When I was younger, I used to believe that love was something magical. I thought that when one fell in love with someone it was meant to last forever. Love was the most powerful thing in the entire world. It could be eternal and it was meant to be so. Because if not, then what was the purpose of loving someone so much? Of loving them for so long? It had to mean something. So in my head it meant that you had found the love of your life and that you were going to love them forever and ever, and live happy ever after (or unhappily ever after because they didn’t love you back. But they would one day, because they had to).
What would happen if we could stop time? If we could freeze a moment for as long as we wanted to, or stretch it and make it last forever. Is it possible to live that way?
I have wanted to stop time many times in my life. The one I remember the most was not so long ago. I guess we unconsciously want to prolong many moments in our lives, but only in certain times we consciously think about it and say the words out loud in our heads. “I wish I could stop time and live like this forever”, that’s usually my kind of thought. I wish time wouldn’t move at all. Sometimes I even wish it could go backwards and be able to enjoy everything once again. Savor the same fraction of time as many times as I want.
I wonder what would happen if we could do it. Would everything stop? Or just us? Would our lives remain the same? Would we want it to stop at some point?
I’m concerned with this questions because I think it is not right. If we could stop time, then absolutely nothing would happen. Our lives depend on the passing of time, and this is not some significant breakthrough. We tend to overlook the simplest things in life. Without time, there is nothing. We move in time. So, if time stopped, we wouldn’t even be able to move. You know in movies, when some awesome super powerful character freezes the present, and they somehow are able to continue talking and walking and making a cool speech about whatever? That wouldn’t be the case at all! What makes us believe we can escape our own wish to freeze time? We would be frozen just like everybody else. That’s the truth.
I know that this is not what we mean when we think we want time to stop. What we really want is to keep things just the way they are right now. We don’t want interruptions, we don’t want change, we don’t want anything less than what we have now. But change is inevitable. And time won’t stop. So, when this thought pops into my mind and refrains me from enjoying the present, I go over the scientific impossibilities of time freezing. Just to keep my feet on the ground.
The other day, I was speaking with a friend about eating at restaurants. He was explaining to me that he couldn’t eat at restaurants while traveling because the people traveling with him wouldn’t spend money on that. So I asked him why doesn’t he just go on his own?” He looked at me and very firmly said that he was not going to go out and eat alone. His answer struck me. It didn’t make sense to me at all that someone wouldn’t go out for food just because there’s nobody else to go with, especially while traveling (I probably wouldn’t go out for a pizza alone here in my home city anyways). For me this was natural. Maybe it was because I didn’t have any other option while I was traveling Europe, but also maybe because I truly enjoyed doing so.
Don’t get me wrong here, I enjoy people’s company, and even more so when sharing food (and even more if someone is cooking!) I love the long conversations you can have at a table with someone that can last even after all the food is gone. Because, and I’m quoting my friend here, “eating is also a social act”. The quality time I spend with my family is usually at night when we are all at home, and we eat together while sharing about our day. It is what my family does on birthdays, and also when getting together with friends we haven’t seen in a long time. When you feel the need to catch up or just talk about something, you call a friend and go for a cafe. Most first dates are at restaurants, or at least at a pub/bar. Celebrations are also the excuse to go for a nice meal, or just to cook something nice together with someone you like.
So, if we enjoy so much sharing food with other people, if doing so seems to be our default mode, and if we constantly look for the socializing aspect of it… then how is it that going out on our own for food can be better?
Here’s my guess on this. Being alone is a huge problem for many of us –and here I’m including myself because I have issues with enjoying solitude–, and we rarely do something about it. Our comfort zone is with others around us; we depend on the company of other people to feel good. Not in a “I need approval” kinda way, but more in the sense that we just feel comfortable with others. The reasons for this are countless; for me, I guess it has to do with placing my attention on something else than me and my own problems, because I’m not as self-conscious when I am with other people as when I am alone (again, this is not something to be proud of, but is the truth). But the problem with this kind of behavior is that, surprise surprise, at some point you don’t have people there to keep your mind busy. You don’t have someone to share your day with, or just to agree on how good or disgusting the food is at the restaurant. And then you have to confront the fact that you don’t wanna starve and that you’re actually dying to eat something more than just rice and eggs.
The first time I went out to eat alone I was in Paris (this is not entirely true; the first time I had to go for food alone I was in lovely Inverness and I went to a McDonalds. But I bet that doesn’t sound as romantic as Paris). It could have been weeks before, in Brussels, but I was unconsciously panicking about it and I found some random but very nice guy to have lunch with. While traveling I learnt to eat whenever I was staying, and cooking pasta and making salami sandwiches became almost a ritual every day. So, the day I had to eat alone at a restaurant I was actually FORCED to do so. The guards outside the Grand Palais didn’t let me go in with my bag full of water and salami sandwiches, and I was left without food for the rest of the day. I walked forty five minutes to a seemingly nice parisian restaurant, just to find out it was closed. I convinced myself I could survive the rest of the day without food, and so I walked almost 2 more hours along Canal Saint-Martin before giving up. I found an apparently cheap, small cafe to eat a ham and butter baguette (that cost me 8 euros, Jesus), and I sat in their small second floor, entirely made of wood and with a very steep ladder. There were probably no more than 5 tables, and it was full. I sat, checked my phone that was running out of battery, and waited restlessly for my food. I had nothing to do meanwhile. I had no internet, my phone was dying anyways, no book, no one to talk to. Finally the waitress left my sandwich and a weird type of soda (which I thought it was coke when I ordered it) on the table, and I look at it without knowing exactly what to do. I felt weird and very, very lonely. I wasn’t even able to message someone through whatsapp. The people around me were sharing their food with more people, and I was there, sitting all alone. Alone. Alone alone alone. I eventually started eating, very aware of the sound of the crunchy baguette, of the breadcrumbs accumulating on my plate, of the weird taste of the drink and of my own place there, in a cafe hidden in a tiny, stretch street, alone. I was carrying a small notebook with me, and I wrote on it for the next half hour I stayed there. I ate my sandwich slowly and drank the entire bottle of whatever drink I was having. I enjoyed the music and warmth of the place. And I also enjoyed the food, even though I have never liked ham and butter in a sandwich. Even though that feeling of loneliness never went away, I know I made peace with it. I left the cafe a little bit more at peace, and with the strength to survive a very long day with a very long walk ahead—a strength I didn’t have when I went inside looking for a quick bite.
I didn’t realize this at the moment. I didn’t even realize it when I started going out for food more frequently. I think I did it that day with my friend, when he told me he would never go to a restaurant alone. I did it there, when his comment sounded weird without really knowing why. When I had to defend something I had done more times that I actually realized. It was there that I noticed it, and it is now while writing this that I can recall that day in Paris, and realize how scared I was of doing things alone, things as simple and enjoyable as going to a cafe or a restaurant. I can look back and see the small progress I made that day, and the slow progress I made during that trip. I am still a bit scared of my own presence sometimes; I am still scared of my thoughts and the realizations I have during those times. But I have learned to like and enjoy my own company, to celebrate that self-consciousness and make the most of it. And now, I would definitely go sit at a restaurant with a big plate of pasta al Pomodoro and enjoy it without thinking twice.
That time we went to Glencoe.
I was going through a rough time. I remember feeling terribly homesick (no idea that a couple of weeks later I would feel even worse) and stuck. I always imagined my semester abroad as the one thing that I needed to clear up my mind, find myself and make the choices I knew I’d have to make very soon. As always in life, it was not working. I know now that actually it was, very slowly, at its own pace… but no, I wanted it to happen fast, I wanted to touch that strange land and instantly feel a change. The change.
Tomorrow, Saturday 2 September 2017, it’s been a year since I left to Scotland for my study abroad semester. I’m so aware of it that every day the thought pops up in my mind, as if it is a kind of alarm I cannot turn off. It seems almost impossible that a year has passed, and that everything changed so much since. I think of myself a year ago, only a couple of days before flying, packing my things, saying the last goodbyes, and I realize how clueless I was about the way this trip was going to change my life. I’m completely honest when I say that I could not have imagined myself a year later the way I am now, with all the things that happened in the middle.
I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old. I always say this when people ask me about how I got into it. Everything started with, well, fanfiction. We are all a bit ashamed to assume that our love for writing started in fanfiction.net, for a reason I still don’t quite understand. It gets even worse when the only fanfics you ever wrote were about Twilight, because no, I didn’t get into literature and writing because of Shakespeare, or Austen, or Hardy, or Joyce, or Wilde, or Poe. It wasn’t Frankenstein nor Dracula. I was not ashamed of it before, but when you jump into the academic world and share your experiences with your classmates and professors you start doubting yourself and questioning… Does this make me a non-legitimate English Literature student? Even worse: does this make me a bad writer?
If I have to be honest, I’m not sure I have the answer to this question. I’m sorry. I go through it almost every day, and I still don’t think I can come up with an answer. All I know, and this I can share with you, is that I’m trying not to let it bother me anymore. I’m done with it. Because the only thing it does is keep me from moving forward. It makes me doubt of my capacities and of myself. It pushes me back.
I know that not having read Thackery could make me a bad English lit student, but I don’t think it makes me worse than any other pseudo-writer. Of course that reading enriches your mind and is essential when we talk about writing, but I read lots of other stuff. I’m sure we all have our favorites and sometimes those favorites are not a hundred years old. Even though I do like nineteenth and early twentieth century literature, there are some authors from those periods (and even older) that simply do not call my attention or interest. Sometimes, after a whole semester of Shakespeare and Henry James and Dickens, I rather read something from this century. Okay, yes, we all agree that Twilight is probably not the best example, but even so is that really that bad? More than ever I have the feeling that if we do not respect the canon, or put it first in our reading list, we are certainly doomed to be catalogue as bad students, bad readers and bad writers.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying it is completely okay to skip the heavy, dense classics, because at the end of the day I’m still a literature student. Even when you’re not a big fan, the least you can do is try to read them, maybe not out of fun but out of curiosity: they are the big deal for a reason, right? So go on, try them, set it as a goal, but do not feel bad about yourself if you don’t like them, or if you couldn’t pass from the first thirty pages, because there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. You can’t force yourself into liking something.
So I’m gonna be bold right now and answer my own question: no, not having read The Picture of Dorian Gray when I was fourteen years old doesn’t make me a bad writer, nor the fact that Twilight was the book that took me into literature and writing. It doesn’t matter how we got into it, and it doesn’t matter if we don’t read Bukowski or Hemingway or if we do not considered them our inspiration at the moment of taking pen and paper. Maybe one day I will read them and find it fascinating –or maybe I’ll find them terrible–, and hopefully one day I will be able to read all of Shakespeare’s plays and finish Anna Karenina –book that I started in 2013, by the way–. However, for now, I’ll just stick to my beautiful copy of Attachments by Rainbow Rowell and write my own awesome shit.
I’ve been writing a lot about how I feel towards certain things. It sounds a little bit abstract sometimes, not talking precisely about it. I haven’t done it because I’m afraid there is not space nor words enough to write all the things that happened during my semester abroad. That’s the problem, you know, once your “erasmus” semester is over: what to do with all the memories? Being a writer, of course that the only thing I can do with them is just…write them down. Slowly, piece by piece, memory by memory. Anyway, this is just another short version of a very long story.