Tag Archives: identity

“You and I Have Memories Longer Than the Road That Stretches Out Ahead.”

It’s long past midnight in Warsaw.  There is a new couple that has moved into the apartment across the street.

For the last two days, it has been sitting empty, with the curtains open and the stark white mattress in the middle of the living-room.  On the first of the new year (today), they have appeared:  He’s tall, with pepper and salt hair; she’s lovely.  And even though I cannot see the details of her face underneath her bangs, I can imagine the high cheekbones and the doll-like roundness that I’ve been seeing in the store window reflections of the last twenty years.

I watch them from my kitchen, while drinking coffee.  I am jet-lagged.

The curtains remain open and the yellow light of a single lamp is getting some assistance from the screen of their TV.  They’re eating dinner that consists of corn on the cob and one bucket of KFC (so very Eastern European, as I have come to learn).  Occasionally, they half turn their faces to each other:

“You want some tea?”

Or,

“For what time, you think, we should set the alarm clock, in the morning?”

I leave them be and wander from one room to another to check on our drying laundry.  The guidebook never promised us domestic amenities, so the discovery of a washing machine in our kitchen came as a complete surprise.  The dryer button is jammed on it though, but considering I have arrived here with my arrested expectations from post-Soviet Russia, circa 1997, I am extremely grateful for the dignified living standards with which this city has accommodated us.

Besides, the absence of a dryer — I find romantic.  I run my hands along the cloths from my and my lover’s body, earlier drenched from running through this cold city, and wonder what it would’ve been like if I were to enter my womanhood in my birth place.  Would I have known the grace of unconditional love and the finally non-tumultuous forcefulness of me?  Would I’ve grown up kind, or would the much harder life of my homeland have taken a toll on my character and aged me, prematurely?  And would I have the privilege of choices that make up my identity now, still generous and grateful for the opportunities I’ve found abroad?

Identity.  In my impression of the world, this word comes from the American ventricle of me.  But after this week’s reunion with my father, who never had the privilege to watch me make the choices that led me to the woman that I am, I am surprised to find myself resemble him so much.  Despite the separation of nearly two decades:  I am my father’s daughter.  Of course, by some self-written rules, it’s presupposed that I have traveled further in my life than father ever did in his.  I’ve been exposed to more world, and in return, it taught me to question twice all prejudices and violations of freedom.  But what a joy it’s been to find that, in my father’s eyes, life is only about truth and grace and justice; and matters of identity, for him, have no affect on any person’s freedoms.

I wander back into the kitchen, sit down into my father’s chair.  Thus far, it’s been the greatest pleasure of my life to watch him eat good food that I have made.  While eating, dad is curious and — here’s that word again — grateful:

“What’s that ingredient?”

And,

“What do you call this bread?”

And I can see him now:  slouching just a little above his meal, in this chair; shaking his head at the meal that he finds to be gourmet, while to us — it is our daily bread.  I have to look away when with childlike amusement he walks his lips along a string of melted cheese:

Here is to more such meals, my most dear love, and to the moments that define a life!  that must define MY life!

The couple in the window across the street has finished their meal.  The table is still cluttered with settings, crumbled paper napkins and a red bucket whose iconography — although recognizable — is somehow different from the red-and-white signs that pollute the American skyline.  The couple is now on the couch:  She’s sitting up and removing pillows from behind her back, then tossing them onto the wooden floor.  He is fetching two smaller ones, in white pillow cases, from the bed.  Together, they recline again and progressively tangle up into each other, like lovers who have passed the times of dire passion and landed in that even-tempered place of loving partnership.

The light of the TV is now the only one illuminating their spartan room.  From where I stand, now drinking a cup of black tea (still, jet lagged), I only see the back of his head and her hand that has ended up near his right shoulder.   Occasionally, he half turns his face toward her, then turns toward the flickering blue light again:

“Are you comfortable, my love?”

Or,

“Would you rather watch the news?”

I walk into my bedroom to fetch my computer.  The yellow light follows me from the kitchen and slowly dissipates as I approach the next doorway.  It, ever so lightly, hits the exposed leg of my sleeping lover.  I think I study him, but instead the mind gives room to memories of similar moments and visions.  And in that suspended history of us, I reach into the drawer.

“Make Sense of Me, Walk Through My Doorway: Don’t Hide in the Hallway!”

If you want to learn the heart of me — look at my father’s eyes.

Moreover:  If you want to know the very gist of me, the ethics upon which I stand and the beliefs with which I measure the world; if you want to predict the disappointments of my spirit when others don’t live up to the their goodness (and if you wish to summon my own aspirations to be only good); if you desire to see the shadows of my mistakes and flaws that cost me so much time and heartbreak — the stories in my father’s eyes will tell  all.

(His eyes are blue and honest.  The man lacks all capacity to tell a lie.  And if ever he discovers himself in the unsettling situation of having let somebody down — never due to his shortcomings but only circumstances — his hand comes up to rub the ridge above his eyebrows; sometimes, his chin.  He hates to be the cause of pain.)

All other loves of mine — are replicas, and I have spent half of my lifetime searching for the exceptional kindness with which my father treats the world.  In the beginning, I was meant to fail:  It takes a while to not take for granted the components of our parents’ characters which, with our own older years, begin to make us proud.  Identity compiles its layers with our exposure to the world; but the very roots of our goodness can only lead to those who gave us life and hopefully our first opinions of it.  Their goodness — is our very, and most important, homecoming.  And if I had to choose my only prayer for this world, I’d ask for every prodigal child to find their way back home, through forgiveness, wherein lies the discovery of what was missing all along.  It always lies in our parents’ souls.

(There are two folds, now permanent, at the medial edge of father’s eyebrows.  In those, he carries his concerns for those lives that he has vowed to protect.  In them, I see the weight of manhood, his duty and his sacrifice.  The endless rays of lines at the outer edges of my father’s eyes.  How easily they bring him back to lightness!  My father lives in constant readiness to bond over the common human goodness and delight.  He’d rather smile, for life, and not brace himself to witness his child’s or the children of others’ pain.  He’d rather give and then dwell in that specific peacefulness that happens after generosity — and not be helpless at relieving someone of their deprivation.)

The whole of lifetime, I can recall the never failing access to my gratitude.  In childhood, I couldn’t name it yet:  I never needed any reasons or explanations for the lightness of those days.  My adolescent years posed a question about the qualities that made me differ from my contemporaries; and when I watched my friends make their choices, while inheriting the patterns of their parents, I started wondering about the source of what made me lighter on my feet and ready for adventure.  I was different, but what was really the cause of it?

(My father lives in readiness to be childlike.  When new things capture his imagination, I can foresee the eyes of my son, when he would be continuously thrilled by the world.  Dad frowns a bit when he attempts to comprehend new things, but never in a burdened way:  So intently he tries to comprehend the world, he thinks hard and quickly to get to the very main point of every new event and person, the central apparatus of every previously unknown bit of technology and invention.  And then, he speaks, while studying your face for signs of recognition.  To honor others with his complete understanding — is crucially important to that man!)

It would be gratitude, as I would name it later:  The main quality of my father’s character that made me — that made us — different from others.  The privilege of life never escaped my self-awareness.  Just breathing seemed to be enough.

In the beginning years of my adulthood, which had to strike our family quite prematurely, I started aching on behalf of seemingly the whole world:  I wished for human dignity.  We needn’t much in order to survive, but to survive with dignity — was what I wished upon myself and everyone I loved (and by my father’s fashion — I LOVED the world and wished it well!).  And then, when life would grant me its adventures, however tiny or grandiose, the force of gratitude would make me weep.  Then, I would rest in my humility and try to pay it forward, to others.

(No bigger thrill my father knows in life than to give gifts.  They aren’t always luxurious, but specific.  They come from the erudite knowledge of his every beloved that my father gains through life.  Sometimes, all it takes is someone’s equal curiosity toward a piece of beauty — and this magnificent man (my father!) would do anything to capture just a token of it and give it as a gift.  He looks at someone’s eyes when they are moved by beauty, and in his own, I see approval and the highest degree of pleasure.

And I have yet to know another person who accepts his gifts more humbly than my father; because in life, IT ALL MATTERS.  No detail must be taken for granted and no reward can be expected.  So, when kindness is returned to my father by others, he is seemingly surprised.  But then, he glows at the fact that all along, he had been right, about the world:  That everyone is good!)

And that’s the mark that father leaves upon the world.  He never chose a life with an ambition to matter, but to commit specific acts of goodness — is his only objective.  With time that has been captured in my father’s photographs, I see his own surrender to the chaos and sometimes tragic randomness of life.  And so, to counteract it, he long ago chose to be good.

It is an honor to have been born his child.

“Except, Around Hollywood and Western — We Have to Keep Doing It!”

“Oh, but everyone’s got these stories!” a man of tired compassion told me as he heard my saga of homecoming, this jolly holiday season. “I mean, after all,” he said, “this country is made entirely of immigrants!”

I wondered, as I studied his ethnically ambiguous face:  Was he East Indian, a couple of generations removed from his native land and now free from all the confines of his original tradition — to make what he could of it?  It not, how ever did he find his way into my yoga class?

Was he like me:  Tasting all religions in his youth, in hopes of finding a recipe to peace?  Some religious texts had tempted me with their poetry before; others — with their majority.  I’d always wanted to belong, so I kept looking.

Was he, like me, at liberty to pick and choose between the details of his heritage, only wearing it when most convenient for his now American identity?  Did he carry his comedy routines in side pockets:  At the expense of his immigrant and heavily accented parents, he could whip ‘em out at gatherings of curious American friends?  Did he practice the routines on paper first, or did he merely get addicted to the laughter he could cause — and so he’d work them out in public?

The evening city hummed and sparkled outside the windows.  Across the street, I could see a casting space where I had once nearly died of shame by bumping into an ex-lover from a disastrous affair.  He sat in the corner, with his giant legs stretched out ahead, sounding every bit like that one asshole actor who must practice his lines out loud, at full volume, in a waiting room filled with his competition and the rookies from Ohio.

That morning, I had announced official warfare against my acne; and my Hollywood haircut refused to cooperate at covering it.

I saw him first, pretended not to, and thankfully got called immediately.  That’s when he must’ve heard my name; because by the time I had stepped out, he was standing by the doorway.

“I thought that was you!” he said and shifted on his feet as if leaning in for a hug.

Our story was so typical, it should’ve made it into a sitcom about actors in LA-LA:  He wanted a rebound with someone with his ex’s Slavic face — another actress — and I had wanted more.

“No fuckin’ way, American buddy!” I thought.

But out loud, I said, “I’ve gotta run,” and blew my bangs out of my eyes.  He noticed the stampede of pimples across my forehead:  stubborn and multiplying.  “Another audition!  Gotta run!”

“Yeah,” he said, mesmerized by my forehead.  “Yeah.  Definitely.  But let’s do coffee sometime!”

Natalia Vodianova

Everyone’s got these stories, it is true.  My friends had all suffered, at least once, from having used someone for sex, or from having been used.  And then, we’d all scrape up our dignity to have the courage to keep showing up:  to other dates and to auditions; and to the companies of friends, where we readily whip out our comedy routines and force-feed ourselves with laughter.

To be happy here, it takes discipline.  Or some serious delusion. Some of us had had those mental breakdowns that justified our flight from this fucking place.  Others would just have an episode, go home to recover — then return for more.

The ethnically ambiguous man continued:

“I’m going home myself,” he said.  “Can you believe it’s holidays already?!”

The traffic crawled along the boulevard underneath.  Two lanes of it:  one fire-engine red, another — silver.  An eatery at the corner was glistening with Christmas lights; and reflected by the changing colors of the traffic light, its giant windows would take on different shades, at well timed intervals.  With the shimmer of the hills behind it, the city looked so pretty, suddenly.  And standing above the traffic, out of it, I thought to find it peaceful.  But then, I changed my mind.

I wanted to object to my ethnically ambiguous co-practitioner of yoga:

“It’s not your turn to speak, American buddy!”

But he had been carrying on, by then.  He’s got that story, too!

And so:  I listened.

“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.

A Woman Under the Influence

“I’ve always wanted to be an adjective.” — Lady Gaga

In all my blunt Russian honesty, I cannot claim that I seek inspiration from the most popular cultural events.  I don’t have E! looping in the background (I don’t even own a fuckin’ TV, the nerd that I am!); and never have I laid my eyes on the crafty work by Perez Hilton and the likes.

This year, however, since my pursuit of a self-publishing career as a blogger, I did have to get with the times a lil’ bit.  But even when I tweet (and I do so with discipline, on the hour — the nerd that I am!), I don’t stick around that social medium for the latest gossip.  A handful of fellow bloggers feed me their daily bits directly into my email; and when I do read, I’d rather get my fill via the New York Times’ op-ed pages or a quick bathtub read of Entertainment Weekly (I call it Entertainment —  Quickly!).  Because at least by then, the recent pop-cultural events and persons have been digested by someone else’s intellect and their validity has been established; at which point, I can decide whether or not to invest my own braincells in pursuit of self-education on that topic.  Some may call it snobbism.  I call it:  selective know-how.

Actually, scratch that.  “In all my blunt Russian honesty”, I should call it Being Ancient.

Just the other day, a honey — a total cutie, a lovely, a boo — offered to fix me up with one of his friends.  I chuckled, of course; but when he interviewed me on my preferred age group, I reluctantly spat out a demographic I’ve established for myself back in my 20s:

“A four-year difference, both ways.”

The cutie’s wheels began spinning:  “That makes it… 28 to 36?…”  (He gave me an elevator gaze, head to toe.)  “Nah!  28 is too young for you!” he concluded.  “I mean:  I — AM 28!  NO WAY!”

Casually, I had to lean myself against the exposed brick wall behind me in order to not double over from his brutal evaluation.  Truth be told though:  The cutie was right.  I AM starting to feel if not ancient — or well-lived in — then decidedly moving toward the middle-aged chapter of my life.  Perhaps, it is time to stop playing with boys in sandboxes — and get myself “a real man”, whatever the Dickens that means.

But when the cutie began interviewing me on the topic of my occupation (on behalf of my future husband — a.k.a. “the real man”), I found myself struggling with a temptation to give him a mellower version of myself.

“Oh yeah?  You’re a blogger?  What do you blog about?” the cutie was on a mission.

“Um…  Relationships…  ALL kinds of relationships.”

“Sex?”

“Um…”  (I had to grasp for my courage for a sec.)  “Sure.  Sometimes.”

The matchmaking never really took place, my comrades.  (Hmm.  Shocker.)  But the slightly brutal chat with the cutie made me wonder about my chances of getting paired-up during this era of pursuing my professional aspirations.  I mean, I myself don’t know many “real men” who could introduce a sex-blogger to their mother.  So, I’m thinking:  Until the money starts rolling-in and I single-handedly yank myself up to a higher financial demographic, I’m just gonna have to remain un-paired-up.  Un-matched.  Un-figured-out.  But thank you for your consideration.

But “in all my blunt Russian honesty” (phew:  quoting myself gives me a hard-on!), I must accept the fact that while chasing a dream, I am in a dire need of manufacturing a whole other persona.  And I’m not just talking about a stage name here, my comrades; or a pen-name, in my writerly case.  I’m talking about pimping myself out as someone a lot more fierce than the private person adored by her friends and lovers.

Because in this day and age of self-producing and self-promoting opportunities, one must LIVE a dream — BE a reincarnation of that very dream — not just CHASE it.  Chasing it, I’m afraid, just no longer cuts it.  And here, from my very conservative, old-fashioned research of the current pop-culture, I must bring up a very recent phenomenon common among female artists, specifically.

This is an era quickly overwhelmed by the emergence of perpetually self-reinventing women who are bold and fearless — via their fictional personas: 

–  Let’s start with my personal muse Rihanna, whose hair-color change inspires the women of the entire nation.  (Just yesterday, I’ve encountered half a dozen hairstyles of that RiRi-Red shade.)  But every time I bring her up in my female circles, it is guaranteed that someone will object to her obnoxious devotion to the topic of sex (an objection I rarely hear applied to the lyrics of Kanye West or 50 Cent.)  Hmm.

–  Then, there is the dual split of an artist formerly known as Beyonce.  In ’08, this fully-established, already commercially successful singer emerged as yet another persona when she released an album titled I Am… Sasha Fierce.  To most, that album was know for the anthem of All the Single Ladies.  I, however, was immediately fascinated by the dot-dot-dot portion of its title.  In that ellipsis, I hear a woman not only looking for her new identity, but the courage she must summon in order to deliver her message — via that identity.

–  Finally, there is the magnificently insane, ultra vain (or is she vain-less?), brilliant, ever-so-changing force of nature — and art! — Lady Gaga.  There is really nothing tamed about this one, is there?  There is no room for any ellipses.  In the case of Lady Gaga, there is no private persona.  She IS…  She is more than “IS”, actually:  Lady Gaga — is “IS”-ness herself.

So, is that what it takes?

In all my blunt Russian honesty, I don’t want a career of an anonymous artist:  I’m too vain for that.  Neither do I desire being tamed into a more easily digestible artist with a pseudonym who can than be described as the “Next-So-and-So”. I want to be… FIERCE.  SUCCESSFUL — and fierce.  And in order to accomplish that, I’m starting to learn that not only must I develop a thicker skin — I must get myself a whole new one.  As for the old skin, it’s just gonna have to be shed and left behind (for now), with all of its attached desires to be completely understood, embraced, liked and loved by a “real man” — and all kinds of others.

“What’s point?” you may wonder, my cuties.

Take it away, Gaga:

“The true luxury of my success is that I can do it all on my own terms now, even though the roller-coaster ride is still going.  [But now I own the roller coaster.]  I own the whole theme park, actually.”

Yesterday… All My Troubles Seemed So Far Away…

Glorious morning to you, my most beautiful creatures.  You hearts beloved by me or someone else, but still:  beloved!  My exploring Doras and Little Princes, who sooner or later have had to grow-up — fall out of love with roses and sheep — but oh how I pray have never grown out of your childlike curiosity.  “You princes of Maine… you kings of New England.”  You bohemians and gypsies whose eyesight has been humbled by the size of the world, but whose souls expanded across the universe.  You decent beings, with daily acts of courageous living:

How I wish for your world to be ever-so kind!  How stubbornly I hope that there is enough love in your lives to give space to your mournings and strife — and to resurrect and heal you at the end, every single time!  As trials and tribulations of humanity affect you via headlines or, more directly, via personal tragedies, I know your souls can summon the grace you didn’t know you possessed — and your hearts can prove to be resilient.  There shall be more forgiveness, if you want it — I promise.  And there shall always be more love!

This morning, I woke up thinking of my goddaughter.  Three time zones away from my spoiling hand (and wallet), she is quickly growing-up on the opposite coast, where over a decade ago, I chose to grow-up myself.  There, at my college, is where I met her mother — my best friend.  My total BFF!  My “dudette” and confidant.  The Sister of My Heart.  The woman of unbeatable grace, and of spirituality so disciplined, I have yet to find someone to measure up to it.  It is her love — and the love of her family — that has replaced this gypsy’s lack of homeland or home.  Seemingly forever — or for as long as my ever lasts on this planet — I shall continue coming back to that love, after every insignificant defeat; and every single of my tiny victories, I shall stubbornly dedicate to her.

Ten years ago, we were inseparable.  Oh how many endless, pontificating walks we taken back then, along the campus of our all-women’s college!  (Yep, I was of those naive feminists back then; and thank Shiva, I haven’t grown out of it!)  And oh how many human emotions we thought we could deconstruct to a complete understanding, while en route to pick-up some Chinese food!  The stories we’ve collected and retold, one brown mouth to another’s brown ear (or pen to paper and fingertips to a key board) — they are infinite!  In a group of fellow writers and nerds, we dominated the office of the college newspaper, staying up past enough sunrises that even the campus security gave-up on hoarding us back to our dorms.  (Oh, we were official!  The Midnight Moths, they called us.  And we demanded to be reckoned with!)

When the academic year of 2001 began, my schedule was overloaded with journalism classes while BFF was quickly becoming a computer wiz.  When the news of a plane crashing into a Manhattan building popped-up in the corner of my computer monitor taken up by a QuarkXpress tutorial, I shrugged it off as just another freak accident which any self-respecting New Yorker should be able to take in stride.  (And that’s exactly what I decided to be then:  A New Yorker –with internships and friendships in the City, and a quickly developing sense of style, identity and womanhood.)

But then — there came another hit…

In that room, chairs were shuffled in panic.  Somewhere, in the back, a classmate broke down.  Recently returned from California, I was wearing too summery of an outfit; and as further headlines floated up onto my computer screen, I fiddled with the belt of my wraparound skirt.  And then, there was the face of my teacher — the mentor to my aspiring journalism career — and that face was paralyzed by a lack of any comprehension or adult composure.  I think she was about to cry.  What was happening? 

No way, was I sticking around!  I was out!  The first to leave the classroom, not at all interested in the consequences, I went looking for my BFF.  If only I could find her, I thought, the world would not dare to fall apart on us.

I found her.  On a staircase where we’ve watched marathons of Will and Grace and Peter Jennnings during our Christmas decorating stunts.  I’m sure she’s seen me demonstrate some very embarrassing, sleep-deprived behaviors on those same stairs.  But that day, my girl just sat there.  Silent.  Stunned, I fiddled with my belt:  In our now decade-long friendship, that morning — would be the only time I would see her cry.  And her face!  It seemed I would never forgive the world for that face!  For not until that day — and not since — have I seen her resemble a little girl.

She is a mother now.  A mother to my goddaughter.  Always inseparable, even in this experience, my girl has granted me the privilege to live vicariously — with her.  And as I watch the face of her daughter (via BFF’s disciplined acts of photojournalism on Facebook), I wonder about the world that she is about to experience.

Thankfully, that kiddo is never easily entertained.  Perpetually, her face looks like that of a philosopher or a writer — and she makes this Russian mama ever so proud!  (I am pretty sure that if ever I am to experience my own motherhood, my child will turn out to be one of those goofy, grinning munchkins — just so that I myself learn to lighten up a bit.)  With my breath stolen by that little brown face, I am waiting for her to start talking.  What will she say?  How will she comprehend the world still filled with misery and misunderstanding which I haven’t been able to fix for her?  Where will I find the wisdom to teach her that despite the daily testaments to some terrible human behavior, she shouldn’t fear — but inherit the life of grace and love from her magnificent mother?  What will happen to us all?  How will I shield her?  How will I endure witnessing the loss of her innocence?…

Oh, hush a bye, my little darling heart!

For love has not expired.  It will never expire — if we choose.  I shall show you what your mama has taught me:  That no matter the acts of disappointing human behavior, love strives — still!  We may be no longer innocent, but hopefully ever-so wise; wise enough to know that love — is the universal homecoming for us all.

So, hush, my little darling.  Hush, my little darlings.  

Hush.

My Russian Badass

As any immigrant, I suffer from a dual personality.  Actually, I’m a bit of a special head case and the list of my personalities seems as endless as the line to Moscow’s first McD’s back on the verge of Russia’s democratic regime; but if you’re one of those purebred Americans (do those even exist?), you should know that in the head of any emigre reigns a border-line schizophrenia.  I’m kinda like that Nina chick from Chekhov’s Seagull:

“I’m a seagull — I’m an actress.  No, I’m a seagull!  Nyet:  an actress!”

In my head’s case, the endless tug o’ war is on the topic of my identity.  When it comes to the tales of V as a child — she is a Russian little bugger; and those memories and dreams happen in a whole different language.  But as a woman, I’ve built my history here, in the U.S. of A.  My first love, my first sexual partner, the first heartbreak, the first loss of a loved one — all happened here.  So, when it comes to my consciousness as a lover, I doth speak English.  In other words, when things get hot ‘n‘ heavy between me and my boos, my tongue communicates in the language I’ve adopted by choice.

So, the hardest question from an American that I can ever answer (besides:  “Do you guys have TV’s over there?”) is this MoFo:

“Which country do you prefer?”

Fuck me!  That’s the hardest toss-up ever.

There is no pride stronger — or devotion more realized — than the one an immigrant feels toward his or her chosen country; especially if the country they’ve left behind gave them some tough lovin’ back in the day.  Some of my fellow ex-patriots, for instance, react to Motha’ Russia’s name with dry heaves:  So impossible is their forgiveness! But seemingly, I’ve finally reached the very delicate balance of being able to not only fully participate in my American life, but to cash-in on my Russian-ness.  By that I mean that, for the very first time since I’ve switched continents, I am able to speak of Russia with forgiveness and admiration.  Now, I am not blind to the irony that out of all the choices of my potential homelands, I had to go choose the largest mother fucker after Motha’ Russia; so that I could continue my gypsy bounce without having to switch visas.  Also, I don’t need the help of my shrink to point out the element of rebellion in the Soviet child’s selection of the country her father spent his entire life opposing.  (Papa was a Soviet Army officer.  ‘Nough said.)

When I encounter my fellow Russians on this fast American land of mine, I gotta say:  They are kinda badass! I now reside in a close proximity to the Soviet Emigre Central, otherwise known as West Hollywood — still the most liberal ‘hood you can find yourself in LA-LA Land, in my opinion.  So, I tend to run into a few of my former country’s comrades.  Yes, I’ve seen the type of the middle-aged, purple-haired woman who looks at you as if premeditating ways she can kill you.  I’ve passed the line-ups of male retirees playing dominos on park benches — all unanimously wearing tracksuits — while they maintain their stoic silence despite the shortness of my dress.  In Hollywood clubs, I’ve picked-out the cluster of young Russian males, in black leather jackets, telegraphing their attraction to me with no more than an eyebrow raise.  But those types are usually guarding a handful of decked-out, made-up, pretty and very expensive Russian girls with demands of such high maintenance, you’d think they’ve never lived through deficits of toilet paper or winter-long power and water outages.  (See my rant about dem Russian girls:  https://fromrussianwithlove.wordpress.com/2011/02/16/from-russia-with-love-very-very-expensive-love.  So, yep:  I usually stay away from those.)

Recently, I’ve even encountered a couple of Russian business types.  By “business,” I don’t mean they handle those jobs that a real-life Tony Soprano would be helpless to do himself.  Here, I am actually speaking of Russians who are in pursuit of some honest livin‘ — and some American dollars.  (Although, if a Russian “businessman” ever threatens to kill you — I recommend to just take his word for it:  It’s just safer that way.)

From this year’s encounters, I began to wonder about the source of my pride I feel toward the better-equipped, better-integrated generation of Russian movers ‘n’ shakers in the midst of their American professional careers.  First of — and most importantly! — these types are always well-educated.  Even if most of their college life unfolded in this country, my dear ex-patriots maintain a very high standard of learning.  There is no such thing in Russia’s educational system as “an elective subject,” you see, my comrades:  You bust yo’ ass and pretend to enjoy soaking-up every science, every art and every humanity.  So, it’s been my experience, that usually, my peeps know what they’re talking about.  The second reason for my pride for my fellow ex-patriots has been better articulated by the previously mentioned Boss Soprano:

“You Russians, you got all the angles.  You come over here, you bust your ass.”  He did manage to get himself some Russian ass at the end of this pep talk, but still:  Russian emigres are some of the hardest working people I know.

And then:  there is the cultural heritage.  I’m not just talking about the again mandatory exposure to the richness of Motha’ Russia’s arts.  I mean:  The national strength that originates from one’s ability to bear and persevere. As we all know, Motha’ Russia has got herself a long and tumultuous history.  Oh how inventive She’s been in the ways to make her children suffer!  Famine, political unrest, centuries of oppression and dictatorships; wars and invasions; inflations and poverty; exile and holocaust — She’s got it all!  (She sounds like a lovely place to visit, doesn’t She?!)  And still, the people of my old country refuse to settle down.  No matter the forever-looming danger of persecution, they insist on practicing their right to an opinion and the pursuit of change. (Here is a tale of one recent Russian whistle-blower:  http://soviet-awards.com/digest/pavlichenko/pavlichenko1.htm.  And I thought, my blog was controversial!)

“Now is the winter of our discontent,” the bard once sang.  Considering the length of those damn Russian winters, the unrest of my former people seems never endless.  But just as my own Russian motha’ prefers to love me from afar, something tells me it is better to practice my affection for my former land from a distance as well.  And still, whether they choose to suffer back home or excel in their pursuits on the American land, I have to hand it to my Russian comrades:  May your stubborn courage and high expectations of your Motha’ country finally deliver a summer of rest and prosperity.