Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Words more painful than a whip

[This is a re-post from something I put on my old multiply page in November '08, brought to mind again by some posts on Mr McLachlan's brilliant Riven Skies blog.]

"Please hear what I do not say! Do not let me fool you. Do not let the face that I wear deceive you, because I wear masks, masks I fear to take off. And none of them is me. Pretending 'as if' is an art that has become second nature to me. But do not let that deceive you, I only pretend to be accessible, to be cheerful, 'as if' I did not need anyone. But do not believe me!

On the outside I may appear confident, but that is my mask. Beneath I am as I really am: Bewildered, afraid, and alone. But I hide that. I do not want anybody to see that. The mere thought of my weakness makes me panic, and I get afraid to even meet people at all. That is why I desperately invent masks I can hide behind: a carefree facade that helps to disguise me from the knowing gaze that would expose me. And yet that gaze would save me. And I know that. If it was from someone who would accept and love me.

That is the only thing that could give me the security I cannot give myself: That I really am worth something. But I do not say that. I do not dare. I am afraid of it. I am afraid that your gaze will not be accompanied by acceptance and love. I am afraid you will think ill of me and laugh about me. And your laughter would kill me. I am afraid that deep down I am nothing, not worth anything, and that you would reject me.

So I play my game, my desperate game: a confident facade on the outside and a shivering child on the inside. I talk in an easy manner, superficial blather. I tell you everything that is nothing, and nothing of that, which is real, which is screaming inside of me; because of that do not be deceived by all that I talk about out of habit. Please listen closely and try to hear what I do not say, what I want to say, but cannot.

I despise this game of hide and seek. It is a superficial, false game. I want to be real and spontaneous, just myself, but you have to help me. You have to reach out your hand, especially if it is the last thing I seem to want. Only you can call me back to life.

Every time you are friendly and good to me and encourage me, every time you make me believe that you truly are concerned about me, my heart grows wings, very small wings, fragile wings, but wings! Your intuition and the power of your understanding give me life. I want you to know that. I want you to know how important you are to me, how much you can make me the person I really am, if only you want. Please, I wish you would want to.

You alone can tear down the wall behind which I shiver. You alone can take off my mask. You alone can free me of this world of shadows, of fear and insecurity, of my loneliness. Do not overlook me. Please, do not pass me over. It will not be easy for you. The ancient conviction of being worthless creates thick walls. The closer you come the blinder I strike back. I resist that which I scream for.

But I have been told that love is stronger than any wall, and I place my hope in that."

(Tobias Brocher, About the Difficulty to Love - Benchmarks for Humanity, 1975; translation by me)

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Excerpt from "The Princess Bride" by William Goldman

[I've reblogged this verbatim from since that blog no longer exists. -FF]
The following is an excerpt from S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, The "Good Parts" Version Abridged by William Goldman. This is included in my web page for the truth it holds, so William Goldman, if you're reading this (or anyone, for that matter, from his publishing company) please don't sue me for copywright infringement. And for everyone else, if you have not seen "The Princess Bride," rent it this week, and if you have not read the story, read it because William Goldman just did a magnificent job with this book. And for all the fantasy-filled life this story evokes, at the heart of it, the story is quite realistic, and Morgenstern (and Goldman) never loses sight of that fact. Now read:

It's one of my biggest memories of my father reading. I had pneumonia, remember, but I was a little better now, and madly caught up in the book, and one thing you know when you're ten is that, no matter what, there's gonna be a happy ending. They can sweat all they want to scare you, the authors, but back of it all you know, you just have no doubt, that in the long run justice is going to win out. And Westley and Buttercup - well, they had their troubles, sure, but they were going to get married and live happily ever after, I would have bet the family fortune if I'd found a sucker big enough to take me on.

Well, when my father got through with that sentence where the wedding was sandwiched between the ministers' meeting and the treasury whatever, I said, "You read that wrong."

My father's this little old barber - remember that too? And kind of illiterate. Well, you just don't challenge a guy who has trouble reading and say he's read something incorrectly, because that's really threatening. "I'm doing the reading," he said.

"I know that, but you got it wrong. She doesn't marry that rotten Humperdinck. She marries Westley."

"It says right here," my father began, a little huffy, and he starts going over it again.

"You must have skipped a page then. Something. Get it right, huh?"

By now he was more than a tiny bit upset. "I skipped nothing. I read the words. The words are there, I read them, good night," and off he went.

"Hey please, no," I called after him, but he's stubborn, and, next thing, my mother was in saying, "Your father says his throat is too sore; I told him not to read so much," and she tucked and fluffed me and no matter how I battled, it was over. No more story till the next day.

I spent that whole night thinking Buttercup married Humperdink. It just rocked me. How can I explain it, but the world didn't work that way. Good got attracted to good, evil you flushed down the john and that was that. But their marriage - I couldn't make it jibe. God, did I work at it. First I thought that probably Buttercup had this fantastic effect on Humperdinck and turned him into a kind of Westley, or maybe Westley and Humperdinck turned out to be long-lost brothers and Humperdinck was so happy to get his brother back he said, "Look, Westley, I didn't realize who you were when I married her so what I'll do is I'll divorce her and you marry her and that way we'll all be happy." To this day I don't think I was ever more creative.

But it didn't take. Something was wrong and I couldn't lose it. Suddenly there was this discontent gnawing away until it had a place big enough to settle in and then it curled up and stayed there and it's still inside me lurking as I write this now.

The next night, when my father went back to reading and the marriage turned out to have been Buttercup's dream, I screamed, "I knew it, all along I knew it," and my father said, "So you're happy now, it's all right now, we can please continue?" and I said, "Go," and he did.

But I wasn't happy. Oh my ears were happy, I guess, my story sense was happy, my heart too, but in my, I suppose you have to call it "soul," there was that damn discontent, shaking its dark head. All this was never explained to me till I was in my teens and there was this great woman who lived in my home town, Edith Neisser, dead now, and she wrote terrific books about how we screw up our children - "Brothers and Sisters" was one of her books, "The Eldest Child" was another. Published by Harper. Edith doesn't need the plug, seeing, like I said, as she's no longer with us, but if there are any amongst you who are worried that maybe you're not being perfect parents, pick up one of Edith's books while there's still time. I knew her 'cause her kid Ed got his haircuts from my pop, and she was this writer and by my teens I knew, secretly, that was the life for me too, except I couldn't tell anybody. It was too embarrassing - barber's sons, if they hustled, maybe got to be IBM salesmen, but writers? No way. Don't ask me how, but eventually Edith discovered my shhhhhh ambition and from then on, sometimes, we would talk. And I remember once we were having iced tea on the Neisser porch and talking and just outside the porch was their badminton court and I was watching some kids play badminton and Ed had just shellacked me, and as I left the court for the porch, he said, "Don't worry, it'll all work out, you'll get me next time" and I nodded, and then Ed said, "And if you don't, you'll beat me at something else."

I went to the porch and sipped iced tea and Edith was reading this book and she didn't put it down when she said, "That's not necessarily true, you know."

I said, "How do you mean?"

And that's when she put her book down. And looked at me. And said it: "Life isn't fair, Bill. We tell our children that it is, but it's a terrible thing to do. It's not only a lie, it's a cruel lie. Life is not fair, and it never has been, and it's never going to be." Would you believe that for me right then it was like one of those comic books where the light bulb goes on over Mandrake the Magician's head?

"It isn't!" I said, so loud I really startled her. "You're right! It's not fair." I was so happy if I'd known how to dance, I'd have started dancing. "Isn't that great, isn't it terrific?" I think along here Edith must have thought I was well on my way to being bonkers.

But it meant so much to me to have it said and out and free and flying - that was the discontent I had endured the night my father stopped reading, I realized right then. That was the reconciliation I was trying to make and couldn't.

And that's what I think this book's about. All those Columbia experts can spiel all they want about the delicious satire; they're crazy. This book says, "life's not fair" and I'm telling you, one and all, you better believe it. I got a fat spoiled son - he's not gonna nag Miss Rheingold. And he's always gonna be fat, even if he gets skinny he'll still be fat and he'll still be spoiled and life will never be enough to make him happy, and that's my fault maybe - make it all my fault, if you want - the point is, we're not created equal, for the rich they sing, life isn't fair. I got a cold wife; she's brilliant, she's stimulating, she's terrific; there's no love; that's okay too, just so long as we don't keep expecting everything to somehow even out for us before we die.

Look. (Grownups skip this paragraph.) I'm not about to tell you this book has a tragic ending. I already said in the very first line how it was my favorite in all the world. But there's a lot of bad stuff coming up, torture you've already been prepared for, but there's worse. There's death coming up, and you better understand this: Some of the wrong people die. Be ready for it. This isn't Curious George Uses the Potty. Nobody warned me and it was my own fault (you'll see what I mean in a little) and that was my mistake, so I'm not letting it happen to you. The wrong people die, some of them, and the reason is this; life is not fair. Forget all the garbage your parents put out. Remember Morgenstern. You'll be a lot happier.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Ripples in the Pond - Rikki's Theory of the Sweet Hereafter

[This post was originally published on October 25, 2008, on Yahoo 360]

Death is not the end - I could never decide if that was the most beautiful or the most terrible sentence in the English language. Probably the latter. But the other day I saw something on Mark's blast, here on 360, about the memories being all that we keep in the end, and that made me think about this stuff again. (I've said some of this before, but that was over a year ago and in another country, and anyway, that blog is long dead and gone.)

You see, in a way, I think Mark is right, but in a way, I think he is dead wrong. Memories are part of it, but they are actually the least part. The memories are just the technicolour-coating, the symptom of the real thing, the tip of the ice berg, the little bit showing above the waterline. The real thing is what stays beneath.

How do I explain this? Probably with an example, although that will be frightfully hard in this case. Ok, so here I go.

For those who don't know, I used to have three siblings, one older brother and two older sisters, the younger of which, Anette (or 'Nette) died almost four years ago of cancer. Nette was always the person closest to me in my family, and we used to spend a lot of time together. There probably hasn't been anyone closer to me, ever.

Do I believe that she is now in heaven, some ethereal place from where she can look down on me and to wich I can speak "up" to, in prayer or meditation? No, I don't. Pretending that I did was sometimes all I could do, but in the end, in my heart of hearts, I never believed that.

I believe the soul is a function of the physical world. Like a piece of literature or music, it is not something that exists on its own. When you burn the book, the text inside dies with it, and when no one is playing the music, it is no more. Like everything else I know, I must assume that souls are just expressions of the physical. To just make-believe, without any proof or manifest experience, that souls are different from the rest of the known universe seems like folly to me.

That does not mean that they do NOT exist, though. Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Ulysses" certainly is more than just ink on paper. Johann Pachelbel's Canon in D is certainly more than just dots on music paper... and it certainly didn't cease to exist after he had once played it on his harpsicord when thinking about it for the first time.

Because there are now hundred's of pieces of music based on the Canon in D, from classical interpretations to punk rock variants. Uncountable people have been married to it. Sk8er Boi by Avril Lavigne is based on it, and it was part of what launched her carreer. But not only that: In the video clip to that song, she wears a t-shirt from Wilkesboro Elementary School in NC. After the video became a hit the school was flooded with requests for the t-shirt. From the money they made selling it, they could buy all new computers for the entire school. Now, imagine for a moment that one kid becomes a successful computer programmer because of learning on these new computers. That was Pachelbel.

But you don't even have to go so far. That is what I meant when I said that memories where just the tip of the ice berg, possibly the least important part: Stories we hear, music that touches us... and people we meet... they change us, shape us, become part of us. 'Nette is a part of me. I would not be who I am without her. I can hear her, when I close my eyes and listen inside. I don't mean memories. Memories can fade. But that, that piece of her soul that is inside me, that will never fade, because it has become a structural part of my own soul. When I am an eighty-nine year old doter, who can't remember what he has eaten two hours ago, I may not even be able to recall 'Nette's name... but the echo of her will have reverbrated down my entire life, it will have informed all and everything I ever did and all I became, and it will even then still be a part of me, indivisible from everything else.

And when I die, tomorrow, everybody whose life I have touched, will have been touched by her as well. Those people might not know her, might have no memories of her and would not recognize her name, but she has stepped into their lives nonetheless. We are all fluid, no matter behind how many walls of politeness or rudeness, of formality or fake joviality we hide. We touch and mingle like watercolours blurring on wet paper, and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

It's like prions transfering mad cow disease, or salt wandering from cell to cell through osmosis, like the shadows left by people vaporized by the atomic bombs in Japan, like the beating wings of a butterfly causing hurricanes half a world away, like folie à deux, like ripples in a pond that spread and return, mix and influence each other, but never cease even centuries after anyone can remember the stone that caused them.

So, it really is not memory I am talking about, although that is one small part of it, but it is not good deeds living on either. Who knows what will be good after a while? What if that kid, learning on the new computers in WES, NC, becomes a hacker who brings down the strategic defense of the USA and causes thermonuclear war? Like Gandalf says in the LOTR, even the very wise do not know all ends. So, this is not about heaven or hell, nor about punishment or rewards.

It is about immortality and about returning to the source, about becoming one with the universe, and about everything being connected. And you don't even have to die for it, because you do it the moment you are concieved. The first time your mom felt nauseous from being pregnant with you, you have started causing these ripples, and they have been travelling out from you, changing lives, altering the world, unstoppable, penetrating souls and families, politics and dreams, hopes, fears, decisions, and the physical world.

But - and that is why this is my theory of the sweet hereafter - they are what remains, after you die. And they are still you: Because you do not need your own body and your own brain to be aware or to feel. When I said I can still hear 'Nette inside, I meant that literally. Not her ghost or some supernatural spirit. Just as a part of myself, it exists in my synapses the same as that thing that I call my "self" does. I can hear her voice, and I can talk to her, and she does think and plan, advise and admonish, but she also feels. That part of her that sits in my heart like a crystal shard, it can be happy even when the rest of me is not, and it can be sad, even when I wished she wasn't. Like a computer program running on another machine than it has been originally written, or a piece of music playing on a different medium, recorded and copied and disseminated, like literature printed again and again throughout the ages, transformed into plays and films, abbreviated, retold, paraphrased, it retains its essence, its selfness, its soul. It is still alive.

Like a hologram shredded into strips, each strip may only show the orginal image from its one perspective, but they are still all there, even if spread out.

Do it. Listen inside for the voices of those you lost, even if only temporarily, because they are all there, inside, and will be forevermore, just like you are in the hearts of everybody you have ever touched, and everybody they have touched, and so on.

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
- from: Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809 - 1892), Ulysses

Omnia mutantur, nihil interit - Everything changes but nothing truly is lost.
- from: Ovid (43 BD - 17 AD), Metamorphoses

New Canon in D, originally by Johann Pachelbel (1653 - 1706)

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


Shortly after midnight the young man ascends the steep, narrow street. An orange cat sits on a broken wall and turns away its head as he walks past. The last of the old men have not yet deserted their posts along the shuttered houses and the heat of the day is still radiating upwards from the cracked tar through the thin leather sandals into the soles of the young man’s feet.
With his destroyed right hand he fumbles the key into the lock, refusing to give in to the temptation to use his good hand instead. This is training, he tells himself.
He still loves the smells of the place: flour and yeast, honey and spices. And underneath it all a hint of mildew and the sour tang of milk gone bad.
Before he puts on the kettle to prepare his tea, before he takes up the broom to start his working night, to make ready the place for his master, for the satisfying labour of bringing bread to the tables of the neighbourhood, bread, and sweets, before all that he puts the silvery disc in the old CD-Player and presses play.
The reader’s voice fills the work space, takes him away to the rolling hills and languidly meandering paths of the English language, a soothing recourse to the harsh, gusty dryness of the Arabic of his days.
And then the reader says the word.

Hoof. When I learned your language, so far away, in the neat, small school room, in long winter mornings that could have been on a different planet, I was taught that the double-o is pronounced long, like roof, and food. Hoof. That was how it took root in my head, until the day when you put the boots on my hands – they were both still whole then – and called them my piggy hooves, and I learned that it sounded almost like huff, like puff, to bring down my roof, so rough, but with love in your voice.
You put the rubber gloves on your hands when you knelt down next to me, in the muddy patch, and started feeding me the rotting offal strewn onto the wet ground.
Before I knew your name, you had taught me to call you Bastard, and you loved to be one. You never learned my real name, only a succession of preposterous aliases, but before you knew even the first of those, you taught me that I was your Cunt, and I loved that, too.
For so many years I hated my daddy, hated him with all the venom I could muster, condemned my own soul in the hellfire of that hatred, until you called yourself my Daddy. All my life I fought to prove that I was a boy, a boy, and not soft, not weak, not a girl. You taught me to want to be your girl.
You taught me a new language in which I made you happy when I cried, in which it showed strength when I was weak, in which love meant no longer hiding the hatred, in which the pain grew less the more we shared it, in which life meant to embrace death, and death meant to finally accept life.
You took away my old words and replaced them with new ones. You stole all my definitions, all my pronunciations, and embedded yourself there instead.
I betrayed you in the end, like you had always known I would. I lied about everything except about that. I told you from the first time we talked that I was a thief, a deceiver, and that I would break your heart if only you let me.
You let me.

It has been one year since the young man has last spoken with his lover. This is a new country, a new world, a new life. Nothing is as it was. Nothing ever will be. He is a man now, a boy no longer. He will not look back.
He sits on the wooden bench and refuses to cry for a long time, as the language washes the illusions from his soul.