“The sun is tangled
in black branches,
Raving like absalom
between sky & water,
struggling through the dark terebith
to commit its daily suicide.”
The book: Let Us Compare Mythologies by Leonard Cohen
Just recently the NY Times posted an amusing essay about Leonard Cohen. It has nothing to do with the man’s brilliance in music, poetry, or novels, it did touch upon his character. What I liked more about the essay was that it was such a minor note in one man’s sweeping concert of a life, but the memory preserved was so cherished by its a
uthor. That’s what I mean to do with this blog, for myself. These things that I’m cataloging aren’t wild, crazy adventures or invented characters – just really, really sweet memories and people in my life. Hopefully when I’m 70 and my memory has failed me, I’ll be sitting in the breeze somewhere, I can pull these blog entries out and relive the moments and the people. My moments and my people.
Let Us Compare Mythologies was Cohen’s first book. Published in 1956. Also, it is my first introduction to Cohen’s poetry. My first introduction to Cohen was through a close friend, whom was my housemate my second year in Vietnam. I really can’t recount my experiences in the past few years without talking about this friend. He’s influenced me more than he probably realizes, although I’ve obstinately resisted some of those changes. He was there for me during probably one of my toughest adult growth years.
We were part of the VIA Vietnam 2009 cohort of volunteers. I suppose we’d met in San Francisco, February 2009, during training, but neither he nor I really have any recollection of talking to one another. We’d spent a lot of time together as a group, because we had so much large group training in Chiang Mai, and then country specific training in Hanoi.
My first distinct memory of us talking was over the book I was currently reading, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Or, darnit, was it Catch-22 by Joseph Heller? When I’m trying to narrate my life in books, they all seem to get jumbled together. Either way, we bonded, in the hallway of our ESL training center, over our mutual interest in literature.
Only months later did he tell me, “Ai, now that we’re friends, I just wanted to tell you that when I first met you, I thought you were shallow. But my first impressions are usually never right.” I still hold that over him sometimes now, half-jokingly, of course. I just remember most everything people say.
So, we were housemates our 2nd year in Vietnam. We lived in this really nice two-story home (most homes in Vietnam are at least 2 floors – think of one brick stacked vertically on top of another). Light blue and white trimmings. A porch swing in front. But the best part of that house was the outdoor deck with a windy staircase that led to the roof. Oh yes, a rooftop! (Interesting now that I live in New York, where rooftop parties are a common form of socialization). For me, though, then, it was something spectacular. We had plenty of rooftop get togethers there. All of our expat friends would come, park their motorbikes in our small alleyway, and climb their way to this little paradise rooftop, where the view was sprinkled with thousands of stars.
There in that house, we talked about books a lot. That was one of our common threads. He reads a lot. He is also a musician with a really sensitive, discerning ear. I, unfortunately, was born with a less heightened sense of hearing (but fortunately my tactile and olfactory senses compensated), so I took his musical advice to heart. To this day, many of my favorite musicians are the ones he’s introduced. He had a Leonard Cohen poster on the left side of his door in his room.
I’ve only seem him a handful of times since we both left Vietnam – often times in either New York or DC. He, I, and our group of friends have been able to sustain this modern friendship we all share. Most of us don’t live in the same city, or country anymore. Leaving friendships that you forged in such a specific time, place, and shared experience can be devastating. These were the people you depended on when all your other comforts and familiarity and people were no where close. These were the people were simultaneously experimenting with the same tastes, smells, sounds, and sights that you were. The friendships that you make there are powerful, but sometimes, they can be transient just as your time somewhere is. But somehow, we’ve all made considerable effort to keep in touch. I don’t mean keep in touch in that superficial end-of-the-year-yearbook-addendum “keep in touch.” Sure, we don’t talk for days, weeks, or months, but we have, and will continue to travel the distance to see each other when we can. And we make the time to, as well.
He’s the friend that shifted my “I have to do this” to “I’m going to do this” mentality. He’s the friend that opened up a whole new world of music for me. He’s the friend that I nearly killed as my first motorbike passenger (for which I still profusely apologize…=] ).
He’s the friend that lent me this book! =]
End, Memory Eleven.
Hey, hey, friends. I cherish you.
Next Week: The Lean Start-up by Eric Ries