FragLit

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Philosophical Notebooks

Fall 2008 :: Current Issue

2008 :: Issue 3/Fall :: Philosophical Notebooks

Fragments from The Salt Diaries

Florin Firimita

(1990-2007)

In Romania, I kept my notebooks hidden in a storage room, in a sack of salt. In 1990, after arriving in the United States, I started learning English and made my first attempts at writing in my new language. “The Salt Diaries” became an American journal.

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I am terrified by the idea of writing in a language that is not my own. How could I think or write in English? Which part of myself do I have to give up? Is thinking and feeling in a different language a type of prostitution?

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When I was a child, I used to receive postcards from a stranger who always signed them “Your unknown friend.” I later discovered that the sender was one of my father’s friends. Knowing that I liked images and colors, my father bought a lot of stamps and asked him to send me a card every time he traveled. For me, that little gesture opened up the taste for imagining the world. Later on, when I had a chance to meet him, I refused. It was better that way, not knowing.

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At the gas station, an elderly woman with a brand-new silver Mercedes. She is trying to pump gas and asks me for help. Is this the first time she has been out on her own? It seems that she doesn’t even know how to make a call from a public phone. Is she well-off, or maybe ill? It’s much easier to imagine her as wealthy rather than the victim of a medical condition. One of the disadvantages of being rich: sometimes you are cut off from the most elementary routines.

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Both reading and writing are signs of unhappiness or discomfort. Happiness is the enemy of creativity. The Bible doesn’t tell us, but God probably created the world because he was lonely and unhappy. If we were happy, books and symphonies would have no meaning. How many times has reading or writing kept people from committing a crime? How many times have people used a pen or paintbrush because they couldn’t pull the trigger?

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In Denver, on a street famous for its drug dealers and prostitutes, the local merchants got together and decided to do something about the problem. They started playing classical music—especially opera—on that street, through outdoor speakers, and… it worked. Only in America is classical music a cure for prostitution!

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Making art is like falling in love blindfolded. When you paint or write, you hug the air, trying to give form to what stands between you and the world. You want to be heard. You imagine an audience. Every work of art is a message in a bottle thrown into the sea. You hope, someday, someone will pick it up. Most of the time, the artist is a sailor on a sinking ship. He has to spread his message around before his ship goes down.

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A temporary double death in front of a mirror: You close your eyes, and both of you vanish.

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Sometimes I believe that the best part of our lives is what we keep secret, that the best stories are those never told, the best images are those we never see.

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Dear God: On what basis do you blindfold me, asking me to follow You? Of course, there are chances that I will be saved, that when You remove the veil from my eyes, I will see differently and discover new, marvelous worlds. But there is always the possibility that when I open my eyes, what I see will be the grim faces of a firing squad. I have spent a big part of my life knowing dictators, not saviors, therefore You should understand my proclivity toward the firing squad rather than the afterlife.

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Nostalgia is a form of paralysis.

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How would the world look if everything were equally significant, if everything was worth remembering?

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Every poem or painting or dance is an attempt to stop the clock.

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The ritual of boarding a plane… A beautiful, blonde, middle-aged flight attendant whose legs I admire every time she passes by; the video showing how to use your floating device, your oxygen mask, etc. The subtle noises from the hidden belly of this steel whale: testing the wings, the air circulation, the seatbelts being clicked on, the dimming of the overhead lights. A large, flat TV screen showing mind-numbing purple images, waterfalls, flowers, lakes. How many of us in the plane, right now, are thinking about death?

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It is not enough to be loved. You have to be understood.

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Photography: a form of embalming.

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I didn’t ask permission to make this language mine. I stole it, like I used to steal apples and corn from my childhood gardens. I took large bites out of hard words, to make them mine. My grief and my anger turned Eastern Europe into a voodoo doll.

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I should go through this part of my life the way I go through the book I am unable to read: keep reading it, even if you don’t understand a word.

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I wish I had a grave for my parents. Not knowing where they are buried, I am obligated to carry their graves within me all the time. I am a mobile cemetery.

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I stopped by an estate sale in the center of New Hartford—at an old, large, messy house. I had the sense that I was violating the place, going through the stuff that filled the rooms. Clothes in bathtubs, dusty Christmas ornaments, a kitchen in disarray, furniture and stained pillows, rugs and cardboard boxes. Stuck on the refrigerator, a color photograph of two elderly people, most likely the former owners of the house, smiling. The picture was taken in the house, in one of the rooms, when the house was a home. The only place where the feeling of home survived was on that small piece of shiny paper.

I left the place with a set of old French kitchen knives.

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I realize that I have been writing in here nearly every day. What if I actually try to write in here every day for the rest of my life? How many days are left?

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What I want to do in my work: a reverse archeology. Bury myself under many layers so I can unearth myself again and again. I am both the archaeological site and the archaeologist.

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A large wooden sign above a garage in Canton: “WE BELIEVE IN SANTA CLAUS.” It sounds almost political.

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Adam and Eve were kicked out of Paradise too early. They did not have time to experience everything that it had to offer them. What if they had been allowed to stay for many years, until old age. Being kicked out of Paradise much later, when in their eighties, would have been devastating. But punishment came to them too early. Despair? Of course! Shock? You bet. Yet, they still had something to look forward to. Life was possible outside Paradise. The sense of loss is always accentuated by how much experience precedes it. How much you love before love is gone is what matters.

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(While landing in Paris): What if all reality is virtual?

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I’ve long ceased believing that the body is a safe place.

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My college students: a different type of audience. Every time you teach, you perform. You are trying, somehow, to connect with your audience. And never forget that you are only a man with a flashlight.

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Write a poem with a black permanent marker on a light-green or yellow apple. A love poem. Let the apple decay. Let the poem decompose. Take photographs.

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On love: a New York lawyer, Burt Pugach, hired three thugs to blind his ex-girlfriend. (This was in 1959.) The lawyer spent 14 years in jail, and when he got out, he asked his ex-girlfriend to marry him. She said yes.

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This journal: just a way of paying attention.



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