one­-less-­days

“The Verb to Be,“ a Poem by André Breton

I know the general outline of despair. Despair has no wings, it doesn’t necessarily sit at a cleared table in the evening on a terrace by the sea. It’s despair and not the return of a quantity of insignificant facts like seeds that leave one furrow for another at nightfall. It’s not the moss that forms on a rock or the foam that rocks in a glass. It’s a boat riddled with snow, if you will, like birds that fall and their blood doesn’t have the slightest thickness. I know the general outline of despair. A very small shape, defined by jewels worn in the hair. That’s despair. A pearl necklace for which no clasp can be found and whose existence can’t even hang by a thread. That’s despair for you. Let’s not go into the rest. Once we begin to despair we don’t stop. I myself despair of the lampshade around four o’clock, I despair of the fan towards midnight, I despair of the cigarette smoked by men on death row. I know the general outline of despair. Despair has no heart, my hand always touches breathless despair, the despair whose mirrors never tell us if it’s dead. I live on that despair which enchants me. I love that blue fly which hovers in the sky at the hour when the stars hum. I know the general outline of the despair with long slender surprises, the despair of pride, the despair of anger. I get up every day like everyone else and I stretch my arms against a floral wallpaper. I don’t remember anything and it’s always in despair that I discover the beautiful uprooted trees of night. The air in the room is as beautiful as drumsticks. What weathery weather. I know the general outline of despair. It’s like the curtain’s wind that holds out a helping hand. Can you imagine such a despair? Fire! Ah they’re on their way … Help! Here they come falling down the stairs … And the ads in the newspaper, and the illuminated signs along the canal. Sandpile, beat it, you dirty sandpile! In its general outline despair has no importance. It’s a squad of trees that will eventually make a forest, it’s a squad of stars that will eventually make one less day, it’s a squad of one­-less-­days that will eventually make up my life.

Translated from the French by Bill Zavatsky and Zack Rogow via The Paris Review


Original Poem can be read here

Photo me by F.M.

Spiral 

For a few moths, after I hurt my knee doing a “remate” during a rehearsal for a flamenco show, I was afraid of stairs. For a few months, every step required thinking. Walking downstairs was especially difficult, the rule that tells you to walk up as a little kid would do, doesn’t really apply when going down. The movement becomes mechanized and painful. The rhythmic fluidity of walking down is gone and you are left with a bust metronome that can’t actually keep the time.

Being somewhat of a drama queen, I thought this was going to last forever. I tried to reinvent myself as some kind of replicant, to come up with  a cyberpunk character to match my armor knee brace. For three months or so I looked like an extra on The Matrix and even though I felt vulnerable and generally afraid of stairs, escalators and crowded places, wearing a medical device as a fashion statement felt empowering. I don’t even know if people stared, it didn’t matter if they did. I suppose that’s what “power dressing” means, to me at least.

Every day I would go out to work in my warrior costume and every day at 12 I would go to physiotherapy and would have to climb up and down the hospital staircases as a form of exercise.  As much as this was a daily routine, seeing it in a metaphorical way is almost unavoidable. Steps as obstacles to be surpassed, stairs as progression and stairs as regression. In this case coming down just took a lot longer than a real fall.

The fact that I got hurt to the sound of La Leyenda del Tiempo strikes me as both ironic and enlightening. I  hurt myself for not paying attention to what I was doing while feeling the music that gives life to a wonderful poem that makes life sound as a mad galloping spiral staircase in constant movement. All of a sudden I was back down at the starting step trying to convince myself that it wasn’t as serious as it looked, a few days of ice packs and everything would be back to normal.

It was serious, and it involved convincing my restless self that it was a step at a time kind of situation and still, from certain angles, all staircases are spirals of infinite movement, how do you to get back in when understanding how you have managed to fall out is difficult enough?

Episodes 

The process of deciphering and expressing a sense of who we are happens in tandem with deciphering and expressing when and where we are .

   

 
In the summer of 1988 we went to Cheltenham for an intensive English language course. I stayed with Cathy and Howard and my brother stayed with another family so we wouldn’t disturb the immersive quality of the course.  I remember Cheltenham as the England in the movies. I remember that Cathy and Howard’s house was “colour coded”, each room had its own colour. My room was pink and their wonderful living room was red. Red carpets, red sofa, red furniture and red wallpaper. 

This was my second time in England. I had been to London with my parents when I was 14 or 15 and could not control my excitement at having a place to go with the language I felt in love with in school and getting the Smiths “The queen is dead” before it went on sale in Portugal.   

There is a phrase: ‘the sweet smell of success’. And I can only tell you, I’ve had two experiences of that and it just smells like Brighton and oyster bars and things like that.
In August 1992 I visited Brighton with my parents to get things ready to start studying at Sussex University in the Fall. This is still the city that lives in my heart. My city.   

Life was completely different now. A full time student with a library schedule and tutorial classes. Now, I was in charge and it wasn’t as easy as I had imagined. Still, this is the city where, in a way, I grew up and everything was a promise of change.    

And then I moved to London. I doubt it if I will ever feel the kind of freedom and happiness and warm loneliness and sense of belonging I felt in this place. London was my moveable feast and  wherever I go for the rest of my life, it will stay with me. 

 

In 2002 I came back. So did others. Some of us just couldn’t handle it and decided to head back to London. I have tried to justify my choice of coming back many times, knowing that in reality that choice wasn’t actually mine. I arrived at the same conclusion every time. Choosing  to be who you really are takes a lot of courage.

References 

Susan B. Kaiser 

Laurence Olivier 

Ernest Hemingway 

Snapshots 

Anaïs’ Closet

“I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”

Anaïs Nin, “The Four-Chambered Heart.”

Oddly enough, a “great fear of shallow living” has also been somewhat responsible for the unmanageable size of my closet. Although an obsessive interest on clothes would probably point towards a very shallow living indeed, I have always seen clothes as a way to connect to my true (deep) self even when this self is busy living in imaginary spaces.

I could not have been a famous fashion designer (I’ve played briefly with this idea when I was 17 or 18) as claimed by Ms. Nin but, like her, my problem also seems to be that “my imagination created [and still creates] costumes that did not fit my simple life”. I do love clothes far more than I like fashion. I love their power to “evoke the fairy tale” and I’m still not ready to start “dressing more simply”, I took the first step in putting my Closet of Errors out there not as an exercise on downsizing but as a way of dealing with my own stories and letting the ones that were already lived go and find new lives.

Writing about Anaïs Nin’s  “Fractured Identity as Read through Fashion“,Tove Hermanson notes that [she] “grappled with complex self-identity issues that were revealed in her sartorial selections as much as her overtly philosophical prose. It’s unclear if Nin herself realized the extent to which she used fashion to act out her desires: to glamorize herself and seduce, and alternately to conceal and protect herself.” That’s how, I suppose, it all starts. More than a sign of individuality, clothes help to overcome your own insecurities by living the life of the character that more resembles what you have dreamt for yourself.

Someone once told me that I had lots of clothes and a ton of shoes because I didn’t think I was beautiful enough on my own. I remember taking that as an insult. Not anymore.  I am now able to have fun with all that I’ve collected everything remains, as Ms. Nin would put it ” very symbolical” and my clothes still have “first of all, a poetic significance: colours for certain occasions, evocations of other styles, countries (Spanish flavour, Moroccan touches, etc.)” and are, of course “a sign of individuality”. More than I would probably like to admit,   I  still “[want] striking clothes which [distinguish] me from other women. “

When I was growing up Anaïs was just the name of a Cacharel perfume that I was lucky enough to have my mum buy for me. I still recall the ethereal commercial on TV  that made you dream of becoming this wonderfully romantic creature. Today, after actually having read some of the diaries, I still see Anaïs as this unattainable ideal of being both the author and the character.

References:

The Diary of Anaïs Nin Volume One 1931-1934

A different way of letting go

“Women [seem to] have a dynamic relationship with their clothes that can be grouped around three co-existing views of self; ‘The woman I want to be’, ‘The woman I fear I could be’ and ‘The woman I am most of the time’.These three views illustrate women’s attempts to achieve satisfying images as they engage with clothes to create, reveal or conceal aspects of their identity.”( Guy and Banim).

They can also help explain why we keep the clothes that we no longer wear or even those that we have never worn. These clothes laid to rest are somewhat magic both because they connect us to our memories and they keep the promise of possibilities, of a different future.  Letting them go is also letting go of past and future, at least of the one we no longer see ourselves fulfilling.

Why open an online shop instead of just donating everything? This would not allow me the necessary reflection time to understand the process of revisiting myself and, above all, I could not tell the stories of how the Closet came to be.