Tag Archives: literature

“‘Cause I Ain’t No Hollaback Girl!”

“Any woman who counts on her face is a fool.”

Zadie Smith, On Beauty

Not the first time I’ve heard a beautiful woman call herself “a nerd”!

As a matter of fact, I think it must be some sort of an insider saying of my clan — my half of the species capable of dusting off a compliment either due to its insincerity or whatever insecurity it has activated.

“Oh, you mean:  this old thing?”

But she would say, “Yeah, I’m a nerd,” — and she would pout, do that thing with her eyelashes; flip her hair, shoot down your heart from behind its cascade; and thrust forward one of her magical hips.  She would take a stand:  “You have no idea!  A complete.  And total.  Nerd.

And doesn’t it make you want to die at her feet, like a sacrificial slave at the pyre compiled in her name?  You goddess!  You perfection.

Celebrities say that, and all the pretty actresses.  Some stunners have testified to their once-upon-a-time addiction to knowledge as well.  And I get it, but still I find myself doubting them ever so slightly.

But of course, of course!  Brain and beauty — is one powerful combination, and I am a lifetime fan.  (Just ask my girls.  Or, just look at them, really.)

But by its very definition, it seems, beauty cannot be isolated.  It shouldn’t be isolated because we all want a piece of it, so much.  Oh, but it consoles us!  It fools, even if just for the duration of being in its company.  For just a little while, it disorients against the ugliness of our griefs.  And somehow life begins seeming quite alright.  And we all seem so much more deserving.

So, it would be so unfair, so odd, or mismatched when a beautiful thing claims to have been burdened by so much knowledge it makes her socially inept.  Because theoretically, a beautiful person should be better equipped than the rest of us:  Attracting attention with one’s mortal coil must come with a life-long skill, right?  An advantage.  A leg-up.  An in.  Otherwise:  What’s the fucking point?

But last night — or at a painfully early hour of this morning — I heard myself say to a comrade, in my low-registered half-mumble half-whisper for which I blame the native tongue of my people:

“Sorry!  I’m such a nerd.  A complete.  And total.  Nerd.”

And then, I flipped my hair.  Oh, you mean:  this old thing?

Knowledge has been an addiction of mine for — what’s the expression? — “longer than I can remember”.  Back in my childhood, I was a loner, perpetually hiding behind the book covers of all the heavy Russian dogs.  Because while peaking from behind Nabokov’s spine, life seemed mellowed out by melancholy.  And with Bulgakov — it was just a fucking trip!  A joke!  A comedy of the absurd.  Leo Tolstoy intimidated right off the bat, even my own people; while Yesenin attracted conversations:

“Did you know he fucked around with Isadora Duncan?”

Scandalous!

“They killed him in bar fight, with a knife.  Like a dog!”

And Akhmatova:  She always demanded for me to lower her stanzas, even if because I couldn’t take her any more, with all that sobering truth.  And she ordered me to take in life, instead.

Adolescence would be spent behind the spines of other dogs, more foreign, more worldly; and much less in love with the Motha’land.  But then came a day, on a bus ride to my father’s town, when I lowered a tome to catch a breath and found a pretty thing distorted in the window’s reflection, with nighttime behind it.  From behind the cascade of my hair, I examined her; did that thing with my eyelashes — and then, I went back to reading.

Because it wouldn’t change a thing:  I would still chase the big dogs and dust off the clumsy compliments from young boys and the drooling older gentlemen either due to their insincerity or whatever insecurity they would activate in me.  And I would chase my dogs far enough to the edge of the continent.  And when the big dogs jumped — I jumped right after them and swam to the other coast.

Years later, I still find myself addicted to my books.  But more than that, I have perfected the addiction to fit more life into it:  I am now addicted to learning.  Any learning!  All the life’s new things:  show me, tell me, guide the way!  And often pro bono, I grant my life the immediate curiosity so easily available from behind the spines of all the big dogs; and it, most of the time, pays it back –tenfold.

So, last night — or at a painfully early hour of this morning — I heard myself say to a comrade, in my low-registered half-mumble half-whisper for which I blame the native tongue of my people:

“Sorry!  I’m such a nerd.”

I have been pacing my apartment — with all the big dogs lining-up its walls with their spines — and I have been sweating my ear against the phone while trying to explain the new curiosities of this year.  The poor comrade could not have known that I’ve been laboring over my work for eleven hours already:  that I had written for five and researched my media for the rest.  That I have already played with a few other bloggers — other nerdy and, as I imagined, very beautiful girls taking a peak at life from behind the cascades of their hair and from behind the spines of their laptops in their own apartments, illuminated by nothing more than the light of the blogosphere.  That I’ve had a day full of life already — and full of curiosities paid back to me tenfold; but after the town shut down, I still wanted more life.  And I would find it — behind the spine of my laptop.

“Yeah.  A complete.  And total.  Nerd,” I giggled.  Or maybe I didn’t.

But I do remember flipping my hair and thinking how light it was — and how easy! — to grant my life the immediate curiosities so easily available from behind the spine of my laptop.  And even though most of the hours of my learning have been spent in solitude — in isolation so typical for a nerd — everything seemed so much fuller:

Of life.

Of light and lightness.

And of purpose whose source of enlightenment was not only knowledge — but gratitude itself, paid back to me, tenfold.

“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?

Disturbia

It is impossible to fail if we extend love.  Whether or not the person accepts it is incidental.  Our ability to love is what makes the difference.” — 

Zen and the Art of Falling in Love, Brenda Shoshanna

Yep.  Those were the last words of my yesternight.  Right before the ghetto birds came out for their habitual cruising above the 101 and very soon after the single jolt of yesterday’s earthquake (which most of my kittens have slept right through), I was flipping through all of my current books for some line that would deliver me into my dreamworld.  Something good:  I needed something good!

“There’s a difference, I said, between making it and simply becoming hard,” Bukowski offered up.  Nope.

“If I’m just a passing fancy, then I want to pass fancy,” chimed-in Lorrie Moore.  Still not it.

Oh, I love me some insomnia!  Usually, it rolls in during my life’s transitions, like an unexpected weather front.  It normally takes me a couple of nights of its reoccurring to realize “Transition” is exactly the name of the ailment.  But in the mean time, all of that self-knowledge that inspires my esteem, all that skill for meditation and counting sheep; all the certainty that in the end I’ve somehow managed to be true to my goodness (or at least, managed to be true) — it all evaporates like a single snowflake on a curious child’s mitten.  The atmosphere gets dark, the head gets messy:  Heavy shit is about to go down.

Soon enough the silence of my apartment gets overcrowded by an amusement park for ghosts.  A traveling freak show pitches a tent.

“Where did all this come from?” I wonder, astonished every single time at how much a single life of a woman can encompass.

And I just can’t fucking sleep.

The only thing to do then — is do nothing.  To ride it out.

Yes, I could think of all the places I have yet to visit.  Or, I could recycle that one memory of a random San Francisco street that made me feel that I’ve finally come home.  But the ghosts and the freaks nag me to jump on a ride with them, and it is useless to protest.  Before I know it:  My heart’s racing, I’m disconnected from gravity, and I cannot figure out if it’s sweat or tears that’s rolling down my face.  I flip and I turn to get more comfortable in between all the safety belts and the chains; I yank my hair into some sort of a submission.  But that too seems to be a moot point.  So, I keep riding until exhaustion becomes my saving grace, and until the fire-red electronic numbers on the face of my alarm clock are no more than random equations of time.

Insomnia.  Alas.  It is the perfect time for regrets.

The only thing is:  I don’t do regrets.  Because when I do regrets, it means I’m suffering from shame.  And shame, my kittens, is something I just prefer to never do.

Not in any self-righteous way and never at the expense of someone else, but I choose to be good, in life.  Yes, of course:  There have been mistakes, and those came with shame; and shame, my kittens, is something I just prefer to never do — againAnd if there is anything that a choice of goodness can guarantee — it’s one’s safety from regrets.  (But then again, I wouldn’t wish regrets onto my enemies either.)  It is nice to reminisce, sure, to reflect on the so-called “lessons” of life.  But to discount an experience or a person due to my guilt or pride; or to wish for their non-happening at all — via a regret — well, what’s the goodness in that, right?

It gets tricky though, on the rides with the ghosts and the freaks.  All that tossing and yanking, and I get tempted to get off on the very first stop:  Regrets.  (The stop after that is usually Wrath, followed by Mourning.)

“Should I not have loved this last time around?” I thought as the freaks fumbled with the hinges of my safety belt.  “Was loving a mistake?”

(I know, I know, kittens!  I know better than that.  I know better than that — in the daytime!  But yesternight, all I could hear was the sniffling by ghosts and the conductor’s forewarnings of the next stops, each more daunting than the one before.  So, yes:  I considered regretting.  (In the mean time, the freaks thought it would be really cute to start nudging my ribcage with their stumpy thumbs.  Cute fuckers!))

And that’s where the digging through my manuals came in handy.  My books of reference.  My maps to self-discovery.  Bukowski — that adored freak of mine! — testified to my two choices in life as suffering or boredom.  Ms. Moore was ever so melancholic and lovely.  (“What’s that perfume she’s always wearing?” I kept holding on.)  Comrade Nabokov was not much of a consolation either; for he is all about mourning the loss of time.  Zadie Smith managed to make me chuckle with her translations of humanity, but her people stumble around their lives like drunkards in the windstorm of history.

“I need something good!” I thought.

Aha!  The Zen book!  It has been shoved underneath my hard bed — a gift from the most recent love I was considering regretting yesternight.  Out of sight — out of messy mind, right?  But it just wouldn’t fit into a commercial size envelope that holds all the other palpable evidence of this lover’s memory; and it just wouldn’t sit right on the shelf among all of my other freaks of literature.  So, in a hurried gesture, I’ve hidden it in my bedroom.

Thank goodness I recalled its existence last night:

“We cannot fail as long as we are practicing and that very act of brining an answer is success itself.”

Oh, okay.  So, all of this self-discovery — while alone or with a love — is the very point of it all.  And even this seemingly torturous night of riding with the ghosts and the freaks is a part of it; because it has challenged me to make all local stops of my feelings and lessons.

“Our ability to love is what makes the difference.”

Oh, okay then:  To love — is never a mistake, and it does not belong among regrets.  Because in love, I’m learning to be myself.  In love, I am learning to be.

I held on, kittens.  Last night, I held onto myself and I rode it out.  And honestly, it wasn’t all that bad.  It was good; and I needed something good.