Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Don't forget to remember

"I can't remember to forget you." - Leonard Shelby, Memento

The 'invisible city' of Tamara in Italo Calvino's book is determined to jolt readers out of their comfort zones. Calvino substitutes words and phrases with symbols and signs; forcing the reader to do a double take, to reread passages both in part and in whole.

In Tamara, prints in the sand aren't just what they appear to be, instead they specifically indicate a tiger's passage. An hibiscus flower signifies the end of winter, not only the beginning of spring. Symbols are the building blocks of any society, just as our ancestors must have studied the elements to know when a day begun and when a storm was on its way.

Tamara's narrative shares similarities with 'Memento', the movie in which the lead character Leonard suffers from Anterograde amnesia. Just as in Memento, repetition is a memory aiding device or 'habit and routine' as Leonard puts it. In Tamara, no doubt after being in this city long enough Marco Polo would know not to urinate behind a kiosk. In Memento, Leonard kept little reminders or mementos, some, as drastic as tattoos over his body and others, as simple as a picture so he wouldn't forget to shave his left leg every morning. Marco Polo was learning an unspoken language just as Leonard was learning to live without being able to create new memories. So, despite their respective handicaps both had useful talents. One, to read things and the other, to read people.

The text also cleverly raises the point of how we give value to things and the ideas that they represent. Marco Polo, for example attributes an ankle bracelet to being voluptuous. Whereas in our society, it is an article of jewelry or a fashion statement.

Marco Polo uses personification to represent Tamara as a dominatrix who 'makes you repeat her discourse' and subjects you to 'recording the names with which she defines herself and all her parts.' Even upon leaving Tamara, Marco Polo is still affected. Looking for yet more symbols, more signs. He begins to see or imagine in the clouds images that represent his next journey; a sailing ship to take him home and a hand to guide the way.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Running is easy when standing still is hard.

Running, first from my left eye and then my right, warm as the night, salty, stinging teardrops. We ran. The ominous sky over Nassau, now painted pitch black, was punctuated by the luminosity of the melancholy moon above. A stark contrast to the light blue and sunny yellow day we had just encountered. We had left our hotel and walked to downtown Nassau. We came to know the length and corners of the small and intricate craft market then travelled to Paradise Island via a glass bottom boat.

The stillness that hung over the hotel should have been a warning sign, but we were oblivious, young tourists. We entered through the hotel's back gateway and walked the length of the pool on the large hopscotch stepping stones, meandered through the lush, wet garden and into the lobby of the hotel.

The first thing that caught my attention was the gleaming, well-polished Soviet Makarov 9MM pistol planted to the left temple of the front desk clerk. Motionless, we stood as if waiting for our paradise to be uninterrupted and this nightmarish flashback to fade like a mirage.

"Hand over all the money", stern but barely audible demanded the portly gunman dressed in all navy blue except for his black mask and shoes.

"Okay, okay. Just please, please don't shoot me", came the faint reply from the skinny attendant, trying not to draw any unnecessary attention to the scene. Our jaws fell open in unison, our eyes widened by surprise. Frozen. We had seen and heard enough in those few seconds to know that we should run.

The initial shock dissipated almost as quickly as our reverse tiptoeing turned into a sprint on the rose marble mosaic floor. Running, back into the familiarity outside these walls, where we had slept the night before. Where we once found solace steeped in magic, now stood mayhem waving a gun.

Paralyzed by paranoia we waited for what must have been an eternity, and at least a mile into safety. We surrounded ourselves with the comfort of the downtown crowd. Happy tourists diving into their meals by the seaside, but somewhere between the dark blue hue of waves and the uncertainty that awaited us, our appetites were substituted by a hunger for home. Home was a mere 454 miles away we thought.

When time had settled we returned reluctantly to the scene of the crime. There was no gun, no lunatic now but I wondered, "How could we feel safe here?", "How could we silence the tremors of our bodies?" We checked the locks, we were bolted in. Still, we huddled most of the night, awake, our bodies together. Minds, alone, still running.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Belief is a beautiful armor...

"Belief is a beautiful armor but makes for the heaviest sword." - John Mayer

I was raised to believe that a talking snake convinced a woman to eat a fruit that was forbidden in a garden called Eden, at the beginning of creation. Along with other fantastical stories I learned that a donkey spoke, a virgin gave birth, and a perfect man once upon a time turned water into wine. Since I once believed these wonderful stories told to me as a child, Italo Calvino's story of Adelma, from his book Invisible Cities was just another walk in the park.

The story of Adelma is an example of how belief can be useful as a coping skill. We observe that this is the case for the weary traveler, Marco Polo and the ailing emperor Kublai Khan alike. The former, whether he believes his adventure to be a dream or not, seeks to justify his story by coming to terms with his own mortality. The latter, uses belief as a comfort to mask reality from his deathbed.
Some may argue successfully that belief by itself is harmless.  However, when belief without evidence is utilized as a weapon, we are all too familiar with the testament of how deadly a force it can become. World wars have been raised and have raged since the beginning of time, in the name of infinitely disparate beliefs.
Before you take the next person's word as gospel, I implore you to be a tad more skeptical. Take instead, the liberty of thinking for yourself. It could mean the difference between life and death.

Monday, September 16, 2013

In the Midst of Living

Very early in life I recognized that I was an introvert and public speaking was not my forte. Writing quickly became a relief, an outlet that did not include speaking. Writing, for me, has since evolved into the bridge between being an introvert and being a confident speaker.

It was Anais Nin who noted, 'My ideas usually come not at my desk writing, but in the midst of living.' As Anais Nin, I learned to write and express my feelings in every moment of my life by making notes as I go. The more I wrote, the better I wrote. The more topics I wrote about, the more confident I became, and slowly but steadily my writing skills have developed over the years.

Later on, when music became my passion, writing about music became not only my hobby but also a source of income. I feel strongly that it is the duty of every reader to also be a writer, to share as much as you've been shared with. 

Great men and women have long written for enlightenment, for equality, for justice and peace. Some of these bold writers have inspired my own writing, like Maya Angelou, Robert G. Ingersoll, Toni Morrison, Charles Darwin, James Baldwin, Kahlil Gibran and Mohandas K. Gandhi.

So when one inquires, 'Why write?' I'll gleefully transcribe, because writing empowers, liberates, and if I'm really lucky my writing may just inspire others too.