For a long time this blog was called Escapism. I still remember coming up with the title and believing it to be painfully perfect. I was thrilled for I had finally found a word to summarise what writing and publishing stories meant to me: a way to zone out and not feel guilty about my incapacity to be bothered with the life around me, because I was only escaping to write, after all. How productive, I thought. Look at me, I said to myself. One by one I began to dismantle and dismiss everything the world was made of. All I wanted from it was to let me escape from it. And so, when Escapism was born, I felt like I had finally found my place. It was right here.
Fast forward to now and I no longer crave escapism of any kind. One day comes, and I hope it does, when you look around and realise there is nothing left to escape from. There are no more monsters under the bed, only broken pieces to be put together with love and care. And that requires me to be present. It requires me to stop escaping. The world is not the dragon anymore; only I can be that now. It is a good, solid foundation, and whatever I make of it on the top. I know that, if I continue to escape it I will never make it mine. What my world needs today is not rebellion, it is presence of mind, fire of soul and all of my intensity, poured into it with love and respect for it, which really it, ultimately, myself.
This blog is no longer a means to escapism, because what I have come to realise is how, in my futile attempts to escape, I only ended up slipping through my own fingers. I need bloody-minded, strong, intense this time. I need to intensify it.
Welcome and thank you for staying.
I wrote this after a 15 year old girl tried to kill herself swallowing pills the other night, for reasons that tormented me too. She is fine now. I believe the text explains the rest. The details are different for each and every one of us, but that doesn’t make us any less alike.
It was around the age when people start to become interesting that she discovered how interesting she had grown up to be herself. There was, of course, still plenty left to figure out — what truly made her happy, what truly made her sad, what truly made her — but there was plenty of time left for fine-tuning the self, too. She was still too young to doubt herself. Life was vanilla, general knowledge, and the relaxing rhythms of her little world.
She liked the form she was taking. The lack of a solid understanding, or a clue, of the quiet works of her mind, refining her tirelessly day and night, only helped. She had not started to think of the importance of function yet, and was not going to do that for a while. Nobody should take such serious matters into their hands so early in life, after all, because one’s mind changes from sunrise to sunset, and takes an entirely different shape by dawn again — and this is precisely what makes little people like her interesting.
But she was already adventurous in herself, and found new ideas taking shape around each and every corner of her being. Mornings were like Christmas days, over and over again. She was discovering new faces in the mirror, new gestures and new thoughts that seemed to have popped out of nowhere, in her sleep. As if touched with fire and filled with wild hope, she was waiting to see in what ways she was going to change next. It was going to happen, no doubt; it was happening already. The days were burning. She was like hot metal. She was like rain water. She was like the wind. It filled her with love for life and the wonderful things it did to her, and she filled life back with beauty. Soft magic was all around.
There was no rush yet. All the little things will eventually add up to something enormous, she thought, convinced that everything was simply her becoming. There was no big plan. She just kept blooming, and the unexpectedness of it added to how interesting it all was. She liked playing with the present, holding it in her palms, in the sun, in the shades of her own shadows. There was no need to invent other worlds yet, for the one she was part of held all the miracles. She could not imagine something she’d not, eventually, find.
Beautiful surprises were waiting for her around each and every corner of the world, too. If she could have splashed the brightness of those days onto a white canvas, the passionate reds and oranges would have burned its edges, and the cool turquoise would have run, still and strong, all across it. It would have been a wildly beautiful painting, changing from one hot minute to the next; and so, she made a promise to herself. She said, I’ll take you there, as soon as I figure out how to hold the colours down, and know what to paint. That would have been a beautiful painting too, no doubt; perhaps a little less wild, once the colours found their place.
She was fascinated with her own nature, if not a little too much, for she kept growing, changing, turning into new people too often, too quickly, too suddenly. Keeping up was beginning to feel like a struggle and her enthusiasm — a burden, her very first one. There was still too much left to explore. The novelty came and stayed, layers upon layers of new wonders, bending her back and hunching her shoulders. Like Sisyphus, she kept pushing upwards and like his rock, it all kept coming back down to her.
She craved all the precious and astonishing things she discovered, and taking it all in was proving to be impossible in real time. As you grow up you need to start being your own parent, she then thought, and didn’t let herself out of sight anymore — not for one night. There were no such things as sneaking out, running away, escaping. She was slowly but oh, so surely, becoming her own master; her own puppeteer and her very own puppet, too. She learned the inner workings of her mind. No part of it stayed untouched by the sharp knife of her consciousness for too long. It all had to be mastered until it became lyrical. Bringing excellence out of herself was a mission she knew she embarked on for life. There was nowhere else to go, anyway.
Standing in front of the mirror for hours on end she watched herself marvelling, recording everything. She couldn’t help it. Like a little artist, she could only record; get a good feel for the moment’s scenery and emotional tone, and add it to her catalogue of things to know. Her hands were trembling and her heart was racing with emotion, feeling spectacularly alive. The idea of such perfect control seemed like a creature in the corner of a dream, drawing closer, then vanishing, then reappearing, never less appealing than the time before. She was a lonely highway, going straight into the great unknown. She was also the only one on the road, driving with the speed of happiness, she believed, for she felt smart and wise for learning how to drive the reckless out of her mind. Nobody saw, but she didn’t need to be seen; what she needed was to feel, and then to keep.
She learned how to stop her shakes and push her demons down when she was scared, and use numbness as a silencer for cynicism. It was a rare and wise and divine thing to do, she believed. She possessed a beautiful quality over everyone else. She was winning herself over; she was winning.
But she lost, too. What was she, the master of herself, to do with her wildness anymore? Her wildness had to be tamed, or it would crave sunlight and novelty. She couldn’t take in any more things from life; life had given her so much that she was already filled up to the top. Then life kept giving, and giving, and she kept shrinking in front of it. She was controlling, possessive with her gifts. They were choking her, and stimulating her, and burned like wild fire. She had become a spark.
A pneumonic hurt lived quietly in her lungs and hid in her breathing and whispered in her ears at times. You’ve been real. You’ve been lovely. You’re one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to. I kneel down to the lashings of yellow and tell them: ’She’s the one.’ I will take you, and I will love you, again. But she could not crack her soul wide open anymore, like the little girl used to when she thought she had become interesting and wonderous. Whatever the outside world was made of that fascinated her, it was now shut out completely. She took only what was necessary, and erased the door when her masterpiece was complete. What little was left of her wildness was too silent to be heard, and hurt too little to damage her creation. Nothing could affect her, no revelation, no crime. She was like a sad story, like leaves in the street. She repeated herself like a song.
Depression is when you can’t feel at all. Anxiety is when you can feel too much. It is hard to tell if she felt overwhelmed or underwhelmed. It was hard to tell what she was, but interesting? Yes, as interesting as trouble can be, and for just as long.
The story underneath the story isn’t always pretty. You have to make up all the words yourself — the way they taste, the way they sound in the air — and twist them in such a manner that one can no longer tell where they came from. When they ask, you tell them you read a lot as a kid, then you let them poke at your thoughts to give them better clarity and fill in their doubts about the meaning. They don’t need to know how you encouraged yourself to leave the mind and step onto paper, with all your words held tightly in your fragile arms, careful not to drop one and walk all over it with your dirty, shaky feet. No. They don’t need to know the words are you. You can’t have people thinking you are as strange and absurd as art. You must tell them you were inspired by books and talks and general knowledge, and carry on with your life as if art was merely an insignificant slice of it, and the first time you tried it you ate it whole.
The process can be excruciatingly slow. No fire from your bones makes it out into the world for a while, or not enough fire goes in. In the center of it all you find yourself completely alone, your existence becoming clouded, strange. They talk in low voices about you. You seem calmer, more assured, they say. The spark in your eyes has died out, they whisper. Parts of you are burning. The party is in your honour, but no one was invited. You hear them through windows partly open, damp air leaking on your face. You hear them through thick walls. Sunlight pours across your skin, your shadow flat on the bedroom door. You have soft eyes and long hair that you wear loose and keep stroking smoothly as you listen. There is shame. There is fear. You can’t go on for too long or you’ll end up washed out of memory, almost out of existence. But then there is dizzying freedom. Your heart beats messily everywhere but outside yourself, in their hands; in your mouth, ears, nose, and toes. It’s a delicious sensation. Peace for you will come later, when your imagination isn’t so vivid, and your spark has lit up so much inside you that it had to die out, or you would have bursted into flames.
This is the map of my heart. My name is the capital, and this up here is the moon. This is the sun. I’m still naming the stars after people I know, but I change the first letters and stir together the remaining ones. This way nobody can connect the dots, and I get to feel like religion in high heels when they praise my creation. I am at the center of emptiness, outside the lines. The sounds separate themselves out here. Everything seems purer, easier to define when you’re undefined. I define. I burn the forests – here, and here – down. I am the forests. These cities are made out of graffiti, rock & roll and tree-lined streets. At night headlights shine in all directions, and I spill dark blue ink and sprinkle star all over them. Boys wrap their fingers around necks of beers and girls standing by the windows in yellow towels, holding hands and breaths. When the day comes my sun splashes it like water, and the brilliance spreads among people. They go for long drives under freshened skies and have orange juice and toast parked in the sunlight, breadcrumbs falling into their laps. There’s a thing in my stomach about telling a brief history of my heart without having to confess anything. My face no longer has the helplessness of someone who is no longer believed in, my hands are no longer an afterthought. I know how to make things come true, advancing upon them like holy cities, pushing aside everything that is not them. My dreams take place when I am awake and it is marvellous, because they dictate my life. Imagination is so integral to both my writing and my reality.
This is how my story goes on, with wide, soft moments growing outwards, at the edges of the map of my heart like an oil stain. They resound in me like waves, so powerful that I can hear them beneath the cliffside. I can’t resist them — they are strange and full of promises, temptation at its finest. They come down like hammers, and ask me to write them down with a gentle hand. They allow me to set my story in order. I grin. I am invincible. Lying on the sofa with my eyes closed, I take in how wild this is and how addicted I am to it. Isolation makes life feel cinematic. I can feel my heart begin to harden and my words begin to form on the tip of my tongue.
In between the spaces where no one roams is where I find my tranquility, and inspiration follows like the loyalest of dogs. The quality of stillness gets me high, and the intensity it holds builds up until it turns into the right words. From here on, it is easy. I put everything in a cone of light, then pick my pieces. This is the place where everything can start to begin; I start to write, they start to see me. Art blends with life once again. I can breathe easy. I know this will happen again. Biting my lips, I try to steady myself.
Picture this: there is an empty space next to you in the backseat. You make it the shape of everything you need. Now you say hello. This is you at your best, commonly known as your strength, but you haven’t been properly introduced yet – so you don’t know what it is, and you don’t know it is yours.
Then: you walk to work, heels echoing on the pavement, still a bit of warmth from the bed clinging to you. You take a seat on the bus and fall asleep to the sound of traffic. The night before you were at your desk, begging it to come back from the window, take off its wet clothes and come sit with you by the fire. You craved its hand around your waist and a new story over a glass of red wine. You were tired, but couldn’t fall asleep, so you waited and you waited until dawn. You feel frustrated. It was only just starting to reveal itself to you, and you couldn’t grab it and make it yours yet.
Or: a beautiful man keeps smiling at you like there’s no tomorrow. He has perfect teeth — square, white, even. He becomes your lover and soon you are making out in the corner booth of a bar. The light is dim and smoky, and he lets go of his secrets into your mouth, and you learn what his thoughts taste like and what he is afraid of, things you thought you had guessed before you first sat down and started writing, but surprise — you knew nothing then, which is why you couldn’t write. It is only when he gently bites your neck and you open your eyes and see him in the near-darkness and your heart falls out of you that you understand you had only just scratched the surface before him. Steam rises from both your cups at once, and you reach for your cigarettes, and even though your world doesn’t make sense anymore, when he says, ‘Look, baby, these tornadoes are for you’ you let them pass you, because there is nothing better than finally meeting somebody who finishes your sentences for you, especially when that somebody is you.
She was feeling for the knob when she saw the light of his cigarette at the other end of the corridor. His words were still floating insistently in her mind — a seductive, but dangerous truth. ‘Come,’ he said. ‘I don’t have all the answers. Maybe we can figure out yours tonight. Welcome to your reality. Here, everything you can imagine is real.’
She thought, this can’t be so bad, as Tomás was unlocking door after door. I’m going into a museum of familiar faces — of people who never existed anywhere outside my head — to be reminded of all the thoughts I’ve ever had in all the rooms I’d ever slept in, in all the streets I’d ever walked in; and, perhaps, the odd pair of eyes in a jar, blinking violently at me, as if asking me to imagine them a little further.
Tomás’s arm snaked around her shoulder, reassuringly. There was no more anger in him. He had forgiven her, for whatever she’d done wrong that night.
Then I will unthink them, she thought, not knowing how she’d do that. Maybe other forms of treatment include erasing one’s memory. Maybe I can ask for that.
‘Are you ready?’ he turned to her, key in his hand by the last lock. She held her breath.
‘Is it just me?’
‘Don’t be silly,’ he laughed. ‘Of course it isn’t just you. There are too many people in the world for each and every one to be the one. Here is the collective imagination of them all. I’m taking you on a tour. ’
She frowned, not liking his answer.
‘Then who’s the one — the lucky one?’
‘Nobody is,’ Tomás shrugged. ‘What did you expect? And at the end of the day, what would it mean, anyway? What could you possibly get out of being the one?’
‘Lots of things, I suppose.’
‘Yeah, but not at the end of the day. Nobody is anybody at the end of the day. Anyway, are we still talking about this?’
‘I’m not sure,’ she sighed. ‘I’m just not ready to see anything I might have created.’
‘Kara, you have created an entire world. You’ve been imagining crazy shit since you were a baby. Why are you suddenly a coward? You have to own your —‘
‘Show me yours first, then.’
Tomás stood still, eyes locked with hers, smirking.
‘Clever, but no. I’ll show you yours first, then we can talk about distractions. I’ve seen mine already, and you really don’t need to right now. Focus, alright? Listen — they’ve frightened you, haven’t they? Why did you let them frighten you like this? You are not bad, Kara.’
‘And you are the first one to tell me that without blinking, and it still took you until a couple of hours ago to do that, Tomás.’
‘Fine, fine,’ he rolled his eyes, exasperated. ‘I am sorry, if that’s what you want to hear, please forgive me for not knowing what I didn’t know before I learned it.’
‘But you read me —’
‘Oh yes, but I hadn’t kissed you, bought you beer or talked to you until 2am until a couple of hours ago, so reading meant nothing. People are not their writings. People are not even their thoughts, in their entirety, which brings me back to this,’ he said, leaning on the door. ‘This is barely who you are, because you also eat, sleep, and talk to your mother. This is your form of escapism, nothing else, and if it’s bad so be it; mine is awful, by the way. Don’t you look at me like that, I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. And you shouldn’t let anyone make you feel ashamed either. That’s a pat on the head you don’t need, the “calm down, dear”, the patronising wink to the crazy, harmless girl, the water poured on your potential to play God — and nobody should ever take that beautiful, guilty please away from anybody. Come on, Kara, how can you not be ready?’
‘If I’m not,’ she whispered, softly, ‘will they all, uhm, mine, you know… go?’
‘No,’ he said, but paused just as quickly. ‘Well, yes… this is why people undergo treatments. We’re trying to keep their numbers under control. But it’s not as easy as you… think.’
‘Because they keep coming back?’
Tomás pulled her slowly towards the door.
‘Come,’ he said. ‘I don’t have all the answers. Maybe we can figure out yours tonight. Welcome to your reality. Here, everything you can imagine is real.’
She was feeling for the knob when she saw the light of his cigarette at the other end of the corridor. His words were still floating insistently in her mind — a seductive, but dangerous truth. She could make and break the reality of the moment, and she would do it over and over again, to exhaustion; and she would shut him with her silence a little longer, too, just until she’d seen all of her wildest visions acted out. She thought, ‘My heart could be whole. My heart could be so whole.’
And then she thought: Had this still been the world in Jade Montgomery’s books, this would have been an entirely different kind of story. No gods and monsters, no imaginarium, no new society covering up its people’s dirt and pretending to thrive. It would have been just like in the Old World, where people walked into a café and went to the table on the terrace to have a drink, or got into a taxi and drove along the blazing hot streets to somewhere beautiful where they could be alone, or sat at large desks with white sheets of paper in front of me, the sun outside, and music starting up somewhere, and thought of tomorrow; and, unlike in the New World, there would be a gap in their heads, a blank, as if they were falling through emptiness, because unlike in the New World they wouldn’t know what tomorrow would bring to them.
She wouldn’t have had to make anything up inside her head in an interesting, lively world like that. No, it would be much simple than that — things would just be, no rehearsals, no digging for ideas. Things would happen to her rather than because of her, and she would be living them out loud , in the sunlight, in the shade, in the light and in the dark and maybe — just maybe — in his car out there, if it’d have still been the same car or, oh well, a different car or no car at all. Things would just come, and she would breathe them in and let them wash over her and refresh her heart in the summer, and break her heart in the winter. Stories would come and go, so many of them by then and so many still, until she’d learn to stand on her own two feet, clutch the corners of her dress and say ‘No more, I am a big girl now,’ and then she would embark on a new one,
one. Just one. One big, important story that she would write herself, and that would be enough for a life well lived.
In another life, in another world — the Old World — Kara would have gone to a summer camp that summer. She’d have been lying on a blanket in sunlight all day, drinking wine and talking horrors with people who’d laugh at them and then drink some more; they would know they were only stories and could never be anything more, and they would never be anything more. Maybe one night, in the open yard where beer would have numbed her senses, she would have locked eyes with him and think he was the one. Late that night, after the fire had gone out, she’d have left, eager to sneak back inside and lie awake, watching the lights outside draw shadows on her roof, shivering through layers and night-dreaming without sleep about road trips, overheard heartbeats and the world of possibilities at her fingertips.
Or, if this was one of those daring stories she used to read only when Jade wasn’t home, maybe he would have followed her in the dark. Then, just as she’d be feeling for her door he’d light up a cigarette in the main doorway, and she’d know it was him out of everybody else. The story would not necessarily have to stop there. She never really liked the plain, simple happy endings. And they lived happily ever after. No! What did they live? Where did they go? How did he take his coffee? What would he think of her freckles and chipped fingernails in the sunlight? What would happen next in her story could easily be a sequel on its own. Kara blushed. It was so obvious, what they would have lived next in that world. He’d have taken her skin in his teeth and her jeans at her toes, and the rest would have been a blur that lasted forever, that still was. Perhaps the loud dispense of raindrops in a coffee cup filled with cigarette leftovers in the morning could have been the much, much happier ending to this story, because it would have been no ending at all. No story she ever read ended like that.
She thought: What else? Highways, rooftops, public swimming pools — all at night, houses with big gardens, flats up high on the last level, oranges, tea, red flowers, rock & roll, coloured lighters, sitting by the fire, large windows and larger beds, sundown, sunrise and sometimes, not going to bed at all, electric people, soul shakers and the lives she could live in five minutes, if nobody loved her enough to tie her down.
Still leaning on the door frame, this time without any clear intention of ever finding the knob, she felt his hot breath on her shoulder and his heart beating against her wingbones.
‘What’s wrong, Kara? Spiralling down the hell hole again?’
‘I’m scared,’ she said. ‘I just had new thoughts. If I opened this door now, I’d probably see their stage adaptation. This is exhausting. I don’t want anybody to have access to a record of my thoughts, not even me.’
‘Don’t be silly, they’d be gone by now. You’d need to nurture them over time if they were to stay. The new ones are fragile, like newborns. Things may look like real carvings around here, but they are erasable, there are no encrustations; all is reversible, if you only change your mind.’
‘Like that’s easy to do.’
‘It depends,’ he said, reaching for her hand. ‘You just said you changed your mind about your last vision.’
‘I just don’t want to see it now, that’s all. It’d be too much. I’ve seen enough for a lifetime.’
‘Good,’ he smiled in the dark; she could tell from the tone of his voice. ‘Then we can come back tomorrow.’
Wrapping his arm around her shoulders, he walked her slowly back to the main door.
The pre-mixed gin and tonic fizzed up over the lip of the can as she brought it to her mouth and sipped. There was no rush for anything in the world as she drank the rest of the night away. Tomás was right there, hand around her waist, another can in his hand. There were back at the car, sitting in the dark, looking at each other.
Human beings truly have a deep need to bond and form connections to get their satisfaction, and Kara was bonding to another human being for the first time. Until then it had always been a book, a thought, a plan to leave. Now, for once, it was a man.
‘Tell you what,’ he said, ‘if I ruled the world — no, seriously — I’d never ask you to undo a thing.’
‘Why is that?’
He moved her hair out of her face, slowly.
‘I think I’d like to live in an imaginarium with you. You come up with incredible…’
‘Have you actually seen my thoughts tonight?’
‘Other than the ones I showed you?’ he laughed
‘Oh… yes. The new ones. There were empty roos and then suddenly, they were not so empty anymore. Very vague, as expected. There was… me,’ he murmured, ‘in a… room. It was strange to look at, the odd creature. Then there was you,’ he smiled.
Kara fidgeted in her seat.
‘You said you liked the New World back at the bar, Tomás. Said you don’t want me to ruin it for you.’
‘Yeah, well, I can be a bit of a coward too, but only because I know too much. And I’m sorry. You’re not ruining anything, I’m just telling you that. I’m going to kiss you, you know? Just not tonight. Tonight is already too intense.’
‘Alright,’ she whispered.
He clasped her chin between his palms. ‘You made me feel alive and well, Kara. You are pretty good at life, better than you think. You are a soft type of magic. No, actually, forget that. You are a more badass version of me, I believe,’ he said softly, smiling still.
She nodded, careful not to let herself out, every uncensored inch an entire avalanche of honest echoing through her lips.
More than this, she wanted to crawl wearily into bed, overtired and craving some empty hours to herself.
More than that, she wished to swap the excitement of having stepped into playland with kissing the only interesting man that ever lived— outside her mind, the imaginarium, imagination.
to be continued
I woke up to a Facebook news feed flooded with ‘May the fourth be with you’ geeky posts. They made me smile for a minute or two, until bleaker thoughts took over. It is May the fourth indeed, and I haven’t posted — no, I haven’t written — in so long, when there is hardly anything I’d like more than to finish Badland and bask in the amazing feeling of having written a story, like having walked the labyrinth of my mind and come out fresher, stronger, and somehow wiser.
I could think or, ironically, write for hours about the brick wall I keep hitting when I’m almost ready to start, but really, it is May the fourth! It’s sunny, warm and it’s also bank holiday in the UK, and I’m about to go to a Spanish food festival on the South Bank! Whining online would be tremendously cynical.
I may not have written as much as I wanted, but I have done other things that, paradoxically, will only help me ignite and sustain the fire of my sneaky creativity.
“If you want your art to improve, try working on yourself then see how it reflects in what you make.”
In the past few months, I have been everything — back and forth and back again. No matter what the masters of funny and insightful 9GAG comic strips say, chaos is not where one’s best work comes from, if anything comes from chaos at all; but it is almost summer, and chaos is no longer my best friend. Things happened, or perhaps I finally happened, and I found it in me to lay the foundations of a better lifestyle.
I am now the marketing communications girl at SAGE Publications, the world’s leading independent academic and professional publisher. To everyone who’s been with me on this blog for a while, I made it into publishing, and it’s work hard, play hard time! I’ve also been having intense weekends, with trips to Wales and Southsea, a marathon, and festivals (@LDNcoffeefestival is all about free coffee & chocolate, whoa!) keeping me going strong and motivated to take it one step further and join GymBox.
Who wants to come home to Netflix and good greasy food after a long day of work, anyway?
Before I start writing and posting again, I will leave you with a couple of interesting things:
- Patrick Walsh wrote this cool piece about effective book marketing on his Publishing Push blog, and if you’re interested in books, marketing, or me (hint: I’m in it! Curious yet?) you should check it out. If you’re looking to promote your writing, go read!
- Poetry expressed naturally and presented visually? Yes please. Douglas A. Yew is a poet and artist who just exhibited for the first time in a fantastic collective at Lacey Contemporary Gallery in London. His work is, simply put, awesome and I’m a big fan — not just a wine & padrón peppers buddy. If you like poetry and beautiful artwork, have a look at his website and give him a high five.
- Have you ever loved a magical book above all others? Have you ever wished the magic were real? Jonathan Carroll writes novels about how terrifying that would be. If you ever find that your towering stack of to-read books has disappeared, well done! — but also, shame on you for not being prepared, and also, how did you do it? I’m obsessed with Jonathan Carroll’s books and I’m recommending them to everyone, especially since I started emailing him and discovered how very friendly and human he is too (I know, right?) To spare you my unending comments, have a look at his GoodReads author page.
- Less literary merit here, but Lykke Li is a goddess and her Sadness Is a Blessing video is a masterpiece that I can’t stop watching and listening to! She is also a very interesting artist. Raise a hand if you don’t recognise yourself in her words, and also, maybe quit making art: “I just had to do it. It is the only thing that feeds my soul. If I wasn’t doing this I’d probably be dead. Some people do heroin, I have my music… It is the most beautiful gift of all. Everything that people criticise when you’re a child – ‘you’re so sensitive, you’re so complicated’ – is a great gift as an artist. All of a sudden you find yourself in this world with other artists where you’re accepted, and that’s all we ever want: to be accepted.”
part of Badland, please read the first chapters first
VII // Getting Ready to Meet the Devil
“People create the reality they need in order to discover themselves.” – Ernest Becker
Towns at rest, people going home, intermittent patches of glitter and dark everywhere – life, dear life was happening all around her, dancing restlessly through her lashes. Head leaning against the car window, Kara felt wide awake with fear and curiosity. Houses rolled past her like a tracking shot in a film, blurring and disappearing from view the very next moment – as if reminding her not to bother, because everything was difficult, and everything was also fleeting.
The houses didn’t hold her interest for long. The passenger seat – the safe haven – and speed – a delicious break from the reality of the moment – were half-assing their jobs too. On the other side of the car somebody kept giving sighs of helpless irritation, distracting her from her attempt to stay distracted.
‘Damn you,’ she mouthed silently to herself, and threw an arm over her eyes.
Tomás wouldn’t look at her. Driving fast without saying a word, he only huffed and puffed now and then at his own seemingly unpleasant thoughts – she wouldn’t know, he wouldn’t tell. The car was saturated with him and she still couldn’t tell a thought from the other. Like a mausoleum they were shut up in, it was dark, musty and cold in there, and terribly lonely. If only she knew what he saw her through those quiet eyes of his.
If only he’d stroke her hair and said it was alright.
But his eyes were nothing like silence. Bright and alert, like a small animal that’s just realised a much bigger one is close, his mind was racing around her, circling but unable to confine. Now she knew, and she wouldn’t keep quiet. He had to show her things he was not allowed to show anyone, because now she would go back and question everything out loud. Ah, if only he could drive fast enough to lose himself in a vortex. Anything bigger than him would do, because for once, Tomás did not want the blame, the trouble, the girl.
Fidgeting in her seat, she finally turned to him. He looked tormented. She did not like real life complications much, and would have been happy to forget about this story if only he asked; if he asked anything. Life in the New World was simple, and that quality got to her in time. Her mind was a myriad of thoughts – all revolving around the insane things his mind seemed to believe, and whether they were due to heavy drinking or never receiving the treatment – but she’d have pulled down the blinds and shut them out if he wanted. After all, she was sick enough with storytelling to carry yet another’s burden. From life, she had picked a few things to like, but they did not have tormented faces: highways, rooftops, public swimming pools – all at night, houses with big gardens, flats up high on the last level, oranges, tea, red flowers, rock & roll, coloured lighters, sitting by the fire, large windows and larger beds, sundown, sunrise and sometimes, not going to bed at all, electric people, soul shakers and the lives she could live in five minutes, if nobody loved her enough to tie her down. But a sad man, she did not know how to handle, for she had never seen one before.
She finally let the alcohol kick in and her thought disperse, and shut her eyes.
Later, as she sobered up after the nap, Kara realised they weren’t up in the mountains anymore. They were driving across a vast, windy field with no trees or houses on either side of the road, at what seemed like speed of light and straight into nowhere.
Her lips were wine-dark and dry and she craved a glass of water and an explanation for where she was being taken, and if it wasn’t too much to ask, why. She had barely muttered a few words when she remembered he would not tell a thing. That was what it would be like. He would not talk, and she could not fight. To hell with it; he was breaking every other rule anyway.
‘Oh no I won’t,’ he said as if he had had the answer ready the whole time. ‘There is nothing to do here. If you’re going to report me, I might as well drive you all the way up and let you have a good luck at what you’ve done first.’
‘Kara, you’ll have to trust me on this one, alright?’
‘What? Ah… listen, I wouldn’t… why would I report you, if you actually stop driving like an animal, and putting me at risk?’
Unconvinced, he slowed down and turned to her, listening, thinking. This was her moment, now.
‘Damn your professionalism, Tomás! Just tell me what’s going on – or fine, fine, don’t; but pull over, please! This is getting frightening. You really are driving like an animal. Listen, I’d be crazy to report you for having a couple of beers with me! Now stop this stupid car and let me catch my brea –’
Tomás stopped the car almost as he spoke, looking her up and down with wide open, inquisitive eyes. Listening, thinking, still.
‘Thanks for stopping the car,’ she smiled.
There was no point in arguing and she knew it. After all, she had had enough. She was on safe ground with him, and the rest could wait until they got back.
He waited a couple of seconds before nodding slowly in her direction, and taking one out of her pack.
‘Why do you think I’d’ – she lit up, then passed him the lighter, watching closely his every move – ‘report you? You didn’t take me out drinking; I sneaked out on you. I wouldn’t report on my own bad behaviour.’
Tomás laughed to himself, shaking his head slowly in disbelief.
‘If this is the case – what if I did, then?’
‘Roles reversed?’ she smiled. ‘I’d lie and say you lied, I guess.’
Tomás took a deep drag and opened the window to let in the crisp, cold night air. Smiling his sad little smile, but visibly calmer, he was the most good looking man Kara had ever seen – perhaps because he was good looking in a gentle, melancholic way. There were troubled waters beneath the surface, and she would never swim in them, and neither would others, ever. That in itself was incredibly attractive and exciting for somebody who had imagined people like him her entire life.
Suddenly she felt shy and self-conscious, remembering that it was his job to dive deep into hers – but the whole thing was whirling nicely round in her head, for it meant he’d be close for a little while longer.
He seemed to think about it for some time, but eventually put his arm through hers. She could feel him shivering. When she told him, he said it was cold there. She thought it was, too – but they were in such a gentle, formal place, that she did not dare complain about it. How often would a girl like her go to no man’s land – better, even, with somebody like Tomás?
His voice, like everything else, was chilling, cynical and surprisingly moving. ‘Love at first listen,’ she thought.
Rearranging herself in her seat, she let her head back and closed her eyes. She’d have fastened herself on him if she could, even if it meant he’d drag her down. Hell or the closest to Heaven she’d ever been, she was in for the thrill, for this was one of those moments she read about in her grandmother’s books from what seemed – no, was – another world, the Old World. It was her and this man and their complicity and their bodies, and fingers, and thoughts intertwined in the night, the cigarettes and alcohol and the lies they’d just promised each other to tell to save their skins; the bad and the badder, the sense of being alive with each other far away from home, a place that felt home to neither, last night, tonight, tomorrow night…
The night walked in, dark powerful, magical… it was one of those nights, but not the kind Kara was expecting.
A wave of warmth washed over her, then a cold shiver, then more, many, many more. To no surprise, smoking his cigarette in perfect silence, Tomás was waiting for the moment to come. His dark eyes watched closely as she suddenly jumped from her seat, coming to where he was. ‘I’ve been waiting,’ they seemed to say, ‘welcome to my world.’
‘My God, you weren’t joking. I didn’t take you seriously back there. I should have – right? Oh, please tell me that I shouldn’t have.’
Staring back at him, she thought about what it’s like to be cold, shocked and afraid, as if it were in another life than this.
‘Well, if I knew you couldn’t tell when I mean a thing, I wouldn’t have bothered driving all the way up here. But now that we got this far, what do you say – shall I show you what your imagination has given birth to?’
The principle the New World worked on was very simple, yet it proved to have countless unexpected implications: the bad had to be eradicated. It was a very noble idea and it had been around ever since Eve ate the beautiful apple – except, of course, it never worked. In the New World, too, goodness was a concept that had to be balanced to be sustainable. The bad could be swept under the carpet, no doubt, but the carpet was still in the house. As the good flourished, the bad was only just around the corner, the shadow on the wall in the dark, the bump under the covers, the one thing nobody would have guessed from under the cleverly layered, multi-stranded stories. In Kara’s case, the bad was – surprise! – not inside her, but out there. Up there.
She gasped in horror when he put his hand on her knee, reassuringly – as if to say ‘Welcome to my world – don’t worry, I am here too.’
‘This is the highest up this road goes,’ he said, reaching for her hand. ‘From here onwards we have to walk, climb – run, if you’re brave enough. Come along now, don’t be afraid to see it on the outside. It can’t hurt you, I promise.’
Oh, but seeing it could.
‘It’s the things you do to yourself that count, Kara,’ he smiled reassuringly. ‘Whatever a storage up a mountain holds, you hold yourself to sleep every night. It’s your imagination you’re forced to say sweet dreams to, not its consequences.’
‘Storage?’ she frowned.
‘Well, you can call it that, or whatever you want. Frankly, it’s irrelevant. The chances it can ever touch you are close to none.’
‘And yet you dragged me out of the bar just in case there would have been any leaks; I wonder, what happens if…’
‘That’s a story for another night, princess,’ he said and began to climb.
Sometimes, fulfilling your dreams feels like watching your house burn down. There’s nothing you can do about it, because it’s already happening with or without you. You have to stand and watch, remembering the things inside you’re losing, and sometimes it’s the familiar passivity that lets you keep dreaming when the world gets tough that you’ll miss the most. Your dreams are becoming your world now – but no new world comes flawless on a silver platter, like you’d almost expect.
‘People. It’s people that we create with our thoughts – and I wish this was an alegoria, and it’d only mean that we make or break our loved ones. It’s not. There are other worlds, but they are in this one – a quote from a writer back in the Old World, but you wouldn’t know.’
‘Yeats. I do know. I’ve had access to books from that time. But what I don’t get is if the Old World is in this one too?’
‘There is no Old World, Kara.’
‘Excuse me? My life has all been a lie?’
She stopped to catch her breath, with the sound of the heart in freefall inside her, but what could she do about it? Nothing. She didn’t deceive herself.
‘I’m afraid so – but I know you know this,’ he winked. ‘The Old World was simply the world as we know it, with these creatures running free among us. Sure, they wouldn’t just pop out of your mind, but they didn’t need to either; there were enough of them to balance the good. Yeah, the world was a pretty violent and unstable place to live overall, but –‘
‘It still is, behind the censorship?’ she asked, pointing at the massive metal gate in front of them.
‘Yeah. Yeah. And the world is constantly changing, evolving. There have been new worlds and old worlds for as long as the world has been a thing, you know? Don’t laugh, I mean it. They think they can just keep it nice and tidy. I’m telling you, the more time goes by, the more these –‘ he pointed at the building far behind the gate, ‘multiply. Like a damned Hydra! You know what that is, yeah?’
‘Yeah, I’ve read about that too. I get what you’re saying. People want to rebel, then; it’s not just me.’
Tomás shook his head.
‘No, but they go and seek treatment more and more often to stay afloat. But, like I said – the more of these –‘ he pointed back at the building, ‘we kill, the more people give birth to in their minds when they get home. It’s the New World’s fastest developing service, and I doubt it will stop, until…’
‘An even newer world?’
‘This just isn’t sustainable. But come, I will show it to you nevertheless. There might be hundreds of years until a new Big Bang in this poor old world, and this is the one we’re most certainly going to have to live in.’
Wrapping his arm around her shoulders, he slowly pulled her up and they walked together on flat ground to the gate.
‘You said you liked this world back at the bar though, Tomás. Said you don’t want me to ruin it for you.’
‘Yeah, well, I’m a bit of a coward, but only because I know too much. And I’m sorry. You’re not ruining anything. I’m going to kiss you, you know? Just not tonight. Tonight is already too intense.’
‘Alright,’ she whispered with his words floating insistently in her mind.
More than this, she wanted to crawl wearily into bed, overtired and craving some empty hours to herself.
More than that, she wished to swap the excitement of stepping into playland with kissing the only interesting man she had ever met.
to be continued
The street shines glossy black after the rain. Pavement cafés are crowded, and vehicles hiss by — their roars constantly approaching, breaking, receding. I watch them holding my breath, forgetting to blink. I am alert, but null. The restlessness of the city mirrors mine tonight, and slowly tempers it.
I’ve always enjoyed lights, noises, explosions. They came to me like divine permission to sit back and enjoy the ride. The world was happening. I wasn’t in charge of holding it together. What a relief — for an hour, not needing to be in control.
I sit in the dark and hold time in slow gear. Either the experiment, or my sanity, will fail. They are eyeball to eyeball, waiting for one another to blink. I bet on being mad. It’s late, so very late for this. I should have started earlier. I should have started sooner.
I’m not surprised how many insomniacs are out here, I’m actually pleased. And I’m not worried either, because this switch reminds me how young I’m getting and I’m almost, almost close to seventeen again; when the ice was melting and I was gently growing from its underneaths.
Raised by the street, with the sky blue and new above me, I knew how to roam free when I had to, and lie on my back in tall grass and dream in the present tense when I wanted to. Nights were dark and long and hot, like the future I was both scared of and couldn’t wait to run towards.
Troublesome, perhaps, but intriguing, surprising and refreshing all at once, I was in my captain-of-her-own-rocket days; sweet days of stitching myself together out of desires and needs, with oil-burning eyes and a heart still owning the right to the future.
When the temperature dropped and the power of inertia became tangible, I surprised myself turning into this shadow of a person sitting together with her ghost in the car, wishing she could reverse or, at least, slow time enough to figure her way out without wasting all of her young years.
Here I am, wishing it would all end tonight. It’s a compulsion, a series of quiet, desperate attempts with occasional flashes of rightness. I’d always do it — fighting to gain more time to make things better — it’s just odd that it’s become my life.
I know; somewhere along the line, the pressure sent cracks up and down my psyche and I simply fell apart. I feel bad. I feel bad in every place and part of me. I have no comforting thoughts to fall back on. Life has become days sitting in a chair, staring.
But the magic is in the hard. Hard is the new black. I talk to myself in a low, kind voice. I know that I’m still worth it. There is a fire inside me still longing to be fed. That fire is worth it. There is nothing else worth more than that fire.
How many times has it been the first time? How many times has it been the last time? Bent under the burden, I can still sniff freedom. I have not given in. I owe it to myself, despite not being that anymore.
There she comes — remarkable, slightly eccentric, with her bizarre hat and toothpaste advert smile. She’s crossing the street hand in hand with a slim, hip young devil in ripped jeans and an oversized shirt. Her cool is almost tangible. She does not bleed through another’s wounds. She owns the street. She owned the night.
I, too, would have eaten those hours of being in love whole. I squeeze my eyes shut, imagining what I’d be like innovative, unconventional, romantic still. It doesn’t come natural. All I’m getting is a cynic craving to be loved, turbulent skies and the sad, numb calm after the storm. The images are grainy, monochrome and dark. I can’t think of textures. I can’t think of sounds.
My attraction to her is ambivalent. She has the power of hiding who she is while, at the same time, advertising how she wants to be seen. It makes me jealous of the god-like heights she came down from, and tragically aware of the unknowability of another human being. I can despise her intense hedonistic lifestyle all I want, but I will never know if that’s what she gets in bed with. Security blankets don’t always function as protective screens around those who sew them.
I trace him with the corner of my eye. I am not his type of girl, but near enough his type. He would give me speed. I would give my all, but there isn’t much left of it. I’d trade him what I don’t need for whatever it was from him that I wanted; that’d be fair. I do not blink when I look at them, who are no longer significant but only there, and them. My hate is mine. It belongs to me. She is merely there. A click in my head cancels boredom. I know what I’m doing, because I’m always doing it. Ah, there goes it. I lost tonight. I’m always losing it.
After a heavy sigh, I allow myself to step into the vision. I am good at projecting myself on the outside. All my friends eat sunshine, and I train in speculative fiction. Sometimes I think I could be my own imaginary friend.
I open it like a window and climb through. Inside it is home, after being gone for years. I left in search of some ideal, but reality had failed, time and time again, to come up to the mark. I will always return.
It’s suddenly me who went to a jazz concert with him and spent the night nodding along to soft tunes with eyes closed, sipping on cheap whiskey. It’s got to be me. I am the girl who lives on air and intensity alone, and I’d never stray away from hotter nights or bigger feelings, whatever turn they took; I’m with my madness all the way if I’m getting my buzz, my fix, my life.
It’s summer and soon after dawn, strands of orange all across a turquoise sky. I’m up in the mountains, sitting in the front of the car singing along with the radio, my hair blowing in the wind and my heart still harvesting my baby goddess energy. The ride is pretty, right alongside the river the whole way. I’m going to drink the ocean, again and again, and celebrate being madly alive. This has got to be me, too.
I’m reading paragraphs over and over again, because it’s too delicious not to. We have worlds we want the other to see. Somehow these very different worlds fit together. Writing down about all the things he finds on restaurant napkins, under car seats, in her refrigerator, in between, in your wallet, by accident, too late, he makes up a world of details without frames and limitations. I spend hours getting lost in it. It’s beautiful and crazy, like a miniature of life minus all the big problems. If you’re stubborn enough, you find something good to do on the way down; but the bizarre repetition in your eyes betrays your madness to others. Whatever. It’s me who sits long moments in silence with him. No one else comes near enough. It’s always me.
I’m moving forward through the day by small explosions of will — and I take my hand up to my heart. My brain, too, wants to play this game and stay lost in the dream. It’s utopic to find myself again, although so far from shore. I’ll rock any boat on my way here. This is the last thing left that makes me happy-hearted, warmth ringing true inside these bones when I come for it. It’s like all is right in the world because one heart managed, despite all the chaos, to get it right. And not any heart, but my heart. Mine. It’s got to be mine.
We lie on our backs, intertwine our fingers and hold on tight once more, as though consistency can substitute for stability. I missed the girl I almost still am, the girl I will never be again.
The words come out much slower than I want them to, but I say them out loud this time; papers and devices have only ever stopped my train of thought. There’s so much left to say when you think you know how to say it all — and ah, how we turn our unsaid things into our life’s work. I’ve cleared my desk and climbed onto it. There’s only my breath left now, fogging up the window. There is no her.
Ageless and gorgeous, she is, one by one, 17, 27, 37. It does not matter. Whoever the girl crossing the street with her lover was, there is only me, and smoke, and mirrors in this world. She is just the end of the rainbow I never followed, the person I haven’t become, and I hate, because I can’t love. And it would be so very ironic if I tried to love my neighbour as myself; because, of course, most people hate themselves and I am no exception to that.
X marks the spot where I took the other path — travelled or not so much, it does not matter. It lead me astray from the plans I never even knew I’d have for myself. My anger has since turned from hot and quick to a lingering coldness. I see myself in other girls, imaginary and, occasionally, on nights like this, made out of skin, flesh, bones and stories of their own. What’s odd is that they never remind me of the person I see when I look at myself these days. They are always so very different.
I drink hot tea under cotton candy skies and think of the fleeting nature of me. I think I like that. Maybe in another life I will live roof-raisingly loud. In this one I am sane, painfully sane and aware. From behind quiet eyes I stop and pat every monster. I get them. Putting love where there is none is a hard job. Slowing down time is ever harder. I can only be bad, in the dark, as seasons go by.
I often wonder how much of the people I make up is me. I don’t believe my everyday self defines me. There are much crazier worlds on the other side of me; some still unexplored, some still works-in-progress, and some already used, abused, stretched to limits. Fiction gives me the second, third, millionth chances that life, real, fleshy life denies me, and there is nothing in this that makes me sad. I can’t take every path, but I can play hide and seek with mine.
It was never my intention to create a new person in whose skin I could have then quietly slipped into, and be a million times better at last. I was simply creating; I still am. I’ve still got it. I’ll never lose it. I have no reasons, no intentions, no master plans. I learned to feel by writing about feelings, not the other way round. I learned to love by creating characters that belonged to me, so I could love them without fear. This is how I learned intensity; first-hand, from myself, in my bedroom, in the car, in the classroom, at night, at 16, at my own pace.
I don’t like it when people get bored easily and frequently. This is an interesting planet — and, when you have no more attention to give, you are a luminous, playful, interesting person. I am who I am because of my imagination, and because of it again I am so much more.
And, like all the best quests, in the end I’m doing it all for a girl: me.
I write because nobody listens was the first strange little thing I noticed about her. She had scribbled this phrase on the first page of a notebook left open on the table. She had fiery red hair, wore little make up and a loose black dress. There was a homemade sign up on the wall saying We serve freshly grounded coffee, and a mild smell of cinnamon coming from her. Cinnamon girl, I caught myself smiling and quickly ordered an espresso. I couldn’t think of anything more but days with her. It wasn’t long until the lights in her eyes turned off. Ah, the implications of a smile.
Here is a map with your name for a capital would be the best way to describe her heart. Exhausted from beating for all the wrong reasons and crammed full of glorious maybes, it found a safe haven in saying my name over and over again, until the letters didn’t make sense anymore and we laughed together at the hilarity. She was loving, unashamed and courageous. When she spoke, she spoke loudly and often looked around to see if others were listening too. She liked to go to the theatre to warm up to the emotions, and never let me made fun of it. ‘We all have our security blankets,’ she said, and didn’t let me take hers away. I loved her for her strangeness, for her openness and her rawness, for how invigorating she was and for all the many tricks up her sleeve. Those were the days when life was in full force, days that seemed to start early and end never. I was mad about her. She was the one thing I would have saved from the fire, if it started to burn. But when it did, it started from within.
She rarely spoke of what was way down deep, where the forgotten things live. It wasn’t until she filled me with her sadness under street lights and asked me to walk her home, or when she curled up in a ball in the backseat of my car, or when she suddenly wanted me to leave, that I realised how much she had been disguising in kisses.
‘Pull up a chair, I’ll pour you a cup of coffee. You don’t have to disappear to prove that you are there,’ I said right before she burnt to ashes in front of my eyes. She was a figment of the most clever, ingenious, but incomplete imagination. I shouted her names from balconies and rooftops, I whispered it in pillows and in my sleep, I scrawled it in ink on the back of photographs, and I knew I will never slid over and put my arms around her sleep-warmed body or stretch across her lap again. In my mind, she will always have all the names I tried to call her back, in the light, in the dark, on the side of the bus, sour and delicious, secret and unrepeatable, names forgotten and reinvented, names forbidden or overused, all the names Siken wrote about but didn’t work for either of us.
Sunbathing in the window, bare legs, one ankle hooked around the other, eating ice cream cones and looking relaxed, hair sticky and damp hair on her neck from swimming… That image blurs all the edges. I choose not to remember her outside of it, because outside of it she was nothing of that girl. If only people were more like their souls.
There are always gaps in whatever comes to me. The world is a cynical reality where everything is nothing but a shadow of everything that could have been.
Memories made in my room. Memories made on paper. I write everything down, so I don’t forget when little pieces of my life start chipping away. No matter how many of my cells are replaced, he will forever continue to swim through my blood. Whether it will be Thursday and March, Friday and July, this year or the next to come I will never forget. I never forget, because I always write. Because nobody listens.
I gave up telling my story when I was nineteen and I had seen nearly every city in this country from a rooftop without jumping. A boy put his hands in his lap and leaned forward to kiss me, but stopped halfway and started laughing like a moron. The sky was just turning lilac. It had taken me forty minutes to explain my beliefs to him, to make him understand who I then thought I was. He apologised a couple of times only to start laughing again, and again, much harder. He thought I was crazy, but it didn’t matter because I was beautiful and if I wanted to watch stories unfolding like a play from rooftops I could. Because I was beautiful. He was the last boyfriend I had.
What came next was what I like to call the wild future, even though it’s in the past. Stumbling the streets and taking in the heat of the pavement, cars pulsing through the arteries of cities, corner store pharmacies, buses puffing at stops, going to the park at dusk and swinging high into the sky while listening to music and feeling life beating like a drum in my chest, kissing and glowing and writing on buildings and cities and skies and running all over the map, I used to be able to catch the sunlight that is now slipping through my fingers. These delicious images of when I claimed the universe for myself are still haunting my brain. I can not speak about them, so I write tens on notepads about the bright, burning lights that light my days up until nights begin to hurt, even in the giant softness of my bed.
Stories don’t deserve to stay in the quiet, but what I lived is far from a story I can tell — it’s rather a painting of the world seen through my eyes, where nothing ever happened but I happened to everything. The pure pearl of the morning sky above me, the soft, smoky-white fog which blotted out any background, sitting on a bench in the National Park with a bottle of water and watching fog float across the valley below, the colours of motor oil in a puddle of water – gold, plum, fiery orange, the smell of high pine, ice and wet earth, jumping out of a boat and splashing up the shore. I am grateful for times like these. Making silhouettes of spilled ink out of them is my essential endurance strategy for surviving the empty soul wilderness.
These times didn’t last, but they taught me where to search for a God, if there is one — and then they taught me there is one indeed.
I still walk past his house. I always seem to find my way back there. He never wondered at my anger. His love dissolved my fears for a spring, after I had tasted all flavours of fear. The intimacy we shared, fingertips tracing our shapes in the dark and hearts beating slowly to the same rhythm in the sun, strangely reminded me that there is more to life than living alone on the run. Holding him led the way to another world, a better, safer place — his heart was the door knob, warm as if he was resting his hand there to let me go in. ‘You need time and love to heal, and I’ll give you both,’ he said. I met his eyes and said, ‘No. I can’t take anything from you.’ I like easy, vague ideas, rivers of light in others, only because there’s nothing like that inside of me. One night I waited for him in the dark for two hours. Eventually, his touch came gently, reassuring. I couldn’t unclench my fists from the back of his shirt anymore.
My touch comes like a bullet. He couldn’t fill all my voids. It never got fast enough for me, and if I do slow I lose my mind. I like this sense of urgency, of self. I don’t care if they understand me now. I’m not nineteen any longer. But I’m still running.
It’s a good title, this one. It already sounds like it belongs to what I’m about to say. This is the first time I’m writing about the artistic identity I’ve been working all my life to develop. But bear with me, this is a post meant to mirror you, the big bad brave (blogging) artist.
Crying, grinning and crazily craving intensity — to feel, document and pin like a dead beautiful tropical butterfly in an insectarium, I was always shy in the face of people who wanted to know what I am. I never knew how to define myself. Who are you? and What do you do? have always been met by an awkwardly formulated response, somewhere along the lines of I’m a journalism student, I’m Romanian, I… kind of write, stuff, I like to change the subject, ah look at the clouds and let me ask the questions here. Sure, there are lots of things that supposedly make me me, but what they really make is the cage, not the bird. Deep inside where the wild and forgotten things live, I am neither my degree nor my favourite bands. But before I start pretending I’m a spirituality expert (which, if you are interested in, The Untethered Soul will be your new best friend) …
I have always been afraid to call myself a writer. Sure, I am one who writes indeed, but I never, ever said to anybody Hello, my name is Anca and I am a writer. Perhaps it’s because I thought it sounds conceited and I was timid, or perhaps because I couldn’t support my affirmation with enough successful blog posts; the fact remains, I never, ever called myself an artist.
I grew up knowing two contradictory feelings.
One, that I didn’t have a voice. Of course, I knew it was a lie all along. There have been small times when I collided with it, but somehow they never felt big enough to shake hands with it. That time when I was 10 and my primary school teacher called me the editor of the classroom magazine; I ran all the way home, repeating the story to myself over and over again, so I didn’t forget any details before I could tell my parents. Then I was 15 and half-heartedly joined the debate club, only to win a regional competition a few months later. I felt like a champion for once, and I mean it when I say for once. I am not a competitive person, I hope we all make it. But yeah, I admit, it felt really damn good for once. Ah, I was 18 and I screamed my lungs out, meters away from Bon Jovi, next to the most important people in my life at the time, before running to the train station to get to the beach the next morning. Sweet summer escapism, cigarettes and Cola and cheap sandwiches, and nothing on our minds but being 16hrs away from home. My first place in London, my first adult decisions, the first fantastic feedback on my writings, right here, on this blog. Every now and again, the world was mine and I was the brightest star. Still, most of the time I had to put up with the constant feeling that I wasn’t ready to be a star yet; that I wasn’t loud enough, and even if I was, nothing I said mattered, not yet.
One can’t be anything before they feel it in their bones. The only real changes are identity-based changes. I had no idea what my identity was, and it was always far from me the vague idea that it might be an artistic one. After all, I was too ashamed for feeling so undeserving; I couldn’t go around admitting I am a writer. At the time, and that meant at all times, I had no idea what I was.
Ah, but the other — that I did have a voice, and a terrific one indeed. Sure, most of us grow up thinking we’re special cookies, but I felt a strong, strange kind of certainty about it. It was a voice that I didn’t know what to do with though, so I decided to keep it buried for longer, until I made up my mind. And so, always afraid of it and the things it could do, I never really used my voice; because not yet. And all the many things still unsaid, undone, undared — but so untamed, more and more every day, piled up on my shouders, feeling like the weight of the world itself; my world, at least.
“What to do with the beautiful things whose time has passed? became the soundtrack of the journey. She couldn’t find anywhere to bury beauty, because she was afraid she’d feel unbeautiful without it. The idea of creating something new scared her too. Liberating far less than frustrating, it would have only added up to the weights dragging her down, forcing her to stay. She didn’t want to stay. Staying also scared her.
Bouncing from one place to the next, she was stuck in fear. Free as a bird, with long, heavy chains around her heart. Her blood was turning colder every night, and she blamed it all on the now unavoidable winter.”
Today, I am 22. No more ropes. I am a writer, I have an artistic mind, and I am slowly discovering where to begin. Gaining creative confidence is hard, and it’s done one project at a time. This requires the identity-based change I mentioned. If you don’t feel like a writer, you won’t feel like writing. What would the point be? How do you expect to find meaning in the process?
I don’t know where I’m headed yet, but I know now that the most important thing is to actually do the important things. Read about them. Write about them. Talk about them. Hell, live them. You’ll learn soon enough if you can really call yourself a writer, and who knows, maybe you even start doing so.
Just as important as doing is sharing. When you share your work with others, others share their work with you. Our bubbles aren’t always inspirational enough, which is why we read fiction and scroll down on Tumblr on a daily basis (no?). The ability to make others feel important is invaluable, because only then will they feel that you are one of them, the guys deserving to feel important. Ask random people what projects they are currently working on and share, share, share the love.
Deep down I have a voice so strong that 22 years of trying to silence it couldn’t beat it, and I’m finally proud to say so. Just because it occasionally fails doesn’t mean it’s not awesome :) what about yours?
You met me at a very bad time in my life, I wrote. Perhaps I would have been different in the summer. Last summer was especially beautiful, with its own set of rules carved in stone, until the last waves of August washed the shores clean and all the stones crumbled to dust.
I sipped a little more coffee and looked at the pathetic bunch of contradictions screaming at each other on paper. Pulling up my cheeks for a smile, I still can’t stop my heart from bleeding.
You see, I write with my chest open. I dip my pen in my soul and write about my dearest continents: my stories, my beloved ones, my heart’s homes. I don’t use my imagination enough, like a writer should. Instead I stick to what I know and tell the truth in its purest, most naive simplicity, then sit at home for days waiting for forgiveness and redemption. I check my mail frantically and hope for kinder words than my own from above, from him, from them. I write everybody love letters and dream of how one day they will all become a book in their hands; will they understand me then? I can already see the first page:
As you read this, you’re stepping inside. Welcome. Don’t tiptoe, don’t whisper, don’t close the door behind you. In my chest you can be crazy loud and reckless. This is how I am too.
Today I am me, because there is nothing I have left to become, no other shape to pour myself into, no other addictions left to let define me. I am me, gentle and intuitive and poetic and sensitive, giving up on my summer self, my winter self, my last years’ selves. I am me, and I am easy and a little empty, letting them all know that I loved them with all the fire in my soul, until the last waves of August washed it over.
I can hear your thoughts watching me after you read me, silently urging me not to turn silent when I should be in fact on fire. You see, I too used to be all about fun and games, until my whole life began to look like a play.
I lived for playground and rooftops and flying over clouds and cities at sunrise with an energy nobody could tame. Sometimes earthquakes happen within one’s heart; mine has always been a volcano. During those days of late night drives with my arm dangling out the window and my favourite songs on the radio, staying up past midnight with a cigarette in my mouth and watching old films, riding my bicycle across the city, trying to avoid potholes, tram tracks or dangerous drivers, looking at the glitter of lights, the lights inside peoples’ windows, the lights of cars and trucks coming the other way, I was on fire.
But today I am silent. The stones and the flames have turned to ashes and dust. I am a Phoenix; rebuilding has always been my great escape. But today I question the soil’s stability, and the climate, and the strength of my heart. I move with the seasons, back and forth but always around home, a home that’s been rebuilt so many times that it barely feels like home.
I want to explain myself to everybody, I feel that I owe my every thought to the world. It’s soul-crushing, like the waves, like the flames; like me. I smile. I will always crave intensity, but today, I don’t.
My coffee is cold, and I look around the room. This is my place, this is my book, this is me; this is my last letter for a while. I’m going away, to find myself in better places and return with a refreshed heart.
You met me at a very bad time in my life. Perhaps I will be different in the summer.
“Listen carefully to my silence
It’s not something you’re going to hear very often
And if you do
Know that it’s either love growing in between the sounds syllables make
Or my distance”
It’s January 20something, which means that I’m back in London after my extra long holiday — and back to job hunting I am too. While working in a Sports Direct isn’t too bad an option, I can not wait to start (or restart?) my career as a bookworm in a publishing house. Ah Little, Brown I do miss you.
Until then I keep busy reading How to Build a Girl (but also, just to stay on the practical side, Thug Kitchen and Get Your Sh!t Together), planning new gym routines and kind of going to each and every (free) museum in London. The Science Museum is pretty cool! They have a piece of the moon from 1971 on display, and you can see it too if you follow me on Instagram or go all the way there.
This fabulous chick, Pixie, took some pictures of me the other day on a sunny street in Shepherd’s Bush. They are very blurry and Photoshop didn’t help, so I’ll have to see what’s going on with my camera soon. I was wearing black faux leather pants (hell yeah) from River Island, very old boots from H&M, the most comfortable winter coat ever ever from Bench and my favourite scarf from… ah. Well. From somewhere nice, I suppose. I bought it in a Debenhams but haven’t got a clue about the brand. Unfortunately we don’t own the other two beauties in the photos. One day, little girl, one day…
On another note, I’m going to post the second half of Badland in a bit, and I’m thinking about trying my luck in some competitions too. Does anyone know any great writing competitions? How about some great events in London for guys like us? No? What about brunch? Speaking of which… the best brunch you’ll ever have will be at the Surrey Docks Farm. Promise.
Don’t forget to like my blog’s page on Facebook too, because I post stuff. You will probably like it. Give it a go :)
The following is an exclusive piece written for BusinessZone.
Successful business author Robert Ashton talks about why sales skills matter, and what makes a good salesperson in spite of common belief.
Robert Ashton, known as the Barefoot Entrepreneur, is a best-selling business author, creative social entrepreneur and public speaker. Find out more about him here.
People start businesses for many reasons, but at the heart of entrepreneurship lies the desire for financial freedom while following one’s passion. Yet without a solid sales background, small business owners can easily fall into the trap of associating sales with the loud, overzealous car salesman everybody is trying to avoid. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Social entrepreneurs such as Robert Ashton strive to introduce people to ideas, products and services that will improve their lives in financially sustainable ways.
‘My personal view is that most people who start a small business want to change something in the world in a way that is good for them, their customers and the wider community. Increasingly, social impact is becoming a significant way to differentiate yourself from others. Blending social impact with profitable trade is the way businesses will succeed in tomorrow’s world,’ he says.
Robert started working in sales in 1979, and today, his work is about bridging gaps between organisations and helping them turn leads into sales.
‘We are all born able to sell. It’s how we get our mothers to buy us sweets. What happens as we grow up is that we become conditioned to believe that selling is something difficult, when it is just common sense.’
Selling skills are indeed constantly used in everyday life, from managing expectations in our relationships to getting on at work. With personal branding on the rise, we are often advised to ‘sell ourselves’ to potential clients, partners, employers. But what does it really mean to sell effectively?
For Robert, it is about allowing others to see the value he offers in terms they attach their own values to. He suggests that small business owners must look to improve their communication skills in order to attract more customers – and this, contrary to popular belief, has nothing to do with being loud and extroverted, but it is about emotional intelligence.
‘I’m a thinker and find loud extroverts annoying. The extrovert will make a lot of noise and talk without listening. The introvert will naturally build rapport, listen and respond to what the other person says and be far more open to finding that compromise.’
In business, selling helps translate the organisation’s goals into others’ wants and needs. Small business owners in particular need to be seen as influencers in order to realise their visions, which makes sales really come down to great social communication. As they know their products better than anyone else, they must be able to pitch it to potential customers, ask for feedback and act upon it, and learn how to balance empathy with commercial skills.
‘You can spend years developing the best product or service buy if you can’t sell it, that innovation is wasted,’ Robert warns.
But he finds that, by listening to what customers say, it is easy to build the product or service that they want and drive the business forward at the next sales pitch, without ever coming across as pushy.
‘I don’t think you can test if someone’s listening. You just know when someone isn’t! The thing many business owners find tough, is when the customer feedback is not want they want to hear. But to succeed, you have to tread that narrow path of compromise, between giving in to everything people want – which might cost you profitability – and trying to force reluctant customers into something that clearly is not what they want or need.’
Commercial skills are communication skills at the end of the day, and once mastered, effective communication really becomes the skill that will lead sales.
I’ve been modelling for Alecsandra Raluca Drăgoi ever since I met her, in 2011. I have a feeling it’s because we work well as a team, and not because we live together and I’m available 24/7 for her. Here are a few pictures from two shootings we did together in 2014:
This fantastic location is the King’s Theatre in Southsea, where we managed to sneak in right after buying the fancy dress — and right before returning it. The biggest challenge we had to face was not to rip it as it costed us pretty much all the money we had at the time. Fun!
In front of & behind the camera ridiculous shots. We were trying to recreate a traditional Romanian look for a video with an ASOS dress and a flowery scarf. We had a lot of fun with the camera team in Shoreditch, so waking up at 7 a.m. and putting on all the make up was worth it!
Sometimes little things tip me into euphoria. Sitting at a bus stop at sunset, the warm wind rushing in every direction through my dark hair, over my bared golden skin. When I close my eyes I’m a mermaid. The coins in my hand are seashells. I take dips into the imagination ocean and the rest of the day feels old, as if all the things happened last year. I’m caught in an underwater current. My very own reality swallows time, and if I stayed the people who’d find me could never trace the clues on my skin of when I sank and disappeared. The scent of my soul is the smell of rainforest. The world rains on me and I come into bloom. Freedom is the missing piece of the puzzle. When everything else is making sense of the mess, this is the mess. This is the wilderness. This is the freedom in the chaos. My heart is a jungle and I am every living thing in it. I am infinite in my shapes and sounds and colours, in my thoughts and raw emotions, in my words and actions and ever-changing sense of self.
And you want to talk about the poems — flowing through my veins, slipping through my fingers, coming out of me like torrents of water — I write about us, as if they were definitions.
I lived by the sea for 3 years, and I often miss the house, the people, and the vibrations of the city. Now I live 2 hours away from beautiful Southsea and spend weekends there whenever I can, but I know that it will never be the same again. The pictures here remind me of what living on the seafront was like, with the little local coffee shops near the beach and the cool evening breezes before we headed out for the night.
My outfits are from River Island, H&M and Warehouse, except for the sneakers. I was still in my I’m-not-paying-for-logos days; I wear white Converse now. I suppose London does change people, but Portsmouth will always stay my special, happy place.
“There was a magic about the sea. People were drawn to it. People wanted to love by it, swim in it, play in it, look at it.”
“Art and love are the same thing: It’s the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you.” — Chuck Klosterman
It’s 2015 in a couple of days, and I feel that I must put on virtual paper some of the things I’ve learned this year. I hope they speak to you too, because these lesson aren’t for me to keep. I write not only for my peace of mind, but also for those just like me, for those utterly different. I write because it’s the only real voice I’ve found to have so far. The others are often silenced by the mundane, the worried, the loud and the obnoxious, the in-the-way, the not-now, the if-only. Writing is crystal clear, and reading is freeing; and connecting — connecting is bliss. Those just like me make me happy, and those utterly different make me feel alive. I love humans the most when I take them in through their writing, because I understand the process behind. I know just how much of myself I show in my stories, and can only get excited at the prospect of reading theirs for the same reason. Writing, even when edited, is raw when life is too often fine-tuned. Of course, there are always the wild moments, but they are rare and precious and slip easily through one’s fingers. Either way, it’s all in the rawness for me. In words, life and everything in between, I crave it. Therefore…
1. Creativity is the greatest form of rebellion
‘I started making jewellery as a side project, and it began to take on a life of its own…’
‘I want to involve readers into better journalism…’
‘… if we make a promise to feed ourselves emotionally, creatively, intellectually, and spiritually each day, we begin to trust and respect ourselves.’
I found these quotes in Schön! during my first days at their offices, in The Guardian, and on BrainPickings’ amazingly inspiring website. They speak to me of the importance of creativity in one’s life, but remind me that there’s more to it than having a rich, vivid imagination. Dreamers must be doers too. We need genuine passion, motivation and discipline, because creativity by itself gets tired after doing the first trick.
I myself am a very creative person, yet sometimes weeks go by and I don’t write a single thing; and I wonder, am I still allowed to call myself a writer then? Because I like to think of myself as one, if not for bigger reason than at least for being one who writes. But if I don’t, then what right do I have to call myself a creative?
If you keep its flames burning however, creativity is life’s greatest fuel. It gets you out of bed in the morning, it dresses you up as the person you want to be, it shines through you while you eat your granola bar, and it works with you, at you, as you.
I believe there is no stronger force in the universe than the creative force. Ah, but love — I know, I know. Like you, I too love love.
I’m clearly not a writer But love comes in many ways, and if it comes as weak, lazy love it often dies out, extinguished by the almighty force of boredom. Love has to be strong to be worth it.
Boredom is rage spread thin. Creativity is rage sprinkled with pixie dust. Now go do, so that you can be.
‘Being an artist is not just about what happens when you are in the studio. The way you live, the people you choose to love and the way you love them, the way you vote, the words that come out of your mouth, the size of the world you make for yourselves, your ability to influence the things you believe in, your obsessions, your failures — all of these components will also become the raw material for the art you make.’ — Teresita Fernández
2. Nothing is worth it if you aren’t happy
I moved to London this year, at the end of summer. I borrowed money from friends, family and the people I had done cleaning jobs for during university, and spent them all on moving into a cramped house in the suburbs of London. It was a reckless, impulsive and ultimately very dumb thing to do.
I ran out of money by the second month and couldn’t work because I was focused on doing internships, so that I’d get my dream job and start living the good London life. It’s been about 5 months of gaining experience now, and I have many questions to ask my summer self, What were you thinking? perhaps being the main one.
Was it worth it? Time will tell, I suppose. Maybe the new state of my CV will impress the guys at Penguin and they’ll let me be an editor by March. But would I do it again? Probably not. I wasn’t happy, and I’m still struggling to claim my happiness back from the claws of my new shoulda-been-fabulous life. And would I carry on if I had to do it some more in 2015? Definitely not.
Lesson learned: I might not be a special cookie after all, but I’d trade that for happiness any day. I think parents make a big mistake letting their children feel like the chosen ones. There is nothing wrong with feeling young and while and free from the pressure every once in a while. This is hard to remember in your fifth month on unpaid work in Europe’s most expensive city, which you’re doing because you too are special and you’ll show ’em that.
You don’t need to be the brightest light in the darkest night, you need to be happy; and if you still want to be that, at least take it from there. Don’t rush into things that are clearly way out of your reach. Go up gradually, take space, then take what is yours. But don’t rush all the way up because nothing there is yours yet and you’ll just be sent downstairs again. There’s no elevator either, fyi. Tough luck if you’re in a hurry — you’ve been warned.
3. The only real changes are identity-based changes
Say you want to be a rich entrepreneur, or a fitness freak, or a great person overall. These are things we all want to be yet few of us become, because we believe them to be outside our comfort zones and there’s a very long way to them and oh look a cookie. Hint: you might be on the dark side if you find cookies this easily.
Great things require work, luck and a little support from our families, friends and pets at the end of the day. But they require a change of mindset too. If you want to be X, you can’t just do Y and Z and expect the magic to happen. It won’t. You’re not X, you’re just you trying to keep up with doing some cool things. Whatever you want to be, you can’t start with the actions straight away or you will struggle, complain and fail unless you’re very stubborn and determined. If you’re like most of us, maybe start by changing your mindset first and see how that goes.
If I want to start being a fitness freak, going to the gym 8 times / week perhaps isn’t the wisest first thing to change about my life. But if I change my values (into new ones such as health, exercise and well-being — after all, if you don’t believe in these things than why would you even want to start?), my attitude (I smile while I run to the bus stop!?), my daily habits (I <3 smoothies) and then my actions (I join the gym), I’m not going to be a lazy bum in temporary disguise anymore. I think, feel, and be a girl who loves fitness, and that will be one of the many definitions people will give me. It’s cool though, I’d like to be known for this.
4. Strength and warmth make the world go round
Strength gets things done. As a personal quality, strength is a measure of how much a person can impose their will on our world. People who project it command our attention, because we know they can use their strength to reshape things that affect us all.
Warmth is the sense of belonging and feeling cared for. It is what people feel when they recognise they share interests and concerns, the sense of being on the same team. If strength is about whether someone can carry out their intentions, warmth is about whether you will be happy with them.
We respect strong people and like warm ones, and therefore, need to learn to be both. It all sounds very obvious, but some of us like to reflect on such things some more. If you’d like to read about it, Little, Brown published Compelling People and they’ve done us all a big, big favour.
5. I love working in publishing
On this note, my time at Little, Brown, winner of the Publisher of the Year Award, has been fantastic. I worked across their marketing and editorial departments before flying home for Christmas, and not only do they have the coolest office but they’re all wonderful, wonderful people. I learned what life is like behind a big publishing house’s doors and I loved it, which has only made me even keener on getting a job in a similar place when I’m back in London.
By the way, this is what you walk out the door with if you do a publishing internship. The book on my bed, I must mention, hasn’t been published by Little, Brown, but HarperCollins. That too I got after a work placement and they are also very lovely.
What about you? What have you learned? What do you want to share? ☻
After recently going out with the lovely Pixie, whose blog you can find at Journaux Des Fétichismes, and taking some great pictures together in Regent’s Park I began to think about having a Looks category on my blog. This is something I have always wanted to do, but somehow never felt ready. While enjoying other fashion & lifestyle blogs, I always struggled to understand how they work.
Who follows these girls (& guys) around, eager to capture their every turn as they’re strolling down the street?
Where do they get those great outfits from and how could I ever afford to pay for new ones twice a week, in order to post them online?
More importantly, how do they find the time and get into the right frame of mind for a photo shoot when life is so & so & so?
I still don’t have the answers, so apologies if the title tricked you into thinking I do. To me, they’re locked boxed in locked boxes to this day.
But I have figured out that, if I don’t know how other girls do it, I know how I can. I live with a photographer, I have friends, family and a very patient boyfriend, and I also happen to have my very own great camera. At the same time I can’t complain much about the things I can find in my wardrobe, which perhaps doesn’t make me much of a fashionista, but bear with me. I have some sets of pictures already, and I’m sure I will only have many more in the future — because at the end of the day, I too am a girl with a love for all things pretty
when I’m not the cynic that I usually am.
Here’s a first set of pictures then, all taken by Alecsandra Raluca Dragoi in Southsea right before our big move to London. My outfit is from ASOS, and my shoes are from Zara. The bag is from… well, let’s just say it was very, very cheap.
If you’ve gotten this far, thank you. I’d love to read your comments and opinions and, if you have a blog where you post looks & such, tips. How do you do it? What’s your goal? And how do you stay on top of your busy schedule to do fun things that brighten your day?
I interviewed Johnny Wang from BCollide for
@SchonMagazine last week, and I’m extremely pleased and excited with the result! It was an interesting subject,and I had a lot of fun thinking of what the right questions to ask would be. I posted the article in full to add to my online portfolio, but the link to it on Schön!’s website is here. Please use that for any comments regarding the collection, the meaning behind and even my proofreading abilities! XO
Johnny Wang studied Fashion Design at Regent’s University, was involved in editorial styling for Vogue Italia and MIXTE, and worked for Alexander McQueen, Sir Tom Baker Bespoke Tailoring, and Phoebe English previous to starting up his own fashion label. The founder and creative director of BCollide, he talks to Schön! about his creative process, daily routine and his sources of inspiration. We discover what it is like to be a young entrepreneur in one of the world’s most competitive industries today.
How did BCollide come about?
BCollide combines ‘BC’ and ‘Collide’. ‘BC’ has no religious connotation here; it denotes a point from which the design should evolve honestly and purely. ‘Collide’ summarises the perpetual motion of lifestyle in a city like London. To a certain extent, BCollide reflects some aspects of my current life too.
Most of my female friends are young working professionals. We often discuss fashion and they would express their needs to me. Our conversations involve a lot of debate about the balance between creative design and practicality. For BCollide, it was their views that inspired me and contributed to the concept behind the label. BCollide is for young working professionals in cities. They are cool, maverick, ambitious, and enjoying their newly found independence — and the confidence and pride that come with it — in the form of a regular income. It’s an exhilarating experience in one’s life!
So when you talk about balance between creative design and practicality, what does that entail? Have you found any solutions?
I feel a lot of young designers, especially those who’ve had formal training in fashion design, struggle at some point during building a start-up business. Fashion design, as education, can be very exclusive, unforgiving and only highly value artistic expression. Now, as an entrepreneur, I face a different set of challenges — commercial viability and marketability of the products. My experience from working within the industry really helps me evaluate ideas from both creative and practical ends, however.
For BCollide, we explore one idea, many times until it’s translated into functional products. The process involves a lot of experimental pattern cutting and garment finishing, yet the practicality doesn’t only refer to garments but also to running the business. Building a business from scratch presents challenges on a daily basis. There are so many things to do. It’s very thrilling and humbling.
Your debut collection, OCD TEST, is ‘designed to exercise the unease triggered by the mis-alignment in everyday objects’. How did OCD come to constitute the main inspiration for the collection?
I experience this particular form of uneasy feeling when I see, for instance, a manhole cover in the street is slightly offset and the road markings wouldn’t match perfectly. It’s a very personal subject. I’m presenting this problem to my audience in designs aimed to stimulate senses with a bit of humour, if one gets it.
This collection investigates a particular form of OCD that is induced by the mis-alignment in everyday objects. It takes a witty approach as opposed to a medical diagnostic one. The designs present an argument or a problem from a different angle. With the confrontational visuals that they bear, my audience can have a light-hearted chuckle when they suddenly realise ‘Oh, this happens to me too’.
What are your main artistic influences, within both visual arts and the world of fashion?
I’ve had a lot of influences while going through the educational process, to the point where I got a little lost. Going around galleries and seeing sculptures and art was furiously encouraged at college and university. I question my own design philosophy all the time, and avoid the ‘formula’ that is ‘one finds inspirations and reconfigures them’. For BCollide, the play with these conventional forms of clothing is explicit. What is done on top of those elements is the design, be it a solution to a problem or a problem of a solution. In this sense, BCollide is quite a naughty one, hence its rebellious undertone.
The introduction video for OCD TEST seems rather sharp and tense, playing on emotional insecurity and a deep sense of unease. Where did your fascination with the dark side of the brain spring from?
BCollide is honest. Honesty sometimes can be confrontational and brutal. The video confronts insecurity. Like the collection, the video aims to stimulate senses. I’m fascinated by the sensation I have when responding to my surroundings — it could be joy, amusement, and accomplishment, but also sorrow, depression, and failure. The OCD TEST collection plays on a slightly troubling subject indeed, but I do hope that the result is delightfully different.
Would you consider a collaboration?
I yearn for collaborations. Collaborations for me are like putting together a huge jigsaw puzzle, just with more hands and brains. The same idea can be interpreted and realised in so many ways. Most importantly, it will be a dream come true to work with people who share a similar ideology in design; the creative comrades.
What does a day-to-day schedule involve for you?
I’m currently working solely on my own, so I’m taking care of everything: researching, designing, pattern cutting, sourcing, sampling, fitting, book keeping, PR-ing, branding and marketing. I do take Sundays off though, it’s the one day a week I can detox and recuperate.
Is the deconstruction of the conventional lines of garments a creative direction that you would like to explore in future collections?
The deconstructed elements in this collection serve the concept, as opposed to the brand’s aesthetic. Elements are meant to look like they’ve been sliced open and rotated, and convince the audience it’s an intended design. If another future idea requires leaving certain parts of the design unfinished, it’ll be done only to convey the idea, but it’s not a necessity.
On a final note, what comes next for BCollide?
BCollide debuts with OCD TEST as a luxury womenswear label. I’ve started to research for the next collection. I’m working on ‘Re-define’, which is to challenge the stereotypical use of certain fabrics and the connotation of conventional garments. Hopefully BCollide can bring a different set of dialogue to the table of design.
To see more of BCollide, and to discover the OCD TEST collection, click here.
Words / Anca Dunavete
This BCollide editorial was produced by
I figured that, since I am a (NCTJ-qualified) journalist, I’d better start blogging about my opinions. It’s funny, I have a degree that gives me the right to talk… I must mention, though, that it’s 2AM and the only reason why I’m not in bed yet is, well, JackFM. God I love JackFM.
One year ago I realised that I don’t want to go into journalism. When I applied for university, I wanted nothing more than to graduate as already an investigative journalist (or travel journalist… hey, the world is big and the possibilities are endless.) As for the reason, there is a quote I found during my studies that says it better than I ever could. Here it goes:
“I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer or go into business. I wanted to be a writer and bring down the bastions of power that caused common people so much suffering. That’s what I thought in 11th grade. I guess I never grew up. I still feel that way.” (Robert I. Friedman, investigative journalist)
Beautiful, isn’t it? Yet after a long dissertation on the representation of humanitarian crises in the Western Media and exploring theories of media influence while growing more and more cynical, I realised I am not ready for it. I see journalism, real journalism, as a high and mighty thing still, but deep inside me I just know that right now is not my time to write about such things.
Therefore, one year ago I decided to work more on not only my knowledge but also focus, drive, creativity and inner strength before taking the weight of the world on my shoulders, and investigated :) other routes. I stumbled over the Society of Young Publishers‘ annual conference in Oxford and decided that it might be worth to give it a try, although I knew nothing about the world of publishing at the time and lived 4 hours away in good old Portsmouth. I liked books, ok? I read from my grandmother’s newspaper when I was 2, this would impress any potential employer, right? I dutifully bought my ticket then, messaged my only Facebook contact from Oxford that I was coming, needed a place to stay overnight and it was nice to finally meet him, and packed some clothes in a hurry. What was I thinking? Ah, but sometimes the mind only gets in the way…
Publishing really seemed like a dream come true, the best of both worlds; I would be around great literature and perhaps utilise my writing skills every now and then. I left the conference and Oxford animated, enthusiastic and ready to go for it, all engines burning. My dream to work in the world of books that, I like to believe, shape the world just as much as newspaper do and yes, I know just how debatable my statement is, was beginning to take on a life of its own. I immediately went back to reading tons of books, researching the publishing industry in every way, getting better at InDesign (because ebooks) and generally growing more and more comfortable with the terrifying future awaiting for me at the end of July.
After graduation, I made the biggest efforts and managed to move to London in what should never, ever, be defined in my biographies as a dream place, and spent days and nights drinking coffee and applying for entry level jobs while counting down the number of days left until the rent was due. I had made a promise to feed myself emotionally, creatively, intellectually, and spiritually each day, and sticking to something this noble brings us, I believe, trust and respect for ourselves.
Yet feeding my creativity became increasingly harder as I couldn’t find work that mattered, to the point that I nearly ran out of it — and began to forget what that work should be. I got dangerously close to the point where I didn’t know what I wanted to do anymore, and just wanted to do more living for a while. This is ok to say as a 22-year-old, isn’t it? Not so much when you’re a planner like me, and are not rebelling to go on a round-the-world trip but running out of funds. I actually like having a vision, making lists, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and even keeping my room tidy! New life in London was messy, chaotic and lacked any sort of direction. The number of articles I began to read on neuroscience and NLP slowly started to scare my housemate…
The publishing world didn’t seem to want me and I started to resent it too. I went back to journalism and worked in a tiny office for a Romanian newspaper, and later interned for Schön! magazine. In the meantime I also got experience in digital marketing, book marketing and social media marketing… but you can read about all this on my LinkedIn, which looks incredibly neat for what it was all really like.
Last month I stumbled over the new Society of Young Publishers‘ annual conference, this time taking place at the London College of Communication. Ironically, perhaps, it was also going to be the day after my internship with Schön! ended. I took a deep breath and got my ticket, biting my lips and fidgeting in my chair. What was it gonna be this year, then? More information, more networking, more ah-me-too-where-are-you-interning? Whatever is was going to be, I was going to be there with a smile on my face though (which was hard, given that I went to see Interstellar with my boyfriend the night before — yay to surprises!) and that I did. I left with a notepad full of notes, contacts, a better understanding of what I must do and inspiration running a mile ahead of me, playing hide and seek with my slightly unimpressed self. But behind every cynic is a disappointed idealist after all…
It’s been a few days since the conference, and there are still a few days left until my marketing placement with Little, Brown Book Group starts (which I was offered in July, so it had nothing to do with #SYPconf14) and I’m taking my time to map out the future again. I know I didn’t study publishing, but neither have others. Frankly, I believe that there might be better journalists than me out there if only they were given a chance, fancy degree or not. It really all comes down to passion, as there are few things you can’t learn from Google today (future doctors, go to school, please!) In the media industry, skills are transferable and departments work closely together. I’ve spent one day at the HarperCollins offices (yes, I begged for that day for months and it included an episode of stalking in another city; I literally chase my dreams, ok?) and I was the last one to leave. I didn’t do the most interesting work I had ever done, but somehow, something, somewhere felt right. I went to #SYPconf14 a little scared, and came out with an open heart that wants more of the books world, more of this, whatever this is.
A part of me still wants to be a big bad investigative journalism. More of me wants to work with manuscripts and upcoming authors right now. I listen to my heart, because I know I’d be hearing it screaming later if I didn’t. Is this my path? I want it to be now. I don’t know if I’ll walk it forever. I probably won’t be walking forever, but for as long as I am here, for as long as I am awake and unafraid and strong and bold and young and free to choose, I choose to do what I love — and do it more. Better days will come; or I will go after them. Ready for me, marketing department?
Yes, H&M & Alexander Wang are launching a new collection tomorrow, but— but!— my name is @ Schön! Magazine’s website again! Check the post here!
H&M and Alexander Wang’s innovative forthcoming collaboration is scheduled to hit stores and digital shelves tomorrow, on November 6th, after the Swedish retailer and New York-based designer have teamed up to create the ultimate urban collection. Photographer Zoltan Mihaly captures the collection exclusively for Schön! with stylist Peter Frak.
Black, white and grey and emblazoned with Wang’s blocky logo, with an urban edge and references to the survivalist undercurrent, this collection is what successful street style is made of. “We wanted to take certain elements of each sport and portray the ultimate warrior. The girls had to feel big and heroic,” states Wang.
Playing on the youth’s obsession with fitness, Alexander Wang X H&M brings sport and performance to everyday life through technical details and fabrics used for both function and fashion. This is Wang’s first ever versatile performance wear wardrobe, with over 35 exclusively designed pieces to be worn on the street, in the gym and at the club. Alexander Wang x H&M will be available online and in 250 stores worldwide.
The menswear collection comprises over 20 newly-developed pieces and creates a modern wardrobe with the aspects and functionality of performance wear. In the video game-esque teaser video, filmed in an underground theatre in London, the cast performs impressively athletic stunts while battling the elements, seeming almost superhuman. Wang explains that “We wanted to find a way of representing those performance-wear functionalities in the film by putting our cast in extreme conditions and by making it appear easy and graceful for them to take on something that seems like a challenge.”
Discover the #AlexanderWangxHM collection now.
“I have fallen in love with the imagination. And if you fall in love with the imagination, you understand that it is a free spirit. It will go anywhere, and it can do anything.” (Alice Walker)
His name was S. Was, and sometimes I’m not sure it even was at all. This is the story I thought I’d never tell. It’s also my favourite story of all. There are nights when I’m still burning with passion for all the things we did and all the more we could have done. These nights I don’t sleep at all. I toss and turn in my bed for hours, ardent and wanting and alive like I’ve only been since I met him and until everyday life happened and took him away from me. Other nights I sleep well, and I wake up laughing at all the others when I don’t.
‘What am I losing sleep over?’ I wonder as I stretch and think of hot coffee and outfits, ‘Stories with ghosts? Grow up, will ya,’ I tell myself and get up quickly, careful not to start questioning us again, doubting myself again, and generally thinking of all things that will never, ever happen again. The truth is that this story should be buried six feet under with me at the end of what I hope it will be my long and beautiful life, but day after day the same thought hits me — that life can never be as beautiful again.
‘There is blood singing in your veins, yearning life and wilderness and new hearts to be tamed. You can do so much more, you can be all that you want. Leave the ghosts where they belong — in your overactive, stubborn, chaotic mind, and move on from the stories you knitted with theirs; they aren’t part of your story, they aren’t part of anything. They aren’t — and that’s that,’ I try to convince myself as I brush my teeth, roll my stockings up, put on some pretty flowery skirt and head out for yet another day in the land of make believe. It’s funny they call it that, when S was the only one who ever truly, deeply believed in me and he wasn’t even from around here; or around here. I shake my head to shake off my sadness. How did our paths ever cross, and how can I be so sure they ever did? I am not. I have never been, but those new feelings must have come from somewhere. When and where are questions that I am unlikely to ever answer; but the what is so clear to me that every night when I lie myself to sleep and every morning when I laugh at my split personality can’t make up for half the truth I know in my heart.
He is as real as it gets to me, and this certitude warms up my entire body. He lives boldly and vividly in my world. Ah, the devil’s in the details; of course he does, because my world is inside of me. Has it all been only in my mind this entire time? But what time? Is it now? Is it then? Is it never? Is it important? What is the point of something if you don’t let it change you? — and this has changed me more than anything that could have happened. I have fallen in love with the imagination. And if you fall in love with the imagination, you understand that it is a free spirit. It will go anywhere, and it can do anything.
If you want to know about my life, know that it hasn’t always been this mundane background with a splash of surreal. I have big dreams and not enough ambition, big questions and never any answers. I see sweetness in solitude, but I believe in having a soft landing below me if I ever fall, and it has names and faces and unbreakable bonds that make me smile through all the tears. Some stand out more than others, but in the end it’s my safety net, my security blanket, my heart and what I thought to be my life: a bright, young thing, trying a bit too hard to inject happiness into her veins, finding warmth in the road ahead and going on short bursts of adventures to pacify her wanderlust.
I was that, and probably little more, until S happened. And he happened for long days and torrid nights, and it felt like a little lifetime, so different from all I’ve ever experienced that I’m still wondering if I’ve ever experienced it at all. Every memory of him that I cling on to for dear life knocks on my every door, window and crack in the wall, begging me to play it first; and I let go of myself and the world around me, and stop time to get lost in the sweet, secret feelings. Stains on my heart, stains on humanity’s emotional evolution, stains on the world’s history, all the ways in which S affected me are things unheard of. I know of many great love-and-lost stories, but never have I heard of such enigmatic, wild forces that come and go so quickly, changing one’s life forever yet leaving them to ponder on their very existence. Those memories are all I have now and this is supposed to be the end of the story, but strangely, it is only the beginning. My steering wheel still has his fingerprints, and I know it’s because he’ll always somehow be trapped in my world. I can never let go of the idea of somebody thinking of me as the universe itself. Ah, I like being somebody’s everything when I have never been enough for myself. There have never been any others sinking down to such depths to be dancing with all my demons. The demons, God damn the demons, spoon-fed with my fears and instead of silenced their screams burn through my veins and echo in my heart. I know, I’m such a cliché. Isn’t this ordinary life? And yes, I too want to be happy, of course. Because what else is there to be? I need to do this, I’ll always need to, much as it hurts thinking about it, because these memories make the familiar calm come back to me in the way I know that S will never do.
But I write this knowing fully well that what’s been is long gone now, and I need to drain my sadness out through ink and tears and get out of this loop. And I tried and tried to think about the world around me and the problems students have to face and the lovely lady at the corner shop who’s been running her small business for forty years now but I always, always come back to writing about him. I don’t know anything else, and I probably never will, and this is another thing I need to be ok with. I will never, ever find anything that I can connect to on a level so deep that it makes everything pulsate, as if connected to my own veins. S made life vibrant and I experienced the state of being fully alive and aware of my surroundings, of myself, of somebody else to a point it’s painful to go to, even in my head. I can almost feel the hands that can awaken all possibilities and arouse all my senses, imagination, and insecurities. I reset my mind, body, soul through him. When you feel and experience something with so much depth, everything is intensified. In my mind, I’m always going back to raw days, marvels, heightened senses, delicious ambiguity. To wherever the wind blows through our hair and intertwined fingers. S taught me about the analysis paralysis, about how seeing the good in people makes them believe it too and choose to be the good that you see in them, about never-ending adventures and the power of a strong soul.
Imagine a world where the character falls in love with the reader, where you don’t chase your dreams, but — plot twist — your dreams chase you, where books are written about silence and the things people only say with their eyes, their hearts and their vibration, and you’ve imagined the place where he comes from. The place where I think I come from, because it’s clearly not the New World of happiness and rainbows and butterflies. It’s different; it’s difficult to put it into better words. I want to follow this strange, wild creature down to the very depths of my imagination, all the way to where the magic happens — and it happens, I don’t know how I know it but I do, because I’ve never been all the way there yet but somehow I know exactly how it feels — but I’m paralysed by fear. I know its roots, I know where it comes from, and I know what it’s trying to say though. I know, because it’s the same fear we all face after all. I can almost see its rolling eyes and shaking head, hear the you-should-bes and the why-can’t-yous, and ah, the whatifs. What if my rich, vivid so-called memories are just a trick of the mind, if nothing really exists outside the edge of this New World, if the feelings I remember so well from the moments I felt most alive in are nothing but products of my foolish imagination? What if everything I think I remember is just a reminiscence of my mind wanderings to strange, forbidden places? What if S wasn’t real? What if S is real, but I never got even this far down and I’m only crazy? What if I can imagine things that exist somewhere else that I never got to? What if they don’t exist at all? The only testimony that I have are the changes my inner world went through — what if it went alone, with no man called S guiding it with warm hands and soft-spoken words?
Sometimes I don’t know if I’m making him up. I can’t tell reality from fiction. I wake up to new senses, I daydream of new adventures, I close my eyes and I live wildly and I open them and my soul collapses and I gain new experiences when I blink, and this world doesn’t live up to what my subconscious can do, but what if that’s all S ever was — if he ever was anything at all? But then there are his face, his voice, and all the things we did together than make me smile and blush and feel like I’ve already lived a life I’m proud of, and they are as clear as day to me. I just can’t remember what days they happened…
The est by eS.’ prêt-à-porter autumn/winter collection is guided by principles of order and calm, targeting women who look for timeless, yet intriguing, clothing. Featuring gently lowered shoulder lines, visible waistlines, pockets hidden in seams and subtle conjunctions of front and back sides, the collection is a understated tribute to minimalist silhouettes. The Polish brand, created in 2010 by designer Gosia Sobiczewska, replaces its characteristic patterns with a variety of textures this season – geometric, suede, plain and relief textures come together with materials such as viscose, suit cotton and knit fabric. The colour scheme revolves around shades of vanilla, coal black, stone, and sapphire.
Shot by Bartek Wieczorek and styled by Robert Kiełb, this sleek editorial successfully communicates the brand’s message that womenswear should be tasteful, polished and sophisticated, without being ostentatious and gaudy.
Luscious Jenna Castilloux shows off her fierce side in bold pieces from Balmain, Roberto Cavalli & Stuart Weizman in this dark, alluring editorial by Yann Ostiguy. With styling by Rima Chahine, city lights and dark, sultry silhouettes come alive at the peak of darkness.
Model Olya Ivanisevic is explores the depth of the suburbs wearing Tom Ford, Versace and Alexander McQueen pieces in this Schön! online editorial. Styled by Donald Hicks and captured by Caleb & Gladys, this exclusive editorial is a beautiful exploration of city and colour .
With street-worthy attire an air reminiscent of the `90s, Lindsay Hamlyn’s exclusive online editorial for Schön! features model Jason Anthony, styled by Kat Klug in classic Converse AllStars and sleek sport designs from Adriaan Kuiter and Comme Des Garçons.
Model Sophia Nilsson poses for Schön! Magazine in this dark, evocative editorial shot by Halldora and Bryan. With styling by Fleur Bellanger, industrial backgrounds are confronted with pieces by Aganovich, Ainur Turisbek and Steven Tai. This online editorial is a deeply moving tribute to one of the most iconic members of contemporary dance: Pina Bausch.
This sophisticated online editorial by Matthew Lyn combines strong lines, daring textures and statement pieces from Burberry and Maison Matthew Gallagher, styled by Amarsana Gendunova. Delicate emotions conveyed by Next Models’s Nathalie B contrast with the apparent simplicity and dark colours, breathing life into these near-perfect combinations.
This wild monochromatic editorial captured outdoors by photographer Tristan Rösler, showcases svelte BOSS Orange, Surface to Air and Lost & Found pieces. Starring Aljoscha Fàbregas styled by Karl Peterson, this is a modern tribute to communing with all things nature.
The journalism internship I’m currently doing at Schön! Magazine is proving to be quite challenging, but also fun and inspiring. I get to write about fashion, beauty and events, things I never tried to write about… except for a feature on Diesel’s new collection in my second year, and the fashion page for a London-based Romanian newspaper. Hey, maybe I know more than I think I do! Here are some of the articles I’ve worked on in these last few weeks, to make up for all the creative writing I’m avoiding to do lately… I have access to my boyfriend’s Netflix account, if that counts as an excuse. #BreakingBad ?!
Schön! Magazine attended the exclusive launch of The Glenlivet’s The Winchester Collection, a series of single malts of unparalleled quality. Taking its name from current Master Distiller Alan Winchester, this exquisite collection of rare whiskies is anticipated to become one of the most sought after collections.
The London-based meet and taste event introduced Vintage 1964, the first 50-year-old single malt scotch from The Winchester Collection. Just 100 bottles of this inaugural release will be made available around the world, with each priced in parity to $25,000. The very first bottle is going on sale at one of the world’s most prestigious retailers, Harrods, this October. An undisclosed number of further releases from The Winchester Collection will follow, with Vintage 1966 confirmed to be next in line.
“This release marks a milestone for The Glenlivet,” Alan Winchester told Schön! “Casks of this age and quality are such a rare thing these days that I’m immensely proud to introduce the first of these rare vintages of preserved stocks from the distillery’s rich past.”
Craftmanship being taken just as seriously, every element used to design the perfect vessel is hand-crafted – from hand-blown glass to the inclusion of precious materials. Acclaimed Scottish glass artists Nichola Burns and Brodie Nairn have been inspired by The Glenlivet’s history to create the design. The jewel-like stopper was made by internationally acclaimed silversmith Richard Fox, whose past commissions have included Formula One and Rolls Royce, and the beautiful presentation cabinet has been created by award-winning furniture maker John Galvin.
Nikki Burgess, Global Brand Director for The Glenlivet, explained that “The release of The Winchester Collection sets a new benchmark in single malt. We are excited to share this spirit, the product of 50 years of craftsmanship, with whisky lovers and collectors alike. Vintage 1964 allows us to tell a new chapter in The Glenlivet’s rich history.”
If the first bottle of Vintage 1964 goes on sale at Harrods this October, the launch date for the next release from the collection has yet to be announced.
Lisbon’s Fashion Legacy Showcase
If you don’t think of Portugal as one of the fashion industry’s key players yet, we say think again. October shed some light on the creative and commercial potential of this Iberian land, bringing to attention Lisbon Fashion Week – the most important Portuguese fashion event, a project supported by Lisbon’s city council and ModaLisboa Association that brings together the national and international press, VIPs and fashion lovers. Aiming to promote creativity, not only in fashion, but also in adjacent areas, such as photography and set design, it takes place twice a year – March and October – and showcases the work of talented established and emerging Portuguese designers.
The 43rd edition of Lisbon Fashion Week revolved around legacy, a theme which explored the idea of reconstruction as something which doesn’t necessarily equate to oblivion, emphasizing the fact that the new doesn’t erase history.
The events took place from the 10th to 13th of October, proudly presenting collections that anticipate the summer of 2015, new names in the fashion industry, pop-up stores of emergent Portuguese brands and an exhibition of fashion photography.
Sangue Novo, the platform created by Lisbon Fashion Week in 2003 that aims to introduce upcoming national talents to an international audience, introduced ten new designers at Pátio da Galé on the 10th October. With collections that set a very high standard, the ambitious young designers celebrated style, creativity and innovation. Olga Noronha, Cristina Real, Rua 148 and other up-and-coming designers revealed their collections on the catwalk, presenting fresh perspectives on the creative legacy that Portugal aspires to leave.
One of the designers, Inês Duvale, presented streetwear-inspired collection, Karma, featuring imprinted circular shapes in a cold pallet of white, greys and dark blues. Duvale interpreted the idea of circularity with concentric circles splashed on garments – symbols of protection – and circular earpieces that completed her strong vision. Inês works with designer Ricardo Andrez, a regular at Lisbon Fashion Week, who
showcased his own collection Chaser the next day at Pátio da Galé. Inês was later selected to showcase her work in June 2015 at FashionClash in Holland by Branko Popovic.
The three day event also featured Wonder Room, a pop-up store of emergent Portuguese brands, at Sala do Arquivo, in Lisbon’s City Council. Three of the designers participating in Sangue Novo’s show, Catarina Oliveira, Cristina Real and Nair Xavier, also exhibited their collections at Wonder Room.
Immediate interpretations of the shows were on display at Workstation, an exhibition of photography Capturing the highlights of the event as it happened. Workstation started on the evening of the first day and continued until the end of Lison Fashion Week Legacy at Paços do Concelho, showcasing photographic impressions of the occasion through the work of four young, promising photographers: Arlindo Camacho, Carla Pires, Pedro Duarte Jorge, and Ricardo Santos.
This autumn, Lisbon chose to believe in the power of ongoing projects, renewed energy and the conscience of what is valuable and essential about its culture. Legacy is to give and receive, and Lisbon gave faith, trust and a strong voice to its newest emerging designers – and now Schön! believes in them too.
Atelier Scotch Tailoring Line Available in Own Brand’s First Store
Amsterdam-based brand Scotch & Soda opened its first store last week, on Heiligeweg, in the heart of the Dutch Capital. With the store, which will stock the tailored line Atelier Scotch, the house is expanding its horizons. Focused on contemporary yet decorative formal dressing, Atelier Scotch is a stylish collection defined by bold combinations, luxury, and a love for details. Scotch & Soda is led by an international team of professionals that warmly welcomed Schön! at the opening. The spectacular opening saw local and international press, as well as devotees of the brand, discover the refined and subtle interior of the new store.
Presenting clothes bursting with unique mixtures of structures, styles and colours, that still stay subtle and elegant, it showed that this is a name to remember. Atelier Scotch has a serious tone to it, yet combines materials and fits that haven’t been seen before, resulting in a varied, distinctive and non-pretentious line.
The team behind the collection was inspired by the world’s style capitals and launched a strong collection that plays with contradictions, but keeps it classy. It launched at Pitti Uomo in Florence in January 2014, targeted at the gentleman who is “cool, not stiff; comfortable, but dressed up.” By boldly positioning itself in the fashion world this autumn through its signature collection and a fresh new store, Scotch & Soda is paving its way to a bright, promising future.
Head to Heiligeweg 45, Amsterdam, to discover the new Scotch & Soda store.
Loulou de la Falaise; Rizzoli International Publications, New York, 2014
A new release has become the first monograph to celebrate the life and work of Loulou de la Falaise, the style icon and muse to Yves Saint Laurent who became the embodiment of French chic. Born in 1948 to an English mother and a French father, Loulou’s chic style, powerful spirit and ability to transform anything into something made her an influential fashion icon and a breath of fresh air to the world of Parisian haute couture.
”I’m not a very strict person,” she once declared. “I’m more of an extravagant type of person. I’ll keep on mixing because it’s more inspiring.…I think fashion goes through phases. I just wait for them to be over.”
Celebrated for inspiring and accessorizing Yves Saint Laurent’s collections, she moved to Paris in 1972 to work with the designer. For almost forty years, she built her professional reputation designing jewelry and accessories both for Yves Saint Laurent as well as for her own line.
Slim, beautiful and artistic, she almost looked like a fashion sketch. She loved parties and cigarettes, but so did everyone else in Paris back then. Fun-loving and popular on the Paris social scene, Loulou was a glamorous figure with perfect proportions, seductive voice and bohemian flare. Oscar de la Renta said he always felt reassured when de la Falaise would declare, “I love that.” And although she loved socializing, she was almost always surrounded by Yves, her husband Thadée Klossowski de Rola and their daughter, Anna.
Loulou’s appetite for fashion and beauty continues to inspire millions today. The elegant and fun style icon really exemplified what French chic is all about. This volume is her life in over 400 pictures captured by legendary photographers, alongside conversations with her intimates.
Marianne Faithfull: A Life on Record; Rizzoli International Publications, New York, 2014
Edited by the artist herself, with accompanying handwritten captions, the new photo memoir pays tribute to the style icon that Marianne Faithfull has been for decades. Discovered in a coffeehouse in 1964 by the manager of the Rolling Stones, Marianne quickly became the sixties’ ingénue with big blue eyes and an angelic expression, the rock’n’roll queen with the hit records in a leather jumpsuit, the blissed out girl on Mick Jagger’s arm. While her story is not exactly a fairytale, it certainly is a fascinating journey from innocence to experience. Published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the release in 1964 of her groundbreaking debut single “As Tears Go By,” this book includes never-before-seen snapshots from Faithfull’s own archive, specially commissioned photographs of her Parisian home, and iconic images by the world’s best-known photographers. It is a brilliant, complete, revealing celebration of an extraordinary force in the popular culture.
Her singing, songwriting, acting and presence as the it girl of the sixties have made Faithfull an undisputed icon. As a singer, she collaborated with Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and Nick Cave, and as an actress she worked alongside luminaries such as Alain Delon, Jean-Luc Godard, and Sofia Coppola. She has been a magnet for other artists since she was a 17 year old fresh-faced girl who sang like an angel, her voice confirming her image. The most striking thing about her during the sixties, decade that Diana Vreeland named the “youthquake” — the first great explosion of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, was her innocence. Other iconic girls of the sixties, like Veruschka and Edie Sedgwick, never looked innocent. Despite being carried to the top of the charts, when she turned 19 she followed the path set by her high-born parents and married her Cambridge-educated boyfriend. This duality fascinated the London press even more. As Salman Rushdie writes in the foreword, “With her big baby-blue eyes and her angelic expression, she looked as if the darkness of the ’60s couldn’t touch her.” Which, of course, foreshadowed that it would.
Just one year later, aged 20, Faithfull decided to leave her marriage to be in love with Jagger. But the Sixties had many casualties and, by the time her new relationship had ended, her heroin addiction was ready to cost her custody of her son Nicholas (from her first marriage), her house, and nearly her life. What happened next, however, was remarkable. She returned for a second act in the late 70s, as a punk phoenix beating drug addiction, homelessness, cancer and hepatitis with her confessional comeback album, Broken English. Her new, deeper, rougher voice, the voice of a life full of rich experience, and her new smile reminded of the grandeur of the survivor.
Half-century since her first hit, the beautiful mature woman she is today is ready for a series of projects to celebrate her fifty year recording career. There’s her photographic memoir Marianne Faithfull: A Life on Record, but also a new album. ‘Give My Love to London’ was released in September 2014, soon to be followed by a 12-month world tour in 30 European cities. Ready to set out from her home in Paris, she notes simply in the book’s final pages: “What I love best is making records and performing. My motto: Never let the buggers grind you down.”
When nobody was looking, I buried my ring in the sand and left it for the waves to carry it far away. I didn’t want him and the symbols of his stupid, selfish love and, if I really had stopped to think, I might have thrown my own body to the sea.
Every cell at the surface of my skin still carried his fingerprints, and every ounce of blood running through me contained all the feelings under the sun next to memories of him, as if swimming together in a sea of so many others.
But I could think of only each second in front of me, hearing the wind and the silence rumbling in my mind and breathing in and out this dark morning of my soul.
All my storms, like silk cold aversions, had stopped at the edge of me and left my heart dry out and die. Who knew? I knew. He was the bad guy, but he already walked through all my doors marked private.
‘Baby, come here,’ he said putting an arm around my shoulders. ‘The guys are leaving, shall we go with them?’
I shrugged. The truth was that what we did with our day didn’t matter all that much, because we both knew where this was really going. Ah, all the things that were going to happen, all the things that were never going to happen anymore.
I don’t know, baby. You nearly killed me.
Fingers in my fists, mind as cold as heart. The Siberia of my lands, the winter of my years. He chose a bad time to visit.
‘You need two things to heal — time and love,’ he said to me, ‘and I’m going to give you both.’
Yes, I need time away from you and your stupid, selfish love.
I heard him swallow hard, and his tension didn’t move me. I nearly congratulated myself for the lack of emotion. New skills, always a pleasure.
It was midday and we were in the park. We came to look for squirrels. We had already been through all of this on the phone, when he asked me to meet him. I screamed at him for a little while before I said yes. I was drained.
‘I know you want to say no, but you also want to say yes. It’s the yes that truly matters. It’s the yes you’ll come back to in the end. You’ll stay. I know you’ll stay. and I’m not going to force you but I will be here, and somehow, you will be here too.’
I was going to turn to look at him, at that smug face that nearly crashed the car and yet still had the courage to talk to me like that, but I didn’t want to learn hate all over again.
‘You hit me,’ I said quietly, almost to myself. I nearly died.
People and trees and the city’s mystery and magnificence receded on either hand like the dark sides of a tunnel. I was walking — no, I was running back home, eyes and face full of tears. My head ached and my body burnt and I was bleeding. He hit me, and when he started the car I screamed and I screamed at him to stop but he would only scream louder and I was afraid that he was going to hit me again, so I stopped after a while and crossed my fingers so hard that it hurt. I didn’t want to die yet, I didn’t want to trust my dreams to a younger generation. I wanted to live to scream another day, to create another day, to claim, take, and love every day of my little life even if it meant being without him. Better, even. He was laughing like the drunken idiot that he had been all night when he lost control and crashed. I don’t know what happened to him, or to the other people. I opened the door and ran and ran and didn’t stop running, not even when I felt that the sticky liquid on my face wasn’t just tears —ah, whatever, a little blood. But he hit me, and then he nearly killed me. But he loved me, and he asked me to be his for the next seventy years or so. But I was running too hard to follow my thoughts, and as I ran I lost them all on empty streets. Never will I think them again, was the last one of them, and I had never felt fresher, wiser, easier in my then-bleeding skin.
‘Are you crazy?’ I laughed and leaned across the table.’You don’t ask… this… in front of everybody, I…’
I blushed, for sure.
Everybody was staring, and I was feeling slightly awkward, embarrased and forced to give an answer I hadn’t thought through.
‘Relax, baby,’ he said. ‘I’ll make the yes come in time. Everyday will be a yes day, baby. Just give me a little — he put two fingers together —trust, this much every day.’
He took another sip of his beer and she nudged my elbow.
‘You just got the luckiest girl at the table,’ she whispered in my ear.
‘You think?’ I smiled, and felt my cheeks turning red.
She gave me a long, intense stare, and then proceeded to gracefully ignore me.
When I went to the ladies room, I glanced in the mirror at my bronzed skin and long, gold dress. I looked pretty stunning. I knew the answer in my heart.
He just got the luckiest guy in that room.
‘So… how did you guys meet?’
Oh, God, I hate this question.
I ran my fingers through my hair, nervously.
‘At a bar,’ I finally said and giggled.
‘Oh yeah? Did he just pick you up randomly?’
‘No, no. He was… in a fight. Outside. Jesus, Helen, I hate our story.’
Helen’s eyes opened widely.
‘He was? Did he win?’
‘Yeah… kinda. Well, I dragged him out of there. Me and a coupe of others. Then he was lying on the ground, talking about how the other guy was being difficult and all that jazz, when his eyes stopped on me.’
‘And… before he was saying that we was going to wait for people to start leaving, then beat his ass again.’
‘He did that?’
‘No, he let me call a cab and take him home.’
‘Oh, wow. He moved fast. With you, I mean. And you did too. Wait, you did that? You’re not like that. What about your stranger danger theory? My God, you collected your boyfriend from a fight?!’
‘Ah, well,’ I smiled, feeling like a badass hero in front of you-never-have-enough-fun Helen, ‘he can never be a dangerous stranger to me anymore.’
‘He doesn’t have to, honey.’
M still thought this is how I was born. He is terribly naive. At times I wished he would realise that my cells didn’t decide to man up as they were putting me together; it was my thoughts many, many years later.
‘Why are you doing this?’ he asked me, and I shrugged.
Why not? I thought. I have been enough of a coward to last me for the rest of my life.
‘You are like a beautiful tomboy or something. Raw and real and, at the same time, young, pretty… sensual.’
‘M, listen up,’ I said, trying not to blush, ‘there’s only one secret to it all: listen to your heart, or you’re going to be hearing it screaming later.’
He looked unconvinced. I put on a small smile and kept walking. Ah, you can only love them…
That night I thought of how I could have stopped right there, giving him all the secret access codes and passwords to switching from loneliness to solitude. Take him home, up the spiral staircase where all my paintings are hung, each one in order with their colours progressing like the seasons. Home, where I break the spell with my mind, where I dream hardcore dreams and I’ve got all the world I need at my fingertips. Home, where I amplify myself, where even the way I breathe is different — like flames coming from the mouths of all the dragons I tamed on the way to building myself a home. But I could never take him there.
He would have had to design his own. Mine would be nothing but wood and pretty carpets to him. There are no real secrets either, at least none that applies to two people at the same time.
‘I’m afraid of decluttering, forgetting, losing’, they always say.
Just listen to your heart, I say to myself, almost as a reminder that they are wrong. Your heart will never forget the essential. You don’t need to keep the real deal to stay tall, once you’ve had it. Experiences stay in you, you move out from them.
I wanted to say it out loud to M, but it’s hard to tell someone to keep a void inside themselves, so that they can travel light and have space for words of wisdom overheard in crowded bars and images of beautifully made-up sentences remembered from skim-reading. They never listen.
That night, I also asked myself for the first time whether he really loved me or not — but that was a stupid question to ask. I knew he did. Uncertainty would have only meant that he didn’t. When somebody loves you, you don’t find yourself curled up on a couch late at night, questioning his love. Nobody calls you at three in the morning just to tell you they don’t love you anymore, and he used to call me at night quite often. He did love me, of course he did and I longed to be his and began to plot strategies to love him best. But could he love me best? People rarely see past my quietness and he almost unveiled me to bare skin, where I am a volcanic, boyish little girl that no one else but him and I can see. Yet he doesn’t understand it. He can’t understand my nature. He still hasn’t got a clue about who I am at heart. And when I listen to my heart, I am infinite.
But who can listen to other hearts?
I reviewed this (really good, as you’re about to find out) book for Publishing Push, where I was also the Marketing & Communications Assistant.
The book follows the journey of Sean McManus, business journalist for a London newspaper, whom the reader finds feeling helpless, turning a little cynical, and living in a quiet desperation for meaning. Despite his best intentions to be an investigative journalist, he grows softer and softer in time as his confidence starts decomposing. His life begins to change when he becomes interested in the untold story behind the CEO of the world’s largest company. A quiet presence in the press although despite his astounding results, Charles Barker-Willet strikes as a modest, media-shy man and intrigues Sean enough to send him in a quest for answers. Sean uncovers a whole new world as he ends up on a rollercoaster ride from around the world, chasing shadows and secrets as he begins to put together the pieces of the biggest, baddest and maddest puzzle there is.
On the surface, Incorporated Evil looks like a straightforward book about the corporate world – the aphrodisiac of absolute power, combined with a couple of other ingredients such as romantic love and a good cause. Yet this novel doesn’t do exactly what it says on the tin. While discovering what’s behind the world’s largest company would be nearly enough to keep one reading, discovering what happens to the characters soon becomes the priority. It is easy to fall in love with them and wish them well – then follow every step of their journey. While it is obvious from the very start who the main characters are, it is difficult to say that the rest are of any less interest to the reader. All have the great quality of being profoundly human, with warm blood and hearts racing and doubts so obvious that drawing the line between good and evil, ironically, becomes hard.
What makes Incorporated Evil special, besides the catchy story, is its plot twists. Although trademark of every book of this kind, they are so much humanized through the characters leading the story forward that their individual stories easily become the main story at times. Having transplanted almost every element out of the real life, but putting them together this way, Widdows has great a possible world that will send both shivers and tenderness down any reader’s spine.
If the thought of dropping your favourite gadgets in the water always makes you think twice before hiding them in your beach bag, know that technology is working on your dreams. Here are five fantastic devices for that geeky summer holiday that everybody is going to like (on Instagram at least):
The most versatile camera in the world’s advanced version, the GoPro Hero 3+ Black edition, is smaller and lighter than its bestselling predecessor, has longer battery life and faster built-in Wi-Fi. For GBP 359.99 you get to have a play with the SuperView™ video mode, which captures a much wider angle perspective, and the Auto Low Light mode that intelligently adjusts frame rate for low-light performance. Other features include a sharper lens, improved image quality and audio – and did I mention it’s waterproof to 131’/40m? As they say – wear it, mount it, love it.
How do you feel about binge-watching your favourite TV show while working on your tan at the pool – or even better, in the water? You know you wanna, so Sony has created Xperia Z2, the slimmest and lightest tablet that stays waterproof for up to 30 minutes in fresh water. It’s available for USD 499.99 for a 16 GB built-in memory or USD 599.99 for 32 GB. Just remember to keep all of its ports and slots shut!
The iGills SE-35 Smart Diving System works two ways: first, the smartphone waterproof case protects your phone up to depths of 130 feet. Second, its integrated computer system syncs to your phone and provides computer functionality through six buttons on the outside of the case – next to depth, time and temperature sensors. Other features available are a digital compass, an emergency flashlight to see what’s under that rock, and underwater still photography, filming and instant sharing options. iGills also automatically generates a dive log when you hit the water – it creates a dive event, stores your depth profile and links pictures and videos captured, so that once you’re back at the surface everything is organised. Media generated with iGills can be synced, posted or emailed directly from your phone before you’re even back on the boat. For USD 329.99 your iPhone gets to go amphibian!
Imagine underwater Google Glasses, only much more affordable than you’d think. At only GBP 119.99, Model 305 Hydra Series HD 720P is a dive mask with built-in camera that lets you take great hands-free photos and spend the rest of your money on your scuba diving trips. It’s even got a video mode, and the estimated battery performance is 2.0 hours of HD 720P video. The buttons are really easy to use with diving gloves, so all there’s left to say is: Happy snapping!
The cherry on top of the list is the American specially engineered Barbecue Dining Boat – you know, for when you go fishing and suddenly want a barbecue. The fully equipped grill measures almost 12 feet in diameter and has a 24-inch steel charcoal grill and a 30-watt electric motor, capable of eight hours of continuous BBQ’ing. The ABS table has 10 place settings that each have plate and beverage holders and silverware tray. The nylon umbrella can be retracted when using the grill, so although it costs USD 50,000 there are no excuses to, well, not give it a thought or two at least.
The only thing that’s left now is to think where to go first. I’d suggest somewhere just as exotic as the new devices you’re going to be holding, like a natural swimming pool! Think Gunlom Plunge Pool in Kakadu National Park, Australia, or Grotta della Poesia in Italy.
1AM, ripped jeans, black, fast cars, a cold beer, trip hop, grey areas, stubbornness, a puddle of mud, breezy weather, warm fingers up her thighs, street lights, dark curtains, milk spilled on the kitchen floor, up-on-the-counter sex, memories, frozen yoghurt, make up kit, white shirts, dawn, warmth, tenderness, silver lightning, eyes wide open,
a strange mixture of elements that work together against all odds,
For a hot mess.
Forget your head for a second. Forget your heart. Forget your world. Make magic with me. Make yourself brand new but don’t let go of my hand, I know the secret words of spells and can whisper them to you if only you forget the place, the time, the definitions. I can make you disappear. You can make me crazier than I look. I am under no obligation to make sense to you, but I can make wild art to you in your red car all summer long.
I’m a visual creature, always looking for more mental breathing room.
I want you to stay.
In lazy ocean waves in the heat of summer and good vibes and wine and texts and car rides and films and spontaneity and chances and helping hands and kisses and missed calls and expectations and food orders and trips and night that never end; so much love I’m being sent and I don’t know how to honour it.
A bunch of troubled people who still give the best they can, a moment so intense it feels eternal, hopes lost and roundabouts and big decisions and moving boxes and houses and outcomes and life trajectories, like a girl version of Mr Nobody choosing possibility over lost possibility and asking herself what-if questions twenty four seven.
Neon lights and glasses of wine, noises and words and Garbage’s Run Baby Run, his hands, a whisper, body heat and kisses I never knew before tonight. Triviality and getting lost and living in the moment, the present is all that matters, always paddle your own canoe, sharp teeth and laughing sounds and special effects and too much to drink. Night after night and day after day until all the joy leaks out of my mind and I’m left alone with a cold Corona on a windy summer evening. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not close to anything. I’m floating, but I’m not airy and light and easy like a fucking Sunday morning. I’m a flock of questions marks flying back and forth and eventually in circles.
The writing on the wall is in ten-foot fluorescent orange letters. Get out.
Get the fuck out of here.
Get out of my head.
Get out of me.
❝ Talk to me like I’m the night.
Everything you say will just be
swallowed up and I’m the only one
that will know, okay?
Tell me things only exhaustion
could coax out of you.
I don’t want to be the girl of your dreams. I want to be the girl of my dreams.
‘Stay for the good seconds,’ I tell myself and bite my lips and look outside, trying my hardest to take a trip outside my personal bubble and respect your point of view but the more I understand it the less I love you, and the more I want to cry for being so weak and you being so self reliant. I’m either alone or in great company but you are a great company and yet I’m always alone. Here, have my heart. Fuck you for having my heart.
❝ How odd, I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words.
I wrote this profile piece for The News in Portsmouth, for my Feature Writing unit back in second year, and for myself. Iain Robertson was my neighbour, friend and wonderful graphic designer, and I can’t wait to go back to Portsmouth and visit him. I don’t think this is a great piece, by the way. It’s just one of my first attempts, and I am very fond of it.
Iain Robertson – from Photoshop to BBC
When you step into Iain’s house in Southsea, the first thing that hits you – literally – is his dog.
‘Oh, she’s nice,’ he says and tries to calm her down. He is very fond of her. I try to break the ice:
‘Is she a pitbul?’
‘Oh, yes,’ he winks.
I can’t help but wonder if I’ll even make it past the door.
Inside, the first thing I do is take a look around. It’s a very tidy, well-organized space. I must admit I expected a little less of the basement flat of a creative soul.
‘Coffee or tea?’ he asks me.
‘Tea,’ I say, ‘it’s too late for coffee.’
Iain looks surprised for a couple of seconds. ‘Oh, right. I don’t usually sleep at night, so…’
The dog, which I’m told is called Becky, trusted to guide me – by sinking her teeth into my shoe – into the living room. There, the walls hold too many Dr Who posters, the shelves too many Dalek model toys and figurines – and oh, there is a giant Tardis in a corner. I feel like Alice in Wonderland.
‘Sugar?’ Iain asks from the kitchen.
‘I’ve always been the artistic type. When I was a kid and, later, a teenager, I used to paint and draw a lot. I think this is how I became good at what I do – I never started and I never stopped, it’s been a part of me all along. I understood the compositional thing, the colour balance since very young.’
I have seen Iain’s work before, but I knew nothing about his past. He got his first good computer when he was 25, but it wasn’t until five years later that he tried to create digital art. In 2000, he gave Paint Shop Pro a try, but then he discovered Photoshop.
As he goes on about his first attempts, I take a closer look at him. His eyes sparkle and he is truly passionate about his work. Behind him there are three screens, all displaying his current work being retouched in Photoshop. Then there is a fourth screen on my left. He plays an episode of Dr Who and insists that I should watch it sometime. I find this a good time to get him to talk about it.
‘It was 2003 when the BBC announced bringing Dr Who back. It hadn’t been on TV for 16 years at that point, and there was a big buzz about it. I went online and joined the biggest forum, Outpost Gallifrey, that had an art work section. That’s where I started posting my Dr Who covers, and I started to get more and more people asking for copies. They said hey liked them more than the official ones, so it crossed my mind at that point that perhaps I should be doing those as well,’ he laughs.
Then, somebody from the BBC saw his work.
‘They asked me to go to London and have a chat with them, and this is how I ended up working with them. Once you do stuff for one company, you can use that for the second company,’ he explains. ‘Hi, I’m Iain, I’ve done this for… H. P. Lovecraft, Big Finish, Telos, Fantom Film… the BBC!”
‘I used to have a picture of me pushing a toy Dalek when I was two or three,’ he laughs. ‘Dr Who was on every week. It was a big part of every kid’s life. In the 70s it was very popular. In the 80s, when I was a teenager, people at school thought I was a nerd because I still watched it. I probably was.
‘I think I still am.’
The special effects used were what intrigued him the most.
‘I could imagine better representations, however. But now I make them!’
Young Iain would spend most of his free time reading science books, trying to understand what was real and what wasn’t.
‘My parents took me to London when I was very young. We went to the Natural History Museum, where the dinosaurs were. It just blew my mind! Everything I liked since then is pretty much about monsters and spaceships. I’ve never watched a football match in my life for longer than ten minutes.’
At the moment he is working at an Eurovision song contest book cover. He shows me other books. I quickly check the back cover and indeed, there is his name. He notices me and smiles.
‘I still make Dr Who DVD covers too, about five each month,’ he says and shows me a few.
Iain’s day job is at Priory School, Portsmouth.
‘I love it. The kids are nice and I get most of my day off,’ he laughs.
I remember his sleep pattern. Iain takes a nap when he gets home from work, then spends most of his night working.
‘I can do with four, five hours of sleep. I know most people can’t, but I can.’ ‘What’s the best thing about working with kids?’ I ask.
‘Oh, the Dr Who club I run for them, of course,’ he smiles. ‘It’s very popular, almost as popular as the athletics one. Especially among girls, but that’s probably because they like the new doctor.’
Ah, the beginnings of my journalism course, and now — the ending. There are my first journalism attempts at The News, Portsmouth, and my last academic writings. University, you’ve been a crazy ride, and I loved you. Most of the time.
- Basic journalism for The News, Portsmouth
- An essay for my favourite unit — News, War & Peace
- And my dissertation, why not. (P.S. It has a very stupid, very obvious spelling mistake pretty much right at the beginning. I suppose this isn’t how it made it to the library’s hall of fame, but I must have made somebody laugh)
- And, oh, here is Strangers, the collection of 8 short stories written and published last summer (2013). Well, that’s the Amazon link. Here’s the actual file. Yes, you get it for free for taking the time to read this.
November rain is cutting through the stillness of the day, as a reminder for them to be present — a reminder that they are finally together, even without much to say, and that maybe they shouldn’t drift apart from each other yet.
It’s still early, and conversation is hard to hold. Their voices are breaking too often. They sound nervous and uneasy, like cold, timid souls clinging to their comfort zones. Nobody can tell they used to be lovers, and they can’t tell if they are ever going to be lovers again.
But she looks at him like he is glowing. His presence is the small bliss of her morning. He leans back in his chair, arms folded behind his head, and watches her drawing patterns on the table with the tips of her fingers. She is surprised to find him grinning, not knowing he is remembering her drawing circles with her fingers across his back. He always liked to watch her draw — and she was always in a rush to start or finish a sketch, from what he remembers — and wondered where she got her ideas from. The few times he asked, she turned around, her soft brown hair curled like smoke in the air, shrugged and put on a naive face that filled him up with feeling, like warm water rising up his body. A face she put on many times, to protect answers she didn’t want to give; and he went back to his novels, and his plans about how it was going to be. It was, of course, going to be wonderful, he thought every time. But since he came back, he realised he doesn’t know how to pick up the pieces anymore. He wants to tell her about everything he saw in his journeys, all the experiences he had and all the people he met and all the towns he got lost in only to come out as a cleaner, better, stronger man. This was, after all, why he left in the first place, but now that he is back he doesn’t know where to begin to make the puzzle where his life out there and their life back here fit together nicely, creating the wonderful picture he dreamt of so many times.
The coffee warmed her entire body. She likes watching the brown sugar melting into her drink, and the hot steam rising up from it. It’s half eight in the morning and, if on most Saturdays she’d rather be asleep this early, this Saturday is special. She fought the magnetic pull to crawl back to warmth and dreams and splashed her face with tap water from the kitchen sink. During all those months she daydreamed about him coming back, about the rumble of his car and his enormous backpack with maps and diaries and perhaps little gifts for her poking out. He would have buttoned up a white shirt and wore a smile for her, as if those months of being away only served to prove how strong they were. But instead, she woke up to find him in a café near the train station, and they are sitting quietly in a cloud of smoke. At first, she felt anxious and wanted to ask him lots of question; but she has been waiting for too long to stain their first date with stupid meaningless words and reveal the nothingness that’s been filling the air everywhere she went. She’s been counting down months to be here, and she wasn’t going to ruin it. In the end, what she always loved most about them as a couple was how they didn’t need artificial smoothness to be comfortable around each other. She thought their silence must be the proof that that was back; and then refused to think about it again.
Little over a year ago, she lived for nothing else but their world and her art. She was amazing at erasing the contours of her real life and infusing herself with magic. She sprinkled their world with high hopes every morning and got him used to goodness, and he saw her as a different kind of explorer — the kind that could soften abrupt beginnings and loose ends, escape wanderlust, avoid exorcising the abstract inside because she could embrace the unknown. She was wonderful in a warm and meaningful way that he always admired and secretly envied. She was kind, easygoing and peaceful to watch at work. She’d paint sunlight and shades, and skin and words and light, and every time she showed him another finished canvas it felt like Christmas day. Later in their dating days, she told him that he makes her come alive as a wilder creature than she’s ever imagined herself to be. But as much as part of him wanted her to be that, more of him wanted her to stay the same beautiful, blue-eyed, calm girl he fell in love with at the fun fair near the ocean. When he decided he was going to leave for a while, it was the first time he saw her upset, angry and, above all, scared. She begged him to stay; told him about all the plans she’d made in her head and never dared to share with him. He laughed quietly to himself, and she thought he laughed at her plans but what he laughed at were his. He knew that going away was selfish and, after all, stupid, but he was not going to wait another year. Something told him that she was still going to be there. That she was still going to be here. But like the guy who said you can’t stand in a river at exactly the same place twice, he somehow knew he was never, ever going to find the same beautiful, blue-eyed, calm girl he fell in love with at the fun fair near the ocean again.
Her soul was far from her shore too, but in a different way. Her paintings speak for her – they are like marbles thrown up into the air. She leaves you wandering and working out the pattern, and moves on to the next one. He never understood them, but liked them all. They were beautiful and incomplete and strange — just like her, and he knew he could fall in love with her a thousand times, once for every new painting and new bit of soul that she’d reveal. He liked her mysterious nature and her love for open endings and multiple interpretations. He wasn’t like that; he was a planner, a doer. She was like water, running down his fingers and dripping down from his skin to the ground. He didn’t like their silence; he was losing her in between the minutes.
Her finger tips are still lightly pressing down onto the table, like they used to dig their nails into his arms. He clenches his fists.
‘I’m really happy to see you,’ he finally says.
He knows he’s fighting against one year and four months, but feels determined to drag her back into the story. Although, none of them is any longer in it. They both have new stories, and to leave them for an old, unfinished one is to dangerously rewind time and thoughts. But her eyes sparkle, and he can’t think of parallel lines anymore. They are finally here, together. This has to be the one that leads to infinity, with them on it.
‘I don’t know what to say to that,’ she answers. ‘I’m happy to see you too, but this feels so much like a dream. It’s like you’re going to vanish in a minute, and I’ll be left staring at happiness particles floating into the air like confetti.’
‘Mel, I am back,’ he says softly, ‘and I am not going to vanish unless you ask me to, and maybe not even then. I’m ready now to share everything with you, and I want you to share everything with me.’
She puts the mug back onto the table and lets out a big heavy sigh.
‘I haven’t got as much to share as you. This would be unfair —’
‘No, it wouldn’t.’
‘The more you’ve lived and the more you have to tell me, the less I feel that my paintings still mean anything to anyone other than me. It’s an indescribable feeling —to let imaginary worlds form onto paper and then pretty them up, but that’s all I can do. Frankly, it’s all I want to do, too. ‘
He watches her lips moving, fascinated.
‘You wouldn’t know this, though, because you’re a traveler; but I’m not, and I haven’t got much to say.’
‘Listen, we’ll tie up the loose ends. I’ll make a rope or a ladder — don’t laugh — and come rescue you from negativity. I’m back, just like I said I’ll be. You can take your colours with you, I’ll take the maps and albums and we’ll build something beautiful out of photographs and imaginary corners of the world. I’ll tell you all the stories and you’ll paint them, and somebody will feel inspired and write purple, poetic prose about all this. It’ll be like reinventing the wheel, but make it even greater. What do you say?’
She doesn’t really say anything. She drinks her coffee and nervously suggests that they go for a walk. What he doesn’t know is that for her, it’s getting late and her boyfriend is waiting to have breakfast together downtown, before his book signing at their favourite library. It was there where she met him. He thought she was the most beautiful woman in the room, and after the speech he invited her for coffee the next day. She blushed, but thought of her boyfriend and, in a firm voice, said she doesn’t have coffee with strangers. He didn’t seem to like her answer, so she had to add that she liked his new book nevertheless — which was true, anyway. His face then brightened up and he said that reading a book is like drinking a coffee with the author, and vice versa. She couldn’t think of another excuse.
He holds the door open for her and the sun hits him in the face. She makes a joke about how unpredictable the weather is, and he tries to laugh. The broad daylight makes everything that took place inside feel rather surreal and embarrassing. It’s still cold, and she slips her hands into her pockets. He wanted to hold her hand, but wasn’t quick enough, so gives up on that thought. Her face looks fresh and beautiful and he can’t think of anything smart to say. After a short and awkward silence, she moans about the low temperature and suggests they could meet up after lunch. He agrees and she kisses him on the cheek, then turns right and quickly walks away, checking her phone. He almost wants to follow her home, on the short narrow streets he used to know so well, but doesn’t. Instead, he walks down to his red car in the otherwise empty car park, crashes in the driver’s seat and lights up a cigarette. He has to think of a way to win her back before midday, and before another man sweeps her off her feet with better words and better plans than his.
Every concern Mel had during the time he was away was magnified by being unable to contact him. She made herself a promise that she wouldn’t try to find him and she kept it throughout the one year and four months he was gone. At night she would lie awake, making up strange scenarios in her head. Sometimes, he returned and asked her to leave with him. Other times, he didn’t even return; he would have found his inner peace somewhere in Asia, or South America, and she never saw him again. Most times he came back, after one year or maybe two, and pretended nothing happened, nothing changed. She would then have to make a decision, and it would be a tough one, so she secretly hoped that either the first scenario would come true, and quickly, or the second one.
As much as she tried to forget, something inside her kept burning with a low blue flame next to the memory of him. Every now and then, she had a lot of short, bright flashlights in her heart — like a lighthouse reminding her that, no matter how much she tries to swim her way out of the best story she’s ever lived, she is never far after all. It was like swimming around in circles. Maddening. And full of hope.
Mel was alive and sometimes, life hurt. At first she would simply snuggle up on the sofa and close her eyes, reaching back to catch hold of the girl who embodied all the strength she thought she’d have in this life. It didn’t take long to know that it was all a lie. She never lived up to becoming the hero of her childhood’s dream. She was like every other woman — in love, and unable to be light. But unlike most women, her burdens were eased by the openness and intensity flowing through her veins. Strangely, she never thought of this. until she met Adrien.
On their first date, she wore a blue dress that fell to just above her knees. He thought she was glowing and never suspected that she might be unhappy. In fact, it was when he told her that the way she spoke sounded like a love letter to life that she realised he had won her over. Many women fancied him; he was a handsome, charming author driving a 1970s Mercedes. There wasn’t room for many doubts. But most importantly, she thought, he wasn’t going anywhere, and was as serious about life as he was about his prose, which is unusual for a young writer. As the night went on, her regrets became more soluble and her unfading smile, more genuine. Their first time together was promising and she sincerely liked him. As he drove home, he could still feel the taste of her cherry red lipstick and the way her smile forms on his lips. In a world where his people and his gods have been slowly but surely dethroned, one by one, he could for the first time reinvent divinity by covering the outside with the inside. And she was all over.
Curled up in her bed, late that night, she thought of painting again, packaging the blogged novels she’d been writing and buying a car of her own – all while gazing at the map of the world glued to their wall.
The old wooden staircase, the black bricks in the wall and the large plants on the sides of the stairs, all gave her the chills when she first entered the building. Her body felt heavy, as if wrapped in layers of questions and blank spaces she couldn’t shed for she knew she’d find them again at the top of the staircase — the questions, wearing his perfume, and the blank spaces, hers.
When in between two floors she hesitated again, she slid down the wall and took a notebook out of her tartan bag. She opened it carefully and placed it on her knees, gathering her hands into fists and squeezing with full force.
I know it by now, it said on the left page next to a drawing, I don’t know how to deal with grey areas. I want either intense black — like a crust over the world to keep me safe in the dark, or unstained white — like the oak flooring in my little studio flat. Like the white canvas of the new beginning. Like the friendly what-ifs that don’t put full stops to my stories just yet.
Mel breathed in and looked up. Somebody was coming down the stairs. She could hear heavy footsteps getting closer and closer to where she was.
But does anybody paint colours anymore?
She took a brief, hurried look at her drawing and smiled at the feeling she got back. It was the sketch of a person in a field, with the stars and the moon going through their chest and out their back to the sky. Every time she looked at it she felt immediately connected to her world — so much hers that it couldn’t be shared with anybody else, not even through good writing. Words are sometimes mere reflections of things that can’t be contoured; force them out and you end up with a shapeless ink stain on your blouse, over your beautiful wild heart.
Her breath became fiery again. She got up and took a few shaky steps, pushing the notebook back into the bag.
On his way downstairs, Gary bumped into her. He was surprised to find someone in the hallway. It seemed to be silent when he locked the door.
‘Hey there, stranger,’ he said, smiling at her with kindness. ‘Do you live here?’
She glanced at him and quickly looked away. She was the kind who valued going internal so much that it was always hard to unzip her skin and step out into the storm again.
‘Nah, I’m here to visit my…’
She seemed a little unsure to him.
‘My boyfriend, I suppose,’ she then mumbled.
Gary thought about it a little, not taking his eyes off of her. The girl in front of him seemed stubborn and a little confused, but stubborn anyway; as if she knew what she was there for without having convinced herself that it was the best decision.
‘I see. Well, since you’re not sure what he is to you, let me just ask you a question before you tell that to him — you might not want to. So, what is it that you want him to be to you?’
‘Ah, the answer to this question always trips me up,’ she smiled.
‘Yeah, they say that women don’t know what they want,’ he laughed and looked at his watch.
She had a nice feeling at the sudden and quiet remembering of her troubled days, when meeting strangers in pubs and talking over beers for hours happened often enough to remind her of the beauty of the unknown — often dressed up as handsome men carrying half full glasses to her table, whose name she would never care to know.
Gary had another four minutes to get to the end of the street and meet Olivia. He could spare another two.
‘Did he bore the hell out of you?’
‘I guess you can say that. He kept trying to trick me with cocktail parties. I’ve almost lost touch with who I am.’
He refrained from asking who she was.
‘Most people are on their way to sorting their lives out by making decisions and stuff, shouldn’t you be doing the same —away from those you already know you don’t want?’
‘Yeah, but sometimes that is me.’
Gary was tall, had short brown hair and green eyes, intelligent eyes of the kind that Mel couldn’t read but wouldn’t stop staring at. And she loved that. He was wearing a suit and a briefcase, which also intrigued her, but she didn’t ask any questions.
‘Are you trying to figure me out as we speak?’ he laughed, and she realised she liked the sound of his laughter.
He realised he liked her seemingly laid-back nature.
‘Not at all,’ she said, blushing. ‘I’m not looking to label you in one of the categories of people I’ve met so far. I don’t do boxes, frames and happy endings. I’d love to know a few things about you, but only the things that you want to put on the table. What you decide it’s relevant about you is probably the most relevant of all.’
Gary felt lost for a second, and wondered who her boyfriend was. But he only had about a minute left, so he decided to ask her something more personal instead, the kind of thing that stays on one’s mind until they can tell a complete stranger and only them about it — if she ever felt like a fraud on her bad days.
‘No, never. You are just as strong as you exhibit. When I’m weak, I’m weak. That’s how strong I am at that very moment. We’re different people at different times. That’s why I don’t believe in figuring each other’s every detail out.’
She said that with a smile, from as far as he could remember, and waved goodbye to him before running up the stairs.
Olivia was angry, but tried not to show it. She knew that Gary would eventually notice and talk her through it without her explicitly asking for it. Yet surprisingly, he didn’t. He seemed lost for words and walked with her with his eyes fixed on the ground.
‘Baby? Is everything okay with you?’ she asked, worried that he might have had reflected at their last argument.
Olivia was light and easy. She wanted to enjoy life without getting in too many troubles, and knew that sometimes Gary liked to start fights on her shallowness in his attempt to change her. She desperately wanted to avoid him going in too deep again.
‘Yeah, yeah, I’m okay. Listen, tonight has been a little stressful for me — family problems and all — so I might be quieter than usual. Let’s just try to have a good time together. What do you want to do?’
‘I don’t know… it’s hard to think of something on the spot. It’s very cold too.’
‘I’m only asking you where you want to go for dinner and drinks, Olivia.’
Olivia frowned and let go of his hand to scratch her head. He looked at her face and didn’t like the confusion she showed.
She could be queen, I suppose, Gary said to himself, so bright and bold and stunningly beautiful — but she chose to be fun instead. The kinda girl who thrives on sunlight, dystopian novels and bubble gum. I hope she never rules the world, I hope she never rules her world. I hope she always stays friends with chaos and lets others draw the lines, for I bet she never even sees them. Boundaries can’t keep her safe, can’t keep her at all. Nothing exists until you acknowledge it. She doesn’t need control, she wouldn’t even know what it does.
This is impossible, he thought. This is exciting!
The second time she entered the building, she’d had her inner lights flashing up for days and nights. She ran all the way up to the top floor and knocked heavily on his door. What was she thinking? She wasn’t. She didn’t need to. When she trusted her senses, she became a lighthouse for herself and could never stray away. Nobody ever questions a lighthouse. She had no doubts in her mind.
He’d had troubles concentrating on the most mundane tasks. Every now and then, he’d be making connections or linking ideas — unrelated to their encounter, of course, when the memory of her suddenly showed up in between them. Then, just as quickly, it vanished the way her real persona did that night.
‘Hello,’ she said standing at the door, swinging a leg. ‘I’ve been missing you a little, so I thought I’d come see you.’
‘But we’ve only met once, haven’t we?’ he tried to laugh. ‘By all means though, have a seat,’ he said, choking on his words, and pointed at the burgundy leather desk chair.
‘Actually, we’ve spent hundreds of hours in my head,’ she chuckled softly a moment later, spinning in his chair, ‘being amazing. If only you could log in and watch. Gary, right? I saw your name on the door.’
From the outside looking in, it was just another brightly lit room. Behind its closed windows, two silhouettes seemed to be having a good time. But on the inside, eclipses and short circuits were taking place. His heart was racing, hers was thunderous by nature, but stopped the storm to catch her breath in between words.
He didn’t know what to say to her, other than mumble a ‘How do you do this…?’
She looked him in the eyes and remembered how much she liked him —
‘My imagination alone is enough to pour dynamite in my veins…’
‘Then why are you here?’
‘…to add some extra sparkle.’
– but didn’t know quite know how to say it to him.
“My mother taught me the distinct smell before the rain, the promise of cleansing.
Didn’t anyone warn you
I’m what natural disasters are named after?
I am a river,
good luck controlling me
good luck slowing me down.
There isn’t an ounce of age
to my soul.”
Michelle K., Aries in the Morning
During their first month of dating, he often asked
‘What are you made of?’,
and his eyes were always wide and hungry.
She would only smile strangely and say
‘I have no idea’,
and kiss him with hot burning lips.
Her body felt like a flame dancing between his palms; after all, being around Mel had always been like playing with fire, but instead of burning him alive she burned it all clean. She was consuming, and he was hallucinating. For as long as he stayed, everything on the inside of him turned into an empty room with white walls, sunlight blazing through soft curtains onto the wooden floor and a vision of her, spinning around barefoot in his favourite white and navy striped shirt.
He thought he was in love when he was only on his way to it. All her combinations of twenty-six and spaces eventually sounded like a seductive Behold, I’m showing you a mystery. They found him still young and curious, like when he was twelve and went to a dockyard for the first time, excited at the promise of a tangible infinity. She was his ship, his dockyard and his sea now. After all, she was in his arms, like an exclamation, like an open road to forever, like a reality that if ever lost, he would have had to make back up again.
And his summer bloomed out of her tight grips.
Unlike other women he knew, she seemed more than sweet beginning and bitter endings, the only moments that shone. She was content, she was aflame, she was real every step of the way, every day of the unending summer. Whenever he touched her, her skin had the same temperature and every time she spoke, her voice sent the same shivers down his spine. He wanted to decipher her, but she was one of those magnetic people whom you would never dare to ask where they take their magic from, because they would look genuinely surprised and simply ask back, What magic? She was so alive in his hands that he believed in her force, and her strength, and everything that came out of her mouth. Even her silent presence could fill his voids with an energy that blocked any further thinking or doubting. She was truth, a suave, elegant truth that allowed no what-ifs and no lies a man can tell himself to forget a woman.
‘I can’t imagine myself going anywhere where there is no trace of you,’ he told her one night in July.
She nodded and smiled, while flickering through the pages of his words albums.
‘Happiness can be found anywhere,’ she said. ‘You only have to look for me.’
‘Is that so?’ he laughed.
‘Listen, I like your stories and the way you collect and group them. I find these files fascinating. Why do you write like this?’
‘Like the world is going to end tonight!’ she smiled. ‘Your words come out so strong, I feel like reading fireworks shapes into the night sky; and you are more of a cloud, darling.’
‘Well yes, you live like you’d rain on every parade if I wasn’t there to smile your way out, don’t you? I dare you to say it isn’t so.’
‘In your stories, you leave no room for daydreaming. You explode!’ she laughed, and he knew she was laughing at him. ‘But I’ve seen you at parties, at the local store, at night-time binge eating. You are not a man of such extremes. So why do you write like this, hm?’
‘I might just like writing as much as I like you,’ he surprised himself saying.
‘Oh, explain that to me.’
‘Well, writing is like loving you— it comes from a place so deep inside that there can only be truth in it.’
And I think I like who I am there, a lot, he thought.
She smiled for a while, and eventually said, ‘I like the very best of you.’
‘But what about the worst?’
‘Ah, but who needs that? I don’t want it, and you don’t like it.’
He raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth to say something, but she stopped him.
‘Be who you are beneath the bullshit,’ she winked.
In the now what? time of the night, when she was asleep in his bed, he slowly moved his hand towards her. She moaned a little, then went back to her dreamscapes.
If he learned anything from her, was that everything heals under the energy of passion. Energy that doesn’t move is dangerous, and he was the living breathing proof of that. She was a small war, fighting for and against everything in her world, always exhausted at the end of the day. She dreamed in colours and fidgets and sounds, while he lay awake next to her, struggling to find the words to define and sort out the chaos. He always came out bare-handed, but found himself wrapped in a veil that carried her smell. He could then rest assured that a gloriously free-spirited woman had chosen to spend her nights with him. This could only mean that he was worthy in her eyes. Fears couldn’t creep up his spine like spiders any longer, and only then he could sleep. In the morning, his silent war was all gone.
His biggest fear was a sudden death-by-mundaneness, a sharp knife that life would twist in his flesh at any moment as a final defeat, before they even had the chance to inspire each other. He had never praised cynicism until he became it; and his stories about superheroes and Mel’s approval were his only escapism from apathy.
‘Don’t you have a world to see?’ she snapped, then paused to think. ‘But your gift is turned inwards,’ she continued in a steady voice, ‘no wonder the flow of your life is backed up. You really don’t have a world to see, do you? You just sit here and group your stories that nobody gets to enjoy anyway.’
‘Mel, writing is like this. You wouldn’t know, you only live.’ he groaned.
‘That’s not true, I write too,’ she said and lightened up again, as if sadness was never on her list.
‘You write? What do you write? And how is it possible that you’ve never shown me anything?’
‘Ah, but don’t get me wrong. I don’t write like you. You live through writing and only live a fraction of the life you could be living. I only write a fraction of the time I have in this life…’
‘But why haven’t you shown me?’ he cried.
‘Because you write beautifully, and I write hurriedly. But even so, I understand writing. I just don’t understand you.’
‘That wouldn’t matter to me. Did you ever write a piece about me?’
‘Of course not, I don’t write about people. I write about the sensual experiences that I have.’ she smiled.
‘Paintings, open fields, houses on the South coast, morning light and shadows on my skin. The way such things feel to me. And you know what not writing about you makes me feel?’
‘Light,’ she smiled. ‘You are so dark, like your dashboard lights went out. I feel like I have torrents of light coming out of my skin. Like I could throw off sparks over the whole world. So I wrote those bright little descriptions of things that make me joyous. You write fantastic stories, but they only make me sad. If that’s the goal of writing, then you’re a terrific writer, but I’d rather keep it on the bright side of life. Do you know what they say about photography?That if you want to know what somebody loves the most, you should look at what they photograph. I suppose you can say the same about writing. You value the intensity of one’s misery, crave for other worlds, love complexity.’ She paused again to look at him and smile to herself. ‘Guess I just like the open highway of my life.’
It was cold that night, windows closed all over the city. He could only think of pinning her down with his body and pretend that she was his.
He didn’t know how to say to her that he felt like a void disguised into a man, a man who sought to sew wings to his back with her blood and bones as thread and needle to fly away from his own nothingness. But of course, even if he knew how to say it, he would have never said it, because he knew the power of unwanted words. Hers, for example, reminded him of being in a hotel room in a beautiful European capital, where whatever they went through and whatever they did, they still had to return to their room, and the wallpaper dispersed with heavy words all the beauty they might have gathered in their souls. Death by mundaneness, and stabbed by her.
He always knew that the intensity of his sadness was something he had chosen himself, as a substitute for the intensity of the happiness he couldn’t put his finger onto. He had to bring himself to feel something, so that he could write and that he could live. It was hard for him to love her, he then realised, and he probably never really did. She was fluid, poetic and a little crazy, his ideal self’s kind of woman; but much as he tried to be that, he never was. He only let her touch his writings, because she was clean and beautiful and light, like ready to vanish into thin air but still going through his most precious possessions on the floor of his bedroom. But she wasn’t more than the illusion of a promise made to him, by someone he almost invented. He was fascinated with her beautiful being bursting with intensity, but never forgot that his could only come out as words onto paper, or loving her — and that had suddenly revealed itself under the shape of a question mark.
That night, he asked her, ‘But do you love me?’
and didn’t let her look away.
She said ‘Of course’,
but said it so quickly that she sounded like somebody else.
Either way it was hard to define who she was, because from the first glow of summer — their first date — to the coldest night of the year, she had been a storm of a girl, a June to December, a back and forth sway between everything he ever believed in and everything he still rejected. This made her highly attractive for the extremist hidden deep inside him and highly deceptive to the sad man holding her messy blonde hair on a winter night.
‘But I can’t love you,’ he finally said, ‘How do I make it work…?’
Her eyes were beautiful, and a little restless, like the eyes of a little girl who had to go on vacation with her family when her pet was sick. She seemed to have nothing to add to that, and he couldn’t stop thinking that from then on, Mel would become more and more of a memory in the next year. A memory so alive, that it would almost have a life of its own, but still a memory.
After all, it was high time for him to admit that she was never more than a movie trailer playing in the dark, a neon sign that read Exit glowing in a bar, his favourite singer’s voice fading at the end of his favourite song.
‘Talk to your demons,’ she said a little later. ‘Some of them are really nice. I’d like to have a chat with them one day.’
As part of my degree, we are asked to design and produce a magazine in InDesign, so I’m using ISSUU as inspiration for my spreads. On one occasion I came across this article, and although my intention was to focus purely on the layout, I couldn’t stop reading. It talks about the reasons why authors are often overlooked and what both they and their publishers can do about it. I’ll be honest, it made me jealous that it wasn’t me who wrote it, so I tweeted Jonathan McAloon and asked him for permission to publish his piece on my blog. I hope it inspires you as much as it inspired me to rethink book publishing.
Vanity Publishing (i):
BOOKS NEED TO GET VAINER if they are to compete with the suave digital innovations of the book trade. Books need to care about their physical appearance.
I recently went to the Newcastle Launch of Richard Milward’s new novel,Kimberly’s Capital Punishment at the TynesideCinema. Richard is a Middlesbrough writer whose debut novel Apples(2007) earned him the moniker of ‘enfant terrible’ when he was twenty two. After a reading from his new book (which was enough to demonstrate his wonderful surreal lyricism) there was a screening of the author’s favourite film, Polanski’s Repulsion. But the star of the showMilward’s novel – the object itself – which was on sale in a limited edition format.Milward calls Kimberly‘a multiple choice novel.’ The protagonist dies half way through and the reader is invited to roll a dice to determine which of six possible endings/ afterlives awaits.The limited edition has no front or back cover – it is unbound – and instead fits intosomething more like the sleeve of a vinyl. There are three hundred of these available, each having been decorated with drawings by Milward himself. The standard paperback was not to be published until weeks later.
If you are like me and love physical books, something like Kimberly should give you hope.This is how print is responding to digital. And digital, for all its ease and cost-effectiveness, can’t give you somethingthis beautiful.Books that care about their appearance are the way forward.
But I’m faced with a problem straight away. I desperately want to read Kimberly – it has been designed to whet a reader’s appetite – but it is so beautiful I don’t want to spoil it. And because of the bespoke aspect; one of a few made with one-off artwork from the author, part of me wants to keep it pristine forever, never touching it. It is s a collector’s item of the future. I know that I will wait for the paperback to come out so that I don’t feel like I’m besmirching a piece of art.
But I also know that the only way books can fight digital is by being better objects – ones like Kimberly.Lee Brackstone, Milward’s editor at Faber, has blogged: ‘If literary publishers are to survive, not only as arbiters of taste, but as the connective tissue between authors and readers, each and every book and the world we create around it must be invented anew.’
Every book must be invented anew. Here is something for budding writers to think about.
Brackstone’s aesthetic is shared by Visual Editions, an independent publisher who produce striking books where authors collaborate with designers. They think ‘books should be as visually interesting as the stories they tell,’and are behind the latest novel by Adam Thirlwell: a young writer who, like Milward, has been called an enfant terrible. At twenty four, he was put on the noughties’Granta list of twenty best young British novelists before his debut Politics was published. Kapow!, his fourth book, is set against the Arab Spring. To follow the revolution readers have to ‘revolve’ the book this way and that to read columns of text printed in different directions. Here is a book whose appearance comes directly from the way it is intended to be read. A book like this is beautiful but it is clever as well – it has a strategy. It can’t be called an advertising gimmick because it is implicated in the form of the book. The author and the publisher are of one mind.
A book isn’t there to inspire reverence but to encourage reading. From now on, books need to be beautiful but above all tactile. Authors and publishers need to think of ways to make books attractive throughout the read – on the inside pages as well as the covers. The idea of the one-off / limited edition run encourages the ownership of books as objects but gives digital the upper-hand as far as practicality is concerned. The idea of books that you wouldn’t dare touch could in some way speed the obsolescence of print that people are fighting against. At the moment, the literary world is predicting and fearing a future where physical books are the passion of a handful of antiquarian connoisseurs whileeveryone else uses an e-reader because it is ‘cheaper’ and ‘easier.’ But for me, and for many other book lovers, the beauty of physical books is the way they bear witness to having lived and having been read. There is that old cliché that a which smells like a book and is scrappy with underlinings and notes has a personality. What we really mean is we have personalised it. But this has always been the case: a book’s having a personality won’t save it from digital. It has to start being more proud of the way it looks, too.
Vanity Publishing (ii):
WRITERS NEED TO GET VAINER and learn to be better performers. Why is there no such thing as a rock star author?
In most of the arts there is an expectation that the artist will involve themselves in the PR side of their art as well as the work itself. Visual Artists, actors or musicians get to create public personas in order to transmit their art to an audience or in some way continue to influence it once it leaves their hands. Tuner Prize winning potter Grayson Perry often makes public appearances as his female alter-ego Claire. This isn’t seen as a separate eccentricity but as part of the way you view his work. Similarly, David Bowie adopted a number of personae who either enacted or represented the subject matter of his music, and Prince starred in films which created a mythology alongside the discography. This approach adds a new dimension whereby the art comes to life, and somebody who listens to an album or goes to see a concert lives the art too.
Writers are traditionally thought to be the most introspective of artists. Whether this is true or not of every single writer, most in the past century have abandoned the process of their art once they send their manuscript to their publisher. It is the in-house design and marketing brains who sell their art. Instead of using their imaginations to come up with a brilliant promotional strategy which issues directly from the artistic vision of their book, they do a few readings or interviews around the country. No wonder literary fiction doesn’t sell.And faced with introverts that have to be minded, I understand why it is difficult to find an author who inspires six-figure confidence from publishers. It is, after all, the author who gets the contract, not just the book. The author is expected to write more books after that, and better ones.
The problem stems from a couple ofoutmoded beliefs.
One is that caring about how one’s art is sold is vulgar / beneath artistic seriousness. Lord Byron could have made a killing when Childe Harold came out in 1812, but accepting payment for one’s writing was seen as ignoble: for hack professionals. Byron’s publisher got rich instead. That was two hundred years ago. But though writers have for a long time admitted they need the money, I believe there’s a blood-memory of something which gets in the way of them picturing their books as objects.
Another is the old cliché of art not speaking for itself: Style over Substance. But ‘style’ has always meant something quite different in fiction. Style is the way prose is written and conceived; a way of seeing and thinking. This comes included in the book’s marrow, it’s ‘substance.’ But even in the more popular use of style – the vanity of the thing – there are some issues which must be addressed. Even with the David Bowie / Ziggy Stardust continuum – Bowie at his most physically extravagant – one never got the impression that he was ‘style over substance’. His ‘substance’ was great, but the ‘style’ was a catalyst for the substance: it was part of appreciating the songs. Like with great prose writers, style in the hands of a true artist is a double helping of substance.
So who can be called the Bowie of writing? Who has such a detailed performance style? (Bret Easton Elis?Let’s not bother, eh?) Philip Roth likes to perform – manipulating a reader’s desire for biographical information is one of his constants – but even then the performance always presents him as a catty, private person who doesn’t understand or sympathise with the need to know the man behind the work. For Roth, anyone who expects to find the juicy gossip they desire is missing the point: writers fictionalise themselves professionally. Even the truth is part of the fiction. You have to look far back indeed if you want to find a rock star author.
You’d be surprised. This rock star author was an Anglican vicar in the eighteenth century and his name was Laurence Stern.
Sterne wrote a couple of novels. The title of his most famous can be abbreviated to TristramShandy: a long fictional autobiography which ends beforeTristram is an adult – so concerned is the narrator with telling us everything that made him who he is. It is full of digressions, diagrams and references to the author’s public reception – i.e loads of playful ‘meta’ stuff. TristramShandywas a massive success. Sterne cultivated an association between himself andtwo of his characters:Tristram, a Yorkshire gentleman ( hisZiggy); and Yorick, a bawdy clergyman and the star of his next novel (his Thin White Duke). Sterne even published his serious sermons as Yorick. When Sterne died people wrote obituaries to his characters, too. But this kind of thing was more commonplace than you’d think. In the eighteenth century people often published under personae as well as pseudonyms. But it is the way things are fed from the fiction into the real world and vice versa that interests me.
In 2011, Leo Benedictus’ The Afterparty came out. At its heart is the story of a celebrity scandal and media cover-up, but around this the reader is invited to take part in the book’s marketing strategy. A character within the novel is submitting the ‘inner’ novel – the one about celebs – to a literary agent. This frame allows room for a separate plot concerning the secret identity of the would-be author, but it also suggests a different level, a new context, where the contents of the book affect the outside world, and where one is invited to interact and collude with the subject matter. You don’t just read his book: you live it, you tweet it.
Readers of the hardback could enter a competition to be immortalised in the book and written into the paperback as a character. ‘Deleted scenes’ were promised, as was the inclusion of any tweets about the book that included the hashtag #afterpartybook.Benedictus (or rather, a character within his book) coined the term ‘Hyperfiction.’ He (Benedictus, not the character) expanded on this at interview, saying that ‘novels need not stop at their own covers,’ and that with The Afterparty he sought to plant ‘pieces of the novel inside the real world.’
As usually happens with innovation, The Afterparty has been greeted with some closed mindedness ( – though far less that you’d expect, thankfully). Most of this, however, seems to be to do with the ‘vapid’ subject matter of the celebrity world and the postmoderntricksiness rather than the Hyperfiction concept.
My favourite thing about The Afterparty is how it also works as a piece of traditional fiction, with craftyrevelations and heaps of style (and by style I mean the writerly kind – the kind that is part of the substance and talent). If writers are good enough, confident enough about the substance of their work, why not be a little vainer about it andlet this spill over into the outside world? Into the realm of style?
Jonathan McAloon | @jonniemcaloon
It was late November. Or April. Or August. I guess it could have been Christmas, but most cafés are closed that day and where else would I have run into a man who smelled good and looked at me with such dark, deep, intelligent eyes when it was that cold? I’d say it was New Year’s Eve, but that would create too much pressure for one day. What is the best time to meet someone who then proceeds to change your life repeatedly? Is it January? Is it March? Is it a lazy summer day that doesn’t promise much otherwise? I don’t know, so I’ll just go with February. It was February, then.
If it was February there were still blankets of snow on the sidewalks and people walking hurriedly with coffee, phones and shopping bags in their hands. I need you to know that, despite this is my story, I was never alone in it. Not until very late anyway, when it was all reduced to what I wanted from life — you don’t get many happy endings like that, do you? There were people all around me, therefore, reminding me that whatever I was going through, they were going through it too.
At least this is always true, no matter the month and day: at any given point in time, there are people going through the exact same things next to us. Even if they won’t tell. Even if we’ll never tell.
I don’t meet him yet. I’d skip to that part, but I don’t want to press fast forward just yet. I like playing with details. Still contouring the features of your dreams is more exciting than explaining them, and surely less frightening than living them.
You might be wondering why I’m making things up. It’s because I’m not trying to give you all the facts. I’m not even trying to tell you the truth. This is my story and all that matters is that it has my fingertips all over it, like a black and white drawing a child is colouring in a sunny living room. I’ll spare you the real, for you have enough of it yourself.
For now, it’s February, it’s Friday morning and it’s snowing. It’s morning, because I like taking my time, and it’s only snowing for the sake of it.
I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, crawled my way to the mirror — and the mirror went all, you know, Oh, it’s you again… Maybe it wasn’t the mirror. Maybe it was my inner voice, exuding negativity again.
My hair is light, short and messy on most days, but not today. Today, remember, everything feels wrong, so my hair gets to be long, wavy and in a lovely dark cherry colour — everything feels so wrong that I must get at least a few things right.
I would tell you about my two-story flat and the circular staircase and the large windows running from one end to the other, about luxury, healthy breakfasts and beautiful pieces of furniture, but I can’t. My mind is cold and empty, like a ghost town. Yes, today I woke up feeling unhappy. Hence my house is a small, crowded and cold little flat in the suburbs of a city that makes one feel insignificant. We all feel anonymous when we go on holidays in foreign countries. I feel anonymous at home. People here don’t know me, and I know no one. I hide my face in the tall collar of my winter coat these days, and hope to remain unnoticed.
See, I would change this for the joy of writing a better story. I’d be loud and have lots to say and lots to show, and I’d never get to the point and you wouldn’t care, because you all like loud. But if there’s one thing that you can be sure it stays unchanged all throughout this it’s who I am deep inside. I won’t hide that, because there’s nothing else I could show. If there was, I would.
You might wonder why I’m still a stranger in this city, why I haven’t made an effort for men like the one I’m about to meet to know me by now. The truth is that I am a stranger by choice.
Because I can stop being one at any given time.
And because life is just as boring when you are Little Miss Sunshine as it is when you are Nobody.
I know, because I’ve been here, and I’ve been there.
Matter of fact, I’ve been everywhere, and if there’s one important lesson that I’ve learnt it’s this: there is no such thing as the point of no return. But that, of course, only applies to me.
I was born with a blessing that has, in time, turned into a curse. Every single moment of my life, I can choose where I want to be.
That’s right. I get to pick my life for the day. It’s like owning a wonderful catalogue, an encyclopaedia, if you want, flipping through its pages and deciding for a destination, a look, a life.
Most days, I don’t pick anything new. I’m just like you. Because honestly, after a while you learn that the world isn’t as vast as you thought it was and wherever you are, you’re still you. You can run away from everything that surrounds you, but you can never run away from who you are — and eventually, everything will turn out the same way as before. They say you are the creator of your own life. I’m creating mine all over again, and again, and again, but it keeps leading to… ah well, enough of the sad stuff.
Now you see why the day of the month, the surroundings and the hairstyle I chose in the beginning seemed so irrelevant. Because when living like me, you understand that they are.
It’s painful to watch how I can change anything in my life, except who I am and how I respond to things.
I think the Devil must have taken my soul in exchange, though I would gladly make the trade back. This wasn’t my choice. I want nothing, nothing but the ability to change myself for the better.
So here’s to setting the scene again: it’s 10 a.m. and I’m getting ready in a dark, crowded little flat that’s not on my liking, but it’s not supposed to be either. Not in February, not on Fridays. I brush my long, wavy, dark hair and have some milk and cereals before I run out the door, walk among busy people and end up in a smoky bar. Once I’m inside, I spot a table next to the window and hurry to throw my bag on the chair.
There. This is my mole hole for the day.
Strangers whose bodies brush against each other for a split of a second, never to touch again.
But he catches my eye, and I want to touch him more than once. I want to know things about him. I want us to be a little bit more than strangers. Not a lot, because then he’d upset me one night and I’d leave in the morning, determined not to look back. I want us to be just enough so that I can bask in his warmth and nod at his plans feeling happy for a while, happy I’ve met someone interesting and wonderful at last.
I know that all of this doesn’t matter much, for I won’t be here forever. It’ll be like a summer love, except it’s February. Like a holiday romance that will wear off by the end of the month.
But winning people over is the only challenging thing left, because it’s the one thing I have no control over.
I take a look at myself and don’t like what I see. I’m sitting at my corner table, hiding behind a thick book and avoiding all eye contact. My mind starts to wander from here to there and all that fuss is making me nervous inside. It reminds me of all the fun there is to have out there, fun that no matter where I’ll choose to wake up tomorrow I won’t have, because I’ll still be me and mess everything up. I take a deep breath and stretch my arms and legs, coughing to regain my voice. I haven’t spoken to anyone in so long. Someone at the bar is staring at me, but it’s not him. I know, because this time I stare back with confidence and their eyes move to the floor. You must have thought I am shy, but before I try to prove you wrong, I’ll just tell you how the story goes.
I stand up and people from all across the room look at me in silence. Ah, if only things played harder to get in life. I catch him too, with his head turned over his shoulder. But it’s only a couple of seconds before he orders a drink and gets ready to go back to his table.
I’m determined not to miss this chance to prove myself that I am, indeed, cursed with the ability to get pretty much everything I want, everything but myself. My spontaneity makes a not-so-wise move and I end up touching his arm the moment I find myself near the bar. He is visibly amused. His eyes are sincere and confused and I know he is waiting for me to say something. Instead, what I do is take a seat and wait for my turn to be served. That and nothing more.
I could tell he was staring, but not that he would break into a quiet, patronising laughter shortly after.
Could have put my hand in the fire that he was a bit more… subtle.
‘Is this your idea of breaking the ice?’ he asks.
I turn around to him and discover that his face has turned red with laughter.
‘Do you like me?’ I surprise myself asking him.
I don’t have much to lose, you see. He doesn’t know what to do, to laugh or to take me seriously and thus run out the door. Not another crazy one, he must be thinking.
‘I don’t know yet,’ he smiles.
‘Too bad. I thought that when a man sees the woman of his dreams, it takes him seconds to recognise her from the crowd. Like love at first sight, only it’s not love yet.’
I’m sure I must be looking deadly serious, but what he doesn’t know is that I’m not. I’m only sad.
As he tries to come closer to me, the barman asks me if I want a drink.
‘Just a strong coffee,’ I say and give him some coins.
When he leaves, the handsome stranger looks like he’s on the verge of saying something utterly important for the rest of my life. Instead, he cracks up in another unexpected laughter and quietly says, ‘You know, I’m pretty sure the woman of my dreams as I picture her would be a bit more… subtle.’
At this point I congratulate myself on choosing him out of all the men in here.
‘Don’t you believe in such things? Maybe I’m coming on strong so I don’t miss the chance of getting what I really want from you, and live a life of what-ifs.’
‘You’re joking,’ he verdicts. ‘I know you are, you must be.’
‘Because you’re pretty, too pretty to be mad.’
‘Oh,’ I say, smiling. ‘But wouldn’t that be the beauty of it?’
‘What, of madness?’
‘Yes. Madness is supposed to look pretty to get to you.’
He doesn’t look convinced.
I’m just happy to pass the time playing yet another role.
‘I can tell you what’s beautiful about madness, but it has nothing to do with you.’
‘Alright then,’ I say and get off my chair. ‘Come over to my table and tell me,’ I say and grab the coffee the barman just brought.
Soon he is sat at my table sipping coffee and I get to take another good look at him. Tall, dark, handsome. Too bad this one won’t last either.
We laugh over the table, we touch each other’s hands now and then and my heart feels lighter, quieter, easier to bear.
‘Tell me about the beauty of madness,’ I dare him. ‘Tell me everything you know.’
He smiles and looks like he is choosing his words carefully before he starts. ‘Madness is magical, and that’s not you,’ he says. ‘Everything you think you know about it, you can forget about. You know nothing, for nothing you are is magical and therefore maddening.’
‘Well that’s harsh,’ I say and, somehow, feel deeply hurt.
‘Let’s not be dramatic. But magic is close to sacred. You’re just a pretty girl in a bar. Aim high, but lower those expectations,’ he laughs.
According to him, magic is things set in motion, the world moving at the speed of light, leaving nothing to the eye but a mixture of colours and sounds that make you dizzy and happy. Magic happens when there is nothing else going on — it’s either everything or nothing. You can’t have magic at your right and your workplace and favourite shop and fish market at the left.
‘Tell me something,’ I say. ‘The woman of your dreams… of your wildest dreams, I mean… is she magical?’
‘It would help a lot,’ he laughs.
I notice how he makes circles with the spoon in his coffee as he speaks. ‘But you know there is no such thing.’
‘Oh, there is,’ he smiles and I suddenly feel small, unimportant.
‘Alright, I’m listening.’
‘I can imagine her,’ he says, grinning. ‘It’s not hard. You know what else is magical, apart from the people who love their worlds to bits? Life, when you live it out loud and don’t stop for a second to look around. Life, when you don’t analyse or try to perfect it. That’s how she should be. Like a tornado….’
‘Would she care about you, then?’
‘That matters less. I wouldn’t want her to stop and lick my wounds. You don’t trip tornadoes. What matters is if I could keep up with her.’
‘I think I’ve had enough of you,’ I suddenly decide and get up.
‘Where’re you going?!’ he shouts. ‘What did I do wrong?’
‘Oh, nothing,’ I say and, for a moment, I’m tempted to stay, but know that it wouldn’t make any difference.
I slam the door behind me and head back home, wanting nothing else but to sleep through the rest of today.
As I lay in bed I think of how every morning I hope for better days, and every day I hope for more mornings, but somehow life repeats itself to the point of exhaustion. Breaking the cycle would be the new, and it’s the new I can’t reach and grab and make mine, because it’s far from my shores and I don’t know how to expand. Trying on new clothes and colours doesn’t make me bigger and bolder, it only paints over the choices of yesterday, and having more means only more of the same.
The conversation I had with the handsome stranger only served to remind me of the thrill of freedom, the one and only thing that, it’s said, can be bigger than loneliness. We’ve all experienced it for short moments, like brief flashes of light; but they’ve all ended before they really started to change us into better people. We remember them as the happiest moments of our lives, the most real things that have ever happened to us. So powerful yet so small they nearly don’t touch us at all. This must be what he meant — that little by little at a time doesn’t always do the trick. Sometimes, we must wake up with the confidence that we are a whole new breed — the almighty one.
But I don’t know how to love my world to bits. All I know is how to change it, and I can’t stop. No one seems able to tell me what the shortcut to freedom is, and that is what I really want to ask the people like him, that look pure and intangible at the same time. I want to know the secret to genuine happiness from somebody who looks like they’re living it, but these people guard it with the price of their lives and only talk what is nonsense to me.
I wanted to know what crazy beautiful is to a man like the one who caught my eye at the bar, and all I got was ‘It’s not you’.
Raindrops still linger on my open windows. I lean out and take in the night air, feeling as if the whole world has gone to sleep; only that it hasn’t. The world is waiting for me, and I’m taking five more minutes before I brush my hair and go show up. Five more minutes to enjoy the silence and watch cars driving on the wet streets, because the truth is that I haven’t changed one bit.
It’s mid-July now, my hair is the lightest shade of blonde and my skin is flawless. I’m having excitement, embarrassment even, a whole new city and a large group of friends. I’ve switched back to popularity when summer bloomed, but at the end of the day I’m still floating through days that feel the same, wanting everything because I am one step away from wanting nothing. It’s still winter in here.
Eventually, I take one last deep breath and hope the night goes well. I’ll try not to stop, not for one minute, to wonder at the atmosphere of the place and what I am doing there.
My friend’s party seems to have attracted all sorts of people, from a hot mess like myself to classy men like him. She introduces us, jokes about how we both looked so lonely and thought we could use some company, then leaves us alone. He smiles and agrees with her. I smile back and try not to.
We end up on the porch, getting drunk on every kind of alcohol served inside, where we only go to get more drinks. I feel very drawn to him from the start. He reminds me of myself, in the future I had planned years ago, where I was going to be like him — smooth and successful, without having to cheat at every 9 a.m..
‘I want to be someone’s portion of magic,’ I surprise myself telling him.
I cannot forget that conversation. I’m thinking about it a lot more than I should, in fact. He seems to understand something and walks me to the garden swing. ‘Where did this come from?’ he asks me, minutes later.
I can sense a little bit of seriousness in his voice.
‘I don’t know,’ I shrug. ‘I just spend so much time daydreaming. I wish I could show it to someone else, because it’s pretty damn beautiful.’ I feel I can trust this man. I wish I was his portion of magic. ‘I wish I could live the life of my dreams,’ I whisper, almost to myself. ‘Be the girl of my dreams. Then I’d be magic for everyone.’
He looks like he is really listening when I suddenly turn to him.
I like what I see, I say to myself, but before the feeling settles he drops the bomb.
‘But that’s not what magic means.’
How wonderful. I have run into another know-it-all.
‘Are you going to give me your own definition for it, and tell me that’s what it really is?’
‘No, no… it’s not a definition. I just want to make you take a different approach.’
‘I’m all eyes and ears,’ I say and want to leave, when he grabs my hand and pulls me back.
‘Look around,’ he says, and puts an arm around me. ‘Look at all this madness.’
My blood turns a little cold when he says madness.
‘Look at how the city lights blend into each other. Listen to the hum, the voices, the noises. Doesn’t it look maddeningly beautiful from here? But as soon as you run to it and want to be a part of it, it all falls into a million little pieces, each with its own individuality and family and dreams, and it’s nothing more than drops of glasses that reflect bits of what it seemed.’
I like the feeling of being in his arms, but something tells me that this is more than a bedtime story with an unhappy ending.
‘Do you want to turn yourself into the girl of your dreams? Do you know exactly who you have to be to deserve that title? Do you have a plan for every step you need to take?’
I just sit there in silence, unable to breathe, speak or look him in the eyes. It all turned out so much deeper than planned, so much more against me.
‘Because you’re doing it all wrong then. There is no magic in perfection. As soon as you get close to beauty, it turns hideous. As soon as you want to be part of crazy, the crazy vibes stop flowing. Life has an energy of its own, that’s why it figures itself out. Magic is looking, not touching. Enjoying, not possessing. Being, not trying to be. As soon as you tear in halves the list of magic traits you must have in order to be someone’s magic, you will become it. You’ll be chaotic and ever-changing, and wild, and free, and beautiful to watch flowing through life.’
I know that he is a good man. I don’t know how I know that, but I do, and yet my heart beats in every inch of my skin.
‘Who are you?’ I finally ask in a thin, shaky voice.
‘What does it matter? Are you trying to fit all the pieces together again?’
He makes me look at him, and all I see is the face of a stranger with the confident smile of someone who knows all my secrets.
‘Have we met before?’ I whisper.
‘Yes,’ he says, ‘to your first question. You’re doing it, once again, cheap pub or sophisticated dinner party.’
It’s funny, because he looked nothing like the man I met months ago. I found him just as attractive, but in a very different way. He didn’t remind me of anybody at first. How do you even find two people similarly attractive? My head is spinning round and round as I’m taking the long walk home, and I still end up in bed earlier than I promised myself. I have nightmares all night, nightmares where faces blend together, then fall to pieces as drops of glasses that reflect bits of what they seemed.
The next day I decide not to change the scenery yet. I’m used to doing so whenever things go wrong, but last night wasn’t wrong. It was only different. I found a spark of the unknown in a world where I thought I was the only thing that I couldn’t explain.
Last night I met a man who spoke like someone I met seasons ago but looked nothing alike. The thought of finding another person going through the same as me gives me the chills.
I spend half an hour in the mirror, trying not to think about what the purpose of this charade is. Eventually I take a long hard look at myself and it’s time I snap out of it the old school way, since magic turned out to be my weak point.
There’s a café round the corner from my house, where I end up going for coffee and a nice healthy breakfast. I find a seat at one of the friendly wood tables outside, with coloured flowers, menus and newspapers. My hair is tied in a simple updo and I’m dressed in a long, flowery dress. Next to me, there is a man in a red shirt, with a large brown dog and the biggest cup of coffee I’ve seen. The time comes when our eyes try to recognise each other, but don’t. Thankfully, I have never met him before. I breathe easy and feel happy that I didn’t choose to be anywhere else this morning.
But life has a funny way of turning tables just when you decide to be good for the rest of the day.
‘Hey,’ he says.
I look at him, curious to see what comes after the pick-up line. But he doesn’t, and that makes me smile.
‘Hey, stranger,’ I say, ‘How’s the coffee here?’
‘Almost as good as the view,’ he responds.
‘It must be good then. I really like your dog too.’
He invites me over to his table and I can only accept it. My mind is still running around in circles from last night, looking for answers all around me. I could use some conversation. I go inside to order something for myself and, when I get back, I change my seat for one at his table.
‘How’s the coffee, then?’ he asks me.
‘Good, good. I needed this.’
‘You’ve had a rough night, huh?’
‘I guess you can say that. I met someone.’
‘Oh. Well you sure move on fast if you’re already having breakfast alone.’
‘No, I don’t mean that. He was acting really strange. It made me feel so uncomfortable that I had to leave the party. That’s where my rough night ended,’ I laugh.
‘I see. You’re a party girl then.’
‘I try. Last night, I failed.’
‘Was it that bad?’
‘I don’t know. He reminded me of someone I met a while ago. Does it ever happen to you? I feel like I’m talking too much about myself. ‘
‘You know, meet a woman that reminds you of an ex, let’s say.’
‘Ah. Sometimes. But the man from your past wasn’t your boyfriend, was he?’
‘No, he wasn’t. How did you guess that?’
He doesn’t say anything, just makes circles with the spoon in his coffee. All of a sudden, I’m having a déjà vu – he has a familiar look on his face.
‘I’m sorry, do we know each other?’ I ask him and try to maintain my calm.
‘Not particularly well, no. I’m not your ex, that’s for sure’ he laughs, ‘You never really gave me a chance. You know the story… You try to get the girl, but she leaves before you have the chance to tell her why you picked her out of everybody else. Or, well, she picked you…’
This is impossible.
I must be losing my mind.
‘Tell me about last night. What did he do wrong, that you left without him?’
‘The same as you,’ I mumble, confused. ‘He tried to mess me up.’
‘And what did you expect? Some nice guy to play it safe with?’ he grins.
‘No, just someone…’
I don’t know how to say this. It might be that the cliché becomes true all of a sudden. I’m a woman who doesn’t know what she wants.
But he seems to know better.
‘Someone who lets you be the magical element in the relationship?’
‘Well, that’s kind of hard to find. We all want to play that part. You have to be a magical girl on your own, before your turn comes, if it does.’
‘And how do I become one?’
‘Are you asking me this? A stranger you met at the café? Are you mad, girl?’
‘Who the hell are you?’ I scream to his face and scare the dog. I don’t care.
‘I am who you think I am. What, are you not going to leave now? You already did twice,’ he laughs and finishes his coffee.
‘Listen, I can’t keep seeing you again, and again, and again!’
‘Ah, but you’re talking to me again, and again, and again. You’re always talking to me. Where do you think this will lead to?’
But I can’t deal with this right now.
Someone stops me on my way to nowhere and asks me what the time is. I tell them it’s midday and they start lecturing me on how I will never find the miracle of everyday if I walk down the street looking all grumpy. Coincidence or not, the word miracle makes me hit the ground running, but I know there is nowhere to go for someone like me. I may have the world at my fingertips, but I am always out of tune with it. Starting all over again would be just as pointless as it was last time. When variety becomes a habit, newness loses meaning. And it was all in vain. I have no control whatsoever over who I am.
I curl up on a bench in Central Park, listening to the birds and looking at people going places, lovers holding hands, children running around, dogs catching branches, Frisbees or whatever they catch these days. Sometimes, the best hiding place is the spotlight.
They tell you that you’re going to die. What they don’t tell you is that you might die unhappy, unfulfilled. They sell you lies in ad campaigns and shopping malls and don’t tell you the essential — that you could die any minute, without ever having felt the touch of magic on your skin; with no tiny cell of madness in your tired body.
What am I doing, then? Running around in a haze, aimlessly and carelessly, screaming how much I want, I want, I want. What do I want, they wonder, and I pretend I don’t know either. The truth is that I don’t want much, I just want myself. That is my definition of magic at this point — the power to change myself into whom I should have been by now.
After fifteen long minutes, a funny-looking man sits down on the other side of the bench with a backpack and a notebook on his lap and starts scribbling.
‘What are you doing?’ I ask him.
He doesn’t seem surprised and for some reason I didn’t expect him to be either.
‘What are you writing?’
‘Oh. That thing.’
He nods his head and carries on.
‘Who are you?’
‘I am what you should be. A mad artist making magic.’
‘But I am not an artist.’
‘Oh, but you want to be one.’
‘What does that have to do with anything?’
‘With everything, you mean. Haven’t you noticed how life is circular? You go to different places only to end up being dragged to the same old one. It’s the things that you want that drag you around.’
Before you wonder about why is this conversation even taking place, know that I’ve reached my breaking point. That said, I give up on walking away from people who are trying to tell me something. After all, I was the one who felt offended when a stranger told me that I am not mad. Let it be, then.
‘Why is this happening? Why can’t I find magic?’
‘Who said you can’t?’
‘I can’t find it in myself. How can I find so much of it that I can put it into stories and be a real writer?’
‘Oh… but you will never find it by running away from yourself every day, or every season.’
‘I am not running away from myself, I am running away from people and places in my attempt to find myself.’
‘And what do you end up having? More people and places on your list, and less and less chances to find yourself.’
‘I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong. For as long as it’s not in me, where else am I supposed to find it but in the world around me?’
‘But of course it’s in you. You just don’t see it. But you see it in other people, and that makes you jealous and bitter. Then you have to run away. That’s not where magic is, in the charming guys that you meet.’
‘But I’m trying to be better every time, don’t you see?’
‘I’ll be honest with you — I don’t, and you’re not. You’re always changing where you are, not who you are. You are not ever-changing. You always go to the same places, you talk to the same kind of people. There is a pattern that you follow and that I could trace with my eyes closed. There is nothing truly new in your choices. And you say you want magic? Magic is not going to happen this way.’
‘Then how is it going to happen?’
‘It is going to happen when you sit down, take a deep breath, maybe smoke a cigarette if you like, or have a nice meal; alone. When you look around and see beautiful people and you let them be beautiful without trying to pull the wisdom out of them with pliers.’
‘Tell me something. Why is everyone the same person? Why are you the same man I’ve met before so many times?’
‘Don’t you understand? We are all mirrors reflecting you. The interesting man at the bar, being picked up with a clever line and dragged into a conversation; the classy man at the party, talking about things with meaning with an attractive someone; the hippie guy at the café on the corner, finally daring to make a move towards someone they fancy; and me, your ordinary guy happily making magic in a park, living your writing dream. Do you see it now? We are not a miracle of nature; we are the you you do not dare to be. You are drawn to people who possess the qualities and lives you wish you had. No wonder they are all alike. Do you want to end that stupid curse and become the girl you want to be? Then stop talking to us. Stop changing places. Stop doing the same things every day, even if you do them here or somewhere else. Become one with your reflection and you will stop seeing it in every window. You will never have to change your hair colour again, unless, of course, you really want to. You cling to us to give you a drop of magic, but we are not who you think we are. I am you, the you that you suppress deep inside and go searching for all over the world. There, you found yourself, in different shapes and sizes. We are all one, because you don’t want to be yourself.’
I don’t believe this.
‘Is this a bad dream?’
‘It is indeed. The only difference is that only you can choose when and if you’re going to wake up from it.’
I stare at him in silence, and he gets back to his writing. I notice how he doesn’t initiate a conversation — he just answers my questions.
‘You can call me that, he says, although you’ve met me at least three times so far. I’m not exactly a stranger anymore.’
‘If I ask you to be the one leaving, will you?’ the words come out of my mouth slowly, tediously.
I am tired of this, and I don’t even try to hide it.
‘I might, but you’ll meet me again at the exit of this park.’
‘What will you look like then?’
‘Whatever might catch your eye at that point of your existence, I guess. I can’t be sure yet.’
‘That point of my existence would be a few minutes from now,’ I laugh. ‘Do you want to share a cigarette with me?’
‘I don’t smoke,’ he says.
‘But I do.’
‘Oh, only until you become your favourite self. You won’t want to kill that.’
‘Fine, I’ll have one.’
I inhale the smoke and wait for his answer, but remember that he is only there because so am I, or whatever he claims.
‘So tell me,’ I say, ‘how can you not know what I’ll be looking for in five minutes? Do I not want the same things all the time?’
‘I don’t know, do you?’
‘So you think I want to look like an undercover detective who comes to the park and writes novels, right?’
‘On some days I am sure you do. More or less. I am pretty sure you don’t want to be a man,’ he laughs, ‘but I had to get your attention somehow.’
‘Okay,’ I laugh, ‘what else?’
‘Why don’t you tell me that?’
I guess two can play this game.
‘Well, you got one thing right, I do want to be a writer. But I don’t want to be a writer yet.’
‘I don’t know, I guess I could try, but I feel so drained that I think I’d be a terrible writer. I hardly believe in magic, that must be why I want to find it so badly.’
‘How about you create it? Have you thought of that?’
‘I can’t even recreate myself; you said it.’
‘Oh, no. Don’t recreate anything, please. That’s like taking expired food and trying to make a cake from it.’
‘It’s all an allegory, in case you were wondering. Things are not what they seem to be, but what you want them to be. It’s up to you to give them the meaning that suits you. I can only tell you what you need to learn.’
‘And what is that?’
‘Until you assume your new identity, that’s crawling to get out of your skin and drip onto every bit of reality you get in contact with, you will see it in everyone and hate it every time. In fact, it will be all you ever see — like now.’
‘You wanted the shortcut to being beautiful, I’m giving it to you. You wanted to know how that works – this is how it works. You shed your old plums and turn into a masterpiece. You believe in your new identity, and you will become it. But you have to believe. You wanted bits of insights from strangers, I’m giving you them. You must, suddenly and strangely even, become the people you turn to for help. You are drawn to them because they hold little pieces of who you are. But in this case, they are not different people. They are all reflections of who you are on the inside. But hurry up, because becoming yourself shouldn’t be your only purpose in life. In fact, all of this is less about becoming and more about understanding the price of freedom.’
‘I look really zoned out, don’t I?’
‘Need I tell you this? You’re walking among mirrors and you still don’t wake up. So tell me, if you were a writer, what would you create first?’
‘Well… I don’t know, myself I guess. I think I’d have long hair and a rocking body, but I’m not so keen on physical features, because I’ve been getting new ones all my life. I’d be loud and strong though, and very, very brave.’
He sighs and goes on writing his stuff.
‘Wait, what are you doing? I thought you wanted to hear what I want.’
‘I do, but you’re fantasizing right now. Maybe you could save that for your writings and stop selling me lies. Can I rephrase this? Stop lying to yourself.’
‘How am I lying?’
To my surprise, I now find out that his eyes look just like mine.
‘You were a stranger by choice, remember? Then you stopped being a stranger and became successful; then you went to a party, hid on the porch to talk to yourself, didn’t like what you heard and left before midnight. You don’t want to be that girl you’re describing; otherwise you would have been her already, when given the chance. Now tell me, who do you really want to be?’
‘I think I just want to be me’ I admit, staring at the ground, ‘but a more refined version of it. One that goes out alone, smiles in mirrors, is honest about herself. I want to feel free, just like you said. I’m sure the right words would come to me then, because I’d have stopped forcing out the wrong ones. Oh, and speaking of that, definitely a writer. Are you still listening? I don’t know what else to say. What do you think?’
He seems to be paying me no attention.
‘Hello?’ I shout, nervously.
‘I’m sorry, what’s wrong?’ he asks, turning to me and looking terribly confused. ‘Have we met?’
‘What do you think?’ I ask, gnashing my teeth.
‘I’m not sure, I’m terribly sorry. Let’s go through this one more time and maybe I’ll remember. I’m Martin. I’m a writer. Who are you?’
‘Mel… I am a writer as well.’
His face brightens up, as if I gave the right answer in classroom and saved everyone.
Or I’ve just felt proud of myself for the first time, and think that the universe is proud of me too.
I’m not sure.
‘What do you write?’
‘Just fantasy,’ I answer, my voice shaking a little.
‘Oh, that’s fantastic!’ he laughs. ‘So what are your stories mostly about?’
‘Myself, I suppose,’ I finally say and get the warm feeling again.
He smiles and I feel a little lost, and a little brave, and very much curious to see what comes next.
Dear everybody/all 3 of you who will read this,
I’m looking for someone who works in the publishing industry and can be easily contacted. I want to apply for work experience in the industry, and it would be extremely helpful if someone who knows what companies are looking for could quickly see my CV & cover letter before I send them out. This is just to make sure they’re alright and I actually have a chance of getting some emails back.
I don’t ask for much – 10 minutes of your time, and maybe another 5 to tell me ‘Hey, I wouldn’t get back to you if you emailed me that in other circumstances, but in this case, here’s what you can improve –’
‘What do you want?’ she asked. ‘The truth or a nice evening?’
I was tempted… so tempted.
It’s 4 a.m., the two of us, a pack of stray dogs and the night, cool with all its rain, and a chill passes over me. I don’t touch her yet. The feeling I’m experiencing is one of repulsion for her hands, her voice, everything I can’t have for myself. I wanted a nice evening, but in the end the lies egg cracked and the truth came out liquid, sticky and terribly hard to clean. She got me a cloth and tidied me up when we left the bar. I, the mess, stood still and watched her, as from a distance.
My soul feels rough and weary, like a pair of jeans you wash with pumice stones until their texture gets weak. Gone are the days I could brag about an inner self that could not be violated. My lion heart is now only a zodiacal feature. The reality is that I’ve turned soft, nostalgic and quiet, like a slow dance danced until the end of time with a cold, beautiful woman kissing my neck and whispering sweet nonsense in my ears.
‘You forgot about violent, my dear,’ she says. ‘A dance is also sensual, violent, tragic. It stays quiet, but it has strength. I can hear the speed of your thoughts, you know. These days, I think it’s the only part of you that stays alert.’
‘Thank God for that.’
‘You’re getting yourself old that way though, and it’s just too bad. You’ll have to live with yourself many years from now. Why would you want to get old before the times come?’
She swirls her fingers around mine and we keep walking in silence. At least she knows how to be silent. I only want to share my secrets to 4 a.m. 4 a.m. always reads me best.
I have the most beautiful lover in the world, and there’s no one out here lonelier than me, I think. Actually, I feel there’s no one out here at all.
When she came over at half nine she had a radiant smile and a sophisticated purple dress that made me want to trade our night out for one in. I tried to talk her out of leaving the house, as my mood had swung from partying to snuggling on the couch, and slowly, to making love to her for all the rest of my days. I was so in love that the feeling was dripping out of every pore of my skin. To me, she was more than a pretty face mixed with some girlish charm in a woman’s body. She got under my skin and made me want her in ways I don’t often want others to stay with me. I was mad about her, and a bit tipsy.
‘You want me?’ she laughed. ‘Oh sweetheart, you do have me for tonight don’t you?’
‘I don’t just want you for tonight. I want to have you, in any way there is — physically, emotionally, damn it, eternally. Will you be mine?’
She leaned over me and grabbed another glass of wine, looking terribly confused. I took advantage of that and slowly kissed her, putting away the wine and hoping for a romantic outcome. She, on the other hand, had other plans.
‘What do you want?’ she asked. ‘The truth or a nice evening?’
I could have asked her to be frank and tell me right away that she didn’t want me back, so I could hear it loud and clear. Instead, as a true lover not being loved in return, I chose to dig myself in a hole of ignorance and leave the misery for later. I smiled, had a few more drinks, helped her put her coat on and drove to the best bar I could think of, somehow hoping that we’d make it back together in the morning. I smoked an entire pack of cigarettes in the few hours we spent out, all while watching her happily ever flirting with other men on the dance floor. She had this innocence, this bliss, this reinvigorating, fresh charm that fuelled my fire, that made all my senses go insane; that she was ready to share with any man coming her way.
I turn my head to her as we walk. She’s cold and tired and so am I. Gradually I sink into a fine, delicate hatred. I no longer hear what he says. I am only conscious of my own thoughts.
‘You can sleep at my place,’ is all I say when I realise how close we got to my apartment.
‘No, it’s fine, I don’t really feel like sleeping.’
‘Then what do you feel like doing?’
‘I don’t know,’ she says and stops in the middle of the road to play with one of the dogs. ‘I want to stay up until dawn, then I will probably just walk home. I know you’re not at your best, but I’ve had a nice night and want to enjoy it some more — either together with you or all alone. I’m still happy, sweetheart.’
It’s a large, brown one. I watch her and my heart turns blue, as if it wasn’t all broken already. I think about these people who you just love for no reason, or admire to the point you end up wanting their body only to inhabit it. These people who are so seductive, so delicate, so perfectly harmonised with themselves and the world surrounding them, so unaware of their blessed nature, that you suddenly want to be them. Mia is one, and I only wish she stayed longer, so I could learn to live and breathe like her. I feel ashamed thinking that I myself am so clumsy, so silly, yet so stupidly organised. I force myself to develop a charm I lack and fail, and enviously watch her flow. But Mia lacks depth and I, in spite of being no Prince Charming, have so much soul she wouldn’t know how to handle — and I won’t take her shallowness away from her either. I watch her and the dogs and think of how lucky she is for being so lovely, of how boring her relationship with herself must be, of how all she’s got to do to keep her smile is to go out and talk to strangers. She’s easy-going and attractive and I know she’ll be alright because even when they’re not, people like her are always alright. .
I sit down on the pavement next to her, and one dog gets close to me. We’re both happy now, together or all alone — I don’t even know, and it doesn’t even matter. It’s 5 a.m. now and the sky is brighter, and so is my mind as its own blue gets lighter, and lighter, and lighter.
Four days ago: You swept me off my feet, M. Literally. So I got back up and ran, as fast as I could.
You wear your ruins well. When I look at you I feel proud, though I didn’t shape a bone in your body. You’re beautiful, but still I got away. When I was broken, you taught me how to run and in turn I never stopped (today, I crave to curl up under the sheets and play hide-away like we don’t mean it one more time; like you’d reach me if you stretched and I’d feel you if I tried).
You never should have trusted me. You’re real, and you expected me and my trauma to go together like milk and cereal. Instead, the more I tried to cover it up because you tried too hard to see its depth, the less authentic I got. We ended up bad, M. The truth is that I used you as a hiding place and you pulled my hand to make me stand tall and walk proud. We never matched.
I didn’t come to you to rescue me, to talk me through or to get better. That’s what people like you don’t understand. I didn’t want your helping hand, I just wanted your shoulder, and you only wanted to stitch me back together. I needed a secret place and you were my favourite one. But when you pulled the curtains and the sun got in…
I was never angry, I just couldn’t vibe with you. I was on dry land and couldn’t keep up. You were a free man and I wasn’t, and none of your tricks could have freed me. Freedom isn’t given, it’s taken.
Victim of my own definition and the rules I lived by, I was no magic fountain for myself, so I decided I’ll leave you and go west, or south, or east or north or wherever it felt warmer, safer at this time of my life’s year.
I wasn’t ready for your cool breezes, for mind swirling tornadoes, for changes and livelier heartbeats and your soul pouring down on me like drizzle and going deeper down my skin, shaped like love. I wasn’t ready.
I couldn’t inhale the life force in you, let vitality pump in my veins, remove my every fright, refresh my heart and renew myself wholly, to be fierce and strong and new. I was my own prisoner, baby, that’s why you couldn’t have me.
I ran away, M, don’t hate me. At the end of it all, I’ll know who’s the girl behind the image, who’s the beast behind the girl, and I hope it’s all the strength that you saw.
For now there is no harbour here. I feel only restless. It is between me and what I hunger for. I want to burn so fast there won’t even be time to think about it once more.
It was all my fault — if I hadn’t caught fire yet…
‘Now,’ she says, ‘get me out of my head. It’s much too quiet here.’
‘Fine,’ I’d whisper, ‘where to?’
And she’d smile at me, with that smile of the kind of girl she is. That smile everyone must have seen at least once in their lives. The smile of the kind of girl you don’t forget too easily.
‘Let’s get out of this place,’ she insists, and looks around as if the room has suddenly shrunk. ‘I miss wild love and short stories.’
I know the things she misses. It’s the things that make her come alive. I’ve been watching her all night, taming feelings inside wine glasses, hoping for stormy weather. Chaos would be a good excuse to throw memories out to sea.
She is the kind that any sane man would get a pack of cigarettes with and run away to hell, tightly holding her hand. In the morning, she drinks coffee with milk in between white sheets, used books, youthful intentions; car keys, notes, clothes, dark, scratched walls. It’s the time of day when she believes in more than she can put her finger onto. At night, she turns hours into days, speeding through them like they were eternal. The soft white of summer and the cold of winter diving into her bones are the only ends of her world. All that’s in between – novels and paintings, nostalgia, street corners, red leaves, street lights, the moon, moving cars, people, breathing – is halved chances to get it right. The kind of girl she is; a time runner, from the grounds to the skyline and back again, like a racer for bliss, and beauty and beliefs.
‘Tomorrow I disappear,’ she confesses, and I know it’s because tonight has been much too heavy and silent with her. ‘I go explore the lengths to which life can take me. After, I can move slow and calm, like floating across heavens and night skies.’
She moves her head and I can see the jars with flowers she keeps on the light wooden window frame, next to a couple of empty glasses and a moneybox. A mug of hot chocolate is steaming at her elbow. Outside, the fog is still permeating the city. Her comfort zone looks warm, feminine and welcoming. She lifts her head up again, and looks back into the mirror.
‘You haven’t lived until you’ve lived like that, don’t you agree?’ she asks in a gentle voice.
‘It’s only October,’ I’m ready to answer. ‘You won’t find what you’re looking for during these months. It can’t shake your grounds yet.’
But I know that, just like in the morning she believes in life, at night she believes in better days. I am no one to disagree. Ah… it amuses me. I am no one.
After all, it’s high time she gets out of here. She hasn’t caught fire yet, and talking to me is unlikely to spark her.
But passivity isn’t what kept her awake tonight. She’s been thinking of trains and smiles and sunsets, and holding hands with beautiful strangers who remind her that sadness is overrated. I know, because she’s been talking to me the whole time.
‘All the things that I’m missing,’ she tells me, ‘make me want to find myself on the leather car seat first thing at dawn. I need another chance to live like that, like a second right to be born into this world. I’ll keep taking them, again and again, because I don’t see what else is there to do with this soul surplus I have.’
She moves one hand slowly around her neck, and wipes the steam off the mirror with the other. I believe we’re done here.
“Anca Dunavete (born 12 September 1992) is from Timișoara, Romania. She is studying Journalism and Media Studies at the University of Portsmouth and mapping out the future. So far, she’s pinned down writing, owning a dog and continuing to live by the sea. If she ever becomes a publisher, she might, however, change her location.
She blogs at www.ancadunavete.com“
Well, sometimes she blogs. Other times, she gets caught up in life’s clever ways of keeping her away from her dreams and takes a nap there. But for now…
… Strangers is (a)live! Finally, the eight short stories written by me and Cristian over the summer are on Amazon, and I couldn’t be more excited. I hope you get them, I hope you read them and I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed writing them – having no idea where they’re taking me, but loving every word. Yeah, that’s my secret, don’t steal it.
To tell you more about how this beautiful achievement makes me feel – I am over the moon, but also more motivated and willing to work for more-of-this-please than ever before. I’m planning to grow, brand and market this blog like I should have done already; but those were the days when my writing was just escapism.
Now, I believe in more than that. I believe that I can use it as a tool to shape my world, and why not, your worlds for the better. And, because I want to take this one step further, I am soon going to apply for work experience with publishing companies too. I want to do for others what has been done for me, understand and learn more about the industry and, finally, run my own publishing house. These are still only dreams, but crazier things have happened. Like, hey, look at this. :)
If you were wondering whom I’ve dedicated the book to – here you go:
“To the wonderful people who believe in my writing — and Cristian, for not only believing but making this book happen. I can only hope to prove how right you were. Anca”
Are you on the list, then? If so, thank you.
She’d been racing with the setting sun on the road, waiting for summer to begin. Summer is always promising, and she desperately wanted something to believe in, something to keep her warm, something to love again.
She loved him when her feelings were still raw. Summer was hot and hazy and breathtaking, and the road seemed to go on forever. Intensity was rising higher than she’d ever expected life to take her. He gave her so much love that soon, she was also pouring love into other people. He didn’t mind.
‘Beautiful things are meant to be shared,’ he told her.
She continued his smile. Their trades were always fair — one gave love, the other joy.
She was joy.
By now she knew that warmth only lasts as long as summer, that summer was over and so was the way she used to feel about things.
She was going to be more careful this time. More careful with the yeah-buts, the what-ifs, the not-nows. When she first used them, she was a child. She didn’t know a wrong move could end the game, because people always told her that the right thing to do was what she felt, so she did it. Then everything felt wrong.
She’d been telling herself for a while that things didn’t have to be how they were, but how she saw them. But her vision changed with the end of summer too. Bright reds turned into dark shades of autumn, blending together in a sadness that she could not pick the happy pieces out of. Let it be, she sighed to herself and embraced her new-found sad place.
In the summer, there were only love, laughter and confusion. Now, things have settled and the confusion was gone. Together with it, though, so were the other two.
She wanted to ask him to talk her out of her feelings, but knew she’d only have silence for him. After a while, you forget the words that should have meant the world at the right time. You forget your intentions, your musts, your could-have-beens. You’re left with the bitter taste of the present. Carpe diem, she smiled through the tears.
Her sadness was nothing new anymore. Having it ripped off, even by someone as gentle as him, was no longer an option. She hated it. And she became it.
At night, she would wake up with cold hands and feet, and pillows piled up high under her head. Joy still sprung out of her consciousness like loud screams, keeping her awake. She always slept in the position of a question mark. The answer was him, every time.
But after a while, she was once again burning hot with desire to stay alive, even if life was going to be tough; she wanted to be tougher. Bitterness became too consuming. It wasn’t a wonderful world, but it was something; and she had been slowly moving towards nothingness.
She embarked on a personal journey to winter. Winter is never as bad as they make it look like in stories. In stories, winter is a metaphor; it’s when your soul grows icicles out of your unhappiness. She wasn’t looking for happy, she was just looking for something else, so winter might have been her place.
She left without knowing why and didn’t ask for warm hugs from anybody. It was only at night that she still looked for the little warmth left inside. Summer was hot and hazy and breathtaking, and she forgot to save some for the upcoming winter. But summer is always infinite while it lasts; no one ever thinks of September.
It was almost October.
She travelled light, forgetting names and faces as she moved from one place to another. She didn’t buy postcards or souvenirs because happiness is the only thing that unhappiness comes out of, once consumed. She wanted to save herself the tears. She only wanted to save herself.
She slowly began to move focus from him to something bigger. Life was, at that point, strip after strip of the seen and the unseen, and the felt and the unfelt, and the lived and the forgotten-to-live that covered her up and suffocated her.
She knew that everything once considered new eventually adds up to the enormous pile of things no longer necessary, but unable to dissolve in her bloodstream. That the new becomes old with every blink. Fresh and exciting, it knocks at your door and you can’t help but have it in, when home is already full of things that came wrapped up in fresh and exciting. After a while, immobility calls itself maturity. She didn’t want to go there yet. She didn’t want to go anywhere else either, but she couldn’t stay put. It would have happened that way.
There was a mountain of herself knocking at her door; it looked pretty, but she couldn’t let it in. It would have torn her apart.
What to do with the beautiful things whose time has passed? She didn’t want to bring yesterdays back around. She only wanted to find the answer.
She missed him, every now and sunset, every sunrise and then, and sometimes, all the times in between. That summer was the greatest burden she’d ever carried around, and getting rid of the rest only seemed to add clarity to it. Andy Warhol said that he hated getting boxes of chocolate, although he loved it so much. The thought of having an entire box of chocolate waiting to be finished was a pressure that took the enjoyment away. She wanted to finish with all of her old self, but every time she got to his gift of love things complicated. She couldn’t enjoy things anymore, and she couldn’t consume them all at once either. Killing love and summer seemed unbearable, even when their time had long passed.
She looked long and hard wherever she found a little bit of him, or her, or truth and hardcore feelings like she remembered her summer. But the world isn’t always a mirror. Sometimes it didn’t show her the details she was looking for — then she knew the mirror trick was a lie. The world was the trace line; all the rest was personal.
What to do with the beautiful things whose time has passed? became the soundtrack of the journey. She couldn’t find anywhere to bury beauty, because she was afraid she’d feel unbeautiful without it. The idea of creating something new scared her too. Liberating far less than frustrating, it would have only added up to the weights dragging her down, forcing her to stay. She didn’t want to stay. Staying also scared her.
Bouncing from one place to the next, she was stuck in fear. Free as a bird, with long, heavy chains around her heart. Her blood was turning colder every night, and she blamed it all on the now unavoidable winter.
By now she knew the answer wasn’t to be found in more films watched alone on weekends, more coffee shared with friends in foolish attempts to figure life out, more pillow talk before yet another sleepless night. The answer wasn’t in any of these places.
Anything can happen. Anything goes, she thought. She’s taken her foot off the pedal. Life could take her places, interesting as they might be they wouldn’t have what she was searching for. And without knowing for sure what it was, she couldn’t abandon something so precious. Who knew?
She wasn’t searching anymore.
The only things that I never regretted doing, not doing or not-doing-enough-and-only-got-to-almost-there were the things that I lived fully. They went through me like hurricanes, leaving nothing behind. No weights, no pictures, no second hand hope. No yeah-but, no what-if, no could-have-been. Nothing, but a changed self. Because what’s the point of all of this, if you don’t let it change you? If change doesn’t end up swimming in my new blood, I don’t want it to occupy my mind; I don’t want it at all.
I don’t know the answer to my question, I never found it. It was what I’d been looking for, but nowhere to be found. Eventually, time lets you live with your seen and unseen, felt and unfelt, lived and forgotten-to-live, but you don’t lose them. You can’t lose something you forgot to lose when you should have, or you forgot to hold on to. You live with the regret and, if you’re lucky, the beautiful things whose time has passed.
But if you do it right, you find the answer to a better question: What to do with the beautiful things whose time is just about to come?
Take them in. Like a hot, hazy July, the afterglow, going places, facing hard questions and deep fears. Like change, so you never have to ask yourself again where to bury the leftovers of summer, because your fire will burn even the ashes, she wrote down.
I know my picture doesn’t look like a birthday cake; that one will be on my Facebook soon. But I thought I’d let you too know that in 30 mins, I turn 21, and my biggest wish right now is to grow as a writer & make this blog bigger and better in the year to come – because everything else in my life is going great, so there isn’t much left to wish for. I’m kidding, but I’ll still keep the rest to myself, because I never wanted to make this space personal in that way. Here on my blog, I want you to like my writing or not like me at all, because this is how I choose to express myself. So far, it’s my favourite way. Way cooler than Instagram too.
Thank you everyone for supporting Strangers and I can only hope that once it’s out, and that will be soon, it will contain beautiful stories written by me and Cristian and you will help me make this wish come true. Also, every like, comment, follow and share is really appreciated! I do notice them, yes.
Until then, I want to show you what 16-year-old me did: secretly wrote a novel that my dad secretly read. Then, he decided to help me publish it. I didn’t appreciate it much at the time, because I didn’t feel ‘ready’. I do now. I keep it on my desk at home — although I’m flying to the UK for another 3 months this weekend, but you know — to remind me that if publishers then liked me, publishers now should love me! Or at least that’s what I wish for my 21st birthday.
There is a nice apartment over the bakery. It is inviting, relaxing, with an air of elegance and sophistication. It’s where he first opened the door for her, and she touched his face with new love on her fingers and let warmth spread throughout her body.
The whiteness of the kitchen’s walls holds a painting of a dark blue river running wild over black rocks. She thinks of it as her stop-start anxiety, and she smiles. She knows there is a fist-sized hole behind. She think of it as him.
One night, when it was raining lightly outside, she leaned out of the window to wave him goodbye when a hot wind whipped across her arms. It was still summer. He was the kind of man who made her think. He made her think that she was happy. Thinking about it now feels to her like looking over a fence at someone else’s summer.
When she lifted her head up all she saw was snowflakes, so she went back to bed, gently took his hand and showed him to the window. His eyes went straight to her dark coffee eyes. The music faded to a background noise and life stopped and stood still for a while.
Then the blood in her veins went crazy and it started raining.
She loved the adrenaline rush. The girl with vanilla personality and purple prose was dying. There was somebody else fighting to live inside her, who wanted winter over summer, then summer again. Everything and all at once packed up in a big snowball rolled down a hill, faster and faster with every breath she took. Maybe it was the courage coming from the new-found happiness, asking life for more lemons. Maybe it was the frightening something in still life: the smell of death, a familiar sight, nothingness, or maybe everything, because both look just the same. They look like the ending.
He left in a hurry, because the way she used to feel about things was over. He felt tired; tired of living, because life gets tiring sometimes. Simplicity complicated overnight, so he had to move on from the things that weighed him down. The rain washed over him as he walked away. Maybe she likes the rain, because it washed the forever away from her skin and she never liked tattoos anyway, he thought. But she closed the windows to the rain; the house was turning cold.
They’d been shipwrecked there for a long time. They deconstructed life and made a mess, so it was hard to leave. But now it was hard to start building again.
She liked her first great escape. She knew where she was. It was an indefinite moment in time, one that doesn’t get mentioned in stories because it doesn’t exist. Stories have no time for praising the rebels unless it leads to taming them. She was in between stories, jumping from one building to the next, making self-love happen in a heart that always had to refill from elsewhere. She could see the light, and was scared to take her eyes from it again. She wanted better. She could have lived with worse too. Anything, but something more, or less than the flat line.
After a while, she wanted back to their old life. She wanted back, because back felt nice and it smelled like home, and because she had figured things out. Some people are made of light. Some are made of darkness. What am I made of? Most of the time it feels like I’m made of past, she wrote somewhere. Then she ran around her past in circles, struggling to keep her distance, until part of her collapsed. It didn’t feel right. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Her breakaway wasn’t the answer, because the answer felt wrong. Trying to divide times proved to be like drawing chalk marks on water. Life felt liked a burden, but all the months she had spent separating winter from summer and high school from love next to him, putting them on different hangers to create more space suddenly became just as useless. Burdens, she realised, be them him or her earlier days weren’t the reason why she didn’t feel alive.
‘You know what alive feels like?’ she asked him over the phone one month later, when she finally dared to call him.
He shook his head, but didn’t say anything.
‘It feels like now,’ she said, and he could hear a smile in her voice.
It was like a lasso.
Originally posted on Cristian Mihai:
No matter who or where we are, we consume art on a daily basis. We listen to songs, go to the cinema, or spend a lazy afternoon enjoying a good book.
But why is it that art is so important? Why is it that our lives would feel empty, pointless, filled with blank spaces without art?
Art is important for a million different reasons: we consume art because it inspires us, because it gives us purpose, motivation, ambition, and it makes us dream. Art shows us a world we would’t dare imagine by ourselves. We consume art simply because it’s beautiful… a beautiful voice can be admired just for that, so is a beautiful painting.
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He’s been staring at me for a couple of minutes now and I’m getting uncomfortable. I tried to make a joke to show him that I’m fine, but he didn’t believe me. Of course he didn’t believe me.
‘What did he do to you this time?’
‘I don’t know,’ he shrugs. ‘I never know this.’
I give him the look, then look away.
‘Nothing,’ I say and take a deep breath.
‘Oh. Then what are you doing here with me?’
I rest my chin on my knees and stare at him from behind my curtain of hair. I know he expects me to say something, anything.
So what do I tell him? That people have stained me again with their sad endings, and their sadness mixed up with mine? That pieces of me were spread everywhere and I felt like an empty cardboard sheet where once used to be a beautiful puzzle? That I need him close because in a world as cold as ice, his warmth flows like lava and mine, like drops of blood coming from a paper cut? Do I tell him this? I’m not sure.
‘I just came to talk,’ I say, almost to myself.
‘There we go,’ he smiles. ‘I’d like that. You have so much to say.’
I smile back.
‘But don’t give me facts, dates, definitions. Don’t tell me about somebody who hurt you, about somebody who loves you, about somebody who’s messing you up’ — he grabs my cup of coffee and drinks it before I can say anything — ‘I don’t give a shit about that. We all have the same set of stories. Tell me about what you’ve learned out of it.’
‘Ah, I don’t think I’ve learned a thing this time around either,’ I laugh.
That’s all I can say.
He seems pleased.
I am transparent.
‘He did something to you again…’
‘People always do something to me,’ I laugh.’ Or they don’t do anything — which is even harder to swallow.’
‘Let me tell you something,’ he says in a soft voice and takes my hand into his. ‘Mel, you’re bouncing between extremes at the minute. I know you like to feel alive and this makes you anything but lifeless, but anybody can live a bad life. It’s not even called life, it’s survival through shocks. Wild, yes, but still survival. You think that anger is the strongest drug to keep you on the go. It gives you drive and energy in exchange for peace and quiet. It gets you out of everyday’s misery to make you a heroine in your own world, where you fight windmills and guys you meet at the bar who offer you starts of great love stories. It’s a hell of a storyland, isn’t it? I look at you and see the most beautiful present somebody could get, but you’re already wrapped, ready for delivery. You become extravagant, ostentatious, unwanted. You make me question your value, since you give up on yourself so easily. I can see you. You’d do anything to get rid of yourself.’
I hold my breath.
‘You don’t see serene Mel,’ I protest.
‘You are not serene Mel. I’ve never met her either.’
His words are clever and always cut me open.
Perhaps the reason why sadistic Mel always comes back to him.
‘Your anger is starting to work against you. It’s sedating you with ignorance — which is far from bliss like they claim it is, isn’t it? This is the last stage of the cancer of your mind. You’re turning numb, beautiful. Immune to life. And you wanted it so badly.’
I keep looking at the ground, thinking of how I do indeed feel happily ever trapped in the illusion of freedom and boundless energy — the two things that were supposed to be the fuel to my fire. The two things I was too afraid to use, so that I don’t waste them too early and lose them forever. The two things that, when preserved in fear and kept out of freshness, rotted in me and I got indigestion and, eventually, depression.
But he quickly lifts my chin up.
‘I think you’re mind-numbingly bored lately, up there in your little waiting space, so you’re taking all the piles of magazines and wrong people and strong cigarettes and distractions you can find. But you’ve kind of exhausted all options, haven’t you?’
I put my arms around his neck and mumble something, but he doesn’t listen. I don’t blame him.
‘Mel, if the wreck of the day always turns into invaluable memories, how do you expect to keep an open heart?
‘Sad people are like blood clots, waiting there to kill you,’ he says and runs his fingers through my hair.
I’m loving it.
‘You don’t need somebody to lick your wounds if you learn a few things.’
I take my empty mug and go to the kitchen window, but realise too late that it’s been emptied out.
He grabs a chair and comes to sit next to me.
‘There always needs to be enough room in your heart to let the light in, to let new people in, to let better people in. To let yourself in. Never fill yourself up to the top with feelings.
Don’t compare. Something that you’ve filled up with feelings will always incline the balance in its favour. So let the new show you a few tricks before you reject it.
Put your heart into it, but don’t forget to take it back at the end of the day. Your life is the most precious thing you’ll ever have. Don’t give it away to anybody. Nobody needs it.
In the end, stop wishing for whatever it is that you once had. Be enthusiastic about how fast life goes, dig into experiences, dig into emotions, dig into dynamics, but never forget that there is a very fine line between curiosity and superficiality. Never cross it, or you might not find the way back.
Learn to live a beautiful life. Laugh at it and laugh with it, and anything you want — make it yours. Learn that life takes the good away from you only to give you better. If, by chance, you end up with nothing, then know that you are your own best gift from life.
Love more than you crave love, and know that if life takes and doesn’t give back it’s because you have the potential to be self-sufficient in that moment.
Don’t glue all those long-lost, rained over, half-broken pieces back together. You’re better off without them. Don’t dress-up. You work best as an empty canvas, a wide, airy, white room, a clean face — and a tan. Take only what is necessary, Mel. Take only what you love.’
‘I’m not sure about what I love anymore.’
‘Well, it’s two in the morning and you’re having a dumb conversation with, uhm, me. I can point at one thing for start.’
I can feel his heart pounding hard, so I lean back and let him hold me tighter. There’s a sense of stillness in the air. I turn around to watch him. He is slowly moving his fingers up and down my shoulders. I love his touch. It’s always so gentle, so full of life. It fuels me up better than all the love the Universe is supposed to send back to me for being a good girl, and better than bitterness for sure. I mutter something about how sorry I am for driving him crazy. He says he’ll give me all of this in writing and let me have a read, then ask me questions. I want to know what kind of questions. He says that the first question will be why am I still feeling sorry for myself and the things I do and say. I laugh and tell him that I wasn’t serious. He laughs with me and tells me that I’d better not be lying.
It’s summer, dark and quiet up here. Imagine the heat, the lights, the noises — and the girl, curled up on the black wooden chair, chin on her knees, absently looking out over the city of dreams.
I bend over the table for the pack of cigarettes and take one out. I’d ask her to join me, but I’m not in a rush to get her talking. I know we have all night, which is both strange and exciting.
Exciting because she has that je ne sais quoi that can only be found in someone’s eyes, or sadness, or intensity. I look at her and it’s everywhere. It is my second nature to watch people when they’re out of their comfort zone; that’s how I get a feel for my stories. But with her, the more I try to catch that something to put on paper, the more I end up caught in that something else. What something else? Je ne sais quoi, honestly.
Strange because she said over the phone than she can’t think straight during the day, so we agreed on doing the interview after midnight. I have never done this before, so I’m trying hard not to think about how deeply unprofessional it must look like.
As I light up and lean over the balcony, she lets out a heavy sigh.
‘You know, Jax,’ she says, and her voice sounds soft and melodic, ‘If I can make you take pauses while you read me, go back a few lines and take my words in all over again, I’m happy.’
‘Of course,’ I nod. ‘Who wouldn’t be —’
‘But if I can make you look for a cigarette after you put the book down, fill your lungs with smoke and spend five minutes on cloud nine, that means that I did my absolute best. That means the world to me, you know?’
I turn my head over my shoulder and look her up and down. She looks dreamy. I do not know how I will unlock her thoughts later.
‘Don’t you do your best every time?’ I try, hoping to at least catch her on the wrong foot.
‘Don’t be stupid.’ she laughs.
‘You are a journalist, Jax. You are supposed to ask better questions.’
Again I want to reassure her, for the hundredth time since I entered her apartment, that my questions will be reasonable and her answers can, eventually, be turned around a bit. After all, the public knows her as a good upcoming writer and I have no intention to make her look like anything less.
‘Alright,’ I say. ‘You got me, that was a bad question, but it wasn’t part of the interview. I think it would be best to get to know each other first. One look at you and I can tell you don’t like formal either. And look at me,’ I point at my ridiculous attire, ‘smoking my interviewee’s cigarettes here at one in the morning. I can’t look like a serious journalist to you,’ I laugh, nervously. ‘So why can’t we just have a conversation?’
She slowly moves her head in my direction, lifts her eyes up and stares at me blankly for a little while.
‘You are right, you definitely don’t,’ she then says in a firm voice before going back to staring into the distance.
For a minute, I wanted to believe that I had built a bridge there, but sooner than I expected she went back to her passivity and oblivion and I, just as clueless as before, back to enjoying my cigarette; well, hers.
She doesn’t look like the kind of girl that can be read through the lines in one night, and that’s disappointing for the journalist and refreshing and intriguing for the man I am.
I lay my head back and let summer drip down my fingers.
Oh, how I love bad timing! — and the sound of him, moving slowly across the room, careful not to make a noise and break the spell.
I’ve seen the best and worst of 1 a.m., and this is definitely among the best. Sure, not the driving down highways with my head out the window kind of best, nor the hiding under covers with someone I love and pulling down all my walls one. Being close to him tonight doesn’t give me an adrenaline rush or a love underlined, but it gives me the soft good in between, like a sense of self so strong, like digging my toes into the shoreline and knowing that the sea will keep me safe. I know the night will keep me safe. I trust myself at night, even with talking to a stranger whose job is to rewrite me in the morning.
When the sun is up I always find it hard to tell my story. There is something about sunlight, especially in August — it is consistent, enslaving; it has that quality of renewal, of vibrancy, of vitality. It leaves no time for the mind to slow down. Some mornings I find myself alive and don’t know what to do about it. It’s the reason why I spend most summer days lost in words, sucked in, swimming. This is serenity to me, the rare substance that melts my walls and lets me dive into the depths.
Down there, behind necrosed old burdens I forgot to get rid of, I find my solid gold, straight magic and the conviction that the people out here, at the surface of the imagination, are wrong. They leave claw marks onto everything they touch and cry out their wild desire to be chainless. When they ask me if I ever write about them I nod my head, absently. I write about myself, in infinite shapes and sizes. In my ideal world, they wouldn’t make good characters. All my stories are about the girl I’ll never be, the girl I almost am; even the ones about other people.
Rain taps gently on their skin. I’ve got thunder in my heartbeats.
I am out of line. The substance flowing through my veins isn’t hot blood, it’s quicksilver.
The inner world I plunge in blots out the time of day and sends shivers down my spine when I capture its essence and sift it through my fevered imagination. That is the moment of spiritual fire. That is the hallmark of a writing rockstar. I am going that way, all engines burning.
I ask her if she wants to go inside. She says that the balcony is just fine, that she’s not a fan of closed spaces. I try to keep that in mind until I get the chance to take some notes, and ask her what she is a fan of.
Her face lightens up and her lips curl into a smile as she starts counting happy makers on her fingers.
You know when you turn eighteen and forget what seventeen felt like? That’s how the sight of her makes me feel. I follow the subtle moves of her fingers up in the air, wishing I could track the twists and turns of her thoughts just the same.
Friends would ask me why and I couldn’t tell them. They would laugh at me like you’d laugh at a fool almost in love. Readers would ask themselves the same question — what is so special at the girl with hazel eyes and a feel for words that makes me describe her as out of this world? She’s just a writer girl, after all.
But I’d write the palpable truth only, that she is young and beautiful and witty, someone worth looking at for years to come. I find myself smiling. Her expression is promising, inviting. I know it’s a lie, but I can’t wait for her to start talking.
Suddenly I realise that I’ve never read one page of her book. I make a promise to myself that as soon as I wake up I’ll run to the nearest bookshop, buy her book and spend the rest of tomorrow reading it. Only then I’ll put my article together.
‘Speed!’ she says without blinking, turning to me. ‘Yes, I love speed.’
‘You love speed?’ I ask, choking on my words, on my thoughts.
I had my mind made up about her — she likes to take her time, she breathes easily, she chews on her food, she’s got a good mastery of peace and quiet – spicy as she might look like. There is an aura or calmness around her. She is not in a rush to become her better self, like the rest of us. She is already there.
She shakes her head and looks excited.
‘Alright,’ I say, seemingly cheerful, ‘what is it about speed that —’
‘It’s wonderful!’ she says and leans back again, crossing her arms behind her head, feet on the coffee table.
I know this is a good time to start taking notes, and hurriedly look for pen and paper in my pocket.
‘Speed is like this carousel of ferry lights, laughy voices, common sense, heartbreak and wild dreams, all mixing up and blurring together into days worth dying for. It leaves no time to be too shy or too safe. I love that!’
I stop looking for pen and paper.
‘Imagine having fire in your prose and poetry, and lips, and fingertips, blowing over you like winds and waves. Speed, in life, is like having written a masterpiece for writers. I love writing, but I love life so much more.’
I can’t tell if I envy her inner flames or just want to get off at the next stop and write a short blog post about the food and the architecture.
‘I love the open road. It’s the modernised promise of perhaps getting to the end of the rainbow. I love white! Imagine a white canvas in front of you — a blank, white canvas.’
‘Ok.’ I say. ‘What about it?’
‘You tell me. What does it make you feel?’
I scratch my head, nervously, as I realise that the mental image of a white canvas is supposed to trigger some emotion — but it doesn’t, and so I’m just standing there, looking stupid. She takes one good look at me before making sure she shows her disgust. I get angry with my own self.
‘Come on, what’s the catch?’ I ask, annoyed.
‘You fool,’ she mumbles, ‘you might be working for a fancy newspaper, but you’ll never be a good writer.’
‘What?’ I shout, outraged. ‘Where did this come from?’
‘You might be good with words, but definitely not with ideas. You mix together like oil and water.’
‘Don’t change the subject. What was it about that white canvas that…’
But as she keeps to herself, my mind starts unwrapping her words and before I realise, I’m not really angry.
The truth is that she might be right. I never claimed to be a good writer. In fact I write because, as a journalist, I must. I’d much rather talk to people and listen to their stories than make the puzzle back at the office. She, on the other hand, looks like someone who writes stories to send herself to sleep; and she doesn’t just fit the pieces back together. She creates them.
On this note, I also doubt her social skills by now, but can’t help feeling jealous at the thought of someone being able to draw their mind like that.
This is when I think I know what she loves about a white canvas.
‘A white canvas,’ she eventually interrupts my similar thoughts, ‘is where things are yet to happen, so you are still to choose the outcome. A white canvas is the place of all possibilities, where anything you can imagine is real. A white canvas is airy and light and lets you move free and live loud. A white canvas is my definition of the happy ending, I guess, because endings too start at the beginning.’
I understand that tonight, I am a hint of warmth, and she is warmth. Her book will probably leave me speechless in the morning.
I suppose that I let a secret bit of myself slip out when I told him what my definition of everlasting happiness is — the constant thrill of the new start. And it’s funny, because I realise what I’m doing. I’m contouring a whole new self in front of him, the self we both seem to like best. I know that, because I can see him falling for the girl he thinks I am. The most selfish of me wants to go along those lines he traces and fill me up with his favourite colour, to make sure he falls for good.
If only he knew that I don’t take new starts with my coffee in the morning, but I make them later in the afternoon, in between my stories.
If only he knew that I write so I can feel, because if I allowed myself to feel like I write it would be setting myself on fire and watching my years burn.
Suddenly, he comes at my end of the table and shows me to get up. Then he puts his hands of my shoulders and locks eyes with me. I know that gaze. I have seen it before. It’s hungry and unreliable. It’s the gaze of a man whose vibrations and chances would go up or down a level, depending on mine. It’s the look in the eyes of a man I could read off a grocery list before spitting out a ‘Yeah, I love you too’ to him one day. He is the man who would end up telling me that he wishes I’d speak to him as well as I write, that he wants to date the other version of me, that I’m less than I advertise. The man who would end up coordinating my movements, my heartbeats, my weather report, who would crawl into my veins and replace my lava with his perfume, who would pull my eyelids up at night and refuse to let me go back to sleep. It’s the gaze of a man I could both love and hate and I’d be unable to find a shade of difference between one and the other. A man who would drive me insane, not metaphorically, but in real bloody life, who would alter me so badly that he would end up being the one to scribble my last artistically viable words and seal the letter.
There is a saying about the calm before the storm. I always thought of myself as the calm before the calm storm, or the calm before the drizzle. Or the calm before two white, fluffy clouds appear on the sky and turn pink with the sunset. But I underestimated the storm forming in my blood cells, because I was the calm before the apocalypse. And when it came, it asked no one. It hit me hard, like I deserved it. It showed me what writing can do for me, that no man on the face of Earth could.
Writing made me tick like nothing ever did. When I began, my demons stopped speaking over me. Writing took my hand and walked me to those monsters and made them come alive and walk to my beat. As soon as I decided what that beat would be, the monsters stopped torturing me and turned into strong characters and wilder chapters instead. I got to raise the hell within me and wear it proudly on a sleeve. My hell; my rich and alive imagination, like a rainforest with carnivore flowers and mellow, hypnotic music in the background that I used to dread like the longest, darkest hours of the nights when I couldn’t get any sleep. My imagination, I decided, I was going to use it until it bled and shouted that it needed rest, and then I was going to use it some more. Because, despite all, watching my imagination unfolding is like watching God at work – the best part of me, giving its best. Heavenly.
That’s when I decided I like the storm, the speed, and the chaos the most.
I look at him and think of how I’ll take this 2 a.m. and turn it into vivid dreams tomorrow. But tonight – snap and I’m back to myself, whomever that might be — and that’s the beauty of it.
After all, it’s not flesh and bones I want from life, but words. Words, to still my monsters and make me be the best that I can be. The ability to ask people to listen to this page I’m writing in my head as we speak, as we move, as we live.
She’s lying on the carpet with a cigarette in her hand, twisting her hair on her fingers. She tells me that nature creates man and then it abandons him. That people’s free will is like every other muscle in the body — left unused, it atrophies in time. That sometimes, the full is empty, and other times, the empty is full. A wool blanket covers her lap from the cold. The balcony’s door has been left wide open. I’m taking notes on the large sofa next to it. The night air is stronger now and my back feels cold. She doesn’t seem to mind. In the middle of her sentence, I can’t help it and interrupt her.
‘Do you believe in what you’re saying?’ I ask.
She bursts into a very feminine laughter. ‘Yeah right now, but not that often…’
She hands me her cigarette and I ask about her writing. She tells me that they are like two almost lovers who first met in a bar many years ago, discovered they have a few friends in common and decided to see each other again; but she’s the one who can’t live without writing, and clings to it all the time. Writing is happy to just sip from a cup of tea at the table, in perfect stillness.
‘This is the path I’ve chosen,’ she tells me. ‘And I know it was the right one.’
‘How do you know?’
‘It’s easy to find it, really. You just look for the one that looks clear. All the other paths have road signs all over.’
‘Road signs?’ I laugh.
‘Yes, road signs, don’t laugh.’
‘And what do these road signs say?’
‘Just the usual: right – wrong, failure – success, happiness – fear. It’s confusing as hell. You’re being told to slow down and speed up all the time. The real fun beings when you get to crossroads and never know what to choose. Your heart is giving you the silent treatment, because so did you. Eventually, you turn to your friends for advice and have debates over things that mean nothing to you, and wonder at how boring life got as you aged,’ she laughs. ‘Your path is clear, and it’s all yours. That’s how you recognise it. You walk down the street whistling, and every now and then you let out your first “This is one on one, you and me, God! And it’s going great!”’
I wonder what does it mean when I feel that I failed as a writer, but decide not to ask her. After all, all roads get bumpy here and there.
‘I suppose the more you write about something, the biggest the desire to live it.’
She looks at me as if wondering if I’m trying to find out her biggest secret —the secret of her aliveness. But rolls her eyes soon after.
‘Bullshit. Great writing comes from great living. This is why you don’t know how to write.’
I’m caught off-guard, and all I can do is pause and stare at her, stretching on the floor, smoking, smiling.
‘Because you lack intensity,’ she continues, knowing that I was waiting for an explanation, ‘because you don’t love your life, so life can’t love you back. You can’t turn such a dull existence into poetry. You can only make art out of beauty.’
This goes against everything I thought I knew about art. Stupefied, I ask, ‘But what about sadness?’
‘Who said sadness isn’t beautiful?’
‘How in the world is sadness beautiful, you living breathing cliché?’ I shout, confused at her ability to lionize everything I run from.
She rolls over, gets up and comes sit on the sofa’s arm, next to me.
‘Take a good look at me.’ she whispers in my ear.
But when I take a good look at him, I realise that I can’t scare him. Not for long, anyway. The man’s got edge, but he’s a lonely soul, so he’s got time to question himself too much. He might be a puppet but he is also the puppeteer.
I haven’t read his work. He hasn’t read mine either, I can tell. He avoids all talk about my book and tries to crayon me as the strong-minded, crazy girl he sees behind this pose. Whatever makes me live, and write, and then live some more with the depth and density he thinks he sees, that’s what he is interested in. What makes me human, where my second hand hope comes from, what I make my decisions based upon – in fiction or live autobiography, which, on a second look, are one and the same.
There is good in this. It’s like a mind game at a first date, no preconceptions.
We’re strangers who seem to have been trapped in space and time – this room, this 3 a.m. is all we have.
So we cheat and we lie to pass the time, and wonder which one of us will give up first, who will be the first to take advantage of whom, who will be the first to tell the truth and nothing but the truth all the way.
For now, his breath smells like coffee and smoke. Mine is heavy.
I keep him guessing, and he draws me closer.
He asks me what is it that I don’t want to show the world, and begs me to show it to him.
I say that it’s everything, smile and remain evasive, ambiguous.
He thinks that I’m fresh and fantastic.
I think he is kind and gentle and take my cigarette back from between his fingers for a nervous last drag.
Soon, I’ll put my drink down and turn the lights on. I’ll wash my glass in the sink and hope to avoid all eye contact for a while.
It’ll take time until he figures that there is nothing on the inside as exciting as he thinks. I am like a veil that any light can shine through, but merely exists in the dark. In his light, I am bright orange, feverish, delirious and silky. But at times, I am opaque black.
I didn’t take my time to contour a fixed personality. I don’t know what my definitions and status quos are. I can answer his every question about my soul, but I couldn’t tell him a thing about the girl who walks down the street in mere daylight, because I’ve never paid any attention to her.
He thinks I am a beautiful mystery.
I think that is a half-truth in any way you take it.
‘I believe in miracles when I create them for myself. I am the witch here,’ she says and points at all four corners of the room.
‘I really need you to stop fooling around and tell me how you do your work,’ I mutter out loud.
‘Why? You don’t know a thing about my work. You’ve been looking at my face and my body all night.’
I start laughing. She gets up and starts walking in circles around the room.
‘Because, as much as it pains me to say, this article won’t be about your face and your body, Mia. Tell me where you find your inspiration – is there a man in your life you write about?’
‘I don’t write about my present, I live it,’ she shouts from across the room, where I can hear water running.
‘That doesn’t answer my question, you know?’
‘All right, then let me rephrase it: Who are your characters?’
After a while, she finally says something about how every character she creates is somebody she doesn’t get to be in this lifetime. But my God, she says all of this with her hands on my clenched fist, looking me straight in the eyes.
How do I tell my readers about this moment without sounding like a poetic idiot?
How do I tell them anything at all, when all there is to say about this girl is that she embodies a place where magic exists?
She tells me that she is raising a baby Phoenix inside her head. I laugh at the idea and ask her about it, knowing that the public would love such an imaginative answer coming from a young artist. I desperately need something to write about that is not merely my opinion. She says she feeds it with violent feelings, then releases it into the story and cleans up the ashes it leaves behind. I get caught in the game and say this sounds exhausting; but the truth is that there is a certain sadness in her eyes at times. I tell her that I’ve noticed it. She shrugs it off. I assume that it must come out of all the mess her imagination leaves behind. She likes the idea and agrees that I can quote her on that.
I put my pen down on the table and clench my other fist under my chin. I can’t think of her as anything less than the goddess role she is playing tonight, and I’m praying that this isn’t just a charade. I want to come back and fill myself up, again and again, with the beauty of her vibes. Not as a journalist, no; never again as a journalist.
If I could, I’d forbid her to ever write again, no matter how good her writings are. I’d isolate that part of her mind, so she never finds herself face to face with the fears she must write about. I just wish I could hold her and protect her from herself. She is magnificent and this tells me that I’m right when I’m afraid she burns twice as bright, yet half as long. But I know she’d wilt then. Take away her demons and her angels would leave her too.
Instinctually, I grab her head with both hands and drag her next to me.
‘I wish other people could see what I see.’ I whisper.
‘What is that?’
Life outside suddenly seems dull and empty. I smell her hair and think of touches that haven’t happened, but would be the most ecstatic short breath of life I can imagine.
She leans forth.
There was one piece of advice I’ve always liked. It starts by saying that whatever you run to, it runs from you. So how do you get your hands onto the things you’re after? You find out what kind of person is the one who’s got what you want and you become that person, and what you want will come to you. The secret isn’t to have, it’s to be. That’s how you get the things you’re after. You become what they’re after.
I am the writer the world will know about as of tomorrow. I am the girl with the open roads, the white canvas, and the rich imagination that has the power to give people the thrills they’re searching for. They don’t want to dive deep and grab it and make it their own, but I do. It’s painful, but I don’t know many people whose souls reborn every time they put it on the paper either, so they’ll want me. Because they’re after what I have. They’re all looking for what I have become.
Maybe one day I will stop writing and admit to myself — and the rest of the world, for that matter — that I am lost, that I never took the time to get to know my stable self, that the mornings that keep the streets empty for me and the midnight walks and the places I can always call home can’t seem to do the trick anymore.
But for now, I don’t want to wake up from this dream.
It’s too early.
I’m too young.
Jax is looking over the notes. I look from over his shoulder. He asks me if I think this is wrong. Well, like I always say, people get what they want and usually hate if after. But that only happens when they have to choose one thing over another. As for me, I don’t want to choose between life and prose anymore, not tonight. I don’t want to hate myself for choosing wrong, and I don’t want to choose. I just want to live; and write.
And I’ve got a question to ask him.
I told him too, his are really dull.
‘What do you lose, if you get everything you want?’
He turns around and kisses me. I hold my breath for a second, then remember to let go and let it be.
He said he was going to write a story about us. I took it seriously. Later, I found out it was. I was excited to hear that we could inspire someone to turn us into literature, even if nobody would get to read it. Maybe some stories aren’t meant to be read. The man didn’t even have a name. I asked, because I wanted to find him on the way back. He laughed at my plan and said we should come back to the village and ask anyone about the craftsman; that’s what people called him. I turned to Kevin, but he wasn’t paying attention.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked him, irritated.
‘Going through the man’s stuff, what do you think? Do you want anything?’
‘Yes, I want you to hear this.’
‘Hear what, Ava?’
‘That he plans to write about us.’
He lifted his eyes and looked at us both, then laughed for a couple of minutes before going back to the little wood sculptures. The craftsman’s eyes were laughing too; I couldn’t imagine him laughing wholeheartedly. He was only smiling, looking peaceful and wise.
I wanted to hear about his idea so badly, even if he was going to forget it the moment Kevin and I got back to the car and go further down the drive, to our mountains. We were heading north for no reason. I said I wanted to get away from the city, he pointed north; soon, his intensity and my restlessness were on the road, and Kevin’s face looked happy for the first time in months. We thought we made a formidable team. Deep inside, I knew something was screaming ‘wrong’, but I didn’t know what it was. I only knew it had my voice.
Kevin kept going through all the abstract sculptures with a genuine interest, but I knew he wasn’t going to buy anything. I also thought I knew him inside out at that point. His patience bought me more time to talk to the craftsman. Short of breath and thrilled at the thought of being seen through someone’s eyes and put on paper, I asked him what it was going to be.
‘Sharp prose,’ he answered quickly.
I had never heard of sharp prose before. Again, I turned to Kevin, but he was still not paying attention. ‘What is sharp prose?’
‘Ah, I thought you were going to ask. Everybody does.’
His remark instantly tempered my enthusiasm.
‘It’s the kind of prose that hits you, like a knife into the flesh. That’s how strong it comes.’
‘Oh,’ I said, frowning. ‘When you read it, or when you write it?’
‘What’s the difference?’ he laughed, then shook his head. ‘The answer to your question would be both.’ He stared at me for a couple of seconds. ‘Even when I watch you two.’
‘What is so inspiring about us?’ I asked, somewhat confused.
‘I am a craftsman, a musician and a writer,’ he reminded me. ‘It’s my job to find inspiration in everything. You might want to rephrase that.’
I looked around, trying to clear my head and come up with a better question. There was no better question, though. We were the only ones who could have known why stories should be written about Ava and K. Our wildest moments, followed by our desire of a safe place to be in with a glass in one hand and the world in another, balancing life as we pleased and all the scraps of life that couldn’t inspire anybody because they were like treasures buried on a remote island, when all this man has seen so far was the water. We weren’t talking, we weren’t even looking at each other. Kevin was still playing with the little figurines, I was still angry at him for not being the mirror they tell you a lover is. How could this be inspiring? How could this say anything about the richness of our times together, the gaps in our lives, the length of the story?
I turned to the strange old man and measured him. He was going to write, no doubt, but was it going to be beautiful? Sharp prose suddenly didn’t sound interesting to me anymore.
I went back to the car.
Days before, I woke up and opened my eyes to the sun shining through the blinds. The guys were talking next to me; she was laughing at his every joke. I closed them back. I don’t like other people, I said to myself,they take too long. I’d already be up on the mountains if it wasn’t for them. I can’t see why they’re here, why we have to travel together, why God can’t give me one damn day to be happy, as a sample to show me what I’m missing out on.
The other guy got up and turned the radio on, then gently shook my left shoulder. I couldn’t pretend to be asleep anymore, so I opened my eyes again.
‘I knew you were awake,’ he said. ‘I saw you.’
‘Wonderful,’ I said, sarcastically. ‘I was indeed, you woke me up.’
‘No we didn’t,’ Kevin shouted from the front of the van.
I lifted my head and looked at him. He was sharing a drink with the girl. She liked him, no doubt.
‘What’s your girlfriend’s name?’ I whispered to the guy’s ear.
He huffed and looked at her. His face was in the sunlight and I, dizzy as I was, couldn’t stop staring at his skin, jawlines, lips.
‘She is not my girlfriend,’ he whispered and made me smile. I knew he lied, but I was happy he did.
I looked back at Kevin. He seemed happy; so did the girl. So did us, I was sure.
The new guy had his own music and insisted to play it. It sounded nice and filled me up with good vibes. Soon I got up for good and we were ready to be on our way again.
I sat in the back, with her. She told me they were going nowhere when their car broke down, halfway there. He turned around and smiled at us. I understood exactly what that meant. I told them Kevin and I had been there, and this was our great escape from the nothingness we found. They both laughed and nodded their heads, and I knew they understood me too. Kevin was, I assumed, concentrated on driving.
It was still early when we went to the café. Kevin asked me something and I agreed; it turned out I had agreed on another stop. We went in for breakfast and the other girl sat next to him. I didn’t mind.
At first I didn’t know the new guys’ names and wanted to ask for them, but as the time passed I felt more and more embarrassed. When Kevin agreed to take them with us I didn’t pay attention to what they said. They were strangers joining our road trip and I could only hope they would leave us alone again soon. Kevin laughed at my worried face; said we left to have fun and this was what we were doing. Strangers, however, weren’t my idea of fun. He told me to loosen up. I locked myself inside my head and threw the key out of the car’s window.
But the unwelcomed seemed to have found it the next morning. I felt more and more drawn to him as my Kevin and his almost lover were getting closer to each other. So were we.
I’ll call him R, as I found out later what his name was, but it isn’t relevant to the story. In my head, he will forever be a black spot with a white R in the middle, like a milestone on the road. R was charming and smelled of new, of rain on the roof and instant coffee and freshly cut grass, and my quest for perfection stopped right there for a while. I didn’t want right or wrong anymore, I only wanted fading colours on walls that weren’t home. He told us he didn’t want to be anywhere else but on the open road with us, in the back of a café, writing future plans on a white napkin. He longed for the clean feeling that only being away from what hurts can bring. I wanted to know what hurt, but he said it’s different for everyone, so I could just think about my story for a while; in the end, it feels just the same. He had a story that he didn’t want to share, and while his friend and Kevin were fine with that, it left me curious and impatient. R laughed at me and said that mind-wandering is not the same as travelling; that mind-wandering would eventually tie my arms and legs together and force me to live inside, which was the thing that frightened him the most. I thought he was wonderful from a distance, but stubborn, untouchable and difficult to love, after all.
‘I just want to know who you are,’ I remember telling him.
‘Then get to know me,’ he said. ‘I don’t need to tell you complicated stories from the past. Look at me, absorb my words, my looks, my gestures. This is my only truth. All the rest are fractured realities with a taste of imagination. Osmosis.’
I tried to sleep that night, but nothing; and then everything, all at once. I was exhausted to the point of insomnia. So tired I couldn’t sleep, and so tired I couldn’t live. I turned around and R was sleeping peacefully next to his friend at my left. Kevin was in the back, fidgeting in his sleep. I was wide awake, no matter what, so I took my sweater and went outside. The air was stronger up there, which, for the first time, I didn’t mind. I lay on the grass, counting stars and rethinking the trip. I spent what must have been hours in the back of my head, with an imaginary bottle of red wine and dark sunglasses on as the stampede of what-ifs had its fun in front of me. Detaching was hard. All I could do was wait for them to pass me by. This time, the cold air and R’s words changed the usual. They were the new dreamscapes, the new voices, the new smells of wilderness and of unfamiliar perfume in my world. R’s words came roaring through my mind, loud and eccentric, like the black spot on my light-coloured map of life. They seemed to be screaming from the top of his lungs, in his strong voice, almost covering my own. I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. R was different from me in a way that I couldn’t understand. He didn’t want to accept the burden of the definitions life had already given him, while I couldn’t think of myself in any other terms. I suppose we were like matching ends; he began where I ended, and the fine line between us were the limitations we couldn’t live with or without.
I felt my head spinning for hours that night. I liked R and wanted to think of how to tell him that. Yet eventually I came to the conclusion that I only liked him because I wanted to be more like him. But it was going to take me time to learn, and time is nobody’s friend when they’re in a group. If I ever wanted to be like R, I had to detach from him and teach myself in silence from everything I was left with after being in his noisy presence.
The next morning, after we had breakfast, R and his girl told us they wanted to be on their own way again. We were in the craftsman’s village when they asked us to stop the car. They were going to stay there for the night and leave the following day. I asked them what their next stop would be; they both said they were still going nowhere, and laughed together. Kevin and I looked at each other and knew that it wasn’t real. She didn’t have a crush on him, as he didn’t have a crush on me. They were just a glimpse of another world, and every other world eventually becomes your own when you enter it. There’s an infinite number of worlds around us, as there are people and places and absurd possibilities. Worlds are born and destroyed all the time, sometimes in the same day, sometimes as soon as they are created. Craving for new is very often pointless, for the new is rarely new and it almost never stays that way for long.
Kevin and I saw an illusion walking away from us and silently decided not to mention it again.
‘What would the main theme be?’ I finally asked him. I got bored of sitting in the car by myself.
‘Estrangement,’ he said without even blinking. ‘I’m happy you came back, I already know the beginning.’
I rolled my eyes. I was right, he knew too little about us.
Another few minutes passed until I grabbed Kevin, telling him that it was getting late and dark outside. I couldn’t wait to finally enjoy our trip like we should have from the start. The man waved goodbye and reminded me to return to see him. I, on the other hand, was determined not to, and thanked him but said that I wasn’t interested.
‘You should be,’ he told me. ‘It is, after all, a story about you.’
‘Yes,’ he laughed, ‘you and you alone.’
‘I don’t understand. You said you were going to write about us.’
‘No, I said I was going to write about you. Look for me when you come back, will you?’
Kevin laughed at the strange man and so did I, but my mind suddenly changed. He was anxious to write a story about me and now I desperately wanted it, so I turned back and asked him to write it on the spot. He said he only knew the beginning for now. I said that would be perfect, so he smiled and said he would be right back, then went inside. Kevin was getting impatient but I asked him to wait. We had a quick lunch in the car, with our eyes fixed on the little house. Eventually, about forty minutes later, the craftsman came outside with a piece of paper folded in his hand and gave it to me. He told me to read it and come say hello on my way back; he would try to write some more. I was a different kind of muse, he said.
‘Different how?’ I asked as I put the piece of paper in my pocket.
‘You’ll read all I’ve figured out so far,’ he ended and waved goodbye again, while still close to me.
For a while, I didn’t feel like taking the paper out. I was terrified of what a man whose smile never seemed to fade could have written about a girl like me. Then there was the thrill of knowing that someone’s thoughts were resting, unseen yet, in my pocket. It gave me an energy that I had been lacking for a while. Kevin didn’t say anything. He was waiting for me to read my story and carry on with the day.
When we left the village, I took the paper out with both hands. We were driving with the windows down and the wind was strong. I had to tie my hair and hold the paper between my teeth. Kevin laughed; said to be careful, that we’re not going back for another one. I wondered what another one would have been like, in that case. Would the craftsman even write a new one? Would he change his mind in the meantime, and make the new one entirely different?
There are two strangers outside my house. They are strangers to each other. One is Ava, the one who doesn’t belong. She doesn’t want to be here, in The North; in her body. She doesn’t want to be in the presence of somebody else. She is next to her lover, a man she isn’t herself around. Ava is quiet and evasive. She has many secrets that she’s left in places she’s forgotten now, and all there’s left is bruised noise in an empty warehouse, deafening her; they’re all inside her, she just can’t remember how to reach them. Ava is irrational and seductive, like a blurred vision of a promised land. She is not the promised land; she is the blur. Ava doesn’t know she is a stranger; she thinks she is her lover’s lover when in fact, she has run out of love a long time ago. I tried to capture her soul and when I couldn’t, I thought I lost my ability to see beyond the surface and write about the essence. Ava is dust, floating around the air in sunlight. She is so soft, so easy, so lost she can’t be grabbed by the heart and drawn onto paper. She has run out of essence. She is a stranger to herself.
I like Ava. She is light and beautiful. I can see her at a jazz concert, her brown skinny fingers around a bottle of beer, her presence opening doors to another world. She is slowly moving through the aquarium of feelings she’s trapped in, or to the rhythms of music. She hasn’t caught fire yet, but she is already conscious of the blood pumping through her veins and her heavy, fearful heart. Men try to buy her another beer; she keeps dancing on her own. Soon, she is one with the night, unaware of the others. This is how I see Ava reunited with herself – playing her part like fire and water, burning on the inside, icy cold on the outside; a stranger to all but the lost and found self she is steadily moving into. As the water cools down, she begins to laugh with men and women at the bar, but her heart is still fast, still steaming. At her best, Ava is lovely, with no other boundaries than the ones she makes; at her worst, Ava has no roots and no substance. She is her lover’s lover without loving herself first, a light presence that has a hard time being present in her world, her time, her self. A mix of unrefined particles carried from here to there by her thoughts, like snow carried up into the air in wintertime.
I suddenly felt Kevin’s touch on my shoulder.
‘Well, what is it?’
‘I… it’s sharp prose.’
‘What is sharp prose?’ he asked, amused.
‘It’s the kind of prose that hits you, like a knife into the flesh. That’s how strong it comes.’
‘When you read it, when you write it, and when you live it.’ I lifted my head up and he was looking at me like maybe I had lost my mind reading it.
‘Give me that,’ he said, but I tore the paper in halves and threw it out. ‘What have you done that for?’
I put my head out the car’s window to take a deep breath and cool off. The wind was even stronger. Kevin’s hand was on my back, pulling me inside.
‘Do you want to go back?’ he asked in a serious voice.
I looked at him and thought that, no matter who our new friends were or what the craftsman thought about me, the last thing I wanted Ava and Kevin to be was strangers. It didn’t matter that sometimes, we were; maybe that was the beauty of it. Maybe that was also the truth, but I swear it felt milder. I was going to write a story too, I thought, and this time it was going to be about the two of us. Words have the power to change minds and hearts. Words change the world.
My smile was genuine after that. It was all it took to feel my heart get warmer; knowing that I, too, had the power to write sharp prose and reshape the world I belonged to.
‘Never,’ I said.
‘I’ll keep driving north then, close the window if it gets too cold. And tell me what that old man wrote about, will you?’
‘Never,’ I said again, and laughed.
‘I’ll have to get back and get my own story then,’ he smiled.
‘I’ll deal with yours. I’ll make it even better.’
The truth is, maybe some stories really aren’t meant to be read. Some you just write. Others, you share. And ours, for now, we live.
How do you know you’ve stopped loving someone? It must be when you see them take all of their masks off and shiver cold in front of you, and you take only a hurried look at their cracks before you look away. When their nervous breathing doesn’t move you anymore. When their fragility doesn’t make you want to hold them.
I slept next to you, your body moving against mine.
It used to feel like fire and water colliding.
Like my best hit my worst,
like your good wolf bit my evil,
like I’d reached your North and heated it up,
then took it to the South.
There was a boundless warmth between us, melting all of our sadness into a feeling so strong that we grabbed its matching ends and prayed that it held us forever.
Underneath your map of scars found the faraway kingdom,
the one they wrote all the fairy tales about.
I was enchanted.
You used to call me your princess when the night came
and we would finally sneak back in.
But no one ever told the story of the queen,
time stops with the taming of the young and restless princess.
And I was all yours.
My days were cold and my nights were burning.
You lit a spark I thought only real poets get to see
when they come to accept their loneliness-bound destiny.
I didn’t mind the slippery ice,
for all my thoughts were liquid fire.
Soon, I was travelling from North to Hell and back every day,
every secret encounter.
I was weakened,
Tonight, I saw you and felt nothing at all.
I was refreshed, as if my soul was brand new.
As if I had woken up from a long afternoon nap
and I was ready to go out there and face the world,
without your flames burning my back.
I’ve already wasted so many words on you.
I was done with befores, afters, even right nows.
I let my mind go blank, until the world became close to abstract.
I laughed to myself on the way home, fastening my pace.
I had nothing that night, apart from delicious, icy fresh air to breathe in,
and old stories of you to tell no one.
But I’ve already wasted so many words on you.