(Pictured above, Andrei Rublev, who once said, “I am what I am.”)
Two weeks ago I finished the last in a series of essays from the NY Times personal essay prompts, and have since, every day, been mulling over the possibility of continuing this blog through some other means. Last week I posted a “Love Letter” that had been sitting on my computer for a while, for reasons I shall explain in a minute.
Originally, I wanted to translate one of my favorite books, La novela luminosa by Mario Levrero, and to post the translations as I wrote them. The reader will find a few of the early “chapters” already posted. After the NYT personal essays, I thought, “Yes! Time to finish translating La novela.”
The book basically describes one writer’s attempt to recover a long lost novel that he had written twenty years before (a real story), about his distress at the time of an important medical procedure he was undergoing. He survived the procedure, but never finished the novel he had written, about his fear of death. The book is his story of reviving this long lost project, of retracing his steps, of creating peace in his life in order to complete it, all the while battling what he calls “la angustia difusa” or diffuse anguish — something all creatives must overcome: be it writer’s block, vague moods, depression, addiction, long lost love, you name it.
Every time I open the book I find myself relating to its narrator. Ironically, my desire to translate this book into English is itself obstructed by a series of excuses and internal whimpering. Last week, I transcribed a section of the original Spanish onto my computer (with the hope of improving my Spanish, as an exercise; but also to really grasp the story before attempting to translate it), but to no avail. I did not translate a single word into English. So, with no translation to post, last week I put up some old news, the letter. Why the letter, I will explain in a second, hold on.
The same thing happened today: I opened La novela, I transcribed the seemingly effortless prose onto my computer, but I couldn’t get over myself in the end: I did not render any of it into English. To be honest, I am afraid I will not do the book justice. The style is so simple, and yet elevated, and yet insightful, and yet who the hell am I who has reached out once to get a grant for this undertaking but didn’t get the funding: one lie I keep telling myself is “If only I were paid to translate this, then I could.” And as logical as it sounds, an even deeper voice — one past my own diffuse anguish — calls to me: “Translation is an act of love, one of those things we do gratuit, necessarily.” A labor of love. Like writing. But here enters the voice of self-laceration: Yeesh, but I want to make a living as an artist! I want to be a LIVING ARTIST. Create first, get paid later, or get the money first, work like a dog later? Whip, whip. Just start the damn thing and worry about money after, but wait what if it’s no good, or what if someone does it better, what if Levrero is rolling in his grave now laughing at the anguish he has infected me with? Whip, whip.
The reader can see how this self-nagging isn’t conducive to translation. My din of mind doesn’t let me listen, which is the basic tenant of any translation, of all writing really: listening, listening, trusting…
Now, it is yet morning, and I still have time to produce something of value for the reader. Which brings me to this: Today’s writing prompt. Unable to translate, but unwilling to let these weekly notes cease, I have picked up an old book by Julia Cameron titled, “The Right to Write,” with a set of “initiation” prompts, written in her beautiful whispering voice.
The prompt is titled “This Writing Life.”
It asks that I, 1, light a candle: check. There’s a fire at the foot of my patron saint, Kokopelli. 2, cue up a piece of soothing music: check. Beethoven 6th Symphony, “Pastoral,” is playing. 3, set aside fifteen minutes to write longhand about a situation in your life that you are currently trying to metabolize.
Sorry Jules, I am writing on my laptop, with both my hands, and heck, it’ll take longer than 15 minutes — but without further ado, let us “metabolize.”
First, this digestif, a shot of vodka: “How do I know if I am lying to myself?”
That is what has been on my mind for the last two weeks.
An intimate friend recently posed a similar question to me, but in this way: “What do you lie to yourself about?” I replied, “I don’t know.” And ever since I’ve been looking over my shoulder at my footsteps, making double-sure I wasn’t bullshiting myself or others. This week I told her, “Look, I don’t know, I still don’t, how can I know, how will I know if I am being honest with myself?” She calmed me down: “At some point being self-reflective isn’t healthy. You go from self-reflective to self-absorbed.” She had a point, and I’ve chilled out a bit. My mother even sent me an email invitation, a coincidence, to an online course called “model thinking” that’s designed to help people become comfortable making new decisions.
To tap three birds with one stone, let me here admit that I propose to metabolize this conflict of being honest with myself by publishing a post I am willing to put my name on (per Julia Cameron), by resolving to trust myself that I can be honest (per mother), and to not overthink it as I move on (per my intimate friend; to name or not to name you, mademoiselle?).
1000 words in, dear reader, thank you for granting me this freedom — I know some of you have turned away, and with reason. But as a “treat” for sticking around I offer you the real wrench in my rambling heart, the juice, the kernel: the real self-doubt that I, no doubt, inflicted upon myself, for no other reason than naiveté, a fool’s optimism, the chance for some bliss and closure: the real chunk of the past yet to be metabolized in my body, and which, by this very act of…. ahem… all this preamble…. you know I’m scared to write it…
I met an ex last week.
I asked to meet, she said no, she said yes, we agreed on a place and time, I was almost late, she changed the venue, but we’re big kids, so it goes, and we met face to face, at a busy well-known café, at around the time the sun goes down.
What I’m trying to metabolize is this, my getting over her. That is why I am writing now. It was confirmed, at least for me, by the end of the night, that her and I may never see eye to eye, by virtue of us rarely having seen eye to eye in the past, over trivial and soulful matters; and so why would we, as friends or otherwise, ever see eye to eye in the future if we couldn’t even do it over a glass of wine?
She mentioned, among other things, that I’m not always real, that I’m not always honest (hence this post; hence the self-doubt, and diffuse anguish); I disagreed with her, but walked away from our meeting feeling pretty crummy about myself, as I usually do after being with her one-on-one; she calls it my “bruised ego,” but, as I see it, what I feel isn’t a dark unreasoning voice, i.e. ego. What I feel is regret, loss, a sigh. Not this “What if,” but “Why not?” Why couldn’t she be more happy with someone else? Why couldn’t we make it work? Maybe I am bruised, true. But it isn’t my ego that’s bruising me; it’s her. To quote the parental advice I got after our split: someone can be really great, just not right for you.
The “love letter” post? She said that my writing was sexist, that I depicted women in the worst objectifying way; I asked her to defend her accusation, for I didn’t then, nor do I now, view my letters in such a way, though she isn’t entirely wrong. She stated her case with evidence: the last letter I ever wrote her. She said I only wrote about her body, about my parents, and about her crying, because “I see her as weak.” But nothing could be further from “my” truth — she is not weak, just hurt, like me, two titans of emotion, doing the best we can to mend and grow up… — but hey I kept shut and listened to “her” truth. I had decided on the train ride to meet her, that I had nothing new to say, and that all I wanted was to listen and to learn about how she has been feeling all these years. In retrospect, maybe there are things she doesn’t know and that I might have told her: but damn me for lacking the courage to share my deepest feelings with her ever again, which is in a way, “inauthentic”; then again, every time I opened myself up, she cut me to the quick, ask her yourself: so like a beaten Pavlovian dog, I kept my silence, said not my peace, said the “wrong things” or not enough things, or nothing at all… did I tell her I think about her as often as she told me she thinks about me, everyday?… when I write of the body, you know, it’s for affection, not disparagement… she was right about so much, so brutally honest… but anyway… Why, why would I take her back in a heartbeat? Why, in this world of beautiful people, must individuals be so unique so as to never find someone like them again? I would, if asked, see her again. But why? What’s there to prove? Love never dies, as far as we know, or else it dies with us. It doesn’t need to be proven. Just like authenticity isn’t proven, it’s taken on faith, inwardly or toward others.
Just how much she has affected me is so evident to the people who love me that I fall flat on my face to imagine just how blind she is to the esteem I hold for her. Maybe it isn’t that she is blind, maybe it’s resentment, or mockery. Perhaps she knows so precisely, so keenly how much I adore her that it appears almost gratuitous. How could I feel the way I do given all that she’s done to keep me at a distance, ever since we met, ever since we last spoke, ever since last week, in that one lifespan of a night together in the café. Well, ladies and gentlemen, my love is gratuitous. I hand it out like flyers on the subway platform. It’s how I express myself, a self-generating spring of gurgled champagne deep inside my chest. And I don’t hate myself for it. I get drunk and stupid on it. And I hope to spend the rest of my life with a person who sees me the way I see myself, someone who can pick up what I’m putting down, someone who can stand in two truths, ours, with faith and authenticity.
Am I metabolizing? To this day. How do I pierce through this vague, diffuse anguish? I have tickets to visit her home country. I am learning her language. I am finishing my thesis, a novella about lovelorn heroes who share her multiple-nationality (multiple-personality?), so that I may one day share with the world my tiny, fleeting vision of art that is at once a bow to influences outside of myself, but at the same time wholly mine, and mine alone; perhaps a curtsy not low enough, but in all ways commensurate with the insides of all men, the vanity of vanities, love, heart, this writing life, her, soulmates, the sun, potted plants and smiling bitches. I am forever fascinated by her, her grace, her vast knowledge of art and chaos, and oh, her damn good taste. Yes, Miss, you are more than just your body. But if I’ve gone overboard in once praising it, it’s because that was the one thing about you that you never contradicted, at least not in your youth.
Snow flakes float outside my window. Each unique, each sure to melt. Ah, friends, I am an artist, hello, hello. Where, I ask, is the good Earl Gray? I need some tea. I need some fresh air!