Conversations with myself in CDMX (april ‘21)

I write more when I travel. There are the same number of hours in a Saturday in Los Angeles as there are in Mexico City, but the words seem to find me more easily here. Sergio Pitol told me that true writing is a dialogue with the reader but stems ultimately from a dialogue between the writer and himself. Maybe I’m more eager to hear from this traveler than from his doppelganger back home, but that seems not to capture it entirely. If there wasn’t something about the place itself the voice wouldn’t be silent in the hotel room but voluble on the terrace, in the café, along the sidewalks. It must be the rhythm of the interruptions that shapes the conversation when I am abroad. My new surroundings always find ways to interject, a chorus of constant whispers, welcoming streets calling me forth, and occasionally a shout from a brightly painted wall. The city is yelling to me, “the world is meant to be beautiful, you idiot, pay attention!” I wonder though, do the streets back home say nothing, or am I not listening?

I’m reading my book slowly. Every few pages I’m overwhelmed with a phrase or a paragraph or a page that I’ll spend the rest of my life aspiring to live up to. I’ll stop, uncap my highlighter. My eyes will run over the words one more time to define the edges of the passage to be preserved, then again as they fall under the inky amber, and a final time to set them in their preserve and in my mind. The hope is that the ritual somehow exorcises the spirit of the words, allowing them to be absorbed into me while simultaneously pinning their corporeal form permanently in place. With enough of these necromancies will I discover the secret to harnessing their power? The spells leave me spent and I reach for my cappuccino to borrow the strength to continue. I can never make it more than a chapter at a time before I need a break and move on to the next coffee shop.

I left the first café with the intent of returning home to shower and waste away the hottest part of the day behind a fan but I found myself on a rooftop drinking a beer instead. It was the perfectly laid trap, really, with the first bait set by another chic café and more breadcrumbs leading through the adjoining bookstore, the jaws sprung by the impossible temptation of a staircase framed by bright sunlight. I did some writing but as the beer glass filled and then emptied my conversation partner became a cynical critic and I was forced to ignore him entirely for the remainder of the evening.

I’ve never read anything quite like The Art of Flight. It’s a memoir, but not of the type I’ve encountered from anyone else. I am not reading a manicured remaking of a man’s image, or a thematically-packaged moralizing tale, or even an attempted retelling of significant political events as seen “from the source.” I suppose it’s most like falling in love with Sergio Pitol. At first you’re attracted to his flowery words and the romantic lens through which he views the world. As you get to know him better the details become more mundane, he is trusting you with the smaller details of his life. Over time, through letters that read like dinner table conversations, he reveals himself to you; you cherish the vulnerability, you think you must understand him like no one else does. After knowing him for only a few weeks now I find myself looking forward to sharing the rest of his life with him, and to bringing him eternally into mine, his voice a welcome fixture in the chorus of my own internal dialogue.

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Brendan Mulligan

Brendan Mulligan

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