AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE

No words can describe the amount of pain being suffered in Mexico as of September 19th. This has been a surreal, tragic, senseless, painful experience for all the people who had to, and continue to, suffer through the impact of the earthquake. The quake is the second to hit Mexico in a very short time frame, which makes the experience all the more traumatic, all the more absurd. It happened, as if told in the pages of fiction, on the same day of another quake that destroyed lives, years ago. I can only speak for myself. My purpose in sharing this is to offer my own experience of the tragedy, and to give my love and prayers to everyone who faired worst than I did.

I was eating with a colleague at work when it hit. We immediately took to the evacuation zone, a garden close to the exit of the campus I work at, to wait for instructions. They never arrived and for good reason. Everyone, including security, was invested in trying to make sense of what was happening. It felt far stronger than the one that had previously hit. That experience, which had left me traumatized, only served as the baseline to measure just how much more terrible the second one was. My immediate thoughts were whether my family and friends were ok, whether the strength of the quake had been enough to cause serious damages to cause mortality, and just how lucky I was to have been in a safe place. The phone lines crashed, internet did too. I had the luck of contacting those closest to me in the ensuing minutes, except for my sister, who my parents could not get in contact with. She was at her school. Not knowing how she was crushed me inside, and I immediately started to panic. When we were dismissed from campus, I immediately ran toward the building my mother works in. (Luckily, she works close to my work place.) On the way out I stumbled on a friend, who told me that things were bad, that several places in the city had been hit hard by the quake, and that he was planning on going to one of such neighbourhoods to help. This only made me fear for the worst.

As I ran through what I can only describe as apocalyptic chaos -people on the streets filming the whole event, others with pale faces or crying, traffic as far as my eyes could see, radios on full volume detailing what was happening- I felt like I was experiencing absurdity. My jaw was locked, I had a terrible migraine, I was shaking, and I could only repeat in my head that I had to find my mother so that we could figure out how to get to my sister. I got to her after looking for her for a good 20 minutes in the area close to her work place. She was with one of her clients. We took a table on a nearby coffee shop, and discussed our options. The only thing we knew about my sister, was that she was at school and that nobody knew anything about the status of the school, or of the students at the school. That the bridge that connects my neighbourhood to the one her school was, was cut-out (we were told this by a group of people in the coffee shop). And that in all probability, if I didn’t go get her, we were not going to know anything until late into the night when communications were restored. At this point I called a friend who lives a 5 minute drive from my sister’s school, and told him that I was going to find the means to cross over the bridge so that I could go looking for my sister. I really didn’t fucking care if there was no bridge, I had to get to my sister. What ensued was a marathon run from my neighbourhood, through the swarms of agitated and scared people, the news that assaults were going on in the neighbourhood, and the uncertainty that laid ahead. I made it past the bridge and realized just how bad miscommunication and disinformation is. For all I knew, if I had believed what the people on the coffee shop told me about the bridge, I would had made the wrong choice of not going straight for my sister.

I made it to my friend’s house. Another friend who was with him drove me to her school. The cocktail of adrenaline, anxiety, and uncertainty was driving me crazy. The school was fine. I rushed inside and found that my sister was just fine. My soul was at peace. I took a picture of the both of us and sent it to my family. We were all fine. Somehow, we were part of the lucky ones who were unscathed. My friend drove us close to the bridge, and from there we took the walk home. I was extremely agitated because we were warned on the walk home through the bridge to watch out for human scum assaulting cars and people on the bridge. (How far gone must a person be to hurt people during tragedy?). No such thing happened to us. We made it through the bridge, and through the swarms of cars and people in the vicinity, and into my home. My family was there. We were all back together. I immediately crashed. But the feeling I felt of knowing that I had been given the most precious of gifts -the safety of my loved ones-  is one that I will never forget, it is something I will forever be thankful for.

In the ensuing hours more and more news came on the effects of the quake. More and more developing stories of those who were hit the most. Honestly, I could not sleep last night, I just could not. I felt impotent. At a loss. I think we were all going through the motions of the sheer tragedy of knowing that so many people had lost their homes, their friends, their family. This hit me in the most personal of ways, as I know it did to all of us who were in it. It was a life and death experience, a crisis, a reminder of how fragile life is, of how on any given day things can just crash and burn and destroy lives, for no apparent fucking reason. What kept me from hitting full blown anxiety, were the messages and prayers from my friends in Mexico and abroad, and learning that there was a sense of solidarity for Mexico and its people: among us in Mexico, and those outside its borders. It reminded me of the close-knit bond we share as a species when tragedy hits us. I am proud to call myself a Mexican and a human. The people who have gone out of their ways to help others on the streets, on the web, on the phone lines, in hospitals, in shelters, in telling their daughters and their sons and their friends and their fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers that they love them and that they have their backs, both Mexican and foreign, all of you are a source of inspiration to me, to the rest of our species, for you are embodiments of the best in humanity.

Today, I am still suffering through the trauma, of what happened and of what is still happening. I am so fucking lucky to be alive, to be able even to talk about the whole situation from a place of safety, to have a home, to be able to say that my family and friends are ok. I am extremely lucky. There are people that are still caught under the weight of crushing concrete, injured people in hospitals, people who have lost their homes and have to spend the night in shelters, people fighting for their lives, people who have lost their family, their friends; so many have lost so very much, so many are fighting to survive, to make it through this senseless tragedy. The news of the children who lost their lives under the weight of their collapsed school, hit the closest to my experience of the earthquake. My sister had made it unscathed, but other children had died at their school. It is a fucking tragedy. If I could, and I know everyone feels this way, I would give anything to save the lives of those children. I so fucking wish I could give their parents, brothers, sisters, grandfathers, grandmothers, friends -everyone who knew them and loved them- an ounce of meaning, to comfort them, to had been able to protect them, or for them to have had the opportunity I had, the opportunity to be there for my sister.

I so fucking wish I could give everyone, parents, brothers, sisters, grandfathers, grandmothers, friends -everyone who knew and loved someone who was lost to this tragedy- an ounce of meaning, to comfort them, to had been able to protect them, or for them to have had the opportunity I had.

It just breaks my heart knowing others did not have the opportunity to be there for their loved ones. It is so fucking unfair.

My love and my prayers, to all of you, to everyone living through the effects of this tragedy.

DIARY ENTRY #3

Alright!

About two weeks without writing. So let’s get down to it.

I’m deep into Ph.D. applications. Wrote a 20 page writing sample on Judith Butler discussing Foucault and identity politics; numerous drafts of letters of intent (I’m still trying to figure out whether admission committees expect you to talk about yourself or just repeat your resumé on a page); did some research on faculty members; asked three of my former professors to hook me up with letters; and as of today started the grueling task of filling-in forms. I’m about to spend a couple hundred dollars on the applications alone, but fuck it, part of life is trying to pursue one’s dreams whatever the cost. These are the schools (they all conduct research on continental philosophy, and focus on politics and aesthetics):

Penn State, Northwestern, Emory, University of Oregon, Stony Brook, Duquesne, and Concordia. So, if anyone who reads this has any info or feedback on these schools, I would greatly appreciate it!

Oh, and I also started studying for the G.R.E. (what a fucking pain). The maths section looks specially scary. But that’s part of life (remember that scene in which Al Pacino delivers his speech to a Football team in Any Given Sunday?). Speaking of football, I saw a documentary on the life of Stephen Gleason, Gleason. Look it up, you will cry for two hours straight, but for all the right reasons. On the movie front I also saw Goodnight Mommy, which turned out to be a more interesting take on body horror than I expected. That Harry Potter movie with animals (which turns out is pretty damn good). And revisited the infamous Saló. Holy shit: the burning of the eye-sockets continues. (And I’m waiting for It to come out in Mexico, heard good stuff about it, I might have to take on the mammoth novel.)

Got back into videogames. Ever heard of a game called Nioh? All of my samurai fantasies came true. It took me back to the glory days of Diablo. Looking forward to playing The Evil Within 2, hopefully its a return to form for the survival horror genre. Remember Resident Evil 2? What a fucking game!

I survived an earthquake, too. Scary, scary stuff. For a moment I thought I was a goner. I’m still mind fucked as to why Mexico is still standing. We did learn our lesson after the earthquake in ’85. All my love and thanks to the civil engineers, architects, and construction workers who achieved the impossible. Thanks to you, I’m still alive.

Got back into boxing. My teacher is this small, wiery porfessional boxer, by the name of Ricardo Mercado, who, I swear, could punch through a concrete wall. Give it a shot: all your stress will vanish and will be replaced by self-esteem.

Just found out my childhood hero, the former professional skateboarder, Heath Kirchart, is still the coolest guy on planet Earth. Saw a small doc on the return of Bam Margera to skateboarding. For people who, like me, lived the 90’s in their teens, this guy, along with Jackass and the CKY crew, bring back memories of finding out what it meant to be a confused, suburbian kid. Here’s to Bam making a comeback into skateboarding.

I have developed a new found interest that sparked in me after revisiting one of my favorite actions movies, John Wick: the culture of criminal tattoos. There are a couple of documentaries that are specially informative and interesting, one on the culture of tattoos in criminal Russia, particularly the mafia known as the Thief in Law, the other, on the Yakuza, the infamous Japanese mafia (in which members rock what is know as a body suit, they tattoo their whole bodies in Japanese iconography, which can take up to 2 years; talk about endurance). Testimony is particularly interesting in these. In the Yakuza documentary, a woman who was involved with the Japanese mafia, talks about the cleansing value of tattoos. Apparently in Japan tattoos are frowned upon on women, so there is an interesting contradiction going on in her decision to break the taboo. Wish I could talk to this woman and find out more about her story. I’m not looking into getting a tattoo, but it’s sure as shit interesting researching how a medium like the skin can convey so much power and meaning for particular cultures. Foucault would be mind fucked (anyone know if he ever wrote on tattoos?). Each criminal tattoo has its own meaning in the grammar of a language built explicitly to navigate the status-oriented criminal underworld. You can find more about them here. These are perfect examples of how imagery can convey so much power, even to the very point of life and death.

So now I’m looking to make a trip to eastern Europe in December. Any suggestions are welcome!

On the music front, I saw one of my best friends play a show with his band, Carrion Kids. A return by Los Sicóticos, they played a show alongside the legendary Fuzztones in Mexico last January. And heard the new National (I’m seeing them in Mexico in my birthday!). Their new album reminds me a lot of Kid A. The Misfits and The Smiths are the bands that I am yet to see before I die. (By a strange twist of fate I got to see Tool in Mexico a couple of years ago, the unthinkable, right?). But I think I’m fucked on that front. Morrissey doesn’t seem to be needing money, Danzig did, though. So there remains hope in me to see Morrissey and Marr play together on-stage.

That’s it for now. I’ll try to update my writing as much as I can in the upcoming weeks, plus drop a few diary entries.

Wish me luck on my applications (I’ll be finding out if I move back to the U.S. in February, which is motivating, yet scary; let’s just say the current political climate in the U.S. is not particularly the best for immigrants with dreams). Oh, and my veganism turned into pescatarianism: maybe one day I’ll live up to the hype.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE LEFTOVERS AND SOME NOTES ON HEIDEGGER

In The Leftovers, we meet the chief of police of Mapleton New York, Kevin Garney. After an event of sheer absurdity, about 2% of the people in the world vanish into thin air, existential nausea abounds. In Mapleton and beyond, families and friends are torn apart, as well as the spirit and minds of the people left behind. The impossibility of what transpired during “the departure”, turns the world upside down, inasmuch as the event defied the laws of nature; everything is up for grabs, including the sense of the world. Out of the blue, a new cult that goes by the name of the Guilty Remnant (the G.R.), take to the streets. Members of the Remnant dress in pure white, chain-smoke, and don’t talk. Nothing can really be discerned about their behavior and what they represent, and perhaps that is what they want to be represented as: nothing. The Guilty Remnant seek to communicate, through their silence and inaction (a small wink in the direction of H. Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener), that the world ended. They don’t want people to forget the significance of “the departure”: that life makes no sense at all.

The nihilism of the G.R. plays a pivotal role in the Leftovers. They are the radical consequence of the post-apocalypse, a bunch of anarchists preaching that life is void of meaning, that everything embedded in it, culture, and all of its symbols and signifiers, became exhausted in “the departure”. They spread like a cancer on screen and, as we learn more about them, we experience their rage and feel sympathy for what these cult members have lost along the way. Kevin’s ex-wife is G.R. Laurie Garvey was a successful psychiatrist, an exemplary mother and wife. But something in her broke. Something that perhaps was already broken, but found a way to manifest itself through the philosophy of the Guilty Remnant. Laurie feels guilty for being broken, for being unable to give to her family what they need of her. What she needed was to give herself to nothingness.

Kevin’s own manifestation of the consequences of “the departure” is his increasing incapability to have a grasp on his mind. He sleepwalks. During his escapes, the chief shoots dogs with a bolt rifle, in the company of a man who could very well be a figment of his imagination. K. Garvey’s enigmatic companion tells him that “their dogs are no longer their dogs”. Perhaps John Doe has a greater grasp of what is happening. Kevin is incapable of denying that something is happening, as he, too, is incapable of letting go of Laurie’s madness. (Let alone come to grips with his own.) There is something broken in him, too. This “brokenness” leads him to undertake an odyssey to the “other side”, a place beyond death, a place embedded in the fabric of time. On the “other side” awaits a struggle to find sense. I won’t go into detail of the chief’s journey: you’ll have to take the ride for yourself.

But I will leave you with a few concepts to help you unpack Leftovers as the show progressesThe show’s thesis is that death can only be made sense of by confronting it with life. This is the tension represented by Kevin Garvey’s push to “come back home”, and Laurie Garvey’s push to “burn the house down”. (I purposely didn’t go into detail about the rest of the characters because I don’t want to ruin the narrative for you.) This thesis has shades of what the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, explored in his magnum opus, Being and Time; the simple yet perplexing thesis that being is time and that time is finite, that being authentic beings is the task of “coming to terms” with our mortality. We have to take a step back and embrace the freedom of “being-there”, of being beings thrown into the world, so as to take the reins of existence in authenticity: heed the calling of our conscience to turn away from inauthentic being. Kevin Garvey is Heidegger’s da-sein (roughly translated from German as “being-there”). The chief’s search for authenticity consists, as Simon Critchley neatly puts it in his analysis of Being and Time, “in understanding the call, in wanting to have a conscience”. And in making this choice, “to become resolute” in spite of his broken condition.

 

JACOB AND BEARD

It all begins with a single thought.

‘Where the hell am I?’

Me and Beard boast the same fucked-up nightmarish masks; our faces and bodies in decadence. We look like ghouls, but we do not mind. Why should we? Sometimes I try to convince myself that I should stop being such a pessimist.

I think of this as I drink a cup of water in the kitchen. Then, I look at the empty kitchen floor trying to recover my sense of space and time. Meanwhile, Beard’s black eyeballs dance across the kitchen walls; he also scratches his right arm, scratches it as if he wants to pull the skin from his bones, and then pours me another drink. We sit opposite each other. Beard lights a cigarette. The both of us continue to stare, mute. We remain silent, yet unbeknownst to Beard, loud ideas swirl in my head without a particular bearing. I cannot help but think like a dog with rabies. I drink, feeling how the liquid corrodes my throat. And I face Beard. His eyes elicit my tension and fear, as if an invisible spell emanated from them. I open my mouth to say something, but I get caught up in my ideas.

Time goes by as I listen to Beard coughing, his lungs rot.

‘You look like you had a strange dream last night’.

‘I think I did’.

‘What did you dream?’

‘I dreamt of a boy’.

‘What did he look like?’

‘Average’.

‘What did he tell you?’

‘That things would be fine’.

‘Really?’

‘Really’.

‘You really are having a crisis’.

‘At my age?’

‘Yeah’.

‘I suppose you could be right’.

‘Do you think the dream meant anything?’

‘It will mean something if I really want it to mean something. Then again, it could not mean nothing at all. Just my mind playing me tricks. Your call, cabrón‘.

‘If were you, I would think of the dream as a wake up call. Too much thinking, man’.

‘Listen, it is better to think of it as just a dream, nothing more’.

‘True’.

‘Maybe I am too complicated. Hell, we are all complicated. Maybe there is no interpretation to be made. We feed off contradiction, do we not?’

We talk for hours. He leans on the wall, chain smoking and scratching his arm, time and again, as if wanting to tell me something beyond what is said. I sit on the floor thinking ahead of time. At times Beard is philosophical, at times banal. I also fiddle with my hands and daydream inside memories. I answer his questions as they arrive, trying to be as honest as possible. I know Beard knows that philosophy is the road to my heart. He likes pleasing me with questions in an attempt to tear my mask off. So as to take a peak inside of me. But he knows all too well that I will not give him the right answers, for sharing those answers, would mean the end to my mystery. And that mystery is mine alone to know.

DIARY ENTRY #2

I recovered from the terrible flu virus that afflicted my life for a record breaking 14 days.  The only good thing about it was that it forced me to stay at home, doing the things I enjoy the most, reading, movies and television shows. I’m halfway through East of Eden by John Steinbeck. All I have to say about this author is that his character building is matched by none and that his prose is a thing of awe, go get a copy and read away.

I also enjoyed a particular piece on Julian Assange in the New Yorker: a very interesting interview with Simon Critchley; a piece on a certain orange man; a review of a glorious graphic novel by Charles Burns; and a piece by Chuck Klosterman on Radiohead, which appears in his book Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas.

I’m also well into the second season of The Leftovers and its fucking good, I think it might be one of the greatest shows in modern television. This time Damon Lindelof got it right. After the debacle that was the second half of Lost (a show that I love with all of my heart, but that could have been so much better written), I had given up hope on him. He proved me wrong. The show starts off slow, but once you are 5 to 6 episodes in, you will understand why this show is a masterpiece. The acting is excellent, the writing keeps you guessing, the themes that are explored in the show are an absolute mind fuck, the score is magnificent, and the drama digs deep into your subconscious. I’m writing a piece on the show, I hope I can do justice to it.

In other news, I’ve discovered calisthenics and climbing goes hand in hand with veganism. I’m now 3 months into the lifestyle. The side effects are now gone: no more harrowing dreams about eating giant piles of steak.  Try out these documentaries if you want to learn more about going green: Earthlings and What the Health.

I also took the plunge into social media, Facebook. This was a big step for me. I have always had deep reservations about social media.  I’m writing a piece on this now that I have been on both sides of the fences. But so far, it’s not that bad. I contacted people I had lost touch with, I revisited memories from a distant past, and fuck it, I can start to share my stuff to a wider audience. What I don’t like (as I have never) is feeling as if social media makes my identity all the more liquid. But that’s part of being a millennial. I guess I’ll have to tell you all about it as I unpack my experiment with social media.

 

 

 

 

 

ON DEATH

In my life I’ve pondered many times about the meaning of death. Let me rephrase this statement: I’m always pondering about the meaning of death. What does death tell us about life and, should it tell us something in specific about what it means to live, why should death be shrouded in mystery and taboo?

Approaching the question about death raises a set of issues to the person asking the question. The immediate reaction in one’s head is that something is incredibly wrong; the very thinking of the question indicates that there is an underlying issue in the person: why am I thinking about death when living is the most precious of things? Talk about death is frowned upon and seen as something relegated to the depressive, to those who cannot enjoy life, sick. So, would my thinking constantly about death mean that I am depressive? That there is something seriously wrong with me?

When I ask myself these questions, I normally answer that, ‘yes’, I’ve been a depressive person ever since I was about, say, eight years old (when I fully grasped what it meant to be mortal), or that my inquiry into death rises from my experiences with life. The former, I think, holds true to the majority of us who have ventured into deeper thinking about death, it’s an act of bravery (and some would say cowardice), perplexing, which can be liberating, yet also become a prison. The latter, linking life events to my condition as a mortal, seems to be the more interesting route, but making it more interesting, doesn’t necessarily imply that I’m carrying out the right logic, should there ever be a logic intwined to death. This is when I catch myself in my own trap, and realize that this method of inquiry is absurd; trying to pursue death through logic is ill-advised, there is no logic to death. It’s a mystery, in and of itself, and speaking about it from the outside, as someone who hasn’t been dead, is pure speculation or poetry.

This is the answer that resonates to me the most. Death as the ultimate mystery, and vice-versa: if death is the ultimate mystery, then life also is. So, death for better or for worse, points toward sheer mystery, a point of no return, to which we are all walking toward, in acceptance or negation, and about which ‘nothing’ can really be said (Wittgenstein comes to mind, among other more optimistic thinkers, for example Plato, and Epicurus; and a whole canon of writers, like Camus and Dostoevsky).

Death is no taboo to our inner lives, although to society, death is similar to pornography. We pass over it in silence, tip-toeing, censoring our anxieties about the topic and setting them aside, in the back of our heads, lest we perish to a psychotic break or confront mystery in the face.

We all share in this mystery, and the mystery cannot ever be put into definition, but the mystery confronts us in every waking moment of the spectacle we have so neatly demarcated with the word, ‘life’. So life is no taboo and a taboo, a mystery and not a mystery. We all know what it means, what it is, yet don’t (much like Heidegger used to tell us that we know yet don’t know what ‘being’ is). We all speak about it to ourselves, sometimes with others in tragedy, regret; in sheer happiness, even. It’s the ultimate paradox. But the very thing about the paradox, is that its opposites resonate precisely because its opposites are fixed in tension, there can’t be death without life, and life without death. Personally, I carry death with me all the time, and that very tension, is the constant reminder of something that I have been forced to forget by my own culture and society (like many thinkers and writers have reminded us in their own pursuits), that I know yet don’t know, and that this means that I am part of the unknowable, that I pretend to know.

DIARY ENTRY #1

My mind is dazed and confused in the late hours of the night, after an incessant bombardment of full-length movies and documentaries, video-clips of all assortments, and cross-examinations of contrasting news in the web, all which make up my typical reaction to feeling displaced in this world.

This description sounds a tad dramatic. Allow me to explain the context: (1) I’m in the full swing of a flu virus, (2) it has almost been two months since I turned vegan, (3) the  political situation in the United States is tantamount to reading absurd fiction, and (4) I’ve been feeling pretty furious as of late.

(1) A few years ago I would’ve recovered from the common flu in, tops, 3 to 4 days. I am about to break the ceiling with a record 8 days. I am not feeling all that well yet, which is depressing news. Seems like age does take its toll. Now that I am nearing my 30’s, this truth is all the more apparent.

(2) I watched a documentary called Earthlings, go check it out if you want to be scarred for life. Veganism seemed like the better option with regard to my dieting choices after having my eyes be burnt out of their sockets. I am, however, feeling great now that I have survived this far without eating meat: all the amazing! benefits preached by vegans seem to be true. This does not mean that my identity is not broken. I love eating meat. What does it mean that I no longer eat meat by choice? Well, a great many things which I am slowly unpacking as I discover more and more about the lifestyle.

(3) News on the events that transpired over the weekend in a certain Charlottesville, and the subsequent press conference by a certain man with orange skin, tore a hole in my soul. I really do not have to go into detail (unless you are a neo-Nazi) as to why this particular weekend in politics unearthed the ugly underbelly of hate. If I was already in panic mode, I must confess that I am nearing a nervous breakdown. How the fuck is that man still President?

(4) All of the above: recognizing that life is too short, that change comes from accepting uncomfortable truths, that the world is not getting better, and that the fucking flu sucks. I feel terrible. Honest to God, I want to keep faith in this world and in our species, but people just keep making it hard to do so (and so do diseases).

And, now thinking more about what has been bothering me, I want to add (5): following the death by overdose of one of my heroes, Scott Weiland, two more, Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington, died by suicide in a matter of months (though some stupid assholes have sprung cringeworthy conspiracy theories around the events).

What the fuck, man.

On a positive note, Annabelle Creation surpassed my expectations, David F. Sandberg is the next great thing to happen to horror. I am a huge horror fan, so take my advice if you are too: go on and watch it.

A certain ex-president twitted a Mandela quote that brought my spirits up because it reminded me of the better angels in humanity.

Manchester United started the season in rockstar fashion.

And, as bad as the world is getting by the second, books, music, art, sports, cinema, family and friends (among other less important, yet valuable things), are still here to keep me believing that life is awesome.

 

CALEB

The essay was near completion. But having read the first draft, Caleb felt that his meditation was incomplete. Perhaps he was not meant to write on the topic of love. He had not really had the type of love found in literature and cinema. Maybe he was saved a lot of heartache, yet a part of him wished he could think about a time in which he loved and was loved in return, as romantic lovers do. Caleb was twenty-five, living in an apartment downtown he could barely afford, studying a master’s degree in English Literature in a university a quarter of an hour away on foot.

At this point of the day, say around six in the afternoon, a half hour after class, he felt the most lonesome. He did not have plans with his peers, for he was too much of an introspective person to bother. Somewhere between his eighteen and twenty years of age, he promised himself that he would stop feeling guilty for not being able to function in human relationships, and that he would live his life as he saw fit. Yes, he had made friends over the years but he did not keep contact with them, for the single fact that he cared little for relationships in which he felt no connection whatsoever. His way of thinking about the subject was that one can function perfectly alone and save up a lot of trouble, and instead work on things that sum up to be of value in one’s heart. In Caleb’s case, his reading and writing, and his routine at home. Perhaps this is why he had little to say about love: he felt little to no attachment to others. Today, during the walk home, for example, he day-dreamed of flying to some remote location on Earth, in the northern or southern hemisphere, where only kindred spirits dare. He had never been to the snow, and something about the prospect of being in the snow felt attractive to him. Maybe Caleb had accepted he was bound for a lonely life, but that did not stop him from dreaming about listening to the sound of a howling wolf or a growling bear in the distant cold.

At home, Caleb would change into comfortable clothes to do his chores, which came down to keeping up with his reading, house-keeping, and cooking dinner, things he found great pleasure in. He had stacks of paper with his handwriting on his desk and a bookcase with titles of all sorts, fiction and non-fiction. His mother, Julia, gave them to him before he left to college. She was diagnosed with breast cancer during his sophomore year and, after a year or so of battling the disease with chemotherapy, she passed away. Her books were her gift to him, which he read with great care after her death; he promised her he would keep adding to the collection, in hopes that one day his personal library would be as magnificent as his mother would have wanted. Not surprisingly, he decided on doing graduate work in English literature. His mother had been a writer and, having been raised by her in a house full of letters, all Caleb was descent at was reading and writing. (His mother had been a relatively successful writer, having a pair of titles under her name, including a drama set in a dystopian future, and a thriller detailing the life of a kidnapped child in the sixties, both of which were published by somewhat important editorials.) The fact that he had no other relative with which to relate (he never met his father, and his mother’s family had become estranged), made sure that his way of dealing with the world was through the connection he had to characters in his books.

By eleven or twelve into the night, Caleb would be ready for bed. This is when he felt most at home with himself. He would write for an hour or so on anything he pleased. Today, he was writing about love, because he had felt on his walk home what could be described as love at first sight, something which frighten yet enraptured him, for its inner workings were strange and mysterious to him. Maybe if he worked out what love meant in the broad sense, he could face the fact that he had felt something similar to romantic love, in the form of a girl sitting on a bench, under the twilight of a fading sun.

The first and second pages of his essay dealt with versions of what authors thought about love. Plato suggested love was a form of affective repetition between men. Milan Kundera posited that love is an experience of heaviness or lightness and, depending on the person’s identity and circumstance, love can be fulfilment or destruction. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the paradigm of tragic love, a person’s fate is sealed by his experience of finitude as tied to the recipient of his adoration. Love abounds in visual spectacle, too, for example, in movies like Annie Hall and Blue Valentine, both which depict different versions of human love, the former, the intellectual love between two persons that cannot think of life as otherwise ironic, the latter the type that emerges from the burning intensity experienced by two people, inexplicably intwined by the magnetic pull of erotic desire. This type of love was the one that Caleb most desired, for he yearned to feel at home in another person’s arms.

In the third and fourth pages, he wrote on his own experience with love. His love was narrowed down to his mother’s. But his mother’s love was the type of love that exists in the implicit (words and gestures), but never realized in physical forms of affection. He felt beloved by his mother, but rarely did she hug or kiss him as mothers ought. She would tell him she loved him, and that he was her humbug (early into the night); things he remembered happening up until his early adolescence. Afterward, she had proceeded to live a cold relationship with Caleb, not so much because she wanted it to be so, but because she was ill-prepared to give love to her son, due to her own traumatic relationship with love. Although Julia gave Caleb a home and a ways forward, her intrinsic apathy had touched Caleb in good and bad ways. But now that she was presumably elsewhere in the universe, and him on Earth, he valued her love for him in a newfound way, namely, as that of a person with a difficult relationship to love, albeit the thing closest to feeling cared for in the unconditional.

The fifth page was the hardest to write. In conclusions, writers try to summarise their ideas in order to come up with with a new way to understand what they put on paper. But Caleb could not figure out what his conclusion was. One conclusion, he thought, might run along the lines of the redemptive quality of love. He reasoned that another conclusion could bear upon the loss incurred by love in trial and circumstance. For Caleb, however, both conclusions seemed inevitable: love can give meaning to a person’s life, but at the same time, love can break a person’s spirit. Maybe if his mother had not been that cold a person, he would not need be so alone; yet, without his mother’s love,  he would not be so aware of his own existence.

The young man concluded that he would have liked his mother to live longer, and for him to have had the opportunity to tell her these things. Perhaps she could have explained to him why she loved him the way she did.

Soon afterward, Caleb’s eyes shut tight as a room does when locked by a key. Inside his mind palace, he dreamt of the girl on the bench.

STEPHEN KING ON WRITING

I had the pleasure of devouring On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King in a single sitting. I bought the book in Lima’s airport and read it in the six-hour flight home. It was heartwarming, lucid and transformative.

The American author’s prose is clean, structured and to the point, which is refreshing given the amount of writers that opt for style over clarity. King divides his book into three sections; the first details some of his memories, the second constitutes a writing masterclass and the final section describes his personal connection to writing (after a serious life-changing experience).

Besides learning some of the best writing advice I have read in my life, I also took home a memorable scene. Without spoiling much, King recounts his downfall into drug addiction and his subsequent redemption, which concludes by meditating on the role writing plays in the lives of men and women behind the pen (or keyboard). His personal conclusion is that writing ought to be a support system for life; not the other way around. If there is a theme in his book it would be this: don’t delude yourself that writing (or any artistic enterprise) is a tragic, destructive affair; it can (and has in many cases) helped people lead fulfilling lives. It can elicit virtue.

Steve’s life evidences his thesis. Although a man with more than a few demons, the author is happily married, continuing his life’s work, beloved and universally recognized. He argues that praise, sex, fame nor money should be the goal for aspiring writers. And in philosophical fashion, King suggests that writing should be enough. If you’re serious about it (and ‘walk the walk and talk the talk’) the rest will follow.

I’m with you, Steve. This book became an instant classic in my library. I strongly encourage everyone to pick it up from your local bookstore.