No, no. This blog is still dead. Carry on.
—Well, here we are— the elder said—. You know what you have to do.
They, the elder and the young man, had traveled for two days in the vast plain of the strange land from which the elder hailed. After climbing up a hill, the young man with some effort and the elder with a little help from his staff, they had finally arrived to the edge of the abyss.
—So, I just …— the young man stopped to think for a second—. I just jump, down there?
—Well, that’s what we came here for, isn’t it? You needed to find a reason for your presence in this world and this is the only way you can learn it, as far as I know.
—I’m not sure if I still want to know it— the young man looked down into the abyss. It resembled a crater, an active volcano that would erupt at any minute, but that’s not what it was. It shone in shades of light blue and green, covered in white mist. It seemed to reflect the sky, and the young man thought that he could make out some familiar shapes, as one does when lying on the grass and staring at the sky—. I think I can live without knowing the answer to this.
—Are you sure about that?— The elder walked around the young man, supported by his staff—. You made me guide you all the way here and you’re having your doubts right at this moment?
The young man looked into the elder’s eyes. The old-timer didn’t look angry or disappointed, but he was certainly waiting for a response as he stood, staff in hand and with his other fist clenched.
—Look, I’m sorry for making you bring me all the way to this place, I know it must be …
—No!— the elder interrupted him—. I may be old, but I’m not that old. I’m certain that I’ve still got a few good decades left in me. I’m not disappointed in you for not wanting to jump. I know how scary it looks. I’ve been there, myself, and I’ve brought many others here who ultimately decided against going for it. This wouldn’t be any different.
—So, it’s all right by you if I don’t jump and we go back to the village.
—Sure, it’s all right! In fact, I can’t wait to go back. I’m starving. I knew I should have bought more food for the road, but I can hold my hunger until I get back home.
As he said this, the elder went to sit on a nearby rock, right at the edge of the abyss. The blue-green light surrounded him, and it seemed as if a light push were all it would take to make the elder fall into the crater.
—Well, you can have some of my food— said the young man—. I have plenty to spare.
He took off his backpack, which he had brought from his own world, and unzipped the main compartment. As he took out a few cans and packets, the elder leaned forward to take a closer look.
—What is that?— he asked.
—It’s food. It’s what I eat.
—That doesn’t look so fresh. Is it any good?
—It’s perfectly fine. Here, take one— the young man said, as he handed a can of mixed vegetables to the old man—. Just pull from that tab to open it.
—Yes, just … that’s it.
The old man looked into the can and managed to recognize a few vegetables, floating in some strange, cloudy liquid. He leaned over to smell the contents of the can and quickly sat back with an expression of disgust.
—This is what you eat? Every day? I’ll be surprised if people from your world actually make it to my age.
—Come on, old man, it doesn’t taste as bad as it looks. Give it a try.
Saying this, the young man threw a metal spoon, which the elder managed to catch with his non-staffed hand.
—Careful, young one. You can never tell if an old person has reflexes. Lucky for you, I still keep mine. Otherwise, I’d have knocked you down with my staff.
They both laughed, and the young man sat near the edge of the abyss, taking out another can.
—You’re right. This isn’t nearly as bad as it looks— the elder said, as he dug into the odd mix of vegetables and ate silently.
The young man did the same and, after an hour, they had each gone through two cans of food and all of the water in the elder’s leather flask.
—Not a problem, I’ll just fill it back on my way to the village.
—Wait, I’m not going back with you?— the young man quickly responded.
—Ah, so you are still set on not jumping— the elder stood up from the rock and held his staff with both hands—. I would have thought that a quick meal and some time to think would change your mind.
The young man stood up and looked down into the blue-green light.
—I’m still having second thoughts about it.
—See, that’s something I noticed from the moment we met. You’re always having second thoughts about things. How will you get anything, anywhere or anyone when you don’t even try?
At this point, the elder was standing right behind him.
—You’re not going to push me, are you?
—Oh, no. I’d never do such a thing. After the first few attempts at that, I learned that it doesn’t work.
The young man turned around and looked at the elder’s face. They both had a serious expression, but the old man’s mouth quickly drew a smile.
—That was a joke. You need to lighten up, young man, or you’ll never make it to half my age. This isn’t the most significant moment in your life. This is barely a small step. You shouldn’t be so serious about this.
The young man looked back into the abyss. He could hear something … was it a voice? A woman’s voice? It seemed familiar. He turned back again.
—I hear something. Can you hear that?
—A voice is what you hear. No, I cannot hear it. Only those who are ready to take the leap can hear it. The voice of somebody important to them. You can only hear it this one time and never more. When I was about to do it, I think it was my father’s voice that I heard …— the elder looked up, trying to remember that distant moment, when he had explored all of his world and ended up right at the edge, looking for more.
—All right. I think … I think I’m ready. I’ll do it. I’m going to jump.
Determination seemed to flow through the young man’s veins. He was standing right on the edge, and was about to take that final step, when he felt something pulling him back.
—Wait … you won’t need this— the elder said, holding on to the young man’s backpack—. Where you’re going, you won’t be needing this.
—How can you be sure?
The elder placed a hand on the young man’s shoulder and smiled.
—Do I not look old and wise? Trust me on this. Besides, I’d like to have this, as a keepsake from yet another young adventurer who dared take the leap into the abyss.
The young man knew that the elder was more interested in the contents of the backpack, namely the canned goods, than in the backpack itself. Still, he took it off and taught the old man how to wear it. It didn’t look very fashionable, being worn over the elder’s old robes and against the leather flask, but the old-timer seemed to like it, taking a few steps around to make sure it wouldn’t easily come off.
—All right. I’m ready this time— the young man said—. I hope you won’t hold me back again.
—Oh, I won’t— the elder took a few steps back.
—I … I want to thank you for all you’ve done. It’s …
—You don’t have to thank me— the old man said with a smile—. Even without me, you would have made your way here, all on your own. I know this because I did just that, and you remind me of … well, you remind me of me, when I was that young.
—Okay, then. Well, here I go …
As the young man readied himself, wanting to take some impulse to make a long jump, the elder kept on talking.
—This is your time. Seize the moment, every moment. Once you’ve done this, you will forever know that you can do anything. As long as you never forget that, you’ll be able to lead a happy life.
One, two, three long steps the young man took before finally jumping. He heard the old man’s voice, “Never forget that!” once again before being shrouded in mist, blinded by that blue-green light that became so very intense that it appeared white before his eyes.
Suddenly, the light began to fade out. It was white at first, but things quickly became dark as he heard some electronic noises around him. A synthesized voice surrounded him.
—Simulation ended. Terminating program …
The young man was standing on a flat surface. He heard a voice behind him.
—So? What do you think, Jake? Is it any good?
Jake removed his virtual reality helmet and looked back.
—That was incredible, Elgin. I can’t believe you did this.
—Well, I can’t take the credit for all of it. It took an entire team of highly–
—Yes, highly professional developers. You said it at first. But, this … there are no words for it, it felt so real. And this suit —Jake pointed at the black skin-tight outfit, all covered in small sensors, that he was wearing—, it made everything so real. I could really feel that I was falling, and the wind, and the food that actually tasted like food, and …
While Jake kept on talking, Elgin nodded along proudly. He had heard similar comments before, from the many others who had tried this simulation, but the comments from his best friend Jacob meant more than the rest.
—So, was everything all right? Was it fun? Did any part of it feel uncomfortable.
—Well— Jake looked up, trying to think for a bit—, I can’t recall anything that was particularly uncomfortable, or annoying, or …
—Really? What about the elder asking about the food and wanting to keep your backpack? Didn’t that seem a bit silly?
—What? No! That was actually pretty good, I think it added some charm to the elder character. Whoever wrote his lines …
—I wrote them— Elgin quickly acknowledged.
—Oh, well, that was good. That was very good. Of all of the characters, I think he was the best.
—Okay, then. Well, let’s get you out of that suit. I’ve tried it on, myself, and I know that it gets uncomfortable after a while. Not to mention that it looks silly. We need to work on that.
As they both made their way out of the simulation room, Jake asked:
—Wait, what happens after jumping into the abyss? Is that the end of it, or is it just …
—We don’t know yet. We’re writing this as we go, so we’re not entirely sure about what happens after that. I’m open to any idea you might have, as long as it’s good.
—Well, as I was about to jump … you know, in the game …
—Simulation— Elgin corrected him.
—Fine. In the simulation, I thought that maybe …
Their voices faded out as they walked out and the doors of the simulation room swung shut. Voices could be heard down the hallway, as the motion-detection lights went out, leaving the room in darkness.
I think I wrote somewhere that I’d never let more than a month go by without writing something new here, so hours before that month is over and becomes one month and one day seems like the perfect time to tap on the keys and see if some words result from that. So, bear with me while I spill a month’s worth of guts here.
Let’s see … where did I leave things? I’m cheating a little by counting the previous post –on the Haitian earthquake– as the last one when the last on-topic piece of writing was probably an earlier one. It’s not important to read it, as I’ll probably repeat myself some more here.
Our guests –an aunt and a cousin– departed on the 15th last month, after a two-week stay, bringing long-awaited relief from those inflatable mattresses that my brother and I slept on. That’s the positive bit of news. Now, for the opposite end.
I haven’t picked up a book since that García Márquez one I last wrote about. Plenty of books here, but I don’t feel like reading more than a synopsis on a back cover … and a few blog posts.
My health is as bad as always, probably worse. I know a visit to the doctor won’t help because the last few tests didn’t found anything worthy of note and the medication didn’t really do much. Can’t keep much food down without some serious effort and lack of motion, so I tend to stay away from the solids and go for things that won’t take so long to get past my stomach. The coughing doesn’t help. It also didn’t help that, late in the month, I ate some bad “fast food” –despite articles on that same day about the dubious contents of it– and woke up the next day wanting to die … well, more than the usual, but wanting to die. Took a few days to get back to my usual could-be-much-better state.
On the same day as the beginning of bad-food episode, my father suggested that I take some courses and become an air traffic controller. Putting the lives of hundreds of people flying over our heads in the hands of someone who doesn’t do well under stress? Brilliant. Couldn’t have thought of anything better. (Note to self: give my thanks to the people who advertised those courses in the newspaper. My father kept on about it for a day or two.)
I’ve gone back to getting rid of things I don’t want or need. I initially tried burning something … more specifically, a drawing I made for a 1996 contest when I was in fourth grade. It didn’t work so well and there’s always the danger of fire. Next, I went through a bunch of papers, looking for what to keep and what to destroy. Most of the things I didn’t keep consisted on grade reports from the first school I attended, which went on for several pages. Some of those reports, dating back to 1995-1997, deal with me having problems socializing, getting involved with others in class and doing homework … I guess I wasn’t as great as the numbers told. There was a piece of writing done by my father which mentioned that I’d been suffering from health issues and that I would get better with continued treatment. Boy, do I wish that had been true. Would have been great if my problems had ended back then instead of … never ending.
Fire wasn’t the greatest idea for all these papers, so I went for the next thing. One morning, after having decided what to keep –hardly anything, just a few letters and diplomas–, I submerged all the other papers in water and tried to get it all to disintegrate and dissolve, breaking it up in small pieces and moving them around in the water. Bad idea. After a good while I tried to get all the paper to go down the drain, thinking that it wouldn’t be much trouble and the drain would take it. It didn’t. I spent about an hour trying to get most of the paper out from there, forcing water into the drain so the paper would float out, using a bucket to take out the excess water and sticking an unraveled wire hanger into the pipe and ever getting my whole arm in there to see if I could unclog the drain. Took me a while, but I got it done with a combination of all those things.
Knowing better, I decided that neither fire or water were effective in destroying things that I wanted gone for good. At least I had managed to get rid of most things. The remaining papers, more grade reports –some were copies of the ones I tried to dissolve–, simply ended up torn into tiny pieces and thrown away with the rest of the garbage. One of those grade reports had “promoted to 4th grade” written on it. I remember the day I got that one, and how sad I felt that it would be months until I saw my friends or the school again. Back then, I had absolutely no idea that, one year later, I would be forcibly taken out of that school for good (or bad, because that really was a turn for the worse).
Back to the present, my mother is being persistent about some job thing. She’s not giving me enough details about it and she’s now expecting a curriculum vitae that she’ll pass along to “that lady from work”. I’ve said this before, but I’m just not interested in working anywhere until my health is in order, which it is not. Also, I haven’t done anything worth anything (to me) in almost a year, and this laptop isn’t good for that. I’ve managed to delay the whole thing until just now. My mother expects that paper with my supposed qualifications by tomorrow so that she can pass it along, but I’m not feeling well. Telling her that didn’t help the last few times, as she insists that nothing is wrong with me. Perhaps she should spend a week or two in my place … that would change her mind, but if I really had the power to make that happen, I’d rather use it to spend my remaining days in the place of someone who is healthy. Much better.
Now … I’m lost. I really don’t know what to do. I really wish I would get better, healthwise, so that I could go out there and find what I want, on my own and without people making the big choices for me, as has been the case for most of my existence. I don’t think I want more of that, or that I can take it …
One year already.
No, I don’t have my dates wrong. It has indeed been one year and one day since the devastating earthquake that struck near Port-au-Prince and its surroundings in Haiti, a country that was already in the buried in misery and poverty. But it has been exactly one year, to the day, since I wrote about it, saying and showing as much as I could about the disaster back then and calling to any and all readers of that post to consider making a donation to the recovery effort.
It was already the worst natural disaster of the decade, with the 2010s being less than two weeks old. Hopefully nothing will top it, at least in the near future.
What has happened since then?
As soon as news of the earthquake and the possibility of the death toll going beyond one hundred thousand became clear, the spotlights of the world were placed on the greatly-affected Port-au-Prince, and almost immediately charity foundations began to provide numbers and links through which people could easily donate. Right here, in the Dominican Republic, phone companies made agreements with local charities so anyone with a decent cellphone could do their part by sending a text message. Many of the injured were brought across the border to be treated in hospitals all over the country. Even the college I attended arranged to have places where people could drop off canned goods, medical supplies, hygiene products that would be sent to those in need.
Twenty-four hours a day, for several days, there was nothing else on the news channels. Celebrities, reporters, politicians traveled to the ground zero of 2010. Took less than a month for a song to be remade as a theme for this most unfortunate event. In the newspapers, online, everywhere you would see an article about someone doing a charity event, a batch of supplies being flown to the affected country and an ever-increasing death toll that has yet to be established, with all the mass-burials that make it an impossible task.
Months went by, and public attention on the 2010 Haiti earthquake began to dwindle, with new things getting more interest. Oil spills, volcanoes, plane crashes, notable deaths, document leaks, sporting events. All worthy of attention, sure, but it’s hard to forget about Haiti when it is one’s neighboring country.
From news about promised aid to the survivors of the earthquake, who resided and still reside in tent camps, we went to news of failure to deliver supplies, misuse of monetary donations, violence, rape and last, but most certainly not least, an ongoing cholera outbreak that has killed thousands and has unsurprisingly made its way across the border, causing fear among Dominicans, while authorities issue safety measures about water consumption and provide information on what cholera is all about.
Now came the new year. Haiti’s national palace is still in ruins. About five percent of the rubble has been cleared. Like I mentioned above, most of the homeless survivors are still living in tents which they might as well call “home”, after residing in them for so long. News reports have only begun to cover the situation again with some degree of notability because of the anniversary of the magnitude-7 quake.
As with last year (and periodically in the days and months that followed), Alan Taylor of Boston.com has compiled an excellent set of photographs on The Big Picture –to which I recommend everyone subscribe–, which illustrates the continuing struggle of Haitians who survive among the rubble, no longer getting as many supplies as they got during the initial response. They strive for recovery, as many images show, but it will take a tremendous effort and a considerable amount of time to bring Haiti’s capital to what it was before the earthquake, which wasn’t much to begin with, and even longer to develop Port-au-Prince, along with its surrounding areas, to reasonable levels of quality of life.
I’m not done here yet.
While the response to the earthquake seems to have diminished, it doesn’t mean that individuals can no longer do their part. Yéle Haiti continues to accept donations (see the brochure at the bottom to learn of what they’re doing), as do the Red Cross (click on How to Help) and Heart to Heart. Photographer Nick Zantop, featured in last year’s post, has gone beyond providing a list of links on his and founded Haitian Earthquake Relief, with shortcuts to various charities to choose from. There is also SocialVibe, with various causes that will aid Haiti (Yéle Haiti, Charity: Water, Direct Relief and so on). You can join the site and pick a cause or you can click on the SocialVibe widget on this very blog and do activities that will earn points –and consequently donations– for the charity currently displayed.
Many more posts on Haiti, with more information on ways to help, can be found in the WordPress page for the Haiti tag.
That’s all I can say for now. Another post on the subject, hopefully in a more positive tone, next year or sooner.
Almost missed it. Almost.
Today marks my fourth year in blogging. Four years, unless you just count count the actual time dedicated to writing the things I write, which probably amounts to less than a month. I guess I got my answer, at least for the first question.
That first post seems so distant now, and nearly everything I explain in it has disappeared, with just a few things staying the same.
Gone are college, Blender, Python programming, the Windows Live Space which initially hosted the first ten posts, my time being spent in chat rooms and the popularity of MySpace –now Myspace or My_____–, which I never used.
Still unchanged are my unemployment, the quality of my work (to an extent, because I branched out a little), the lack of a personal life, or a life of any type –which is funny, because I keep writing under a category named Life, when Mere Existence seems more fitting–, as well the general lack of interesting things to say.
Let’s see if I can make it to a fifth year, on the same year that will mark my twenty-fifth year of survival in this world. Let us see if I make it.
Just as the first seven days of the year have come to pass, I find myself with a little peace and quiet, enough to write a post.
Since the night of the 29th, my brother and I have been sleeping on inflatable mattresses in the living room. That first night was just practice, as the guests would arrive the following day, leaving us with no choice (really?) but to give up our beds for a while. The mattresses aren’t terribly comfortable, and it’s not a good feeling to wake up in the morning and seeing people walking around and talking as I try to get a few more minutes of sleep. Impossible task.
Our guests are currently staying with another relative and will return tomorrow, so I find it best to take advantage of this moment instead of waiting until they travel back home.
I finished reading Gabriel García Márquez’s Doce cuentos peregrinos (“Strange Pilgrims“) on the 30th. The last of the twelve short stories in the book is the one I’ll remember the most because I had read it before … or it had been read to me before, some ten years ago, possibly more. My sister was reading El rastro de tu sangre en la nieve (The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow) on my parents’ bed one day, and I just happened to be around. Not sure about whether she read the whole thing to me or if I did some reading of my own, but I’m surprised that I still remembered most of the story, more than a decade later. Back then, I didn’t know that García Márquez was the one who wrote, but the short story of newlyweds Nena Daconte and Billy Sánchez de Ávila –I admit that I didn’t remember the latter character’s name– managed to stay clear on my mind to the point where I instantly recognized it when I read Nena Daconte on the first page of the story just eight days ago.
When I was done reading the book, I spoke to my sister, trying to tell her that I had no idea that he was the one who wrote that story, the one about Nena Daconte, and that I remembered it well. She didn’t pay much attention –she was busy with other things–, so I had to keep my amazement to myself.
If all of García Márquez’s writings have a similar power to stay fresh on the mind for so long, in addition to being as enjoyable as those twelve stories are, I’m interested in seeking more of his work where I can find it. Just looking up, at the row of books above the computer, I can see that we have two other works by him. Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude), which Jessica mentioned and which I’ve been hearing about for ages, is not one of them. It may or may not be one of the books stored in the back room. I doubt I’ll be reading them right away. There’s already a backlog of books, and I just don’t know if I’ll get some peace and quiet during the day when things go back to
normal the usual.
I thought that, it being 2011 and all, there would be some sort of change to my situation, but it doesn’t seem like that will happen. As usual, I’ve been having trouble keeping food down, even when there isn’t any food to keep down. That, in addition to some coughing that at times becomes uncontrollable –but which has somehow receded today–, has kept me from going out with our guests as much as I probably should. Oh, poor old me. One of these days I will get you, Bad Health monster. I will get you, real bad. One … of these … days …
In other news, my nephew is getting baptized. I honestly couldn’t care less about it, and the process of arranging a baptism seems like quite a hassle. If it were up to me, I’d forget about it, but there’s little chance of that happening when the majority would be against me. At least they didn’t consider me to be the godfather. Having to explain myself would be stressful and possibly alienating. Just my mother’s reaction to my atheism is a good indicator.
What else … no, it seems like that’s all I have to say … or at least all I have to say that I can say at the moment. I guess that’s it for my first post of 2011. First post of January. First post of the first Friday, and so on.
Oh … I had two posts planned for the end of this year, but it seems that time is running short. I’ll have to say it all in just one (this one, reader, before you start looking in all directions).
First things first. More things have happened since the last post that I deem worthy of note. Well … worthy of note when seen within the boundaries of this blog and not when compared to the interesting content that can be found in that thing called the blogosphere. Hardly a significant speck of dust, if a speck of dust has significance, when seen as part of all things written.
Back to what I was writing. I got a haircut on the 23rd. Despite my health, I managed to get to Hotel Napolitano while retaining a pulse and the ability to breathe. Would have been better if the first car I got on had not suddenly decided to make a U-turn and change the south-east route for a north-west one just before the halfway point. I did get my full fare back as I ran to cross the eastbound avenue and catch another car. Noly was there, reading a newspaper, while Elisabeth was busy with a customer. I hadn’t been there since September, and yet bringing my hair down to a manageable and presentable length didn’t take as long as it usually did. I walked all the way home because the climate and temperature were just right right for walking: cloudy, without the threat of rain, and cold.
The 24th didn’t go as bad as last year, as I actually made my presence known this time instead of spending the entire evening in bed, writhing in pain while others celebrated. No, I stayed in the living room, keeping to myself as others talked. I didn’t eat much of the big dinner and I was able to make a delivery to a fourth-floor apartment before we started opening the presents. I had told my sister that I didn’t really want anything this year and that the money would be better off donated to some good cause. I hoped that she’d pass the message along to the others, but that didn’t turn out so well. I still got presents. Notable ones among the usual clothes, were the Iliad and the Odyssey, reading material for next year.
On Sunday, there was the usual family reunion (my father’s side of the family), which I did not attend last year because of my failing health. I’m really not a fan of gatherings of any kind, as they tend to aggravate my symptoms and, of course, they’re just plain awkward. It took place at a former school right in front of the one I attended. The place, once an all-girls school and now just a convent, had barely changed since I last looked inside. Greeting my rarely-seen relatives took a while. There weren’t as many as I thought there would be when we arrived, so I took my time going around the tables placed in a row while trying to remember as many names as I could.
The reunion also didn’t go as bad as I thought. I did try to avoid it because, as I said, I’m not a fan. Also, because they’re often arranged by my aunt who is a nun, so these reunions have their religious tones, in addition to taking place at a St. Somebody school (pretty sure I’m still the only atheist in the ever-growing family). There was a group dynamic, which I successfully avoided, for the most part, thanks to the cough I’d had for the past day or two. I was supposed to read a small piece of paper inviting people to sing the Spanish equivalent of “Silent Night”, but I managed to get my mother to do that for me. Still had to get up and pretend to sing.
There was something I failed to mention earlier … some time before the reunion, my mother found a graduation present that I had chosen to ignore: a religious book with a card and some money inside of it. I didn’t want to accept just one part of it, because it wouldn’t feel good to take the money and run, so I put it on the bookshelf, where it stayed until this past weekend, when my mother was cleaning up. I tried my best to explain that the present consisted of both the book and the money, but she insisted that it was just the money and that I should call the person who gave it to me to say thanks. I’m not a fan of telephones –things were so simple when cellphones weren’t as popular … one could disappear and not be tracked down– so I had been waiting to confront that person face to face. Unfortunately, that person didn’t attend the family reunion. Oh, well. I still won’t make use of the money, which my mother insisted I keep.
That’s it for the update. The title suggests that, as with the last two years, there’s supposed to be a look back at all that’s happened in the past year, but Twenty Ten hardly deserves it. There just isn’t much that’s worthy of yet another mention. There was my final college project, sure, but that all seems so very distant that I can barely remember it, as if those years at the university ended decades ago. Also, the long-awaited (and just as dreaded, because I insist on my dislike of crowds) graduation ceremony, which I barely survived. Everything else, from natural disasters, which other sites have covered with more depth, and health issues, which I constantly mention, just lacks the positive light to make for a good retrospective.
It’s only the 28th and I’m saying that I don’t have time for another post, but I doubt I’ll want to write much after the 30th, when some relatives will be staying here for a week, making the place more crowded than it already is and leaving me with little space to think.
Passed the thousand-word mark for this one (“I’ve still got it!”).
I’ll just end it right here, wishing a happy 2011 to those who read this and hoping for a 2011 that’s similar or above the level of acceptable for the one who just wrote this.