I’m sure the world will not stop because of this, but, anyway, I’m preparing to get off.
“You are on holiday!” Alan declares, distressed by my despondency, as I’m stuck to the hard chair (and to the computer screen) scratching my head (and neck, and shoulder) while dealing with some problem that seems unsolvable at first sight.
And he is correct, well, more or less. Starting (last) Wednesday, I “claimed” a sort of vacation, because, as you all know, in our networked world you cannot take a complete holiday, “desert island” style, eclipsed from the world with “limited access to e-mail and cell phones.” Preferably, no access at all.
In my particular case, I’ve been breaking my back non-stop for exactly 19 months, as I breathlessly recalled yesterday in the shower. And it was not an easy time, in any way.
I continued in my tight schedule, the frantic pace I promise myself every year to slow down, but there’s always an author who needs to publish his new book at some international summit, an opportunity he cannot miss; another must add a new title to his resume in order to get tenure; yet another will suffer an irreparable blow if he does not launch a new novel on his next birthday; and so on. Meanwhile, I sold my beautiful house in the Valley — a lost paradise in the ethical and political jungle Brazil has turned itself into — packed little more than the clothes on my back and left my former life, moving to an unfamiliar country without a place to live nor even a mattress to lie down. Not to mention a simple table to “park” my office as soon as possible.
The first days were of shock. Driving around in a rented car and stuck in some cookie-cutter hotel, I assure you that the feeling I had was very different from a “holiday abroad” — an urgent need to create an acceptable routine as fast as possible to avoid further delays.
The result was, as soon as we were accommodated, I resumed work as best I could, while during breaks trying to fit into a form yet unknown, which included: requiring (and fortunately obtaining) a Green Card; getting used to the supermarket layout (and astounding variety); and relearning basic rules of survival in a non-hostile but unexplored environment. In short, if I start to detail everything I did in those nine months, I will feel so exhausted that there will be no chronicle today.
Fact is that, as soon as I had the opportunity, and a computer connected to the internet, I came back to Brazil.
How is that possible? I detached myself from the foreign environment and went back to work on a 10-hour shift as if nothing had happened. When I was done for the day, then, yes, I would transport myself back to the United States, immersing in the language, in new habits and different behaviors, while also dealing with my husband’s shock — although a returning citizen, he was completely disconnected from the reality of his own motherland. So you can have an idea, he recommended that we go to the Post Office and rent a mailbox to where all correspondence should be forwarded, something that had worked for him for more than ten years. But what in fact solved the problem was to enter the U.S.P.S. website to register our temporary address, paying the one-dollar fee with a credit card registered at same appointed address. I never again set foot in the Post Office branch that housed my P.O. Box, its number quickly forgotten and its key lost in less than a week, must be around somewhere.
Let’s face it, dealing with the real world is getting increasingly complex. Here in the United States, for example, I have no idea of how and where to buy a new pair of shoes (my feet being smaller than average), much less find a dentist or finally decide to face the second driving test to get my South Carolina license (I failed the first, remember?). New clothes? Eventually, I buy them from the web, and if I don’t like it or it doesn’t fit me, I can always return it by courier and be refunded. Life goes on.
I only realized the depth of this radical transformation when I found myself completely lost with the architect’s bill received by mail; I called him, and asked that it be sent again by email, “I don’t deal well with the real world.”
Friends? Well. After nine months, of course I made some progress in this direction. The supermarket cashier, for example, is not only able to recognize me, but she also calls me by my first name, believe it or not. And, more recently, I made friends with the garbage man, after he found me one of these Sundays locked out of the house as I came back from my daily run. Without mercy, I provoked his lacking sense of humor:
“Do you have something for me?” he asked.
“Yes, and can you take me too, I was abandoned here like a bag of trash.”
“Just kidding! I left the house without my keys and my husband is not home… since it is Sunday, the office is closed, and I can’t get a spare key,” I explained, to my relief already seeing Alan coming down the alley.
After that day, I understood how embarrassing my imported habit of reusing supermarket bags in the trash was, some of them pierced and leaking. And I finally bought those big, special black trash bags, an extra expense of $5, imagine, just to please a new friend, who in turn started to greet me — and Alan — wherever we met, even out of the apartment complex.
Now, let me explain who in fact is this garbage man, actually a highly specialized “valet waste collector,” who picks up the bags from our door and transports it to the complex’s container, from where the city collects it. Good-looking, with a well-groomed goatee, the Afghanistan and Iraq veteran owns a brand new red truck, wears disposable gloves and a spotlessly clean safety vest. According to Alan, who engaged with him in a longer conversation, he only works a few hours and makes more money than an engineer. Sounds fine to me, goodbye, KBR!
Well, in case I fail in my new life as a trash collector, I still can find solace in a cashier position at the supermarket, like 9 out of 10 local retirees, people my age, who not only hesitate to stop working, but also need to make a few extra bucks. Life is tough for everyone, as you are well aware of. The truth — I mean, the more circumspect side of the truth — is, even though I still couldn’t make myself fully conscious of the fact that I’m now in the United States, something happened, and the environment in which I am living has penetrated my brain through a subtle type of osmosis. I started to express myself better and better; though only in writing, because when I open my mouth that Latin accent that Alan so deplores still prevails, and when extremely tired I’m faced with a growing deficit of words (“Not just the accent, but especially the prepositions!” shouts Alan). Frankly, after a day’s work I might be unable to utter a simple sentence, all I can do is talk to myself in Portuguese under the shower. Anyway, when I write, I seem to have opened an English “channel” of inspiration, the same that rarely fails me in Portuguese — humbleness is boring and not worth its price, right?
Therefore, before my energy runs out, let me explain what I understand by “slowing down.” I’m planning to spend the next two and a half weeks dedicating myself solely to personal projects: I’m supposed to publish my new book of chronicles and catch up with the ones not yet translated, because in November — as too little ambition is useless — I’ll be releasing my first book in English, oba. To accomplish all that, a lot of focus is needed, and a lot of work!
To prevent this so-labeled “holiday” from becoming too slow, if all goes well I might conclude the stipulated period with a brief trip to Canada, where without pity or anesthesia I will turn myself into a mother-in-law with a painful injection of live human contact, directly into the family vein — as my daughter-in-law has already warned me. At least that’s my expectation, too high to handle, as usual. More about that later.
For today, it sounds like enough. Please make a note that I managed perfectly to escape this week’s almost inescapable political events, as the intensity of global machinations is also begging for vacation in a tiny little voice, at least here, on this columnist’s side. Based on previous experience, I can’t guarantee that during this period you will get rid of the intensity of my complex writing — as the other day one of my readers described it in a pleasurable comment. At any rate, I’ll resume routine editing freshly renewed.
We hope everything will happen for the greater good, and the overall happiness of all Nations, a hope in which we don’t believe even a tiny bit, don’t mind my the royal we, if you so please.