Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category
The idea of slowing down the pace of life is hardly novel: there’s entire industries devoted to explaining to you how their product or service will truly give you the space and time to relax. Vacations, massages, and cable television usually promise us a measure of peace – and yet we come home needing a vacation from our vacation, or unable to have calmed our mind during a massage, and exhausted from watching yet another marathon of a syndicated television series rather than anything that truly engages our interest, from a myriad channels.
What I found unusual in that brief moment in which we see the lady in repose in her friend’s old apartment is not its fiction and improbability (for that’s what it is: just a scene from a movie, with an actress whose best emotion is a projection of serenity).
I think of the possibilities that scene evokes. Does the dream vacation have to be an exhaustive tour of a place’s most famous landmarks, with people I do not know to like? What if it were simply a stretch of days in a place that nurtures and inspires me, instead? (Must it be a pricey all-inclusive? ) If the idea of a stranger’s impersonal, practiced touch heightens my anxiety rather than releasing calm within me, is it what I need? And is the oblivion induced by hours of an endless television series sooth me, really? Music does: wordless, mellifluous. (If I really want dialogue and action, I’ll choose it – with friends, in person.)
Elements of entertainment pervade each of these activities, though – and that implies a certain threshold of engagement on my end. I can’t passively sit there and enjoy; I must research, and understand, and pick apart a nuance until every element is dissected and exposed.
This is important to know: what brings relaxation to most only keeps me primed, at full attention, to absorb and evaluate. I remain in a constant state of tension. I must pursue relief – and paradoxically, my path to it is studied deliberation.
There is a moment at the conclusion of a recent Hollywood Blockbuster in which a supporting character (one of four close friends) is shown alone and in repose in her newlywed friend’s old apartment. Unused for months – nevertheless, the apartment remains in readiness, with updated furnishings, for another occupant.
The character is shown as relaxed, seated comfortably, idly thumbing through a magazine – and you get the idea that she’s taking a quiet day to herself, away from her daily routine. The movie and its franchise make much of these four friends sharing adventures, laughter and sorrows – out and about, enjoying their lives, social and seen.
And yet: there’s that rare moment of the movie, magnifying their individual needs, particularly one’s need for rejuvenation born of quiet, and solitude.
The scene reminds of my uncle: he checked himself into a hotel for a few days one summer. Right there, in his very own neighborhood. If he was anything short of honorable and a gentleman, the close-knit community he and his family live in would have buzzed with gossip (a tryst? a mistress?). Quite to the contrary, the staff welcomed him with nods of anticipation, in full view of the public, ushered him straight to the pool, handed him a stack of newspapers and a frivolous drink, and left him to his reflections.
The extended family was accustomed to his business travel, and assumed he was out of town – but imagine his favorite nephew’s surprise in attending a breakfast business meeting at the same hotel and finding his uncle relaxing, poolside. ”I can’t get away from business at home – technology is the devil, and a leash. At work, I can’t help but think of which of the kids is having a birthday (or is it my wife’s?), or the next time we’re going to dinner with friends (do I like them, or not? Will I have to pretend a business call, to get away?). And at home again…it’s not like the kids are noisy, or the TV’s blaring. It’s just hot, and I just want some peace,” he said simply.
The neighborhoods gossips didn’t even blink an eye. This habit of my uncle’s was old news, and not very exciting at that.
He got the idea from reading of gentlemen of another era and culture spending the mornings reading newspapers and networking at their clubs, he told me, a twinkle in his eye. He regrets giving up that particular hotel – his nephew and his friends frequent the place now that they “discovered” it, and he really wants no company except his own. ”I really liked that pool – something about the way it’s shaded. I can enjoy the warmth without the sun beating down on me,” he shared wistfully.
Selfish? There were those in the family and community who certainly made it clear they thought so – the expense! the intimation of scandal! such an odd habit, and if only unusual, a bad one! what will people say (if they knew)!
But “people” already knew – and my uncle always came home smiling and refreshed, having missed his family, to a wife and children who were happy to see him, having missed him in turn.
No one could say much about that – except that they were a good, happy family. The wife was lovely, the children happy. And they always seemed so relaxed.
Inspired by that instant of solitude I glimpsed in the last moments of that movie, I’ve thought about turning a spare space in my house into a refuge. I predict that if I actually went in and closed the door to that room, the household denizens (four-legged) would be pawing at the door within minutes, wanting in – and the solitary one (two-legged) would suddenly decide that my company was preferable to whichever puzzle or video game had held his interest for eons before.
I already have the elements for this refuge – they simply want arranging: a bookcase with my favorite reads, and a writing desk, and a money plant. A shrine paying homage to all my inspirations, starting with the wide-eyed inspirations for my movements, and various odds and ends that remind me of the complexity experienced out of simplicity and quiet. Some bamboo shading with a silk swag to evoke the tropical climate best suited to my genetics, a window seat for the cat, a cushion for the dog. Should someone choose to join me, a comfortable sofa that might do equally well for reading – and for dalliance.
I don’t miss you.
Your son made sure I knew you. I knew your voice (and Thakur-ma‘s, too) as well as Mom and Dad’s before I came into this world – and its sonorousness lulled me to sleep on those few occasions when I raised my voice in colic.
There’s a recording of it – you didn’t know, and how you laughed when you realized you’d been caught in a rare moment of patience with me – reading me that book of nonsense that made no sense to you (or anyone, for that matter) – still it made us laugh. Dad surreptitiously starting recording your reading, all of us laughing at the hilarity of a young boy’s curious dreams.
I still listen to it, still – and you’re there. That’s why I shouldn’t miss you. You’re here, always, as soon as I conjure you.
The only time I do is when I hear the boatman’s song – plaintive, mellow, in the language we share. And I’m reminded that no matter how closely your son resembles you – particularly in my half-waking moments, when I see your age-bent shuffle beginning emerging in his own gait – you’re really, truly not here.
Baroshekar aador meke
Bheshe elam sagor theke
Baleer toteh notun disha
Adar theke alor mesha
Batash bhara bhalo basha
Ke kandare baicho toree aral theke
Caressed with love
I drifted ashore from the sea
The sand shows a new way
The light blends with the darkness
The wind is full of love
Who are you boatman who paddles this boat, whom I cannot see?
Lyrics & translation adapted from Instant Song Lyrics
Inspired by Prompt A – Day 3 of the Scintilla project