What I’ve failed to write

131 days ago life took a weird, sharp turn after a few months of my driving it erratically in and out of course. Because I am prone to think of my life as a movie or perhaps as a series of pilot episodes in shows that never get aired, I failed to realize that maybe real life was happening. And I have a problem with this. My mind anticipates all kinds of scenarios, dramatic dialogues and plot twists, failing to see what’s right in front of me, failing to hear Caetano‘s warning that life is after all real and skewed. I insist on other melodies, I insist on not getting tired of hoping that one day I will get to be everything.

My homeless heart
Wants to keep the world
In me

131 days ago we coincided in space and time; he told me I was making him travel, I didn’t realize he was making me come home. For once, life was not about being the rebel in a made up cause, it was not about coming up with the perfect character for the occasion, it was not about trying to be perfect, it was not about packing and going somewhere trying to find whatever is needed at the moment to feel more alive. It was about staying. I didn’t know that to stay took a special kind of courage. I have spent well over seven thousand days of my adult life being adventurously brave, going everywhere, doing everything, preferably on my own. Along the way I collected all the clichés of falling madly, deeply and foolishly in love, of getting married and divorced, of hurting and getting hurt and feeling that I have committed the worse sin my twelve years of Catholic, yet somewhat liberal, education helped me identify, I have wasted my time and have, of course, ended up being wasted by it. Staying, in the same way as getting older, is not for the faint of heart. Staying means you have to face life as it is not as you think it was meant to be.

131 days ago I begun to understand what years of fictional manipulation have done to me, how they have created the most unrealistic expectations and contributed to an almost complete emotional disarrangement. In the midst of my inability to deal with what was happening, I have read these wise words:

Your deepest beliefs about seduction were carefully crafted by high-capitalist strategists. Lust and fantasy are opiates of the masses, easily manipulated into shapes that human animals fall for, over and over again.

I have never really taken advice columns very seriously, probably because I tend to be a bit of a snob, but every single word Heather Havrilesky poured into her column of February 28, struck a chord and I understood that yes, it was really about surrendering to reality with no futile embellishments. And still, 131 days were not enough to learn that the assumptions one makes about one self and others are also created by all the nonsense around you and that they are not real. For 131 days I have promised myself, almost everyday, that I was not going to fall in that trap, I was going to let life get real because it might not be the most glamorous or exciting place to be but you have at least a chance of not seeing life disappear without getting to live it. But, self-sabotage is a powerful force, “a way of avoiding that moment of showing up, of facing potential loss, of being strong enough and courageous enough to surrender to the unknown — but also, to surrender to the goodness of ordinary human beings.” 131 days ago,  getting hurt living my fictional life was easy enough to deal with because fictional feelings tend to be overtly dramatic but shallow.

Getting hurt in real life gets you broken.

References

Caetano Veloso, O quereres, Coração Vagabundo

William Shakespeare, Richard II 

Bette Davis

Ask Polly 

Not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future

“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.

Herman Hesse, Siddhartha 

Unlikely

 

Me aged 2.  It didn’t seem plausible but I did grow up. And, surprisingly enough, not into a fearless tomboy.

How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life”  ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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