Archive for June, 2010

Fizzing without fire

June 26, 2010

“When I was 16 they caught me and I was put in prison. I remained there for 23 years. We were starved, tortured, deprived of sleep, forced to do hard labour. The ones that survived, we depended on each other completely. If someone was sent an omelet by relatives they cut it into six pieces and shared. We turned the prison into our university. At the time I was basically illiterate, my parents were poor farmers and I didn’t go to school, but in prison I learned to read and I read and read and read. I began to write poems, and smuggle them out. One day in the post I received a package from Mexico. It contained a book of poetry, with 12 of my poems written inside it. I was amazed.”

The speaker was a wiry old man with a soft smile and a red fluffy v-necked jumper. He looked like a retired academic or a lawyer. Not someone who had spent his entire youth in one of Franco’s prisons. He was speaking to a class of Spanish teenagers, who sat silently and watched, eyes wide. And I sat in the darkness of the almost empty cinema, and felt a sudden sharp pang in my chest, like hot white light. I had been moping, today. Restless and prung by the vertigo of finishing university. Adult life suddenly looks a lot closer, and this near vision doesn’t do it many favours. The difficulty of career and success seems closer, the limits to time and ability and luck. And death, too, seems closer, over-shadowing everything like a great black hole sucking time and existence into into its jaws, chomping greedily backwards through my future. Threatening to part me from those I care for. No. I will not allow my life to be defined by death, or by limits. But that can be easier said than done. Our mind is so hard to control.

This is one of my greatest challenges. Perhaps it is for everyone? I don’t know. How do I keep my mind on track. How do I keep my energy and my enthusiasm and my love for life and my joy for my friends. How do I avoid darkness and laziness, or losing my way. I look into the eyes of the man on the screen, and see his love for knowledge, his tenacity, and his roaring moral fire. He knows what is right and good and brave. He knows what has dignity and meaning. He knows what matters. He knows like someone who has been forged in a fiery furnace, hammered like steel… yet has he left his imprint on the hammer, or merely been shaped by it? Is he a better man because of what he has been through? Or is he twisted and blinded by a fate brought about through luck? The credits roll, they bring no answer.

I walk home through the half-light. What is life without a purpose? But what is a purpose where it may be constantly doubted? How do you reconcile our statistical, predictable nature, with our conviction that we do have free will, and that our actions have meaning? And why do we ask ourselves these questions again, and again, and again? I pour myself a glass of harsh-fizzing water, wet my hands with it and rub it over my face. I fizz, and I smile.



Note: the speaker in the film was the Spanish poet Marcos Ana. I think he’s brilliant.

Note the 2nd: It’s amazing how writing gets the feelings out of ones system! I feel like I’ve just extracted a feckload of venom from a wound and now my smile is on the inside too.