Biography 7: Robert

Robert accidentally added me on Facebook. I think he mistook me for the famous publisher whose name is one letter short of mine. I kept him because he posts interesting things.  Like street art which interacts with its surroundings. It’s often funny or at least amusing. One day I told him so. He was thrilled with this unsolicited positive feedback and we began chatting. I shared my blog with him since he is also a writer. He gave me a bunch of pointers. I sat for three hours in Patisserie des Ambassades in Harlem chatting with a completed stranger over messenger. Then I somehow offended him, as I often do, and we didn’t speak again.

Until now, more then a year later, when I saw he is coming to my home city for vacation. I sent him a couple tour tips. He harassed me about my writing. I confessed I hadn’t been doing it. He pushed me. I pushed back. We had it out until we had this bio project idea and I agreed to do it. 10 Bios in 10 Days. He wanted me to write one about him but I didn’t know any of his biographic details. If it had been Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York interviewing Robert I’m pretty sure this is the story he’d get.

Robert has been arrested twice. For stealing Coca Cola vending machines, two of them. I asked Robert if it was the soda he was after or the coins? Turns out he wanted the money but got stuck with 5000 cans of Coke and $1.75. Then he got caught and went to jail. Some connection got him off and he didn’t do any time, instead he got off with paying a small fine. Even though Robert is from New York these shenanigans went down in Texas which somehow make them more believable.  That still didn’t totally explain the bright idea though so I asked him some more. Turns out he had just come off a two year cocain habit and need a rush. Guess that’s why the plan wasn’t well thought out.  I supposed this was a turning point in his life because it showed him how much of a douche he was. Actually those are his words. I felt satisfied with this explanation and Robert must had sensed it because he stopped talking, about that subject anyway.

This story is part of: “10 Bios in 10 Days” by Jane A. F.

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Biography 6: Amby

Amby is my best friend. We met in Hamburg, Germany while I was studying there and teamed up with her then boyfriend Roberto. Amby and Roberto were from Miami and I was happy to have someone in this small town hell to share my North American jokes and nuances with.  Amby would often study in our Ad School library and that’s how we became friends. I dragged her to Happy Hour at Cock-Tails under the subway platform and that was it.

I kind of hated everyone at that school so it was nice to get an escape. Amby was studying German at a language institution nearby and came with a whole set of new experiences and friends. When our time in Germany ended and she moved to London with Roberto and I moved to Paris for an internship. We lost touch for a bit then something amazing happened, after Paris and London we both moved to New York. We partied all the way from Harlem to Brooklyn and it was an awesome three months. Then she moved back to Florida to be with her family when she and Roberto broke it off.

Although we’re separated physically by a vast number of States and Provinces we chat regularly over Facetime.  She just moved out of her parents house into an apartment a couple blocks from her sister’s place and I’m back in my hometown as well. We went through those adjustments together. It’s nice to have someone who lives at the same pace. Although she has zoomed ahead as of late, it hasn’t affect our friendship.

This story is part of: “10 Bios in 10 Days” by Jane A. F.

Biography 3: Diego

Diego hit on me at the coffee shop. I laughed because he is 21 and I’m 32 but in the times of Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron that’s small potatoes right? Diego is a fellow descendent of Jewish-European refugees to South-America, which is rare because we are in Vancouver BC. His dad is from El Salvador and his mom is from Hungary? I think. He also shares this similar heritage with his “twin,” or “arch-nemisis,” or “ex-girlfriend” as he likes to call her. For a guy who was in the process of hitting on me he sure liked to bring up his ex. But I guess we talked a lot as I have material enough for his bio and we only met once. We tried to meet up again after that but he never texted back, flaky 20 -something.

Diego’s dad being a revolutionary and his mom being a hard-go hippie, Diego never went to school, like not any; not high school nor elementary. He said he “read books” and there was evidence of this as a Foucault text protruded from his backpack; “I’m reading everything he’s ever written” Diego said. We had a casual chat about History and Philosophy of Science, the only philosophy I ever took in school since I could convince my dad/pay-day it was a science course. Diego said he was about to start University. I asked how this was possible without a high school degree? He said he had found a way. I didnt press but I believed him, he had the air of someone who gets things done despite the conventional barriers in his way.

This story is part of: “10 Bios in 10 Days” by Jane A. F.

Biography 1: Gaby

My grandma Gaby is as fucked up as they come. We summarize the gist of it by saying that she’s made suicide attempts roughly every two years since she was fourteen. When I stop to think about it, it actually gives me pause. Like a real physical pause where I put my chin on my fist and take a deep breath. It’s hard to differentiate my grandmother’s story from those of characters in holocaust books, memoirs my dad made me read as a kid.

My grandma Gaby was born in Berlin in the nineteen thirties, a jew obviously. At three years of age the family got spooked and set sail for America, leaving their riches and their fashion factory behind. My great-grandmother had chosen America as the destination because she had a cousin there, whilst other relatives set their sights on Australia. When the family got to America though they were stopped at the gates. The States wasn’t accepting Jewish refugees yet and my grandma and her parents were sent to a detention facility on the island of Cuba. She spent her fourth birthday there. Eleven months in, and one before they were to be sent back to Germany, my family received a visa of welcome to Chile. This was before the internet and modern globalization so you can imagine the exoticness of their anticipation.

The family arrived in Chile with the shirts on the their backs and not a word of Spanish, ready to rebuild a fashion empire, which they did. My great-grandfather was an exceptional business man. But with great success came attention, the wrong kind of attention. My great-grandfather cheated on my great-grandmother with Gaby’s childhood friend. They later got married but not until after Gaby’s second marriage to her soon-to-be step-mother’s brother. Yes, my great-grandfather married his daughter’s sister-in-law, they had four kids. My dad played with them, his tios they were called despite being chronologically younger.

Later my great-grandfather got married for the third time. My grandmother’s youngest sister is my age. I think most of her issues stem from her relationship with her father, not that her other relationships were easy.

Gaby’s relationship with my grandfather was also fraught with betrayal. A few months after my aunt Janet was born, my grandparents went to visit their friends who had also given birth to a baby girl, Francisca. When they arrived, an awkwardness fell over the room as baby Francisca looked unequivocally like my grandfather. Francisca’s parents separated and my grandfather left Gaby with the baby and my 8 year old dad. That’s how I have two aunts born three months apart.

After sagas of broken hearts it’s amazing  Gaby is still standing. With help from a fistful of pills and retirement housing she keeps going. She won’t quit I gotta give her that. She isn’t weak. Staying alive is already an exceptional feat.

This story is part of: “10 Bios in 10 Days” by Jane A. F.

Too mundane to have a title..?

Yesterday I passed a man pushing a shopping cart on the way to a car2go. Car2go is a carsharing program that I use when I need to transport stuff around the city that is too bulky or heavy to take on the bus. As we passed each other, both towing our respective belongings, pushing or pulling our basic necessities in white plastic bags, we had a moment. Or at least I did. It was a weird strange sort of kinship, that I felt guilty about. Guilty because although I was lugging my belongings from place to place I did have roofs to sleep under, and electricity, usually. I felt like a fake, a hack but at the same time strangely honest. Like, this is my life, it was been for awhile but I don’t think I really saw it until that moment. The moment passed and we went on our respective routes; it was just, so normal.

Eye of the failure storm

I just watched an online video of JK Rowling discussing the merits of her failure. How being “at rock-bottom provided a solid foundation” blah blah blah. No disrespect to Ms. Rowling but the speech had no substance. Maybe she can’t remember what it felt like,  maybe she doesn’t want to, who could blame her?  But what I would really like to know from JK Rowling is the nitty gritty of how she got through. How she felt about herself at the time? What kept her going? Did she feel low? Did she contemplate suicide.? Were her friends and family supportive? Did everyone just disregard her?

I feel like a failure right now. What I’ve found most striking is that despite my past successes, i.e. a Masters in Political Economy and International Development, I’m no longer seen as an authority on the subject. In family discussions my opinion is swept aside. Back when I was a student they would hang on my every word. My two ivy degrees, my stint at the UN, all forgotten. Because I haven’t made it. I became a failure because being a good student does not ensure success in the work place. I could blame it on graduating during the financial crisis but the reality is I have no transferable skills. No work place cares about my critical thinking capacity. They have no use for my proficiency in conducting research and essay writing. They don’t care how I score on a multiple choice test. All the things that made me “successful” at school no longer bring me accolades, awards, success. As such, despite feeling like the same person inside, I am treated very differently by those around me. I’m a “failure” now. An object deserving of unsolicited advice, a disobedient child, someone to be reprimanded at every turn.

So how am I getting through it? I’ve cut a lot of people out. People whose praise was superficial. I’ve found there are a lot less people on my side (but for those who are the bonds are stronger). I look for self-worth in my character, something I previously ignored. I’ve found self-worth in my gratitude, in my ability to persevere often times alone. I count success in my survival because I’ve been in circumstances that qualify the use of the word “survive”. I fight every day to believe these new definitions, not to fall back to the old belief that self-worth equals monetary success. It’s hard but I’ve found I like myself better. I enjoy my own company more. I feel more confident as a person.

So I guess I answered my own questions in the end. Thanks anyway Ms. Rowling.

Paul’s Witness

Fiji is an awful place. Half of the people are sweet and beautiful and the other half take advantage of the kind group. You can find yourself a lonely fool in the middle. Those of us who can see the exploitation cycle spend our time at Happy Hour, or should I say waiting for the doors to open. One of my fellow Happy Hour regulars was named Paul. Paul grew up in Ireland during The Troubles and moved to New Zealand as a teen. He had recently run into some money trouble and was in danger of losing his house, so he took a semi-lucrative job at the Fiji tax office. A fellow Canadian in Suva once told me that “every expat in Fiji is running from something,” my first instinct was to say “No, I’m running towards” but it didn’t much matter. The place wore on me and despite my best efforts, I too found myself coping at Happy Hour.

Paul stood out because he was a rare gentleman. In Fiji women aren’t seen drinking a beer or even a coffee at a bar alone. I wasn’t about to give up my afternoon latte, an act of irreverence which led to most of the men assuming I was a prostitute, even the women gossiped about me. It wasn’t just the locals either. I remember I once asked a white foreigner for directions and he directed me to a building, his apartment building. Luckily his doormen knew where I was actually going and accurately guided me onward. You see, you can’t trust anyone in Fiji. But I could trust Paul. Paul even hired me to write letters to publishers about the book he was writing so I could get some extra income. When I hurt my shoulder, he got me in to see the physiotherapist of the Fijian rugby team!

Paul was there for me every time I needed a friend. After I left Fiji we kept in touch, he sent me pages of his manuscript. I edited them but never bothered to send them back. His book eventually came out, I congratulated him. We exchanged check-in emails from time to time. He didn’t respond to my last one, I figured he had gotten busy. The other day he was tagged in a photo on his daughter’s on Facebook page, the line read “RIP Dad.” I wrote a comment expressing my condolences. I received a message from Paul’s brother. Apparently Paul’s death wasn’t an accident. He didn’t leave a note.

As a family is left searching for answers, I am left with memories, memories that are suddenly only mine. Paul was witness to a strange and bizarre time in my life, now that he’s gone it’s as if the experiences never happened. As if none of it was real. Only my memory of Paul.