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By Ed Tasca
Imagine an array of Warhol images, all the same, but with slight variations in color or shading; or, imagine a many-angled figment of face and form from Picasso.
These may give one an idea of the contrasting faces of Lakeside writer, Roberto Moulun, a man who is totally at peace with himself.
“Within each human mind,” states the current mainstream conception of human psychology and creativity, “different selves are continually in conflict. They have different desires and perspectives, and they fight for control—bargaining with, deceiving, and plotting against one another. These are often essential parts of creativity. Expressions of art and love and humor are the only thing capable of having them all talk peace.”
As a dedicated, practicing psychiatrist for over sixty years, Roberto Moulun, Doctor of Psychiatry, agrees this is an accurate assessment of how the creative process brings calm and stability to the human psyche, despite the internal clash of passions and incongruities. More pointedly, it leads me to my portrait of Roberto.
Starting with first impressions, one finds a gentle, compassionate, diminutive man, who took on a career aimed at providing relief of human suffering in all its many mental and physical states. You look a little closer and you discover that at the same time Roberto made this decision to become a doctor, he also decided to take on the entire prevailing medical establishment in Mexico City and shame them for what he considered criminal conduct.
“They did surgery on healthy dogs in order to practice removing and treating organs,” Roberto explains, acting out his incredulity. “It was common practice. But I objected so strongly that I was able to have the practice stopped everywhere.” Then, with no hint of conceit, he goes on shyly, “There is something so pure about a dog. You know they say when they die, dogs become angels for orphan children.” There is an adversarial twinkle in his hazy brown eyes when he concludes, “I couldn’t let them do that. I’m a devoted animal lover.”
At the same time, peeking out from those very same eyes, a different, worldlier Roberto emerges, as he describes his love of yacht racing with a bold, fiery spiritedness. (This is a sport requiring fierce competitiveness, focus and a skill at manipulating powerful natural forces.) It was, I realized, this same fierce sense of purpose that drove Roberto to spend many years in the thick of world disasters, bringing relief to traumatized earthquake and flood victims and workers - notably, pitting himself again in another struggle with powerful natural forces.
A classical humanist by temperament, Roberto then makes the surprising confession that he still believes in the Catholicism he learned as child. “I aspire to a life comparable to the loving and forgiving Jesus,” he explains. Then he goes on to surprise again by contending he doesn’t think he is capable of either of these virtues. Even more disorienting, he complains that I did not ask him the one question he had prepared for me. “You didn’t ask me what my favorite food is.”
And so I asked. He proceeds to extol the wonders of bacalao al ojo arriero, (a little-known cod dish native to Spain). It was then that I understood the importance of the question. Roberto was telling me what he believed to be his real heritage, his real identity. “I am a Spaniard,” he says with a spike in tone that could have come from a conquistador. What’s more, his father hailed from Spanish gentry with a title of nobility (one Roberto inherited and still holds warily in private). “I think I am a man of extreme passion,” he declares as though it were part of his Spanish brand.
On reflection, if one looks closely at Roberto’s story-telling, one will find this Spaniard full-blown in the lyricism and naturalness of his language, a parallel to the simple yet poetic Spanish of Don Cervantes. There are no affectations, no florid turns, just damn good writing.
But like everything else concerning Roberto, this Spanish identity also comes with angles and tangents and twists: he’s of French (his mother’s side) and Spanish bloodlines, has an upbringing among the indigenous peoples of Guatemala, an education in Mexico, a career spent largely in English-speaking America, and a scientific mind which is essentially international.
It is a testament to this overall personal complexity and to his artistry as a story-teller that his short stories have won three Ojo awards for fiction, more than any other Lakeside writer; and that he did this in what he calls his “third” language, English. As for this wonderful natural writing talent, Roberto will tell you, “my most serious and important writing were my prescriptions.”