You Can Act Like A Man

Some things on the new year and growing up

Johnny Fontane has his head in his hands.

Don Corleone gets up.

Administers a hard right to Fontane’s left cheek.

You can act like a man.

*

I spoke once of going back to Pride Rock. That at some point we all have to return. The story of Simba, the prodigal son, the story of Matt Le Tissier. Actually Matt never left did he. But just like Eliot said, to realise the end of our exploring would be to arrive at the place we’d started, and know it for the first time.

That was beginning to land.

Life has a strange way of showing one how to live it, if we give it time. In Taoism there is a philosophy called Wu Wei. It means do not force things. Do not force a lock, the key will break. Act according to the pattern of things as they exist, rather than impose a kind of interference that is not in line with the situation. I find it very comforting, this idea.

We often can’t see it, but we might live in a perfect universe.

*

A good friend of ours passed away just after the New Year. It rocked the best part of us. It is difficult to understand how to digest things of this magnitude. Nick Cave thought the common underlying thread running through humanity was not greed or power, but the binding agent of loss. Having suffered the loss of two of his children, the impact of this had made him able to look at anybody and feel connected to them, regardless of who they might be. In this process, he said, lay a power not often recognised.

Off I went to the Pampa to be with the folks.

A WWE tag-team, my mother flying back, me staying out with my old man.

*

The three of us spend four days together looking out over the terrace towards the two enormous cedars, back she scoots to the swirling winds of storm Jocelyn. For God’s sake try not to fight with your father, her parting council. Meanwhile the heat bakes the desert of grass yellow and the rain is a no-show. All the while the mosquitoes hum with a sound that will inherit the earth.

I sleep late, read, apply OFF! to the top of my head like an old man’s suncream. I channel my inner zen. He’s not gonna change now, my cousin Francisco says, it’s up to you. Don’t get so affected. We are getting on swimmingly. There is much to divert our gaze. The house is in severe upheaval.

The first days morph into next week and I feel a sense of homecoming. Back to Pride Rock is right. As I’d written, as well as love, this house for many years had been a source of fear. A weird tip being responsible for a family pile 7,500 miles away from where you spend the majority of your idle hours.

Built in 1881, the house has looked over our family for seven generations. The Pampero, pops tells me over lunch, the wind beginning in the Polynesian islands, blows across the Pacific and up from Tierra del Fuego, stirring up the dust of the corrals and the smells of the earth, the mint and grass and dung. And the despotic sun, he grimaces, for ten hours a day in summer, petrifies everything. The house needed to be bigger to ward off the elements, he says. For years he has harboured plans for expansion.

Every generation must leave their mark on a house, their legacy.

Pops

You tell ’em pops.

For the last year, in and out of gaps in walls up and down unstable ladders, like worker bees ten men have kept him company as the house balloons like an insect bite. They seem to love him. He teaches them history, tells them to turn down their Cumbia de mierda, gifts them suckling pig which they invite him back to eat with them. The youngest, a sensitive soul called Gonzalo, he gives Siddharta by Hesse as a gift. All the while he scolds them, calls them idiots, cracks up, all the while in a dressing gown.

Es un personaje, they laugh. A legend.

Gonzalo and his older brother Pupi and their limping dad Raúl are the Carabajales, the beating heart of the outfit. They are kind to me and we banter about all sorts. Politics and football and coca leaves and la bruja.

I can’t sleep at night, I wake from 1am til 5am and listen to podcasts and watch nonsense on YouTube. The blue light prolongs my insomnia. As the light begins to creep every so slowly through the trees it looks like a scene from the Headless Horseman. Fog, mist, all spooky like.

Thoughts of our friend come back to me through the day. In the evening I pray for him, for his brother, for his fam. I think of how the eastern mystics tell us we do not live in this world, we are only passing through. The other night pops and I watch Past Lives over some beetroot soup. In-Yun they say in Korea, has to do with fate, with reincarnation, our past lives meeting once again in different iterations.

Even simply brushing clothes with someone in the street, the proverb goes, is fate. Every interaction between you and another person, be it a stranger on a bus, is no accident, but providence, the elaborate result of your past lives and theirs entwining over many previous iterations to make these interactions in the present take place.

In-Yun.

The world is more mysterious than we want to concede. We don’t understand it very well. The west, so advanced, so wedded to their Science, might be the least aware of all. We are no longer connected, never further from the deep truth of things, from spirit, from the playful dance of the Universe.

*

Pupi suggests a picadito, a game of football. My legs are too fucked. I am like a tin-can man, rusted up and rickety. I stay up one night with Francisco, we take mushrooms and talk and laugh and sip shots of whiskey. Driving back through the early morning in the jeep, the sun peeking over the horizon, stopping to open the tranquera, I hear the chain, smell the dust of the corrals, it hits me in the face, I well up hardcore.

The clank of the metal, the thud of wood on wood, the smell of the tierra and junco, of dust blown in my eyes by the tyres of the jeep, conjure up from somewhere such a flood of childhood, of waterlogged winters and endless summers spent sleeping on recados in woods by the embers of a fire, that my body bends double.

I describe the moment and pops lets out a laugh. I’ve felt it too, he says. Es una ola, a wave. Perhaps some swirling magic exists here, a land our ancestor negotiated peacefully off the indigenous Indians, because people who never grew up here get thwacked in the face by it too.

My father complains it is the most melancholic place on earth.

THE PARABLE OF THE RAINMAKER

There is once a terrible drought in a far-off Chinese province, and many people and animals die. The religious leaders plead with their gods for help. Nothing works.

Eventually in desperation, they summon the Rainmaker.

From a faraway place a withered old man arrives and takes up residence in a shelter he makes just outside the town. For three days and nights he remains there, until at last, on the fourth day, it begins to rain.

The villagers run to the Rainmaker. How did the rains come! they cry. I had no part in it, the old man replies. They are perplexed. So then, what did you do for those three days?

The old man answers.

I came from a country where all things were in order, in harmony with nature. But here in your province I found all things out of balance, not as they should be by the ordinance of heaven. Being in a disordered country, I too was not in the natural order of things. I waited three days, until I was back where I needed to be, in order with the Tao, and being in order myself, then naturally the rains came.

*

I find a strange energy running through me. Taking on the sands, in Simba mode, finding my way back. Feeling myself fill with something called adulthood. I cannot go towards it, only watch it come to me. I grow out a gangsta beard, a Lion’s mane.

You can act like a man.

Imagine, wrote Viktor Frankl, that you have lived already what you are about to do, and are aware you have done it wrong, but have a chance to go back and put it right. This, he said, is how one should live the present.

My mother emails.

By the way, Pops’ voice on the phone when you are there is totally ANOTHER THING, he sounds really happy even if frazzled about the goings-on around the house etc x x x

Love each other, as I have loved you.

Come towards Me said the voice.

*

The cedars from my window spin out a yarn, a story of life.

The time before birth, the early fog unfolding.

Birdsong, joy, the beating noon of life.

Moon bright, shadow, life everlasting.

*

I’d found this Pueblo Blessing years ago and stuck it on my board.

It seems as relevant as ever.

On one of those sleepless nights, during the witching hour as the moon rose slowly between the two trees and I was bored of reading but not sleepy I’d get balls deep in internet nonsense, at one point a YouTube short loads. I think I put it on repeat for a day. An Italian lady with a voice like honeycomb singing to her baby daughter. The love in the little girl’s eyes is too much, I watch it over and over and it fills me with an awe.

Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:3

*

Life, ey.

Too short. Too long. Too much in between.

The only thing greater than chaos, than tragedy, than uncertainty, than betrayal, than endless barbarity, is a one syllable word beginning with L. In the hell of Auschwitz there were still those who gave their bread to others, still washed themselves in the fifteen allocated seconds they were granted by the guards, in icy filthy water, in order to maintain their dignity.

I don’t see the world in the way I saw it before, Nick Cave goes on, I see it now as much more complex, much more fragile. Loss and love are very much connected, he says. I said before the underlying thread that runs through humanity is loss, but you could replace that word with love.

*

We cannot really change the outside world. The rainmaker could tell you that. We can only refine ourselves. Imagine. A world full to the brim with the best of us. Who knew how many more long Pampa summers I would get to live out with the old man, sat there chatting gas over some Torrontés. The show won’t go on forever, not in this lifetime. Throw your arms around them. Tell them how you feel. Get to it.

Go hard.

Everyone can recall a moment, universal to all, perhaps from early childhood, when you wanted to love everyone and everything – you father, your mother, your brothers, evil people, a dog, a cat, grass – and you wanted everyone to feel good, everyone to feel happy, and even more, you wanted to do something special so that everyone would be happy, even to sacrifice yourself, to give your life so that everyone should feel happy and joyful. This feeling is the feeling of love, and it must be returned to, for it is the life of every person.

Tolstoy

Whatever love might be, might be in the doing.

Not a feeling, but an action, a friend’s father told her once.

Let’s get our skates on and fill the world with it.