Monday, July 29, 2019

The date — 26 possible outcomes

He lives in Germany (he says), but will be here on business this week. We've been messaging for over a year, but we've never met face to face. There are too many ways this could turn out.

1. He cancels his trip at the last minute. (Like last time.)

2. There never was a scheduled trip.

3. He lets me know he's arrived as scheduled and gives me his room number. I grab a cab and am stuck in traffic for two and a half hours. Even though we're messaging all the while, at some point he stops responding, succumbing to jetlag I assume. I finally arrive but when I knock on the door, there's no answer. He is dead from a heart attack on the other side of the door and I will never know.

4. He lets me know he's arrived as scheduled and gives me his room number. I grab a cab and am stuck in traffic for two and a half hours. Even though we're messaging all the while, at some point he stops responding. I finally arrive but when I knock on the door, there's no answer. I turn around and go home. He messages me days later and sweeps it away as a misunderstanding. I eventually learn that he found the company of other women in the bar. We continue our correspondence as ever.

5. He lets me know he's arrived as scheduled and gives me his room number. As I’m packing up at work, I receive word that Helena has had an accident and is in hospital. I rush to her bedside, and remain there for days. She's going to be fine. But he and I – we failed to meet this time. We continue our correspondence as ever.

6. As I'm packing up at work, I receive word that Helena has had an accident and is in hospital. Tragic things unfold. I am plagued by guilt and I never write to him again. I cannot erase him from my mind, but I blame him.

7. He lets me know he's arrived as scheduled and gives me his room number. On my way to catch the bus, there's an incident on the bridge crossing the canal. I am required to give a statement to the police. Amid the chaos, my purse — with my phone and credit card — is lost in the water. I return home well after dark. I message as soon as I can, and we set a new date for the following day, but due to his work obligations, it never materializes. We continue our correspondence as ever.

8. On my way to catch the bus, I am struck by a car. I come out of the coma in early 2020. Somehow, he seems less important.

9. I come out of the coma in early 2020. Somehow, he seems more important. I become obsessed with living life to the fullest. I'm not sure how to approach him after all this time. I move to Germany and once I am settled, I resume a correspondence with him, but he is cold and more distant than ever.

10. He lets me know he's arrived as scheduled and gives me his room number. On my way to catch the bus, any one of an infinite number of random acts of violence or of God prevents us from meeting. We continue our correspondence as ever.

11. On my way to the catch the bus, any one of an infinite number of random acts of violence or of God brings my life to an end. He will never know.

12. He lets me know he's arrived as scheduled and gives me his room number. I make my way to his hotel, to his room, and I knock. He opens the door. He is not what he presented himself to be. He is old and lecherous. I don’t know what to do.

13. I knock. He opens the door. He is not what he presented himself to be. He is a cave-dwelling troll. A recluse genius who lives in deep Quebec. It has taken him a year to find the courage to travel to the city. He touches me tentatively and it stirs my sympathy. The room is charged with erotic energy and we have an immensely satisfying and honest evening. We never contact each other again.

14. I knock. He opens the door. We smile at each other. We try to kiss but start laughing uncontrollably. We drink. We barely touch. It feels wrong and awkward. I drink too much, I am sick from nerves. He passes out. I leave. We never hear from each other again.

15. I knock. He opens the door. We smile at each other. He pulls me inside. He lifts his fingers to graze my face, gently pulls my hair, tilting my head as he kisses my shoulder, tongues my neck up to my ear. He whispers to me in German, it sounds dirty.

16. I knock. He opens the door. He looks me up and down, and closes the door, leaving me standing in the hall. I knock again. He doesn’t respond. I walk away.

17. I knock. He opens the door. He pulls me inside, closing the door behind me. He has invited two of his colleagues to join us.

18. I knock. He opens the door and pulls me inside. He throws me onto the bed and ties me down. He violently rapes me and sodomizes me. I'm not sure if I like it.

19. I knock. He opens the door and pulls me inside. We kiss. We kiss. We kiss.

20. I knock. He opens the door and pulls me inside. He politely invites me inside and asks me about my day. I honestly tell him how shitty it was. Not shitty — hard. No, not hard — challenging. I pour myself a drink and admit how out of my depth I feel at work. I throw myself on the bed; I curl up and break down. He strokes my hair and tells me it’ll be ok.

21. I knock. He opens the door and pulls me inside. We kiss. We talk. He tells me he is married, unhappily, and he is cheating on his wife. I have an ethical crisis and walk away.

22. I knock. He opens the door and pulls me inside. When I leave after midnight, we agree to a repeat rendezvous the next day. After returning home to Germany, he realizes he cannot live without me — I am his sexual obsession. He returns to Montreal regularly. He sabotages his career, his finances, to be with me. He bores me. I am bored.

23. I knock. He opens the door. He is not what he presented himself to be. He is a local writer who has created a persona to explore the psychology of online dating and sexuality. We talk for hours, there is so much to say, and we fuck like crazy. We can't get enough of each other. We buy a condo together, in the heritage building on Marquette, and he inspires me to be more disciplined about my writing. I strike a deal with Random House for three novels and finally decide to leave my job. He is jealous of my success as a writer and is drinking far too heavily. I kick him out.

24. I knock. He opens the door and pulls me inside. We fuck. No one ever made me cum like this before. We continue our correspondence, but I cannot bear to be so far from him. Within a year, I transfer to the Copenhagen office. We see each other most weekends. I feel sexually sated. But Anders at the office woos me and we plan our retirement together. Marc is disappointed and goes back to his ex. Anders and I move to Reykjavik, and I write a novel.

25. I knock. No answer.

26. I knock. He opens the door and pulls me inside. This changes everything. I don't know how yet, but this changes everything.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Self-observation rots the human soul

Each of them had his own special relationship to mirrors. The one suffering from a broken heart could gaze at his reflection for many long hours. He did so when he thought he was alone, but sometimes I, Grandmother, or one of the other waiters might chance upon him.

"Are you staring yourself in the mirror again?" Grandmother once asked.

"No, I'm not staring at myself in the mirror, " the waiter replied.

"What are you doing, then?" asked Grandmother.

"I'm looking for something of myself that I think has gone missing," came his reply.

One of the other waiters thought that mirrors were dangerous objects, for they were one of the places where demons were housed. When a person stood in front of a mirror she opened herself to her own reflections, and that's when the demon slunk inside her. From there, it would cultivate the West's worst characteristics inside that person: egoism and self-centeredness. The person reflected would then be heading slowly but surely toward a painful and entirely self-fulfilling demise. Like rust corrodes iron, self-observation rots the human soul, the waiter would say, and one wondered which books he'd read that made him say such a thing.

The third waiter had more of a political angle. He was of the opinion that mirrors were spies. He said that in all societies there was an evaluating authority, and nowhere was it as well developed as in wealthy countries — where people had been taught to observe themselves. Mirrors constituted one such evaluating authority, and there was no need for enforcement, for people subjected themselves to this evaluation of their own free will and even enthusiastically. Several times a day, you'd measure yourself in front of the evaluating authority, suspending yourself dutifully, of your own accord, and you'd do it gladly. And if your reflection did not elate you, as it almost never did, you didn't give up, you set to work on a plan to become exactly what was expected of you.

"Keeping people in check is as easy as hanging mirrors everywhere, because there is nothing stricter," said the waiter, "than the way you gaze at yourself."
— from The Polyglot Lovers, by Lina Wolff.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Freedom is a bottomless abyss

I feel compelled to put closure on this book (possibly on this year of love) — My Year of Love, by Paul Nizon. Published in 1981, it has the feel of sexual memoirs from an earlier era, but no, Nizon represents a very unevolved male attitude of the 1970s. I damn near hated it, it bored me so much.

And yet. I am reminded of it most mornings. I wake up enveloped in a greenish haze of light, much like one Nizon described. Of course, I'm unable to track down this specific passage, I wonder if I imagined it. Or I read something he wrote about curtains while I was half asleep, and I later reshaped it into the sheers billowing around me, I see the trees through this mesh of silver.

I thought he was writing about the prefect writing space, but as this passage doesn't exist, I must accept that this is some expression of my subconscious attitude to the space and light I live in.

This novel is about a man trying to write, and while he sits at his desk he watches the old man in the apartment across the courtyard feeding the doves on his windowsill. So he writes about the dove man, and the dove man's wife, and his mother, and the tenants in his building (other writers), and the landlady, and his dead aunt, and his dalliances with women, past and present.
I like the confidential aspect of such relationships, which by the way are very casual, very lightweight. I like the complicated solidarity, because here, where everything is influenced by venality, the extras, the little votes of confidence, do have the nature of beautifully shining kindness. I've always had this special relationship to so-called loose women, this offhand relationship that also incorporates closeness.
He leaves out the transactional element of his dealings with prostitutes. He extols these relationships for their simple, casual nature and for their kindness, and I feel, momentarily, that I can relate, I appreciate the beauty of such a contact — to have a lover, no strings, it is the ultimate, intimate, kindness we bestow on each other. But it never once occurs to him that he has paid for this experience, that it might be less than authentic.

This troubles me immensely. Not that he frequents prostitutes (though that is problematic), but that he seems incapable of noticing the difference between these relationships.

He even argues that there's more sincerity in one that is transactional, no false promises or expectations to manipulate, whereas taking a girl to dinner or a movie he would feel he was buying her attentions.

We gradually learn about the marriage he broke for the sake of an encounter with another woman, and so he left for Paris where he might experience true love, by which he really means sexual freedom.
I kept a lookout for her from behind the mask of my sunglasses, I didn't even really know if I liked her, I couldn't ask myself that question, because I was dependent on our being in love, dependent on this atmospheres as if it were a drug, that's why I was dependent on her, whether I wanted to be or not. I couldn't be without either. That's why I wore the sunglasses.

[...]

I only wanted to experience LOVE with her and excluded her as a person.
For all the women in this book, none of them are people, not even (especially) his wife. No one exists except in relation to his male ego.

But he arrives at a conclusion I came to myself about a year ago. Love isn't what happens between two people; it's what happens in one's own mind. It is a completely solitary state of being, and the person beside you is almost completely irrelevant.

Passages from this book are achingly insightful and poignant, but it's all infuriatingly male and so much self-pitying, solipsistic bullshit.
Write something or pull it to shore, that is, put it on paper, otherwise you'll get sick in this freedom, it's unlimited, I would never have believed that freedom could be form of captivity, freedom can be like a primeval forest or like the ocean, you can drown in it or disappear and never, never ever find your way out again. How can I make it to shore in this freedom, or how can I enjoy it? I have to parcel it out for myself, plant something in it, cultivate it, I have to change it, at least a little, into an occupation, freedom is a bottomless abyss when it present itself in this totalitarian form.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Subtler, almost invisible

Sometimes, as if carelessly, Michel's and Louise's looks met. The warned each other not to stay too long. In fact, their eyes touched, as lightly as birds, while an expression of almost childish contentment spread across the Rumanian's face as he hurriedly bent over his plate.

The change on the young girl's face was subtler, almost invisible; it wasn't joy. There was no sparkle in it, it was more like a look of serenity and satisfaction.

It was as though she had matured, as though she suddenly felt a great potential richness inside her.
I'd almost forgotten how much I love Simenon. My reading of late has felt pretty blah; maybe that throws Simenon into relief. I love Simenon!

I loved Account Unsettled! I love that I found this book in Prague! I love that it's my daughter who pulled me into this shop for some inexplicable reason! I love this book's funky smell! I love its atrocious cover!

The cover — the description in combination with the illustration — might lead you to believe that this book is about a crime of passion with a woman at its source. But there is no passion in this crime; it's very cold. And the woman has nothing to do with it.

This 1953 novel is one of Simenon's romans durs and does not feature Maigret. It opens in Li├Ęge, and then quite unexpectedly shifts in time and space to Arizona some decades later. From the claustrophobia of a house marked by hunger and chills to the gluttonous emptiness of resort in a vast sweaty desert. A study in contrasts.

Page after page we have been waiting for Elie, a poor, ugly Polish-Lithuanian Jew pursuing a doctorate in mathematics, to gun down Michel, the handsome, charming, womanizing Jewish Rumanian of means.

It's not a matter of jealousy, it's justice, Elie convinces himself. But did Michel even ever give him a second thought?