Tag Archives: doubt

“We Were Born Before the Wind.”

It seemed like she was waiting for someone.  By the bench, at the top of a hilly lawn, the bottom of which met with the narrow gravelly passage occupied by the late morning joggers, she stood there, barely noticed by others.  An iron railing stretched on the other side of the path, and the bright blue waters of Monterey Bay seemed calm.  A forest of boat masts kept swaying in their metronome rhythm.  They clanked against each other with the hollow sound of empty water buckets or rusty church bells.  The shallow waters by the shore were navigated by a couple of paddle boarders and glossy baby seals.

Was it her beloved heading home?  Or was this just a mid-stop where she’d regroup for the next glorious flight of her freedom loving soul?  She stood like she belonged to no one — but the call of her nature, immune to the voices of fear or doubt.

The Northbound wind frolicked with her straight white hair.  I didn’t expect to see that texture on her body, but when I saw the handful of silky strands fly up on the side of her head, I stopped.  She remained motionless:  still and proud, slowly scanning the horizon with her focused eyes.

Just a few meters down, I myself had rested by a statue of a woman.  I couldn’t tell how long ago I had left my room without having a preplanned route through this small town by the Bay; for I myself had come here to rest in the unlikely lack of my own expectations — my fears, worries and doubts — and I had let the movements of the sun determine my activities that day.  So in its highest zenith, I departed from the four walls of my inn after the laughter of children — hyper way too early and fearlessly attacking the nearby pool — woke me up.

I began to run slowly at first, crossing through the traffic of drivers used to the unpredictable characters of pedestrians.  Not once did I resort to my city habits of negotiation by scowls or passive-aggressive gestures.  I bypassed the elders slowly walking, in groups, along the streets of boutique stores with hand-written signs for Christmas sales.  The smell of caffeine and caramel popcorn would trail behind young couples on their romantic getaways.  The joggers of the town were few and far between; so when I reached the narrow passage of the tree alley along the shoreline, I picked up my pace.

The wind kept playing with my fly-aways and untangling my tight hair bun.  A couple of times I turned my head in the direction of its flow and saw the mirage outlines of my most favorite Northern City.

“By the time I get there, I shall be free of fear,” I always think but then return to the predetermined pacing of my dreams.

I noticed the statue’s back at first:  A colonial dress peaked out from underneath a cape, and both were captured in the midst of their obedience to the same Northbound wind.

“A statue of a woman.  That’s a rarity.”

And I walked up to her.

It seemed like she was waiting for someone. Up from the pedestal, she focused her gaze on the horizon.  Her face was calm but gripped by prayer.  I knew that face:  It belonged to a lover who trusted that the wind would bring him back to her, unscathed.  And even if he were injured on his odyssey or tempted by another woman’s feasts, she trusted he would learn and be all the better for it, in the end.  Against her shoulder, she was leaning a wooden cross made of tree branches.

Santa Rosalia:  The Italian saint of fishermen.  She froze, in stone, in a perpetual state of beholding for other women’s men.  Throughout centuries, so many freedom-loving souls must have departed under her watch, and I could only hope that most of them returned.  But when the sea would claim them, did other women come here to confront her or to collect the final tales of their men dying fear-free?

I walked while thinking of her face.  And then, I saw the other awaiting creature.

When she began to walk downhill, she’d test the ground with each step.  With a balletic grace she’d stop at times, and study the horizon.  The wind began to tease her silky hair.  It took figure eight routes in between her legs, and taunted her to fly.

And so she did:  On a single rougher swoosh of the wind, she stretched her giant stork-white wings, gained height and began to soar, Northbound and fear-free.

“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.

“I Told You: Leave Your Situations at the Door!”

I don’t want to wait for a change.  For a change, I don’t want to wait for a change — I want to create it.  I want to make it, because I must make it — in life.  Too long!  It has been too long of a wait:  for a change.  

I had been carrying my suffering like a sentimental load inside tattered baggage I must’ve borrowed from the top shelf of my parents’ closet.  When I was initially packing it up, back in the most formative years of my youth, curiously my father looked over my shoulder, handing me my items with one hand and patting the crown of my head with the other:

“You sure you’re gonna need all of this, little sparrow?” he would ask repeatedly, yet still contribute to my baggage, a handful of issues at a time.

I would get hold of his items, twirl them in my hand; sniff, taste, measure:  “Hmm.  Dunno!” I would say.  “Might need it later.”

My youthful impatience, my childish wrath would prevent me from weighing my future load against my strength.  Instead, I would get inventive at digging up some forgotten familial issues from the corners of my motha’s drawers.  And with my father as my shadow, I would wander around the home I was leaving — out of my stubbornness, not my self-esteem — and take a few things off the walls and, with his help, reach for the highest, forgotten shelves of our bookcases.  Instead of testing the baggage with an occasional test run, I kept on stuffing it.

“Might need it later,” I kept thinking, not even knowing that it was way too much pressure to place onto one’s “later”.

On the day of my departure for what I thought would be a better life — a better “later” — I even managed to look under all the carpets and rugs of our familial home, swooping up a few more microscopic particles into the side pockets of my baggage:  Might need those later, as well.

“Oh, and don’t forget this!” motha would shove a few more things into my baggage on my way out.  She would see me off at the threshold of our familial home; and every time I turned in a lapse of courage, she would wave her kitchen towel at me:  A flag of Don’t Ever Surrender!

The journey would turn out to be more epic than even my youthful imagination could think up; and it would be so magnificent at times — better than I thought when I thought of my “later”.  I would never come to regret the steps I had taken back then, in the most formative years of my youth; and I wouldn’t despise the directions I had chosen to follow — mostly out of stubbornness, not necessarily my self-esteem.  Because in the end, it would’ve all been worth it:  My life — my “later” — would be my own creation.  My choice.

Along the way, I would continue to pick up a few more issues for my loaded baggage:  Might need those later.  And it would take the initial thrill of the journey to settle down before I would become aware of the compromised lightness of my step, the increasing calluses and the now chronic backaches.

“Am I really gonna need all this stuff later?” I would wonder for a moment, but then carry on carrying, mostly out of stubbornness — NOT my self-esteem.

And when another youthful thing would pass me with a lighter baggage on her back, secretly I would admire her step; and I would wonder about our difference.  Must be a familial thing, I would conclude, then rummage through my baggage in search of an issue I could blame it on.  For a moment, the blame would soothe the envy, but the weight would not let up.  And I would spend more stretches of my journey in anticipation of the next rest stop.

Yes, I was getting tired.  I needed more stops, more time to get up; more courage to summon that stubbornness I had been confusing for self-esteem.  The load would begin to affect my choices:  I would start looking for shortcuts.  Better yet, I would ask other travelers for their evaluation of the course ahead.

“It’s just that… I have all this baggage,” I would explain, introducing the heavy load on my back as some alter-ego of mine.

I would begin to doubt my choices, to question if my “later” was still worth the pains.  Suddenly, I would find myself wasting time on indecisiveness — a quality that tarnished my self-esteem.

It would be thrilling, though, when for a while I would be accompanied by a love.  He would offer me a helping hand, and although I would accept it reluctantly, I had to notice how much easier it was to travel without baggage.  Quickly, I would get addicted, if not to that same helping hand, but at least to the illusionary promise of it.  But still committed to my baggage, I wouldn’t notice the burden it would be causing to my love.  And when that love would depart, sometimes, I would ask to carry some of his load as well:  Might need it later.

It would take a few more loves — loves that were in love with their own baggage of suffering — before I would wonder:

“Perhaps, it is time — for a change.”

Gradually, at first, I began leaving some issues at my rest stops or pretending to forget about them when they were carried by a love.  And then, a new habit kicked in:  Once twirled in my hands for the last time, an item would be disposed.  Because rarely did my baggage prove itself worthy of my “later”.

And for a change, I began wanting to change.  Not waiting for it:  Not rummaging in my baggage for promises of closures or resolutions.  Instead, I’ve gotten into a new habit of letting go — for the sake of change.

So, enough now!  It’s time to let go, time to unload.  It’s time — to change, for a change.  

Big Break? Big Balls!

Back in my Motha’ Russia, there is a saying:

“Moscow wasn’t built overnight.”

Say whaaaat?  Okay, I’ll translate.

Any grandiose endeavor by the human mind, soul or imagination takes time to build.  Or in the words of my gorgeous lover:

“Anything worth having — takes a lot of hard work.”

Which is exactly why I was never a believer in the bullshit fairytales of Big Breaks and Overnight Sensations.

First off, I wasn’t born here; and neither was I a lucky bastard to be born to a family that would support me.  Quite quickly — oh, say, by the age of five — it became clear that not only was capable of taking care of myself, I was expected to do so.  So, when I left the anarchy of Motha’ Land’s last decade of the 20th century, I didn’t climb off the boat at Ellis Island expecting to tread upon pathways paved with easy money and other people’s easy “yeses.”  I was ready to bust my slim, tomboyish ass and earn my way; and I was NOT willing to make my step heavier by stuffing my mind with delusions of lottery fairytales.

And thusly, I did.  Oh, how I did that, my comrades!  For the sake of mere survival at first — for a decade! — I worked anywhere between two to five jobs while carrying a full-time class load in college and grad school; and then — as any American — I decided to practice my right to pursue a dream.  And, let me tell you:  This cat went for it!  Trying out every major in college.  Entertaining dozens of professions.  Taking-up internships on the Isle of Manhattana, just because she could.  Trying her hand at every art form, at least once.  You’d think this wild cat actually had nine lives to spare!  (All the while, the list of survival jobs and sleepless nights and financial sacrifices continued to accumulate.)

Now, if you’ve chosen to settle in either the metropolis of LA-LA or the other Center of the Universe (love you, New York — but it’s complicated with us!); you know that everybody is trying to be a Somebody.  That’s the reason for these two opposing cities’ magnificence and an occasional cause for annoyance.  But if you’ve come here to participate in the race, you’ve most likely been made a witness of the following event.  Say, a Somebody’s name comes up.  Or better yet, that Somebody appears in a national commercial while you’re vegging out on the couch with your aspiring actor friends.  You KNOW, there is going to be someone to holler:

“OH!  THAT’S MY FRIEND!”

Yep, we live in a close proximity to other people’s dreams coming true.  I myself have  a couple of comrades who are either on the verge of their first well-paid job of significant exposure, or are already working actors and writers.  And I’ll tell you this:  There was nothing “Overnight” in the pursuit of their dreams.  Just like the rest of us, they worked restaurant jobs and temp gigs and those soul-draining office jobs, at all of which they’ve been painfully overqualified, yet underpaid.  They’ve wasted their days in the soul-draining background holding areas and did the grind of audience work (otherwise known as the Freak Show of Humanity).  So by the time their personal Big Ben struck the hour of the Big Break, those hustlers have paid their dues.  They’ve done the legwork, you see; have knocked on dozen of doors; mailed enough head shots and reels and clippings to pay for a house downpayment.  They’ve been tortured by doubt and daunting competition and endless rejections.

My personal fascination is always with the journey that takes after the Happily Ever After.  What happens after the Big Break; or in the morning when you finally wake up as a Somebody?  From what I’ve witnessed:

—  First:  Your friendships get tested.  If you’ve had the balls to reach for any dream of seeming impossibility, you better be equipped with the self-possession and the courage of rediscovering the true content of your friendships. Some of your people will stick around, god bless their exceptional souls (at which point, I pray you have the wits to claim them as your permanent family).  But others — will flake off!  Be prepared:  Some friends will demonstrate very odd behavior that’ll leave you feeling disappointed or lonely.  So, may your god of choice grant you the wisdom and the grace to handle the life-changing reshuffle.

— And then, there will always be an army of acquaintances who will want a piece of it:  A piece of your Somebody-ness and the overdue prosperity that most likely comes with it. Again, keep clutching on to your chosen people; because after the noise hushes down, they’ll still be the only ones having your back.

— Finally, my favorite part:  And the work — continues. From what I’ve learned in my insignificant yet loaded with turmoil eight previous lives:  The work never stops.  And to that, I say:  Mazel tov!  If you’re one of those lucky dreamers to grab at least a handful of what you’ve reached for, may you continue to ask for more. So, here is to your endurance and patience, your courage to dream and the balls to handle the consequences!