Obstacles?

Another piece I wrote this past summer. The setting is no longer relevant, but I believe the development and conclusion are. Let me know what you think!

A friend and I went for a run the other day. We headed down-town to grab a quick cup of coffee and then run back. It seemed a nice day to run, a bit of sun and a breeze. I asked for and expected a leisurely run; something to get the juices flowing and a start to work away three weeks of vacation in the US. I was motivated and feeling good about myself, feeling good about my decision to exercise. But as is often the case, the day turned out slightly different than planned and my brain played catalyst in changing a simple run into something much more meaningful. Or slightly odd at least.

So, this friend is going to participate in the 2012 Urbanathlon in Amsterdam. The Urbanathlon is a 14,5 km. long race with 29 obstacles on the way: jumping over cars, climbing walls, walking over beams, shimmying across ropes, you name it. And on our run he suggested we try to do similar exercises. Make it a kind of parkour-esque run with improvised, obstacle related challenges as we go along. Fun, right? Not at all leisurely, but hey, I wasn’t about to whine.

2012 Amsterdam Urbanathlon

We started running and quickly found out that the breeze was warm and the air was humid. More than humid, it was damn near wet. Before long it felt like we were running in soup and around that time my friend thought it’d be a great idea to run up and down a hill as fast as we can. Three times. And then, we climbed an electrical grid transformer shed. And then, pull-ups in a kids’ playground.

I wish we had come across this

Now, I’m not entirely sure, but I think it was around that third obstacle that I had totally forgotten about my intentions for a leisurely work-out and the pain coursing through my entire body. And as far as I can remember clearly, it was somewhere between the third and fourth obstacle that a strange realization hit me. Was it due to light-headedness? An over-abundance of endorphins making me high? I’m not sure, but as it’s wont to do, my brain went the way of the (not entirely necessary) philosophical. Stick with me now, because I need to elaborate just a little bit more to illustrate how I got to where I’m going.

Sadly, this one is closer to the mark

Alright, it’s no longer about the run, nor the different obstacles we tackled on the way. As soon as the click hit me it was all about the search for obstacles. As we were running along, I kept pointing at things and panting out the accompanying question: “Obstacle?”. Some we tackled, some we passed by, but I kept on saying it. Exactly the same way and with the exact same intent. Imagine saying it – “Obstacle?” – between breaths, exhausted, with that characteristic questioning lift of tone at the end and, most importantly, with hope. Or maybe not entirely hope, but something akin to gleeful anticipation. Just something that exemplifies the expectation of something good in the near future. The opposite of an obstacle.

Bam! Paradoxical random morning exercise brainstorm! Alright, calm down, it’s not that great a revelation. But at the time it was an epiphany to me. That contradiction of concept and intent provided me with a never before experienced level of understanding of the age-old mantra ‘life is what you make it’.

After a short bout of irrational self-loathing for thinking like a hippie and a bit of food and rest, the thought and understanding solidified to a clear, if somewhat convoluted, idea: life is indeed what you make it, but the tools you are given with which you must construct that life are not always tools that you would choose, nor are they tools you would necessarily know what to do with.

I kept on looking forward to encountering an obstacle. My focus on future opportunities was laced with positive feelings, yet the word I used is a quintessentially negative one. The word ‘obstacle’ is actually used to indicate difficulties and problems and not just physical, but emotional difficulties as well. Who hasn’t heard a self-help guru bandy about the phrase “overcoming life’s obstacles”?

The overly ambitious goal…

Maybe I should have used the word ‘challenge’. ‘Challenge’. A word fraught with opportunity. An obstacle that holds the possibility and expectation to be overcome, to be taken on and conquered. But I didn’t. If I did, then nothing about that run would have been special, philosophically significant. To some the word ‘challenge’ can be daunting, but it is inherently positive. It implies development, growth, victory. It wouldn’t have sparked that feeling of dissonance I had as I used the paradoxically positive use of the word ‘obstacle’.

So as I write, I realize that my convoluted addendum to ‘life is what you make it’ could be made more concise: rather than ‘life is what you make it’, how about ‘life is made by you’.

…and the pitiful, but fun, reality.

Advertisements

Jarle Bernhoft – review

30-10-2012 Tivoli de Helling, Utrecht, Netherlands

Interspersed with Dutch tongue-twisters, Jarle Bernhoft’s final show of the tour was characterized by lots of laughter and a wild whirlwind of emotions, ranging from silly dance elation to heartfelt, tear jerking wistfulness. Shivers of aural pleasure drew a blanket of tingling gooseflesh from my skin time and time again during the hour long show set on a master plan of upbeat songs that invited sing along and spotlight soul that evoked immediate enraptured silence.

The multi-instrumentalist Norseman that shot to YouTube fame with the live recording of C’mon talk” slid into an easy rapport with the crowd with silly jokes, clever references to the venue in his songs and resounding charisma to give the whole show a very personal atmosphere.

Skilful use of 5 different instruments, vocalizations and a bit of beatboxing on a loop machine backed impressive guitar play, while a clear falsetto all the way down to a reverberating bass let every well placed word ring with honesty.

Bernhoft has shown himself to be a true stage performer, standing up to demonstrate a ridiculous dance move, admitting to the hit and miss nature a particular song enjoyed during the tour and  inviting the crowd to join in a song with a smile and a hand-on-heart thank you every time. He reeled with laughter and obvious delight while the crowd sang his gospel as his faithful congregation during the encore. Though exhausted in the end, he didn’t seem to want to leave and the crowd would have had him stay forever if we could.

Jarle Bernhoft is a brilliant artist and I can personally guarantee the awesome delivery of everything a concert should be at one of his shows.

The warm-up act for Bernhoft was provided by Lucy Swann. Also from Oslo, Lucy Swann put me in mind of a soulful mix between Imogen Heap and Björk. The surprisingly good (surprising, because I had no idea what to expect) Norwegian beauty tugged at my heartstrings with a lightly veiled homage to the Proclaimers and one of my top-5 favourite songs ever. Definitely worth an ear.

SeanK

Concerns of a Modern Housewife

A couple of thousand cups of shelves filled with plastic boxes in loud colours; ten times as many tablespoons of stressed – bordering on mentally unbalanced – primates in suits or slacks (the latter group is the largest) running around with little suitcases dangling behind them; plus a few hundred pinches of kids of different ages – but with a very similar migraine invoking straining of their vocal chords. Add to this a handful of smiling faces with dollar shaped pupils; mix it all into a writhing pulp and shove it into a concrete box of umpteen cubic metres. What are we baking? Third world war’s a good guess. It’s not far off anyway. I can hardly claim that I’m an expert on the human psyche or anything (even though I did take one of those introductory psychology courses at Uni, and I go to a wonderful zen meditation lesson with a real guru every week), but when the Tax Free on Heathrow has turned into a helter-skelter of manically material Homo Sapiens who don’t know how to control themselves, I quite simply cannot keep my head from shaking disdainfully.

I sigh heavily and attempt with increasing futility to inch myself away from the thickest crowd without stepping on anyone’s shopping bag and risk getting murdered. Suddenly I’m standing in front of a platform with a pancake flat, red “Lamborghini-something-Italian” written on it, surrounded by about forty-odd boys aged four to fifty, who are all quite literally drooling. It’s enough to make a strong stomach squirm. Truly, I am contemplating if I shouldn’t seek out a toilet as there is a risk that my breakfast soon makes itself known in my mouth for the second time. This place already smells of wanton waste and extreme extravagance. I take a long, brooding sip of my organic white tea (brewed on recycled leaves with ginger root and vanilla). On top of that they squeeze in one of the world’s greatest pollution problems and thereby make sure it is forever worshipped by half of the planet’s population (the greatest problem is cows, apparently, but no worries there: I’m a vegetarian).

Oh, here we go! A grinning man on the platform is announcing how the car can be won. The poor blokes. As if they weren’t brainwashed enough. After all, millions of these things drive on the roads daily, and in addition to that, the boys are looked down upon if they don’t know which hub covers are the most “awesome”; how a V16 engine works compared to a V8 or which GPS system is the best one (what does V16 even stand for?)

Men and cars! It really is a phenomenon. If you’re a man, you like cars. Full stop. If you love them it’s even better, and if you worship them, why, then you’re really one of the guys. Is there even an equivalent to the relationship between a man and his car? The wife is, of course, rather useful in certain areas (I chuckle to myself), and the TV is nice to look at, sure, but nothing quite surpasses the car – or his “girl” as he likes to call it. For cars, like boats, are always female. Jeremy Clarkson can stand there for hours talking about her bottom, and sweet-talk of the kind “Let’s go fer a ride, baby!” is daily routine for most proud, male car owners. No wonder we women are charmed to our knees by some macho man we meet at the pub; he’s simply serving us all of his best car-love one-liners and appears to be the most charming, attentive man. We are selected, seduced and seized, and before we know it we’re in a three-way relationship with him and his real baby. An aeroplane lands smoothly out on the landing strip. I wonder how many of the passengers have cars. My car is electric. My husband didn’t think it was powerful enough of course, so he cruises around in his huge Audi. No thinking outside the box there. He is such a typical man.

Who was it, by the way, who invented the abhorrence? (The car, I mean; not the man – apparently he popped out of God’s index finger or something.) I probably ought to know, but it must have been a man with an unbelievably bad ability to think ahead – or a woman with an incredibly sadistic sense of humour. What was wrong with horse and carriage anyway? My guess is that humans were happier some hundred years ago – men in particular. I’m having a hard time imagining, for instance, that they used to crowd around a carriage because it’s hub covers were so awesome.

To be fair I guess we need to go all the way back to the Stone Age and yell at whoever it was that invented the wheel – and those are rather handy sometimes. But not when the box they’re rolling spews out poison! You know, I’d be fine; just fine! with being a Stone Age female with hair growth in the most awful places so long as I wouldn’t have to worry about my species ending the world or something in its infinite stupidity. I sniff derisively. No wonder Mother Earth gets sick when millions of our growing kind buy up to several metal lumps with eight-cylinder engines because we need them. Imagine having to live side by side with an animal that has the intelligence to state “I think, therefore I am”, and at the same time is so half-witted that it gives its own basis of existence a death sentence. If I were an endangered animal I think I’d sooner become extinct, actually. I don’t believe cows are the number one problem after all (oh! how witty they’ll think I am at work when I just throw that out during lunch tomorrow!)

But which men care about things like these when they buy their penis enlargers? I nibble thoughtfully at my Organic Multi-grain Fair Trade Low-fat No Sugar chocolate bar and come to a realisation. Men just can’t allow themselves to think of nature, quite simply due to social norms. If they do care, they’re gay. No mercy. I’m getting positively giddy from the witty depth of my insight. It starts in kindergarten, you see, where the boy who doesn’t enjoy playing with toy jeeps is considered strange. When he goes to school he is a freak because he doesn’t like to play at war with guns and tanks, and by middle school he is forever branded as gay because he doesn’t have posters of car babes on his bedroom wall. It is, in other words, not easy for the poor men to escape from the vicious circle of the car producers. Car Magazine, Top Gear, General Motors, The Fast and The Furious, car video games, toy cars and car races are only a small part of what the market cleverly uses to remain in control over men’s brains. It is easily achieved, it seems.

I get shivers from watching the admiration shining in the eyes of the males around me. Like so many puppies wagging their tails at a particularly grimy tennis ball. I look at the car, and I simply do not get what it is they see in it that I don’t see. Is it the colour? In that case they might as well be staring at my top (which is brand new by the way). No, it must be the brainwashing. When a group of teenage boys nearly push me over in their eagerness to gaze at the marvel, “oooh”-ing in a very manly way, I remove myself quickly from the scene. Honestly, how happy am I that I’m not a man, obligated to be so spellbound by a material object that everything else is forgotten! It is positively absurd.

A jumbo jet takes off at that moment (gosh, how noisy the thing is!) as I walk over to a shop and critically consider their exhibition. I don’t want my son to be bullied and branded as gay, and my husband would most likely leave me if I tried to give the boy books, so I go inside and buy the toy jeep with pursed lips and an attempt at a scornfully dignified expression on my face. What don’t we women suffer in order to please the world’s men?

On the other side of the hall is another shop.

Oh god! They’ve got a huge discount on Louboutin!

Well, obviously, you know: one mad, material monkey to or from doesn’t really change all that much. And besides, shoes don’t emit CO2.

Mind-numbing

This past summer I worked at a mail distribution centre. I wrote this piece during that time.

Sorting mail at a large mail distribution centre entails putting very large numbers of letters, postcards and advertisements from an automated sorting machine into crates and then putting full crates on crate-carts. No difficulty. No multitasking. No thinking beyond ‘blue coded crate goes on blue coded cart’. It is the definition of a mind-numbing job

Since I’ve been working there, though, that definition has become much clearer and a lot more salient to me. The definition has changed somewhat as well. I previously thought that a mind-numbing job numbed the mind; that it dulled your thoughts, made you less sharp witted. Made it so that if someone asked a question or made a comment, it would be more difficult to respond than before. And I thought this would come about because you would be thinking less; you would no longer be honing your mind.

But this is not the case, at least for me. I can’t stop thinking while I work. And yet I do feel like my thoughts are dulled. To run with the analogy, you might say that as I work, I think so much about things (mostly my life at that moment) that I’m beating my sharp mind blunt. As if I’m wailing away on a wooden post, never re-sharpening my blade. And then, when faced with an opponent, my fencing skills come up short and my blade doesn’t cut as deep.

However, this is not what drew my ire. I can have discussions with people and read books away from my job, thus applying a whetstone to both my skill as my steel. No, there seems to be something more insidious about mind-numbing jobs. It crept up on me and I didn’t immediately notice what was happening to me. And then it hit me. It filled me with revulsion. It scared me.

I was caring less.

I was caring less about everything. It starts with simply caring less about the job. You have to work, because you have to pay rent and eat. Every day you go back and the thoughts that rage around in your mind become less focused on how much you hate the job. You dismiss them with an easy ‘whatever, just gotta do it’. It becomes easier to wave away your discontent until you coast through your shift thinking about anything but what you ‘have’ to do for the coming hours. It becomes more defeatist and then you find yourself calming the thought ‘what has become of my life, this was not the plan’ with an increasingly easy ‘this is how it is’. Followed by that most insidious of all: ‘it’s not that bad’.

Now the steel of your mind has rusted fast in its scabbard, slowly becoming increasingly immovable as well as wasting away. Someone lunges a witty remark straight at your face. You’re slow to respond, or don’t respond at all. You saw it coming. You just don’t care. You might attempt a weak parry, but let him land his attack. Whatever. It won’t really change anything. It is how it is. And it’s not that bad.

He hates her as he loves her

I returned yesterday from a study trip to Stockholm, arranged by my University for the students of an in-depth course on Strindberg. August Strindberg is probably the third most celebrated playwright in the world after Ibsen and Shakespeare, and one of the founders of modern drama. The first association a lot of people have when they hear his name, however, is “the man who hated women.”

From the current Norwegian production of “The Dance of Death”

Feminists and other critics have been pointing out Strindberg’s obvious loathing for women for a century now; revealed, they say, in several of his numerous plays. Thus the reception of Strindberg as a mean, mad, morbid male chauvinist has spread to innocent, virgin Strindbergians and polluted their judgement before they have even experienced one of his many productions. And true, in a number of Strindberg’s texts there lurk female characters that would make good friends with Cersei Lannister. In The Father, for instance, the manipulative wife tricks her husband into thinking that he is not the father of his child, and he goes completely bonkers, collapses into a pathetic toddler of a man in a straitjacket (she actually lures him into it), while she smoothly takes over as “head of house”, and the play ends when the poor guy dies from a heart attack. Classic bitch for you.

Though I must say that there are plenty of wonderfully profane hags in George R. R Martin’s epic too, and nobody is accusing him for hating women (yes, I do honestly try to keep my Game of Thrones references at bay). That is, I am sure there are those who do accuse Martin of sexism, but the feminists have been quiet compared to the flame war which Strindberg has gone through. After learning more about the famous Swede’s life I realise that “woman hater”, if that really is what he was, is an all-too narrow tag for Strindberg.

Alright. He looks a little scary

There are many reasons for admiring Gustie (my new nickname for Strindberg), apart from his schizophrenic-oedipal relationships with women (be they fictional or real). He was a painfully prolific artist, and in addition to plays and novels he wrote several articles on everything which concerned him, from literature to politics. He was also a brilliant chemist and he was into alchemy; moreover he painted quite a bit. My favourite is this one:

“Underlandet” (1894)

It is called “The Underworld”. He smeared it together in three hours, apparently. Peanuts. (You can clearly see Strindberg’s hatred for women in his aggressive brush, his obvious disdain for feminine colours and the camouflaged little man with the impressive moustache down in the left corner, who is stepping on a wailing girl’s face while smoking a cigar and waving his huge cane triumphantly.)

He hates her, as he loves her. The adding of a comma to the title would make a world of difference, as it would mean because instead of like like the lack of punctuation invites to. I poached this piece of writing from an analysis of Strindberg’s most famous novel, “The Defence of a Fool”.  The emphasis of the analysis is not on Gustie’s contempt for the opposite sex, but on the great ambivalence by which we must always understand his work. I agree with that. Strindberg’s ambivalence is a key aspect of his abundant writings. However, is that not nearly always the case with emotions – real or fictional? I catch myself frequently saying “must we choose one or the other; can’t it be both, and both of equal value?” This tendency is aggravated by my studying art. In art you cannot take sides – unless you are being polemical – because beauty is subjective. Nevertheless, by saying that we need to interpret this author and that painter through a spyglass in which the lens is oiled with ambivalence, we sort of cause the work of art to disintegrate into a shady void where nothing is wrong and everyone smiles and nods pedagogically at one another.

I’d be tired too if I were August.

My point is this: perhaps it is a tad narrow-minded and unfair to bluntly accuse Strindberg of being a sexist prick with mommy issues, but conversely it is cowardly and downright detrimental to defend him by pointing to the ambivalent nature of his work. I realise that I am being horribly circular. We can’t defend everyone by saying “he’s only human”, but neither can we base our judgement on a one-sided interpretation. So it all comes down to the healthy balance between empathy and acceptance at one end of the scale, and independence and critical thinking at the other. And there I am again, happily twittering in my best Mary Poppins voice that I don’t need to choose one or the other. Strindberg: I hereby name you woman hater for the sake of my own argument.

“Don’t worry about me, for I do not exist anymore.” Allegedly Strindberg’s final words, 1912

Doomsday Preppers: I hate you

I was watching TV, having lunch, and turned the channel to National Geographic. I like National Geographic. I like documentaries, I like finding out how people do stuff and make things and I like watching the crazy and amazing things animals do. But I was out of luck, because as I was enjoying scrambled eggs with bell peppers and onion, National Geographic was casting a Doomsday Preppers marathon.

Doomsday Preppers are people who prepare for the, what they believe is imminent, apocalypse. Some of them think society is going to collapse when the oil runs out, some of them believe chaos will erupt in the wake of an environmental disaster caused by global warming and some even have the notion that a catastrophic continental shift will plunge the world back into the Dark Ages. Take a wild guess where most (probably all) of these people live.

The DPs (as I will now call them) profess readiness and preparedness above all and subsequently take often extreme measures in the name of vigilance. They build safe, defensible sanctuaries, bunkers and forts in remote locations. They practice marksmanship to an obsessive degree, such as pop-up assault tactics from the back of a moving pick-up truck. Some have emergency survival kits ready at all times (I’ve heard them being called ‘bug-out bags’) and they work-out so they can react immediately (and somehow often manage to stay fat). All of them, however, hoard. They hoard any kind of survival supplies and gear, but they mainly hoard food. And that just pisses me off.

So you have these idiots who think they live in a Michael Bay movie readying themselves for catastrophes they believe will happen in their lifetime. Civil war sparked by oil shortage? Very highly unlikely, but fine, plausible. Global warming disaster that happens overnight? The Day After Tomorrow was a movie! North and South America drifting apart and colliding with Africa and Europe? Come on! Don’t these people read books? Isn’t basic education mandatory? The DPs are a prime example that schools and teachers can only provide information, but it’s up to the students to pay attention.

But what really grinds my gears is the amount of time and effort and the hoarded  supplies that get ferreted away by these people. For most of them prepping is a full-time job. Thus, considering the fact that they don’t really work, they must have quite a bit of money to throw at their obsession. Even the ‘self-sustaining’ ones that grow and rear their own food still load up on tools and ammo. Build a fort out of shipping containers in the middle of nowhere? Fine, keep your crazy away from others. Stockpile valuable items and food you’re not going to use in your lifetime? Couldn’t you spend your money in a better way?

So if we assume they have money (and even if they don’t it doesn’t matter much) and time and consider their determination, couldn’t the DPs effort and energy be better spent elsewhere? How about working on the development of sustainable energy so the oil crisis won’t be as big of a deal? How about supporting education projects on global warming so it doesn’t happen? How about visiting South America and helping the people you think are going to sink into the ocean, who have neither professionally constructed safe-houses with all modern amenities, nor multiple basements full of food? How about making the world less shitty before it hits your imaginary fan?

Nah. The DPs don’t care about all that. They’re too busy entertaining ideas of shooting their neighbors and taking their shoes, so they don’t have to share their 1500 jars of pork they spent half of their life pasteurizing.

A Work of Heart

I’ll do as Donne and damn the rising sun

Whose greedy light consumed our precious hours

Embracing all clichés: she is the one!

(Might be her gold-eyes give Petrarchan powers)

I shall as Shakespeare claim my Mistress rare

Though my love’s voice is sweetest music sought

My Princess’ kisses are without compare

And summer’s day similes come to naught

The only romance worth my pen’s ardour

Is one that seldom inside love songs sat

Thus far, however, no man moved me more

No doubt some fools will think it vulgar that

My only sonnet – first poème d’amour

Is heartache for a royal jungle cat

I wrote this sonnet at three different airports on my way home from the animal refuge Parque Ambue Ari in Bolivia last August. I spent the summer of 2011 walking a puma on a leash through the jungle and I fell utterly and hopelessly in love with Wayra. Her name means “the wind” in the indigenous tongue, for her moods are as shifting and she can run as fast.

It was the best two months I have ever experienced. When I left I was pretty much heartbroken, and so I decided to call on my Muse and go Shakespearean (though strictly speaking – me being a literature student and all – it is a sonnet of the Petrarchan tradition).

This is for everyone who has spent hours sunbathing in the early morning rays in the jungle with a big cat doing her daily toilette and blinking peacefully at you from time to time, making your heart swell; the macaws shrieking in their colourful flights overhead; the heat just starting to affect the dew – clinging pearly to the leaves all around; the faint rustle of some small animal in the bushes behind; a little army of ants marching right next to your outstreched arm; and that is all the world…

…and then your cat suddenly leaps to her feet, alarmed at some sound from deep within the jungle (a devilish branch fell down; how DARE it?!) and she drags you to your feet and runs pell-mell up the tallest tree she can find, where she almost chokes on the leash which you are clinging onto for life. She hisses indignantly as you nearly cause her to lose her footing, you petty fool!, and the rest of the day is spent in the unforgiving presence of a Queen with claws who refuses to come down before you’ve groveled for at least three hours and then she hisses and growls and sneers all the long, wrong way back to her palace – where she bluntly refuses to let you unclip her from her horrid leash (it was you, maggot, who so cruelly forced this atrocity upon our person in the first place, so don’t you dare make any hasty movement or even remotely brush our royal neck with your clumsy, unworthy hands!); hiss hiss hiss – SNARL! And you come home sweaty, dirty, bruised and late for dinner.

But with that grin stretching across your face you’d think you had just spent the day riding rollercoasters and eating candyfloss.

 

Ambue Ari is an animal refuge in Bolivia whose main goal is to rehabilitate orphaned/ abused animals back into the wild. When this is not possible the organization strives to provide each animal with the best quality of life possible.

Please visit www.intiwarayassi.org! It truly is a wonderful place and they need volunteers all year round.

Nice day out

She sat down in the clothes that had been lain out for her and opened the envelope on her dressing table. In it were a small note, some money and various slips of paper.

 

Good morning! I hope you like the dress. I’m sorry I can’t be with you on your first day in the city. To make it up to you, here are tickets and coupons to fill your day with fun and relaxation! Enjoy yourself and don’t worry, I’ll be back to join you in no time! 

I love you, honey XOX 

ps. Say hi to the guy down the hall. He’s our (temporary) roommate and he kind of helped me put this day for you together. 

pps. Don’t worry about the vanity! I’m having the mirror fixed!

 

She loved the dress. It was her favourite colour. She started leafing through the tickets and coupons. They seemed to be stacked in order of succession: a fancy breakfast at a hotel, a bus tour around the city, a hotdog with everything on it…

“A hotdog isn’t real food and you know it,” she said with a half smile.

…a ticket to an expressionist art exhibition at the museum, a three course meal at a French-Spanish restaurant and finally Don Giovanni, her third favourite opera.

“I love you too, honey.”

She smoothed down her dress and got ready to go.

“I wish I had that mirror now,” she said, admiring the lace. She noticed her hands were a bit rough.

A knock at the door.

“Yes, hello?”

“Ma’am, there’s a taxi for you outside.”

“Oh!” she was surprised he had even thought of that. She opened the door. A tall, skinny young man was walking down the hall.

“Thank you!”

He turned his head.

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, I said thank you. Thank you for helping my husband with arranging such a wonderful day.”

“It was my pleasure, ma’am,” he adjusted his glasses, turned and walked down the hall.

“Well, yes it was, it was very kind of you,” she said quietly to his retreating back.

She went downstairs to catch her cab.

The taxi dropped her off at the hotel. She had Belgian waffles with cream and fresh fruit and two mimosas. She sat by the window, watching the people go by, wondering if they all were off to work or if any were lucky enough to have the day off, like her.

“I love having a day off on a workday,” she said to the waiter clearing her table, ”It feels special, like I’m on vacation.”

“I’m sure miss. I’d love to have today off.”

She blushed a little, thinking she might have offended him. She turned away to look outside. Her reflection looked odd. But then she noticed the tour bus right outside and realized she needed to hurry. She left the voucher and a tip on the table and rushed outside.

The tour was wonderful. She loved learning things about the world and the history of how things came to be. It all felt horribly familiar to her, but that didn’t dampen her enjoyment. It was a nice day and the tour guide had a nice voice and made corny, but funny jokes. Most modern cities must seem alike in many ways.

After the three hour tour she was feeling a bit peckish and debated whether she should skip off program to find something other than a hotdog. In the end she decided to trust her husband, but wouldn’t go so far as to leave the relish on.

The art exhibition had a certain hit and miss quality to it. For every piece that demanded at least fifteen minutes of her time, there were ten that she surmised were more the product of good sales qualities than actual painting talent. The museum was huge though, and more than large enough for her to fill an afternoon. However, one particular painting caught her eye.

“I just love this piece,” she said to what seemed to be an arts student, who sat off to the side, behind an easel, sketching the painting. “I get the feeling I’ve known it all my life.”

“I know right? The juxtaposition of the real imagined with the esoterica of the assumed experience really cuts deep. I’m going to write my thesis on his collected works.”

“That’s nice.”

She sat there for the better part of forty five minutes in silence, before getting up to make her way towards the exit.

The sun had started to set outside, bathing the glass of the surrounding buildings in its warm hues. She headed off towards the restaurant. Her voucher came in a beautiful little envelope that also contained a small city map. It was only a few blocks down from the museum, so she decided to walk.

Her table was waiting for her when she arrived and she felt a little silly at first, seated alone, but forgot all about it when the food arrived. The meal was exquisite. The first course was a spicy fish with lemon and rosemary and it had little bubbles of some sugary substance on it that each released a puff of paprika infused smoke when she burst them with her fork. The main course was thinly sliced salt cured ham and a cutlet of slow roasted ham sprinkled with crystallized coffee. For dessert she was given a small bowl of champagne and a small bowl filled with little balls of orange spun sugar, which she would dip in the champagne, causing them to snap and crackle and explode with sweet, orangey flavour in her mouth.

Sated and content she checked the time and figured she would have just enough time to quickly go to the restroom. The restroom mirror had been covered with a trash bag and tape.

“Here, honey, would you like to use my mirror?” an older lady next to her offered her a small pocket mirror.

“Oh, yes please, thank you.”

She could barely see more than her lips in the small mirror. She reapplied lipstick to her admirably done mirror-less job from that morning. She noticed a few dark lines at the corners of her mouth and tried to rub them away, only to find they were wrinkles.

“I’m sorry, honey, but I should be getting back to my table.”

“Yes. Yes, I’m sorry. Thank you again.”

“Wasn’t nothing, dear, but you’re welcome anyways.”

She followed the older woman out and went back to her table to pay. Once again, she left the voucher and this time, a very nice tip. She asked the waiter for directions to the opera house and he offered to call for a cab.

She enjoyed the opera. She loved the outdated comedic situations by Da Ponte and the score by Mozart, but she could never really take the serious parts seriously. She would always joke with her husband that she would kill him herself before some statue could if he pulled any of Don Giovanni’s tricks.

The last of the money was more than enough for the taxi home. She figured she’d give the rest to the young man down the hall as a thank you. She went up to her room, hung up her beautiful new dress and got ready to go to bed. She read the note her husband had left her one last time, pressed a lipstick kiss on it and slid between the sheets, tired but deeply, deeply satisfied.

 

It was the dead of night when the young man quietly slid into her room. He let the dress hang where she had hung it herself and lightly snuck over to the dressing table. He picked up the note and was about to slide it into an envelope filled with slips of paper when he saw the lipstick kiss. He sighed softly and in the dim light from the hallway he copied the note onto a clean piece of paper. He slid the new note into the envelope, closed it and placed it on the table. He made his way back to the door, pausing right before he closed it.

“Goodnight mom,” he said, softly.

The Phoenix

and just like that, like coffee spilt one morning you’re in a hurry, like the nap that catches you unawares on the subway and suddenly, although the ride takes ages, you’ve got to fly out at your stop before the doors close. Like the irrepressible blush thundering up your cheeks when someone comments on your “striking new suit” (stained from the coffee, and you know they see it, but they hide their scorn or sympathy or some other horrible sentiment behind a sugary smile and a second compliment).

Like walking into a lamppost or a streetlight or a crate of oranges outside the local fruit-and-veggie shop whose owner is prone to demand payment if your glance lingers for too long on his precious pears, and you fluster about for a bit, confused, wondering at the tangibility of the Universe and your own blindness and how they keep colliding, physically, and you ponder the likelihood of Earth being malevolent and poltergeisty, purposefully placing objects in your way just for the heck of it and laughing at you afterwards: laughing so hard that there’s an earthquake in California – especially since it knows that you’ll have no choice but to blame your clumsiness, as you’re not very religious or superstitious in any way.

Like a flight of birds bursting out of a lush, leafy tree into a pale blue sky (and you realise with a start that the days are growing longer again), like a puddle of rainwater that never used to settle in that particular spot before, but now it’s almost the size of a pond and of course you stepped right in it with your new shoes. Like a ripple of laughter from a small child or a purring, soft cat happily rubbing its head against your hand and twining its tail around your legs that evening after your boss shook your hand for the last time – making you marvel that such a tiny thing can flip your mood around.

Like that overpowering sort of flutter in a part of your stomach you didn’t know existed, and perhaps it never did; a flutter that makes the corners of every house and every person around them gleam at the edges as if a beam of light always finds them – even if the sky is overcast – making them appear to you the way a skilled photographer attempts to lure the light into accentuating his objects’ best sides through his small lens and there capture them, perfect, always.

Like the emotion that lingers, persists; a greedy leech which drains you for blood and also, mercilessly, injects into your body some unearthly substance that throbs through your veins and makes you sense the caress of colours, bright, beautiful and warm against your skin even in the closing cold of autumn. You can smell the happiness in a sandy, busy playground and breathe the euphoria from the corners of a smile on a stranger’s face. You can taste the music of every clarinet laugh, every muted bass drum footstep; every cymbal cacophony of every sunset branch casting its yearly corpses to the ground, until you feel dizzy and have to watch your step – and come to think of it, maybe that’s why the owner of the fruit-and-veggie shop glares at you with such an exceptionally palpable menace nowadays, for although none of his fruit is outside at this time of year you still go to his shop all the time to buy tangerines if he has them in stock. You think that if you eat ten or eleven of them every day, maybe you’ll start smelling as fresh and sunny as a tangerine and everyone would sniff and turn when you passed them on the street. You would cry tangerine tears, slightly tart from the salt but still delicious when they trickled to your tongue, and you would read sad stories on the subway and on cafés and make sure you wept a little onto napkins and newspapers, and then leave them behind for people to pick up and get a whiff of tangerine melancholy.

Like lying on your back in the soft grass one of those summer days in July or August that would be too hot if it were not for a perfect breeze; one of those complacent days when nothing seems important because in that moment nothing is, and a spectre smelling of gall and guilt is fighting to flow to your consciousness, but losing pathetically to that loveliest of fires gushing down on you. And so you simply stroke your fingers slowly through the fresh, green pelt and you start breaking twigs that you come across and float away until you hear the baby screaming.

Like when the white stillness of snow has enveloped everything overnight, when nothing is recognisable (the game is always to only walk where no one has yet set foot) and it is winter, it is cold and just like that

Ice-cream: the least offensive food

Ice-cream seems to be the least offensive food to eat while having a conversation. And I’m not talking about the overly sexualized way of eating ice-cream as is often advertised. Anything can be made offensive like that. I’m just talking about the innocent, everyday, ‘I have to eat it before it melts’ way of eating ice-cream. And I think that last point is crucial in making it innocent and forgivable.

Let’s say you just went out on a hot day to get an ice-cream. Any kind: chocolate covered cholesterol cream on a stick, frozen version of your favourite chocolate candy bar, fresh sorbet in a cup, or (my choice) a crispy cone with a couple scoops of flavours that took you the better half of an afternoon to choose. So now you have your ice-cream and as you set out in the hot sun to enjoy a leisurely walk, after having an inner debate whether you should or should not have chosen that other one (grapefruit in stead of pistachio?), you run into someone you know. Or even someone who might just need directions. Or someone that you must talk to or forever regret not talking to. In any case, you now find yourself in a conversation.

You’re in a conversation. Important or otherwise, you’re in a conversation and you’re eating. Unless you went out to get food with your conversation partner, this situation would put you in position to transgress a conversational rule: don’t eat while speaking with someone. But you must eat. A sandwich can wait. Something hot might cool and thus provide you with reason to ask forgiveness for eating, but even if this is given you feel awkward and wrong. You’re caught between waiting to finish each bite before replying, while your conversation partner alternates between staring away and staring at you, and replying quickly, while you’re still chewing and thus giving your conversation partner a visual presentation of this process as well as wafts of aroma laced with particles of differing sizes. And as hungry as your conversation partner might be, it’s hard to imagine them to be thankful for the tiny chunk of cheesy onion you just launched at their face.

But ice-cream melts. Forgiveness is a given. It will only become a bigger, more embarrassing problem for all if you’re forced to refrain from eating it. So you proceed with the conversation and reply easily and without delay or any unwanted sharing of food. Difficulties or mishaps while eating ice-cream are more often seen as funny or cute, rather than awkward and unmannered, and otherwise you simply speak between licks. And that is the second crucial point of ice-cream inoffensiveness: you lick ice-cream. Or at the very least take small, quickly processed bites.

A lick or tiny bite of ice-cream only takes up an amount of time equal to the time needed to give meaningful non-verbal responses, like ‘hmm’ and ‘mm’ or ‘mhmm’. The conversation carries on without a hitch. There are exceptions, however, such as the proficiency demanding ice-cream waffle sandwich: no chance of eating this in an easy or elegant way. You’ll spend more time fighting to actually get the ice-cream in your mouth than upholding your part of the conversation. But the ice-cream waffle sandwich elicits a strange phenomenon. As your conversation partner is forced to watch you struggle with your treat, they curiously begin to recount times when they had a difficult ice-cream to deal with. Before you know it they’ve got you laughing as they tell you about that time they actually managed to get ice-cream on their forehead and you add to the hilarity as the battle with your food only gets more demanding. And thus, the innocence and inoffensiveness of ice-cream is maintained.

– SeanK