Tag Archives: books

A Shift. A Change.

(Continued from July 22nd, 2012.)

Gaining time, ages of it:  That’s how she had begun to feel recently.  It was no longer an anxiety driven chase of minutes, or breaking down her days into portions of obligations and thinking too far ahead; so far ahead that she would forget to observe the very happening of time — and herself in it:  unfolding, expanding, altering, learning to love.  The tension that came from her knowledge that she was lacking, losing time would settle at the medial edges of her eyebrows, making her forehead feel like a heavy awning.  For years, she had worn the weight of time on her face; and while the losses surmounted, as they do in any life, she found herself at a deficit of time for mourning.

Larisa stepped out of the church.  The city, still moving slowly after the snowstorm, was gradually waking.  Older women carried netted bags with groceries from the bazar; the men smoked.  The young raced, chased, took for granted stretches and stretches of time.  The sun had been beaming down; and although it didn’t have the strength to thaw out the iced pavements yet, the smells of eventual spring could already be detected in the air.  Everything was beginning to exhale.  Larisa smiled:

But, of course, change would come!  It always did!  In her memory, there was no specific day when this awareness had happened in her, no event that — again, with time — revealed its lesson:  that she wasn’t really living all this time, but merely waiting for her days to end, wasting them on worry, on an anticipation of her own expiration and on counting up her lacks.  Growing tired, perpetually tired, she found herself lacking patience.  How could her life force fade so early on?  And she was terrified of it:  to lose the joy of living would make a life’s uselessness more daunting.  She didn’t want to live with that.  And she was not going to lose the hope!  No, not the hope; not the sometimes demonstrative belief of hers that people were prone to goodness; and that even though she could never expect it, kindness would make its presence known, and it would lighten up at least some events with grace.  Oh, but she needed to — she had to! — believe that!

Watching the rush of morning trolleys clunk past her, Larisa decided to walk.  The cold stiffness of the air entered her lungs, brought on an alertness.  The kindness hadn’t slept a wink that night.  And so, she continued to roam through her city, with books in hand:  the city which she hadn’t made her home yet, just a place where she would watch her youth unfold; but at any moment, she could give it up, take off again, the gravity of responsibilities not affecting her yet; and she could chose any place (she could go any place, really!); and the mere awareness of such freedom made the heart swell with tearful gratitude.

In that state, while absorbing the city from the top stair of the library building, she had met him.  It was the music, at first, streaming out of the rolled down window of his car.   She stopped to listen to it:  Chopin?  Debussy?  In the gentle strokes of the piano movement, the city glistened.  She stepped down and resumed her walk.

“I was just thinking myself, ‘Am I ready to part with this Blok collection?’”  He had gotten out of the car and was now leaning against the passenger’s window at the back seat.  Larisa smiled:  Blok — Russia’s golden boy of poetry — had made her girlfriends swoon all through college.  She studied the man’s face for a glimmer of ridicule:  Had he seen her leaving the building with half a dozen of hard-bound (cloth) tomes, half of which she had renewed, unready to part with the moods, the atmosphere they proposed?  But if anything, the man was smiling at his own expense, bashfully and maybe even seeking her opinion on the matter.  She considered it, then spoke carefully:

“You should try some early Akhmatova.”

“Too tragic,” he responded, “especially for the end of this winter.”

That’s it!  Right there, she knew exactly what she meant!  But for the first time, she did’t catch herself forced into a space of controlled flirtation from which she could observe — but not always appreciate — the effects of her presence.  How can I hold all this space now, she thought; how can I stand here, not putting up the heightened facade of my sex?

She couldn’t remember if it had ever been this easy before.  Aloneness would still happen, of course, even if this were indeed the evidence of her change.  It wouldn’t stop, neither would she want it to.  But now it united, linked her to the rest of humanity; and even in the isolation of the specificity of her most private experiences, she would understand so much; and in that surrender (if only she could manage to not lose herself in fear again), she was certain she would find kindness.

“Let It Be, Let It Be. Whisper Words of Wisdom: Let It Be.”

When you forgive — you love.

I stumbled across that, somewhere in my reading.

Because I want to be a writer, you see.  So, I read.  A lot.

Sometimes I read for inspiration, other times — to put myself to sleep.  But mostly, I read out of my habit for empathy.  Secretly, I cradle my hope that someone else, equally or more insane than me, has once felt my agonies and thrills before.  And perhaps, that someone has been able to find the words for it all.  But then again, maybe I just want to get myself disappointed, frustrated enough to start looking for the words on my own.

“Lemme do that!” I would think, and I leave the book by someone else unfinished, on my dresser; then, I start weaving my own stories.

It’s a trip, I tell you:  Reading.  Which is why I size up my books carefully before committing to them, with my time and my empathy; and with all of my expectations:  I need to make sure they are exactly what I need at that moment in life.

Kind of like:  Love.

Except that in love, I continue to commit that same mistake and I wait for the story to fit me perfectly, at that time in life.  It doesn’t.  Ever.  Because a love story always involves another person and I am never too careful in sizing him up.

With books, I eventually forget about my initial expectations, and I get on with the journey they offer — if the adventure is worth my wandering, of course.  But in love, I seem to forget about my side of the story — and I lose myself in his.  So, the empathy gets lopsided and it limps around like a polio survivor; never remembering where exactly I had started losing track of myself.  Until the eventual departure by one of the parties returns me to my memories — of love.

When you forgive — you love.

I stumbled across that in my memory, yesterday, as I stretched in between my naps on a sandy sheet at the beach, next to a man guilty of loving me better than he loves himself, with his lopsided empathy.  Every time I looked over, he seemed to be asleep.  And right past the curvature of his upper back, I could see a family of tourists doing their slightly quirky things underneath a colorful umbrella.

The woman looked lovely, but not really my type:  She was a blonde, model-esque, calm and seemingly obedient.  The little boy looked like her, with her pretty features minimized to fit his Little Prince face.  He sat by himself, quietly imitating the things he imagined in the sand; and, like his mother, he never fussed for attention.

The older child — a 7-year old girl, in a straw hat — resembled her father:

He was tall, dark, Mediterranean, but not at all intimidating in his physicality.  As a matter of fact, his body belonged to someone with an athletic youth that eventually gave room to the contentment of a well-fed, well-routined family life.  By the way he lounged in his beach chair, I could tell he had plenty of theories on homemaking and childbearing; and that those theories — were the main means of his participation.  Still, he wrapped up the picture of a complete union, so I changed my mind and dismissed him with a kind thought.  Then, I resumed studying the little girl.

She was tall, Mediterranean; dressed in a blue-and-white, sailor striped dress. Lost in her stories, she wandered around her family’s resting ground until the wind would knock off her straw hat and send her running after it.  On her balletic legs, the child would skip for a bit, then  resume walking, very lady-like.  The wind would pick up again and roll the hat for a few more meters, and again, the girl would begin skipping.

I could tell she was either humming or talking to herself.  She’d catch up to the hat, put it on, start walking toward her family’s resting ground while humming, weaving her stories; until the wind would send her skipping again, after the hat two sizes too big for her, in the first place.

I looked at the man next to me:  He seemed to be asleep.

“When you forgive — you love,” I stumbled across that in my memory, felt my legs get heavy with sleep, snuggled against the man guilty of loving me better than he loves himself — and drifted off into yet another nap.

When I woke up, the Little Prince had gotten a hold of his sister’s hat and tried wandering off on his wobbly legs, in search of his own stories.  But the instructions from the father’s chair, put an end to that adventure quite quickly; so the boy returned to resurrecting the things he imagined — in the sand.  In the mean time, the little girl was already skipping through waves, on her balletic legs, but still talking or humming to herself, while weaving her own stories.

There is a forgiveness that must happen, with time, toward the insanities of our families, in order to continue living with them.  That I had known for a while; and past the forgiveness, I’ve benefited with more stories.

Then, there is the forgiveness of those who have failed to love us, with or without their lopsided empathies.  Still, it must be done in order to arrive to new loves, to new empathies, and again — to new stories.

But the forgiveness of ourselves — for the sake of weaving a better story out of our own lives — that seems to be a much harder task.  And it takes time.  It takes a light open-mindedness of a child continuously running after her straw hat, seemingly never learning the lesson because the adventure itself — is worth the wandering.

And when the lesson is learned — forgiveness equals love — the story-weaving gets lighter.  And so does the loving.

“‘Cause I Ain’t No Hollaback Girl!”

“Any woman who counts on her face is a fool.”

Zadie Smith, On Beauty

Not the first time I’ve heard a beautiful woman call herself “a nerd”!

As a matter of fact, I think it must be some sort of an insider saying of my clan — my half of the species capable of dusting off a compliment either due to its insincerity or whatever insecurity it has activated.

“Oh, you mean:  this old thing?”

But she would say, “Yeah, I’m a nerd,” — and she would pout, do that thing with her eyelashes; flip her hair, shoot down your heart from behind its cascade; and thrust forward one of her magical hips.  She would take a stand:  “You have no idea!  A complete.  And total.  Nerd.

And doesn’t it make you want to die at her feet, like a sacrificial slave at the pyre compiled in her name?  You goddess!  You perfection.

Celebrities say that, and all the pretty actresses.  Some stunners have testified to their once-upon-a-time addiction to knowledge as well.  And I get it, but still I find myself doubting them ever so slightly.

But of course, of course!  Brain and beauty — is one powerful combination, and I am a lifetime fan.  (Just ask my girls.  Or, just look at them, really.)

But by its very definition, it seems, beauty cannot be isolated.  It shouldn’t be isolated because we all want a piece of it, so much.  Oh, but it consoles us!  It fools, even if just for the duration of being in its company.  For just a little while, it disorients against the ugliness of our griefs.  And somehow life begins seeming quite alright.  And we all seem so much more deserving.

So, it would be so unfair, so odd, or mismatched when a beautiful thing claims to have been burdened by so much knowledge it makes her socially inept.  Because theoretically, a beautiful person should be better equipped than the rest of us:  Attracting attention with one’s mortal coil must come with a life-long skill, right?  An advantage.  A leg-up.  An in.  Otherwise:  What’s the fucking point?

But last night — or at a painfully early hour of this morning — I heard myself say to a comrade, in my low-registered half-mumble half-whisper for which I blame the native tongue of my people:

“Sorry!  I’m such a nerd.  A complete.  And total.  Nerd.”

And then, I flipped my hair.  Oh, you mean:  this old thing?

Knowledge has been an addiction of mine for — what’s the expression? — “longer than I can remember”.  Back in my childhood, I was a loner, perpetually hiding behind the book covers of all the heavy Russian dogs.  Because while peaking from behind Nabokov’s spine, life seemed mellowed out by melancholy.  And with Bulgakov — it was just a fucking trip!  A joke!  A comedy of the absurd.  Leo Tolstoy intimidated right off the bat, even my own people; while Yesenin attracted conversations:

“Did you know he fucked around with Isadora Duncan?”

Scandalous!

“They killed him in bar fight, with a knife.  Like a dog!”

And Akhmatova:  She always demanded for me to lower her stanzas, even if because I couldn’t take her any more, with all that sobering truth.  And she ordered me to take in life, instead.

Adolescence would be spent behind the spines of other dogs, more foreign, more worldly; and much less in love with the Motha’land.  But then came a day, on a bus ride to my father’s town, when I lowered a tome to catch a breath and found a pretty thing distorted in the window’s reflection, with nighttime behind it.  From behind the cascade of my hair, I examined her; did that thing with my eyelashes — and then, I went back to reading.

Because it wouldn’t change a thing:  I would still chase the big dogs and dust off the clumsy compliments from young boys and the drooling older gentlemen either due to their insincerity or whatever insecurity they would activate in me.  And I would chase my dogs far enough to the edge of the continent.  And when the big dogs jumped — I jumped right after them and swam to the other coast.

Years later, I still find myself addicted to my books.  But more than that, I have perfected the addiction to fit more life into it:  I am now addicted to learning.  Any learning!  All the life’s new things:  show me, tell me, guide the way!  And often pro bono, I grant my life the immediate curiosity so easily available from behind the spines of all the big dogs; and it, most of the time, pays it back –tenfold.

So, last night — or at a painfully early hour of this morning — I heard myself say to a comrade, in my low-registered half-mumble half-whisper for which I blame the native tongue of my people:

“Sorry!  I’m such a nerd.”

I have been pacing my apartment — with all the big dogs lining-up its walls with their spines — and I have been sweating my ear against the phone while trying to explain the new curiosities of this year.  The poor comrade could not have known that I’ve been laboring over my work for eleven hours already:  that I had written for five and researched my media for the rest.  That I have already played with a few other bloggers — other nerdy and, as I imagined, very beautiful girls taking a peak at life from behind the cascades of their hair and from behind the spines of their laptops in their own apartments, illuminated by nothing more than the light of the blogosphere.  That I’ve had a day full of life already — and full of curiosities paid back to me tenfold; but after the town shut down, I still wanted more life.  And I would find it — behind the spine of my laptop.

“Yeah.  A complete.  And total.  Nerd,” I giggled.  Or maybe I didn’t.

But I do remember flipping my hair and thinking how light it was — and how easy! — to grant my life the immediate curiosities so easily available from behind the spine of my laptop.  And even though most of the hours of my learning have been spent in solitude — in isolation so typical for a nerd — everything seemed so much fuller:

Of life.

Of light and lightness.

And of purpose whose source of enlightenment was not only knowledge — but gratitude itself, paid back to me, tenfold.

Disturbia

It is impossible to fail if we extend love.  Whether or not the person accepts it is incidental.  Our ability to love is what makes the difference.” — 

Zen and the Art of Falling in Love, Brenda Shoshanna

Yep.  Those were the last words of my yesternight.  Right before the ghetto birds came out for their habitual cruising above the 101 and very soon after the single jolt of yesterday’s earthquake (which most of my kittens have slept right through), I was flipping through all of my current books for some line that would deliver me into my dreamworld.  Something good:  I needed something good!

“There’s a difference, I said, between making it and simply becoming hard,” Bukowski offered up.  Nope.

“If I’m just a passing fancy, then I want to pass fancy,” chimed-in Lorrie Moore.  Still not it.

Oh, I love me some insomnia!  Usually, it rolls in during my life’s transitions, like an unexpected weather front.  It normally takes me a couple of nights of its reoccurring to realize “Transition” is exactly the name of the ailment.  But in the mean time, all of that self-knowledge that inspires my esteem, all that skill for meditation and counting sheep; all the certainty that in the end I’ve somehow managed to be true to my goodness (or at least, managed to be true) — it all evaporates like a single snowflake on a curious child’s mitten.  The atmosphere gets dark, the head gets messy:  Heavy shit is about to go down.

Soon enough the silence of my apartment gets overcrowded by an amusement park for ghosts.  A traveling freak show pitches a tent.

“Where did all this come from?” I wonder, astonished every single time at how much a single life of a woman can encompass.

And I just can’t fucking sleep.

The only thing to do then — is do nothing.  To ride it out.

Yes, I could think of all the places I have yet to visit.  Or, I could recycle that one memory of a random San Francisco street that made me feel that I’ve finally come home.  But the ghosts and the freaks nag me to jump on a ride with them, and it is useless to protest.  Before I know it:  My heart’s racing, I’m disconnected from gravity, and I cannot figure out if it’s sweat or tears that’s rolling down my face.  I flip and I turn to get more comfortable in between all the safety belts and the chains; I yank my hair into some sort of a submission.  But that too seems to be a moot point.  So, I keep riding until exhaustion becomes my saving grace, and until the fire-red electronic numbers on the face of my alarm clock are no more than random equations of time.

Insomnia.  Alas.  It is the perfect time for regrets.

The only thing is:  I don’t do regrets.  Because when I do regrets, it means I’m suffering from shame.  And shame, my kittens, is something I just prefer to never do.

Not in any self-righteous way and never at the expense of someone else, but I choose to be good, in life.  Yes, of course:  There have been mistakes, and those came with shame; and shame, my kittens, is something I just prefer to never do — againAnd if there is anything that a choice of goodness can guarantee — it’s one’s safety from regrets.  (But then again, I wouldn’t wish regrets onto my enemies either.)  It is nice to reminisce, sure, to reflect on the so-called “lessons” of life.  But to discount an experience or a person due to my guilt or pride; or to wish for their non-happening at all — via a regret — well, what’s the goodness in that, right?

It gets tricky though, on the rides with the ghosts and the freaks.  All that tossing and yanking, and I get tempted to get off on the very first stop:  Regrets.  (The stop after that is usually Wrath, followed by Mourning.)

“Should I not have loved this last time around?” I thought as the freaks fumbled with the hinges of my safety belt.  “Was loving a mistake?”

(I know, I know, kittens!  I know better than that.  I know better than that — in the daytime!  But yesternight, all I could hear was the sniffling by ghosts and the conductor’s forewarnings of the next stops, each more daunting than the one before.  So, yes:  I considered regretting.  (In the mean time, the freaks thought it would be really cute to start nudging my ribcage with their stumpy thumbs.  Cute fuckers!))

And that’s where the digging through my manuals came in handy.  My books of reference.  My maps to self-discovery.  Bukowski — that adored freak of mine! — testified to my two choices in life as suffering or boredom.  Ms. Moore was ever so melancholic and lovely.  (“What’s that perfume she’s always wearing?” I kept holding on.)  Comrade Nabokov was not much of a consolation either; for he is all about mourning the loss of time.  Zadie Smith managed to make me chuckle with her translations of humanity, but her people stumble around their lives like drunkards in the windstorm of history.

“I need something good!” I thought.

Aha!  The Zen book!  It has been shoved underneath my hard bed — a gift from the most recent love I was considering regretting yesternight.  Out of sight — out of messy mind, right?  But it just wouldn’t fit into a commercial size envelope that holds all the other palpable evidence of this lover’s memory; and it just wouldn’t sit right on the shelf among all of my other freaks of literature.  So, in a hurried gesture, I’ve hidden it in my bedroom.

Thank goodness I recalled its existence last night:

“We cannot fail as long as we are practicing and that very act of brining an answer is success itself.”

Oh, okay.  So, all of this self-discovery — while alone or with a love — is the very point of it all.  And even this seemingly torturous night of riding with the ghosts and the freaks is a part of it; because it has challenged me to make all local stops of my feelings and lessons.

“Our ability to love is what makes the difference.”

Oh, okay then:  To love — is never a mistake, and it does not belong among regrets.  Because in love, I’m learning to be myself.  In love, I am learning to be.

I held on, kittens.  Last night, I held onto myself and I rode it out.  And honestly, it wasn’t all that bad.  It was good; and I needed something good.