After finishing Bedtime Stories, Lauren picks up writing her friend Elliot. In honor of her idol Anais Nin she calls it Mirage and illustrates it with Paris’ most famous photographer in the 30′s, Brassaï.
Wednesday September 3, 2014
What came first? The doubt, the insecurity, the gnawing itch that implies everything about yourself and your life is wrong yet refuses to speak in clear terms? Or was it my decision to focus on my books for the next few months, that ignited those feelings of worry and worthlessness? Chicken and egg. Either way they seem to be companions. When I’m happy, or at least numbed by daily life, I have no need to write. Yet when I feel awful or hopelessly insecure, preferably both, I need to write with an urge usually reserved for running to the toilet. And yes, I know that was probably not a comparison you were wildly enthusiastic about. I’ll try to be less literal and more lyrical.
I’m on day 4 of my Writing-first-spree, the successor of my yoga-empire-first campaign that dominated this summer. And the insecurity I feel has little to do with writing, nor with publishing, more with how I function as a friend, a yoga teacher, and of course a cat-mom. Things are not running smoothly between me and my best friend Marieke. She is going through stuff I can’t help her with but which does tend to make her grumpy. And instead of letting her be, I immediately switch to this pleasing-mode, ending up feeling frustrated. I’ve also had a disagreement, with someone in that quarrel-prone area between friendship and business, and ended up frustrated because I had reached the point where I could no longer be happy for the things she values in life, because I had already given too much and was angry for her giving too little in return. Rutger, my long distance lover, cut me short in my rant, stating holding an opinion can be valuable in business, but only if you make a decision. Otherwise opinions are just judgmental and annoying. I realized he was right, and that it was even applicable outside of work. If we’re not ready to draw conclusions and move to action, disagreements are a waste of everybody’s time. So I took action, yet stayed angry that I had gotten involved emotionally, and that my mind was now polluted with something that was basically just business.
Saturday September 6
Went on a date with sexual omnivore Michael. We went on a date years ago (let me check my boy’s calendar to give you a date) and since then our online chemistry was so strong we nearly ended up having hook-up sex several times. Yet instead we never saw each other again. His fault. He dropped out of communication every time we were in the when-where stage.
I was surprised he agreed to see me, especially since I stopped flirting ages ago, refused any suggestive locations and insisted on broad daylight on a terrace of a well-known café. But now I think that may have been the reason he actually did show up: that he only shows up if I have a boyfriend, and will never be interested in him.
Rutger may live in the US but that still counts as being present for Michael apparently.
Over coffee I suggested we could visit book readings together. He emailed me and is suggesting completely different things. I ignore it. I’m not the least bit aroused, our date did nothing to change that, and even if he manages to push the right buttons again, I know he’ll just vanish into thin air. It’s pointless. I went on this date because I think he’s fascinating, not because I want to have sex. As a born-again writer I need interesting, I need complicated, I need dangerous. But merely a sniff, a flavor, just enough to get the idea. Not to get sucked in and have adventures.
The second writing-related man I reestablished contact with this week is Henry. Our meet & greet early this year fell through because he was occupied finishing his 20ish novel, and I was saving Max (my small cat).
I reread a diary from 1996 this week – in shock over the emotional mine field my 20s were – I stumbled on an entry about a book signing and the conversation Henry and I had. I made a picture of the page and sent it to him, and that’s how we started talking again. I have some concrete questions, regarding publishing, that I want to ask him. A date will be very welcome.
The third writer that just fell into my lap is an old friend. He stopped seeing me around ‘06, ‘07. Out of the blue I received an email. I welcomed him back but did ask why I had become this persona non grata. Or, as I jokingly called it, this person au gratin. I warned him that I was still the same loud ballsy woman, although ignorant about what it had been in particular that I had done wrong.
But it didn’t have anything to do with me.
Next to laying the foundation of my writer-worthy circle of friends, I also made pictures for the book cover. Medium shots and portrait. The first showed an arm, and when going through the rushes I wondered if my chubby arm was supposed to trigger a new a serious attempt to lose weight….. I felt ambiguous. But then I saw the portrait pictures; a 42 year old with no wrinkles, blushing cheeks, vibrant eyes! And for the first time ever I embraced my full weight and size. If I would drop 10 kilos I would age ten years.
Today I tossed out all clothes that were 1, 3 or 8 kilos too small and ordered bras and jeans in my real size.
Monday, September 8
Some Monday! If you would Google trivial problems, it would give my morning. Although anything involving my cats can only phonetically count as a petty problem. They’re my babies.
Yesterday was alright. Together with a friend, I did a small refurbishment at the yoga studio, and when I came home I was so hyped up I took on the task of carpeting the hallway upstairs. I’ve lived here since 2011, and although I took care of most of the things, despite having a temporary contract (which keeps being extended, it won’t be demolished until they start to build the new houses here), the hallway was dangling somewhere at the bottom of my to-do list. Together with clearing out the shed, where I kept the left-over carpet. I dragged the carpet in, leaving a trail of spider dust, earth, and insect eggs. After an hour of cutting, I had it fit. But the floor was chaos, and probably still contained potential new life forms. Before cleaning it I decided to put up some photo frames, since everything was dusty already anyway. So I did that. The frames still contained 2012′s vision boards. Another half hour later I vacuumed the stairs and the whole second floor, mopped the kitchen and the living, and fell asleep admiring the third and last super moon from my bed.
I felt enormously content.
Until the first person making contact with me this morning was Michael.
I was taking care of my cats and my phone kept buzzing new messages. I thought it would be Rutger, as I sent him a love letter yesterday. I finally had time to read the messages “only” to find out it was Michael. Apparently, ignoring his overheated emails after our date was doing little to cool things down. My curiosity had won last week: I had agreed to see him again after (still owe you a year/date here!) those years of not seeing each other, not having sex, and me being angry with him for not showing up, dropping out, and lying. But although the date was not disappointing, I felt shockingly unmoved by his presence. Perhaps our sexual attraction only existed digitally? Or was the damage of his unreliable behavior simply too big? Had I been naive to think I could just go on and be inspired by him, after all that had happened?
Either way, he wasn’t giving it any time to develop, and was clearly not picking up that I was cold to the point of freezing. If anything, his attention was worsening my condition instead of improving it.
Angrily I texted back. Starting with that I didn’t know what to write, but soon lost in a sermon. Rant. Declaration of war. All bottled up anger just spilled out. Although that’s exaggerating. I was still polite. But nevertheless he didn’t sent me even one letter back.
So that was the first hour of the day. \
I’m watching the news and Willem my cat is purring on my lap. Yesterday I bottled his poo- he did it in front of the litter box, giving an excellent litter-free sample to get a lab-test. He’s had diarrhea off and on for 2,5 months now. He’s had three courses against a parasite, and two runs of antibiotics. Getting his feces tested for a full check was one of the final things the clinic could do. Maybe it would bring an underlying cause why the parasite was returning all the time, why his immunity appeared so low. I bottled the poo, but had also found (presumably his, Willem’s) diarrhea again this weekend. And it had left me worried and depressed. Not again…. Also, I’m planning to go to Rutger in November and felt sorry for myself for being glued to my house this summer. I had intended to travel more, get more people to take of the cats instead of just Marieke, but as long as Willem was in poor condition, there was no way I would introduce new care takers. Week after week, month after month. Instead of becoming more flexible, more independent, I was totally sucked into mothering over my cats. And now Willem was back to diarrhea…. so I made a decision to stop planning for Rutger in November. I just gave it up. Connecting Willem’s recovery with yes/no November was only making things more stressful. And I don’t even endorse that way of thinking. Your first priority, and even your first joy, should always be to take care of those who need you.
And then I heard a sputtering sound from the litter box. It was Max. It had been his diarrhea! The one I had found this weekend too of course. I had already found it weird that Willem was making both poo as well as diarrhea. I called the vet for advice on poo and parasite.
It was 9 o clock and it was the most mundane, least promising start of the week imaginable.
Sweetie, I just checked my boy’s calendar: my first contact with Michael was early 2011, then we get numerous cancelled dates – cancelled by him, or just not confirmed as he vanished into thin air presumably with a dead battery or such. Then in 2012 we had our first and only real date. No kiss, no promises, but nevertheless the next day my lover Nubian Prince and me found it a good time to have goodbye sex, and give Michael a chance. But Michael didn’t respond to invitations for a second date.
With a price like that paid -wasting a perfectly good lover- no wonder was overly sensitive and easily infuriated. Nubian Prince was a sexy, honest, academic 22 year old; we’re talking solid gold here.
Michael got exactly what he deserved. Just that he got it two and a half years too late.
2. Le Petit Mort
In theory Lauren is dedicated to her book and to writing for this blog. In practice she gave it up weeks ago. The former hedonistic cougar is home bound, mothering her little ones, sick with worry and about to get dumped. When it rains it pours.
Sunday September 21, 2014
It was somewhere between the pasta pesto and the apple crumble in a restaurant at the boulevard. I never visit the boulevard, it’s further away than my regular hang-outs, but I took my long lost writer-friend Kay for a walk along the shore and suggested we’d try the strip of restaurants overviewing the water. It turned out to be a terrific choice; dignified, affordable and wine by the bottle. Fresh food blended with old stories as he remembered the first time we had seen each other informally. It was quite a while after I had given up running. He had been my trainer. We bumped into each other in a bookstore.
“You pointed out a new book from Henry,” Kay remembered.
“It was a diary, named after the year it covered. And some tagline about how it had been such a terrific year. You were disgusted. Said you could never read a book with that title. Your father died that year.”
I had always assumed that I had missed it all those years ago, struggling to keep my job and dealing with the sudden loss of my father. But I had not missed it; I had revolted against it. Time must have healed me.
In 2013 I happily picked up the diary and sent Henry a note how much I liked it, pretty brutally confessing I had not read him in over a decade.
“I have no idea why I dropped out,” I wondered, clearly without any recollection that he had been my arch enemy.
“The diary is your best book to date.”
Kay’s anecdote of how we became friends (we exchanged the book store for somewhere with alcohol) provided a vital piece of my personal history. Suddenly I could connect the dots on me and Henry and explain the unsettling ten year gap in between.
Despite the exuberant night with Kay I feel hung over today, or in Dutch katerig. This Dutch word for hangover literally means tomcat, and it is applicable to grogginess caused by too much booze, too little sleep, or the rude awakening after a one-night stand. I had neither but still felt very tomcat. Physically I am fine. I picked up yoga today with brutal enthusiasm, cleaned the yoga studio and rearranged classes so that I have the weekends off this fall. And I have an unsatisfactory feeling about this weekend, haunted by a never ending to-do list. The reason is threefold.
Willem. My big cat has been ill for three months. The underlying cause of his returning bowel parasite has been found, and it should be a treatable condition. But the initial meds were rejected by him and I’m now waiting for the alternative to arrive. Three months of lingering around the house, waiting for him to feel better before I can pick my life back up, and can ask friends to babysit. It’s exhausting.
Snails. To save Willem from being relentlessly exposed to parasite eggs, I need to de-snail the garden. At the VET they give you this brochure with extreme hygiene rules for your house, yet the garden is only briefly mentioned (“Throw away bowls and other objects that collect rain water”). How is disinfecting the kitty litter box going to help if every blade of grass and every flock of the moss between their toes contains three generations of larvae? I was on their tail once I saw the snails eating Willem’s feces and these are snails that get premium food like cucumber and apple peel from me. They voluntarily ate his diarrhea. Willem is on his fourth infection now, this course of meds ends Wednesday. By that time I need to have evacuated most of the snails. But I hate it. I keep their stress (and mine) to a minimum by collecting merely for 10 or 15 minutes, and then immediately transport them to the forest, but the container packed with snails still reminds me of genocide.
Apotheosis. Yesterday I discussed my blog with Kay, and that I’m choosing French titles for Mirage.
“I hardly write, too occupied with Willem. But I do have a worst case scenario title. If he dies I can use Le petit est mort.”
The little one has died. It is a reference to the expression le petit mort, the small death. Which refers to male ejaculation. Kay said that even in Dutch they call an orgasm the small death. And that he understood why.
“Post-orgasm can be this big disillusion,” he explained.
Ah, the infamous disillusion.
“You lose all your energy. I mean for a man of course.”
Years ago I discovered older men suffer from this relapse. In their 20′s a man may get tired but he won’t shut you out, nor is he suddenly ashamed of what he has done. Taking post-sex rejections pretty seriously I made the shift to dating younger.
“It must be your age,” I commented ruthlessly.
“Maybe some residue of Christian upbringing.”
I never bought into that wasted energy excuse for suddenly feeling disgusted after sex. My orgasms can be so intense and my fantasies are by any standard disgusting, yet afterwards I fall asleep happy and satisfied. Kay and me reminisced, remembered, and everything was as good as it used to be. Rebounding from my date with Kay I am fully capable of feeling petit mort for an entire Sunday.
Kay has a troubled relationship, but one in which he sees beauty. Also in a literary sense. He writes about her, his peculiar girlfriend, who is his opposite and probably embodies everything he never looked for in a woman. He acknowledges that she is perfect for him, that her unconventional personality is exactly what he needs.
And it threw me back to Rutger. It has been over a week now, we barely talk. I explained to Kay that I wished Rutger would be like that, that Rutger would see that I am perfect for him.
“He’s mourning what we can’t have. I can’t be in his life like the others.” I explained.
We are separated by two continents, two children and two cats.
“He’s looking for a real relationship.”
And look how that turned out. Every time I thought of Rutger I was biting my tongue.
Last weekend he had offended me, practically denying we were more than friends.
“We’ve been in a relationship for 23 years. Just we don’t relate like man and woman.”
In Dutch the words for husband and man, woman and wife, are identical. Maybe he meant that we would never marry, which is cruel enough by itself. But it felt as if I wasn’t relationship material. That I had merely stuck around long enough to have sex with at some point.
It was the kind of insult that inflicted a small death and that could evolve into ten years of silence. Minimum.
3. On y va!
After feeling sorry for herself for four months straight, Lauren finally hits rock bottom. And the only road left leads back up to the light. With special thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert for leading the way.
I didn’t write because the thought of another update on my cats was making me sick. They’re elderly and will need increased care one way or the other. And I embrace that. I know it’s my task to be here with them, and also my joy to live, cuddle and sleep with them. Even when they were in good shape, their presence limited my radius of action. I only asked friends to take care of them for micro holidays or an occasional weekend with a lover or my mother. I’d say never more than a dozen nights annually, even in my top year. I’ve always accepted being homebound in favor of my unexpected task: to take care of the little ones.
But it wasn’t just this worry and the further loss of freedom that caused my self-pity.
There is my best friend Marieke who is making plans of migrating, marrying, and probably children. Even Alcatraz had more escape routes. And I considered pointing this out to her, but since she is the smart one of the two of us I reckoned she could do the math herself. Besides I had other troubles because two people close to me fell ill. I can’t share more but having those close to you struggle with disease that could very easily have been yours, is like getting a secondhand wake up call. A mild blow in the head. The moments when I was confronted by those battling an illness were the first I stopped pitying myself.
And last but not least my affair with Rutger ended. I have known him for 23 years and we finally FINALLY hooked up this summer. In June I had made a decision to stop dating. I had craved intimacy, not sex, but eight years of being single or going semi-steady (semi stands for not making long term plans) had brought mediocre results. I got a final STD test to close it off, and was calling it quits. Three weeks later Rutger was in my bed, and I was nauseous with happiness. After he left he became my overseas holiday prospect and long distance muse. To him I became the woman he could never have a normal relationship with. Something I silently referred to as “to pick up your socks”. Two days ago I broke it off. Or maybe I just verbalized what he had been trying to tell me for months. And his response was so loving it made me cry and threw me head first in the well of self-pity.
Yesterday Marieke came over to say goodbye for a month. And I said I was feeling so bad, because all my relationships seemed to be ending and my life was stuck.
“But I know I’m close to a breakthrough,” I assured her, not wanting to make her feel guilty for moving on with her life. “It’s like when you feel sick, and right before you throw up you feel the most miserable. And afterwards it’s such a relief. I’m at that point. I’ll vomit soon.”
“Maybe write a blog,” she offered.
But that’s not entirely how it went.
Because this morning I clicked to an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love. This is a book I got for an early 30′s birthday (we’re talking stone age here). I had felt reluctant to read it. I respect women who insist on throwing away perfectly good lives to children, marriage or career but that doesn’t mean I have the patience to listen how they were disappointed. Women’s books opening with how miserable married life is, invoke this irrepressible TOLD YOU SO reaction in me. Accompanied with a not-so-gentle smack in the face.
Half a year went by and out of guilt towards the giver of Eat, Pray, Love I started reading it. I was sure I would hate it, but I had to try it before I could give myself permission to silently deport it. But surprise surprise! Eat, Pray, Love became my favorite book.
Eat, Pray, Love is not a novel it’s a memoir and I luuuuve memoirs. And it’s extremely positive because Elizabeth Gilbert escapes when she realizes she doesn’t want children. At first she ignores her red flag period prayers (“Thank you Lord for letting me live another month.”) but she has a light bulb moment when she runs into a brightly happy pregnant friend who has spent two years and a king’s ransom to get pregnant. The mother-to-be is radiating and Liz realizes the only time she had that exuberant expectant look on her face was when Q magazine asked her if she wanted to go on a boat trip over the Pacific to hunt a mythical giant squid.
At last she realizes getting all fired up about an octopus might be a sign that changing diapers is not the level of adventure you’ll be satisfied with.
Now a short reflection on my own lifestyle, my ambition and how I got trapped into being a stay-at-home writer.
I didn’t volunteer to become a single-cat-mom. I could already see that being a sole care taker would be problematic, so when my long term partner and me went to the animal shelter back in 05 (a full year before I started writing), I had negotiated the cats to be officially his. When we would break up – I mean if- they would be his. But that didn’t work out and two months after I moved out the cats were dropped at my place. One night together and I couldn’t believe I had ever given them up. Still can’t. What an idiot I had been. So from then on I have lived with my cats, and whenever I was going semi-steady (where semi turned out to be a man cue to set up a future mate on the parallel track and commence test-driving behind my back) I would ask a friend to take care of my cats when I slept out. Preferably Marieke because she would stay for the night, making her the perfect surrogate mommy.
And workdays were easy. By teaching yoga I have one of the rare professions that allowed me to work through years of diabetes (the cat’s, not mine), to accommodate seperate diets and foraging habits and still let them spend ample time together. I never had work weeks where I had to lock them up separately with a food timer, pull the door behind me, and come back 10 hours later to two estranged animals and smelly litter boxes. I also never had to cut on medical expenses, which has been a true blessing. I’m not rich, but I can afford the best care since my VET has long stopped charging for his time. I only pay for tests, food and medication.
Before I realized my cats were probably never going to fully heal, I was just in the phase of Increased Mobility. Surely I could find ways to go away more often! And now I had Rutger, who lived in America. I looked forward to visiting him, so that would be a good opportunity to arrange more care takers and give myself more space. Which was great in theory, but what started with a simple diarrhea of one cat, progressed into the medical freefall of the entire herd. My time windows away from home narrowed, Marieke planned to migrate, Rutger shut me out and people with illness reminded me life is short and that you have to reach for your goals.
It is no secret that I want my work to be read, but every line of thought for promotion would die feebly. I just couldn’t understand how to go out into the big world when my moving space was shrinking to miniature size. My responsibilities lie at home and with providing an income for all of us through teaching yoga. And then I saw the interview with Elizabeth Gilbert.
Elizabeth told a story about an 28 year old Irish immigrant who was left by her husband, with their 5 children. She made a promise to herself that she would one day see the world. Every day, she put a dollar in a coffee can, and after 20 years, when the last child had left the house, she cashed her coffee cans, bought a ticket, and traveled the world.
And it was that story that sparked something in me. Elizabeth made me realize that my responsibility for my cats is temporary. If the youngest – Max, a mixed rag doll breed, whose age was estimated- lives to be 20, it would mean that in 9 years my responsibility ends and I can cash my coffee cans.
I dived for my vision board box of 2012: a money box I had crafted for gifts on my 40th birthday. It was plastered with pictures of everything I would like to do. Swim the waters of Calabria. Learn to surf in the Gulf of Biscay. Read at the London Book Fair. And in this box I put a note that said: Het Boek Benjamin, my collected works. And another note that said: Dutch American Diary, the three English diaries from ’08-’14. It were the titles of the two books that I have ready to print, and that I can still self-publish. And then I emptied my piggy bank into the box.
If, no sadly when, I no longer have to take care of Max and Willem, I will send my books to publishers and one will make me a good offer; one will know the English market and how to position a bilingual camera-ready author. And I will take time off from teaching, pack my suitcases, close the door behind me and live out my coffee can down to the last euro.
Leaves are falling, temperatures dropping, rain is pouring. Lauren’s annual cue to fall in love. Most likely hard and with a Dutch writer.
OMG OMG OMG OMG…
But first: raise hand if you thought me finding closure on Benjamin was real. That I could stop writing about this next to mythical man who had been my muse ever since I picked up a pen in 06. Stand up if you thought that last summer’s email where he said that he wanted to keep the memory but saw neither opportunity nor need to see each other, was going to suffice. Be honest! Getting over him would have been the grown-up thing to do of course. And it had looked like an easy to follow three step process.
1. Get watertight alibi from the Universe to make the long journey and visit his city.
2. Write email I am there and await answer.
3. Either see him or be rejected by him. Both would crack the shell of mysticism.
At my 42nd birthday I would finally have reached maturity.
In theory. Because the moment I read his email and it didn’t feel like I was going to die, I already started to doubt its effectiveness. Sure, I cried. And I was happy to have my new friend Ivy there with me.
Ivy had been my yoga student for over a year, and was also a fanatic reader of my blog. We became friends in June, both defining friendship as sharing copious amounts of white wine. It had been a real home coming. Two weeks later, when she heard I planned to go see Benjamin – uh, I mean do that alibi thing, there –she offered to come along. She was even more into the event than I was (I knew this was true), she was fascinated with the Benjamin story line in my blog (I knew this was also true), and she assured me that I could freely break down on our trip without having to feel guilty towards her. This last bit I simply assumed to be true. And if she was going to be disappointed after all, by her yoga teacher being a rejected suicidal cry baby or a home wrecking harlot, at least she had known what she had gotten into. I was making no guarantees I would be there all the time, nor did I promise to be pleasant company. And yet I was remarkably relieved when she said she would be honored to be there with me.
So Ivy was there when the email came in. She even read it for me, as we still had our event scheduled and it was crucial I didn’t break down for at least another 12 hours.
“It is a really nice email,” she said.
“But it can wait until tomorrow for you to read it. You are not going to see him.”
By the time I read it the trembling had faded, the crying had stopped, and we had a warm lunch with pasta and salmon, because Ivy is the only one who understands everything appears catastrophic on an empty stomach.
“It is a really nice email,” I repeated her words.
And then I felt nothing.
A few days later, when I was back home, Rutger was coming over to see me for the second and last time on his vacation to the Netherlands. Rutger is a Dutch expatriate just like Benjamin. We have known each other from 1991, just like Benjamin. And there is an undeniable sexual tension between us, although far less mystical than with Benjamin. Rutger is closer to home, literally. His student room was one block away from mine, we went to the same supermarket, we had the same friends (among which our class mate Jeroen who was my boyfriend). Rutger and me have a contagious light hearted chemistry, and this summer, after 23 years of relationships, and his marriage and children, after all that we finally lit it. The fireworks were just as magnificent as we had anticipated and there was a childlike joy in our encounters.
So no wonder I didn’t feel wrecked by Benjamin’s letter, I was on a high. Rutger and I were making each other happy.
That Benjamin didn’t want to see me was at that time not something I could feel the magnitude of.
“I will feel it later,” I thought.
“When Rutger no longer wants me, then I’ll cry for Benjamin.”
And now Rutger no longer wants me. He let the flame die out, and I saw no other option than to write him I would not come see him twice a year. We’re still on speaking terms, or even flirting terms, but the best scenario I can hope for is that the dreaded Facebook status update;
Rutger now has a relationship with Mrs. Rutger
is something that I will see after summer of 2015. Not before. I am rooting for a few more nights with him, but I have to take into account that female breeding-anxious America will not keep him on the market that long. I may lose him for as long as a new marriage will hold.
So my love drug Rutger, the reason I didn’t feel Benjamin’s blow, that haze has worn off. But instead of the reality of Benjamin’s email finally hitting me, something else sneaked back in. Love for Benjamin. Memories of 8 years of writing, always alone but so intimately linked to my own soul my desk needed cleaning from bodily fluids and I laughed out loud, as if in post-coital relief and wonder. No one was as happy as me. Everyone looked for love in the real world, and I found it in my own head. And I have found it there, in my imagination, fueled by movie stars and other unavailable men since I was 12. Even the 14 years I was with Jeroen, a perfect relationship in which I didn’t fall in love with other men even once, were complemented with 14 years of admiring Brad Pitt.
Together with Geena Davis I started panting like a puppy, begging Susan Sarandon to pick up hitchhiker Brad Pitt. I saw every movie, bought expensive American magazines, saved clippings, everything. I may have been Brad Pitt’s biggest fan on Dutch soil right up to 2004′s Troy (where he deflowers Briseis – sigh!).
And then Angelina Jolie happened.
Next to her Brad Pitt looked plain. I frowned wrinkles in my otherwise smooth 30-something forehead. Brad fathered her adoptive son, they adopted others and then Angelina got pregnant. A rainbow family was born. You could see Brad Pitt age by the day on the E-Channel. Jeroen and I broke up 5 months after Shiloh was born and Brad Pitt was starting to look like Yoda.
With the real life men I admired something similar happened. First there was Nathan, the American. The moment my best friend started sleeping with him, he became damaged goods. I saw him once since then. My best friend was stunning, just like Angelina. But she had a similar destructive side and the night I ran into him she had picked a fight with him. Seeing him defeated erased any residue longing for this American lover.
The second was young Valentino. Summer 2013 I still dreamed to see him again one day and I wondered when that longing was finally going to stop. This spring, that’s when. A mutual friend added me on Facebook and I had free access to his profile. He was posing with a child. Whether his promiscuous behavior had finally taken its toll, or whether it was his preconceived plan to become a father at 25, I don’t know. But he looked depleted, so I do know it was his own child. Valentino even shared Pitt’s aggressive hair cut from that year he played some Nazi.
But the magic with Benjamin will remain. Unless he starts a rainbow family with Ivy, shaves off half of his hair and poses with an infant tied to his chest. But any chance of that was blown this week. Because I now know what he looks like. For real.
It all started with the stress of taking care of my cats. I’m closing in on the Willem-the-big-cat-has-been-sick-for-five-months anniversary, and it’s a good thing E-Channel doesn’t follow me because I’m sure I’ve aged even more rapidly than Pitt. Thanks to my around the clock care 16 year old Willem is still up and running, but he needs an increasing number of medicine to keep him there. This week was particularly emotional, even my yoga classes suffered. Every time I had to talk them through the long relaxation and intended to say: “Feel the weight being released from your shoulders,” I fought back the tears and chose another expression.
Willem didn’t respond to his 3-weekly injection of anabolic steroids and only consumed miniature portions of his soft food with pancreas powder. He vomited occasionally as if just to scare me. Yesterday I took him back, the VET put him on painkillers and Willem immediately picked up.
And then I felt I deserved a reward.
I bought a book.
Now a word on me and books: I don’t read them. The last book was by Brassai on Henry Miller’s years living in Paris, and although it is highly entertaining I have stranded on page 50 or so. And I should have known this because the pattern with which I buy books that I do read, write about, and then fall in love with the author, that pattern is becoming predictable. In 2012 it was Rafael. In 2013 it was Sam. And now it is Estas.
I’m not in love yet, but that is just a matter of a few more chapters, and we’re there.
For me to fall for a novel and its writer two things are needed:
1. the book has to be iconic and
2. the writer needs to be idol worthy.
He needs to have so much charisma that if you drove by at 100 miles an hour you would start panting at Susan Sarandon if we can pleeeeeaaaaase take him in. He needs to have so much charm that him stealing your $6000 dollars, destroying your dignity and violating your sexual integrity would be worth it. You would even offer it to him freely.
Estas looked the part.
His hair was long and sleek; Valentino’s blend of Western strength and Asian beauty. Estas was about my age, generously out-smarted me and his book was already iconic. Pushing a third print within ten days of its release Estas’ book was taking The Netherlands by storm. Some critics complained it contained too much sex, which was probably good for another four thousand copies sold.
The life-long love story of a man and woman, meeting in hotel rooms, cheating on their spouses, an unacknowledged love that existed predominantly in the mind. A dream world. That was the story everybody wanted to read.
And that was the book I deserved.
I started to read.
Within a few chapters of this dream world book, my pacifier for troubled times, the reward for being a dutiful herder of cats, I understood exactly what this book was about.
And who it was about.
And for the first time in years I Googled that one single name: Benjamin.
I smiled when I saw the photo. You bastard! I had never bought his whole I’m a middle aged man now bullshit from his email but this very recent portrait of him surpassed all my expectations. The first thing I noticed were the hands. They were as elegant as I remembered. The suit was formal, a connoisseur would recognize the designer; the cuff links and the tie a personal touch of the bearer. We were wearing the same black watch only his must have cost a fortune and it fit his wrist and gender. It wasn’t oversized. He was giving a seminar, the hands talking, the eyes vibrant, the eyebrows stern. The mouth a little open, as if he was thinking. No smile. A short cut, every ink black hair in place; no trace of gray nor scalp. The light brown skin was smooth, covering high cheek bones, a sharp jawline, a small straight nose.
The eyes were still thinking.
Looking up, as if in a dream like state.
5. Au Naturel
“His hair was long and sleek; Valentino’s blend of Western strength and Asian beauty. Estas was about my age, generously out-smarted me and his book was already iconic. ”
After her last blog post Lauren suspects she may fall in love, and struggles with the age old questions on life, death and what to wear.
A puzzled look in the mirror. An inch of dark root, but the rest of the hair light. The subtle honey tones of earlier dye had faded, leaving only the bleached base tone. My hair was already long enough to pull it back into a low ponytail if I sneaked in some bobby pins to hold it together. Soon I would have to decide if I would continue the faux pas of my hairdresser, who had given me a Marilyn Monroe like cut, setting my curls loose for the first time since the 80s. Or if I would ask her to clean it up and work towards a more modest bob line, daily straightening or my favorite hair do; cool blonde side parted hair in a low bun. It made me feel together, in control, like Sharon Stone. Especially with my white coat. I always wore white coats in winter and just bought a new one. It had deep pockets on the sides, exactly like the one from Basic Instinct. Every time I slid my hands in I half expected to find a silver cigarette case and a lighter of 30 St Mary Axe.
“Shall we get a bite to eat first?” Famke texted.
“And drinks. It would be inappropriate to show up sober.”
I looked in the mirror again. As long as I wore my contacts I could still sport no make-up at 42. And my gray hairs were so rare I could never spot them when I looked for them. The dark root could pass. It would give my hair extra volume, and save me a hasty dye session.
“I can be there at 18.00” I texted.
It was two hours by train.
In the 90s, Famke had gotten me interested in literature, or at least in writer Henry who was about our age. I was into Brad Pitt and studied to be an engineer, but somehow Famke managed to squeeze Henry’s book in, and my brain was delighted to get something different than math or movies. I devoured Henry’s book.
Without Famke I would never have resumed reading after dismissing the whole thing after mandatory literature in high school; I would never have started writing, and would have remained unaware of good looking gorgeous men like Rafael (2012), Sam (2013) and now Estas, who we would visit tonight. Famke was excited too; she looked forward to meeting Dijin, the Marlon Brando of Dutch literature who had gained weight and addictions with every brilliant book he had delivered. And just like Brando his charm was still evident, and the markings of his addiction magnified his status.
“I couldn’t stop drooling over his chest hair,” Famke would confess later.
Famke and I met in an old café where the best seat of the house became available the moment we realized we should have made reservations. We ate fish, pasta, and Famke went fearless on the garlic.
“No plans to see your boyfriend this weekend, I reckon?”
But he had the children over.
“Estas’ book is about what you have,” I mentioned.
Famke and her beau had been together for a few months.
“Adolescent loves meeting again.”
“Yeah it’s cool. And how are things with you and the American?”
I had hooked up with my college sweetheart Rutger on Independence Day, which had been symbolic for how our relationship had developed.
“Rutger is Dutch. He just lives there. Probably holding auditions for a Mrs Rutger as we speak.”
“Did you read any of Dijin’s books?” Famke changed the subject.
“His first. I didn’t understand all the words. Probably straight from Arab or something.”
“Medieval Dutch. But you wouldn’t know that.”
“I did write an erotic story about his sister. Does that count?” I offered.
“No. Leave the Prince of Darkness to me. You stick with Estas.”
My belly expectantly jumped up to my heart at the sound of his name. Contrary to my earlier writer idols I was still unsure how I would respond to Estas. He classified as “my type” but I hadn’t been able to pick up his energy on screen or from audio. Probably because his voice was so much softer. Estas didn’t speak with Sam’s rough consonants, which made you feel like you were phonetically raped, nor did his voice radiate Rafael’s warmth that wrapped you like a blanket, soothing into an easy surrender.
Even Henry, who had never classified as my type, owned a magical husky voice that had been the reason I went on crusades to bookstores and readings, desiring an autograph and to hear that enchanting voice.
Estas didn’t have such a voice.
And there was something else that made me doubt the real-life attractiveness.
His male protagonist was disturbingly ugly. I could find a way around his maniacal obsessive side, but the acne, non-existent body hair management and most of all his womanly hips, made it difficult for me to sympathize with the female character. Why on earth would she choose him?
In his favor: he was great in bed. But I knew from experience that a dirty mind can be a joy for a month or four, providing you don’t see him too often, but after that womanly hips, acne and failing body hair management will become a problem.
So what if Estas had written about himself?
What if the legs that had still looked fine on tv, would in reality look like the Venus of Milo would miss them?
It was windy, dark, and we were medium drunk. The small distance to the theater was covered with tracks and an indistinct intersection. Trams and taxis sped by from unexpected directions. We patrolled what we believed to be a sidewalk for the duration of her two cigarettes.
“I almost started smoking again. I have pics.”
Photos on my phone of me smoking and a half eaten pizza.
“Cool. Who’s the guy?”
“First guy I ever kissed. We met at a reunion. He turned gay after his early teens.”
A rough beard, brown long hair and a wide smile. His blue eyes stood apart, adding to the child like grin.
“Tasty. Too bad we lost him.”
He had been highly popular with timid virgins. As if we sensed he wouldn’t grab or grope or otherwise bother us with heterosexual clumsiness.
“And I’m seeing Henry this week,” I said. “We’re going for lunch.”
“Wow! What did you do to deserve that?”
“I don’t know. We know each other through Twitter. Henry saved Sam. I hooked them up after Sam’s debut exploded in the media and he wasn’t getting any guidance. Sam would have been on heroin if it wasn’t for Henry.”
Now that I saw how sluggish the media were with Estas’ book, I realized things indeed had been absolutely crazy last year with Sam. The media all fought to write about him, to have him on their show. With Estas’ book it was different: he had been invited to only one show, a program that only covers serious literature, but was boosted bottom up, by bookstores and readers. There had been five star reviews, of course, but no paper had the shamelessly long interviews that had been published of Sam.
“Maybe Estas needs saving too. You should hook him up with Henry.”
But I shook my head.
“It’s his fourth book. Estas can take care of himself.”
“You never know!” Famke insisted.
“Dijin might get him. Could have him in an opium den before the clock strikes twelve.”
We picked up our tickets, and looked for a seat that allowed us a good view at the big couch on stage. There was already a musician, playing a string instrument, probably inspired by either the Arab or medieval background from Dijin. The lyrics were odd, like poetry that doesn’t rhyme.
“He has a weird accent,” I whispered.
“As if he just got back from milking cows.”
“Alcohol doesn’t help to appreciate this.”
The audience looked at the ceiling, fondled with brochures, solemnly nodded. The average age was 104.
And then I spotted him, talking to Dijin in one of the side aisles, leaning to the wall. Estas was taller than on tv, his long hair darker, maybe a dye. A slender elegant body. The pants weren’t shrink to fit, nor could I see his butt, but no doubt his butt cheeks were firm and he wasn’t a hormonal mess like his protagonist. And the face! On tv the light brown skin had leaned towards white, a Southern European tone rather than Asian. But in real life it showed its true beauty. Even the features, that had appeared slightly out of proportion, suggesting a bloated face and interfering with ratio of nose to lips – were peaceful and balanced.
“First eye-contact with Dijin,” Famke bragged.
But Estas stayed focused and didn’t look into the audience.
The evening started. It was modelled like a talk show and Estas was first. The interviewer came remarkably prepared, and was professional. Not someone who is there on stage to steal someone’s glam nor to idolize his guests.
“The longing to unite with someone is the only big myth we have,” Estas explained the uncompromising content of his book.
“I wasn’t interested in writing about meaningless sex.”
He finished by reading from his book. Two people in a room and their nearly insatiable desire to feel the other, to claim and to be claimed, to possess. Estas’ soft voice meandered through the explicit paragraphs, carefully articulating, only brushing on the strongest words. Lifting them until they floated on his breath.
The interviewer sighed.
“That’s how you write a novel.”
Estas appeared satisfied.
“If you do it right, yes.”
I spent Dijin’s interview staring at Estas, who took position at the first row.
After the show they set up the stage for book signings. Most people planned on coming back later, and went for refreshments. The authors took their place, the banjo player started his medieval songs again. The interviewer and some publishing people wandered around and kept the authors company.
“Has the signing started?” I asked.
“Or are we interrupting?”
The interviewer gave way with a friendly smile and I got Estas’ table. Famke was the first with Dijin. She brought two glasses and a bottle of green liquor, which he immediately opened.
“Hi, I’m Lauren” I stared into Estas’ eyes as I shook his hand.
“Will you sign my book? I already have one. A first edition.”
And I wished I had brought him absinthe, although I was sure he wouldn’t drink that.
“Why do you write in Dutch?” I asked Estas.
Estas had studied English literature and strongly favored Anglo-Saxon literature. Like Henry, Estas had idolized Henry Miller, particularly Tropic of Cancer. A book I didn’t even own yet because I was afraid that just like Catcher in the Rye, it would stay untouched. Henry Miller was the lover of Anais Nin, in Paris in the 30s. That was my strongest motivation to one day read it.
Estas’ English was more than likely as good as mine plus he actually read the American Classics.
But that’s not how he saw it.
“Oh no, I prefer Dutch. There is still so much that can be achieved there.”
He looked unbothered that only a fraction of the world would be able to actually read his achievements.
Our moment together was light. I noticed how the gentle voice created space around him that didn’t fill up, didn’t respond to the weight of man meets woman.
“I will give you my name,” I dived into my bag for my card. That is the only concession I do when I write about famous people. Even when the subject doesn’t realize yet that I’ll write about him.
“You’re not Lauren?”
“I’m also Lauren. When I write erotica. When I teach yoga I have a different name.”
“You try to separate it. The romantic you and the business you.”
“You say it like it’s not working.”
“We carry our most intimate side with us all the time. We all do.”
Meanwhile on the table next to us, they were less shy with their intimate sides. Dijin was drawing hearts in Famke’s book. She was giggling and sipping the green liquid.
Estas’ pen cautiously started to spell my name. Then his own. No L word, X’s O’s. His wedding ring flashed, catching the stage lights. A sharp ray of light.
“I liked your sex scenes,” I said, suddenly unabashedly.
Pages dense with intimacy. Two people cheating but with a monogamous desire for each other. The type of sex only Rutger had been able to give me.
“Thank you,” Estas closed the cover.`
“I tried to stay truthful. It is what really happens.”
“If you do it right. Yes.”
Le Grande Finale. Je t’aime
New Year’s Day. Almost two months since Lauren’s last post: that can’t be good news. And it isn’t.
This is me abandoning project. I’m leaving this book, Mirage, and I’m taking everything that was left of it with me. The final blog post, already written, about my four writer idols – Sam, Rafael, Dani and Henry? Too bad. I just can’t find the heart to finish it. It was just a few sentences really, all in Henry’s part. All the elements were there, I just had to weave it together, get his approval and then chapter six Quatre Men was done.
Maybe it was that: the approval. Maybe that is what delayed me until I just didn’t want to invest any more energy into it. It’s not that Henry literally asked for veto rights, nor even brushed on the subject of what to do when meeting a blog-all diarist. He didn’t have to. During our date he mentioned two things I couldn’t write about. Which were not unreasonable, but I think just the fact that he didn’t trust me with it took the fun out of writing. And it made me insecure. What more things were there that I would thoughtlessly share, that were painful for him?
But in all fairness: it wasn’t just Henry. There were a lot of reasons why I am pulling the plug on putting my most intimate thoughts online. But before I leave, let’s have the good part first: the paragraphs, on seeing my three younger idols, Rafael, Dani and Sam. All in one night. And the timeline is in reversed chronological order, because, hey! I wanted to try something new, okay?
I have known of Dani’s existence since a crowded barbecue, attended by soccer players, young families and other illiterate like my boyfriend. It wasn’t exactly my crowd but at least it proved my boyfriend was unrelated to wanna-be journalists, freshly-debuted-authors, and other nearly-graduated 20 somethings. An incestuous group and effective pet peeve.
A half-naked gorgeous man was chasing a football. Sleeves of his sweater tied around the waist. He was wearing jeans and sneakers but despite his casual clothing the skill to handle the ball was obvious. A Golden Retriever ran besides him, barking enthusiastically.
“Who is that?” I asked.
“That is Dani, he lives in Amsterdam. He has a lot of sex. He’s writing a book.”
I had to hate him.
This was of course highly immature. When a half-naked athlete turned writer, good with animals, playful approach to sports, when someone like that comes within a 100 meters there really is only one suitable response: To go in, and give it your best shot.
But there was another reason I didn’t do that, aside from the fact that he was up to his chin in the circle of my arch enemies. Because Dani was not my type. I fancied dark sturdy men like Rafael, who had lost 15 kilos since I first met him in 2012, but had managed to stay attractive. I fell for gym addicts like Sam, who was not only the most successful author his age but also the only one who could still become an Armani model. I liked big bodies and childlike big brown eyes. Dani had small eyes like a predator, just like me. He was white, just like me. He had a blog (guilty) and was promiscuous. Something I was always accused of but that was definitely untrue. Hooking up with Dani would be as lethal to my reputation as doing his whole team.
So in the end it was a well-considered decision to hate Dani.
And he didn’t know me. He wouldn’t feel a thing.
Fast forward Spring 2014.
I’m killing time in a book store at the station. I have to wait. Long. Too long. Meanwhile Dani’s book is staring at me from the shelve, with the most ridiculous title. Shall I read the back cover? Probably a hideous hotchpotch of recommendations from women’s magazines.
I turn it around.
And I recognize a man who writes about himself without trying to hide his flaws.
“Yes, I do drugs, I did too many women, hurt the ones I love and I don’t deal with my emotions. And it makes a hell of a story.”
He had been blogging for years about his messy life. Just like me. But he had managed to take his blog to print and get it the attention it deserved. I didn’t. Not for four years.
And what was my excuse?
At best; A business to run, two fragile cats to take care of. And I kept my house clean and my affairs in order.
At worst: Lack of back bone and an internet addiction.
Dani had beat me by a miles length, half drunk, definitely high and screwing more in one year then I’d probably do in a life time. This man deserved my respect.
Fast forward November 2014, around 11 pm.
The show is over. Even the group selfie has been taken with all authors – including Dani, Rafael, Sam- and the entire team responsible for making this annual event a success. I’ve left my seat and walk up to the stage. Dani spots me and walks up to meet me. I’m not sure if he recognizes me from Twitter or by the book I carry.
“Hi, we’ve never met in person,” I introduce myself.
He squats down to my height, a friendly slender suit with disarming sneakers. Black hair nicely groomed, the small brown eyes connect curiously.
“So cool you bought my book.”
And he takes it from me and starts to write on the first page. Sam walks by, quickly ruffling Dani’s hair.
“Stop teasing me!” I shout to Sam.
And then to Dani:
“You were constantly touching each other during the show. It was highly erotic.”
Dani giggles, handing over the book.
“Want me to introduce you to Sam?”
Before I can say that won’t be necessary, he jumps up, grabs Sam’s wrist, and pulls him in, briefly explaining the situation. Like me, Sam doesn’t get a chance to explain. So he plays along.
“Hi! I’m Sam!” He shakes my hand for the second time that night. “Nice to meet you!”
And the two men laugh and resume their bi-curious fondling. Retreating into their own world.
He looks lonely. I recognize him at the first row; a the dark haired figure in a simple bright blue vest, that I know will highlight his light brown skin tone. The only writer not dry-humping around between the fans and other readers, the only one who already took his seat. Tonight he will be last, and I already know he’ll be their strongest speaker. The only one not wearing a suit, relying entirely on the power of his words. I tap his shoulder.
“Hi, I’m Lauren. We’ve met before.”
That magnificent face. Western features, sensual lips, and large brown eyes. A gorgeous just-under-30 year old who could never fool me no matter how much he downplayed himself.
For a moment I feel out of place, like I shouldn’t have bothered him.
“I had no idea you would be here,” I excuse myself. “Sam told me.”
“Yeah…” he lets his warm voice drag.
“You got your whole threesome together tonight, right?”
I stare in disbelief. Not only does he remember me, he also knows my blog and who the two other writers are that I write about. Him, Dani and Sam.
The line-up consists exclusively of young writers, and even among them Sam is the youngest. It has been a year since his debut shot him to fame. It is his anniversary.
I am leaning over from a ground floor balcony of the theater, and Sam is hugging me from the aisle. I get kisses too. Maybe it’s because my midsection is shielded by the balustrade, or because I have the advantage of height, but unlike last year I can still talk and make sense. I can enjoy being star hugged in a sold out theater, without fainting from every atom in the air resonating with sexual tension.
“I could come on Sam’s aura,” I had testified to Henry.
“Henry told me what your second book is about,” I smile.
“If he is right, then you are brilliant. Everything up till now was just foreplay.”
Sam gives me even more banister intervened hugs and a high five.
“That other writer is here too,” Sam says.
“Who? Dani? I know.”
“No the other one. Rafael. Want me to call him for you?”
Henry is sitting in front of me at a tiny table for two. I admire his long black eyelashes as he orders veal for lunch. The waiter stutters, visibly trying to make a good impression on his famous guest. I recognize Henry’s supple way of moving, the husky voice, everything so much more vibrant than on tv. I can see why I fell in love when I went to book signings in the 90s. And his books were spirited with boy-like wit and rebellious enthusiasm.
“I brought our break-up book for an autograph,” I say.
A cheaper edition which I had bought only recently. I was no longer offended by the blasphemous title that insulted the year my father died.
“I’m sorry I doubted you. It is your best work. I responded overly sensitive.”
We stare out the window of the monumental building, overlooking the canals.
“You had your reasons,” he contemplates.
“I think you’re a solipsist. You take everything personal.”
“You’re being kind. It would have been easy to say narcissist.”
Henry’s stories about the world of publishing, and about my ambition to be recognized for my English, caused an avalanche of thoughts and insights, and made me change course. Some decisions were consciously: to stop hoping for a publisher to save me, an agent to help me or a miracle to happen. Others were less traceable to Henry. I decided to stop writing in 2015 until I had my books in print. I had been keeping a blog since 2010, and all those years I had failed to publish. Only a fool expects different results from repeating the same behavior. I had been a fool for too long.
My decision to stop writing in 2015, in favor of publishing, took flight instantly. I collected my manuscripts, made a final decision on how to publish, arranged for two editors and one graphic designer. I set up concept covers and ordered two books in draft. They were stunning. Clearly the new approach was working.
I had an unfinished blog post Quatre Men, but at least my publishing was finally up to speed.
And then my heart began to ache.
It’s not that I don’t know this pain, just that, well, it’s been a while…. The first time was somewhat predictable: after someone broke up with me. Not the first months after. I had been sad but it was still all too fresh for the truth to sink in. I still had hope. Hope doesn’t hurt. But after I found out he was sleeping with my best friend, that’s when the numb pain around my heart started. The second time was when I was writing an erotic story. It was not autobiographical.
The location and situation were unknown to me. But I knew I was the female protagonist. And I although I had never slept with slept with the man it featured, I knew who I imagined him to be.
Benjamin whose name I’m currently using in my book title of my collected works: Het Boek Benjamin. Because he is the common denominator. From the first novel that I started writing in 2006, to the diaries; they can all be traced back to him. And some erotic stories too, for the perceptive reader.
I remember when writing that story, and feeling the toll it was taking on my heart, I considered stopping. But I knew I couldn’t. Either I would detach from the story, lose touch with it, and then I would be unable to finish it later on. Or – more likely – the unfinished story would stay in my head, and the pain would stay until I had finished it.
I kept writing, and it is one of my absolute favorites.
It became the last erotic story I ever wrote, as if I had found closure.
So now it’s not about writing one story; it’s about printing my collected works Het Boek Benjamin. It contains Dutch and English.
Now that I feel the physical drawback of this, my body screaming at me as if threatening to die if I continue, I know with more certainty than ever that I need to finish them.
Because after eight years of writing I finally, finally, need closure.
Mirage (diary 2014) is book 7
and the Epilogue to the Dutch American Diary trilogy
Mirage became indeed the final book that featured Benjamin.
The next book is book 8, Big.
Diaries and Erotica (2015-2016)
I will start editing Big tomorrow, and publish the first part Sunday March 12, latest.
Check the overview for all books that are currently online for a limited time.