By 12:30 this afternoon, I had hit my Sensory Overload ~ I read through difficult email messages, had a maddening personal exchange with a friend who lives around the corner, and a torturous telephone conversation with another ~~ on all levels, in all types of communication, I am pretty beat up today, most of it brought on by myself. I went to the coffee shop on Lakeshore Avenue to get away and sit in the sun and read my new book, the matter of desire, by the Bolivian-born, American-based novelist, Edmundo Paz Soldán. I was up all night a few weeks ago, and saw a TV interview with Soldán, so I was intrigued enough to go out and buy his book. Apparently, Soldán has become the latest spokesperson in the McOndo literary movement, which "stands in opposition to the more bucolic magical realism of such writers as Gabriel Garcia Márquez; the McOndo writers instead embrace an urban vision that incorporates the pervasive influence of American pop culture in today's Latin America." That this new literary movement is called McOndo is, obviously, a reference to an urban, Americanized setting ruled by McDonald's, iMacs, and MP3's ~ but the name is also a tongue-in-cheek homage to the fictional village of "Macondo," the setting for Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude. Those writers are witty, I tell ya.
The eerie thing is that when I finally had time to open the book, about a week after I bought it, I discovered that the quote on the page before the title page is the Ford Madox Ford quote from the novel, The Good Soldier, which you know I blogged about a few days ago. And, if you know me, you know I am always seeking out reasons for these serendipitous connections (coincidences, some would say). But Fate paraded more connections out in front of me as I began reading the novel this afternoon.
In the book, the narrator, Pedro, travels to Bolivia to learn more about his father and his father's death ~ but also to escape a love affair in New York ~ and, of course, these two missions to his trip are ultimately about a desperate search for answers to his own life. After landing in La Paz, Pedro looks for the family member who is supposed to meet him there, and he realizes: "This is my city, but I would still feel like a stranger if there were no familiar face to help me, a glance to save me from my frequent forays into the depths of solitude at the slightest blunder of reality." And so, by the fourth sentence, on page one, I felt this connection to Pedro ~~ some inexplicable intimacy or awareness, which made me uncomfortable in its familiarity. Later, Pedro struggles with the possible onset of a migraine, knowing he will have to rely on Imitrex to tame the ferocious pain ~~ and, again, if you know me, you know I carry one-dose Imitrex nasal-spray in every bag, in every backpack, two by the bed, and one in the car, in case one of those debilitating attacks hits at a time when I cannot lock myself in a dark room to fight off the pain. And so, by page four, I love and hate Pedro and Soldán because I wanted to escape today, to forget about the chaos around me, but instead I am thrust dead-center into a mirror.........
And Pedro thinks to himself:
"Some were born to leave hieroglyphics behind them; others, to decipher them, to clarify the world another strives to make opaque. I belong to the latter, and I'm convinced that our work is no less honorable, no less deserving of recognition, than that of the creators. Without us, without our answer to their threatening, secretive challenge, they could not exist."
Ai, and I ask myself which am I? The creator, or the writer of the personal Rosetta Stone which seeks to translate a language you yourself fails to comprehend? I remember a few years ago, when I was in the "creator" mode and a boyfriend, C., basked in the complex, convoluted, callous reality I had created for myself. And now? I tinker away, with a small, broken, dull carving tool, picking away at a huge slab of dark stone, trying to carve out the translation, the answer, to these challenges around me ~~ trying to open up a sphere of light in that huge, oppressive, mysterious, dark stone. And yet Fate continued to torture me in this damn scenario ~~ as all of these thoughts come pouring into my head, and heart, and soul, and I remembered all of the "treading water" I have done lately or the "swimming just beneath the surface," who would have guessed it, but that damn song, "The Tide Is High," by Blondie, came on...... ♪ ♪ "I'm not the kind of girl who gives up juuuust like thaaaaat ~ Oh, noooo, oh, oh" ♪ ♪ I know, I know ~ I'm on thinking overkill/overload; I feel like Pedro's uncle in the novel: "His mind never ceased working. His thoughts crowded in on one another, falling between the coordinates of space and time only to expand, ramify, and intertwine with everything in their path." A little later in the book, Soldán illustrates Pedro's relationship with his uncle, who collects all sorts of antique typewriters, radios, and telephones:
"Whose is this?" I said, pointing to the light green Smith Corona that occupied center stage.
"Your dad's. He wrote parts of Berkeley on it. A collector wanted to buy it from me for a lot of money. Did he think I was crazy?"
I admired it in silence: a small machine, portable, more suited to a professional or a busy executive than a romanticized writer.
I saw your iBook," he said. "I don't like the color, prefer something more subtle. I have a Mac too. Until just a while ago I had a Commodore 64 that I'd made some adjustments to, to make it faster and run current programs. I finally got tired. It was too much work."
"You don't collect any other type of antique. They all have something in common."
"Yes. They allow communication at a distance. because, you know, that's the best way to communicate. At a distance. The presence of people only blocks communication."
"And what we're doing now?"
"Sometimes it can't be helped." He finished his whiskey in one long swallow and put the glass down on top of the dictionary on the table.
And today, in particular, I hate the truth of Pedro's uncle's declaration: the presence of people only blocks communication ~ and so we live in a digital age, where your closest connection, most intimate revelations, are sometimes online, to a faceless stranger ~~ as I often tell my friends, I was born in the wrong century. But here I am, and what can I do? Communicate with friendly strangers, at a distance ~ and you now know more about me probably than members of my own family. Pedro's uncle is surrounded by dictionaries and almanacs and encyclopedias ~ and he sets crosswords for a living, cloaking his clues with secret messages ~ he is surrounded by the medium of communication, and yet abhors actually speaking with other people. Oh, don't we each know someone like that? This morning, * I * got in the way of communication ~ I felt inundated by information and requests and advice ~ in person, on the phone, by email ~ and I don't know what to do about that right now; except to stop listening, maybe stop talking.
A little later in the book, Pedro questions whether he chose the right career by going to academia, where he has to assume the insignificance of his contribution. Pedro loves the world of books and research but he wants to be more relevant ~~ "not necessarily a politician like [his father] ([he] didn't think he had the heart for it), but maybe a strategist for some political party, or an influential analyst in newspaper opinion pages." And who among us has not questioned his/her relevance in this world, or questioned our choice of career? Except that Pedro seems to be thinking the things I am asking myself. He traveled in the direction of exploring the mysteries of his father's life, but in the direction away from his complicated love affair with an engaged woman. I (hope to) leave next week for Nevada ~ running towards something, to work on a campaign I feel so committed to, and yet running away from so many other things, so many other commitments. And my hope is that making a tiny difference in the campaign, will make a big difference in me.
Maybe I can only communicate with certain people right now ~~ say, strangers, or very young children. Last night I had dinner at my very good friends' house, S&M. They fed me and wrapped leftovers for me, and gave me a check to donate towards my fund to send me to Nevada. They often tell me that I do those things which they cannot attempt (because they have a mortgage to pay or a family or big jobs), and so they live by the "It Takes A Village" philosophy: send me out there instead, and they feed me, and donate when they can, and let me do laundry at their house, and I babysit their beautiful girls. Last night, little Jac, who is around 3-1/2, slipped and hit her chin, hard, on the edge of the dining room table. One minute she was laughing and excitedly telling us a story, the next instant she was sobbing. We calmed her down and distracted her with talk of dessert and she said, suddenly, "Look! I'm not crying anymore!" And it struck me as so honest and pure that she could point out when she had stopped hurting ~~ don't you wish we, as adults, had the courage to do this...and then laugh again, and shout and hug everyone and run around, eating cake, like she did? She is amazing, that little girl. Later, she wanted to join our adult conversation so she said, "John Kerry!" just to get our attention. I need to hang out with her more often, and listen to her, and let her listen to me, because she has a lot to teach me.