SUNFLOWER YELLOW

Do you know that feeling, when you pay someone a visit and right from the start, when the door opens, you absolutely know you’ve come home? It’s a resonance. It’s your heart rushing ahead, already visiting rooms, merging with every object, curiously making its way through every nook and crease. It’s settling in. That happened to me last night when I and other fellow classmates were invited to one of our teacher’s home and art studio.

You know, I’ve always lived in crowded spaces. Now that I think of it, it’s really funny, because I am a rather austere person and my living quarters are not exuding the same warmth. They’re clean and simple, but cleanness can sometimes rub one of the beneficial coating that insulates, of that much-needed layer that protects the skin from environmental stress. But the homes I’ve lived in have been like nests where one feels emotionally nurtured and safe. Our teacher’s home, too, with its many little treasures piled to the ceiling, covering the walls with astonishing mastery, has had such a powerful impact on my heart. I shall never forget it, for I shall never forget the warmth and the peace and the feeling of protection it greeted me with right from the start.

The squeaking wooden floors felt nice under my feet. A gray, green-eyed cat, came to say hello. A pot of tea on the kitchen table and some biscuits, the overwhelming sensation of having stumbled upon a secret garden, where wild flowers grow amongst other more elegant and well-behaved specimens, in a blending of fragrances and colors that invade one’s senses and demolish one’s inner walls, that was the feeling I got. And the cats, one white, one black, and one in-between, coming and going in a charming way, all plump and gay and soft. I must remember the cats.

There were pots everywhere, and spoons and a chair turned up-side down and hanged on a wall, like an art installation. My mother always complains that our little home is overcrowded. Well, she should have seen this one!! Like one giant Christmas tree, this not so big apartment offers one immense pleasure. In our teacher’s art studio the walls are painted yellow, the color of ripe Italian lemons, the juicy ones, not the pale, bitter variety that I used to find back home, in the supermarkets. A citrus yellow with a tint of orange. Or maybe sunflower yellow, yes, that must have been it, yellow from the sun, set wild by the immensity of a blue summer-sky. And all over the place, from floor to ceiling, his artwork. He showed us some, while the more adventurous of the cats, the gray one, came in to say hello and look us in the eye. And here were his pens and pencils, here books, over there some photos, some brushes, some old music, a cozy armchair, two pillows on the floor for the cats, and all sorts of things, from magazines to sowing machines and paintings. Picture a small apartment, in one of Montreal’s genuine houses, full to the brim. The windows were open, and I bet some of that energy slipped outside the room to wonder the streets at night. Some I carried with me, some was left behind. But the moment I stepped inside that house I not only felt welcomed, I felt completely and utterly at home, curiously casting glimpses in every direction.

The contrast is spectacular. Between my place and this one I see little resemblance. Mine is a little bare, although I’ve tried my best to make it cozy. Barrenness usually gets me, and I feel my heart turn to ice the moment I’m faced with such desolate places. How lucky I am to have grown up among people who know what it means to have a home. I’ve been lifted gently from one place and carried to another all through my life, my transitions eased by the comfort of my surroundings. When made to face the aridity of some places, I would feel abandoned and gloomy, picking up the iciness that came from the walls and seeing that as lack of kindness and consideration. One of my two aunts has made her home a beautiful, almost luxurious space. Another is by vocation a mother, and her home, now refurbished, still pays tribute to that. One grandmother barely has any room left to breathe in her small, one bedroom apartment, what will all the furniture she keeps, while another has an appreciation for antiquities and treasures whatever she still owns that once belonged to her parents. And my mother, well, lets just say it runs in the family? Am I the only one to break the rule? What would one say about me?

I have many homes within me. Places I turn to in moments of deep sorrow, rooms I open only to let their healing energy invade me. One such place was a little apartment my best friend rented while she was a student. Another belonged to my great-grandmother, and two others to friends. I’ve stored them up within me. I know their floors, their walls have supported me, their fragrance has come to my rescue. I feel the morning breeze and hear the seagulls when I open one bedroom door. An auspicious feeling invades me when I think of my mother heating ghee in a pan and adding spices. I am brought to life when I open a window into the cold winter night, the temperature of the room slowly changing. I am with one friend preparing our breakfast, or with another listening to her adventures and the trips she took in South America. I am crowded. My heart is brimming with memories. I should be at home wherever I go. I close my eyes, I knock politely on the door, I turn the handle and walk in, and the people smile as I smile back. I am at home amongst my treasure trove of homes. And now I’ll have a new room to walk in, a room with yellow walls, the color of majestic sunflowers, and three cats, a white one, a black one, and one in-between.

© Teodora Gales 2015-2016

CREATURES OF FEELING

I look out the window and I see the morning sky, blue with a touch of gray, a little bit stern and unyielding. I would have liked a softer shade, like a blanket, velvety, deep, and with a lovely scent of spring, something to wrap around my heart, something sweet and motherly. One longs for one’s mother always, even when the years add up to a two digit number. It is instinctual and thus it need not be excused or shamed. But there is nothing wrong with the sky just as it is. There is nothing wrong with longing either. We are creatures of feeling and imagination, of fearing and dreams, of hopes and nightmares. We stand between worlds with a torchlight in our hands, casting glances in the corners of our being. A few hundred years ago reason brought in illumination, and in the clear air, devoid of heavy perfumes, stripped bare of useless decoration, people held their breath, dazed by the light, while the world felt more solid, the contours more pronounced, the lines straighter, the corners sharper. In the light of reason dragons crawled back into their mountain caves, presumably dormant, but all the while waiting for their revenge.

Understanding is different. It’s a soft glow that reaches even the darkest of corners. It’s a glass of warm milk, the caress of cotton, the scent of summer rain, the smell of home-baked biscuits. It’s a cake ready to be served, the Christmas tree brought in on a cold winter day, a gift, a treasure, building castles in the sand, playing a game, laughing. Understanding stands near the cave calling for the dragons. She has the power to look them in the eyes and the grace to touch their skin, not minding the roughness and the scars, the lizard-like eyes, and their claws. She is the tamer of dragons, the nurser of children, the sharer of dreams. She is Marry Poppins in disguise, come with the winds. She has rosy cheeks, a pointed nose, and she sings lullabies, winning the hearts of children, and melting those of their parents.

They say that life is harsh. That people fight each other. In order to survive, one must be prepared. People must have personal convictions as strong as armors, and principles instead of spears. |They must ride their values, pride shielding them from blows, the enemies frightened by the majestic decorum they’ve surrounded themselves with. And if you look back, it’s what people always did. They traded their feelings for the show, speechless before the astonishing display of power: feathers, paint, rich drapery, sumptuous furs and sparkling jewels, the generals marching before their armies in full splendor, the display of manliness promising victory and fame. A world of intricate magic, like a dream, where battles are fought on stage, with swords and riders and the right kind of shading. I guess we never grow old enough to be adults, we never do.

Life, in the end, just is. Whether we see it as triumphant or not is just a matter of personal convictions. We cannot reason this out of the blue sky or ask it of the Sun. Winter is just as cold, the rain just as relentless. We might as well duck under the covers and pretend it’s not happening, or put on our finest whitest clothes and march on, never minding the puddles, the dirt, and the cars that speed past us tainting our attire. I guess they’re both funny ways in which to face life. What the sages tell us, though, is to eat the cold. I found this line in a book and loved it so. Eat the cold! an old master said. Face your inner dragons, bow before them, understand that you are merely a child lost in a big world, and do what wise little children do when their benevolent nannies hold them by their hands: walk, carry on, believe. Do not go for the tantrums, do not succumb to fear, become the rain, get lost in the blue, and eat the cold.

Easier said then done, some are born with it, some are not. Some have real battles to fight and no smiling nannies. Some find themselves lost in a world of illusion, drinking their way out of life, not able to face the agony of a new beginning, the unyielding sky, the ever-falling rain, the strong odors of a city and it’s towering buildings, it’s agonizing strength. Others, the more fortunate ones, are born with belief, an inner conviction that life is beautiful, that good will ultimately prevail, that there is nothing on earth that cannot be transformed. What’s wrong with the costumes, they say? Why should we not build cathedrals, why should we not parade our hearts before an ever-changing pantheon wishing for a better crop, a richer meal, a healthier child? Why should we not believe in miracles? There’s nothing wrong with life just as it is, there’s nothing terrible about making a spectacle out of ourselves. Life is, after all, a work of art, a maze, a symphony, the accumulation of prayers whispered in the dead of night. Life is tinted with red, the red of blood and the red of lipstick, with blue, the blue of skies and the blue of royalty, with the yellow of daffodils and city cabs, the green of forests, the violet of wizard cloaks, the gray of concrete and mold, the white of angels and sugar. Life is all about color, all about music, all about movement.

Comedy and tragedy were born sisters. A smile makes the difference, and the ability to kindly turn to laughter when life gets too serious and our hearts grow rigid. A laughter, they say, is a potent cure. Some, however, are born a little too serious, a little too stern, a little too stiff, like the old man Scrooge aging away at his desk, counting pennies. For those, the Fates have reserved a special feast, angels revealing themselves in splendor, gods whispering in their years, spirits visiting their abodes, a shocking display of other-worldliness, fantasy charging in to cure one of too much thinking. I guess one is allowed to grow up only just so much and never fully. When people get too rigid, life makes a spectacle of them, playing tricks with little concern for propriety and morals.

But even those who err should be held in kindness. What would have been the point if Scrooge where younger and more attractive? Dickens knew that contrast wins, that the further we pull apart the scarier life becomes, that life on earth is a show and those who succeed are those who master their acting skills. Many have toiled and died unknown so that a few could sing their names and praise their meager achievements. Like the Impressionists who saw beauty in something as inexpensive and ethereal as light, others have painted the peasants, the working class, the destitute. Life is a gift, they say, ready to be weaved into beautiful tapestries and displayed inside the castle walls.

We are a meeting, born in a fleeting instance, when soul touches soul and they both recognize each other. We are descending from a crowd of people we call our ancestors, people we never met, we will never know, and have little time to consider. Yet somewhere within us they reside, their songs mingled with ours, their hopes and dreams floating around us. They are our family. And what is a family but a condensation of light, each with its own qualities, its own vibration? Some colder, others warmer, some harsher, others more indulging. Indeed we do not stand alone, we do not move alone, we do not dream on our own. For wherever we find ourselves, whatever we’ve become, we exist because of them also, our bodies a luxurious combination of ancestry and divine intervention. In the end, life is, but what we make of her is only up to us. And so I bow before them all: fighters, idealists, poets, and all them men and women of sound common-sense. I call them my family. And yes, we are never alone and when we come, when we conquer new shores and shout our names with pride, we stand in multitudes, like armies, prepared for victory.

Written on the 6th of March, 2016.

© Teodora Gales 2015-2016

BORN

Life is rather simple. We are born. The rest, all those struggles that consume so much of our time are mere contemplations of our life’s purpose, for the greatest mystery, the most astonishing thing that ever happened to us is birth. Death doesn’t really count. We are baffled by the time’s passage, we do not understand why our skin falls in great wrinkles, why our bloodshot eyes are tired, why so much of our life has passed us by, why decades have turned to instances, and why history plays tricks on us. We learn that time is linear, but it is not. We are a droplet of water stirring the pond in every direction. And we remain centered throughout our lives while the scenery, the costumes, and everyone else changes. We do too, but only when faced with our own reflection. For a second there we look, bemused, at our strangeness, but the strangeness vanishes when we close our eyes. In the end, we keep to our own conclusions, we do not move a lot, we do not make great leaps, we simply breathe, and with each new breathe we give and take a little, only to adjust our balance.

All throughout our lives we’re faced with the consequences of being born. Like a tapestry, our life stands behind us, intricate and strange, ever-growing. It is our life’s project, our greatest task, the challenge we face. To make sense of our existence is our most important mission, the one task we’ve all registered for. And like soldiers on the battlefield, we fight alone.

Some are born with an inner sense of security, the understanding that no matter what happens, life cannot destroy them. Others are born in quietude, in a world of lullabies and comfort. They do not hear the trumpets that for some, not necessarily unfortunate, sound the beginning of each new day. Others, born in fear and sorrow, will never learn to walk. Life urges them back instead of pulling them forward.

If we were born clean, everything would be easier, but alas, we are not. We come into this world with a particular way of seeing and of doing things. We feel centered in solitude, but the moment we step out the door, the moment we meet a strange face, we coalesce into something that might take us by surprise. We crystallize into patterns of thinking that we might not even recognize. We are a meeting, born in between breaths. Like mountains we rise from the depths, the moment two continents meet and press themselves one against each other. Our existence, unbeknownst to us, is of cataclysmic proportions. How strange, then, to find a center of tranquility in the midst of such turmoil, yet we do, but only for short instances, because life at the center of things is, in the end, artless. It might bring us peace, but nothing grows from stillness, except for stillness.

We have a family, we have roots. The land that held us in our infancy is the land that nourished our imagination. Childhood is our Golden Age precisely because it cannot be replaced. All else can be changed, from our curtains to our food and furniture, we can move everything around until we are satisfied, but nothing can change our past or alter the first few years of our life. Should our lives be nothing but the reverberation of our past deeds? Should we surrender to those forlorn ages, when the earth was ripe and the air was fresh? Should we become victims of our childhoods, heads bowed obediently as not to unnerve the Gods? No, this is not out task. Yet birth, being the kind of event that has forever altered our perspective, lies dormant in our childhood, buried beneath the fragrances of warm milk and freshly backed bread. With a little spoon we must dig for it, unearth it, comprehend it, and if that is not possible, we must write about it. Back then, when we entered this world crying, we heard the music of the spheres for the last time, and that music, that little verse that was given to us, is what we stand by. Our disposition, our way of meeting the world, the fabric of our bones, the beating of our hearts, is part of our inheritance. The rest comes from our surroundings, though it’s almost impossible to separate the two.

Nobody told us that we are similar and that we fail in similar ways. Nobody showed us that we have peers and that we are, in some way or another, predictable. Much of what we are told stands for individuality. Celebrating our uniqueness, the world has no means of distinguishing between us and our surroundings, no ways of explaining birth, the one major event in our lives when, out of our little pool of warm comfort we emerged into crude reality. But we did not emerge alone. Some say that we have angels to protect us, others speak of guiding spirits. The heavens move in predictable patterns, as we’re born under the rule of stars, one sign assigned to each. But there are only twelve, and we are brothers and sisters, joined by the force of destiny. We open the newspapers and look for our future, recognizing that somewhere out there lies a source of knowledge, very much like the ancient oracles who held the keys to our lives. I wonder if it is the future we are looking for? I, too, have searched for understanding, spending years excavating the past. Who am I? Why am I here? There is no tool and no God to answer this question, no psychologist to demystify our behavior, no scientific study to disperse the puzzlement, the doubt, no authority to put an end to our questions. I am here because I happened to be born, and I am the way I am because of that, also. Birth. No one can explain the why, although many try to. There are belief systems that speak of former selves, of lives spent long ago, when people dressed differently and trusted in curious things. Some say that we have a choice and that, in the clarity of after life, we choose to be born again. That is comforting, helpful to those of a particular inclination. But there are many other ways in which to explain the mystery of our existence, all just as valid. Some believe that waters parted when God gave the order, he who called us forth from the earth and, after six busy days, chose to rest the seventh. People believe in many things simply because they see a reflection there, a few notes of the song they once heard. Birth. There is not a single entity in this world that can come up with a definitive truth, and no entity beyond us that will speak to all and be heard by all. The departed and the angelic whisper their secrets, they do not shout them out loud. As the priestesses once did, they only speak to those who make an effort, renounce their creeds, and listen. But that is not a choice, it is a gift of birth.

When we seep through the content of our lives, we see that all things follow patterns. We pick one thread and then another, and, if inclined to do so, we try to match the colors. We come up with stories, we reinvent ourselves, but we always do so remembering our childhood, the first sounds we heard, the foods we ate, the smells we’ve attached to various objects and places. Both nature and nurture have made us who we are, one through temperament, the other through a constant change of scenery. If it weren’t for life, we wouldn’t have moved, nestled in our mother’s bodies for ages, unwilling to face the cold, the sharpness, and ourselves. But life hasn’t always agreed with us, we react, and out of our reaction comes forth either sweetness or sorrow or both. In the end we’re left with a wrinkled face and a heap of memories, some our own, others come from people we’ve met and places we’ve traveled to, a mess of stories that, unless revised, seem to mean very little. I shouldn’t wonder if an unrevised life is worth living, but I do, it is my disposition to do so, for a life is worth living anyway. What comes of it, depends much on each individual, his nature, and the nurture he received.

The questions we have are not just our own. They are questions born out of chaos and misunderstanding. We seek harmony, which means stillness, which fills our hearts with a sense of peace and reverence. In tranquility we surrender to our own nature, to the creatures we were before life, this big, messy life, happened to us. To see the faceless self is to see God, to meet the center, to rejoice in the unquestioned life, the simple life we once had and lost, our Eden, or Golden Age.

The first years of our lives set the tone for everything there is to come. They are not to be read as books, but to be experienced as symbols, their meanings buried under layers and layers of faces and embraces, like treasures filled with rubies and gold. And even though we change costumes and move to different places, in the end our bodies bear the marks of childhood. The sages teach us how to live in the present, how to embrace change, how to be happy. But happiness, true happiness, the one that makes you long for tranquility, the one that shows you the perfection and simplicity of being you, is not one to keep your hands busy while weaving the tapestry of your life. It is, in the end, a matter of choice, or, better said, a matter of inclination. If you are inclined for a life of contemplation, your work of art will be as fragile and fleeting as a butterfly’s existence. If, on the other hand, you have a will to paint cathedrals, brace yourself. But no matter the choice, there is one single moment in life that defines who we are. No wonder the ancient astrologers deemed it to be the most important point in the charts they drew for both the common and the high-born. As the heavens moved, the exact degree of the sign rising in the east was meant to show the life of the native, his or her vitality, his or her appearance, and the way he or she is forever destined to meet the world.

Happiness is a disposition that we adore to the point of losing ourselves in it. When this happens, our past dissolves. Only on stormy days do we see the waves threatening our small vessels, their mightiness frightening us to the core. Then, for just an instant, when our brains are quiet and our bodies alert, we act as the faceless self that we might have also experienced in stillness. In between those states, one of action, the other of contemplation, the past rushes in to fill the gaps and the mind wonders. And then we are, as some might say, confused, not knowing where to go and what to do, not knowing who we are and where we come from.

In the end we like to rush things. We measure everything according to our lives, imposing our human time frame onto the rest of the world. We do not comprehend that the Universe is very old, we do not feel this in our bones. We might read about the dinosaurs, but to imagine the world as it should have been when they ruled this earth is something we only do for a split of a second. Infinity is even harder to grasp, its existence being in deep discordance with our human condition. Ego is our ultimate boundary, some say, the one preventing us from experiencing bliss. But in between those peek moments, when we expand altogether defying our constitution, we are asked to examine our lives. We are asked to ponder their meaning, to try to come up with solutions, to try to make something of them. And if truth lies somewhere else, then it is not for reaching those states of illumination that we examine our lives, but for the possibility of making art.

Contemplating life and dealing with the consequences of being born is not for the fainthearted. There are moments when the magnitude of our failures threatens to annihilate us. There are instances when we feel trapped in a world that is nothing like the one we’ve pictured in our dreams. There are times when we feel at odds with our very being, as if wearing costumes that are either too big or too small but never a perfect fit. If this happens to be the case, then contemplation, which has, by its very nature, much to do with a persons predisposition, is the requisite for artistic creation. We cannot make anything of our lives unless we deal with our past. Some say we’re here to learn and, through learning our lessons, to grow, to advance on a spiritual path. Others might say that we are here to suffer and make the best of our situation with as much dignity as possible. This, too, falls under the rule of nature. What nurture gives us is the juicy parts of our stories. We might be inclined to meditate, but if we happen to be born amongst people of revolutionary disposition, then we’re in for trouble. How we deal with that trouble, how we end up telling our story, is precisely the thing we’ll be remembered for. Nobody will ever know us, not really, and nobody is able to make the distinction between the nature part and the nurture part in ourselves, but all everyone sees is the mountain, or the tapestry, or the song we’ve decided to sing. All everyone remembers is the trail we left behind, which is not the answer to our question, which has nothing to do with truth, but is our own little way of dealing with the consequences of being born. Old age and displacement have but one role: to make us sort through our memories, to make us go back to the first years of our lives, to force us to acknowledge the importance of being born, for nothing ever happens in life that is not a consequence of that cataclysmic event.

Those, like myself, who move to different countries, those who face such an abrupt change of decorum, are faced with the need of sorting themselves out. In one way or another, they must do something, they must stand for something, they must take action for life urges them to do so. And it is now that you understand how deeply rooted you are in your childhood, how difficult it is to move from one place to another, and just how much it means to have a Golden Age, your own, personal Eden, to go back to in times of trouble. Yet he who dwells in the past has no future. So life is rather simple. You are born, and the rest follows. How you deal with those consequences, is what shapes your life and your future. For it is in such moments that you are born again and the most significant event of your life, your birth, is reenacted. In such precious moments, rare times brought in by a total dissolution of one’s neatly built life, a portal opens and for an instance, for just a split of a second, you hear the music again, your song, your line, the one that impregnated your nature with its melody and echoed through life pulling you further and further into completion. Life is simple and life has a little secret: we mistake birth for a historic event, which might as well be a remnant or a particular world view. Yet every now and then you get to be reborn. So what if birth is a symbolic event? And what if, just like the first time, you get to hear the music?

Written on the 4th of February 2016.

© Teodora Gales 2015-2016

FIELDS OF GLORY

I have been flooded by memories. Every single day upon waking I am visited by familiar scents and vistas. They come rushing in, great torrents that threaten to disrupt my tranquility, sounding their approach from a great distance. They disturb my sleep, the wake me up in the dead of night with their wolf-like calls, cornering me. I toss and turn not knowing how to put an end to their assault. Between my sheets, in the warm embrace of my bed, I fight. The battle is fierce. On my part at least, it is as noble as I can make it: no fists, no heavy armory, no blood-thirst. I draw up my sword with a knightly gesture, hoping to impress before I hit. But the memories are ferocious, like mighty creatures woken from their age-long slumber, they charge with little consideration for my humanity, my frailty, and my devotion. Without a single cry I am torn to pieces.

I might as well admit that I like it. But I shouldn’t give in to my inclinations, for I am expected to fight my way out with courage and determination. People I love keep making inquiries: how are you? What will you do next? Have you settled in? I haven’t. I haven’t had the bravery to let go of my past. I haven’t felt the need to make myself noticeable. My great ambitions seem to have played a trick on me. I believe they’re enjoying themselves back home, strolling along the garden paths, patting the dogs, talking to the birds, admiring the scenery. They’ve stayed behind to help my mother bake her delicious sourdough bread or prepare the Indian food she so much adores. They’ve been locked with the spices in little jars, knowingly hiding from anyone’s view. They’ve hidden themselves in the barn, enjoying the howling wind and the restless tree branches. Maybe they’ve gone to pay tribute to the dead, over the road, in the little cemetery, while listening to the morning bells in the frosty winter air. I wonder, are they still helping my mother with her daily chores just as I used to?

I’ve spent the last five years of my life planning this trip, envisioning myself as a pioneer woman on her decisive journey across the ocean. I was driven by the ambition to prove myself. I was nostalgic to meet the places I’d only met in books, and romantic enough to plan a trip by boat. I had an interest in playing out that part as best I could, always worrying about the costumes, the lighting, the script. Everything had to be perfect, historically accurate, and beautifully choreographed. I was merely waiting the Universe’s stop lights to turn green for I already knew to have the Fates by my side and the stars in proper alignment. And everything did work accordingly, except for a little alteration in my heart’s complexion, a change of color so subtle I hadn’t noticed it before.

I am changed by those years and I refuse to admit it. Only when consumed by my memories, with my limbs resting motionless under the covers and my head on the pillow do I give in and accept the truth. I have been altered. I have suffered a process of transmutation. I am not the one I used to be five years ago when I decided to immigrate to a strange new land, compelled to listen to a restless heart that found no consolation in her immediate surroundings. Yet I’m still wearing my old mask, retelling the same story to whomever is interested. I refuse to give in when the lights of the day shine upon me in their stimulating glory. I look out the window and chant the name of my adoptive country, just so that I could get accustomed to this mind-blowing situation. How did I end up here? And once again my heart refuses to be tamed.

It’s a warm, strange winter for these parts of the world, yet very much like the ones I knew back home. The people are friendly, respectful, the birds keep chirping for the change of season. Sometimes it snows and the white settles in gently upon the roofs. I am reminded that Providence exists, that I did not misinterpret the signs. Yet how should I explain the reluctance I feel to take part in all of this?

I remember my town of birth, its streets, its buildings, and my grandparents. My great-grandmother’s apartment on the seventh floor and her porcelain figurines. My first years of school, the sound of rain, the Christmas trees we used to decorate. My parents, our dogs, the two little turtles we had for many years. I remember the silence in winter, the warm air of spring, the smell of autumn in the country; my mother’s garden, watering the rows of carrots and eating apples right from the tree; washing windows always on the wrong kind of day, my hands going numb with the cold; eating freshly baked peanuts and almonds, stealing a piece of chocolate right after the meals just to balance the tastes and satisfy my appetite for more; writing down recipes and searching for the most luxurious cakes, the most eye-catching dishes, the best of smoothies. I remember my father while he rode his bicycle in the winter, his cheeks red from all the effort and, as he told us, the joy. I remember working in the garden under the blazing sun, attentively pulling the weeds and always on the look-out for undesired bugs.

I’ve been run over by all this and more, the sound of waves, the smell of algae, the salty taste of my sun-burnt skin. Here the earth feels different. Here I’m not quite what I used to be. I didn’t expect the change, I never felt it coming. But slowly, unknowingly, the seasons have played their part each in its turn bestowing their gifts and their virtues upon my heart. I have fought nature when ice fell from the sky threatening to destroy our small crops. I have read books while enjoying the August sun, I have harvested pumpkins and carved them for Halloween. I have eaten apple pies and delighted myself with warm chestnuts. I have done all this and more not knowing how little strength I had to resist them, how unguarded my spirit was and how merciless they fought for the rulership of my soul. And now that I’m here, I’m searching for the same smells, the same sounds, but they are gone.

This, however, is the gift of life. These are the seeds I’ve carried from the old world. These are my treasures, the stories that will soon grow into legends, casting their majestic shadows before me, teaching me that every now and then one dies only to be reborn. Thinking of my great-grandfather, I try to imagine him playing his violin and reading french novels, mindful of everything noteworthy, embellishing his books with heartfelt annotations. This is how he kept trace of time. This is where he keeps on living as a man in his prime who loved his only child, a daughter, more than anything in the world and spoiled her, and taught her to be proud of her descent, her education, and her strength. This little that I know I wish to be the seed for stories to come. I wish the new world to be made better by my great-grandfather’s ethereal presence. I wish his love to cross the ocean as many others did for no one immigrant travels alone. We come as armies do, in multitudes. We come in large numbers, the children, the parents, the ghosts, the dead and the unborn, the lost and the promised. And we rest upon these shores in bewilderment, gasping for air, reaching for support, realizing a little too late how unprepared we are and how uprooted we feel.

All it takes is time, and trust. But for the first few months we need to keep repeating our alphabet, as little children do, till we regain our voice and find our balance. We start from scratch, always looking back to see our loved ones on the other shore, weaving their hands and wishing us good-bye. It is a comforting thing to know we’re still attached. History is our refuge, our secret garden, our Eden. We live in midair, suspended in time, between the old and the new, and our limbs are weak, our minds confused, our hearts bewildered.

I am a multitude. I wake up in the dead of night to the call of others. I open my eyes and remember the past, I close them, and I imagine my future. I am not alone and I feel their agitation for something in me has been uprooted. One by one I shall let them ease their conscience, and when this happens I shall be prepared.

I came here for love and not out of ambition, and while I’ve pretended otherwise, my heart knew better. All these years she trained herself in the art of living, letting the mind do both the worrying and the planning. She knew that no writer can force the Muse to call upon him, that ruthless ambition is useless, that to will the gods into submission is impossible. She aligned herself with the winds and delighted in the rich taste of ripe autumn fruits. She picked her way through the fields and played with the dogs, running and laughing in the garden. She embraced their warm bodies and whispered words of comfort, she warmed their paws in the winter and stood by them in old age. She gazed at the stars, learning their names and tracing their contours with trembling hands. She learned, she dreamed, she lived, and she changed complexion. All in the dark, waiting for the new world’s fields of glory.

Written on the 6th of February, 2016

© Teodora Gales 2015-2016

CREDENDO VIDES

All cities smell like something, but this one doesn’t. I have barely found any people who wear perfume, and if they are, it’s so subtle that it’s almost imperceptible. When you pass by one of the many restaurants this city’s famous for, you smell nothing. The best you can expect from such encounters is a faint scent of burgers (even when they don’t have burgers on the menu). And that’s about it. And mind you, there are all sorts of culinary traditions around here.

When the wind blows, which it does quite often (to my greatest delight), it’s a mighty ascetic wind. It carries nothing and expects nothing of you, too. It’s not a messenger, as winds are supposed to be. It’s just one of this city’s many curiosities that its winds, making their way through the downtown labyrinth of buildings, conduct themselves in a manner that European winds would deem impolite. They want nothing of you. It’s as if the whole atmosphere wants nothing of you. Keep your cool, they say. We want you to be as little invasive as possible. Don’t smell nice, you might disturb someone’s scent preferences.

Except for a few people, the majority dresses casually, with a little too much disdain for dirt and dust, loose laces, unbuttoned coats, shirts (and trousers). It’s as if they couldn’t care less, which they don’t. They seem to be falling apart, but they aren’t. They’ve mastered a terrible kind of nonchalance, one that allows them to make whatever they want of themselves. The city asks for no dress code, so why should they mind.

Beauty lies dormant in this city. You can see her slumbering behind doors, or gasping for air beneath a dirty winter coat. She, who’s known for her generosity, finds herself trapped in a city that hasn’t made up it’s mind about whom to serve. The gods have departed, being driven away by the people. The churches are closed. You can feel it in the air: one big nothing, no trace of life.

People keep asking how you are, and, quite obviously, you say fine. You smile to them just as they smile to you, but soon you get tired of this game. Everyone’s polite, but their lives are privet, locked behind walls of steel.

There’s no music here, either. Those who sing for a dime or two, at the metro, barely touch your heart. One evening I heard Claire de Lune performed, but it found no echo in me. Even I could doubt the player’s accuracy, but that’s not what made it impossibly said. It’s that she, herself, was just an illusion. She had no substance.

And they say the arts thrive here. I wander why. I also wander if there’s something wrong with me. Maybe I cannot communicate any more. Maybe my heart’s been turned to stone. Maybe I have a nose issue, or an eye issue, or any other issue that has made my senses ineffective. Who knows? When everybody feels fine around you (and people do seem to be enjoying themselves), you kind of doubt you own sanity. Every morning I keep listening for my heartbeat, hoping that it didn’t abandon me in my sleep. It’s there all right, but with it there’s profound sadness running through my veins. A constant ache that I cannot get rid of, a void that seems to grow with each new day, fed by this city’s carelessness. Faced with all this, my heart grows thicker walls. She has become a little too critical for my own pleasure, but she has a point. She shows me how beauty can be mistreated when gorgeous young ladies don’t know how to dress themselves properly. Their hair should be combed, she says, their attire should be elegant. Look at their manners, look at their posture, and nobody taught them how to walk properly. My heart wishes me to become a fine lady, to refine my own manners, to straighten my back, to arrange my coat, to keep an eye for everything that is out of place. My heart skips a beat when she sees someone elegantly dressed, and every now and then, wen she does stumble upon a trace of perfume, she almost cries with relief. She’s behaving in a way that is quite strange, even to myself. Soon she won’t be able to hold herself in place, and God knows what’ll spill out of her. Whom am I becoming? Is she orchestrating my transformation?

It may be that I have never had the courage to acknowledge my allegiance. I stand for love, the deep, all consuming kind, the one only seen in fairy tales or movies. I am the ultimate romantic. I love beautiful gowns and fantastic weddings. I love the sea, the evenings, and late night walks in the city (not this city, though). I love castles and grand fire places and lovely, decadent cakes. I absolutely adore Christmas and I still believe in Santa Claus (I actually believe in anything that is magical and resourceful… I love gifts). I haven’t grown up with the Tooth Fairy, but I’m ready to stand by her as well. You see, I wasn’t born to be a princess. Pink has never been my color and I never ever talked about marriage. All I ever wanted was a career. I have been fueled with the all consuming desire to prove myself, to stand right next to the world’s most respectable scientists, philosophers, artists. I collected big names just as others might have collected stamps. I have always lived in their presence, even if they’ve never lived in mine. Indeed, I wasn’t born wishing to be married. I was born wishing to conquer the world. I wasn’t born wearing pink, I was born wearing blue. So why on earth did I behave like a damsel in distress in all my dreams? Why wasn’t I strong, why didn’t I have the means to stand on my own two feet? I was Boneless Chick(en) every single night! In many of my dreams I was weak and in desperate need for protection. And worst of all, every knight in shining armor that passed me by was simply avoiding my pleading eyes. And because nobody cared for me, I put up a show, piling weakness on top of weakness.

I wasn’t born a princess. Young girls usually lose their interest in such childish games when they find that they’re already charming and powerful. Society helps, too, while analysts are being payed to decode and demystify our fairy tales. Women are strong, these days, although not always ladylike. I, on the other hand, am totally out of sync with the times and my age, too. I was a very serious child that wished to be a leader. I wanted to die a child prodigy long before I could even prove my talents. I surely wasn’t planning to get married. I was pushing my wedding day far into old age while I was still learning to count. All I knew is that I wanted to be great at something. The world was my playground and I was the queen.

I was born a queen, although I never knew this. Little girls who wish to be princesses fall out of their love for pink dresses. I, on the other hand (albeit unknowingly), was really serious about this. I never understood people who said toys are for small kids only. I was never quite satisfied with grown ups who refused to watch a “kid movie” or read a “kid novel”. I always cheered for superheros and wept when Cinderella found her prince. But unlike others, I took all these things seriously, as if they were matters of great consequence. Even as a little child I sensed that kids knew they were little children and indluged in “little” games. I, on the other hand, knew I was all grown up. When I played, I, like the aboriginal peoples, kept the world alive with my imagination and my games. I was a person of consequence. I had responsibilities. I wished upon shooting stars not because of some custom, but secretly knowing that if I skipped this one important step, the shooting star’s power would diminish over time. When I went to see Finding Neverland I cried with every living soul in that movie: I do believe in fairies, I do, I do! I had many mantras in my life, but the one I cherished most was credendo vides. I have always been a believer in disguise, a lover of Jane Austen and romantic comedies. I’ve also had my mister Darcy, but I never said this out loud. When others, more courageous souls, vouched their love for such and such character, I only shared my heart’s desires with my best friend. I was the little girl who at the ripe age of three loved Michael Jackson (not for his music, but for his looks). I’ve always been scouting my perimeter for good looking men, but I did so while vouching my celibacy. Who would take me, though, a girl who’d like to board the Orient Express just to feel elegant and ladylike and mysterious for a while? Who would accept my love for the highlands and indulge me in night-time walks in Venice? Who would take me across the ocean and up on the Eiffel tower? Who would show me the icebergs and share with me tales of bravery?

Maybe I’m no scientist and no mathematician. I’m just a girl whose heart is coming apart in a city that’s as cold as steel. I walk past the Ritz and I weep while I tell myself that I, too, am worth it. You see, I’ve never asked for much in my life, not really. But if someone’s willing to show some regard, I know to be the one who would walk till the end of the world and back. And knowing this, knowing that for true love I would do anything, scares me more than anything in the world, because you see, I have always led two lives, and to walk down the aisle in a white gown would mean to show people a side of me that I’ve always kept hidden. I am not a tomboy and never have been. I am a queen and I demand a king. So I guess I am asking for a lot… in love I ask for everything, the Sun, the Moon, and even mount Olympus. And who, by all means, can rise to such high expectations? Maybe I still have some soul searching to do. Maybe I need to climb down the ladder. Maybe I need to acknowledge life as life is. Maybe I need to start believing in myself. Or maybe I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, in a city that’s hard, and whose hardness is scratching relentlessly at my heart. Credendo vides.

© Teodora Gales 2015-2016

ICARUS

2016 01 19
Angel in the Park

I have always praised the Importance of things. I have also expressed many judgments based on the same attribute: this thing, is it Important or not? How Relevant is it… I mean, to us as a human species, to the Universe even. God made the world in one week and he made everything in it, so whatever you have to say should be pretty Important or else… or else you don’t stand a chance (that is, your work doesn’t stand a chance because it’s not Important enough).

To tell you the truth, Importance has many disguises. I have been so completely absorbed by the need to do something Worthy, something Memorable, something Remarkable that I ended up doing nothing. Having a writer’s block in every area of your life is a major sign of being stuck. As Kate Winslet says in one of my favorite movies, The Holiday, you’re actually supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for God’s sake! What happens when the author gets stuck on big words? He writes letters to his friend just to get the juices flowing (and the joints lubricated). He starts small. Well, I haven’t experienced this illumination until now.

When Zola wrote The Belly of Paris he actually wrote an ode to cabbage and sausages. I have never read something as mouthwatering as his description of a charcutier’s shop window display. It was exhilarating! He also wrote about lace and petticoats, trains, murder, love, joy, madness, epilepsy, drunkenness, dirt, mining, war, death, friendship, madness, idealism. He wrote about flowers, too, and priests. He wrote about Paris and Rome and Lourdes. You might consider these to be important, educational, highly relevant. But they are not. Everyone writes about the same things. There’s nothing new under the Sun and no subject left untouched. People have shared their views on very much the same issues since the dawn of times. Nowadays we talk about UFO’s and The Law of Attraction and consider these to be matters of great consequence. Let me tell you something, they’re not.

Why does one love a book? Because it’s nicely written. Why does one love a painting?Because the painter knew what he was doing; he was a marvelous painter. Do I love Mona Lisa because of what she might be hinting at while she’s smiling? Do I want to know her thoughts, just so that I would uncover her secrets? Maybe she’s had a satisfying breakfast. Maybe she liked to pose (maybe da Vinci was really handsome). Maybe she had lost some weight just so that she could have her portrait drawn. Who knows, maybe she used to be fat. Why do we care to unravel the mysteries of her smile? What makes us pry into her mind? We are captivated, we are drawn to her, we come to the Louvre to see her, to be with her in the same room for just one second. Part of it is the tale that’s been spun around her. Part of it is marketing. Part of it is her smile. She’s not huge, while other paintings are. She’s disappointingly small and the room is disappointingly crowded. Yet we flock to her feet (it’s just a matter of speaking) as we flock to the remains of a saint. It’s the thrill, the possibility, the joy that keeps us returning to Mona Lisa. Yet if we were to determine her importance in the great scheme of things we would find that she’s not that much important. She’s just a smiling lady.

Many works of art have been commissioned by kings and popes, which makes them historically important. From books and paintings we also get our understanding of various other cultures and traditions. We step into the past and become acquainted with the old ways of doing things. We are transposed and changed, our understanding is enlarged. They are “of considerable influence and authority”, which definitely makes them important. Now, forget about the kings, forget about their daughters and their love affairs, what do you see? A man on a horse in a fancy, albeit weird, costume. You see a family, two lovers, a dog, someone enjoying his shooting party, or a beautiful lady in her prime. Some are smiling, others are more serious. To tell you the truth, painters have always been in need of financial support. So whoever payed for the work was establishing a painter’s “prominence”. Things changed later in life when painters rediscovered light and fell in love with forests, fields, and sun flowers. The smallness of life was into full view.

It’s not the artists job to pretend so much from his work. Most of the times the artist has to be humble, or else he gets stuck. Good works of art never spring from overconfidence, although artists are renowned for their big egos. I wonder why? Does anyone know what a struggle it is to show up every day at work? To face the blank page and pray for inspiration? Inspiration is not someone you can flatter. She does not come when you expect her to, she does not enjoy being pursued. She doesn’t even like milk and cookies! To be inspired is to be centered, to renounce all earthly desires, to let go of plans and assumptions. You paint and write what she wants you to paint and write, and it’s never the other way around. So why do artists have such a big ego? I personally think it’s a way of coping with pain and defeat. Deep down every artist knows that he’s at someone else’s mercy. Each song, each painting, each drawing, is a small victory. So when you enjoy someone else’s art, know that to get there, the artist has already died a thousand deaths. That’s why he has a big ego.

Every single morning he tries his wings, as Icarus did, and every single evening he fells to the sea. And in between this and that he writes a song, his swan song. The ancients called it hubris, we call it ego, when it should only be called human. It’s not the act of flying close to the Sun that builds the ego, it’s being born a second time, being urged to write another song, being tempted to try your wings again and again. With each new dawn an artist’s confidence grows and with each night it drops. In time the artist becomes skilled, God has trained him, he has learned navigation, he knows how to swim, he has perfected his wings, he has observed the sky. God, or Fate, or Destiny, has witnessed this and said nothing. Is the artist to be blamed for an inflated ego? Who pulls him from his bed sheets, who sound’s the alarm clock, who wakes him up with a new desire? Why did God banish Adam and Eve when he himself explicitly told them Not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge? Who tempts the artist into sin? Who’s responsible for his act of hubris?

It is only human to have an ego. Icarus died and was not resurrected. The ancient gods did not resurrect people, they just made them stars. That’s why the myth ends without a solution to our problem. But in the East, where life is lived in cycles, we’re being given a way to deal with the consequences of our “pride”. Chop wood, carry water, they say. If Icarus knew this, he might have been saved.

© Teodora Gales 2015-2016

“COMPETE WITH THE DEAD ONES”

Nothing new for today. I haven’t felt inspired to write… or intrigued in any way… or carried off to some place of rapture… But I found a nice quote and I’m going to write it down because it’s good advice:

Never compete with living writers. You don’t know whether they’re good or not. Compete with the dead ones you know are good. Then when you can pass them up you know you’re going good. You should have read all the good stuff so that you know what has been done, because if you have a story like one somebody else has written, yours isn’t any good unless you can write a better one. In any art you’re allowed to steal anything if you can make it better, but the tendency should always be upward instead of down.

Ernest Hemingway

 

 

THEY WHO GO BEFORE

2015 11 04 (32) BMy grandmother used to show me pictures of herself as a young girl, of my great-grandparents, of their little house in the countryside. She used to tell my stories of her father and his love for bees, of his mastery of french, of his beautiful calligraphy. She also used to tell me about her mother, that formidable woman who cooked amazing pies and was the best, the most able and accomplished wife, mother, schoolteacher. My grandmother adores her parents and she has fed me this adoration of hers one teaspoon at a time. Not that I have come to venerate them. I never knew her father. As for my great-grandmother, I remember many things about her: her apricot gems, her hands, her white hair, her buying me chocolate bonbons, once, on a small errand. But old age and childhood are separated by a great divide… and old age isn’t pleasant to a child. Lineage isn’t pleasant to a child. Burdensome, yes, but wholly pleasurable no. Not for most, and not to such a great extent. Even for a person like myself, who’s always felt better amongst adults and old people, listening to their stories, feeding from their past, lineage is a little too much to take in and feel responsible for. There is that age when every child has to stand on his or her own two feet, chanting the song they were destined for. The search for independence takes one away form one’s roots, especially now, in our times, when parents never bother to pass down their lineage.

Yet, for the first seven years of my life, I grew up in a lovely household, with paintings and books solemnly displayed as a reminder of my genealogy, of my origins. I was not born into royalty, but I was born to strong, passionate, willful women. The men in my family have never been knighted, but they have had the souls of poets. Indeed, their wives seemed to have had a stronger grip on the world, but they kept it all balanced with their soft natures and their longing hearts. It is they who have had the most fragile of gifts: an ear for music, a memory for abstract notions, a love of books and languages, artistic taste, as well as mathematical and technical brilliance. The women have fought their earthly wars, while the men have marched ever upwards.

I don’t know much about them. A child which at first is fascinated, with each passing year gets terribly bored. These are not his or her stories. An independent will asks for a virgin territory to conquer and rule over, a clean canvas, a new beginning. Every child, every being, wants a place to call his or her own.

And so I, too, have left. Far across the ocean, away from the shores I knew, from the cities I had come to love, from the language I once criticized. Away from my great-grandfather’s books, away from the many old things my grandmother treasures. And before I left, for a millionth time I told her to stop reciting the same songs, to stop recounting the same stories. I was going to start over, just like the pioneers. I was going to leave my mark on a blank new canvas. For I was going to be seen for what I truly am: a new being with and independent will.

And so I’ve taken up residence in a country that is young. It is something very different from living amongst the ruins of former civilizations. Here everything is either new or not so very old. There is no antiquity to spring from beneath the ground, no former buildings to be uncovered when one digs a whole. Unlike Rome, with her breathtaking abundance and generosity, or Venice, with her commanding beauty, the city I live in now is a mixture of patterns, styles, and personal tastes. It has a little bit of that and a little bit of this, some majesty, some nobility, some power, some coziness, some humor, some seriousness, and some sense of worship. It has a familiar scent, something of the old continent sprinkled on every single street and building. But not too much, so that it feels familiar and alien at the same time. You’re neither here nor there, but somewhere in between. You’re in limbo.

A place so new asks for nothing on your part. You do not feel obliged to venerate it’s creators. Whomever came here before you, was merely a youngster, like yourself, testing the ground beneath his feet, breathing in voraciously, trying to adjust to his new surroundings, trying, that is, to survive. A newly born creature aspiring for whatever the old place couldn’t offer. For some it was freedom, for others it was hope, or the prospects of a decent life. Others must have come for the exhilarating pleasure of building something new, and grand, and personal. But then you don’t feel this. You don’t need this. Whomever they were, they seem to ask nothing of you.

Across the ocean, on that very old continent, life is a challenging thing. Nobody starts anything from scratch. No matter what you do, there have been others before you who’ve done the same thing. Unlike here, however, they made sure everyone knew what it was: they built it in stone, they carved it in marble. There is no more room. You stand amongst giants. You’re ambitions have to reach enormous proportions if they are to match those of your forefathers. That is Europe. That is it’s legacy. And then you cross the ocean and you feel unburdened. Something has been taken off you chest and you can breathe. When a country asks nothing of you, however, it is your responsibility, if you are to succeed, to ask something of it in return. This is where people separate into camps. Those who whisper and those who shout.

New countries ask but two questions: who are you and what do you want of me? To answer the second, you must have figured out something about the first. You must have a lineage, a one of a kind shape that will leave a one of a kind imprint on the ground. You must have a history, a story to tell, an ode to recite. You must sing the song of your life with enough power, eloquence, and love to change even the quality of the air around you. And you cannot do this unless you know for sure who you are.

So who are you? Nowadays people rush in search of their Higher Self. They see psychologists and annalists to be freed from the burdens of their past. They ask the voices inside their heads to stop speaking. They look at their parents, their teachers, their friends, and their priests with deep-seated anger. Theirs are the voices they can’t stop hearing and obeying. Unless they truly know themselves, they cannot make free choices. Their will is limited, crushed. Their voice is weakened. They are damaged and they need repair.

What was life like before Freud? How did people survive and how did some even thrive?

Allured by this Self we venerate, this primordial, uncontaminated version of ourselves, we never pause, we never doubt, we never even think that this path might not lead to where we have imagined. Who are we if not the sum of our earthly experiences? We are being shaped. We are being harvested. We are here to grow a new layer of skin. In the end it will very well blend with all the others, the former ones, but for now, for today, we are only responsible for this shallow, insignificant skin. It might be all that matters, for we are not our Higher Selves. We are this story, this particular road, this one, brief adventure. We were born into a certain family, we have a lineage. We do not only inhabit this body. We are not only tainted and scarred. We are not failing because of others and their influence. We are not damaged by our unworthy parents, our decrepit religions, our dusty books and outdated paradigms. We are shaped by these. We are born out of these. Every single experience turns us into who we are, not because we came into this life as blank slates, but simply because the highest, most magnificent mountains were formed in a deafening, stupendous clash. We bump into this world and like sculptures, we emerge out of a block of marble one inch at a time, one patch of skin at a time. We come into this life with a story at our core, but we do not come here fully formed. We are meant to grow into something, we might not remember it, though we have seen it, but we do not grow alone. That story we hold dear is not, however, our Higher Self. It is our act, our costume, our skin. It is our song, the one we’re meant to sing this time around, the one we’re longing for. But it is not who we truly are. At least this is what I have come to believe. And maybe Keats was right when he said that we are here to grow a soul.

Call the world if you Please ‘”The vale of Soul-making”[…] I say ‘Soul making’ Soul as distinguished from an Intelligence – There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions – but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself. Intelligences are atoms of perception – they know and they see and they are pure, in short they are God – how then are Souls to be made? How then are these sparks which are God to have identity given them – so as ever to possess a bliss peculiar to each ones individual existence? How, but by the medium of a world like this?

John Keats on “The Vale of Soul-making”

We have a lineage. Like it or not, we have parents, and grandparents, and great-grandparents. We have roots. This is not who we are, not truly, and yet it is. This time around, it is. And to leave a mark on this world, we need that lineage: a name, a history, a tradition. We need to accept them as the tools that gave us form, the teachers that trained our voices.

A new world asks for roots. I would have never believed this, but she does. It’s as if she’s saying: you’d better be someone before you get here, and you’d better be proud of that, for this virgin territory of yours, this blank canvas, this unburdened life you are about to meet with is nothing but a jungle. Indeed, you can make a replica of your former home, I will let you do so, but if you are to be someone, if you are to shout your name, you’d better remember it well, and you’d better shout it out loud.

© Teodora Gales 2015-2016

TELOS

Art isn’t therapy. I keep telling myself that, while expecting to be hit by inspiration. Where’s the muse, I ask? Should I board a train (I’ve done that) or a plane (I’ve done that too)? Should I go searching for it at the end of the world, among strange people with unfamiliar customs (well, I’ve done that also… although people here aren’t that strange and unfamiliar)? This has been my one great stumbling block ever since I can remember. I simply cannot force myself to write, draw, or create something, anything, on command. I have to wait for it to gestate and be born. I have to wait for it to kindly, invitingly enter into the manifested world. I am an instrument and it, the bright idea, or she, the muse, or whatever it’s name may be, is my master. All I can do is to be angry, be sorrowful, be coercive (that never, ever works), or simply plead my case as best I can hoping that it might work. And it never does. So I write when I feel that a wave of understanding is about to reach the shore, I draw when the drawing has already grown inside my, I create whenever the creature, my creation, is ready to show herself to the world. Try as I might, I cannot do it any other way. I have to be patient, I have to wait. Everything is gestation and then birthing, said Rilke, and how I love that quote.

There has been a time in my life when I avidly collected quotes. I remember writing them in two notebooks, for one was never sufficient. Not that I had that much to write, but many things weren’t fulfilling my expectations: the pages, the color, the texture, the images, the writing, the letters, the style. I would dive into my project, I would read and reread my treasures, and then I would get displeased with one aspect or another. Well, the quotes were magnificent. I couldn’t stop drinking from their wisdom. I thought I would better myself by doing so, and I tried very hard to change my behavior and my thoughts accordingly. It is something I always did, even in school. To be someone else, to be better, to change one’s ways of being… how I loved that! And then I stopped. I won’t forget the day, for it is memorable. It marked the end of my labors and my agitation. To read one thing, I said to myself, one thing only, to read it deliberately, patiently, lovingly, one page at a time, one paragraph, one sentence, one word, one letter even… to read it so slowly as to be changed by it, infused with its language, its rhythm, its flow. I even dreamed I’d write a short story about a man who ventured to read a book one letter at a time… what would happen to him? Will he even understand anything?

Now that I think about it, it seems that I’ve been looking for my one true self reflected in every other thing around me. Quotes, books, movies, drawings, places…. Championing my findings, I would speak to anyone about them, offering them as truths, a product of my fertile intelligence (laugh as you might, a Leo-born is always self-consciously trying to live with spontaneity and as humbly as possible). Would someone dare to contradict me? Oh, should they have tried, I would have fought my battles till the end. I had discovered something, I had stood at the gates of knowledge and the gates had opened, I had been visited by the muses (and when they did visit, I would do anything not to scare them away), I had had an illumination, how dare you (whomever you may be) contradict me!! And how I love to fight for my ideas! Debate is my other nature. I can be the devil’s advocate only to hear myself saying, when the climax has been reached, I REST MY CASE. Dare not continue… either you see me growing angrier by the minute, or you might simply have to put up with another hour or so of passionate discourse.

As I was saying, I have been drawn by my own reflections, nearer and nearer to the center. If this might sound like a New Age discussion, fear not. I haven’t found the center yet, I haven’t experienced enlightenment, I haven’t even spent my time in meditation. I have been listening to what other people have to say, I have tried to change (most eagerly), I have tried to better myself, I have tried all sorts of things, but mostly and unexpectedly I have tried to see myself replicated in others and mirrored by other things. I have taken them to confirm my truth, my nature, when they were doing nothing but to reflect it. And by the way, I wasn’t even aware that it was my truth and my nature that I was meeting in reflection. I thought it was universal, I thought I had discovered some magnificent secret (and you know my love for uncovering mysterious truths), something everyone else must know.

I’ve spent the last couple of years studying astrology. Now I have taken a break (I grow in leaps… I pause often just to ease the tension). I have borrowed two books from the library, two books I know for sure I will not read. But nothing feels more welcoming than a pile of books, so I stock them up on my bedside table and look at them admiringly. All that knowledge just for me… Astrology, like any other source of wisdom, cannot be imparted by those who haven’t yet found and fully lived their personal legends (as Paulo Coelho might say). This is my newly arrived at conclusion. It is much more important to be solidly whomever you are, than to learn a great deal of things and simply push them around. So I am taking a break. I wish to explore things for myself, I wish to find my own vantage point. Others will have to wait. What good does it do to simply repeat what others have discovered before you? Anyone can learn astrology, but not anyone can be an astrologer. It is easy to say what the Sun represents and to calculate a birth chart (yes, with the right books and some patience, anyone can do the math… even I). It’s not that complicated and obscure. But the understanding of it all is.

What do quotes have in common with astrology? Nothing. Art isn’t therapy, and this is not art (it’s not therapy either). Do not expect it to have continuity. But what I wished to say, now that the year is coming to an end, is this: I think we are very much a harvest. The universe is brimming with intention. There is a wild card, an element of freedom in it, but there is also planning and design. There is the will of man and there is the will of God. For each and everyone of us there is a singular mixture of these three. Sometimes the will of man is given greater power, other times it is the other way around. Others have to cope with the inexplicable wild card that God created at the beginning of time. We are each given a smoothie of three ingredients. Only the ratio differs. I think one of the greatest and most liberating achievements would be to master the ratio. Then and only then would one know for sure whom to bow to: God, freedom, or himself. That would make life so much easier. And I can only think of one way to do so: look where life mirrors your soul, look deeply and patiently, string those beads together, and read your book aloud. Some meditate. I presume it is the fastest way. But I am an artist, a lover of quotes, someone who wishes to leave a trail behind. I cannot lose myself in meditation, I need to gather momentum, I need to collect the pieces of my soul that have once been scattered all over the world. It’s no wonder I traveled to a distant land to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve on my own. We, some of us at least, are harvested by an invisible hand. We are moving toward something, we are pulled toward our center. A complete, fully realized version of ourselves dwells in the future, and we are merely called to it. I leave you with another Greek word: telos.

May your New Year be noble!

© Teodora Gales 2015-2016

PANDORA

Yesterday I went to the library… I told myself that I would only stay there for a short while, but the minutes lengthened and turned into hours. I went up and down the library staircase in search of books I hadn’t planed to search for. But as you might know, libraries have a way of enslaving the good and trusting natures (I reckon myself to be a person of great principles and high moral standing, and I do aspire for correctness in everything I am and do).

I sat down for a while (to benefit from the library’s free Wi-Fi connection), and looked around. There were many people with many books by their sides, people with laptops and writing pads, people absorbed in their research, thinking mighty thoughts, putting forth great ideas, working for the benefit of their own minds and for humanity at large. As Elizabeth Gilbert would say: they live in moss time. I used to live there, too. I used to dream of wondrous things. Oh, the gifts of the mind.

I gazed around and saw the shelves stocked with books of all kinds and every imaginable thickness. Why isn’t there enough time for the ones like myself? To go over every single book, to see what miracles they so ferociously guard, to bath in their light and drink from their source of knowledge. As I set on my little green chair (I actually forgot to pay closer attention to the lamps… where they Oxford lamps?) I felt an incredible longing for study. I haven’t studied something in a very long while (well, that’s not true, but I haven’t done it academically)… I once wrote a little paper on… What was it that I wrote a little paper on? It started with physiognomy and ended with criminology, so, you see, it was a little paper on big matters. I’d say it was ambitious!

I’d like to study Latin and Greek. Very much so! Dead languages have always fascinated me, but I wouldn’t go far from home. The world is brimming with languages that have either gone extinct or are about to do so, but I stick to familiar shores. I was born by the sea, in a town that is very, very old. I was fascinated with archeology from a very early age and spent some of my days dreaming of a treasure I’d find beneath the sands… if I were to look close enough, which I did. But the glorious treasure never came along. Instead I found a little piece of something. I cannot thank my aunt enough for taking my treasure serious. We actually went to the museum, spoke with someone there, and had it tested for old age and specialness. It didn’t prove to be that worthy, but this little adventure has stayed with me ever since. It’s taken mythical proportions as well. I’ll say it once and well out loud: I wish to discover something hidden!! A code, a language, a treasure, some bones even, a dinosaur, anything! Anything old and wise and full of unimaginable secrets. I shall one day study Latin and Greek… But you see, although I long for study, I keep running away from it. Why would I do such a thing? Our eyes, nowadays, have grown microscopes and telescopes, and we’ve lost the art of seeing things without lenses. We look either too close or too far. We are specialists. We specialize in anything and everything under the Sun, which isn’t all that bad, but we’ve forgotten the generalities, the assumptions, the dreaming, the What if’s and Why not’s. Not so very long ago scientists (before the word even existed) were called Natural Philosophers. They were as much poets as they were men of study and discipline, and their theories were indeed miraculous. I am imbued with the myth of the Renaissance Man, he how knows everything, is interested in everything, and can talk about anything under the stars. To specialize in generalities would be a great thing… to bridge all gaps, to find the ultimate theory, to merge everything into one big stream of knowledge. To rest where the river flows into the sea and binds with it…

Enough of dead languages. I haven’t been one to keep journals, but with a gorgeous book by my side I cannot stop wishing to do so. Words entice me. They ask for more words, and I’m willing to surrender. I have been very fond of writing… but I cannot write unless fed with some kind of knowledge (never mind the field of inquiry, all are welcomed). I’d like this to be the first post in a series of many others. But who knows? I’m the seeker of treasures, the specialist in generalities, the lover of dead languages, the dreamer of Gods, the aspiring writer, the poet who never liked poetry, but was always fascinated with libraries and museums and wild-life dioramas, with castles and secrets and codes. I’m Indiana Jones (the female, comfort loving and self-preserving version), and how I’d love to uncover something secret!

Do you know anything about Pandora? And why do men say that women always ruin everything? We’ve got the Biblical Eve, we’ve got the ever-curious Pandora and the ever-beautiful Helen of Troy… All women who brought destruction and devastation, like fires devouring a lush forest. Crisis, in Greek, means “turning point in a disease” or, “selection”… and these women have been its agents, separating the good from the evil, the old from the new, the stale from the fresh. So, do you know anything about Pandora?

© Teodora Gales 2015-2016