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Monthly Archives: April 2013

There was a man whose father left his mother soon after he was born.

There was a man whose father left his mother soon after he was born and started another family somewhere. The man developed an unusually close relationship to his painting teacher; the man’s older brother joined a religious sect and dropped out of sight for decades.

I loved this man, and still do.

There was a man whose father could not give his sons the love they needed to flourish, but saved it all for himself; whose father so dwarfed his sons that to this day they cannot physically endure his presence in the same room.

There was a man whose mother played the same musical instrument as he. And though she’d separated from his father many years previously, she was too blinded by the competitive war they’d waged to give her son the approval he needed to make it his life’s work.

There was a man who loved a woman who’d vowed never to become like her mother, but was more like her own mother than she cared to know.

I loved this man, and still do.

There was a man who had wanted to become an artist, but started a family instead, and grew silent.

There was a man whose wife suffered from his silence and went insane.

There was a man with a daughter whose lot it was to become an artist, to correct the family error. But the man silently stymied his artist daughter and nearly drove her insane.

I loved this man, and still do.

There was a man whose mother brought him a bag of bagels on his birthday, and then took the remaining ones home with her when she left.

There was a man who vowed never to become like his father. His entire identity so hinged on not becoming like his father that anything else became preferable, even living a lie.

I loved this man; maybe I still do.

There was a man whose mother left his father when he was very young. He and his mother shared a love that was legendary.

There was a man who went in search of his father many years later, found him, and rejoiced when he discovered how much alike they were. His father still feared his mother’s vindictive fury.

There was a man who created a legendary love between himself and his mother to still the fear that he might have reminded her too much of his own father.

I love this man, and I see more than he can know.

There was a man whose mother convinced him that his girlfriend was after the family’s money. Each time he found a new girlfriend, his mother convinced him that this girlfriend was also after the family’s money. The result was that the man remained alone, because he could never quite believe that anyone could love him for who he was.

There was a man who could not love the son of the woman he loved because he reminded him of the boy’s father.

There was a man who could not love the son of the woman he loved and rejoiced when she finally bore him his own son.

There was a man who so rejoiced when the woman he loved finally bore him his own son that he nearly drove the son of the woman he loved who was not his son insane.

 

To be continued.

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I wish I hadn’t been made this way, I wish I perceived a little less, less of everything, in fact—it would make things easier. But doesn’t each of us feel there’s something fundamentally wrong with us, something we devise ways to hide from the world, that sets us apart from everyone else, because everyone else seems quite “normal,” while we, glaringly, are not? There are days I wake up from confused dreams that in their very shifting shapelessness seem to hit the nail right on the head, to encapsulate the peculiar awfulness of me, the unique wrongness of everything about me, everything I’ve ever thought and felt since childhood, from the very moment of my birth and even further back than that, who knows. The peculiar awfulness that only I really know in full, that others catch a glimpse of now and again and more often than not keep to themselves, that peeks out on occasion but that I otherwise succeed in concealing, more or less (unless I am the victim of a colossal illusion), the awful private awfulness of thinking my thoughts and remembering my memories and, in general, being forced to be me, for an entire lifetime. But who hasn’t felt this?

You haven’t? Then you haven’t looked hard enough, dived deep enough. An entire treasure trove of infamy awaits you, my love. We have the Oedipus Complex, the Electra Complex, and if neither of those fit quite right we have the Messianic Complex, the Inferiority Complex, the Ego Complex. Take your pick! There’s the widely popular Guilt Complex, there’s even a Complex of Non-Love to Oneself. Personally, I am drawn to the Cassandra Complex, in which the subject suffers disproportionately from the grief, ignorance, and transgressions of others, but perhaps I am suffering from Grandiosity, who knows. We can certainly tailor a new one just for you, if need be.

But who cares about all that, and anyway, don’t they get it all wrong, these professionals of the private mind, of the human malaise, these self-appointed experts with their own dirty little neuroses and the clever little ways they keep them carefully under wraps. They have taken the poetry out of melancholy, the painful beauty out of lost love, the aching, eternal truth out of grief. Their mission is to level the very excesses of emotion that make us human, to medicate them straight out of us. I say give me your odd and idiosyncratic, give me the irrational impulses with which you hoard your pearl-like truths, give me your longing to die one day and your exuberant, brilliant joy the next. Meet me in that unnamable place where you’ve lost your coordinates, or your will to live, where you fail to uphold the veneer, to play the game, where you stumble over your good manners and blurt something out that is embarrassing for what it reveals. Where your adult voice is unexpectedly, disturbingly usurped by an adolescent fury and frustration, where your nerves are raw and your feelings have run haywire. This is the dungeon where our unprotected selves will make love; this is where we will inhale the sulphurous breath of a dragon we will never slay—before we rise to escape to a beautiful, new freedom.

Twombly 2

 

I formulate the words, yet I’m beginning to understand that it’s you who writes the script; in it, my protests sound like Greek tragedy, the unwitting assurances of a character that is bound, by an elaborate twist of fate, to annihilate the very person she seeks to protect. You predicted that I would leave you; this is one way of looking at it. Another is to ask why, from the moment we first understood we were in love, your mind leaped ahead to the end.

I am turning this into a book, I said. Is that OK, I said. How many blog entries will you have to write, you said. I don’t know, I said. However many I need to work through this. I am writing about love because I want to understand what it is. Take a guess, you said. Eighty? I said. Oh good, you said. We aren’t even halfway there.

Another way of looking at it is this. To understand what you’re writing, you need to know how the thing will end. One day I write something, and suddenly I understand that this is how the various things it describes will come to a conclusion. All at once a circle closes and the entire conglomeration crystallizes, acquires form. But I’m not there yet, I say. I have no idea what it’s about, I say. Eighty entries, that’s halfway, you say. We still have some time, you say. I am perplexed. Are you saying it will end with the book, I say. Do you really think that’s what this is about? But what use will you have for me after that, you say.

Another way of looking at it is this. You’ve decided it’s over, or will be. You’ve written the final scene, you’ve fine-tuned the lines: they’re exquisite and sad, and you ascribe them to me. I am the character chosen to recite them, but when the moment comes I stand there, perspiring beneath the hot and blinding spots, and remain silent.

When scripts collide, it’s time to turn off the lights, to shut down the stage. There are entire stories that still need to be told, and none of them as well-crafted as a book or a play, all of them far messier than that. Half of them preserved in a kind of amniotic sac of amnesia and the other half stuck in the muck and sludge of experience, but all of it life, and very different from this.

Twombly

 

Birds everywhere, countless squeaky hinges and a single repetitive tone that sounds like a cell phone ringing. It has come to this, dear birdsong. The long-legged-insect-umbrella-like way the leaves of the great chestnut tree outside my window emerge from their tightly packed buds; the incredible softness that post-pubescent geometry unfurls into. How commonplace the miracle, and how ancient the information that enacts its annual performance.

We are at an impasse; we wish each other a good day, pace the border like sentries as we gently but firmly dissuade one another from crossing the line. You are especially keen on preserving your good manners: it is a matter of principle for you, and I try to comply as best as I can. The ache is thereby delayed, but not for long.

What is it like for you? You claim to have seen me turn a corner and not look back, yet I’ve never left, I stand here, rooted to the spot and unable to move, or to speak. A man who can see into the future and a woman who can read minds: is it possible we were both mistaken? That the future you saw in that one blinding moment was not our future at all, but a phantasm of your fear? That the mind whose signals I absorbed was scrambled by the same? How to write about this without betraying you, without betraying myself?

There are parts in each of us that still hurt so much it can even be dangerous to touch the scars. I pick at them nonetheless; like a dog caught in a vise, it’s the only way I know to free myself. I will gnaw off a part of me in the process, if necessary. Does this repel you?

Haven’t you realized by now that I only want your freedom, too? Diving into the wreck, it’s been called; you breathe differently down here. You, a diver, would understand this. We are the half-destroyed instruments that once held to a course, and no way to find that course again without plunging beneath the surface to scavenge for the fragments of whatever is left.

Shelf Life

 

There’s a story I’ve been wanting to tell you for a long time now. I’ve been telling it to myself time after time, for so many years, yet each time I hear it, I’m not sure if it’s quite the same story as the last time, or if it hasn’t changed just a little bit. Just a little bit from time to time, a little bit different each time I’ve told it, and so a little different from time to time, a bit, a bit different each time. I no longer remember the first time I told it to myself, nor if I was even really listening, that first time. I will try to tell it now, as I have told it to myself so many times before, but I can’t really say for sure if it will be the same story as last time, or the time before, but it will, nonetheless, be the same story, more or less, as the last time, and the same as every time I’ve told it, nearly, or at least as every time I’ve told it that I’ve been listening, if you understand what I mean. It begins like this:

I once woke up on a bed in a room I’d never seen before, next to a man I didn’t know, and I asked him, who am I? How did I get here? But he didn’t know, he told me, as he was, after all, about to ask me the same. I remember another room, I told him, not this room, but another, a different room. And before that another, different, room, very much like the other room, but not like this room, not at all like this room. And another bed, I told him, I could remember another bed. If he could remember another room,  I asked him. Yes, he said. And another bed, could he also remember another bed, I asked him. Yes, he said, he could also remember another bed. We said nothing for quite some time. How did we get here, then, I asked him. And he answered, perhaps we were sleeping.

(It won’t be very easy getting away from you; my story is so intertwined with yours that I can’t even say for sure what would be left of my life if I were to try to separate it from yours.)

 

I will never learn who you are, I will never know your name. Yet you know every detail of my face, every nuance of this gaze which has blindly brushed by yours scores of times, not recognizing in it the one who has intently followed even the slightest of my movements. I speak to you often, and I hear you tell me, yes, oh yes, I know these things you’re telling me, I know them very well. I long for you; if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be able to live, I wouldn’t be able to carry on. I’ve never told anyone about you; our bond is all the greater because no one but you and I knows of it. Isn’t it a pleasure, this secret of ours?

I imagine you sitting at a window, gazing into the window opposite and thinking of how you might look seen from that window, half a shadow, barely visible. I imagine you getting up from your chair and looking for something to do to distract you from your thoughts. I imagine you sitting down, again, bending over to rest your elbows on your knees, and then looking down at your legs, and below them your feet resting on the floor. Suddenly a bird flying by overhead is reflected in the smooth pool inside a coffee cup beside them, remnants left over from the day before: a small trace of heaven quivering in the depths. I wish I could do something to comfort you now; I would lay my hand on your shoulder, silently. What else can one do, when confronted with someone else’s sorrow?

 

this small sacrifice

 

 I can no longer remember what time of year it was, but I can recall the shadows in the room falling very differently. The moisture had ceased to collect on the windowpane; perhaps the days were beginning to grow longer again, I don’t know. The trees outside, the walls, my hands and the cup they were holding were all bathed in the light of the morning sun, which warmed despite a chill still in the air…  of course, I remember it now: it was still the early part of Spring, and the magnolias were about to bloom.

It must be time to go and see if there’s been any mail; I think I heard the postman’s steps. I look down at my knees, and I see an airplane flying by overhead, reflected in the bathwater between them: I imagine trying to calculate the odds of this improbable occurrence. Suddenly, I feel overwhelmed by the desire to pack a suitcase and leave here, leave here immediately…  I know, by now, that even the shortest delay is enough time to allow a hundred doubts to enter the mind.

A hiatus due to book reviews, studio visits, translations, a second trip to London. But that isn’t it, exactly. I’m blocked. The hairs on the back of my neck bristle now, as though someone were reading over my shoulder; I hesitate. So kill off my character, you say. Is it that easy?

A month ago I rescheduled my next psychiatrist’s appointment for May. I took the S-Bahn to Botanischer Garten, walked down the street to the doctor’s office, and asked the receptionist for a new prescription to bridge the time. I smiled calmly, which always comes as a relief to the girls behind the desk. Hardened from dealing with the desperate and crazy, they are glib and snippy; imperturbable to the sound of the ringing and unconcerned about the drama unfurling on the other end, they no longer pick up the telephone. I handed over my insurance card and requested a package of 50 at 150 mg. The receptionist didn’t notice the reduced dosage, which just goes to show how dependent the system is on the principle of obedience, of asking permission.

Today, I opened one of the little capsules and removed another third of its contents, and if the coming month goes according to plan, I will decrease it further. I am weaning myself off, and already I’m sweating less, feeling less harried and anxious. Only one episode of tears, in your mother’s kitchen, although I still can’t quite work out why. The two of you quarreling in the pub, on the way home? I am a sponge; I pick up everything, I am tuned into too many frequencies, my own and those of others, in languages I don’t even understand. It creates a cacophony in my head, I tried to explain this to you, but you were too angry to listen. You left, came back, cracked a joke and made me laugh, but then I cried again, because humor is also a way of avoiding things. But I am more stubborn than you know, and I need you to translate these foreign frequencies for me. How else am I supposed to understand?