Friday, December 3, 2010

Strange memories

I couldn’t have been more than 6 years old. My grandmother and I were in the backyard on a cold autumn afternoon. It was foggy and our chained dog was enthusiastically wagging its tail around her arthritic leg joints as she dragged them into the garage. In the old dark room, smell of moist wood and dog hair, she fetched some large nails and a hammer. I followed her onto the patio where she nailed a piece of wood to something else, I can’t quite remember what. I was puzzled and amazed and asked her why she knew how to do that. “Men are the ones who do that. Where did you learn?” She had been divorced from my grandfather for a little less than 6 years. She smiled, walked away and as I was following her, she said, as if speaking to no one in particular - “Need teaches you”.

She always had a very lively nature and an innocent, almost unprovoked smile, like a child's, whenever she did mundane things. She’d sing as she was preparing our food and warming up the pigs’ winter broth. She’d cut up garden salad and mix it with mais flower for the ducks and change blankets on top of a box where a hen was hatching her eggs and my grandmother would sing in a low and prolongued voice. They were songs I never recognized, except for the Christmas carols I’d join in on. She’d talk to our animals and I’d love my time just following her around, like a 2 week old duckling.

You must know

... how when you grow up people are always telling you that you’re weird for doing this and weird for doing that. You realize it and you tone it down. You watch others. You learn. You don’t wipe your nose with your sleeve. You don’t just get up from the table as soon as you’re done. You don’t hold the fork in your right hand. You definitely don’t listen to the vast majority of your natural instincts.

But when you grow up, people tend to stop telling you what not to do and start waiting for you to be unusual. Being regular is alright, but being special...

So I was pretty messed up considering all my life I’ve felt like the outsider.

Of course you go through phases and you visit some places where people appreciate your weirdness more than in others. And sometimes it’s absolutely splendid to showcase your weirdness. Take being kind. I don’t know if I had too many bible lessons or my grandmother was too much of a grandmother, but I remember often being the sucker who just wanted things to be fair. Fair to the bone, fair to the last drop, fair to the last rule of the game.

When I was about 8, I had a fight with the 2 other girls I would often play with after school. We had decided on game rules for chasing each other around and, as far as I can remember, they had broken those rules. I remember I took it so hard that I immediately left, went to the other side of the playground and started making little crosses. Little Jesus crosses, from small twigs and long grass files instead of string. Some minutes later, when the girls joined me, I lectured them, almost crying, gasping from despair and pure outrage. I remember speaking while looking at my hands as they were working and I can see it so clearly now how my eyes became watery and I had to stop. I just wanted them to understand that the principle had been violated. I was lecturing them in the most passionate of ways about the necessity of being fair. And then I handed each of them one of the crosses and I didn’t keep one for myself.

I don’t think I’m kind. Not in the way in which most people think kindness is meant. I don’t feel the need to help those who fuck up. I don’t want to work more for someone who didn’t do their job. And I don’t wanna forgive someone who drunk drove into a pole. Of course I’d help someone on a hospital bed, but not more than an average homo sapiens would.

When you see an old lady on the street, in such places as crowded and uncaring, nasty old Bucharest, and she’s begging or selling unspectacular flowers for close to nothing, you want to help. But it’s not kindness that makes you want to help her. Don’t flatter yourself, as I am not flattering myself. It’s a sense of fairness that drives us. If you think that’s kindness, you’re probably compensating for some other shitty thing you did that day.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wednesday at 15:50

I am leading the best of all possible lives that I can imagine. And I say this first and foremost because my imagination cannot comprehend the other possibilities.

But nonetheless, my windows have curtains, my walls remind me of old times and my floors are carpeted. My living is easy and my loved ones are close.

In the end I don't think I needed God because I was afraid. I need him because I don't know who else to be grateful to.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Picture This

Eight rats are kept in a cage for 2 days with no food. On the third day of their imprisonment, the cage is placed on a table next to full plates of corn, bread, salami, chicken and whatever else rats eat. On the fourth day, the 8 rats are placed in a maze, from the exits of which food emanates a delicious scent. The rats race each other in the beginning. Later they choose different paths, in small groups or alone. They bounce back into each other as one discovers a dead end and another continues down a successful path. As they approach the exit, paths become narrower and tighter. The rats show little compassion for one another. They push and bite each other’s tails, dying to get there faster. A few have found the exit and the food. They feast and eat as much as their brain can conceive of as enough. And 5 minutes later it’s over. No more hunger, no more craving, no more wanting. No need for anything and no sense of purpose other than the realization of normalcy. The rat race ends.

A little purposeless you might think? We, humans, surely have better things to worry about. Food is a non-issue in Holland, is it not? That may be, but ambition and status are not and it’s fairly acceptable to assume they never will be. They’re urges, which emerge as genetically as we are social animals at the end of the day. Yes, the desire for more and better than the other guy’s are strong. They’re as basic as food in as far as their primary source is concerned. You’re born and then you want it.

Look, I’m not asking for a lot. I’m not asking for you to care about the endangered dolphin species, the Kibera slum kids in Nairobi and the diminishing source of petroleum. You can if you want to, but humanitarian thoughts are destined for the few. No one’s expecting you to be an individual worthy of a categorical imperative-type thought. Seriously, follow the rules you’re given if that is all that you can see. If they’ve been given to you, it’s clear that someone lived long enough by them so as to ensure survival.

But what I am asking is that you not be an asshole. However normal, natural and expected it may be to want to climb higher up a hierarchy, don’t make a zero-sum game out of a constructive process. Cheating on work, blaming others, lying for your image – when there is nothing at stake but a grade! What will you do when you’re handling millions, jobs and a reputation? It’s strange to think of your life as a rat race.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

New Places - Same Stubborn Principles

What is it about new places and new people that makes you want to hold your laptop in your lap, in the dark, in September, with the windows wide open? And listen to Oasis while praying that you can shed a tear or two. And that's exactly how much comes out.

Because if it came out you could stop it. If the tears came rushing out, you'd know it'd be like a storm after a dry dry season. Necessary. But when they don't, you can do no more than hold them on the tips of your eyes, right on the surface. They're just sitting there, eager to tease you. Then again, maybe you're teasing yourself.

It's a funny thing about new places. You finally get to see your reflection in others, new people who do not know your image. These are people who truly see only your surface and they judge. What's even worse, you judge. And you come to a strange conclusion - that against all reason and any form of instinctual survival, you might love ideas more than you love your own life.

Now this doesn't need to come as a surprise. A serious existentialist crisis, followed by a prompt and ferm health scare, does kind of induce that notion. But what really does it is when you realize that playing cards at 22 is no different than playing cards at 6. I still didn't care about winning or losing, but I was there to make sure the rules were respected. It's the principle that counts for me, you know? It does now and it did even before I knew what the word meant.

I don't know where this fetish for ideas comes from. Maybe it's subtly suggested to us earlier that since we can't trust people, we certainly can't trust the predictability of their behaviors and in this sea of uncertaintly, we must make decisions anyway. So we believe. In what? In pretty random notions to be honest.