I have few conversations which lay vivid in my mind, very few, in fact. I’m one for the dead particulates of experience, objects that don’t move nor breathe, still things, oblivious details, a sort of hyperesthesia which only serves to coif the saturnine adepts of purple prose. And my predilection for «things» is not given by an inflated sense of grandiosity or any specific disillusionment with people, but rather, the fact that I have a sensorial perspicacity about me, I see people as sounds at times, some are colours or tastes, because although those things are as volatile as people, they are volatile in predicable manners, in opposite to people. Thus, I tend to cling to my own clarities, my own bitter domains within, where any disappointment is only my own.
Yet, one particular conversation clenches firmly, often removing me from my self-centred dalliances; it was a prolonged and especially strained dialogue between one of my clients and I. He, an elderly man likely in the block of seventy and a few; a small and frumpy man who, despite wielding a stern, taciturn conduct, appeared fervently keen of talking once any given body presented itself for the role of listening. Shortsock (which is a direct translation of his Portuguese name) had served shortly in the Ultramarine War at the earliest years of Portugal’s most extensive dictatorship, and upon return he came to be a carpenter much to the likes of my father — with whom he shares many years of friendship — and ceased his working activities as a public servant, profession he only did for a bout. Our conversation began from an interjection, a rhyming couplet he slung towards my sister apropos some awfully unspecific newsreel back-grounding the administrative room, afterwards quickly proclaiming it as his own. A short «do you write?» from my sister, sounding mildly uninterested, led to an answer in the affirmative and a successive «my brother loves to read», a type of statement typically harrowing to anyone as timorous as I, especially when it alights certain aspects of self which one rarely likes to exhibit, if not only for the sense of property they are often dignified with. I proceeded a bit protectively, opting to ask which authors he found most approximated his liking, a question that he dismissed with celerity in favour of maundering how civilisation was so vile and mordant, being that both the reason why he wrote as well as his most versed subject. I asseverated a tad frigidly that political poetry, much in the threads of anything general and distant, failed to captivate my attention entirely, and that I strongly preferred the unique and indelible quality of experience, of humanity in its minute and mercurial essence, experiences which, if not taken to Art and replicated through that instrument, couldn’t possibly endure, such was their particularity; things that I couldn’t have written, things that I couldn’t have lived. Human things, specific, away from the portends of civilisation or the pallor of absolutes. Things that I can’t yet write because I do not know the apposite forms and words necessary to bring them forth.
How careless of an approach, I must have thought immediately. Shortsock transported a grimace of shattering the likes of which I was oddly familiar with, and volleyed me with verbal arrows: «that is because you are young, you do not know what it is like to be in a war-zone, to have children and naught to succour them with, you have not lived this world as I lived, and it is yet to break your heart as it did mine», utterances that did not fail in showering me with silence. It is true, I do not know, and had I been perspicacious of people, something that I’m naturally not, I could have sensed beforehand that he wasn’t disappointed with either the world nor civilisation, he was disappointed with his world, not mine, even in spite of his generalist poems with the purported objective of weaving a better future by diminishing anything current. He did not want a better future inasmuch as he didn’t care much for the current, but simply, to change everything hitherto. His past fumbled him, it was tortuous and insurmountably cruel. While my life satisfied me, I was afforded the vanity of living shards of other lives through Art, if only to compound my own or enrich my experiences, but he was simply never afforded vanities of the like, and I was terribly ice-veined within the first step — a true testament to why I dodge as many interactions as I can — and the innermost fissure that stood between us wasn’t merely a differing focusing lens on matters, or even on what matters, as I initially assumed, but more-so the nature of our memory, that delicate «seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one, may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting, like the underlinen of a family of fourteen on a line in a gale of wind.¹», and to me, those thousands of disconnected fragments were mostly joyous and bathed in the rosy lights of dawn, memories of baubles or hazy fields lathered in the green tinkle of emeralds, large tiled walls and the scent of uprooted plants. His were replete with people, the dirges and metallic chimes, pernicious seasons and hunger, lack, dereliction, fury, all bobbing and dipping, pecking his innards, tirelessly demanding. Things are rarely cruel, but people so often are; the former can contain small mythologies, symbols and beauties of perfumed shapes, but only the latter can reach the highest peaks of substance, the most intricately rewarding forms of beauty, especially when it interacts with our own. But things are much more durable than we, «whose frail warmth cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.»²
We talked further about specifics, I engaged in a political discussion in which I was merely the receptacle of information, supporting a manufactured rapt, as I felt indebted to do so, and we soon came upon common grounds, since his daughter had recently ended her own life due to relentless abuse from her former partner, and I had many mental health issues of my own. These morphologies of emotion, often reduced or occulted, often diminished to the farthest extremes of our vulnerabilities, are simultaneously our humanest traits, the ones which carry most force, that are most limpid in our memory. Shortsock wasn’t particularly keen on vulnerability, he was raised by a regime whose greatest weapon was the effacing of expression and sentimentality, but grief is among the hardest sentiments to conceal; he assumed a wounded front, the likes of being stricken by some unstinting bodily pain, and his hands extended like parachutes trying to collect his soul while it disassembled, a comportment I’ve only ever noticed in myself before, when I lost the dearest person in my life as a child. This interaction, which followed one embossing my social inadequacy, was exactly the type of interaction that displays that pith of human experience, that solemn existence, idiosyncratic and inscrutable. The inter-connectivity of our pains, the symbiosis of our joys, the elements that make the cruelty of the title of person not only bearable, but romantically worthwhile. And, strangely, I hold great gratitude to my initial error; it provided such a valuable discovery.
¹ Orlando, Virginia Woolf;
² And Yet The Books, Czesław Miłosz.