Never in my life have afternoons been so painful - painful to watch. I have decided to take this writing class, following stereotypes religiously: drink wine in the afternoon, relive old memories, stand furiously against superficiality, stare at the mid-point of the room endlessly, and asked myself what is the meaning of life (of course with pessimism.) After this yoga-for-writers mental preparation session, I'd throw all my gathered conclusions into an essay about anything worth reading. Think it is easy? Try it - of course, not the wine part, which is necessary for a stressed mind, but also the easiest part - but the rest. Specifically, try wringing a piece that will be workshopped - meaning, cut, mocked, disclaimed, distrusted, criticized, accused of being boring, unfocussed, too long, too superficial, too simple, too complicated, too colloquial, dishonest, childish, weak, or, politely, a crap with lots of potential - in your face, without shame, without apologies.
Not mine, or not mine yet. As per now, I am witnessing and energetically participating in destroying other people's essays, papers, poetry - works for which they spent hours and hours to put word after word in a presentable story, following a logic, developing a style; mostly, delivering a story, a feeling, a message. Nights of waking up in sweat after nightmares over keeping or deleting the word "just." "Just" is powerful and it can change everything. Puerile example: "I was thirsty" versus "I was just thirsty." Get it? Well, if you did, than imagine that you have 3,577 words for now, and still counting, and this 'just' (third sentence / seventh paragraph) is my smallest problem. Or despairing over what is better: my mother's mom, or my grandmother. When explaining the origins of a word, should I use the latin version or the french version (lead: each comes with a string attached, and even if they essentially mean the same thing, they will transmit a different message) - example lt. roseus vs fr. roux.
Michael de Montaigne invented the genre: in 1580 he published a set of prose ruminations under the title "Essais" - which, at the time, means barely "Attempts" - because essays as a writing class was not yet codified. Since then, we can write essays about the traveling of a glass of water in our body, about car races, the face of Ethan Hawke, global warming, reading twitter. And some of them are amazing. My favorite essayist, well, my favorite essayistS are Barthes and E.B. White - especially because their subject matter is so random and diverse, from the death of a pig, the pig, to wrestling.
My first essay will be my grandma's extended trip to Bucharest. She was in a hostage situation - stolen by my mother from her house, her chickens, her piglets, her veggie garden, the two pear trees in the front yard, her daisies, her porch, her dusty country roads meeting in front of the only church, next to the only bar, next to the only food store - and kept for more than two years in a small apartment in the capital. It was her first interaction with a complex city, a thousand times bigger than her village, where nothing, absolutely nothing, was like home.
She hated it. The AC, the vacuum cleaner, the fact that she has to wear shoes outside, the apartment plants, and most of all, the fact that we were at the forth floor in a building without an elevator, on which stair case she would meet strangers, women with make-up and high heels, purses, cellphones, little pink girls, women with no hair scarf, tight skirts, cordial men always wanted to help her up the stairs, down the stairs, holding her elbow, getting too close and smiling too amiably with extremely white and many many teeth (she lost most of hers, and the one left turned from yoke yellow, to light, mate, brown), making conversation, making her talk, smile, be polite back. She hated the grocery stores, drinking milk from cartoon bottles, cheese with strange french names in round or square plastic boxes, or slices of meat individually rapped, chickens without bones and fatter than she ever had - turkey size - or parts of birds, or only the insides of the chicken sold separately as if they were altogether a different animal. She never understood the salty chocolate, the yogurt with fruit jelly, the tea envelopes, or the powdered potatoes. She never cooked; she never drank anything but water; she only ate bread - through the exasperation of my mother, who tried and failed to mesmerize her with all the western wonderful products, easy to cook and having extra color and flavor.
But, must of all, she hated me. I took her for a stroll in the city, 1000 times bigger than her village with 3 million people, with vertical and not horizontal buildings, with neat gardens filled with grass and trees, with dogs walking proudly on leash:
"Why are these people tying their dogs with a string and drag them around?"
"They are pets, grandma; they are not dogs like your dog. They are apartment dogs. They play with toys and are in family Christmas photos. They have doctors, like your cow has a doctor."
"My cow gives milk!...these dogs don’t even bart at strangers..."
I took her to visit a little church in the centre of the city with a bus, a crowded bus, hot bus with barely any air and people pushing against each other, touching shoulders, butts, and skin. She never said anything, for somebody might have heard her speaking, but I knew that we'd be better off walking. The church was cold, dark, and empty. She wanted to die instead of going back. We stayed there for hours. "I did not finish my prayer... A little more.... I need to lit one more candle...." She was home. She hated me because I took her to the sweet-shop, afterwords, where she had to eat a pound of sugar in a fruit tart decorated exaggeratedly with even sweeter cream. But she only stopped talking to me when I humiliated her. I wanted to show her the subway, so we took the escalator from the Universitatea station for our return home. She screamed, driving all the attention to the highest point of the electric stairs, were we were, that "the steps are falling down with her." She had to bear the moving stairs all the way down, grabbing my hand so hard that I could feel her pulse pushing against mine, while cold sweat covered her forehead, dripping around her round, fully open eyes. She had never been in the subway as she had never experienced hell, so she held my arm like a child until we got out in the sun light and our feet touched the asphalt. She thought that our trip was my pay off for making me stay days long in the hot sun picking arpacica (onion), cucuruz (corn), barabule (potatoes), and patlagele (tomatoes), burning my city white skin, ruining my manicure - my childhood spring and summer entrainment.