Polluted by memories

Like everyone else, I have favourite movies, directors, writers, songs and song writers, and I keep returning to them in a cyclical way, not regularly, without following a particular routine, but often enough to discern a pattern.

If you happen to know me in real life or follow this blog, you must have already noticed that I am quite fond of Bergman (not so much as a movie director as what I would call a philosopher), Calvino (in particular his Invisible Cities), Bukowski (the poet, not the writer, a qualification most literary critics would deny him), Camus, and most recently Eddie Vedder – an obsession which is bordering on the pathological, but that deserves another post – to name but a few.

I know, a very eclectic list of strange bedfellows. There is thread that runs through all of them however, and countless others that I have not cited here. They are all haunted by loneliness and belonging, space and time (cities, past-present-future) and the meaninglessness of life. As I sip my Staropramen alone in one of Lund’s landmark bars, Ariman, I’ve been pondering about how we mark the places we live with memories, some good, some bad. Polluting them, so to speak – since good memories are more similar to butterflies than turtles; they never last long, in most cases leaving behind more misery than joy.

I remember the first time I came to Lund. It was 2007, as part of a research network established by a Swedish colleague who used to live in Turkey. We were staying at the good old Duxiana (Thomas had not gone bankrupt back then), having fika next door, at Coffee Break. Call it getting old or tired, I thought I could live here. For a while at least. And I did. I came back in 2009 and spent three months here. I loved my friends but I also loved solitude. I was in the midst of a protracted and painful process of making peace with it anyway. So I returned.

I soon realized that this was not a place to “die” if you are alone, without a family – of sorts. Then he happened. I did have a family “of sorts”. Then he became sick. I had to be there for him, no matter what. In any case, I had nowhere to go (back) to.”

Time to revisit Calvino I thought: “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”

I chose the first one. I adapted; acclimated myself; I “became such a part of” the Swedish way of life that I could no longer see the inferno I was living in. When I did, I compared it to the other infernos I lived in, and there was no comparison. My inferno was everybody else’s Eden. A promised land that took good care of me and my son, that appreciated my work, valued equality and freedom more than any other place I’ve been to.

And what about my part in the creation of the inferno, I also said to myself. Inferno is something “we form by being together”, wrote Calvino. He was certainly right. I had made choices, not all of them right or conducive to my personal Eden. So whatever the inferno was, it was also my own doing. I was the one polluting Lund with bittersweet memories. Yes, a life spent in between home and hospital was not particularly sweet either, but there were moments to enjoy, to cherish, before everything got worse. Have I made the best of those fleeting moments? I am not sure. As Eddie Vedder would say, “never been too good at happy endings” – or enjoying “happinesses”.

When the first strategy didn’t work, I opted for Calvino’s second suggestion, seeking and learning to recognize “who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno” trying to make them endure. He definitely was one – “the” one. There were others too; but they disappeared one by one. I found new ones; they weren’t enough. The city of my dreams was polluted beyond redemption. And the pollution was getting thicker and thicker; the air too difficult to breathe; the places I frequent too contaminated by bad memories to purify.

Yet “the” one does not let life go. The precious one who gave birth to “the” one does not let “us” go. Living (in) the inferno requires “vigilance and apprehension”. I have neither of them. I have nowhere to go either. I have no will to go and start over…

“So I imagine in a month… or 12
I’ll be somewhere having a drink
laughing at a stupid joke
or just another stupid thing
and I can see myself stopping short
drifting out of the present
sucked by the undertow and pulled out deep
and there I am, standing
wet grass and white headstones all in rows
and in the distance there’s one, off on its own
so I stop, kneel
my new home…
and I picture a sober awakening, a re-entry into this little bar scene
sip my drink till the ice hits my lip
order another round
and that’s it for now” (Eddie Vedder)

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“I feel no grief for being called something which I am not”

They say: Why do you write?

I say: It makes me feel better.

They say: Fine, but isn’t this your job, writing?

I say: Not anymore. I don’t enjoy writing for work. I don’t like my work. Writing books no one will ever read; writing articles no one will even hear of; writing opinion pieces that will be heard of and read but won’t change a single thing… It’s all a sham, a huge waste of time. We are puppets in a big, expensive production. The script is already written; the main actors and actresses are already chosen. They will be the ones who will get a standing ovation if they act according to the script. We, the puppets, are just there to watch the script unfold. We are lucky to be paid for it. At least we make a living!

They say: So the things you write on your blog… Do you think people read them? Do they care? Why should they be interested in your disoriented, chaotic and mostly gloomy musings?

I say: But I don’t write for them, I told you. I write for myself.

They say: Then why do you share them publicly? Aren’t you exposed this way?

I say: Perhaps. Still, I have nothing to hide.

They say: Come on! Did you ever think that sharing all this personal stuff could make you look weak? Give the wrong messages to the wrong people?

I say: No, I don’t think so. Why would sharing anecdotes or parables from my life make me look weak? We share them with our friends, our colleagues, people we love or fall in love with, and most of these people were perfect strangers at the beginning. We became friends, lovers, because we share our life with them, as honestly as one possible can. Those who accept us as we are stay in our life one way or another. Those who do not just leave or we don’t want them. As for messages, subliminal or not… Who cares? Can we change the way people see us, talk about us? No matter what we do, they will have their own opinions – even judgements – and they will stick to these unless they themselves change their mind. Nothing we do, or say, or write will change their perceptions of us. Even if it did, this shouldn’t be the purpose of writing, of sharing. One should write for oneself. And if I feel like sharing what I write (and believe me, there are hundreds of pages I keep to myself), I do so without thinking of the implications. I don’t care of the implications, because I know that I cannot affect them.

Do you know what would Bukowski say in reply to this?

“I feel no grief for being called something which I am not; in fact, it’s enthralling, somehow, like a good back rub.”

I write. I share. If I get a response, of whatever kind, I am happy. If I get an insult or warning, I shrug my shoulders and smile. And if I am called something which I am not, I simply enjoy the back rub.

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