Crazy hair and a singing heart
Not enough metaphors left to tell this story.
Of dreams and impossible adventures of the heart.
Not the linear kind, but the explosives-and-walking-on-hot-coal type of adventure.
Of unexpected bliss and swarms of butterflies,
Of betrayed trust, second chances and elaborated excuses.
I make them as much for me as I do for you.
- The truth did not discourage you? you whisper.
Perhaps you're shocked, perhaps you are still not sure if it did.
What can I tell you that you do not already know?
We act like we're surprised at what we are doing, yet this was the road we chose.
You turned the blinker on and I helped turn the car around.
And the ride is like a cabriolet on a sunny road to the beach.
Crazy hair and a singing heart.
What can I tell you about me?
That my relationship with truth is a very complicated one.
That I am strong, independent and fragile, and so very shaky on the inside.
That I will use your guilt against you before you can turn it on me.
But, also this:
That I will be gone before any of your disaster scenarios could ever come true.
Trust me, I am telling you stories.
Someone else's ceiling
It was true once, that the act of being chosen trumped any will of my own.
days consumed obsessing over someone I cared little or nothing about,
my world would expand and disappear to the rhythm of his whims,
and I would be rendered useless by words or gestures that never took place.
But life happened and I grew up a little.
My heart learnt to stay within its own boundaries,
and though my body sometimes opens itself up- the shutdown is usually firm and fast.
Fast and furious.
In a relationship of logistical efficiency, the small moments are lost.
Perhaps life is what happens in between those small moments?
The pause, the wait, the longing?
Matters of the heart are not meant to be scheduled, appropriate, orderly.
- they're not supposed to be safe.
But one day you walk through the floor and find that it is someone else's ceiling.
And you will no longer be able to tell up from down.
Stones in glass houses
We were rebels,
Phantasmagorically carving out a space in a hole we just barely began digging.
With stones in our hands and nothing but glass walls surrounding us,
we picked them up and started throwing.
Not the proverbial ones, but stones heavy with desire and sharp edges
The kind you cannot carry around in your pocket forever,
or they'll cut through the fabric, causing gaping holes that never heal.
The kind that can easily smash glass once they are released.
I know this.
But without the bruise, how can we ever tell where the boundaries are?
How much the heart can take? And wich frontiers are really worth crossing?
Or the answer to the ubiquitous question am I significant?
And as long as the glass remains intact, there's no reason to stop.
- is there?
Drones and dreams
Don't use your weapons, he said.
And I never got it.
If anything, he had all the ammunition; I was just trying to stay alive.
I used to pity myself in secret, mocking his position of power,
never taking seriously his military metaphors.
A few years later, I'm learning about vulnerability.
About how we keep it at bay by constructing our personally protective walls,
sheltering us from hurt and happiness in equal parts.
And it hits me how I've spent the last ten years perfecting the human shield.
Like oil and water, baby.
I am a preventative drone strike,
nothing ever gets through.
Lacking in precision, it takes out everything while searching for its target.
Annihilating threats and promises alike.
Leaving nothing where there was once something.
- Do you remember?
Looking for me, looking for you
To avoid discovery I stay on the run. To discover things for myself I stay on the run.
Thus begins my favourite book,
The Powerbook's piercingly beautiful phrases have been my companions for over ten years now.
Yesterday I found a copy and paid 3 euros to take it home.
Having made a habit of giving the book to special people,
I constantly scan the shelves of second hand bookshops looking for it.
This copy was not the regular kind.
Someone's loved this book, re-read it, folded the pages and scribbled thoughts in the margin.
- was it always like this?- a stranger's handwriting asks me from one page.
Someone's discovered things of their own reading these pages.
Maybe someone decided to stay on the run, having finished this provoking story of hide-and-seek.
Emphasis on seek.
With this book under my arm, I've been seeking for years.
You were the first one to receive a copy of my treasure.
You called it the Sophia-manual; it made me scared and convinced that you were the right choice.
Later, after everything had already gone wrong you asked me, sincerely:
- What else did you expect me to do, after giving me that book?
Words and power, always intertwined. Never behaving like you wish that they would.
Turning to the very last page, the familiar words stare back at me.
You can change the story.
You are the story.
But I wonder if I want to.
I wonder if in all those bookshops.. what I really am looking for is you.
Whoever that is.
Nodes of nostalgia
Once, during a family holiday in Portugal, I forced everyone to visit a karaoke bar.
A potentially distorted memory has the crowd going wild as I sing "La isla bonita"
in the brand new, bright yellow flared-legged jeans that my mum bought me just a few hours earlier.
It's not a song for a 13-year old, but I knew nothing of Madonna or the beautiful island on her mind.
Thinking about the future inevitably confronts you with the past.
Lately I've been taking personality tests.
One hundred versions of "I think people are basically selfish" or "people that don't respect me upset me"
Pick Agree or Disagree!
Allegedly this indicates my ability to deal with Swedes in consular distress overseas.
My opinion of people's egocentricity stands in direct relation to my achievement in promoting Swedish values.
The importance I give to "having fun" essentially determines the success of my diplomatic aspirations.
What if I'd be forced to answer all these questions as my 13-year-old self?
What would she say- if anything- in between mouthfuls of Spanglish samba?
Was she basically an optimist? Did she even recognize disrespect?
Am I right to say that La isla bonita marked the beginning of my extended obsession with foreign languages?
Was my flair for drawing African felines really a premonition of my interest in international affairs?
Is my mother right to say that my personality was basically determined at the age of 7,
when the height of my excitement was straying from my family to search for bugs and eccentric curiosities?
Does that trap me or free me?
Octavio Paz wrote that Between going and staying, the day wavers,
in love with its own transparency.
in love with its own transparency.
Just like we all waver, even when the choice is just an illusion.
Cultural Jambox for International Women's Day
"I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheard-of songs. Time and again I, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst-burst with forms much more beautiful than those which are put up in frames and sold for a fortune. And I, too, said nothing, showed nothing; I didn't open my mouth, I didn't repaint my half of the world. I was ashamed. I was afraid, and I swallowed my shame and my fear.
I said to myself: You are mad! What's the meaning of these waves, these floods, these outbursts? Where is the ebullient infinite woman who...hasn't been ashamed of her strength? Who, surprised and horrified by the fantastic tumult of her drives (for she was made to believe that a well-adjusted normal woman has a ...divine composure), hasn't accused herself of being a monster? Who, feeling a funny desire stirring inside her (to sing, to write, to dare to speak, in short, to bring out something new), hasn't thought that she was sick? Well, her shameful sickness is that she resists death, that she makes trouble"
- Hélène Cixous, The Laugh of Medusa.
Never underestimate a peacock feather.
I read in the papers that giant frozen waves have been spotted off the coast of Nantucket.
Colder than water, softer than ice; the waves kept rolling in.
Defying density. Just barely breaking.
Breathing unevenly, I tell myself to get a grip.
This is not a car crash, not an unfortunate parachute landing, or a piano dropped from the 3rd floor.
This is not the moment when all my weaknessess break me.
- Hey, I say, and instead of meeting your eyes I move on. Barely breaking.
Like those frozen waves off the Nantucket coastline.
But the storm in my chest.
Experience concludeth nothing universally.
But then this.
The light trickles down the neck of a stranger,
plays on his skin and slides over my heart. Lightly, like peacock feathers.
It jumps off the pages of my favourite book and back up in the sky.
And if you crossed the street right next to me, I might be able to just smile and keep on going.
One of those days, when elation comes effortlessly and walking on water seems possible, if not probable.
So, despite this inner turmoil and all my outer insecurities.
In the face of such piercingly beautiful bliss that can only be intentional.
I'll be standing on the shoreline.
Which color do you want?
Outside this unfamiliar building, we're not sure what to expect,
and even less certain of what is expected from us.
Foyer Selah is a home for asylum seekers waiting for permission to stay in Belgium.
We, a group of well-meaning whites, with worries like "why hasn't he called yet?" or "hope it won't rain tonight";
I'm wondering if they really want us here or if this is just an imperative that we've invented.
We're invited up to a living room, and it is big and bright and ridicilously over-heated.
It has the familiar feeling of a communal space, sparsely decorated but welcomingly colorful.
There is no suspicion, but big smiles, vivid hand gestures and repeated attempts at finding a common language;
Arabic, French, Tigrinya, English and Somali are bouncing against the walls, looking for somewhere to land.
We have come armed with props, games, nail polish and curiosity.
At first it seems surreal, to meet someone for the first time and ask to paint their nails.
- Which color do you want?
Silvana, the smallest 18-year-old I have ever seen, cannot make up her mind.
She looks over to her friend, a veiled Somali woman with a contagious smile who points to the turquoise bottle.
This intimate act becomes a way of interaction, of breaking down barriers too large to think about.
Or maybe reducing barriers that exist mainly in my mind.
Silvana is married. She doesn't speak much English, but she can say "husband", and she says it a lot.
Her phone is full of photos of the two of them together, looking young, beautiful and happy.
In between them are photos of luxury shoes, glittery dresses and very exotic nail art.
She shows me a turquoise nail decorated with zebra stripes and miniature stones and looks hopeful.
I'm thinking how extremely normal yet absurdly abnormal this all is.
A young girl busting out into the world, hoping to land somewhere less hostile than what she escaped.
A young husband who follows but ends up on another shore.
Weddings gowns, high-healed shoes and a world of uncertainty and loss are all contained within Silvana.
She fingers the wooden cross around her neck and explains: "Orthodox".
- Are you a muslim? she asks as she starts to paint my nails with a shade of light pink.
A few hours later when it's time to leave, we hug each other and the girls are taking pictures.
I slip Silvana a small thank you note, and I wonder if she can tell that my head is raging with confusion and calm.
She asks her friend to help her write a reply and says Yekenyeley.
It means 'thank you' in Tigrinya, she explains.
It's a story as old as the world.
We try to make a change in the life of others, and they end up changing ours.
What was it I wanted?
Write the world.
In 2014 I left Europe for the first time.
In New York, I lied to Joyce Carol Oats about being Belgian, and she gave me her autograph.
A man on a park bench wrote me a poem more true to my spirit than had I written it myself,
and some friends made me drink a shot of pickled garlic liquor (don't try this at home!).
On a boat along the Boston coastline I watched a Pakistani and an Iranian reenact the "I'm the king of the world"-scene from Titanic. It was glorious. In a restaurant on Elm Street, I talked about arranged marriages and feminism with an Indian friend who just a week ago had been a stranger.
Upon return to Brussels, I listened to Barack Obama speak to the youth of Europe. In a beautiful concert hall of red and gold, he said "Do not think for a moment that your freedom, your prosperity, your moral imagination is bound by the limits of your community, your ethnicity or your country." and I tried to imagine a European leader speak as though our souls were at stake, not just our economy.
I met a man who said my words are dangerous, that they take people to the darkest places and that I need to be held accountable for that. As I rolled up my sheet of paper, I wondered- just for a minute- if he was right.
Is there too much hardship in this world to make room for my difficult questions?
In 2014 I thought a lot about the world.
I was told stories of violence, war and discrimination. Stories about people who fight back.
Hiding notes of hope written for the universe, I imagined that small words can make a big impact.
I studied postcolonialism. I read Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Adichie, Azar Nafisi, Salman Rushdie,
and I wanted to be a warrior poet.
I listened to messages of peace by someone who knew Martin Luther King.
I watched the news and I thought to myself:
Write the word; Write the world; right the world.
Hegel for beginners
These floors are covered by letters, notes, scribbles and maps,
Handwritten shapes in black on white,
Blank slates sacrificed for the sake of synthesization.
My footprints in the corners, smudging the meaning of a noun, changing the tense of a verb.
Scattered coffee stains testifying my nocturnal attempts at amateur philosophy.
Covering the ground with unanswered questions, asking one after the other, asking for dear life
Proving and disproving myself, rebutting the thought before it reaches my tongue and sending it back
Back before language happens.
I wrote an essay on Hegel once.
There was nothing much that I really understood, but I memorized an exquisite phrase.
For anything to happen, everything must be in place.
Maniacally, I rip out hundreds of pieces of paper and I write in clear, red swirls
Let the puzzle begin.
Smile, what else can you do?
I put them there.
Letters in bright white on a soft, dark blackboard.
The curve of the question mark mocking me, disguising the final blow behind its causual rhetorics.
- Where's the eraser?
And I am thinking,
that if I hadn't opened this abyss between us,
I'd be telling you about the movie I saw last night, the one which shifted my world a little.
Maybe we'd fight about the meaning, you'd challenge my opinion, but I wouldn't care.
Then I'd show you the shop just around the corner from here,
the one that sells the most exquisite Moroccan porcelain, the one I know you'd love.
And I imagine,
that if I hadn't drawn this line and watched it fall between us,
We wouldn't go about our days like two strangers who sometimes meet, accidentally.
With nothing to say, we politely ask about each others' lives as though we cared.
The air heavy with things we will not say.
But then I remember.
that some walls were built to crumble.
And all we can do is run for cover when the bricks come falling down.
An intergalactic somersault for absolution
when black bodies are butchered because- why?
when daftly diverging deities demand beheadings, and
when only those with the more gluttonous genitals are granted the word 'genius',
Life shows no sign of the apocalypse we know must be coming.
A world so weighed down by gargantuan pain and gaudy pleasures,
so tarnished by its own ineptitude, by the wounds of battles avoided, by its useless charades.
Surely, this world will break the snare?
shoot far, far away, catapulted by a slingshot across the universe to make amends?
An intergalactic somersault for absolution.
But here we are.
The ground beneath us stained by the blood of butchered bodies, severed heads, humans cast aside.
No catapults or black holes to save us.
Not a shadow of the gloriously dangerous cloud of a nuclear bomb, nor its promised oblivion.
No, in the midst of its deepest, maddening moments,
the world does not stir.
If my body had to do all the talking,
the twist of my wrist, the curves of my lips and those of my hips,
would I be able to say all the things that resist being formed into words?
Would a pirouette convey the state of my heart better,
than all those shy sentences which -invariably- I never end.
Could a sharp tap with my toes finally render words obsolete?
Of mice and men
A cleverly crafted calculation,
offered to me as a generous gift.
Your hands stretched out, your face relieved as though after long laborious hours,
working on an impossible equation.
A problem can't be solved by putting it in an envelope,
the shakily licked stamp curls up, demanding action; satisfaction.
do not be surprised to see the orange colored ink running, leaving words halved, amputated in mid-thought.
Thousands of thoughts cut off at the waist. A sea of feelings desperately, feebly swimming to shore.
What's in half a word?
Statistical analysis and aggregation are your weapons of choice,
Taking to my orange mess as a scientist, eager to discover the root cause of an enigmatic disease.
Correlation, Causality? Choose capriciously.
I used to say that I write emotional algebra.
So why am I surprised to be treated like a mathematical problem?