by Kleitia Vaso

The last time I attended an activity such as a conference, I really enjoyed myself although no one could tell. The conference gathered a number of librarians – a term which, while in English awakens images of dusty old ladies, in Albanian has slightly dirty and derogatory connotations – including myself, for the purpose of presenting a new virtual database. I tried to focus and, overall, the presentation was not painful but the real pleasurable part began during the coffee break.

The coffee break…another requisite step, a constant part of the repertoire; despite the general conference-induced repression, this break’s waiting lines awaken a few primitive, jungle instincts. With cups ready in hand and a pasted-on smile, every respectable member is ready to fight off anyone who dares cut in line and unfairly receive their serving of filtered coffee –drinkable here, but so tasty there – and the selection from the limited assortment of cookies. Perhaps, I am the only one willing to fight in such civil and formal gatherings, an assessment which would be extremely shameful and personally disturbing if I didn’t seriously doubt its truthfulness. Anyhow, in my own defense, I should add that I either entirely avoid the coffee-break table or, if I make the effort of approaching it, I am willing to go all the way and fight over my fair share to the bitter end.

The break was well worth it in this case as I met an interesting character; indeed, I would classify many participants as characters. I especially enjoyed watching their gestures and mimicry while I only partially listened to what they had to say. Almost all of the people I met seemed to complain about the lack of funds, their low wages, the absence of something or other. Looking at them without registering their voices, on mute, one would think that their expressions and gesturing expressed great dramas relating of life or death, love, sin, intrigue…but, no, all of their apparent passion was channeled towards funding issues and petty gossip. Despite the poverty of the material, we all fully inhabited our assumed roles; at one moment, I caught myself expressing pity for a problem which, not only failed to move me, but didn’t interest me at all – indeed, I do not remember what it was.

I kept thinking that a great part of our life is made up of precisely this kind of acting – our surface layer, which is actively involved in exchanges with little or no involvement and the more submerged side, which exists detached from it and experiences separate feelings, thoughts, relationships. Understandably, this is a generalization and exchanges and relationships that invade both of our distinct layers certainly exist. For however long they last, these relationships are the ones that ultimately matter. But, these are the exceptions rather than the rule and, in the more ordinary and frequent cases, in order to be seemingly successful, we must repress this internal world as much as we can. The less we partake and become confused by it, the less apparently convincing we are to ourselves and others. But, at times, we are unable or unwilling to repress this internal aspect of ourselves.

At moments, I was on the verge of hysterical laughter from the excessive and absurd seriousness of the whole situation which made me think: “what acting! And, wasted on such topics!” I am aware that Shakespeare has written that “all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players,” but these thankless roles cannot be the ones we have voluntarily chosen! If they are, the lack of imagination and courage is so alarming, it makes me want to scream. We could have chosen anything and we have opted to waste our ever-diminishing breath discussing negligible problems in a lost corner, having coffee…I would simply call it a failure.

While thinking of Shakespeare and librarians and talking about God-knows-what topics with people I can’t remember, I was introduced to a chubby blond woman who almost hypnotized me with her passionate acting. For the reader to get a better idea of this woman, I can only describe her as someone who might have been attractive at one point and still carried traces of the promising past but, who, now acted as a grown Lolita, stuck in an ordinary job and a life which obviously had not met her expectations. Her little girl demeanor, the sad eyes and pouting lips expressions did not match her petty complaints about her unsatisfactory wage and the many grant applications bearing no fruit. The gestures of a modern-day Madame Bovary seemed aimed towards a lover who could not return her love rather than a largely-uninterested audience, stuck in the same predicament as her. Then and there, I clearly grasped, once again, Freud’s ideas on our repressed drives and instincts; all of us contain, in a dormant form, the same primitive instincts and limitless drives, and desires but we repress and deviate them into more socially-acceptable channels, productive at times, but still in a diluted form, pale shadows of the fire and potential that once existed within. In the flirty woman’s case, the content of her speech matched the occasion but her behavior betrayed traces of a self not completely and successfully eliminated.

The repression of our more powerful and chaotic selves in order to somewhat normally function in society is completely understandable but, still, I wondered: why do we end up complaining to strangers about petty problems with an inordinate amount of passion when we clearly need attention and affection of another kind? Why do we continuously waste and vent our fury over little frustrations when the real problem is usually our failure to be extraordinary? Why do we express this failure in roundabout ways, venting and fuming over small injustices, even with strangers, and are often incapable of confronting the main problem, ourselves? Why don’t we consider our days numbered as they truly are and attempt to take and give as much as we can from a life which does not have to be so terribly limited? I don’t really know. Perhaps it is simpler and less “insane”. But, I would prefer not to live a life pretending that I feel real emotion about a mediocre presentation on a product which changes nearly nothing when I am aware of life’s limitless potential, both negative and positive, available to anyone who is unafraid to use it. Maybe, later on, this exploration will become exhausting and, one way or another, I will want to perhaps gradually tame the insatiable barbaric self within me until it is completely dead. I am afraid, though, that its death will signal my own, if not literally, then figuratively. But, for the time being, I cannot or would rather not act, at least not all of the time, and when I see people successfully convincing not only others, but themselves of the realness of their roles , I want to laugh until I cry.

by Kleitia Vaso