I’m not into reality shows when they’re on TV, but I believe in written realism, and I believe that by describing life in its crudest way, we actually produce more distilled art. Borges once said that he wrote in an abstruse way out of decency, to hide his intimacy, but I have the advantage of not being decent at all, so I try to write as clearly as possible.
I don’t remember when I started drawing. I guess my absentmindedness dates back to my early childhood. I just remember a single event. I had drawn a handsome prince, with an elegant robe and a shiny sword. He looked gallant, but modest, brave, but gentle. It was, simply put, a masterpiece, a token of my genius, and I remember being very proud of it. I remember showing it to my mom, my face beaming with pride and enthusiasm. I don’t exactly remember her words, but in my mind I have a picture of her opening her eyes wide in admiration. Years later, when I was mature enough to understand what was going on around me, I was fumbling in my mother’s drawer for some of the keepsakes of my early childhood, when I found a notebook with all my drawings. And there it was, one of my first drawings, made when I was a year and a half. But in the place of the prince I had imagined, there was the doodle of a big-headed alien with no feet and with an excrescence on its right hand, like an extremely long finger probably used as a telepathic antenna. I was dumbfounded for a short while, but eventually the disillusionment from my drawing skills gave place to the admiration for my huge imagination. After all, the image of the valiant prince was still imprinted in my mind as if I had seen him in the flesh. I was around seven by then and I think that was the time I started writing short stories, always illustrated with one or two drawings, though.
I wrote my own versions of stories I’d read, but I also came up with some stories of my own, generally full of morality, but sometimes also full of action and violence. Now, I must probably blame my father for it, because I think he used to box in his youth and he enjoyed watching action movies. From my part, I loved martial art movies: Karate Kid, 3 Ninjas, Ninja Turtles, and these action movie seances backfired on my father when he tried to encourage me to start practicing football, which was his main passion. I insisted on taking martial art lessons instead. I remember that when I was around 8, I wrote a short story called: The Fung Fu Master, whose main character looked astonishingly similar to my Kung Fu teacher.
I didn’t write about princes, though; I think the topic has already been exhausted by the classic fairy tales. After all, the role of a prince is simply to rescue some damsel in distress; besides that, they lead quite a boring life, dressing up for balls and greeting emissaries all the time. I wrote rather about two brothers with opposite personalities, about a thief that repents for his deeds, and other such topics full of intricacies and eventualities. There weren’t any princesses in my stories either. I wouldn’t have known what to do with one, other than making her watch the story unfold, excusing myself for the crude scenes that might have upset her.
However, there is a huge hiatus in my literary activity. From the age of twelve till my early twenties I practically stopped writing. Adolescence kicked in and I was too overwhelmed by the urgency of life to give any importance to writing. I had actually seriously thought of being a musician and I dedicated a couple of years to playing the piano the whole day, but nothing came out of it. I had finished high school by then ad I was studying philosophy at university, which I think was my first step back towards literature. By the age of twenty-one, I started writing some short stories again, I felt like Tchaikovsky, who, after finishing his studies in law, finds his way back into music. My path wasn’t so clear, though. Some of the passages of my first novels are full of justifications for writing, specially since I never adopted any literary format and all of my writings had an experimental style. Recently coming from the musical world, I appreciated silences and I wouldn’t break it for anything in the world unless I had a beautiful sound to fill it with. There’s actually a nice Arab proverb illustrating this idea: speech is silver, but silence is golden. However, I felt an urge to write and I wasn’t going to do the same stupidity committed by Ernesto Sabato, one of the most famous Argentinean writers, whose best book: The Tunnel, needed to be rescued from the embers by his wife. I was going to give a fair chance to all my books. Let them be meaningful or concise. Because music and literature are diametrically opposite. Good music is enhanced silence, while good literature is violent noise. Music aims towards harmony while literature aims towards distress. Listening to music and reading literature demand two completely different moods; music is a refuge from life’s tumult, while literature brings life’s tumult to the tranquility of your room. Therefore they also demand different skills. A musician needs to withdraw from the world to be able to practice the art of soothing people’s souls, while the writer needs to immerse himself in the world to grasp some scraps of essence. But the transition was magical to me. When I decided not to try to be a musician anymore, I quit a life of abnegation and retreat from the world, and the relief I felt was immense. So much free time was given to me and I appreciated this gift more than ever. I remember reading once in one of García Marquez’s books that we are able to allocate our time in a way that our whole days are wasted on meaningless activities. Responsibilities, some people call them. Wake up at half past six, be ready by half past seven, be at work by eight. There’s nothing sadder to me than preparing for work or school. And I’ve had this instinct since childhood. It was hard for my mother to wake me up early when I was a kid, and I believe I used to sleep on my way to kindergarten. When I was a teenager, I just woke up half an hour before class started and rushed to school, not once missing breakfast, though, even if it meant to be late. I still remember a phrase one of my teachers said once about himself: “Those minutes I’m late mean my happiness.” And it’s not only that we appreciate more those minutes because we should be somewhere else, it’s also an attitude towards life itself. There’s this stereotype about Latin Americans and Southern Europeans always being late, and it’s true. It’s a life changing detail. By not having a watch to organize your life, you may be five or ten minutes late, but you gain in freedom. You compensate for those ten minutes you were late by not staring at your watch when you’re on the actual meeting and by not rushing away once the time is up. It’s a strong statement: People are more important than time. Because if you don’t stare at your watch and see you’re late, you don’t rush in the street bumping into people, but you look at their faces, make eye contact and imagine their lives and troubles. You stop considering them bumps in the street that you need to avoid, and you start seeing them as mirrors of yourself.
Let me give you a clear example of how to start not caring about time. It’s simple and effective. Next time you go to a tram or bus stop on your way home, don’t look at the schedule. The tram or bus will eventually come, maybe in one, maybe in twenty minutes, and sometimes it’s late. So what do you change by checking the schedule? You’ll check it, see that it’s supposed to come in five minutes, but it comes in eight. Are you planning on conducting statistical studies on how late Polish trams and buses generally are? I mean, is the information in the schedule useful to you at all? Don’t you feel you’re wasting precious time of your life looking at charts that don’t change anything? You can tell a lot about someone by observing whether they check the schedule or not. You can even approach those who don’t check on schedules. They’re probably laid-back people who will understand that you approach them just because you value human contact, and won’t stare at you waiting for something else to happen besides a simple conversation. That’s how I invest my time at bus and tram stops. I do my statistics on people rather than on bus and tram tardiness. By the way, unless you don’t believe in being late, and you’re always on time, throw away your watch. If you have a watch in your wrist and you arrive late to a meeting, you’re just adding insult to injury. You’re giving the message that you knew you were late, you checked your unpunctuality every five minutes by a slight turn of your wrist, but you still decided that the other person deserved to be left waiting because they are not as important as you. Because were you in their place, you’d check you watch and if they were one single minute late, you’d be gone. You’re the lord of the watch and they should bow down to you.