The ‘created place/space’

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“There are cities which don’t need literature: they are literature. They file past, chest thrust out, head on their shoulders. They are proud and full of confidence despite the garbage bags they cart around. The City-State, an example among so many others — she pulsated with literature.” –Tram 83, Fiston Mwanza Mujila

It can all return to place somehow, even when the story is about inner life. It does not need to be a city, as Fiston Mwanza Mujila posits, or as Italo Calvino writes about at length in Invisible Cities. This place can be an actual place, geographically, an interior, private place, or even a container/concept that represents a kind of space. A space that is occupied by some need, for example the need to write, to drink coffee, to love, to break out of previous forms or perceptions, the need to pretend or project images of ourselves into another space.

There are so many ways to create and exist in a space or place, for example:

  • “stepping off the plane at keflavik i didn’t know what to expect – only that i thought i belonged there. i went through all the stages of excitement, wonder, questioning, noticing all the surface-level weird things that all foreigners remark on animatedly when they arrive. almost 20 years later it’s easy to blur the hardships and forget all the missteps that often made the move seem like a mistake.”
  • “sometimes you know someone, even from afar, and feel like you want to hug her close to you and immediately declare your love, make it legal, and marry her. she, in central europe with her bewitching way with words, makes me feel that way every time i read her writing or see her messages in the far, cold nordics.”
  • “if he were serene, would he be able to accomplish the feats he does? underneath it all, with just a hint of resistance, he becomes fussy, testy and sarcastic.”
  • “how did i get blindfolded? i saw so clearly at the beginning, lost all sight, but eventually, like a hostage with no value, was dumped off somewhere, mostly unharmed. removing the blindfold, the reality is stark.”
  • “…and the guy painting on the remnants of the berlin wall – he was a felix, asking the firewall if he liked weed and shared a joint with him, if firewall would just roll it. according to firewall, it was an experience he just had to have. felix, as it happens, is the name of a ketchup brand in sweden; i frequently make people abroad jealous about my ability to get it, even though i don’t use/eat ketchup.”
  • “the phone rings. a husky, masculine-sounding voice answers gruffly, ‘computer room, this is odile.'”
  • “The point is that fantasies are fantasies and you can’t live in ecstasy every day of the year. Even if you slam the door and walk out, even if you fuck everyone in sight, you don’t necessarily get closer to freedom.” –fear of flying, erica jong
  • “compared with my present incarceration, the future holds no interest for me.” –the revolution of everyday life, raoul vaneigem
  • DUSHANBE!
  • “maybe a woman’s version of a midlife crisis involves stopping doing stuff?” –love and trouble, claire dederer
  • “but I’ll tell you a secret. when i want to take god at his word exactly, i take a peep out the window at his creation. because that, darling, he makes fresh for us every day, without a lot of dubious middle managers.” –the poisonwood bible, barbara kingsolver

You get the point. You see the ‘place’.

Image (c) 2014 S Donaghy

Present possibilities

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How foolish you can feel after everything is said and done. First that you let yourself walk down the path, however gingerly, with however much trepidation felt and caution you thought you exhibited, in the first place. Winding up steep hills, when suddenly, the path ends, and you’re lost and deep into the woods. It’s getting dark, and what shadows and figures you can faintly make out are unfamiliar. How can you not want to cry, get angry and overreact in frustration? It’s temporary, as all things are. Light will return. You will find your way back, the biggest, self-effacing wave crashes over you, leaving you feeling more foolish than ever for the overly emotional, panicked reaction. But how could it have been otherwise? It is as though, suddenly, you wandered off the safe, clear paths to which you were accustomed. The sense of adventure, openness to feeling new things, awakened. You were confident you could keep your footing, but a whirlwind of different circumstances conspired to… knock you on your ass. In hindsight the whole thing is embarrassing and laughable. Oh, the misguided, animated imagination, once aroused.

And how far away from these minor misadventures you can so quickly feel. One moment fretting and regretting, hot tears welling up as you ask yourself what you were thinking going up there, climbing deeper into the woods. The ground underfoot covered in damp moss, becoming increasingly swamplike. The very next moment, feet on the ground in cities new and old, concrete and cobblestone, breathing in the world of literature read long ago, reminiscing about people you once knew, tasting everything like it’s the first time – and sometimes it is. There are always the phantoms of the past haunting, keeping certain addictions flickering, but mostly faded into some archive of past transgressions. They return sometimes, and it is almost a relief in some way to feel the pounding familiarity push-push-pushing its way in. As if the past can breathe new life into the future, and push you on your way to the new.

But what of the limbo of the present moment? Or, as Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians propose regarding time: it’s all happening at once in different dimensions: past, present, future, life, death.

It is within these present moments, when the mind still wanders back to what might have been (Kierkegaard’s ‘future you will never have’), when your guard should be up most of all, but isn’t. In one moment or another, roaming in the Baixa or Belém or Katowice or Kraków, dredging up images of the dreary recent past, only to live moments of Invisible Cities as though they were almost your own:

“But the special quality of this city for the man who arrives there on a September evening, is that he feels envy toward those who now believe they have once before lived an evening identical to this and who think they were happy, that time” … or more fitting, a “city where the foreigner hesitating between two (wo)men always encounters a third”.

The present opens and widens the world and its possibilities again, anew. You regain footing, and it is then that the possibilities present themselves.

cityscapes: city hate

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Oslo is a lovely city, particularly when the weather turns nice. I will never be able to understand or explain why I hate it so much. I am here for a few days, and no matter how much time passes since I lived in the city several years ago, I cannot quite shake that sense of dread that the city filled me with back then. I sometimes wander in Gothenburg, in Sweden, and just feel comfortable, happy, right where I should be – but I have never once felt this sense in Oslo. I cannot put my finger on it, and I suppose I never will. After seven years of being in the area – and working in Oslo for the better part of five years – it just does not work for me. I guess there is not a real reason. It just does not work. I go to stores, I see the sites, I drive on the ridiculous roads (no matter how much construction and “improvement” they introduce to roads in and around Oslo, it seems they just manage to make it worse).

Resistance – Futile

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The stereotypical Nordic model (of society – not a blond girl) is one way to live and certainly is a cushy safety net. But sometimes the pull of Berlin,Cartagena, Dushanbe, Edinburgh, Firenze, Glasgow, and other cities in the alphabet (in alphabetical order of course) is hard to resist.