“See this tiny door,” says Murat, pointing to the service entrance of the luxurious Four Seasons in Sultanahmet. “This is the door prisoners walked out of the day they were released. It is why the street is still called Happy Day.” We grin. “And the other street up there,” he adds, pointing to the hotel entrance now blocked by a line of black Mercedes and BMV sedans. ”That is where they went in. It’s called Arrest Alley. We Turks find it amusing. They spend millions and millions of dollars turning a jail into a prison but forget to change the names of the streets.”
Gallows humor comes naturally to Murat. The friend of a very old friend in London, he is a jolly looking man in his early 70’s with a small belly, scruffy salt and pepper beard, and brown eyes that glint, occasionally, even twinkle. He is also a legend, an old world Marxist, an intellectual and author, who spent three years in prison for political crimes back in the 80’s. This, when Turkey was ruled by a military junta. “I have to respect Mr. Erdogan,” he says early in our tour. “He is the man who put the generals in jail. But then—and he chuckles—he is also the man who put the press in jail.”
Dodging a sudden rush of pushcarts, we weave through the insanely crowded, steep side streets of Eminou, an area that reminds me of the once bustling garment district in New York. Here, he he comes to another abrupt halt. Pointing to the names chiseled into the sooty, stone facades of ornately decorated 19th century buildings, he says: “These are hans, commercial houses. They were built towards the end of the Ottoman empire, back in the last days of Constantinople. And the names, all the names, are Armenian.”
Not long ago, this quiet homage, this gesture on the part of Murat, would have been considered subversive, even treasonous. Because the names are a form of testimony; proof that for centuries, more than a quarter of a million Armenians lived and worked in this city. The subject of the massacres, the wholesale slaughter of the country’s Armenian population, in the 1840’s and then again, in the 1920’s when Turkey successfully fought to become a nation, is still hugely controversial. To acknowledge it endangers the heroic god-like stature of Ataturk himself. It is only thanks to the stubborn, courageous voices of men like Murat, the writer, Orhan Pamuk, and others, that the taboo has, finally, been broken.
Perhaps, it is his outspokenness, his own personal history, that explains why so many young people ask for iPhone photos. I’m delighted, of course. These occasional paparazzi stops allow me to breathe a bit; to take the weight off my broken toes. (Yes, I broke my fucking toes, a week before departure.) “I am going to surprise you now,” he grins. “I’m going to take you somewhere few tourists ever go.” And he’s off, like some Turkish Sherpa, racing through the labyrinth of the Grand Bazaar. Touts shout and beg us to buy. I see a blur of neon lit signs for Caviar (“All gone”, says Murat. “Fished out.”), trendy bath and leather shops, watch shops, shops selling diamonds, and a spectacular gold domed pavilion where we take a sharp right. “The pavilion was famous for pudding,” Murat says. “I ate it as a child. Now no one wants it anymore.”
The sharp, fluorescent lights, and these oh so clean and pristine little lanes are nothing like Aleppo. It wasn’t grand, that fabulous bazaar beneath the Citadel. The medieval maze, the labyrinth of shops… They were dirty and barely lit. Camel’s heads hung from hooks, dripping blood. Slow moving donkeys, even sheep, blocked our impatient path. Looms were worked by fast moving fingers while men whittled wood and shoveled dough into ancient ovens. Until that moment when everything changed; that moment when we stood helpless and panicked, watching Idris, our “guide”, hit over and over again in the head by men, wielding those heavy metal poles they use to roll up shutters in the souk. His screams haunt me, still. I’ve heard that half of the souk was burned to ashes last spring. Yet despite that one hideously violent encounter, I treasure the memory of being there.
And I wonder what has happened to the incredibly kind, generous people we met? Where are they now? Are the mothers and children in camps on the Turkish border? Are the kids, the teenage boys, who introduced themselves as ‘professors’ of English, now fighters? Have they disappeared? Are they dead? I wonder why it is that when you hear that someone has died, someone you may have met maybe only once or twice, they no longer feel like a stranger. Then I hear Murat’s voice. “ It’s just ahead,” he shouts. “Up those flights of stairs.” I’m grateful for the voice. Like the hand that wrenches one out from the pull of a treacherous undertow, it brings me back the present. ‘
We’re standing in the ruins of an ancient han, an 11th century warehouse. The arcade, the galleries, above the courtyard are totally intact. “Nothing can be more animated and original than the great hall of these buildings when caravans arrived, ” wrote Charles White, a wandering Brit in 1846. “A wild and picaresque mixture of camels, horses, and mules in fantastic trappings, attended by men attired in every possible garb, armed with every possible weapon.” As we climb the first set of marble stairs, stairs worn thin and slippery by the feet of those who climbed before us: Persians, Russians, Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Africans, and Egyptians, I am thinking of how astonishing, how truly cosmopolitan, this city was during the times of the Sublime Porte, the Sultans. Peering into the doorways of tiny cells that line the darkly lit corridors, I fantasize about their contents. Rich, heavy silks, European broadcloth, frankincense, cotton, gold, sable and other furs, emeralds from India via Egypt, spices, even toothpicks made of ivory, orange and olive wood. I read somewhere that when money was exchanged between merchant and buyers, the coins were washed in purified water. A ritual that dated back to the terrors of the Plague.
Then, we’re climbing higher. Murat is speaking to a toothless old man, a man so diminished by time, he could be a jinn. He heads into a cell, furnished with a miniature mattress, a bunson burner. He grabs an enormous ring of keys from a hook near the window, and eagerly leads us towards another door. “We call him the porter,” says Murat. “Before I started coming up here, he had no job. He ran errands for the men who work here, carrying trays of hot tea or cleaning out the garbage. He is happier now.”
The door seems reluctant to open, even with the cajoling of our jinn. He pushes, it creaks, he pushes some more, and slowly, ever so slowly, it opens. Murat smiles. “You’ll like this,” he says. And I do. Suddenly, we’re strolling across the roof of this spectacular han, wandering along its twelve leaded domes. Grass, flowers, even a small tree grow around us. Like a meadow on top of the world. The sky, as blue as an Izmit tile, and the view… I put my hands on my knees for a moment and breathe. Suleiman’s mosque is so close, I feel as if I could reach out and touch it. Hundreds of boats: ferries, fishing boats, even cruise ships make their way across the Golden Horn. I can see the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, and Uskadar, the Asian town once known as Scutari, where Florence Nightingale came as a nurse during the Crimean War. I am so moved by this orgy of sensations, I want to cry. And then, there is that explosion of sound from the minarets, the muezzin’s call to prayer. It’s everywhere. This is what I’ve missed in my years away from the world of travelling— these rare moments of such radiant happiness; of such child-like awe and wonder, you don’t think. You don’t dream. You just submit. You surrender. “Thank you,” I say to Murat. “Thank you.” He touches my arm. “A pleasure, he says. “Really.”
Ceyda G. is the daughter of Turkish diplomats. 31- years- old and eight months pregnant, she was with us in Gezi Park on Thursday afternoon, proudly pointing out the marvels of improvisation that, until police savagely destroyed it on Saturday night, had transformed this makeshift encampment of protesters into a symbol of hope and change for millions all over Turkey. An executive assistant for the president of a small but successful mergers and acquisition firm, Ceyda is one of the most level headed, dispassionate women I know. “Our company is connected to the government, of course. All successful companies are. But I have been here every night after work with my colleagues since June 1st. And my boss knows it. We bring medicine for the hospital tent, fire extinguishers, and food. “ Circling in and around the maze of tents, I stopped to read a placard: “Foreign Spies Within,” it said. The tousled head of a boy popped out. “We’re Erasmus students,” he croaked, before disappearing back inside to sleep. I also shook hands with an author who was signing copies of her new novel at the free library. The books were then inked with a special stamp: Gezi Park, Istanbul, 2013. The children’s art school was closed but the café was open. Two bearded middle-aged men in suits handed out hot bread, luscious fresh tomatoes, and bottles of cold water. I nodded and smiled at a beautiful, dark haired, woman emerging from yet another tent. Dressed in a linen floral print shift and slender brown leather sandals, she was carrying a briefcase. “Business as usual In Turkey,” Ceyda laughed.
Not quite, I thought. The night before we had eaten dinner at Bukhara, our favorite restaurant in Sultanahmet, the ancient neighborhood of Istanbul where busloads of tourists wait in endless lines to gape at the Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia, and Topkapi. “Two weeks ago, you could not get a chair inside or out without reservation,” our waiter said. “Now look.” The place was almost empty. There was something surreal not just about the vacant restaurant but about that whole scene at Taksim Square, the day before we left for New York. The idea of a woman, 8 months pregnant, casually strolling past hundreds of armed riot police—the same police who, only two days earlier, had fired tear gas and water cannons into the crowds. Yet here we were watching them devour their lunch-time salads and kebabs from take-out containers while peddlers in nearby carts and kiosks sold fresh flowers, gas masks, and pastel colored swimming goggles.
“Many of them have been here as long as we have,” said another young woman named Aylin as she walked us towards a restaurant to re charge her iPhone. “They don’t sleep, they haven’t seen their families. They’re scared.” Her compassion astonished me. A freelance human resources consultant, she and two friends had been sharing a tent since June 3rd. “I haven’t left the park for a meal in over a week,” she added. “Not until today. I feel guilty. The energy, the connection, inside here is so strong. “ As the waiters embraced her and offered free glasses of tea (‘from the heart’, they said. ‘On the house.’), she talked about her social media campaign. “Allah versus the Internet, I call it. There’s a big group of us who reach out every day to friends in Europe. But it’s getting more difficult. I’m not sure if the government is jamming our servers or if they are just overloaded.” Taking me by the hand, she then led me down the street towards the 5 star Divan Hotel. “These are our heroes right now, “ she smiled, waving to the uniformed doormen. “The Koc family. They have opened their floors to us, taken in the wounded. People say that their friend Erdogan, has already launched a tax investigation into their businesses.” The Koc family also owns Migros, a chain of Turkish supermarkets. “They have set up a digital service for protestors,” Aylin said. “We place an order on line, punch in our credit card number, and the food is delivered right to the park.”
This complicity, this silent support on the part of one of Turkey’s richest families, with a group Erdogan himself has referred to as ‘looters’ and ‘drunkards’ would have been unimaginable a mere month ago. But no more unimaginable than the support of women like Ceyda, and Aylin and the corporate lawyer we met in Alacati, a resort town on the Aegean coast that is Turkey’s version of East Hampton. Dressed in a short black silk skirt and transparent white chiffon shirt, she and her extremely elegant date were seated at a table next to us. Within minutes of our arrival, she insisted on sharing a glass of Raki, (“lion’s milk,” she winked) and their main dish, a salt encrusted sea bass. “I have been bored for years in my work,” she said, delicately removing the skeleton of bones for us. “I have wanted a job that would make me happier, more peaceful. But for the first time in my life, my work means something. I am helping defend the people who have been arrested.” Her date leaned over and kissed her.
Oddly enough, it was the coffee we shared with a rug dealer three hours before our departure that touched me the most. He and his uncle owned a store down the block from our hotel. We called him the Turkish Daniel Day Lewis. Every morning, he would catch a glimpse of us, rushing past and run out, shouting: “Please, let me help you spend your money, lady. I am good at spending your money. “ (The only thing more persistent and/or reliable than the muezzzin’s call to prayer in Istanbul is this constant, clamorous call to buy, buy, buy.) But on Friday afternoon, there was no sales pitch. “Come in for coffee,” he begged. “No rugs, I promise. Just coffee and talk. “ So we sat, cross legged on a magnificently threadbare old Kerman and listened. “Did you go to the piano concert,” he asked, hopefully. (The concert in the park on the night of June 12th made news all across the world.)
“No, we missed it.”
“Ah! It was so good, he said, wistfully. “There is no business now,” he added, matter- of- factly. “I have never known this to happen. But it is OK. Because I don’t think about that now. All I think about is Gezi Park.”
This is all I am thinking about, too, on this Monday morning in New York. I am thinking about and wondering what happened to Aylin and the beautiful, young woman I saw emerging from her tent with the briefcase. I am wondering if the lawyer we met in Alacati has been arrested and if those doormen at the Divan Hotel were hurt when police tear gassed the lobby on Saturday night. I am even wondering about the Koc family. Thankfully, our friend Ceyda is fine. We spoke on Saturday morning, an hour after the police, those same police I had watched eat their lunch on Thursday afternoon, demolished the physical evidence of what had become such a fragile but incredibly courageous symbol of hope and change. “I’m alright,” she said. “I thought about going in but I was so tired. So I stayed home. But I forgot to tell you about my appointment with the doctor. He did a sonogram. He pointed to the baby’s hand. “See that?” he said. “The fingers of the hand are closed.”
“Yes, because it’s a fist,” I said to the doctor. “A fist of defiance.”
This morning, Wednesday, Ceyda is back at work in her office near Taksim Square. She e mailed me a photo of the famous Standing Man with this comment: I love the idea of a movement symbolized by stillness.
She also sent along a recent government press release with her favorite paragraph highlighted. “I think I am living in the Twilight Zone,” she said.
Statement on the Recent Developments by Egemen Bagis
Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator
“Turkey has the most reformist and strongest government in Europe and the most charismatic and strongest leader in the world. Should anyone have a problem with this, then I am truly sorry. Only for those who feel overwhelmed, the leadership of Prime Minister Erdoğan is a problem.”
Feel free to check in or not. Back mid June. Thanks to all for reading.
"She carried herself in such a way as to suggest that she judged you by how you overcame your fears. This, she seemed to say, was the purpose of being alive."
"I can say that this moment is what makes us human and the very darkness you confront will make you burn with a light so heartbreakingly short, just a breath on coals, but which (if you are like me) will be distinguished by your caring for others. That is the best. The darkness that you face is cunning and it knows that time is its ally, its devious, vicious compatriot, and that the two together can get people to do all kinds of things out of fear, out of terror, which let me tell you, is not something to be sneered at."
"just a breath on coals…" sublime. From All the Dead Yale Men. A marvelous, marvelous book
Picture this… It’s Friday night and you’re at a pet circus. (And OK. What the hell are you, what am I, doing at a pet circus?) The theater is packed, hundreds of little children, screaming. The lights dim. More screams. Then we see a four story cardboard building. It’s on fire. No, surely not. But yes, smoke billows from the windows. We hear a sound track of barking dogs and meowing cats. The audience whimpers. What the fuck? Pets trapped in a burning building? How sick is this? But hey, we’re in Brighton Beach. And this is a RUSSIAN pet circus. So, of course, there are pets trapped in a burning building. A tiny red fire engine roars to the rescue. Bells ringing. Cats stand, drunkenly, on two legs, carrying pails of water. Two of them attempt to climb a ladder and fail. We gasp. Eventually, with the help of their trainer, a man who looks like a geriatric, alcoholic, Daniel Craig, the fire is put out.
Oh how I love Brighton Beach. Land of tortuously teased, blown out, bottle blondes in spiky heels; of thug-like men in shiny suits and the original babushkas, grandmothers wrapped in the carcasses of short-haired mink and squirrel. Smiling, always smiling. This is not a group with much grace or style. But there is canniness, a great love of small children and a sense or respect for occasion. I’m sure that the audience still dresses not just for Church but perhaps even for trips to the airport. Stuck in its own twilight zone; in a time warp, Brighton Beach is all that is left in the world of Old Russia. Pre oligarch, pre Putin and designer logos, it is the Russia that was once ruled by a single logo: the hammer and sickle. Obviously, this is a demented sort of nostalgia. No one misses Communism, except perhaps, for the millions who are pensionless, hungry, and broke. The audience around me are immigrants, all of whom fled the old Russia. But there is something about the tackiness; the fact that the show is so imperfect and even wildly inappropriate, that appeals to me. Unlike extravagant, multi million dollar spectacles like Cirque de Soleil , spectacles that are now almost boring, precisely because they are so flawless and sanitized, there is an intimacy to the shows here in Brighton Beach. It is an intimacy that, despite its casual cruelty to animals and the weary, sad face of the trainer, seems utterly human.
When we discreetly sneak out of the theater for dinner nearby, I remember my favorite scene in Slava, The Snow Show. (Slava is Russia’s most famous clown.) Slava enters the stage dragging a rope. There is a noose around his neck. He’s tired. As he slowly, ever so slowly, walks towards the other side of the stage, he continues to look back, pulling and dragging on this endless piece of rope. He looks out at the audience. He shrugs. He goes back to work., Then, suddenly, we see what’s at the other end. It’s another clown. With a noose around his neck. I guffaw. I laugh so hard, I’m crying. The rest of the audience, mostly American, is not laughing. They sit there, stunned and silent, wondering what they missed. Namely, the point. Two suicidal clowns, unable to even kill themselves because they share the same piece of rope. I thought it was brilliant. The scene was cut after that first performance on opening night.
“I like a man whose life has been anything but a smooth trip,” says the writer, James Salter. “Storms have battered them. They’ve lain, somehow, for months, becalmed. There is a residue even if they fail. They have grand chords.”
“Nothing stands still and remains as it is…”
No idea why I’m sitting here this morning, thinking about snow. It’s spring. But there I was, standing on top of the steepest, most lethal, sledding hill I’d ever seen. This was in Russia. The landscape below looked like a Bruegel painting with a miniature snow covered lake and tiny ant-size figures, moving about in bright, primal colors. Kids thrust themselves off the precipice and flew down the hill, lost in war whoops of sheer terror and joy.
“I’m going,” I, suddenly, muttered to myself. I’m going down that hill if kills me.” (Keep in mind here that I am the woman who got so sick on the ride BodyWars at Disneyland, I had to be escorted from my seat and out of the theater by security officers.) Tucking my pants into a pair of cozy felt boots (Boots so warm, I’m convinced they helped Russia defeat the Germans in WWII,), I grab a sled, sit down like a guru, wrap the rope around my fingers, and close my eyes.
“Across the lake,” says my Russian friend, P., like a general, goading on his troops. He’s pointing to what looks like fucking Latvia, it is so far away. “And no brakes!”
He gives me a running push. And I’m off. Eyes squeezed shut, heart in throat, back as stiff as a tree. I’m barreling down the slope so fast, I can’t close my mouth. “I’m going to die. I’m going to die,” I’m thinking, sneaking a peak at the giant bump ahead, that finally, shoots me over the last hill and onto the ice. My grin is frozen. My face hurts. But I’ve made it.
The struggle up the hill is murderous, feet sinking in deep, cold snow, dragging the sled, gasping for breath. But when I arrive at the top, my kids are cheering and the Russians are laughing. “You are a fighter,” P. says, lifting me up off the ground when he hugs me. “I always knew you were a fighter.” P. is the only man who has ever picked me off the ground when he hugs me. But this is the greatest, most touching compliment, I have ever received from P. Because it is he who is the real fighter.
Anyway, the sledding, no, the hill, must be some kind of dumb metaphor. I am obsessed with fucking metaphors. Maybe I’m thinking of it because I am furious at myself for all this standing still. Or because I wish to hell the hill that lies ahead of me was just a tiny bit smaller. I’ve never mastered the art of taking life one step at a time. I like to leap, even if means I lose my footing. What’s missing are those child-like whoops of terror and joy. Enough of THIS. I’m off to the dentist.
April was my birthday month. In yet another bizarre, possibly desperate move, to reinvent myself, I bought a ticket for the New York Post Page Six tour bus. R. recently suggested I work as an official guide. “It would be great practice for your stand up/one woman show,” he said.. I thought it was hilarious. A brilliant idea. I’ve been crazy about Page Six, not to mention Post headlines, for twenty five years. (The rest of the paper, of course, is a nightmare.) Which might explain why I was the only customer. I wasn’t totally alone. There was also a hunched over, elderly, thin haired man and three young, Post photographers. “We’re here to promote the tour,” one of them said.
"Good luck with that!’ I thought as they began snapping pics of everything but the empty bus.
It was not an auspicious start. In fact, I was ready to pay to get OFF the bus (which is saying something considering it cost 49 bucks to get on) when we turned left from 7th Avenue onto 55th street and the elderly, thin-haired man (my guide) reached for an inhaler. Yes, an inhaler. “This,” he gasped, pointing feebly at a building, ” is home to, gasp, the most expens (deep breath) ive apartment in Manhattan.”
Oh My God, I muttered. Please don’t tell me I have 2 hours ahead, watching this poor man gasp and inhale while sitting on the top of a windy, practically empty, fucking tour bus on my birthday. But yes, this is precisely what lay ahead of me. When we hit Fifth and he signaled me to move to the seat directly behind him, I probably should have just jumped. “It’s only the, gasp, two of us.” He smiled. “Right, i said. “How intimate.”
What followed was a half- hearted, listless litany of very old headlines (Ie Headless Woman in Topless Bar) and truly ancient gossip re Ivana Trump (Ivana who?What was she? Like three, four, lives/wives ago for Donald?) When we reached 23rd St, I couldn’t bear to watch the guy suffer, anymore. So I stood up and started telling/sharing my own stories about life and gossip in Greenwich Village. They were mostly stories about money. Duh. My 1 million dollar parking space, the 33 million dollar fully furnished, uninhabited townhouse which is owned by a former hedge funder who actually lives in an apartment across the street, etcetc. The photogs ate it up. Some of it was true, some of it I made up on the spot. I’m good at that, making things up.
But sure as hell not as good as TJ and Dave, two wonders of the long form improv world. Their show, a one hour, one act play at the Barrow Theater, is like watching an Olympics for brainiacs . The one liners at the end of each scene come as fast and furious, as faultlessly on the mark, as those breathtaking backflips in Monday’s video. Their feats of mental derring do and wit defy not just the imagination but death itself. Because to do this for sixty uninterrupted minutes, to work without a net, puts you at the mercy of the merciless. That being, an audience. These men,however, had us at: Trust Us, This is all Made-up. (Their version of hello.) Oh. wait. My son also treated me to Moth.
The line to get into this short (‘Im talking very short) story telling event in Soho meandered all the way to the end of the block. So, the first thrill for me, was skipping the line and walking straight to my seat. How I love when that happens. The second was listening to 5 enthusiastic amateurs condense a real life mystery into ten minutes, including punch line. All before a jury of their peers. Even if some of them faltered, stuttered and/or lost their train of thought, you had to love them just for getting up there; for their bravado
Speaking of which…. Bravado, I mean. How bout a one woman show about working the wilds of Alaska as a stripper? Naked in Alaska was the title. It wasn’t wasn’t just the extraordinary story that left me short of breath (and what is it about me and fucking breathlessness in this post?) it was the pole dancing. HOLY GOD! I was mesmerized. The woman practically did one handed back flips. It was a sublime final act in my week or two, living the lives of others. Now back to studying for my exam as an official tour guide. Just kidding. I discovered, shortly after my tour, that becoming a guide ain’t exactly easy. There are three volumes of New York history to read and a 400 question test.
”What were you thinking, Mom?” said my son. “Were you just gonna get up there with a mic and make it up?”
"Yup," I said. "That’s exactly what I was gonna do. Tourists wouldn’t know the difference. And at least, it would be interesting."
Apple picking. Cop slang for stealing an iPhone
Cast and blast. The term a Republican friend/banker used to describe a week of fishing and hunting with clients.
“One does not find solitude, one creates it,” says Marguerite Duras in her succinct, albeit solemn, essay on writing. “Solitude,” she adds,”is the thing without which one does nothing.” On Sunday, I abandoned a gloriously sunny afternoon for the darkness of a movie theater on 12th St. They were showing, Herman’s House, a documentary about convicted killer, Herman Wallace—a man who has spent 40 of his 72 years alone in a windowless, 6 foot by 9 foot prison cell. The dungeon, they call it out at Angola.
In 2001, Herman begins a relationship via letter and telephone with Jacki Summell, a young, highly strung, visual artist from Long Island. “The only way out of prison,” she tells her distant new friend, “is to dream.” What Herman dreams of is a house. Over the next several years, he and Jacki continue to communicate/collaborate via snail and telephone, eventually bringing that dream house to life—virtually and then with a wooden model, complete with swimming pool, garden, and hot tub. (A hot tub that measures exactly 6 ft. by 9 ft.) Unlike Herman who never leaves his cell, the house and the artist travel to galleries all over the world.
I rarely have a problem with solitude. I revel in it. For me, solitude is a luxury. But I also know that there are times when the joy and the luxury of solitude, somehow, slip into the quiet anguish of isolation. I know this because I have spent too much time recently, alone and unoccupied.
I like that word: unoccupied. It implies vacancy. Which is how I feel when I am isolated. Vacant. Spiritless. I try and write my way out of it. The same way others go for a jog or a swim. Ferociously, gracefully, awkwardly… It doesn’t matter how I do it. The act of doing it, the effort, consoles me. Yesterday, I did a word count on my old blog. The blog that once had the same population as the island of Malta. Over a three year period, I wrote 172, 342 words. That’s 574 pages at 300 words per page. Or the equivalent of THREE books. Within that time, I also wrote my first novel. But I’ve strayed seriously ‘off message’ here.
Solitude versus isolation. “Hold your head up and keep moving,” Herman tells his young friend after yet another appeal for his release from solitary confinement is denied and she weeps on the telephone. What astonished me was the bizarre reversal of roles. It should have been Jacki not Herman speaking those words of comfort and reassurance. But it seems that words (versus Jesus) are Herman’s salvation. Although alone, he has been far from unoccupied. He reads. I sensed such pride and power in his casual use of very big words—words like conducive, perfunctory, incumbent… I assume that books are the only company Herman keeps. They are not just his window, his view of the outside world, but a way to connect with other humans. As such, they also give him dignity, perhaps even the hope that one day he will be free to go out and see the house he built with Jacki. In the meantime, I will think of Herman in those moments when I despair; when words elude me and I dare to whine/complain about isolation.