Book of Changes

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Ricardo Federico Morin Tortolero

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Editor Billy Bussell Thompson

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Platonic Series 2018 – CGI

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In memoriam Eva Lowenberger

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The allure of one’s success,
Organizes truth in haze,
To lead one to make a mess.

Ricardo F Morin – April 2021

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Acknowledgment

Book of Changes is a new departure from my life as a visual artist into a recent collaboration with Billy Bussell Thompson, who is a Ph.D. in Linguistics, Professor Emeritus at Hofstra University.  Our relation is unlike that of an independent author and an editor.  As friends with a shared history of experiences and distinctly different influences, our relation defines us beyond simply one providing feedback and constructive advice to the other.  

I see myself without any pretense of wanting to become a professional writer, or of emulating a particular literary style,  just as I have never considered myself a professional artist of any particular tendency.  Yet I am a life long inquirer of these two distinctly different disciplines.  As I have mentioned it to Billy, “I come to be who I am in writing because of him”:  in learning how to order my perceptions into concrete events, which is a difficult task for a visual artist without a full ownership of the English language. Billy’s specialty and his particular knowledge of Romance languages enable him to bridge the differences between their semantic fields.  Without presumption, I believe our relation defines us both in unique ways, not possible if we were fully independent of one another. I am as much a work in progress for him, as I am for myself.

As with any given artistic expression, the process itself of Book of Changes arose from exorcizing a variety of memories in the act of writing.  The writing process informed the direction and nature of the story as an object of artistic pursuit.

 Real memories as well as random, and chance events were combined, including the daily changes of every emerging moment. The effort that Billy and I made was to find unity in all these events, despite their multiple possibilities.  All of it was brought to bear in a complex collage, stripped away of superficiality, and into its own realism.

Inauthenticity was as easily dismissed, just as excessive information had to be eliminated, and in the process we discovered how the story had to be directed.   Yet, I am aware of the absence of what was cancelled, which left an indelible mark on the nature of the story.

For me, it was the same as creating an abstract painting, except that in working together, Billy and I channeled each other to arrive at the piece itself.  The process felt different from the ways in which a painting takes place in the intimacy of one’s studio, constructing and deconstructing, building and rebuilding, what may have turned into a fluid geometric abstraction.  In our story, every word, as a brushstroke or a line in a painting, became essential to the harmony of the narrative: as the illusive depth of spatial relations in visual art, language and feeling, undifferentiated and congruent, came about like the regenerative portrayal of an abstract painting.  

 Book of Changes strives to formulate my memories and the changes in perception, which occur from time to time.  The nuances of this particular book of histories attempt to illustrate the character of personal truth, of what is imponderable and evanescent in one’s sense of humanity.  Though the story is based on real life experiences, the personal and particular, however, do not constitute the principal objective, rather it is the constantly evolving character of one’s truth.

Ricardo F Morin

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Chapter 1

Ignis Fatuus: the whole world could collapse; to live we need false hopes.

Chapter 2

Your paternal grandfather hardly ever spoke; lying next to him, you suffered his snores. One Sunday morning you sat quietly on the bench with him; he was playing the organ at the Church of Bella Vista in Caracas. One Sunday afternoon, he took you to feed pigeons at the “plaza mayor” in Puerto La Guaira. One early Monday, he sat at a carved desk and sipped hot coffee from a demitasse’s saucer. For a time, he twiddled his thumbs and whistled a tune. Suddenly he chased you from the house in belief that you had broken something of his. Fearfully you ran across the street and were almost hit by a car. You joined older eight-year-olds playing marbles.

Chapter 3

There is so much that we ignore that humility becomes a necessity, not a choice. Nothing can be conclusive at any time.

Chapter 4

Your maternal grandmother never engaged in small talk. To dissuade you from sucking your thumb, before bedtime, she applied hot sauce to your left hand. You simply switched to your right thumb.

Chapter 5

Man does not control who he is, nor how he thinks, or even how he perceives himself. You do not control who you are, how you think, or how you perceive yourself. Asking why one exists or observing how one changes from time to time, only appears to suggest lack of control.

Chapter 6

In his cell, Father Manuel, the math teacher, talked to himself. His murmurs were barely audible. Often he chastised us on the differences between a big man and the little man. The principal Father Lisandro replied there’s no explanation for evil in the world.

Chapter 7

One cannot debunk fears about the existence of God and the devil. It is a wild goose chase. Culture, similar to tradition and belief, comes from the imagination.

Chapter 8

As a friend, Rogelio was considerate and attentive. Your mother heeded not to grow too close to him: he was poor, black. Angrily you countered: poverty was not shameful and, besides, your father’s skin was only slightly lighter.

Chapter 9

Do you find meaning in imaginative worlds and daydreams?

Chapter 10

During lunch, Uncle Calixto sat across at the end of the table. Casually he announced the suicide of a couple he’d introduced you to, only a month before. Your consternation was obvious; Uncle Calixto insisted you were to inquire no further. Years later, with the same tone of anger he accused you of evil thoughts:  you have the devil in you, for being gay.

Chapter 11

You asked how moral can a person be:  someone who believes in the devil, hell, and eternal damnation! For you this morality was defective. For you, religion is no different from astrology.

Chapter 12

Fifteen years ago Francis died of cancer. His brother grieved as if a limb had been amputated. He set his home ablaze before drinking antifreeze. The family was not surprised. Neighbors blamed you for not having expunged his pain. The building’s manager called the next day alarmed that you had exposed 45 stories to conflagration.

Chapter 13

Suicide is no different from murder. Killing yourself is no less moral than killing another. Both are cowardly. Consciousness pertains just to the living. Killing oneself is to defile one’s nature. Accounting for madness cannot absolve agony. Memory of love is the only consolation.

Chapter 14

Just before first Communion, your father brought up death. You replied it was inevitable. Later you heard him telling your mother that your answer was quite unexpected. At Christmas time, you announced to your father you knew all about Santa. He answered “what do you plan to do about it?” You just shrugged your shoulders and asked for his blessings before going off to bed.

Chapter 15

Are you suffering for not being an innocent?

Chapter 16

The grocer said he knew your family, so you asked him for a ride home on the back of his pick-up. Arriving there you found your father in a state of panic. You had disappeared to him, and you thought he had forgotten you. Thereafter, you did not go to your art classes for ten years. Then, as a teenager, you wandered around your neighborhood. One day, in the early evening you found an older boy studying. He was memorizing something when you interrupted him. He asked why you were offering him candy, and you said: “why not? Aren’t we neighbors?” When you got home late, your parents were leaving to report you missing.

Chapter 17

Can anyone measure consciousness?

Chapter 18

Each time you came through the gate to your friend’s house, his German Shepard would lurch forward until he recognized your voice and scent. Your friend had stayed out of school that day, not feeling well. Without preamble, he volunteered he was being sent off to military school. Then he said he was terribly upset and had to get rid off his stress. You sat quietly at the foot of his bed. The two of you exchanged monosyllables, while he masturbated beneath the blanket. He told you he had to beat and to come. These words were meaningless to you. With a friendly glance you left, never to see him again.

Chapter 19

You did not ward off fears, so much as you needed to reckon with their fleeting existence, just like when waking up from a dream.

Chapter 20

Vacationing with a classmate, your attentions were on his older brother Francisco. Each time your bodies touched you trembled. You feared becoming overwhelmed. Long after his death, his appeal rushes after you.

Chapter 21

From early childhood innocence had already been lost to ache. You had long been fair game.

Chapter 22

At 18 years you met Ennio Lombana, after having crossed to the neighbors’ house. You became his sexual victim. Perhaps this explains going to university four thousand miles away.

Chapter 23

You tried never to think of fear, yet it became an obsession.

Charter 24

Your father and your art tutor both encouraged education in North America, yet fearing its implications. Their memories stand in silence.

Chapter 25

Ignorance is the essential condition of our existence, despite one’s arrogance to aspire knowledge or its authority. For you that is the real obstruction preventing a clear perception of anxiety, the pain of loneliness, fear, and lack of love. You cannot achieve rationality in your life with the rigidity of belief or the absurdity of dogma. In vain you may try to reject doubt, fearing uncertainty and thus denying the very depth of your ignorance.

Chapter 26

La Nena Pérez was a golden rebel for José Luis. Her beauty bewitched all who saw her. For his wife Antonieta, however, she was an interloper. Decades later, a letter of his arrived from Andalucía. In it Antonieta was praised as toda una señora. Self deprecatingly, he lauded your father. You had mentioned that La Nena did not recognize you at a chance encounter in Caracas. He was beside himself learning your voice was no longer familiar to her. Seemingly, she had forgotten canoeing across the Tucacas Bay.

Chapter 27

How can there be love, if one is empty? Ennui uncovers it. Self importance aspires to enlightenment just as yearning does to sanctity and humility. It is luck to find pure love.

Chapter 28

Before entering the university you enrolled in a course in English as a second language. The professor made learning exciting. His patience disarmed you. At mealtime, you spoke on and on, forgetting to eat, and he would smiled tenderly.

Chapter 29

Desperation cannot assuage sufferance.

Chapter 30

Three Marys flew from South America to Niagara Falls for a visit. They rode the Ferris Wheel at the amusement park on the shores of Lake Ontario. Their visit was a complete mystery, except they believed they were in contact with extraterrestrials. One of them realized she wasn’t the object of Ennio Lombana’s affections. Your mother’s resulting breakdown was immediate.

Chapter 31

In 1977, hungry and destitute, you came close to dying. You distracted yourself in discos. You met Donald Bossak and Paul Barret: the former insecure and the latter suicidal. You moved into the university dorms to face a group of rioters, who had been egged on by a room-mate. Away with the foreigner, they shouted, setting fire to your door. At graduation you found out the university had assigned you a bodyguard. By then you had come to know a student. This Polish dissident, Jurek Pystrak comforted your misery. The summer before graduation you studied together in Austria, and after graduation he went on to continue his studies at the University of Pennsylvania and you went on to Yale for the MFA. Jurek died in the mid 80’s in Berlin. Only later did you hear it was AIDS.

Chapter 32

Technology has extended our lives into preconceived worlds. Algorithmic archetypes impose an order over bias, by which it controls, sells, and manipulates you.

Chapter 33

Every weekend, you and Jurek traveled between New Haven and Philadelphia. Before taking his Fulbright, he suggested it was okay dating another during his absence. You took this to be a lack of loyalty. From Berlin he wrote he had met a film historian. After Jurek’s death, Karl visited your art studio. He found your geometrical canvases oddly formal. Was his conversation an echo of his own influence on Jurek and, of his own vision of the freedom of artistic expression? He later wrote from Berlin he was dying. In his letter he said your quests regarding treatments were futile missionary pretenses.

Chapter 34

But it was not a mission, it was compassion for Jurek and for him. Karl was filled with his own memories; you begged him to keep up hope.

Chapter 35

Never have you cried for someone as when you did when Benjamin Ivry left to work in Paris in 1984. After he left, your old friend Carol Magar helped you negotiate the pass to the American Citizenship. Eighteen years later, she died of cervical cancer, and five years earlier, Benjamin had returned from France. Was it his stance of irony that broke you apart as friends? You last spoke to him at a bookstore on Park Avenue and 57th Street. There, on the occasion of promoting his book “Maurice Ravel: His Life,” you introduced him to your husband David. Benjamin excused himself and left abruptly to meet his agent. Later that year, Benjamin moved to Thailand. He became a biographer and translator of well-known 20th-century figures in the arts. Only thanks to the World Wide Web can you see his image, and his prose continues to provide you with his particular métier. He remains your provocateur.

Chapter 36

In 1987 you were diagnosed with AIDS. Before the diagnosis you came to know an Episcopal clergyman and a TV-soap’s actor. Both fought for your attention. For years one disapproved of the other. The actor was ironic and the clergyman was a libertine. The clergyman died of a heart attack in 2008. The actor is in his late 80’s. His husband derided you.

Chapter 37

During the years of AIDS’s hysteria, your friends Philip Jung and Tom Bunny were not scared of death. You comforted them when they lay quietly on your lap.

Chapter 38

Nearly blind, Lyda saw herself as a patron of Latino culture in the United States. She enjoyed curating art shows in Midtown Manhattan. A provincial teacher, turned diplomat, enforced the idea in her they had the opportunity to open up the American art establishment. Then a pseudo progressive revolution strengthened them as potential populists.

Chapter 39

You listened to grand stories. Their aspirations, akin to religious fervor, never materialized. They seemed like grafters unable to give up their desires to dominate.

Chapter 40

Painting kept you sane, said a friend, who had come to your loft. Your paintings were developing an abstract vocabulary. You painted at night and worked as a commercial designer during the day. When your health failed you renounced everything and chose refuge with your family in South America.

Chapter 41

One learns to live with fear.

Chapter 42

You became a seesaw in your native land. You ran into repugnance both from the medical establishment as well as from family.

Chapter 43

In 1994 the Venezuelan medical institutions were collapsing. A few doctors and several thousand businesses asked you to write a mission statement for Fundación Metaguardia. It had been registered as a program for people with terminal diseases, The proposal went to the Venezuelan commissions of Health, Education and Culture, and to the United Nations. It failed. The Venezuelan Ministry of the Family tried to turn the program into activities for the feebleminded. Nothing happened.

Chapter 44

In November 1995, you flew from Caracas to Los Angeles. You had been nominated for an Emmy for your work on In Search of Dr. Seuss. The morning after you awoke to a fever of 108 degrees, from a hospital bed, you hallucinated making love to an angel descending upon you. To your nurse, you explained that death was an illusion. In your mind you spoke of Egyptian gods and goddesses, of Germans meandering inside your room, of Zapata fighting for Mexico’s freedom, and even of an intergalactic journey on a spaceship hovering over the hospital. A nurse asked you to open your eyes. Your body had begun to slow down; your eyesight had become magnified. Pulling the intravenous line out of your arm, you wanted to flee. You could not walk but somehow, you danced to music played by the nurses’ radio. You felt yourself in a different time. You saw your home in Venezuela as you crawled on its floor. The grouts were like rivers. Then you opened your eyes to an ocean. Your heart pulsated. You climbed to your home’s roof and stared at the cloudless sky. Fractals of light pulsated like thousands of rainbows. Now you were awake; your ankles were weak. You stood up. You turned to the doctor and said: “What does dignity mean to you? Are you a human being?”

Chapter 45

Nine months later, you were in your mother’s house. Your father came every week to visit. As you become stronger, he says you should return to the U.S.

Chapter 46

In November 1996, you fly from Caracas to New York. Your nine months stay in Venezuela violated your residence’s status. “I believe I was dying and unable to return” you answered. Sir, you may proceed“, the agent finally said.

Chapter 47

Some weeks later, your father falls at home and suffers a concoction. After surgery, he dies in the hospital. Your stepmother had locked him away as if he were a wild beast. In grief you paint again. With no more success than before, rejections from galleries continued to abound. With your mother you traveled to Europe. She talks incessantly and then nine years later she loses her voice to Alzheimer’s. Without parents, you had no bridge to your brothers and sisters. Throughout the years of Chavez and Maduro you have helped the family.

Chapter 48

In 2012, you stopped painting at your art-studio in Jersey City, only to return to art through digital technologies … By chance you have regained your confidence.

Chapter 49

In 1997 you met Nelson. Together you hiked the Amazonian Rainforest all the way to Angel Falls. You swam together in Los Roques. With you he showed himself vulnerable. Was his suicide the venting of his dejection over his brother’s death?

Chapter 50

In August of 1999, you confessed to a Nicaraguan priest in the Vatican. He tells you to measure your responsibilities. You sobbed inconsolably over Nelson’s death. The priest’s response, ” this is not the place.” From the Vatican you returned to the hotel, where you locked yourself up. Upon returning to the United states you seek therapy. There you discussed a relationship with a married English teacher with children, who tells you, “you have killed me as well.” Then you fell into a relationship with an alcoholic. It too was unsuccessful.

Chapter 51

Therapy became a crutch and strangled freedom. Leaving it, the therapist was disappointed. He had become accustomed to directing your thinking and actions. It was his empowerment and, much to his chagrin, you left him.

Chapter 52

When you and David meet, he fills a void in you and you in him. Respite in an imperfect world is found.

Chapter 53

He awoke to an itching jaw with stubble. You rubbed your cheeks carelessly against his face and musky scent. His eyes had the expression of a loving child.

Chapter 54

His glowing eyes evince a timid sense of wonder.

Chapter 55

Together you have traveled the world: the Atlantic, the Pacific, the South China Sea, the Mediterranean, and the North Sea.

Chapter 56

On December 27, 2000, police reported that a 39-year-old man apparently jumped to his death from a Manhattan apartment building on Sunday morning. The suspected suicide leap occurred in Hell’s Kitchen, a short distance away from your home. He was your primary doctor, who had plummeted from the sixth floor. The week before, you had explained to him that the medication he last prescribed had caused you to be sleep deprived for eight consecutive days.

Chapter 57

A few friends from my childhood remain in touch today. At 94, Herta is my oldest friend. I have known her for 46 years. She was my mentor and Platonic friend since college. She lost her memories to Alzheimer’s. From Yale graduate school, there is Angiolina Melchiori , who is now an Italian News Director at RAI TV in Rome; Ariel Fernández, who is an American-Argentinian physical chemist and pharmaceutical researcher; and Maider Dravasa, who is a French Basque with Ph.D. in Linguistics living in Paris. All three have been my friends for the past forty years. As with all of my friends, we have traversed life’s forests through thicket and thin. Then there is my good friend Billy Bussell Thompson, who has a Ph.D. in Linguistics, Professor Emeritus at Hofstra University. I believe Billy has suffered what Job did not. I have known Billy for 34 years since 1987. My true education began when I met him. Over the years, we have coauthored in many occasions, and nearly in every one of my WordPress blogs. When I wrote other short stories in Spanish, Italian, or French, Billy was there to guide me ordering my thoughts into the Romance languages.  Book of Changes evolved from a collage of reflections coming from memoirs, my interest and aversion to social sciences, my love of history, an interest in meter, its rise and fall in American poetry, suicide prevention, and self healing. Billy brings to my prose a desire to be precise and to unburden those nagging, vague, and scattered allusions of mine, and overcoming my limitations of fluency as a bilingual writer. Most importantly, there is my husband of over 20 years: David Lowenberger, who has exerted perhaps the most significant influence over who I am. His friends and relatives have also been major contributors. Much to my good fortune, his mother, my mother-in-law, Eva, gifted me 20 years of memorable friendship. Dignified in every respect, she was an inspiration as a mother and a friend. She recently died nearly five weeks before turning 98. I dedicate these short stories in her memory.

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