything must be the same).

It was art, I had been told so many times before – ballet was art. And those were the artists, I was also told. I had no idea what art meant, but I would latter on piece together images and memories; my presence was forgotten in a matter of minutes all I had to do then and there was sit quietly on a chair out of the way and take everything in, see, experience, feel and try to understand.

But the mysterious, enchanting creatures I had just seen on the stage had disappeared and I was trying to understand if what was unfolding in front of my eyes was terribly ugly or stunningly beautiful. I didn’t like how the dressing room smelt, that much I knew. Up close, the costumes were not at all as delicate as I expected them to be – many of them actually looked old and shabby, many needed mending and cleaning. Angelic faces looked grotesque in normal light and the half removed makeup was letting tired, half angry, half satisfied, absolutely human features resurface. Costumes were flying left and right, uncovering the same perfect bodies I had seen on stage, bodies which seemed devoid of any grace now. Was this art as well? Were they still artists? All I knew was they were nothing like what I had been lead to believe adults should be. They were free and open about their beauty and their bodies, they didn’t censor anything about themselves.

Then another thing became equally obvious. They were just like everybody else – petty, judgemental, cruel, envious. They started to settle down, forming smaller groups, discussing, criticizing and tearing each other apart. The show had been a success, yet they were whispering all sorts of offending remarks about each other; the more entitled ones didn’t bother to hide their disdain. In the same time, they were planning a party for latter… they were the closest of friends… they were the best of enemies.

But were they still artists? And if they were, then was their petty behaviour part of their art? Was the artist impersonating the human or was the human trying to imitate the artist? Which one was predominant? Which one was the true identity? I gave up answering those questions. I learnt to live with the thought that the artist is human and the human can be an artist, the two are sometimes one and the same or at least intertwining halves that can hardly be told apart. Art and everyday life can be the same. Perfection is nothing but apparent both when it comes to life and to art. There is incomparable beauty in everyday life and hideousness in art… and so much more to both of them… especially when both of them are the same entity.

I’ve seen Swan Lake again a couple of days ago. It was beautiful… the way it always is… It wasn’t perfect, the same way life never is. Having seen how much effort, discipline, determination and talent goes into making such a performance seem naturally beautiful, perfect even, I generally refrain from criticizing. Yet I caught myself hearing my mother’s and her friends’ cruel words going through my mind while noticing some of the prima ballerina’s mistakes. Who is she sleeping with? She’s too old, she should have retired years ago… There are at least two younger girls better than her… Or were they my words?… Was I imitating the artist, without being an artist myself, thus becoming nothing more than a critic?…

We revere them so much, we want to be like them so badly, that we forget they are only human, just like us… So when we work so hard trying to imitate them, don’t we also bring into our lives some of the ugliness that is part of theirs? After all, beauty and perfection are apparent and talent isn’t exactly easy to replicate…

Time…

I have a love-hate relationship with time… and hate often prevails. I look at my watch and even if I can count the hours, the minutes that go by, I still cannot tell time. I still cannot understand it. Life changing moments have always been just that – moments. Moments that descended upon me out of nowhere. Moments that echoed through my existence over the years. People came into my life and left, always the same way, abruptly, without any warning or foretelling signs.

I am a planner, yet rarely did any of my plans have an impact similar to those split second events that set and reset the course of one’s life. Time and I are not on friendly terms in such situation, even if the change is a positive one. But even when trying to plan everything, to predict the unpredictable, I still let those split seconds determine everything, because the truth is I do rely on my intuition when allowing a moment’s impulse to prompt a major decision. That’s when time and I make peace, because the dreaded split second is mine to control and do what I please with it – for better or worse, I know it was my own decision that subjected me to a variety of consequences, not an external, uncontrollable, unexpected momentary event.

I am sure of only one thing when it comes to time: the more it manages to put me down, the more desperately and stubbornly I will try to fight it. I will manage to find ‘me’ time, those wonderful interludes when I make time my own, rather than be its frantic slave. I will seek those places hiding atemporal beauty, thus making time redundant; and whenever I can, I will find refuge there. And I will always seek to find that ideal moisturizer as well, that one which makes time crawl on our skin a lot slower than the fiend would like to, leaving behind less visible marks.

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Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
O carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine ántique pen.
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
  Yet do thy worst, old Time; despite thy wrong,
  My love shall in my verse ever live young.
William Shakespeare – Sonnet 19

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge Time – This week, think about time and portray it photographically.

Vibrant Abuse

Last time I heard a person banging at one’s door that loudly was when the oldest lady in the building fell asleep while cooking her dinner and nearly burnt down the whole place. The first to smell smoke knocked at all the doors, we all got out, hoping for the best, yet envisioning the worst. Fortunately, loud banging on her door finally woke her up before the firemen got there, she was taken outside while her apartment was being properly ventilated and that was the end of it.

I stood up, trying to understand the man’s words and figure out what was going on this time. As the loud door knocking subsided, the angry words became easily distinguishable. The building wasn’t burning down; there was no burst pipe; burglars hadn’t broken into anyone’s home. The current event was a lot more mundane, apparently a lot more insignificant according to general consensus, yet equally disturbing, if you ask me. It happens every day, everywhere, in all walks of life, yet it hadn’t happened right under my nose for a while, so it took me by surprise, it shook me a bit.

The rejected lover keeps knocking at his ex-girlfriend’s door… louder and louder, more and more violently. He is the man, it is only up to him to determine when and how their relationship ends. He knocks and knocks, while angry words try to punctuate his desires. She’s home, but she will not open her door. I cannot hear her, but the message is clear – he needs to leave, because she wants nothing to do with him. Minutes go by, pleading and knocking continue, yet the door remains locked and closed. As the woman’s determination starts sipping into his system, the man’s true nature starts surfacing without great difficulty. Manipulative words try to express the right reason for him to be there, the one that would make her open the door; he goes from anger to indifference to supplication and back to anger within minutes. He just wants to see her. No, she’s deluded, he’s not there for her, all he wants is to say goodbye to her child. Reasons alternate and when it becomes clear one isn’t working, he moves on to the next.

What? She’s called the police? He couldn’t care less, she can stick the police up her… He’s only here to get what’s his things, he needs his things after all. Yeah, that one jacket he’s left behind, that’s what he wants and that’s why he needs to be allowed into her apartment. If only the idiot woman that she is could understand such a simple thing… he’s not here for her, nobody would be here for her anyway, she’s just a worthless piece of trash. He’s leaving in the morning, he needs his jacket, she won’t hear from him again; he’s leaving the country. The destination changes from one sentence to the next – he’s moving to London, he’s moving to Paris, he’s moving to Rome and so on…. Clearly he’s paid attention during geography classes in school, since he can list most European capitals within one angry, abusive monologue. As his knocking and kicking at the locked door escalate, so do his invectives, ‘useless whore’ becoming one of his kindest terms of endearment.

I feel a very strong impulse to open the door and tell him off, ask that sad excuse of a man to leave. But I don’t. I don’t do that sort of thing anymore. After having gotten involved in a variety of reckless situations as an adolescent and in my twenties, after somehow – miraculously – getting away untouched, I finally manage to control myself and avoid this sort of things. I see myself in my pink bathrobe and I realise I probably can’t accomplish anything more than become the next target for his abuse. She’s safe behind her locked door and I am safe behind mine, even if I’m still so tempted…

But where are all the men? After all, there aren’t only women living in this building; there are men of various ages too, none of them too old or too feeble to open his door and politely ask the intruder to calm down, go home and leave us all alone. Who let that creature in the building in the first place anyway? And where are all the so-called men who are my neighbours?

I have good instincts and they’ve always kept me away from abusive men, whose main means of securing a woman’s affection/obedience/loyalty is aggression. But I’ve seen and refereed so many of these situations between distant relatives, close friends and various acquaintances, that – as a woman – I find nothing to be more unacceptable and unforgiveable in a man than abusive behaviour.

As knocking evolves into constant kicking of the door and the voice settles on a course of endless insults, she will play her final card. Oh, so you’ve got a man in there with you, you say?… But after concluding that once a whore, always a whore and making his point with his fists against the door, he quickly decides he has to go home, leaving a trail of invectives behind him. The big bad wolf that kept everybody behind their locked doors couldn’t run faster at the mere suggestion that a man was standing by the side of the woman he had abused and was still looking to abuse for an indeterminate period of time…

Yet, where were all the men in the building? I know that was a fortunate situation, the aggressor being so easily deterred from torturing his prey. But it still was just one of him… And then a different thought slowly invaded my thoughts. What if it wasn’t fear? What if it wasn’t indifference? What if it wasn’t chivalry being dead and buried? What if, instead, they found that type of behaviour normal, acceptable? Moreover, what if they actually thought that’s what she deserves?

I couldn’t let it be. So even if I didn’t ask anybody in the building (because I like to stay out of my neighbours’ lives, hoping they would stay out of mine) I did ask a couple of men close to my soul, who I know would never treat a woman that way. One of them told me there has never been an occasion on which he tried to defend a woman abused in public by her boyfriend/husband without said woman jumping in to take her man’s side… He wasn’t wrong – all too often I was told of various incidents, only to be pushed away and be accused of malevolence towards their significant other by the women in question, as soon as they forgave their abusive partners. I was also told that a decent man needs to get his facts straight first – on one hand, one needs to know what sort of lunatic one might be dealing with, on the other hand one needs to know whether the victim in question I indeed a victim. And let’s not forget, one woman’s abuse, another woman’s foreplay….

All I can say right now is I hope that my neighbour who managed to escape her abuser can find the strength to stay away from him. I hope the majority of those locked doors were hiding indignation, not support for that kind of behaviour towards women, because that in itself represents a small step in the right direction.

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Vibrant – This week, share a photo of something vibrant. Let’s wash the web with a rainbow of colors.

Glass Half Empty, Half Full, Or No Glass At All?

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I may be able to come up with quite a variety of words to describe myself, but ‘optimist’ is not amongst them. I’m a realist. And as a realist, I cannot help having my moments of stifling pessimism, just as I also cannot help having hopes and dreams from time to time. As for that one person of the two who know me in real life and have also been told about this blog – no, I don’t suffer from multiple personality disorder either… Or if I do, the one typing right now certainly has no idea about it. But we’ll go back to that later.

If you believe yourself to be a realist, then most likely you have often been accused of negative thinking and you’ve been labelled a pessimist more times than you can remember. I won’t deny it, I do believe that if anything can go wrong, then most likely it will; but if I were a pessimist, I would say, “then it will”. Of course, I can’t help noticing that if my perfectly functional computer decides to throw a tantrum and crash or if there’s a power cut or if my internet provider suddenly experiences various difficulties, it will always happen just before I manage to click ‘Save’ or ‘Send’ as I’m struggling to meet that impending deadline. So I’ve learnt to accept that technology is not infallible and it bears one striking resemblance to many people: it will let you down just when you need it the most. Of course, if your car is going to get a flat tire while simply being parked in front of your home over night, there’s a very good chance it’ll happen when you’re in a hurry the following day… and the weather will probably be awful, nobody will be there to help you change the damn thing or to give you a ride. But the control freak that I am doesn’t give up, she simply learns her lesson. I save documents and back up my work more often than I like to admit to; I try to leave early enough so I manage not to be too late in case of unexpected impediments. And for this sort of things I get called paranoid, pessimist or negativist!

I have been accused – on more than one occasion – that I see the worst in people. I really don’t – I only notice stereotypical behaviour, I remember past situations involving said individuals and I tend to be quite a good judge of character. I apply the same thought process when it comes to positive aspects, but that generally gets overlooked and dismissed, on the premises that I couldn’t possibly ‘predict’ something good about a person, given my negative tendencies… Overlooked tend to also be all those situations when my ‘negativism’ has led me to accurately ‘predict’ unpleasant outcomes regarding certain endeavours or people… that is, if I’m lucky and I don’t get blamed for the entire course of events – clearly, my opening my big mouth to state the obvious was what caused it all. But, like I said, I tend to learn my lessons and to keep my opinions to myself once in a while – which doesn’t come easy to me – or just be aware I’d have to live with a wide array of unpleasant consequences when I decide to express my thoughts in a less diplomatic fashion.

Yet being a realist who’s seen a fair share of awkwardly unlucky coincidences and being ambitious, stubborn, opinionated and impatient are features that can clash in unpleasant, disappointing, even depressing ways. Overcoming failure becomes difficult. Picking yourself up and trying again and again and again simply because you cannot accept a certain turn of events might start to seem pointless. After all, the realist in you knows what the chances to succeed are. After all, insanity is often defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results (thank you, Einstein, for throwing so many of us in that delightful category). And yet… the stubborn, ambitious person in me cannot settle for less than she thinks she deserves, so she’ll not be able to give up, no matter how depressing that might be. Meanwhile, the impatient one cannot take that drama anymore – she wants what she wants and she wants it now. (Wait, maybe I do have multiple personalities after all… Hmm…) Anyway, the realist that I am needs to rise above and find a way to survive, so I could survive without going insane in more ways than the one described by Mr Einstein (or whoever else people chose to credit for that particular definition).

You reach a point when no matter how fast you think and speak, no matter how ambitious you are, no matter how disappointed you’ve become, no matter how cynical you’ve always been, you need to stop and take a good look at your life for what it actually is, not for what you want it to be. You need to do that not for some metaphysical, impersonal, altruistic, holier-than-thou reason, but only so you wouldn’t sink. We all find our own ways of coping with it, our own solutions. Personally, after several years of taking a break from it, I started writing again, for myself and to myself, the same way I had done for a long time – before any of you say anything, I am well aware this doesn’t bode well for my claim to sanity. But I find it gives me a new perspective, it allows me to see everything in a slightly more objective (dare I say realistic?) light. Later I started this blog and by that time I had reached a sort of balance; this led to that amusing little comment about my personalities – I know it must seem so unlike the blunt, cynical me in real life.

No, I wasn’t trying to pretend to be a different person, a better, nicer or kinder one. I am who I am and I make no apologies for it. I am a realist who is doing her best to see the positive side of her own existence. I try to enjoy what I do have, the beautiful moments, the wonderful people, the special times and the nice things in my life, aside from everything else that drives me crazy, while also driving me to want more for myself. But in order to do that, I need to constantly remind myself it needs to be done – forced positivity is a realist’s self-prescribed medicine – because I am not, nor will I ever be an optimist floating on pick, inspirational clouds surrounded by cuddly unicorns. I find my own kind of satisfaction to keep me going. Sometimes it’s in the books I read, the words I write, the flowers I receive, the moments by the sea, the colours of the sunset, the travelling to various places… and sometimes it’s in that selfish, obnoxious pleasure of knowing I was right and others were wrong in reading a person or a situation… and other times it’s simply in enjoying a pair of obscenely beautiful and expensive shoes I know I probably shouldn’t have bought.

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In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge Optimistic.

Letters

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The beam of light heading my way seemed out of place in the middle of the cold, dark field. I didn’t remember a road being there; yet there must have been one, otherwise… My right foot instinctively became gentler with the pedal, the car slowed down on the almost deserted motorway and I could focus on that puzzling light cutting through the field on my right. It didn’t take long and as that flash of light and I passed each other, heading into opposite directions in the night, the warm sensation of discarded memories invaded my body. The initial beam split into several, than many interconnected bright squares flickered for a few moments, only to slither away into the night as abruptly as they had appeared, the train heading towards the town I had left.

There was a road cutting through the field, parallel to the motorway. A railroad. But I don’t take the train anymore. I don’t like trains these days. I don’t think of them much or often. Yet that warm sensation was familiar. It might have been the hour. It might have been the route. Or it might have simply been that particular train. It all translated into the fact that it could have been ‘that’ train – the one I used to be on so many times, the one taking me to what used to be a destination and what is now a home. It was a sensation from a time long ago, a time of travelling by train and writing letters…

When was it that I last wrote a real letter? Or for that matter, when did I last open my mailbox to find an envelope with my name and address handwritten on it, enclosing pages covered in ink scribbling? I remember the last time I took the train, but I can’t remember the last real letter… That part of who I was transformed, evolved into something else… or perhaps it disappeared entirely.

When did those women find time to get anything else done, considering that most of their day seemed to be dedicated to letter writing? And how exactly did they know what was worth putting in writing for their friends, acquaintances and relatives to read? The contradiction was certainly puzzling – the heroines of those books seemed to spend so much time writing letters about what was happening, that I couldn’t understand when they managed to find a moment or two to have anything happening to them. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question, but I knew I wanted to try it, because the child I was had decided that letter writing could turn any banal life into a fascinating, novel worthy existence.

That train in the night taking me to my holiday destination, taking me away from all my friends would often be the source and location of my first letter from each particular trip. Finding what to write about was easy, I immediately got to understand – every little thing needed to be shared with my best friend, the same way we used to share every insignificant experience when we were home. In return I got equally detailed letters, relating what now feels like absolutely nothing, yet what used to be pivotal happenings at the time. The most banal things were special adventures back then and riding the train for an entire night was no exception. The falling stars, the ugly towns, the picturesque places I’d see, the cute, nameless green-eyed boy who smiled quietly at me for half a night, while we were both sticking our hands and heads out the open window to feel the cool wind and the speed of the train, they were all letter worthy experiences.

I have a fairly large box full of such letters, most of them from my childhood and teenage years. I have letters from close friends. I have love letters from boys (now I am amazed that there have been teenage boys able to care enough for a girl in order to write her love letters and I actually knew some of them). I have letters that changed the course of my life and I have letters that made me wonder if I would still be able and willing to wake up in the morning and keep living. I have letters I’ve written and could never bring myself to mail and I have letters I’ve mailed and then asked to have returned. I have letters from people I don’t know anymore, because the children we were became adults who have nothing in common and no desire to even try to discover and accept the person the other has become. Regardless, they all have one thing in common: their colour and texture will always bring the past in the present, conferring it the weight of reality, as its silent witnesses that they were.

Signs becoming words, becoming stories, becoming communication, becoming life have always been important to me. Writing them down just as they happened made them real and objective, helping me analyse them in a more detached fashion. They’ve become hopes, disappointments and escape; they’ve become language and literature to be discovered, devoured, learnt, analysed and then learnt again. I may not always understand them and I may not always be willing to even try. But when it comes to letter writing, to correspondence of any sort, one thing remains unchanged: that thrill you experience when you just know somebody can hardly wait to read that which you want to share with them, the same way you’re looking forward to their reply.

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We often need to see the bigger picture in order to understand the story behind the words behind the letters. And even when we do, it might still feel like a foreign language we can only grasp with great difficulty.

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Alphabet – This week, let the alphabet be your inspiration: find a string of letters.

Flying

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I was 18 when I first got to be thousands and thousands of metres above the world as I knew it. Travelling by plane would not be an issue for me, I just knew it; in fact, I had a feeling I would enjoy flying. I wasn’t wrong. During the following couple of years it became a normal part of my existence. I kept looking forward to that exact moment when I could feel the plane lose physical contact with the ground, heading towards the clouds. Defying gravity gave me a free pass to defy everything negative in my own life and for a long time, those were the moments when I would feel absolutely no pressure. For the control freak that I have always been, voluntarily giving up any sort of control for a couple of hours or so, while floating above everyone and everything that my life entailed, was exquisitely liberating.

I’ve lost track of the number of flights I’ve been on over the years. I’ve become somewhat jaded and like most repeated actions, flying has lost a great part of that initial magic. All the traveling related stress often gets the best of me and it’s no longer easy to be oblivious to everything going on around me (but at least it makes for some interesting, often hilarious travel stories).

Early morning flights have never been my favourite. But then again, sleep is the only thing I favour early in the morning, so that might have something to do with me… Anyway, sleep was not going to be an option that December morning and there was nothing else to do but accept it. The plane had taken off, breakfast had been served, but clearly nothing was going to calm down at least one of the several screaming babies. So, so many screaming babies… no high tech device could reproduce that sort of surround sound… Is it me or are there more and more people traveling with very young children and infants? No, no, I distinctly remember having been on many flights with absolutely no young child on board… years ago. That conversation I was having with my at the time very bitchy self was interrupted by the scenery. And although it did nothing for the hoard of crying children, it did calm me down. I managed to focus on the snow covered mountains underneath and let flying work its magic on me. Well, until the brat sitting behind me decided that kicking all the seats in front was an absolute must…

What can I say… nothing’s perfect. And no one is perfect either, so as a result, I turned and gave the brat my meanest look. Relative peace was restored and I got to feel like I was floating weightlessly and effortlessly (though certainly not noiselessly) through the clouds.

Vicious Circles

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As soon as that much desired snow covered everything, it seemed that those to complain about it most bitterly were the very people demanding it the loudest a week ago or so. Who would have thought?… Forget about that white fairy tale like magic so craved over Christmas, now it’s all about freezing cold, snow and ice covered roads, impossible traffic… and the cold, oh the cold… and did I mention the cold? I must have – after all, that’s what everybody keeps talking about.

We’re children at heart, really… we must be, since we constantly trap ourselves in the same vicious circles , even if we know better by now. We want the toy in the window, that very one which we are denied. One way or another, we often manage to find a way to get it; but once we get our grubby little hands on it, the possibilities are limit. Chances are we are just about to discover that we don’t really like it as much as we thought we might or it simply looks different in the harsh light of reality. Or maybe it is exactly what we thought it would be, so we are going to thoroughly enjoy it for a minute or two, until we either break it or simply through it aside, bored with the predictability of that which we already have. We might remember it at some point in the future, we might feel intrigued by it on a few other future occasions, especially if other show interest in it too.

Of course, there are those rare situations when we treasure it and we might endeavour to preserve its lustre as time passes… but how often does that happen? The truth remains that more often than not, we start looking forward and searching for that even newer, more interesting, more amusing toy the very moment we finally can feel the other one in our hands. And so we are right back where it all began and we start spinning in new circles in order to get that which we now want. How many of us can honestly say they don’t recognize the pattern? I’m certainly not raising my hand…

What better moment for vicious circles if not the beginning of a new year? Personally, I’m trying to perceive it as the next part of something that started at some point in the past, I simply refuse to uproot my entire existence or at least fragments of it simply because one more year passed… or because a new one has just began… it depends on how you want to look at it. That’s partly why I’m not the New Year’s resolutions type of person. If I decide I must change something, then I cannot and need not wait for a symbolically charged moment in the year. Besides… I feel I would actually trivialize important matters by throwing them around under the title of ‘resolutions’, while irrelevant aspects aren’t worth being transformed into pivotal situations to stress our determination and dedication. Ultimately they seem to lead to disappointment, one way or another – we feel bad about ourselves if we cannot induce those major changes, we feel bad about ourselves if all we can manage is change those irrelevant aspects. Since finding that elusive balance between what I should, what I could and what I would change is anything but easy for me, I’d rather not come up with deadlines and to-do lists at midnight, just as one year ends and another begins…

It looks like I know better… but like I said, I can also recognize certain vicious patterns that might send me spinning in circles, and that’s simply because I know how tempting they are, I know I will occasionally give in. I was smugly pointing out the futility of such resolutions when my closest friend reached for his cigarettes, about to go out into the cold and light one up, after once again promising himself to quit smoking in the new year (I’ve lost count of all the years that were supposed to bring about the same change). I was just flaunting my superior knowledge, making my point by wondering out loud, ‘Is this the last of 2015 or the first one in 2016?’, when I caught myself thinking… yes, thinking (I refuse to say almost making) a resolution of my own…

I should really have more fun this year, I thought to myself. It was the third consecutive New Year’s Eve I was spending the same way… a warm, pleasant, cosy way… but the same predictable way, nevertheless. It was my own choice, yet it suddenly occurred to me I should have done things slightly differently. I am one of those people… those people who get bored easily… those people who once in a while need to rock the boat just so they could feel alive. These are the moments when it takes everything I have in order to focus on what I do appreciate, on all the reasons why it’s better for me to let the boat float safely and occasionally boringly smoothly, especially since I can vividly remember how much time, effort, determination and suffering it took to get the waters to calm down. I was aware it wasn’t all about the year that had just ended, but about that night itself – I was where I had chosen to be, but it wasn’t entirely exactly how I would have preferred everything to be. So the need to lash out and to somehow make up for it reared its ugly little head for a moment or two.

I resisted my own vicious circles on this particular occasion, even if it meant turning viciously sarcastic for half a nigh or so. I resisted the pattern not because I am strong, but simply because I know better and thus I can tell when it’s worth rocking the boat. It’s when I choose to allow myself to fall back into vicious patterns that I do it knowing and trusting my strength – I know I can pull myself out, no matter what. Even vicious circles lose their appeal after a while. But are we really to be blamed if we decide not to resist them, given that cyclicity defines our existence, be it for the better or the worse? That’s too relative a matter…

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We don’t need to see the full circle to perceive it…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Circle.

Now

As lights flicker, it feels like past and present merge, leading to an immediate future, only seconds away, when we can travel back and vividly touch the almost palpable fabric of our memories. You can feel the snow under the soles of your shoes, you can smell the cold winter air only by looking at an old picture or even at an ornament depicting a white Christmas. How long does it take until you start missing that white Christmas? How long does it take until you drown into those visions of frozen beauty, wishing that now was then?

No, we are not having a white Christmas in my little corner of the world. In fact, it’s beginning to look a lot like spring (I hear there’s a lot of that going on in many parts of the world) and a great number of people decry the lack of snow. I won’t deny, I wouldn’t mind watching a few flakes fall slowly or even a thin blanket of snow covering some of the ugliness of the world for a day or two… but more than that? No, thank you! It’s funny how many of the same people hoping for snow covered holidays would also be among the first  to complain about the countless disadvantages that much desired beauty brings about.

A strange, depressing type of nostalgia seems to have taken over. Everywhere I go, people of all ages can’t help going down memory lane and concluding that it was better ‘then’ – whenever and whatever ‘then’ may be. Many of us might have seen better days, there’s no argument about that. Many of us may have had more and may have been happier. I’m sure a great many things have been in many ways better. But how about the ones that are better now? What about everything we do have now and take for granted simply because it is a normal part of our lives, while back then it may have been a distant goal or a dream? So if we’re going to reminisce, let’s make an effort to remember the bad with the good as well, so we might enjoy some of the ‘now’, now… not in some obscure future, after it will have become ‘then’.

In response to the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: For this week’s challenge, take a moment to notice your now, and share a photo of it.

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!

Christmas Gathering?…

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Is famine about to strike? I don’t think so, I would’ve heard something about it on the news. Are shopping centres about to meet their demise? Allow me to have my doubts about that one too. Oh… wait… that’s it, this is the last weekend before Christmas. And I had to go to the mall, didn’t I? No, no, no last minute Christmas shopping, I know better than that. I just wanted my shampoo, a certain shampoo that I can find only in a certain shop. I’m not delusional, I expected it to be crowded, that’s why I started with the most remote part of the parking lot, the one where you always find a spot, no matter how busy it is or how close the holidays may be. Well… not today… Is it me or is it getting worse each year?

Half an hour later, I’m still spinning in circles, trying to avoid crazed shoppers and furious drivers. Just as I’m wondering how bad it would actually be for my hair to use dishwashing liquid instead of shampoo until after Christmas, there it is – the holy grail, also known as a parking space. Once inside, everything is fine. I don’t mind crowded places, as long as the parking issue is solved and I always find the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle rather invigorating. I also find it fascinating to observe how fast and abruptly we switch from generosity and enthusiasm to anger infused consumerism. Christmas spirit becomes seasonal anger, frustration, selfishness and hateful, vengeful greed in the blink of an eye. Or is that what Christmas spirit is supposed to be these days? Who knows anymore?…

I was going to take a small break from Christmas today, hence the photo; I wasn’t planning on mentioning any personal tradition for the holidays, I’ve already done that on several occasions this month. All I was going to say is that there are eleven more months in the year, so if we don’t get to spend any or enough time with those dear to us in December, we can certainly make up for it on other occasions. We need to keep that in mind, in spite of all the pressure we all have to bear when it comes to spending the holidays in a certain way. But, like I said, I had the ill-conceived idea of going to the mall today – and we all know how that can be. So I am only going to say this: perhaps we should also remember that we can buy, buy, buy everything in sight during those other eleven months of the year; that way, we might be able to spend less time in December hating everybody who’s managed to buy more and faster than we have and actually enjoy the holidays. And if we absolutely must behave like animals uncivilized, uneducated creatures, we might want to remember that many of them (like the ones in the picture) are a lot more peaceful and mild-mannered than we can be around the holidays…

In response to WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – Gathering.

 

 

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?

 

Instant Happy Place

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WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Happy Place

Buy your dream home, the sign read… the same sign that went up before the building itself was errected. As months went by, I got to see how the place where one can buy one’s dream home became reality. Nothing special, really… Just an average apartment building, not too big, not too small. I had high hopes – after all, it’s not every day that one can see that Eldorado of homes growing right in front of them, right? Once the building was coated in an awful colour, the eyesore dream finally became reality. Only one question remains – whose dreadful dream was that to begin with?

Silly me… I keep forgetting, I’m getting old. I must be getting old, or at least older, since I still hold on to this demented idea that a home is something you make, not something you buy off the shelf, identical in every respect to many others, its price and its location in the trendiest areas making it a dream come true. Complete with the same furniture and fittings filing all the other ideal homes in the building, those cold, depersonalized walls practically surpass one’s wildest expectations. Why bother having a personality when you can buy one for the right price? There’s even a small array of choices available to fit a choice of budgets. Don’t worry though, that’s the only painful choice you apparently have to make – and even that one is actually made by circumstance, not by you. All that’s left to do is move into your ‘perfect home’ – who cares what happens between those trendy four walls, now that you’re there, your life is perfect.

It’s not a case of sour grapes. I’m not a hypocrite, I like pretty things as much as any other woman (perhaps a lot more than some) and pretty things do not come cheap. But above that, I appreciate beauty, and that is often free and unexpected. I appreciate it just as much as I value character, and that is not something that can be bought. I’ve said it before, my home is my safe haven. I wouldn’t call it my happy place, I find happiness to be a brief experience, deep yet often fleeting, residing in the most unexpected of places and moments; contentment however is more stable.

‘Home’, no matter where that happened to be, has entangled a lot of emotions for me over the years, from fear to bliss, from loneliness to fulfilment, from hatred to love, from rejection to acceptance, from despair to happiness. It finally means peace, shelter, a place to regroup and find solace, a place where I grow and fail, a place where I find the strength to be get up and move on, a place entirely of my own, a place who is me, not only mine.

I lived here for years before this place actually became home. I had to accept that I needed to grow roots. Then I made it belong to me; then I made it mine – slowly, piece by piece, the same way I built myself over the years. Slowly, the same way I managed to accept that having a home is not necessarily a bad thing, loaded with resentment and hatred. You see, I grew up in a different town – oh, but it was in the best part of town, in one of the apartment buildings envied by most. My room had an exquisite view of vineyards and sunrises; the other rooms overlooked parks bathed in romantic sunsets. That apartment was and still is the apple of my grandmother’s eye, no person ever came close to the place it held in her stone cold heart. As a teenager, I would often sneak on top of the tall building at night and watch the stars with my friends, all of us hoping to escape that life as soon as possible. I felt more at home in the parks in the area or on top of the building under the starry sky than between the four walls that harboured mainly hatred, lies and resentment.

That’s how I know you cannot buy your dream home… you can’t even buy a home, all you can do is hope to be able to make the place you live in become your home, whatever that might mean to you. From that point of view, the teenager I used to be managed to see her dream come true – far away from the hatred-filled building with the great view and in a cosy, warm place by the sea, all of her own, where failure and success are acceptable, where she can be happy, where she can fall apart, where she can be herself; where she can grow roots, where she can always come back, no matter how far away she travels. A happy place, a sad place, her personal space…

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Boundaries

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: This week, let’s explore the creative potential of limits, borders, and dividers of all types.

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I was just trying to get to my car. I saw her with the corner of my eye, but I was hoping… No, no chance. Over years of being such an annoying presence in people’s lives, she has perfected the art of stopping them on the street, cutting right in front of them, so they cannot escape her incessant talking. I never ask her how she is because I never really want to know; yet she never fails to regale me with all the details of her life and more… Her medical history, her personal history, her relatives’ lives, her acquaintances’ lives; all the private details about everyone she knows, including herself, she will share with anyone crossing her path. A friend of hers died of cancer, she says. I don’t want to know all the gruesome details. I don’t have a choice. All she cares is that the poor woman wanted to be cremated and her family are following her wishes instead of having her buried ‘like a good Christian’. By now she is so close to me that I can feel her disgusting breath on my neck. She never has any respect for personal space. I hate that I was raised to be polite to people, I instinctively act civilized and this is where it gets me. But making that family’s tragedy into one more gossip topic… One step back, one unfriendly look and she finally stops touching my arm; but she still doesn’t stop spouting out religious nonsense. I don’t care about religion! I don’t go to church anymore! I believe each and every person is allowed to believe in whatever god they choose… or in no god at all. There, I’ve said it! And she is finally quiet. I can see it on her face – But she looked like such a nice woman… I was just trying to get to my car, she should have let me. Good day! And perhaps have some boundaries next time… or if not, respect those of others.

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Monochromatic

WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge – This week, share with us your monochromatic images.

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It can feel like such an easy, desirable options sometimes – a monochrome life… One colour, no complications, no hidden meaning, no mystery. Yet, when we are presented with such a reality, we take it in, we may even enjoy it for a while – for as long as it takes to rest our weary eyes – but we eventually start craving something else. Any stain of a different colour becomes a desirable alternative – anything to disturb that dull monotony. We need more than shades, we need an entire colour scheme to stay our hunger for adventure and growth, the same way we need a vast array of feelings in order to feel alive.

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A Day at The Museum

WordPress Photo Challenge: What is your inspiration? What moves you? What is it that never fails to motivate you, to get you going, or make you happy? Show me your inspiration!

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“I paint what I see, sometimes like this, sometimes like that. I don’t brood about it, or experiment. If I have something to say, I say it the way I think I need to. There’s no transitional art. There are only good artists and not so good artists.”

Pablo Picasso

We found parking without an effort. That was the second ominous sign. The first one was the lack of the usual crowd in front of the doors. By the time we reached the imposing building, I was already sure it would be close. I had obviously perpetrated some kind of indecency to anger the Museum Gods and now they were refusing me the Prado… again.

I had been to Madrid before, but there hadn’t been enough time to visit the museum back then. This time, it would be different, I knew that – I would have plenty of time to do everything I wanted. But I was envisioning that visit to the Prado from the moment I started planning the trip. I could just see myself getting lost on the hallways, wondering from one gallery to another, unable to take in everything, but completely dizzy, floating because of that kind of experience which – instead of understanding it – you mostly feel exquisitely drowning your mind and spirit. That kind of place always makes me feel small – but small in the greatest way possible. I feel compelled to swallow some of my ego and pride. That avalanche of immortality and beauty makes me feel like a huge burden has been lifted, even if only for a brief period of time – if I am so wonderfully small, that can only mean that all my failures are absolutely insignificant, disguised by that comfortable blanket of anonymity.

I wanted to treat myself to that delicious sensation you get when opening a gift you just know is going to be wonderful. So I refused to look up the schedule – I knew it was a local holiday, but I greatly underestimated its importance. After all, I also knew the museum was open at the weekend and on most religious holidays, so they wouldn’t close it exactly that day… or would they? Well… all I can say is I wasn’t the only one naïve enough not to look it up in advance. All my anticipation turned into stifled frustration, I felt like stomping my feet and bitching and moaning about that great unfairness. I wanted my day at the museum; and once I set my mind on something, there’s no distracting me from it, not to mention that I can hardly perceive anything else as appealing. But a certain someone accompanying me had a head start on throwing his own tantrum, so at least one of us had to behave as an adult; sadly it was my turn that day. After all, it was too beautiful an afternoon to waste pouting. We came back a few days later and we finally managed to visit the elusive museum. There was even a very special treat in store for us, and although it was no longer a surprise, it was by no means less pleasant.

Travel as much as you can, see as much as you can; nobody will ever be able to take that away from you. That’s one of the not so many wise pieces of advice my mother gave me and it came to my mind that day, while staring thunderstruck at those Picasso’s the Prado was hosting temporarily. The entire experience proved to be overwhelming, as expected; the anticipation of getting to see some of Picasso’s paintings did nothing but enhance it.

I took my time to appreciate those moments. Nevertheless I was reluctant to leave.  The kid I once was, the one who didn’t dare to dream of seeing such treasures with her own eyes, was jumping up and down with joy. There are certain dreams – great and small alike – that we forget we had, simply because we buried them somewhere deep in our soul out of fear or uncertainty. Yet,  making them come true can be so surprisingly fulfilling…

Looking Up Close

Weekly Photo Challenge: This week, discover the hidden details that can only be seen up close.

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“Please don’t put on your glasses again, Miss… we’ll fix it all.”

Gone was the smug look of male superiority on his face. It was my turn to smirk smugly at the both of them.

This was years ago, in my early twenties. I knew the two painters were by far not the best in the business, but they were all I could afford at the time and the living room really needed a fresh coat of paint; besides, I also knew that they could to a decent job of it, if approached the right way. There were some issues with the walls, as I had found out during a previous attempt to do the job myself, with the help of some friends. As I was trying to point out what those issues were and why I needed their professional help, I was rudely interrupted by a bored sigh and a know-it-all, you’re-just-a-woman-who-has-no-clue misogynistic eye roll. They knew better what needed to be done, I should just run along and do my nails or whatever it was we women did when the men were working. I smiled, said nothing and let them do the work I – the little, clueless woman – was paying them to do (but only when the job was done).

Later on, I was surprised to hear they had finished already… that is, just in time, with no delay. But I wasn’t at all surprised to see what a terrible job they had done and I started pointing out the flaws, one by one. The first couple of flaws pointed out triggered disgruntled comments and useless justifications. I kept on pointing out the rest of them, taking my glasses off once in a while so I could look the older one in the eyes as I was explaining why everything was wrong and how it could have been avoided, had they paid attention to me in the first place. They were finally quiet as I kept looking up close at the badly painted walls, mentioning even the smallest of flaws. Meanwhile I had also done my due diligence and knew exactly how they were supposed to have done their job and I didn’t shy away from telling them. That was the point where I was reaching for my glasses again, about to go hunting for more of their mistakes. Please don’t put on your glasses again, Miss… They had capitulated and after they redid everything, they were finally quiet, demurred and probably as respectful as they could ever be to a woman, especially a young one. Nothing good could come out of my putting on my glasses and taking a closer look, they had figured out. Funny enough, those were my compute glasses, I really didn’t need them in order to instantly see everything that was wrong.

Many things may have changed ever since, but more often than not taking a close look only reveals all the flaws, all the ugliness we sometimes wish we could not see. I’m guilty of being an overly analytic, overly realistic person and contact lenses on or not, I unwillingly, instinctively notice discrepancies, deception, double meanings, hidden layers, lies, pretence, ugliness masquerading as virtue, even if I try to focus on anything else. In my worst moments, I simply cannot believe that anything or anyone is what they appear to. The rest of the time, I just take things as they come, refusing to accept that it’s all nothing more than constant deception, simply so I could occasionally get some sleep at night.

I have an eye for details and I cannot help constantly taking a close look at things, people, situations… at myself. The one advantage such deviant behaviour presents is the acknowledgement that absolutely everything is flawed, even damaged, at times even ugly or simply empty. Perfection is a mere illusion easily dissipated by close analysis – the same way beautiful flowers are often crawling with unappealing insects, that wonderful family, that perfect couple, that amazing person whose life we often envy or wish we could have are hiding messy existences, full of unpleasantness or despair. It only takes one close look to make the façade crumble…

 

Thin Dividing Line

Weekly Photo Challenge: This week, share an image that has two clear halves, literally or figuratively.

The little girl kept following us and the more I felt her big, strange eyes trying to drill into our souls, the more I couldn’t help wondering at which point exactly we had crossed that shallow, invisible line dividing our worlds…

The place isn’t far, maybe an hour’s drive, but it has little in common with the seaside madness my town becomes every summer. And even the fickle heart of the holidaymaker seeking endless entertainment, forgetfulness and temporary distraction from everyday life needs a moment or two to breathe and recover, away from overpopulated beaches, loud terraces and crowded trendy clubs. Yes, I knew such a place, somewhere we could go and spend a little while hearing ourselves and each other, a place where we could lose ourselves in a different time… I knew a very nice spot, just right for an afternoon’s getaway.

It wasn’t the first time I was visiting that historically laden, yet entirely ignored place; but I have no idea where on the bumpy, bad road lies the border between our world and that to which the little girl belongs. It might be where the decent layer of asphalt ends; or when you enter the first village… or maybe the second… or when you drive by the rusty sign introducing the stranger to her village. I know this type of village for long enough in order to be aware of all the innocence lost and lack of romanticism of the rural community. Yet there still are times when I’m taken by surprise and two strange eyes manage to pierce through my cynical shell and make me wonder and re-evaluate basic issues of my own existence.

She appeared out of nowhere as soon as we got out of the car… a child of the trees, daughter of water. No, a real girl, a child of misfortune and poverty – nothing poetic about her untold drama. She muttered something without getting too close; I think she offered to be our guide on the river banks. I knew the place, I declined her offer, because my overly realistic, cynical, cautious mind had already come up with various ways in which we could have ended up on the bottom of the river, to never be herd of again. She looked neither happy, nor sad, her sunburnt face gave away nothing.

She was spying on us and I was spying on her. She kept walking when we walked, stopping when we stopped, constantly muttering to herself or perhaps to the grass, to the flowers or to the birds; but her eyes were scrutinizing us with great curiosity whenever she thought we weren’t looking. When we walked away from the car, she walked around it a few times – my perfectly average, nothing out of the ordinary car passes for a sign of luxury in such a village, that much I know. Like any girl her age, she was eyeing our outfits, our accessories and our smartphones as we kept taking pictures. Unlike children her age that we grew accustomed to, the hills, the river and the hardships of fieldwork and rural life were her second nature, not technology and endless trips to the mall. Does a child like her even dare to dream of a normal life? Or are her dreams so little that they wouldn’t even count as aspirations on our value scale?

Seeing her eyes look away as soon as she realized I was analysing her reminded me once more that we aren’t even born equal, much less do we have equal chances to overcome our initial condition. I know people who have children her age and they make unbelievable efforts to provide them with the best education and everything they need to have a good start in life, to stand a chance… How much of a chance does this kid stand when her parents allow her – probably make her – go troll for tourists and increase the family budget? Did she even know what she was missing? The way she smiled carelessly at the birds and flowers and spoke to the waves made me think she had no idea that there was more to life than what she had experienced; she was still a child who could enjoy little things in ways we couldn’t even imagine. But the way she looked so much older whenever she was focusing on something could only make me believe that either her intuition makes her feel what lies ahead or she had already survived experiences no child her age ever should know.

Will she break the cycle? Will she be able to make it out of that world, in spite of her lack of fortune and perspectives cast upon her from the moment she was born? Or will she simply continue the century old tradition in the poor village – have children at a very young age, get married even younger, allow herself and her children to be abused by a drunken husband because nobody taught her there are other ways of life out there? Maybe she could be amongst those few incredibly lucky village children who stay in school, who have parents who manage to see the importance of education even if nobody offered them such a chance. Or perhaps her father is just one of the many men who were sitting around the tables and drinking in front of the village pub we had driven by on the way to the river… one of those men who drink the little money they have, with no remorse about what that type of behaviour does to their families.

We left the town to escape our lives for a few hours and that we did… but wild nature was not the only thing to make us think twice about our values and appreciate our own lives and opportunities. It’s the wilderness of people and the cruelty of poverty in a place that – in many respects – seems to still live in the 19th century that really makes one wonder… Easy as it may be to distinguish the dividing line between water and clouds, between land and sky, that thin, oscillating line between worlds stays well hidden most of the times, we only perceive its existence once we cross it.