jeudi, juillet 29, 2004

Hard Headed Disk

Two years ago, I finally conquered my misgivings and enrolled in a Creative Writing class in the evenings.  I had previously been wary that a classroom setting might dampen my enthusiasm for the craft of writing, just as a course in college on Mozart had deflated my appreciation by reducing his compositions to AB, CD, AC, DB or some such crap.  Classes had often managed to ruin many subjects for me.

Over the years, I had often flipped through the course offerings in the catalog of Adult Continuing Education classes at the University near me and paused thoughtfully at the Creative Writing option, before quickly dimissing it at the memory of torturous days spent listening to someone destroy the beauty of nocturnes by reducing them to patterns.  

The day I saw the course was being offered at the remote University annex not five minutes away from the factory where I work in the countryside, I decided it was a sign that I should finally bury my misgivings and make the leap.

I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the instructor was a funny warm woman with an infectious passion for writing.  She was incredibly encouraging to me, and flattered me greatly by asking me to be a part of her writing group outside of class.

She was the one who finally broke the spell of inaction for me.  Like most everyone else, I had written in an assignment that I had always dreamed of writing a novel, but had been afraid to.  She picked one sentence from each of our compositions, and told us to use it as the first line of our next assigment.  She picked a sentence out of mine that had described a short story I had written a decade before in college.  I sighed when I saw it, thinking I had already done what I was capable of doing with that story, but eventually resigned myself it must be the thing that wanted to be written.  When she handed me back my composition two weeks later, she said, "Quit worrying, you've started your novel."

That was all it took.  So simple.  Someone I considered an "authority" in writing to tell me that what I had written was worthy of a novel.

Thanks to her encouragement and my boring weekend job as a receptionist, I wrote 18 pages of my first novel.  I saved it on a hard disk. 

As I was packing the other day, I found the disk and decided that since my laptop had no hard disk drive (old fashioned little ol' me) I should print it out and retype it later onto a CD.  The disk was damaged and unreadable.  All I have now of my original 18 pages is 7 or 8 of a very first draft that I had thankfully printed out at some point for class. 

Well, it's a start.  We'll see where I go from there. 

dimanche, juillet 25, 2004

Have I said I hate packing lately?  Because if I haven't, I hate packing.  It makes me grouchy, it stresses me out, and I lose all sense of what is important.  Because let's face it, if I knew what was important, packing would be a snap for me - I would just put the important stuff in the suitcase and be done with it. 

See, what gets me every time is the possibilites.   What if it rains?  What if I have to walk a lot?  What if it turns suddenly cold?  What if some terribly handsome guy I meet on the way just happens to invite me to an incredibly chic place for dinner?  I have to be prepared for this, have just the right thing on hand, be ready at the last minute.  That's what travel is for me: surrendering to the moment.  Okay, that's what life is to me, but stay with me here. 

Actually, nevermind.  I just needed to get that out.

mardi, juillet 20, 2004

Many thanks to those of you who posted a comment or gave suggestions as to how to help my friend.   I do have to admit, though, to being slightly disappointed at not convincing people to  represent a different philospher in costume and perform little monologues about the meaning of life.  I thought it was such a good idea....  But you will be happy to know, she seems to be doing much better.  Perhaps it was just a momentary crisis.
I must also share what has to be one of my favorite text messages of all times:
Me to the other friend who was there that night, after we had both gone home exhausted, she to a date with a much younger man:
"All is well-had talk-discovered real issue: what is meaning of life?  Possible remedy: Sartre.  How was boy?"
To Anonymous, I've ordered a copy of Viktor Frankl's book, but just might read it myself before passing it on.  You have piqued my curiosity: do I know you?
On another note, Max, my mom and I made a foray to my favorite cafe, he in his swank new backpack/carrying case/car seat/bed.  Seriously one of the best presents ever. Besides Max himself, of course.  I sat him in a chair at our table, and he meowed a bit, but eventually settled down and engaged in some intense people watching.  Like owner, like cat.  He was quite a hit with the Bulgarian waitresses, I must say.  I was so proud. 
There is some serious potential for cafe haunting together when Paris finally happens.  Dour Parisian waiters, you have no idea what is in store for you....

mardi, juillet 13, 2004

So What?

Uncharacteristically for me, Sunday night I found myself at a loss for words. A good friend was very, very upset, and for hours another friend and I sat with her, trying to comfort her. She was so beside herself that we were sure it had to be more than she was saying:

Why didn't he love me?

If he didn't love me, who ever will?

I am wasting my good years and eventually I'll be old and ugly and then no one will want me at all.

These are feelings that plague us all, but most especially her. She had been tossing them around so much and so often during recent months that quite honestly, I was beginning to get sick of it. I didn't fault her for feeling them, but for constantly talking about them and not seeming to process them. It was just a tape playing the same cut over and over again. I was sadly beginning to question if I could actually be a good friend to her.

You see, there are two things I really have no patience for : repetition and gross insecurity. Combine the two, and I will quickly wish you well and make my exit.

So it was with these thoughts of having a little chat with her that I went to her place on Sunday, only to have her break down in wracking sobs when the last group of people had gone, leaving me and another friend to try to piece her back together. I certainly wasn't going to say anything about what I had been feeling after that.

Eventually, she calmed down enough to zero in what was really bothering her. Her essential quandry was this: what does life, and what we do in it, matter if we must die in the end?

Obsess over the same guy and not make headway - boring!

Have an existential crisis and question the meaning of life - now that's my kind of woman!

I was at first so surprised that I had no idea what to say. She reveled in my loss of words and promised to record the date as the only time Penelope had been rendered speechless. Then I tried some yin-yang approach and argued that if the end of life mattered to her, therefore life itself must. She wasn't buying.

I asked if the only reason life had no value to her was that it was destined to come to an end, would life have value for her if we were immortal? She laughed and said she wasn't sure, but it was a damn good question.

What do you think, boys and girls? Does death negate life? Since, in fact, we are all going to die, does what we do or who we are or what we live matter? Now there's a question I'd like to see in a poll on a webpage sidebar!

lundi, juillet 05, 2004

Yellow Onion, White Onion

I once knew a man, slight in stature but no less handsome, with salt and pepper hair and clear green eyes. He was rich, charming, cultured and Italian. He lived in an ultra modern house high up on a hill on a corner. He knew many people - all the ones one should know for social and political climbing - and many more one would be better off never having met. He threw large, lavish parties in his steel and glass house that was filled with thick, heavy art and philosophy books in different languages. His walls were covered with all the collections one should have - Liechstenstein, Warhol, and Matisse, among many others. He had a weakness for black and white photography, especially by a woman who was fond of photographing her own children in the nude - an echo of his weakness for much younger women than himself.

I met him at a cocktail party, one of those soirees you get invited to and go because you'd always wanted to see the inside of houses in that area. We had seen each other many times since, mostly at parties, where he would be sure to bestow a compliment on me in passing, like a priest flicking holy water on his way down the aisle.

One evening he invited me over to dinner at his house, and we sat talking on his impeccably white Le Corbusier sofa under the Liechstenstein. At some point in the conversation, he had exclaimed,

"You are so surprising! You don't have any of the same preoccupations of other rich women I know."

I burst out laughing and asked what had ever given him the idea that I was rich. I silently mused at how little he knew me.

Months later, he invited me and some friends to his house for a late dinner of pasta, a special dish he wanted to prepare for us to continue the impromptu spirit of the evening. I was meeting the rest of the group at his place, and on my way there, he called to ask if I would pick up an onion for the special dish.

"It must be a white onion," he insisted, "the mushrooms would not be able to stand up to the yellow ones."

I was mildly annoyed since I was almost there, but most especially because he had changed his mind about where and what to eat several times over the course of the evening before finally settling on cooking at home. Just as I as I had parked my car and was about to run in to the store, my friend Oksana called. A stunning East European with long straight black hair as thick as her accent, she was calling to see if I was already there. I mentioned I was about to go in to the store to buy an onion.

"He asked me to buy an onion, too," she said. "But I am going to be late, so if he needs it for the dish..."

"Did yours have to be white?" I asked sarcastically.


"Don't you think it's strange he asked us both to buy an onion?" I said.

"I think we need to talk," she said.

When I arrived, I proffered him the onion at the door as I kissed his cheeks on either side in greeting.

"Oh, you needn't have," he said, taking the bag from me absent mindedly and gesturing towards the kitchen with it, "Julia brought one earlier."

Biting my tongue to not say something impertinent, I went inside to find the other members of the group gathered in the spacious steel appliance-filled kitchen, most of them standing around awkwardly in their socks in expectation. Julia, a very young Asian who was in town visiting, had a slightly dreamy smile on her face that couldn't help looking ever so slightly triumphant. Apparently her shockingly yellow onion had already been chosen to be part of the special dish. I watched with detached amusement as he stiffly dashed around the kitchen, wiping every surface and rearranging things on the countertops to be perfectly lined up.

Up to that point, I had thought him cultured and sophisticated, but as he continued to obsess without ever offering those of us who had arrived post-onion a drink or a seat, I thought to myself that I may have been brought up with modest means, but I certainly was taught how to receive guests.

Finally, I broke the stalemate by offering to open the bottle of wine I had brought and serve it to the group. This meant looking in the drawers for the wine opener, something I sensed I shouldn't do without asking which one.

He nudged me out of the way and opened the drawer behind me, which was at least three feet in length and held the most organized, entensive collection of flatware I had ever seen.

"Now that's a bigger drawer than I expected it to be," I mused. The girl next to me laughed.

He turned to me and looked at me askance, "Why is it that you say things in a way that make me think it's not what you mean?" he said.

I had no idea what to say. I had really only expressed surprise at the size of the drawer. What could he possibly think I could have meant? Did he think it was a comment on his height? Surely not on the size of his member in proportion? In that moment I realized to my utter astonishment that I unsettled him.

To be continued...