Monthly Archives: September 2011

“When You Got Nothing — You Got Nothing To Lose.”

I was studying the face of a good man the other night…

“You jump to conclusions too fast,” my father would have said had I told him this story.  “Too trusting — that’s your problem.”

Dad is fearful, especially as a parent; and I can’t really judge the guy for that.  History has played a hideous prank on his country and his life, and it continues treating him and his people as dispensable.  Surely, there cannot be a bigger heartbreak than that.  There cannot be a bigger absurdity.  And I can’t really blame the poor guy caught in the midst of a Kafka play.  

So, I forgive him for his limitations, his shortcomings, his imposing fearfulness.  Instead, I stretch the boundaries of my unconditional love — of my compassion — and I choose to think of him as a good man.

My father — is a good, good man.

But I would never tell him this story:

I was studying the face of a good man the other night.  I barely knew him, but not once had I wondered whether he had made his share of mistakes in life, his share of missteps.  I suppose I was certain he had.  But they mattered little in that moment.

Because I chose to think of him as a good, good man.

(I AM too trusting — that’s my problem.)

And I listened.

He spoke to me of his travels, of leaving his doubts, vanity and fears behind; and biking across the country with nothing but a backpack and a camera.

He told me about the perseverance of the body if only one could control the mind.  In survival, he said, there was a chronic juxtaposition of reflexes versus fragility.  And when confronting the most basic needs, there was a balance and a great humility.

And there was beauty in the defeat of despair with one’s courage, in the elation of that success; and in the overall simplicity of living.

“What a good man!” I thought.  “What a good, good man!”

The road threw him for a loop a number of times, but he told me about the clarity of the mind if one was traveling light.

“It’s a good thing I hit the road without any expectations,” he told me.

It made sense.

He spoke about having no possessions to weight down his choices and no expectations.  Neither were there any grudges or resentments against humanity — others’ or his own.  His journey was not a conquest:  Not a thing dictated by the ego.  So, he traveled with a lesser emotional baggage, as someone who knew the power of forgiveness all too well.

His only responsibility on the road — was his family.  He would have been a lot more reckless, it seemed, had it not been for the nightly on-line messages that he promised to send their way.  And so he would.  No matter the difficulties of the day, no matter the survivals and the defeats, the despair and the courage, he would telegraph his experiences home.  And these letters — his road journals, the confessions of a transcendent mind — were the only threads leading back to the people he loved.

(I chuckled.  I would never tell my father this story:  He’d find me too trusting.  That’s my problem.)

“What made you do this thing in the first place?” I asked.

The humble badass smiled at me as if he could read the answer on my face — my good, good face — and he said:

“Because the one thing I know — is that I cannot stop knowing.”

And so, I was studying the face of a good man the other night; and it made me think of life as a sequence of choices.

My life — was not the life of my father:  I had bigger control over my circumstances; enough control to allow myself the occasional hubris of assuming that I was a person of consequence.  I could make choices, you see.  Unlike my father — my good, good father — I could choose my situations, or even change them.  And I had the luxury of freedom:  to pursue my life’s ambitions and to continue “knowing”; to continue learning.

Somehow, I had made the choice — to be good, in life.  There had been plenty of situations that tested my ethics before.  Yet even in defeat, in shame, in pain, I could always return to the track of goodness.  I could always see my way back to redemption.  Because even though my life was not my father’s, my ethics — were indeed his.

And my father — was always a good, good man.

And so, I was studying the face of a good, good man the other night; and it made me think of life as a sequence of choices.

“But I just can’t forgive myself,” my father had confessed a number of times.  “That’s my problem.”

Alas:  That was the main difference between my father’s character and my own.  I always chose to travel lightly, as someone who knew the power of forgiveness all too well.  I chose to have the power of self-forgiveness.   And I could always see my way back to redemption.

“‘Cause I’m a Gypsy. Are You Coming WITH Me?”

This shirt, right here — I’ve worn it no more than a couple times.  So, why am I holding onto it?

Why am I holding on?

It was a gift by a New York girlfriend.  She is married by now, and a mother.  The last time we saw each other was on the West Coast, after my divorce, when she came to see her father to tell him she was engaged.  That was the day I got the shirt.  It was Christmastime.  My car would break down on the way back to LA-LA, and I would call my ex, in panic.  He would answer…

Why am I holding onto this shirt?  

Why am I holding on?

I’m going to give it away.  That’s it!  That feels right:  Perhaps, I’ll just give it to the young girl who reminds me of my former self — the one prior to the divorce.  That’s it.  Give it away.  That feels right.  Give it away.

And this sweater:  How long have I had this sweater?  Let me think.  About twenty years?

Twenty years?!

Who in the world holds onto sweaters — for twenty years?!

Someone who is in charge of her own keepsakes and who makes up her memories, as she goes along; because there is no one else to ask for a cross-reference.  

Someone who has no home and no homeland to revisit because neither exists any longer. 

Someone who has spent her childhood on the road, and her womanhood — in a whole different foreign land. 

Come to think of it, that’s a quirky split.  When I try to remember myself as a child, I catch myself thinking in my native language:  My former language, of my former self.  But the language of my womanhood — is my second.  But it is also the language of my love — the language of all my loves — with which I’ve learned to communicate, to hold on and to let go.

“But V makes up her own language,” my last love once told me.

Forever, I am a foreign child but an American woman.  Which one is the most organic, the most relevant self?  Which one do I keep on the forefront the most?  This split is hard to interpret into either language for others trying to comprehend me.  But then, no story of immigration is a simple one.  So, I barely even try anymore.

And this sweater:  I think I used to run in this sweater, as a child.  And I still do.  All the threads in its seams have now lost their original shade, so it is slightly embarrassing to wear this thing out in public.  But I still run in it.  I run fast enough to camouflage its faults.  My faults.

Perhaps, I’ll just keep it:  This sweater — is the only thing of my childhood that I have left to hold onto.

Here is a couple of white nightgowns.  I don’t even wear nightgowns, so why do I own them?

Why am I holding onto them?

Why am I holding on?

This one:  It’s from Eastern Germany.  I remember it was given to me by my motha after I refused to wear my training bra.

“When you’re older, your underwear gets prettier,” she promised in my native language, when I was still thinking in that language, too.

But at the time, I was breathless:  Mama (or “motha” as I call her here, on the foreign land) used to be a stunning woman.  Her face was bewitching to men:  To them, it promised adventures no other mortal woman was able to provide before.  Because it took them into the very depths of their souls — the depths so terrifying, the two choices they had at the end of the affair were:  to pull out or to hang on for their lives.  Either way, they never came out of it the same.  (And I would know:  Quite a few have pulled themselves out of their souls, in front of me.  What an adventure!)

But at the time, I was breathless:  utterly bewitched by my motha’s face; in love with her, for the rest of my days.  And that nightgown would stay stored inside a drawer when I left home.  Motha had to mail it to me, for keepsakes, as an American woman.

The other nightgown is vintage.  I bought it in Ventura, years after my divorce.  It’s satin, with two shades of handmade lace.  One of the straps is broken.  Broken by a lover’s hand.  He, too, pulled himself out.

So, why am I holding on?

Well, I can’t really give these to another woman — or to the young girl who reminds me of my former self.  It’s bad enough our beds have memories.  Freud said we sleep with our former lovers for the rest of our lives.  We carry them.  We hold on.

But with every woman, there are also memories stored in the drawer with her lingerie.

Perhaps, I’ll just throw them out.  Discard them.

Let them go.

With every move, with every relocation, I am a different woman:  a lighter one, it seems.  Every time, I pack up my possessions, I discard at least a half, as if making room for fresh memories, fresh stories.  New loves.  New selves.

Forever, I am in charge of my own keepsakes.  But with time, I seem to need less of them.

And I learn to let go.

At least, I learn — NOT to hold on.

“With You: It’s ALWAYS Midnight.”

Um…

I just woke up.

It’s noon.

It’s kinda late for waking.

So, what did I miss?

The coffee machine is already doing its thing in the kitchen, but maybe I should just have some tea.

I mean:  It IS noon.

And it’s kinda late for waking.

I gotta start packing up my joint:  I’m leaving in a week.  It’s not a move to another city or continent (not yet, at least) — just an excuse to go research all the possible next stops, and to revisit my beloved hearts.  And I should come bearing gifts.  Or food, most likely.

Someone in the building is cooking breakfast.  I can smell it through the open doors of my balcony.  Someone is cooking breakfast…  Um, wait.  It’s lunch time.  And it smells like yellow curry, pepper and paprika.  Slowly, it’s starting to feel so wonderful — to be so awake.

If it were my brother though, he would be cooking breakfast, right around this time.  I mean:  It’s noon, and it’s kinda late for waking.  But at night, he prefers to dream with his eyelids open:  an artsy insomniac like me.  For him, it is always wonderful to be awake; and whatever the rest of the world is sleeping through — he takes down onto his canvas:

“You gotta see this nonsense, Ra!” he calls me past midnight, less than twelve hours away from noon.

I come over, while bearing food, most likely; and I take a look.

It’s beautiful. 

Tormented. 

Tired.

I rarely tell him what I see splattered underneath the paint.  But it is always so wonderful — and somehow very awake.

By the time he finally takes a nap at sunrise, the apartment smells like old acrylic paints.  And a little bit like magic.  I adjust the mountain of his blankets, brush his forehead, and I slip out.

And in the morning…  Um, sorry.  In the afternoon, he walks across the drying canvas barefoot and starts making breakfast in the kitchen.  Yes, breakfast!  The smell of eggs and chocolate mixes into the air, and by the time I return bearing coffee, it feels so wonderful — for both of us — to be so awake.  And it smells a little bit like magic.

He is coming home tomorrow.

I — am leaving in a week.

So, I gotta start packing up my joint.

It’s noon.  It’s kinda late for waking.

And it’s kinda late to start packing.

But it is always just the right time — for a change.

The air — in the afternoon — is already heated through, feeling like summer, not the very next season that often smells like yellow curry, ginger, and paprika.  It’s not like the air at sunrise, these day.

Because at night, it has begun getting colder, and I go to sleep gratefully bundled up in a mountain of blankets, dreaming of love under my closing eyelids.  Because there is always time — for my beloved hearts.  And there is always time — for change.

In the fall, at nighttime, my joint starts smelling like soup or some hearty stew.  I take a whole day to make a pot.  The timing is specific, but it always starts with cooking the spices first:  yellow curry, turmeric, or paprika.  And I by time I start delivering containers of it to my beloved hearts — while feeling the peace cooked up by my generous heart — the airs smells like home.  And a little bit like magic.

Someone in the building has just started thumping music.  I can hear it through the open doors of my balcony.

I mean:  It is noon, and it’s kinda late for waking.  But it is still no excuse for this Eurobeat that lacks all magic.

The music is turned off.  Someone in the building must’ve objected:

“It’s so wonderful — for all of us — to be so awake.  Please don’t ruin it with your monotony.”

It’s noon.  I gotta start packing up my joint.

But where do I start?

The bedroom.

The joint is already in disarray:  from being so awake so late at night, from my artsy insomnia.  I’ve attempted to start packing past midnight — less than twelve hours away from noon — but in every corner I got distracted with the keepsakes from my beloved hearts.

Some gifts have been stored away, and I have nearly forgotten about them.  Because they used to belong to the beloved hearts that have departed, by choice.  Out of sight — out of memory.  But now that the keepsakes are being retrieved — I feel awakened by their stories.  And it does feel so wonderful — to be so awake.

Some stories have lost their meaning:  They’ve been stored away for too long. Their magic has expired like a drawer full of old spices.

So, I shed them.

Other items may still be worth keeping.  I stuff them into a box with “STORE AT BROTHER’S” label.

The pile of things — of stories — that are coming with me is the smallest one.

I’m leaving in a week, and I am taking very little with me.   Because it’s not a move to another city or a continent.  Not yet, at least.  It’s just an excuse to go research all the possible next stops, and to revisit my beloved hearts.  And to collect more stories.

Um…

It’s noon, and it IS kinda late for waking. 

But it is always the right time — for change.

And it’s just about the right time for the very next season that smells like yellow curry, cinnamon and paprika.

The coffee machine has stopped doing its thing in the kitchen.  The smell of coffee mixes into the hot afternoon air, and it’s starting to feel so wonderful to be so awake.

I start packing up, for change.

“The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills.”

She had arrived late, but what else was expected?  She was a woman.  A beautiful woman.

It was obvious it took her a while to put this whole thing together last night, through a careful choosing of details:  a negotiation of her tastes, her moods; the senses.  I wondered if while getting dressed, she daydreamed of a specific man she wanted to impress, as women of my age often do.  Or, if she simply entertained an overall possibility of endless love (as we, romantics, must still insist on doing).

A woman whose abandonment of vanity would probably mean the very death of her, she was better dressed for an audience at a polo match, also attended by The Royal Family, than a staged reading at a black box theatre.  First:  There was the white hat adorned with a satin ribbon and a silver rhinestone brooch.  And immediately, last night, the brooch got caught in the stage lights, and it began going berserk with rainbow reflections.  So did the giant ring that took over two of her fingers on the dainty left hand.

“Holy shit!” I thought.  “Is this broad decked out in diamonds?!  Damn.”

The hat alone was enough to demand the attention of the audience.  But the coat of the same egg-foam color was a thing of beauty.  Most likely custom-made from cashmere, it could send the mind into a nostalgic trip through the old days — the days of women like Audrey, Jackie and Liz — to the era when things like that were extremely important:  The details.

Gingerly, as if trying to not attract any attention, she slipped passed the front row of the auditorium and took a seat.  But whom was she kidding?  She was impossible not to notice!  For it was obvious, that it took a long while to put this whole thing together last night — through a careful choosing of details.  And I suddenly caught myself wanting to be nearer her, just to learn the aroma of her perfume, to figure out her story.

She had to walk slowly:  By now, the broad was most likely in the seventh decade of her life.  Be it her slow pace, her ability to be the center of attention, or her esteem, I was sure none of us let her slip by unnoticed.  The hat remained on her head for the rest of the night, radiating with rainbow rays from its brooch.  And for the next hour, I continued stealing glances at her.

Under the coat, she wore… a sweat suit.  (I know!)

But then again, it wasn’t one of those mass-made, one-size-fits-all fleece numbers with rubber bands around its ankles.  No, this thing was fluffy and pink.  It had a strange resonance to the days of the young Britney Spears:  Something a woman of my age would purchase from a Victoria’s Secret.  Although a definite mismatch to her outer ensemble, the suit was well fitted to her small frame.  Even this, I bet, was chosen carefully, last night.

A pair of white nursing shoes wrapped the picture, and I bet it was a small tragedy for this woman — this beautiful woman — to obey the mandatory change in her footwear.  Because by now, the broad was most likely in the seventh decade of her life; and it was a choice between vanity and a broken hip.  Yet still, these shoes — were immaculate:  A carefully chosen detail.

The detail of her stubborn warring against time — against her aging.

The details of beauty and class, resonant of the old times when such details were very important.

After the show, I lost sight of her, last night.  In the ladies’ room, I examined my own reflection:  My fitted black sweater dress had been chosen quickly that evening.  I was running late, so I yanked the first thing that didn’t need ironing off the hanger.  But how could I not have seen the gazillion bits of lint all over its front panel?  My hair hadn’t been brushed since the morning:  Was I going for the nonchalant tousled look?  It wasn’t working.  (My shoes though:  My shoes were perfect.)

Inside the stall I chose, it smelled like rose water and pepper.  Not bad.

“Is there any toilet paper?” a tiny voice came through the wall of the partition.

I looked at shoes of the woman in the stall:  They were the pair of white nursing shoes, immaculately chosen.  I froze:  Was that a rhetorical question?  Or did she need help?

I knew:  Dignity — was the very life of her; perhaps, all that was left of it.  Through carefully chosen details — like this pepper-flowery perfume — she tended to her beauty, to defeat time.  To defeat her aging.  But the child-like helplessness set in, regardless her effort.  And so, I stumbled, not knowing how to give her a hand without any charity; without offending her dignity.

I waited.

The tiny voice came back in a few minutes:

“Could you spare me some toilet paper?”

“Sure, sure, sure!” I rummaged around my stall.

I handed her a wad of paper over the partition.

“There are actually some rolls on your window sill,” I said, noticing the line-up above the egg-foam colored hat, with a brooch still going berserk with rainbow reflections under the bathroom light.

“I’ll take this,” the tiny voice said, and I felt the giant ring on her dainty left hand brush against my thumb.

“Yep!  Definitely, diamonds!” I thought.  “Damn.”

“It Gains — the More It Gives. And Then, It Rises with the Fall.”

I was packing up the joint, sorting through it:

Consider it spring cleaning.  A much delayed spring cleaning, that is.

He left in the spring.  It took four months to move on — but only two to remember how to breathe normally.  And because he left in the spring, I skipped the cleaning this year and hoarded for a while.  Not my own things:  I don’t own much and prefer to live in open spaces, spartanly.  But I do tend to hold onto other people’s things; their words, mostly.

I’ve stored the sound of his voice on my answering machine, his worded messages and a shredded napkin with his absentminded scribbles.

The sound of his voice — was the first to go.  I’ve done that before, so I knew better:  Holding onto the voice belonged to the memory, and it could be the hardest to forget.

Harder than his touch.  His touch belonged to the skin.  About a million skin cells would go every day, and I hoped they would take the tactile memories of him — with them.

But the voice:  The voice belonged to the brain.  It was more than skin deep.  It sunk in and echoed around for a bit:

“Remember me, me, me… me.”

So, I removed it, quickly, surgically, no matter how much I wanted to hoard it.  That very week he announced his departure — the voice had to go.

And I remembered thinking:

“Where does everybody go — when they go?”

So many times, I’ve heard lovers speak of needing their freedom.  Does freedom really need to be negotiated?  And how does love impede it, anyway?

And then, they speak of “not being ready”, not being “in that place”.  What place is that?  I mean I understand structure in storytelling:  I do it every day.  I’m a fucking mythologist!  But to mold one’s life to a coherent line-up of well-timed events — that seems ridiculous, and somehow offensive, to tell you the truth.  To tell you my truth.

And in the mean time, the skin continued shedding layers.  It wasn’t following any particular chronology.  It wasn’t determined by storytelling, and its structure:  chapters, afterwords, closures, etc.  Every day, about a million skin cells would go, and I would hope they took the tactile memories of him — with them.

The written messages would go next.  At first, I would sort through them, like quirkily shaped pieces of a puzzle.  I’d spread them out on the floor of the joint, long overdue for its spring cleaning.  I’d tack ‘em onto the empty wall.  I swear to god, I knew there was a whole picture somewhere in there, even though I’ve never seen it (not even on the box cover).  If only I could figure out the line-up, I thought, I could understand “that place”.  You know:  “That place”, to which they go — when they go.

So, I would shuffle the worded messages, measure their jagged edges against against each other.  I mean, I understand structure in storytelling:  I do it every day.  I’m a fucking mythologist!  But with these bits that I was hoarding — all over my joint — something still wasn’t making sense.

Viscerally!  Viscerally, I knew that something wasn’t complete.  Perhaps, the picture wasn’t even there and all I’d been twirling in my fingers were orphaned pieces of multiple puzzles, as if solving a silly prank by a bored rascal.  Soon, it all began to seem ridiculous, and somehow offensive, to tell you the truth.  To tell you my truth.

So, the words would go, mere weeks after he announced his departure.

And I remembered thinking:

“Is he going — to ‘that place’?”

And in the mean time, the skin continued shedding layers.  A million skin cells would go, methodically taking the tactile memories of him — with them.

But what to do with the shredded napkin with his absentminded scribbles?  Where to store the fortune from a cookie that spoke of love and ended one of our shared meals?  The ticket stubs.  The birthday cards.  The tags from my suitcase with which I travelled to meet him in my two favorite cities.

They were the palpable proofs of our story.  Of our unfinished puzzle.  And I would hoard them for a while (at least a season past the spring, to be exact, never having done any spring cleaning).  My hopes for his change of mind had long been deleted along the sound of his voice.  After a while, I didn’t even want a reunion, let alone a return.  As much I as I could accept, he had departed for “that place.”  You know:  “That place”, to which they go — when they go.

I don’t go to “that place”, because the places where I dwell, I’ve chosen quite carefully; and I don’t take them for granted.  I want to travel, sure, often alone to my two favorite cities.  But I don’t crave being anywhere else but here.  And if I do — I just go.  That’s — my fucking truth!

Neither do I reconstruct my life to fit a story.  There is no need for that:  I am a fucking mythologist, I study stories every day!  Besides, to mold my life to a coherent line-up of well-timed events — that seems ridiculous, and somehow offensive.  It robs a life of its magical unpredictability.  So, instead of waiting to be “in that place” — waiting “to be ready” — I’ve always found myself up for it.

All of it:

Life, and the humanity that comes with it.

Love, and the humility that precedes.

Loss, and the utter humiliation that often follows.

But in the mean time, through all of it — life, love, loss — the skin continued shedding layers.  A million skin cells would go, every day, methodically taking the tactile memories of him — with them.

Perhaps, I was hoarding the palpable proofs of our story to teach the new skin cells about what was being mourned.  That way, when the old skin crawled, they wouldn’t be clueless.

Eventually though, the new cells — took over.  One morning, I woke up to find them in a majority; and they no longer wanted to hear the old story.  They wanted new ones:  new loves, stories, puzzles.  So, the palpable proofs had to go.

The old skin cells, shed all over this joint, were the last to clean up.  They had long expired, taking the tactile memories of someone I was now willing to forget — with them.

And so:  It was time — for spring cleaning.

A much delayed spring cleaning, that is; but oh, so very timely!

“But You’re Innocent When You Dream… When You Dream…”

It’s a frantic start.  I leap out of bed:

“Bloody hell!  I’m late!”

I’ve gotten into this terrible habit, in the middle of my sleep:  When the alarm clock goes off, I yank its cord out of the wall.  As a matter of fact, I don’t even know if that thing has a snooze button:  I’ve never had to use it.  And I wish I could give up the habit, but I do it when barely awake.  So, it’s kinda like sleep walking.  Sleep yanking.

The thing is:  I LOVE to sleep.  I can hibernate for hours.  I sleep to cope with stress, loss, life.  I sleep on the road.  I’ve got no problem sleeping in cars, planes, tents; in new beds, in new towns.  The bigger the change — the longer I take to wake up.  Sometimes, I think I sleep to return to my innocence; or to somewhat restore it, at least.

And once I’m out, there is no noise that can wake me.

Motha always jokes:

“Ze Russian tanks rrollin’g thrrough town von’t vake you.”

(This — is Russian humor.  Welcome!)

But on the other hand, I never seem to have enough time in the day to get shit done; so I rarely want to get to bed, at night.

First, there are my survival gigs:  The hustle.

Then, there are auditions and my projects of choice:  The very reason I’ve landed in LA-LA.

The rest of my time is gobbled up by writing.  Every week, the art claims about forty hours.  I’ve counted them the other day because I began to wonder why I was always so tired:  constantly wanting to sleep, but never wanting to get to bed; sleeping past the alarm, then running late for the rest of the day.

I clock-in for it every day, first thing in the morning.  And it must be the only reason I get to bed at all:  to recharge the brain and to start from scratch, all over again.  To return to my innocence — or to somewhat restore it.  To remember it, at least.

The rest of my comrades — are sleepless as well.  First of all, most of the time they’re hungover on jet lag, not remembering in which timezone they’ve landed a few days ago.  They are artists, bohemians, gypsies:  They sleep in my car on the way to or from LAX.  My comrades play by their own rules, live by their own clocks, in timezones of their invention.  They wear their watches like eccentric wristbands.  They use their phones and the bedtime of their beloveds to tell time.  And there have been many nights we’ve used to reconvene, while the rest of the world has long gone to sleep.

Because our love must be how we return to our innocence — or how we restore it, somewhat, at least.

“Bloody hell!  I went to bed at five this morning!” my brother from New York is always likely to tell me.  His voice is raspy when he wakes, but child-like.  Give him a cup of coffee and eggs with chocolate (a recipe of his own invention) — and he is ready to play again.

Innocent.

He should be here, in a few days; and for a week, my sleeping schedule will get jolted into a strange line-up of sleepless nights, midnight talks, crashing on couches, mid-day showers, and running late.  But there will also be tearful laughter, endless talks of art and love; and a closeness so intimate, it will rejuvenate my hopes for the human kind.  And even if it won’t return me to my innocence — it will somewhat restore it, at least.

Back in my college days, a decade ago, I used to be able to pull off weeks of not sleeping.  The weight of the world used to be on my shoulders — or at least, the world’s most poignant questions.  But then, none of us slept those days, especially before finals or the deadline to send our college newspaper to the printing house.  We were young artists, bohemians, writers, dreamers — lovers of the world.  We already suspected we couldn’t return the world to its innocence; but, perhaps, we could restore it, somewhat:  with our art, our hopes, the poetry of our youth.

With New York City as our playground in the backyard of our college, there never seemed enough reasons to get to bed.  But once we did — often at five, six in the morning — there was no noise that could wake us.  We slept calmly, as the innocent do; but only for a couple of hours, before class (and before starting the work from scratch).  Because there was nothing to restore yet.  Our hearts were full.  And we still knew — how to love.

But today, it’s a frantic start.  I leap out of bed:

“Bloody hell!  I’m late!”

These days, I’m always seemingly late.  There is never enough time — to return the world to its innocence, to solve its most poignant questions — and there is less and less of it, as I get older.

The somberness of the day set-in as soon as I checked-in with the world before sitting down to work:  A decade ago, we have all lost our innocence — in New York City; and for the rest of the world, restoring it got a lot harder.

But we continue to clock-in, every day:  my comrades, artists; bohemians, poets; lovers, beloveds.  

Because even if we cannot restore the world’s innocence, we can at least preserve our own.  That is the meaning of an artist’s life; his or her most poignant responsibility.  

“You See: Everybody — Is Somebody. But Nobody Wants To Be Themselves.”

“What you’re thinking… you are becoming,” he said, holding too lengthy of a pause for an effect.

What he wasn’t realizing was that the habit of breaking-up his thoughts with these loaded silences shot down any effect he was aiming for:  It deflated the importance of his statements, and any urgency in his inspirational speech — to a room full of actors — was going out of the windows.

Although, come to think of it, there weren’t any windows in the joint at all:  We were packed into a black-box theatre of a classroom, like an army of revolutionaries planning a revolt in a basement, somewhere in the jungles of South America.  Everyone was an artist of sorts; quite a few writers — and even a spoken word poetess (she was rad!).

There was a handful of newbies in the room:  You could tell by the way they surveyed everyone with their impressionable and somehow petrified glances.  (Oh, to be new to the chaos of LA!  I wouldn’t want to relive that joy.)  The rest of us — were seasoned residents of the city, not yet veterans of the industry.  But we had all been around the block by now — around several blocks, actually, in search of casting spaces and parking spots.

Some seemed jaded, and they sized-up all the previous speakers while never uncrossing their arms for the entirety of a 2-hour lecture.  There were some that loved to hear the sound of their voice; so, every question of theirs turned into a tiny, brooding monologue.  An older actress from Chicago, a bit tipsy from the free wine, had been hollering from the front row as if she were listening to gospel:  Such humanity!  (She was rad!)

Pretty girls — of those, there was plenty.  That’s the one thing guaranteed in LA-LA:  Perpetual beauty that either humbles and inspires — or saddens with its dispensability.

Anyway, he was saying:

“What you’re thinking… you are becoming.” 

The guy was quite tall, slightly on the stocky side.  His non-immaculately white shirt was untucked, with its top half unbuttoned down to his undershirt, also non-white.  He wore jeans and insecurities galore.

Half way through the evening, he took over the job of announcing the speakers from the evening’s MC.

“Who IS this guy?” I caught myself thinking every time he got up, lingered by the director’s chair in the middle of the stage and hogged our time with his prolonged, miserable pauses.

Standing in the corner of a packed room, I had been studying the audience for nearly two hours.  There were a couple of faces I recognized.  A few seemed quite familiar; but then again, as a seasoned resident of LA-LA, you begin to lose track of origins.  And you catch yourself thinking:

“Do I know you?”

“Have we met in a constellation of classes and workshops happening at every minute and in every neighborhood of this city?”

“Have I seen you in a commercial, or in a waiting room for that commercial’s audition?”

“Or, have I simply bumped into you while we both circled around the blocks, in search of casting spaces and parking spots?”

A man with Jeremy Irons’ face caught my attention, in a corner of the classroom.  You don’t forget a face like that.  (He was rad!)  But then again, I’d been around the block too many times by now — around many blocks, actually — and I had long begun losing track of origins.

“So… you just gotta…” the man in a non-immaculately white shirt was hanging onto his silences, on stage.

He made some sort of a peculiar gesture with his hand.

The speakers who had preceded him — not necessarily seasoned residents of LA-LA, but definitely veterans of the industry — were quite inspiring.  Passionate, eccentric and honest, they had spoken of their love for the art — and their advocacy of the artists.  They — were rad!

It’s an unusual thing here, in this city.  Back in New York, packed into black-box theaters, one comes to expect talks about the art of it all.  Because there, we prefer to be think of ourselves as craftsmen — artists of sorts — not businesspeople.

But in LA-LA — it’s all about the business!  And in a constellation of classes and workshops happening at every minute and in every neighborhood of this city, we agree to collect the crumbs of information qualified as networking.

“Because you never know!” they tell us.

So, you learn to surrender.  You better!

You better surrender to the unexplainable chaos of the industry.  You better learn to accept yourself as a seasoned resident of this city.  You better let go of all expectations and stop counting the favors and the debts other people owe you:  No one owes you jack shit!

It takes time and an open mind — to survive here.

It takes a passionate heart to keep bringing the craft into the rooms full of businesspeople; and that heart has got to keep at it, despite having been around several blocks, in search of casting spaces and parking spots.

It takes discipline and humility to become a working artist — a veteran of the industry — not just a seasoned, bitter resident.

It takes a love — for the art!

And my own happiest discovery about the business is that thankfully, it still takes GRATITUDE — to persevere.

“Go Home — And Be A Better Boy! (Although, Sometimes, It’s Tricky.)”

“This is the human heart,” an actress with my name was saying in a film, last night.  “It’s light — and it’s dark.”

Well, actually, she sounded more like my motha:

“This eez ze human hearrt:  Eet eez light — and eet eez darrk.”

The actress with my name was playing a Russian prostitute, and she’s got some serious chops.  She is an East Coaster, more of a European:  One of those disciplined artists, with a compassionate heart.

In a film, she is arguing with a potential john about urban decay.  He is a landscape architect obsessed with the world’s dark corners.  She, however, lives amidst them:  In a civilization collapsing on itself like a giant snake swallowing its own tail.  And somehow, she has a better grasp on human patterns than a man studying them, for a living, while being buried up to his chin in his sterile theories.

(I used to love a man like that.  Holy fuck!  He almost took me out of the game.)

“This eez ze human hearrt:  Eet eez light — and eet eez darrk,” an actress with my name was saying in a film, last night.

But all I could think was:

“Tired today.  Is this where I burn out?”

It’s been hard, living around here.  In the beginning, there were difficulties related to the mere survival:  shelter, work, learning the geography of this place.  The fucking landscape!

I would figure it all out, in less than a year — and that would be the easy part.  Because it still wouldn’t let up.  The survival would get easier, sure; but somehow it never amounted to anything.  Every day, it felt like starting from scratch:  Paying the dues.  And every day, I would feel I could just burn out, at any moment.  But giving-up — was never really an option.  So, I just kept pushing.

For nearly an hour, I sat in traffic yesternight, to get to a hood only a mile away from my own.

“Could’ve walked this fucker faster,” I thought, while crawling behind a retiree fond of riding the breaks of his Chevy.

As soon as the one-lane street opened into a turn-lane in the middle, I zoomed around him.

“Christ,” I swore.

But then, I found myself behind an orange bus that added to the relentless heat wave with its boiling exhaust fumes.  I rolled up my windows and crawled behind it for another couple of blocks, while riding my breaks.

“Fucking hot!” I thought.  “Is this where I burn out, finally?”

But giving-up — wasn’t really an option.  So, I kept riding.

I cranked up the AC.

The houses on this stretch of Hollyweird wear that used-up look of a transient neighborhood.  They serve as temporary shelters to those who come to test their luck.  But the newcomers would figure it out, in less than a year, and move to more comforting neighborhoods; taking tiny slices of whatever was left — with them.  There are a few parks here, some dodgy playgrounds.  And I wouldn’t dare to find myself walking here, at night, through this fucking landscape.

“This eez ze human hearrt:  Eet eez light — and eet eez dark.”

Did I just say that out loud?

Don’t know.

Tired today.

And it’s fucking hot.

I rolled down the windows again.  Might as well.

The smell of the collective exhaustion entered my car immediately, and all I could hear was the screeching of occasional breaks, punctuated by distant sirens.  No human voices here.

The traffic kept crawling.

“I could’ve walked this fucker faster!” I thought.

On Vine, an ancient Nissan jumped out of a pathetic shopping center and into the lane ahead of me, as if it were driven by someone looking for his own suicide.  My breaks screeched.

“Idiot.”

Then, the urban kamikaze proceeded riding his breaks.  To avoid a suicidal thought of my own, I studied the dusty white building of an Armenian church.  On its stone fence, a security guard was talking to a working girl with enormous sparkly fake eyelashes.  Both were about to start their shift.

“This eez ze human hearrt.”

Did I just say that?

Don’t know.

Tired.

I turned into the first side street and sped up.  A lanky kid with an Afro jumped out of an alley on his skateboard.  He was beautiful.  I started riding my breaks behind him.

“Fuck it!” I thought.  “I can walk this fucker faster!”

I parked behind a Grand Cherokee with chipping red paint, no longer glossy.  A hefty, tall man walked by, on a cracked pavement, audibly talking to himself.  He saw me looking, stopped muttering.  Gave me the middle finger.

“ASK ME,” said his neon orange shirt.

“This eez ze human hearrt,” I said out loud, yanked the hand break and stepped out into traffic.

“A Rusty Heart Starts to Whine, in Its Telltale Time…”

“That’s just UNACCEPTABLE!”

He was foaming at his mouth, at the front desk.

A little man.

His face, red from a lifetime of terrible diet, was boiling with outrage.  Everything in the world seemed to have gone askew for him; and overhearing the routine of his ready complaints, I could tell this was not the first time he ever voiced his grief.

Quietly, I slipped past the heavy doors of this mountain spa resort and I lingered by the doormat.  I had come here for silence.  It wasn’t really the noise of all the others left back in LA-LA that I minded.  They could just go on and on, for all I cared, about their dreams and their sex lives.  About their dreams of better sex lives.  As a matter of fact, I preferred they went on and on:  It gave me something to write about, during the day.

But the noise in my own head was rattling my balance with an ache:

Survival.  Dignity.  Freedom.  Art.

“I DEMAND my refund — or you’re gonna have to talk to my lawyer!” the little man was getting carried away with the routine of his ready complaints.

I had always wondered what it was like to live one’s life by fronting.  It sucked, I recently thought, that we all had one hell of a time negotiating our boundaries with other people.  I wished it didn’t have to be so strained, so testy.  Couldn’t we just leave each other enough space and air:  Enough dignity?  Enough freedom?  But this clan of others that lived their lives by fronting: It must be miserable to be perpetually expecting some sort of injustice.

Still though:  I was fascinated.  So, I lingered by the doormat.

A couple of drinkers hanging at the bar shot their confused glares in the direction the front desk:  They would’ve been much more interested in getting involved had they not drank too much free wine at a tasting earlier that night.  Or maybe, just like me, they had come here for silence.  I couldn’t see the bartender.  The lounge was empty.  And the only other civilian caught in the avalanche of the little man’s outrage was the nighttime clerk, at the front desk.

I had seen her early in the morning when I arrived, and she graciously allowed for my early check-in.  Her kind smile reminded me of someone I couldn’t quite remember.  A cloud of curly strawberry-blond hair framed her freckled face, down to her collar bone, and it suited her well.

It suited this place, to where many had come for silence:

Compassion.

“How late is your spa open?” I asked her, at the time.

“It’s open 24/7,” she responded.

I looked up, puzzled.  I had already arrived here with gratitude, and this was causing me a bit of an overload.  She smiled kindly, reminding me of someone I couldn’t quite remember.

“We’re all adults here,” she said.  “Right?”

Now, she was sitting in her chair, looking down at her desk calendar as if meditating.  I realized this entire time the little man had been screaming on an old-fashioned, ivory phone mounted onto the wall.

He, by now, was a goner:

“You know what?!  I’m gonna call THE POLICE!”

The nighttime clerk noticed me, lingering by the doormat, and she smiled kindly.  Bingo!  She reminded me of someone who had helped me once through a transition in LA-LA (of which I had many, in between my needs for silence).

I nodded at the nighttime clerk.  It sucked, I thought, that she was having one hell of a time surviving the avalanche of other people’s entitlements.  And I wished it didn’t have to be so strained for her, so testy.

I smiled, kindly:

Compassion.

“LOOK!” the little man — that poor lost soul! — was now screaming out every word.  “I’VE DONE THIS BEFORE!”

But of course:  Everything in the world must’ve gone askew for him; and overhearing the routine of his ready complaints, I already knew this was not the first time he ever voiced his grief.

“Excuse me?” I said to his wife — a woman a stocky stature — who was blocking the stairway with three giant, overstuffed pieces of luggage, while she lazily scrawled through her BlackBerry messages.

The woman looked up.  I had expected a scowl.  A boiling outrage.  Instead, she looked at me with such a sheepish apology, I wished it didn’t have to be so strained for her, so testy.  And she smiled at me, ever so slightly.  Ever so kindly.

Suddenly, I remembered:  I had seen her earlier, at a seafood restaurant right above the roaring ocean.  All the windows of the place were flung open, and not till later I realized there was no ambiance music to distract us from silence.

It seemed we had all come here — for silence — from the noises in our heads:

Survival.  Dignity.  

Some of us didn’t live our lives by fronting.  Some of us were still prone to gratitude:

Freedom.  Art.

And especially those who got caught in the avalanche of outrages by little men and women — by the poor lost souls — still deserved our:

Compassion.

“We Live in a Beautiful World! Yeah, We Do! Yeah, We Do!”

I had been awake for less than ten minutes, yet I was already having a gratitude overload.

In comparison to my own bed at home, this creation underneath me better resembled a cluster of clouds.  It had engulfed me so quickly last night, I couldn’t even remember my last words.  Or my last thoughts.  But I was pretty sure, it had something to do with home.

I fell asleep with my window shades half drawn; and now, I could see the fluffy marine layer floating above what looked like a prehistorical forest.  They stretched for miles — these dense clusters of clouds — blocking the sun, yet dissipating quite quickly; and they slid through the tops of this quirky flora:  Palm trees amidst ancient pines decorated with some dainty lime-green growths that looked like the hair of mermaids.

(Um, ‘scuse me:  But is this where nymphs and pixies come to play?)

Right past this playground of magical creatures, the Ocean stretched for miles — into the horizon, from where the fluffy marine layer seemed to be crawling.  Around here, the waves were untamed by piers, or any other signs of humanity’s collective ego; and they were gigantic.  The Ocean thrashed against cliff rocks, modestly populated by idillic homes.  No two homes looked alike, but they inspired a stream of thought that I couldn’t pinpoint last night.  But then again, I was pretty sure it had something to do with home.

All throughout the day, the Ocean roared and hissed; and at night, it sang a chesty lullaby about the opposite shores it had licked on its way here.  The glorious monster was intimidating — and endless! — and only the fluffy marine layer could have known where it was coming from; or where it ended.

There was one small patch of land where I could approach it closer, on foot, without having to climb down cliffs.  I had to walk in shoes, though, because the beach was covered with moonstones and sea glass.  No sand.

(Um, ‘scuse me:  But is this where Aphrodite spilled a chest of her jewelry?)

I did try to get my feet in the water.  Having climbed over a lagoon circumvented by seaweed and lily pads, I kept my eyes right on the horizon, from where the fluffy marine layer seemed to be crawling.  On the opposite side of this calmer pool of water, young boys were taking turns swimming to shore.  One of them reminded me of my son:  a brown, fearless rascal.

At one point, my hand slipped off the rock and I tested the water:  It was warm and velvety.

(Um, ‘scuse me:  Is this were the sirens come out to gargle their throats and soothe their tired vocal cords.)

On the other side of my climb, a family of brown people started running to the shore.

“Look!  Look!” the fearless rascals were ahead of their adoring mother, leaping over the moonstones, pointing at the shiny surface right past the hissing, crashing, foaming waves.

The Latin face of their father meant business, but he did soften a little when he saw the skin of my exposed stomach:  I was just about the same color as his woman.

I too began moving in the direction of the migration, looking right at the horizon from where the fluffy, now scattered marine layer seemed to be crawling.  The water closer to the shore was playing patty cake with sun rays; and the entire surface seemed as luminous as a mirror.

(Um, ‘scuse me:  Is this were Neptune finds his reflection while brushing out his graying beard after having breakfast?)

With my eyes, I followed the direction of the tiny brown fingers.  But all I could see was:  The Ocean playing patty cake with sun rays, right into the horizon.  The fluffy layer had dissipated almost entirely, and only a couple of feathered brushes reminded of its short existence.

But, oh!  Something had just jumped out of the water — look! — and it curved its shiny back.  But before I could figure it out, it blinded me with its shine and dropped back into the Ocean.

Then, there came another one!  And yet another!

“Dolphins!  Dolphins!  Look!” the brown rascals seemed beside themselves, leaping through moonstones and sea glass, pointing their tiny brown fingers at the glistening backs.

The Latin face of their father meant business, but even he softened a little at the sight of all this glory.

I never reached the water yesterday.  Instead, I stood:  mesmerized, blinded.  All along the cliffs behind Moonstone Beach I could see idillic homes.  No two homes were alike, but every one — was lovely.

My own home:  Not the home I have now, but the one I was about to find elsewhere in the world.  And I was making a bet that it would be on a shore very much like this one:  Where dolphins could play babysitters to my brown, fearless rascals; and where every night, the Ocean would sing them chesty lullabies about all the other magnificent shores it licked on the way here.

My run through a wildlife reserve didn’t last for longer than thirty minutes, yet I was already having a gratitude overload.  Every sign of life left me more and more exhausted with excitement:

The single otter that surfed on its back through the roaring, hissing, crashing, foaming waves made me laugh every time its nonchalant white snout resurfaced above.

The boisterous chipmunks with focused faces were making a meal out of unidentifiable scraps they found in the layer of succulents.  I thought of the way I had always eaten apples:  with their core, sometimes using their stems as toothpicks, afterward.  Would my brown, fearless rascals inherit my quirky ways?

And oh, how magnificently the red-tailed hawk soared above!  Every time the wind picked up, it negotiated the flow with its black, oily wings; then kept cutting through the air.

What fearless grace!

And in the field of dried weeds, a couple of dogs were beside themselves:  dashing back and forth between their adoring masters and the rest of the untamed life.

I had been in this town for less than a day, yet I was already having a gratitude overload; all thoughts — leading home.