Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In Search of Lost Time

Each year in early spring family members congregated at my parents' house and resolutely nodded at each other without talking. We sat in a billowing silence for several hours and listened to the noise of passing traffic. As the nearest road was 10 kilometers away this ritual affirmed that affinity and honesty do not mix. Eventually someone gravely undernourished would rise from a chair and faint. A sign that food should be served.

We sat down to a restrained meal - usually throttled fish legs - and chatted about all sorts of things: work, illness, death, repetition, work, illness, death, repetition. Occasionally I gazed at the hollow assemble and thought, 'So many people sitting amid the paradoxes of identities and consciousness.' I include myself, of course. On numerous occasions I remember asking, with latent hope of dialogue, 'Where are we?' Did anyone answer? No one answered.

For a while I couldn't fathom my father. He possessed an inability to think rationally under stress. He was a man who said what he thought, formally and orderly. And he could doze in front of the living room fire at any time of day. He had a habit of keeping his cardinal smile for fire light. His favourite hobby was shuffling socks. Sometimes he would suddenly leap from his chair, hold five socks aloft, and cry, 'A straight flush!'

He used a carpet beater to punish his begats for minor misdemeanors even though our home was devoid of carpet. Impulsive behaviour, even disheartening, but plausible for one whose conditions in early life were occasionally difficult to navigate without collecting hurtful wounds. The floors were cloaked in linoleum which held a diversity of smells: buttermilk, cat urine, dirt from footprints, and the sweaty armpits of a hoary man from Bavaria whom no one in our family had met.

My father, with his vanity on clear display, would insist on reading from his favourite book In Search of Lost Time. After a hundred pages - give or take a leaf - someone would usually chant, hyperventilate, or rush from the room wailing: 'It's not easy being a candle', or something of that nature. A frighting experience for the faint of heart, or, indeed, anyone with a clicking hip joint. Of course, my father would promptly stand up and in an uncomplicated and straightforward manner violently throw Proust to the floor. He would storm out of the room through the nearest window; his voice quivering in his wake, 'No man deserves honest ignominy heaped upon him! Plot is not the point!'

To calm things down someone - usually myself - would simulate a sudden rise in temperature, fall to the floor, pant heavily, and whimper in a colourless voice: 'Malaria.' This act advised all present, in a simple, productive tone, that farewells were in order.

Reflections: A growing craze worldwide is knitting and crocheting. My addiction started when I read a copy of Stitch 'n Stitch Again in the dentist waiting room. Then, suddenly, I was knitting until the early hours, then night after night, when I was out with friends, or going to the bathroom. It didn't occur to me that my actions were, in anyway, pathological. I was using terms such as, 'I'm in the Zone,' and 'Pass me some thread, man.'

My life was out of control. I sought help through Knitters Anonymous (KA) - a worldwide fellowship of men who share a desire to stop knitting - and it seems to be working. The only downside is that I used knitting as a calming distraction. However, I'm now making customised underwear for young single and married women and it seems to help me relax.

Monday, December 02, 2013

A Rendezvous with My Literary Agent

Today I had lunch with my literary agent. On arrival she had misery painted all over her face. The maitre d' was kind enough to provide a face flannel to wash it off. Though a slender spirited creature my agent tends to be remote and vague. She has a tendency to walk on all fours when a conversation becomes exciting. For her, I play the fool. To her, I am a fool. C'est la vie.

'Well, what can I say?' She looked perplexed and started tossing shrewd and short comments in the air and catching them in her mouth. 'Your short novel has no plot, hurried syntax, and the title, It's Hard to Debate Anything at Length While You're Unconscious, is unengaging, let alone disconcerting'. I asked if she believed I would ever have a book published? She thought seriously and replied, 'Published is a big word.' She smiled. 'The only avenue left is to translate some of your work into English, even though you believe it already is.'

Her words overwhelmed me. I'm aware I write badly. In fact, in my first novella, Even Vegetables get Homesick, I used the adverb 'badly' eighty-six times in one chapter. This naturally raises questions which frankly are unanswerable.

'Maybe I'm wrong,' she said slowly and hesitantly, 'but I believe you should go on. Even though your stories are, shall we say, without meaning and littered by characters with the souls of sick sea creatures. Continue writing but try to enrich your vocabulary. And if I may say so, long inner dialogues, repetition, lack of a theme, will not attract readers' to your work.'

I thanked my agent for her honesty, intelligence and company, though I felt trapped and wished to escape. I remained smiling as she left. Then my mind went offline.

Good news at last! My new play A Little Bit of Bread and No Cheese is to be staged off-off-off-off- Broadway. It will be staged in a baguette basket on the back of a scooter in Versailles, France. I must find bread that has charisma, that can engage with its audience, remember its lines, and can collaborate with butter without reverting to ominous panic. Slowly, I begin to feel joy again. The quality of the bread will make or break the project. My search begins ...

Reflections: Tonight my wife is doing her best to upset me. She is playing tom-tom drums with her prosthetic hip replacement implant, and yodeling Prairie Lullaby while chewing tobacco: juice running down her face.

I stop writing, grab an apple, and sit on the floor in a corner of the room. I watch my wife from this short distance. Holding the apple, I reflect a day will come when I can stand such discomfort no longer. What should I say? Suddenly my face becomes pale, lifeless. My eyes too tired to shed tears. After thinking about this for a moment, I lean my head against the wall in an effort to embrace sleep.

Friday, November 22, 2013

An Intimate Encounter with Décolletage

It needs to be said that I am compelled to greet some days with a gaunt face and heavy-lidded eyes. Sometimes my sense of the past, which lies buried in uncertainty and incompletion, pokes out and demands attention. It confirms what I discern: I crave a fresh start. No foot dragging for a day or two, at least. If the silence is unbearably painful I shall manage the chaos with unconscious humour. I've subtlety managed it before, though not for long.  

My wife tells me that I - sorry, we - live in a decrepit one bedroom semi-detached house. The only excitement entering our existence is by the back door: a brief violent storm, a mouth opening to scream, or a neighbour recalling their time as an FBI agent when they were disguised as fish to catch draft dodgers disguised as wood thrush.

Our living room wears a weary tragic expression. I look at my wife who is sitting slightly hunched. Her face is contorted and tight with anger. She was beautiful once - a pale complexion, fine full lips and long brown hair. Not now. Her beauty is well spent.

She glares at me. 'I've sent you a text. Read it.' Her voice is unnaturally loud. My strength deserts me as I read the message: I DONT DO STAGNATION! To avoid engaging with my wife I remain silent; my mind a dispassionate organ. I do not mind silence, unless it sighs with impatience, vies for attention, or makes hypocritical remarks. Then it bores the hell out of me.

I leave my wife grumbling to herself and climb up the chimney breast. No forwarding address or contact number is necessary. If she needs me she can ring the police. I calmly climb up the chimney breast. Midway I gaze in bewilderment. A woman wearing a short skirt and stockings is staring at me suspiciously in the semidarkness. We gaze back and forth at each other. 

I speak first. 'What ... your name?' My heartbeat is sharp and nervous. 

'I don't expect you to know my name, even though we've been neighbours for seven years. Isn't that disheartening and disorienting?' After a short pause she says, 'My name is Angie. I came in here to breathe fresh air and to get away from the quietness of my home. My husband lacks the imagination to understand my human body and mind. He keeps himself busy all day without doing anything that might evoke spontaneity, acuity or craziness. He is morally hygienic except where sweet girls and women are concerned. The charming creature wants us both to live out our days like skeletons. Can you believe it?'  

I don't say a word while she talks. All this confiding of family circumstances makes me uncomfortable. She takes makeup out of  her bag and dabs powder round her eyes.

Her wide, dark eyes smile with secret amusement. 'You don't look like a chimney sweep. I can tell you've been crowned with the mysteries of grip and pleasure.'

Angie's flirtatiousness makes me vulnerable. I'm mesmerized by the swell of her décolletage. 'My husband and I are not young lovers any more. I'm sure you hear our awful fights. Our marriage is floundering, quite badly. I never know where his mouth has been the night before, and vice versa.' 

She leans over and kisses me with grace and style. I vibrate with life, time slows down. I remain free of real and imagined comparisons. Without hesitation we slowly make love. It's difficult to explain the genesis and nature of our meeting, passion and parting. I have no idea what she was really thinking or wanting. Could it have been a successful exercise of power on her behalf? Was she a slave to the dreadful torment of destroyed love, jealousy, or fruitless envy? 

When I climb down from the chimney breast and enter my living room the potent scent of bonding, impetuosity and happiness disappears. The sense of isolation I feel grows into gradual despair.   
Reflections:  One source of pleasure for me is looking after my granddaughter, Lily, while my daughter, Emma, goes to work. Sometimes I lie beside Lily (ten months old, now) willing her to sleep, and watch as her eyes open and shut, and finally close. Her fingers fall free from gripping my thumb.

Before I silently leave Lily to sleep and dream, I gaze at the graceful little face; her beautiful, soft skin and delicate frame. I realise how fleeting life can be. I softly squeeze her tiny hand like a terrified child. Occasionally, I feel tearful, but am not ashamed. For what is prettier, more significant, more unforgettable, than a rosy-cheeked baby in the throes of slumber.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Big Bang . . . Almost

I'm looking at the sky in clinical fashion. It appears extremely high. I am a small figure and often confused. An article in a science magazine arouses within me a potpourri of wonderment, menacing anxiety, and a sense of extreme lightness. The article states that the entire universe was smooth just after its birth billions of years ago. An extraordinary assertion. Billions of galaxies and billions of stars. Suddenly I feel profoundly inept. Nothing new, I assure you. But how do "they" - the highly cerebral elite - "know"? 

Apparently through light emitted 370,000 light years ago after the Big Bang. I don't recall hearing the explosion but I recollect hearing a neighbour's dog barking. I'm sure the Noise Abatement Society was inundated with calls from individuals suffering from physical and mental distress. How my neighbour's dog fared is anyone's guess.

I can't decipher if there is a human being or an animal in my home when all the lights are blazing. I usually rely on a well-known technique I've perfected without using measurements of cosmic microwave background radiation. I simply open the front door and shout, 'WHICH ONE OF YOU A******S HAS ALL THE LIGHTS ON WHILE TAKING A BATH!'

Armed with CS spray and a stun gun I soar the stairs and head for the bathroom. Before doling out punishment I commonly say, in a relaxed tone, 'Don't take this personally.' Then I'm lost in the heat of the moment. The victim usually falls into a short coma and wears a large hat for a week.

My first day in permanent employment. A man waiting for an elevator on the fourth floor of a beat-up building advises me that he has been standing on the same spot for two years.

'They take on anyone here,' he said. 'My boss told me years ago that I didn't seem capable of thinking so he does my thinking for me. What do you think about that?! Eh? You're not paid to think, you're paid to do! I don't know about you but after a while lifeless bodies bore me to hell.' He give me a strange look as he stepped into the empty elevator shaft. His final words? 'Always check the elevator is in the shaftttttttttt!!!' I never got to thank him but damn sound advice.
Reflection: Yesterday I went out for a walk to stretch my legs. I returned home two feet taller.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Christoper Columbus, The Slave Trade and Dinosaurs

In 1492 Christoper Columbus landed in the Caribbean mistaking it for India. As proof of his discovery he returned with a chicken masala meal for one, a singing snake and a ventriloquist named Americo. The Europeans became obsessed with discovering civilisations, places and practices in existence for thousands of years. They became fond of sailing and the 'World Cruise' was born.

Although agriculture had been practiced in central and southern America for thousands of years, the Europeans showed the indigenous peoples how to make more food than they could eat. Morever, how to make a profit. The Europeans soon discovered that guns and swords were unnecessary to control the population. Smallpox, measles and the flu were faster and didn't involve night raids. Silver from the mines was a driving motive of Spanish colonization. It helped that the Spanish Conquistadors had an unpronounceable name and looked like Cubans.

The slave trade proved a valuable lesson to the Portuguese, British, French, Spanish, and Dutch. While exploiting the silver mines, and agricultural plantations, the Europeans discovered an important working practice. It was more cost effective to work people to death and replace them than to improve their working conditions. This 'principle' is advocated 'to this day' in some management and leadership books, organisations, companies, human resource departments and military dictatorships around the globe. And, despairingly, in some families and schools.

I know - I think I know - about dinosaurs despite never having met one (not while sober, anyway). I suppose it's just information passed from generation to generation. In the West we tend to accrue a vast amount of knowledge about abstract words, for example: truth, justice, freedom, reality, and to worry about things we shall never know, no matter how hard we look, or by seeking the advice and knowledge of others.

People from different cultures think about things differently, and perhaps that is the way the world has existed and shall continue to do so. Who has the right to say the worldview of an individual, or a culture, is wrong if it does not intrude in the lives of others causing physical, mental or spiritual harm?

Perhaps we should just enjoy life as it happens and try to shelve all worry, concern and beliefs we have no control over, which may, paradoxically, control our lives to the detriment of our well-being. The solution sounds simple, but remains difficult to put into action. A human fallibility, but strong and destructive, nevertheless.

Reflections: The office environment in the 21st century is a time bomb: full of testosterone and estrogen, and rats if it's an old building. The rise of working singles working round the clock, and those working near a clock, has turned some offices into 'Singles Bars' with bouncers on the door, and the water consumed during 'Happy Hour' is charged to your credit card.

And let's not forget those who are in a relationship and suffer 'transient global amnesia' for five minutes while having sex with their secretary. This can be particularly disquieting when it happens during a board meeting, especially for fellow board members. Where I once worked a monthly lottery was held to guess who the CEO's next conquest might be. One list included females, males and a coffee vending machine on the 2nd floor.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Tell Me The Truth About Love

I remember we had passed each other during the interval. After that moment I never grew tired of looking at her. We shared a love of the theatre, classical music, literature and poetry, and an enduring interest in writers and writing. Following the performance of Mahler’s Fifth we met at the embankment, and talked and laughed as the lights of the city danced breathlessly on the river.

When she smiled with her lips slightly parted I thought that any woman would be envious of her. She wore a black dress and her mass of wavy black hair tied up. Her beauty was indescribable. She exuded a social and cultural confidence to which I felt I could never aspire. We said nothing about our past, or present, relationships.

I adore Mahler,’ smiled Kirsten. ‘I feel I’ve been on an epic journey ... His obsession with death is evident, even to me. Then the triumph, the wonderful pinnacle of the final movement.’ Her gaze transferred to the boats dancing in rhythm on the water. ‘He was obviously passionately in love. What about you? Have you been in love?’ She scrutinised my face with amused tolerance and satisfaction. 'Answer me,' she said, delicately touching my hand.

The night was warm, and a soft, impatient wind blew across the greyish blue river. 'I prefer to say hello than goodbye. Hello radiates an air of anticipation, the beginning of something either funny or tragic.' Already I felt a deep affection for Kirsten, bordering on attraction.

'You still haven’t answered my question.’ She playfully poked my ribcage.

I looked at her, and smiled. ‘Tell me the truth about love ...’

‘When it comes will it come without warning, just as I'm picking my nose?’ Kirsten recited, her voice breathy and passionate.

‘Would you care to go for a walk, something to eat?' I said. 'French? Covent Garden?'

As we walked across the Millennium Bridge our hands accidentally touched. Kirsten smiled and kissed me on the mouth. I felt my heart rise. Then she turned away to look at the light in the stars. I noticed a suggestion of sadness in her eyes. Kirsten laughed softly and breathed in the night air. 'What an engaging night. Let's make it a memorable one.' Her voice was clear and winsome.

She leaned towards me and grabbed my hand. Her smile, like the destined light of day, became a laugh. Kirsten half closed her eyes and slightly tilted her head to let the tender trembling wind caress her eyelids. Her softened eyes still revealed a hint of sadness.

‘Why New York?’ asked Kirsten.

‘That’s what it’s called.’

‘Very funny. Are you travelling with anyone else?’ asked the prettiest woman in the restaurant.

‘Hopefully the pilot.’

‘How long will you be gone? I’m already missing your acerbic wit.’

‘Hard to say. I’ve been east. I believe it's time to go west. In fact, that reminds me. I'm booked in for a bikini wax tomorrow morning.’ We continued to eat and converse, attracting disgruntled glances from fellow diners'.

Once outside the restaurant we became insensitive to the surroundings. We kissed like two lovers in sensuous harmony and balance; as if we existed outside of time, outside of monotonous existence, outside of ordinary life.

As Kirsten sat in the taxi, she held out her hand. I briefly kissed the fingers of her right hand. Her engaging face was calm. 'Goodbye, and thank you,' she said. As the taxi drove off I still felt warm and sensual. As if I was part of some secret, beautiful and distant world.

Reflections: Beauty and love are inexpressible and ephemeral. Your heart may rise as you recall a romantic encounter, a kiss, a chance meeting, a pleasure in your life; but it is just a memory. One should not live with illusions of happiness, love, or, beauty, as one gets older. For there are only moments of anticipation, passion, and desire, that fill one's life. Only surprising and beautiful moments.