Tag Archives: generosity

“In the Name of Justice. In the Name of Fun. In the Name of the Father. In the Name of the Son.”

A native couple is cooing by the window.

Polish has always echoed of my native tongue, but with more softened corners of our consonants.  And even if it flies out in a loud form — like from the disgruntled clerk at Warsaw’s Central Station who hollered at the group of passengers that included my old man (that bitch whose Soviet-inspired perm I could’ve easily clawed out if it weren’t for the plexiglass between us!) — this language still flows and gurgles the prettiest, for my ears.  Within this week, Polish has become my path to lullabies; and now, I wish to learn it, so that I could always murmur its fairytales to my own sleepy firstborn.

Case in point:  The lovebirds with whom I’m sharing this train car for the duration of the 7-hour ride from Gdansk to Warsaw — are quite quickly putting me to sleep after our first ten minutes together.  Although I’m certain that the last three days of restless sleep that came from my fear of closing my eyes (so that I wouldn’t stop memorizing my father’s face, after a decade of our living in opposite hemispheres) have something to do with it, too.  But during this entire trip through Eastern Europe, I have been thoroughly calmed into surrender by the trustworthy national temperament of the Poles.  No other peoples I have ever encountered possess this much gentleness and grace (the Soviet-trained witch at the bus station who dared threatening my father’s dignity — is obviously excluded from this statement).

It is as if after centuries of oppression by every egomaniac who found this lovely country as the perfect place to start a war or their conquest of the world — after unthinkable tragedies the human race thought up and then imposed on these kind people — the good gods of this land have finally decided to protect them from all strife, until the next apocalypse that ends our civilization all together.  As far as the Poles go, I think that they have suffered enough to possibly reach their nation’s limits of paid dues.

It must be why for days and miles (oops, sorry:  kilometers) by now, I haven’t seen an unattractive native.  The kiddos are doll-like, with their giant eyes and smooth foreheads inside the halos of colorful scarves and fur-trimmed hoods of coats:  The beauty of their future generation must be the reward for all that suffering.  The women are mesmerizing with their luminous faces (without make-up, in most cases) and those Slavic cheekbones carved out of marble by Michelangelo himself (for surely, that guy must be god’s personal architect, these days).  The leftovers of the kitschy Soviet fashion are still occasionally noticeable on Warsaw’s streets:  in leopard colored fur coats and hair beehives set into unmovable mounts with sparkly hairspray, a tooth comb a curling iron.  And then, there are those women who suffer from the universal ailment of unhappy marriages and miserable living standards (those women age so fast!).  Also, a few have fallen victim to the mass fad of perpetual smoking (although the young are still not showing the consequences of it).  But for the most part, in their beauty, these women — are exceptional!

As for the Polish men, thus far I’ve found them wonderfully well-mannered, educated and non-aggressive.  Like this specimen still cooing at his lovely in my train car:  Incredibly gentle to the point of being effeminate, he keeps telling her the history of every local sight and landscape that we have passed behind our giant windows.  At one point, he gets up, adjusts his tweed jacket (while being childlike and a little nerdy in his gestures); and then reveals two homemade sandwiches (oops, sorry:  buterbrods) out of his shiny brown leather attache case.  When he starts talking on his cellphone to confirm the schedule of their connecting train, he sounds exceedingly polite and almost bitchy.  She giggles and looks at him sheepishly when he cuts off the customer service rep with his blade-like sarcasm.  He looks back at her, now encouraged and twice the man, and pats the top of her knee.

These lovebirds have been cooing at each other ever since I’ve entered the railroad car.  Between the two of them, she does most of the listening:  With a blissful expression on her face whose only stunning characteristic lies in the constellation of her beauty marks, occasionally she slips in a timid compliment in between his never ending sentences, while he continues lecturing.  He could be easily be an assistant professor or some brilliant history students at the top of his class.  (Um.  Sorry:  faculte.)  And when he delights her with his intellect, she breaks out into a ready laughter, too loud for her demure character.

Of course, were I to have my drathers, I would be sleeping in the dark and in utter silence.  But one:  It is the Eve of the New Year, after all (and the Poles are huge on celebrations — which must have something to do with their generosity, I suspect).  Two:  These kids are perfectly delightful.  But even though they can’t remind me of my younger self (for I have never had a young romance), I always stand defenseless in the name of kindness, if not love.

Besides, I have been softened by the events of this week’s trip.  The best, the smartest and the kindest man of my life — my father — has just departed from the coast of Gdansk:

The man to teach me my self-worth despite our sixteen-year long communication by phone and telepathically shared heartbeat.  The one to always offer help and not keep tabs on my mistakes or moments of helplessness.

The first to show me that power lies in kindness and that in my forgiveness — happens love.

The parent from whom I have inherited my sense of justice and the pursuit of harmony, my reason, generosity, compassion; and the very essence of my spirit — has offered me the best week of my life.

And our reunion just so happened to unfold — on Poland’s graceful land.

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!”

If it snowed on New Year’s, it would have to mean good luck.  That’s what the old folks said.  Or, so my motha told me.

To me, it would just mean magic:  That no matter how dry the winter promised to be, we could wake up to an already sleepy town, with mellow women and hungover men; and we would move ever so slowly — ever so gently, for a change — through a brand new sheet of snow.  It would mean a clean slate.  A promise of a new beginning.  A hidden prayer — for a better year.

The only citizens of the town still giddy from the night before would be the children.  For us, the first of every year meant gifts under the sparkling pine trees in the living-room.  And it meant truce, for all of us:  for the tired adults, tortured by survival; for unhappily married parents; for the intrusive force of poverty, uncertainly and chaos. Truce, on just that one day.  Truce.

The preparations for the celebration at midnight would be in full swing, in almost every household.  Motha would prepare for it, weeks before.  She’d start with a new haircut, and possibly new color on her nails.  Regardless the tight budget affected daily by inflation, she’d manage to whip out a new outfit for herself.

The hunt for foods would begin several weeks before the holiday.  Things would be preserved.  Money — borrowed, portioned out.  And just a couple days before the actual Eve, the cooking would begin.

School, of course, would be out for me; and I was expected to help out in the kitchen for that week.  Nothing crucially important though:  Peeling of potatoes or scaling of pickled fish.  I would boil eggs and root vegetables for the layered Russian salads.  I’d roast parts of chicken or grind the meat for the stuffing of cabbage parcels.  I would battle with pots of rice that took forever to get soft, and then would burn immediately.

Some days, I would be trapped inside while watching pots of stews or motha’s reinvented borscht.  And as I tended to the burners, I studied the darkening sky for any promises of snow.  Because, despite the obvious presence of poverty and chaos in our lives, snow on the Eve would still mean magic — if not some better luck.

On the last day of preparations, motha would be chaotic.  All day long, she would run out in her leather, high-heeled boots:  to get her hair done, to pick-up a missing spice from a girlfriend across town; to drop off a gift to a high rank bureaucrat at the City Hall.  But mostly, she’d keep picking-up “deficits”, all over town:  produce, not necessarily delicacies, that we normally would not indulge in, any other time during the year.

Victorious, she would return:

“Hey, little one!  Look at this here!” she’d holler me out of my bedroom.

Just by the sound of her voice, I knew she was in a good mood.  I would emerge, with Tolstoy under my armpit, and find her beautiful flushed face in the hallway.  She’d have her make-up done, and for New Year’s, it would always entail sparkles.  The smell of crispy frost would intertwine with her perfume.

“So beautiful!” I’d think, and with my father’s eyes I’d understand the power of that woman’s witchcraft.

And then, I’d see the fox fur collar of her coat glistening with tiny drops of moisture.

“Is it snowing yet?” I’d say while motha, still in boots, would begin passing to me the tiniest jars of caviar or cans of smoked anchovies.

“I think it’s about to,” motha would respond, flirting.  (So beautiful!)

And for the first time in weeks, she’d suddenly remember that I was still a child.  And children only need magic, for survival.  Not wads of cash, or cans of “deficit”.  Not banners of protesting citizens against the old demagogues or the faces of the newest heros.  We do not need untimely compassion toward the vices of our parents.  We wish to know no gossip and no strife.

Just truce, if only on one day for every year.  Just the simple magic — of truce.

Motha would retreat into the kitchen and immediately start banging metals.  I’d brace myself for more work.

“Hey, little one!” she’d holler.

Here we go!

“You should check out that snow, outside!”

I would run out, in an unbuttoned coat.  On every flight of stairs, new smells would smack my nose from every household.  To call upon my friends would be useless on that last day of the year.  Like me, my girlfriends grew up way too quickly and would be cooking in the kitchen until the arrival of their guests.  But in magic, I rarely needed company.

I wouldn’t even go very far:  Just to the lawn in front of our apartment building.  I’d watch the waltz of snowflakes against the darkening sky.  They would catch the light of egg yolk foam colored street lights and descend onto my mittens of rabbit fur.  There would be not enough snow on the ground to make braided patterns with me feet yet.  But just the sight of a new beginning — would be magical enough.

Before heading back home, I’d look up to our window and often see my motha’s face.

“So beautiful!” I’d think and understand the magic of truce, if only once a year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To each — her own way. 

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

“At work,” she’ll say.

And she will mean:  RESPECT.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Question?”

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

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

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

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

To each — her own grace.

My Kindness, Truth and Patience.

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

All — in the name of Love. 

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

And you know what I’m doing today?

Nothing.

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

Yes, I’m doing nothing:

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

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

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

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

Yes, I’m doing nothing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“When you forgive — you love.”

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

Yes, I want to live.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes.

I want to live.

“You Give Yourself To This: The Longest Day… You Give It All Away.”

Every other night, after a rehearsal in Hollyweird, when driving by a local market with a display of pumpkins and straw upfront, I swing my car into its parking lot and begin wandering aimlessly along the aisles.

And I don’t really know what I’m looking for:  Sometimes, I pick up the discounted apples and try to detect the smell of the gardens from which they’ve been gathered.  Would those gardens be from somewhere up north:  From the latitude that keeps teasing me with dreams of my future home?  Or would they come from the East Coast, where the dreams of my former home have long been put to rest?

Most of the time, these perfect looking apples have been shined with some waxy substance, and the smell is long gone.  Still, I insist on trying the next batch.

And then, there are the pears!  They are starting to come in different colors, these days, and in various degrees of graininess.  And that texture:  It is unmistakable in desserts!  And they are best accompanied with some slowly simmered ganache or a fuss-deserving caramel.  Lazily, they glisten on top of paper-thin crepes, like slivers of amber from the coast of my very former home, on the Baltic Sea.  And they smell — like Indian Summer and bedtime stories, in the countryside.

Ooh, corn!  It’s white and super sugary this season!  I grabbed a whole batch the other night:  “10 for 2”.  How ever have I forgotten about the existence of corn, for this entire year?  Sometimes, it’s as yellow as the petals of sunflowers.  That type — is a bit denser, and it doesn’t fall apart in stews.  But this white creation should be nibbled on, after dinner, instead of a handful of honey roasted nuts.

This time of year, mushrooms take over at least half of an aisle, at the market.  The portabellas are always de-stemmed and tamed into some styrofoam and plastic containers.  But once unleashed — they are each bigger than my palm.  The baby bellas, despite being the most regular visitors all throughout the year, are especially juicy these days; and the criminis always remind me of the bellas’ darker-skinned cousins.

And what in the world are these?  They’re tiny and come in a clump, with a common root still attached.

I study the grains of soil caught in between each miniature creature; and I remember the thrill I felt if ever finding a generous gathering like this, in a forest of my most original home, left behind so long ago.

I wouldn’t call upon the help of other gatherers, back then.  Quietly, I would kneel onto the mossy ground, that chewed and slurped underneath my rubber boots; and I would twist my finds out of the soil, by their common stem.  (That’s the secret with mushrooms:  It’s best to twist them out.  That way, the fragile web of their roots doesn’t get destroyed.)

And the best part about such a find is that, most likely, there are more of these creatures around:  For they’re rarely solitary.  And so, I would continue kneeling, scanning the ground for more hidden caps.  With my heart racing, I would whisper to every tiny creature I would locate under a leaf:

“Come here,  you lil’ munchkin!”

And I would imagine some forest gnomes scowling at me from branches:  Those mushroom caps were meant to be their hats.  (Don’t you know:  Gnome are very dapper dressers!)

The black trumpets — always freak me out a little.  How can these things possibly be eatable?  They look like dog ears!

And the oyster mushrooms — I prefer them dried.

An entire basket of loose shiitakes attacked my nose with a whiff of moss.  These creatures are leathery.  They’re the earthiest and meatiest of them all.  There is a whole other flavor profile assigned to mushrooms in Japanese cuisine:  Umami.  Savory.  Earthy.  Incomparable to anything else, really.

And they caressed my palette with memories of my people’s home — from the very original homeland, on the Pacific coast.

“What a treasure!” I thought the other day, rushing home to make a stew.

No, no, no!  Actually, it should be a soup.

Yes, definitely, a soup!

A soup that could fill my current home — with the aromas of all of my former homes, and all the homes to come.

“How Does It Feel to Be… One of the Beautiful… People?!”

“How do we forgive the people who have wronged us?”

“How or why?”

“How.  I already know why…  I think.”

“You think?  You forgive because if you don’t — you are the only one you harm.  Right?”

I put the book of Mexican recipes face down onto my chest.  Think about.  I can’t be flippant when speaking of forgiveness:

“Something like that.”

That still sounded flippant.  I amend:

“I forgive because otherwise it’s too heavy.  It becomes spite, or even hatred.”

I actually think I am allergic to both.  This last time around, I wore a rash on my chin until it stopped mattering, I guess.

I continue:

“And I forgive because I am still looking for new stories.  When there is no forgiveness, I just keep replaying the old one too much.  Until I get sick of it.  Until it stops mattering, I guess.”

Until I get sick of it.  Is that what happens with me, eventually:  I dig for reasons, I cross-examine for long enough to get sick of the whole story?  Because most of the time, the reasons don’t become apparent.  Not completely.  There are glimpses, of course; and most of them are rooted in some sort of pleasure — or satisfaction at least — on the part of the other.

The people who wrong us seek something that they think they deserve.  They deserve us:  our goodness, our sex, our beauty.

And some would call that love.

“What would you call it?” he asks me.  He is lying on his side, facing the wall, away from me.  The wall is baby blue.

“I dunno,” I say, pick up the book with the Mexican recipes and start flipping through it again:  I am done figuring it out!  “I dunno!  But I definitely don’t call it ‘love’!”

The pictures in the book are delicious.  Delectable.  I secretly daydream of my future bakery:  It would be so good for my soul!

“Love ought to be selfless,” I resume.  I guess I am not done figuring it out.  “I love for the sake — for the benefit — of the other person, as much as I do for my own.”

“That’s not true!” he says and finally rolls over onto his back to look at me.  “I’ve seen you love, love.  You often love — despite yourself.”

I want to laugh but feel slightly defensive:  “Well.  That’s just what I do!”

I get a mighty hold of the book jacket and start skipping the section on meats:  I don’t want to know!

He is waiting for the rustle of the flipping pages to stop.  “That’s what you do alright.  But that’s not good either.  You can’t keep sacrificing yourself like that.”

I still want to laugh.

“At least, at the end, I needn’t be forgiven,” I say.

I’ve found some great comfort in that, before.  Even pride.  Because when I leave, I don’t take much with me.  I don’t take away a former love’s dignity.  I don’t destroy the self-esteem.  And I only carry away the things that have always belonged to me.

So, no:  I don’t take much with me.  And I don’t take away much either. But the weight of trying to forgive — is quite heavy, and I choose to lug it with me for a while.  Until it stops mattering, I guess.

I dig.  I cross-examine.  I recycle.  I search for the reasons until I realize that the reasons may never become fully apparent.  There are glimpses, of course.  But the consolation they offer aren’t strong enough of a painkiller.  So, I continue to dig, thinking that if only I find all the reasons — it will stop hurting completely.

“But how much of yourself do you leave behind?”  He is now staring at the ceiling.  It’s white.

I stop flipping the pages, put down the book face down onto my chest and start staring at his spot as well.  (Are those fingerprints on the ceiling?)

I may leave.  I may take the things that have always belonged to me.  But when I keep the connection — just so that I can continue cross-examining, digging — I linger.  And in lingering, I leave parts of me behind.

How do we forgive the people who have wronged us?

I am afraid that my previous “how” — is just a theory, and with time I’ve learned that it doesn’t really work.  I never find the complete reasons:  I only find reaffirmations of the others’ previous choice to wrong me.  The original choice to deserve:  my goodness, my sex, my beauty. My generosity. My love.

And then, there is this forgiveness:

“Time,” he says.  “You give it time.”  He is still staring at the ceiling.

“Kinda like putting it to rest?  long before it’s ready?”  I am studying his spot:  Fingerprints.

If I put it to rest, the story won’t stop mattering.  Instead, it will remain as a tale of Just Because.  And I have to have enough patience — enough self-love — to leave it at that.

Because there are glimpses of reasons, of course; but not even the most powerful empathy can make me understand these reasons completely.  So, I should just let them be theoretical.  Otherwise, it’s too heavy.  And I only harm myself.

And after enough time, the reasons stop mattering completely. 

I let it be — I let them be — in time and silence.

And I let myself be light and kind, as someone who needn’t be forgiven.

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

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

Why am I holding on?

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

Why am I holding onto this shirt?  

Why am I holding on?

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

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

Twenty years?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why am I holding onto them?

Why am I holding on?

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

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

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

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

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

So, why am I holding on?

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

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

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

Let them go.

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

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

And I learn to let go.

At least, I learn — NOT to hold on.

“With You: It’s ALWAYS Midnight.”

Um…

I just woke up.

It’s noon.

It’s kinda late for waking.

So, what did I miss?

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

I mean:  It IS noon.

And it’s kinda late for waking.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s beautiful. 

Tormented. 

Tired.

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

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

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

He is coming home tomorrow.

I — am leaving in a week.

So, I gotta start packing up my joint.

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

And it’s kinda late to start packing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But where do I start?

The bedroom.

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

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

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

So, I shed them.

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

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

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

Um…

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

But it is always the right time — for change.

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

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

I start packing up, for change.

“With Money, With Face, With Style And Body — I COOK!”

This morning, I am thinking about baking and love making.

No, not cooking and sex:  Anyone can do that.

Some people — men and women alike — may not enjoy cooking (although most share a general liking of sex).  Whenever I’ve met those non-cooking types (and I used to be one of them), their only fault turns out to be quite innocent:  They just haven’t been able to discover any pleasure in the kitchen, yet.  My own earlier disliking of cooking had something to do with a lack of time and sparsity of ingredients.  But once I’ve crossed the threshold into my fuller-fledged womanhood and more comfortable prosperity, I soon discovered:  I loved cooking.

“But, of course, I cook!” I tell any man who asks; and I say so proudly while I notice a whole new category of interest sparking up in that man.  He wants it.  I can tell.

But there isn’t really much art to cooking:  All you need is esteem and common sense.  (Kind of like in sex.)  Esteem is a consequence of experience and skills.  The better the esteem — the better cook.  The better the lover.

With baking, however:  It’s a different ball game.  The one thing that a baker absolutely must accept is a very precise list of ingredients and measurements; tools, temperatures, timing.  A baker must enjoy following instructions, which much be why none of the men I’ve known liked baking.  Sure, I’ve dated many men who cooked.  Although I’ve never slept with a professional chef, I’ve shared a bed — often after sharing a meal — with a few men who were very skilled at cooking.

Interestingly, the better skilled cooks, in my personal statistic, somehow turned out to be better equipped lovers.  It may be a pure coincidence, of course, but I would imagine that what made them good in bed and in the kitchen was their willingness to improvise.

There are recipes in cooking, but most of us, cooks, use them as a mere source of inspiration.  Personally, all I need to know is the flavor profile and the temperature; and then, I take it from there, on my own — thank you very much.  And soon enough, I am able to get lost in it:  to transcend while most the time thinking of the person for whom that meal is being made.  And that is exactly where I get off:  Cooking requires a generosity of the soul.  Combined with a set of skills, it is meant for the benefit of the other participant.  Kind of like sex:  GOOD SEX, that is.

And just like in the bedroom, I prefer to establish a certain amount of control in my kitchen.  I am an extremely territorial cook:  I keep my working space immaculately clean while often setting the mood with the voices of my favorite soulful songbirds and wearing the minimal amount of required clothing.  During a meal, however, I prefer to lose that control and to get my hands dirty.  And I do prefer for the other person to get turned on by the tastes and the textures of the meal so much, that he unleashes the reins of his vanity — and starts eating with his hands and licking his fingers.

Here, I would dare to compare cooking to foreplay:  As any good cook and lover, I bounce between the general recipe for it and, again, improvisation.  Which would then make the actual meal — sex itself.  When in the midst of it, there is no more room or time for brushing up on the ingredients.  Because after all of that preparation, it is time to get down and dirty — and to make a meal of it.  Which is why I always prefer the company of very hungry men.

Now, baking, as I’ve mentioned, is a whole different ball game.  It’s a ballpark with its own rules.  Personally, I prefer an absence of all balls while I juggle in front of my stove.  On occasion, I have permitted a man to observe me while I improvise a meal, for his benefit.  But as a baker — I do my thing in silence and entirely alone.

I still think of the other person, of course; but the more I like a man — the more complex my baking recipe will be.  Because what I want — is to impress him, to titillate him with luxury at the end of a successful meal; to take him over the edge just when he is ready to lean back and relax.

If I ever bake for a man, I have already interviewed him on his favorite sweets.  I’ve done my research.  I have collected the best of the ingredients which often requires traveling to specialty stores and the purchase of a specific pan from Sur La Table.  Sometimes, the process of baking takes several days:  I let each part sit, settle, cool down; absorb the ganache.  Then, I compile the next layer, and I allow it to serve its time as well; to age a little.  And I find that most cakes taste slightly better on the second day after their completion.  But then, I always perform the final touches just a few hours before presentation.

And it turns me on to harbor the secret of it while I observe my man consuming a meal and often singing me praises:

“You have NO idea what’s coming at the end of this, do you?” I think to myself — proudly — I notice a whole new level of interest, of adoration that arises in my heart for the very hungry man across my table.

Most bakers will confess that they don’t improvise.  It is a game of precision.  You must be willing to surrender to the rules and avoid listening to any dictation by your ego.

But the more you grow as baker, the more room you find for improvement.  TRUE:  That room is very modest.  There is nothing you can do to fix a collapsed souffle or to a mousse cake that refuses to set in.  There is nothing to do — but to start from scratch.  But you can thicken the icing to fix a lopsided cake.  Or you can add a caramel to a cheesecake to distract your guest from a less-than-perfect crust.

And so it is in love making — TRULY GREAT LOVE MAKING:  You must know what you’re doing.  Not only have you interviewed your partner about his tastes and preferences, by now, you have most likely practiced a few times.  You’ve learned how to reach your lover’s pleasure.  You’ve done: The research!  And that very expertise is what separates love making from sex:  It takes time and practice.  It takes surrender — and maybe just a little room for improvisation.

No matter how good of baker you are, you will most likely always botch up the very first crepe, right?  And no matter how great of a lover you are, the very first time with a partner, you’ll end up having sex — NOT making love.  But if you’re willing to invest the time, to do the research; to learn and to be patient; to accept the recipes to your lover’s orgasms and to know when and how to throw in the last improvisation — however modest — you will discover this:

What makes a great lover — and a great baker — is leading with your heart.

But God Bless the Child That’s Got Her Own

“I want…  I want…  What is it that I want?” she was squeezing herself into the corner of a vintage, peach-colored chair that couldn’t have been a better throne to her feminine divinity.

She scanned her eyes across the tiny room she’d made her home, as if the answer were somewhere around there:  Was it under this tiny bed that she’d surrounded with her art and nature?  Or had it fallen out of these mismatching picture frames in various degrees of hanging on and leaning against the walls, as if Frida Kahlo herself had been living, working, pacing here?  Had she slipped it, by a forgetful accident, into the unfinished pack of cigarette on her windowsill — the only visible sign of her insomnia and self-destruction, committed in the name of the departed, then turned back into her art; her nature.

“I want to be adored!  Because I — I adore!”

This entire evening I had been watching this face — and all that hair — and her gentle grace; and I had been wondering:  Was I just like this, in my own youth?  Or did I possess more corners:  All anxiety about my self-sufficiency and my self-enough-ness?

I’ve arrived here from a harder history, you see.  For centuries, it had been unforgiving to our women’s youth and tenderness.  Back where I came from, we worshiped our men, but only behind the closed doors of our bedrooms.  For the rest of the day, it was a nation filled with female fighters, women-survivors –hustlers — who assumed enemies in every living soul (especially other women, younger and more tender) and who are most content when standing in breadlines.

But by now, I had paid my dues around here.  I had suffered and survived the often ungraceful — and sometimes undignified — existence of an immigrant.  I had done my share of standing in different lines to get approved as worthy; only to rush myself back to the university library and learn at double the speed, just so that I could be more than that:  Just so I could be equal.  And I worked.  I worked hard, harder than most of my colleagues, American or foreign-born, like me.  And only behind the closed doors of my bedroom would I worship my men:  For the rest of the day, I was just an Amazon, refusing to let them in on any of my softness.

“I want to be adored,” she repeated, then looked in my direction.  Had I seen it laying around her artist’s quarters, by any chance:  This adoration that she deserved and was willing to return ten-fold?

“You know?” she asked, then didn’t wait for my answer and said, “You do know.”

My comrades and enemies had so far been unanimous at calling me out on my generosity.  In my motha’s fashion, I tend to grant it upfront, as if to back up my name with it.  My name:  Truth.  (Or Faith, depending on which language you speak, or whom you ask around here.)

But even that has altered a little bit with age and cynicism:  I am slightly more withdrawn these days; more careful.  Because I have yet to raise a child, so I cannot give it all away.  And because I myself haven’t finished dreaming yet, so I need my strength.  Because these days, if a lover’s departure must be easy at all, it is only if I hadn’t lost myself in him.  So, I take my time now.  I only meet my people half-way.  And I wait:  I wait to see if I am — to them — indeed, the adored one, too.  

Some souls though!  They still know how to draw it out of me:  this uncensored generosity, this kindness that hangs in the back of my first name, like the middle initial “V” by which I had been called for most of my life (in all languages).  And she — the soul resembling the past child in me and the future one, at the same time — had been like this from the first embrace she’d once decided to grant me.  Never once had I caught myself wondering if I was going out too far on the limb, for her sake.  Because I knew that her need — was not all consuming; that I wouldn’t lose myself in it (even though, I’d much rather, at times).  And in her case, my generosity felt returned ten-fold:  The more I gave, the more it replenished me.

So, despite the exhaustion (that this late at night begins to feel like defeat), I had shown up to her home.  Other women had come and gone already.  I could tell by the variety of the pink shades of lipstick they had left of champagne glasses.  A couple were in the midst of departing as soon as I arrived:

“Here!  You look like you need a lot of space,” they seemed to be saying while peeling on their coats, and sweater, and ponchos, and shawls.

And I did.  I did need (even though I had come here only to give).  I immediately dominated her bed.  I took over her library, dreaming of the day I could find my own name leaning on it, sideways.  And after the last woman departed, I took over the kitchen too:  Putting away the disorder, just so in the morning, she would find a clean slate.

She chirped behind me — my darling sparrow! — about whether on not to discard this aging chunk of cheese, or whether or not to dismiss this old lover.  Occasionally, I would look back — at that face and all that hair — and wonder:  Was I just like this, in my own youth?

But then, suddenly, I blurted out:

“Did the other women bring you food?”  My words came out commanding and little bit too loud.  She got silent.  I landed:

“Oh my!  So sorry!  I’m so sorry!”  Wiping my hands on the towel with force, like all the women in my family do, I gushed:  “I sound like my motha.  I’m so sorry!”

But her face showed no evidence of having been undermined or offended.

Instead, she rather seemed tickled by this hard softness of mine — an underbelly she must’ve suspected long ago (or why else would she decide to grant me her embrace?).  She was in the midst of being adored — by me — and she knew it.  She adored it.

And I, suddenly finding myself standing out on a limb, didn’t mind this incomparable generosity of mine:  Because it was already replenishing me, ten-fold.