Tag Archives: Jhumpa Lahiri

“While You’re Gettin’ Your Cry On — I’m Gettin’ My Fly On.”

A cup of brutal coffee and a bath with a wrinkled Bukowski.  Who said that mornings had to be unkind?

These days of waking in a vacuum of unpredictability — they make me think of all the big dogs that have come and gone, and suffered for centuries before me.  Like my own fellow comrades — the big-dogs-in-the-making — they had to have wondered, at times, about where the next meal would come from, or the next rent.

They would hang, like poignant ghosts, at their regular spots, hoping the bartender would eventually remember their faces to comp a drink or two, just when they would be about do a touchdown with the rock bottom.  (Those moments — are the best, in life:  Three minutes before a suicidal thought or the a late afternoon phone call giving you a break.)  And the bartender would nod, quickly, familiarly:

“This one’s on the house…”  

(Actually, I’ll never comprehend the hopefulness of that post-midnight line; for I prefer to not suffer from other self-afflictions besides that hideous empathy of mine.  That’s a handful already.  Don’t hand me any more.)

Only at friends’ barbecues — or at other people’s office parties at Christmas — the big-dogs-in-the-making could get plastered enough on free liquor, to not mind their misery in sobriety.  But elsewhere, at all other times, they could never afford enough drinks to get them there.  So, they would loom on their scuffed-up bar stools, waiting for the bartender’s charity:  The wrathful face of Hemingway and the disappointed one of S. Thompson.

Or perhaps, if their beat-up faces were lucky enough to have appeared in black-and-white print a couple of times by then (they were the big-dogs-in-the-making!):  Perhaps, a random nerdy fan would come out of the woodwork — or from behind a ping ball machine — and start lapping up their faces with his star-fucking gazes; then offer to pick-up their tabs with a handful of sweaty cash.  The female groupies would be less useful at the bar, but better equipped to restore their ego elsewhere — anywhere! — like the backseat of their boyfriends’ trucks, or the nook by the graffitied pay phone, near the john.

Somehow, the big-dogs-in-the-making would gain enough swagger to bed a woman:  because there was always some wide-eyed girl or sinister-eyed widow in the mood for the struggling artist type.  But then, someone’s heart would get attached, then broken; and the big-dogs-in-the-making would scurry back to their crammed in joints, with other struggling types crashing on their couches or sleeping in their bathtubs; and they would write for long enough to finish a pack of cigarettes.  Or to run out of their typewriter ribbon.  Or to forget about a drawer full of rejection letters from agents and publishers:

“At this time, we must regretfully inform you…”

And what did they do, with all those regretful notes, by the way:  so insincere, yet always signed “sincerely”?  Did they glue them with gum, onto a white wall painted by someone with zero of imagination, during a sleepless night of annoying heat and warm beer, in a vacuum of unpredictability?  Or did they tear them up, like I do, just in half — never wasting too much energy on anger, for fearing the flip side of it — then burry the pieces under an aged coffee filter from the morning before?  And just how long would they sit in silence until trying their hand at yet another letter, yet another submission — another hand at that cunty luck:  Would it take them a month?  a year?  a trip to Brazil?  another broken heart of another wide-eyed girl?

And then, there were always those with annoyingly stubborn writing discipline:  The respected academic of Nabokov and the celebrity hermit of Roth.  Every year, their friends would catch them at yet another book deal, another fellowship, another grant.  And surely, the big-dogs-in-the-making would feel the envy on the other end of the phone, as thick as aged honey; and just as grainy:

“Oh really?…  Congratulations…  We should celebrate…”

They had to have hated those ellipses loaded with a strained goodwill of their “friends”.  So many!  So many had to get lost during this game of chasing the impossible, often self-destructive but hopefully somewhat self-redemptive career.  Several had to be dismissed face to face, in a drunken fight when these “friends” dropped their pretenses.  Others — would flake off on their own, with enough time and enough demands from their bratty marriages and whiny children.  But the most relentless, the slowest of losses were those acquaintances sticking around for years, only calling after picking-up a few crumbs of new gossip:

“Saw you in The Paris Review…  Congratulations…  We should celebrate…” 

And the big dogs would lie:  Yeah, we should.  But they never would.

No, they’d rather save up their new money for a better hermitage on the coast of New York.  Or maybe even of Connecticut, if they got fed up with all that grime and despair — with that cunty luck — and if they could finally part with their superstition that well-fed artists lost their edge.

I also think of the new big dogs — the ones that are living and publishing now.  They are all quite belligerent — Eggers and Sapphire — shooting out their words with such discipline and urge, that even the confused and the lazy can’t dismiss their names.  The ethnically ambiguous have come through in this century:  The hilarious Diaz.  The empathetic Smith.  The diplomatically graceful Lahiri.  They are all still quite young — and quite beautiful, physically — surfing through their academic careers to earn the respect of the white critics; but then always bringing it back to the streets, back to where they’ve learned to how suffer and how to make use of it; to the rest of the ethnically ambiguous and ethically confused:  To the rest of us.

And somehow, I allow myself the vague hope that maybe, in this century, it needn’t be so painful, it needn’t be so hard to get to one’s often self-destructive but hopefully somewhat self-redemptive career.

Because who said that the mere human suffering — wouldn’t be enough?

And with an empty cup stained by coffee and a cold bath with a soaked Bukowski, who said that mornings — had to be unkind?

Hands On! Balls — Out!

No way!  No way I could’ve foreseen what this year would bring!

Almost a year ago, I was merely picking up the pieces.  For I have lost myself in a love, as I have done so many times before; and it would take my falling hard — so hard! — to never do that again.

Of course, as before, I’ve gotten up, gotten myself a job and an apartment, fixed myself up, fell back into another love.  Didn’t like the job, got a better job; made lists of desires and dreams, went for them.  Started a project — balls out! — got an odd gig to support myself through it; the gig went under, but I already had something else lined-up.  Watched a love depart — fell down again.  Got up, continued the project, left the better job, became self-employed.  Made more lists, with new desires and clearer dreams.

True to my feline nature, I tend to land on my feet.  Never out of a job or a dream, I am not the one with a failing ability to survive.  But oh so much time has been wasted on the anticipation of the fall!  Fears have turned my memories of time into rubber.  Days, pages of journals, other people’s attention has been wasted on my doubts.  And every single time, in the past, I noticed the faces of my comrades get skewed by a slight disappointment:

“A Woulda Coulda Shoulda — just doesn’t become you, V!”

No way!  No way I could’ve foreseen that doubt would suddenly become a new allergy of mine, making my entire body short circuit with impatience and annoyance:  I know better than that.  I AM — better than that.  These days, I shake it off, like a midnight shiver or an atrocious sight I’d like to forget.  And forward I launch.  Balls out!

 

“You know who would’ve have been eighty years ago?”  a beautiful boy-child was asking me last night.

“I dunno,” I was chuckling, tickled to the outer edges of adoration by this creature’s innocence and kindness.  “A suffragette?”

“Amelia Earhart!” he said with such a surplus of conviction, I had to stop chuckling.  “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.  The fears are paper tigers.”

Damn, I thought, he just did that!  That beautiful boy-child simply launched into a quote by the very epitome of courage, on courage — balls out! — and with his uncensored act of curiosity and goodness, he then resurrected me.  Because that’s what they would much rather do — my comrades! — remind me that a Woulda Coulda Shoulda just doesn’t become me.

Let me do that one again:

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.  The fears are paper tigers.”

When I started my rant blog — 157 days and nearly 30,000 hits ago — no way (NO WAY!) I could’ve foreseen the obstacles and the lessons.  There would be, of course, lessons in my own craft and discipline.  I had hoped for those!  But even then, I couldn’t have imagined the amount of skill that a curiosity equipped with courage could deliver.  The unforeseen has also brought on quite a bit of unexpected pain.  I could NOT have predicted the insecurities of others that my acts of personal courage would activate.  Neither was I prepared for being misunderstood, dismissed, or hated upon.  I had no idea so many humans anticipated another comrade’s fall, in this world!

And so, recently, when yet another human had given me grief — hitting below the belt this time, via his intimate knowledge of me — wrathfully, I thought:

“Don’t you dare doubt yourself!”  (Well, actually, I first thought:  “What the fuck?!”; then gathered my graces and thought the other thing.)

Because I could waste more time on making new lists of how I want my art to be perceived.  I could worry about my image and the memories I would leave behind.  I could undermine my courage or my character by writing retractions to suit every single person I could’ve possibly offended along the way.  I could do all that; but a Woulda Coulda Shoulda just doesn’t fucking become me!

Every visionary I have ever admired, every artist ahead of his or her time, every leader that had stepped up during times of historical changes — they all had to have had these growing pains.  I may not have the audacity to aspire to be in the same category with Susan Sontag or Zadie Smith, Vladimir Nabokov or Junot Diaz.  Roth, Bukowski, or Lahiri.  I am no Frida Kahlo or Yoko Ono; and I am a fucking galaxy away from Lady Gaga.

But I do have the audacity to aspire to their courage:  The courage that is takes to make up a mind — and to act.  The courage that demands to finally put away all those lists of desires and dreams.  To stop venting to your comrades about the challenges and the fears, the betrayals and the growing pains.  To stop apologizing for your vision, for your ability to dream.  To undermine your talent, skills, education, history — with doubt.  To retract for the sake of those whose most treasured outlet in life is to tear down those who scare them — those who fucking dare to dare!  But to make a decision — balls out! — and to do.  To act.  To be:  To be precisely the YOU that your talent, skills, education and history has created.  To live up to the potential of the magnificent, the authentic being that every one of us — already IS.

And so I say:

To every dreamer that may have stumbled upon this page by accident or every comrade that continues to return to it by devotion:  A Woulda Coulda Shoulda just doesn’t become you.  Make a decision and go for it:  Balls out!  

Don’t you dare doubt yourself!  If your vision is true, don’t retract it.  Get to the edge and jump.  

Your people — truly your people — will stand by you, I promise:  Because in their eyes, you are already already equipped with wings.  They’ve just been waiting for you to start soaring.

There will be many challenges.  But there will also be new heights, new sights, new comrades.  And as Amelia Earhart once dared to say:

“You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”

Let me do that one again:

“[T]he procedure, the process is its own reward.”

Balls out, comrades!  See you in mid-flight.

From the Taint of Mother Literature

Those who know me—and now, those who read me—will testify that meekness is just ain’t my style.  Oh sure, I can be gentle and kind as a friend.  As a lover, having cradled many men’s heads on my bosom and their secrets in my heart, I tend to be more maternal in the bedroom.  But my years of quietly struggling as a closeted, unpublished writer who blushes when accepting praise and negotiates her pay only at the end of a conversation—after fulfilling the service with flying colors—have magically come to a closure last year.  Hundreds of odd jobs, millions of unpublished words and dozens of shared writing spaces later, this year I’ve launched an endeavor that, besides granting me a daily artistic orgasm, in the words of my current lover, “has added inches to my dick.” 

Speaking of a writer’s dick, recently devouring the February issue of Esquire (aka:  my Bible), I’ve discovered an editorial on the topic of our contemporary writers’ temperament.  Using James Frey, who not too long ago was brought down by the Mighty Oprah for committing plagiarism, as its archetype of a flawed, fallen—and recently resurrected—writer, the article refuses to tear this, may I say, “colleague” of mine to pieces.  To the contrary, it advertises the more unorthodox methods of this writer’s art and publishing technique as ballsy.  Because you see, my comrades, according to the critic, we have entered an age of “literary in-betweenness” in which everyone and their friggin’ mother wants to be a writer and has access to self-publishing via the non-discriminating WWW-dot.  You don’t have to live in my city—just any city—to know that every Starbucks is held hostage by such wannabes who glare from their tables at the common folk ordering their lattes a little too loudly for their taste.  So:  the competition is fierce!  Add to that the opportunistic celebrities cashing-in on their fleeting fame by publishing and promoting their poorly written memoirs—and the young, aspiring writer is fucked.       

So, what does James Frey have on all of us in this age of “literary in-betweenness”—which I prefer to tag as Mother Literature’s Taint?  Well, comrades, I tell you:  It isn’t primarily talent!  What it takes to be a paid artist these days is a non-apologetic self-promotion, Kanye-Fuckin’-West-style.  (See the same critic’s bit on that loud mouth (and my occasional archangel):  http://www.esquire.com/features/thousand-words-on-culture/kanye-west-twitter-1210).  Sure, Kanye tends to push the envelope a bit too far, Tweeting from his decked-out bathroom or stealing a moment of fame from some wide-eyed mediocre singer.  But how else to get our attention in these days of information overdose?  When it comes to the chosen art of my own—and Mr. Frey’s—the situation gets even trickier.  I mean:  Who the fuck is still reading literature these days?  Even the ever-so-humble Dave Eggers had to venture out into screenwriting to earn himself more serious cash. 

So, instead of head diving into my self-denial about being deserving or catering to my endless bullshit to be magically discovered one day, I prefer to follow the footsteps of the loudmouths and embrace the available means of distribution and self-promotion.  Because the reality is:  When this evening, like other actors and artists in town, I clock-in for my 7-hour shift of catering to drunks at my night gig, I’ve already done my art for the day.  I’ve already fucking published!  And considering I am never meek in my words, I would’ve already experienced my artistic catharsis; so when asked what I wanna be when I grow up, I can answer with esteem and calmness that comes from doing—not dreaming. 

Of course, when I return home, I’ll have to collect the consequences of my art via the hateful commentary on my obnoxiousness and misinterpretations of my intensions by well-wishers.  Just last night, for instance, a male reader threatened to scream at my face—then asked me out on a date.  (Try and guess where I told him to go!)  And you know what, my comrades?  Mazel tov!  As Mr. Frey’s career proves once again, there is no bad publicity.  So, V is not here to be liked:  I’m here to speak up—and be paid for it! 

Finally, I must chime-in here as a woman writer—because I can.  Or actually, because I must!  Because this is my bloody blog—and because the above mentioned Esquire piece included ZERO writers of my gender, while complaining about the sexless literature of today.  Newsflash, ladies:  As an artist, you are not gonna be seeing any greens if you get yourself locked-up, like Charlotte Bronte, and then shrug off all inquiries about your writing by saying, “Oh, I’m just writing a diary.”  Or thank-you cards.  Or whatever the fuck.  Speak up!  Sarah Silverman or Zadie Smith style!  Sing like Jhumpa Lahiri or holler like Rinku Sen (http://feministing.com/).  Do your quirky thing like my girl Molly McAleer (http://molls.tumblr.com/) or grow up to be the sarcastic, poignant, brilliant cunt Manohla Dargis.  But speak, for Mary’s sake!  That way, perhaps, while we live through this era of Mother Literature’s Taint, the Esquire critics won’t have to point out the sexlessness of this era’s collective writing.  Be obnoxious, like the shady Mr. Frey and the douchy Kanye, and:       

“Never apologize, never give up, and be entrepreneurial.”

P.S.:  For the piece that started all this go to:  http://www.esquire.com/features/thousand-words-on-culture/james-frey-full-fathom-five-0211.  And pah-lease, go buy yourself a book!

“A Miss is as Good… as a Mister”

(This is being published from JFK, despite the ungodly hour of the morning and the painfully inconvenient commute that got me here.  What’s that, haters?!  V can’t hear you!):

As I depart from the significant New York loves of my insignificant life and return to my younger affairs on the West Coast, I dedicate my words to those that will come after:  the young girls (whether I know them or not) that have intertwined their tiny, merely transparent fingers with the arteries of my heart and the female offspring of my strictly selected Club of Comrades.  To the East Indian girl child that, at the first second of our meeting in NY’s capital, became my shadow; invaded my writing space—unaware that a woman could claim that—and watched my every keyboard tap; then ran off to get her own paper and a red crayon.  To the adored blondie born to my feminist mentor in New Jersey whose Happily Ever After happened with a woman; and who by her mere existence, gave me the courage to write my own love stories.  And to the unfamiliar brown girl with snowflakes in her curls who followed her mother that leapt into a random elevator ride in Manhattan; who then persevered past the awkward silence inside, examined the crowd and exclaimed:

“Oh gosh!  It’s like all girls in here!” making the rest of the women—some radically young, others aged past their youthful anxiety—laugh and yelp and howl; uncensored and relieved, if just for a minute.

"Blessed Art Thou among Women" by Gertrude Kasebier, 1899

First, to my brown god-daughter back in Albany:  May your path be filled with obvious choices that lead you to your better self.  May your soul be fueled by the gods of the old country, but your mind—by those of the new.  May your mother’s unconditional love open paths for you that were never possible in her own youth; but may you always be exposed to the confidence a woman is granted when persevering through conflicts.  You will be my next Jhumpa Lahiri, or M.I.A., or Sonia Gandhi.  May you become whoever and whatever you desire; but when asked what that is, may you be able to say, “Why not?” rather than “May I?”  I pray the world is made out of non-existent doorways for you and walkways paved with “YES”; and that sometimes, you will tread with me (I—in my Siberian coat, you—with stubborn rainbow colors on your mittens and henna on your hands) to show me your future world, as I show the aged yet unexhausted one of mine.

To the sporty, curious, poignant Irish-Jewish cherub in the City of Angels (and the author of this blog’s title):  Because your parents have suffered enough to fulfill your own life’s quota, may it never get in the way of your possibilities.  May you never lose the insatiable need to repeat a question, or to touch another woman’s skin just to understand what it’s like to be in it.  NEVER apologize for your art!  As the multitude of imperfect adults guards your life from repeating their mistakes, I shall gladly lead you past my own.  I’ll tell you the tales of my survival and show that a woman may stand by her failed choices, because overcoming them makes a soul light enough to soar.  So, may you soar, my strong youngster, sometimes in step with me, but mostly ahead.  If ever gravity gets a hold of you, I shall catch you from falling—if you let me.  But this I ask of you regardless (because you shall always remain exceptional, I’m sure)—teach me about the ways I have not seen and the tricks my wings have yet to try.

To the tomboy born to a woman of tremendous kindness:  May you always be ahead of your time!  When asked by your teachers, may you tag yourself however, but always understand yourself as “special.”  May you continue to climb, much faster and more capable than your parents.  Upward, my darling heart, always upward; even though gravity may insist otherwise.  Never cry when you fall down, neither in a playground nor in an office full of suits; and always celebrate the pain, for in those very seconds, you learn to shift gears.  May you always outrun and outsmart your own age group and leave me scratching my head with your riddles.