kolmapäev, oktoober 28, 2009

kaljukitse pöörijoon

I was looking for a belt. A brown one. Your regular old brown belt. I needed one to hold up my trousers. You need a belt there. It's like Jerry Seinfeld says, you feel naked without a belt.

I couldn't find my regular rihm, so I went searching for one in Tartu. A replacement. But if you are searching for something as simple as a regular brown belt in Tartu, you are out of luck.

I found some other belts at the Tasku shopping center. Tasku is kind of like the Solaris of Tartu, except the ceiling hasn't caved in yet. But what I mean is that the developer -- a patron of the local Reform Party, no doubt -- got the prime real estate of the old bus station smack in the center of town. In return, he promised to build the city a new bus station. That he did. He built a pint-sized bus station and a gigantic shopping center around it. "If they have to wait, they can wait in my shopping center." That was the line. I have nothing personal against the guy. He was out to make a kroon or two. They all are.

They have belts in Tasku. White leather ones. Big fat black ones with giant belt buckles. You 'd think only pirates or floozies shop there. But nothing for a boring, normal human being like myself. One belt I fingered cost 449 Estonian kroons ($42, €29). I thought that was expensive. Then I found another tolerable one. It was brown, alright, but fundamentally flawed. Flaw number one was that it cost 669 EEK. Flaw number two is that the belt buckle spelled out the brand name. C A M E L. Do you think I'm going to move around this city with a giant belt buckle that says C A M E L on it? As if I was Sean Combs or something? It's not going to happen.

I just wanted a belt. A simple brown belt. I wanted to look timeless. I don't remember seeing any photos of Ernest Hemingway hunting in Africa with a C A M E L belt. F. Scott wasn't wearing some white, false diamond-studded fashion accessory when he was putting up with one of Zelda's moods. Jimmy Joyce wasn't parading around Dublin on Bloomsday flaunting his designer jeans. I'm a writer, damnit, I tore into myself. I need a belt!

***

I didn't find a belt, but I found my book at Rahva Raamat. Minu Eesti. 352 pages of the lurid details of my life. How I met my wife. Our courtship. The highs and lows of bicultural marriages. What's it really like living with a person who eats smoked fish and blood sausage? This book will tell you. It's all true, and yet, when I look back on what really happened, Minu Eesti is quite tame. It's PG. The real story is so twisted and convoluted that I couldn't explain in 1,000 pages. Or even explain it all. Who really can explain the way things happen? Nobody can. All non-fiction is but a fairytale. All memoirs are lies. Vague recollections. We experience our own lives, but when asked to explain something, we're instantly all like Reagan up there on the witness stand, talking about Nicaragua. "I don't recall."

I started writing it in February and completed it in July. The first 50 or so pages just rolled off my fingertips. Then I had to blast through the middle of the book. That's how I envisioned it. "Ok, here's some dynamite, now WRITE!" Boom. Boom. Boom. I was blasting a way, hitting the hardest rock imaginable. But I knew I'd make it through to the end. Just one more stick of dynamite. The last week, I was racing to meet a deadline. I cranked out a chapter a day, but not more. The brain can only do one chapter. My brain at least. Then it's dry. It's a terrible feeling to be dry. You need some time to recuperate.

All through the process, my editor Bolling was rubbing my face in it. "What's this? This is a cliche, Giustino. We can't have a book with cliches." Or, "How many times are you going to use the word 'laughed' in this friggin' book? Grow a vocabulary, son." Bolling showed me tough love. He didn't even have to say it sometimes. He'd just take his pipe out of his mouth and glare at me in his study, as if to say, Don't waste my time with this nonsense. And so I'd go do another rewrite. I swear, it was like The Karate Kid. I wanted to learn the martial arts, but Mister Miyagi had me washing cars and sanding floors. Only now that I've done the crane can I truly understand the value of those lessons.

I was racing to complete it so that Raivo, the whiz tõlk, could translate away. Raivo did a great job, in my opinion, and I'm not just saying that because that's what you are supposed to say. He managed to render English-language scenes into Estonian-language ones. People of different linguistic persuasions react the same way to the same things at the same points in the book. Reading my translated work in Estonian has introduced new words and expressions to me. My favorite expression is Vatvat! I don't even know what it means. It just feels good to say it. It sounds boisterous, kind of like. "How's the wine, darling?" "Noh, Vatvatvatvatvat!"

Minu Eesti is about my life. But real life is more complicated. There are characters in that book that are maybe two people put together. Scenes in that book that took place, but in different locations on two separate days of the same week. I didn't lie to you, Estonia. I just wrapped the truth up in a nice chocolate box. Maybe call it a slightly fictionalized autobiography. That's how I think of it. But, whatever, it's all been printed now and is available for any pirate or floozy to read in Tasku while they wait for their bus. It's on its own now. It's got to learn to fend for itself. Live by its own wits. Next month it will be available in English. Then some of you can read it as well.

How to feel about it? I don't know. When I read it, parts of it still make me laugh. But at least I don't hate it, like most tortured artists come to hate their work. It can always be better, but, for me, it's good enough. This was the first volume. Another is coming. I'm patching together some ideas. I'm thinking of the time we visited Signe in Oslo and the first thing she said was:

"What are you, some kind of mama's boy?"

"No," I said.

"No," she mocked me. "Yes, you are, I can tell a mama's boy just by the way he stands. My ex-husband was one."

Signe drank all the vodka we brought her. She drank bottle number one the first day. That was the day we lost her at the Vigeland Sculpture Park.

Poor Signe. She used to associate with an Estonian television personality named Hannes back in the day. Hannes and I don't know each other, but the people we interact with do. I never see him, but I see his shadow, and if you know Hannes, then you know he has a recognizable shadow. Hannes. Peculiar fellow. He's off on vacation now. The only place where an Estonian celebrity can be free. You think that Estonia is so small that you can be a celebrity and sauna and swim with the rest. But you can't, because you're buying some Georgian wine at Selver late at night and some drunk comes up and tells you he wants to be a millionaire.

It happened to me the day after I came back from talking and singing about the book on Terevisioon. I stopped to get gas in Mäo and the attendant was looking me up and down. Then I saw she was watching ETV on the gas station TV. And I was wearing the same clothes, naturally. I took one look at that striped shirt and realized I might not ever be able to wear it in public again. Such was my first real brush with fame. "Hey look, honey," passersby might say, "there goes that writer who wears the striped shirt." But no belt, my dear Estonians. No belt.

***

I don't even know how I became a writer. I don't even know why I am writing this right now. It just spills out of me. The inner monologue bursts forth. It has a life of its own. It's not me in a way. Somebody else. I remember I wrote an article for the high school newspaper about the arrest of the entertainer, Pee-wee Herman. The kids loved it. They made their homeroom teachers read it to them. Then I got involved with an alternative newspaper and we got in all kinds of trouble. Those were the days.

Sometimes I think musicians have it easier. As a musician, all you have to do is sing a song. But then your song lyrics are misinterpreted and, before you know it, the Chinese have banned you because of some unintended allusion to Tibetan independence, or the CIA is smoking banana peels to see if they are bound to be the very next craze. That's just how it all is. It's inescapable. You try to lead a private life and then you wind up on a reality TV show with Flavor Flav.

You stand there on the rooftops of Manhattan apartments experiencing the hummingbird buzz of human existence, looking south towards the gaping space where the Twin Towers once stood, and you know, in your bones, that you make no difference. You lie in the snows of Karlova awash in the faint glow of the lights from Annelinn, and feel as lucid as a stone or spare tire. You can breath or not breath, swim or not swim. You can do nothing or anything, because everything is possible. And then you go and write a book, and people read it, even like it, and you still waste your time wondering about such things. Maybe the best thing is just to shut up and enjoy it and eat your piimasupp.

33 kommentaari:

Lingüista ütles ...

Noh..., see on nii romantiline!

It's good that the text spills itself out without you having to control it -- the hard times are when it doesn't. As long as it does, being a writer is really a piece of cake :-)

I'm curious about vatvat--if anyone can interpret it.

Do you and Epp plan to live forever in Estonia? (Since it seems I'll also be living forever away from my own home country, without me having decided consciously that that would be the case at any specific moment, I felt curious). But hey--if it's in the book already and you'd be infringing the copyright by revealing it here, I can just buy a copy from raamatukoi.ee (do tell us when the English version is available; I'll buy it too so that I can confront both and learn more Estonian. After all, we need to increase the number of speakers of this incredibly endearing language in the world :-).

viimneliivlane ütles ...

It sounds like you didn’t have a driving desire to be a writer while you were growing up. I thought that usually finds its place in the natural progression after fireman and doctor. But there must be something right about the air in Tartu that you want to write, and you do have a following, so I would say you are entitled to say ‘Gosh Mom, I’m a writer!’

Am I the first blog reader to congratulate you on getting a real book out - so far I get to read your blogs when people have sent them on to other points in cyberspace and a third or fourth forwarded e-mail reaches my inbox with a ‘read this’ comment. Yes, your blog generates e-mail exchanges among people who don’t want to come forth and write a comment in your blogspace, for whatever reason. The upshot is that you have a readership that you are unaware of, just as you will not know the readership that is going to have an actual book in their hands. I guess that’s the price of fame – but for what it’s worth, it’s worth breaking out the champagne for. So, Õnnitleme!

viimneliivlane ütles ...

It sounds like you didn’t have a driving desire to be a writer while you were growing up. I thought that usually finds its place in the natural progression after fireman and doctor. But there must be something right about the air in Tartu that you want to write, and you do have a following, so I would say you are entitled to say ‘Gosh Mom, I’m a writer!’

Am I the first blog reader to congratulate you on getting a real book out - so far I get to read your blogs when people have sent them on to other points in cyberspace and a third or fourth forwarded e-mail reaches my inbox with a ‘read this’ comment. Yes, your blog generates e-mail exchanges among people who don’t want to come forth and write a comment in your blogspace, for whatever reason. The upshot is that you have a readership that you are unaware of, just as you will not know the readership that is going to have an actual book in their hands. I guess that’s the price of fame – but for what it’s worth, it’s worth breaking out the champagne for. So, Õnnitleme!

Colm ütles ...

Nice post Guistino. I enjoyed it as I did your interview on ETV, as much as I understood of it that is. No doubt if I save up the pennies I'll go and buy the book. Apparently the Estonian community in Dublin has already ordered a few copies online.

Personally I hate that pressure of writing, that dry feeling as you say. I understand that pressure is needed to force one to write and that's mainly when I write, under pressure. Though things are always better when you take time. Not that one wants to get into the endless circle of trying to constantly improve the same work.

Anyway, a book in a few months. Congrats!

ants ütles ...

“Vatvat” – you can say it, if all was gone well. You can say it, if all was gone wrong. You can say it, express gloating over other people’s misfortunes – your rival! You can say it, pulled out a big fish (only once – “vat”). There are yet more opportunities. But always it depends of your voice – how you say it.

Andres ütles ...

I'd use it like this (as a substitute for "Voh!" or "Vot!":

- "Noh, mis see sõna nüüd oligi..."
- "Äkki 'piimasupp'?"
- "Vatvat! See see oligi!"

But yeah, there are other possibilities as well.

Meelis ütles ...

"Eesti Terevisioon"
Name of this program is simply "Terevisioon", not "Eesti Terevisioon".

Martasmimi ütles ...

First let me say that Justin was born to write. No, he didn't awake one sunny morning at the age of two and blurt out ( I want to be a writer) like some gifted Joyce or Hemingway prodigy.
I of course would like to think that his gift for verbiage was part of his DNA and possibly it was ..but it was cultivated by my love of reading to him. I read to him every night from the time his little eyes could focus .
We all read together mostly to encourage his older brother to enjoy reading over watching the TV, but as time went on it became very clear that Justin loved to listen and by the age of 4 1/2 years he could read a bit on his own. Once he could seriously read he was off like a race horse out of the gate.
At his Elementary School they brought together the Kindergarten classes with the 6 grade classes .
The job of the older children was to help the wee ones create and write Journals about their weekly lives, and to help them write their own stories both fiction & non fiction.
The writer who is Justin is a product of all of these circumstances.
The school that he attended was focused on the strengths of the individual child but not to the exclusion of the needs of others.
Long before the Leader In Me was a best seller and a world wide educational movement, our school system here operated on some of the same basic principals that have become part of the international Leader in Me program http://www.theleaderinme.org/ .
High School gave more support to his gift and the Journalism School at The George Washington University polished off his education and since then has remained an avid reader and prolific writer and be it blogs or books. Justin will always be who he was born to be.
A man who loves the written word and loves to write about what he sees in and of the world ..the Kindergartner ..who learned to Journal at the age of 5 and continues to do so to this very day....oh and for Signe or the composite she represents ... his Mothers Boy!
*********************************

Giustino ütles ...

Good old Signe.

P ütles ...

Congrats Justin! I really enjoy reading your blog posts and I intend to enjoy reading your book too :) Keep up the good work!

Martasmimi ütles ...

Giustino ütles...

Good old Signe....

Mothered Boys make wonderful husbands and fathers...

The only problem is that the "other women" in their lives almost always see this relationship as a huge threat .

I guess if mom isn't willing to share or step back a bit (it's a process) it can be, but think about it ..if you know love as a little boy child you are better able to give it out as an adult male. We mothers teach our children how to love at least that is the way it should be.. Just as a little girls first love is her father..
If that gets messed up it becomes lifelong seach to replace it.
Dr. Mom is going to the DMV now.. : )

John ütles ...

The upshot is that you have a readership that you are unaware of, just as you will not know the readership that is going to have an actual book in their hands.

I wrote some comments in my copy of Minu Eesti and I want to send it to you by post. I was wondering if you would be interested in publishing the second edition with my handwritten comments in the margins. If affirmative, I have one request: please let me know if any readers want to comment or if you comment my comments. Then I can revise my comments before we go to press.

Myst ütles ...

Mothered Boys make wonderful husbands and fathers...
The only problem is that the "other women" in their lives almost always see this relationship as a huge threat.



That's not the only problem. I think mothered boys ("affectionately" referred to in Estonian as memmekad) enter adult life with a rather severe handicap. Some manage to overcome that, "find themselves" and become someone. Others never do and remain rather pathetic and weak throughout their lives.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Myst ütles...
Mothered Boys make wonderful husbands and fathers...
The only problem is that the "other women" in their lives almost always see this relationship as a huge threat.

That's not the only problem. I think mothered boys ("affectionately" referred to in Estonian as memmekad) enter adult life with a rather severe handicap. Some manage to overcome that, "find themselves" and become someone. Others never do and remain rather pathetic and weak throughout their lives.
*********************************
In Italy they call these boy/men Mamonies..
They live at home drive nice cars, their mothers do their laundry, make their meals, and perhaps make their lives so good (or abnormal) that they stay single forever.

This isn't what I meant ..I think, as do many others that good and loving mothering and fathering makes your children good husbands, fathers, wives and mothers..and that they carry this on with their own children
There is no need to feel threatened by a loving mother.
Barak Obama's mother totally loved him, read to him daily and woke up at 5 am to help him with his school work so that he would succeed under some very complicated circumstances.
I think her "mothering" provided him with some very good life skills and I hardly see him as aimless, weak and unfocused.
I hope that you have had the same experience in life...

Myst ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Myst ütles ...

I was not actually thinking of cases as extreme as that..

Of course children need lots and lots of love. And "mothering". It's just that too many mothers don't know when to stop! I can't imagine Barack Obama's mother caring for him in such a manner beyond the age of 7-8, or he wouldn't have turned out the man he is. Excessive mothering = growth smothering.

But I should point out that I'm not a parent myself (yet), never mind an experienced one, so I might of course be in grave error with my views. :-)

Martasmimi ütles ...

Myst ütles...
a correction...
Barak Obama's grandmother was his primary mother figure and the one who raised him most of the time.

Gerly Villemson ütles ...

Can't wait to read your book already. But I'll be patient, as I want to read it first in the original language. And something tells me I will not only enjoy it myself but also recommend it to my friends and blog readers. :-)

Thank you.

And edu edaspidiseks,

Gerly

Brüno ütles ...

Whoah, nelly! The end of this post was a true tour de force.

As a Seinfeld-head, I feel a need to point out that he was talking about pockets not belts. That was part of one of his opening monologues.

As for mens fashions in Estonia and in europe in general, let me put it this way - the gay community is well served.

Good luck with the belt search.

Brüno ütles ...

Ah, the book. Congratulats.

It is so cool. So retro. Having your thoughts bounded and titled and on the shelf. Typed on the physical paper. Instead of having them sowed like wild oats on twitters, facebooks, commentary threads and blogs into the virtual void.

And what for?

Try to use a tweet or a blog entry from the past to start a fire when it is badly needed.

Giustino ütles ...

Seinfeld:

Why is it so difficult, uncomfortable, to be naked. It's because when you have clothes on you can always kinda make those little adjustments that people like
to do ... you feel like you're getting it together, yeah, yeah pretty good, feeling good, looking good. But when you're naked it's like it's so final you're, Well that's it. There's nothing else I can do. That's why I like to wear a belt when I'm naked. Cause I feel it gives me something, I know I'm naked, but you know, I like to get pockets to hang off of the belt that would be, wouldn't that be the ultimate? To be naked and still be able to do this. I think that would really help a lot.


Sort of an example how people remember the same thing different ways. Ah, the borders between reality and fiction, reaalsus ja ilukirjandus.

Brüno ütles ...

Of course. I gladly stand corrected. The bit was hilarous and thank you for taking trouble for digging out the script.

I yield reverently to aynone who displays superior knowledge of Seinfeldiana than myself.

Colm ütles ...

You're on TV right now! :-) You're doing the rounds I see. Awesome.

Eppppp ütles ...

All Justin's friends who want to know when is he going to be on TV again... should become Epp Petrone's friends in Facebook :).

tartuense ütles ...

Congratulations on the book.

Never have liked Seinfeld, seems anally self-obsessed and selfish to me. Woody Allen on the other hand is brilliant.

There are loads of belts, brown and others in shops like Kaubamaja, Lõunakeskus, etc, etc. Yes, the choice is smaller than in the US, but it doesn't take a genius to find something as simple as that. I remember the steep learning curve as a foreigner in the US for finding a moderately priced car insurance, or the harsh prices and conditions to getting out of two-year contracts on everything like accommodation and mobile phone. That was difficult!
What's so hard about asking "Kas teil on pruunid rühmad?", and if they don't, then: "Kas te teate akki kus ma võiksin need leida?" And that's my broken foreigner Estonian.

kunstilugu ütles ...

"Kas teil on pruunid rühmad?"

Tartuense, you just asked if their groups are brown.

Actually, maybe it would be best to substitute "rihm", which is colloqial, with more appropriate "vöö". You'd be understood immediately.

Myst ütles ...

"rihm", which is colloqial

Eh?

Although, of course, I'm not an expert. :-)

plasma-jack ütles ...

Only a woman would wear a "vöö".

erle ütles ...

Had some good moments with your book this past weekend. Looking forward for the sequel as well as the English version. Vatvat!

taavet ütles ...

Täitsa loetav tükk - nunnu raamat on.

K ütles ...

Hello :)
I would love to get my hands on the English copy as well, if in any way possible... So far i've been trying to translate parts of it for my (not-so-Estonian-speaking) boyfriend and i'm sure he'd love to read the original. There are so many similarities in the story!

Anna ütles ...

"Rihm" is normally a leather strap with holes and a buckle, "vöö" is something you can tie around your waist. Both men and women can wear a rihm (with trousers, for example) or a vöö (with national costume, for example).

Joonas ütles ...

it was quite a good book. better than i expected. congrats.