Over the past 8 years I have collected some peculiar stories and adventures that happened during my runs, but what happened today was new. It was one of those days that I really felt like running and relaxing a little so my husband and I went running in the park. Running always works wonders on me. We started jogging and after a while I waved to my husband signaling that I was ready to fasten my pace. He looked at me and pointed to the sky saying: “keep an eye on the clouds!” I looked at the flimsy clouds, shrugged my shoulders and said ahem, activating my legs on fast mode. Here I go, light-hearted and light-footed, listening to my crazy playlist where anything from classical music to seventies rock goes. Half an hour later I felt the first drops and I think to myself, nah. It didn’t take long and the small drops became big ones and from then on the rain started to fall heavily. In the middle of the way I come to the usual fork in the trail which defines whether that would be a short (5 k) or a long (9k) lap. Despite the rain, I didn’t hesitate: I went for the long one. The rain was a bit heavier but it felt fresh and pleasant. I normally avoid rain at all costs (though I have run in the snow) but I was already fired up by my endorphins and the eclectic playlist. Besides, this was a good opportunity to add another “first” to my list. I always tend to choose the long way, this has become a sort of a game I play with myself. For instance: in the middle of the run if I feel a bit off color or tired I challenge myself: “right, I bet this time you will not choose the long way, will you? You might be late for the meeting.” But who says I choose the short run? Not a question. The short run to me means, I believe, to capitulate and capitulating is not an option. And that’s precisely what my husband guessed when he decided to go after me in the long lap. But at this stage I was miles ahead and we failed to meet each other. When I got back to the fork, he wasn’t there. Soaked to the skin, I went back, ran even faster now reconsidering my choice. Thankfully, after a few minutes I see my husband. He was as much sodden as he was worried. The rain now had turned into a storm with thunder and lightening. When we get to the car we look at each other and crack up laughing at our misadventure in the rain. After all, it hadn’t been a bad one and we managed to get a good workout. No, I am not going to become one of those people that love to run in the rain. It is not safe. But when you are exposed to the rain, all you can expect is to get wet. And wet we were. To the bone.
The blogosphere is a net of fragile threads that connect to each other. Such connections are highly dynamic and are built upon small narratives which readers rely on in order to create meaning, interpret and – a more dangerous level of this process – build an image of the blogger.
However, the great majority of the posts is but a quick version of some aspect that the author allows to be seen. Why, a post is not its author! A post has a narrative voice, also known as the “authorial or writer’s voice” which dominates, for the purposes of writing. Unfortunately, most people forget this. Unfortunately, most people cannot grasp irony. Another form of misreading is just the opposite: to think that all words operate through double meanings, something that Umberto Eco calls overinterpretation (The Limits of Interpretation, 1995). Many times, double meanings do not apply and the word – filled with possibilities of meanings – is merely literal. Whenever we interpret, we are dealing with these flimsy and fantastic filaments that we call words. If misunderstandings can occur even in conversations when both sender and receiver are present, let alone in posts which will dialogue with god knows what kind of minds. People write under different circumstances and their writings are triggered by different impulses. Many times ,the author offers but a cosmetic version of the truth. Sometimes, not even a version of the truth, as Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa reminds us. Finally, the obvious: blogs are just semi-authorized versions of ourselves.
AUTOPSYCHOGRAPHY (Fernando Pessoa)
The poet is a faker
Who’s so good at his act
He even fakes the pain
Of pain he feels in fact.
And those who read his words
Will feel in his writing
Neither of the pains he has
But just the one they’re missing.
And so around its track
This thing called the heart winds,
A little clockwork train
To entertain our minds.
This is the text I wrote before deciding to move to the United States. We all know to which direction the tilting doll tilted to.
As sure as one minute follows another, February substituted January with an icy wind that messed up hairdos, hats, the skirts of careless girls, leaves of paper and thoughts. What this uninviting wind whispered through the cracks of my windows reminded me of the urgencies of life and made me think of all the changes that will happen once I make my decision. Because I have moved so many times in my life, I cringe at any sort of change. The bigger the change, the more afraid I am. On the other hand, a vestige of good sense ensures me that changes can – generally – turn out to be quite positive. They bring a breath of fresh air and new perspectives. But my stubborn and fearful side gets the best of me and says no, not again. No. Changes again, in this phase of your life when everything seemed to be in its right place? There is no bigger reassurance than opening a drawer and knowing exactly what you are going to find. This is me now, this is the me I want forever. Stability (this great impostor) means everything to minds such as my own. The other side says go, show your guts and immerse yourself. That’s the way you do things, that’s the way you have achieved things in your life. My day, like a tilting doll, swings between the fearful and the fearless. I don’t have much time to make up my mind. Meanwhile, I take a deep breath and go running so I can keep my tilting doll head together.
A mandala for him.
I have, elsewhere, discussed the delicate relationship between mothers and daughters. There is so much to say about it. I think the clip below from Volver (directed by Almodovar, 2006) captures an exquisite, sensitive moment of this relation. It is a touching scene in which Raimunda’s mother “comes back from the dead” to see her after twenty years. Raimunda is played by Penelope Cruz and she does a beautiful job lip-synching singer Estrella Morente in the song Volver. “Volver” means to return. And return is exactly what is at stake here. Returns are such meaningful moments, loaded with the pain of separation but also brimming with hope and love.
Notice that red dominates the scene. Raimunda, her daughter, and her mother wear red, signaling their visceral relation. It is indeed a relation of blood. If the movie had to be one color, it would certainly be red. Red is the color of strength and passion. It will not only be present in the crimson lipsticks that color those strong females’ lips but it will also paradoxically illustrate death and announce life. There is a scene when Raimunda had just killed her husband and her hands are stained with blood. A neighbor rings the bell and when he asks about the blood in her hands, Raimunda replies without batting an eyelash, “It’s women’s stuff”. I thought this was brilliant.
Volver (Carlos Gardel)
Tengo miedo del encuentro
con el pasado que vuelve
a enfrentarse con mi vida.
Tengo miedo de las noches
que pobladas de recuerdos
encadenen mi soñar.
Pero el viajero que huye
tarde o temprano
detiene su andar.
Y aunque el olvido
que todo destruye
haya matado mi vieja ilusión,
una esperanza humilde
que es toda la fortuna
de mi corazón.
con la frente marchita
las nieves del tiempo
platearon mi sien.
que es un soplo la vida
que veinte años no es nada
que febril la mirada
errante en las sombras
te busca y te nombra.
con el alma aferrada
a un dulce recuerdo
que lloro otra vez.
Ten reasons for not ever wanting to embark on a PhD.
1. Distance from your family. You will never recover the time that you couldn’t be with them. You will miss important events with your children. You will not be able to go on date nights with your husband.
2. You will become a bit… dumb. Let me explain: you will miss the big picture. Your horizon will be limited to the subject of your research during a long, long time of your life. In many people’s cases, their dissertation will be “the” theme of their lives! (ouch, I know!)
3. You will become alienated. While your friends will discuss books you haven’t read, films you couldn’t watch, while they will be laughing at the latest political scandal, you will be sitting there with that estranged look on your face. Your friends will likely give up on you. Just saying.
4. Get used to it – very few people will read your dissertation: maybe just your advisor. Who will read the boring details that you wrote? Who will be excited about your extraordinary scholarship? Let’s agree: M.A. theses are more fun. They are more general, less engaged, maybe even creative. Less – what’s the dreaded word – “academic”. Your dissertation will collect dust on one or two library shelves.
5. You will become boring as hell, one of those one-track-minded sort of people. You will only want to read about “that”. You will only want to talk about “that”. Except that “that” is what nobody wants to talk about. Unless you are one of those few lucky people that ends up meeting another nutcase like you who would be willing to discuss your stuff. In which case, there will be no stopping the two of you.
6. People will get frustrated with your lack of knowledge. Since you are a Phd candidate, they will presume you know absolutely everything about your research area. When they see you hesitate, reassess or even question your own ideas, they will look at you sideways. They will think “hey, this one will never be a PhD”. It gets much worse if you are a teacher: students are the first ones to throw stones. After all, it is a universally accepted truth that teachers must know everything, especially PhD candidates.
7. There will be no time left for you to care for yourself. Really. In a what now seems like a remote past, I ran marathons. Even I find it hard to believe it. Your hair, nails, skin, will denounce your self negligence. This is quite embarrassing.
8. Another occupational hazard: your back will be totally destroyed. This happens to absolutely everyone. I spent weeks taking muscle relaxers because of all those endless hours sitting with a poor posture. Your physiotherapist will be your best friend, believe me.
9. The nail-biting meetings with your advisor. You will spend months on end reading, researching, writing, re-writing, deleting, editing a chapter and when you triumphantly succeed in scheduling an appointment with His Majesty, the comments will be generally negative. No advisor will praise you. They will be eager to point out the gaps in your text and will find your interpretation shallow. Your dissertation will never be, what’s that word again, “academic” enough in their eyes. Get used to it: you will never be like him.
10. Life! Films, movies, plays, vegging out in front of the tv, friends, dating, enjoying your kids, having a haircut, walking your dog. Or just the simple and unbeatable dolce far niente. There’s nothing like carefree idleness, a concept that you will be unknown to you during those dark PhD years.
Right, if I couldn’t dissuade you from embarking on your PhD adventure, I have at least warned you. What about me? Well, I miraculously managed to survive and come out somewhat whole (emphasis on somewhat). My back was never the same, though.
[this post was written months before I defended my dissertation, in 2007. It was hard going and a bit traumatic, as you probably guessed. I’m glad I could at least take a break from all the writing and have some fun laughing at my own misery.]
A persimmon and the natural order of things
I have just finished eating a persimmon. A persimmon cultivated in some greenhouse. It was a premature persimmon. Astringent and sour. One whose natural course had been shortened.
As long as men mess with nature, the natural order of things is altered. So far, nothing new. But maybe I am talking about something that not everybody has felt in their bones like I have? When life shows us that the natural order of things is suddenly changed, we learn about the inexorability of fate. There is no fighting it. But when something was so abruptly and unfairly taken away from you that makes you question the right order of things, you feel that something in your destiny, something sacred maybe, was altered forever.
P.S. Needless to say, the taste of the persimmon I ate does not even resemble that of a persimmon that ripened naturally. In its natural due course.
The woes and wows of massages in China.
I swear that after the fantastic massages we had had in Thailand, I had no high expectations. Don’t take me wrong: China is bigger, majestic, more impressive altogether, but lacked the sophistication and charm of Thailand. But out of curiosity I did check the price list in our hotel — the high prices put an end to the question. After a long and tiresome day in Beijing, our tour guide raves about Chinese massage and its well known benefits. At the end, he asks if anybody was interested in having professional masseurs come to our hotel rooms. Upon learning the price, I immediately raise my hand and book a massage for me and for my husband. One hour later, the “masseur” knocks on our door. He looked like anything but a masseur. And reeked of alcohol! We said, no, thanks, that’s not what we had in mind, but he does not understand. He calls someone on his cell phone and by his gestures, we understand that he is giving up on us. All the better. But it turned that we were wrong: fifteen minutes later we hear another knock on the door. This time the man is back with a “masseuse”. I look at my husband and together we say no. We want to have massages with professionals. There must be a mistake. The man tries to force the issue. We stand firm. He looked mad and started to speak loudly. Finally, he calls someone again and, thundering god knows what sort of obscenities, leaves with the woman. We both felt relieved, assuming that we had managed to escape a tourist ploy from a Chinese mafia of fake masseurs.
The following day, our English friend Nicholas tells us that he had had the best massage of his life with one of these “impostors”. My husband and I look a each other. We had somehow managed to fall prey yet again to what we call a “lost in translation moment” in China.
To breathe as if this were the last breath
To drink as if this were the last drop
To kiss as if this were the last kiss
To fight for a cause as if this were the last one
A slave to passions,
A devotee to extremes,
A fanatic for definitives
But life goes on
There is another breath,