"About writing and my non-communication... Maybe it's a matter of Vienna, you simply forget to communicate. It is horror, in fact. You are so good in this, I like your communicativeness. I would love and enjoy even more to meet you for conversation - you are so brilliant in this, you have style, you are glamorous and deep, old and very young." -Letter from Katherina Olschbaur
Rising before 6:00 o'clock is the only suppresion of guilt that I know of, it is a mortal race, a rally in the desert if you want, because it means to start living, frantically and in a chain of chemical reactions, a few minutes before the sun. It does not matter whether you had gone to bed the previous night only a few hours before and that your sleep was not deep, but rather tireless daydreaming as if travelling across centuries and continents. Only a few minutes before 6:00, that would be enough, time to dress up rapidly and without further ado, but unlike other days when I dressed up as well, there was no particular reason to do that.
I wouldn't run any errands through the city, walking around markets and queueing before the desks of bureaucrats, nor would I sit in cafes waiting for unpunctual lovers and acquaintances while jotting down notes in an old notebook formerly used to failingly learn a foreign language. I only liked the idea of unwaiting, as if a lonely young woman would put on an elegant gown, earrings and parfum and then would prepare a large suitcase in order to wait for a man at the train station to take her home. It is not that the man weren't to arrive, but the only certainty she had is that she still didn't know him nor when would he arrive.
"Niet om er afschied te nemen,
of om mij op reis te begeven,
ben ik het station ingegaan,
maar om tussen de mensen te staan,
om ergens heen te gaan." -Ed Hoornik
[To the train station I went,
Not to begin a journey myself,
Or even to bid you farewell,
But to stand between all people,
Who are living for some goal,
For somewhere to go.]
Before I jotted down the list of what I endeavour to do "today", I stand for a moment in the patio standing by the roses and peppermint leaves surrounded by a fence of cement, looking into the sky and smoking one only cigarette, perhaps just trying to make sure to ruin the chemical balance of the day right before it started, as if sometimes murder would be the only possible degree of freedom granted to the inmates of a prison in a far-away island where they all had been sent on solitary confinement for the sole crime of immortality.
Then the list of my tasks for the day would be nothing like the heroic tasks performed by other people as they leave the house in order to jump fresh into life, board on a train and just like Herr Samsa, spend hours back and forth travelling in between clients and providers fulfilling with scientific precision the meticulous demands of "making something happen". Thus, I begin my list:
- Conquer the world
- Not sleep one single minute through the day
- Get to the page 170 of a certain novel
- Feel a little less contempt for the city and the country
- Write a philosophical novel
- Try to understand the worst opera ever written
And yet the reason why I refused to sleep in one second more is because I am well aware that it might take years and centuries to achieve any of the above, perhaps with the excepcion of escape or love, which only takes one minute - to be at the wrong time in the wrong place; but reaching yet the 170th page of a novel might be a lot more difficult, because my usual habit of reading - that perhaps has to do with my laziness of heart and extreme inability to concentrate, is more similar to the paliative care offered to a dying man, than to actual entertainment, scholarship and acquisition of knowledge.
As a rule, regardless of the time of day and night in which I am reading, I take off my shoes and also my socks, perhaps even the sweater if it is not winter and crawl back to my cave under the silent stairway finding shelter under the blankets, not just one, but all of them, including the sheets and the duvet, carefully placing the worn-out pillow against the wall and just as carefully I place myself comfortably as if entering a coffin that one borrowed from a friend, who's perhaps already dead or rather, in denial of his mortal condition and finds no use for the comfortable artifact.
"There's no possible way one could learn anything reading like a dying person, under the blankets, while a bright sun outside is hammering with burning desire the icy patches of bare skin left unmolested by spectacles and trenchcoats", I whispered to myself yesterday afternoon and realized then how long it would take me to read a whole novel, so that perhaps it would be more effective to write one myself. It never occurred to me that since the most innocent youth, I had trained myself to read novels like a dying person would - always lying in a bed. As a matter of fact, people should learn how to read in libraries and cafes, in the company of other people, perhaps sitting across the TV set in the late afternoon or while trying to avoid the dearth of landscape during a bus ride.
Even the most suidical writers would read their own novels and those of other writers while sitting on a coach, perhaps in the middle of smoking, for who could commit suicide in the middle of smoking a cigarette? That was at least the natural logic of a certain novel in which a young woman had jumped to her death from the balcony of her hotel room yet in the middle of smoking a cigarette, Mary McCarthy I think it was who wrote it, but then one could also think of the author of my novel, who fell asleep in the middle of smoking a cigarette and then had her apartment room in Rome burn down with her unconscious body inside, but then again, this is not technically considered a suicide attempt, just plain stupidity.
And then last night, when I had still not dressed up and made any serious commitments to live as such, I had stepped into the night for a few minutes, making myself participate in the vicious cycles of time, and not in order to go for a little walk, but with the sole intention of buying more cigarettes, perhaps not because I wanted them immediately or because I couldn't go through the night without them, but only because just like it is the case of a good lover or a work of art, the only subjection to the laws of necessity is the common knowledge that they are there, unmovable, staring into you, almost salvaging your skin but yet at a distance discreet enough not to be preferred over simpler things of the world such as wisdom and fear. Yesterday had been a different day though, because the guilt of having slept in 3 hours more than the sun, blocked my access to the Garden of Paradise, when one could unchoose innocence for himself.
"Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
done eis requiem.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi,
done eis requiem sempiternam." -Mozart, "Agnus Dei" in "Requiem Mass in D minor"
[Lamb of God, who takest away the sins
of the world,
Grant them rest.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins
of the world,
Grant them everlasting rest.]
Yet while standing by the front door I took a glimpse of the night, not that I hadn't done that before but then it appeared to me as if the night could no longer salvage me, everything looked so familiar at standstill, clean from the usual tortured landscapes that I drew from my bed holding the novel in between my hands; the trees stood at the same distance from the sky as they always had, it didn't seem particularly dangerous to be alive on that night, and all the turbulent sense of uneasiness hung only from my fingertips and not from the rooves of the houses or the tree tops like I had thought the last time I had really seen a night.
I did feel however that I was dying, no more intensely than I had in other days, but the feeling was then rational and the painless discomfort of the stomach, the taste of food in my mouth, near complete exhaustion, the weight of the eyelids and the fickle of lost desire, all of it, reminded me that it was a fact that I was dying; and while it wasn't from one particular disease or another - what only made matters worse, I found it perplexing and irksome that other people didn't feel the same while the years, meticulously cut into seconds, were tearing themselves away from their hands.
It was a butterfly, and not my own physical discomfort with the "now", what had set free my anxiety. So beautiful this butterfly had been, perhaps even young, lying there dead, the wings still open in an unambiguously glowing yellow, visible even in so late an hour of a wet night in which the asphalt, the trees, the cars, the houses and the night itself seemed to blend into one and only uniform colour that made it impossible to distinguish water from mud. I wondered oftentimes what had been the cause of death and nature didn't come up in my mind as the most gullible murderer; I thought that perhaps the butterly, just like me, had spent too many days of youth lying on a bed of roses, atop a tree, reading a certain novel, and had suddenly died because on account of that.
The wings were shockingly intact, like the skin of a wolverine, a thick smithering yellow that doesn't turn into ochre and bathed in black dots of opal, whereas the tiny body, slender as it was, had already turned half into dust, half into sand, yet nothing rotten, as if flesh had never existed. I began to imagine the nest of leaves and roses where the butterfly had died in the middle of reading a novel, only because I had all over me this stench of eucalyptus that couldn't have come from any other place than the carpet that the wings offered me in lieu of conversation. "Dead things", I thought.
At that hour I craved for the morning, not for the "now", but for the morning at least, and kissed good-bye to my gentle butterfly friend, and the opaque breeze wouldn't have left me for the whole night hadn't it been for a phone call, strange as it sounds. There is a man, a musician, perhaps a lover but definitely a stranger who calls me on the phone every single day of the week at 23:30 on the dot, not missing one single night. The strict punctuality of that romance reminds me often not of love, but of the Viennese public administration, and the endless forms at the old institute of Christian philosophy, that you have to fill paragraph by paragraph, well into dozens of pages, to be turned in in three different places, at three different hours of the day and in different colors, only in order to use a rotten desk with a stench of moth and a broken leg. I can't even imagine the kind of bureaucracy that it would take to love a thing or even worse, a person.
I never thought that punctuality as such, the supreme value of all in my view, would become a recipe for romantic bureaucracy, and while I enjoy the "now" of it all, I might not survive for too long in the narrow space of sentiments rigorously filed by a public servant. I might not be voting for him after all. That's what happens when dreams come true, a lover that always calls on time, a lover that you have never met, therefore you remember him with the greatest fondness usually reserved for dead people and for paintings. A dream that comes true is usually a one-way ticket into the land of regret, and that's perhaps the reason why the world looks a little bit like hell, but with cheaper seats - too many people living out of dreams.
In the meantime, as I navigated through the meticulous conversation, highly intellectual and socially responsible, my mind drifted away, into dreams so different as they were ill, into impossible dreams that were not dreams after all but the most distant geography of vigilant hopes - the world to come cannot have a name; I began sketching conversations out of the simplest gesture of a certain friend or lover that never called, the eternal muse at work in my novel, the simplest finger on the wrist, a line dotted over sand or an empty table in an old cafe, that's all what is needed for a novel; the grandeur of perfect understanding is useless for friendship and for art, there can grow no great love where there's not an abyss between world and man, and between man and man.
I thought about my fragile state of mind, ever so changing, like the wings of a butterfly - that I found still as dead the morning after just a few doorfronts from mine, and the glowing yellow turned out to be orange instead; either I was deceived or the butterfly was getting younger and younger as the dead days walked into the numbness of the wait. I remember a certain theologian friend, G., in a big German city, can't remember exactly which, and how we had once spoken about clinical depression when a friend had been confined to an asylum against his will and how the theologian friend remarked that depression as such is not "life-as-it-happens-to-be" like I had thought but more like a failure of human communication.
It could be still true that all human relationships, or at least the hope thereof, are fundamentally based upon such failure, certainly the world of art is, otherwise there would make no sense to subject oneself to the cruel passage of time, and if I hadn't failed to communicate something at least once, even within the borders of my own person, it wouldn't make sense to write after all. I conquer the morning, before the sun, completely dressed up, only in order to write once more and to not let my deathbed become the sole geographical location of the novel, which is not really a novel but a letter that can never be sent, because it is impossible to finish writing it or send it "today" and I wouldn't know where to send it after all. Somewhere in France, by the seashore, so completely alone, he is sunbathing in the winter sand, oh sanderling, the sun today feels like the sand in your hand. It is not today, even. Only one thing I remember from the novel I was reading: "...and Vienna keeps silent".
De Schilder bezoekt het strand
De zijn de bewegingen:
Een strandloper, een steltloper
vlucht voor de vloed
Nauwering sprokkelen de ogen
soms heeft hij het hoofd
Spreekt tot de einders
een overzijde onder handbereik
Zijn tong aarzelt
waar het blauw eindigt. -Hans van de Waarsenburg
[The Painter visits the seashore]
[These are the motions:
A sanderling, a stilt-walker
In a flight, over the flood of the tide
The eyes gather, so carefully
Sometimes, a head tilts up
He speaks, to the skyline
At hindsight, the further side
The tongue vacilates
Then, where the blue ends.]
The music still plays, all day long, he awaits a whole day, singing aloud, to pick up the headset at 23:29 to make that call at 23:30 so that I will answer at 23:31; but on that fateful day, I wasn't home, I had gone to Den Haag, and since it was a little late to stroll around Scheveningen or Wassernaar, I sat in a small kroeg, around "De Passage", on the Buitenhof and looking into the water and the Mauritiushuis, there is nothing familiar here other than the dog shit in the street corners, and the calls for prayer in a nearby mosque; how deserted it's become, I thought. I am soothed by singing to myself an old popular song, thinking that perhaps I would be in France, so far away, not at home and not in Den Haag, toying with the sand, it's not 6:00 or 23:30, but it is only "now" and "today", the perfect timing for a letter.
"Als ik weg ben voorgoed uit dit land
Als ik woon bij Monton of bif Nice
In een bungalow bij het strand
Waar het weer niet zo guur is en vies
Lig ik fijn in de zon op mijn rug
Om mij heen bloeit de rozamarijn
Ik wil nooit meer naar Holland terug
En ik denk vals: hoe zou het er zijn?
Nog zo nat, nog zo kil
Wat voor weer zou het zijn in Den Haag?" -Annie M. G. Schmidt
[When I am gone for good from this land
When I will be living in Monton or in Nice
In a little bungalow by the seashore
Where the weather is not evil and bleak
I lie on my back in the sun
The rosemary growing in me
I will never see Holland again
And then I will think: What should it be like?
Not so wet, not so cool
What should the weather be like in Den Haag?]