Category Archives: Friendship

Threshold

(Continued from April 8th, 2012.)

When she first arrived, the older woman took off her shoes before stepping over the threshold.  Unusually considerate, light in her step, she made her daughter nervous.

There had been superstitions, back in her mother’s country, about thresholds, doorways, windows.  Table tops and chairs.  And they were treated like traditions by the women in her family, as non-negotiable as laws of gravity and just as final.  To never kiss over a threshold.  To never sit upon a tabletop.  To never let an unmarried woman be positioned at a corner seat, while dining.  And with the slew of superstitions came antidotes, just as important to take notice of; so that when things did NOT work out — the victim could be still the one to blame:  You shoulda knocked three times on wood, spit over the left shoulder, and hidden a fig hand in your pocket.  These things would grow on one unconsciousness like barnacles of paranoid behavior.  And in a nation of world-renowned courage, it puzzled her to see so many doubtful people.

And was her mother brave at all, to just pack-up like that and leave?  To move herself with a child to the furthest removed continent, after the death of her husband?  His — was a death by drinking.  She didn’t want to die — by mourning.

And now, both women — tired but not tired enough to not be cautious of each other — seemed to be waiting for something.  Waiting for the other shoe to drop, albeit both of them standing barefoot in the empty kitchen.  In this new country, where everyone was in love with fun and smiley faces, they each would arrive to their shared home and try to force a lightness to descend.  It would be mostly out of habit, and not desire.  Her mother functioned better in these new rules:  “Have fun!”  “God bless!”  “I love you!”  She had no difficulty throwing these around, without taking any time to match their implications to the worth of the recipient.

The younger woman now waited by the sink full of dishes.  After enough silence, while stealing glances at her mother, who floated from one room to another like a trapped moth, the hostess began to rummage through the dirty dishes.

Had mother always colored her hair with that unnatural shade of black, when last she’d seen her, in New York?  The snow white roots came in aggressively, all over mother’s head, opposing the other color with no mercy.  When did she age this much?  When did this fear and sorrow find time to settle on her face?

A paw of pity stroked across the young woman’s tightly wound nerves:

“Mom.  Why don’t you sit down?”  She caught herself:  All furniture was made of boxes, uncouth for a woman with a living husband, according to her mother’s generation.  Before the older woman managed to react, the daughter hid her gaze in forming mounds of soapsuds and hurriedly amended her first offer:  “Mom.  Wouldn’t you like a drink?”

“Yes, please,” the older woman turned on her heels, seemingly delighted.  “White zinfandel?”

“Well.  Um.  I don’t have alcohol.  But would you like some juice?”

“Oh.  Right.”  An eyebrow went up and froze.  “No, thanks.”

She turned and walked away again — floating, balancing, looming — stopped by the sliding doors of the balcony, at the edge of the living-room.  The palm trees slowly swayed outside like metronomes to one’s slower heartbeat.  West, West, West.

She’d gone out West, with nothing but the ghosts checked-in as her luggage.  The letters from her best friend on the East Coast would hit the bottom of the mailbox on a weekly basis, for the first two months.  She praised her for the courage.  She mentioned pride, and dignity, and all the other things they’d mutually gotten high on, back in college.

It never happened in any of the books she’d read, but in her life, what others titled “courage” — was merely an act of following through.  Besides, she swore, he thought of the idea first.  What else was she suppose to do?

The best friend wrote her with gel pens, whose color was always given careful consideration.

She wrote in pink:  “It’s better to let it all go to the wind.”

In purple:  “Let justice work itself out.”

At least, unlike the others, the best friend never judged.  She wasn’t in a habit of taking sides.  She never called the husband names.  But then again, they’d never really found men to be the leading topic of their friendship.  Men merely existed.  Some men were good.  And back in college, the two of them hadn’t loved enough men to speak of the other gender with that scornful nostalgia of the other women.  Men merely existed.  And then:  There was the whole of the magnificent world outside.

 

Out here — out West — she could just start from scratch.  She only needed to remember how to breathe the even breath:  if not that of her calmer youth — then of her wiser self.  With time, she knew she’d see the point of it, the purpose, the lessons of her little losses.  She had too vivid of an imagination to not weave her life into a story.

“One’s life had meaning.  It couldn’t be for forsaken.”  (Oh, how she missed those wonderful convictions of her youth!)

So, while she waited to mature into that wiser self, she set aside some time and space in which the hurting self could flail, abandon graces, wag its finger, then call people back with tearful apologies.  But she would not have to confront her past out here, at least; except for when she opened the envelopes of her phone bills.

“So,” mother started speaking to the window, again.  “Natasha?  Are you looking for a job?”

“I have been looking, yes, mom.”

“Okay,” mom turned around.  Change of subject:  “I hear Mike got a promotion for doing the work on that new bridge, in Brooklyn.”

When rinsing a knife after all pungent foods, one absolutely must use soap.  Because if not, the taste will resonate on every meal for further weeks to come.  

“Oh yeah?  That’s good.”

“Yeah!  He’s a smart boy!  I’ve always liked Mike.  For you.”

It’s better if the handle of the knife is anything but wooden.  Wood stays a living thing forever.  It takes on other substances, breeds them, doesn’t let them go.

Here comes the second round.  Ding, ding, ding:

“I wrote Mike a letter.”  Mom searched for the effects of her intentions on her daughter’s face.  “I know!  I know!  It sounds silly!  We live a borough away.  But I have always relished his opinion.”

She felt exhausted.  “Mom.”

Out West, she’d found herself relearning how to use each thing with an appropriate instrument.  The sense of wonderment!   The love of unexpected beauty!  The curiosity she was resuscitating in herself, like a paralysis patient learning how to walk again.  Her days weren’t daunting, at all times; and they were full of curiosity.

And now:  Mom, barefoot yet armed!   In one woman’s kitchen.  So fearful, she could not release either of them from their pasts.  They stood, displeased with being a reflection of each other.  Another eyebrow arch.  A scoff.  One turned away, demonstratively disappointed.  The other looked down onto her pruned fingers submerged into a sink of cruddy water.

Mom faced the window with no curtains, yet again.  Those horrid, flapping, plastic blinds had been the first thing that Natasha’d taken down.  For the first weeks, she let the wind roam through the apartment, while she, sleepless and exhausted, observed the palm trees wave against the never pitch-black night of her new city:  You are alright.  Remember breathing?

West, West, West.

You still have time.  In your defense.

“My Skin — Is Brown. My Manner — Is Tough.”

There is a spirit, in certain women, that lives so powerfully — it resurrects my own ways.  

I have loved many of such women, in my life:  They are essential to my every breath.

And they always have a special talent for obeying the time clock to my own destiny, whose ticking I often fail to understand.  Still, I seek them, by intuition — whenever in need of inspiration (or, of just a confirmation, really, that I am still getting it all right).

Sometimes, they reappear whenever I have a reason to celebrate.  But only in the most dire of my moments, do they seem to unite, unanimously, and come to the forefront of my days as a magnificent army of undefeatable souls.

There is a woman with her hair on fire:  She lives at a halfway point between the two coasts of my identify.  At any given time of every day, she is an expert at whipping up a meal soon after making love; and as her lovers, we make for one doomed lot because she will not happen to any of us, again.

Instead of breakfast, she begins each day with a party.  At a round table of her restaurant, she often shares a drink with her clients and her staff, late into the night.  She drives fast and laughs for so long, the windows begin to rattle like an orchestra of chimes.  Her fire-engine red lips are never smeared.  And god forbid, she tames her hair into anything more modest.

“When in doubt — be generous,” she says.  “Generous and kind.”  Nothing has disobeyed her love.  And no one — can overcome the kindness.

She is all that:  magnificent, magnanimous, braver than the rest and always in the heart of every love.

To each — her own way. 

An erudite poetess with African hair sends me postcards every once in a while, from the Mediterranean coast where she retreats to rest her skin from the abrasive gazes her beauty attracts.  From a writers’ colony, with wooden cots and tables by the window, she writes to me in stanzas.

“At work,” she’ll say.

And she will mean:  RESPECT.

In her profession, I have known no equals; and in the written word, she is much further than me:  always ahead, as it testing the ground that I am meant to follow.  She is political, on edge, and often absolute.  She is a socialist in success:  Others, she believes, must benefit.

Her people:  They have suffered way too much.  And so, she prowls, proudly:  paving the way, pounding the ground.  And it is worth the awe to see her never skips a step or stumbles.

“TO NEVER APOLOGIZE,” — she has tattooed upon her forehead (and she scribble that on mine).

In stanzas!  She often writes to me — in stanzas, even when writing about the most mundane, like laundry or her lover’s breathing.  And I watch her, moving through the world of men with a grace that is so undeniably female.

To each — her own way.  To each — her own manner.

The woman that shadows all of my most difficult choices with patience worthy of saint:  She has been bound to me by some unwritten, never negotiated rule of sisterhood.  With her, I’m never orphaned.  With her, I’m never-ever afraid; and life — is not unjust.  She is the kindest one I’ve known.  The worthiest — that I have ever loved.

It’s not that she hasn’t witnessed others error.  No doubt, she has seen me lose my own ways, as well.

“Don’t you ever question?” I used to challenge her, in my youthful disobedience.

“Question?”

“I dunno.  Question the purpose?  The faith?  The validity of it all?”

At every significant marker of each year, “God bless you,” she jots down, with a steady hand.  From her lips — and from her hand — these words never acquire comedy or scorn.  To speak the truth.  To call each thing by its own name.  She’s fine with that.  But the cost — alas, the cost — she never loses the sight of human cost.

Once, long ago, her hand had gotten lost in my growing out mane.  She had a mother’s touch.  With her, I’m never orphaned.

“Remember this!” I thought to myself, but all too soon, I drifted off to sleep.

To each — her own grace.

My Kindness, Truth and Patience.

One gives.  Another fights.  The third one — perseveres.

All — in the name of Love. 

“It’s in the reach of my arms / The span of my hips / The stride of my step / The curl of my lips…”

I had a dream last night:  of walking into a room full of beautiful women.

Some of them, I’ve known for years; a few of them for long enough to have forgotten their faces.  Some of the other faces could’ve belonged to my future, perhaps.

When I entered through the door with chipping white paint — a door that was more obedient to the pull of gravity than that of its rusty hinges — every woman looked up at me:  A stunning constellation of loving, familiar eyes sprawled before me; each pair of eyes — with its own story of similar pathos that have led us all to the common denominator of womanhood.

A tearful redhead sat at the teacher’s desk, up front.  I assumed she was leading the classroom.  Lines of poetry were written on a blackboard behind her.

“I’d seen her somewhere,” I thought in my sleep.

Perhaps, she borrowed her details from my Russian Lit. professor back in the old country.  That one was a tall, mighty blonde that might have stepped off the pages of Nekrasov’s poetry.  Or:  She could’ve been one of those pre-Napoleon aristocrats, attending a ball in St. Petersburg, while wrapped in the fur of a red fox and emeralds to accentuate her gorgeous green eyes.

Her name was Tatiana.  She had a middle name, of course; but in a radical fashion, she demanded we didn’t use it.

“By god, I’m only a few years older than you all!” she’d correct some brown noser testing the air, in class.

True, we were all quite young then, and typically confused.  But we had grounds for it though:  Our country was falling apart at the seams.

One morning, Tatiana walked into my first class of the day in a solemn mood.  Her magnificent hair of a Russian blond beauty was pulled back into a messy bun; and by her eyes, we could tell that she either hadn’t slept or had been crying all morning.  Or both.

It was common for Tatiana to bring up politics in class.  After all, she belonged to our generation:  of curious and passionate, and justifiably confused.  But that morning, she would remain silent, stunning all of us with the expectations of the worst.  And she would stare out of the window while burying her chin into the cream-colored crocheted shawl wrapped around her magnificent, mighty shoulders.

Inspired by a thought, every once in a while, she would look at us and inhale, as if grasping enough air to deliver the news.  Breathlessly, we watched her.

Caution:  Courage at work.  

But she would lose the train of thought, tear up again and bury her face in the shawl.  After the longest minutes of our assuming the worst, Tatiana left the classroom; and none of us would see her again.

But I would — in my last night’s dream, about walking into a room full of beautiful women.

There were a few from my college years:  Of various heritages, they were American-born, opinionated and seemingly fearless:  The tall one, with an Irish brogue, had been known to lead her life along a courageous path of rebelling against the confines of tradition. The quiet brunette, cradling her little girl in the corner — under a tent of her long East Indian hair — had been burdened with the most gentle of hearts I had ever loved.  And I had loved her the most — and oh, for so very long! And I had known the brown, graceful one with the pixie haircut very little back then.

A handful of others came along after my most innocent years of womanhood.

The one who stood up to applaud me had recently left for her homeland:  She had always been luminous and proud, in the way of an African queen.  She wore a heavy necklace when she left for her odyssey:  something borrowed from the neck of Nefertiti.  And she wore that again, in my dream.

The poetess who had guided me toward a path of quiet victory had borrowed a headdress from my favorite writer of Caribbean descent.  And she walked to the front of the room to introduce me.  

I struggled with the door for a moment, then pushed it with my hip. There is nothing in the world that won’t obey a woman’s hip!  On it, we bounce our children, or carry the weight of our unhappy burdens.  With it, we can dislodge any jam in our way; make a man lose his sleep over it, or find his rest — in its soft curvature.

“Well…  That’s been conquered,” I said to the women, once I turned around.  They laughed:  A sound that may have made me smile in my sleep.

While the laughter subsided, I studied the floor under my feet:

There was none.  Just dirt, covered with loose planks of wood; and as I made my way across them, the boards chomped and sank into the wetness.  I couldn’t tell where exactly we had gathered that day:  Which of our old countries had granted us refuge.  But this morning, I had slept in, for a change, missing the sound of my alarm clock and the call of my obligations. And I would have much rather remained dreaming.

“We All Live in A Yellow Submarine, Yellow Submarine, Yellow Submarine.”

Yes, it’s a hard way of being:  Living as an artist.  But then, again, I wouldn’t want to be living — in any other way.

And I’ve tried.  In all honesty, I’ve tried to be many things:  Anything else but an artist.  An administrator, a teaching assistant, and a secretary.  A proofreader, an academic, a critic.  A manager.  An accountant.  A librarian.

“Oh, you!” my college comrades used to say.  “You and your jobs!  You’re always changing jobs.”

They had known me for years, and for years — they had seen me working.  They had watched me giving a very fair try to living for the sake of a different profession.  A “normal” profession.   A job.  And they had witnessed me change my mind.

Back then, I wasn’t really sure which profession it would turn out to be, so I would try everything.  And instead of entertaining things, I would satisfy my curiosity by leaping into every opportunity.  Because I always felt I could be so many things; but I wanted to make sure that I couldn’t be anything else — but an artist.

Being an artist resembled an exotic disease — a dis-ease of the soul — and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t one of its victim.

“So, what’s your major this morning?” my folks teased me during our phone calls.  I was prone to changing my mind, and the flexibility of my American education confused the hell out of them.

“Still English, I think,” I’d say.  “But with a slight concentration — in journalism.”

“Well, at least, you’re getting an education,” my best friend comforted me.  She always comforted me.  And it seemed to bother her the least — my proneness to change my mind, because I felt I could be so many things.

Come to think of it:  It should have been easier, in my youth.  During our college years, that’s exactly what we were meant to do:  To seek.  To learn.  To experiment.  To be — so many things!

But somehow, my contemporaries seemed to be more certain about their paths.  They would be teachers or administrators.  The more city-savvy types were going into investment banking in New York.  And I’ve even known one biologist and a chick who went to work for Fox News.  But mostly, they would be teachers.

“How can they be so sure?”  I wondered.

Because I wasn’t sure.  I could foresee the pleasure in having a day job with which I could identify myself for a couple of years; but the romance of its routine would expire as soon as some bureaucrat’s ego would begin dictating procedures to me, on a daily basis.  Some of them didn’t like my language, or my dress code.  They handed me time sheets and forms, along with the lists of appropriate jewelry.  Some wanted me to tame my hair.  Others preferred I didn’t call my colleagues “Loves”.

So, I would leave.  I would always leave, but with enough notice and plenty of disappointment noticeable on my employers’ faces:

“It’s just that you had so much potential!” they would say.

“Then, why did you break my balls about my headscarves?” I would think in response.  Still, I would leave with grace (even if I was leaving over burning bridges).

After college, I would be the only one in my class to leave for an art school.

“But you should teach!” my academic mentors insisted.  “Most of your contemporaries teach!”

Everyone had an opinion.  Everyone but me.  I still felt I could be so many things, but I really wanted to be — just one!

Some seemed to be quite disappointed in my decision to stick to the arts.

“What are you gonna do — with an art degree?  You could be so many things, instead!”

And I wasn’t sure.  I still wasn’t sure.

“And how can everybody else — be so sure?!” I wondered.

After the first semester in my MFA program, the uncertainty about my profession would remain.  However, the overall vision of my life was becoming clearer:  I would be an artist.  I WAS an artist.  And it was starting to be enough — to be that one thing.

And so, there I was:  Willing to risk my life’s stability — the stability about which my contemporaries seemed to be so sure — for the sake of seeking daily inspiration.  I would take on projects that would fuel my gratitude and curiosity.  I would begin spending my nights in companies of others who shared my exotic disease — the dis-ease of the soul; and I would attend their shows and poetry readings, and loom in front of their paintings in tiny New York galleries.  And none of us were still certain about our destinations; and yes, we were still filled with angst.  But we did share the same vision:  Our moments of happiness were simultaneous to the moments of creation — the moments of dis-ease.

Throughout the years, some of my contemporaries have disappeared into their professions:  They turned out to be successful administrators and great teachers.  Wonderful teachers, as a matter of fact!  I would watch them moving with seeming certainty through their honorable daily routines.

“Still:  How can you be so sure?” I would interview a few of them, years later.

I had succumbed to my disease fully by then, and I would learn to maneuver the demands of my survival jobs.  I had surrendered.

“Are you kidding?!  We aren’t sure at all!” some would answer, honestly.

And for the first time, in their tired and good, decent and honorable faces, I would notice a slight glimmer of doubt.

“Oh!” I would wonder.  “So, no one really knows, for sure!”

Strangely, I would find no comfort in their doubtfulness.

But I would find great ease in knowing that I myself had fully surrendered to my disease:  The dis-ease of my soul — of an artist.

“All You Got To Do — Is Try… Try A Little Tenderness.”

And you know what I’m doing today?

Nothing.

That’s right.  I’m doing nothing, in a Kundera sorta way.

Yes, I’m doing nothing:

Nothing, as in:  I wake up late due to the afternoon sun blazing through my window.  (The shades are helpless against this blazing.)  I wake up to sunlight, and not to the monotonous tune of my alarm clock.  I wake up to another day.  (I’m helpless against waking.)

And when I do wake up, I stay in bed, despite the habitual bounce of my thoughts about the stuff that needs to get done.  It’ll get done.  Eventually.  So, I stay in bed, reading.

The more fragmented my schedule, the lesser are the chances of my reading a book, these days.  A whole book:  Not a book of vignettes by a Parisian melancholic, or of poetry by an angry American alcoholic.  A book, a long novel, or an epic story hasn’t rested in my palms in a long time.  I still read though — but of course! — in between the fragments of my day.  But I never read in bed.

But today:  I do.  Because I’m doing — nothing.

Yes, I’m doing nothing:

Nothing, as in:  I take a scorching hot shower with a bar of handmade soap with tea tree oil and oats.  It smells like the pine tree bathhouses that my people would heat up for each other, late at night — before a generous dinner but after the hard work — and they would come out with red and calm faces of innocence, long ago traded in for survival.

I take the first sip of my black coffee:  I’m feeling peckish, I must say.  I haven’t eaten the first meal of the day, and I’m about to skip the second.  But there is no way I’m cooking today:  Because I’m doing — nothing. 

Nothing, as in:  I walk to the farmers’ market.  I do not drive.  Instead, I accompany my kind man who tells me the fables from his previous day.  His long stories.  As we walk, we study the neighborhood:  The homes that sit at an architectural intersection of San Francisco and Venice Beach.  Homes with abandoned toys in their play pins and enviable tree houses decorated with Chinese lanterns.  Homes with old vintage cars in their gravel covered driveways and disarrayed trash bins at the curb.  Homes I’ve promised to build for my people — my kind people — and my child.

I watch an older couple approaching us:  I wonder what I would look like, when I’m older.  And I shall be older, certainly.  The romantic notion that I would die young has expired with forgiveness.

And now:  I want to live, in perseverance and stubborn generosity; and every day, I want to start with a clean slate on the board of my compassion.

What time is it?  I have no clue.  I do not own a watch and my cellphone has been off since the very early hours of this morning, when I was just getting to be bed after a night of seeing old friends and playing cards until we began to feel drunk from exhaustion.

I think of them — my friends, my kind people, my kind man — as I walk, and I can see the white tents the hippies and the hopefuls have pitched behind a plastic barricade.  They’re all so specific, I get inspired to see them in a book:  A long novel about perseverance and stubborn generosity; an epic story in which its heroine travels toward her forgiveness.

“When you forgive — you love.”

Someone else has written that in a romantic story about dying young.  I don’t want to do that:  I want to live.

Yes, I want to live.

We purchase things that only speak to our taste buds:  Black grapes and persimmons.  Sun-dried tomato pesto and horseradish hummus.  Sweet white corn and purple peppers.  I watch a tiny curly creature with my baby-fat face and a unibrow dancing around her mother’s bicycle, in a pink tutu and leopard uggs.  I look away when she tickles my eyes with tears only to find a brown face, even tinier, resting over a sari-draped shoulder of her East Indian mother.  Live, my darling child.  I want you — to live.

My kind comrade and I walk over to the handmade soap store:  I want more smells of home.  We both notice her:  She is African and tall — PROUD — with dreadlocks and a pair of bohemian overalls.  How could you not notice her:  Her face belongs to a heroine traveling toward her own forgiveness.

“Are you doing okay?” a very gentle gentleman asks us from behind the counter.

I smile into the jar of eucalyptus body butter and nod:  Zen.

“How could they not be okay, here?” the heroine making a rest stop on her journey toward forgiveness says.

We laugh.  All four faces in this store are calm.  They are calm with innocence long traded-in for survival.  But then again, maybe it’s just compassion.  (And I’m helpless — against it.)

“I was riding my motorcycle this morning,” my proud heroine starts telling us a fable from her previous day.  Her long story.

At the end of it, we would laugh.  Not wanting anything from each other, but having so much to give back, we laugh with lightness.

We laugh — with nothingness, in a Kundera sorta way.

I think:  We are no longer innocent.  But that’s quite alright, I think.

Because with enough forgiveness, compassion often takes its place.  Compassion takes the place of innocence.  And that’s quite alright, I think.  And I want to live — a life of that.

Yes.

I want to live.

“Try to Remember the Kind of September…”

This absolutely must be the last of it:  this heatwave, right?!

I’m sitting in my friend’s backyard:

“Dang, this joint needs some work!”

The flower bulbs are waiting to be put to sleep, for the winter…  What winter?!  I’ve been chasing fucking butterflies this morning and playing pingpong with the bodies of wasps.  (Don’t worry!  I’m so not into the whole animal cruelty thing.  But these monsters are curiously attracted to my papaya perfume.  So, I give them a lil’ push and watch them fumble away, with their dangly legs, above my head.  That’s right!)

The wild weed that broke through the pavement three years ago, when I first met the man, is now a wild shrubbery in dire need of trimming.  It’s now taller than the fence.  (His child is also taller by now, but she still crunches my heart every time her strawberry chin is in my vicinity.  And she looks more — like me.)

The rectangular flower bed usually filled with pungent bright orange flowers that remind me of Russian Septembers is completely desolate right now.  I wonder if he had even planted anything this year, or if nothing simply could survive this heat.  I have spent most of my summer on the beach; or more north of here, with more tolerable climates and more grounded humanity.

Here, we’re just fried all the time.  Baked — out of our better minds. 

I noticed it yesterday:  this heat-induced irritability that enters all of our faces and makes us lose ourselves, in want.  I was craving the caramel-colored heart that my barista draws in the foam of my lattes, in the morning.  So, I stepped out, to hunt for it.

Surely, I expected warmth that day.  But not this heatwave!

“Coffee?  Am I crazy?!”

The traffic along Venice was crawling Westward.  The sweaty face of a motorcycle cop showed zero delight in response to my wave as he waited for me to cross:  He seemed annoyed, exhausted.  Baked inside his helmet — and out of his better mind. 

A man in a white tank-top with yellow armpits was walking ahead of me, with two panting Rottweilers, without a leash.  In his left hand, he carried an open bottle of beer, super-sized.  Be it the heat or the liquor, he swayed and zigzagged quite dramatically across the walkway.

“I hope this poor guy doesn’t collapse from a heat stroke,” I thought and looked back at the irritable cop, in a helmet.  He was gone.

I would have caught up to the poor drunk, but the two bitches next to him were meaning business.  So, I slowed down too.

I waited for him to get ahead enough, so I could sneak into the door of my barista’s coffee shop, but the red-faced man turned and noticed me.  He started staring.

“So pretty,” the man slurred as I took a few hesitant steps to pass his bitches who by then got busy sniffing the streetlight’s pole.

I hesitated and took a sudden turn into the thrift store to my left.

Inside, the heat punched me in the lungs:

“There is not enough air around here,” I thought and looked through the glass door at the bitches outside.  Yep, still there.  “Fine.  I’ll take a look around.”

“Take a look around!” she said.

She had appeared out of nowhere:  A face that I would cast for a children’s most feared witch.  I thought of the strawberry chin, and it crunched my heart.

“I have a lot of good stuff here!” she continued, sweating and bulging her eyes at me.  “And I have a dress I’d love to show you:  IT’S SO CUTE!”

A good day for the crazies to be out, I thought, counting myself into that camp.  It wasn’t even noon — and I was already starting to feel on edge.  Baked — out of my better mind.

Maybe it was the fault of the full moon, from the last couple nights.  At first, I thought it was cool:  Its roundness reminded me of my motha’s face — and of Russian Septembers.  (And neither occurrence — is to be fucked with, by the way!).  But then, the heat would not subside even at nighttime.  And I would rummage through my linens, in nothing but my ex’s dress shirt, until I would find another cotton sheet to soak through, in my sleep.

The strange face would follow me, from one rack to another.  And when at the back of the store, I noticed the backdoor:  “Freedom!” I thought.  And I charged out.

Once outside, the heat, that seemed to have increased in the last few minutes, punched me in the lungs.

“Fuck coffee!  Am I crazy?!”

I made my way back home.

And now, I’m sitting in my friend’s backyard, on the West Side of the city, where the temperatures promised to be more tolerable.  The metallic surface of my laptop is now hot enough to fry a stake.

I’m getting messages from NYC about gray skies and blue moods.  My comrades wish they could be in the sun.

“Not this much sun!” I respond and bury my hand in a flower pot full of potpourri as dead as… well, potpourri.

To the left of me:  A plate full of seashells is sitting on a cracked asphalt.  In the winter, I had seen this thing filled with water and moss before; and it used to remind me — of Russian Septembers.

But now, the surface of each shell is whited out and chalky to the touch.  I reach out to rearrange them:  If I put them to the ear, I think, I bet they are too arid to echo the Ocean.

“Coffee?” my friend sticks his head out, through the back door.

“Coffee?  Are you crazy?!” I respond.

But then:

“Well, sure.  What the hell!”

“So, Let It Rain, Rain Down on Himmm… Mmmm…”

Oh, but it’s raining.  So, I think I’m just gonna stay in bed.

Yes.  It’s raining.

No, not just drizzling, in a typical fashion of LA-LA’s summers, when a few dirty raindrops smear the layer of dust on the windshields and rooftops of our cars; and for the rest of that week, we all drive in polka-dotted vehicles, too superstitious to wash them.  Because the law of LA-LA-Land is such:  Washing a car — brings on new rain.  The drizzling type of rain.  The rain that smears the layers of dust on the windshields and rooftops of our cars.

But today:  It’s raining.

Now, I wouldn’t call it “pouring”, for I have seen some of the worst rainstorms, in other spots along the planet.  I’ve seen the traffic stall in Moscow, its yellow cabs glistening with rain while their drivers, numbed into indifference by common despair, would pull off to the sides of the road and wait out the chaos.  And I have witnessed the swamps that rain makes out of Russian villages, like the birth place of my father; and the people would make portable bridges with loose planks of wood to walk across endless puddles of rainwater and mud.  Because Motha Russia is notorious for its unkept roads:  She is too enormous — to upkeep.

And I have seen the New York Subways shut down entirely, flooded overnight with aftershocks of a storm going much further south.  I have walked along the black-clad New Yorkers, obeying the barely comprehensible instructions over the groveling radio; so that we could take the bus shuttles, already overcrowded, above the ground.  And I watched them endure — the owners of those magnificently strong hearts — and they rarely complained.  Because that City — is not meant for weaklings.  In the last decade, that City has learned to persevere past unthinkable tragedies.  So, what’s a little rainstorm — to warriors?

The most nonchalant characteristic of San Franciscans — is their readiness for the whims of weather.  I have been amazed before to watch their instantaneous transformation into rain-ready attire, as soon as the first heavy raindrops give them a warning.   Sometimes, it’s just a few minutes of rain.  Other times, the precipitation comes down violently and all at once, as if dumped onto their heads by buckets of an impatient laundress.

And then, it passes.  It always passes:  The San Francisco blue.  And when the sun peaks out of the gray layer, suddenly the streets are filled with girls in summer frocks and boys in flip flops.  How ever do they do that:  The exceptional residents of their exceptional city?

But today, it’s raining — in LA-LA.

Oh yes!  It’s raining!

Photography by Russell James

I heard it, early in the morning, when I woke up amazed at my uninterrupted night of sleep.  There were no nightmares today.  In my bed, I wasn’t missing my beloveds.  Neither was I stuck with my chronic prophetic visions, on their behalf.  Neither did I catch myself dreaming.  No.  Today, I rested, lullabied into the sleep of the just — the sleep of the fulfilled — by the drumbeat of heavy raindrops, outside.

And when I first opened my eyes this morning, I thought:

“Oh, but it’s raining!  So, I think I’m just gonna stay in bed.”

But then, I looked outside.

The windows appeared streaked, and the pattern of the settled down moisture reminded me of other windows I had looked through, in other spots, along the planet.

I have watched the water cascading down the tiny windows of my grandmother, in a house she had moved to, as a widow.  She would arise early, to tend to her livestock (and whatever other magical business she couldn’t help but conduct).  But before leaving her tiny wooden house, she would sit in front of a poorly isolated window and unbraid her long, graying hair.  Unleashed, the hair would fall below her waistline; and she would hum, and she would sigh, while running an ivory-colored tooth comb brush, up from her temples and down to the knees.  She could’ve been a siren — a mermaid — playing a harp for her long awaited lover.  For surely, there had to be some magical business she wouldn’t help but conduct!

The windowpanes of our apartment in Eastern Germany would leak, quite often, when rainstorms came to town.  Motha would fuss.  She would dig out all the old towels from underneath our tub, divide and distribute them along our windowsills.  Flabbergasted, she would eventually storm out of the house — “to fix her ruined manicure” — and leave me with the task of wringing out the drenched cloths, until dad would arrive home, to help.

And when he did, the blue of the day would suddenly depart, and we would have an adventure:  stuffing all the cracks with putty and cotton, covering them with tape.  Motha would return to find our windows sweating from the inside, and the two of us — flushed, soaked in rainwater and giggling.

“Well!” she’d command over us.  “I guess I’ll be in the kitchen — slaving over soups.”

And we would pretend to help, but only until motha’s blues would depart, and she would start howling with her very specific laughter.

I would do the same trick at my Riverdale basement apartment, for three years.  I would use it as an excuse to make pots and cauldrons of soups, and play house, for a while.  I would scrawl down my speed dial to check which one of my beloveds was nearby — and hungry.  And I would wait for their very specific laughter to steam up my windowpanes, from the inside.

Ah.  But it’s raining today.

Yes, it’s raining — in LA-LA.

And I think it’s just the perfect day — to stay in bed.

“Mama’s Lil’ Baby Loves Shortenin’, Shortenin’: Mama’s Lil’ Baby Loves Shortenin’ Bread!”

It was a long and sleepful night…

That’s right:  I said “sleepful”.

It was a long and sleepful night, for a change!

And I do love to sleep so!

To this day, motha often pontificates on my possible genetic relation to polar bears.  Because I don’t just sleep:  I hibernate.  And once awoken, it is better for others to keep a safe distance until I get that first cup of coffee, in me.

Over the years, motha and I have figured out how to maneuver around each other, after I stumble into her kitchen, barefoot, in search of my caffeine fix:  We prefer to have at least a town, in between us.  It’s just better that way.  Because two stubborn, moody Russian broads unleashing their wild hair and temperament at each other — never makes for a safe situation.

So, instead, motha leaves me cryptic notes on her counter, next to the pot with burnt coffee on its bottom; and she gets the hell out of her house (about a town away):

“Went to store.  Fear to wake you.”

Or:

“Call me when you go.”

So, okay:  I do love to sleep so!

But it is always a pretty rare occasion for me to pack the mandatory 8-hour gap of rest into a night.  Because there is seemingly never enough hours in my day; and after hour of writing and tending to business, after my rituals of fitness and nourishment, I tend to retire to bed quite reluctantly.  There, I arm-wrestle with the ghosts of my nightmares first; then, I eventually drift off to sleep.

When the alarm goes off at an ungodly hour (because there is seemingly never enough hours in my night), I yank its cord out of the wall and try to nap for a bit.  But before I pass the hour at which I would start calling myself “a sloth”, I leap out of bed and stumble out into my kitchen, barefoot, in search of my caffeine fix.  The thoughts of the day flood in with the first inhale of it, and I’m off:  Chasing the hours, of which there is seemingly never enough in my day.

And I’ve heard of the luxury others entertain when they decide to spend an entire day in bed.  In order for me to do that, I must be deathly sick.  If not, the town is better be going through an apocalypse.

And every single time I’ve entertained the idea of a vacation this year:

“Ah, shit!  I gotta write in the morning!” I would think immediately after, and that idea would be put to rest.

Because there is seemingly never enough hours in my day — and just way too much work to do, in my life!

But today, it was a long and sleepful night.  And before I leapt out of my bed right at the hour at which I would start calling myself “a sloth”, I wondered:

“How ever did I manage to get ten hours of rest?”

Let’s see:  Yesterday, I wrote and I tended to business, as usual.  There were rituals of fitness and nourishment, punctuated with more writing and more business.  I’ve even managed to repack my bags and reshuffle my joint.

But right around the time when I would normally freak out about seemingly never having enough hours in my day, instead of brewing myself another pot of coffee —

I cooked!

I made a meal, for a change.

After a late-night run through a park with maple trees that haven’t yet changed their leaves — but surely seemed to be entertaining it — I decided it was time for fall.  And with fall, it was time for pots of magical thick stews with flavors of the world whispered through a whiff of exotic spices.  And although it wasn’t time to change the clocks yet, it was time — to change the pace.

So, I ran back home and I started a pot:

The eggplant was caramelized first.  The trick there was to be patient:  to give it time.  Fussing with it would ruin the slowly forming crust.  Eggplant is a vegetarian’s stake, and it demands specificity.  Because there seemingly may not be enough hours in the day, but in cooking — it is always about the time.  With time, last night, my patience paid off:  And soon enough the joint was filled with aromas of meatiness and slowness.

The red peppers were caramelized next, married with the sizzling garlic a few minutes later.  And there is nothing more domestic — than the smell of sauteed garlic:  My joint was beginning to smell like home.

The spices went in next:  cumin, coriander, yellow curry, cayenne pepper and sesame seeds.  With spices, one must move quickly.  Because if the mind drifts off — they burn and lose their magic.  By then, my nose had adjusted to the unleashed aromas of the fall, and I had forgotten that I never started that last pot of coffee of the day.  Instead, I was tending to my spices, fully present and perfectly patient.

By the time the rest of the vegetables and liquids joined the stew, I was beginning to dream of cooking by a campfire, on some Moroccan adventure, with all of my comrades napping in surrounding tents.  They would wake, of course, to the smell of slowness and patience — to the smell of home; a world of difference away from the aromas of caffeine.

And I thought of all the future meals I had yet to make in the slower hours of the upcoming winter; of all the pots of magical thick stews with flavors of the world narrated through the whispers of new spices that I had yet to learn to cook.  And I thought:  There is still so much time, in my life!

According to my recipe, the stew would taste much better the next day.  So, I retired to bed quite willingly last night, looking forward to the new flavors — and to waking up in a joint that smelled more like home.

According to my recipe, the stew would taste much better the next day.

And it does.

“I Fly Like Paper, Get High Like Planes. If You Catch Me at the Border — I Got Visas in My Name!”

I am at a rehearsal last night, and I’m thinking:

“I don’t want to be heavy anymore.”

Now, I don’t mean my physicality here:  I’ve got a pretty compact bod on me — always have had — and I’ve always been light on my feet.

I seem to have inherited the smallest features from both sides of the family:  My motha’s people run quite low to the ground in their height; and dad’s tribe, although quite tall, is nearly transparently thin.

And then, my head’s rarely in the right place:  It’s always wanting to be elsewhere.  So, the restlessness of the mind adds to the activeness of the bod, adds to the shedding of the weight.  I’ve come to think that perhaps it’s all for the better, anyway:  My size fits best into airplane seats and packed buses, New York subways and Moscow bread lines — and wherever else the mind urges the bod to fit itself in.

So, when I thought, “I don’t want to be heavy anymore,” I think I meant:

I don’t want to be dark.

Now, I don’t mean the color of my skin here:  I’ve got a pretty dark complexion on me.  Motha’s people — are fucking gypsies, so they are really more like Russian blacks.  In my childhood, motha would have to keep me out of the sun — just so I would still resemble my father’s child a little bit more.  Because his tribe — is quite light (although they’re quite heavy in their footsteps).  And they’re nearly transparently thin.

It’s bad enough I traded in my father’s blue eyes over the course of the first year of my life.  He came back from his military training in some bleak lands of Motha Russia to meet me at the hospital.  I was only a couple days old.

“He’s got my eyes!” he said before the doctor had a chance to explain to him that I was actually born a girl.

(So sorry!)

Whether or not ultrasound existed back then in Motha Russia, motha chose to rely on the old school witchcraft of her people when predicting my future sex.  Surprise, surprise:  That shit didn’t work, and dad was now cradling a blue-eyed brunette of a nearly black complexion in his arms.

“Well…  At least she’s got my eyes.”

With quite a blow to his dreams of the first son, dad left again for some other bleak lands of Motha Russia:  He was always light enough to move.  (But we, Russians, often tend to have heavy footsteps:  We love to step on others’ toes; so if we aren’t playing war — we seem to be always training for it.)

Anyway.  When dad returned home, half a year later, he found his newborn with eyes so black, he could see his own reflection in them.

“He… she — don’t got my eyes no more!”

(So sorry!)

So, when I said, “I don’t want to be dark anymore,” I think I meant:  

I don’t want to be perpetually difficult on my loves.  

Now, I do seem to be easier on my friends:  Over the course of our loves, they’ve gotten used to the restlessness of my mind that adds to the activeness of my dark, compact bod (that adds to the weightlessness of my footsteps).  From all the distant corners of the world, however bleak or perfectly civilized, my loves receive messages of my journeys:  The messages of wanting to belong — if only I would stop moving for long enough. 

But then again:  My friends don’t have to live with me.  They don’t see me pacing my living quarters at night, as if needing more room.  They don’t witness my restlessness accumulate as surely as the hours in each day — until I finally decide to move again, to whatever bleak or perfectly civilized corner of the world.

My loves, however:  My loves are constantly subjected to the restlessness of the mind that adds to the activeness of the bod, that adds to the shedding of the weight, that adds to the weightlessness of the footsteps.

Just ask my family:

My motha’s people — are fucking gypsies.  Yet, for at least two generations before mine, they’ve given up on moving, only following the call of some bleak lands.  Over a century ago, they’ve settled on the East Coast of Motha Russia, much less civilized, unconquered:  The lands that were waiting to be discovered by the more unsettled hearts.  Over the course of the last few centuries, it was populated by the subversive many and the courageous few.  There, the Russian blacks of my motha’s people found their home.

That’s, of course, until I came along:  A blue-eyed brunette that swapped her father’s eyes for a pair of those, black enough to serve as mirrors for her loves.  And as soon as I was old enough to obey the restlessness of the mind, I would follow the call of my gypsy complexion.

(So sorry!)

Because my motha’s people may have given up on moving, but they haven’t settled, I decided.  Not yet.  Perhaps, not until I myself birth a child in some bleak or perfect civilized corner of the world — and I see my own reflection in his or her black eyes.

So, when the other night, I thought, “I don’t want to be heavy anymore,” I think I meant:

I don’t want to negate myself the joy of freedom.

Courage!

Only courage should elate my heart, from now on:  the courage of following my gypsy complexion and the heart that never settles for anything less than love.

And when I do love, I don’t want to deny my loves — the utter joy of my freer self. 

“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.