Litoral final

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mi-e sufletul greu,

submers în stânjeni de fluid clar, oceanic,

cu peşti.

apa mării stă oglindă în dimineaţa asta

fără adieri,

luciul ei printre pini şi ambarcaţiuni e tras în foiţă de aur,

iar tihna de început de lume a frumuseţii

mă apasă

cu desăvârşite sfârşituri.

 

valul e ceva care îţi dă speranţa

ciclicităţii,

a revenirii:

un recul cu braţele întinse către o eternă

întoarcere;

dar graţia deplină a acestei păci –

ciobul acesta de frumos imperturbabil – condamnă

orice viitor

la descompunere.

Path through my childhood

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I walked the winding path today

around the apartment buildings

right through my childhood.

Everything smelled the same. The big white lilies gave off a fragrance of early evening,

the sunset was in its incipient stages.

The heat bearable, like me.

Summer petering out.

I leapt from one slab of stone to the next, imagined where the bench used to be

and the staircase where all the teenagers laughed and wrote funny signs on the wall

and me, just a child, in my cream polo T-shirt with red ladybugs and two buttons.

I came around the walls, touching, scraping.

Nothing but old people now on the other side of those walls, sequestered by them.

I still breathed through widened nostrils, I alone could still leap.

Where the bench once stood, just arid space.

(Where I once insulted another girl’s doll and was ostracized an entire summer.)

Even the buildings look old, and that is comforting.

It is comforting to know some things never change, that you can count on them never to change,

that your memories still have places to inhabit.

It is comforting to unearth roots, anchoring where it used to be.

My soul is comforted by old immovable things now.

There is a weak storm brewing.

I don’t feel threatened. It too has no strength anymore. It tousles the treetops a bit, the night sky a pinkish fog, raindrops dry out before they hit the cement.

It is merely a swoosh.

A coming and going like the ocean tides.

Doves cooing on warm roof tiles, small sparrows under bushes.

It is farewell.

On the future of education

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Motto: “The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.”

I’m a structured learner. I admit it. I like engorging information, reflecting upon it, and structuring it mentally or on paper. But it is only when I manage to enrich that information with something new, with an additional original thought, to move forward and share/discuss/debate that new understanding with others, that I feel real learning has taken place. And I get a kick out of that.

I did very good in formal education until I became an adult and realized there are so many more ways to learn and move forward. Now I enjoy handpicking my classes, without necessarily pursuing a degree, challenging myself to face new situations, looking at things and people from different perspectives. I guess I’m constructing my own meaning and purpose for learning now. My children have taught me to learn and think about learning in different ways.

There are four types and four theories of learning: cognitive, behavioral, social, humanist. We learn to know, we learn to do, we learn to live together and we learn to be. And there are many styles of learning, too. We learn by memorizing and reflecting, by observing (seeing, hearing, touching), by doing and applying, we learn through emotional experiences sometimes. We learn skills, but we also learn wisdom, critical thinking, a better understanding – of ourselves, of others, of the world at large.

I believe in lifelong learning. In this constant moving forward. Not as a compulsory course of formal education, but as a kind of openness to growth and a willingness to open up to new things. Learning is change, the willingness and the ability to understand more and perhaps even overhaul one’s convictions. I think that is both the present and the future of education.

As I’ve just read in a great book, “what if, in our universe, there is a possibility of becoming that which we aren’t yet…”? (Muriel Barbery – L’élégance du hérisson).

The lascivious cat

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the lascivious cat in the dimly lit window,

first floor, across the small garden.

its stare nonchalant, immovable, intent

drills into me all the important questions, about who and why and what am I going to do about everything.

 

I have a very distinct feeling the cat and I have been facing off on a dank summer evening

for nine consecutive lives,

with only a faint lamp in an adjacent room.

in a long-exposure photograph, I would be a veil of shadow, moving,

coming and dissolving, resurfacing again;

the cat a solid axis.

 

ah, the feline stealth! the cat remains a presence even as it disappears.

ah, the languid chic of omniscient disdain! I squirm and it wields power.

ah, the arrogance of eternity left to squander!

 

for nine consecutive lives, I have kept returning. this is my last. the cat alone remembers me.

I cannot fool the cat. the cat is in on my secret. it is in on the secret that life is multitude.

 

the lascivious cat in the dimly lit window,

first floor, across the small garden.

licking its paw it shames me into unadulterated

existence.

 

the lascivious cat in the dimly lit window.

slowly turning its back it makes me want

to prove myself.

August. Furtuna

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numai în România poţi observa

un burlan care curge în sus.

împroşcând, ca o arteziană, jeturi de apă pe peretele

unei grădiniţe.

cerul s-a îngroşat brusc a smoală, şi-a-nvolburat bojocii şi apoi s-a crăpat

în două electric, cu un fulger. tună.

i s-a rupt apa. contracţiile au intrat în faza de expulzie.

arborii se contorsionează dureros. negrul e apocaliptic.

iată, se naşte. se naşte ceva.

plouă în perdele, cad una după alta cortine de ploaie pe spectacolul de forţă al tăriilor

burlanele galgaie.

doar acela, la o imbinătură, ejaculează cu frenezie

în sus.

 

pe străzi, în curând, un înot diluvic ce roteşte turbat în vârtejuri trompetele angelice ale florilor

portocalii,

ace uscate de brad,

frunze, noroi.

rafalele mişcă maşini, le fac invizibile.

o flegmă dusă de ape se îneacă cu disperare anonimă.

căldură de păduri tropicale, sufocare stinsă un pic la fereastra mea.

regenerare.

o, cum duruie depărtarea! cine poate traduce glasul acesta?

e ilie, spun unii. unii aud pe Dumnezeu. Dumnezeu a trecut pe aici.

God is still in da house.

(o, da, e feroce!)

de s-ar spăla atât de uşor păcatele lumii precum

urmele de ADN de pe trotuar.

Home

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a bird just darted across the night sky.

or was it a bat?

it shrieked briefly as it flapped its wings and cut the air like a blade,

light tight lace splitting.

You can’t contain the sky. The amount of sky that’s in a person will always float to the surface.

Some people walk lifted, barely touching the ground. Here, I am.

There are no street lights here.

I was able to see the stars yesterday evening.

I shuddered. There are so many! So many!

Tiny and dim and faint, but so many, like thick fairy dust cluttering the sky.

They totally emasculate the Ursa Major.

They totally redraw the picture of what we were taught to consider, making an absolute fuzzy mess of the abstract, simplified diagrams of utility.

There are no traffic signs here. Here you have to find your own way.

Just the tired eyes of angels. Blinking. Tired. Dozing off.

On and off.

Like inklings.

It’s summer. It’s warm all day and all night. The sun scorches us gently.

The earth and my body are steaming. They are made the same.

Here, in this unlit corner, I can actually distinguish various shades of black.

Dense grey and dark navy blue, and the really dark green of fir needles, and the really

dark brown of fir bark.

And a hue lighter, the basswood leaves and the roses crawling.

Ever upwards on the run down balconies. An escape.

In the darkness, I can hear the crickets.

No barking, just a stealthy cat in heat.

I wish I didn’t have to type this poem on a computer.

Its light obscures the generous darkness of the night sky, with its angel eyes blinking faintly

in the distance.

The screen makes me look down again. Upward, upward cries my soul. I cannot grow horizontally, like fat

bellies.

I don’t know why they call it Windows. My windows are permeated by the zillion shades of

black and the tinkling of the night sky.

My computer has no windows that open onto anything – only a leak into depthless, bright, colourful places to crash.

And more decrepit forgetfulness than one hundred years of solitude.

It is not even alive.

The neighbour who walks with a crutch greeted us today with a smile, and she played with

the kids for a minute,

then she cried.

She has loved a man for 60 years, and now the man cannot remember. The man is old.

The man is dying. And she cried. And she told us the whole story of how she had loved this man. Married this man.

How she had defied her father for him and how her father had grown to love this man. How they had brought children into the world,

children this kind man loved. And who in turn gave birth to grandchildren.

And now this man asks about his grandchildren and forgets. Forgets they came to visit. Forgets they’ve just left.

I’m glad she has told me this. I am glad she has filled my world with her dying tenderness,

with her memories of a man who was kind for 60 years, and with my memories of her, and I am sorry she’s dying.

Her yearning for new babies to love fills me with her yearning for life.

She wishes for grand-grandchildren,

but young couples always take their time,

and time she hasn’t got.

And I am sorry. Filled with tenderness, and pregnant with life and so full of sorrow,

a sorrow warm and soft as cotton

as cotton wrapping me at my mother’s bosom when I

was a baby.

I am home. My heart swimming in joy and in tears. My womb dilated.

And I am ready to give

birth to the world

yet again.

And again,

and again,

until we all

just melt into the earth

and die.

And even then, some seed will grow.

Must grow.

I am home.

Here, I am.

 

 

 

The heart of summer

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“The morning is full of storm

in the heart of summer.

The clouds travel like white handkerchiefs of good-bye,

the wind, traveling, waving them in its hands.

The numberless heart of the wind

beating above our loving silence.

Orchestral and divine, resounding among the trees

like a language full of wars and songs.

(…)

Her mass of kisses breaks and sinks,

assailed in the door of the summer’s wind.”

from Pablo Neruda, “The Morning Is Full” in Twenty Love Poems And A Song of Despair  (beautiful translation by W.S. Merwin)

Have a magnanimous, magical summer! Have a book.

 

No justification for mass murders

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I have kept my mouth shut for the past week to process the terrifying and abhorrent events that unfolded in Germany and France. Trying to get to the facts. Trying to make sense of the senselessness.

But as I keep browsing through (parts of) the press, I can keep quiet no longer. I have read too many articles that attempt to justify what has happened and somehow pin it on the host society. Do we intend to abolish personal responsibility altogether? Do we intend to play into the hands of those who hate and want to destroy us?

Look: German culture might not be the most accomodating place on Earth for foreigners. I have felt it, many others have felt it. But so what? No country can ever please all of its residents. And feeling unhappy/depressed/discriminated should never be accepted as an excuse for committing atrocities.

There is and always has been injustice everywhere. All societies have disenfranchised, discriminated and disgruntled minorities. People whom life or their peers have treated badly. And yet, they don’t go around detonating bombs, blowing innocent people up at random, or hacking them to death with axes and knives on trains and in the middle of the street. Because there is a societal taboo on these things. Because normally, they don’t even occur to people. Because how one deals with injustice and frustration has everything to do with the system of beliefs one chooses to embrace.

It is only when an ideology comes along to justify and encourage this kind of behavior as a legitimate consequence of someone’s “suffering” that horrors like these occur. There are deadly ideologies among us which glorify such a response to frustration and to injustice as legitimate, and we should not buttress them. We should not allow murder to become a pathway to notoriety and fame! Murder is not the way to give meaning to a meaningless life.

So when I see smart people – analysts, intellectuals, journalists – treading the mill of how society as a whole has supposedly wronged or failed these deranged criminals, and thus bears part of the responsibility, I can only shake my head.

I don’t think finding excuses for this kind of behavior is the way to go. Finding excuses only makes frenzied individuals feel even more legitimized – and legitimization is the third stage of conflict escalation. The next is radicalization.

Legitimizing this kind of behavior makes it socially acceptable. That is wrong! Our society should make it clear that absolutely nothing can justify this kind of behavior. We cannot go around saying, well, it makes sense, because they were bullied. Or, well, it makes sense, because they were exploited and discriminated against. No. We should not build these kinds of causal relationships – that somehow, these things are a “natural” consequence. Because by finding excuses for the perpetrators, by espousing theories which attempt to understand and even legitimize terrorism, we are gradually dismantling the taboo on mass murders. Turning them little by little into a socially accepted norm, something “we just have to live with” – and thus stoking the fire of the next round of “avengers”.

I am reminded now of a lesson in social psychology by Dan Ariely. In an attempt to stop vandalism in the Petrified Forest National Park, the Park’s management put up a sign pointing out the problem and informing visitors that so and so many tons of rock formations were being stolen every year. The result? Stealing only increased. Because instead of feeling shamed into protecting it (as our flawed intuition would tell us), visitors now felt that stealing was “the thing to do” in that park. Something along the lines of “if everyone else does it, and it’s so ubiquitous already, why should I be the only sucker who leaves without a souvenir?”  So instead of solving their problem, the park officials actually managed to worsen it, by creating the feeling that vandalism was the social norm in that park – which motivated people to continue to break the law.

Let us be smarter this time. Like something very beautiful I have read, let us become “apostles of a civilization of love”.

Toni Erdmann – A Must See

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Toni Erdmann, which has just opened in Germany, is a bizarre independent film that will make you embrace Romania with all you’ve got, and which also manages to lampoon the trappings of corporate life just the right amount. (The impossible loneliness, the ridiculous helplessness of wrestling with a dress that’s too tight amidst the barren luxury of a manicured apartment which is every bit as impersonal as any hotel room is only one such understated example.)

Absurd, funny, touching and unexpected. There will be tears of sadness, tears of derision, tears of joy. And insane amounts of laughter.

Great cast, beautifully acted and fresh, at times minimalistic, at others downright bombastic. Brilliantly directed by Maren Ade and professionally produced by Ada Solomon in Romania. A plea for humanity and tenderness. Please go see this movie.