Tag Archives: honesty

“It’s NOT Going to Stop. It’s NOT Going to Stop. It’s NOT Going to Stop — ‘Til You Wise Up.”

They said their goodbyes over two cups of soup, in a narrow joint with floors filthy from the slush just outside the door.  Instead of a doormat, the management had placed down sheets of cardboard.  Not a pretty picture, but it was all somehow very… New York.

And the lines of their dialogue did not resemble any tragic love affair from the best of the world’s cinema.  He was civil but not tender, just maintaining a casual conversation.  It had been a chronic anxiety, for her, when others relied on the arrival of tomorrow.  Since childhood, she was silly with her goodbyes, always making room for them.  Just like she did that day:  Insisting on sitting down for it, instead of aimlessly walking through the City that had seen way too many unhappy endings prior to theirs.

She had made a mistake of ordering something that sounded the most exotic, with yellow curry; but then she discovered ground chicken in it.  She was a vegetarian.  To save herself from the embarrassment — in front of him and the tired black woman working the line alone, during the rush of lunch hour — she pretended to eat around the white meat.  Until he noticed it.

“You’ve gotta order something else!” he scoffed; and for the duration of their entire pathetic meal, which they’ve spent fully clothed, in their coats and he — in his hat, her mistake would be enough of a diversion from what was actually happening:  He was leaving, like so many before him; looking for a graceful exit that no longer existed due to his cowardly procrastination.

“Oh, c’mon!” he kept trying to make her the pun of the joke.  “You can’t just eat around the meat!  You can’t keep doing… this thing that you do!”

Bingo!

A few months into the affair, he had begun reminding her of someone else.  That day — on the repeatedly reiterated subject that suddenly so obviously annoyed him — she finally tracked it down:  Someone else had happened to her, in this same City, nearly a decade ago.  Someone else who had no intention of sticking around; who often got shamed of her in public — and in front off much chicer dressed young women, with whom he had to think he had a chance.  Someone else who had hidden her from his family and friends, who pleaded for only private getaways; who gave her slivers of his time — if any — during the holidays.  Someone else who’d made a good use of her youth and sex, but had no courage to end it.

Even back then, in her much younger — less jaded, more innocent — self, she felt something was akimbo.  Not right.  The intuition kept scratching on the ventricles of her heart.  In those days, she wouldn’t call it that:  Intuition.  Not yet.  She needed a few more disastrous repetitions and embarrassing endings — to become more in tune with her self-respect.  But the sensation was already there:  Something wasn’t right.  By the universality of her gender, she knew:  Not right.

Now, a decade older, she still couldn’t name it:  that feeling of not being enough.  Too poor, too orphaned; with not enough stock or family inheritance to her name.  Pretty enough and selfless in bed — that was the only thing that made them last.  But the awareness of that same feeling was beginning to land in the corners of her eyes with a melancholic recognition of the pattern:  He — was leaving.  Maybe not that day, and maybe not even after they would reunite at home, on the other coast.  But eventually.

This trip had to end abruptly for him.  He had to go.  Maybe it could last a little longer:  She could walk him to his town car.  They could grab another drink at their hotel’s bar.  But he would finish his cup of soup — and hers, with the chicken — then hug her outside the door, in the snow, among the locals who, just like their City, had grown indifferent to the sight of all endings.  He would be clumsy, as that earlier someone else, trying to avoid meeting her eyes.  Their height difference made it impossible though, so he would scurry off as soon as he couldn’t help but notice her face:  Heartbroken.

“That’s right, fucker!” she thought of him meanly for the first time.  “You will NEVER forget me!”

What else could she do to repair herself, in that moment — but to gloat in the peacefulness of her lack of guilt?  She had been good, to this someone and the other one.  To so many others, she had been good, or generous at least.  It could’ve all been simplified in their honest communication of intentions.  Instead, they had chosen to drag her along, while offering just enough attention but never too much of it.  They procrastinated past the moment when she would fall in love; they scurry off into the landscapes of her Cities.

And the bloody New York — was still there.  Like a background action shot, fabricated meticulously by a film crew, it continued to happen:  with the never ending honking of cabs and beeping of closing and opening bus doors; with people coming and going — toward their dreams, careers and sex; or running away from love.  Nowhere else did it smell or sound like this.  And even with the strange sensation of something ending — something snapping and curling up to catch a breath — she knew she was still glorious:  Because she loved it — all of it — so much!

“Never, never, never!  You will NEVER forget me!” the City was humming along with her.  And she didn’t even care about the already vague memory of someone leaving her behind, in it.

“But You Know: It’s All in a Day’s Work.”

Oh, so it’s gonna be one of those:  A slowly crawling, rainy day best spent under the covers, with a book, after a rare discovery that today, you have absolutely nowhere to be.

You’ve gotta earn a day like that.  There is always too much work; work that often works  you — not the other way around.  The work of Gotta.  The work of Must.  The work that should not be rescheduled:  It could be delayed — but it’s gonna cost cha.  So, it’s always best to deal with the work now, for it might go away if you don’t.  People have choices, around here.  They might take their business elsewhere.  So, you say yes — and take the work.

I wish I knew it to be different, somewhere else in the world.  But I didn’t start working until I landed here:  In the Land of Work.  Some call it “Opportunity”.  Sure, it is.  The possibility of that opportunity tests the desire and sometimes pushes the limits of your capability.  But If you seize the opportunity, it becomes:  More work.  The work of Should.  The work of Must.

Perhaps, it’s more desirable work — work you wouldn’t mind doing for free.  Ask any artist:  an undercover poet or the girl musician with purple hair that works in the front of your office as a receptionist (but mostly, she makes your coffee and keep unjamming the copy machine).  Ask a cashier at a framing store or the teenager with dreamy eyes that bags your groceries at Trader Joe’s.  Ask anyone from the army of these tired kids working night shifts at your restaurants:  They know the drudgery of free work all to well.

Some may still have enough gratitude to go around.  If fuels them to keep showing up after a day spent chasing the work.  There is enough passion in them still — to find the reasons to peel on their hideous uniforms every day, right around three or four, when most people start watching the clock for the minute to call it quits.  But the tired kids report to work in which they rarely believe — but which they absolutely must accept until another “opportunity”, for work.

I know one.  I study her bounce around the narrow sushi joint I frequent weekly.  Every night, and sometimes during the weekend brunch, I can see her doing the work.

(Ugh, “brunch”!  If you’ve ever waited tables in Manhattan, for the rest of your life, there is no more dreaded word in your vocabulary.  It’s enough to lose your appetite for “brunches”.)

She’s got a regular name.  It’s sorta pretty, but I always forget it, and I want to call her Clementine, or Chloe, or Josephine.  She is perky, quick and funny, always ready for some improv with a willing customer.  When she appears at a booth, she tends to find a nook into which she fits her soft places like a kitten agreeing to your caress.  But you better know how to touch her:  A slight degree of nervousness or clumsy inexperience — and she bounces off, while waiving the tail of her gathered hair as a woman used to being watched every time she walks away.

Scarlett Johansson for Vogue

“You want — the salads?  Is that safe to say?”

I know for certain that just a register away, therein lies her bitchiness.  She is too tired from the work to tippy toe around me, for her tips.  And I bet she can tear into a man with eloquence and composure even grown women don’t have the courage to possess .  But she is always nice to me, at first; until she remembers my routine — and she begins to flirt.

“Are you an actress?” I hear the booth filled with older men ask her.

They look like they work in production:  There is a certain air of exhaustion, long hours, terrible diet and lack of exercise that I can smell on them.  There is always too much work, for these guys; so much of it, most end up childless or divorced. They are this city’s doctors:  Always on call.  Always ready to take the work.  Because if they don’t, the work might go away.  So, they say yes.

Clementine says yes.  But she shifts, from one foot to another.  The lines of her curves change in a warning that she may let ‘em have it, in case of their commentary about the work she doesn’t mind doing for free.  But thankfully, the men know better than to ask her the civilian cliches of:  “How is that going for you?” or “Have I seen you in anything?”

They do know better; for they have sacrificed their forming years on putting in the union hours — sometimes, for free — in a dangerous bet that the work would pay off later.

Later.  They would build their homes — later.  They would marry nice, patient, pretty girls — later.  

But the work may not have happened later.  The “opportunity” had to be seized right then.  So:  They said yes.  

Now, newly and happily married, or unhappily divorced, they still find themselves chasing the work.  And in the midst of their private miseries, they chase the fantasy of Chloe’s possibility.  Like me, they find her youth titillating.  But it is her fire — that formed in her pursuit of the work — that makes them hope she would stay by their table just a little bit longer.

But Josephine must go:  She must go do the work.  She has to earn herself the “opportunity” to do her other work, for free.  And she has to work enough to earn herself one of these:

A slow, crawling, rainy day best spent under the covers, in a tired body, with a book; after a rare discovery that today, she has absolutely nowhere to be, and that her conscience is finally at rest — from all the work.

“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. 

“Ah, Gur-url! (Inhale.) Girl, Gur-url!”

“There are no events but thoughts and the heart’s hard turning, the heart’s slow learning where to love and whom.  The rest is merely gossip, and the tales for other times.” —

Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm 

He was young — oh, so young! — but not convoluted at all, which is a rarity in itself.  He sat with his body turned toward me at a 45-degree angle, playing with the ice cubes on the bottom of his tall glass; but never letting go of me, with his eyes.

“What are you drinking?” he started up.  I could feel it with my skin cells:  The kid was NOT into chatter much.  He actually wanted to know.

“Um,” I chuckled and looked at my ice-less glass.  “Tomato juice.”

And I nodded.  I am not a barfly, mostly for that very same reason:  I don’t drink.  So, I nodded while bracing myself for the irony some tipsy idiot was about to point out.

The kid picked-up my glass and he sniffed it.

That scene!  It reminded me of that scene, in a quirky film about doomed love:  She asks him for a piece of chicken, and without his answer, takes it.  Just like that!  She reaches over and takes a chicken leg from his paper plate; and he is immediately disarmed at her lack of pretense and the intimacy at which he’d had to do no work, whatsoever.

The kid put down my glass, exactly into the water ring it had marked on my bev nap earlier.  Then, he nodded and pouted with his lower lip:

“That’s cool!” he said, without showing me his version of a deprecating smirk.

My self-defense was unnecessary, here; and all the jokes at my own expense popped, like soap bubbles on a child’s palm.

I had been approached by men at bars before (and I had been approached by women, as well).  Most of the time, with their courage slightly loosened by liquor, they negotiate their desire immediately.  But they’re never drunk enough to say it bluntly:

“I want your sex,” for instance.

Or:

“I just want to fuck around, for bit.  Is that okay?”

Instead, they loom, while flirting clumsily and waiting for me to bite the bait.  It’s amusing, most of the time, to observe the habit of other people to get in their own way.  (It’s also the reason I don’t drink:  I like to watch, instead.  That; and the fact that my sober tendencies of getting in MY own way — are already quite sufficient; and I needn’t be drunk to get a clearer look at myself.)

Soon enough though, the men get distracted:  Their drunken charm refuses to work on me.  What they don’t realize is that their honesty might’ve gotten them a lot more.

Eventually, they move on though — to someone easier, I suppose.  But while they loom, my drunken courtiers sneak peaks at other barflies — and butterflies — with whom their charm wouldn’t happen in vain.  They’re always pretty, those other girls, and more willing, perhaps.  So, I let the men move on quickly:

“Go loom elsewhere, honey.  It’s okay.  Really.”

But this kid:  He was different.  He would study the other women openly, and sometimes, at my own direction.

“SHE — is gorgeous!” I’d mutter into my thin straw; and so, he would look, in silence.

What was he looking at, I would wonder?  Was it the silky shimmer of her brown shoulders?  Was it the beauty mark revealed by a backless dress?  The curvature of her rear?  The endlessness of her naked legs leading up to heaven?

What was it like to be so young — and to want so much?  

So, he would look at the other women, but then return to me — always.  He was one of those:  The type that tended to hit things right on the nose.  He would ask me questions that would make me shift in my seat; and under his examination, I, too, began studying the girl in a wraparound dress with no underwear lines, anywhere along her body.  I was studying — me.

I surprised myself when I asked him about his mother.  I could feel her, distances away, praying that her son was under the care of only good people.  Only good women.  She would have a confident face, I imagined, just like her son’s:  With no ticks to betray her habit of getting in her own way.  I couldn’t possibly know the extent of her courage yet; what it was like to let her child leave her watch.  But I was pretty sure that if I were a mother, I too would hope — and I too would pray! — for the goodness of other people.  Of other good women.

He spoke of her willingly.  It was unlikely for a young man to be aware of the sacrifice a mother must make.  But this kid — this young man — understood the courage of a woman’s heart:  The courage it took — to be a good one!

“I’m not sure what it is…” he would say to me later.  “I’m not sure what it is — about you.”

His hands would be steady:  They knew the common crevices along a woman’s body; but he had yet to learn the specificity of mine.

“It’s just sex,” I’d tell him, “and that’s okay.  Really.” And I would cradle his head, brush his hair and soothe his eyelids.

He was under a care of one good woman.  And the good woman, waiting, praying for him from distances away, had absolutely nothing to worry about, that night.

“May You Build a Ladder to the Stars — And Climb on Every Rung…”

I promised to pick her up from school, and unlike all of my own commitments, this one made my heart beat faster.  I was hyperaware of time the entire day; thinking, daydreaming about the nearing hour, fearing its passing:  For I could not, for the life of me, be late!

I mean I’ve seen that happen before, in films:  flustered, hysterical mothers, with messy hairstyles and tired faces, running (sometimes, in heels) toward their disappointed children.  Most of the time, the message of the film was about absentminded motherhood:  Motherhood of the unlucky.  It happened to women in unhappy marriages, with broken dreams.  There was always a justification to all human faults, I’ve learned.  Still, in those films about bad motherhood, I was always more interested in the faces of their children:  with their tearful vulnerability before they would be hardened by continuous disappointment.

“Ma-ahm!” they would whine, pulling away from the hysterical woman’s overcompensating tugging, and hugging, and nagging.  Or, there would be an indifference between them; and it would hang inside their car until someone threw a resentful glance through the rear-view mirror.

Honestly, I didn’t care that much about my reputation:  Her parents would have been able to forgive me if I failed the task; and I could handle all the passive-aggressive remarks by the schoolmasters.  But what I didn’t want to confront — for the life of me! — is the child’s disappointment.  She was a kid — an innocent, still; and even though she wasn’t my own, I had no business letting her down.

I could tell by the density of the traffic that I was near her school zone.  Fancy SUV’s with tinted windows compacted the narrow residential streets.  They double-parked and lingered, with zero consideration for the rest of us stuck behind, and with their break lights flipping us off in our faces.  Staring at the zero on my speedometer, I felt my temper — and heartbeat — rising:

“Why are we sitting here?!”  I swore, wishing I could see the faces of the incompetent creatures behind the wheels of their giant cars.  I wanted to honk and speed around them.  But then, I would remember:  The streets were filled with children, and the loss of my self-awareness could cost a price I was never willing to learn — for the life of me!

Fine!  I backed out, pulled into another side street, parallel parked.  I got out:

“Shit!” I realized my passenger side was buried in the bushes.  So, I got back in, pulled forward.  “Phew.  Now, she’ll be able to get in!”

My heart was still racing:  I was fifteen minutes early; but I couldn’t, for the life of me, be late!

So, I started speed-walking.  Having caught up to the fancy SUV’s, still lingering in their spots, I could see the flustered faces of tired mothers — ON THEIR FUCKING CELLPHONES!  A few times, I saw small children bolted into the back seats while the women continued to gab and block the traffic behind them.

I sped up:  What if she got out early?  I could not, for the life of me, be late!

When I saw her school from the corner diagonally away, I began looking out for her immediately:  the familiar strawberry chin and forever curious black eyes that seem to yank the dial of my heart’s speedometer by some invisible strings.  The crossing guard in an orange vest was sitting in a director’s chair on the corner, and she was laughing with one of the awaiting dads.  At the sight of her, I felt slightly more relaxed:  What a face!  What a soul!  She seemed absolutely wonderful.

A woman with a wrinkly face and droopy bags under her eyes shot me an icy stare in the middle of the road.  She was speaking to her child — an arian boy with golden locks.  But as I got closer, she stopped talking and bent her pretty mouth downward.  I smiled:  How else could I apologize for the nearness of my youth?  When the two of them reached the other side of the road, the woman resumed speaking.  Yep:  Russian.  And she spoke of judging me.

The front lawn was already overpopulated by tiny creatures.  The tops of their heads, of multiple colors, peaked out like a field full of mushrooms.  Not a single one seemed to be sitting still.

Two brown boys were leaping over benches and flowerbed fences, and for a moment I studied the rules of their imaginary warfare.  One of them tumbled down, got up, crouched down to study the scrape on his knees; but then resumed the battle:  Warriors don’t cry, no matter how little!

“M’am!  You have to move!” another crossing guard raised her voice behind my back.

I looked over:  Shit, did I fuck up already?  In the company of these tired mothers, I feared to be obvious in my lack of expertise.  So, I had hidden myself under a tree with protruding roots (not that it saved me from a few more icy looks from the bypassing women).

“M’AM!” the guard was pissed off by now.  She was knocking on the tinted window of a white Land Rover.  From where I stood, elevated by one of the roots, I could see a naked elbow of a woman holding an iPhone inside, with her manicured hand.  Immediately to the right of her double-parked vehicle, I could see the neon red of “NO PARKING”.

Hesitantly, the Land Rover began pulling away.  As the crossing guard turned her tired face at me, I smiled sheepishly:  Could she see my being a total fraud?  In response, she pressed her lips tighter and shook her head.

“People…” she seemed to be saying.

I watched a tiny girl with my complexion skip unevenly, with no apparent rhythm, next to her slowly walking grandmother.  A beautiful boy holding a basketball walked upright behind his father who was texting on his BlackBerry, non-stop.  A luminous woman patted her daughter’s head as the little one was telling about her destiny earlier predicted in the game of M.A.S.H.

I began recognizing the classmates whose names I’ve heard in so many stories.  My heart began racing:  Have I missed her?  Am I standing by the wrong gate?

“M’AM!  YOU HAVE TO MOVE!” the crossing guard was pissed off again.

Behind my back, I saw a giant Lexus packed at the curb with the “NO PARKING” sign.  A disgruntled old woman with a boyish haircut was standing outside of it, with her hand holding the car clicker up in the air.

“Where am I supposed to go?” she said, through her clenched teeth.  “I’m running late!”

I sensed myself shooting the woman an icy stare:  A look I quickly censored when I noticed the familiar strawberry chin marching toward me across the lawn.

She had seen me first.  I felt my heartbeat speed up again.

I didn’t fail the task, this time!  I didn’t let her down!

And the day was young and suddenly reinvigorated:  with endless adventures and her trust the loss of which I could NOT — for the life of me! — afford.

“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.

“There Is a Girl in New York City Who Calls Herself: ‘The Human Trampoline’.”

She was sitting on the edge of her barstool, with her bright red hair cascading over a tea-light candle, on the bar:  Dangerous.  

How many poets, I wondered, had lost their minds to a red-haired woman before?

Never a barfly — always a butterfly — she knew how to balance her glorious womanly behind on the edge of the shiny, brown leather-bound seat.  No way she’d fall off — from her dignity!  Her back had learned the perfect arching, the angles of which made it irresistible to the gaze.  Or to the camera.

It’s a fascinating skill that came with the habit of being looked at.  I knew that:  Beauty and sex were prone to that habit the most.  

Perhaps, most civilians couldn’t even pinpoint the hair-thin boundary between the real girl and the red-haired fantasy.  Most civilians just found themselves dumbfounded, with her.

But I knew:  I knew the game.  I used to play it all the time myself, before I got way too tired to keep up with the nuances.  Beauty was insatiable:  It demanded constant maintenance.  And for a while, I began relying mostly on sex.

But then, I got tired of that too, and I settled for truth.  Truth — all the time.  

Besides, sex was always much easier, for a woman.  And in my bedroom, I would keep all the lights blazing:

Fuck it:  Truth — all the time!

And if you don’t like it — LEAVE!

We had entered the bar together, that night.  Earlier, she had taken me all over the City:  Her New York.  She hailed all the cabs herself with the flip of that magnificent red-haired cascade.  And the green vintage coat off the rack of Marilyn Monroe or Betty Davis was flung unbuttoned, at all times.

“Boo.  Put yo’ hat on!  It’s fuckin’ freezing, out here!” I scolded her, always a few steps behind.

I was entering my own age of self-awareness:  and my most self-aware self, as I discovered, would be maternal.  And true. 

True — all the time.   

But she would just clap her fluffy cashmere mittens in response, and redistribute her lipgloss by smacking her lips.  The hair would be flipped again; and as soon as she baited some unknowing cabbie and we’d slide inside, onto the shiny, black-leather bound seats — the mane would be tamed into a low bun:  Show over, buddy!  

Her New York was very different from mine.  She lived on the island, I — right over the bridge.  She cabbed her way all over the place.  I braved the subways, studying rats playing house in the garbage on its tracks.  And when it would get unbearable, I’d come up for some air, in Harlem, and unbutton my jacket:  Ay, mami!

She made her living by mixology behind the bar, similar to the one we were now flocking:  with her low-cut blouses and perfect lighting hitting the hemispheres of her breasts.  Businessmen, cheating spouses conferencing in New York and horny boys from NYU would claim to be her regulars alike; and they would study their fantasy, while playing with the labels of their beer bottles and the hot wax of tea-lights on the bar.  From behind the rims of their rock glasses, they would gather their courage to start up a conversation.  And their drool would backwash onto the ice inside — if ever she paid any attention to them.

She didn’t have to, though.  That’s the thing about bartenders:  They aren’t at the mercy of our egos, for their income.  It was all up to her:  When to lean in, while arching her back.  When to cascade the hair, when to pull it back into a bun.  And when to tell them — TO LEAVE!

While I settled for bargains, she knew the importance of well-made things.  But for the first time in my most self-aware self, I was willing to learn.  I was open — to changing my mind. 

It was about dignity, I was beginning to suspect, despite my artistic premonition about some artsy suffering in deprivation.

“It’s crucial, for an artist, to be proud,” she said earlier.

Street lights were about to take over from the sun, as she strutted in her high-heeled boots through the shadows of concrete high-rises in Chelsea and red brick oldies in the Village.  I followed her, in jeans and flats, with the rest of my life packed inside a mighty Mary Poppins’ shoulder bag.

We were both competent, in our own way.  But she could survive on her credit card alone (although a girl like that never paid for her own drinks).  And I was spending my youth in a perpetual state of readiness for a take-off.

Our bartender that night would be a model by day.  Or an actor.  (I wasn’t really paying attention.)  To me, he was bitchy right off the bat.  With my girl — he was debonair.  We hadn’t been at the bar for half an hour, yet he had refilled my girl’s glass at least three times.  The petals of her lipgloss had circumvented the thin rim entirely by then, but the only sign of her tipsiness was in the pout of her lower lip.

Despite being seasoned by New York already, he could not have foreseen his purpose that night:  He was supposed to comp our drinks.

Which he did — in exchange for her number written on a bev nap and held in place by a tea-light candle.  He would even hail us a cab.

Inside, on a shiny, black leather-bound seat, she shook off the snowflakes from her red hair and smacked her lips.

“That number is fake, right?” I asked.

“No,” she answered.  “I would never do that, to a man.”

She gave the cabbie her intersection.  We were silent.

“But he’ll have one hell of a time — chatting up my shrink at Bellevue,” she smacked her lips again and pulled her hair into a low bun.

Show over, buddy!  

Back to truth.

“Can You Bounce Wit Me, Bounce Wit Me, Ge-Gi-Gi-Gi-Gi-Gi?”

Mmm:  First cup of coffee of the day.  Mmm-hmm.  Oh yeah.

Achy, I stumble across the apartment this morning while listening to the gargling of my coffee drip.  I cannot wait.

My freelance gig of last night is sitting in my joints and in the arches of my feet:  So tired!  The neck is stiff, causing me a mellow headache.  Still, the pain is no stronger than the gratitude for finally manufacturing an income that doesn’t violate, compete with, or drain my work.  No longer do I report to anyone else but myself.  And others that hire me for my expertise treat me with dignity and a slight amusement that covers up their utter adoration of my company.  I stretch the neck, both ways.  Something snaps on the left side.

GRATITUDE.

Or should I blame the 7-mile dash across the beach yesterday, for feeling so roughed up?  Barefoot and barely dressed, I squeezed in between the beautiful bodies of strutting brown girls in yesterday’s sun, and I kept on running.  There is an esteem in me these day that other women pick-up on:  Not only do they smile at me (for they have always done that) — they grin, openly, in recognition or admiration — while they size me up discretely, the way that only women can do.  I grin right back at them, and I find myself picking up speed.

Oh, if I could, I would kiss every one of them on their shiny, pink-bow lips that must taste like purple grapes or black cherries; drinking them up, like that first cup of coffee of the day!

Mmm.  Life.  Oh yeah.

The drip has committed its last exhales, always so a-rhythmical.  But only after it does half a dozen of spit takes do I slowly make it over to the machine.  Ouch, ouch:  The arches of my feet are killing me!  The cold of the kitchen tiles feels soothing though.

I pour the first cup, watch its surface covered with patches of broken oily film; and at first, I am tempted to lap them up with my tongue.  Instead, I stare at them, like an old Turkish wise woman, reading coffee grounds for signs of my own destiny.  But I cannot see the bottom of the cup, so my story gets to keep its mystery.  All the better that way.

Mmm.  Life.

The hot liquid is somehow of perfect temperature this morning, and it goes down so easily; so smoothly.  Its acidity hangs in the back of my teeth with an aftertaste that makes me want to drink up more.  So much more!  To drink it up, to lap it up — all of it, with gratitude! — for having been given another day, another go at a dream.  Another chance at some good living:  Mmm.  Life!  Calmly, the patches of yesterday’s thoughts about today’s commitments start coming up to the surface — and I cannot wait to begin!

I pour the second cup and make my way over to the desk.  The morning outside is foggy.  I catch myself thinking of San Francisco.  Oh yeah:  The possibilities.

My dreams loom in the back of my consciousness, as if ripening until I am ready to gather them into the bottom of my skirt and to take a bite.  There have been so many of them:  These dreams of mine.  And there have been so many loves.  And each one, I don’t delay for long — but for long enough to gather the courage, the necessary readiness and the strength; the agility, the open-mindedness — before I begin their pursuit.

But what was it — that lullabied me to sleep last night?  I do remember venting to myself, while fighting the beginnings of this mellow headache.  The patches of yesternight’s thoughts slowly come up to the surface; and the fragments of their through-lines remind me of feeling agitated and strangely inspired.  (Mmm:   Life.)

Monogamy!  Bingo.  That’s it.

I was thinking about monogamy last night.  Achy, I paced across the apartment, at midnight; defining something that I’ve never had a problem trying on, with each of my loves.  (And there have been so many of them:  My loves.  Mmm.)  But then again, I’ve never had the audacity to deny myself — or my partner — the variety, in life.  I am not the one to confine my lover to limitations of a single woman:  me. Because I myself know how much beauty, how much possibility there is to lap up; to drink up; to chug it down — like the first cup of coffee of the day.

But of course, each coupling of lovers must define it for themselves.  And it’s a lengthy process of figuring out how each partner measures up against the other, with his or her beliefs, passions and hungers.  And it’s not an easy talk of comparing each other’s needs and opinions — on monogamy; but such talks must happen continuously, as the relationship grows and changes, morphing into more and more specificity.  These talks:  They must happen — absolutely! — because only in mutual honesty, does a coupling of lovers find the dignity and the esteem that comes from navigating one’s life well.

Yeah!  Honesty!  That is — the saving grace, in love.  I am addicted to it, and my girlfriends sometimes find it tragic.  And they find it odd that I allow my lovers the freedom of pursuing their hungers — as long as I am made privy to those pursuits before they happen.  It’s a health thing, at first, of course!  A physical safety thing.  I owe that to my lovers — and they owe that to me.  And then, there is the health of one’s consciousness whose only route of navigation — is honesty.

Oh yeah!  Life.

Mmm.

He Ain’t Heavy: He’s My Bro!

“How’s the writing?” he asked me, yesterday, as a matter of fact.

As a matter of fact, he was so matter of fact about it, I didn’t think twice that, like to most of my friends, to him, my writing — was just a matter of fact.

As a matter of fact, I am not flocked by my comrades — other writers — all suspended in loaded pauses in between pontificating on the history of the novel or the future of the industry.  We don’t sit around a round table (yes, it must be round) in the middle of the night, playing with nostalgic shticks, like card games, cigars or tea cups with saucers — because we are just so fucking eccentric.

We don’t make fun of humanity while others zealously nod or slap their thighs in a gesture of agreeing laughter; but then, take ourself so very brutally seriously. (Seriously?!).  Many of us have gone through love affairs; several — quite tumultuous.  But we don’t arrive to coffee shops favored by Europeans while accompanied by mysterious lovers (in scarves or berets) that have inspired a poem or two — a sketch or a lovely line-up of guitar chords — making the rest of us want a piece of that creature.  We don’t share lovers, passing them around like a well-rolled joint.  And:  we don’t dis the exes.

My people and I are a lot more matter of fact, in life.  Sure, some of us are stranger than others, worthy to be gossiped about.  And yes, we tend to be adventurous, always up for playing, always on the lookout for a good story.  Many travel, quite often treating LA-LA as a rest stop, even though we all live around here.  Quite a few are in the midst of an art project that will change their lives upon fruition.  But we don’t spend our daily lives in some sort of artistic isolation or exhibitionist suffering; slamming down phones and doors if ever we are interrupted.  We don’t keep lists of our losses and griefs against humanity — or against our mothers — posted up on the wall, framed.

My people and I:  We live, as a matter of fact.

And especially, when it comes to my brothers:  They are the simpler of my clan.  Rarely do I double-guess their intentions.  Never do I wonder about their moods and the words with which they choose to communicate them.  Never do I decipher their facial ticks, eventually finding myself in despair, impatience, followed by frustrated judgment.  And it’s always quite clear with them that even though they don’t obsessively seek my company; when in my company, nothing seems to thrill them more.  (Now, I’ve heard about those moody mothafuckers that torture my girlfriends with their mixed signals and facial ticks in dire need of deciphering.  But no such mothafucker — is a brother of mine!)

So, when my baby-brother asked me about writing yesterday, I gave him an answer specific enough to be respectful of him and of the time that had lapsed since last we saw each other; and respectful enough to not sound flippant about my work.  (Because my work — I take seriously, not my self.  Seriously.)  But then, a discussion of our lives, happening as a matter of fact, continued, letting my work be — just a matter of fact.

Later, however, I found myself picking apart the category of men that become my brothers.  I am normally quite hard on their gender, especially toward the ones that end up as my lovers.  But with my brothers, I never feel the urge to break their balls or to demand explanations; constantly digging for more honesty (but not realizing that no love can handle that much truth).  As a matter of fact, everything is quite clear with my brothers and I, and I am never tempted to ask for more clarity.  So: I let their mysteries be.

This one — a beautiful child — used to be a colleague of mine.  Both of us had worked at a joint that was meant to pay for our dreams while costing them the least amount of compromise.  And I would be full of shit if I claimed I was never titillated by his loveliness, measuring it against my body in his tall embraces or against my chest as I would rub his head full of gorgeous Mediterranean hair.  I would watch him with others — with other women — and notice the goodness of him.  He was respected, always:  the type of a man worthy of man crushes from his brothers and dreamy sighs from every girl in the room.  His charm would come easily.  Never strained, it seemed to cost him nothing. And it’s because that charm came from his goodness — it never reeked of manipulation or his desperate need to be liked.

Here, as a matter of fact, I would be lying if I didn’t think at one point or another about all of my brothers as potential lovers.  But somewhere along the way of building the history of intimacy, something would tilt the scale:  and we would make a choice to leave our love untamed by so much honesty — it wouldn’t survive the truth.

That something — would take a bit effort to define yesterday, after my rendezvous with my baby-brother expired and we parted, as a matter of fact, never fishing for assurances that we would see each other again soon (because we would).  And it would all come down to:  Goodness.

Even if not with me, my brothers — are committed to their goodness.  Because of their commitment, that goodness happens with ease — as a matter of fact — and it earns them good lives and worthy loves.  It earns them — my love, as a matter of fact.

Pretty. Little. Liar.

“Because there are enough lies in life, 

so you better be in control of your own fiction.” 

“But I didn’t know that I loved her!  Not after she left!”

The night before, this man had challenged me to a writerly duel:  to commemorate a story of a woman whose departure he regretted the most, in his life.  He slouched on a high chair outside of a club filled with pretty honeys galore.  With his black, dense Persian hair in a cloud from his own cigarette, he hung that head low, frowned, avoiding my eyes, and confessed his loss of that one woman — the one that every man must have in order to become a man; the one that has changed his heart, for good — for the better! 

The following day, after my words had been published, he rang me up immediately, to justify his truth.  He must’ve sobered up a bit:

“You wrote that I loved her!” he objected to my story, seemingly irritated.

“Didn’t you?”

“I mean, well, I did.  I did!  I did, but I didn’t know I did.  I didn’t know I did until, you know, she left me.”

Oh, c’mon!  Don’t give me this shit!

It was my turn to be irritated.  The truth, in actuality, was a lot more brutal than I made it sound:  “A first lesson in the fragility of love and the preternatural cowardice of men” (Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao).  In my writing, I had been forgiving to his one crucial fault, never calling him any low name, never scolding for the lapse of his better nature.  Yes, I would side with the woman — that one, that good one, like me! — that has changed his heart for the better.  For good!  On behalf of her truth, I had written that day’s rant blog; even though she had left long ago, in pursuit of an even better truth.  On behalf on her truth and of my own, I’d spoken — because I too had just left a man that “did and did, and didn’t know, didn’t know he did”.  Fuck you, I thought:  It’s MY fiction!

“But you wrote he was all that — ‘holding his own’,” another reader — my brother who’d always changed me for good, for the better — was saying soon after my own break-up.

I had rung him voluntarily, for some truth; because I had been digging around for it, desperately.  Perhaps he would know, I thought, what had gone wrong in my love, before I left it.  Perhaps, he could’ve seen the signs while its truth was still happening.

“Well, truthfully,” my brother confessed, “he didn’t.  He did NOT ‘hold his own’.”

Brutal.

But fuck you, I thought:  My lover was MY fiction.  How else was I supposed to be in love — but all in, despite the other player’s truths, more obvious to others than to me?  Yes, we all do this:  We fall in love with the wrong people, ignore the signs, go out on the limb and lose ourselves; only to go scrambling for truth later.  And yes, I had done it again — for love, for good.  For the better. 

Sometimes, the choice is clear:  To alter the truth to fit the story.  Other times, the split between truth and actuality is not even visible.  Because the truth — is a matter of an experience.  It’s an opinion.  Because no artist creates for the sake of THE truth — we create for the sake of OUR truth.  The way we see it, perceive it (and it’s all very specific):  The way.  The truth.  Happens.  To US.

So, last night, when I got inside an elevator with three middle-aged men breathing down my neck — and down my backless dress — I gave jack shit about their truth.  They could’ve been in town and in this fancy hotel for a vacation with their families.  They could’ve been each in the midst of their very happy marriages, with healthy kids in college and their own college sweethearts sleeping dreamily in their beds that they wouldn’t have to make in the morning, for a change.  They could’ve been sweet and clumsy — good men slightly discombobulated by the presence of my brazen sexuality and of that goddamn backless dress.

They could’ve been, but last night — they weren’t!  All three rode down with me, from the Penthouse to the garage, and they flirted, unapologetically:

“Come on in,” one of them held the doors, waiting for me to join them.  “You’re in for some trouble!”

“Am I?”

The doors closed.  It was just the four of us:  Me, in my goddamn backless dress, and three middle-aged men in the midst of their dissatisfactory marriages, in town for their conferences, their infidelity, on the hunt to satisfy their mid-life crises.  (See how it’s done?)

“We’ve been watching you all night,” another one said.  I wasn’t sure which one of them was speaking; because for the entire ride down, I would be facing out, giving them the full view of my exposed back — and not a sliver of fucking hope!

“Have you?” I said over my shoulder, turning my head just far enough to be seen, but not far enough to see.

“We have!  We have!” the third one chimed in, spraying me with his drool.  “You were texting viciously on your phone and crossing and uncrossing those long legs of yours.”

“Was I?”  I had decided to give them as little as I possibly could.  But then there was that goddamn backless dress!

“You were…” one lingered, and I could feel the shivers of disgust bounce down my spine like pearls of a broken necklace.

“You were doing a little Sharon Stone act.”

They laughed.  Brutal.

Yes, these men could’ve been sweet and clumsy — good men, slightly discombobulated by my presence.  But TRUTH be told:  They weren’t!  And I had already forgiven them for their faults.  I hadn’t called them by some low names, scolding them for the lapses of their better nature.  But I was sure that they would reappear in my words — my fucking fiction! — and I wouldn’t even need to alter the truth to fit the story.

“But you wrote…”

Just a few weeks ago, my own former scorned lover would ring me up and give me a laundry list of all the untruths he had to object to.  But truth be told:  Fuck you, I thought!  My life — is MY fiction!