In a memory of a writing class

Sometimes in 2009 I attended my first ever writing class. I was 44 years old. The class was thought by an American writer; Diane Comer who later became my friend. Diane thought me that one has to first write for one self … even when is scary, so scary that is paralyzing; especially then. To face oneself on the sheet of white paper is the scariest things of all … there is nowhere else to go and nothing else to do. She also put Anne Lamott’s book ‘Bird by Bird’ in my hands; the book that explains what a ‘shitty first draft’ is … and many other books, such as Ha Jin’s ‘The Writer as Migrant’, but that is a whole other topic and it deserves the special attention.

It was largely thanks to Diane, and all those wonderful people who attended our class in 2009, that I mustered the courage to write in English … despite the excruciating fear of inadequacy. The fear is both real and realistic, because to those whose hearts and minds require written words to make sense of their world, there is nothing more terrible, more harrowing, than giving birth to feeble expressions, sentences that fail to show true shades of one’s soul. In my years of learning English out of necessity, I often asked myself whether it is indeed possible to have any feelings, any thoughts at all if one cannot name them, cannot describe them. How does one recognize its world, and find one’s place in it if one cannot name it, ask for it, call for it, curse for it?

Despite my never ending agonizing about writing, Diane managed to somehow teach me about dangerous of perfectionism (‘Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.’A. Lammot), about my childish fear of making spelling and grammar mistakes (‘this is why God invented proof readers’), and over and above all about the braves things of all; to be one self … imperfect, feeble, fellable … human.

In a memory of those teachings and as a thank you, below is the first ever piece of writing I produced in English language during Diane’s writing class in March 2009:

THE MARKET

At the centre of the main square there is a stern looking sculpture. The bronze horseman, clad in long forgotten military regalia, with his sword permanently heaved towards the distance.

Under the sword a city roles slowly over the cobbled streets, with sleepy blue carriages of electric trams and early commuters. The mild evenings of early autumn would bring flocks of city girls, congregating under the sword and giggling unstoppably while checking each other’s attires. Their eyes would dance over the golden leaves that swirl across the roof’s red tiles. Later in the autumn, when the first snowflakes rest briefly on the swordsman’s shoulder, the street seller would offer roasted chestnuts wrapped in an old newspaper. I remember clasping my hands over the warmth of the newspaper and inhaling the smoky scent of chestnuts.

Behind the bronze horseman along the curve of the square, there is a long set of stairs arising slowly from the street with the small cable gondola next to it. Both the stairs and the gondola would take you to the city’s medieval birth-place known as the Upper City. I remember taking the gondola, when the air was washed with rain so I can see all the way across the high buildings and down to the river where the new settlements were gluing themselves to the city. Climbing the stairs would always leave me slightly breathless from the smells and aromas of the city’s market that bursts open at the top of the stairs like a suddenly dropped watermelon.

The town’s belly lies wide open under the hundreds of red umbrellas and parasols.

The stalls wilting under the heaviness of the rich produce, sweet, honey coloured grapes next to the rich ripe tomatoes. The first row of stalls belongs to cheese sellers. They have white protective sleeves over their working garments and sometimes caps with short rims that hang on the back of their hair. Their stalls are covered with white or yellow cloths on which cheeses are arranged with care, on plates or still in their original moulds. There is a white cottage cheese wobbling like a jelly perched on top of the blue ceramic plate. A young woman with rose coloured cheeks offers me a broad smile and a small slice of cheese to taste. I smile back. The next stall exhibits row of round cheeses in various shades of brown, from pale gold to deep chocolate. A slice is missing from one leaving its dusty texture exposed through the crack. Those are hard, aged cheeses sold by a man with serious, deeply set eyes.

The next set of stalls carries baskets loaded with crisp looking vegetables, the milky heart of cauliflower next to the deep green leaves of silver beet still glittering with dew, and dry wild mushrooms impregnating the air with the sharp scent of woods.

Moving slowly amongst the stalls feels like swimming in the fragrant sea of vibrant colours and sounds. The stall owners loudly praise their offerings and negotiate prices with their customers in high pitched voices. The passerby’s chatter and chuckle while small children play tag under the stalls, amongst the large straw baskets.

The fresh fish is arranged between the sheets of ice with their cold, still eyes and glossy bodies. The seller would cut the glossy body open in front of you and clean the fish’s insides in one skilful move of knife. After splashing it with cold water, the cavity opens pale pink and empty. A woman with a long hair and full breasts places the fish, wrapped in a clean sheet of white paper in her shopping bag next to the bunch of celery and pale green carnations.

After the fish stalls the narrow cobbled path turns left towards the taverns with carved wooden doors just a few steps below the street. They serve grilled minced meat fingers inside the hot bread in a shape of a full moon. In summer when the heat makes the air shimmer and the wooden doors are left wide open, sounds of strong male voices would rush over the cobbles. After the day of hard work they would stand together in small circles drinking heartily from plain glass jugs, moving their strong hands with the rhythm of speech. Passing by I often wondered how would it feel to bury my face into those wide chests and inhale the odour of a male.

There are only a few red umbrellas left after the taverns. I am looking for a small stall just before the end of the market where painted gingerbread hearts are offered for sale. They are spread in a neat order across the clean tablecloth. Some are hanging from the wire stretched from one end of the stall to the other. They are painted deep red with white and yellow sugary ornaments adorning the ages. Sometimes they are more luxuries with small looking glass placed in their centre or a special message written in white sugar and carefully wrapped in transparent shiny paper tide with the bow. If you have a sweetheart, he will give you a painted gingerbread heart before church on Sunday.

Many years later I would carefully place a red gingerbread heart amongst the blouses in my suitcase before leaving the city with the market under the red umbrellas.

                                                                       
 

Old Notebooks

I recently found them again on the bottom of an almost forgotten box, lying between folders containing various writing attempts in English.

And amongst all those imperfect, ill spelled and somewhat awkward English writings, that denounce the author as an overly sentimental intruder from some other land where they paint shades and landscapes of souls with words, their faded and scratched covers hide poetry written in Croatian some 27 years ago … I was scarcely in my twenties!

Was there anything, anything at all to warn me that I will be carrying those same notebooks with me across the world … I cannot tell. Not now, or maybe not yet … even though, the signs are that two of us will have to meet soon … the girl that wrote poetry about loneliness all those years ago and the woman writing in English now … it seems we are meeting under the Lantern … for better or worse!

In July of 1985 the girl wrote:    

Usamljenost:                                                          

Treperi sumrak plavi,

Sunce dan poklanja tisini.

Okovi su vec preteski.

Prva lampa na ulici

Progleda.

Glasovi se daleki

Mjesaju.

Krovovi zlacani plast odjevaju.

Prolaze vojnici

Isprod moga prozora

I ni jedan se ne

Osvernu.

 In May 2012 the woman translated it into English: 

                                                         Loneliness:

In flickering blue dusk,

Sun is gifting day to silence.

Irons are already too heavy.

First lamp opens its eyes to street.

Distant voices are

Mixing.

Roofs take on

Golden clocks.

Soldiers are passing

Under my window,

And not one,

Turned around.

 

 

Oh God have mercy on us both … how different they sound!




Day Diet Died!

Yes, that is right … today is the day that diet died!

It did not depart fertile soil of my life either easily or graciously … oh no, it was far too comfortable inhabiting that landscape. After all it has been growing steadily more powerful ever since my teens … it almost got better of me and enslaved me for life, securing unrestricted power over my thoughts and my purse!

And so it struggled desperately; kicking and screaming, adamant to drag me (AGAIN), through ever expending jungle of websites promising to turn one into Victoria’s Secret model in a matter of weeks, or in cases of those claiming to be more sensible; months! The only thing needed is your joining fee, or order for their products, or both … in return for which you will be ‘carefully guided’ through their plan, developed on the basis of, or in conjunction with ‘the latest scientific research’. Depending on whose website you found yourself, ‘the latest scientific research’ is almost inevitably in contradiction with the one you read earlier … eat carbs, eat no carbs, eat fat, eat only ‘good’ fat, eat no fat, eat plenty of protein, eat little bit of protein, eat only protein, eat readymade meals/shakes/bars/cereals … eat only cabbage soup, eat only diet cookies … at the end all you really want to EAT are your broken dreams and depleted credit card!

Not to be left behind, fitness industry and bottled water manufactures are on hand to assist … all you need to do is purchase their latest fitness equipment, and/or join their gym/sauna/spa/studio and in no time at all your abs will match those on the poster displayed before your eyes. To assist those efforts you will also need to order industrial quantities of bottled water since drinking around the clock is critical to your weight loss and your new life; two things firmly interlinked in your mind!

How do I know all this? Because of the usual reason – I tried it all! I honestly doubted that you can present me with a ‘diet/approach/lifestyle …’ I have not tried, or at least red about it! All in search of that ever elusive ‘new and better me’ living this ‘new and liberated life’ … and the verdict at the end of it all?

It is the simplest truth; the one we all know sleeps deep in our hearts; what we are truly looking for is not in the fridge, or pantry, or shopping mall, or in a new diet, or new fitness regime … what we are looking for, desperately searching for, and in the process failing victims to corporate giants, is a basic human need for acceptance … acceptance for whoever we are, TODAY … in our bodies as they are NOW, NOT after yet another diet … why? Because to achieve what we want TOMMOROW we need to accept (not escape) TODAY!

Only by loving and cherishing yourself today, you will be able to shape yourself into what you want to be tomorrow. After all how can you nurture yourself through, what might be a long journey, to a normal weight and good health, if you dislike and beat yourself up every day by subjecting your body to excruciating routine of starting ever new (and usually crazier) diet, followed by self-loathing when it fail? And fail it will … either after three months, or six months, or two years … but you WILL find yourself heavier than before you started! It is interesting to note that most weight loss and diet industry is either based or originates from USA – a country where almost 35% of total population is classified as obese!

As you can see; the battle was vicious and merciless … how did I win? Well, after much struggle I delivered the fatal blow to the nasty beast called ‘diet’ by hitting it repeatedly over the head with the book titled; ‘Size Does Matter’ written by a sensible New Zealand women MaryRose Spence and first published in 2011. I found the book in my local bookstore while looking for something different … OK I admit; the title did intrigue me! But once I realize that the book is actually about food … I almost abandoned it … luckily not before I read the very first sentence in the book; ‘There has never been a diet that has ‘worked’ and there never will be’! WOW … my heart actually smiled! I knew it … I always suspected it! I located nearby chair and read almost half of the book there and then! Sales assistants where too young and obviously too well-mannered to ask me if I have any intentions of buying the book, which I did before the shop closed!

So I went home and read the rest of it … it quite literary changed my approach to food almost instantly. It is written in a matter of fact style and offers sensible, yet simple, practical and inexpensive advice on ‘how to eat, drink and lose weight … forever’ (quote). It provides numerous good quality photographs showing you what a portion actually looks like and compares kilojoule value of real food; for example ½ banana has a similar kilojoule value to 2/3 cup of cornflakes or 2 squares of chocolate.

It explains to you (once and for all) that ‘a diet designed for EVERY body is not designed for YOUR body’ (quote) and ensures that you (the person lost and confused in the jungle of weight loss industry) are put back in charge!

How? Buy first explaining that your body is unique and there is no other like it … and so ‘to succeed at losing weight, you need to understand YOU, before you focus on food’ (quote). And then it equips you with practical and easy to follow tools to do just that; understand yourself first, understand food and drinks you consume, understand the impact of physical activities (no you do not need an expensive gym membership, or drink copious amounts of water), and how to DESING YOUR OWN WAY!

This is it – the power is firmly put back into your hands where it belongs! Because guess what – you are IN CHARGE of your life, your food and your drink … all you need are the tools that work, and are sensible enough to be practical. Every time you start yet another ‘new die’, you effectively surround this power to somebody else … you abdicate your power to some smiling guru or faceless corporation!

Not only that book proved really great; but to my surprise, when I wanted further information and send an email via website address I found in the book, MaryRose personally responded to me and answer my question without trying to promote a thing!

And so while loathsome ‘diet’ was parting with its last breath, I devoured ‘Eggplant Salad with Yoghurt Dressing’ (page 136 in the book), confident in knowledge that I am free at last!

Daily Lament

Today on my way to work I passed by a man sitting on the pavement cross-legged. The morning was cold and frost glittered in the window panes. His back was pressed against the wall. Face hidden inside the hood, hands squeezed in the pockets. Next to a small cap, large, hand-written cardboard note read: ‘Destitute and desolate, living in a night shelter, any help appreciated’. I passed by … embarrassed – for us both.  And the whole day the sight of the man rested in my vision. In the evening it brought me to Tin Ujevic and his poem (translated from Croatian) below:

Daily Lament

How hard it is not to be strong,

How hard it is to be alone,

And to be old, yet to be young!

And to be weak, and powerless,

Alone, with no one anywhere,

Dissatisfied, and desperate.

And trudge bleak highways endlessly,

And to be trampled in the mud,

With no star shining in the sky.

Without your star of destiny

To play its twinkling’s on your crib

With rainbows and false prophecies.

– Oh God, oh God, remember all

The glittering fair promises

With which you have afflicted me.

Oh God, oh God, remember all

The great loves, the great victories,

The wreaths of laurel and the gifts.

And know you have a son who walks

The weary valleys of the world

Among sharp thorns, and rocks and stones,

Through unkindness and unconcern,

With his feet bloodied under him,

And with his heart an open wound.

His bones are full of weariness,

His soul is ill at ease and sad,

And he’s neglected and alone,

And sisterless, and brotherless,

and fatherless, and motherless,

With no one dear, and no close friend,

And he has no-one anywhere

Except thorn twigs to pierce his heart

And fire blazing from his palms.

Lonely and utterly alone

Under the hemmed in vault of blue,

On dark horizons of high seas.

Whom can he tell his troubles to

When no-one’s there to hear hues call,

not even brother wanderers.

Oh God, you sear your burning word

Too hugely through this narrow throat

And throttle it inside my cry.

And utterance is a burning stake,

Though I must yell it out, I must,

Or, like a kindled log, burn out.

Just let me be a bonfire on

A hill, just one breath in the fire,

If not a scream hurled from the roofs.

Oh God, let it be over with,

This miserable wandering

Under a vault as deaf as stone.

Because I crave a powerful word,

Because I crave an answering voice,

Someone to love, or holy death.

For bitter is the wormwood wreath

And deadly dark the poison cup,

So burn me, blazing summer noon.

For I am sick of being weak,

And sick of being all alone

(seeing I could be hale and strong)

and seeing that I could be loved),

But I am sick, sickest of all

To be so old, yet still be young!

It is a start -:)!

After much reading, thinking and deliberating about blogging, I have finally decided to try it! So yes this is my very first attempt at blogging and I am hoping to make it a regular feature of my life.

I am writing from a city that has been described as ‘the coolest little capital in the world’ and to which I have arrived only recently. It is Wellington of course, at the bottom on New Zealand’s North Island.

New Zealand became my home some 18 years ago when I was ‘transplanted’ here from a beautiful little country in the Central Europe that stretches from glorious mountains to the most picturesque sea shore you can imagine … but that is the whole another story, a story that, with the help of this blog, may one day find its way out of my memories and land on the paper, (God knows it has been trying long enough -:).

But in my ‘adopted country’ (who adopted who -:?) I have lived in the middle of a North Island, then South Island and now again North Island … in between there have been a stint of some two years in a another wonderful European country … well some people may call that restless, or unsettled, but I rather think of it as courage’s, and curious … and of course a little bit crazy -:)!

Amongst those wonderings I lived through one war, raised one wonderful child, studied, worked, loved and lost … grieved and was grieved for … never far from hope, never far from a spark of life … that illuminates darkness like a shooting star on the summer sky. Oh life, glorious life in all its forms, all its beauties, and tragedies … and so this little corner is both; mine and about me … as Dostoevsky wrote so long ago; ‘I can see the sun, but even if I cannot see the sun, I know that it exists. And to know that the sun is there – this is living.’

And I never ceased to believe that it is indeed so, even when life resembled barren desert and there was so little to believe in. But alas if we do not struggle through life deserts, how could we ever rejoice in its oasis’ … and so here I am; turning light on in my lantern to illuminate way and help me find my voice in English, language I knew nothing about when I first reached these shores in the waste ocean of South Pacific, but which is now almost the only tool left to me to forge my words with. Still; I have not forgotten, and neither can or wish to, my language, my first country, or people … one day I may find them again … or they may find me.

During the sharp and serious hours of day light, I am rather engaged in shuffling papers in one of those institutions, great Russian novelist Gogol described so aptly; ‘In the department of … the touchiest things in the world are departments, regiments, courts of justice, in a word, all branches of public service. Therefore, in order to avoid all unpleasantness, it will be better to designate the department in question, as a certain department.’ But once serious business of the day has ended and another daily crust earned, a cloak is taken off and lantern lit … all is possible!

If you stumble upon this blog, either by chance or design, write to me … lift the pebble in the endless cyber space!