Tag Archives: personal

comeback

The way I look at life, there are incarnations, and there are chapters. And since moving to my new home, I don’t know whether this is a chapter or a reincarnation. In any case, it’s different from any life I’ve lived before. Nechama, my dear cat is still living with me. She seems a little older though, and she gazes mostly through her right eye. The pupil of her left is slow to open or close. She had some sort of eye infection, and never recovered fully.

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You might remember that I stopped posting here a while after moving to this new house. We were enjoying a wave of terror attacks here in Jerusalem, and this life around me became so absurd and obnoxious that I thought myself incapable of dealing with it; how could I describe it. Time goes by. It’s relative of course. A day is a much smaller part of one’s life after 80 years than it appears to be at 8. Aside from that, we seem to perform much slower when we’re old, and so it happens sometimes, that the day comes to a close before we’ve actually gotten into the swing of things.

Finding myself in a new home didn’t come smoothly for me. For some time I was still bouncing back and forth between my new home and the home of a friend. Truly, there was nowhere I felt at home. I was a ‘displaced person’. I am just now beginning to feel the generation of tiny new absorbent roots reaching out from the base of my existence. It’s a childlike experience and takes some work to integrate into the consciousness of an old cat such as myself. As I write you, I sit at my desk with an open window before me, looking out at a number of well cultured trees, and another building made of stone. I’ve read that the roots of trees can have a circumference three times that of the branches. It is easy to lose touch with a friend who no longer lives down the street… Some friends have died. Some have gone off in a different direction. When I try to meet with a friend I haven’t seen for a couple of years, I hesitate. I’ve changed so much recently. I hardly recognize myself. It seems quite possible that my friend has changed as well. Will we be able to understand one another? Will we still be speaking the same language? I remember my parents meeting friends after the war. They were bent, prematurely gray, scarred for life. And looking at one another, their eyes would light up, and they’d say, ‘you haven’t changed a bit’. I thought they were lying to be kind. Now I understand better.

It’s something of the same dilemma when sitting down to blog. Am I obliged to tell of the changes. If I didn’t, the reader might suppose that this Shimon fellow had gone turned himself into a corpse, and some other rascal continues to abuse the space hollowed out by that first fellow, why, who knows… maybe to sell coca-cola and attract likes on facebook. On the other hand, sometimes you can see through the wrinkles right into the soul. That’s what I thought when I heard Leonard Cohen’s last song. So maybe I don’t have to apologize before starting again… just thinking about it makes me dizzy. Still it is habit that keeps us alive. Hold on to your toothbrush, your walk around the block after dinner… and throwing out that ball across the field so your doggy can fetch it. Without them the chasm yawns.

There was a year that hurt like hell after my dear doctor gave me this pill that was going to prolong my life. What a disaster! I hurt every day. I started praying for death. And when you’re taking 12 pills every day, it’s easy to forget why you take the 13th. Well, I finally went to the doctor and he changed my medicines.

Then a delegation from Pitcairn Island came here to visit me here in Jerusalem. They were unhappy because I hadn’t filled out my tax return for 1967. My claim that I was never a Pitcairn citizen, that I had never lived there, and that 50 years had passed since last I visited were dismissed out of hand. A photo of mine had been published in a magazine, and a payment had been sent. And I hadn’t paid taxes. It was that simple. They threatened to freeze my bank account. My lawyer smiled when he saw me.

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After that, my downstairs neighbor decided to renovate his apartment. Immediately after replacing a good part of the sewer system he began with the destruction of his internal walls. They used an air drill called a Congo here in Israel, and this tool produced a sound which I can only compare to a crashing air liner. The only difference is that when an airplane crashes, it’s all over in a few minutes. But this renovation had all the longevity of inter tribal wars in central Africa, or revolution. It just kept going on and on. Though I bought ear muffs that supposedly protected my ears from the noise, my brain became all the more receptive and aware of what was going on under me. I felt like I was sitting on a volcano.

Through every one of these aftershocks, I kept telling myself that when it was all over… when things had returned to normal… when there was peace and quiet here… I would consider going back to writing. But these were trembling words spoken in the storm.

I found some comfort in a Scientific American article which claimed that after the dinosaurs were decimated by a falling asteroid (or monkey wrench, believe what you will), life bounced back in the vicinity of the mass extinction after a mere 30,000 years. So it seems, all I have to do is wait.

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the shape of things

drbob: FAR too long since I’ve heard from you, and I care enough to worry. Just tell me (us…myra too) that you’re ok.

shimonz:
I’m alive…
uninjured so far.
but the war has had a bad effect on me.
I’ve lost the zest for life…
lost my sense of humor
grown bitter.
’cause it’s brought back
memories of childhood
that I thought I’d forgotten…
and a loss of faith
in man…
not god… man.

poetry and bull shit

My dear friends, last week I wrote a poem… and got some comments on the blog and a lot of mails. Didn’t really know how to reply to them all. In the past, I have written posts, and turned comments off. And then I would get mails, asking why I had turned the comments off. That people wanted to respond to what I wrote. And you know, I really do enjoy the comments. So this time, I left the comments on, even though I knew that it would be very hard to respond. In fact the week has gone by, and I haven’t responded. So I decided to take this opportunity to explain my situation.

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There are so many levels of communication. Sometimes we tell what’s happening in our life. I know there are bloggers who share their most intimate feelings, aspirations, and anxieties on their blogs. Often these people choose to protect themselves with anonymity. They adopt a pseudonym, and use a picture of a flower or a fish as their icon on their blog. Sometimes I don’t even know if they are a man or a woman, young or old. I’ve often felt a discomfort when reading such a blog. I felt a need to know where the voice was coming from. And so, on this blog I use my own name, and that is my real picture at the top of the page. But then, when relating to very personal matters, I can’t help but think of the subjective nature of personal material. And I wonder about the many different ways one could look at the same experience.

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On one hand, I want to be accurate about what I present on the blog. And on the other, I am aware that because the story is so personal, what I’m saying is highly subjective… and if it were viewed by another human being they might see things very differently. Moreover, some things are so complicated. Stories have previous incarnations… they’re woven like a Persian rug, with threads from numerous pictures interwoven and emerging again and again as the images change. On occasion, I choose to tell my story as a parable, and other times, I turn to poetry.

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Some people asked, is this true? Is it literal or figurative? Are you moving? Did you have such and such a relationship? So let me tell you how I see poetry. For me, poetry is as true as it gets. It is cutting past the skin. It is getting to the heart of the matter. It is a cutting away of the explanations and justifications, and the apologies. It is laying the soul bare. It is piercing through the fog and the mist and the manners to get at the essence. And once the soul has been exposed, each of us has to understand it as best he or she can, from our own experiences in this life. There is no point in explanations, because everything has been said. I know that in academic circles, a poem is sometimes taken apart to better understand it. If you were to do that, it’d be okay… it would be you’re way of getting to the heart of it. But I couldn’t take part in such an exercise. I wrote you a poem, my dear friends, to tell you where I was at. What more could I possibly say.

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But in our tradition, there are certain exceptions to the rules. For instance, we refrain from using the explicit name of our god. But for the purpose of learning or teaching, we are permitted to say the name. So I’ve decided to tell you a bit about last week’s poem… and to tell you a bit about bull shit too. All for the sake of the learning.

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After living for 40 years in the same apartment… a condominium… my very dearest friends have convinced me that it would be in my interest to move to another apartment, where according to them, I would be more comfortable. It never occurred to me to move. It would be a move to the next neighborhood over from where I’ve lived all these years; into a newer and better built building… near a nice shopping center. There is a list of all of the advantages and it goes on and on. One night, after listening to some powerful convincing, and actually visiting the proposed apartment, I agreed. But then, returning to my trusty old home, I looked at the walls, at the old furniture, at the books that cover almost all of my walls, the ghosts of old memories started coming back to me from forty years of living in the same place. And that’s what I put into the poem. Of course, I could have written a book. But that wouldn’t have fit on the blog.

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Meantime, while my friends are taking care of the arrangements, and packing up my belongings, and cleaning the accumulated dust, and putting my many possessions in order, my dear friend Janne, has provided me with a room in her home, in a small village, a very short distance from Jerusalem. The pictures on this post were taken where I am presently residing till the dust settles, and I’ll actually move to my new home. Believe me, it’s a very emotional experience. But life has been good to me. And my life right now is very good too. Aside from the very gracious hospitality of Janne, I’m also enjoying the companionship of Georgia the cat, who’s appeared on these pages recently, and Charlie the cat, and Bonnie the bitch, all of whom amuse me and help me pass the time in what otherwise might be sheer hell.

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And now, about bull shit. This is an expression I learned when visiting in America. It was a common expression, used often when there were doubts about the veracity of something said. I was reminded of the expression when I got a few mails asking me if what I’d posted last week was true.

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From what I understand, some years back, in the western part of the USA, they used to sell these 50 pound bags of bovine feces as manure for the cultivation of agricultural products, vegetables and flowers. On the bag there was an impressive picture of a healthy bull, snorting and pounding the ground with his front hooves. The picture was supposed to convince the farmer buying the product, of the effectiveness and the power of the manure in the bag. But since farmers were skeptical about advertising even in those days, and knew that there were more cows in the meadow than there were bulls, they used to refer to this product, with a smile, saying ‘bull shit’.

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But the story is not so simple. It turns out, especially these days, that there is a substantial difference between the dung of bulls and steers when compared to milk cows. Cows are fed more roughage and grasses, because a lot of grain cuts into milk production, whereas the diet of bulls and steers consists of a base ration of hay and corn. If raised for meat, they often get a protein supplement as well as salt, limestone and dicalcium phosphate. So maybe, at least nowadays, there’s no reason to scoff at bull shit. For as we know, what comes out is influenced by what went in.

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I love your comments, my friends, and I hope you enjoyed this explanation. As I mentioned before, the pictures here are of my present environment. I hope that soon I will be home again… even if that home will be a bit different from the one I’ve been used to for the last forty years.

writing

As you know, I recently acquired a Kindle electronic reader, and I’m very satisfied with it. Since the beginning of this month, I have read a number of English books which I have enjoyed. And on this reader, there are a number of black and white images which serve as ‘screen savers’, or more accurately, a way to let me know that the reader is asleep. If I turn it off completely, the page is slightly off-white. But if it’s only sleeping, I see one of those images. The images are beautiful… photos of typewriters and pens, and other pictures connected to the process of writing. These images have brought back old memories.

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my first fountain pen, an Estherbrook

My earliest pleasant memories are of reading and writing. As difficult as life was in my immediate vicinity, once I learned to read, I was able to find refuge in other times and places, and to forget my own troubles for an hour or two, as I learned new things and identified with far away writers, and adventures that excited and inspired me. Those books filled my head with images and ideas that were brought to me by letters on the page. As lonely as I was, I got to know people and social conditions that I couldn’t experience personally. And I became a dedicated reader and student. Soon after learning to read, I began writing. At first I wrote in a journal in which I recorded interesting things I had learned, and references to other books that I found mentioned in the books I was reading. I wrote with pen and ink, using a fountain pen, or a pen which was nothing more than a wooden handle to which was attached a nib, which I would dip into the ink, and then be able to write a number of words till I had to dip the pen once again into the ink well.

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for hundreds of years people used a simple pen such as this

My teachers showed me examples of proper handwriting, and of exceptional writing. And I aspired to write as beautifully as some of the examples I saw. And since Hebrew has a number of accepted alphabets, including two separate scripts, aside from the well known square letters, I practiced writing both of the scripts, as well as the square letters which I admired from the first time I saw them. There was a solidity and a balance to those square letters that enchanted me. After a couple of years of writing with a regular pen, I bought a set of graphic nibs, with which I was able to control the width of the line I was drawing, and this enabled me to write more beautifully. The physical act of writing the words on paper was as important to me as the meaning behind the words I was writing. And this focus on the craft of writing continued for many years.

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different nibs I would use when writing

Over the years I had quite a number of pens of all sorts, and most of them are still with me, though I haven’t written by pen for almost 20 years. Yet each of the pens I wrote with is precious to me, including the first ball point pen, which was called a ‘globus’, and was a very simple utensil made of cheap plastic. It could write forever… at least so it seemed after writing with fountain pens. But at times it left a little puddle of grease on the paper, and because of that, I continued to write with fountain pens. Later on, I switched to typewriters. And for many years, I had two typewriters; one that wrote with Hebrew letters, and another that wrote with Latin characters. I could reminisce about the different typewriters I wrote with over the years. But today I’m reminded of the pens, and each pen brings back a period of my life, my dreams and accomplishments, and what I studied in those days.

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the ballpoint pen called ‘globus’

The pen that accompanied me for the longest time, was a Parker 51, gray in color, with a very fine point. It was the most dependable pen I had, and held a lot of ink, so it could write for days without a refill. It was also light in the hand and comfortable to write with. I remember only once that it leaked in my shirt pocket, and that was when I was flying in an airplane. But unlike most of my other pens, it’s line was so consistent, that I was unable to emphasize a word by pressing a bit harder on the point. And so, I didn’t usually use it for letters and documents that were meant for the eyes of others.

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a fountain pen used for calligraphy

There are two pens in my collection that I love most of all. One was given to me by a dear friend, and is considered one of the finest pens ever made. It is called a Mont Blanc, and was well known as a luxury item since the 1920s. It has a gold nib which allows a certain flexibility, so that one can express himself in handwriting much as one can express one’s self in speech. And I was always reminded of my friend when writing with this beautiful instrument.

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the Montblanc, a present from my dear friend Bert

Another pen that was exceptionally precious to me… was the very pen that my mother gave my father when they were newly married, and he was forced to travel abroad. He wrote her love letters, and tales of his efforts in countries beyond the seas. When he was getting old, and no longer used this pen, he told me that he had intended to leave the pen to me, but since he didn’t use it anymore because it was a cartridge pen that used glass cartridges of ink, that were no longer made. He wished to give it to me while he was still alive, as a souvenir of the love that bound my parents together through the years. The pen was beautifully made, and had a gold nib. It was one of the first that employed a cartridge as a reservoir of ink. It’s body was built before the use of plastics for such articles. It was made of Celluloid.

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a present from my mother to my father

As soon as I received the pen, I set about, trying to make it a working tool. There had been an excellent pen repairman in Jerusalem, by the name of Moshe Cohen, and I looked for him, but it turned out that he had moved to Tel Aviv. I called him up, and explained to him that I wanted to write with this pen, but the cartridges were unavailable. He told me he thought he could install a reservoir in the pen, which I could refill, and so use the pen. I brought the pen to him personally, and found his pen store inspiring. I watched him as he wrote with his own fountain pen, and loved his handwriting. He was a man I could trust. A couple of weeks later, he called up to inform me that the pen was ready. I baked a loaf of bread and bought a bottle of wine to celebrate with him the rebirth of this pen, and we celebrated in his shop, after he delivered the reconstructed pen to my hands.

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pen repairman extraordinaire, Moshe Cohen

These stories belong to the past. Nowadays, I write with a computer. It’s better than a pen, actually. No problem to emphasize a word, or to write in italics. And you can change a sentence without rewriting the whole page. But I’ve never felt as personally attached to a computer as I was to the pens I wrote with.