Sunday, December 29

DISGRACE

On Christmas Eve, my brother and I took my mother to a trendy sushi restaurant. My brother had just arrived from London, I had spent the afternoon cooking huge amounts of pasta, potatoes and beans. When we sat down I wanted to tell my brother something amazing: that I was engaged to someone I truly loved, that we would move to Paris or China, that even though I looked poor I had bought a new apartment and a horse. In reality it felt like I had aged a lot within a short time, that I had lost part of my beauty, and that every time he looked at me he saw my loss. For some reason I still wanted my brother’s approval, still wanted him to tell me what I did was right. My mother ordered sushi with black caviar, then dropped half of her caviar in her soy sauce. When we finished eating my brother said: “Margot, we have to teach our mother how to use chopsticks. The way she uses them is a disgrace.”      


Monday, December 23

PROJECT

Gretchen Rubin wrote a great book called ‘The Happiness Project’. Even if you’re happy with your life there are always things which can make you happier. She talks about things which make sense: if you remove clutter from your house you will feel better, and if you go to bed earlier, you will be able to cope with hardship if it comes your way. If you make a conscious effort to do things you enjoy, like taking a short walk during your lunchbreak, or having a cup of coffee with your friends, you might be able to deal with adversity if it comes. She also recommends starting your own happiness project. So far I’ve filled three months: remove clutter in January, read about spirituality in February and taking a painting class in March. But let’s handle Christmas first.  


    

Sunday, December 15

HEAVEN

Sometimes I imagine heaven will be like the new city hall. The entrance will be a made out of glass and white concrete. Inside will be a large counter, made out of marble, where some dark haired women are doing their paperwork. Their desks are clean and spacious, they only wear white clothes. The receptionist, a tall blonde, gives me a number and tells me to wait. Finally one of the dark haired women calls out my name. She turns around to file her paperwork and this is when I notice she has wings. ‘Have a seat,’ she says firmly, as I approach her desk. Her smile is so radiant, it almost hurts.
She glances at her paperwork and asks: 'So you are Margot Morgan?’ I nod and quickly take a seat.
There are a lot of notes, and there’s an evaluation form about my life. She takes the evaluation form and asks: ‘Were you able to bring light into the world?’ I hesitate before I reply. She continues and explains: ‘If you’ve hurt people intentionally you get minus ten points, if you’ve hurt people unintentionally you get minus five.’ She sharpens her pencil and smiles at me. I tell her I’ve tried to live a good life, that I wanted to bring joy into the world, that for me writing stories equaled happiness. She looks at me like she doesn’t believe me. ‘You’ve broken many hearts,’ she says while looking at her forms. I explain to her that my heart has been broken, that’s why I started breaking hearts. ‘I broke them by accident,’ I tell her.
‘That’s no excuse,’ she says. She then sums up the seven sins and asks me was I lustful, greedy, envious, or proud. Before I answer she tells me: ‘Your true enemy is the flesh, Margot. Your were given life to conquer your desires and make other people happy. Your senses are an optic illusion, I do hope you  realize that?’ ‘Yes, of course,’ I answer her.
She takes the evaluation form and gives it to a male colleague, who has even bigger wings than her. ‘Life confused me,’ I tell her, as if this statement will explain my sins. ‘Gabriel will process your id-card for heaven,’ she says. ‘However, due to your lustful behavior, it might expire within two years. You will then be reincarnated and sent back to planet earth.’
‘I thought there would be heaven and there would be hell, no one told me about the reincarnation part.’
She sighs, runs her fingers through her long dark hair and tells me: ‘Yes, that’s confusing, isn’t it? We will give you a booklet about heaven while you wait. Just remember, Virginia Woolf was right. Heaven is a place where you can read endlessly.’



Monday, December 9

HAPPINESS

The weather in Paris was as I wished it would be; it wasn’t cloudy, it didn’t rain, and on some days you could even see the sun. While walking through the city I wanted to trick my brain into believing I was happy, after all, this was Paris, the uncontested ancient capital of happiness. Moto taxi guy was still living at the same place, he still didn’t have a kitchen, just a water cooker and a microwave. Being with him made me feel younger, and somehow I hoped that he would notice that. I wore more make-up than usual, applied pink and brown eye shadow, thinking he might comment when he looked at me. We had sex on the carpet, which was uncomfortable of course. Afterwards we went for a walk down the Champs Elysees. I wanted him to hold my hand, to tell me something like: “Margot, I’ve missed your strength, your tenderness.” Like Whitney Houston I was looking for love in all the wrong places.   


Tuesday, December 3

FOCUS

Back in Paris one can always choose what to focus on. You can focus on the homeless people in front of Gare du Nord, the ones that are drunk, sitting on the street next to their big dogs and cardboard boxes. You can focus on the smell of urine as you exit the station, the beggars wanting to read your palm, the cheap fast-food restaurants opposite the street where you once kissed a friend goodbye, a friend you haven’t seen in years. Or you can focus on the skinny girls wearing nice dresses, the possible smell of Chanel in their raincoats, the bakery which always sells the pastries that you love. And so you focus, you take the metro with your big suitcase, knowing that wherever it is you are going you brought too many shoes. You exit the metro and inhale the smells of Paris, the smell of poverty, the smell of riches, the smell of wanting love and finding what you want. You wish you had a different haircut, a nicer outfit, some decent jewelry, a song that you could sing out loud. You exit the metro knowing you don’t have to wait anymore. He is there, just like you imagined him to be, taking your suitcase, smiling, asking you how you are.

Friday, November 29

LOVE LETTERS

“Dear Margot, I trust this message finds you in good health and happiness. My book on early capitalism has recently been published and is very successful. I’m still working as a professor in Vienna, something I never expected and am quite pleased with. My wife and I recently made a trip to the Canary Islands, where we rented a small cottage near the beach. It gave me time to start a new book, work on my lectures, and prepare a presentation on the early trading days of tea, which I will give next week in Norway. My wife and my publisher are very enthusiastic about my new projects, and life in Vienna sort of feels natural. I recently bought a huge villa close to my old university, which will give us the opportunity to meet in private, and I also look forward to retiring there. I feel very comfortable with you, Margot, and I don’t just say this to anyone. I do hope your feelings for me are equally passionate as my feelings for you. Since I will give a lecture on the Rise of Western Capitalism on Friday, I was hoping you could meet me at 9.00 am for a coffee. Unfortunately I will not have time for lunch or dinner, since I am meeting some female students from Amsterdam, who seem very interested in my views on early Capitalism. Being an important professor is not always easy, and very demanding, especially since I travel so much. Well, Margot, I think of you often and send you love, hugs and kisses. Without further notice I assume we will see each other for coffee on Friday at 9.00. Kisses and more kisses, The Very Important Professor.” At 9.00 on a random Friday someone was having coffee alone.

Saturday, November 23

DATING DAVID

A few months ago I went out with David, a friend of a friend of a friend. David was handsome and Irish, born in Dublin, but was now living here for work. We went out for a drink and talked about books, movies and life in general. I must say there was something about David, a mixture of arrogance and pride which made him almost irresistible.
He asked if I liked Southern Comfort, and kept on buying me huge glasses, as if more alcohol would set me free. When it was time to go home he told me that he had ‘a special friend’, an interior designer who was currently living in London, he was still very much in love with her. He told me that if I looked for peace and stability (“like any woman,” he added) I would never find it with him. After a few more glasses of Southern Comfort he admitted his true feelings: “Margot, darling, I’d like to give you a good f*ck, I’d like to feel your wet pussy, and I’d love to come all over you.”  
I left the bar by myself, feeling drunk and confused, not sure what to reply. His accent had been charming. And you can’t say he wasn't clear.

Sunday, November 17

MAINSTREAM

On Friday I went to visit a new gym, located above our local supermarket. Visiting this gym was something I had been planning to do for a while, especially since I’d been feeling slightly out of shape. Inside the gym a tall young man was standing behind a large counter. He was wearing blue shorts and a white T-shirt, an outfit which was supposed to be trendy, and introduced himself as Jean-Pierre. “So your name is Margot?” he asked gently, while looking at my breasts. Jean-Pierre had a small beard, the kind of beard which used to be fashionable, but was now considered mainstream. In any case it didn’t do much for his face. He gave me a tour of their venue, perhaps hoping I would sign up straight away. Upstairs was a room full of treadmills and stationary bicycles. People were cycling and sweating in front of a large television screen. I wondered why they didn’t prefer to cycle outdoors, where the miles they made would actually get them somewhere. When I left Jean-Marc I imagined myself biking aimlessly in the rain.

Friday, November 8

YEAR OF YES

Ever since the book market crashed, it seems to be fashionable to write about doing something special during a year. These books are almost like reality shows, they’re true stories and apparently appeal to what one wants to read. There is a book called ‘The Year of Living Biblically’ and ‘The Year of Saying Yes’, about a woman who says yes to anyone and anything. I bought the book ‘The Year of Living Biblically’ but haven’t finished reading it yet. It seems to be mainly about strange diets and facial hair. As for The Year of Saying Yes: more people have done this, so I thought about writing ‘The Year of saying No’, but something tells me it will mainly take place inside the house. There’s a book about living without the internet for a year, and how amazing and old-fashioned it is to write real letters using envelopes. Then there’s blogger Julie Powell, who cooked all of Julia’s Childs recipes during a year, which turned into a movie starring Meryl Streep. So I’m contemplating what to do next year. Since my family wants me to find a husband, it could be the year of dating older men. Or maybe they should be younger, I haven’t decided that yet.

Friday, November 1

BRAND NEW

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, who took me to a brand new fancy restaurant. I didn't expect to go anywhere fancy, so I entered the restaurant wearing sneakers and jeans, and carrying a huge yellow shopping bag.
The bag contained four tins of cat food and a blue hat. I tried to walk like owning a huge yellow shopping bag was very trendy and fashionable, soon big department stores would be selling them at exorbitant prices, I was the first person to introduce this fashion to the ignorant crowd. Luckily I wasn't wearing the hat. My friend ordered a French club sandwich, I ordered risotto with poached eggs, spinach and mushrooms, all covered in a sauce of wine. We talked about my cat, who had bladder inflammation, the joys of work and commuting, trips we were planning to make but hadn't made yet, a gift she recently received. When I left the restaurant I felt slightly tipsy. The risotto had done the trick.   




Wednesday, October 30

CATFISH

Watching a tv-show called Catfish has been one of my guilty pleasures lately, especially after coming home from a long and boring day at work. Somehow I’m intrigued by the fact that so many people seem to fall in love with a complete stranger, someone they’ve only met online. It seems so easy to stare at a picture on your computer, exchange a few sweet lines via various chat functions,  and imagine that indeed this person is the perfect one. Connecting with a stranger somehow feels like a relief, like we can finally open up and be ourselves, drop all the masks we have to carry in our daily lives and liberate ourselves. The internet has made it possible to build intimate relationships with complete strangers, while we wouldn’t even dream of talking to our neighbour who lives in the same street. It shows how a certain distance always creates strong desire, the hope everyone has of a perfect match and a better future, the ability to deceive and be deceived without knowing, the craziness and possibilities of meeting people on the internet. And yes, at the end of the show I always wonder: who would I really like to go out with, Nev or Max?     

Sunday, October 20

BEWARE OF PITY

During the summer holidays I bought a second hand book called “Beware of Pity” by a writer named Stefan Zweig. I had never heard of Zweig before, despite the fact that New York Review Books has included his title in their list of publications. Beware of Pity is a gloomy novel, first translated from German to English in 1939, telling the story of a friendship between an officer of the Austro-Hungarian army and a cripple young girl. The young girl falls in love with the officer, who had once, unaware of her situation, asked her to dance with him. The officer obviously feels guilty about his faux pas afterwards, and their relationship unfolds. Zweig states there are two kinds of pity: “one, the weak and sentimental kind..., that pity which is not compassion, but only an instinctive desire to fortify one’s own soul against the sufferings of another; and the other, the only kind that counts, the unsentimental but creative kind, which knows what it is about and is determined to hold out, in patience and forbearance, to the very limit of its strength and even beyond” What is interesting about this novel is that it is so clearly anti-Semitic, despite the fact that Zweig came from a wealthy Austrian-Jewish family. If the manuscript were given to a publisher today, it would possibly be rejected. Stefan Zweig took his own life in 1942, while living in Petropolis, Brazil.   


  

Friday, October 11

YELLOW

Last week, on my way to work, I saw a young woman wearing a bright yellow suit. She wasn’t beautiful, she felt beautiful, and somehow, while her body was in motion, you could see the feelings that she kept inside. Her conviction forced the image of beauty upon you, like someone who had just flown in from Cannes or Nice or Hollywood. It was as if you could hear her inner mantra: I am beautiful, I am beautiful, and be swept away, just by looking at her precious face. I wanted to tell her she shouldn’t wear yellow, that other colours would look much better, but all I did was stare and sigh. Her confidence cured my insecurity, and when she looked at me I waved and smiled.

Sunday, June 9

BEEKEEPING

On Sunday my mother and I went to visit an urban beekeeping event. Now that she’s getting older, my mother suddenly discovered she’s in love with bees. The beekeeping event took place in a small forest, next to a highway and a local restaurant. There was a lady selling candles and hand cream, next to a wooden picnic table where some families were having lunch. When we asked her if she could sell us honey she said no, spring had been a cold season, so the bees ate their own honey, which I guess made sense. We sat in the garden, watching the bees and the flowers, feeling the sun on our skin. And I knew that this was all I wanted: just to look at the world, see its beauty, know that I’m a part of it.    


Saturday, May 25

LOST LOVE

Being in the city of R. reminded me of a lost love, a writer I once admired, someone who used to dine with me and read my texts. In retrospect I’m not sure why I loved him, why I opened up to him or why I was so influenced by what he said. Maybe it felt like someone finally understood me without words, like I could finally shut up and be myself. I remember how badly I wanted his approval, how I would try to write perfect texts, just so he’d be proud of me and kiss my face.
And I admired him until he stole my words, until I found out he was not the person I imagined him to be. I wanted to be loved by him, perhaps like an object, not even like a girl. The last time I saw him I felt like I couldn’t reach him, not even without words. After we said goodbye I thought I would have a small nervous breakdown, that I would end up in a hospital for a few days. I left the city of R. and never spoke to him again. Recently I found out he got married. She’s half his age and sort of looks like me. If I could change things I wouldn’t change them, I would just tell her to watch out.

           




Thursday, May 16

HOW TO THINK POSITIVE


My mother gave me a book about positive thinking, “The Power of your subconscious mind”, written by an American author called Joseph Murphy. I had never heard of Joseph Murphy before, but it turns out he has written quite a lot of books. A lot of what he writes sounds like The Secret avant la lettre, and I guess his message is the same. Murphy states you can get what you want if you think the right way, if you tell your mind that what you want is yours. In other words: if life has made you cynical, this could be the perfect book for you.

Tuesday, May 14

BANALITY OF LOVE

In Brussels I went to see the movie Hannah Arendt, a movie which I expected to be great, but which disappointed me somehow. It wasn't
 the story I expected, but what intrigued me most was Hannah’s complicated love-affair. Why was she so attracted to Martin Heidegger, did she just adore him as a teacher, the way most students did? According to Wiki their affair only lasted a year, according to others it lasted a lifetime. I guess their affair proves one can be objective and philosophical about totalitarianism, but one cannot be objective about love. Perhaps love is the ultimate form of totalitarianism.

Saturday, May 11

LONELY


Whenever I feel lonely, I call someone to fix my washing machine.
A guy arrives with a big toolbox, his voice sounds strange and husky, his name sounds like Antoine.
Antoine finds his way to my bathroom and sits down on the floor. He looks at me, then looks at the machine, then asks me what the problem is. I hesitate before I tell him the truth; the terrible truth which I’ve been trying to deny. “My machine doesn’t seem to clean my clothes.” Antoine smiles, he understands my problems, he understands that this is very serious. He opens his toolbox while I make him coffee. He gets out his tools, opens the machine, tells me what the situation is. “Your filters were clogged,” he explains. “But I’ve fixed that now. Do you have some old towels, so I can clean these water drops on the floor?” I hand him his coffee and some old towels. Antoine cleans my floor. Life makes sense again.   


Thursday, May 2

BACK TO BRUSSELS


Last weekend I went back to Brussels to visit my friend S. She lives in a great house near the city center, a house which feels like a real home. Somehow being in Brussels always makes me happy, even though I know it was a decision that I made. I had decided I could be happy in Brussels, maybe because of their chocolates and waffles, or maybe because I had no bad memories there. I was anonymous, my hair was clean and I felt  young again. In the station handsome strangers whispered: “Hello pretty girl,” something which never happened to me in my hometown. Their approval made me feel more elegant, more in control. My bags contained a lot of things I didn’t need, like tampons, utensils for removing ticks and handmade jewellery. Other things which I needed I had left at home (a small notebook, a sharpener for my pencils, more books to read). In the metro I decided I wouldn’t worry about my notebook. Everything I really needed was already there.

Friday, April 26

CASQUE D'OR


Finished reading “Metronome”, a great book about the history of Paris by Lorant Deutsch. Lorant describes the history of Paris by using the names of Metro stations as a starting point, quite an original idea. One of the stories which I liked a lot was about a woman called Casque d’Or  (real name: Amélie Hélie). She was a prostitute with apparently exceptional good looks and beautiful blond hair.  In 1900, at age twenty-two, she met a guy called Marius Pleigneur, a young labourer. To keep Casque d’Or he had to enter her world; he became a pimp and leader of a criminal gang. Casque d’Or however quickly grew tired of him. She started an affair with a Corsican called Dominque Leca, who was the leader of a rivalling gang. Marius was devastated of course. He got his gun and on the 9th of January, 1902, Dominique Leca was hit by two bullets. Leca collapsed, but recovered quickly. A few days later, while leaving the hospital, Marius attacked him again, this time with a knife. Both were arrested and sent to Guyana to work in a prisoners camp. And Casque d’Or? She married another man and died poor and forgotten at age fifty five.       

Thursday, April 18

CRUSH (PART TWO)


For the first time in my life this strange thing has happened: I have a crush on someone younger than me. I guess it could mean a few things a) my midlife crisis has officially started b) on the inside I’m really twenty-two c) I’m a pervert and a cradle snatcher or d) all of the above. He’s a twenty-something young American with a great smile and fluffy hair, who doesn't seem to notice me. Because I was bored I compared our horoscopes on astrology.com, to see if there was any sexual compatibility. This is what the website said: “Your lovemaking sessions take you to places neither of you has ever gone before; you connect on a spiritual, even psychic level, and your lovemaking becomes a path toward another realm of existence. This may actually be draining for you; you may feel that you've gone too far together -- not in the sense of the sexual act itself, but in the way that it has transported you to a seemingly completely other dimension than what you know as "reality." So I guess I have no choice, I have to sleep with him.

Tuesday, April 16

MARRY ME


In January I got two marriage proposals, which was a bit more than the month before. My Italian friend and I were having dinner at a department store, where I had just finished a greasy salad. I do not consider department stores very romantic, but perhaps my friend thought otherwise. He smiled, took my hand and said: “Margot, I would like you to come home with me, as my wife.” It sounded like a decision that was already made, all I had to do was nod. His home would be my home, I would live in a sunny area and turn into a pet. Maybe I wouldn’t mind being someone’s possession, my weaknesses could suddenly become my strengths. My friend caressed my fingers while other people stared at us. It felt like being given the choice between independence and security; an impossible choice to make.