Tag Archives: ambition

The Other Half

(Continued from July 1st, 2012.)

At the end of the summer, Marinka aimed to take entrance exams to the two top medical institutes in the city.  Mother offered to pull some strings:  The woman was never at a lack of connects.  But I’ve gotta give it to sis!  She was determined to get in on the basis of her merit alone.  (In those days, the idealism of the Russian youth tended to have a longer expiration date.  Skepticism stepped in much later, flooding anywhere where the Soviet control of information gave room.)

So, after half of June spent on cramming for her high school finals, Marinka hibernated for about week; then, immediately resumed her studies.  Mother wasn’t thrilled about it:

“Now, instead just one bookworm, I have two Oblomovas in the house!”

Those days, I began to wonder about what constituted a woman’s happiness.  Mother, whose only expression of joy was overly stretched, forced —  a sort of a strained delirium — didn’t strike me as genuine, but something quite the opposite, nearing insanity.  She wasn’t happy in the way that Olya Morozova seemed, in her mother’s altered dress, on her own wedding day.  And any time I’d seen her since, blissfully pregnant or contemplatively picking tomatoes at a market on weekends, she looked like someone composing a complicated orchestral movement:  Lost in thoughts that she desired, never seeking approval (and why would she need it, with her moderate beauty, always basking in adoration?); content but not out of love or out of curiosity; fluid, available; kind.

For the first few weeks, mother struggled with the no longer vague signs of her oldest daughter’s ambition.  She sized up our bunk beds, branding us with the name of the biggest lazy ass in the whole of Russian literature:  Oblomov.  Other times, she tempted us with distractions:  a rerun of Santa Barbara or the news of other women’s misfortunes.  It would happen mostly in that late afternoon hour, when mother, having returned yet again from a day of hunting for discounts and gossip, was expected to be in the kitchen.  And we were expected to assist, simply because we were daughters.  And therefore born female.  And therefore, we had no choice.  (But one always had a choice, even in the country that didn’t advertise freedom.  We could choose the other way:  the way outside of the expected, of the presumed.)

In response to the call for confrontation, I listened to my sis remain motionless above my head.  It gave me the courage to stay sprawled out on my stomach as well, despite the signs of mother’s fuming in the doorway.  The smell of her perfume lurked more oppressively than her silence.  The anxiety of always, somehow, being perpetually wrong — inappropriate, incorrect — stirred in my chest.  What was to happen?

Mother exhaled audibly, turned on her heels and stormed out of our room, making a ruckus with the bamboo curtains in the doorway.  I held my breath, just in case of her abrupt return; until a few moments later, the kitchen appliances began tuning into an orchestra of percussions.  I suppose a light touch does not belong to every woman; and our mother exorcised her frustrations via the objects that reminded her of domesticity.

I slathered up the ladder to Marinka’s bed and rested my chin on the last plank:

Sis looked up:  “Hey, monkey.”  She stopped chewing on her pencil for long enough to smile faintly, as if to herself.  There was that mystery, again; the place of thoughts where women departed — to create, to process, to understand; or maybe rather to mourn, or to escape.

“Oooh,” I bulged out my eyes in the best dramatic delivery I’d inherited from mom, hissing:  “Mom’s pee-ssed!”

Marinka smirked — inhaled — and resumed making a meal out of her pencil again.  The two females had been in a bickering war this entire summer.  Still, sis would not speak unkindly of our mother, at least not to me.  To be the last to abandon her graces was my sister’s route to growing up.  Descending into silence, she never gossiped in return these days, only listened whenever mother couldn’t hold it in.

Sis was curled up in the corner or plastered against the wall.  She looked dewy and flushed.  Her eyes shined with the symptoms of the cooped-up syndrome.  She appeared sleepy and slightly dazed.  Colorful drawings of human insides, notebooks, flashcards, a pile of reference encyclopedias borrowed from the library, a tipi of stacked colored pencils were spread on top of the purple blanket we’d inherited from our grandmother in Siberia.  The old woman had died having accumulated nothing.

I watched Marinka’s plump lips mouth off unpronounceable terms.  Mean smart! Ignoring my adoration (which was always too nosy or too hyper anyway), she leaned forward to flip a page; and, as she sometimes did in obedience to the flood of her kindness, grazed the top of my head with her sharp nails.

In those moments, oh, how I missed her already!

 

Some afternoons, when the heat became so unbearable not even the open windows offered much relief, we agreed to leave the house for the river bank.  Half the town would have had the same idea by then.  Mother grumbled about how we had wasted half a day on our shenanigans; yet, from the way she readied herself — nosily, running in her bra between the closets and the bathroom I wondered if she relished arriving to a packed beach.  Giant straw hats with floppy edges were matched to colorful cotton sarafans with wide skirts that blew up at all the wrong times.  There was a weightiness to most of mother’s possessions.

I was ordered to carry our picnic basket.  Marinka was loaded up with blankets, towels and old linen sheets.  We treaded ahead, while mother joined and laughed with various families, also en route to the river.

As predicted, everyone and their mother was out catching a break from the afternoon sun.  The tilted bank was dressed with a smog of accumulated heat.  For days, it hadn’t let up.  Sheets and towels were splattered on top of yellowing grass, and families in various states of undress moved around sluggishly.  Seemingly every kid in town, with the exception of the Slow Vanya who was home-schooled all of his life, was now squealing and splashing in the water.

As soon as we reached the top of the hill, an abrasive smell of fresh cow dung greeted us when the barely palpable breeze blew in our direction:

“Oh.  We’ve missed the collective bath!” Marinka said under her breath.  She was becoming funnier, too.

En route to and from their feeding ground, the farm cows were led into the river daily, to cool down and to get a break from the murders of flies.   They must’ve just left.

Without getting up, the mothers were already hollering their instructions to the frenetic children again:

“Be careful, Irotchka!”

“Sasha!  Don’t manhandle your sister!”

“What did I tell you about swimming that far?!  MASHA!”

There were some fathers who got into the water on occasion, but they immediately got flocked by their own and other people’s children with runny noses and, for whatever reason, fatherless, for that day.

Our stuff hadn’t hit the ground, yet I was already squirming out of my clothes and hauling ass toward the water.  Marinka dropped her load and scurried off after me, still in her jeans skirt with rhinestones on her pockets.

“Marina!  Please watch where she goes!” mother, already slathering herself with sunflower oil in a company of her girlfriends, barely took notice of the fact that my beautiful, olive-skinned sister shed a few shades and turned nearly pale with terror.

She stopped.  “Mama?  She’s fine!”

I too looked back.  Seemingly every hairy male appeared to have propped himself up on his elbows to get a better look at my sister’s behind.  Mother was already gone, having departed quickly from any parental awareness.  Marinka was expected to step in.

I slowed down and waited for my sister to catch up.

“If you’re lonely, I don’t have to go in.”  Devotedly, I looked up at my sis.  She seemed so out of place here, somehow kinder than the rest!

“It’s fine, my monkey,” she reached for my hand and looked ahead, at the glistening water at the other edge of the river, and the field of sunflowers there; or possibly further beyond all that, maybe somewhere where her life was going to begin.

“The Heart Is a Bloom, Shoots Up Through the Stony Ground…”

The first sentence — is always the hardest.

True:  Sometimes, it flies out of her, like a butterfly trapped in between the two tiny palms of a kiddo who hasn’t lived for long enough to realize the fragility of her dreams, yet.

“You can’t do that to butterflies, little one!  They break their wings.”

But other times, she must cradle the cocoons of her beginnings, checking up on them, every few breaths:  Are they ready for the magical reveal of their births yet?  Can they leap out at the world that didn’t even suspect how much it needed them?  On harder days of creation, the luxury of time begins to test her patience, and it challenges her — to start.  To just:  Start.

Because starting — takes a courageous flight of fancy.  And only she knows — because she has asked for her creator to allow and to forgive her the hubris to make things happen — only she knows when her beginnings can no longer wait to happen.

The days, the moments, the creations that begin easily — are often easier to also take for granted.  And they can’t really be trusted, actually.  But the easy creations lighten the step and color the world with more flattering palettes of her imagination.  And even though, she may not remember the achievement of that day, she gets the privilege of spending it — while half dreaming:  Still the little girl, chasing butterflies, and trapping them in between her tiny palms.

Gratitude comes easy on those days of nearly no struggle.  And she breathes through the misty sensation in her eyes:  After all, her compassion has not expired yet!  And despite all the losses, it continues to give back.

On luckier days, life permits for such illusions to last:  That people are good.  That art — matters.  That beauty — is a common addiction of all humankind.  And that perhaps (please, please, let her have this “perhaps”!) we all speak a common language which may be determined by our self-serving needs — but that those needs belong to LOVE.  Alas!  How marvelous — are those days!

And she learns to savor them!  The days of easier creation — of more graceful survival, when the whole world somehow happens to accommodate for her dreams — those days she must savor for the future.  Because in that future, as she has grown to accept (once she’s grown up and out of certain dreams), there will be days of hardship.  She knows that.  No, not just the hardships of life itself:   Those, she has by now learned to forgive.  After all, they have taught her her own humanity.  They have connected all the capillaries between the organs of her empathy and inspirations.  And she understands it all so much better — after the days of hard life.

But the hardships of persevering through life for long enough to get to the next easier moment — that task can only be done by eluding herself.  So, she suspends the memories of better days.  Easier days of creation.  She stretches them out, makes them last.  (They taste like soft caramel or bits of saltwater taffy.)  She rides them out to exhaustion and prays — oh, how she prays! — that they will bring her to the next beginning.

Then, there are days, seemingly mellow, but that do not grant her easy beginnings.  On those days, she must work.  She must earn the first sentences to her dreams and earn her beginnings.  She may go looking for inspiration, in other people’s art.  And sometimes, that works just fine:  Like a match to a dry wick, other art sets her imagination on fire.  All it takes is a glimpse of a tail of that one fleeting dream.  It takes a mere crumb of someone else’s creation to set off the memory and the inspiration — follows.  Just a whisper of that common language!  A whiff of the unproved metaphysical science that it’s all one.  We — are one.  (Is that silly?)

And when the art of others does not start another flame, then she must have the courage to begin.  Just simply — begin!  It’s mechanical, then:  a memorized choreography of fingers upon the keyboard, the sense memory of the tired fingers clutching a pen.  On those days, she merely shows up — and she must accept that it would be enough, on just those days.

Because if she doesn’t show up, then she may as well consider herself defeated:  Yes, by the struggles of life and the skepticism of those who do NOT have the courage to dream.  To start.  To begin.

The courage to remain the children they once were, also chasing butterflies and ice-cream men; sucking on icicles in the winter and building castles under the watch of the giant eye of the sun.

The day when she stops beginning — she will consider herself a failure.  But until then, she must continue to begin.

“If I Can Make It There, I’ll Make It — Anywhere!”

As far as I felt, I was still a fucking nobody:  commuting to my graduate classes six out of seven days a week, on a 45-minute subway ride from the Bronx.

Sure, as any not-too-lame looking chick, I tried to upgrade my style with an occasional ten-dollar purchase from the H&M on Broadway and 34th.  And I had even managed to go out with a few finance guys from Wall Street and realized they were no more sophisticated than my 20-year-old ass.  But despite my now impressive expertise of the Island’s neighborhoods and demographics, my favorite shops to browse and windows to shop (only the ones where I was least harassed by salesgirls) — I was hardly a New Yorker yet.

Shit!  I didn’t even know any good places to eat!  Despite the 50/50 scholarship, the pleasure of having a graduate degree — forty five grand later — was leaving my ass seriously broke.  For one, I could never join my classmates to their lunch outings.  And because of my immigrant pride, when shooting down their invites, I would give them reasons related to my studious nature (and not because I was eating beans out of a can, in an unheated basement apartment, every night).  So, for the entire twelve hour day spent on the Island, in between classes, I would have to last on a pitiful, homemade sandwich made out of a single slice of pumpernickel bread and a veggie burger, glued together with a thin spread of margarine and then cut in half.  The meal was so embarrassing, I would do my best to chomp it down alone, in the staircase of a school wing unlikely to be visited by my classmates; or, if I was getting the shakes — inside a bathroom stall.

And this was with my two shitty, part-time jobs accounted for!

And because my education was costing me an arm and a leg — and possibly my sanity and longevity, in the end — boy! did I look forward to the end of every semester.  Most of my colleagues would leave for their wholesome looking families — in Connecticut or wherever else purebred Americans had their happy childhoods — and there, I imagined, they sat around on their white-fenced porches and threw tennis balls for their pedigree golden retrievers to fetch.  For Christmas, they retold their tales of crazy, filthy, overcrowded Manhattan while clutching giant cups of hot cocoa and apple sider in front of electric fireplaces, and waiting for the contributions of cash.  In the summer, they’d allow their parents to pay their airfare for the pleasure of their company in the Caribbean or the Riviera.

I, on the other hand, would remain stuck in the Bronx.

(Well.  It was either that, or going to visit my obese stepfather and endure his interrogations about what I was planning to do with my art school education, for which he was NOT paying.)

So, for the last two years of grad school, I stuck around on the Island.  And whatever happy lives my classmates were deservingly pursuing elsewhere, I still thought I had it the best:  I was free and young, in New York Fuckin’ City!   Unthought of, for my long removed Russian family!

In those days, it was between me and the Island.  Just the two of us.  Finally, I would have the time and discipline to follow the schedule of free admission nights to all Manhattan museums.  With no shame, I would join the other tourists waiting for discounted Broadway tickets at the Ticketmaster booth in Times Square.  In the summer, I would gladly camp out in Central Park over night, so that I could get a glimpse of some Hollywood star giving Shakespeare a shot at the Delacorte.  I read — any bloody book I wanted! — at the Central Branch, then blacken my fingers with the latest issue of Village Voice, while nearly straddling one of the lions up front.  And in between my still happening shitty jobs, I would work on my tan on the Sheep Meadow; then peel on my uniform  (still reeking of the previous night’s baskets of fries) and return for my graveyard shift in the Bronx.

Yes, it was MY time:  to be young and oblivious to the hedonistic comforts of life.  I was in the midst of a giant adventure — that forty five grand could buy me — and outside of my curiosity, all the other pleasures of life could wait.

“Now, what are you planning to do with your art school education, hon?” one of my former undergrad professors asked me during an impromptu date.

Snide!  Ever so snide, he had a talent for making you feel not up to par — ever!  If he were to try that on me today, I would flaunt my post-therapy terminology on boundaries and self-esteem.  But back then, I was eating lunches inside the bathroom stalls of my Theatre Arts Building and wearing a button name tag for work, at nighttime.  So, I would endure the condescending interrogations over a cup of some bullshit organic soup he’d insist I ordered — and for which I would pray he would offer to pay later, as well.

“Well.  I guess you could always teach,” he’d say while packing up to leave for his rent-controlled apartment on the Upper East Side.  (Whom did he have to fuck in order to live there for the last two decades?)

He had a point though:  New York didn’t need another girl with her romantic dreams of love and starlet success.  New York — could do just fine without me.

But still:  It was MY time!  MY youth in the city!  His — was long gone, and I supposed it was reason enough to despise me.

But how ever unrealistic were my pursuits — and how ever hard was the survival — I still had plenty of curiosity in me to give it all a fair try.

“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.

“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.  

“The Blues Is My Business — And Business Is Good.”

What’s this nauseating feeling looming in the pit of my stomach?  That time of the month?  Or maybe I should just lay off the coffee.

Back in Manhattan, I used to live on that shit.  Now, I limit myself to three cups a day.  On a good day.  Nights don’t count:  Nights keep their own count.

Sometimes, I forget to eat, too — a habit of my student days that hasn’t dissipated despite the new habit, of my non-student days, for daily running whenever my anxiety strikes.  Back in the student days, I could just call up a lover and get tangled up in that mess.  Not now though.  Now:  I just run, for miles.

And, oh, I could run for miles, right now!

But first:  Must have some coffee.

Or maybe I should lay off the coffee.  I hear it invokes anxiety.

Anxiety.  Ah, that.  It looms in the pit of my stomach, and it’s sickening:  this battle of mind over matter.

I lie down on the floor.  I should meditate, I think; or count some fucking sheep.  Whatever it takes to get rid of this anxiety thing, looming in the pit of my stomach.

And coffee:  I should definitely lay off that shit.

There is some drilling happening somewhere in close proximity; and because it’s been hot enough this week to sleep with all the windows slid wide open (come on in, thieves and ghosts!), the sound has awoken me, long before I was ready to get up and do my thing again.

What IS my thing, by the way?

Well, it starts — with making coffee.

Which I do.  I get up from the floor and stare at the drip.

“thinking, the courage it took to get out of bed each morning

to face the same things

over and over

was 

enormous.”

Bukowski.  That old, ugly dog was the bravest of them all, never whoring himself out to academia, yet always producing the words, despite being ridden with vices, not the least of each was the endless heartache of compassion.  And he knew a thing or two about clocking-in every day, at some maddening day job for a number of decades, then over his unpublished papers, at night.

Because nights keep their own count.  And days — are mostly spent with some nauseating anxiety looming in the pit of the stomach.

“and there is nothing

that will put a person

more in touch 

with the realities

than

an 8 hour job.”

But he would do that, until the day job was no longer necessary — and the papers were finally published.  And after that happened, did the nausea vamoose for good?  Poof!  Or did he continue drowning it in liquor, exhausting it on the tracks or in between the thighs of his lover-broads; then getting up for the grind all over again, in the morning?

I stare at the drip as if it’s going to give me some answers.  It reminds me of sitting by the life-support machine and staring at a sack of some gooey, transparent liquid — but not transparent enough to give me some fucking answers.

The pot’s half full.  I think I’m supposed to wait for the whole thing to finish, or it ruins it.  It interrupts the process.  Fuck it.  I pour myself a cup — I interrupt — and take it back to the floor.  I lie down.

Maybe I should count some fucking sheep, I think.  Or get me some poetry.  It has put me to sleep last night, with all the windows slid wide open.  Because the fucking sheep refused to be counted, at night.

And because nights keep their own count.

I take a sip of coffee and close my eyes.  Open them:  The drilling has started up again.  I haven’t even noticed the silence.  I put down the pen, the Bukowski.   Start listening to the drill.

It reminds me of my never made dental appointment for a check-up.  A check-up?  What the hell do I need a check-up for?  Just to see how much damage life has done to my enamel — with all that coffee — the timid receptionist called Lisa quietly explains, in so many words.  She is always kind, whimpering her messages into my answering machine like a cornered-in mouse.

Goodness.  Thank goodness — for kindness.

I should meditate, I think, after all.  I take a sip, close my eyes.

Whatever happened to that girl, I wonder, remembering a colleague gloriously succeeding somewhere in this town.  I had known her for years by now, but haven’t seen her for half of those.  We began to lose touch, two of my lovers ago, after a row of coffee dates were meant to be broken.  Eventually, the colleague and I forgot whose turn it was to make plans for the next date, to choose the next coffee shop.  It must be a self-protective thing with her, I realize.  She is successful:  It’s hard for her to relate.

Oh well, I think.  I’ll just keep in touch by overhearing some good news, on her behalf; and keep drinking my coffee alone, outside of coffee shops.

But then, I bet she too gets up to the grind, every morning.  She too must feel the looming nausea in the pit of her stomach until she forces herself to meditate.

Because after years and years of getting up to do my thing, I realize that it pretty much summons success.   

Success is simply getting up again.

But then again, there must be more to it.  Certainly, there must be more to life — than getting up.

I get up, take my coffee with me.  The drilling has stopped.  I stare outside through the windows slid wide open.

“I listen and the City of the Angels

listens:  she’s had a hard row.”

I remember:  I’ve got to start the work.  Because isn’t it what I’ve gotten up for?

I pour myself another cup.  I begin.

But what’s this nausea looming in the pit of my stomach?

“the impossibility of being human

all too human

this breathing

in and out

out and in

these punks

these cowards

these champions

these mad dogs of glory

moving this little bit of light toward

us

impossibly.”

I take another sip.  I continue.

The nausea begins to vamoose, giving room to the acidity of my coffee, incorrectly brewed; interrupted.

“Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.”

LA-LA started purring early this morning:

“Purrr-tty.  I’m purrr-tty, don’t you think?”

Yes, you are, my darlin’.  Yes, you are.

But today, I have woken up with a headache:  This life of a freelancer is one pain in the ass.  Floating, always floating in some vague self-assurance that it is all gonna work out for the better; that everything is gonna fall into its place.  Because it always has, before; and because I’m good enough.  And even if it doesn’t work out, there are lessons to be learned, right?

“Yeah.  Well.  Sure!  Everything happens for a reason!” — other people tell me.

It takes very little for other people to chime-in.  Other people always seem so much smarter, or more opinionated, at least; more self-assured.  Or maybe they are just full of shit and know how to talk out of their asses.  I don’t know.  But do they know?  Do they know that they’re full of shit when they start their talkin’?  Or has their self-assuredness taken them beyond their recognition of denial — beyond their awareness of their full-of-shit-ness?

Yet, still:  It is all gonna work out for the better, I must believe that.  Because it always has, before.  And because I’m good enough.  And because (and herein lies my leprosy) I so fully, so strongly believe that it’s all in the intention:  One’s life — is all in one’s intention!  And my intentions — have always been good.

So, it is all gonna work out for the better.  It must.  It absolutely has to!  Because it always has, before — and because I had always been good enough.

And LA-LA:  She started purring early this morning, slipping through the shades of my bedroom window with that hazy sunshine that only She can manufacture.  I’ve never seen this sort of weather before, anywhere.  Not anywhere else, in the world!  There is a decisiveness in this mood of Hers:  It’s gonna be a hot day.  No room for negotiating.  You, little humans, can cough up enough smog to block some of Her rays with your fake clouds.  But as far as LA-LA is concerned:  It’s gonna be a hot day — decidedly!

And early this morning, She purred, rolling over onto Her back and playfully sharpening Her claws against my windowsill; nibbling on the chipping paint:

“Purrr-tty.  I’m purrr-tty.  Don’t you think?”

Yes.  Yes, you are, my darlin’.  Yes, you are.

But today, I had woken up with a headache.

I had just returned to Her, the other day.  Like a thief, I slipped into the city without telling a single soul.  Because I knew that even before the pilot announced the descent into yet another decidedly hot day, I would begin to get homesick for the City I had just left behind.

I have never seen that anywhere.  Not anywhere else, in the world!  LA-LA is not really a chosen city, for many of us.  She is the one we settle for, while impatiently waiting for the fruition of our dreams.

And it’s a common pattern out here:  I have watched too many bait their dreams against this city (which is way too much pressure for any dream to withstand). When the dreams don’t happen fast enough, they fling their failures in Her face, forever blaming Her for the slowness of Her clocks; for Her lack of cooperation; for Her traffic, for Her industry, for Her lack of imagination; for Her decidedly hot days.  So, I thought I would just slip back into Her, quietly — under the sun of Her another decidedly hot day — and not voice my immediate homesickness for the City I had just left behind.

Because it takes very little for other people to chime-in:

“Yeah.  Well.  Sure!  It sucks!  But at least, you’ve learned a lesson!” — and off they go again, talking out of their asses so self-assuredly, I begin to wonder why they had settled here, so decidedly unhappy.

“I’ll be leaving in a month,” a neighbor had decided to confide in me during an elevator ride this morning.  I hadn’t seen him in a while — and I hadn’t really known him all that well.

So, “What the fuck is his name?!” I thought, squinting at him past my headache.  All I said this morning — was,  “Hello.”

“There is just nothing for me to do here!  No good jobs.  No good women,” he carried on; and then, he shrugged in a way that made me want to recoil inside my very spine.  There was an aggression in that shrug:  a painful flaunting of his griefs.

Goddamn it, I thought, squinting past my headache.  I was just picking up my mail accumulated during my departure and the days that it took for me to get over my homesickness for the City I had just left behind.  And all I said this morning — was “Hello.”

“So:  Where to?” I asked.  Somehow, the elevator has been programed to stop on nearly every floor; and to avoid that elevator silence, I chose to participate.  But I would chime-in very little, laconically.  Because I had woken up with a headache, and the unhappy neighbors’ griefs were a pain in the ass.

“San Diego!” he announced emphatically.  “Makes so much sense!”

In all truth, I had not a single clue as to how that other city made sense; but in juxtaposition to his griefs, his reasons to celebrate were a better cause.  So, I squinted at him, past my headache, and said:

“Well.  Yeah.  Everything happens for a reason.”

Not good enough of a response made my unhappy neighbor shrug again, this time definitely at my expense.  And I would recoil inside my very spine, but the elevator jolted and came to a stop.  First floor.  The ride’s over.  So was the confiding chat.

“Good luck,” he said to me, and started jogging across the lobby filled with that hazy sunshine that only LA-LA can manufacture.

I wasn’t sure why I needed luck, but I swear I thought I heard the city roll over onto her back again and whimper:

“Purrr-tty.  Am I purrr-tty?  What do you think?”

Yes.  Yes, you are, my darlin’.  Yes, you are.

You may not work out for your every unhappy resident.  You may not live up to every dream.  But you do happen to all of us for a reason.  And somehow, everything does tend to work out.  It always does.

And everything falls into its place.

And everyone falls — into his.

But regardless:  You’re very pretty, my darlin’.  Very, very pretty.

Yes, you are.  Yes, you are.  Yes, you are.

“Inhale, Exhale… Hold Up, Wait a Minute!”

“All you have to do to be a miracle — is breathe.”  

Who said that?

Here is the thing with me this morning, my comrades; here is the thing:

Defeatists make me lose my hard-on, for life!

Because no matter my own chaotic, insane; perpetually hysterical or complicated; difficult or impossible to decipher mindset, I tend to march around this kinky town while daring to have a stubborn enthusiasm for some good livin’. 

“What?!” you might snap.  “You call yourself a Russian?!”

Well, here is the thing, here is the thing:  Yes, there is an inherited quality to my former nation’s character to be dark (and perhaps, to be simultaneously or accidentally poignant, thank goodness).  And yes, Motha Russia is a continent full of old souls nostalgic for their lost innocence.  And finally, yes:  No other nationality seems to beat us at our love for death.  Because in death, we no longer suffer, da?

But the other national quality of my former motha’land — is an ingrained desire for some stubborn livin’ (not necessarily good livin’ — but livin’ nonetheless).  Be it an incredible vastness or beauty of my Motha Russia; but the variety of its scenery makes our old souls want to howl at the moon, with desire.  Or is it love?  Or wanting to take in one more breath — because in it, there still may be some hope?  (One of my favorite thinkers o’er there once identified this quality as “godliness”.)  Da:  Motha Russia — is one gorgeous motha’fucker; and she makes you want to live.

“You are an artist:  You CANNOT be a defeatist!” 

Who said that?

On this 175th day of my rant blogging, my thoughts on the meaning of art appear to be better formulated.  (They better be, da?)  This year, I’ve had a slew of mouth-foaming arguments on the definition of art and who exactly identifies it as such; and what makes it last; and whether or not art makes any difference at all.

And here is the thing, there is the thing:  I believe that art — is in the eye of the beholder.  And yes, it does indeed have the power to change a mind, a mood, and maybe even, to change a heart.  But making a difference — cannot be an artists’ objective.  Or at least, it cannot be this artist’s objective.  Because I live — in the very doing of it.  It is the process of creation that turns me on.  Kinda like breathing.

Because in it, there still may be some hope, da?

Which must be why the mandatory discipline of it comes to me with such ease.  As for its sacrifices — they merely add inches to my writerly dick.  ‘Cause here is the thing, here is the thing:  I could take an easier route; perhaps, get myself one of those nine-to-five gigs, excel at it and settle for a more mundane survival.  Maybe, I could play it up a bit on weekends or live vicariously through my affairs with men.  And eventually, I could start raping other dreamers with my skepticism, hating them for reminding me of my own unhappening ambitions.  And I could wait for my death.  Because in death, we no longer suffer, da?

“And that is exactly where defeatism must dwell:  Wherever the soul surrenders its dreams.”

Who said that?

“Man, I hate this fucking town!” a comrade I hadn’t heard from for months was venting to me last night.

I got his spiel.  Really, I did.  I was’t even judging.  Because I too have faced some challenges in this city and allowed my inability or fear to expand beyond the difficulty of the moment; then, blame the entire city for it.  Because here is the thing, here is the thing:  LA-LA is one of the most common scapegoats for personal failures.  Here, the defeated equal the dreamers.  (But oh, how I have always wished for the defeated to move on; to return home or to leave for better suitable cities!  But for whatever geographical reasons, they stay, making this — the capital of defeat.  So:  Thank goodness for its dreamers. Because in them, there still may be some hope, da?)

Last night, I tried to work with the brother, trying to convince him out of his hatred:

“Yeah, but look at all these things you have accomplished!”  I strained my memories of our rare encounters for any recollections of his pursuits.  Sadly, there were none.  None that I could remember.  Yet, still, somehow, in this man’s occasional sweetness and simplicity — in his mere breathing — I saw some hope.

But he was on the roll by then:  “I mean:  There are no jobs here!  And the women are shit, and…”  He wasn’t even listening.

I studied his face and wondered what had brought him here in the first place, to this city shared by dreamers and the defeated alike.  Surely, there had to be a plan, a vision; or perhaps, a former love.  And what made him stay here, long enough to immerse into the pool of such bitterness and self-pity?

“So?  What are you up to?” he had exhausted himself with his monologue and politely remembered that I was still there.  He wasn’t a complete goner, I suppose.  Not yet.

But no way!  No way was I going to tell him of my dreams, still in the making; of my art — still in the happening.

Because here is the thing, here is the thing:  I believe that art — is a celebration of life.  It’s a celebration of livin’, not necessarily good livin’ but still:  Livin’!  Stubborn livin’ in pursuit of love, in pursuit of hope — all of which must live in the very next breath; in the very doing of it.  And it is this very pursuit that makes my livin’ — a good one.  And good livin’ — is a celebration of the miracle that is self.

Who said that?

You Oughta Know, No?

Trying something new this morn’, my kittens:  Naked rant blogging — IN BED.  Knowing me (and some of you are getting to know me quite a bit these days, thank you very much), I am shocked I haven’t done this one before.

The thing is, this week:  Besides working really hard on my dreams (The Perpetual Dreamer is my life’s finally declared major), I’ve also invested a few hours on the most significant relationships of my life (which although do not currently include a romantic interest, but plenty of loves).

I’ve received my girlfriends’ strife and got updates from my comrades on the state of their own nostalgia for our no longer existent motherland:  Bohemia, alas.

“Hear me out!” — a gypsy man ordered me the other day while he endlessly wondered about his next wandering.  And I did.  I did:  I heard him out.

Compassion.

I’ve held my breath in silence yesterday afternoon while listening to my goddaughter far away from me, on the other coast, who hasn’t learned to talk yet but speaks volumes with her silence and her tiny furrowed brows inherited from India.  Breathlessly, I held back my tears to the noise of her twirling her mother’s cell phone, in her little brown hands; and when she finally produced a noise that’s impossible to spell or imitate — (was that Malayalam, my love?) — oh how I wept!  But then, again:  I’ve claimed my breath back:

Compassion!

Now, I’m sittin’ here, in my canopy bed, with the most gorgeous skies tempting me from outside.  My body — albeit its looking delicious this summer already, thank you very much — is feeling as if someone has ran it over with a truck.  Better yet:  a tank.  Exhausted:  That’s what I am, my kittens.

But regardless the state of being, I always come back to the blank page, every single morn’, as I’ve done for years, on my own.  Alone.  But now:  You’re here.  And these every day reunions beat every other desire I may harbor.  It’s permanent — this wanting to be read.  And even though I never allow myself the hubris of assuming that I may change a life — with my words — I hope I at least reveal enough compassion.

Compassion…

“How do you find what to write about?”

I hear a voice from another day — a voice of one of my broken-hearted.  She’s always thought so highly of me!  She wishes for my strength and esteem and discipline; while little does she know that all I wish for — is her time.  She’s still got time on her side — time and youth, you see? — while I’m perpetually running out.  Too young to know what chronic nights of loneliness feel like, she thinks I don’t cry behind my closed doors and curtains; that I’m immune to doubt.  She thinks my compassion comes freely, at no cost.

How DO I find what to write about?

Compassion.  That’s it.  It never runs out.  That’s my privilege, in life — and my burden:  I’m never immune to humanity.  No matter the stupidity or the disappointment, I always come back to it.  And now:  You’re here.  And even though I never allow myself the hubris of earning your understanding, your misunderstanding — I just cannot afford!  Because these tales come from my compassion:  FOR YOU.  For the sake of you.  For the sake of my own kindness.

Kind-ness.

The hero of today’s rant blog shall be named Stan.

Stan was a simple man, my kittens; not really artistic or fearless.  He just wanted to live his life, to live it out in calm — in some blah-ness of a simple survival.

No, he didn’t want much.  Aspiring — wasn’t his thing.  Ambition was somebody else’s spiel.  Because to live — wasn’t even his choice in the first place.  He was sort of born one day, to a pair of unartistic, fearful parents, somewhere in the middle of the country.  They taught him how to walk and to use the toilet; then, sent him off to school.  Then — college.

Stan got by.  Started losing his hair early.  Met a girl.  Learned to wank himself off.  Married the girl — knocked her up, clumsily, in the dark; then, returned to wanking himself off, alone.  Pleasures were always simple for Stan.  So were the solutions to his problems.  (I wish he didn’t have any, to tell you the truth.  But then, we are never granted more than we can handle.  So, Stan’s lot had to be lighter than mosts’.)

“I hear California is nice,” he said to his wife one day.  She was in the midst of matching his tube socks after doing laundry.

That was the day of Stan’s midlife crisis.

So, they moved.

And that’s where Stan and I met:  At some random gas station on Western Boulevard.  I was running low, in the midst of my Perpetual Dreaming.  (Otherwise, I’d avoid that street at all costs:  It’s got a special talent for inspiring depression.)  And Stan?  Stan was on his way back to Glendale.  This — was his regular stop.

At first, he was the jerk answering his cell phone at the gas pump next to mine.

“Is this fucker suicidal?!”  I thought and looked at him with the disgust I learned on New York subways.  Don’t know about his simple life, but I still had plenty of aspiring to do!  Ambition — was my spiel!

Stan noticed the look, realized his wrongdoing.  He brushed his thin hairs over the bald spot, lowered the phone and said:

“I’m so sorry, M’am.  I have to get this!  My wife…”

Stan started weeping, my kittens.  Subduedly at first, just so he could finish the phone call.  But once the flip phone slid into the pocket of his un-ironed khakis, Stan became all about his “ohs” and “goshes”.  Repeatedly, he tried to double over the hood of his car, then the trash bin with pockmarks of gum all over it.  He tried so hard to face away from me.

“Sir?  Sir, let me…”

With my hand on his hunched over back, I tried to guide him to his driver’s seat. But Stan was all about his “ohs” and “goshes”, clutching onto that filthy trash bin:

I was running low that day; but when compassion flooded — it took me with it, good riddance.

“Catch Me if You Can — But You Ain’t Man Enough”

Gentlemen!

Hold on to your balls!  This broad — is coming out swingin’, and it’s gonna hurt a lil’.

Because I’ve gotten a bloody earful of grievances from my girls (and none of them are the dainty types, waiting to be rescued by the way); and because, although my gender has a shit load of its own faults, when with a guy, women aren’t typically the ones to own-up to the following question:  Just how laid back — and just for how bloody long! — do you think you can remain about commitment, without eventually coming off as a playboy or a boy-child?

Now, look!  If acting either like George Clooney or Peter Pan is your shtick, that’s cool.  No, really:  IT IS!  Just be honest about it — with yourself, but most importantly, with the women you’re shagging.  If you are, I swear you’re gonna save yourself a lot of headache; because when clearly aware of your own intentions (which you then just as clearly communicate with your sex partner), you’ll get paired up with the most suitable girl (or girls) for your needs.

“Oh, but you women will never go for that!” some of you might say.

Uhm, hello?  I’ve been known to go for that.  And so have some of my girls.  Because you see, our dear creatures of the opposite sex, this is the time in the history of humanity when women are just as ambitious and independent as you — and they have an equal amount of opportunities to which to apply that ambition.  Even those of us who are interested in an eventual marriage tend to spend most of our 20s in pursuit of additional dreams that aren’t directly related to the best possible pairing-up with a penis owner.  (Sorry to break that to you!)  And while we chase those dreams, some of us do look for sexual gratifications with a moderately nice guy.  I repeat:  I and most of the women I know either have been or currently are in a pursuit of that type of a relationship.  We want sex.  Just like you do.  Yourr velkom!

Now, of course, you still have to work for it (that is the only catch!) — even if just for the mere symbolism of it.  But what are a couple of nice dinners and extracurricular activities in exchange for a beautiful woman to satisfy you and then — get this! — leave because she is just too damn busy to stay and cuddle with your ass?

What sparked this cunty-ranty blog of mine?  Well, one of my Amazons, with a body of a warrior queen and a career on a rise, has been confiding in me on her dating life as a single woman.  Having recently dragged herself out of a relationship with an official asshole by her own luscious hair, she’s been taking it slow, while recuperating and playing the field a little.  But not in any manipulative or gold-digging way, mind you; because, you see, this kitten — has dreams of her own and those dreams take time.  So, in between her producing, and screenwriting, and acting, and traveling, and yoga-certification ambitions, she just wanted to have a little fun with a few nice guys, while remaining completely honest about with them about her priorities.

All was hunky-dory, until one of her players started to take the lead.  And when he did, he, albeit timidly, requested for a monogamous upgrade of their relationship.

“Fine,” said my girl, because she was starting to like the guy as well (and because she is not a female douche).  Besides, regardless what you may think, dear gents:  You too can be quite high maintenance, and a girl has just so much energy to spend on building you up — or stroking your ego, or nurturing, or feeding, or mothering you — let alone on performing these, may I say, partner-like duties for several guys.

So, our couple made a step closer to their official coupling.  Now:  No one started dropping hints about marital commitments, I swear.  Neither has anyone rushed off to update their Facebook status yet.  They were taking it slow — still — and my girl was perfectly fine with that.  And you gotta be when you are being flown all over the world to shoot commercials and films; and when you start getting calls from major agents in this town to suggest their talent for the independent film you’re about to produce; and when you spend an hour a day negotiating SAG contracts for the actors you’re about to hire for your web-series, right?!

But after about two months of this laid back routine, the player seems to have laid so far back, he leaned right out of the relationship.  Any relationship!  Yep, I’m talking even sex!  So busy and blase this man has been acting — even when scheduling shag dates with my girl — you would think he was indeed the very George fucking Clooney!

Time for newsflashes, boys:

One:  The majority of you, dear gents — are not George Clooney!  Nor will you ever be! Because if my girl ever complained about her Clooney’s lack of commitment-worthy behavior, I would be the first to tell her to stop being a dumb bitch and summon her gratitude.  But since she is shagging a regular guy — a struggling actor type with little cash to spare for their extracurricular activities, let alone on any ambition to save the world — his act of a man with a line-up of panting bitches at his leg is quickly becoming ridiculous and offensive.  Mismatch!

Two:  Just how many good women do you think you gonna come by in your life? Seriously.  From your own dating experience, you must know that this town of LA-LA is filled to the rim with money- and opportunity-grabbing bitches.  So, when you meet a chick cool enough to be your go-to pussy — without displaying any needy or greedy behavior — you better start counting your blessings.  And when that chick turns out to be Girlfriend Material, you would be the biggest idiot to let her slip away.

“Oh, but I’m not in ‘that stage in my life’,” you might say.

Fine.  Excellent.  Do take your time.  But then, don’t get all insecure and possessive when your girl continues to see other men.  If you have the balls to demand monogamy from your pussy-on-call, be man enough to keep up with the necessary progression of things that permits you to keep having the first dibs on it.

Yep, it will take courage and a leap of faith for you to grow.  And oh, it will be petrifying when you start falling for your girl.  But (and this is just my observation):  As the world’s masterpieces of literature, and films, and songs, and fine art tell me, this whole love experience might be if not utterly magnificent, then life-changing for you.  Because loving a woman will introduce you to your own humanity. It will teach your about your heart, and about your past (and how to forgive it), and it just might graduate you into your manhood.  Congratulations.