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I wanted to become a Jesuit priest, Antonio wrote, hoping his impulse to become a Jesuit priest when he was fifteen or sixteen years old and still living in Guayaquil could sustain a novella or at least a short fiction about youth and god and so on, the kind of fiction that would rhapsodize his time at the hospice Luis Plaza Dañin and would exalt his role as a catechist to the poor in Mapasingue, and yet a week or two after writing down that first sentence about wanting to become a Jesuit priest, a week like every other week for him in his new life in San Francisco (happy hour at 111 Minna on Wednesdays, a launch party for a new technology startup on Thursdays, an all night warehouse dance party on Fridays, and because he lived right behind Davies Symphony Hall and the War Memorial Opera House, and because he wanted to see and hear everything in the world—to become an expert on the unconscious one needs to know everything, Carl Jung said, and Antonio liked to believe that applied to becoming a writer, too—a symphony or an opera on Saturdays), Antonio concluded that although he wanted to write about his impulse to become a Jesuit priest when he was fifteen or sixteen years old, he wasn’t interested in dramatizing his impulse to become a Jesuit priest through scenes and reversals and recognitions from the time of Aristotle, yes, let us not follow the pious Ecuadorian boy who, after a series of intense religious experiences, including his time serving the old and the infirm at the hospice Luis Plaza Dañin and the apparition of the Virgen del Cajas, which Antonio was absolutely not going to write about for anyone in the United States (his friend Leopoldo had been there, too), loses his faith as everyone eventually does, no, dramatizing his impulse to become a Jesuit priest with scenes and reversals and recognitions from the time of Aristotle seemed to him contrary to everything he valued about fiction (his first adult encounter with fiction had been Borges, and it was only after he enrolled in an introductory creative writing class at the Berkeley Extension that he was shown the flat world of so called Best American Realism—fiction that unfolds solely in Judas’ head was how Antonio liked to think of Borges’ fictions—), so Antonio discarded his first sentence about wanting to become a Jesuit priest when he was fifteen or sixteen years old, just as he had discarded his first sentence about wanting to become the president of Ecuador or at least the minister of finance and coming to the United States to prepare himself to return to Ecuador and run for office with his friend Leopoldo because what he had come to understand was that he didn’t know how to write the kind of fiction he wanted to write, didn’t think he had another option but to continue to work as a data analyst during the day and read as much as he could during the night until one day maybe he would come to know how to write the kind of fiction he wanted to write, and then one day his friend Leopoldo called him and said come back to Ecuador and let’s run for office as we’ve planned, Drool, and despite Antonio’s copious explications to himself about why he was no longer interested in returning to Ecuador to run for office with Leopoldo (if the goal of running for office was simply to increase people’s income—people we don’t even know, Microphone—then he wasn’t interested because playing the piano or writing fiction was more challenging and for him more personally rewarding—dillydally all you want, Leopoldo would have countered, have your fun, we’ll wait—just because I was born in a poor country doesn’t mean I’m obligated to return, Microphone—), he didn’t tell Leopoldo he wasn’t interested in returning to Ecuador anymore, didn’t explicate anything to Leopoldo but instead said let me think it through—what exactly do you have to think through, Leopoldo would have countered if the phone lines had been less crossed—and the week or weeks after Leopoldo called him Antonio was surprised and not surprised he’d been expecting Leopoldo’s call even though he hadn’t talked to Leopoldo in years (even on his deathbed he would still be expecting Leopoldo’s call if Leopoldo hadn’t called him already—come out of bed old man the time to revolt is now—I do receive discounts on air travel now that I’m old and decrepit, Microphone—), even on his deathbed he would remember wanting to become a Jesuit priest when he was fifteen or sixteen years old because the logic of his impulse to become a Jesuit priest had been inarguable to him: if god was the pinnacle of life, one should dedicate one’s life to god, but that hadn’t been the last time he was inarguably certain about what to do with his life: the impulse to come to the United States and study at a school like Stanford to prepare himself to return to Ecuador and run for office with Leopoldo had been as inarguable a plan as wanting to become a Jesuit priest, and what he told himself to explicate the evaporation of his impulse to return to Ecuador to run for office with Leopoldo included the discovery of Borges and Scriabin (Antonio liked to tell his American acquaintances that if he hadn’t come to the United States he would have never discovered Pina Bausch and Stanley Elkin, for instance—quit it with your Elkin and your Pina Bausch, Drool, what really changed your so-called life plan was that you scored a B minus in Macroeconomics and discovered women, or rather you discovered that, unlike in Guayaquil, here women actually pay attention to you, the exotic South American—), Merce Cunningham and Virginia Woolf, Cortazar and Antonio Lobo Antunes, discovering the possibility of an alternative life in which he did not have to submit to embarrassing myths about himself—everyone thinks they’re the chosen ones, Drool—although he had approached fiction and piano playing the same way, thinking of them not simply as an activities to pass the time before he died but as transcendental callings, which was an exhausting way to live: but what I really wanted to tell you is that I loved taking piano lessons with Annie, Leopoldo, loved driving up to the Berkeley Hills to take piano lessons with this stern elderly French lady called Annie, loved her two grand pianos and her tall bookcase with shelves like mail slots for music sheets only, her high heels clacking on the floorboards between her grand piano and her front door and how I tried to please Annie every week by switching on her metronome and showing her how much faster my fingers had become and at the same time displeased her by picking piano pieces I wasn’t ready to play, loved her husband Bruce who was a composer and praised my imprecise yet according to him tempestuous rendition of Scriabin’s D Sharp Minor Etude and allowed me to practice in his piano shop by the Gilman Street freeway exit, loved hearing about Annie & Bruce’s Evening Games in which she would play different records of the same piece for him, Chopin’s Ballade No. 1, for instance, and then Bruce had to guess who was the pianist, and just as Antonio had intermixed two of Borges’s fictions to come to think of Borges’s fiction as fiction that unfolds solely in Judas’s head, he had also intermixed Annie with his impulse to return to Ecuador, Annie frowning at him like she always did after he attempted to play Scriabin’s D Sharp Minor Etude and scolding him and saying you are a foolish one, Antonio, for what made you think you were going to be allowed to stay in San Francisco and not return to Ecuador?
“Jesuit Priest Who Loves Scriabin And Isn’t a Jesuit Priest Seeks Life Elsewhere” is an excerpt from Mauro Javier Cardenas’s recently completed first novel, The Revolutionaries Try Again. Excerpts have also appeared in Antioch Review, Guernica, Witness, Conjunctions, and BOMB. His interviews and essays on/with László Krasznahorkai, Javier Marias, Horacio Castellanos Moya, Juan Villoro, and Antonio Lobo Antunes have appeared in Music & Literature, San Francisco Chronicle, BOMB, and The Quarterly Conversation.
Anyone who understands the work of art owns it. We all own the Mona Lisa.