Friday, May 12, 2017

the boon of words

they shut the plastic cage just above your face with a few clicks, then slide you into a narrow tube for about an hour. the noise of the mri goes on continuously. what happens with your head during that hour is partly in your power to control, partly uncontrollable. dozing off, dreams, visions, thoughts. revived scenes from the book you are reading. gratuitous ideas.

in the state of semi-somnambulance while in the mri a few days ago, an unannounced thought came into my mind. 'you should turn everything into sentences, every idea, every vision that arises before your mind's eye.' i was not completely sure what this instruction meant, or where it came from. the essence is probably that i should translate as much of my experience as possible into language. this urge has not been unfamiliar to me. i was eight when i started writing my first diary. but why did the thought crystallize in my mind during this medical examination? as a consolation (for it did feel consoling) or as a reminder that my way in the world is through words?

i wish i was a writer, i wish my words were impeccable. and i do write from time to time, but when my words come out they may sound amputated, banal, strained. i would like to breathe words, to reap words. i would like to give away words as presents. my words should be me, but they are not. they are flimsy bridges, largely unreliable, from which one easily falls into the abyss between essence and expression. maybe the thought that crossed my mind during mri meant that i need to hunt wider and fish deeper for proper words, because they probably do exist hidden at some secret place.

one of the greatest gifts in life is the ability to find the right words. i might keep trying. i might even succeed, but the current reality is that i do desire the right words, but they are still escaping me.

Monday, October 10, 2016

iceland 1986-2016

The world of yesterday is constantly shifting in my mind. Sometimes it feels light years away, and sometimes I have a feeling I am still living in it. Everything is even more complicated when it comes to my relationship with Iceland. I can pinpoint the exact moment in the past when it began, but despite that it seems to have been timeless. Here is how it all began. 

Thirty years ago, when I was fifteen, I came back home from a long day at school, so hungry that I asked my mother to bring me dinner on a tray to the living room. I was leaned back on the couch, with my feet on the coffee table, and while I was eating I causally glanced at the 7.30 news on TV. At the time I had no interest in such things at all. However, at a certain point I was intrigued by the mention of Iceland, a country I had only vaguely heard about in a geography class, a country I knew nothing else about. Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev were meeting there, by a white fireplace (as I remember it), but then the camera switched to show some streets of Reykjavik, its colourful roofs, a mountain in the background that I would later learn is called Esja. That footage pressed a mysterious button somewhere deep down in my mind and soul, for all of a sudden I was struck by what I saw, and I wanted to see and learn more. But in a provincial town in Yugoslavia back in 1986, before the Internet, where was I to learn more about Iceland? And how was I to get in touch with somebody from there? The urge was enormous, I could not help my desire to get in touch with Iceland, I dreamed about it incessantly, and tried to come up with a few strategies of how to get closer to it. 

I did not know a single name of an Icelander, I did not know any street address, and there was nowhere to find such information. No Icelandic embassy in the country. So I decided to make a random telephone call to Iceland, try to explain who I was and why I was calling, and ask for their address so that I could write to them. The man who answered the phone was very kind, and he actually did spell out his full name and address for me. I put it down like this: "Halljajaur Inn, Kringland, some numbers, Reykjavik". Full of elation and hope, I wrote a letter in school English asking them to put me in touch with interested Icelandic pen-friends. Two or three weeks later the letter returned, of course, because neither the name nor the address resembled anything or anyone recognizable in Reykjavik. My disappointment was huge, not just because the letter returned, but also because I had to cross out telephone as a way to stick out with my plan. 

I think a whole year passed without any news about Iceland. I would find an odd, brief article in newspapers about Miss World from Iceland, or some geographical facts in my uncle’s maritime encyclopedias. I treasured it all in my scrap book, but it wasn’t enough. Then my father went to a business trip to Germany and brought back a small Braun electric shaver. I was keen on inspecting the razor, as well as the booklet that came with it. And in that booklet I discovered something that would turn my life around: it included a list of all the services worldwide where the shaver could be taken to be fixed while under warranty. Among them was an address in Reykjavik! The company’s name was Pfaff. As impatiently as ever, I immediately wrote them a letter. The days that ensued were too long. Still, several weeks later I did get a response. That moment was one of the most exciting in my life by that time. The company kindly sent me their badge, and informed me that they had forwarded my letter to one of the popular Icelandic teenage magazines. I felt the world was opening up for me, and I thought I could expect some news very soon. That could have been '87 or '88. I waited, and waited, but nothing was happening for months. I felt I was doomed to failure, and started thinking that what I wanted was impossible to achieve. No new opportunities came into view. I celebrated my 18th birthday in 1989, and went from Montenegro, where I was living, to my native Croatia (at that time both countries still belonged to Yugoslavia), to spend the summer, as I always did. Iceland was a gem hidden from my eyes, but incessantly scintillating within me. Then one day in August my mother telephoned from Montenegro to say that several letters from abroad had arrived for me. I think she mentioned they were from Iceland. Not knowing what they were, but ablaze with the rekindled euphoria, I could not wait for my mum to come to Croatia and bring the letters. When she finally arrived, there were six of them. All were from different young people from Iceland, introducing themselves, some with photographs. ‘Vikan’ had run my add for pen-friends, though with a huge delay. The feelings that those letters evoked were magical. Still, it did take three years for it to happen. I responded to all of the letters, and when I returned home in September more were waiting for me. After a while, I established permanent pen-friendship with four people: Kristin, Katrin, Unnar, and Frida. With some of them I am in contact to this day, and one of them, Kristin, I met several times during my visits to Iceland, and she has become a dear, personal friend. 


The adventures that my love for Iceland has brought to my path are too numerous to cover in one short text. I just wanted to look back at the beginnings and say that Iceland is one of the most constant loves of my life, one that can hardly be described. Thirty years have passed, the world has changed enormously, but some things remain as permanent stars in the sky.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

a bundle.

recently i started writing the story of my childhood, giving it the tentative title 'the tumblings of a bundle'. i describe myself as coming to this world senseless and dumb, bundled up, and moved from place to place, from country to country. when i began to write about my life when i had already turned three, i asked a narrator's question of whether it was time to give up calling myself a bundle any more, since i could already walk and talk and think and be sad and happy. but i could not make myself banish the word from my lines. it kept coming back. i had identified with it. and i decided to keep it throughout the book, which i plan to end with my pre-teen days.

there was one more thing that made me keep addressing myself as a bundle in this text, though. i was thinking about my current position in life. i am 45, quite happy with the way i live my life inwardly, but most of the time very powerless to make an impact on how i live it on the outside - where i live, with whom i live, what i do, what my obligations are, how my plans are going to play out. even this summer of 2016 feels like being taken to some foreign cities by an external power, without my say in it. i am aware that it is absolutely vital for me to be here and sort some existential problems out, and i have to admit that i have been enjoying the long stay in the wonderful cities of london, washington dc, and pittsburgh pa. still, a feeling remains that i have been tossed here, like a bundle, all tied up and left to survive, and potentially thrive, and finally find its own way back home.

Friday, February 12, 2016

ime.

u smeđim kožnim cipelama neko će doći do obale i reći - ovo je rijeka. zaustaviće vrh stopala na busenu koji tone, ali ostaje iznad blata. pola koraka ispred je barica. nad namreškanom vodom, i zaspalim muljem, kopljaste travke se ukrštaju. suhe su kao i list koji se zakačio za jednu, i treperi.

ali, šta će rijeka reći za sebe? njena leđa su prljava i duga. nespretno se pretvaraju u utrobu kroz koju voda protječe kao vrijeme. u njoj plešu otkinuti komadići stvarnosti, nad njom odrazi i dah. ona ne kaže da je rijeka; samo diše. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

a reading year.

before 2015 is out, i am embarking on the 45th book this year, atul gawande's 'being mortal'. i never read as many books in a year. this is thanks to a prolonged sick leave, long flights and airport waits, and also to the availability of not only physical books, but kindle e-books, and audio books. i don't find any essential difference among these formats, save for the difficulty of note taking while listening to an audio book.

when it comes to genres, fiction slightly leads in favour of non fiction: 25 to 20.

after remaining utterly exhausted but unrewarded by 'bag of bones' back in 2005, i told myself i would never ever read another stephen king novel. this year i broke the promise and read two. 'revival' attracted my attention for its psychopathological religious theme, but it was too far-fetched to have expectations of it. on the other hand, returning to 'carrie' for the same reason was very fruitful.

there were several other underwhelming experiences, though unexpected. first of all 'goldfinch' by donna tartt, which i loved for about 400 pages, but completely lost the zeal during the remaining two or three hundred; then 'gilead' by marilynne robinson, which i wrote about in my previous post. the same happened with two ian mcewan novels, 'on chesil beach' and 'child in time', but i loved 'enduring love', 'black dogs', and 'the children's act'. the italian classic 'the gold-rimmed spectacles' by giorgio bassani, which i got as a present with warm recommendations, also left me cold, as did the booker runner 'did you ever have a family' by bill clegg. 'girl at war' by sara novic was probably the greatest disappointment.

my reactions were lukewarm to several other exceptional books: 'arthur and george' by julian barnes, 'onitsha' by jean-marie g. le clezio, 'middlesex' by jeffrey eugenides, 'zuckerman unbound' by philip roth', and 'all my puny sorrows' by miriam toews.

the following novels managed to thrill me much more: 'honeymoon' by patrick modiano, 'passport' by herta muller, 'the good son' by paul mcveigh, 'slaughterhouse 5' by kurt vonnegut, 'alone in berlin' by hans fallada, 'moby dick', and 'lolita'. the only book of fiction, however, that i rated with five stars was 'don quixote', which i read integrally for the first time this year. it is a world in itself, not a book.

on the non fiction side of things there have been many more five star books, books that have shook me profoundly and enriched me enormously. in no particular order, they include the following: the autobiography of oliver sacks titled 'on the move', which poignantly allowed me a glimpse into his private life, and make him an even greater hero than he had been; the biography of huston smith 'wisdomkeeper' written by my friend dana sawyer, which discloses the gigantically intricate spiritual legacy of one of the greatest world figures in the sphere of religion; theodore millon's seminal work 'personality disorders in modern life', which subtly and comprehensively encapsulates all psychological perspectives to offer a very humane depiction of personality disorders; henry marsh's 'do no harm' account of a lifelong career, successes and failures of a neurosurgeon, shot through with intimate family episodes; and 'the examined life' by stephen grosz, probably one of the most sympathetic and personal series of psychotherapeutic cases that opens up new questions about well known themes.

i also admired non-fiction books on the themes i have a great interest in: teaching in north korea ('without you there is no us', suki kim), apostates from scientology ('beyond belief', jenna miscavage) the norwegian psychopathic killer ('one of us: the story of andreas breivik and the massacre in norway', asne seierstad), personal accounts of mental illness ('my age of anxiety', scott stosell), london ('londoners', craig taylor), prison libraries ('running the books', avi steinberg), classical music and neurology ('musicophilia', oliver sacks), psychology ('interpersonal treatment of personality disorders', lorna smith benjamin; 'personal intelligence', john d. mayer), franklian logotherapy and literature ('existential journey', micah sadigh), religion ('a medieval mystic', vincent scully), psychopathic parents ('not my father's son', alan cumming), or emotional roots of health ('the healing path', marc barasch). the only non-fiction book i wish i hadn't read was 'i'll never write my memoirs' by grace jones, because it spoiled my image of her and even of her music. it has to be said she was honest, had some extremely good points, but on the whole she was showing off her unpalatable narcissism, which is a great furn-off for me.

2015 was a good year. i stand in awe of all those people who give us so much. they are the salt of the earth.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

disconnect.


the novel 'gilead' by marilynne robinson has been on my reading list for a long time. the themes, the form, the style, the acclaim - all that i read about it was telling me it would be a relish to read. i am currently nearing the end of the novel, and all that's been said about it is true. however, i am failing to connect with it, and i do not see it coming before i finish the remaining pages. i could not for the whole world put a finger on what it is that is making it wriggle away from my attention and emotional experience. it must be some indefinable 'key' it's written in that is just wrong for me. so, it's not about the book, it's about me.

'gilead' is not the only thing valuable in itself that i do not manage to appreciate properly. there are so, so many more. my own country (or more precisely one of my own countries) is another field whose narrative i greatly fail to follow. not being arrogant, or indifferent, or overly contrary, ever since i was six, the age i was when i came to live in montenegro, it seems to have lived a life different from my own, with hardly any overlaps. again, it's me, not the country, even though it does deserve some criticism. but that is not the point.

another 'out of comfort' zone for me is classical music. it has skipped me most of my life. however, i recently read 'musicophilia' by oliver sacks, and, influenced by this great author, pushed myself to try to get into classical music a little more. i even googled 'how to listen to classical music'. the result has amazed me. after listening a dozen times to rachmaninoff's piano concerto 1, now i get goosebumps when i play it. and so much more awaiting to be discovered.

i don't think i would love 'gilead' if i reread it (even though i have not yet tried), and i don't think i could smoothly swim in the montenegrin streams (even though i tried a million times). some zones just remain out of comfort for the most part. others, however, eventually open up. they should relentlessly be sought all the time, while other nuts harder to crack we should probably not force upon ourselves too hard. it's just like houses of different styles, or savory dishes, or colours - some are perfect for us, some are much more enjoyed by others.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

also a man


thirty years ago i was also a man. a tall, lost, awkward, but a surviving young man, who experienced the world with heightened emotions. i was no longer a child. i was serious, and unhappy. i was fourteen.

my handwriting was unhappy, too. but daring. it pretentiously probed into the big world. my taste in music was peculiar. most of it was awful. the song i mention in this diary entry is indescribably bad. i played it on youtube to be reminded of it, and couldn't listen through to it.

i am as grown up today as i ever will be. my handwriting is disappearing before the keyboard. my taste in music is even more peculiar. most of it is still awful, and i still show off posting weird songs on my facebook page. i am still tall, awkward, and somewhat lost. but not unhappy. and i am a child again.