Yes, I’m a writer. I know, I know–I haven’t been writing as much. For awhile, I wasn’t writing at all. I’ve been thinking about ancient history a lot this week. You know, memories down the lane. I’ve been doing some soul-searching, but not in a nostalgic sad kind of way. More in a way that’s helping me come to terms with some of my decisions about the past. And of course, some of this is ending up in my writing, because you know that’s what writers do. For some reason, these thoughts and the books I’ve been reading: The Last Time We Met, Less, The Princess Diarist, heck even Born a Crime, made me think I needed to set my book in Buenos Aires.
And it’s strange. I feel like I’m traveling there again in my mind. I went to Buenos Aires in 1999. I had just turned 20. This was almost 20 years ago (I’m getting old, peeps). Their currency was still tied to the dollar. Everything was super expensive. I had a astrophysicist cabbie who couldn’t get a job because unemployment was through the roof. I walked by a Jewish synagogue frequently that had armed guards, because there’s so much antisemitism in Buenos Aires they were afraid the synagogue would be bombed. I saw a guy on a bike get hit by a car, and then the driver get out and yell at him in Spanish for being in the way, while the pedestrian writhed in pain on the sidewalk by my feet. My friend P’s host family called their Doberman Pincher gay, because he was such a nice dog (I wasn’t appalled by their use of this word as derogatory then, as I surely would be now). He would sit on your lap whenever you came into the apartment, because he thought he was a lap dog. I would watch game shows and Spanish soap operas with English subtitles to learn more Spanish with my “sisters” Sol and Paz (the daughters of my host mother).
I saw a country in love with Evita Peron still. A country suffering but beautiful. The colors of La Boca. The market square. The pigeons. Luna Park and Jamiroquai. The mothers of the disaparecidos protesting in the street, still looking for their loved ones. A country where you could sit in the park and have yerba mate then risk your life at the hands of a cab driver (why do they make lanes anyway)? I saw how much family meant to Argentineans. Young women stayed home until they married. Even my crazy host family had their extended family over once a week. They laughed, drank, ate, and loved. A city that awoke no earlier than 10 and when to bed no earlier than midnight!
I think, now, experiences like these are wasted on the young. How I love to travel. How I wish to go back to Buenos Aires and see how it’s changed. Is there still a little cafe/bar on the corner of Manual Ugarte and Cabildo where I sat and talked to a boy I’d later fall hopelessly (emphasis on the hopeless) in love with until 2 AM? Where I sat with friends and tipped the waiters so big they looked forward to our arrival every evening? Is that place still there? What about the laundromat that would pick up and wash my clothes, fold them, and return them to me? I swore they were shrinking my clothes, but I was really just gaining about 30 pounds on empanadas, alfajores, and full fat milk.
Someone asked me over the weekend what type of books I wrote, and I didn’t know what to say. None. Half-finished books? Books about love and loss and unrequited love and abuse and family and women’s fiction and southern literature and maybe literary fiction. We love to categorize everything, but I feel like I get into my writing the most when I just do it without thinking about what it actually is. When is springs forth from some burning internal question I’m trying to answer.
Writing is a lot like traveling to me. I can go back to Buenos Aires. I can picture myself there. Transporting my characters to worlds I’ve been but also to places I’ve never been. An exercise in empathy. A way to answer unanswerable questions or at least get closer to explaining them to myself. But mostly just cathartic. A journey to a better understanding of the human existence, this universe we call home.
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2 thoughts on “Journey of Words”
I like this post A LOT, Lauren. Your “snapshot” of Buenos Aires from another time is vivid, and communicates well the mix of emotions and experiences you had.
I completely sympathize/agree with your reluctance to categorize the type of writer you are or the type of books you write. “Branding” IMO is one of the worst things to happen in contemporary publishing. Writers write what they feel needs to be written. Should Margaret Atwood have not written the speculative MaddAddam Trilogy because she had gained her fame as an author of novels that explored social constructions of gender and sexual politics, like Surfacing and Life Before Man? (Atwood btw loathes literary labels.) Should Gustave Flaubert have refrained from writing the violent historical epic Salammbo because he had become famous with his realist novel of social commentary, Madame Bovary? Should Will Shakespeare have limited himself to comedies or tragedies or history plays? Branding is about maximizing $$$. It has nothing to do with creativity or art.
Now go write the books in your heart.
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