Sunday, October 14, 2007

The 500th story…

Adam and bike in front of the Hotel Prypyat in Pinsk. February, 2001
I have been thinking for several days about what I wanted to put here in honor of the 500th post of THE BEING HAD STORY. I had considered writing an open letter to either Alexander Lukashenka or perhaps to George Bush, or maybe both. I considered making another thank you list of supporters, but the last time I did that nobody cared. Inevitably I simply sat down and started to type and what I came up with was how my current situation is connected to the total time line of events since all of this started. And also with how the last several weeks of dealing with the Belarusian educational Bureaucracy and specifically not dealing with the local Chasidic Jewish services has not turned out to be the sort of happy ending I have been looking for since… well, for at least one play, one book, 250 newspapers and five hundred essays.

I should mention that at the moment I am writing this our home is colder than our icebox. This happens every year during the period while we wait for them to turn on the radiators. But the cold in my fingers is equal to the cold in my heart right now. I feel cold for having to have gone through what I have these last few weeks. I feel cold for my neighbors since the cat got killed, for what has happened to my social position with friends since I asked several people for some money and for my current economic and social position as a whole. This is not a happy time nor a happy occasion. But if you have been reading me or have ever read me, I ask you to stick it out to the end. These days I seem to be in great need of being understood and so perhaps using this 500th blog to try yet again to accomplish this, to prove once again that I am not a pariah, have never been a pariah and that I have not disserved the fortune which has been handed me. Maybe this time might just get it once and for all.

Once and for all… Now there is a hell of a phrase isn't it? Anyway, here are some thoughts for the occasion:

How all of this came to be

After I got out of Poland the first thing I did was to try and get myself settled into Belarus as fast as I could. I understood that I was working from a disadvantage. A year earlier I had everybody on my side. This wasn't just that people were willing to work with me to help get that play written, they were willing to buy into me personally as well. How many people at that time were willing to come in and invest in Belarus? How many people even thought the place was worth a second look? Well I did and I tell you that people liked it.

I don't know that the enthusiasm with which I was handed by the bike people and by Tanya and her family were entirely why I decided to try and do something here, but certainly it wasn't a deterrent. Most probably the real reason I wanted to be here as badly as I did was that I had thought about staying five years earlier but didn't. At that time I might have except that astoundingly beautiful girl of twenty who simply put everything back into my heart which had ever been taken out already had a relationship and of course, I was afraid of the money. For sure I was still afraid of the money when I came back in 2002. But after 5 years of life after Belarus, five years of wondering whether I had made the right choice in not doing what my heart was telling me, five years of wondering if indeed "This was all there is to life", I was unquestionably on the lookout for chances to stay.

The first to really charm me were those kids riding those ancient Harkovskis down the broken roads outside of Pinsk. They were real riders despite their situation. I was a real rider with a real pedigree: Rode across America solo, a New York City professional bike messenger (and a weekly bonus baby at that) and I had my own personal shop which could do the same fix as any big store only cheaper, faster and in most cases, better. But these kids, thirteen, fourteen years-old, were riding with professionalism already; they had not only learned the rules of the road but also how to pace, when to run and more importantly, when to wait. They road hard, they road like gentlemen and most importantly; they knew how to ride as a team. Victor, Kolia, Sergie, these guys were also real bike people but they were doing it day in and day out on a budget of absolutely zero money for the bikes and less than $50 a month for their labors. I was with them from the moment Max introduced me and not just from drinking with them, although this was a great pleasure, but rather because there was a felling that by helping them, or at least partnering with them, there would be a possibility that a real good could come from the work. Can you understand this? It was not just about the money, it was about doing something that mattered and would really help. Talking about making a business with them gave them hope, a chance, a future.

It was the same with that play. That theatre was tired. The people coming were so angry and cynical and perpetually outraged by the lives they were living. This was before the third election, before the last dictator, before it was popular to recognize Belarus as a place for westerners to hate and ridicule; this was a time when there was simply nothing and no one. And what did I do? I wrote a play about the problem from an inside perspective. It was not about political issues, it was about family and about wanting to see a future where none ever seemed to exist. It was about trying to put on a good face even though you didn't really believe what you were putting that face on for. And the American was not the hero. I just wanted to speak to them and tell them the issues regarding "The problem" were understood and that their side of the argument was possible to show as well.

And then there was Tanya. Her standing up when I came to the bookstore that last day was the last piece of the puzzle. Not a word is what she said. Only that she was for real if I was. And if I would agree to try for her as well, there would also be a then six year old boy who, though as conniving a tyrant as ever was born, could already beat me at chess to try and help along. It was the whole package that got me then. Pinsk, Belarus showed me a life and I agreed that it was worth taking even with all of the surrounding problems, even with six of us in the two rooms and even with knowing I would never be rich here. I chose to stay. I gave my word. This was just the way things would have to be.

And then there was Poland. And after a year of that, and with all of my credit and credibility and face eaten, digested and flushed away like a dollar hotdog, I came back here anyway. Why? Why did I come back? Because they were still suffering. And because I said I would. And because I still wanted that life that I saw that first day but had since been slandered and cheated and stolen away. And I am not stupid. I could see the difference in the eyes of my friends at the bike shop: Where's the money? How do you explain it? How do you explain about what that corrupt group of sycophants did? How do you justify the year? To them, I had stopped being an independent, heart based idealist and now I was just a social pariah. I was now a liar. How do you show people that what they felt the first time was real and that I was still real and that I meant every word that I said- even if there was no longer money to prove it? Or that in addition to their own problems, now there were people who simply didn’t want anyone standing on the side of Belarus. How do you get back what had been taken?

Is this argument too political? Would you say that I am overstating this? Why? The Polaks in this time were set on joining the EU and were solidly behind the US in their war with Iraq. They were absolutely against the Lukashenka regime. They still are for that matter. And I am sure we all know how they are from a pure corruption standpoint. But the Americans were backing NATO expansion and using Poland for one of their "secret jails" at the time. They were of course also working against the Belarusians. Why should they allow an unaffiliated independent to come in? That act alone might be seen as proof that there was life here even though there was not a spare penny to be had, that there was life even without American intervention. This is not to say that they were directly behind Zaremba hitting me with his car, I don’t believe that, but for sure they did everything in their power to make sure I never got out of Poland.

But of course none of this has anything to do with why I chose to stay anyway. Perhaps if something like what I went through hasn't happened to you, if you have never had to sit through mental, spiritual and economic torture for a year (or five years) of your life, maybe you can't know how it is. I mean, I sit here trying to explain it, but with all of your systems in tact, your finances still your own, your word still having weight and your friends still thinking of you as a human being, maybe you could just pick yourself up, chalk it all up to bad luck and move on. But I had already waited five years for the chance to try. The Polaks and Americans only added another year of wanting to stay on top of that. I wasn't about to quit now. In fact, I was even more convinced that I was actually doing something important.

And so I stayed. I stayed even without really being able to help the bike club. I stayed even though the theatre, even though they said that they wanted to, never played the play. And I stayed even though I was never able to get Tanya out of her bookstore. And I waited. And I wrote. And I dug in the fields. And I took every single shred of a chance I could find, fighting for pennies and enduring insults and extortions and derisions both from this side and the other. But mostly I just waited. I waited because sometimes waiting is all you really can do. So I waited for my chance because I believed that I was right and that the life I wanted for myself was available here. In the beginning I believed that at least hearing the play would have meant something. After that, I believed that having the book out there might change things, or at least could shed some light or at least provoke some thought. Maybe I still do it because I believe that what I was doing was right. And as to what that belief actually is, what it is actually made of, well, probably it is just something one perfect girl, exactly from here, the same place that I am from, showed me one time. Without speaking a single word she showed me, absolutely and with chrismal clarity, that there could be second chances, no matter how much the world might demand otherwise, and that I could have that chance if only I would be willing to appreciate where that chance was coming from. That's what got me. This is what I believed in and that’s what Belarus has been to me.

And so what?

These last few weeks of trying to acquire a simple teaching job have shown me that Belarus has become a very, very political place. The political lines are of course between east and west but also I find between old and young. Most of the local support for European or oppositionist efforts comes from young people and the older folks are still happily hiding behind a bureaucracy that allows them their place, their power and their security. And of course, they are the ones who vote regularly (or have the most to lose) so you know, as always, we all know who is the boss around here.

I know that I sound as if I am only sour grapes but really, I find myself in such a ridiculous middle ground. The easterners won't let me live because they don't want the west dictating policy and the westerners won't let me live because they hate the east. I found this in dealing with the educational bureaucrats and I also found this in dealing with Jewish services.

So where do I find myself these days? Well, right where I have always been: Sitting in Pinsk, waiting, writing, farming and trying to find my face again. I still have hope I suppose, though I find that this hope has become somewhat grimy and dingy over time. But still I am I am not quitting. I will keep fighting to get my place, my face, my life. I still want to help people and at the moment, I especially want to do something for the young people whose future will inevitably be mixed in the world rather than isolated. This is not my taking sides of course, but eventually, at least in theory we should all get our chances to be great or at least who and what we are capable of. Of course, I have also known a lot of people who have died here in the period since the end of the Soviet Union and certainly that they did go without ever having seen that colorful future actually appear is as discouraging as anything I could ever have imagined. But still I am not quitting. As for this blog, probably I am simply going to focus on the books and the literature. I guess this means that I am basically working on the happy ending even as I write these words. A happy ending... now that would be nice, wouldn't it? And I guess inevitably that’s what this blog was supposed to lead to. It has been really hard though. I won’t lie to you; it has been really hard.

So that's the story. But before I go today, I thought I would show you one little clip from a play I wrote a long time ago called "The Delicate Task of Listening". This segment is from the first act and is perhaps about appreciating moments. Who knows, maybe it also explains what these last 500 blogs were all about:

    Bill
    Ah, nostalgia… I have nostalgia, too. Let me tell you a story. I have traveled a bit. I have been in a lot of places. And there was one day, when I was visiting Bratislava, in the Slovak Republic when I found myself at a small café, a place where you can buy your bread, cheese, and wine but also sit down at a table to have some soup or a sandwich… (He picks up the guitar) I am sitting at one of the tables, and I am writing a letter to my grandmother back at the states so that she wouldn’t worry so much about me. I’m describing the food and the people and the sites, and at this moment, a very matronly woman comes into the shop. She carried a guitar in a cloth sack. I thought she was a music teacher or a folk singer for children. But, I chose not to bring a guitar on this trip for some reason. I wanted a vacation away from everything and every one. A vacation from the noise… Who knows, maybe I wanted a vacation from that as well. But when you have been away from something you are so close to, the desire to play, even to touch the instrument for a moment becomes even greater. And the need for the sound of the music becomes so profound…
    Sergei
    You are describing an absence from love.
    Bill
    Yes, of course. It is the same! It is exactly like being away too long form your lover. Just the sight of her is enough to make you jump from your seat, and run after her down the street.
    Sergei
    Such a very romantic idea; perhaps you see the world in terms of passions.
    Bill
    Maybe. The passions of music, the music of passion… The music of the moment! (Sergei pours out the glasses) It’s like a river that constantly flows on, existing only in its motion. But a river cannot be seen or held because a river is never still; the moment never arrives. It is as small as the head of a pin: Only anticipated and remembered but never fully restrained. This is life…
    Sergei
    (Stands, Slowly walk to front of stage) I have stood on the banks of such a river, awaiting patiently the arrival of my love…
    Bill
    (Stands also and joins Sergei at stage center.) So, I am sitting at this magazine at Bratislava…
    Sergei
    My heart races in anticipation of simply the sight of her…
    Bill
    This little guitar in the hands of this tiny, frightened woman inspires me to play…
    Sergei
    And though my emotions are so large, I feel I would burst apart from strain. But I must wait…wait…wait…
    Bill
    Pashalsta, I say to her, please, please… may I play? She is nervous; she doesn’t want her instrument to be harmed. And the only word I can think of to hopefully explain myself, a word universal to all musicians…
    Sergei
    And though in this moment I am alone, I feel her presence inside me…
    Bill
    I show her my hands, fingers outstretched, and I say to her in one word, in Italian…dolce…
    Sergei
    Sweetly… I have stood on the banks of such a river awaiting the arrival of my love…
    Bill
    And even if she does not really want to, she allows… she allows it to be and she carefully hands me the guitar…
    Sergei
    I watch the waters of the river flow on. I feel the chilled breeze on my face… on my neck… in my heart…
    Bill
    I sit at my table, check the intonation and finger the “G” at the 8th Fret…
    Sergei
    I turn my head and she is there: All the world around her gray and black and only she in breathtaking color…
    Bill
    And I begin to play. A just melody, a few chords…I add in the base, my fingers are slow and stiff, but I can feel I am getting closer.
    Sergei
    And I ask myself: How can I be a part of such a beautiful picture?
    Bill
    I run through some familiar ideas, just bits of work, and slowly the blood begins to flow down my arms and into my fingers…
    Sergei
    But even as I am so with fear, I must go to her, up the bank, and take her into my arms. And it is there with the change in the breeze, that I first catch the scent of her…
    Bill
    My friend, (Bill returns to the table and pours two more glasses.) what happened next is something I have never experienced before in my twenty years of music…
    Sergei
    And as I touch her, it is as if it were the first time…
    Bill
    (Bill offers a glass to Sergei) They…just…listened.
    Sergei
    The fist time I realize I am alive…(They sit.)
    Bill
    I don’t think the words to describe the feeling even exists in the English language…
    Sergei
    No, no… you’re right. It isn’t here. When I was small boy, I would listen many hours to my mother practice the violin. I would follow melodies with such attention, as she would stand by window practicing. I would crawl between her legs and place my face against her thigh so I could feel her muscles move as she swayed back and forth with the music. To this very day, the emotions the sound of violin can inspire in me can make me weep. And such a thing as this is it not in the soul of all peoples? Is this not one thing that all people share? Is music not beautiful here? Why have you made it illegal to listen? It is only music. Cannot you allow this one beautiful thing to simply exist?
    Bill
    And nobody thought it was necessary to bother me as I played. Nobody stood in front of me and demanded that I speak to them. It was very polite. Nobody bothered me. They just let the music exist. They just let that tiny, little, beautiful moment simply exist, allowed it to be. It wasn’t stifled or abused. They simply allowed the music and the moment…to be. That’s what happened.
    Sergei
    When there is life, when it can be so simple, so beautiful, simply to listen…why must we forget and dismiss?
    Bill
    For the money…
    Sergei
    Perhaps this is the truth… But in that moment, in that one single fleeting moment while it was there, it was good, wasn’t it?
    Bill
    Yes… Yes it was. Yes it was.
As always thank you for reading me.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Bob D said...

Dear Adam,
A friend of mine is a Harvard graduate. The Harvard Club of Washington arranges functions at various embassies. Friday, 12 October 2007, they had a function at the Belarus Embassy. She invited me be her guest. I went. The Byelorussian ambassador spoke. He said Belarus needs a strong leader, that 25% of agricultural land has been lost as a result of Chernobyl, that times are difficult (even mentioned the lowered life expectancy), that Belarus has no oligarchs, that there is no discrimination, and that foreign investment is welcome. After that, they served Byelorussian food.

I hope your trip to Minsk proved productive and that you will be hired as an English teacher. Best wishes.
Sincerely,
Bob

P.S.
I received my birth certificate from Augsburg, Germany. More on this and the Belarus archives later.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007  
Anonymous Ana-Marie said...

Thanks, Adam. Lot's of reading.
Glad everything is going well for you and Tanya. The two of you need
to have an athletic daughter.
I'm spending the day putting my
home dance studio in order. Doing things yourself is the way to go. Keep writing.
Later, Cheers, Ana-Marie

Wednesday, October 17, 2007  
Anonymous carlos occhiuzzi said...

http://www.christusrex.org/www2/koestler/

Wednesday, October 17, 2007  
Anonymous John Malcovitch said...

Adam,

I realized when I saw your latest update mailer that I hadn't written you back, and I had been feeling a bit sheepish since I didn't really have much to contribute, but I hope a little bit helps. I'm always leery of the government stamp-holders who can kill a business or investment at will, but I'm still surprised they're pushing back against an educational initiative. An educated populace is the quickest route to economic success, as the four Asian tigers can attest (ass-backwards to developed economy in what, three decades?). Even in Dubai I met some young Saudis who were saying, "Yes, many of us think Amreeka is great devil, but that probably because we have terrible schools" (etc.).

Anyhow, if anyone taught me that grinding against the system doesn't always work, and that sometimes you have to kiss up to the lady who can finally stamp you out of the country, it's you. If they see an outside institution as a threat, it's likely because they're so worried about their own education system. You're a persuasive guy, so who's not to say you couldn't work with their schools and administrators to make things better (and make some extra income on the side)?Step 1: Make friends with stamp lady. Step 2: Get job teaching kids, earn sivoliki's respect. Step 3: Amass gravitas to make meaningful changes to institution and beyond. Step 4: Watch as educated next generation stamps out corruption and forces government liberalization.

I'll admit it's a tall order, and I stole 3 and 4 from the Chinese Democracy movement, but it's small chunks out of a big problem. I know I don't have details from your earlier plans, but I'm just throwing things out there. This is what happens when I check my e-mail before having my coffee.

All the best,

John

Wednesday, October 17, 2007  

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